Claire, Jessie, and Gabriela have been friends for years and years.   Claire is a real estate agent trying to salvage her relationship with her daughter.  Jessie is devastated to find out that her ex-husband is getting married to his girlfriend, and Gabriela is a successful author who feels empty because she doesn't have the family she always wanted.  The three women have been celebrating their birthdays for years and this year they are going to Las Vegas.  This year each of them have regrets on the cusp of their fiftieth birthday.  It is when they stumble across a magician who can send them all back to the year they turned forty.  Jessie is desperate to prevent a mistake she made with her husband that led to their divorce.  Gabriela wants to have a child at all costs.  And Claire is just going along for the ride, but maybe she can get her mother to have her cough checked out earlier than last time.  The three women discover that going back in time is not as easy as they had hoped.  I mean that smart phones hadn't even been invented yet.  As the three women try to change their course of history they start to realize that everything happens for a reason.  But will they stay in the year they turned forty or will they return to the future and the year they turn fifty?

The Year We Turned Forty was a fun "what if" kind of book.   I am in the year that I turned forty, so it was easy to relate to what the women were going through in "the past."  As far as I am concerned they all made pretty significant mistakes the year they turned forty.  For Jessie and Claire it was the first time around and I think Gabriela made some pretty significant mistakes the second time they turned forty.  I think of the three women Claire changed the most the second time around, especially concerning her daughter.  She grew a spine and didn't let her daughter continue to walk all over her.  It was fun to see how the women had to adjust when going ten years into the past.  All of the things that hadn't been invented yet and all of the events that hadn't happened yet.  In the end the three women learned a lot about themselves and their relationships.  Everything wrapped up nice and neat with the "happy ever after" vibe.

Bottom line - We all have those "what if" dreams about a time in our past.  The Year We Turned Forty turned those dreams into a fun reality for three dynamic characters.   The whole concept of going back to a year in our past is an interesting one and could generate a lot of fun with a group of girlfriends and a few bottles of wine.

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I have a literary confession.  Promise that you won't hate me?  I have never read Jane Austen.  (I will wait while you pick your jaw up)  She has always been on my "Must Read" list and I have multiple copies of her work, but I never have gotten around to reading them.   I know that remakes of Austen's works have always been poorly received, but I was thrilled to get a chance to read Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Liz and her older sister, Jane Bennett`return to the family home in Cincinnati when their father has a health scare.  The sprawling family home, Pemberly,  looks more rundown than ever, their mother has her head in the sand, and their younger sisters are high maintenance divas who thinks that somebody else will solve all their problems.  While attending a Fourth of July bash Jane meets the handsome Chip Bingley, a reality television star fresh off of the hottest dating show, Eligible and they hit it off immediately.   His childhood best friend, Fiztwilliam Darcy, is with him at the barbecue and the sparks between him and Liz really fly, but she is too enamored with her married flame to pay attention to Darcy.   As Jane and Chip's relationship takes off,  Liz is left to be the responsible sister. She discovers that her family is in serious financial trouble and tries to convince her parents to sell the house and her younger sisters to grow up.  Will Liz be able to save the Bennett family from their own destructive ways?

Having not read Pride and Prejudice, I can only judge Eligible on it's own merits.  I have to be honest that I really, really enjoyed reading this book.   I loved Liz and her intelligent wit, I loved Jane and her optimistic outlook,  and  I absolutely loved Mr. Bennett.  I found myself laughing at his dry wit and devotion to his family.   Darcy is the kind of character you would expect him to be, serious, focused, and perfect for Liz.  This delicious and, often times, hysterical retelling of a beloved classic covers a lot of ground that some might deem political,  the state of health care, anorexia, IVF for single women, transgender rights, and more. But the topics are touched on in a way that flows with humor and grace.  In the end there is definitely a "happy ever after", but not until there is much strife.

Bottom line - I know I am long overdue to read the works of Jane Austen, but based on the enjoyment I got from reading Eligible that I am in for a real treat.

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For years the Plum siblings have been waiting for the day they would receive the inheritance they have designated "The Nest".  Their father set it up so that they would receive their money on the fortieth birthday of the youngest sibling, Melody.  They all have made some sketchy financial decisions with the belief that "The Nest" will be there to bail them out of trouble.  Melody has mixed feelings about turning forty. With twin daughters heading off to college and a crazy-high mortgage she desperately needs that inheritance to keep her family afloat.  Jack needs that inheritance to pay back a HELOC that he took out to keep his business afloat, and did so without his husband knowing. He needs that money to pay back the loan before it destroys his marriage.   Bea needs the inheritance to fund her dwindling writing career.  And then there is Leo, unknown to the siblings, they all gave up "The Nest" to pay off a young girl who was severely injured in an accident that was caused by Leo's excessive drug and alcohol use.  The Plum siblings have never really been close, but the shocking revelation that their nest has dwindled is enough to bring them together against a common foe, Leo.  Will the siblings be able to get the restitution from Leo that they desperately need?  And if Leo can't pay them back,  will they be able to get their lives together without "The Nest" they have been waiting for all these years?


