Book Review: Where I End, by Katherine Elizabeth Clark

where I end
Image belongs to Moody Publishers.

When you’re on the playground with your kids, you expect to have fun and be silly. You don’t expect your entire life to change in an instant, when a small boy jumps off the jungle gym and lands on your head, breaking your neck, but that is what happened to Katherine Clark in May 2009.

Katherine was paralyzed from the neck down, and doctors diagnosed her with quadriplegia and said she’d never walk again. She had emergency spinal surgery that night, but the doctors told her husband she was no longer the same person. They expected her to be a burden for the rest of her life. They expected her to feel sorry for herself and accept her new, horrifying reality. They were wrong.

Instead, God worked a tremendous miracle in Katherine’s life. Her time in a rehab hospital was marked with frustration and tears, but her trust in God was accompanied by progress every day. By the middle of July, Katherine had learned to walk again and returned home. She experienced the deep, abiding love of God, even in the midst of overwhelming pain and trouble, and she clung to Him and His truths to see her through.

I wanted to read Where I End because of the similarities to my own medical history (a stroke 4 ½ years ago because of an unsuspected birth defect, given a 98% fatality rate, told by a doctor “You’ll never be normal again.”) It is terrifying when your life changes in a single instant, but the experience can be a profound blessing. Katherine Clark tells her story with openness and honesty, and the reader feels her pain and her fear, as well as her hope and her joy. If you need something uplifting in your life, this is the book for you!

Katherine Elizabeth Clark is a mother, a wife to a theologian, and a writer. Where I End is her true story.

(Galley provided by Moody Publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

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What I Read in December

I read 21 books this month, bringing my total for the year up to 174. Quite a bit past my goal of 100 books for the year…

Sir Percy Leads the Band, by Emmuska Orczy (classic). I found this “sequel” to The Scarlet Pimpernel to be a fun, entertaining read. And Sir Percy is such a fantastic character, able to change his persona so completely.

Life and Other Near Death Experiences, by Camille Pagan (cultural book of the month, except not). I thought this was going to be mainly set in the Caribbean, hence its place as “cultural” book, but it wasn’t. It was a very enjoyable read about a woman who finds out she has cancer, and, on the same day, her husband tells her he’s gay. So she runs away to Caribbean to deal with the idea of her pending death. A funny read, and Libby is such a likeable and relateable character that I finished this quickly.

Once Upon a Time by Debbi Macomber (spiritual book of the month). This author is one of the very few “romance” authors I’ll read, and this book was par for her:  well-written, thoughtful, and it spoke to me.

Empire of Ivory, by Naomi Novak (TBR/just because). Another solid read in this series. I can’t believe I let these sit unread on my shelf for years

as you wish

As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti (read to review). A magical realism read about a town where every person is granted one wish on their 18th birthday, and it always comes true.

bad call

Bad Call, by Stephen Wallenfels (read to review). This is a YA suspense about a girl and three guys who go hiking in Yosemite and end up in the midst of a snowstorm, with no food and no shelter. One of them doesn’t come back. A decent level of suspense, but the characters’ motivations had me wondering why so much that I’d rate the book three out of five.

How to Hang a Witch, by Adriana Mather (from my Tulsa book haul). So…I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the book was by one of the Mathers—of Salem Witch Trial notoriety—until I finished the book. The book is about a Mather descendant who moves to Salem and discovers the curse that haunts all of the descendant families—and she tries desperately to uncover the truth and stop the curse before it kills her father. I enjoyed this book, and it had a prominent dose of creepiness.

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The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson (read to review). I loved this book! Finished it in just a few hours, straight through, because I couldn’t put it down. A dystopian about Lynn, who lives with her family in the Yukon after nuclear war and disease collapsed civilization. Survival is the focus, until Lynn meets Jax, who shows Lynn a destiny she can’t even comprehend. I can’t speak highly enough about this book, and its unique (to me) setting.

