Tag: small town life

Book Review: The Children’s Secret, by Nina Monroe 

Image belongs to Crooked Lane Books.

Title:   The Children’s Secret

Author:   Nina Monroe

Genre:   Mystery/thriller

Rating:  3 out of 5

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.)

Book Review: Where the Truth Lies, by Anna Bailey

Image belongs to Atria Books.

The town of Whistling Ridge guards its secrets.

When seventeen-year-old Abigail goes missing, her best friend Emma, compelled by the guilt of leaving her alone at a party in the woods, sets out to discover the truth about what happened. The police initially believe Abi ran away, but Emma doesn’t believe that her friend would leave without her, and when officers find disturbing evidence in the nearby woods, the festering secrets and longstanding resentment of both Abigail’s family and the people of Whistling Ridge, Colorado begin to surface with devastating consequences.

Among those secrets: Abi’s older brother Noah’s passionate, dangerous love for the handsome Rat, a recently arrived Romanian immigrant who has recently made his home in the trailer park in town; her younger brother Jude’s feeling that he knows information he should tell the police, if only he could put it into words; Abi’s father’s mercurial, unpredictable rages and her mother’s silence. Then there is the rest of Whistling Ridge, where a charismatic preacher advocates for God’s love in language that mirrors violence, under the sway of the powerful businessman who rules the town, insular and wary of outsiders.

But Abi had secrets, too, and the closer Emma grows to unraveling the past, the farther she feels from her friend. And in a tinder box of small-town rage, and all it will take is just one spark—the truth of what really happened that night—to change their community forever.

Whistling Ridge is a horrible place. This is such a dark book—I didn’t feel like there was a single ray of light to be found anywhere. Everyone is keeping secrets—and not little ones, either, but dark and ugly ones. Good writing and vibrant characters, but this book is just so…hopeless, that it negated the positives of the writing. I found the setting and characters to be completely believable and realistic, which is just sad in this case.

Anna Bailey is from England. Where the Truth Lies is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: A Cup of Silver Linings, by Karen Hawkins

Image belongs to Gallery Books.

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.)

Book Review: The Time for Murder Is Meow, by T. C. LoTempio

Image belongs to Beyond the Page Publishing.

When her TV series is canceled, struggling actress Shell McMillan considers it a blessing in disguise. A beloved aunt who recently died left her a pet shop in her will, and she sees it as the perfect chance to walk away from Hollywood and make a fresh start in the sleepy town of Fox Hollow.

But adjusting to small-town life won’t be easy, as Shell realizes when the head of the museum board is found murdered not long after Shell had a very public argument with her. And when the new kid in town is fingered for the crime, she’ll have to rely on her own wit and pluck and the kindness of strangers to get herself off the hook.

Desperate to exonerate herself and catch the real culprit, Shell begins digging into the lives of the local residents, and she quickly discovers that the victim had no shortage of enemies. As the suspect list grows and time runs short, Shell and her cats will have to claw their way out of danger—and it’s meow or never . . .

This was an okay read, the beginning to a series I won’t be reading any more of. I’ve read some enjoyable cozy mysteries featuring pets, but this one…well, for one thing, the cats are too humanized. I’ve had cats my entire life, and I have yet to have one point at something. Repeatedly. Talk back, yes, but actually point at things? No.

The characters were also just so-so to me. Shell has a tendency to completely overreact to things, and that she got so angry at the museum board for not wanting to sue her aunt’s memorabilia was a little too over-the-top to me. This just wasn’t a good fit for me.

T. C. LoTempio lives in New Jersey. The Time for Murder is Meow is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Beyond the Page Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: A California Christmas, by Brenda Novak

Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title: A California Christmas
Author: Brenda Novak
Genre: Romance
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Up-and-coming TV anchor Emery Bliss can’t imagine anything more humiliating than the sex tape her ex revenge-posted online. That is, until it causes her to lose her job on top of her self-esteem. Seeking solace—and anonymity—in Silver Springs, Emery isn’t looking to get involved with another man anytime soon. But when she’s thrown back into contact with Dallas Turner, she sees something that his many detractors have missed.

Being home for the holidays and his adoptive mother’s wedding isn’t where mountain climber Dallas feels most comfortable. Thanks to his troubled childhood, he’d rather be on a rock face alone than trying to connect with people. Emery, however, makes him want to overcome his past…somehow.

Both Emery and Dallas had been planning on a quiet, solitary Christmas, but the sparks between them are lighting a fire strong enough to last—possibly forever.

I thought this was well-written and I enjoyed the small-town setting, but I did have some issues with the characters. Both Emery and Dallas came across as childish and petty. Emery was the victim of something awful, but her texts were manipulative and dishonest, and I didn’t care for that. Dallas…had some issues—understandable ones—but he showed zero growth during the course of this novel. None.

Again, this was well-written and I enjoyed the read, but I found the characters mostly-unlikable.

Brenda Novak is a bestselling author. A California Christmas is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Autumn Skies, by Denise Hunter

Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title: Autumn Skies
Author: Denise Hunter
Genre: Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

When a mysterious man turns up at Grace’s family-run inn, it’s instant attraction. But she’s already got a lot on her plate: running the Bluebell Inn, getting Blue Ridge Outfitters off the ground, and coping with a childhood event she’d thought was long past.

