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.)
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.)
Gillian Thacker owns the bridal salon in Redemption, Texas. She lives for weddings—and her own is coming up soon, so she should be blissfully happy, right? But she and her fiancé can’t seem to see eye-to-eye, and a chance encounter with a handsome stranger only highlights those differences…differences Gillian intends to put firmly out of her mind, along with the stranger.
Tucker McBride just left the military and was on his way to family in Redemption when he encountered damsel in distress Gillian. Now the fiery bridal salon owner is all he can think about, but she’s happily engaged, so he keeps a respectful distance. Until Gillian finds herself single and hurting—then it’s every man for himself as Tucker steps in to try to convince Gillian to take a leap of faith—for just once in her life—with him.
I do enjoy a good series romance set in a small town, and I’m enjoying these books set in Redemption, Texas. (I’m Texas-born and raised, so I loved all the culturally accurate references and setting-details…I miss Dublin Dr. Pepper, too!) Gillian has two sides to her personality: the independent, take-charge wedding guru, and the indecisive, unsure jilted woman, so I found myself wishing she’d just make up her mind already…but that indecision felt spot-on for her. And Tucker…well, don’t we all wish we had a Tucker?
Emily March is an award-winning author. Tucker (Eternity Springs: The McBrides of Texas #2) is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)
Liz Westmoreland spent summers growing up the in the little town of Antler Creek, where her grandparents ran an inn. When they sold it, it broke her heart, although she treasured the memories. When she stumbles upon a listing for what looks like her beloved inn, she buys it sight unseen, and is horrified when she finds her new purchase in disrepair, making her wonder if the place will ever shine like it did in her childhood.
Matt Hardy missed out on buying the inn, but he just hopes the new owner won’t make thing worse like the last ones did. When he realizes his childhood crush is the new owner, he’s eager to help her restore the inn, even if she doesn’t quite remember him. But when an accident has Liz questioning if she’s even meant to turn the inn around, he and the residents of Antler Creek must come together to convince her she’s found her home.
Christmas Angels was a sweet romance read, even for someone who doesn’t like Christmas stories months early. The author captures the small-town feel well, although I wonder if places so completely uplifting and friendly even exist (I mean, everyone supported and liked her, which seems unlikely). I thought the romance resolved itself a little too quickly and seamlessly, but this was a cute read.
Nancy Naigle is a bestselling author. Christmas Angles is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
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.)
Dani Capelli desperately needed a chance to start over, so she took the job as a veterinarian at a clinic in the small town of Haven Point. With her two daughters, she leaves behind New York and the secrets of her past life. She just wants to make a safe home with no trouble.
But her oldest daughter has other ideas, and soon the deputy sheriff is knocking at her door. Dani didn’t want trouble, but she never really imagined trouble being quite so good looking, either.
Ruben never thought he’d fall for a big-city girl, but he’s attracted to Dani and her daughters. He wants to show them his family traditions to prove that life in Haven Point is all they need. No matter what secrets Dani is hiding.
Season of Wonder is a standard small-town romance. The writing is solid, and the characters are believable and likable. This is the first novel I’ve read by this author, but I would read more.
Raeanne Thayne is an award-winning author. Season of Wonder is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Harlequin in exchange for an honest review.)
Nora owns the Miss Guthrie Diner and is happy with serving up tasty food and knowing her regulars’ orders. But when she and her rebellious sister Kit, an aspiring filmmaker, inherit Peggy the Cake Lady’s home and land unexpectedly, the diner isn’t the only thing on her plate.
Kit is happy when she finds out Peggy was in talks to sell to a big developer, but Nora’s not so sure, and the small town is divided over the issues, voicing their opinions to Nora everywhere she goes. The developer’s representative, Elliot, isn’t what she expected either, and soon Nora is torn between the good of the town, Peggy’s hidden secrets, and her own wishes. Finding Freckles, Peggy’s missing dog, is the one thing she can solve.
I enjoyed The Late Bloomers’ Club quite a bit. It’s not a face-paced novel, but the gradually unfolding storyline is so fitting for this small-town drama. The setting is very well-done and felt like small towns I’ve known. Nora and Kit are great characters, and the contrast between them is vibrant and vivid. This is a lovely read. Oh, and maybe don’t read it while you’re hungry or cake-less.