As a woman with a lot of siblings, I thoroughly enjoyed The Nest.  The dynamics in this family are based on decades of dysfunction and years of animosity.  One would argue that Leo is the most messed up of the group.  He has arrogantly lived a life of excess and was on the verge of divorce when he took that poor waitress on a fateful drive in his Ferrari.  All of the Plum siblings are relieved that Leo wasn't injured, but none of them are shocked that it happened. But they ARE shocked when they realize that he has cost them their nest egg.  I think of all the Plum siblings, it was Stephanie, Leo's sometime love interest that was my favorite.  She had been connected to the Plum family for many years, but she was a little more "together" than the others.  My next favorite was probably Melody.  I could easily relate to her and her sense of inferiority with the other moms at school.  She tried to pretend to be a part of them and knowing the nest was coming gave her courage to try to fit in with them.  Besides the Plum siblings we get to hear the story of Nora and Louisa, Melody's daughters.  We also get to know Matilda, the young lady injured in the accident, and others.  It really gives the story a kind of depth that leaves the reader completely invested in these people.  In the end, "The Nest"  (or lack of) brought the siblings together in a way that nothing ever had before and that is enough to warm even the coldest of hearts.

Bottom line - The Nest is a delightfully funny and entertaining read.  The Plum siblings are endearing in a pretentious, yet genuine way that you are night likely to forget anytime soon.

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Naomi Bowes is just eleven years old when she follows her father into the woods late one night. She thought she was going to find where her father had hid her birthday gift, instead she finds a young, battered woman locked in a cage.  That night Naomi's world is shattered when she discovers that her father is one of the most prolific serial killers in recent memory.  Her mother changes their last name and moves Naomi and her brother Mason to New York to live with their uncles in an effort to provide some normalcy.  But her mother is so destroyed by what her father does that it proves to be too much and once again Naomi is in the middle of tragic circumstances.

It is now nearly twenty years later and after years of wandering Naomi has fallen in love with a house on the opposite side of the country of her memories.  The community of Sunrise Cove has welcomed her with open arms.  Especially the local mechanic, Xander Keaton.  Naomi tries to resit Xander, but his fully stocked library, love of dogs, and excellent taste in music make him hard to resist. Life would be perfect except for the fact that somebody has started to terrorize the little community in the same way that Naomi's father did all those years ago.  As members of the community start turning up dead the coincidences are now considered the work of a copy-cat.  Will Naomi be able to catch a serial killer for the second time in her life before he comes after her?


I admit it.  I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed The Obsession. The last few books I have read by Nora Roberts were disappointing to me.  I was hooked from the very beginning with The Obsession.  Naomi and Xander are great characters and they work well together.  Naomi is such a strong character who has been through so much, but I loved how her experiences only made her stronger.  I loved her relationship with her brother, Mason, who also happens to be an FBI agent and her relationship with her uncles was also fun to watch.  The kind of stability they provided was crucial in Naomi growing up "normal".   It took me a while to figure out the copycat, but once Mason revealed a few details, I figured it out, but it was late in the story. And of course, it always makes me happy when an author can stump me.

Bottom line - The Obsession is a prime example of why Nora Roberts is one of he most successful romance writers of all time.  Well developed characters, an engaging mystery, and a steamy love story will captivate the most picky of readers.

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The Miller family has lived in Miller's Valley for many generations.  Mimi Miller is the youngest child, and only daughter, of the current generation of Miller's living on the family farm that has been passed down from generation to generation.    As Mimi grows up she shares her observations of a family clinging to tradition in the way that only the young can do.  Her mother was a nurse and her father was a farmer that did odd jobs to help keep the family afloat.  Mimi's two brothers were considerably older and therefor not really her peers, but she knew they were her brothers no matter what happened.  Ed was grown and gone before Mimi was even old enough to realize big brothers should be role models and Tom shocked the family when he enlisted in the Marines.  The time he spent in Vietnam changed him and damaged him in ways that none of them can understand.  Also living on the family farm is Mimi's Aunt Ruth, a quirky woman who won't leave the safety of her little house for nothing, not even when Mimi's father had a stroke practically in front of her.    For all of the strange dynamics of the Miller family there is one thing that remains true - family is everything.   Despite disappointments, painful truths, and evolving political climates, family is everything.  That is proven time and time again and even more as the family struggles to hold on to the land that has sustained decades of Millers.

Miller's Valley is told in that slow and steady way that makes you feel as if you are sitting on the sidelines of Mimi's life.  The book is set in a bygone era that leaves the reader a bit nostalgic as they long for their Miller's Valley in their life.    Mimi is a reliable character if there ever was one and she is quite easy to like.  She is hard-working and loyal to a fault.  Even when she struggles to understand the people she is supposed to love no matter what. Even though Mimi's brothers have gone off in the world, Mimi knows that they will always find their way home.  Her family have been around the area for so long that the town is actually named after them.  That kind of legacy is hard to ignore and also hard live down in a small town.  The whole small agricultural town reminded me a lot of my own hometown and this line struck such a chord with me - "But no one ever leaves the town where they grew up, not really, not even if they go."  It is very safe for me to say that "home" is very much a part of me and I left "home" twenty years ago.   We do get to watch Mimi grow up and we get to watch her deal with grown-up subjects like abortion, PTSD, and taking care of her family when they can't care for themselves.  Because that is what family does.

