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.)
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.)
Caroline doesn’t know what to do with herself after her much-older husband dies. Her life revolved around him, and now that he’s gone, she’s adrift. So she decides to move to Redemption, Texas, a small town that takes Caroline in as she gets ready to open her bookstore. She’s ready to start a new life in Redemption, but she’s not expecting to fall in love again.
Jackson comes to Redemption after an ugly custody battle with his famous ex-wife. He just wants peace and quiet—and maybe to start songwriting again, if he’s lucky. He’s not interested in love—look what happened last time—he just wants to make his new business venture a priority. Then he meets Caroline and wonders if maybe his life needs a little bit more than all work.
Jackson is a good place to start reading a new author. I’m from Texas, and the author does an excellent job in capturing the nuances of the culture and bringing the setting to life. I love the idea of Enchanted Canyon and look forward to reading more!
Emily March is a bestselling author. Jackson is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Abby Furlowe is determined that this will be her year. She’ll make the cheerleading team again—she’d better, all her plans for a future as an actor hinge on a prestigious cheerleading scholarship—enjoy parties with her two besties and continue to rule the school as one of the most beautiful and popular girls. Maybe even be named prom queen!
She doesn’t have time for her brother Dean and his secret life and drama. She doesn’t have time for her boyfriend’s sudden distance or the losers at school. And she certainly doesn’t have time for the weird numbness and spots that keep showing up on her skin. Until the numbness gets worse and she takes a fall while cheering, waking up to find her whole life has changed.
That weird numbness means she has Hansen’s Disease, or leprosy, and the diagnosis is now all Abby has time for. She’ll have to go away to a treatment center if she’s to get better—or have any hope of reclaiming her old life. But time away from everything gives Abby plenty of time to think, and she comes to realize what a horrible person she is. But who she was isn’t the person she has to be now, and some of the new people she meets at the treatment center help her come to terms with her new reality.
Based on the title, I sort of thought this book would be a funny read about a girl who ends up a social outcast, not a person who actually had the disease. It wasn’t. At all. For most of the book, Abby is a horrible person. Totally unlikable. Her mean-girl persona really made me want to put the book down, but she had a few bright spots, like saving her brother’s life, so I kept reading. Abby learns a lot, about the power of words, about family, about being a better person.
Ashley Little is an award-winning author. Confessions of a Teenage Leper is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.)
Carl Louis Feldman was once a famous photographer who took eerie pictures. Then he was charged with the murder of a young woman, acquitted, and disappeared from the public eye. Now he’s in a halfway house for those with dementia and he doesn’t remember killing anyone. Or so he claims.
But his daughter is visiting him, and she doesn’t believe him. She’s planning to take him on a trip to see if she can jog his memory. Except she’s not really his daughter.
She’s spent years getting ready for this day. Years looking for clues to her sister Rachel’s disappearance, even after the cops gave up. Years of painstaking research finding Carl and tracking him down. Years of training to see to it that he doesn’t come back from their little trip. Is Carl telling the truth, or are they both lying? The middle of the Texas wilderness is no place to be with a serial killer.
You know that little thrill you get when you read a book and it’s set someplace you’re familiar with? I got that on the first page of this book, with the mention of the cemetery in Weatherford, Texas and Mary Martin’s grave. I grew up in Weatherford, after all, so I was hooked from that sentence.
But I stayed hooked throughout the book by the twists and turns the story kept taking, and my curiosity to find out what was going to happen. This is an accurate look at dementia—and the way some dementia patients are sometimes self-aware enough to pretend they don’t remember things (I saw my grandmother do that). It’s an unsettling, creepy read, but the characters are intriguing. And how can you beat Texas as a setting? (You can’t.) Those pictures of the little twin girls were also creepy enough for me to keep reading.
Julia Heaberlin grew up in Texas before becoming a journalist, then an international bestselling author. Paper Ghosts is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Random House/Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.)