Louise Miller loves baking and writing and is an art school dropout. The Late Bloomers’ Club is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Penguin Group Viking/Pamela Dorman Books in exchange for an honest review.)
Madison is a small town in the middle of the Mojave Desert, a.k.a. nowhere. It’s the kind of place that no one ever leaves. Where everyone knows everyone else and all their business, but the town itself is keeping one very big secret: on their 18th birthday, every person in town is granted one wish, that always comes true.
Most people have their wishes picked out months or years in advance. Not Eldon. His birthday is only weeks away, and he’s got nothing. Except every single person in town pressuring him to make up his mind and pick a wish. But where to start? His family could use money. His sister isn’t really there anymore. His ex-girlfriend, now dating his ex-friend, is still the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen, but she hates him now. He could fix any one of those things with his wish.
But Eldon sees the dark side of wishing: he can’t find a single person who is happy with the results of their wish, especially not his parents. And Eldon is tired of all the pressure, tired of the looming decision, tired of the darkness hanging over his sleepy little town. Eldon thinks maybe it’s better to just not wish—than to risk the unhappiness he’s sure will result.
I have to be honest, with a title like As You Wish, I expected at least one The Princess Bride reference. Sadly, that was not to be. Despite that lack, this was a wonderful read that explores everything that terrifies me about small towns—and I’ve lived in them for most of my life—with the added element of magical realism. Everyone knowing what everyone else is up to is exactly what small towns are like, and Madison is like that personified, with the addition of keeping the wishes a secret from the outside world. But everyone in town knows what everyone else wished for. And Eldon wants no part of the heartache he sees as the result of the wishes, but he can’t quite see his way out of the whole mess, either. This book explores what happens when people get what they wish for, and the consequences it can have.
Chelsea Sedoti loves adventures and writing. She is the author of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, and her newest novel, As You Wish.
(Galley provided by Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
In the small Irish village of Duneen, nothing ever happens. At least, nothing new ever happens. So, when human remains are discovered during a building project, the entire town is in an uproar, wondering who the bones belong to—and who put them there.
The smart money is on the remains being Tommy Burke, who disappeared years ago, leaving two women to suffer his loss. Sergeant PJ Collins, overwhelmingly shy and conscious of his weight, just wants to solve the first real case of his life, but finds himself drawn into the secrets of Duneen’s past as he attempts to unravel the mystery of what happened all those years ago, and what’s going on now.
I’ve never seen The Graham Norton Show—a horrible lack, I’m sure, but I don’t watch much TV—so the author wasn’t a draw for me with this one. The rural Ireland setting, however, was a draw, and the novel did not disappoint. The characters in Holding aren’t that interesting on the surface—an overweight small-town Garda, a middle-aged woman who lives with her sisters and stays at home, the wife and mother who likes to drink—but they end up being compelling and real. PJ has struggled his whole life with his weight and his lack of accomplishments, and his struggles are so relatable they make the reader sympathize with him. The small-town setting of Duneen mixed with the cozy mystery aspect make Holding an engrossing and very readable story.
Graham Norton is the start of the award-winning The Graham Norton Show. Holdingis his first novel.
(Galley courtesy of Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Once upon a time, Beartown was a bustling town where things happened. Now it’s dying as the forest slowly creeps in closer. But the old ice rink is the center of hope for the town, as the boys’ junior hockey team makes it to the national finals. If the boys win, it will breathe new life back into the town.
Tensions run high, and a lot of pressure rests on the shoulders of boys. After the semi-final game, the unthinkable happens, and a teenage girl is traumatized from the violent act. When accusations surface, and the entire town takes sides, it becomes a question of truth: is she telling the truth, or is he?
Beartown is about hockey, but it is about so much more: small town life, expectations, family, and gender. The culture of the town is vibrant in its smallness, but secrets will tear it apart, as well as divide families and friendships as the truth comes to life. This was not a happy book to read, but it is well-worth reading, with gripping characters that the reader truly cares about. I don’t even like hockey, and I was rooting for the Bears! (I don’t dislike hockey, either, though.)