Category Archives: women’s lit

Review: Before We Kiss

before we kiss

Before We Kiss

A Fool’s Gold Romance
by Susan Mallery
Published by Harlequin
368 pages
Genre: romance, women’s fiction
4 / 5

Summary:

New York Times bestselling sensation Susan Mallery returns to Fool’s Gold, California, where it’s true that sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs…

Former pro-football kicker Sam Ridge has notoriously bad luck with women—from cheaters to fame chasers. Still, the gorgeous brunette at the bar in Fool’s Gold looks harmless—until she takes him home and he discovers a room devoted to securing a man, for life.

Dellina Hopkins never guessed that storing gowns from a friend’s bridal boutique would chase away her first and only fling. After her parents died, she skipped her “wild youth” to raise her sisters. She doesn’t want forever from Sam, but one night—all night—would’ve been nice.

His clean getaway gets messy when his firm hires Dellina to plan an event. As long hours lead to late nights, the two succumb to temptation again. Has Sam’s luck finally changed? Or this time, will Dellina be the one to run?

My Review:

Susan Mallery’s books are just fun to read. Yes, there is some headboard rockin’, but there is also an enjoyable story with characters you get to know. They make you feel like love is possible for anyone.

In this case, Dellina and Sam are clearly meant to be, even if he hightails it out of her home quicker than you can say, “I booked the reception site.” The second he sees all of those wedding gowns and a whiteboard that lists out steps for getting a man to propose, fear of commitment grips him tighter than Super Glue.

Up till that point, he and Dellina had enjoyed a lovely evening (indeed), so when he sees her again, memories of their encounter get his blood stirring. Hers, too. The two of them are skittish, though, when it comes to matters of the heart. Sam’s been burned by trusting the wrong women, and Dellina’s life is all about Responsibility. The one time she decides to have fun, the guy runs away.

As they push and pull their relationship, they get to know each other, and those passages are fun to read.  The supporting case of characters is quirky but not in a silly or demeaning way. For instance, Dellina’s sister – the one desperate enough to get her fiancé to propose that she has a “How To” board – is annoying and frustrating, but in that way that sisters are. She knows her behavior is ridiculous, but she can’t stop herself. Steely-eyed Mayor Marsha shows us that there is more to her than coordinated business attire. In fact, I think I’d like to see someone come in and whisk her off for some hot headboard rockin’ of her own.

This is the fourteenth in Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series, and you will recognize some of the characters. Jack, that scalawag, is still avoiding anything other than one-nighters, and I look forward to seeing him fall hard for someone. I suspect I know who it will be …

I enjoyed the heck out of this book, largely because I enjoyed Sam and Dellina so much. Mallery has a way of creating characters you want to be friends with and situations that are believable and relatable, while still being romantic and, yes, hot.

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Blog Tour & Review: The Hurricane Sisters

The Hurricane Sisters

The Hurricane Sisters

by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow
336 pages
Genre: women’s literature
3.5 / 5

Summary:

Hurricane season begins early and rumbles all summer long, well into September. Often people’s lives reflect the weather and The Hurricane Sisters is just such a story.

Once again Dorothea Benton Frank takes us deep into the heart of her magical South Carolina Lowcountry on a tumultuous journey filled with longings, disappointments, and, finally, a road toward happiness that is hard earned. There we meet three generations of women buried in secrets. The determined matriarch, Maisie Pringle, at eighty, is a force to be reckoned with because she will have the final word on everything, especially when she’s dead wrong. Her daughter, Liz, is caught up in the classic maelstrom of being middle-age and in an emotionally demanding career that will eventually open all their eyes to a terrible truth. And Liz’s beautiful twenty-something daughter, Ashley, whose dreamy ambitions of her unlikely future keeps them all at odds.

Luckily for Ashley, her wonderful older brother, Ivy, is her fierce champion but he can only do so much from San Francisco where he resides with his partner. And Mary Beth, her dearest friend, tries to have her back but even she can’t talk headstrong Ashley out of a relationship with an ambitious politician who seems slightly too old for her.

