Title: Sankofa Author: Chibundu Onuzo Genre: Fiction Rating: 4 out of 5
Anna is at a stage of her life when she’s beginning to wonder who she really is. She has separated from her husband, her daughter is all grown up, and her mother—the only parent who raised her—is dead.
Searching through her mother’s belongings one day, Anna finds clues about the African father she never knew. His student diaries chronicle his involvement in radical politics in 1970s London. Anna discovers that he eventually became the president—some would say dictator—of a small nation in West Africa. And he is still alive . . .
When Anna decides to track her father down, a journey begins that is disarmingly moving, funny, and fascinating. Like the metaphorical bird that gives the novel its name, Sankofa expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present to address universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for a family’s hidden roots.
I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. Anna has spent most of her life stagnating, so it was good to see her finally take some sort of action. But, Anna still lets life happen to her, going along with a lot of things instead of speaking up or standing up for herself. Her father was kind of awful, a far cry from the man she got to know from his diary.
Chibundu Onuzo is from Nigeria. Sankofa is her new novel.
(Galley courtesy of Catapult in exchange for an honest review.)
Title: Her Perfect Life Author: Hank Phillippi Ryan Genre: Mystery/thriller Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Everyone knows Lily Atwood—and that may be her biggest problem. The beloved television reporter has it all—fame, fortune, Emmys, an adorable seven-year-old daughter, and the hashtag her loving fans created: #PerfectLily. To keep it, all she has to do is protect one life-changing secret.
Lily has an anonymous source who feeds her story tips—but suddenly, the source begins telling Lily inside information about her own life. How does he—or she—know the truth?
Lily understands that no one reveals a secret unless they have a reason. Now she’s terrified someone is determined to destroy her world—and with it, everyone and everything she holds dear.
How much will she risk to keep her perfect life?
The basic plot of this was a bit hard for me to believe. I know Lily isn’t quite an investigative reporter, but she has done a little investigating and she has kept her own secret hidden for decades. (Side note, please tell me why Lily’s secret needs to stay a secret anyway? Seems to me it would make her far for likable, instead of into the social media pariah she believes it will make her.) So, why does she just believe her anonymous source when he shows up in person? She doesn’t bother to make a single phone call to find out if he really is who he says he is. That alone made the rest of the book not-quite-believable.
Hank Phillippi Ryan is an investigative reporter and a bestselling author. Her Perfect Life is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Macmillan-Tor/Forge in exchange for an honest review.)
Nothing ever happens in a sleepy town like Middlebrook. Until the residents are shaken to their core, when one hot Saturday afternoon, at a back-to-school party, nine children sneak into a barn…and only eight come out unharmed.
The press immediately starts asking questions. What type of parents let their children play unsupervised in a house with guns? What kind of child pulls the trigger on their friend? And most importantly: of the nine children who were present in that barn, which one actually pulled the trigger, and why are the others staying silent?
This was a well-written book, but most of the adult characters were barely tolerable—and Priscilla was horrible. I didn’t like the characters; I didn’t like that only one viewpoint was presented as “right”—that seems very narrow-minded for such a supposedly diverse community—and I didn’t appreciate the bias evident on every single page. Which is really too bad, as the basic plot was interesting, even if none of the supposed revelations were surprising in the least.
Nina Monroe was born in Germany, grew up in England, and now lives in New Hampshire. The Children’s Secret is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review.)
Whitney had some misgivings when she dropped her increasingly moody teenage daughter, Amelia, off at Lauren’s house. She’d never met the parents, and usually she’d go in, but Amelia clearly wasn’t going to let something so humiliating happen, so instead Whitney waved to her daughter before pulling away from the little house with the roses in front.
But when she goes back the next day, an elderly couple answers the door—Amelia and Lauren aren’t there, and this couple swears they never were, that she’s at the wrong house. As Whitney searches for Amelia, she uncovers a trail of lies her daughter has told her—from the Finsta account to rumors of a secret relationship. Does she really even know this girl she’s raised? And Amelia’s not the only one with secrets. Could Whitney’s own demons have something to do with her daughter’s disappearance, and can Whitney find her before it’s too late?