Where I End, by Elizabeth Katherine Clark (review forthcoming). The true story of Katherine Clark, who broke her neck when a boy on the playground fell on her. The doctors told her she’d never walk again, but God had other plans. An uplifting, inspiring read.

Believe, edited by Randy Frazee (person/spiritual). I’ve been reading this tome since August. Lots to digest here, but broken down into easy chunks.

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Mesmerized, by Candace Camp (read to review). Olivia works to expose mediums and their tricks, but finds herself in the midst of events she can’t explain away, when she starts seeing visions from Blackhope Hall’s past, events that seem to feature the current lord of the manor, Stephen, as well. A solid period romance, with the “mad Morelands” providing even more interest.

Wedding Bells, Magic Spells, by Lisa Shearin (as a treat). I love the Rain Benares books, and this was no exception. Lots of action, smart humor, and, of course, the lovely Mychael.

The Forgotten Book, by Mechthild Glaser (review forthcoming). This is a YA fantasy about Emma, who goes to a prestigious boarding school, and who finds an old book full of scribblings.  But this is not your typical journal:  everything written in the book comes true…in a manner of speaking. I enjoyed this book, and the myths and mystery added depth to it. I thought the school—and its students—were a bit too good to be true—no cliques, no enemies, and a whole lot of freedom, but I enjoyed this very much.

The Black Painting, by Neil Olsen (review forthcoming). This was merely a “meh” read to me. Frankly, the characters were too confusing, and the narrative was too disjointed–which makes sense for a novel about characters who arguably all have a mental illness–for me to really get into. And the painting by Goya is very creepy to me.

Firebrand, by Kristen Britain (as a Christmas weekend treat). I absolutely love this series. SO MUCH. Karigan is such a strong character, yet so flawed, and I can both sympathize with and respect her. The characters in this series are so vibrant I feel like I know them personally, and I am drawn into all their stories. This is probably one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. Loved it!

Breaking Rules, by S.B. Alexander (to review, but stopped reading). I made it about halfway through this before I stopped reading. There are a ton of good reviews on Goodreads, but the characters are too wishy-washy for me. One second, Train was charming and flirty, the next he was a rude jerk. And sometimes Montana was strong and independent, and sometimes she was also just a jerk.

Menagerie and Spectacle, by Rachel Vincent (Read the first as a treat, because it was already on my Kindle, then had to buy the second one immediately.) I am a huge Rachel Vincent fan, and Menagerie had such a unique concept. Sadly, I could totally see “normal” humans acting this way towards anyone different—because that happens all the time. Looking forward to the enxt one.

The Holy Bible, as an obvious spiritual choice, that I read via a 365-day reading plan.

The Stars Never Rise and The Flame Never Dies, by Rachel Vincent (Read the first as a treat, because it was already on my Kindle, then had to buy the second one immediately.) I finished the first one in about 3 hours, then had to make myself ration the second one…for two days. Fantastic concept. where demons really exist and have consumed all the available souls as they try to take over a world run by the Church, who is desperate to catch natural exorcists. So good!

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

 

 

Book Review: The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson

wolves of winter
Image belongs to Scribner.

It wasn’t enough for nations to disagree. They had to add nuclear war to the mix, changing both the environment and nature, making food scarce and luxuries like electricity and chocolate a thing of the past. Then came the Asian Flu, and millions died, changing the landscape of the world even more.

For years, a nomadic, secretive existence is the only thing that kept them alive. Now, for seven years, Lynn and her family—mother, brother, honorary uncle and his adopted son—have huddled together in their tiny community in the Yukon wilderness, hunting and struggling to eke out a hardscrabble existence in a world gone mad. Then Lynn finds an injured stranger and his dog and brings them home, never dreaming what she was unleashing on them all.

Jax has been used as a weapon for too long; now he’s on the run, desperate to keep ahead of his enemies. “Alone” is the only safety he knows. But when Lynn and her family get caught up in his fight to survive, he realizes there is far more going on than he knew, and he must decide whether to keep his solitary existence, or fight for a glimpse of hope for mankind.