Bottom line - Miller's Valley is a beautiful book that draws much power from the simplicity of the story.  There is much here to be discussed, especially if you grew up in a small, rural community.  You will easily draw parallels and it will leave you longing for the home that will always hold your heart.

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We go back to Promise Falls just a few days after the truth was revealed about the mysterious baby in Broken Promise.  The residents of Promise Falls are feeling nostalgic as they settle in to watch the final movie at the local drive-in movie theater that is to close it's gates.   Just as the patrons are settling in their world is shattered by an explosion and the screen topples onto two cars parked in front.  Four people are dead.  The one car held a couple of kids who had borrowed a convertible.  The other victims, Adam Chalmers and his young wife Merriam, were parked in the classic Jag.  Private Detective, Cal Weaver, gets involved when Adam Chalmer's daughter calls him for help.  Somebody had broken into her father's house after his death was announced and she wants to find out what they took.  In the course of his investigation Cal discovers a dark secret that starts in the secret bedroom found at the Chalmers' house, but continues with some of Promise Falls most prestigious residents.   But what is the connection between that secret bedroom and the continued events that involve the number twenty-three?

Linwood Barclay is such a skilled novelist.  He immerses his readers in the quaint little town with dark and scandalous secrets, Promise Falls.  By now I feel like I am familiar with the residents and dynamics of this community.  From the disgraced former mayor trying to launch a comeback to Detective Duckworth, these are people that I feel I have gotten to know fairly well.  But they all are residents of this weird little town! I had kind of figured out the "whodunit" aspect of this installment and I have started to piece together the connections between the women being attacked at the college and the events at the Chalmers' home.  But the book ends on a serious cliffhanger, leaving me wondering if I am way off in my guesses.

Bottom line - while it is not necessary to have read Broken Promise first, it sure would be helpful to fully understand the dynamics of Promise Falls.  Either way, Linwood Barclay does an amazing job of leading his readers down an intriguing path of scandal and mystery.  A fun read if you love a good mystery.

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Annabel Ford, Piper Whitley, and Mackenzie Mead are three women at different places in their lives who have forged a friendship over a weekly exercise and the requisite trip to the next door cafe after their sessions.  The three women are at different places in their lives.   Piper's boyfriend, Todd, just moved in with her and her young daughter,  Fern.  But when her Fern's dad reappears it threatens their new-found domestic bliss.   Mackenzie and her husband, Trevor, have been married a while and are desperate to start their family.  Will their relationship crumble under the stress of infertility?  Annabel has her world rocked when her husband tells her that she wants a divorce.  Will she be left to raise their twin sons alone? Some Women tackles some heavy topics, but the heart of the story is the relationship between these three unlikely friends.

Some Women is one of those feel-good  novels that will leave you wanting what they have.  Not their romantic relationships, but their friendship.  One thing I noticed, though, was that in terms of time, their friendships were relatively new, yet there was a bond between the three of them that couldn't be broken. Not everyone is as quick to make friends as Anabel, Mackenzie, and Piper, so I think it gives a little bit of hope that your "people" are out there waiting to be found.   I was surprised by which romantic relationships were able to withstand the kind of stress we all face in our own relationships.  Over the course of the book all three women changed for the better, too.  I think Annabel probably changed the most and definitely for the better. I had a hard time even liking her at the beginning of the book. \  Some Women was a quick read, but definitely a fun read.

Bottom line - Some Women is a great friendship novel to read with your friends and discuss over a bottle of wine.

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Frank Mercy is an ex-pat in Australia when a tsunami hits Brisbane and kills his wife, their unborn son, and nearly her entire family.  Even though he is stunned by grief, Frank, an ex-cop, sets of to help.  He ends up rescuing a young boy, Ian.  Frank knows that Ian is special and adopts him as his own and quickly moves back to the states, hoping to put everything about Brisbane behind them. Back in the states Frank and Ian settle back into life with his family.  Frank is working and training horses and even tries to fall in love again with an equestrian named Claudia comes into their lives.  At times Ian's telepathic gift makes it difficult to fly under the radar, but at times it is most welcomed.  Frank realizes that Ian's brother was left behind in Brisbane and soon their family is complete.  Ian's gift isn't always a good thing, though,and they Mercy family undertakes a battle with evil men in order to keep Ian safe and their family together. Will they be successful or will the truth about Ian and Collin be revealed?

Two If By Sea is an epic novel that takes the reader all over the world.  From Australia to the Midwest to the English countryside.  Frank is a good guy. That is evident by his desire to go help people after the Tsunami when he just lost his whole world. He makes keeping Ian safe his whole world.  He is reluctant to let Claudia in, but it is clear that she is a good woman who wants to be part of their little family.  I also really loved little Ian and his innocent ways.   Having said all of that, I didn't really love the book.  It started off in a way that captivated the reader, but it lost something once Frank and Ian went back to the states.  I didn't find myself invested in any of the characters, well maybe Ian a little. I think the author was going for that ethereal or mystical feel, but it didn't translate very well for me. I don't really know what it was that prevented me from really liking the book, but the lack of emotional investment had something to do with it, I think.  The end of the book ended in a manner that was predictable and expected, but I did finish it out.

