REVIEW: THE NEXT WIFE, BY LIZ LAWLER

My husband is everything I ever dreamed of. A handsome, successful doctor who swept me off my feet.

Our new life together is perfect.

He’s perfect.

But am I good enough for him? I never seem to get anything right. And I’m starting to feel a little afraid of the man I married.

He’s taken away my bank card and my phone. I don’t know what to think or what to do. I gave up everything for him and now I’m trapped.

Then a stranger comes to our door. She tells me that I can’t trust my husband.

That I should ask him what happened to his first wife.

 

It did not take long to hate Daniel, the husband in The Next Wife. I felt a connection to Tess and also enjoyed the older woman, Martha, who lived nearby and tried to warn Tess about her husband.

As Daniel’s controlling behavior intensified, I kept hoping for an escape for Tess. But just when I thought there might be a way out for her, the obstacles grew until she was under his total control.

What had happened before Tess entered Daniel’s life? Was there a first wife? Did she come to some terrible end? It was not hard to imagine the cruelty that Daniel might have exacted on her, as he has turned dark in his current marriage, and so early into the union.

I did wonder about how he developed into this horrific person, and how others could still see his charm, but I have also known characters just like him and had no reason to question how they got that way. Most seem to have learned their evil in childhood, either as a victim or as an aberration.

As the story unfolded, I was shocked by the unexpected twists and turns, and couldn’t stop turning the pages. A great read that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HOUSE OF CORRECTION, BY NICCI FRENCH

Tabitha is not a murderer.

When a body is discovered in Okeham, England, Tabitha is shocked to find herself being placed in handcuffs. It must be a mistake. She’d only recently moved back to her childhood hometown, not even getting a chance to reacquaint herself with the neighbors. How could she possibly be a murder suspect?

She knows she’s not.

As Tabitha is shepherded through the system, her entire life is picked apart and scrutinized —her history of depression and medications, her decision to move back to a town she supposedly hated . . . and of course, her past relationship with the victim, her former teacher. But most unsettling, Tabitha’s own memories of that day are a complete blur.

She thinks she’s not.

From the isolation of the correctional facility, Tabitha dissects every piece of evidence, every testimony she can get her hands on, matching them against her own recollections. But as dark, long-buried memories from her childhood come to light, Tabitha begins to question if she knows what kind of person she is after all. The world is convinced she’s a killer. Tabitha needs to prove them all wrong.

But what if she’s only lying to herself?

As House of Correction opens, we meet our protagonist, Tabitha Hardy, a young woman who is on remand in prison for the murder of a man who some might describe as her abuser. But Tabitha is not quite sure she would label him that way. Their relationship was complicated, and because she was very young when they had this connection, she is not exactly sure of how to define it.

But in some ways, these complications make her more culpable in the murder.

Tabitha decides almost immediately to represent herself in court. We watch her as she tries to sort through the events of the day in question, taking notes and making her own deductions about what has happened. But what, if anything, has she failed to remember?

I liked Tabitha and found myself rooting for her, even though I suspected that she might not be as innocent as she claims to be.

What will we discover as the trial progresses, and what further secrets might be revealed? I found myself on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next. An enticing read that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: GIRLS OF SUMMER, BY NANCY THAYER

Lisa Hawley is perfectly satisfied living on her own. Having fully recovered from a brutal divorce nearly two decades earlier, she has successfully raised her kids, Juliet and Theo, seeing them off to college and beyond. As the owner of a popular boutique on Nantucket, she’s built a fulfilling life for herself on the island where she grew up. With her beloved house in desperate need of repair, Lisa calls on Mack Whitney, a friendly—and very handsome—local contractor and fellow single parent, to do the work. The two begin to grow close, and Lisa is stunned to realize that she might be willing to open up again after all . . . despite the fact that Mack is ten years her junior.

Juliet and Theo worry that Mack will only break their mother’s heart—and they can’t bear to see her hurt again. Both stuck in ruts of their own, they each hope that a summer on Nantucket will provide them with the clarity they’ve been searching for. When handsome entrepreneur Ryder Hastings moves to the island to expand his environmental nonprofit, Juliet, an MIT-educated web designer, feels an immediate attraction, one her rocky love life history pushes her to deny at first. Meanwhile, free spirit Theo finds his California bliss comes to a brutal halt when a surfing injury forces him back to the East Coast. Upon his return, he has eyes only for Mack’s daughter, Beth, to whom he is bound by an unspeakable tragedy from high school. Can they overcome their past?