Actually, Ashley and Mary Beth have yet to launch themselves into solvency. Their prospects seem bleak. So while they wait for the world to discover them and deliver them from a ramen-based existence, they placate themselves with a hare-brained scheme to make money but one that threatens to land them in huge trouble with the authorities.

So where is Clayton, Liz’s husband? He seems more distracted than usual. Ashley desperately needs her father’s love and attention but what kind of a parent can he be to Ashley with one foot in Manhattan and the other one planted in indiscretion? And Liz, who’s an expert in the field of troubled domestic life, refuses to acknowledge Ashley’s precarious situation. Who’s in charge of this family? The wake-up call is about to arrive.

The Lowcountry has endured its share of war and bloodshed like the rest of the South, but this storm season we watch Maisie, Liz, Ashley, and Mary Beth deal with challenges that demand they face the truth about themselves. After a terrible confrontation they are forced to rise to forgiveness, but can they establish a new order for the future of them all?

Frank, with her hallmark scintillating wit and crisp insight, captures how a complex family of disparate characters and their close friends can overcome anything through the power of love and reconciliation. This is the often hilarious, sometimes sobering, but always entertaining story of how these unforgettable women became The Hurricane Sisters.

My Review:

The eponymous “hurricane” barely makes an appearance in this book, which means we need to look deeper and figure out what the storm really is.

In the case of the Waters women, only one actually battles physical elements. The rest fight off storms of the emotional, psychological, and internal variety.

The matriarch, Maisie, is one of those crotchety old gals who says what she means because, really, the clock is ticking. She’s just turned eighty, so why put off till tomorrow what you can say today? Her typical target is her younger daughter Liz, a former model (she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition!). Maisie isn’t all that thrilled with Liz, although Liz has never done anything wrong. It’s just that she isn’t what Maisie wanted. Liz is a critical mother, not encouraging daughter Ashley’s artistic sensibilities, and even – in a moment Liz herself admits was misguided – sending her gay son to a “conversion” camp. Maisie is very much one of those steel magnolias who rules with an iron fist and a blunt mouth.

For her part, Liz approaches her fifties knowing that her current life isn’t quite what she thought it would be. Husband Clayton spends the weekdays in New York, a situation that suits Liz until she begins to wonder if it’s all that healthy for her marriage. Her children are grown, but she and Clayton subsidize Ashley, something Liz thinks could – and should – stop. But so long as Ashley earns a meager $10 an hour working for an art gallery, Liz and Clayton help her financially. Then there is the matter of Liz’s life’s calling. It isn’t modeling, certainly not now. She’s been working for an organization that helps battered women, and it gives her purpose, even if it draws heavily on her emotional resources. Clayton doesn’t understand why she bothers, but Liz tells him, pointedly and somewhat plaintively, that she wants her life to have a purpose.

However much Ashley deplores needing her parents’ financial handouts, she refuses to give up her dreams of being an artist. She and her best friend Mary Beth live in a family beach house, and each woman also faces romantic obstacles. Ashley finds herself drawn to a charismatic, good looking state senator who exudes a predatory dominance.

As the book summary asks, where is Clayton? Well, he’s in New York, entangled in an affair. He is not just physically absent from the home, but – more critically – emotionally.

The telling of these women’s (and Clayton’s) stories is told with Frank’s typical wit and breezy Southern charm. But it doesn’t feel fulfilling like some of her previous books. Clayton’s story arc resolves particularly quickly and without the messiness you expect. Other than providing a stock character presence, Maisie is also incidental. She passes judgment – both good and bad – but even the advice she dispenses is mediocre.

Where Frank’s book finds its heart is with Liz and Ashley. Their mother-daughter dynamic is thinned to the breaking point, with Ashley’s financial dependency just one point of contention. Liz bears several grudges against her daughter, but Frank draws Liz in such a way that we don’t blame her for those. We empathize. Liz is a woman who has provided for everyone in her family, both in good ways and bad, and now she seeks something for herself, not the least of which is a faithful husband.