Bottom line -While  Two If By Sea didn't exactly resonate for me like I had hoped, I am still very much a Jacquelyn Mitchard fan and would encourage you to check it out.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, even when it comes to books, right?

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George Clare and his young wife Catherine have bought the perfect farmhouse and moved to the picturesque community of Chosen, New York.  George has taken as job as a Art History Professor at the local college while Catherine stays home with their young daughter, Franny.  The solitude of the farm has only magnified the problems of their marriage. George loses himself in his work and young coeds.  Catherine finds solace in a friendship with one of the young men who used to live in their home.  Until one day George arrives home from work to find that Catherine has been brutally murdered.  George is the prime suspect, but his family gets him and Franny out of there before the small town police can find enough evidence to arrest him.  The murder goes unsolved and the house stands empty.  Decades have passed and the farmhouse has finally sold.  Franny returns to the farmhouse to clear it out and face the demons of her past.  Will she be able reconcile her past and find out who killed her mother?

All Things Cease to Appear is part mystery and part ghost story and completely engrossing.   The farmhouse where George and Catherine moved to in Chosen had a dark history. As the reader, you are given all of the details of the home's history and it is very dark.  The darkness creeped into Catherine and the ghosts of the house soon were her only companions.  Catherine was the kind of woman that everybody liked and George, well George was a complete psychopath.  He gave the heebie-jeebies to most every  grown woman he encountered.   The story mostly takes place during the time that George and Catherine lived in the house, but you do find out how they met and how Catherine came to be pregnant and how they came to Chosen.  You are also well aware of George's psychopathic tendencies and the first time he really exhibits those tendencies it shocks you, because up to that point he was just a jerk, but the shock only adds to the reader's involvement in the story.  You aren't sure if those tendencies are what killed his wife, but you have your suspicions.  The author gives you enough information to speculate, but not enough for you to be sure.  It truly leaves the reader on the edge of their seat.  You are left wondering right up until the last few pages of the book, but then there is no doubt as to who killed Catherine.

Bottom line - All Things Cease to Appear is one of those Gothic novels that will haunt you. Mystery, suspense, and a haunted house.  You can't get better than that in an afternoon read.

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Emma, Serena, and Mackenzie have been friends for over twenty years.  They met when they moved to New York to attend NYU,  A lot has happened over the last twenty years.  Mackenzie married her college boyfriend, Adam, and moved to Indiana to run a community theater.  Moving out to the hinterlands was was Mackenzie's way to deal with the fact that she can't have children.  Emma got pregnant ended up raising her daughter by herself.  Serena got a job playing a caricature of her southern self on a the most popular animated comedy show ever. She uses humor to hide the fact that her heart was broken twenty years ago and dates only men who are married.  It has been five years since Emma called a halt to their yearly trips to her lake house with no explanation.  Both Mackenzie and Serena are hesitant, but excited to resume their friendship and to hang out with their goddaughter who is on the verge of turning sixteen.  Their Week at the Lake was put on hold though when Emma is in a life threatening accident.  Serena and Mackenzie rush to her side and commit themselves to helping Emma get better no matter what. As days turn into weeks and months the three women have to deal with their own demons.  Serena has to come to terms with her broken heart, Mackenzie comes to realize that her marriage is not as solid as she once thought, and Emma has to reveal the truth about her daughter's father.  Can their friendship survive the secrets revealed while they spend A Week at the Lake?

I am really starting to enjoy Wendy Wax and her friendship themed novels.    The three women in A Week at the Lake were familiar to me.  I could see bits of my own friends in each of the three women.  I loved how even though they had gone radio silent they were willing to drop everything to be there for Emma in her time of need.  Their relationship with Zoe was another enjoyable thing about this book.  Both of her fairy godmothers would have gone to the ends of the earth for her.  I think Serena and her sassiness was my favorite character, even though I disagreed with her penchant for dating married men,  There were many things about the book that were predictable, like the truth about Zoe's father, but it didn't keep me from enjoying the read.

Bottom line - Spring Break is like the "Pre-Season" for Summer Reading and Wendy Wax is a good way to get yourself into shape.  A Week at the Lake is a the perfect book to read during those lazy afternoons on break.

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War veteran, Maya, was with her husband, Joe,  when he was murdered in the park.  It was a robbery gone bad, but his death has left Maya reeling.  For it wasn't that long ago that Maya's sister was murdered while Maya was still deployed.  Maya is slowly trying to piece her life back together with her young daughter, Lily, when something catches her eye on the nanny cam.  It looked like Joe was there playing with their daughter.   Joe, who was buried two weeks ago.  Maya starts digging into what she could have possibly seen on that camera and realizes that her husband's wealthy family may have had  a part in what she saw on that nanny cam.  Maya realizes that things aren't always what they seem and starts to dig into her in-laws.    What really happened to Joe's brother and what happened at their boarding school all those years ago.  And how is it all connected to her sister's murder?  Maya is soon in the fight for her life, but she is desperate and will do whatever it takes to protect her daughter and find the truth about her sister's death.

