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.

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.

Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks

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Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (212 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Nicholas Sparks comes a tender story of hope and joy; of sacrifice and forgiveness — a moving reminder that love is possible at any age, at any time, and often comes when we least expect it. At forty-five, Adrienne Willis must rethink her entire life when her husband abandons her for a younger woman. Reeling with heartache and in search of a respite, she flees to the small coastal town of Rodanthe, North Carolina to tend to a friend’s inn for the weekend. But when a major storm starts moving in, it appears that Adrienne’s perfect getaway will be ruined — until a guest named Paul Flanner arrives. At fifty-four, Paul has just sold his medical practice and come to Rodanthe to escape his own shattered past. Now, with the storm closing in, two wounded people will turn to each other for comfort — and in one weekend set in motion feelings that will resonate throughout the rest of their lives.

I don’t think I’ve read a Nicholas Sparks novel that’s not packed with emotion and this one was no exception.

This story focuses on two middle aged people whose once perfect lives have seemed to unravel. They’re both divorced and meet by chance at an inn in the seaside town of Rodanthe in North Carolina. There’s a storm brewing and Paul who is a surgeon is there to meet with the husband of a patient who died and who’s holding Paul responsible. Adrienne is just looking after the inn while her friend’s away and soon Paul checks in. What starts out as a casual get to you know you encounter turns into a passionate relationship. But then, Paul’s off to Ecuador to be with his estranged son and Adrienne goes home to her three children and ailing father.

I always say be prepared with a box of tissues when you read one of the author’s works because you’re going to shed a tear at some point in the story. I won’t give away the plot and ruin this story but while you do feel some sadness, I felt the story’s main focus was about taking chances and living for the moment, and holding onto those memories.

If you like a romance with a slightly older than normal couple and a book with a good emotional pull, I’d say definitely don’t miss 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.

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.

Stillwell by Michael Phillip Cash

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Stillwell by Michael Phillip Cash
Publisher: Red Feather Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (172 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Paul Russo’s wife just died. While trying to get his family’s life back in order, Paul is being tormented by a demon who is holding his wife’s spirit hostage on the other side. His fate is intertwined with an old haunted mansion on the north shore of Long Island called Stillwell Manor. Paul must find clues dating back hundreds of years to set his wife’s soul free.

This is the third book I’ve read by this author and like the previous two this was a fun and spooky read. Mr. Cash is an author who clearly loves writing in this genre and it shows on every page.

If you’re looking for true horror than this book isn’t for you but if like me, you can’t resist a great ghost story then I think this fits the bill.

What I enjoy most about this author’s work is while there’s a meaty paranormal plot going on he doesn’t shortchange the reader with the characters. Each one is carefully crafted and the lead one is always someone you like and cheer for. For me that’s what makes paranormal and horror books so good, it’s not just me being scared, but being scared about something bad happening to a great character and that’s what this book was all about.

The pacing on this story was spot on too and I found myself reading it in just two sittings. I loved the setting and I could imagine Stillwell and the wishing well clearly in my mind. There’s nothing like an older house with a reputation of sorts to make your skin tingle.

It’s almost Halloween and if you’re in the mood for something creepy, I’d say check out Stillwell.

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.

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.

A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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