Opening Gates by Nancy King

GATES
Opening Gates by Nancy King
Publisher: Plainview Press Publishing
Genre: New Adult, Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (270 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Quince

Summer, 1956. With her parents away and her boyfriend abroad, Rennie is on her own. To make money for college, she takes a job as a recreational therapist in a large mental hospital in New York City, despite her reluctance to sign a loyalty oath in the charged times of McCarthyism. She has no relevant experience, but she’s good at sports. How hard can it be? Very hard, she discovers.

As Rennie struggles to relate to the confused, emotionally unpredictable women and challenging hospital administrators and staff, she is befriended by a troubled young man with a passion for jazz, meets a wise Middle Eastern restaurateur, and after an accident on her motor scooter, becomes three construction workers favorite “damsel in distress.”

Too stubborn to quit, Rennie finds meaningful ways to connect with her patients and creates previously unimagined opportunities for them. She also discovers a new, stronger part of herself. By summer’s end, no longer dependent on other’s opinions, she can listen to her heart and conscience and make crucial changes in her own life.

Opening Gates is story from which I got more than I bargained for. It is coming of age story that covers some pretty serious issues like gender equality, mental illness and life in USA in late 1950s.

The main character, and also the narrator, is 19 year-old Rennie Weinstein. Rennie is college student who decides to apply for a summer job in a mental hospital in New York as a recreational therapist, because it pays well. She thought that her job would be relatively easy one, but as soon as she enters the hospital she realizes that it a whole unknown world lies there, a world that has rules of its own which are almost impossible to change. But slowly, with hard determination, and a strong will, Rennie starts to change some rules. Also her different and human approach to patients starts to change the life of women in the mental hospital.

Opening Gates is not an easy read, not just because it deals with mental illness, but because there is so much injustice in this story. The treatment of women in the hospital is often very tenacious and inflexible. The patients are perceived as things or as trouble makers and people who want to help them or make their life a bit better are restricted by so many written and unwritten rules. There are few scenes that are harsh, but I believe that they also picture realistic treatments of the patients in the mental institution at that time. The author does not go into a private stories of the women in the hospital, because her focus is on the main character and the changes Rennie goes through during her summer work, but on the other hand she is describing the atmosphere, sights, and smells so well.

This is a story worth reading because it provides a genuine insight into a mental institution in 1950s. The message of the story: “the little things go a long way”, resonated to me for a long time after I finished the book.

Now and Then Friends by Kate Hewitt

FRIENDS
Now and Then Friends by Kate Hewitt
Publisher: New American Library
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (336 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poppy

Childhood best friends Rachel Campbell and Claire West have not only grown up, but after fifteen years, they’ve also grown apart…

After her father left, Rachel had to dedicate her life to managing her household: her two younger sisters, her disabled mother, and her three-year-old nephew. When Rachel’s not struggling to look after all of them, she makes her living cleaning the houses of wealthy families—inclulding the Wests, where a surprise now awaits her. . . .

A lifetime of drifting in other people’s currents has finally left Claire high and dry. First it was her parents, then the popular crowd in school, and finally her fiancé. Now she’s returned to Hartley-by-the-Sea to recover. But running into Rachel brings back memories of past mistakes, and Claire wonders if she now has the courage to make them right.

Soon Claire’s brother, Andrew, asks Rachel to keep an eye on Claire, which is the last thing either woman wants. But as their lives threaten to fall apart, both Claire and Rachel begin to realize what they need most is a friend. The kind of friend they once were to each other, and perhaps can be again. . . .

Slow and steady, but not plodding, the characters make every page of this book worthwhile.

I struggled with a rating for this book, and I’m struggling a bit with the review. It’s hard to categorize, exactly, why I enjoyed it and why I kept happily returning to it after I’d put it down for a moment. This isn’t an edge-of-your-seat thriller, or a heart- warming romance. It’s more, rather, a day (or a few weeks) in the life of two women whose lives are at a pivotal moment and how the choices they make, even little ones, may affect their total future.

Claire was my favorite of the two … oddly, she felt more human and actually stronger than Rachel, despite outward appearances. Rachel’s constant irritation with life in general wore on me a bit, and there were times I wondered why Claire and Andrew even wanted to be around her. She goes through changes as the book progresses, thankfully, and by the end I really enjoyed her.

Claire has been treated as if she is fragile and utterly breakable her entire life. She finds just a little spine when she leaves a stint in rehab that she didn’t even need, and goes against her parents’ wishes for her to live with them, instead returning to the home of her youth. It’s there her journey truly begins.

