REVIEW: SAME BEACH, NEXT YEAR, BY DOROTHEA BENTON FRANK

One enchanted summer, two couples begin a friendship that will last more than twenty years and transform their lives.

A chance meeting on the Isle of Palms, one of Charleston’s most stunning barrier islands, brings former sweethearts, Adam Stanley and Eve Landers together again. Their respective spouses, Eliza and Carl, fight sparks of jealousy flaring from their imagined rekindling of old flames. As Adam and Eve get caught up on their lives, their partners strike up a deep friendship—and flirt with an unexpected attraction—of their own.

Year after year, Adam, Eliza, Eve, and Carl eagerly await their reunion at Wild Dunes, a condominium complex at the island’s tip end, where they grow closer with each passing day, building a friendship that will withstand financial catastrophe, family tragedy, and devastating heartbreak. The devotion and love they share will help them weather the vagaries of time and enrich their lives as circumstances change, their children grow up and leave home, and their twilight years approach.

Bursting with the intoxicating richness of Dorothea Benton Frank’s beloved Lowcountry—the sultry sunshine, cool ocean breezes, icy cocktails, and starry velvet skies—Same Beach, Next Year is a dazzling celebration of the infrangible power of friendship, the enduring promise of summer, and the indelible bonds of love.

 

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From the very beginning of Same Beach, Next Year, I was reminded of stories and movies I had enjoyed that featured friends getting together in a special place on a regular basis.

We follow the characters through their lives as they experience marital issues, accidents, and family tragedies. Even the threat of infidelity stalks them.

My favorite part was when Eliza took a trip to Corfu on the Greek Islands to reconnect with her mother’s family, and rediscovered that she could make some independent choices that would be good for her and for her marriage.

A delightful excursion through a family’s life that brought friends into the family circle, too. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: MY DARLING HUSBAND, BY KIMBERLY BELLE

Everyone is about to know what her husband isn’t telling her…

Jade and Cam Lasky are by all accounts a happily married couple with two adorable kids, a spacious home and a rapidly growing restaurant business. But their world is tipped upside down when Jade is confronted by a masked home invader. As Cam scrambles to gather the ransom money, Jade starts to wonder if they’re as financially secure as their lifestyle suggests, and what other secrets her husband is keeping from her.

Cam may be a good father, a celebrity chef and a darling husband, but there’s another side he’s kept hidden from Jade that has put their family in danger. Unbeknownst to Cam and Jade, the home invader has been watching them and is about to turn their family secrets into a public scandal.

With riveting twists and a breakneck pace, My Darling Husband is an utterly compelling thriller that once again showcases Kimberly Belle’s exceptional talent for domestic suspense.

 

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When Jade and her two children are grabbed by someone who has been watching them, the home invasion turns into a frightening countdown to the final moment when Jade’s husband Cam will have gathered the ransom money and arrived in time to save his family.

But Cam is not as financially secure as Jade had believed, and furthermore, the home invader is not a passing stranger. He has a history with Cam…and a vendetta to resolve.  My Darling Husband is not who he seems to be.

As more details are revealed throughout the day, we soon realize that there are so many layers beyond what had initially seemed like a one-off scramble for money. Unexpected motivations stunned me by the very end. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE JANES, BY LOUISA LUNA

 

The page-turning follow-up to acclaimed thriller Two Girls Down features the tenacious PI Alice Vega and her electric partnership with Max Caplan, as they follow a shocking murder investigation to it’s even more shocking conclusion.

On the outskirts of San Diego, the bodies of two young women are discovered. They have no names, no IDs, but one of the Jane Does holds a note bearing the name, “Alice Vega.” The police and FBI reach out to Vega, a private investigator known for finding the missing. Fearing the possibility of a human trafficking ring, Vega enlists the help of her one-time partner, former cop Max “Cap” Caplan.

Despite a case with so few leads, Alice Vega is a powerful woman whose determination is matched only by her intellect, and, along with her partner Cap, she will stop at nothing to find the Janes’ killers before it is too late.
 
 
 
 
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The intensity of the search for the missing girls increases as Vega and Cap work together to solve the case. Just as they are closing in on answers, they discover more girls are involved and realize how corruption in the department is at the bottom of these activities.

