Sarah Smith loves her little bookstore in tiny Ashford, Connecticut. She swears her books talk to her, and she’s happy with her life, her tight-knit group of friends—and their pastries—and her boyfriend, globe-trotting journalist Ridge. Except he’s gone so much, and Sarah is a little bit bored. So, when her Parisian friend Sophie offers a six-month bookshop exchange, Sarah finds herself flying to Paris to take care of Once Upon a Time, a famous, and popular, bookstore on the Seine.
But Sarah’s dreams of quiet time spent reading, forays to explore Paris, and getting to see Ridge as he travels the world fade quickly once she arrives in Paris. The staff at the bookshop are suspicious and uncooperative. The customers are rude. There’s barely time to breathe, much less read. And instead of spending time with Ridge, their relationship is reduced to occasional quick phone calls. But Sarah has had enough. Christmas is coming and she is determined to get things sorted out, no matter what.
I loved this book! I didn’t realize until I finished it that Rebecca Raisin also wrote Rosie’s Traveling Tea Shop, which was also a lovely read…but it all makes sense now. The Little Bookshop on the Seine made me want to visit Paris, which has never been on my Places to Go list, but I’d pack right up for a chance to work in Once Upon a Time, and Sarah, with her love of books and reading contrasting with her desire to experience life is so me that I related to every page. I highly recommend this!
Rebecca Raisin loves books. The Little Bookshop on the Seine is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/HQN in exchange for an honest review.)
Cassie Everson has figured out the perfect way to escape from a bad date, and she’s not afraid to use it. After the latest in a string of horrible first dates, Cassie swears off dating and gives up on the idea of having a family of her own. Although an accident years ago left her unable to have biological children, as director of Girls Haven, she’s surrounded by girls every day and that will just have to be enough. That and admiring the cute firefighter across the street.
Jett Bentley is a firefighter recently back in his hometown when he catches a glimpse of Cassie Everson on a dating app. The Cassie Everson, whom he had a crush on back in high school when he was an awkward freshman and she was a popular senior. After a great first date where they both claim they don’t want children, they each return home to find themselves with three kids dropped on their doorstep.
Becoming an overnight parent to three kids was never in Jett’s plans, and while Cassie wanted kids, parenting is tougher than it looks. Add in their fledgling attraction to each other—not to mention their separate decisions to keep their three kids—each—a secret from each other—and things just got a whole lot more complicated.
The Dating Charade is a sweet, funny book. I loved both Cassie and Jett and watching their parenting fails was definitely full of laughs—especially Jett’s bathroom fiasco. I enjoyed this book from the start and read it straight through in one sitting. It’s nice to read something so positive and clean, with characters that you can relate to and that make you laugh.
Melissa Ferguson lives in Tennessee. The Dating Charade is her debut novel.
(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
For Erin, university is her chance to stretch her wings. She’d like to make some friends, but she also must focus on her studies—economics, which her emotionally-distant parents approve of. Then she meets her five flatmates, including Allen, the quiet, creative boy who just seems to get her. Their friendship grows, as do Erin’s feelings for Allen, until one day Allen starts dating Charlotte, another of their flatmates.
Erin is devastated but struggles to be okay with it and be happy for her friends. Then one night leaving a crowded club, Charlotte is struck by a car, and everything changes.
This Really Happened is told in alternating timelines: Erin’s experiences in the present day and her blog posts about Charlotte’s accident and its aftermath, the times slowly growing closer together as the reader gets closer to the truth. Erin only has one friend—her older sister—when she comes to university. She’s not close to her parents, so having a ready-made group of friends is a heady experience with her.
I enjoyed reading about how the friendships developed and I was fascinated by the alternating timelines. I found Allen a bit annoying, but I can see how he interested Erin. This is a solid read for anyone who likes to be intrigued with their reading choice.
Annmarie McQueen is a London-based writer and blogger who loves tea. This Really Happened is her new novel.
(Galley courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.)
A handful of those were great reads, but three of the truly excellent reads included a book about three older women who changed their lives and found their dreams, a fantasy that started off with a girl who had never set foot on land, and a girl who has never really thought about her ethnicity and is forced to not just confront it but decide how it will shape her life.
Women in Sunlight, by Frances Mayes (she also wrote Under the Tuscan Sun) is about three older, single American women who become friends and defy expectations to move to Italy. While there, they truly embrace themselves and who they are as they create their best lives yet.
Crown of Coral and Pearl, by Mara Rutherford. Nor and her twin sister are the most beautiful girls in Varenia, so they know one of them will be chosen to marry the prince of Ilara. Nor longs to see the mainland, but when her sister is chosen, she knows that will never happen. Until her sister is injured and she’s chosen to replace her—finding Ilara a land of treachery, murder, and darkness.