Rachel is trapped in a life she hates. Her mother is an invalid, her father left when she was just eighteen, and her sisters do little to help her with keeping them afloat. Home life is a constant battle, and it gets worse as time goes on. More, suddenly her friend from school, the same friend who up and dumped her without any warning, shows up in town again and acts as if nothing was wrong.

There’s a solid cast of secondary characters to back the girls up. Dan, Lily, Meghan, Mrs. Carwell, Andrew, and others make Hartley-by-the-Sea a real living, breathing place.

I admit to tripping over some British slang and phrasings (like A-Levels … I had to go find out what grade that was in reference to), but I’m sure the reverse is true with the folks from over the pond read books written in the US.

Thing is … nothing much happens in the story. I mean, stuff happens, but nothing earth shattering. It’s really just watching the girls figure out some things in their lives. I still, even after thinking about it more while writing this review, can’t put my finger on what made this book so charming. However, I really, really hope the author visits the town again. I can’t wait to see what’s happening with Claire, Dan, Rachel, Andrew, Lily and others. I’m really quite hooked!

A Summer to Remember by Marilyn Pappano

SUMMER
A Summer to Remember by Marilyn Pappano
A Tallgrass Novel
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary, women’s fiction
Length: Full Length (361 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

FIRST LOVE NEVER FADES . . .

It’s been a long time since widow Fia Thomas felt the spark of physical attraction. But from the moment she meets Elliot Ross one stormy night, she yearns for a fresh start, for him to make her feel whole and well again. With his broad shoulders and a warm smile crinkling his dark eyes, he could finally offer her the solace she’s been seeking. And she’s willing to give him anything in return . . . except a promise that could break his heart.

Now that Elliot is out of the Army, he’s looking for a place to call home. Tallgrass was just a stop to stretch his legs, yet one look at Fia halts him in his tracks. In her sweet, sassy company, he finds the soul mate he never thought he’d have. But Fia is holding something back-something that keeps her from making any plans. Elliot’s new mission: gain Fia’s trust…and convince her that summer’s end can mean a new beginning.

I’ve just finished reading a highly enjoyable story that has summer theme to it.

I’m a fan of the author so I guess that does make me a tad biased about her stories but I can assure you, fan or not, I think you’ll fall in love with the two main characters, Fia and Elliot. What I always love about Ms. Pappano’s books is she has the uncanny knack of pairing up people who would actually make ideal lifelong partners in real life.

Fia and Elliot are well drawn characters who you immediately fall in love with. And yes, the story starts with Elliot and we learn he’s even rescued a dog! They’re not perfect people but that’s what adds to their appeal. They both have a history and sometimes that gets in their way of realizing they’re one another’s soulmates.

This is a story that has some tears, some laughter, and you find yourself turning the pages to get to their happily ever after because you feel they so deserve it.

Even the secondary characters are lovable too. While I haven’t read any other books in the Tallgrass series, it’s made me what to go check them out.

If you love an old fashioned romance, break out the lounger, grab your sunscreen and head outside to read this book. You won’t be disappointed.

Saving Abby by Steena Holmes

ABBY
Saving Abby by Steena Holmes
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (298 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

All children’s book illustrator Claire Turner ever wanted was to be a mother. After six years of trying to conceive, she and her husband, Josh, have finally accepted that she will never be pregnant with a child of their own.

Yet once they give up hope, the couple gets the miracle they’ve been waiting for. For the first few months of her pregnancy, Claire and Josh are living on cloud nine. But when she begins to experience debilitating headaches, blurred vision, and even fainting spells, the soon-to-be mother goes to the doctor and receives a terrifying diagnosis. Since any treatment could put their unborn baby’s life at risk, the Turners must carefully weigh their limited options. And as her symptoms worsen, Claire will have to make an impossible decision: Save her own life, or save her child’s?

When tragedy strikes can a woman live out her deepest dreams and desires?

Sounds like a romance right? Not exactly. Claire Turner and her husband Josh have spent years trying to successfully have a baby. As children’s book writers and illustrators, they are constantly in the face of what she wants most: a child. When she gets back from her trip and feels laggy, Claire finds out she is pregnant, but back to back with that news is something far worse. She has brain cancer and to treat it would very likely kill the life growing inside of her.

As a young woman Claire was forced to give up her child and now wants this baby with a consuming passion despite the health risks involved. At one point she even delays a doctor visit that might have helped her and I’m not really sure why.

This book should have grabbed me but from the onset, it lacked the emotional depth I would have expected from a storyline such as this. Gut wrenching choices? Absolutely. But I didn’t feel like I could connect with the character at all and that made me want to get through the book as quickly as possible so I didn’t have to prolong the read.

