Say Goodbye For Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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Say Goodbye For Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: Full Length (376 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

SOME FAMILIES YOU’RE BORN INTO. OTHERS YOU CHOOSE.

On an isolated Texas ranch, Dr. Lucy cares for abandoned animals. The solitude allows her to avoid the people and places that remind her of the past. Not that any of the townsfolk care. In 1959, no one is interested in a woman doctor. Nor are they welcoming Calvin and Justin Bell, a newly arrived African American father and son.

When Pete Solomon, a neglected twelve-year-old boy, and Justin bring a wounded wolf-dog hybrid to Dr. Lucy, the outcasts soon find refuge in one another. Lucy never thought she’d make connections again, never mind fall in love. Pete never imagined he’d find friends as loyal as Justin and the dog. But these four people aren’t allowed to be friends, much less a family, when the whole town turns violently against them.

With heavy hearts, Dr. Lucy and Pete say goodbye to Calvin and Justin. But through the years they keep hope alive…waiting for the world to catch up with them.

Disclaimer of sorts…I’ve had a couple of Catherine Ryan Hyde books stored on my Kindle for a few months but I have to admit I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. So when the opportunity came to review another one of her books, I thought this would be a perfect way to introduce myself to a new author who so many have recommended to me. When I finished reading this title I knew I’d found a new favorite author and now I can’t wait to read the other two books.

This is a heartwarming story…can I call it historical? The story starts in 1959 and moves forward through the Sixties. Its setting is Texas and the time of racial tensions. All the characters in this book are so well crafted, I felt like I knew them. The story is told through the viewpoint of two of those characters Pete and Dr. Lucy. The two come together when Pete finds what he thinks is a dog, injured by the side of the road.

Dr. Lucy is somewhat of a recluse and although she’s a medical doctor, it’s animals who are now her patients. She’s a complex character but when a racial attack leaves Pete’s new young friend, Justin, needing emergency care, she meets with his father Calvin and soon the story reveals more about her.

Although this book is over 300 pages, I found myself compelled to keep reading just to find out what happens to these four people who you soon find yourself empathizing with and hoping that all is well.

It’s a beautiful story illustrating how friendship can rise about hatred and ignorance and heal those who sometimes seem broken by their past.

This is a book I recommend you put on your fall reading list.

Secret Crush: The House of Morgan by Victoria Pinder

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Secret Crush: The House of Morgan by Victoria Pinder
Publisher: Love in a Book
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full length (254 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

For some, joining the FBI is a long-term goal. For billionaire John Morgan, joining the Bureau is a stepping stone to proving his father is culpable for his sister’s death. After his estranged father dies, John is forced to return home and face the ghosts of his past. That proves to be more difficult than he could have ever imagined.

Alice Collins lives a peaceful life. As a farmer’s daughter, she knows what it’s like to work hard for what you want. After losing her best friend under inexplicable circumstances, her world viewpoint shifted until her small town sensibilities convinced her to attend Mr. Morgan’s funeral.

Soon, the past and the present collide and Alice is caught in the crosshairs. John comes to her aid, complicating matters for both of them.

Can a handsome billionaire on a vendetta truly fall for a small town girl or does he have something else in mind? Can a small town girl, if she gives her heart to him, ever fit in the House of Morgan?

John Morgan, the rebellious son of the House of Morgan, loses his motivation when his father dies—John can’t bring a corpse to justice. He returns home seeking answers but soon finds himself struggling to protect the rather naïve Alice Collins whose life is in danger because of him. The problems of his dysfunctional family take a back seat as he concentrates on security for Alice who has a longtime connect with the Morgan family.

Secret Crush is a clean, easy-to-read manuscript that allows the reader to cruise right along with reading. The plotting is meticulously done and the characters all have distinct roles to play. However, even with lots of dialogue, much of the action and emotion is told to the reader rather than shown. Consequently, I never became involved like I usually do in a story of suspense, mystery, and love.

I did feel the need to finish the story to find answers for the many mysteries. As I continued, I found a real surprise about who was willing to do murder for money. But here again I felt I wasn’t allowed to know what changed that character from defending the law to being willing to break the law—there just had to be more than money for such a drastic change.

The love story had the conflict and the undeniable attraction that shepherded John and Alice through these conflicts in attention-keeping ways, taking them to their happy-ever-after. However, the story, even for a book in a series, ended with too many unanswered questions. I felt as if I had not finished reading the book.

I imagine these questions will be answered in future books in this series.

Olivier The Cat Who Saved Christmas by Sheila Norton

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Olivier The Cat Who Saved Christmas by Sheila Norton
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Contemporary fiction, Holiday
Length: Full Length (315 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

A friend who brings light at the darkest of times…

Oliver the cat is a timid little thing, and rarely ventures from his home in the Foresters’ Arms.

