REVIEW: EVERY WILD HEART, BY MEG DONOHUE

Passionate and funny, radio personality Gail Gideon is a true original. Nine years ago when Gail’s husband announced that he wanted a divorce, her ensuing on-air rant propelled her local radio show into the national spotlight. Now, “The Gail Gideon Show” is beloved by millions of single women who tune-in for her advice on the power of self-reinvention. But fame comes at a price. After all, what does a woman who has staked her career on being single do when she finds herself falling in love? And is the person who is harassing her in increasingly troubling ways a misguided fan or a true danger to Gail and her daughter, Nic?

Fourteen-year-old Nic has always felt that she pales in comparison to her vibrant, outgoing mother. Plagued by a fear of social situations, she is most comfortable at the stable where she spends her afternoons. But when a riding accident lands Nic in the hospital, she awakens from her coma changed. Suddenly, she has no fear at all and her disconcerting behavior lands her in one risky situation after another. And no one, least of all her mother, can guess what she will do next…

My Thoughts: I love a good mother/daughter tale, and a single mother raising a teenager resonates with me.

Gail is one of those characters I enjoy: feisty, opinionated, protective, talented, and smart. She is famous for all of those qualities on her radio show, and although she works at night and her daughter is at school in the daytime, they still manage to keep in touch.

But Nic’s form of social anxiety worries her mother…and then when she has the horse riding accident, everything changes. It is as if a part of Nic, a wild side, has been awakened. Part of that awakening came in the form of a boy named Lucas Holt, a senior boy drawn to her, just as she was to him.

Every Wild Heart kept me engaged all the way through, and I enjoyed the alternating narratives of Gail and Nic. Seeing each perspective kept me rooting for each of them.

I wanted Gail to succeed, and a great offer for her to do a TV show was very tempting for her, but with all that Nic was going through, she was struggling with the decision. What would ultimately bring out the best in each of them without the other being sidelined? How would they find a way to work through the fearsome times? How would a sudden stalker threatening Gail and Nic bring the story to a crashing conclusion?

I was stunned by the stalker reveal…and then the pieces fell into place for Gail and Nic moving forward. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE MARRIAGE PACT, BY MICHELLE RICHMOND

Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact. And most of its rules make sense. Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples.

And then one of them breaks the rules.

The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life. And The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule.

My Thoughts: First of all, I couldn’t imagine why Jake and Alice would sign up for something so secretive and mysterious. Wouldn’t they have wondered about the “consequences” mentioned in the contracts? Wouldn’t the control the organization seemed to exert bother them?

I wanted them to somehow get out of the weird group before anything bad happened, but hovering overhead were the implicit threats, the idea of The Pact’s all-encompassing influence, and concerns about people who had mysteriously disappeared.

Jake was the first-person narrator, so it was probably natural for me to connect to his side of things, and even though he loved Alice, I could see how he worried about why she seemed more into the group than he was. Since she was a lawyer, I couldn’t quite imagine her willingness to be “all in.” But then I recalled the mention of her dysfunctional family, and it made more sense.

What is behind the mysterious meetings that JoAnne, an old college friend, arranges with Jake? Is she seriously in trouble, or is she part of some covert operation?

The whole idea that the group somehow monitored their every move made me feel creepy and also fascinated. I couldn’t stop reading. As the dangers in The Marriage Pact  escalated, I was hanging onto every word, hoping for a positive resolution. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE CHILD, BY FIONA BARTON

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

My Thoughts: Slowly the three women who are central to the story in The Child are revealed to us in bits and pieces. We do not know what, if anything, connects them. But they are all struck by the news of the infant. A baby that has been buried on the site for a number of years. The story takes us from the present to the past through alternating narrators, who show us moments in their lives and offer up thoughts, feelings, and clues to their histories.

Emma Massingham Simmonds is struggling every day, her mind a mess of anxieties, dark thoughts, and nightmares. Her husband Paul takes care of her, and she works at home as a book editor. But her conflicted relationship with her mother Jude seems to be at the heart of her emotional angst, and she has dark secrets that come to her in nightmares.

Angela Irving is still heartbroken over her lost infant Alice. Her husband and other children have given up on her constant grief. But she hangs onto her hope. Something about the buried baby calls to her.

Jude, Emma’s mother, seems worried about what might be discovered about that baby, and her mind flits to memories of her great love for a man named Charlie…and then her relationship with a professor named Will Burnside, whom she cannot forget. She seems to blame Emma for losing these “loves of her life.”

Kate Waters, the reporter, is such an interesting character who searches for answers, interviews people who lived in the neighborhood where the baby was found, and gradually finds herself drawn more and more to the women who all seem to have a personal interest in the story. Her ferocious pursuit despite discouraging moments kept me intrigued, as she met with numerous characters, many of whom were troubling and sometimes unreliable.

