Once Upon a Wine Book Cover Once Upon a Wine
Black Dog Bay
Beth Kendrick
Fiction
NAL
July 26,2016
E-book
336
Publisher via Penguin First to Read

Cammie Breyer needs a big glass of cabernet—her restaurant failed and her chef boyfriend left for a hotter kitchen. Just when she thinks she’s hit rock bottom, her Aunt Ginger calls with a surprise. She’s bought a vineyard—in Delaware. At Ginger’s command, Cammie returns to Black Dog Bay, the seaside town where she spent her childhood summers with her aunt and her cousin, Kat.

The three women reunite, determined to succeed. There’s only one little problem: None of them knows the first thing about wine making. And it turns out, owning a vineyard isn’t all wine and roses. It’s dirt, sweat, and desperation. Every day brings financial pitfalls, unruly tourists, romantic dilemmas, and second thoughts.  But even as they struggle, they cultivate hidden talents and new passions. While the grapes ripen under the summer sun, Cammie discovers that love, like wine, is layered, complex, delicious, and worth waiting for

My review:

3.5 stars

Want a great beach book this summer? Beth Kendrick's books are a go-to beach read for me. Many of her novels revolve around a fictional town of Black Dog Bay, Delaware........promoted as the place to go to get over a breakup. The town has embraced its reputation, with lots of businesses touting names relating to common heartache terms. This book, as well as all the others, is a stand-a-lone, and does not require you to read any of the others. But what fun it is to see some of the old familiar characters make guest appearances in each one! As with all of the previous stories, this one revolves around a new love blossoming amid the heartache of betrayal (in this case betrayal to another restaurant, not a person). Honestly, I could do without this sappy part of the story, but the rest of the novel held my interest, and since it's pretty much a given for this series, I can overlook it. I loved the snippets about the vineyard, for some reason every book I read on this subject has me hooked. The characters are fun, the setting is gorgeous, and now I want to go get me some strawberry wine!

This author knows how to serve up some summertime reading pleasure. I loved being back in Black Dog Bay, and hope this won't be the last we see of these great residents.

Thanks to Penguin First to Read program for providing me with an advance copy of this book. As always, my opinions are my own.

PenguinFirstToRead

 

 

2

You Will Know Me Book Cover You Will Know Me
Megan Abbott
Thriller
Little, Brown
July 26, 2016
Advanced Reader's Copy
352
Publisher via BookSparks

Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate. From a writer with "exceptional gifts for making nerves jangle and skin crawl," (Janet Maslin) You Will Know Me is a breathless rollercoaster of a novel about the desperate limits of desire, jealousy, and ambition.

My review:

I'm just going to admit it, this author just isn't for me. I have read a previous book by her (Dare Me) and really didn't like it much, but since I received this for review, I thought I'd give her another shot. Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with Abbott's writing, or her ability to pull you into a story, it's more that I hate the characters in her stories. For some books, unlikable people are part of the plan, we are supposed to not like them. Sometimes they redeem themselves, sometimes not. Except that in the case of this book, I think the reader was supposed to feel something for these characters. The only one I liked was the younger brother Drew, who I felt extremely sorry for throughout the story. Basically we are taken on a journey where these parents will do anything for their daughter to achieve her gymnastic goal of the Olympics. And when I say anything, well that is where I draw the line with these parents. I get it, my daughter was a competitive cheerleader for ten years, but this was just too much! I did enjoy the gymnastics aspect of the book, and that whole competition feel, but then it just got crazy. All I came away with at the end was that too many people knew the secret, and some day someone was going to crack.

Bottom line, there are tons of people who love Abbott's books, so read some other reviews before making your decision. It was very readable, even page turning, but it just hit some hot spots for me, and I can't say I would personally recommend it.

This book is part of the BookSparks summer reading challenge. Click the link to find out more about the challenge and follow along on social media using #SRC2016 and #BestSummerEver to find more reviews of this book and others.

BookSparksJuly2016

So Close Book Cover So Close
Emma McLaughlin, Nicola Kraus,
Fiction
Sparkpress
June 7, 2016
Paperback
316
Publisher via BookSparks

Amanda Beth Luker has spent her whole life desperately looking for someone who can show her the way out of her trailer park Florida town. And then, finally, help arrives in the form of Tom Davis, a successful lawyer with political aspirations who grew up just a few towns over from Amanda. But it's his wife, Lindsay, who really captures Amanda's imagination. Strong, smart, and determined, she gives Amanda something she's never had: a role model. Meanwhile Amanda is introduced to the wealthy, charismatic, and deeply troubled Pax Westerbrook. He clearly desires Amanda, but if she gives in will that move her closer to the life she's always dreamed of or make it impossible?