Then his life changes dramatically when a fire breaks out in the pub kitchen and he is left homeless and afraid. But, with the kindness of the humans around him, he soon learns to trust again. And, in his own special way, he helps to heal those around him.

However, it isn’t until he meets a little girl in desperate need of a friend that he realises this village needs a Christmas miracle…

Who doesn’t love a story with a main character who’s an animal? In this story, it’s a ginger tabby named Oliver and he’s the narrator of the tale, too. As a cat owner, I was completely won over from page one and things only got better as the story progressed.

This story has something of everything, humor, some sadness, a wonderful setting that compliments the Christmas theme so well, and some down on their luck inhabitants whose lives are to be quickly transformed.

As all Christmas stories should be, this one is about finding joy and miracles when you least expect it. The sick child grows strong; the young couple without enough money to heat their home find dream jobs, and even kittens find perfect homes. All things are possible in this story but it’s not without the help of Oliver who seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

I loved the way Oliver interacted with his fellow cats and his frustration as he struggled to get humans to understand what he was showing them. I ended up reading this story in two sittings and I think it’s perfect for all ages, young and old. Also, the perfect book to read aloud on Christmas Eve or give as a gift.

Don’t miss this fun Christmas story that will have you believing in miracles.

The Lullaby Sky by Carolyn Brown

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The Lullaby Sky by Carolyn Brown
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full (321 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

After seven years of misery and abuse, it’s all over—Hannah O’Malley is officially divorced. Hallelujah. It’s like every Christmas in her life all rolled up into one glorious day. Not only does Hannah get to keep her grandmother’s spacious old house, but she has full custody of her sparky five-year-old daughter. All Hannah has to do now is put the past behind her.

And now that she’s free, she wants to make a difference. With the help of her warm, close-knit circle of friends—including her high school crush, Travis Wilson—Hannah begins turning her home into a safe house for other women who’ve endured the pain she’s known. But even as life and laughter return to Hannah’s home, she’s haunted by the memory of her dangerously unstable ex. With a second chance at love on the horizon, Hannah must face down her past in order to let the sunshine back into her life.

Not what I expected from the blurb, but still a satisfying novel.

Honestly, from the blurb I expected something a little more Sleeping With the Enemy, but the focus of this novel isn’t the heroine trying to remain safe from her abusive husband. He’s really just not a threat at all to her. What this novel is about is the journey Hannah takes to become a strong, secure woman and how she helps others to become the same.

She has a solid set of friends and family to support her, and the strength of this novel is their interactions. While there are certainly strong romantic elements in this story between her and Travis, I don’t feel that it’s a romance at the heart of it. It’s more women’s fiction in that it’s about Hannah, and her growth and development, and not about the romance. I absolutely feel as if Travis could have been no more than a good friend and the story itself would still stand.

That’s not a complaint at all. Once I shifted my head from “romantic suspense” to simply enjoying the story, I really had a wonderful time. I loved Aunt Birdie, Rosie, Liz and Darcy as well as Travis. They were interesting, believable and unique. And the relationship between Hannah and Travis grew organically and was also believable, considering Hannah’s background of abuse.

If you enjoy books with a small town feel, populated with fun primary and secondary characters and writing that feels so easy and flows without any bumps, I’d recommend The Lullaby Sky. It’s the first book I’ve read by Carolyn Brown, but it won’t be my last.

Room by Emma Donoghue

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Room by Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: Full Length (321 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

Strap in…it’s going to be an interesting and gut-wrenching ride.

Room isn’t a book I would’ve picked up normally. This story is told from the perspective of the child and that’s not generally my cuppa. That said, once I started the book I couldn’t stop. The situation Ma and Jack find themselves in isn’t anything anyone would want to be in. Ma – her name is never mentioned – is kidnapped at the age of 19 by Old Nick. While I had moments I wanted to know more about him and his motivations, mostly I just hated Old Nick. The author did a good job of making me ill from reading about him. Yeah, he’s bad.

I can’t imagine being a kidnapping victim or the things Ma and Jack had to go through to survive. To be locked in an 11×11 room… the very thought makes me shudder. I have to say I was emotionally invested in the story. I had to know what would happen to the characters, even Old Nick. I wasn’t disappointed. While it’s not a feel-good read, there were moments I simply couldn’t put the kindle down.