I loved watching how she pushed ahead to find the answers…and then, just when I thought she had it all figured out, a startling twist turned everything upside down. Suddenly, out of the confusion, the clarity came. An unputdownable novel that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE GIRL: A LIFE IN THE SHADOW OF ROMAN POLANSKI, BY SAMANTHA GEIMER

In this searing and surprising memoir, Samantha Geimer, “the girl” at the center of the infamous Roman Polanski sexual assault case, breaks a virtual thirty-five-year silence to tell her story and reflect on the events of that day and their lifelong repercussions.
My Thoughts: Our first person narrator is Samantha, the victim of the 1977 episode with Roman Polanski, and the ongoing victim of the court system.

From her perspective, we learn what it was like to be questioned repeatedly prior to the actual filing of charges, and then again by various attorneys and a psychiatrist. Recalling how different attitudes were in the 1970s, especially for celebrities, it would take some maneuvering to protect the identity of the girl…but in the end, the ego of the judge in charge would ultimately change her life negatively going forward. When an agreement had been reached that could have ended the matter once and for all, the judge reneged on the deal, which led to Polanski fleeing to France.

Now many years later, despite efforts to dismiss the case, supported by the victim, the matter remains unresolved. Extradition from Switzerland was denied after the 2009 arrest, and one might think life could go on. But it hasn’t.

In concluding The Girl:  A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski,  Samantha wrote, in terms of Polanski: “As different as our lives have been, we do share a common sense of battle fatigue when it comes to the court system and the media. We’ve both been punished. We both want to move on.”

She has also stated that the events of that night in 1977 were not as damaging to her as the subsequent years of what the system has done to her. But despite it all, she has gained her own strength from taking matters into her own hands and writing about her experiences. An inspiring story that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: LOVE LETTERS, BY DEBBIE MACOMBER

Summer is a busy season at the inn, so proprietor Jo Marie Rose and handyman Mark Taylor have spent a lot of time together keeping the property running. Despite some folks’ good-natured claims to the contrary, Jo Marie insists that Mark is only a friend. However, she seems to be thinking about this particular friend a great deal lately. Jo Marie knows surprisingly little about Mark’s life, due in no small part to his refusal to discuss it. She’s determined to learn more about his past, but first she must face her own—and welcome three visitors who, like her, are setting out on new paths.
 
Twenty-three-year-old Ellie Reynolds is taking a leap of faith. She’s come to Cedar Cove to meet Tom, a man she’s been corresponding with for months, and with whom she might even be falling in love. Ellie’s overprotective mother disapproves of her trip, but Ellie is determined to spread her wings.
 
Maggie and Roy Porter are next to arrive at the inn. They are taking their first vacation alone since their children were born. In the wake of past mistakes, they hope to rekindle the spark in their marriage—and to win back each other’s trust. But Maggie must make one last confession that could forever tear them apart.
My Thoughts: One of my favorite things about this author’s books is how she draws the reader into the settings and the middle of the characters’ lives. The stories are predictable, but comforting.

How can you help but empathize with each of them, with their troubles, their disappointments, and their memories of love?

Ellie was a character who had always felt abandoned by her father, and the way her grandparents and mother disparaged him only exacerbated those feelings. So she prickles whenever her mother offers her opinions about her new online romance that is now about to go “real.” Meeting Tom in Cedar Cove is a big step out of her comfort zone.

For Maggie and Roy, there seems no hope to repair their crumbling marriage. But Maggie brings along the love letter Roy sent her years before when they were apart. A letter that healed the breach. But will her big secret change everything?

Meanwhile, Jo Marie is still grieving her husband’s death, and a love letter she received afterwards, one he had written “just in case,” could make all the difference.

Mark Taylor, the handyman, was an annoying character who seemed to do everything in his power to irritate Jo Marie. Was it a game with him? Or was he trying to push her away for some reason?

Finding some of the answers in Love Letters would keep me turning the pages. In the end, I had the sense that there would be more to the story…in a future book. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: ANY DAY NOW, BY ROBYN CARR

For Sierra Jones, Sullivan’s Crossing is meant to be a brief stopover. She’s put her troubled past behind her but the path forward isn’t yet clear. A visit with her big brother Cal and his new bride, Maggie, seems to be the best option to help her get back on her feet.

Not wanting to burden or depend on anyone, Sierra is surprised to find the Crossing offers so much more than a place to rest her head. Cal and Maggie welcome her into their busy lives and she quickly finds herself bonding with Sully, the quirky campground owner who is the father figure she’s always wanted. But when her past catches up with her, it’s a special man and an adorable puppy who give her the strength to face the truth and fight for a brighter future. In Sullivan’s Crossing Sierra learns to cherish the family you are given and the family you choose.