Ashley, too, is a character we understand. She’s out of college, with a degree in something she loves but unable to make a living doing it. Mary Beth finds herself in the same position, and Frank is frank when it comes to forcing us to confront what happens to college graduates in today’s economy. These are intelligent young women who want to work and earn a living, but circumstances have forced them to work for hourly pay. That Ashley is attracted to the senator is almost expected. He’s almost an exotic figment in her artistic mind. But here is where Frank’s story becomes not so much weak as disappointing. The unfolding of Ashley’s relationship is not well done by Frank at all. After learning what we do through Liz, we deserve better than how Frank handles Ashley’s romance.

That titular storm, meanwhile, hovers over the story, offering a potential threat. The thing about hurricanes is that they can be forecast. You can see when one is forming. Its track may be unpredictable – maybe it will veer off at the last minute – but you still prepare for it. You still have to fortify yourself and be ready to survive. And such it is with these Hurricane sisters. They see the storms forming; it’s just a matter of preparing and surviving them.

 

LINKS:Dorothea Benton Frank

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Review: Is This All There Is?

is this all there is

Is This All There Is?

by Patricia Mann
Published by Booktrope Editions
180 pages
Genre: women’s literature
3 / 5

Summary:

Beth Thomas’ seemingly perfect life is about to take a detour. At thirty-five, she’s married to her college sweetheart, has two adorable kids, and finds fulfillment teaching part time at the local university.

But when a friend persuades her to go dancing on a rare night out, a chance meeting with a handsome former student changes the course of her life. Loud music, too much to drink, and the thrill of feeling young again lead to an unforgettable kiss that was never supposed to happen. Beth feels wanted again, listened to, cared for, but she knows it’s wrong.

She tries to put the memory behind her, but he pursues her, drawing Beth back to temptation. As she travels deeper into Dave’s world, Beth struggles to choose between what her mind says is right and what she truly craves.

 

My Review:

There is something about the sort of miasma that afflicts women, especially those whose lives are taken up by children, husbands, household managing. It happens, and how the woman reacts to it dictates the rest of her life. She can’t see it, of course; she can’t see that one small movement will hold her hostage to that decision forever.

Such is the case with Beth. It isn’t that she is unhappy or discontented or any of those things. She is a mother, she works part-time as a professor, her husband isn’t abusive or demanding. He may not notice her the way she would like, and the passion may be gone from their relationship, but that will improve, right? When the kids get older?

When Beth goes dancing, everything changes. Her former student clearly has a massive crush on her, and he wants to claim her as his own. Beth doesn’t recognize that his obsession with her makes no sense. Instead, she is flattered. He appeals to the parts of her she thought were dead or nonexistent. He makes her feel good when no one else in her life does.

But of course the kiss they share does not occur in isolation. It isn’t so much that Beth kisses this man as it is that there are reasons for it, and those reasons will not go away. They in fact become exacerbated and intensify. Beth begins to look around and wonder if, really, this is all there is for her. Or does the student represent the possibility of what might be?

In her more lucid moments, she does realize that whatever she shares with this boy may not withstand the test of time. She ponders how passionate their union would be if she had to clean up after him in the bathroom. Those sparks of reality help make Beth less annoying, because otherwise, I wanted to knock some sense into her.

Yet I can understand her wanting to be wanted. Desire is a powerful urge, both to feel it and to feel it directed toward you. Beth makes mistakes, sure, but her reasons for them are very real.

I did not like the ending, only because I felt like there was a tremendous build-up and then it sort of petered out. I also didn’t like Beth a lot because she is so caught up in herself that she fails to see how she affects the lives of those around her. But then again, being a mother – always putting your children before you – is why Beth is in the place she is.

It’s an interesting book and will make you think. I just wish the ending had been as powerful as the rest of the book deserves.

 

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Review: Goodnight June

goodnight june

Goodnight June
by Sarah Jio
Published by Plume
320 pages
Genre: fiction; women’s fiction
4 / 5

Summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter imagines the inspiration for Goodnight Moon

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Songs) is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.

June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.

My Review:

Sarah Jio has a formula, and she sticks to it: a woman in the present must discover herself by uncovering and understanding secrets from the past.

Goodnight June does not deviate from the script.