They carefully keep ahead of those chasing them and connect with others who are dedicated to discovering the truth and finding the rest of the missing girls as well. The Janes was an intricately woven tale that led to answers and freedom for the girls. 4.5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: CHRISTMAS DESSERT MURDER, BY JOANNE FLUKE

CHRISTMAS CARAMEL MURDER
Hannah and her good pal Lisa have agreed to provide all the goodies for the town’s annual production of A Christmas Carol. But before anyone can say “Bah, humbug!” the actress playing Mrs. Claus exits stage left for good. As murder suspects pile up faster than snowdrifts in a blizzard, it might take a visit from ghosts of Christmas past to wrap up this mystery in time for the holidays . . .

CHRISTMAS CAKE MURDER
Hannah’s life matches the hectic December hustle and bustle of Lake Eden when she agrees to help recreate a spectacular Christmas Ball in honor of Essie Granger, an elderly local in hospice care. But instead of poring over decadent dessert recipes, Hannah’s surprised by Essie’s secret talent for penning crime fiction. She’s even more surprised when the story turns real. It’ll be a true miracle if she can prevent another Yuletide disaster by solving a mystery as dense as a Christmas fruitcake . . .
 
 
 
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Each section of Christmas Dessert Murder brings delicious goodies and a murder mystery to the residents of Lake Eden.

I am a fan of Hannah and her Cookie Jar bakery, and in this particular set of stories, we spotlight both the present and the past.

In the story from the past, we meet Hannah at a younger age and follow her adventure of launching the Cookie Jar. Other characters are also trying out new experiences and adding to what we already know about them.

As with all the books, there are recipes appearing regularly and titillating us with deliciousness.

An enjoyable read, although I liked the present-day story more. 4.5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: THE SUMMER THAT MADE US, BY ROBYN CARR

That was then…

For the Hempsteads, two sisters who married two brothers and had three daughters each, summers were idyllic. The women would escape the city the moment school was out to gather at the family house on Lake Waseka. The lake was a magical place, a haven where they were happy and carefree. All of their problems drifted away as the days passed in sun-dappled contentment. Until the summer that changed everything.

This is now…

After an accidental drowning turned the lake house into a site of tragedy and grief, it was closed up. For good. Torn apart, none of the Hempstead women speak of what happened that summer, and relationships between them are uneasy at best to hurtful at worst. But in the face of new challenges, one woman is determined to draw her family together again, and the only way that can happen is to return to the lake and face the truth.
 
 
 
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The Summer That Made Us was a multilayered treat filled with family history and drama.

As we dig into the stories, we learn about a lifetime of family pranks and mistakes. Along the way, we get to watch the family enjoying one last summer in the place where so many of their childhood adventures took place. It was also where some bad things happened, but in the final summer, they get to put some old issues to rest, too.

The animosity between some of the family members was sorted…and there were answers to some of the questions of their lives as well.

A delightful story that wrapped up nicely, even though there were sad parts. A 4.5 star read.
 
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REVIEW: THE NEW WIFE, BY SUE WATSON

You can never truly know what goes on behind closed doors…

My darling son, Sam, is marrying his childhood sweetheart and I couldn’t be prouder of the man he’s grown into. Walking out on his abusive father all those years ago was the best thing I ever did. And today he stands, tall and handsome, saying ‘I do’ to my dream daughter-in-law. If I hadn’t pushed them together all those years ago, he might never have found a girl as perfect as Lauren. It’s true what they say, mother always knows best.

But weeks later, Lauren is dead and police cars fill the driveway of their idyllic countryside home. As they question Sam, I sense he’s hiding something. Why won’t he look me in the eye? And who does he rush off to meet as soon as the police are gone?

Desperate, I do what every good mother would do: I let myself into Sam and Lauren’s bedroom. What I see, I will never be able to forget. My son’s beautiful new wife was hiding a dangerous secret. Can I clear my son’s name? And could my life be in danger now too?

 

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As I immersed myself in The New Wife, I felt connections to the first-person narrator Georgie, and through her eyes, saw the characters that surrounded her. Her view of them felt like the truth, but as time passed, it was soon apparent that they all had secrets and were caught up in lies.

Sam’s lies turn out to be quite different than we imagined, and even though we couldn’t stand Sadie, there was more to her, too. Even Tim and Helen were no longer the sweet friends one could turn to in trouble.

As we begin to sort through the hidden parts of the characters, a more complete picture is revealed. A great twisty story. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: FORGIVE ME, BY SUSAN LEWIS

In prison, Archie Colbrook spends his time writing letters. Letters addressed to a person against whom he committed terrible, nameless harm. Archie knows he doesn’t deserve forgiveness. Yes, he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and sure, he was only following orders. But does that matter? He still did it.