My Thoughts: It did not take long to completely immerse myself in Any Day Now, and relate to Sierra Jones, a wonderful, feisty character. A survivor of a dysfunctional family and a troubled past…she brought all these key ingredients to a story that also aroused my empathy and made me root for her.

In Book One, I had already met some characters at Sullivan’s Crossing, a small Colorado town, like Sully, who was a father figure for Sierra and a kind and compassionate mentor for almost everyone.

California (Cal) was the loyal and protective big brother to Sierra, and his newly created family with Maggie, Sully’s neurosurgeon daughter, added a wonderful sister figure to the mix.

Growing up with a mentally ill father taught Cal and Sierra survival skills, although their father was not a violent or abusive man. He just lived with delusions and his own version of reality.

I liked the unique names of the Jones children: California, Sedona, Dakota, and Sierra…interesting quirks that set them apart.

Besides mental health issues, the story dealt with substance abuse, treatment, and recovery, and my work with clients over the years helped me connect to the stories told by those in recovery.

Of course there was a bit of romance. Who wouldn’t fall for the gorgeous firefighter named Conrad (Connie) Boyle? I enjoyed the slow and gradual connection that grew between Sierra and Connie, an appropriate progression for wounded souls.

Just when I was sinking into the daily drama of addiction and recovery, a stunning danger came reeling into Sierra’s life, the detritus of the messy past that Sierra had been fearing, and there were some intense moments that kept me glued to the pages…and then came that predictable yet comforting happy ending. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SUNSHINE SISTERS, BY JANE GREEN

Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.
 
As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother’s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London—and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.
 
But now the Sunshine sisters are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy have never been close, their mother’s illness draws them together to confront the old jealousies and secret fears that have threatened to tear these sisters apart. As they face the loss of their mother, they will discover if blood might be thicker than water after all…

My Thoughts: The Sunshine Sisters was a beautifully woven story that brought the past and the present together, and revealed moments of discovery for the characters. Hope for new beginnings.

Multiple narrators offer the opportunity to feel empathy for the individual characters. Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy are the daughters who each felt the hurt of an uncaring mother who only seemed to think of herself.

Ronni was focused on her own needs to the exclusion of all else, but in the reunion brought about by her illness, more is revealed. Each character, perhaps especially Ronni, had regrets and felt the sting of what might have been.

Can Ronni’s plan to reunite her family bring out more for each of them? Will she take the drastic steps that she had envisioned?

I enjoyed traits about each character. I liked that Nell was independent and didn’t seem to need anyone to lean on…until the unexpected happened. I admired Meredith’s ability to forge a new life in London, a life that felt like growth for her. But when coming home helped her realize that her fiancé was controlling and judgmental, I loved that she was able, with the support of her sisters, to make the best choice for herself. Lizzy, spoiled and thinking primarily of her own needs, had to finally face the consequences of her actions, but those newly forged sisterly connections turned out to be just what she needed to finally accept herself.

While the story was wrapped up pretty neatly for the characters, I still felt a glow as I turned the last page, making this another 5 star read for me.

***

REVIEW: FAIRY TALE INTERRUPTED, BY ROSEMARIE TERENZIO

Working Girl meets What Remains in this New York Times bestselling, behind-the-scenes story of an unlikely friendship between America’s favorite First Son, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his personal assistant, a blue-collar girl from the Bronx. Featured in the documentary I Am JFK Jr.!

From the moment RoseMarie Terenzio unleashed her Italian temper on the entitled nuisance commandeering her office in a downtown New York PR firm, an unlikely friendship bloomed between the blue-collar girl from the Bronx and John F. Kennedy Jr.

Many books have sought to capture John F. Kennedy Jr.’s life. None has been as intimate or as honest as Fairy Tale Interrupted. Recalling the adventure of working as his executive assistant for five years, RoseMarie portrays the man behind the icon—patient, protective, surprisingly goofy, occasionally thoughtless and self-involved, yet capable of extraordinary generosity and kindness.
She reveals how he dealt with dating, politics, and the paparazzi, and describes life behind the scenes at George magazine. Captured here are her memories of Carolyn Bessette, how she orchestrated the ultra-secretive planning of John and Carolyn’s wedding on Cumberland Island—and the heartbreak of their deaths on July 16, 1999, after which RoseMarie’s whole world came crashing down around her. Only now does she feel she can tell her story in a book that stands as “a fitting personal tribute to a unique boss . .

My Thoughts: As a fan of all things Kennedy, I relished the opportunity to look behind the scenes at the prince of that clan, and the one least known to me.

We all recall him saluting at his father’s funeral; we were there while his mother was trying to protect him and his sister from the paparazzi while they were growing up; and we watched while he started his magazine George, hoping to carve out his own niche. And then grieved as he and his wife and sister-in-law lost their lives in that fatal plane crash in 1999.