As the season unfolds, a storm threatens to shatter the peace of the golden island, forcing Lisa, Juliet, and Theo to decide whether their summer romances are destined for something more profound. Nancy Thayer dazzles again in this delightful tale of family, a reminder that sometimes, finding our way back home can bring us unexpected gifts.

 

 

When Lisa met her husband Erich, she was very young. The two of them seemed compatible, but once the children arrived and Erich began traveling more extensively, the distance grew between them until finally they divorced. Lisa bought a home on Nantucket, a place she loved, and began working in a shop that captured her interest in beautiful things.As time passed, she bought out the shop owner and renamed it Sail.

By the time her children, Theo and Juliet, were grown and finished college, she had settled into her life. But did she need more?

When her house needed repairs and she hired a contractor, Mack Whitney, the connection between them grew. He was ten years younger, and while she worried about the issue, she realized soon that it made little difference. The connection was powerful.

Our story takes us into the adult lives of Juliet and Theo, as well as of Mack’s daughter Beth.

Alternating chapters carry the story, and we see how Lisa and Mack deal with their issues, as well as those of their adult children.

A tale that kept me engaged throughout, although the narrative switched frequently between each of the characters, and not necessarily seamlessly, Girls of Summer was one I enjoyed. I felt passionate about the issues and the characters, including matters of climate change and saving the environment that are a big part of the story. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SWAN SONG, BY LISA ALTHER

Dr. Jessie Drake, in her mid-sixties, following the sudden deaths of her parents and Kat, her partner of twenty years, has fled the Vermont life she has known for decades.

In an effort to escape the oppressive constancy of grief, she accepts a job from an old flame from her residency in New York City’s Roosevelt Hospital, and agrees to assist Ben as the ship’s doctor on a British liner. Jessie boards in Hong Kong, and, as the Amphitrite sails throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East, cruise ship antics ensue. Jessie is lulled back into a long-ago romance with the ship’s co-doctor, and both she and her new/old beau become enmeshed with the ship’s lead (female) singer/entertainer. Among the passengers who fling socialized behavior aside on the high seas: a former Florida beauty queen (Miss Florida Power and Light) on a second honeymoon with her husband, as she causes high-velocity scandal, while juggling onboard affairs with a suicidal golf pro, and a defrocked priest hired as one of the liner’s gentleman hosts, until she vanishes–poof!–from the ship off the coast of Portugal . . . As the ship sails through the Gulf of Aden and into a possible hijacking by Somali pirates, Jessie retreats into her lover’s journals, written during her final months, journals filled with sketches of potential characters, observations on life and love–as well as drafts of a long new poem in progress, “Swan Song,” that seems to be about being in love with someone else, someone new. As Jessie’s grief turns to suspicion about the woman she thought she knew so well, her illumination of the poem’s meaning begins to lift the constraints of the past and make clear the way toward the future.

 

As Jessie begins her journey beyond the grief of her recent years, we join her as she strives to make sense of her life and her loves. In Swan Song, she discovers a series of poems written by Kat, and in trying to make sense of them, she wonders if Kat had had a new love at the end.

Meanwhile, she works on the ship doing medical tasks and meeting new people, some of whom are potential friends and/or lovers.

Can she really move beyond Kat with someone she meets on the journey? Or is she meant to be finding answers to life’s journey, especially the journey that ends with death? Eventually, after a number of events, all of which make her think, she comes to a decision. A contemplative read that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: A WEEK AT THE SHORE, BY BARBARA DELINSKY

One phone call is all it takes to lure Mallory Aldiss back to her family’s Rhode Island beach home. It’s been twenty years since she’s been gone—running from the scandal that destroyed her parents’ marriage, drove her and her two sisters apart, and crushed her relationship with the love of her life, Jack Sabathian. Twenty years during which she lived in New York, building her career as a photographer and raising her now teenage daughter Joy.

But that phone call makes it clear that something has brought the past forward again—something involving Mallory’s father. Compelled by concern for her family and by Joy’s wish to visit her mother’s childhood home, Mallory returns to Bay Bluff, where conflicting loyalties will be faced and painful truths revealed.

In just seven watershed days at the Rhode Island shore, she will test the bonds of friendship and family—and discover the role that love plays in defining their lives.

A Week at the Shore opens up with family history and years of secrets, all set aside for one week at the small Rhode Island town. The patriarch, Tom Aldiss, is failing and his recent actions may have put him in jeopardy.

