The Bloom Girls by Emily Cavanagh


The Bloom Girls by Emily Cavanagh
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (256 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

A tender, heartfelt story of three sisters, their late father’s painful past, and the power of forgiveness.

When the news of their father’s death reaches them, sisters Cal, Violet, and Suzy Bloom have to set aside their own personal crises, and their differences, to gather in Maine. Responsible Cal, the oldest and closest to their dad, is torn between taking care of her family and meeting the demands of a high-pressure law career. Impulsive Violet, the estranged middle child, is regretting a messy breakup with a man she’s just now realizing she truly loves. And Suzy, the sweet youngest daughter, is anguishing over a life-altering decision.

Arriving in their father’s small coastal town, the Bloom sisters can’t help but revisit the past, confronting the allegations against their father that shattered their family nearly twenty years earlier. As they try to reconcile different versions of their childhood and search for common ground, they’re forced to look at their father’s life—and their own lives—with new eyes, or risk losing all they hold dear.

Nothing brings families together like the death of one of their own. Even when the family is fragmented and scattered, everyone will turn up for a funeral. However, when family is reunited, all the skeletons thought to be long buried are dug up and held under the lights for inspection. The Bloom family is no different.

When their father dies, sisters Cal, Violet, and Suzy come together to make arrangements and face their past. While all three know that there were accusations of impropriety leveled against their father while he was a teacher, none of them know the whole truth, only their own piece of the puzzle. As the truth comes to light – not only about the accusations made against their father, but the truth of his life after his divorce from their mother – the sisters are forced to reconcile what they’d known with what they now know. It’s not an easy task for any of them, since they’re each dealing with their own crises and baggage.

In a lot of ways, I can relate to the sisters. Although my dad didn’t have any deep, dark secrets when he passed, my younger sister had such a different take on the man he’d been than I had as the older sibling. Talking about our childhood shed a lot of light on things for both of us. So, watching how Cal, the oldest, and Suzy, the youngest, worked through things was fascinating to me. Violet, the middle child, was the one with the most to assimilate and accept, however. I did love how they each managed to take their anguish over their loss and use it to begin to work through the issues in their current lives. The one downside to this story was that there was so much sadness in their childhood, things that they didn’t know or understand, that caused them to not only push away from their father, but also from each other. It makes me wish they could have figured these things out long before they lost their father. But, in the end, that they figured them out while they still had each other, gave the story enough of a happy ending that you didn’t leave it feeling down. You feel hopeful for their future, even if you do feel for the missteps of their past.

The Bloom Girls is a slice of real life. Families are complicated and complex creatures that harbor many secrets and harsh truths that are often ignored for a variety of reasons. It shows the many facets of a grieving family and how relationships evolve over time and distance. A bittersweet and heartwarming story of estranged sisters finding their way home again.

The Good Widow by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke


The Good Widow by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (300 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Elementary school teacher Jacqueline “Jacks” Morales’s marriage was far from perfect, but even in its ups and downs it was predictable, familiar. Or at least she thought it was…until two police officers showed up at her door with devastating news. Her husband of eight years, the one who should have been on a business trip to Kansas, had suffered a fatal car accident in Hawaii. And he wasn’t alone.

For Jacks, laying her husband to rest was hard. But it was even harder to think that his final moments belonged to another woman—one who had left behind her own grieving and bewildered fiancé. Nick, just as blindsided by the affair, wants answers. So he suggests that he and Jacks search for the truth together, retracing the doomed lovers’ last days in paradise.

Now, following the twisting path of that fateful road, Jacks is learning that nothing is ever as it seems. Not her marriage. Not her husband. And most certainly not his death…

Marriage isn’t ever easy, but it’s worth all the ups and downs along the way. At least, that’s what Jacks had always believed. However, when two police officers arrive on her doorstep to tell her her husband has died in a place he never should have been, she begins to question everything she once knew. What do you do when your world is turned on its ear? Do you curl into a ball and ignore it or do you dig until you find the answers you need?