I have been reading Harlan Coben's novels for years and I have never been more shocked than I was at the conclusion of Fool Me Once.  Maya is a good lead character and one that you come to like quite quickly.  Not only did she go through hell during the war, she is a recent widow who also has recently lost her sister you really feel for her.  Through her grief and roller coaster emotions, there is one constant thing to note.  Maya is completely and utterly devoted to her family.  Her sister, her daughter, her niece and nephew.  She would do anything for them.  Anything.  Between Maya's PTSD and her grief over her recent losses, it is a wonder that Maya isn't completely unhinged. 

Bottom line -In Fool Me Once,  Harlan Coben did what few authors have ever dared to do.  And he did it with such expertise you never see it coming.  Definitely a beloved author at his best.

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Rabbit Hayes is a funny, intelligent, caring mother, sister and daughter. We meet Mia "Rabbit" Hayes as she is being moved to hospice.  After several years, her battle with cancer is coming to an end.  Rabbit's family is devastated, but they are there to help Rabbit and her twelve year old daughter, Juliet.  Rabbit's parents have been there through it all, but are struggling with the fact that their forty year old daughter will die before them.  Grace, Rabbit's older sister, is heartbroken at the thought of losing her and struggles to hold it together for her own brood.  Davey, Rabbit's brother, is a musician who has been touring in the States with a mega county star for years.  He returns to Ireland heartbroken at the thought of losing his baby sister.   Together the family surrounds Rabbit with love as they try to make her last days as comfortable and peaceful possible.  But underneath the surface of tranquility is a family coming to grips with the pending death of a beloved member.  And one important detail still needs to be dealt with - who will care for Juliet after Rabbit passes?

There is no spoilers involved with saying that Rabbit Hayes is going to die.  After all, the title will give you that much.  From the title you might think that The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes is a book about Rabbit.   And to a certain degree it is, but mostly the book is about her family and how they are coming to grips with her imminent death.  Even when surrounded by heartbreak, the Hayes family is pretty dern funny.  Like the way Rabbit's mom was trying to sneak a priest in for the last rites, which Rabbit had forbidden. I busted out laughing. I felt her heartache the most, she was not going to leave her daughter's side for nothing, not even when she had a minor heart attack herself.  Her dad, oh her dad, he had the hardest time coming to grips with Rabbit's fate. Yet he tries to remain strong for Rabbit and the rest of the family.    Grace handles her feelings by throwing things.  Like coffee mugs - at her husband.   And then there is Davey, the rolling stone of the family who turns out to be the most stable one when it comes to handling Juliet.  The story is told in both the past and the present.  It is in the past that we get to "meet" Juliet's father and you start to understand just how much Rabbit has lost in her life.  The book ends in just the way you would expect, given the title, and it is going to make you cry.  There is no way around it, but you will also find yourself at peace with the end, much like the rest of the Hayes family.  Rabbit had a good life and a good death.

Bottom line - in honor of St. Patrick's Day this week, I wanted to read a book by one of my favorite Irish authors, Anna McPartlin.  The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes will make you laugh and it will most certainly make you cry.  All of those emotions are indicative of a well written book about a wonderful family and the woman they are losing.  Such a good read and worthy of your attention.

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David Harwood gave up his job with the Boston Globe to move back home with his parents after his wife died.  He figured that the small town life and positive influence of his parents would help ease the pain for his young son, Ethan.  What he didn't expect to happen was to lose his job at the local paper shortly after the move.  Journalism jobs are scarce in Promise Falls and David is going stir-crazy running errands for his mother.  One day she has him take some food over to his cousin, Marla.  Marla hasn't been right in the head since her baby died in childbirth. So, imagine David's surprise to find Marla with a newborn baby allegedly dropped off at her house by an angel dressed in white.  David has good reason to be skeptical and the blood on the front door is a pretty good indication that something sinister happened.  David gathers up Marla and the mysterious baby and set off in search of his parents.  What they find though is using his investigative skills t to find out what really happened to the baby's mother, but can he find out the truth before it is too late for Marla?

If I can say anything about Promise Falls it is that this little town has had some freaky shit go down.  Marla's mysterious angel is maybe the least freaky thing about Promise Falls.   When 23 squirrels are found dead, there are mannequins found in an abandoned Ferris wheel, and the local college has somebody attacking women after dark.   The town obviously has a history, but it is mostly kept secret to the reader.  As the reader, your mind is all over the place trying to piece it all together and it makes for a wild ride.  Things are not wrapped up nice and neat like a typical Linwood Barclay story, but the good news is that the sequel, Far From True,  just came out last week.   David is one of the only citizens in this weird little town that seems to have his shit together, even though he is unemployed and living with his parents.  I enjoyed watching him hold it all together while everything was falling apart around him.

Bottom line - Broken Promise is a wonderful suspense novel about a town full of quirky characters and a mysterious past.  But,  because the story is building towards a sequel, be aware that a lot of things are left unresolved.