In the beginning, the relationship between the couple is set up well and you get the solid basis that is their life. It is very slow however. But when she gets the diagnosis, the book wavers and it becomes plodding in a way. I also kept looking for this Abby person the title suggested. Who is she? It was toward the end that I realized it was the baby that we hadn’t even really had much to do with. I think I would have called this book something else.

All in all it is a solid woman’s fiction novel but it left me sort of cold. Choices were made-hard ones- about a woman’s life and the life of her child but in the end I didn’t particularly care and wanted the book to be done. Not what I was expecting at all and that saddened me. I may read more from this author and I understand her other books are more engrossing but this one needed something to spark more reader identity.

Outcast by Dianne Noble

MediaKit_BookCover_Outcast
Outcast by Dianne Noble
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s fiction
Length: Full (308 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Rose

Rose leaves her Cornwall café to search for her daughter in the sweltering slums of Kolkata, India.

In the daily struggle for survival, she is often brought to her knees, but finds strength to overcome the poverty and disease, grows to love the Dalit community she helps.

But then there are deaths, and she fears for her own safety.

Her café at home is at risk of being torched, and finally, she has to make the terrible choice between her daughter and the Indian children.

This is a beautifully written book about mothers and daughters, about forgiveness and redemption, about loss and finding oneself. The subject matter itself isn’t pretty. It deals with the poverty and struggle that is the life of the Dalits–the untouchables–of India. But the story itself is beautiful and is one I think I will be thinking about for a long time.

The story begins with Rose discovering that the plane on which her daughter was supposed to be arriving after her gap year in India was missing. Her relief that Ellie did not actually get on the plane quickly turned to a desire to repair the damage that had been done to their relationship over the years, so she decides to go to India on a surprise visit, leaving her café in the capable hands of Hannah, who we discover has her own mother issues that are juxtaposed against the story of Rose and Ellie.

I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two stories, and I hope Ms. Noble plans on revisiting Hannah and Willow. I would like to see how their story plays out.

Although the ending was not the one *I* would have chosen, I can quite see how it was the right decision for the characters.

Good job, Ms. Noble. I will definitely be checking to see if you have other books available.

Better To Have Loved by Christy Jackson Nicholas

MediaKit_BookCover_BetterToHaveLoved
Better To Have Loved by Christy Jackson Nicholas
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Historical, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (297 pages)
Heat: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by: Rose

Based on a true story.

In 1967, Julie was searching for adventure. What she found was herself, alone and pregnant, in a foreign country.

In 1985, Kristen was searching for her father. But did he want to be found?

Follow these two young women in a tale of a 30 year search for true love.

An interesting tale.

This story is told in alternating POVs— Julie, who in the 1960s, lived an adventurous life and found herself pregnant, alone, and in a strange county—and Kristen, a child in the 1980s on a search for the father she never knew. The book is based on the author’s and her mother’s own lives and the author’s search for her father. Other elements have been added to the story to fictionalize it and make it fuller.

There were a lot of good elements in the book—some of the writing was exquisite—and the juxtaposition of the two story lines is an interesting plot element which kept me reading to the end.

I had trouble fully connecting with the characters, though, because there was a lot more “telling” than “showing”. I never really felt like I was in either characters’ skin or walking their walk which might have invested me more in their journey. The majority of that issue was from the telling, but part of it was because, I feel, of the switching back and forth between the characters.

The story itself is interesting—and I have to admit to being curious about the Church that Julie worked for. I would be interested in trying more of the author’s work to see if the telling is limited to this memoir-style work.

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline

WANTED
Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (417 pgs)
Rated: 3.5 stars
Review by Poppy

Lisa Scottoline delivers another searing, powerful blockbuster novel that explores hot-button issues within the framework of an intricately plotted thriller. When a woman and her husband, desperate for a baby, find themselves unable to conceive, they decide to take further steps. Since it is the husband who is infertile, the heroine decides to use a donor. And all seems to be well. Three months pass and she is happily pregnant. But a shocking revelation occurs when she discovers that a man arrested for a series of brutal murders is her donor – the biological father of the child she is carrying. Delving deeper to uncover the truth, the heroine must face her worst fears, and confront a terrifying truth. Most Wanted is sure to be Lisa Scottoline’s most discussed, bestselling novel yet.

An intriguing premise leads to a crazy ride!

When Christine decides to use a sperm donor to start a family with her husband, Marcus, she had no idea what would happen next. They were allowed to see pictures of the donors in order to choose one who looked close to her husband’s appearance, so later when she sees an accused serial killer on TV, she’s certain it’s the biological father of her baby.