Mallory has been away from the shore for twenty years, and she has loved her life with daughter Joy in Manhattan. But reuniting with her sister Anne, and possibly Margot as well, might be a place to start. But then there are memories and issues to deal with about Mallory’s first love Jack. Their differences involve her father and his mother, so there may be no way to patch up those old hurts.

In this engaging story about family, missteps, secrets, and possible betrayals kept me rapidly turning pages. I didn’t like Mallory’s sisters, who were too bossy, and being the one in the middle, Mallory had often become the peacemaker. The sisters were blunt and sometimes abrasive with one another. The family felt real, so I was hoping they would find ways to overcome their issues…and find the answers to the past. I was also rooting for Mallory to reconnect with Jack. A 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: THE LAST HOUSE GUEST, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

 
Littleport, Maine, has always felt like two separate towns: an ideal vacation enclave for the wealthy, whose summer homes line the coastline; and a simple harbor community for the year-round residents whose livelihoods rely on service to the visitors.

Typically, fierce friendships never develop between a local and a summer girl—but that’s just what happens with visitor Sadie Loman and Littleport resident Avery Greer. Each summer for almost a decade, the girls are inseparable—until Sadie is found dead. While the police rule the death a suicide, Avery can’t help but feel there are those in the community, including a local detective and Sadie’s brother, Parker, who blame her. Someone knows more than they’re saying, and Avery is intent on clearing her name, before the facts get twisted against her.

In The Last House Guest, we follow a story that takes us back and forth in time, from a fatal party in the summer of 2017 to the present. Each time the story circles forward, we learn more tidbits. As if we bring fresh eyes to the scene.

I liked watching Avery as she pieces things together, circling through events and clues like the detectives who know that “follow the money” will take us where we need to go.

Just when I thought I had it all figured out, we leaped to a final reveal that shone a bright light on the corruption in small town life. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SEA GLASS COTTAGE, BY RAEANNE THAYNE

The life Olivia Harper always dreamed of isn’t so dreamy these days. The 16-hour work days are unfulfilling and so are things with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when she hears that her estranged mother, Juliet, has been seriously injured, Liv has no choice but to pack up her life and head home to beautiful Cape Sanctuary on the Northern California coast.

It’s just for a few months—that’s what Liv keeps telling herself. But the closer she gets to Cape Sanctuary, the painful memories start flooding back: Natalie, her vibrant, passionate older sister who downward-spiraled into addiction. The fights with her mother who enabled her sister at every turn. The overdose that took Natalie, leaving her now-teenaged daughter, Caitlin, an orphan.

As Liv tries to balance her own needs with those of her injured mother and an obstinate, resentful fifteen-year-old, it becomes clear that all three Harper women have been keeping heartbreaking secrets from one another. And as those secrets are revealed, Liv, Juliet, and Caitlin will see that it’s never too late—or too early—to heal family wounds and find forgiveness.


In the beginning of The Sea Glass Cottage, we meet Olivia, who has gone through a terrifying experience in her favorite Seattle coffee shop, and now is suffering a form of PTSD. Despite her issues, she changes her schedule to head to her hometown when her mother, Juliet, falls and seriously injures herself.As she tries to step in to help, she has to deal with her own feelings from her adolescence, when her mother focused all of her energy on her sister Natalie, an addict, and then on Caitlin, the baby her sister had back then. Now Caitlin is fifteen and full of barely suppressed rage about her own resentments and secrets.

It was hard to like Caitlin, who had done something she shouldn’t have, and is allowing what she learned to interfere with her relationships.

Juliet has her own secret, which is also an obstacle that could prevent future happiness.

I was rooting for Olivia throughout, but also hoping that Juliet and Caitlin would own up to their fears and secrets, allowing the family to rebuild. A 4.5 star read.

***

REVIEW: ELSIE DINSMORE, BY MARTHA FINLEY

Elsie is an eight-year-old girl who has became a Christian and abides by Biblical law—as taught to her by her dead mother’s housekeeper and then her own nanny, Chloe. Her father, Horace, is a man who dictates rules by which his daughter must live. Many conflicts result from Elsie’s belief that she must only obey her father when his orders do not conflict with Scripture.

 

When I was a young child, my mother gifted me with a hardcover version of Elsie Dinsmore, a book that she received from her aunt in 1926.

I read the book several times in childhood, and felt sad for the poor child who was treated so badly by her father’s relatives, and because he did not even appear in her life until she was eight years old.