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Ella is focused on her education.  She keeps her head down and is skilled at avoiding the distractions that come along with college.  She agrees to tutor a student that challenges all of her beliefs.  Tyson Palmer is a genius on the football field, but he is struggling to maintain the grades necessary to play.  That is where Ella comes in to play.  Ella knows that working with Tyson won't be easy, as he is used to the whole world bowing at his feet. What she doesn't expect is to fall in love with him.  But it isn't until Tyson has graduated and is a rising star in the NFL and is on the verge of self destruction before she gives into his charm. Now it is five years later and they both have been through a rebirth.  Tyson went through rehab and is now back in the NFL.  Ella changed her name to Dani Carr and is a rising star in sports broadcasting.  And she has a five year old son, Brendan.  Even though they now work in the same industry, Dani has successfully avoided Tyson up until now.  He is just as handsome and charming as she remembered, but now the stakes are higher.  She has her son and her heart to protect.

I have enjoyed Stephanie Evanovich's first two books, but The Total Package just didn't strike the same chord with me as the other two books.   Tyson was not somebody that I was enamored with, in fact, I thought he was a bit of a jerk.  And given the way the author described Ella to be bookish and nerdy, I was surprised that she chose a career in sports journalism. Maybe that is a bit of a stereotype, as a bookish girl I love sports, but  it didn't really come across as authentic.  I also found the romantic scenes to be not as steamy as in previous books by the author.  We did get to see a few familiar faces again.  For example, Logan from Big Girl Panties was the one who trained Tyson back into the NFL.

Bottom line - While I didn't  love The Total Package as much as I had hoped, it was still a good read.  If you go into it with low expectations you won't be disappointed and may even enjoy the book, but you have to keep those expectations low.

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Olivia Randall's day is just like any other day until she gets a phone call from a girl begging for help.  Sixteen year old Molly Harris just watched her father being loaded into a police car.  Molly Harris knows that Olivia Randall is a successful defense lawyer and she knows that Olivia Randall is her father's ex-fiance from their college days.    Olivia Randall is shocked to hear the name of Jack Harris.  Not only did Olivia destroy Jack's life all those years ago, but Jack is somewhat of a New York Hero because his wife was killed in a mass shooting at Penn Station.  Now Jack is being accused of shooting three people, including the father of the man who killed his wife.  Jack's case is not one that she would usually take, but she has serious sense of guilt over their past and will do anything to get Jack acquitted of murder.  But the more digging Olivia does into Jack and the years since they were together, the more Olivia discovers that maybe she never really did know Jack Harris.  But did he really kill three people in an effort to get revenge?

The Ex is a fast paced suspense thriller.  Neither Olivia nor Jack are perfect people.  In fact, they are both deeply flawed.  Olivia maybe more so than Jack. She was a bit difficult to even like through out most of the book, which made Jack a very sympathetic character.   But her guilt over the past is keeping her from acknowledging the fact that maybe, just maybe, Jack Harris is a murderer.  I did have the "twist" figured out about three-quarters of the way through the book, but I wasn't sure if I was right.  I may or may not have yelled "I knew it!!" when revealed.

Bottom line - The Ex is one of those books that will suck you in and keep you trapped in it's pages and then spit you out two hours later leaving you speechless.  A fabulous read for someone looking for a good mystery to keep their brain busy.

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The Hawthorne family of an affluent California neighborhood  appear to have it all.  Nora and Gabe's oldest daughter, Angela, is a senior in high school and is focused on getting into Harvard.  Their younger daughters, Cecily and Maya are busy with things such as dance lessons and play dates.  They really appear to be the perfect family.  If you look deeper though, you see that Nora is stressed about selling a house that could make or break her career, Gabe is stressed because his new intern may have discovered a closely held secret of his that could destroy his career.  Angela is popping Adderall trying to keep up with the pressures of her senior year her effort to get into Harvard. Cecily blew a big dance competition and Maya can't read at the age of eight.  What outsiders can't see is that the Hawthorne family is slowly imploding. The mounting pressures for each of them could have lasting consequences, but collectively the pressures could destroy the family.  Will Nora and Gabe be able to pull it together before there are deadly consequences?

If you were just to read the synopsis for The Admissions you might think that the title refers to the whole family's efforts at getting Angela admitted to Harvard.  I was about a third of the way through the book before I realized that each member, well except for Maya, had something that they were keeping from each other.  Admitting their secrets is what could destroy the family.  The efforts they went through to keep up the appearance of a perfect family was completely exhausting to read, I can't imagine that kind of pressure in my home life.  It obviously was taking a toll on all of them.  The author starts the book out with a bit of a crisis and then flashes back, but you must wait until nearly the end of the book to find out exactly what happened with that crisis and it is a bit shocking.  In the end all of the secrets are revealed and the familial fall-out is not was not as bad as I expected.  I think the author did a great job at giving the Hawthorne's and the readers closure.

Bottom line - The Admissions is one of those books that makes the reader thankful for the life they have.  We all have our different kinds of pressures and stresses, but they seem to be magnified for the Hawthorne's and that is what makes it such a fascinating book to read.  Peeking in their window, so to speak, to see how they handle those magnified pressures.  Lots of fodder for discussion with this one!