I did enjoy the author’s voice as she described the working relationship she had with John while serving as his assistant, and also the friendship that developed between her, John, and Carolyn, sometimes even mediating their disagreements.

I would have loved seeing some personal photos, and having a greater insider view of their personal world…but no one book can give us everything we want about the life of someone we admire and want to know more about. I liked the author’s writing style, which felt like a conversation between the reader and the author, so despite what was missing for me from Fairy Tale Interrupted, I give this book 3.5 stars.

***

 

REVIEW: THE RED HUNTER, BY LISA UNGER

Claudia Bishop’s perfect life fell apart when the aftermath of a brutal assault left her with a crumbling marriage, a newborn daughter, and a constant sense of anxiety about the world around her. Now, looking for a fresh start with a home restoration project and growing blog, Claudia takes on a crumbling old house—one that unbeknownst to her has an ugly history and may hide long buried secrets.

For Zoey Drake the defining moment of her childhood was the horrific home invasion murder of her parents. Years later, she has embraced the rage that fuels her. Training in the martial arts has made her strong and ready to face the demons from the past—and within.

Strangers to each other, and walking very different paths in the wake of trauma, these two women are on a collision course—because Zoey’s past nightmare and Claudia’s dreams for her future take place in the very same house. As Zoey seeks justice, and Claudia seeks peace, both will confront the monsters at the door that are the most frightening of all.


My Thoughts: The intertwined lives of Claudia and Zoey were fascinating, and kept me reading as they told their alternating tales. Zoey, living in the East Village, tells hers with a first person narrative, so we find something more immediate about her story. About the violence that ripped her world apart one night, in Lost Valley, and the ongoing threats that keep her on her toes, learning how to defend herself.

A different kind of violence tore Claudia’s life apart, also in the East Village, but moving into her father’s old abandoned house in a town called Lost Valley, with her teenage daughter, is her way of starting over. To renovate the old house, to blog about her adventures, and to find her strength. Not knowing the history of the house allowed Claudia to feel optimistic.

Who were the bad guys that murdered Zoey’s parents? How are they now connected to the apparently normal lives that each woman is trying to live? How is each woman dealing with her rage? What will finally trigger another bout of violence, and bring some answers that have plagued them for years?

As The Red Hunter weaves back and forth between the past and the present, we learn more about all the characters, and how the present threat has ended up right back where it started, in an old house in Lost Valley. As Claudia stands before the home that could have been a new beginning, she has a realization: “How had she gotten here? How many accidents and mistakes and choices had she made? How many of them had been wrong or right, good or bad? Maybe that’s all life was, this impossibly complicated helix of choice and accident, things you could control and couldn’t. And when the day was done, the only measure of success was how happy you were, how much you loved and were loved.”

Each woman finds something in the answers that will allow her to move forward. A 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT, BY MARY ALICE MONROE

When Cara Rutledge rents out her quaint beach house on Isle of Palms to Heather Wyatt for the entire summer, it’s a win-win by any standard: Cara’s generating income necessary to keep husband Brett’s ecotourism boat business afloat, and anxiety-prone Heather, an young artist who’s been given a commission to paint birds on postage stamps, has a quiet space in which to work and tend to her pet canaries uninterrupted.

It isn’t long, however, before both women’s idyllic summers are altered irrevocably: the alluring shorebirds—and the man who rescues them—begin to draw Heather out of the shell she’s cultivated toward a world of adventure, and maybe even love; at the same time, Cara’s life reels with sudden tragedy, and she wishes only to return to the beach house that had once been her port amidst life’s storms. When Heather refuses to budge from her newfound sanctuary, so begins the unlikeliest of rooming situations. While they start out as strangers, as everything around the women falls apart they learn that the only thing they can really rely on is each other.

And, like the migrating shorebirds that come to the island for the summer, these two women of different generations must rediscover their unique strengths so by summer’s end they, too, can take flight in ways they never imagined possible.


My Thoughts: I was drawn into the story of Primrose Cottage and the dynamics of a Southern family. I could envision that hard-boiled patriarch accustomed to dictating the lives and choices of the women. It struck a familiar tone with me, having experienced some of these things, even though I grew up far away from the South.

But the people born in the South sometimes migrate to other places, carrying their values with them. That was what my grandparents did, and how their values impacted my life.

When Cara Rutledge and Heather Wyatt joined forces, they discovered how to begin new journeys. Would Heather find what she needed and learn to stand on her own two feet? Would love be part of her new journey? What would Cara do in her new life, once she moved beyond the grief?

A delightful story of loss, friendship, and new beginnings, Beach House for Rent captivated me throughout. 4.5 stars.***My e-ARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.