Now that I have the book on Kindle, I have reread it and realized that the preachy aspects of the book do not appeal to me at all.  However, I did like experiencing how different my adult attitudes are and realized that time and distance affected me greatly.

Despite the distance of time and my attitudinal changes, I still felt sorry for the child and deplored how the adults in her life treated her so poorly and even modeled very cruel behavior that their own children emulated.

The physical book is still a treasure, especially the illustrations.  The binding has been repaired twice over the years, and this book, which is almost 100 years old, will stay with me.  I like having it in the Kindle format.

The story earns only 3 stars from me, but the sentimental value receives 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SNOW ANGEL COVE, BY RAEANNE THAYNE

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Eliza Hayward and her five-year-old daughter Maddie have arrived in Haven Point, Idaho, eager to start a new life. After three years of pain and loss following the death of her husband, Trent, Eliza was thrilled to be offered a hotel management position at the Lake Haven Inn.

But sadly, upon her arrival, Eliza is greeted by the burned out ashes of the inn…lost in a fire only a short time before. The owner, Megan Hamilton, can offer a small severance, but that is it.

While Eliza and her daughter are walking in town to find a diner, Maddie runs into the street, and when Eliza pushes her out of the way, she herself is struck by an out-of-control SUV. Her injuries are not serious—a concussion and some bumps and bruises—but Aidan Caine, the owner of the car, had hit a patch of ice and couldn’t stop, so it wasn’t really his fault. However, he takes her under his wing and soon she is hired to run Snow Angel Cove, the inn he is getting ready for a Christmas visit from his large family, arriving soon from Hope’s Crossing in Colorado. But it will be a short-term position.

Naturally, the story will turn into one in which a rich man helps the poor young woman get on her feet again, using his own responsibility for the accident as a way to sell his plan to Eliza. He also happens to be falling in love with her, apparently, as well as with her young daughter Maddie…who has a defective heart.

Could a story be more heartwarming? Especially during the holidays? Eliza, of course, fights the feelings she is developing, telling herself she and Maddie will soon be on their way again—after Christmas.

Would this fairytale story have a happy ending? Or would the barriers between Aidan and Eliza be too great? Would it be a Christmas to remember?

I liked the story, which was a bit predictable, but it was just what I needed after the thriller I just read. I couldn’t help but root for Eliza and Maddie, and had hopes that Aidan would do something great for the townspeople, who are standoffish with him because he seemingly bought up half the town and then hadn’t done anything except renovate his inn. And, of course, I hoped that he and Eliza would give us that HEA ending. 4 stars.

REVIEW: THE ARSONIST, BY SUE MILLER

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During one summer in a small New Hampshire town, tensions are ignited between the summer people and the locals after a string of fires spread across the landscape. Despite its time period, set in the 1990s during the Clinton years, the issues exposed during and after each conflagration seem timely.

Bud Jacobs, the editor of the local newspaper, writes about the impact of the arsonist:

“The sense of community that is the bedrock of small-town life is broken, suddenly.”

Home from a fifteen-year stint in Kenya doing aid work, Frankie Rowley finds herself caught up in the fear that overwhelms all the residents, as she also struggles with family issues. Her parents, Sylvia and Alfie, have retired to their former summer home in Pomeroy, but Alfie’s slow descent into dementia seemingly changes everything about the dynamic between them. Meanwhile, Frankie is at loose ends, undecided about what to do next and whether or not to return to Africa.

In Miller’s beautiful prose, the story of The Arsonist: A novel unfolds, while Frankie and newspaper owner Bud give in to the powerful pull between them.

We follow the tale from the perspectives of the various characters, as it sweeps back and forth through the years, revealing the relationships between them all and the paths that have led them to where they now are. We learn more about Sylvia’s teen years and how an unresolved relationship has informed her life in the subsequent decades.

Meanwhile, we must ask ourselves: Who is targeting the summer people in Pomeroy, and why? Could the frustrations and conflicts of the past be presenting themselves now? What will Frankie decide about her next project, and how can she escape the feelings of not belonging anywhere?

Themes of home and belonging, of the social context that surrounds us in our dwellings, and the divide across which hostilities are played out, bring the story to its somewhat nebulous conclusion, with still more questions than answers. A brief fast forward through the years gives us a glimpse of what might be, even as we puzzle over those unanswered questions. A lovely narrative that will never leave me. Five stars.