I’m not going to lie: I do love dystopian novels. Well, I love good dystopian novels. Wolves of Winter is far, far more than “good.” No, the idea of a world decimated by war and sickness isn’t new, but the execution of the concept is, and the characters are as well. We get to know Lynn:  her strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and desires, and we watch as she starts growing into the person she can be. I cannot imagine the strength it would take to survive in the Yukon with no modern conveniences to fall back on (First World problem, I know), but Lynn shines through with grace and love for her family, leaving the reader riveted to the page. I read this straight through in one sitting, and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Tyrell Johnson loves the outdoors. Wolves of Winter is his debut novel.

(Galley provided by Scribner via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

 

 

Book Review: As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti

as you wish
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Madison is a small town in the middle of the Mojave Desert, a.k.a. nowhere. It’s the kind of place that no one ever leaves. Where everyone knows everyone else and all their business, but the town itself is keeping one very big secret:  on their 18th birthday, every person in town is granted one wish, that always comes true.

Most people have their wishes picked out months or years in advance. Not Eldon. His birthday is only weeks away, and he’s got nothing. Except every single person in town pressuring him to make up his mind and pick a wish. But where to start? His family could use money. His sister isn’t really there anymore. His ex-girlfriend, now dating his ex-friend, is still the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen, but she hates him now. He could fix any one of those things with his wish.

But Eldon sees the dark side of wishing:  he can’t find a single person who is happy with the results of their wish, especially not his parents. And Eldon is tired of all the pressure, tired of the looming decision, tired of the darkness hanging over his sleepy little town. Eldon thinks maybe it’s better to just not wish—than to risk the unhappiness he’s sure will result.

I have to be honest, with a title like As You Wish, I expected at least one The Princess Bride reference. Sadly, that was not to be. Despite that lack, this was a wonderful read that explores everything that terrifies me about small towns—and I’ve lived in them for most of my life—with the added element of magical realism. Everyone knowing what everyone else is up to is exactly what small towns are like, and Madison is like that personified, with the addition of keeping the wishes a secret from the outside world. But everyone in town knows what everyone else wished for. And Eldon wants no part of the heartache he sees as the result of the wishes, but he can’t quite see his way out of the whole mess, either. This book explores what happens when people get what they wish for, and the consequences it can have.

Chelsea Sedoti loves adventures and writing. She is the author of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, and her newest novel, As You Wish.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Mesmerized, by Candace Camp

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Image belongs to harlequin/HQN.

Olivia Moreland, one of the “Mad Morelands”—what society names her eccentric, independent, and forward-thinking family—spends her days trying to expose mediums for the charlatans she believes them to be. She knows all their little tricks, from phosphorescent gloves to hidden music boxes playing the dearly departed’s favorite tune, and she thrives on shining a bright light on their shady practices. Until one night, Lord Stephen St. Leger accuses her of conspiring with a medium—and they both end up kicked out of the party.

Stephen’s apology means nothing to her, until, a few days later, he asks her to help him expose the medium preying on his own mother, and she finds herself in a house party at the St. Leger estate, Blackhope Hall.

Blackhope Hall has secrets dating back hundreds of years, and when Stephen and Olivia both start seeing visions from the past—visions where they are living the lives of a pair of star-crossed lovers—the skeptical pair start to question if the supernatural world really exists. Is the dark spirit that haunts the Moreland family responsible for the death of Stephen’s brother, or is the psychic who does his bidding to blame? Stephen and Olivia must work together if they are to stop their visions from the past of coming true again, and only love is strong enough to combat the darkness.

Mesmerized was a well-plotted read twining romance and paranormal together in a Regency setting. Olivia, at first too rebellious against the customs of society, learns that she can still be a smart, independent woman, even if she does her hair and wears feminine clothing. Stephen, determined to save his family from more hurt, is close-minded about anything that falls outside his realm of experience, but exposure to Olivia softens him up a bit. The secondary characters, especially the “Mad” Morelands, are vibrant and entertaining, adding depth to the story that I enjoyed.

