REVIEW: THE HOUSE GUESTS, BY EMILIE RICHARDS

 

In the wake of her husband’s sudden death, Cassie Costas finds her relationship with her teenage stepdaughter unraveling. After their move to historic Tarpon Springs, Florida, Savannah hates her new town, her school and most of all her stepmom, whom she blames for her father’s death. Cassie has enough to contend with as she searches for answers about the man she shared a life with, including why all their savings have disappeared.

When Savannah’s rebellion culminates in an act that leaves single mother Amber Blair and her sixteen-year-old son homeless, Cassie empathizes with the woman’s predicament and invites the strangers to move in. As their lives intertwine, Cassie realizes that Amber is hiding something. She’s evasive about her past, but the fear in her eyes tells a darker story. Cassie wonders what the woman living under her roof is running from…and what will happen if it finally catches up to her.
 
 
 
mythoughts-laurelrainsnow-serendipity

The House Guests is a layered and fascinating tale of family dynamics, secrets, and the dangers that wait around every corner.

I loved how Cassie has reached out to Amber and Will, even though her own family issues are complicated with Savannah’s moodiness and the mysteries behind her husband’s financial losses.

The story moved between the characters, spotlighting the adults and the teenagers, drawing us into their lives and caring about what the secrets and losses might reveal.

The intensity mounted as the characters drew closer to unraveling the mysteries from the past.

By the end, we are rooting for them all, which made this one a 5 star read for me.
 
***

REVIEW: SKYE FALLING, BY MIA MCKENZIE

When she was twenty-six and broke, Skye didn’t think twice before selling her eggs and happily pocketing the cash. Now approaching forty, Skye still moves through life entirely—and unrepentantly—on her own terms, living out of a suitcase and avoiding all manner of serious relationships. Maybe her junior high classmates weren’t wrong when they voted her “Most Likely to Be Single” instead of “Most Ride-or-Die Homie,” but at least she’s always been free to do as she pleases.

Then a twelve-year-old girl tracks Skye down during one of her brief visits to her hometown of Philadelphia and informs Skye that she’s “her egg.” Skye’s life is thrown into sharp relief and she decides that it might be time to actually try to have a meaningful relationship with another human being. Spoiler alert: It’s not easy.

Things get even more complicated when Skye realizes that the woman she tried and failed to pick up the other day is the girl’s aunt, and now it’s awkward. All the while, her brother is trying to get in touch, her mother is being bewilderingly kind, and the West Philly pool halls and hoagie shops of her youth have been replaced by hipster cafés.

With its endearingly prickly narrator and a cast of characters willing to both challenge her and catch her when she falls, this novel is a clever, moving portrait of a woman and the relationships she thought she could live without.

mythoughts-laurelrainsnow-serendipity

 

I loved Skye Falling from the very first page.  The first-person narrator brought me right into her interior world through her monologues and her interactions with the people around her.  We get to see her life of the past and how her present life is not as satisfying as she had hoped.

On the journey, we get a first-hand view of Philadelphia and the neighborhoods she has inhabited.

Vicky is an endearing character with a fresh mouth that reveals much about her thoughts and feelings.  She was also a gritty and sometimes tough character who found a way to accept the people in her orbit.

As for Skye, we learn a lot about how one woman navigates her world and chooses what to do next, which kept me turning the pages. 4.5 stars.

***This ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

***

REVIEW: THE SWEENEY SISTERS, BY LIAN DOLAN

Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother’s death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart. Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren’t quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.

But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.

When Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested on a whim a few weeks earlier, she learned she had a 50% genetic match with a childhood neighbor—Maggie Sweeney of Southport, Connecticut. It seems Serena’s chilly WASP mother, Birdie, had a history with Bill Sweeney—one that has remained totally secret until now.

Once the shock wears off, questions abound. What does this mean for William’s literary legacy? Where is the unfinished memoir he’s stashed away, and what will it reveal? And how will a fourth Sweeney sister—a blond among redheads—fit into their story.

