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.

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.

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.

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.

Where We Fall by Rochelle B. Weinstein

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Where We Fall by Rochelle B. Weinstein
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (322 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

By all accounts, Abby Holden has it all. She’s the mother of a beautiful teenager and the wife of a beloved high school football coach. And all it took to achieve her charmed life was her greatest act of betrayal.

Coach Ryan can coax his team to victory, but he can’t seem to make his wife, Abby, happy. Her struggles with depression have marred their marriage and taken a toll on their daughter, Juliana. Although this isn’t the life he’s dreamed of, he’s determined to heal the rifts in his family.

Chasing waterfalls and documenting their beauty has led photographer Lauren Sheppard all around the world. Now it has brought her back home to the mountains of North Carolina—back to the scene of her devastating heartbreak.

For the first time in seventeen years, a trio of once-inseparable friends find themselves confronting past loves, hurts, and the rapid rush of a current that still pulls them together.…

Why is it that what we don’t have can overshadow what we do? Where We Fall is a poetic in-depth voice of a family that began because of a secret. The descriptive writing style will pull a reader into the personal mental battle of Abby Holden. The story pretty much focuses on where 38-year-old Abby falls and how she must address and confront her past to get back to living.

Abby’s depression held her and her family hostage from achieving true family happiness. The depression put a wedge between Abby and her teenage daughter Juliana and made her dedicated husband pretty much a single father. The plot is one that will hopefully catch the reader from the very beginning and with the writer’s talent for story telling as well as building the suspense it should also keep the reader entertained.

I enjoyed the story and how it was delivered. This was a story that made me think and wonder… could things have been handled differently? When all the secrets were revealed it brought about a question of what could the characters do now? The past laid heavily on Abby’s heart but was she entirely the one to blame? Her best friend and Ryan’s college girlfriend, Lauren, is the one that place the pieces in position but when events turn out not to be in Lauren’s favor she decided to keep on her personal path to travel the world chasing waterfalls.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it but I did have one problem with the plot. I liked the story idea of the battle with mental illness but the rooted reason for Abby’s descent really didn’t seem to be a reason to make her marriage and relationship with her daughter suffer. No, she couldn’t have won the best friend award but if the love between Ryan and Lauren was so deep and connected why did Lauren chance leaving in the first place? Then she returns many years later with the same love for Ryan in her heart and disappointment and hurt for Abby. Lauren left; did she think Ryan would put his life on hold until she finished living?

Ryan was my favorite character because he is a man that is dedicated to family and the young boys on his football team. He is the one that seemed to have it together. I didn’t like Lauren because she seemed to be lost and not know what she wanted when she was younger and now that she is older she is under the assumption that she still loves Ryan, but people change. Lauren is more naive now than she was when she left after graduating college. Juliana, Abby’s daughter seemed immature or either spoiled. In her forbidden relationship with football player E.J., she was pushy to have relations with him and in regards to her mother she didn’t seem to understand that her mother needed help.

This may not be a happy read.  In fact it has a desolate flow but the ending made the book worth reading.

North of Here by Laurel Saville

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North of Here by Laurel Saville
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (258 pgs)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

The sounds of unexpected tragedies—a roll of thunder, the crash of metal on metal—leave Miranda in shock amid the ruins of her broken family.

As she searches for new meaning in her life, Miranda finds quiet refuge with her family’s handyman, Dix, in his cabin in the dark forests of the Adirondack Mountains. Dix is kind, dependable, and good with an ax—the right man to help the sheltered Miranda heal—but ultimately, her sadness creates a void even Dix can’t fill.

When a man from her distant past turns up, the handsome idealist now known as Darius, he offers Miranda a chance to do meaningful work at The Source, a secluded property filled with his nature worshipers. Miranda feels this charismatic guru is the key to remaking her life, but her grief and desire for love also create an opportunity for his deception. And in her desperate quest to find herself after losing almost everything, Miranda and Dix could pay a higher price than they ever imagined.

Miranda was an interesting character in this book, and the main reason I kept on to the end.  While I liked the author’s voice and the flow of her prose, I have to say this book wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I’ll admit I’m more of a genre fiction fan than a literary one and this book fit into the latter category and may be the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped.

The reason I’m not typically a fan of literary novels is I feel authors spend too much time telling us what happened rather than showing us. It’s not so much the fault of the writer, but the style they choose to write in. I did feel this story could have been much stronger and more enjoyable, at least for me, told with more dialogue and more in the here and now than being told the story in narration form.

It’s a bittersweet story, very moving in parts, very sad in others. I did feel a connection with Miranda because of the situation she found herself in. It’s a dire one and none of which is her fault, so I began cheering her on. I hoped that things turn around for her, especially when Dix comes on the scene.

What dialogue there was in this book was excellent, very lifelike and one of the reasons I wished there would have been more. All the characters seemed believable even if some weren’t that likeable.

It does, as any book should, make you think about things, in this case, lose and healing and trying to move on with one’s life after a tragedy.

If you are a fan of literary fiction, I’d say give this one a read.