Jacqueline “Jacks” Morales is my kind of woman. Despite the fact that her in-laws don’t much like her, she carries on with her marriage. Although she does try to thaw her mother-in-law’s icy demeanor, she doesn’t become obsessed with it either. Her relationship with her sister is the best though, and Beth’s love and support are amazing.

Nick Ford is every woman’s dream. Smart, handsome and a firefighter to boot. Despite losing his fiancée to another man and then – eventually – to death, he perseveres. I was wary of his idea to trek all the way to Hawaii to find out the truth of what happened to Dylan and James, but once they were there, I was fully on board. It didn’t surprise me to find Nick and Jacks drawn to one another after their mutual tragedy, but I wasn’t sure I liked it a whole lot either.

You learn a lot more about Dylan Matthews, the woman James Morales is seeing on the side, than you do about James, but that’s okay, too. I think seeing Dylan’s side of the whole story helps you understand exactly why she did what she did. Not that it makes her infidelity right, but it does make it more plausible. I wish we could have gotten a chapter or two from James’ point of view, if only to help the reader reconcile the things that Jacks wouldn’t ever know.

The Good Widow hooked me from the blurb. I didn’t even have to crack the book to know that I was going to love it and I wasn’t wrong. I had the hardest time putting this book down because my need to know the truth was so strong. Then, the authors threw a twist in there that maybe I should have seen coming but, like that big truck late at night, it completely blindsided me. I felt a lot of kinship and sympathy for Jacks, although I’ve never been in her situation before. By the end, I was also firmly on Dylan’s side because, as her story unfolds, you get to know the real girl behind the face of the mistress. Engaging, intense, and full of surprises, The Good Widow was an excellent read.

Crimes Against a Book Club by Kathy Cooperman


Crimes Against a Book Club by Kathy Cooperman
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (320 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Best friends Annie and Sarah need cash—fast. Sarah, a beautiful, successful lawyer, wants nothing more than to have a baby. But balancing IVF treatments with a grueling eighty-hour workweek is no walk in the park. Meanwhile, Annie, a Harvard-grad chemist recently transplanted to Southern California, is cutting coupons to afford her young autistic son’s expensive therapy.

Desperate, the two friends come up with a brilliant plan: they’ll combine Sarah’s looks and Annie’s brains to sell a “luxury” antiaging face cream to the wealthy, fading beauties in Annie’s La Jolla book club. The scheme seems innocent enough, until Annie decides to add a special—and oh-so-illegal—ingredient that could bring their whole operation crashing to the ground.

Hilarious, intelligent, and warm, Crimes Against a Book Club is a delightful look at the lengths women will go to fend for their families and for one another.

A mother will do anything for her child, that much is a given. So when it becomes clear that Annie’s autistic son needs expensive therapy, she turns to her best friend, Sarah, for help. Since Sarah, desperate for a baby of her own, needs some quick cash of her own for pricey IVF treatments, they put their heads together and come up with a plan. Although a crazy, outrageous plan that might just land them in the hottest water of their lives, it’s the only shot they have.

Crimes Against a Book Club hit me right where I live – my kids. Even though I can’t relate to Sarah’s plight with infertility, I can relate to how Annie was willing to go to jail to get her son the treatments he so desperately needed. I loved her relationship with Sarah, and it reminded me of my best friend who is also named Sarah. She’d never think twice to help me or one of my kids out in a time of need. Annie and Sarah have their ups and downs during the course of the story, but in the fashion of true, lifelong friends, they always find a way to meet on common ground.

Funny, heartwarming and a little left of center, Crimes Against a Book Club is a story about real life struggles tackled in an unconventional manner. The characters are real and relatable, even the upper crust members of the book club that Sarah and Annie target with their scam. It’s a story that proves the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. My only complaint is that I wish there was a follow up novel telling us about Sarah and Annie’s life post book club, but I’m quite happy with what I got in the end. For a first novel, I’m impressed and cannot wait to see where the author takes us next.

Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan


Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (284 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

When struggling novelist James Hernandez meets poet Louisa “Lou” Bell, he’s sure he’s just found the love of his life. There’s just one problem: she’s engaged to his oldest friend, Rob. So James toasts their union and swallows his desire.