 

The story of how a perfectly coordinated trilogy of sisters turns The Sweeney Sisters into an unexpected and potentially conflicted group had me turning pages throughout. Each sister was clearly drawn, so that they were not cardboard cut-outs but interesting characters with unique personalities.

Liza was my favorite as formerly the eldest Sweeney daughter; finding out that her father had another daughter older than she could have really struck a dark chord for her. She was also in a conflicted relationship with her remote and unlikable husband, so there were layers to the story.

Maggie, previously the “middle” child, was often troubled and melodramatic, so her potential to destroy any possible harmony was there from the beginning. But then she surprised us by feeling an unexpected connection to the “new sister,” who could have been viewed as an interloper.

The way the sisters handled their father’s behavior and how he had betrayed their mother did lead to many conversations and choices they made to cope with it all.

I also enjoyed how the sisters dealt with the legal and literary issues posed by their father’s passing. The search for the last unpublished manuscript added intrigue to the story.

I loved the descriptions and how the sisters brought the new offspring into the fold. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: ON OCEAN BOULEVARD, BY MARY ALICE MONROE

 

It’s been sixteen years since Caretta “Cara” Rutledge has returned home to the beautiful shores of Charleston, South Carolina. Over those years, she has weathered the tides of deaths and births, struggles and joys. And now, as Cara prepares for her second wedding, her life is about to change yet again.

Meanwhile, the rest of the storied Rutledge family is also in flux. Cara’s niece Linnea returns to Sullivan’s Island to begin a new career and an unexpected relationship. Linnea’s parents, having survived bankruptcy, pin their hopes and futures on the construction of a new home on Ocean Boulevard. But as excitement over the house and wedding builds, a devastating illness strikes the family and brings plans to a screeching halt. It is under these trying circumstances that the Rutledge family must come together yet again to discover the enduring strength in love, tradition, and legacy from mother to daughter to granddaughter.

When Linnea Rutledge returns to the island in On Ocean Boulevard, she has much to work through. Will she restore her faith in herself after a failed relationship and job in California? Will reuniting with her family be a burden or a gift?

Having enjoyed other beach books in this series, I was glad to rejoin Cara Rutledge, Linnea’s aunt, as she planned for a big change in her life, too. A new man, an adorable little daughter, and the joy of watching her niece find her niche as she immerses herself in environmental issues.

The beach houses were lovely to visualize, as the descriptive prose invited the reader in and gave an opportunity to learn some of the history of the family and the Charleston area as the story unfolded.

The narrative skipped around quite a bit, but I did enjoy the journey. I would have liked a more in-depth peek into their lives, but I did enjoy how dedicated they all were to the environment. Each chapter began with snippets about the sea turtles that are a recurring theme. 4 stars.

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

REVIEW: REGRETTING YOU, BY COLLEEN HOOVER

 

Morgan Grant and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Clara, would like nothing more than to be nothing alike.

Morgan is determined to prevent her daughter from making the same mistakes she did. By getting pregnant and married way too young, Morgan put her own dreams on hold. Clara doesn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her predictable mother doesn’t have a spontaneous bone in her body.

With warring personalities and conflicting goals, Morgan and Clara find it increasingly difficult to coexist. The only person who can bring peace to the household is Chris—Morgan’s husband, Clara’s father, and the family anchor. But that peace is shattered when Chris is involved in a tragic and questionable accident. The heartbreaking and long-lasting consequences will reach far beyond just Morgan and Clara.

While struggling to rebuild everything that crashed around them, Morgan finds comfort in the last person she expects to, and Clara turns to the one boy she’s been forbidden to see. With each passing day, new secrets, resentment, and misunderstandings make mother and daughter fall further apart. So far apart, it might be impossible for them to ever fall back together.

An emotionally captivating story about family, bad choices, and moving on, I was drawn into Regretting You from the very first pages.

The story begins with Morgan as a teenager and how she deals with her teenage pregnancy, and what happens to her dreams afterwards. Her own feelings are stuffed down and she puts all of her energy into being the best mother she can be.