That said, there were trigger moments for me. Jack, although five years old and smart as a whip, is emotionally behind. How can he not be? He hasn’t ever experienced the outside world and has no idea how to interact with other people beyond Ma. One of the things she does to keep him close is she still nurses him. This was a trigger for me in that it put me off of the story. I get it. She nursed him to ensure he’d get the proper nourishment and to keep that bond. She had to be sure he’d grow up right. But the nursing made me uncomfortable. Then there was the incident with the tooth. Ma has bad teeth and some fall out. One in particular does and Jack nabs it. It’s his connection to Ma. What made me uncomfortable about Tooth – as he calls it – is something kids do. He sticks it in his mouth. He sucks on it, carries it around and puts it in his sock…then sticks it back in his mouth. The germ factor was more than I could handle. If you’re not wild about kids who stick things in their mouth or the older child nursing issue…then this might not be the book for you.

But honestly, while this wasn’t something I’d have picked on my own, I’m glad I read it. Anyone could be that girl who is kidnapped. She thinks she’s helping someone. Who hasn’t done that? It’s a plausible story. Interesting, intriguing and fascinating since the story is told from Jack’s point of view, Room might be just the book for your reading list.

The Woman He Married by Julie N. Ford


The Woman He Married by Julie N. Ford
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (429 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Rose

Once an aspiring young attorney, Josie looked forward to taking on the injustices of the world—one case at a time. Eleven years later, she’s a stay-at-home mom and battling demons that don’t require a law degree. Only keeping up pretenses proves more than she can bear when a bracelet that should have been hers shows up on the wrist of another woman. Her marriage slowly begins to unravel as an ex-lover comes back into her life. When he offers her the dreams she thought she’d lost, Josie must chose between the man she married and the one she let get away.

John has always known exactly what he wanted. A career as a high-powered attorney, followed by the perfect family of six, and then elected public service. So it was no surprise that the first time he laid his eyes on Josie, he knew she was the one he’d share his dreams with. More than a decade, and one tragic miscalculation later, all he has worked for is slipping through his fingers. Powerless to stem the flow, the one thing he remains certain of: he can’t lose the woman he married.

I really enjoyed this book and it may be partly because I feel like I know these people. The characters could have been friends of mine and I can see the conflicts these characters are going through. The actions rang true to me—and you might want to reach out and shake both John and Josie, but that’s because you can see what they are going through and how they are each sabotaging each other and their marriage.

There was a lot of growth on both sides as the characters strive to see if their marriage can be saved.

The book is very well written—the characters are fully rounded. The story is told from both John and Josie’s POVs so we can see how they have arrived at the place they are now. I was drawn into the story and wanted to know what was going to happen because, since this is not a romance, there was not necessarily going to be a HEA at the end.

I also liked the secondary characters, especially Josie’s best friend, and would love to see more of her in the series.

Note: this book may not be for everyone—there are a lot of strong feelings about infidelity in books, but unfortunately, it can be a part of life and this book depicts a marriage that badly needs fixing and does it in a very realistic and compelling way. I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for more books by this author.

The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson

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The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: Full Length (400 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Three women, three lives, and one chance to become a family…whether they want to or not.

Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semiadrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.

Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks.

But Nina is determined to reassemble her birth family. Her search turns up Phoebe Mullen, a guarded, hard-talking woman convinced she has nothing to offer. Gradually sharing stories and secrets, the three women make for a messy, unpredictable family that looks nothing like Nina pictured…but may be exactly what she needs. Nina’s moving, ridiculous, tragic, and transcendent journey becomes a love story proving that real family has nothing to do with DNA.

One of the perks of being a book reviewer is stumbling upon new authors you might not have found on your own. And yes, I hit pay dirt with this one.

Some of my favorite books are those that are both bittersweet and funny at the same time. Sounds like an oxymoron but those are the stories that pull on your emotions and make you think what you’re reading is actually real.

While I didn’t like all the characters at the very beginning…and yes, I did cheer for Nina from the first page, I did end up wanting all good things for the three women featured in this story. None of them are perfect but it’s those imperfections that made them come across as people I meet on any given day.

The story, as the name suggests, is very family centric and while not all us search for our birth parents or have children we gave up for adoption, show up one day, we call can relate to what family really means. The dialogue is wonderful and the pacing spot on. Even though this is a 400 plus page book, you find yourself easily gliding through it.

What I took away from this book is that we’re all work in progress and to coin the cliché, that no man is an island. I’ll definitely be reading more books by this author and recommend this family drama as ideal fall reading.

Mending Fences by Sherryl Woods

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Mending Fences by Sherryl Woods
Publisher: Mira
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (377 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

For ten years Emily Dobbs and Marcie Carter have been the closest of friends. They’ve raised their kids together, shared joy and heartache, exchanged neighborhood gossip over tea. But when Marcie’s son, now a college freshman sports star, is arrested for date rape, the bond between the families could be shattered forever.

As the Carters try to deal with the unthinkable, Emily discovers her daughter has been hiding a terrible secret…a secret that threatens the futures of both families. Recently divorced, Emily struggles to keep it all together—to support her terrified daughter, to maintain her friendship with Evan’s mother and to have faith in the detective who could change all of their lives.