Returning to Seattle is NOT on June’s “To-D0” list, yet she is compelled to go because dear Aunt Ruby has passed away and left June the bookstore, a place where June feels she truly grew up. She leaves behind a job that she likes but certainly does not fulfill her. She helps close down struggling businesses, and it’s as if she’s closed herself down, too. June is struggling, as much as any small business. Rather than open herself up to possible success, though, she’s put a “foreclosure” sign on her heart. This doesn’t just extend to men – she shuts out her mother and sister as well.

When she meets Gavin, the good looking and kindhearted owner of the Italian restaurant next door, she is reluctant to trust him, but she slowly does. This coincides with her discovery of a scavenger hunt of sorts, left her by Aunt Ruby. It consists of letters exchanged between Aunt Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown, the woman who wrote Goodnight Moon, amongst other childhood favorites.

June is entranced and determined to put together the puzzle that increasingly is becoming Aunt Ruby. One of the “sub plots” of the letters is sisterhood. Both Margaret and Ruby have difficult, challenging relationships with their sisters, just as June does with hers. The more she reads about the women’s attempts at reconciliation, though, the less inclined June is for her own rapprochement. She is convinced that she was the wronged party and as such her sister is persona non grata.

In fact, her refusal to even listen to her sister’s side of the story is one of June’s less flattering attributes. Without it, though, she would be almost unlikable because she’s almost too perfect. She needs the flaws in order to get us on her side.

This is an enjoyable book, and June is an enjoyable character. You can see the plot twists coming, which perhaps is because Jio’s stories do tend to stick to that formula. If you’ve read Violets in March, Morning Glory, or Blackberry Winter, you know to expect certain zigs and zags. Still, though, Jio can write a compelling story with characters who seem just like us yet who allow us to escape being us, even if just for a little while.

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Blog Tour & Review: Painting Juliana

Painting Juliana

Painting Juliana

by Martha Louise Hunter Published by Goldminds Publishing Genre: women’s fiction 4.5 / 5

Faithful readers, the girding of loins must commence, for this book will take you on an emotional ride that will course through just about every feeling you have.

First, let’s begin with the Goodreads summary:

Juliana Birdsong is your typical eight-year-old with an obsessive-compulsive mother who’s too paranoid to leave the house. Making double-lined, black-out drapes to protect their home from the outside world, her mother only looks up from her sewing machine when Perry Mason comes on TV – the type of successful man Juliana should marry if she wants to get anywhere in life. But Juliana has other things to worry about. Night after night, she’s awakened by a terrifying dream where she’s chased down a long, tapering highway on the back of her father’s motorcycle heading for an enormous, twisting funnel cloud that waits on the horizon. Even after locking it away inside her bedside drawer, Juliana wonders if there are parts of the dream she hasn’t seen yet. Years later, she finds dynamic trial lawyer, Oliver Morrissey and she marries him for love. Life is going reasonably well for the priviledged socialite – that is, until she’s faced with losing everything, including her children. Stepping out of her Lexus, Juliana peels off her Chanel sunglasses and glares up at her childhood home that’s now smothered in ivy. Inside, there’s only her estranged father left, who she’s sure caused her mother’s death. Moving in, she discovers a nude portrait of her with an odd set of tiny red footprints on the ankle, and another surprise she’s not expecting: Her father has Alzheimer’s and he needs her. Plus, a shipment of mysterious oil paintings arrives, all with his signature. When Juliana puts a brush in his hand, it sets off a surreal time warp and the canvases eerily transform, painting a different picture of the parents she thought she knew. As tragic secrets emerge that mirror her own, Juliana’s old demons come back to haunt her. Consumed with his care and desperate for her old life back, the dream is still chasing her and it’s catching up fast. Just when she can’t run any faster, the funnel cloud is waiting on the horizon, twisting even faster than before.

Got all that? It has a little bit of everything, doesn’t it? Even financial intrigue, but that comes later.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think the summary really tells you what this book is about. Sure, it lays out the basics of the plot, but Painting Juliana is about so much more than that.