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In Madam President we catch up again with President Charlotte Kramer on the day that she has agreed to let a popular morning news team to follow her around for a "Day in the Life" segment.  Her life has been on a pretty even keel, well as much as possible for the President of the United States.   Charlotte and Peter are back together and the twins are off at college.  But the serenity of an ordinary day is shattered when the country suffers five simultaneous terrorist attacks.  The attacks hit close to home for the White House Staff when one of their own is among the casualties.  President Kramer is rocked to her core as she tries to hold the country together and get through the horrific day.  As the day drags on Dale, Melanie, and Charlotte are all forced to evaluate the things that are most important to them.  Will Madam President be able to step up and be the leader the country needs at a time of extreme crisis?

It was comforting to catch up with familiar characters in Madam President.  I really enjoyed Eighteen Acres and was less thrilled with It's Classified, but found myself absolutely mesmerized by Madam President.  One of things about this book was the emotion it evoked in me.  It was easy for me to recall all of the emotions from 9/11 and transfer them to this book.  Obviously it was fiction, but the emotions were real. Seeing some of the behind the scenes stuff during a national crisis was also fascinating.  I am sure most of it was fictional, but I am sure there is a kernel of truth in there somewhere.  But, I was a bit freaked out because one of the terrorist attacks happened on a cruise ship in the Miami harbor. Um, not fun to read while you are on a cruise ship.    The end was quite satisfying, too.  I think the author was fair to her characters and their needs and wrapped things up in a satisfying manner.

Bottom line - Madame President was a great read.  Equal parts heartbreaking, enthralling, and suspenseful.  Definitely worth the read, but don't worry if you haven't read the other two books.  The author does a great job on catching you up on the character's backstory.

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Tanya Dubois comes home one day to find her husband dead at the bottom of their stairs.  Rather than call the police, Tanya takes off, for she knows that if the police start digging into her past they will find that her name is not Tanya.  And she has left behind a past that can never be brought to light.    She crisscrosses the country and with every new state she finds a new identity, trying to out run her past and her memories.  In her journeys she comes across a woman, Blue, who is running from her own past.  Blue steps up to help Tanya/Debra/Jane, but at what cost?  Tanya is just a passenger when Blue takes things to an extreme that makes her extremely uncomfortable and desperate to get as far away from Blue as possible.  She continues her journey across country and encounters some other people less deadly than Blue, but just as unique.   But it isn't until she is almost recognized by a nosy nellie that she decides maybe it is time to face her past.   Will going home set her free or will it be move that ultimately destroys her?

The Passenger was the first book I read on our vacation and I finished it before we even got to our cruise ship.  From the first page the reader is hooked in this weird journey the main character is on.   It takes a while for the reader to trust Tanya.  At first I wondered if she had killed her husband, but then you start to realize that while she may not have killed her husband, she isn't exactly innocent. But it isn't until the end of the book before you realize what exactly why she was running.  Then Tanya meets Blue.   Blue was one of those characters that you want to believe was goodhearted, especially the way she jumped in to help Tanya, but holy cow, she came with more trouble than she was worth. It was almost too much trouble to seem believable, but it was kind of necessary to keep the main character moving. She covers a lot of ground and finds herself in some precarious situations, but it was when she was poaching at a cabin in the East that she decides that she has a line in the sand that she isn't willing to cross.  By that point I was invested in the story that I wanted to see what happened when she went home, not to where her husband lived, but the home she left as a teenager.  I admit that it was not as sinister as I had thought, but I understand her need to "run."


Bottom line - In The Passenger Lisa Lutz deviates from her usually silly mysteries to write something a little more grittier than usual.  The language and violence is some of what makes the story so gritty and so hard to put down.

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At this moment I am on a cruise ship somewhere in the western Caribbean. I am lounging in a deck chair with a book and a drink.  Hopefully reading until my eyes fall out or I get drunk, whichever comes first.  :)

Natalie Clark always knew that she was adopted, but she was thirty-five years old before she knew that she had an older sister.  Against her parent's wishes, Natalie goes searching for her sister in hopes that she will lead her to her mother.  Thirty-nine year old Brooke Walker had a very different life than her sister, Natalie.  She was older when they were put in the care of the state and while Natalie was adopted in a matter of months,  Brooke never found a family that wanted to take on a disruptive, sullen child.  After aging out of the foster home she lived in, Brooke made her career as a waitress and now finds herself single and pregnant at thirty-nine.  She is cautiously excited to reconnect with Natalie, but she wants absolutely nothing to do with the mother who gave them up when she went to prison.

Jennifer Walker didn't want to steal from that grocery store, but her daughters were hungry.  When she was caught by store management she thought she could convince them to not call the cops on the homeless young mother.  Instead she ended up going to prison, which started a chain of events that had Jennifer in and out of prison before turning to a life of serving as first a vet tech, then a vet.  Not a day goes by that she doesn't think of the daughters that she gave up all of those years ago, but she has carefully built a new life for herself and is fearful that seeing them again will bring her safe, new world crashing down around her.  Will these three women be able to build a future as a family or will past hurts prevent them from a happy future?

