Outcast by Dianne Noble

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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.

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Better To Have Loved by Christy Jackson Nicholas

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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.

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Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Island in the Sea by Anita Hughes

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Island in the Sea by Anita Hughes
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press-Griffin Books
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (292 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Juliet Lyman is a senior executive at Yesterday Records. Music is her passion and she’s very good at her job. That’s why her famously philanthropic boss Gideon sends her to Majorca, Spain to work with a very tortured, but talented client. Lionel Harding is one of the best song writers of the 20th century, the multi-Grammy award-winning lyricist of the third most recorded song in history. But now he’s 42 and six months overdue on the his latest paid assignment. Juliet is not leaving Majorca without either new lyrics or a very large check.

To Juliet, business comes first. Emotions are secondary, and love isn’t even on the menu. But to Lionel, love is everything, and he blames Gideon for his broken heart. He’s determined to show Juliet that nothing is more important than love, but Juliet is just as determined to get Lionel to create the music that made him famous. If she can sign up local talent, even better. Her new friend Gabriella has a voice like an angel, but she’s not interested in fame. Her grandmother, Lydia, wants the world for Gabriella, and she wants Juliet’s help to give it to her.

As her professional and personal lives start to mix for the first time, Juliet is forced to reevaluate her priorities. Gideon hasn’t been totally honest, and love may be the only thing that gives them all what they need.

I haven’t found many books set on the island of Majorca so I knew I had to read this one. I used to spend summers there when I was growing up so reading Island in the Sea was part nostalgia and part interesting story.

I thought the author did a wonderful job describing the flora and fauna. I imagined myself back there. The story was an interesting one but it never held my interest as much as I would have liked. There was nothing wrong with the pacing of dialogue or even the characters, but somehow I wasn’t able to connect with them, especially the lead character, Juliet, as much as I would have liked.

While a good part of the story does take place in the present and in Majorca, there were constant flashbacks of Lionel and his relationship with a woman called Samantha. While it was interesting to read, it sort of took away from the present story and sometimes the switches were abrupt and short. I did like the storyline with native resident Gabriella and how loyal she was to her family.

All in all, it was an interesting read, and if you’re looking for something with a setting that will be new to you, I’d say give this a try.

Light of Hidden Flowers by Jennifer Handford

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Light of Hidden Flowers by Jennifer Handford
Publisher: by Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mainstream Fiction
Length: Full Length (375 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Book-smart Melissa Fletcher lives a predictable life in her hometown, working behind the scenes for her charismatic father in a financial career that makes perfect sense. But when her dad is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Missy is forced to step up and take over as his primary caregiver and the principal of the firm.

After her father’s death, Missy finds a letter from him in which he praises her for being a dutiful daughter but admonishes her for not taking any risks in life.

Devastated, Missy packs her suitcase and heads for Italy. There she meets a new friend who proposes a radical idea. Soon, Missy finds herself in impoverished India, signing away her inheritance and betting on a risky plan while rekindling a lost love.

The Light of Hidden Flowers is a deeply felt story of accepting who we are while pushing our boundaries to see how much more we can become. It’s a reminder that it’s never too late to pursue our dreams.

Jennifer Handford’s The Light of Hidden Flowers is a contemporary novel about living life, or more being willing to risk living life.

“Count your blessings” are words to live by for Melissa Fletcher. She likes her well-arranged life well enough. She works for her father, but not under his thumb, as a valued team member. However, she hits a bump in her well-ordered path when her father develops Alzheimer’s. This ‘bump’ jars her from her well-ordered course. This ‘bump’ is in fact, the start of her living…

Characters are the heart and soul of this novel: even the Dad is unexpectedly vibrant, and some financial clients are also wonderful. However, backstory is boring and repeated lapses into backstory drag down what would otherwise be a thoroughly engaging story. Handford explores motivation, both in small ways and in major. Choices, large and small, are thought-provoking.

Overall, The Light of Hidden Flowers is interesting and unpredictable.

