REVIEW: THE FOREVER GIRL, BY JILL SHALVIS

When Maze returns to Wildstone for the wedding of her estranged bff and the sister of her heart, it’s also a reunion of a once ragtag team of teenagers who had only each other until a tragedy tore them apart and scattered them wide.

Now as adults together again in the lake house, there are secrets and resentments mixed up in all the amazing childhood memories. Unexpectedly, they instantly fall back into their roles: Maze their reckless leader, Cat the den mother, Heather the beloved baby sister, and Walker, a man of mystery.

Life has changed all four of them in immeasurable ways. Maze and Cat must decide if they can rebuild their friendship, and Maze discovers her long-held attraction to Walker hasn’t faded with the years but has only grown stronger.

 

 

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A reunion of the group of foster siblings launches The Forever Girl, as they all join together for the wedding of one of them.

Caitlin is the actual daughter of the foster parents, and while the others have always loved being in this family, some of them felt like they didn’t really belong.

Especially Maze, who has deep issues of abandonment and guilt for something she blames herself for…even though she has been given absolution.

Walker is also one who isn’t sure he belongs. The feeling of belonging hasn’t come easy to him, either.

His relationship with Maze has been on and off, mostly because the two of them don’t completely believe in it.

I enjoyed this story of coming together and finally reaching a place of truly belonging. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE SUMMER DEAL, BY JILL SHALVIS

Brynn Turner desperately wishes she had it together, but her personal life is like a ping-pong match that’s left her scared and hurt after so many attempts to get it right. In search of a place to lick her wounds and get a fresh start, she heads back home to Wildstone.

And then there’s Kinsey Davis, who after battling serious health issues her entire twenty-nine years of life, is tired of hoping for . . . well, anything. She’s fierce, tough, and she’s keeping more than one bombshell of a secret from Brynn— her long-time frenemy.

But then Brynn runs into Kinsey’s best friend, Eli, renewing her childhood crush. The good news: he’s still easy-going and funny and sexy as hell. The bad news: when he gets her to agree to a summer-time deal to trust him to do right by her, no matter what, she never dreams it’ll result in finding a piece of herself she didn’t even know was missing. She could have real connections, possibly love, and a future—if she can only learn to let go of the past.

As the long days of summer wind down, the three of them must discover if forgiveness is enough to grasp the unconditional love that’s right in front of them.

 

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A hopeful story of friendship, connection, and unexpected family, The Summer Deal tugged at my heartstrings as I found myself loving the characters and the settings.

Yes, Kinsey was a bit of a pill, but being a mean girl is her way of protecting herself. Eli is adorable, and even his big dog is lovable. I rooted for Brynn all the way through the story, and also especially liked her two moms, who sometimes smothered her and her friends, but added to the coziness of the scenes.

As we finally reach a satisfying conclusion, I knew I would want to revisit them all. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: LAYLA, BY COLLEEN HOOVER

When Leeds meets Layla, he’s convinced he’ll spend the rest of his life with her—until an unexpected attack leaves Layla fighting for her life. After weeks in the hospital, Layla recovers physically, but the emotional and mental scarring has altered the woman Leeds fell in love with. In order to put their relationship back on track, Leeds whisks Layla away to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. Once they arrive, Layla’s behavior takes a bizarre turn. And that’s just one of many inexplicable occurrences.

Feeling distant from Layla, Leeds soon finds solace in Willow—another guest of the B&B with whom he forms a connection through their shared concerns. As his curiosity for Willow grows, his decision to help her find answers puts him in direct conflict with Layla’s well-being. Leeds soon realizes he has to make a choice because he can’t help both of them. But if he makes the wrong choice, it could be detrimental for all of them.

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As I rapidly turned the pages of Layla, I kept shaking my head, feeling confused, and not at all sure of what was happening. Could a tragic event have turned the lives of Leeds and Layla into a paranormal experience that resembled a shifting between realms?

As we begin to accept that some soul shifting was happening, another dimension turned the whole thing into a nightmare. Could there be a third soul involved?

Consulting someone from the paranormal world led to an attempt to right things in a way that could have gone very wrong.

Just when I thought nothing could salvage their realms, it seemed to happen. But would we forever wonder if their world could be right again? 4.5 was the best I could do, as I had difficulty coming to grips with the story. But the writing was great and I knew I would remember the book always.

***

REVIEW: OH WILLIAM!, BY ELIZABETH STROUT

I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.

Lucy Barton is a writer, but her ex-husband, William, remains a hard man to read. William, she confesses, has always been a mystery to me. Another mystery is why the two have remained connected after all these years. They just are.

So Lucy is both surprised and not surprised when William asks her to join him on a trip to investigate a recently uncovered family secret—one of those secrets that rearrange everything we think we know about the people closest to us. What happens next is nothing less than another example of what Hilary Mantel has called Elizabeth Strout’s “perfect attunement to the human condition.” There are fears and insecurities, simple joys and acts of tenderness, and revelations about affairs and other spouses, parents and their children. On every page of this exquisite novel we learn more about the quiet forces that hold us together—even after we’ve grown apart.