As the years pass, James’s dreams always seem just out of reach—he can’t finish that novel, can’t mend his relationship with his father, can’t fully commit to a romantic relationship. He just can’t move on. But after betrayal fractures Lou’s once-solid marriage, she turns to James for comfort.

When Lou and James act on their long-standing mutual attraction, the consequences are more heartbreaking—and miraculous—than either of them could have ever anticipated. Then life throws James one more curveball, and he, Rob, and Lou are forced to come to terms with the unexpected ways in which love and loss are intertwined.

What do you do when you meet the love of your life? A better question is: what do you do when the love of your life is engaged to your best friend? This is the question that struggling novelist James Hernandez finds himself contemplating the day he meets Louisa Bell – the woman about to marry his longtime friend, Rob.

In a way, I can relate to James’ life. Never able to finish that novel, unable to move past his love for Lou, he stagnates, stuck on his dreams. But on the other hand, he doesn’t try very hard to move on from his feelings either. That’s where he and I differ. If he were a teenager, his inability to find happiness with someone other than his best friend’s wife would be understandable. However, as the years go by and his relationships continue to fail and his manuscripts never get finished, it gets to be a bit old. He has very little character growth until the last quarter of the novel.

Lou was much less annoying in the sense that she did everything she could to make her marriage to Rob, James’ best friend, work. Even when Rob wasn’t on board with it all. She doesn’t give in to her suppressed wishes until she realizes that things aren’t as perfect as she wants them to be. By that point, I couldn’t blame her, honestly. You can only give so much without getting anything in return before you stop giving.

I really struggled with the first half of this novel. It felt like it took a long time to get to the point where the ‘big thing’ happened and the story really started. Once we hit that point, I felt more invested in the characters and became involved in what was happening. The story that unraveled in the last third to half of the book was fascinating, engaging, and heartbreaking. I only wish that it had engaged me sooner. Overall, I did enjoy the story and the characters, but for me, it took entirely too long to set up what I felt to be the meat of the plot.

The Halo Effect by Anne D. LeClaire


The Halo Effect by Anne D. LeClaire
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary, Mainstream Fiction
Length: Full Length (374 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

In this tour de force, a father, shaken by tragedy, tries to avenge his daughter’s murder—and restore his family’s shattered life.

It was supposed to be a typical October evening for renowned portrait artist Will Light. Over dinner of lamb tagine, his wife, Sophie, would share news about chorus rehearsals for the upcoming holiday concert, and their teenage daughter, Lucy, would chatter about French club and field hockey. Only Lucy never came home. Her body was found, days later, in the woods.

The Eastern Seaboard town of Port Fortune used to be Will’s comfort. Now, there’s no safe harbor for him. Not even when Father Gervase asks Will to paint portraits of saints for the new cathedral, using the townspeople as models. The only thing Will sees in each face is a mask of the darkness of evil. And he just might be painting his daughter’s killer.

As Will navigates his rage and heartbreak, Sophie tries to move on; Father Gervase becomes an unexpected ally; and Rain, Lucy’s best friend, shrouds herself in a near-silent fugue. Their paths collide in a series of inextricably linked, dark, dangerous moments that could lead to their undoing…or to their redemption.

There’s nothing better than a good whodunit and while The Halo Effect isn’t your run of the mill one, it’s nevertheless a page turner. I love the opening lines: Every day is ordinary. Until It isn’t.

One thing I liked about this book was that the author chose to dive straight into the story. While there was a prologue to set the stage, Ms. LeClaire introduced us quickly to the main character Will who is also the first person narrator of the story. He’s a sympathetic one and not just because his daughter Lucy doesn’t return home one night. There’s something of everyone in him, strength and yet vulnerability all wrapped into one. Something which I found make him complex and likeable.

I’d call this a mystery but at the same time it has a literary feel to it as Will narrates the story of his struggle to survive after Lucy’s gone, his relationship with his wife, and how he sets out to find the truth about his daughter.

Although this is a long book, it’s definitely a fast paced page turner. It’s almost as if, like Will, you want to find out what happened and who took Lucy’s life. The tension mounts and finally you’re given the relief you’re been craving as you read on to finish the story and say goodbye to Will.