Her sister Jenny is always there for her. The two are close, but years later, when Morgan faces a tragic event and discovers that a great betrayal has turned her life upside down, she is forced to hide the truth from her own teenage daughter Clara. She fights against choices her daughter is making that could turn her into someone who could be hurt by someone she loves. Will telling the truth set them free, or make their lives another kind of trap?

The author kept me turning pages, hoping that the mother and daughter could communicate with each other and avoid the mistakes they are about to stumble into. A 4.5 star read.

***

REVIEW: MEG & JO, BY VIRGINIA KANTRA

 

The timeless classic Little Women inspired this heartwarming modern tale of four sisters from New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra.

The March sisters—reliable Meg, independent Jo, stylish Amy, and shy Beth—have grown up to pursue their separate dreams. When Jo followed her ambitions to New York City, she never thought her career in journalism would come crashing down, leaving her struggling to stay afloat in a gig economy as a prep cook and secret food blogger.

Meg appears to have the life she always planned—the handsome husband, the adorable toddlers, the house in a charming subdivision. But sometimes getting everything you’ve ever wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When their mother’s illness forces the sisters home to North Carolina for the holidays, they’ll re-discover what really matters.

One thing’s for sure—they’ll need the strength of family and the power of sisterhood to remake their lives and reimagine their dreams.

My Thoughts: As I dived into Meg and Jo, I felt as though I were revisiting a family I had loved for years. But despite the familiarity of the characters I had first met in Little Women, these family members were just different enough that I would discover the newness of them, too.

Set in contemporary times, we first connect with Jo in Manhattan, working in a restaurant and writing a food blog. I loved how she shared her self-discoveries, her life, and the Chef who turns out to be more than just a boss.

In North Carolina, Meg and John and their twins are enjoying their life as a family, but at the same time, the two of them are realizing that their communication could use some work.

Marmee’s illness changes the family dynamics, and the daughters realize that they need to step in and help out more.

Amy and Beth make brief appearances, but the focus is on Jo and Meg and their life changes. A delightful read. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom.

Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

 

My Thoughts: Our multiple narrators capture us from the beginning of The Family Upstairs. From Libby Jones, presumably the baby found in the Cheyne Walk house, to Henry, the son who went missing, there are a few others whose bits and pieces of the story unfold. It takes a while to figure out who Lucy is, and what she might have to do with Libby.

The cultish story is creepy with Gothic overtones. Who are these people, and how did one man take over all the adults and children that surrounded him? How did any of them escape, and who ended the lives of the perpetrators?

I loved all the twists and turns, and how nothing was exactly as we expected. By the end, however, all the missing pieces have fallen into place. A brilliant 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: THE BOOKISH LIFE OF NINA HILL, BY ABBI WAXMAN

 

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

My Thoughts: Nina Hill is one of the quirkiest and most adorable characters I have met in a while. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill opens with some bookstore scenes, and we are soon thoroughly immersed in her daily life. From the books she loves and her precise schedule of daily plans, we learn how her single life comforts her, even though she occasionally thinks about dating and/or being in a relationship.

What she hadn’t counted on, though, was discovering the existence of her unknown father and the numerous siblings, aunts, brothers, nieces, and nephews. How could someone like Nina adapt to this new normal?

Watching her do just that kept me thoroughly absorbed throughout, and by the end, with all the unexpected detours her life has taken, we are happily a part of her world, too. And just when Nina has reconciled herself to her bookish and somewhat loner existence, she discovers spontaneity and love for her life. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SUNSET BEACH, BY MARY KAY ANDREWS

 

Drue Campbell’s life is adrift. Out of a job and down on her luck, life doesn’t seem to be getting any better when her estranged father, Brice Campbell, a flamboyant personal injury attorney, shows up at her mother’s funeral after a twenty-year absence. Worse, he’s remarried—to Drue’s eighth grade frenemy, Wendy, now his office manager. And they’re offering her a job.