Even before I realized Whitney was an unreliable narrator, I thought she was a horrible person. Her super controlling relationship with her daughter got on my very last nerve—especially considering the secrets she was hiding! At first, I was intrigued by what had happened to Amelia, but then I was just low-key annoyed. Does anyone in this family ever tell the truth? Solid writing but unlikeable (to me) characters made this just an okay read.
Amber Garza lives in California. Where I Left Her is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)
Cassidy Morgan’s life has always followed a carefully laid track: top education, fulfilling career, and marriage to the love of her life, Owen. The next logical step was starting a family. But when a late-term miscarriage threatens to derail everything she’s worked so hard for, she finds herself questioning her identity, particularly what it means to be a mother. Unable to move past her guilt and shame, she realizes there’s more to fix than a broken heart. Grief illuminates the weaknesses in her marriage and forces her to deal with her tumultuous relationship with her own mother.
Cassidy hopes her work as a veterinarian specializing in equine reproduction will distract her from the pain but instead finds that one of the cases she’s working on shines a spotlight on the memory of her unborn son. For once in her life, Cassidy is left untethered and wondering why she wanted to become a mother in the first place.
Then the unexpected happens when Cassidy becomes pregnant again. But the joy over her baby is tempered by her fear of another loss as well as her increasingly troubled marriage. Now, she must decide whether to let her pain hold her back or trust that there’s still something to live for.
I have to confess, I almost stopped reading this about 25% of the way through. Cassidy and her mother were some of the most selfish and oblivious people I’ve encountered, and they (especially the mother) were extremely off-putting to read. This family has issues. So much passive-aggressiveness in every interaction.
Cassidy’s loss and what she went through were well-done, although her hatefulness to people made her hard to sympathize with at times. Grief and loss are explored on the page, as well as healing, although Cassidy did not “deal with her tumultuous relationship” with her mother as the blurb says. There was very little of that.
Kalyn Fogarty is a professional horseback rider and an author. What We Carry is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Alcove Press in exchange for an honest review.)
When twenty-nine-year-old Sunday Brennan wakes up in a Los Angeles hospital, bruised and battered after a drunk driving accident she caused, she swallows her pride and goes home to her family in New York. But it’s not easy. She deserted them all—and her high school sweetheart—five years before with little explanation, and they’ve got questions.
Sunday is determined to rebuild her life back on the east coast, even if it does mean tiptoeing around resentful brothers and an ex-fiancé. The longer she stays, however, the more she realizes they need her just as much as she needs them. When a dangerous man from her past brings her family’s pub business to the brink of financial ruin, the only way to protect them is to upend all their secrets—secrets that have damaged the family for generations and will threaten everything they know about their lives. In the aftermath, the Brennan family is forced to confront painful mistakes—and ultimately find a way forward, together.
I do love a good family saga—even if this is only about one generation of a family (or, more accurately, about one short span of time in a single family). The family is quirky but entirely likable, and I enjoyed getting to know them. They’re hiding lots of secrets, too, and it was fascinating watching them be uncovered. This was just an enjoyable read.
Tracey Lange is from the Bronx and now lives in Oregon. We Are the Brennans is her debut novel.
(Galley courtesy of Celadon books in exchange for an honest review.)
Ava Dove—the sixth of seven daughters of the famed Dove family, and owner of Ava’s Landscaping and Specialty Gourmet Tea—is frantic.
Just as she is getting ready to open her fabulous new tearoom, her herbal teas have gone wonky. Suddenly, the tea that is supposed to help people sleep is startling them awake with vivid dreams; the tea that infuses romance back into tired marriages is causing people to blurt out their darkest secrets; and the tea that helps people find happiness is making them spend hours staring into mirrors.
Meanwhile, living four doors down the road from Ava, sixteen-year-old Kristen Foster’s life has just crashed down around her. After her mother’s death, Kristen’s grandmother Ellen has arrived in town to sweep Kristen off to a white mansion on a hill in distant Raleigh. But Kristen has had enough ‘life changes’ and is desperate to stay with her friends in her beloved hometown of Dove Pond. But to do so means Kristen must undertake a quest she’s been avoiding her entire life—finding her never-been-there-for-her father.