In a small coastal town of Northern England, Claudia Winters hopes to feel safe for the first time in years after fleeing from her abusive husband with her mother and daughter. Their new life is supposed to be a fresh start. But Claudia knows the past won’t stay hidden for long—and she can’t help but feel that someone is watching her. And that something terrible is about to happen.

Linked by one irrevocable act of violence, Archie and Claudia’s lives intertwine. Claudia can’t overlook what Archie did to her family—but is forgiveness the only way to truly move on?

Tense, emotional, and gripping, Susan Lewis’s latest novel is a spellbinding story of family and the power of forgiveness.
 
 
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Forgive Me opens as a mother, daughter, and granddaughter escape the cruel and abusive treatment of a man, just as he is imprisoned. Their best hope is to start over, out of his reach, long before he is released from confinement. They change their identities and location, hoping to begin anew.

In their new community, they find friends, new jobs, and start over.

But when they feel that someone is following them, the intensity escalates, turning the peaceful existence upside down. Just when they need it, the special project offers the opportunity to heal. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and watching them transform their lives, and I liked how they accomplished it. A 4.5 star read.
 
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REVIEW: I KNOW YOU, BY CLAIRE MCGOWAN

When Rachel stumbles upon a body in the woods, she knows what she has to do: run. Get away. Do not be found at the scene. Last time, she didn’t know, and she ended up accused of murder. But when this victim is identified as her boyfriend’s estranged wife, Rachel realises she’s already the prime suspect.

With mounting evidence against her, Rachel’s only hope is to keep the truth about herself well hidden. Because twenty years ago she was someone else—Casey, a young nanny trying to make it as an actress in Los Angeles. When the family she worked for were brutally murdered, all the evidence pointed to her and she went to prison. Back then, she narrowly escaped the death penalty and managed to free herself on appeal. Now she’s fighting to save the life she’s spent years piecing back together.

But with her behaviour raising suspicion and the police closing in, Rachel can’t help wondering: Was her discovery in the woods really just an awful coincidence, or is someone framing her for murder? Someone who knows who she is, and wants revenge…
 
 
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I Know You was a page turner that kept me glued to my chair throughout. From the alternating narratives revealing our protagonist’s fight to prove her innocence when accused, we soon learn that not everything was the way we believed it to be.

As I followed the first-person narratives told by each incarnation of our protagonist, first Casey and then Rachel, I wasn’t sure just what we would learn in the end, but I rooted for her in each version of herself. A 5 star read for me.
 
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REVIEW: THE DUTCH HOUSE, BY ANN PATCHETT

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.
 
 
 
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From the first moments of The Dutch House, the reader can feel how the house is a dominant character in the story. It is a magical and imposing presence that hovers over their lives for decades.

Even after their stepmother tosses them out following their father’s death, Maeve and Danny regularly sit outside the house in their car, watching and remembering their lives inside the house, paying tribute to their time in it, almost like a religious experience.

We follow their lives, narrated by Danny’s first-person voice, as it carries us into the past and forward to the future, sometimes leaving hints of what might happen years ahead.

Maeve seems to be the dominant character, controlling a lot of what happens to them, guiding Danny as he goes to college and medical school. Maeve’s distrust of Danny’s girlfriend Celeste, who becomes his wife, tests their bond. In the end, theirs is the closest relationship in the story.

A family saga that kept me enthralled throughout, I cared deeply about the characters and their lives. 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: LAST GIRL GHOSTED, BY LISA UNGER

She met him through a dating app. An intriguing picture on a screen, a date at a downtown bar. What she thought might be just a quick hookup quickly became much more. She fell for him—hard. It happens sometimes, a powerful connection with a perfect stranger takes you by surprise. Could it be love?

But then, just as things were getting real, he stood her up. Then he disappeared—profiles deleted, phone disconnected. She was ghosted.

Maybe it was her fault. She shared too much, too fast. But isn’t that always what women think—that they’re the ones to blame? Soon she learns there were others. Girls who thought they were in love. Girls who later went missing. She had been looking for a connection, but now she’s looking for answers. Chasing a digital trail into his dark past—and hers—she finds herself on a dangerous hunt. And she’s not sure whether she’s the predator—or the prey.
 
 
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Last Girl Ghosted carries the reader along on a quest for missing girls and the predator who has captured them.

Wren Greenwood grew up off the grid and lost her family to violence. She becomes one of the missing girls as she tries to help them.

Our story also follows the lives of others searching for the disappeared girls, some of whom have roots in The Hollows.

The story was dark and twisted and multilayered, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages. 5 stars.
 
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