You know that trite phrase about a woman’s journey, etc., etc., blah blah blah? This here is a WOMAN’S JOURNEY. We meet Juliana as a frightened eight-year-old, unable to sleep because of a recurring nightmare, and we end with a pushing forty Juliana who finally breaks free from all that the nightmare represents.

And throughout it, we question her, and we judge her.

Rightfully so.

Juliana’s marriage to successful alpha male Oliver is enough to make anyone cringe. It represents the proverbial selling of her soul in exchange for financial security. From the shiny Lexus to the routine beauty maintenance, Juliana is the stereotypical pampered Texas housewife. She is snooty to those she believes beneath her, and she has little patience for Oliver (not that anyone, even Job, would). Her redeeming quality is that she is a good mother to her children.

When Oliver takes away everything Juliana became – a wealthy socialite and stay-at-home mom – she has to reinvent herself. In Juliana’s case, “reinvention” means returning to the person she was pre-Oliver. She befriends the town pariah, she attempts to steer her children clear of the inevitable doom that will accompany their sense of entitlement, and she even realizes her part in the destruction of her marriage. It’s painful to read at times. Just when she thinks she has it together, that storm from her childhood nightmares swoops in and reminds her that she controls nothing but herself.

Oliver, in danger of becoming a stereotype himself, turns out to be wildly entertaining. In fact, the book is at its best when he’s around. He’s a snake and a scoundrel, selfish and self-involved, but he’s darn fun to read about. Oh, sure, you’ll hate him, but you’ll be wearier of Juliana’s naïvete and gullibility. Oliver is one of those men who truly believes – from his styled hair to his Italian loafers – that he is above reproach. Juliana veered from the script for their lives, and she must be punished. You almost feel for the big lug at the end.

Juliana’s family is part of her recovery process – recovery in terms of reclaiming who she really is. She has to make peace with her father, her brother, and even her deceased mother. She needs to recapture her inner spirit and sense of self.

Fortunately, Martha Louise Hunter makes her main character someone with whom we can empathize, and that in turns keeps us turning the pages.

This is an interesting, entertaining book. Don’t pass it up.

Martha Louise HunterLINKS:

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Blog Tour: Hold Her Down

hold her down button Hold Her Down
by Kathryn R. Biel

Summary

Elizabeth Zurlo is lost. She’s a wife, a mother, a teacher, a PTA volunteer—but somewhere along the way, she’s lost herself. Depression and despair can lead to desperate measures and when she is pulled back from the brink of suicide, Elizabeth slowly tries to rebuild her marriage and reclaim her life. Just as she has finally started to put herself back together, a scandalous novel rocks her small town … and costs Elizabeth her social standing, friendships and ultimately, her marriage. However, the man who seemingly destroyed Elizabeth’s life, helps her realize who she is and what she needs to do to become the woman she’s not only capable of being, but the woman she used to be.

My Reviewhold her down

It’s difficult to like Elizabeth Zurlo because she is so immensely weak. Then again, that’s somewhat the point: Elizabeth has no strength, no sense of self. She is someone upon whom others imprint their visions of what sort of person she is. She has such a small sense of self-worth that she surrounds herself – continuously – with people who belittle and walk over her. It’s what she thinks she deserves.

And when you meet her mother, you understand why. Boy, do you ever. Agnes could give Joan Crawford lessons on obsessive, smothering parenting. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Agnes had shown up at Elizabeth’s house, blasted through the closets, and bellowed, “NO MORE WIRE HANGERS … EVER!”

And then there is Peter, Elizabeth’s husband. Why – WHY – would Elizabeth marry such a man?

I’ll be honest: as I read this book, I kept thinking that Elizabeth deserved all of these awful people because she was so dull and uninspiring. When I finished it, I kept thinking about her. Elizabeth married Peter because she thought she should. She believed he would be a good provider. There is no evidence that either thought passionately about the other; theirs was a pragmatic relationship. Given that Elizabeth’s father never defended her or made her feel valued, it’s easier to understand why she settles for Peter.