I was interested in the premise of nature vs. nurture that was present in both the book and in Christine’s mind. She’s so determined that her baby won’t have a serial killer father, she sets out to prove the man’s innocence. I liked Christine, though found it a little amazing that she proves such an apt sleuth considering her background as an elementary teacher who isn’t that proficient in much else.

My biggest issue with the story, honestly, was that I did not like her husband, Marcus in the least. I just couldn’t believe that they had a solid marriage, or support the idea of bringing a child into their unstable, difficult union, so it colored my overall enjoyment of the book. I spent much of the book wanting to slap Marcus silly.

I did, however, adore Griff! He was possibly the best, most interesting and well rounded character in the story. I hope he shows up somewhere again, because I’d love to revisit him.

The suspense portion of the story, while implausible really, was still interesting enough to keep me reading. I did want to know who the killer was…was it the guy who’d donated his sperm for he baby? Someone else altogether? It was enough of a question that I didn’t stop turning pages. Honestly, I was a bit let down by how the book ended, both in regards to the killer and that my romantic heart just didn’t buy the relationship between Christine and Marcus.

I’ve read a couple other books by the author and really enjoyed them. This one, while not up to the same level as those, still isn’t a waste of time. I think there’s enough meat to the plot and the characters to make it something I’d suggest picking up at your local library for a few hours of enjoyment.

Where We Fall by Rochelle B. Weinstein

FALL
Where We Fall by Rochelle B. Weinstein
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (322 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

By all accounts, Abby Holden has it all. She’s the mother of a beautiful teenager and the wife of a beloved high school football coach. And all it took to achieve her charmed life was her greatest act of betrayal.

Coach Ryan can coax his team to victory, but he can’t seem to make his wife, Abby, happy. Her struggles with depression have marred their marriage and taken a toll on their daughter, Juliana. Although this isn’t the life he’s dreamed of, he’s determined to heal the rifts in his family.

Chasing waterfalls and documenting their beauty has led photographer Lauren Sheppard all around the world. Now it has brought her back home to the mountains of North Carolina—back to the scene of her devastating heartbreak.

For the first time in seventeen years, a trio of once-inseparable friends find themselves confronting past loves, hurts, and the rapid rush of a current that still pulls them together.…

Why is it that what we don’t have can overshadow what we do? Where We Fall is a poetic in-depth voice of a family that began because of a secret. The descriptive writing style will pull a reader into the personal mental battle of Abby Holden. The story pretty much focuses on where 38-year-old Abby falls and how she must address and confront her past to get back to living.

Abby’s depression held her and her family hostage from achieving true family happiness. The depression put a wedge between Abby and her teenage daughter Juliana and made her dedicated husband pretty much a single father. The plot is one that will hopefully catch the reader from the very beginning and with the writer’s talent for story telling as well as building the suspense it should also keep the reader entertained.

I enjoyed the story and how it was delivered. This was a story that made me think and wonder… could things have been handled differently? When all the secrets were revealed it brought about a question of what could the characters do now? The past laid heavily on Abby’s heart but was she entirely the one to blame? Her best friend and Ryan’s college girlfriend, Lauren, is the one that place the pieces in position but when events turn out not to be in Lauren’s favor she decided to keep on her personal path to travel the world chasing waterfalls.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it but I did have one problem with the plot. I liked the story idea of the battle with mental illness but the rooted reason for Abby’s descent really didn’t seem to be a reason to make her marriage and relationship with her daughter suffer. No, she couldn’t have won the best friend award but if the love between Ryan and Lauren was so deep and connected why did Lauren chance leaving in the first place? Then she returns many years later with the same love for Ryan in her heart and disappointment and hurt for Abby. Lauren left; did she think Ryan would put his life on hold until she finished living?

Ryan was my favorite character because he is a man that is dedicated to family and the young boys on his football team. He is the one that seemed to have it together. I didn’t like Lauren because she seemed to be lost and not know what she wanted when she was younger and now that she is older she is under the assumption that she still loves Ryan, but people change. Lauren is more naive now than she was when she left after graduating college. Juliana, Abby’s daughter seemed immature or either spoiled. In her forbidden relationship with football player E.J., she was pushy to have relations with him and in regards to her mother she didn’t seem to understand that her mother needed help.

This may not be a happy read.  In fact it has a desolate flow but the ending made the book worth reading.

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnès Martin-Lugand

HAPPY
Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnès Martin-Lugand
Publisher: Weinstein Books
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (214 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

She fled Paris to lose herself. The love she found would change everything.
Diane seems to have the perfect life. She is a wife, a mother, and the owner of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, a cozy literary cafe in Paris. But when she suddenly loses her husband and daughter in a car accident, her life is overturned and the world as she knows it instantly disappears. Trapped and haunted by her memories, Diane closes her shop and retreats from her friends and family, unable and unwilling to move forward.