Amanda rides Davis's political success all the way to Washington, where he becomes Senator and will later be tapped for president and even make a bid for the White House. But when Amanda starts to suspect, and later confirms, his moral indiscretions, her loyalty is tested. Will a girl from a trailer park even be believed if she goes public with damning information? Will she be willing to risk losing everything she's gained?

My review:

I really loved this book in the beginning. I loved the story of Amanda trying so hard to better her life. I found there to be a great balance between humorous and serious parts. The political story (loosely based on John Edwards, who happens to be from my state) was captivating, particularly in this election year. The character of Lindsay was a gem, very well fleshed out. Then thrown into that we have Pax, who I thought should have been ditched from the story entirely! I never warmed to him, I felt that the relationship between he and Amanda was forced with absolutely zero chemistry. For me, while the writing remained solid, the story started to go a bit downhill in the second half. I got a bit tired of the campaign, didn't like Amanda and Pax, and Lindsay started to lose a bit of her luster. Not the most satisfying ending either.

Overall I would call this a quick beach read. It's well written, got some good humor, along with a couple characters to root for, but it gets tiresome as it progresses.

This book is part of the BookSparks summer reading challenge. Click the link to find out more about the challenge and follow along on social media using #SRC2016 and #BestSummerEver to find more reviews of this book and others.

BookSparksJuly2016

 

4

The Choices We Make Book Cover The Choices We Make
Karma Brown
Fiction
Mira
July 12, 2016
Advanced Reader's Copy
496
Publisher via BookSparks

Hannah and Kate became friends in the fifth grade, when Hannah hit a boy for looking up Kate's skirt with a mirror. While they've been close as sisters ever since, Hannah can't help but feel envious of the little family Kate and her husband, David, have created—complete with two perfect little girls.

She and Ben have been trying for years to have a baby, so when they receive the news that she will likely never get pregnant, Hannah's heartbreak is overwhelming. But just as they begin to tentatively explore the other options, it's Kate's turn to do the rescuing. Not only does she offer to be Hannah's surrogate, but Kate is willing to use her own eggs to do so.

Full of renewed hope, excitement and gratitude, these two families embark on an incredible journey toward parenthood…until a devastating tragedy puts everything these women have worked toward at risk of falling apart. Poignant and refreshingly honest, The Choices We Make is a powerful tale of two mothers, one incredible friendship and the risks we take to make our dreams come true.

My review:

4.5 stars

Be sure to read the author's note for this novel (at the beginning of my advanced copy, not sure where it will be in the finished copy) because it sheds light on just why this novel is so good! The last book I read involving infertility had me annoyed with the main character's obsession to have her "own" baby, but this one nailed it! The couple in this book were open to exploring all sorts of ways to have a baby, and their emotions and actions to get there were very believable (and palatable). This novel is not just a story about having a baby, but an incredible friendship that has spanned decades. The writing is crisp, the characters oh so real, and while it did take me until the second half to not be able to put it down, I still thought the pacing was well done. The two husbands as secondary characters were so well written, and I found myself understanding where both were coming from. Lots of emotions and a greater understanding of surrogacy challenges abound. I can become teary-eyed over many books, but few make me sob (Me Before You being the last one I can think of). Do not leave your tissues behind when you get to the end of this one, you have been warned. Although I have a copy in my possession of Ms. Brown's previous book Come Away With Me, I have not yet read it, but you can bet that I will be pulling it out of the stacks because this woman can pen a story.

Wonderful novel that will require tissues at the end, but is absolutely worth every tear I shed!

This book is part of the BookSparks summer reading challenge. Click the link to find out more about the challenge and follow along on social media using #SRC2016 and #BestSummerEver to find more reviews of this book and others.

BookSparksJuly2016

 

1

Untethered Book Cover Untethered
Julie Lawson Timmer
Fiction
G. P. Putnam's Sons
June 7, 2016
Hardcover
352
Publisher via BookSparks

Char Hawthorn, college professor, wife and stepmother to a spirited fifteen-year-old daughter, loves her family and the joyful rhythms of work and parenting. But when her husband dies in a car accident, the “step” in Char’s title suddenly matters a great deal. In the eyes of the law, all rights to daughter Allie belong to Lindy, Allie’s self-absorbed biological mother, who wants the girl to move to her home in California.

While Allie begins to struggle in school and tensions mount between her and Char, Allie’s connection to young Morgan, a ten-year-old-girl she tutors, seems to keep her grounded. But then Morgan, who was adopted out of foster care, suddenly disappears, and Char is left to wonder about a possible future without Allie and what to do about Morgan, a child caught up in a terrible crack in the system.