As the ostensible reason for Elizabeth’s misery, Jack is something of a mystery. He alludes to loving Elizabeth, yet his behavior does not allude to any loving feelings for her whatsoever. In writing the book, he fires a salvo that he surely knows will be painful and cause her agony. He professors to be shocked at the effects of his behavior, but I’m not sure I believe him.

The biggest problem with Elizabeth’s character is that there is a fine line between being naive and being stupid, and Elizabeth occasionally crosses that line. How could she not realize that she was the central character in Jack’s book? That, my friends, is a head scratcher. I couldn’t help but want the best for her, even though I didn’t like her a whole lot.

There is some sex in the book, but it is not at all what you anticipate, especially given the racy cover. Most of the book takes place in Elizabeth’s head and not in the bedroom. Oh, and get ready for some repetition: you will read “too little too late” a little too often. The ending of the book, though, is perfect for Elizabeth. You will want to pat her on the back and tell her, “Job well done.”

Excerpt:

Most days Elizabeth Zurlo felt that her life had somehow swallowed her up. She no longer knew who she was inside. The external forces in her life defined her whole being. She was Peter’s wife, Mrs. Zurlo. She was Teddy and Sydney’s mom. And at work, where she was a preschool special education teacher, she was Miss Elizabeth. A lifetime ago, she had been known as Liza, but no one called her that anymore. Despite this wide array of titles, Elizabeth no longer knew who she was inside. Her life was a chaotic mess, running from one place to another. Trying desperately to balance the demands of motherhood, running a household, being personal assistant to her ever-forgetful husband, and taking care of her students’ needs. There were simply not enough hours in the day to do all this and care for herself as well. It was hard to believe that one can be burned out by the age of thirty-four, but that is exactly how Elizabeth felt. Burned out, used up, empty. She was in desperate need of a recharge.

She sighed as she filled out the dry-erase board for the month. It was already the fourth of the month, and she was behind, just putting the new month out now. It was only the second month of school and she was behind the eight ball. She was painfully anal as she color-coded the activities for the family. Feeling that if she could neatly organize her life on the board, then it would fall into place in reality. Black for her, red for Peter. Blue for Teddy and purple for Sydney. A little orange pumpkin on Halloween. Slowly, square after square became filled in, until there were only about five empty during the entire month. Dance lessons. Piano lessons. Baseball. PTA meetings. Dentist appointments. Work meetings. Birthday parties. School projects. No school next Monday. This was Elizabeth’s life, month after month. There would be no break, no recharging this month. She copied the information to the calendar from her ever-trusty iPhone, knowing full well that no one in her family ever looked at the calendar. But still, she tried, knowing the key to a smoothly running household was clear communication.

Elizabeth yelled up the stairs to the kids and they came barreling down, pushing and shoving. Each one wanting to be first. “Stop guys,” she warned.

“Mom, he pushed me!” Sydney whined.

“Did not, you cut me off!” Teddy replied, shoving his sister. A few more jabs were thrown while the pair descended the stairs.

“ENOUGH, BOTH OF YOU!” Elizabeth yelled. “Someone is going to get hurt!” The shoving continued. “SIT DOWN NOW!”

Elizabeth started slamming cabinets and dishes. She saw Peter coming down the stairs, and couldn’t miss the dirty look he gave her. He hated her yelling, but he never looked at why she was yelling, only that she was. She turned her back, took a deep breath, re-arranged her face to something more resembling calmness, and turned back to face her children. Anything to avoid conflict this morning. While Elizabeth busied herself getting her children breakfast, she noticed Peter standing in front of the calendar. Wonder of wonders, he even seemed to be looking at it! Then, as if guided by the hand of God, Peter picked up the red marker and Elizabeth was dumbfounded. Never in the five years since she had been using the board had Peter ever written on it, save a random phone number here or there. It finally gave Elizabeth a glimmer of hope on a gray, October Monday morning. A smile started to spread across her face.

That was, until Elizabeth saw what Peter had written. “You’re going out of town this week? Again?”

“Yeah, project meeting in Michigan. They need me to go over what we’re doing here and help set up the facility out there, so they can start testing.”

“Oh.” She couldn’t even muster fake enthusiasm. She let out a defeated sigh. “How long do you think you’ll be gone?”

