A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks

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A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (341)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Miles Ryan’s life seemed to end the day his wife was killed in a hit-and-run accident two years ago. As deputy sheriff of New Bern, North Carolina, he not only grieves for her and worries about their young son Jonah but longs to bring the unknown driver to justice. Then Miles meets Sarah Andrews, Jonah’s second-grade teacher. A young woman recovering from a difficult divorce, Sarah moved to New Bern hoping to start over. Tentatively, Miles and Sarah reach out to each other…soon they are falling in love. But what neither realizes is that they are also bound together by a shocking secret, one that will force them to reexamine everything they believe in-including their love.

Once again get out your hankies for this wonderful Nicholas Sparks story. This one is a love story, a mystery, and one about doing the right thing even if it’s going to cost you everything.

The story begins with Miles Ryan who lost his wife to a hit and run driver and now is raising his son, Jonah, all by himself. He’s still grieving and another person who’s trying to start life over again is school teacher Sarah who’s recovering from a divorce.

Both of these people are wonderful characters and as the story unfolds you follow along as they slowly fall in love. However, as always, the road to true love is never smooth. The person who hit and killed Miles’ wife was never caught and it’s become somewhat of an obsession for him to find out who was responsible.

Weaved through this story is a first person account told by the guilty party about what happened the night of the accident.

The story takes a wonderful turn when someone is arrested and offers information about who killed Miles’ wife and gradually things begin to fall apart for Miles and Sarah. From there on in, the story is a roller coaster of emotions. I did have a slight inkling who the guilty party was but it was still a page turner to see how everything played out and if Miles and Sarah would have their happily ever after.

If you love a good romance, small town setting, and a splash of mystery, I’d say definitely read this story.

The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks

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The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (411 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Seventeen year old Veronica “Ronnie” Miller’s life was turned upside-down when her parents divorced and her father moved from New York City to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Three years later, she remains angry and alientated from her parents, especially her father…until her mother decides it would be in everyone’s best interest if she spent the summer in Wilmington with him. Ronnie’s father, a former concert pianist and teacher, is living a quiet life in the beach town, immersed in creating a work of art that will become the centerpiece of a local church. The tale that unfolds is an unforgettable story of love on many levels–first love, love between parents and children — that demonstrates, as only a Nicholas Sparks novel can, the many ways that love can break our hearts…and heal them.

Spoiler Alert…tear jerker of a story.

I can’t remember when I discovered this author but let’s just say I’m glad I did. You’d think as a fan of Mr. Sparks I would have read all of his books, but I haven’t and when the opportunity arose to review some of them, I couldn’t turn down the offer.

This story, like the other books of his I’ve read, is peppered with wonderful characters who feel like real people that I got to know and cheer for. In this case it’s Ronnie and her father Steve. Steve left the family and Ronnie’s never forgiven him. However, fate intervenes and she and her younger brother go and spend a summer with him in North Carolina.

Ronnie is a most a troubled soul, getting in with the wrong crowd during her first week there, having words with her father, and also meeting a young man who will play a significant role in her future.

The story pulled in and I soon learned something about Steve that brought tears to my eyes (no, I won’t give away the plot). What begins as a cold relationship between father and daughter blossoms into something beautiful and told in a way that only this author can pull it off. And did I mention the setting? So beautifully described that I felt I was there on the beach and in the house that Steve lived in and just a step away from the ocean with all its sights, sounds and smells.

If you like stories about families, forgiveness and love, and like a good cry when you read a book, I’d say definitely give The Last Song a try.

Finding Rose Rocks by Karen Ginther Graham

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Finding Rose Rocks by Karen Ginther Graham
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (372 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

When Jennifer Ellis’s business fails, she decides to leave Oklahoma in a cloud of red dust and return to her San Diego roots. Then Troy Stanhope comes along with a solution to her company’s woes, and she falls for his velvety voice and appealing confidence. As their relationship deepens, she is called to the west coast on a family matter and decides to stay for the summer. She meets a new man and is drawn to his irresistible charm. Her newfound self-awareness mingles with salty ocean breezes and eucalyptus-scented air to place her in his arms. Their liaison is heartfelt but brief, mid-life’s last hurrah. Jennifer realizes her heart is back on the southern prairie, but she may be one adventure too late.

Life transition times are “the best of times and the worst of times.”

Jennifer Ellis, in Finding Rose Rocks, is at one of these crossroads in her life. Divorced, with her son long-since out of the nest, and her business on solid footing, with a trustworthy manager, she can set her efforts toward fulfilling a dream of returning to her childhood home in California with the ocean, rolling hills and gentle climate that still calls to her OR she can she set her efforts toward “blooming where she was planted” year ago in Oklahoma, far from the ocean and where drought, cold cold and hot hot are a given.

Also, there’s Troy, who is firmly established, a man with deep roots in Oklahoma, with an attitude of “it’s my way or the road.” In California there’s Ben, a doctor with a commitment phobia, but a delight to be with, and he makes her feel like she can soar. Both are very secure financially. Both have a hint of bully about them. Which one does she love or does she want to cast her lot with either of them?

Added to Jennifer’s emotional struggle are a self-centered sister and a cantankerous mother with poor judgment. Both of them are hard on Jennifer’s self esteem.

One more little tidbit, the astrological signs for Jennifer, Troy, and Ben and how Jennifer sees how her life would blend with each of the men was attention-getting and thought provoking.

Karen Ginther Graham, with smooth flowing writing, takes the reader on a captivating, vicarious emotional journey—good women’s fiction.

Three Modern Shorts: The Park Stories by K. Kris Loomis

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Three Modern Shorts: The Park Stories by K. Kris Loomis
Publisher: Lililoom Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (22 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What happens when a distraught teen and a whacky old woman meet in the park? How about a couple that weaves tales about spies and incurable diseases? Or when a father and daughter are presented with the opportunity to get to know one another better under unusual circumstances?
In these three modern short stories, author K. Kris Loomis offers us glimpses of universally shared moments in everyday relationships and life. They are humorous, thought provoking, and written to be read in one sitting.

Small dramas unfold at the park every single day.

In “Lovely Horns,” an old woman named Muriel struck up an unusual conversation with a troubled teenage girl, Lucy, who had a strange problem. Muriel thought she might have a solution for it. It took me a while to decide how I wanted to interpret the problem and the solution. There were several different ways to look at both of them, and that made for a fascinating reading experience. I especially liked how the final scene was written. Not only did it give me a nice sense of closure, it also fit Muriel’s offbeat personality beautifully.

There were some parts of “Friday Afternoon” that I had trouble understanding. While I really enjoyed the funny tales Paul and Angie told each other about what they imagined the lives of the other people at the park had been like, I found it hard to relate to these characters themselves. The hints about what was actually going on between them were so subtle that I was never sure that I was accurately understanding the subtext in their conversation. It would have been helpful to have a little more information to work with in those scenes.

The complicated relationship between Jimmy and his adult daughter, Carley, in “The King Stomper” made me curious to know why things were a little strained between them and what would happen to them next. Watching them interact with each other answered enough of my questions to keep me satisfied, but their chat also made me think of more topics I wished they’d discuss. This story ended up being my favorite on in the book because of how good it was at exploring these characters’ personalities and challenging me to come up with my own theories about why they behaved the way they did.

I’d recommend Three Modern Shorts: The Park Stories to anyone who has ever wished they could peek into a stranger’s life for a moment.

Opening Gates by Nancy King

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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.