Tag: fiction

Book Review: What You Wish For, by Katherine Center

what you wish for
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   What You Wish For
Author:   Katherine Center
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   5 out of 5

Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and joy for living.

But she wasn’t always that way.

Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen.

But he wasn’t always that way.

And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before—at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him—but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But when Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school—and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she’d known is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he’s willing to destroy it.

As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love—which is the riskiest move of all. 

This book made me think being a teacher might be fun…which is really saying something, considering that’s possibly the least likely of things for me to want to do. And I have an English degree. I just know that’s not the job for me. It takes a special kind of person to be a good teacher. I am not that person.

I loved this book. It made me laugh, it made me smile, it just made me feel good. Sam was great. I loved how much she had changed as a person and come totally out of her shell. She seemed like such a fun person to be around. And Duncan used to be fun…he’s just forgotten that in the wake of everything he’s been through. I can’t speak highly enough of this book—absolutely recommend it!

Katherine Center is from Texas. What You Wish For is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Bright Lands, by John Fram

the bright lands
Image belongs to Harlequin/Hanover Square Press.

Title:   The Bright Lands
AuthorJohn Fram
Genre:   Thriller
Rating:   4 out of 5

The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.

Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.

John Fram seems to have a knack for creating believable, sympathetic characters and embroiling them in unbelievable situations. I had to stop reading at one point to make sure the author wasn’t Stephen King or his son, because it had that creepy sort of feel to it. But King’s novels—including the giant spider and the clown in the sewers—are more believable for me than the premise of this novel. Despite the compelling prose, the unbelievability of the main plot idea made me lose faith in the author to a certain extent.

John Fram is from Texas but now lives in New York. The Bright Lands is his debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Hanover Square Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: She’s Faking It, by Kristin Rockaway

She's Faking It Blog Tour

she's faking it
Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:   She’s Faking It
Author:   Kristin Rockaway
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

Bree Bozeman isn’t exactly pursuing the life of her dreams. Then again, she isn’t too sure what those dreams are. After dropping out of college, she’s living a pretty chill life in the surf community of Pacific Beach, San Diego…if “chill” means delivering food as a GrubGetter, and if it means “uneventful”.

But when Bree starts a new Instagram account — @breebythesea — one of her posts gets a signal boost from none other than wildly popular self-help guru Demi DiPalma, owner of a lifestyle brand empire. Suddenly, Bree just might be a rising star in the world of Instagram influencing. Is this the direction her life has been lacking? It’s not a career choice she’d ever seriously considered, but maybe it’s a sign from the universe. After all, Demi’s the real deal… right?

Everything is lining up for Bree: life goals, career, and even a blossoming romance with the chiseled guy next door, surf star Trey Cantu. But things are about to go sideways fast, and even the perfect filter’s not gonna fix it. Instagram might be free, but when your life looks flawless on camera, what’s the cost?

This book made me laugh! Bree is the very definition of failing at adulting…except, what if “adulting” isn’t what you want to be or do? Bree just needs to figure out what she wants to do. She is such a relatable character. Her very relatableness made this an immersive read.

It reminded me of Flirting with Forty, in a very tenuous way (At heart, both books are about figuring out what you want and pursing that dream.). I laughed at Bree, I cringed, I hoped she would not make the bad decisions I saw looming…but I was fully invested in her story from the first page.

Kristin Rockaway is a former software engineer. She’s Faking It is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Summer House, by Lauren K. Denton

the summer house
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  The Summer House
AuthorLauren K. Denton
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5

Lily Bishop wakes one morning to find a good-bye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. Having moved to Alabama for his job only weeks before, Lily is devastated but forced to contemplate her next steps when she sees a flier at the grocery store for a hair stylist position in a local retirement community.

Rose Carrigan built the small retirement village of Safe Harbor years ago–just before her husband ran off with his assistant. Now she runs a tight ship, making sure the residents follow her strict rules. Rose keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her own family. But when Lily shows up asking for a job and a place to live, Rose’s cold exterior begins to thaw. Lily and Rose form an unlikely friendship, and Lily’s salon soon becomes the place where residents share town gossip, as well as a few secrets of their own. Lily even finds herself drawn to Rose’s nephew, Rawlins–a single dad and shrimper who’s had some practice at starting over, and one of the residents may be carrying a torch for Rose as well.