When things seem darkest, both she and Marcie discover that sometimes the first step toward a better future is mending fences with the past.

A whole lot of angst and emotion wrapped up in one story.

I hadn’t read a book by Sherryl Woods…until now. Talk about starting with a whopper! Oh my! This book is ripe with emotion, sadness and strength in the face of adversity. It’s well written and kept me in my seat througout. I had to know how the tale would shake out.

Two friends, two families entwined and lots of secrets. Marcie’s son has been accused of doing a horrible thing–date rape. I appreciated how Ms. Woods tackled a hard topic, especially in this day and age. Sports stars sometimes think they are above the law. Ms. Woods handles this topic well, but a little easily. Still, the author tugged at my emotions. I didn’t like Evan at all. Then there is Marcie and Emily–the mothers. Marcie definitely grows through the story. She starts off meek and put down. While this might seem like fluff to some readers, it might be a little tough for other readers. It definitely made her more human to me. I rooted for her. Emily grated on my nerves. I could understand her hesitancy to admit the truth–we’re human and we make mistakes–but I’m not sure I could take the same path Emily did. The ending seemed a little too neat for my taste, but that doesn’t make this book a pass. It’s enjoyable and breezy in spots.

There’s a touch of romance to this book, but the angst and mystery portion is the bigger part of the story.

If you want a book that will make you think and characters that are interesting, then this might be the book for you.

Echoes of Family by Barbara Claypole White

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Echoes of Family by Barbara Claypole White
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (424 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Sometimes the only way through darkness is to return to where it began.

Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow. She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy: one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured. Three decades later she’s finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade…until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past.

In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel. Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples of what if reverberate through both their hearts. As Marianne’s mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down. Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family.

I know I shouldn’t call a book about someone trying to deal with their bipolar illness a fun read, but that’s exactly what I thought about Echoes of Family. It’s about real life, real people, some of them are a touch quirky but there’s something of each of us in these fictional and that’s what made it fun.

I felt like I was looking over their shoulders and my heart went out to the main character, Marianne. She’s been an outcast and suffering with mental illness and when she returns home everything seems to come to the boiling point for her and the people she left behind on both sides of the ocean.

Mental illness is a tough issue to tackle in fiction but I think the author did a wonderful job with it. This was in no way a depressing book but one where you cheer on the characters and hope that everything will eventually be okay for them.

I love that it centered around Marianne’s family and her adopted daughter Jade. It was their story, also the story of her and her husband, and of Gabriel, the man from her past. One of my favorite lines from the book was guilt should have an expiration date which for me summed up the theme of the story.

If you like family dramas with well round characters I’d say put this one on your fall reading list.

At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks

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At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (277 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

There are a few things Jeremy Marsh was sure he’d never do: he’d never leave New York City; never give his heart away after barely surviving one failed marriage; and never become a parent. Now Jeremy is living in the tiny town of Boone Creek, North Carolina, engaged to Lexie Darnell, the love of his life, and anticipating the start of their family. But just as his life seems to be settling into a blissful pattern, a mysterious and disturbing e-mail sets off a chain of events that will change the course of this young couple’s relationship. How well do we really know the ones we love? How do we handle the inevitable doubts, fears concerning parenthood, and stumbling blocks that are sometimes placed in our way? Continuing the story of the young couple introduced in Sparks’s bestselling True Believer, this novel captures all the heartbreak, tension, romance and surprises of those who are newly wed. An astonishing tale about the love between a man and a woman and between a parent and a child, At First Sight is about endings that bring new beginnings . . . tragedies that lead to unexpected joy . . . and, most of all, the magic of everlasting love.

I’ve been lucky enough to review three books by one of my favorite authors and this is the final of the three. It’s a sequel of sorts to another one of Mr. Sparks’ books, True Believer. I haven’t read that book so don’t worry if you haven’t either because you’ll still get into the story of At First Sight.

This is another highly enjoyable read peppered with characters you can’t help liking. Jeremy is the fish out of water and Lexie is the small town girl with a zest for life. Unlike other Nicholas Spark books, these two people are already in love, expecting a baby, and about to be married when the story begins. So where’s the conflict you ask?

It’s in the form of an e-mail that Jeremy receives from an anonymous person that has him questioning his relationship with Lexie and his upcoming marriage to her. It had me wondering where the plot was going and I found myself turning the pages to see how things worked out for these two characters.

I won’t give away the plot but let’s just say there was lots of relief for me but then the ending, which I also won’t give away, is a heartbreaker. I didn’t see it coming and as I read the last ten pages, tears were sliding down my face. The author certainly knows how to pull on your emotions and one of the reasons I enjoy his books so much.

If you love a good romance with some quirky characters and a tearjerker of an ending, don’t miss this one.