It seems like the job from hell, but the offer is sweetened by the news of her inheritance—her grandparents’ beach bungalow in the sleepy town of Sunset Beach, a charming but storm-damaged eyesore now surrounded by waterfront McMansions.

With no other prospects, Drue begrudgingly joins the firm, spending her days screening out the grifters whose phone calls flood the law office. Working with Wendy is no picnic either. But when a suspicious death at an exclusive beach resort nearby exposes possible corruption at her father’s firm, she goes from unwilling cubicle rat to unwitting investigator, and is drawn into a case that may—or may not—involve her father. With an office romance building, a decades-old missing persons case re-opened, and a cottage in rehab, one thing is for sure at Sunset Beach: there’s a storm on the horizon.

 

My Thoughts: Sunset Beach takes the reader right into the setting, amongst a cast of interesting characters. Drue was my favorite, and her father’s wife Wendy was someone I loved to hate. The two had been friends as children, and then were not. Now, as her father’s newest wife, she is also the office manager, in a position to order Drue around with big yellow “SEE ME” post-it notes showing up frequently.

Coworkers Jonah and Ben brought unexpected flavor, especially as the twists in the story took us behind the scenes in some legal cases, with Drue following the clues to solving a murder.

An alternating timeline from the 70s revealed secrets from the past, and how the present day characters were connected to a mysterious disappearance.

I also loved seeing Drue’s joy at fixing up her grandparents’ old cottage, which she had inherited. Lovely memories brought out the sense of family and sentimental moments.

I liked how the story swept back and forth in time, culminating in some unexpected answers to some piercing questions. I couldn’t wait to keep turning the pages of this great 5 star read full of family, friends, loss, and mysteries.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: I OWE YOU ONE, BY SOPHIE KINSELLA

 

Fixie Farr has always lived by her father’s motto: “Family first.” And since her dad passed away, leaving his charming housewares store in the hands of his wife and children, Fixie spends all her time picking up the slack from her siblings instead of striking out on her own. The way Fixie sees it, if she doesn’t take care of her father’s legacy, who will?

It’s simply not in Fixie’s nature to say no to people. So when a handsome stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop for a moment, she not only agrees—she ends up saving it from certain disaster. To thank Fixie for her quick thinking, the computer’s owner, Sebastian, an investment manager, scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve and attaches his business card. Fixie laughs it off—she’d never actually claim an IOU from a stranger. Would she?

But then Fixie’s childhood crush, Ryan, comes back into her life, and his lack of a profession pushes all of Fixie’s buttons. As always, she wants nothing for herself—but she’d love Seb to give Ryan a job. No sooner has Seb agreed than the tables are turned once more and a new series of IOUs between Seb and Fixie—from small favors to life-changing moments—ensues. Soon Fixie, Ms. Fixit for everyone else, is torn between her family and the life she really wants. Does she have the courage to take a stand? Will she finally grab the life, and love, she really wants?

 

 

My Thoughts: From the very first lines of I Owe You One, I was captivated by Fixie and her foibles. Always wanting to fix things, happily giving in to others and their needs, and putting her own wishes and dreams on hold in favor of the shop and the family made her lovable. But how would she get what she wanted?

A bystander, like this reader, might think of giving her a little push now and then; after all, what good is all the sweetness if her voice is unheard?

I loved Fixie’s serendipitous meeting with Seb Marlowe, and their cute “coffee sleeve” notes back and forth.

I couldn’t stand her siblings Jake and Nicole, who were arrogant and had no problem shoving her out of the way and taking over the shop, even when she knew their ways would not work.

Finally, however, there were some defining moments that brought a halt to Fixie’s martyrdom…and a way for her to start getting what she needed.

The ending felt a little rushed, in that a big misunderstanding was quickly resolved by others on Fixie’s behalf, and I was disappointed not to be part of that conversation. But everything worked out, so I’m giving this delightful story 4.5 stars.

***