Candance Camp lives in Austin, Texas and loves writing about the Regency era. Mesmerized is the first book in The Mad Morelands series, re-released on December 26th.

(Galley provided by Harlequin/HQN via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Bad Call, by Stephen Wallenfels

bad call
Image belongs to Disney-Hyperion.

It starts as a poker bet:  Ceo, Colin, Grahame, and Rhody agree to go hiking in Yosemite. In the winter. Except Rhody backs out at the last minute, so Ceo invites Ellie along. Ellie, who doesn’t know she’ll be hiking alone with three guys, and who the guys have never heard of. Ceo is a master manipulator, so this turn of events isn’t a huge surprise to Collin. What is a surprise is the connection he feels with Ellie. With the animosity between Ceo and Grahame rising, soon it’s all Collin and Ellie can do to keep the peace.

Despite warnings from fellow hikers, the group sets off to summit, and finds themselves in the midst of a bad snowstorm, with a leaking Craigslist tent and no food. Trying desperately to survive, they seek to make a camp that will shelter them all from the storm. But one of them does not return, and the circumstances don’t quite add up. In addition to battling the weather, the remaining three will have fight their suspicions—while always watching their backs—if they are to make it off the mountain alive.

I spent most of my reading time for Bad Call wondering why on Earth…1)…did Ellie go hiking in the wilderness with 3 boys, 2 of whom were strangers? 2)…does anyone hang out with Grahame, when he’s such a jerk? 3)…is Collin still friends with Ceo, who totally screwed him over? I had lots of questions about the characters’ motivations, and basically no answers. There was a decent level of suspense, and some chilling bits—creepy and cold—but the characters just didn’t make sense to me.

Stephen Wallenfels is a creative director, IT manager, and author who loves hiking and his family. Bad Call is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: A Murder for the Books, by Victoria Gilbert

a murder for the books
Image belongs to Crooked Lane Books.

After a love affair gone wrong, Amy Webber flees to the small Virginia town where her aunt lives and becomes the librarian. It’s not what she had in mind for her life, but she takes quiet satisfaction in helping the town’s residents. Until one of them turns up dead in the library, and Amy is thrust into a mystery that goes back almost one hundred years.

Amy’s neighbor, Richard, inherited the house that belonged to his great-uncle. The town believes the house’s original owner was poisoned by his wife—who vanished after her trial—and who Richard’s great-uncle was in love with. Determined to find out the truth, Richard convinces Amy to help him solve the case, revealing chilling details that the town’s founders would like to keep secret.

A Murder for the Books is more than a cozy mystery. It’s a comfy, enjoyable read in a small-town full of quirky, memorable characters. The town feels like home—complete with the family member no one wants to claim, the town grapevine, and people like Amy and Richard you’d really like to spend time with. A light read that you can sink into, without getting bogged down into weighty matters.

Victoria Gilbert has worked as a librarian and writes cozy mysteries. A Murder for the Books is the first book in the Blue Ridge Library Mystery series.

(Galley provided by Crooked Lane Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: All the Wrong Chords, by Christine Hurley Deriso

all the wrong chords
Image belongs to Flux.

Scarlett Stiles has had a tough time since her brother died of a drug overdose, so she agrees—reluctantly—to spend the summer with her grandfather, who’s getting older and, according to Scarlett’s parents, needs help driving. Except Scarlett is the one who really needs help in that area, as a near-miss proves. Scarlett’s near-miss turns out to be Zach, a funny, thoughtful boy with a band in need of a guitar player.

Scarlett hasn’t played guitar since her brother died, but one look at the band’s hot lead singer, Declan, has her agreeing. Just once, Scarlett thinks she deserves the hot guy, so she pursues the attraction between herself and Declan. When conflict between Declan and the rest of the band comes to a boil, Scarlett is caught between what she thinks and what she feels, while she learns new things about herself and her brother.

