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.)
Celebrated singer Genevieve Dumont is both a star and a smokescreen. An unwilling darling of the Nazis, the chanteuse’s position of privilege allows her to go undetected as an ally to the resistance.
When her estranged mother, Lillian de Rocheford, is captured by Nazis, Genevieve knows it won’t be long before the Gestapo succeeds in torturing information out of Lillian that will derail the upcoming allied invasion. The resistance movement is tasked with silencing her by any means necessary—including assassination. But Genevieve refuses to let her mother become yet one more victim of the war. Reuniting with her long-lost sister, she must find a way to navigate the perilous cross-currents of Occupied France undetected—and in time to save Lillian’s life.
I recently read a novel about Coco Chanel’s time during the Nazi occupation—and Chanel is mentioned in passing at once point during this novel—but I found this story far more engrossing than that one. I liked Genevieve from the beginning, and she only grew more intriguing as more of her story was revealed.
I enjoyed the parts of the story about her singing and performances, her costumes, and her glitzy life, but the mysteries and intrigues she gets into were even more fascinating. I highly recommend reading this!
Karen Robards is a bestselling author. The Black Swan of Paris is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)
The kingdom of Malam has a dark history of persecuting Channelers, women with magical ability, but now the young king, Aodren is seeking to end the persecution and unite his kingdom. But decades of hatred cannot be undone with words, and rumors of a Channeler-made drug are causing fears to burst into flame, and violence to erupt.
Lirra was born in Malam, but her father fled when she was an infant, after her mother was murdered. She distrusts Malam and its new young king, and wants only to perform in the magic showcase, her chance to let her talents shine. But the deadly drug makes a kingdoms-wide summit even more dangerous, and soon Lirra is forced to work with Aodren as they try to find the source of the mysterious drug—and who’s behind it—before Malam’s future is destroyed forever.
This is a standalone, but it’s linked to the other books in the Clash of Kingdoms series, and I had no trouble picking this up without reading the first two (which sometimes does NOT work out). The worldbuilding was fantastic, and the sense of history gave so many compelling layers to this story! The characters are struggling to work together despite the many things that should make that impossible, as they do everything they can to overcome years and a culture of hatred. Highly recommended!
Erin Summerill is an award-winning author. Once a King is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by HMH Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)
Caroline Carlyle lost her fiancé six years ago and lost her music as well, at least the ability to finish the song she was writing for him. Now her days are a pleasant haze of piano lessons, church, and time spent with her neighbors. She doesn’t have the to heart to try anything new.
But change starts when Caroline hears someone playing her song—in her home—one night. The mystery of her stalker starts to stir things up, and soon Caroline is searching for her childhood piano, which leads her to Kentucky and a mysterious, reclusive gentleman. Change is coming—even if she’s not ready for it.
This was a calm, soothing read, with a vividly-realized setting and characters. It’s a quiet book, and one I enjoyed very much. I don’t know a lot about piano music, so some of the nuances were lost on me, but I loved every single page, and I was not expecting the resolution to the mystery of her stalker.
Phyllis Clark Nichols was born in Georgia during a hurricane. Return of the Song is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Gilead Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)
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.
Tatum Elsea is not looking forward to summer. Accused of a crime—falsely—she’s under house-arrest with her less-than-loving stepmother while her father is out of the country. Tate is only allowed to be at home and her court-ordered community service, unless her stepmother approves it. Like that’s going to happen. So, Tatum starts a secret graphic design business, which leads to an email flirtation with a cello-playing client.
With her feisty step-grandmother in town, Tate starts to realize that maybe her way isn’t the only way, and soon she learns she’s not the only one in the family keeping secrets. Will Tate be able to use her new perspective to fix her relationship with her best friend and turn her family around? Then there’s the cello player…
I finished reading It Started with Goodbye in less than 24 hours. This is a fun, light read, but it delves into some deeper issues, like taking responsibility for your actions, healing relationships, and honesty. Tate grows a lot through the course of the book, and the author captures her growing pains vividly and emotionally, letting the reader see through Tate’s eyes and experience that awakening along with her. I loved how Tate’s relationship with her stepmother and stepsister evolved, and her step-grandmother is perfect; feisty and fun but not irresponsible. The email exchanges with the cello player are a cute finishing touch.