My review:

This book explores what it means to be a family. From a child in the foster care system, to a child whose parent has died and is now left with a stepmom (who technically has no parental rights due to the circumstances). I adored the first half of the book when we explore the ramifications for Char and Allie when Allie's mom reappears after the death of her dad (and Char's husband). I thought the emotions and angst were very well written and felt very real to me. I was deeply embedded in this story, but then things start to turn toward the end of the book, to the point of being rather unbelievable. I still raced through to the end to find out how it would all end up, but I was not nearly as invested in the characters during the car escapade. Some great social problems relating to the foster care system and the re-homing of adopted children. Lots of good secondary characters, particularly Morgan's adoptive mother.

Well written page turner exploring the definition of family. I would have preferred a different second half, but it still held my interest and kept me up late to finish.

This book is part of the July BookSparks summer reading challenge. Click on the link or follow along on social media with #SRC2016 and #BestSummerEver to see more books and reviews.

BookSparksJuly2016

 

3

All Is Not Forgotten Book Cover All Is Not Forgotten
Wendy Walker/ narrator Dylan Baker
Fiction
St. Martin's Press
July 12, 2016
Audiobook
320/ 11 hours 29 minutes
Publisher via BookSparks and BEA

In the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut, everything seems picture perfect. Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world. As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town - or perhaps lives among them - drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.

My review:

3.5 stars

An intense thriller that had me guessing until the very end! The story is told from the perspective of the psychologist hired to work with the teenage rape victim. He is an interesting character in and of himself, as he becomes a little too close to the case for personal reasons, and makes you wonder at times if he is manipulating things for his own good. I'm not going to lie, this one got a little too gritty and dark for me on several occasions, but in the end I'm glad I persevered. Not only was this a story about a rape, but it contained so much more about the aftereffects, not only on the victim, but on the family and to a lesser degree on the small town. A major whodunnit, I found myself waffling back and forth on the guilt or innocence of the same character several times. The parents of the rape victim were very well characterized. I thought the author did a superb job with their feelings, actions, and conflicts.  Other than the graphic nature, the only other minor fault I had was that the narrator told things out of order on occasion, which made for some confusion on my part. I should point out that I listened to this on audio, which made it impossible to go back and look for what I was confused about. This may not be such an issue with the print version.

A really well done thriller, that while gruesome and graphic, ultimately makes for a solid portrait of the aftermath of a heinous crime.

This book is one of the July picks for the BookSparks summer reading challenge. Click the link to find out more, or follow along on social media at #SRC2016 and #BestSummerEver.

BookSparksJuly2016

July-forgotten

3

The Nest Book Cover The Nest
Cynthia D'aprix Sweeney
Fiction
Ecco
March 22, 2016
Hardcover
368
Own copy

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the future they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

My review:

I've read over a hundred books so far this year, and this is my favorite! I can't say enough good things about this book because it's hard to pick out why this just worked for me. I think the biggest thing to know is that I love a good book about dysfunctional families, and wow, does this story have one! The characters are so well done, I didn't like any of them, but yet they make this book shine. I just couldn't wait to see who was going to outdo who in the scheming department. The story weaves in and out of each of the four siblings lives over the course of about a year, while they wait for their inheritance (the nest) to come to them. The pacing was perfect, I loved each of the sibling parts, and was interested in them all so there wasn't any parts that I wanted to skip over. There are a ton of secrets being kept, some between siblings, and some between family members. Do not expect to see huge changes in these people, if you like a book where the characters change into likeable forms, let me warn you, it's not going to happen. There was one tiny part at the end that I thought was wrapped up a bit too tidily, but I was satisfied with the ending overall. I'm frustrated to learn this is a debut novel, I was ready to scoop up everything Sweeney has written!

This book totally deserves all the accolades and hype being given to it. If you like books about dysfunctional families and rich people behaving badly, you MUST read this.

3

Invincible Summer Book Cover Invincible Summer
Alice Adams, narrated by Georgia Dolenz
Fiction
Little, Brown
June 28, 2016
Audiobook
295/ 9 hours
Publisher via BEA, Hachette audio

Four friends. Twenty years. One unexpected journey. Inseparable throughout college, Eva, Benedict, Sylvie, and Lucien graduate in 1997, into an exhilarating world on the brink of a new millennium. Hopelessly in love with playboy Lucien and eager to shrug off the socialist politics of her upbringing, Eva breaks away to work for a big bank. Benedict, a budding scientist who's pined for Eva for years, stays on to complete his PhD in physics, devoting his life to chasing particles as elusive as the object of his affection. Siblings Sylvie and Lucien, never much inclined toward mortgages or monogamy, pursue more bohemian existences-she as an aspiring artist and he as a club promoter and professional partyer. But as their twenties give way to their thirties, the group struggles to navigate their thwarted dreams. Scattered across Europe and no longer convinced they are truly the masters of their fates, the once close-knit friends find themselves filled with longing for their youth- and for one another. Broken hearts and broken careers draw the foursome together again, but in ways they never could have imagined.

