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

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

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

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

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.

A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks

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

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

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

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

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.