All the Wrong Chords is, at heart, a light YA read with a heroine who is drawn to a boy that no one else can see good in. Scarlett isn’t a perfect character. She struggles with bad decisions, feelings of inadequacy, and a tendency to be selfish. In the midst of her grief over her brother, she fails to see the pain of those around her, which causes her to hurt people she cares about. This is a good read, full of emotion and some laughs. The secondary characters make this very worth reading, and the issues concerning drug abuse and being true to yourself lend a deeper tone to the story.

Christine Hurley Deriso loves words, so she became a writer. All the Wrong Chords is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Flux via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: Dead Man’s Chest, by Kerry Greenwood

dead man's chest
Image belongs to Poison Pen Press.

Phryne Fisher has decided that a vacation by the sea is just the thing, so she packs up her household, heads for Queenscliff, and sets out, promising her companions there will be no murders to solve.

But when they arrive at their vacation home, the caretakers have vanished, along with most of the home’s contents. When their missing dog shows up a few days later, Phryne is sure something is amiss. Added to that, a group of Surrealists is causing a stir, there are rumors of smugglers on the coast, and a movie crew has the town in an uproar. And let’s not forget the dreaded pigtail thief. This vacation is anything but relaxing.

Dead Man’s Chest is a fun, light read filled with entertaining characters, set in my favorite time period—the 20s. Phryne is fascinating, a female James Bond, but with more style and class. I enjoyed this mystery, and the characters were the stars of the show.

Kerry Greenwood is the award-winning author of the Phryne Fisher series. Dead Man’s Chest is the 18th novel in the series.

(Galley provided by Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

What I Read in November

In November, I read 20 books, bringing my total for the year up to 154 books read, out of my original goal of 100. (I’ve had more reading time than I imagined, plus, some of the books were fantastic, so I read them very quickly.) I also started two other books which I did not complete, by choice.

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The Seventh Decimate, by Stephen R. Donaldson (read to review). Donaldson seems to thrive on unlikable main characters—or, at least, characters that I find hard to like—and this is no exception. The prince of a nation torn by a years-long war goes in search of a book that might hold the key to his land’s survival. Prince Bifalt is angry at pretty much everything around him, so he’s hateful and does things without thinking. I read this, but I’m not sure I’ll continue on with the trilogy.

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The Austen Escape, by Katherine Reay (read to review). I really enjoyed this book! I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, and being able to go on a trip to stay in an Austen-esque estate and play dress-up and pretend to be one of her characters sounds so fun! I can totally relate to Mary Davies feeling overshadowed by her larger-than-life best friend, and her awkwardness and cluelessness around her crush. Fun, light reading that I definitely recommend.

The Taking, The Replaced, and The Countdown, by Kimberly Derting (just because). So…I bought a used—and signed—copy of The Taking months ago, and it’s been sitting there in the stack since. I picked it up one day and was immediately sucked in. Actually, I read the whole thing that day! Ditto for The Replaced and The Countdown. It’s about Kyra, who wakes up behind a gas station and finds out that five years have passed—five years she doesn’t remember at all—and everything has changed, but she remains the same. Her boyfriend id dating her best friend, and his little brother, Tyler, is all grown up now. Then Kyra realizes she has powers. And that people are following her. Suddenly, all those stories of alien abductions aren’t sounding quite so crazy. I LOVED these books. It probably took me less than 8 hours to read all three, because I could not put them down. I will definitely be reading more of Kimberly Derting’s books. Go. Read. These!

The Zombie Gospel, by Danielle J. Stricklend (spiritual book of the month). I loved the parallels the author made in this book, between The Walking Dead and the Christian life.

Animal Farm, by George Orwell (classic book of the month). I have no idea how I’d never read this before. And now I wish I hadn’t…but I disliked the pigs in this novel so much that bacon is sounding REALLY good right now!

From Sand and Ash, by Amy Harmon (cultural book of the month). Wow. This is set in World War II, in Italy, and tells the story of an Italian Jew, and the man she loves, who is a priest. This was a fantastic read!

