Amy Whey is happy with her life: professor husband, fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, baby son, best friend Charlotte. Sure, she doesn’t get to dive as much as she used to since the baby was born, but she wouldn’t trade her family for anything. She’s helping Charlotte with the neighborhood book club when new neighbor Roux shows up.
Roux charms the neighborhood women, and soon they’re drinking wine and spilling secrets. They all think it’s innocent fun, but Amy knows better. She sees the darkness in Roux’s eyes and sees the first tiny ripples of hurt she causes. When Roux tells Amy she knows the truth about what Amy did years ago—and she’ll tell that horrible secret if Amy doesn’t give her exactly what she wants—Amy wonders if she can beat the devil at her own game.
Secrets upon secrets unravel as Amy races to find out the truth about Roux before the women spills Amy’s secrets and ruins her life for good.
I do love Joshilyn Jackson’s writing, and, while I’m disappointed this one isn’t Southern fiction (my favorite), Never Have I Ever is an excellent, engrossing book. Amy’s been running from the truth for a long time, and she’s desperate to keep her secret and the life she loves safe. Roux is a terrifying kind of evil—if only she’d used her powers for good!—and Amy will do whatever is necessary to keep her family—and her secret—safe. Highly readable, and I cannot recommend this enough.
Joshilyn Jackson is an award-winning author. Never Have I Ever is her newest novel.
Annaleigh Thaumus lives a sheltered life at Highmore. Once there were 12 Thaumus girls, but since her mother died and then four of her sisters, things are grim in the home. Even more grim are the whispers from surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
Her sisters sneak out every night to attend secret balls, but what is the glitz and glamour hiding? When Annaleigh starts seeing ghostly visions and a handsome stranger arrives, she starts to wonder if her sisters’ tragic deaths were really accidents—or something more.
The culture in House of Salt and Sorrows is vivid and imaginative, with hints of fairy tales and legends sprinkled about. I liked Annaleigh, but I didn’t connect with her as well as I could’ve. Some parts of this book were very creepy, and the myths and the gods were intriguing. I’d have to say I liked the culture itself—and the hints of the cultures of surrounding lands—the most.
Erin A. Craig lives in Memphis, Tennessee. House of Salt and Sorrows is her debut novel.
(Galley provided by Delacorte Press in exchange for an honest review.)
So…normally, I pick the top three books I read in a month. This time, that’s just not possible. Because I read some really good books in July.
The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, by Bethany Turner. This was from my TBR pile, so I didn’t review it. What happens when a steamy romance writer gets saved and falls in love with a preacher? This made me laugh so much, as, apparently, Sarah and I were separated at birth.
Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin. This also didn’t get a review, as it was my cultural book of the month. Pride and Prejudice in a Muslim community? Yes, please! I enjoyed this immensely, and I loved the look at a Muslim community. And, of course, a good Pride and Prejudice retelling does not go amiss.
The Book Charmer, by Karen Hawkins. If i could physically give you a copy of this book—I would! I don’t even like small towns, and I’d move to Dove Pond. A librarian who hears books talk to her, a town in trouble, and the outsider who’s the only one who can save it. Please do yourself a favor and read this!
The Merciful Crow, by Margaret Owen. Have you ever read a fantasy novel that sucked you in from the very first page, that made the culture come alive, and had characters that lived and breathed on the page? This is that book. I’d have read this straight through except work. I could NOT put it down!
Legend has it that when the Dove family has seven daughters, something special happens. Sarah Dove is that seventh daughter, and since she was seven years old, books have whispered to her. They tell her which person in town needs them—and the books are always right. So when a cranky old book tells Sarah who is going to save Dove Pond, she listens.
Grace Wheeler moved to Dove Pond because dementia is encroaching on her beloved mother, and she hopes that returning to her mother’s hometown might slow its progress. She also has her niece to care for and giving up her high-powered financial job to move to a small town and take care of family wasn’t in Grace’s plans.
The town of Dove Pond is in trouble, and Grace may be the only one who can save it. But she’ll need the help of Sarah, Travis—her gruff neighbor—and everyone else in Dove Pond if she’s to pull it off.
I loved this book! I grew up in a small town (much smaller than Dove Pond) and have always been grateful that I no longer live there, but I’d move to Dove Pond. The town is such a character in this story. Its people are vibrant and quirky, and I wanted to hang out with all of them. Especially Sarah. As much as I love books and reading, she’s someone I could absolutely be friends with. And Grace is so strong. She’s like a force of nature. I cannot wait to read more of this series! This is labeled as romance, but that’s a secondary plot here, as the book is much more about friendship, family, and saving Dove Pond.
Karen Hawkins is a bestselling author. The Book Charmer, the first book in the Dove Pond series, is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Lindy McAvoy was always the wild McAvoy sister: always the talk of the town for her escapades, always into something. Seventeen years ago, she left town—and her mother and sister—behind in search of a better life in the city. Now she’s back in Port to visit her mother, who’s just had a stroke, and her sister, who’s now raising her own daughters.
Delia never even told her sister she’d had another baby, but now that Lindy’s back in town to visit their ailing mother, she knows she’ll have to talk to her—and Delia sees her rebellious sister in the eyes and actions of her own oldest daughter. The McAvoys have never talked about that summer seventeen years ago when their family fell apart and Lindy left town, but now that the family is back together, secrets from long ago fill the air and shape the family they are now.