Color Me In, by Natasha Diaz. Nevaeh has never really thought about her ethnicity, but when her Jewish father and her black mother separate, she and her mother go to live with her family in Harlem. One of Nevaeh’s cousins is angry because Nevaeh can pass as white and is oblivious to struggles of those around her in Harlem. Then Nevaeh’s dad decides she needs to embrace her Jewish roots, leaving Nevaeh struggling between two identities.
Millie Hart has spent her life writing happy endings, but now she’s decided to write a “serious” book: one that will impress even her aloof, condescending father. So she rents a cottage in a small seaside town, betting the dark and gloomy oceanside town will inspire her new novel. Instead she finds a quaint community that comes with a loud—and annoying—soundtrack. Not to mention the new neighbor who’s big on crankiness, not understanding.
Drake Branch barely escaped the accident six years ago with his life. Now he’s got his life together, he’s moved on, and he loves his job at BP Glass Works. When he lets a struggling metalworks shop move in next door, he’s not prepared for the PTSD triggered by the screeching noises—so he compensates with loud music. Not ideal for the writer who just moved in next door.
I haven’t read any of the other books in this series—sadly—but I really enjoyed this one! Millie has her issues, but she’s such a great character, and her struggle with her feelings towards her father is so heartfelt and painful. Drake just thinks he’s a tough guy who’s recovered from his tragic accident, but when he meets Millie, he realizes he isn’t healed at all. I loved the characters, the setting, everything about this book!
Tracy Ewens lives and writes in Arizona. Blow: A Love Story is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of the author via Netgalley 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.)
In the 1990s, Zodwa is a 17-year-old girl living in a squatter’s camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg with her mother. The constant threat of civil war and the disappearance of her brother years ago haunts their every step. Overwhelming poverty casts its shadow over their lives—as does the growing AIDS epidemic. And Zodwa, once the hope of her mother, is pregnant.
Ruth might be wealthy, but she’s far from happy. She knows her husband wants a divorce, and when her drinking leads her places she never intended, she ends up living on the empty family farm outside Johannesburg…where the sister she hasn’t seen for decades arrives unannounced. Delilah is a disgraced former nun haunted by a past she’s never spoken of, a past her sister knows nothing about. When they find an abandoned baby on their porch, they are confronted with their own beliefs about motherhood, race, and the secrets of the past.
If You Want to Make God Laugh is not a book meant for light reading. There are some very heavy topics here, and these three women have experienced truly terrible things. They might be broken, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strong. Poverty and violence shadow their lives and the life of their community. The setting, on the cusp of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa, is torn by conflict, war, and disease. However, this is a wonderful, wonderful read.
Bianca Marais is from South Africa but now lives in Toronto. If You Want to Make God Laugh is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Bonnie Blythe is an English professor with her life planned out: her fiancé is about to finish grad school, so now they can start planning their wedding. If he’ll ever settle on a date, that is. So she helps her best friend plan her wedding and tries not to be bitter about her own lack of wedding planning. And she tries not to think about Theo, the handsome, dashing Brit she met last year, who’s straight out of an Austen novel.
Theo knew Bonnie was engaged when he met her, so he kept a polite, respectful distance, even when all he wanted was the fiery redhead. When Bonnie’s engagement ends badly and she takes a teaching position at Cambridge, only an hour away from Theo, he’s happy to be the friend she needs. Theo would like to be more than friends, but family duty—and a secret he’s keeping from Bonnie—make that impossible.
I love the lighthearted and fun voice of this series. Getting Hot with the Scot foreshadowed the attraction between Bonnie and Theo, and I love when series allow you to find out more about characters from previous books. Theo is handsome and charming, and Bonnie deserves better than her wishy-washy fiancé anyway, so this was an enjoyable read.
According to her website, Melonie Johnson is a “Redhead. Writer. Drama Mama.” Smitten by the Brit is the second book in her Sometimes in Love series.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Maeve and all her friends are obsessed with their senior film project and their portfolios to get into film school. Maeve would be, too, but having MS means her options are different than her friends. Maeve loves filmmaking. And guys. Especially the guy starring in their senior project: Cole. But leading men don’t go for girls in wheelchairs, right?
But the chemistry between Maeve and the always-in-motion Cole is intense, and suddenly Maeve is dealing with typical dating mishaps and juggling the film project and her disease. Maeve is so used to being rejected, that she’s just not sure she can trust Cole, who seems far too good to be true. But Maeve will have to deal with her own fears if she’s ever to find out the truth about Cole’s feelings for her.
Maeve is an incredibly strong character, but she does have some issues that made her a little hard for me to read. I loved seeing how she viewed the world and her experiences in a life with MS, but she can be quite awkward and a little needy. She also comes across as very selfish, to the point where she completely ignores the sometimes-major problems her friends are having in favor of obsessing about her own issues. I didn’t find her all that likable, but she is a very strong character.
S.C. Megale is a writer, a filmmaker, and a philanthropist. This is Not a Love Scene is her debut novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)