If you’re mystery fan looking for something just a little different, I’d say give this book a try because I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Sweet Lake by Christine Nolfi


Sweet Lake by Christine Nolfi
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Chick Lit
Length: Full Length (332 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Linnie Wayfair knows just how many people are counting on her. But knowing doesn’t make doing any easier.

Everyone in Sweet Lake, Ohio, wants her to muster all her business sense and return the Wayfair Inn to its former glory. Her parents hope she’ll forgive her scoundrel of a brother and reconcile the family. The eccentric Sweet Lake Sirens want her to open the inn—and her heart—to new possibilities. And her hilarious lifelong friends Jada and Cat are dropping none-too-subtle hints for her to ignite a romance with Daniel Kettering, the sexy attorney who’s been pining for her for years…

Now a shocking turn of events will open old wounds and upend the world Linnie has carefully built. She has to make changes quickly—and the results, though not entirely what she expected, might be what she’s been yearning for all along. ​

​Comfort food served up in a book. That’s what Sweet Lake is for me.

I’ve never read anything by Christine Nolfi and this was a great introduction to her work. The writing flows well and kept me engrossed. I felt like I needed to know what would happen to Linnie and company.

I do have to admit I’m not big into chick lit and this book felt a lot like it. There is a relationship that goes on (no I won’t spoil it) and that added to the story. But there is a deep bit of comfort to the book. I knew when I started, this wouldn’t be terribly complicated and that was fine. That’s what I wanted. There are complications, don’t get me wrong. The characters I wanted to hate I did and the ones I wanted to love…well, you get the idea.

Linnie has issues–she’s supposed to save the inn, but she’s the second child and a girl at that. Her parents believe the oldest son is the one who should run the family. Don’t we all know someone like that? Someone who is put upon by circumstances they don’t control? That’s what helped me to identify with Linnie. ​Having lived in a situation where the male of the siblings was valued over me, I could see where Linnie’s anger came from. She’s trying to do what’s right in a totally wrong situation. I rooted for everything to work out for her. She deserved a happy ending.

​If you want a book that’s got lots of drama, the whole community in on the situation, small town feel and a touch of romance, then this might be the book for you. ​

In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell


In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (284 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

The year is 1928. Kate Moore is looking for a way out of the poverty and violence of her childhood. When a chance encounter on a transatlantic ocean liner brings her face-to-face with the handsome heir to a Chicago fortune, she thinks she may have found her escape—as long as she can keep her past concealed.

After exchanging wedding vows, Kate quickly discovers that something isn’t quite right with her husband—or her new family. As Mrs. Matthew Lemont, she must contend with her husband’s disturbing past, his domineering mother, and his overly close sister. Isolated at Lakecrest, the sprawling, secluded Lemont estate, she searches desperately for clues to Matthew’s terrors, which she suspects stem from the mysterious disappearance of his aunt years before. As Kate stumbles deeper into a maze of family secrets, she begins to question everyone’s sanity—especially her own. But just how far will she go to break free of this family’s twisted past?

Katherine Moore makes no bones about letting us know what she is after: a better life than she had. She’s quick to take on whatever role (and name) will get her there. She’s frank and genuine though, and readers will find they understand her initial choices. In those first couple chapters, she’s someone who seizes the day, takes a risk…

Yet, for all she’s decisive and headstrong, she suddenly gives in and lands at ‘Lakecrest.’ Its one of those moves where we spectators are shouting ‘don’t do that!’ Katherine/Katie seizes us too you see, right from the start.

Author Elizabeth Blackwell has created incredible, dynamic characters, and will hold readers enthralled. Even those of us who do not like our heroine’s choices…even though this story does not seem to lead us (or her) to a better life. America in the 40s- fashion, culture, and news of the day all become backdrop for Katie’s story.

Impeccably written, In the Shadow of Lakecrest is unpredictable and not entirely pleasant. It is worth reading but its story is…disconcerting. Do put this on your reading list, but don’t look for it to lift your spirits.

Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star

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Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star
Publisher: Lake Union Press
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (352 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

After a tragic accident on Martha’s Vineyard, keeping secrets becomes a way of life for the Tangle family. With memories locked away, the sisters take divergent paths. Callie disappears, Mimi keeps so busy she has no time to think, and Ginger develops a lifelong aversion to risk that threatens the relationships she holds most dear.

When a whispered comment overheard by her rebellious teenage daughter forces Ginger to reveal a long-held family secret, the Tangles’ carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. Upon the death of Glory, the family’s colorful matriarch, and the return of long-estranged Callie, Ginger resolves to return to Martha’s Vineyard and piece together what really happened on that calamitous day when a shadow fell over four sun-kissed siblings playing at the shore. Along with Ginger’s newfound understanding come the keys to reconciliation: with her mother, with her sisters, and with her daughter.

At turns heartbreaking, humorous, and hopeful, Sisters One, Two, Three explores not only the consequences of secrets—even secrets kept out of love—but also the courage it takes to speak the truth, to forgive, and to let go.

Catharsis, thy name is Sisters One, Two, Three.

Everyone has those moments they’ve gone through that have galvanized them. Kids growing up, getting older, mistakes made…we learn to live with them or at least get past them. That’s a lot of what this book is about. There’s a wide mix in a family. Yes, it takes all types and the Tangle family has them in spades.

The writing flowed well and I didn’t want to put the book down. That said, I did look away many times and had to redirect my interest. Makes no sense? While I wanted to know more, I got a tad bored on occasion. There was so much angst, I had to step away. I liked the book, but I had a hard time connecting the entire time. It wasn’t a bad story…but maybe it wasn’t the right read for me right now. That doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to others. I’m sure it will.

Readers, like me, should find a bit of themselves in each sister. The tragedy does mark them. Grief, numbness, sadness… we’ve all been there. It was like reading about my friends and going through the whole summer together. I don’t regret it. There’s the sister with control issues, the one who wants to control nothing, and the damaged one. There’s the mother with more issues than can be counted and everyone trying to come together to deal.

If you like a book high on angst and characterization, then this is the book for you. You’ll laugh, cry and look at your own life a little differently.

In The Light of The Garden by Heather Burch

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In The Light of The Garden by Heather Burch
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: Full Length (352 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

In the Light of the Garden is a novel about unearthed family secrets, the enchantment of past loves, and the indelible power of forgiveness.

Inheriting her grandparents’ island estate on Florida’s Gulf coast is a special kind of homecoming for thirty-one-year-old Charity Baxter. Raised by a narcissistic single mother, Charity’s only sense of a loving home comes from childhood summers spent with Gramps and Grandma. But piercing her fondest memories is her sharpest grief—the death of her beloved grandmother, when Charity stopped believing in the magical healing power of the weeping willow that still casts a shadow on their property.

Now that Charity has returned, she’s full of longing and regret, until she befriends her neighbor Dalton Reynolds, who has come to Gaslamp Island carrying his own heartache. As other exiles arrive—a great uncle harboring secrets, a teenage runaway—Charity begins to reconsider what makes a family. When her own estranged mother shows up in crisis, Charity is challenged to search her heart for forgiveness. But forgiving herself may require a little magic from the last place she’d expect to find it.

Lately I’ve been discovering all these wonderful new to me authors, and Heather Burch is another one of them.

I really enjoyed reading this story. The main character Charity Baxter is someone who you both like and can relate to. She’s shaken by the death of her grandpa who along with her grandma played a huge part in her early life. The book starts almost at the point where she inherits her grandparent’s house and it’s there Ms. Burch does a wonderful job revealing bit by bit Charity’s childhood and her relationship with her estranged mother.

This story has everything, childhood dreams about fantasy and magic, the baggage we carry with us into adulthood, finding yourself, and stumbling upon a new love. And best of all, finding somewhere in your heart to forgive someone who hurt you in the past. I think Charity finds that it’s part of the process of growing up and it was great taking that journey with her as the story unfolded.

I also liked her love interest, Dalton, who’s got some hurt of his own. I felt like these two were made for one another.

If you love stories with a realistic setting, dialogue and theme, and a fan of books that focus on the meaning of family, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

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.