REVIEW: HADLEY & GRACE, BY SUZANNE REDFEARN

Needing to escape her abusive marriage, Hadley flees with her two kids, knowing it might be her only chance. A woman who can’t even kill a spider, Hadley soon finds herself pushed to the limits as she fights to protect her family.

Grace, new mother of baby Miles, desperately wants to put her rough past behind her for good, but she finds it impossible when her path crosses with Hadley’s, and her quest for a new start quickly spirals out of control and turns into a terrifying flight for survival.

Stronger together than apart, the two find their fates inextricably entwined, and as the danger closes in, each must decide how much she is willing to risk for the other.

A powerful story of self-discovery, Hadley and Grace is the heart-racing tale of two women facing insurmountable odds, racing to stay one step ahead of the trouble that is chasing them, and discovering new kinds of love and family along the way.

 
 
 
 

From the very beginning of Hadley and Grace, I was captivated by the characters, from their individual stories to their teaming up in a crisis. What will happen to them as they flee their problems and begin to connect with one another?

Their adventures reveal much about how bonds can form in the most unlikely situations. The characters were fully drawn and felt like real people you might meet along the way in your own life journey.

I was rooting for them both and hoping for a conclusion much more satisfying than the one in Thelma and Louise, to whom the two are linked in many ways.

I could not put this book down, and when we reached the final conclusion, I felt like celebrating. 5 stars.

 
***

REVIEW: STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE MURDER, BY JOANNE FLUKE

 

When the president of Hartland Flour chooses cozy Lake Eden, Minnesota, as the spot for their first annual Dessert Bake-Off, bakery owner Hannah Swensen is thrilled to serve as the head judge. But when a fellow judge, Coach Boyd Watson, is found stone-cold dead, facedown in Hannah’s celebrated strawberry shortcake, Lake Eden’s sweet ride to fame turns very sour indeed.

While perfecting her Cheddar Cheese Apple Pie and Chocolate Crunchies, Hannah’s also snooping into the coach’s private life, which yields plenty of suspects. Or could Watson’s harsh criticism during the judging have lethally ticked off one of the contestants? The stakes are rising faster than dough, because somebody’s cooking up a recipe for murder—with Hannah landing on the “necessary ingredients” list.

Includes seven delicious recipes!

Hannah Swensen is an intriguing character, with her head for murder investigations and her cozy life in her bake shop, The Cookie Jar. I have enjoyed this character in other novels, and also in the Hallmark movies.

Strawberry Shortcake Murder takes us along for the ride as Hannah follows the clues, sometimes accompanied by her sister Andrea.

I loved the dialogue between the characters; it often made me smile and helped keep the darker aspects of the story at bay.

Meanwhile, two possible suitors are part of Hannah’s entourage, and curiosity about what will happen next in her romantic life kept me turning the pages. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE WIFE UPSTAIRS, BY RACHEL HAWKINS

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates—a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.But her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie—not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past—or his—-catches up to her?

With delicious suspense, incisive wit, and a fresh, feminist sensibility, The Wife Upstairs flips the script on a timeless tale of forbidden romance, ill-advised attraction, and a wife who just won’t stay buried. In this vivid reimagining of one of literature’s most twisted love triangles, which Mrs. Rochester will get her happy ending?

I could not stop turning the pages of The Wife Upstairs, as we follow alternating narrators tell their tales. From Jane, to Bea, to Eddie, they all have secrets and we only begin to see how the pieces fit together at the very end.

There is always another twist to the tale, leaving us wondering: now what?

I really enjoyed Jane, but as I got to know Bea a little, too, I had to admire that special something that kept her landing on her feet. What really happened to Eddie and Bea at the end? Could they still be somewhere, around a corner, waiting to surprise us? Will Jane have her happy ending, or will she also be watching over her shoulder? A brilliant five star read.

***

REVIEW: THE LAST WIFE, BY KAREN HAMILTON

Two women. A dying wish. And a web of lies that will bring their world crashing down.

Nina and Marie were best friends—until Nina was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Before she died, Nina asked Marie to fulfill her final wishes.

But her mistake was in thinking Marie was someone she could trust.

What Nina didn’t know was that Marie always wanted her beautiful life, and that Marie has an agenda of her own. She’ll do anything to get what she wants.

Marie thinks she can keep her promise to her friend’s family on her own terms. But what she doesn’t know is that Nina was hiding explosive secrets of her own…

Marie’s vow to step in and take care of her best friend Nina’s family after her death sounds like a loving thing to do. But is Marie truly who Nina would have chosen if she had known Marie’s secrets?

Will Marie’s plan include taking over Nina’s life, including her friendships and even her husband? The friendships included Camilla, who has secrets she has been keeping, too. Her connection to Marie runs deeper than previously known.

There were times that I found Marie very annoying, but then again, none of the other people in Nina’s life were who they seemed to be, either.

What will Marie finally do to step up, and will she be the right choice for the task? Will she keep her own darkness hidden as she tries to protect those she loves?

The Last Wife had many twists, and it was hard to give any of the characters a pass. They all had darkness that could come back to haunt them. 3.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE GIRL IN THE MIRROR, BY ROSE CARLYLE

Twin sisters Iris and Summer are startlingly alike, but beyond what the eye can see lies a darkness that sets them apart. Cynical and insecure, Iris has long been envious of Summer’s seemingly never-ending good fortune, including her perfect husband Adam.

Called to Thailand to help her sister sail the family yacht to the Seychelles, Iris nurtures her own secret hopes for what might happen on the journey. But when she unexpectedly finds herself alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean, everything changes. When she makes it to land, Iris allows herself to be swept up by Adam, who assumes that she is Summer.

Iris recklessly goes along with his mistake. Not only does she finally have the golden life she’s always envied, with her sister gone, she’s one step closer to the hundred-million-dollar inheritance left by her manipulative father. All Iris has to do is be the first of his seven children to produce an heir.

Iris’s “new” life lurches between glamorous dream and paranoid nightmare. On the edge of being exposed, how far will she go to ensure no one discovers the truth?

And just what did happen to Summer on the yacht?

Only Iris knows . . .

As The Girl in the Mirror unfolds, I was caught up in the twin schemes and the switch that could have interesting consequences.

But what we discover as the story takes one turn after another is that there is more to the tale than we thought, and we begin to suspect that nothing is quite what it seems.

Who is really Summer and who is Iris? Which of them has tricked the other?

I thought I had it all figured out, but then I was stunned. 5 stars.

***

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.

***