If you like young adult books, I highly recommend this one. It deals with some deep topics and isn’t just a fluffy romance.
Debbie Macomber is a #1 New York Times best-selling author, and has written dozens of books in her career. She also loves to knit and help others, including herKnit 1, Bless 2program. Debbie’s newest book is If Not for You, in the New Beginnings books, a series of stand-alone novels.
Beth Prudhomme loves her parents, but she’s had enough of her loving but domineering mother. So, Beth moves to Portland, near her Aunt Sunshine, a free-spirited artist. Beth gets the job she’s always dreamed of, as a high-school music teacher, and makes new friends, including Nichole and Rocco, who set up a blind date with Sam, a tattooed mechanic. Beth is reserved and proper, Sam is rough around the edges and unconventional: the opposite of everything Beth’s mother wants for her.
After their awkward blind date, Beth and Sam leave, thinking themselves unscathed, but Beth is in a bad wreck, which Sam witnesses. He stays to comfort her, and finds himself drawn to her hospital room…and to Beth herself. Their attraction surprises them both, and they have many obstacles to overcome. Sam has the secrets of his past, and Beth her tendency to take trying to help a little too far. And then there’s her mother…
I loved A Girl’s Guide to Moving On, a previous book in the New Beginnings series, and some of those characters show up here, which I’ve always loved. The characters in this book really make it so worth reading. Beth is fighting a lifetime of habit and trying to forge a life of her own when calamity strikes. The she must deal with an injury as well as her own faults. And Sam has spent so many years hurting that he can’t imagine not hurting. As the two of them grow—together but separately as well—the reader is privileged to watch their choices change them.
I’m not an expert or anything–well, I’ve been writing for around 15 years, so a semi-expert?–but I do have a few tips for when you need writing inspiration. Give them a try if you’re stuck, hopefully they’ll work for you.
Music. For me, it requires music without lyrics, so I don’t get distracted (although sometimes Enya works). YouTube is a good place to find new things that fit whatever you’re working on. If you go to the Music page, you can find songs grouped by genres, themes, or or even seasons. This could be really useful if you need a soundtrack to get in the heads of your character. (And I really have to start using music when I write again. Duh…). Warning: YouTube is distracting, so you can end up watching tutorials on obscure or impossible subjects if you’re not careful, eating your writing time.
Pictures. Specifically, pictures of beautiful, magical places (if you’re wondering what to write about), or pictures of the place you’re writing about (if you already know). For Chasing Shadows, my story set in New Orleans, I looked at tons of pictures from the city. I also–since I lived nearby at the time–visited the areas I was writing about (Yeah, I know that sounds like a convenient excuse to spend time in the Big Easy. It was. Perhaps that book needs editing…). Pinterest is a good place to find awesome, inspiring pictures. I have several boards for this. Warning: Pinterest can EAT YOUR LIFE, so you might want to set a timer or something to make sure you escape alive.
Pay attention. Seriously. If you’re paying attention, you can find inspiration in the tiniest, most random things. My Muse loves to grab meaningless fragments and put them together. I can almost hear an audible click when this happens, and I know there’s a story idea brewing. This happened just a couple of weeks ago, working on my final essay for British Lit. I chose to re-write a scene from Morte Darthur from Guinevere’s POV. Boom! My Muse said “Hey wait, I’ve got an idea!” and suddenly my WIP isn’t quite enough to keep her occupied anymore, because she has a shiny new idea. (That will get written, I promise.) Just pay attention. Inspiration is like lightning. It strikes randomly.
Any suggestions for getting or staying inspired? I’d love to hear them!