Autonomous, by Andy Marino (read to review, but will not be reviewing because I did not care for it). This is basically all about four self-obsessed teenagers  and their secrets. Also, social media and a self-driving car. No, thanks.

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Little Broken Things, by Nicole Baart (read to review). A thriller with a hefty dose of mystery/what is going on here. A mysterious, abandoned child, secrets, and a clever bad guy, set in a small town, amidst memories from high school. Also a look into a broken family’s secrets.

I started reading Fix Me by Lisa M. Cronkite, but stopped at about 30%. The main character has a drug problem—a made-up drug, not something that actually exists—and the narrative was too distant/disjointed for me to connect with.

Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich (just because). I’ve been disappointed with the last few Stephanie Plum books. The whole Ranger and Joe (simultaneously but also with feelings of guilt) thing is a bit annoying Make up your mind already! (and please pick Ranger). Most of the humor was also missing from this one, despite the zombies.

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Rules of Rain, by Leah Scheier (read to review). I really enjoyed this book about a girl with an autistic twin brother. Rain tries to get her brother to stand on his own two feet, but it’s hard for her to adjust to not being needed.

Spelled, by Betsy Schow (just because). This was a fun, light-humored book about a spoiled princess whose wish turns the fairy tale world upside down. The puns in this book made it well-worth reading. It reminded me of Piers Anthony’s Xanth books.

The Leaving, by Tara Altebrando (just because). One of my Tulsa book haul picks, this is about six children who disappeared 11 years ago, and five of them suddenly show back up at home, with no memories of what happened. A bit twisted, but intriguing.

Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay (just because). I discovered Katherine Reay earlier this month, and loved The Austen Escape, so I picked this one up for fun…and emerged on the other side a few hours later. Another fantastic, Austen-related tale, with a MC who absorbs herself in books, which I can relate to.

Anatomy of a Scandal, by Sarah Vaughan (read to review). This is about a woman, married for years, whose husband is accused of rape. There’s several timelines in this book, the present-day/rape trial, and the college-days tales of several characters. This one was merely “eh” for me, but it wasn’t a bad read. Just not what I needed at the time, so I chose not to review it.

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The Girl in the Tower, by Katherine Arden (read to review). Have you ever read a book that you related to a character so much that it kind of blew your mind? That was this book, for me! I thought the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, was fantastic, and the second book is phenomenal. I loved this book, which takes Vasya from her village home to the streets of Moscow, as she searches for a life that will make her happy—not the life everyone expects her to lead. There is magic in the pages of this book, and it saturates every word. I cannot recommend this enough. (And the cover is gorgeous!)

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The Ninth Grave, by Stefan Ahnhem (stopped reading). I don’t normally start reading a series in the middle, but in this case, I took a chance. It didn’t work out for me. The opening was fantastically intriguing, but after that, the 15% I read jumped around a lot, and I couldn’t keep everyone straight, so I stopped reading. Perhaps I need to try again, from the beginning of the series.

Dead Man’s Chest, by Kerry Greenwood (review forthcoming). Ironically, this is also the first book in the series I’ve read. Book 18, to be exact. And I enjoyed it a lot! Phryne is a fascinating character—private detective/investigator—set in Australia, in one of my favorite eras to read about. She’s spunky and so observant I was completely engaged. A fun, light read.

All the Wrong Chords, by Christine Hurley Deriso (review forthcoming). I really enjoyed this YA book about Scarlett (obviously, I love her name, since Gone with the Wind is my favorite book ever), trying to recover from her brother’s death, who lives with her grandfather for the summer, and joins a local band with a hot lead singer. Scarlett’s struggle with the past, the truth, and her choices to ignore that little voice in her head is all of us.

A Murder for the Books, by Victoria Gilbert (review forthcoming). Amy is still reeling from the disastrous end of her last relationship, so she moves in with her aunt in a small Virginia town. She wasn’t ready for a mystery from the past that relates to two murders in the present, nor is she ready for her new neighbor, dancer-turned-teacher Richard. This was a fun read, and I completely related to Amy and her issues. Go read this!

Linking up with Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.)