At the heart of this story is the indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. “This is the way of life,” Lucy says: “the many things we do not know until it is too late.”

 

There is something so moving about the characters in Oh William. We feel an almost instant connection to Lucy and to William, and as Lucy tells the story of her relationship with her first husband, a part of us knows that they will always remain connected in some way. Even though they obviously frustrate each other, even criticize each other.

Lucy narrates the story like someone who is deep in thought as she traverses her life with William. The memories seem to appear out of nowhere, almost as if she has been tangentially following a journey of her life at odd moments along the way. We see glimpses of her childhood and the horrific life with her parents; her first years with William; her life afterwards and with her second husband; and then how she and William come together again as friends and companions.

Sometimes I found William irritating, and behaving like “a dickwad,” as his daughters describe him. He feels very human and flawed and appealing in many ways, too.

A book that will linger in my mind indefinitely as a five star read.

***

REVIEW: DO I KNOW YOU?, BY SARAH STROHMEYER

Jane Ellison is a “super recognizer” able to identify strangers by the slightest facial details—the curve of a head, the arch of an eyebrow. When she spies human rights activist and heiress Bella Valencia in a crowded Boston airport, Jane’s convinced she’s found the person responsible for her sister Kit’s disappearance and presumed death eleven years earlier. But her attempt to detain the suspect ends with Jane herself fired and humiliated.

As Bella prepares to marry Will Pease, scion of the uber-wealthy, influential, and ruthless Pease family, famous for their wholesome wellness and lifestyle brand, on their private Cape Cod island, she grows increasingly anxious that her dire secret will be revealed and used against her by—of all people—the man she loves.

She has reason to fear: Jane is ready to risk everything for the chance to publicly expose Bella’s crimes at her upcoming celebrity wedding. But the more she digs into what happened that night, the more she questions her own assumptions.

Combining magnetic, wise-cracking narration and a skillfully layered plot, Do I Know You? is a gripping psychological thriller and tale of redemption that reveals the power of a sister’s love.
 
 

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Alternating narrators delve into the lives of the characters, from the wealthy Pease family to FBI agent Jane Ellison. Other characters fill in the layered story and offer just enough intrigue to keep me reading Do I Know You?

I loved the setting of Boston and Cape Cod as it offered up the bits and pieces of the lives of them all. I was curious about how family friends with two toddlers dropped in on Jane and her boyfriend Erik in their tiny guest cottage, expecting to be waited on…and offering no help with cooking or cleaning up. As it turned out, the guests had a secret agenda which morphed into a frightening series of events for Jane.

Jane is searching for answers to what happened to her sister years before, and everyone seems determined to keep her from discovering whether she had disappeared or died. Meanwhile, the wealthy possible perpetrators are planning a huge wedding nearby, so Jane finds a way to join the event.

Suddenly a stunning series of twists and turns lead Jane to an unexpected denouement. 4.5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: WATCH HER FALL, BY ERIN KELLY

WATCH HER RISE

After years of blood, sweat and tears, Ava Kirilova finally has the ballet world at her feet. But away from the spotlight, whispers backstage make her lonely and paranoid.

WATCH HER FALL

Because someone is watching her from the wings. Someone who wants what she has. Wants it so badly two people will pay with their lives.

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Watch Her Fall takes the reader into the inside world of ballet, with the performers, their alliances, and their competition.

Ava is the heir to the throne of her father’s company, but something has gone wrong. What will she discover about the life behind the scenes?

As the story unfolds, we come to learn of her father’s actions and how he has betrayed her.

Ava and Juliet could almost be the same person. Why do they seemingly compete for the special role in the company?

So many twists and turns kept me intrigued throughout, even though other parts of the story were confusing and even boring.

I am not a fan of ballet, so the scenes that focused on the performances left me yawning.

I was intrigued by the perspectives of Ava, Juliet, and Roman, but by the end, I was again confused. What really happened between these characters? 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE WAY WE WEREN’T, BY PHOEBE FOX

“You trying to kill yourself, or are you just stupid?”

Marcie Malone didn’t think she was either, but when she drives from Georgia to the southwestern shore of Florida without a plan and wakes up in a stranger’s home, she doesn’t seem to know anymore. Despondent and heartbroken over an unexpected loss and the man she thought she could count on, Marcie leaves him behind, along with her job and her whole life, and finds she has nowhere to go.

Herman Flint has seen just about everything in his seventy years living in a fading, blue-collar Florida town, but the body collapsed on the beach outside his window is something new. The woman is clearly in some kind of trouble and Flint wants no part of it—he’s learned to live on his own just fine, without the hassle of worrying about others. But against his better judgment he takes Marcie in and lets her stay until she’s on her feet on the condition she keeps out of his way.

As the unlikely pair slowly copes with the damage life has wrought, Marcie and Flint have to decide whether to face up to the past they’ve each been running from, and find a way to move forward with the people they care about most.

 

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An unexpected journey joins Marcie and Flint, as they each struggle with their past mistakes and losses in The Way We Weren’t.

We learn more about each of them in their alternating narratives, and while they seemingly have nothing much in common, they find themselves turning to each other to cope with what life has thrown them.