Neither Lily nor Rose is where they expected to be, but the summer makes them both wonder if there’s more to life and love than what they’ve lived so far. The Summer House weaves Lauren Denton’s inviting Southern charm around a woman’s journey to find herself.

I’m just going to say it:  I love Lauren K. Denton’s writing! This was another entrancing summer read! If only I’d been at the beach reading….I was glued to the page from the moment Lily woke up to find her husband gone without warning.

Rose changed the most during this novel, and her journey was wonderful to read. Despite her emotionally barricaded life, she learns to open up and trust people, just as Lily does. Even the secondary characters are wonderful, and this is definitely a book worth binge reading!

Lauren K. Denton is a bestselling author. The Summer House is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: On Ocean Boulevard, by Mary Alice Monroe

on ocean boulevard
Image belongs to Gallery Books.

Title:  On Ocean Boulevard
AuthorMary Alice Monroe
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

It’s been sixteen years since Caretta “Cara” Rutledge has returned home to the beautiful shores of Charleston, South Carolina. Over those years, she has weathered the tides of deaths and births, struggles and joys. And now, as Cara prepares for her second wedding, her life is about to change yet again.

Meanwhile, the rest of the storied Rutledge family is also in flux. Cara’s niece Linnea returns to Sullivan’s Island to begin a new career and an unexpected relationship. Linnea’s parents, having survived bankruptcy, pin their hopes and futures on the construction of a new home on Ocean Boulevard. But as excitement over the house and wedding builds, a devastating illness strikes the family and brings plans to a screeching halt. It is under these trying circumstances that the Rutledge family must come together yet again to discover the enduring strength in love, tradition, and legacy from mother to daughter to granddaughter.

Like the sea turtles that come ashore annually on these windswept islands, three generations of the Rutledge family experience a season of return, rebirth, and growth.

As a former environmental biology major with a love of the ocean, I loved the conservation and environmental aspects of this. And I really wanted to pack up and go live on a barrier island. I cannot imagine how wonderful it would be to wake up to the ocean at sunrise every morning.

I enjoyed Cara’s story the most, but Linnea’s struggles were totally relatable. I couldn’t quite relate to the wealth and privilege of some of the characters, but family expectations? Absolutely. This was a quick, uncomplicated read—and yes, it would be a perfect beach read!

Mary Alice Monroe is a bestselling author and a conservationist. On Ocean Boulevard is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge, by Phaedra Patrick

the secrets of love story bridge
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title:  The Secrets of Love Story Bridge
AuthorPhaedra Patrick
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Single father Mitchell Fisher hates all things romance. He enjoys his job removing padlocks fastened to the famous “love lock” bridges of Upchester city. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his disciplined veneer, Mitchell grieves the loss of her mother, Anita.

One fateful day, working on the bridge, Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls into the river. He’s surprised to feel a connection to her, but the woman disappears before he learns her name. To Mitchell’s shock, a video of the rescue goes viral, hailing him as “The Hero on the Bridge.” He’s soon notified by the mysterious woman’s sister, Liza, that she has been missing for over a year. However, the only clue to where the woman could have gone is the engraved padlock she left on the bridge.

 Mitchell finds himself swept up in Liza’s quest to find her lost sister. Along the way, with help from a sparkling cast of characters, Mitchell’s heart gradually unlocks, and he discovers new beginnings can be found in the unlikeliest places…

This seems like a simple story, but there’s a lot going on here. The pacing is slow and steady, which just works for this story. There’s a bit of mystery with the missing woman and her story, sadness and grief over Mitchell’s lost love, and also hope for the future. Not every story needs a fast pace to keep a reader engrossed. Sometimes, savoring a novel like this one is just as enthralling.

Phaedra Patrick studied art and marketing, and has worked as a stained-glass artist, film festival organizer and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full-time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son. The Secrets of Love Story Bridge is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Park Row in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Queen of Paris, by Pamela Binnings Ewen

the queen of paris
Image belongs to Blackstone Publishing.

Title:  The Queen of Paris
AuthorPamela Binnings Ewen
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Coco Chanel doesn’t care about the war. She cares about keeping her secrets and the rights to her legendary perfume. But the Nazis have other ideas, and when they occupy Paris during the war, Coco finds she has much more at stake than she ever imagined. And even more secrets to hide.

I love a good historical fiction read, although the subject of this was a little bit outside my wheelhouse. An interesting look at how Coco grew up—and how she became the icon she became. The writing was vivid and well-done, but the character herself was a bit off-putting to me, being mainly focused on herself and her concerns, with no self-awareness or interest in anything outside her own little bubble.