With the help of an ancient herbal remedy book found in her attic by her sister, Ava realizes that Kristen holds the key to fixing her unstable tea leaves. So Ava throws herself into Kristen’s search, even convincing Kristen’s grandmother Ellen to help, too. Together, the three embark on a reluctant but magical journey of healing, friendship, and family that will delight fans of Alice Hoffman, Kate Morton, and Sarah Addison Allen.
I’ve really enjoyed both books in the Dove Pond series. The setting is so charming, and the characters are distinct and likable, drawing you into their adventures on the very first page. The Dove sisters are both quirky and relatable, and I can’t wait to meet their other sisters as the series continues. Ellen was totally unlikable to start with, but she grew and changed throughout the story, just as Ava herself did. This was a sweet, enjoyable read, perfect for curling up with a cup of hot tea and immersing yourself in it!
Karen Hawkins is a New York Times-bestselling author. A Cup of Silver Linings is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.)
Sadie Way Scott has been avoiding her family and hometown of Sugarberry Cove, Alabama, since she nearly drowned in the lake just outside her mother’s B&B. Eight years later, Sadie is the host of a much-loved show about southern cooking and family, but despite her success, she wonders why she was saved. What is she supposed to do?
Sadie’s sister, Leala Clare, is still haunted by the guilt she feels over the night her sister almost died. Now, at a crossroads in her marriage, Leala has everything she ever thought she wanted–so why is she so unhappy?
When their mother suffers a minor heart attack just before Sugarberry Cove’s famous water lantern festival, the two sisters come home to run the inn while she recovers. It’s the last place either of them wants to be, but with a little help from the inn’s quirky guests, the sisters may come to terms with their strained relationships, accept the past, and rediscover a little lake magic.
I enjoyed the magical realism in this story! The miscommunication/lack of communication between the characters causes all sorts of problems, but I really enjoyed the B&B setting and how the family worked out all their issues finally. This was a sweet, fun read, perfect for a summer weekend—especially at the lake.
Heather Webber lives new Cincinnati, Ohio. The Lights of Sugarberry Cove is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Macmillan-Tor/Forge in exchange for an honest review.)
High-school sweethearts Mac and Edie Swan lead a seemingly picture-perfect life in the sleepy-sweet community of Oak Hill, near Mobile, Alabama. Edie is a respected interior designer, Mac is a beloved pediatrician, and they have two great kids and a historic home on tree-lined Linden Avenue. From the outside, the Swan family is the definition of “the good life.” And life is good—mostly. Until a young woman walks into Mac’s office one day. A young woman whose very existence threatens all Mac and Edie have built and all they think they know about each other.
Nineteen years after a summer apart, with a family and established lives and careers, the past that Mac and Edie thought they left behind has come back to greet them. For the first time, constants in their lives are called into question: their roles as parents, their reputation as upstanding members of the community, and the very foundations of their marriage. As they wade through the upheaval in both their family and professional lives, they must each examine choices they made long ago and chart a new course for their future.
I love Lauren K. Denton’s novels and always look forward to their release, so I was excited to read this. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as her others. Excellent writing and characters, but Edie’s over-the-top reaction to the past really didn’t sit well with me.
She and Mac were broken up that summer. She doesn’t have any right to be angry about what he did—I can understand the hurt, but to be so furious and unforgiving when she was keeping secrets of her own that same summer is hypocritical at best. Considering her anger was the main thread running through the novel, this was a pretty big problem for me. I kept thinking “Get over yourself. You did the same thing, and now you’re mad at him?”
Lauren K. Denton is a bestselling author. The One You’re With is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)
ONE ICONIC FAMILY. ONE SUMMER OF SECRETS. THE DAZZLING SPIRIT OF 1970S CALIFORNIA.
For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods… until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.
Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.
This book was unexpected. That’s the only adjective I can think of to describe it. Parts of it are lyrical, parts are sad, parts are just plain magical. Excellent, vibrant writing—I can practically watch events unfolding in my imagination as the narrative switches between present-day events and those of the past. I highly recommend this!
Amy Mason Doan grew up in California. Lady Sunshine is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)