A gunshot wound has resurrected the past for secret service agent Wyatt Jennings, and a mandatory leave of absence lands him in Bluebell, North Carolina. There he must try and come to grips with the crisis that altered his life forever.

Grace needs experience for her new outfitters business, so when Wyatt needs a mountain guide, she’s more than happy to step up to the plate. As their journey progresses, Grace soon has an elusive Wyatt opening up, and Wyatt is unwittingly drawn to Grace’s fresh outlook and sense of humor.

There’s no doubt the two have formed a special bond, but will Wyatt’s secrets bring Grace’s world crashing down? Or will those secrets end up healing them both?

I’ve really enjoyed the Bluebell Inn Romance series, and this was no exception. I love the small-town setting, and Grace and her siblings are great characters. It was fun to see more of Molly’s and Levi’s stories, too, after reading their linked standalones.

Grace and Wyatt are a good match:  both struggling with tragedies from their past and trying to figure out where their futures are going. I loved watching these characters grow and change through the story, and I’d love to read more stories set in this small town.

Denis Hunter is a bestselling author. Autumns Skies is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: A Highlander is Coming to Town, by Laura Trentham

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: A Highlander is Coming to Town
Author: Laura Trentham     
Genre: Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5

You better watch out. . .

Holt Pierson is dreading Christmas. His parents absconded to Florida for the season and left him to handle the family farm which will be his one day—whether he wants it or not. Driven by duty, Holt has always followed the path expected of him. But lately, he’s been questioning what he wants and where he belongs. Will assuming the responsibility of the Pierson farm make him happy or is there something—or someone—else out in the wider world calling to him?

To Claire Smythe, the Scottish lead singer of a touring band, Highland, Georgia, is the perfect place to hide . . .until a very handsome and deeply curious Holt begins to ask all the questions Claire doesn’t want to answer. As Holt draws Claire out from under and into the fabric of small-town life, can Claire put the past behind her and embrace the unexpected gifts of the season—including the new and lasting love?

I’ve really enjoyed the books in the Highland, Georgia series, and this one did not disappoint. I liked the switch to the female lead being from Scotland, not the male. Claire’s scattered issues with the differences between American slang and Scottish were amusing, too.

This is another in the list of books I’ve read recently that make small-town life sound appealing. Highland, Georgia sounds like a charming—almost magical—place, and it truly comes to life on the pages of these novels. Claire and Holt are both flawed characters, but their imperfections make them relatable, and their chemistry is believable and compelling.

Laura Trentham was born in Tennessee. A Highlander is Coming to Town is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Carolina Breeze, by Denise Hunter

carolina breeze
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Carolina Breeze
AuthorDenise Hunter
Genre:  Romance
Rating:  5 out of 5

Rising Hollywood star Mia Emerson is looking for a safe place to land in the wake of a public breakup and scandal, and she finds it in the lake town of Bluebell, North Carolina–the location of her canceled honeymoon. She wants nothing more than to hide and wait for the tabloids to die down.

Soon after her arrival at the Bluebell Inn, Mia meets Levi Bennett, who runs the inn along with his two younger sisters. Drawn to one another from the start, Mia trusts Levi to keep her location from the press, and Levi confides in Mia about the financial state of the inn–a secret he’s been keeping from his sisters.

When Mia and Levi discover an old journal that hints at a rare diamond necklace hidden in the inn, they set off on a treasure hunt to find the long-lost heirloom. What they don’t expect to surface are feelings they thought were safely locked away. Mia and Levi must decide if falling in love again is too big a risk–or if it will uncover a treasure of its own instead.

This is another wonderful read in the Bluebell Inn Romance series! I really like the setting, and the characters are so well-done I just want to hang out with them and chat. Poor Mia has been dealt a pretty raw hand, but she handles it with grace and aplomb, despite her frustrations. She demonstrates the good side of Hollywood.

Levi is kind of overbearing towards his sisters, but he’s able to learn from his mistakes and grow from them. It’s nice to see his self-awareness, as he and Mia learn to trust as they expand their horizons. This is a sweet and easy read.

Denise Hunter is a bestselling author. Carolina Breeze is her newest novel, the second Bluebell Inn Romance.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson 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: Lost at Sea, by Erica Boyce

lost at sea
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Landmark.

Title:  Lost at Sea
AuthorErica Boyce
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

When fisherman John Staybrook vanishes one night during a storm, his disappearance raises questions. His daughter, Ella, is convinced he’s still alive and someone in the town is hiding secrets—and the key to his disappearance.

Her friend and former babysitter, Lacey, helps Ella investigate her father’s disappearance. Lacey is struggling with her own demons—her addiction to painkillers after a knee injury, the “beetle” in her brain that makes her question everything around her and that’s only quieted by the pills—and secrets from her own past, but she and the rest of the town also wonder why an experienced fisherman like John was out in that deadly storm.

This novel, like Boyce’s previous novel, The Fifteen Wonders of Daniel Green, has a slow, easy pace that nevertheless keeps the reader intrigued to find out just what’s going on. So many secrets—and so few answers—keep that pace alive. Lacey’s struggle is at the heart of this novel, although Ella’s pain also holds a key place. With secrets from the past spilling over into the present, this novel manages to turn what seem to be random threads into a complex tapestry.

Erica Boyce is a member of the Massachusetts bar and an editor. Lost at Sea is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Sourcebook Landmark in exchange for an honest review.)