Pamela Binnings Ewen lives outside New Orleans. The Queen of Paris is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Blackstone Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Sparrow, by Mary Cecilia Jackson

sparrow
Image belongs to Tor Teen.

Title:  Sparrow
AuthorMary Cecilia Jackson
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Sparrow—Savannah Darcy Rose—thought she would be safe after her mother died. She thought she could finally stop hiding. She’s a gifted ballerina with a tight-knit circle of friends, she’s starring in a new production, and her future looks bright.

Then she meets Tristan:  handsome, wealthy, the most popular boy in school. Sparrow is in love, but Tristan isn’t quite as perfect as he seems, and soon Sparrow finds herself keeping secrets from everyone. She’s not the kind of girl who tells, but after a brutal assault, she must learn how to open up to those around her.

This wasn’t an easy book to read. You could see the disaster looming…but you were helpless to divert it. Sparrow’s backstory is horrifying, and the emotional scars she bears lead to physical scars in her present. I loved her strength and determination—and the strong friendships made the novel shine.

Mary Cecilia Jackson loves being a Southerner and reading. Sparrow is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Tor Teen in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Rome of Fall, by Chad Alan Gibbs

the rome of fall
Image belongs to Borne Back Books.

Title:  The Rome of Fall
AuthorChad Alan Gibbs
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Twenty years ago, Marcus Brinks left Rome, Alabama behind quickly, quietly, and mysteriously. The small town worshiped its football gods—back when Marcus was in high school, that was Deacon Cassburn—and allowed them to get away with anything short of murder, including bullying Marcus and his best friends, Silas and third-string quarterback Jackson. So Marcus and his friends decide to take down Deacon—state championship on the line or not.

Now Marcus is back in Rome to care for his dying mother. Things have changed in Rome…or have they? Marcus is a teacher and former indie rock star and Jackson is the football god/coach, while Deacon and his buddies plot to take him down. Things are ugly in Rome, and Marcus just wants to keep out of the drama and maybe have a bit of romance with his high school crush. But the past has a way of shaping the future, and even in Rome, it will catch up to you.

I’m not a football fan, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying every page of this. I graduated in ’95, so all the references the author made brought that back to life for me. I’m from Texas, so I get the Friday Night Lights hoopla—even though my high school didn’t have football until just a couple of years ago, the basketball coach back then could have gotten away with murder—and it was so vivid and realistic in The Rome of Fall.

Marcus isn’t entirely likable, but he’s relatable. The whole teen angst storyline in the ‘90s was vivid, angry, and full of pain. The present-day storyline was more nostalgic, but also angry and painful. I loved how everything resolved at the end, bringing Marcus full-circle and the reader hoping he finds happiness along with his dreams.

Chad Alan Gibbs is an award-winning author. The Rome of Fall is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Borne Back Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Deep, by Alma Katsu

THE-DEEP-cover-final-678x1024
Image belongs to Penguin Group/Putnam.

Title:  The Deep
AuthorAlma Katsu
Genre:  Historical, psychological thriller
Rating:  4 out of 5

The Titanic is haunted. Sudden deaths, mysterious disappearances, objects that aren’t where they’re supposed to be, and visions…something is plaguing the ship. Annie Hebley serves on the maiden voyage of the celebrated ship, assigned to care for Mark Fletcher and his family. Early in the voyage, Annie realizes something strange is going on with the Fletchers—but then disaster strikes.

Years later, Annie, having miraculously survived the Titanic’s sinking, finds herself working on its sister ship, The Britannic, a hospital ship during the war. Memories of that other fateful voyage haunt her, then she sees a wounded soldier on the verge of death—Mark Fletcher, whom she thought died years ago in the frigid waters around Titanic. Annie doesn’t know how he survived, and soon comes to believe he didn’t.

Whatever haunted The Titanic is now on board The Britannic. And it wants what it lost.

I found The Deep a little hard to follow, as there was so much disjointedness in both time periods. Annie was an unreliable narrator—but so was everyone else—so knowing what was really going on wasn’t easy. I’ve always been fascinated and saddened by stories of The Titanic, so that was part was wonderful, but some of the secondary characters here—the boxers—seemed…kind of pointless to the storyline.

Alma Katsu lives outside Washington, D.C. The Deep is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Penguin Group/Putnam in exchange for an honest review.)