A dazzling depiction of the highs and lows of adulthood, Invincible Summer is a story about finding the courage to carry on in the wake of disappointment, and a powerful testament to love and friendship as the constants in an ever-changing world.

My review:

I've had a lot of failures when it comes to books about twenty somethings trying to find their place in the world. My one exception was The Ramblers, and now this book. I think one of the main things that worked for me in this book is that it takes place over a twenty year period, so we are not left stagnating with a bunch of entitled whiny people upset that success isn't being handed to them (see, I told you I'm not usually a fan!). This book is a wonderful character study into the four college friends and what happens to each of them. It's pacing is great, stuff happens that you expect and don't expect, and the story flows really well through time. Lots of ups and downs, but you find yourself really rooting for these people despite some of them having flaws and taking a long time to learn from their mistakes. But learn they do, and the ending was a wonderful culmination of two decades that didn't feel at all contrived or too tidily finished up.

I listened to this book on audio, and I have no doubt that a huge part of my enjoyment came from the narration. The narrator has a British accent, and let me say that I could listen to that accent for hours and be enraptured! I would highly recommend the audio on this one if that is something that appeals to you.

I loved this two decade sojourn into the lives of four college friends, with the highs, lows, and in-betweens. Great character portrayal from this author, and fantastic audio.

 

 

1

The Sweetheart Deal Book Cover The Sweetheart Deal
Polly Dugan
Fiction
Little, Brown
May 19, 2015
Hardcover
320
Publisher via BookSparks

The poignant story of what happens when a woman who thinks she's lost everything has the chance to love again. Leo has long joked that, in the event of his death, he wants his best friend Garrett, a lifelong bachelor, to marry his wife, Audrey. One drunken night, he goes so far as to make Garrett promise to do so. Then, twelve years later, Leo, a veteran firefighter, dies in a skiing accident. As Audrey navigates her new role as widow and single parent, Garrett quits his job in Boston and buys a one-way ticket out west. Before long, Audrey's feelings for Garrett become more than platonic, and Garrett finds himself falling for Audrey, her boys, and their life together in Portland. When Audrey finds out about the drunken pact from years ago, though, the harmless promise that brought Garrett into her world becomes the obstacle to his remaining in it.

My review:

When I first read the synopsis for this book, I will admit that I had a pre-conceived notion that it was going to be kind of cheesy and predictable. Imagine my surprise and delight to find that this story had some real merit to it! I thought the author did a superb job of describing the grief that the family goes through, particularly the wife/mother. Thankfully I've never been in such a position, but I bought into the devastation, grief, anger, and feeling of having to go on after a tragedy. Even the boys reactions were well done. This was the strong part of the book. The not as strong part was the relationship between the wife and the best friend. It wasn't off-putting, but I didn't buy into it as much as the grief portions. I became a bit annoyed with Audrey toward the end (no spoilers, so I won't go into why), and it did have a predictable ending, but this was a really good read overall.

Well paced, nicely written, and very good look at the emotional upheaval of a family following a tragedy. A bit further exploration into the changing feelings of Audrey and Garrett would have elevated the story even more, but a solid read, albeit with a predictable ending.

This book is one of the June picks for the BookSparks summer reading challenge. Click the link to learn more, or follow #SRC2026 and #BestSummerEver on social media to read more reviews.

BookSparksJune2016

 

 

4

First Comes Love Book Cover First Comes Love
Emily Giffin
Fiction
Ballantine Books
June 28, 2016
Advanced Reader Copy
288
Publisher via BookSparks and BEA

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them, but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover they need each other more than they knew . . . and that in the recipe for true happiness, love always comes first.

Emotionally honest and utterly enthralling, First Comes Love is a story about family, friendship, and the courage to follow your own heart—wherever that may lead.

My review:

The last book (The One and Only) I read by Emily Giffin was not my favorite, so I went into this one with a bit of trepidation. My feelings were unwarranted, as I really liked this one despite reasons why I might not have. I was never a huge fan of either of the sisters, but it didn't matter because their stories fascinated me and kept me turning pages to see how it would all work out. For the most part, this book is about the affects of a traumatic event in a family, and how each member deals with it in a different way. The tension is created when each of the sisters doesn't agree with how the other one copes, particularly when a long held secret is revealed. Giffin knows how to move the story along, creates some good secondary characters, and engages the reader in the lives of her protagonists. While I thought the sister's tension was resolved a little too easily, I loved the unexpected ending for Josie, it was not the cookie cutter I was expecting.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read that flowed well, and kept you turning pages to find out how it all turns out.

This book is one of the BookSparks summer reading challenge picks. Click the link to follow along all summer with the book choices for each month. Also follow #SRC2016 and #BestSummerEver on social media for more reviews.

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