Although it is a serious novel taking itself a bit too seriously, it is in fact beautifully written and engaging; I will certainly be looking for Handford’s next.

The Changing Season by Steven Manchester

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The Changing Season by Steven Manchester
Publisher: The Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (273 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

This was supposed to be a simple summer for Billy; one more lazy expanse of time before college began. He’d fill the hours playing with Jimmy – his canine best buddy – going camping and doing all the things he promised Jimmy they’d do before Billy left.

But that was before the accident that shook the entire town.

It was before the summer job that turned into something so much more than a way to get a paycheck.

And it was before Vicki.

This summer was destined to be many things to Billy, things he didn’t truly understand until now. But it was definitely not going to be simple.

A boy and his dog—always a good bet for a book.

I hadn’t read a book by Steven Manchester before I picked up A Changing Season. I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting into. Books with dogs tend to be bittersweet and while those are good books, I wanted something a little lighter. I got that with this book. Yes, there is tension and more than a few black moments, but all in all, it’s a good read.

I liked the bond between Billy and Jimmy, his dog. Being an animal person myself, I could relate to the way the two were together. Dogs can be the best of friends for a human—if the human lets the relationship happen. I liked how the author allowed Jimmy to be that silent voice of reason and comfort for Billy.

There were moments in the book that were a tad predictable. I won’t go into what so I don’t ruin the story, but honestly, the predictability didn’t take away from the enjoyment I had while reading.

I liked the book and if you’re looking for a coming-of-age book that has a lot of heart, then this might be the book for you.

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

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Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (273 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Good guy Karl Bender is a thirty-something bar owner whose life lacks love and meaning. When he stumbles upon a time-travelling worm hole in his closet, Karl and his best friend Wayne develop a side business selling access to people who want to travel back in time to listen to their favorite bands. It’s a pretty ingenious plan, until Karl, intending to send Wayne to 1980, transports him back to 980 instead. Though Wayne sends texts extolling the quality of life in tenth century “Mannahatta,” Karl is distraught that he can’t bring his friend back.

Enter brilliant, prickly, overweight astrophysicist, Lena Geduldig. Karl and Lena’s connection is immediate. While they work on getting Wayne back, Karl and Lena fall in love — with time travel, and each other. Unable to resist meddling with the past, Karl and Lena bounce around time. When Lena ultimately prevents her own long-ago rape, she alters the course of her life and threatens her future with Karl.

A high-spirited and engaging novel, Every Anxious Wave plays ball with the big questions of where we would go and who we would become if we could rewrite our pasts, as well as how to hold on to love across time.

Take complication upon complication with a wormhole thrown in for good measure and you’ve got an interesting read.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I picked up this book. Every Anxious Wave started out rather fluffy and retro. The idea of a wormhole where you can go back and visit concerts from the bands of your past… seems cool. Had the book kept with that theme, I would’ve been totally on board. Think of the concerts that could be seen! How many could be videotaped for posterity or videotaped in better definition? It’s mind-boggling.

But there’s a twist. Karl, the main character, accidentally sends his friend not back to 1980 to prevent the killing of John Lennon, but to 980 AD. Oops. At least in 1980, he could get back—there’s tech that could help. Not in 980. So what’s a couple of guys to do?

For me, this is where the believability sort of went downhill. I liked the idea of the mistake with the date. Hey, he’s stuck and we’ve got to get him back. Cool idea. But there were things in the book that didn’t quite get explained. Like how’d he get the wormhole? Where’d it come from? Was there a downside? I would’ve liked a little more explanation so I understood the mechanics of the wormhole, but I must say I was distracted by the idea of going back to visit concerts.

The other thing I had a problem with was the relationship between Lena and Karl. The whole thing felt forced. Like, they were together and that’s great. The development just didn’t feel like it was there. I did like the complications brought in for these two, but I wish there had been more of a jump into their emotions than happened.

Still, this was a fun read and made me long for the concerts I never got a chance to see given by musicians that died before my time. Thank you, Mo Daviau for that trip down memory lane.