I liked how Marcie struggled to start over when life and her marriage have not turned out the way she had hoped, and in that respect, she and Flint do have some common issues. They find ways to support each other, even though they seemingly resist reaching out for help.

An interesting segue in the story shows how Marcie and Flint take care of the turtle’s nest on the beach, even as a hurricane threatens.

By the end, we are rooting for them, hoping they will find a way to redeem themselves and protect the environment. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE WONDER TEST, BY MICHELLE RICHMOND

Lina is on leave from her job in New York at the FBI in order to clean out her father’s home in Silicon Valley. As though letting go of her father isn’t hard enough, Lina has also recently lost her husband in a freak traffic accident. Still reeling, she and her teenage son Rory must make their way through this strange new town and the high school around which it all seems to revolve. Rory soon starts coming home with reports of the upcoming “Wonder Test,” a general aptitude assessment that appears increasingly inane, and Lina is shaken out of her grief by a sense that something is amiss in Greenfield.

When she discovers that a student disappeared last year and was found weeks later walking on a beach, shaved and traumatized, Lina can’t help but be sucked into an impromptu investigation.

Another kidnapping hits closer to home and reveals a sinister link between the Wonder Test and the rampant wealth of Silicon Valley’s elite. A searing view of a culture that puts the well-being of children at risk for advancement and prestige, and a captivating story of the lengths a mother will go for her son, this is The Wonder Test.

 

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As a fan of this author, I immediately dived into The Wonder Test, imagining the possibilities that lay ahead.

Who wouldn’t be leery of an upscale community with a school focused on testing, sometimes even taking strange actions to ensure that the results would be better than anyone could hope for?

Our first-person narrator shows us her interior world as she tries to sort out the strange events happening in the community. Her history working as an FBI agent prepares her for this very action.

Just as I wondered what would happen next, I was stunned by the darkness of those in charge of the young people in the community. Who is behind the horrific events in this apparently placid suburban world, and what will they do if crossed? I couldn’t wait to find out. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: BRAVE GIRL, QUIET GIRL, BY CATHERINE RYAN HYDE

Brooke is a divorced single mom, financially strapped, living with her mother, and holding tight to the one thing that matters most: her two-year-old daughter, Etta. Then, in a matter of seconds, Brooke’s life is shattered when she’s carjacked. Helpless and terrified, all Brooke can do is watch as Etta, still strapped in her seat, disappears into the Los Angeles night.

Miles away, Etta is found by Molly, a homeless teen who is all too used to darkness. Thrown away by her parents, and with a future as stable as the wooden crate she calls home, Molly survives day to day by her wits. As unpredictable as her life is, she’s stunned to find Etta, abandoned and alone. Shielding the little girl from more than the elements, Molly must put herself in harm’s way to protect a child as lost as she is.

Out of one terrible moment, Brooke’s and Molly’s desperate paths converge and an unlikely friendship across generations and circumstances is formed. With it, Brooke and Molly will come to discover that what’s lost—and what’s found—can change in a heartbeat.
 
 
 
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A story that wrapped itself around me like a giant hug, I loved everything about Brave Girl, Quiet Girl. Our story is alternately narrated by Brooke and Molly, and as we follow the long night in LA when Etta was missing, we come to know Molly and care deeply about her as she keeps Etta safe.

Brooke had negative feelings about Molly when she first met her, the night that Molly turned Etta over to her. But the police detective in charge filled in the story of how Molly protected Etta, comforted her, and became a stand-in mother, keeping her safe.

A connection forms, and while Brooke tries to be there for Molly, helping her, we get to watch how the two of them break down the barriers that separate them. I loved how it all came together for them both. 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: CROSSROADS, BY JONATHAN FRANZEN

It’s December 23, 1971, and heavy weather is forecast for Chicago. Russ Hildebrandt, the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless—unless his wife, Marion, who has her own secret life, beats him to it. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college on fire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has sharply veered into the counterculture, while their brilliant younger brother Perry, who’s been selling drugs to seventh graders, has resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.

Jonathan Franzen’s novels are celebrated for their unforgettably vivid characters and for their keen-eyed take on contemporary America. Now, in Crossroads, Franzen ventures back into the past and explores the history of two generations. With characteristic humor and complexity, and with even greater warmth, he conjures a world that resonates powerfully with our own.

 

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The individual characters are introduced in alternating narratives as Crossroads takes us through their lives, from past to present. The Hildebrandt family is the centerpiece of the action, revealing much about their pasts and their current relationships.

Russ is the patriarch, and in the beginning we see his present life, and as the story continues we learn more about his childhood and youth as he veers away from how he was reared. As he stumbles off the path and into forbidden journeys, we come to see how the times change him.

Marion’s experiences reveal much about how she and Russ have taken missteps and fallen from their earlier commitments.

The children are also struggling and learning how they had gone astray helps us relate to what is happening now.

There were many moments when the story lagged for me, and I came to dislike most of the characters as their flaws grew. By the end, I was glad to say goodbye to them. 4 stars only for this hefty book that I would have enjoyed more if there had been less of it.

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