I loved this book! Lindy and Delia’s relationship is complex and filled with years of history and emotion—not to mention secrets. The town of Port—and life on the shores of a Great Lake—was so vibrant and well-realized I felt like I’d grown up there. I loved all the intricate relationships, and, while the “secret” wasn’t a surprise, the gradual revelation of what really happened was enthralling and kept me engrossed.
Molly Fader lives in Ontario. The McAvoy Book of Secrets is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)
In the 1960s, Frank and Joanna have moved their two children to Bethlehem, where his mother and grandmother live alone in a grand mansion. Frank works all the time, and Joanna struggles to scratch out a place for herself with a husband who’s always away. Her working-class background leaves her unprepared for Frank’s wealthy home, but she finds a friend in cemetery caretaker Doe, an old friend of Joanna’s mother-in-law—and her enigmatic grandson.
In the 1920s steel town of Bethlehem, the Parrish and Collier families have grown up together. Susannah, a budding flapper on the verge of adulthood, has always known the families expected her to marry Ellis, but then she falls hard for someone she never imagined. When unthinkable tragedy tears her world apart, she’s left holding secrets that can destroy both families.
This book was a slow, smooth ride into story. The two timelines were twisted together so well that they formed one incredibly detailed tapestry. I enjoyed every single page of this book and was so invested in the characters I cried! A must-read!
Karen Kelly has a B.A. in English from Vanderbilt. Bethlehem is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Ryan Gracey is a true crime podcaster who nearly lost her life after a fatal error in judgment years before. She knows she can’t compete with her perfect older sister, Wendy, so she stopped trying years ago and went after a life that made her happy. And she is happy, despite some regrets, when her sister calls her out of the blue and begs for her help.
She won’t tell Ryan much, just that there’s been a murder and she’s afraid she’ll be wrongfully accused, so Ryan moves back home to care for Wendy’s two daughters—and to try to prove Wendy’s innocence. But the more Ryan digs, the more secrets she uncovers, and soon Ryan realizes everything she’s ever thought about her big sister is a lie.
This was not what I was expecting at all. It’s marketed as women’s fiction, but I’d say it falls more into the murder mystery/crime investigation genre. I was just as surprised as Ryan at some of her discoveries, and this read takes family drama to a whole new level! I found it hard to put the book down.
Emilie Richards lives and writes—across a multitude of genres—in Florida. A Family of Strangers is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Mira via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Indigo can’t take it anymore. Her twin sister, Violet, is terminally ill and choosing to end her life by medically assisted suicide. Indigo doesn’t want to live without her twin, and she’s sure her family would rather have Violet, everyone’s favorite, than her. Before she can jump from a building, she hears a voice claiming to be God, who says if the entire family takes Violet to hike The Wave in the desert, she will live.
As if hearing voices isn’t enough, Indigo also must convince her mom, who never thought Indigo was good enough, her brother, who’s keeping secrets, and her annoying, bossy, know-it-all older sister. Not to mention the New Age pastor who was going to help Violet pass. She’s not sure she can do this, even with the help of the voice.
This book covers some deep subjects with respect and empathy. Indigo is a vibrant yet troubled character, and her voice shows her mental conflict, as well as her struggles in her family. I found the book flippant about religion, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. I didn’t like the ending, but it was very fitting for the story.
Dana L. Davis is an actor, a motivational speaker, a screenwriter, and a violist. The Voice in My Head is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin TEEN via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
With Russia in revolution, the Romanov family are held as hostages by the Bolsheviks. For Nastya—Princess Anastasia—this new world is bewildering and frustrating. Her loving family is intact and together, but they are constantly guarded by soldiers. They are barely allowed to go outside. They are constantly under watch. She doesn’t understand why the world is so bloody and dangerous, she just knows it is.
There is an element of truth in what the people say about the Romanovs, but Nastya is not a spellcaster. If she was, she could heal her brother’s hemophilia and her mother’s illness. She could stop herself from falling in love and mend her sister’s broken heart. And she could keep her family from being executed.
But this isn’t the lies spoken about her family by the Bolsheviks. This is her life. And the truth is far stranger than the history books say.
I’ve probably seen the Disney movie Anastasia at some point, but I don’t remember it, and I’ve certainly read bits and pieces about the Romanovs, none of which I remembered before picking this book up. I had no problems understanding what was going on or starting the story after the Romanovs are taken hostage. The love in this family is remarkable and portrayed so well. All the characters are well-done, but Nastya herself is both struggling and strong, and her determination to help her family is something to behold. I enjoyed this read immensely.
Nadine Brandes is the author of the Out of Time series. Romanov is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
It’s bad enough Sara’s boyfriend cheated on her and she found out when she saw sexting pics on his phone. But now he and the other girl are flaunting it around town, when all Sara wants is to get through the summer and spend senior year with her best friend, Devi, and get into an Ivy League school. Surely a drunken hook-up at a party will at least take Sara’s mind off her problems.
She forgot to get the guy’s number, and when she finds out she’s pregnant, well, things change. She and her mom move in with her grandmother, and instead of starting senior year with Devi, Sara is the new girl at a new school. She meets some new friends and Leaf, a Romani boy who really gets her, and whose flirting makes her happy. Except she’s also the pregnant new girl. She should probably tell Leaf about that, but she wants to hold on to her happiness for just a little longer.
Belly Up wasn’t quite what I expected. Sara is an amazing character, and her voice is so much fun. This is an incredibly diverse book, and friendship is a main theme, as is love (and not romantic love, either). This was a fun read about serious subjects, and I recommend it.
Eva Darrows/Hillary Monahan is a New York Times-bestselling author. Belly Up is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin TEEN/Inkyard Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)