But one year later, Diane shocks her loved ones and makes the surprising decision to move to a small town on the Irish coast, finally determined to heal by rebuilding her life alone-until she meets Edward, a handsome and moody Irish photographer who lives next door. At first abrasive and unwelcoming, Edward initially resents Diane’s intrusion into his life of solitude . . . until he can no longer keep her at arm’s length. Along windy shores and cobbled streets, Diane falls into a surprising and tumultuous romance. As she works to overcome her painful memories and truly heal, Diane and Edward’s once-in-a-lifetime connection inspires her to love herself and the world around her with newfound inner strength and happiness. But will it last when Diane leaves Ireland, and Edward, for good?

At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Diane’s story is deeply felt, reminding us that love remembered is love enduring.

Diane is a woman who has it all. A happy family and a bookshop, she is living a dream in the middle of Paris. But tragedy strikes when her husband and daughter are killed in a car accident. Torn apart by grief, she withdraws from everyone and everything-except her best friend. Searching for meaning in her life now that everything she loved is gone, she decides to move to a small town on the Irish coast and what she finds there will forever shape her destiny.

Edward is a bitter man who knows loss only too well. When he and Diane meet, it is a combustible moment of fire and gasoline, leaving both of them reeling from the impact. Slowly, Diane crawls out of her grief stricken stage and she learns to feel again-even if it is rather a form of hate for her new neighbor that quickly turns into a burning hot romance. But when it comes time for Diane to leave, what will become of her new romance with the enigmatic Edward? You’ll have to read this book to find out.

This book grabbed me and didn’t let me go. In one sitting, I devoured the pages in one breathless gulp. More women’s fiction than romance, the tale showcases the evolution of a woman who is hanging on to her old life by the skin of her teeth and the courage it takes to forge ahead when you don’t know that you have anything left to live for. All of the raw human emotions are there and the book leaves you with a breathless precipice of possibilities that will appeal to fans of Meave Binchy, Jan Karon and Debbie Macomber.

I enjoyed the emotional roller coaster and the light touch of romance-not enough to classify the book as romance but it was still there. I was also excited to learn that it is being made into a movie. Think Tuscan Sun meets the Irish coast and you have the story in a nutshell-and what a good one it was.

I highly recommend Happy People Read and Drink Coffee for a nice beach read or just something to get you out of your own head for awhile.

North of Here by Laurel Saville

nORTH
North of Here by Laurel Saville
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (258 pgs)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

The sounds of unexpected tragedies—a roll of thunder, the crash of metal on metal—leave Miranda in shock amid the ruins of her broken family.

As she searches for new meaning in her life, Miranda finds quiet refuge with her family’s handyman, Dix, in his cabin in the dark forests of the Adirondack Mountains. Dix is kind, dependable, and good with an ax—the right man to help the sheltered Miranda heal—but ultimately, her sadness creates a void even Dix can’t fill.

When a man from her distant past turns up, the handsome idealist now known as Darius, he offers Miranda a chance to do meaningful work at The Source, a secluded property filled with his nature worshipers. Miranda feels this charismatic guru is the key to remaking her life, but her grief and desire for love also create an opportunity for his deception. And in her desperate quest to find herself after losing almost everything, Miranda and Dix could pay a higher price than they ever imagined.

Miranda was an interesting character in this book, and the main reason I kept on to the end.  While I liked the author’s voice and the flow of her prose, I have to say this book wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I’ll admit I’m more of a genre fiction fan than a literary one and this book fit into the latter category and may be the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped.

The reason I’m not typically a fan of literary novels is I feel authors spend too much time telling us what happened rather than showing us. It’s not so much the fault of the writer, but the style they choose to write in. I did feel this story could have been much stronger and more enjoyable, at least for me, told with more dialogue and more in the here and now than being told the story in narration form.

It’s a bittersweet story, very moving in parts, very sad in others. I did feel a connection with Miranda because of the situation she found herself in. It’s a dire one and none of which is her fault, so I began cheering her on. I hoped that things turn around for her, especially when Dix comes on the scene.

What dialogue there was in this book was excellent, very lifelike and one of the reasons I wished there would have been more. All the characters seemed believable even if some weren’t that likeable.

It does, as any book should, make you think about things, in this case, lose and healing and trying to move on with one’s life after a tragedy.

If you are a fan of literary fiction, I’d say give this one a read.