Somewhere Out There is told in alternating perspectives, first Jennifer in the past, then both Natalie and Brooke in the present.  The book starts out with Jennifer's desperation as she heads into the grocery store.  It is hard to be angry with her because she was so young and so desperate, but I also felt like there was more to her story that we weren't getting.  I wished that her story had been a little more fleshed out.   Natalie and Brooke are both great sisters to get to know, Brooke is a little more hardened and more skeptical than Natalie, but that comes from the way she grew up.  I though the book was realistic in the way that the sister's didn't become besties right away, but they took time to develop their relationship.  It really lent to the authenticity of the story. The author didn't end the book with a nice and tidy wrap up, she left the end to the imagination of the reader.  It takes a lot of courage for an author to trust her readers.

Bottom line - Somewhere Out There  is a touching and heartwarming story about a fractured family trying to heal the broken pieces of their heart.

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The Alexander is an upscale, historic apartment building in downtown Atlanta.  It is one of those prestigious apartments that gives it's residents instant status among Atlanta society.  The Alexander comes with it's very own Englishman as the Concierge and has a wide variety of residents. There is Samantha David and her husband, Jonathan, in the penthouse.  They have been married a very long time and Samantha does everything in her power to make Jonathan's life as easy as possible since he rescued her from a live of poverty and took in her siblings all those years ago.  There is also Clare Walker, a recent empty-nester who traded life in the suburbs for a bohemian life in one of the Alexander's studio apartments. She is taking the year to write her book and hopes it is the start of her full time writing career.  There is also Brooke MacKenzie, recently divorced, Brooke is a full time mother to her two daughters.  She was devastated by her divorce and is struggling to regain the self-esteem her ex-husband destroyed.  The three women become friends while attending the weekly screenings of Downton Abbey in the Alexander's club room.  The Concierge, Edward, has gone of his way to make the weekly sessions special and is thrilled that the three women have started to form a real friendship.  He just hopes that they all can help each other grow while developing  their friendship and help to make The Alexander a real community.

I am one of the few people who did not get swept up in the epic story told by the PBS show Downton Abbey.  Yet reading While We Were Watching Downton Abbey made me want to run out and immediately start watching the show. The Alexander seemed like an absolutely wonderful place to live, grand and majestic. Edward added to the atmosphere of the grand apartment, too.  Clare, Samantha, and Brooke were three different women at different places in their lives.  At first they seemed like unlikely friends, but with each passing episode their friendship grew.  It was just a real heartwarming friendship book.  Of course all three women faced adversity of some kind, which of course they helped each other through, but it didn't seem too hokey.  It was completely enjoyable.

Bottom line - While We Were Watching Downtown Abbey is a total brain candy kind of book.  No, brain candy is wrong.  It is more like chicken soup for the soul.  An easy, fluffy kind of read.

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It has been nearly seventeen years since the tragedy that shook the world and made "goths", violence, and bullying, in school a household discussion. All you have to do is say Columbine and everybody immediately thinks of that high school in the suburbs of Denver.   I remember coming home from work that spring day and watching live on CNN as terrified students fell out of the windows of the library.  I cried as the events of the day were released and I thought, like many people did, where were the parents of those two kids that wreaked havoc on their school.  Why didn't the parents pay attention to what their kids were doing?  It is a common reaction anytime there is as tragedy.  We all thought it after Sandy Hook.  How could parents raise such a monster?

Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine shooters has written a book to share her regret, her grief, and her deepest heartache over the destruction her son created.   Sue gives us a better understand of her family and their relationship with Dylan.  She admits she failed to recognize signs of his depression, but is adamant that she never in a million years would she have believed Dylan capable of such destruction.  She doesn't make excuses for Dylan, nor does she make excuses for herself as a parent, but more than once she says that she believes that Dylan was a follower, not an instigator.  There are a lot of accounts that back up that theory and I got the impression that knowing that gives her a bit of comfort.  Sue goes on to detail those early days after April 20, 1999 and the fog of grief and disbelief that colored their world.  They had friends and family that supported them, but they also had a lawyer who would not let them eat food prepared by well meaning people for fear that it had been poisoned.  It was a world that she couldn't fathom living in.   Sue Klebold devotes a large part of the book to discussing mental health, specifically the mental health of her son.  After reading his journals Sue discovered that Dylan had been suicidal for quite sometime.  She had no idea.  She chalked a lot of the warning signs up to "just being a teenage boy".  She even discusses, at length, her own mental health issues following that day.   In fact, Sue Klebold has said that she will donate all profits from A Mother's Reckoning to mental health research and charities.

Bottom line - I believe that our world changed on April 20, 1999. Much like 9/11 it had a pivotal impact on how we think about school safety.  One of the best books I ever read was Columbine by Dave Cullen and it was in that book that I shifted my mindset about the parents of kids like Dylan Klebold.  Between these two books what I have learned is this, the parents are not monsters, they did not set out to raise monsters, they were  are deeply destroyed by the actions of their children, and they forever grieve for the lives lost and the lives taken by their children.  Sue Klebold opened herself up to a lot of criticism by writing this book, but I think her story is an important one to tell.

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