“I leave tomorrow morning, and they hope to have me back by the following Tuesday, but you know how it goes.”

Elizabeth sighed again and pasted yet another pleasant look on her face. At least, she hoped it looked that way. She looked up at the calendar. The week held the typical entries – Sydney had dance tonight. Piano for both kids and a dentist appointment on Tuesday. Baseball and PTA meeting on Wednesday. Guess she’d have to skip the meeting. Again. Teddy had a spelling test on Thursday. Saturday held a birthday party for Sydney. No school next Monday, which meant another day that she had to entertain the kids. They were barely a month into school, and she was already behind on her overwhelming paperwork. Her shoulders fell and her head dropped.

Life with a second grader and a kindergartener was always busy, especially when you were working full time. Elizabeth felt like she never got a chance to breathe. Something always needed to be addressed. Some fire needed to be put out. She looked around at the kitchen, with her counter covered in papers and dishes piled up in and around the sink. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to take deep calming breaths before she totally snapped. She balled her fists and pressed them tightly to her eyes, hoping that when she opened them, the house would miraculously be as organized as her calendar. Some days, she could pull it together and she felt like Helen Reddy, Martha Stewart and Supernanny all rolled into one. Other days, she felt like a hybrid of Mommy Dearest and Cruella de Ville. Today was a Mommy Dearest/Cruella kind of day. The thought of facing the week alone was too much for her to handle on a Monday morning.

Author Bio:

kathryn r bielKathryn Biel hails from Upstate New York and is a spouse and mother of two wonderful and energetic kids. In between being Chief Home Officer and Director of Child Development of the Biel household, she works as a school-based physical therapist. She attended Boston University and received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from The Sage Colleges. After years of writing countless letters of medical necessity for wheelchairs, finding increasingly creative ways to encourage the government and insurance companies to fund her clients’ needs and writing entertaining annual Christmas letters, she decided to take a shot at writing the kind of novel that she likes to read. Her debut novel, GOOD INTENTIONS, was released in 2013, and her second novel, HOLD HER DOWN was released in 2014. Her musings and rants can also be found on her personal blog, Biel Blather.
 
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Review & Blog Tour: Return to the Beach House

Return to the Beach House

Return to the Beach House

by Georgia Bockhoven
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
387 pages
Genre: women’s fiction
3.5 / 5

Summary

Over the course of one year, in a charming cottage by the sea, eight people will discover love and remembrance, reconciliation and reunion, beginnings and endings in this unforgettable sequel to Georgia Bockoven’s The Beach House and Another Summer.

Alison arrives at the beach house in June to spend a month with her restless grandson before he leaves for his freshman year in college. Over a decade before, Alison lost her beloved husband, and has faced life alone ever since. Now she discovers a new life, and possible new love.

August brings together four college friends facing a milestone. Across summer’s final days, they share laughter, tears, and love—revealing long-held secrets and creating new and even more powerful bonds.

World-class wildlife photographer, Matthew, and award-winning war photographer, Lindsey, arrive at the beach house in January, each harboring the very real fear that it will mark the end of their decade-long love affair. Alone in the house’s warm peace, they will be forced to truly look at who they are and what they want, discovering surprising truths that will change their lives forever.

Review

The beach, as my grandmother used to say, cures what ails you. That certainly is the case for the eight people who stay at Bockhoven’s beach house.

The strongest, least emotionally manipulative, story of the bunch is the first one, belonging to Allison and Christopher. She’s reeling from her husband and son’s deaths, even though it occurred over a dozen years earlier. When she realizes that her attempts to ensure that the memories of her husband and son stay strong in Christopher’s mind have in fact hurt him, it is a heartbreaking scene indeed. The used car salesman she meets (who, by the way, defies all stereotypes about used car salesmen) presents a perfect foil: he, too, lost a spouse, but his approach to widow(er)hood is different from Allison’s.

The dynamics in the first story are interesting and emotionally intense. Christopher is trying to find himself beyond the shadows of two dead men he never really knew, and Allison is trying to be the faithful spouse in the face of increasing loneliness.

We also meet Grace in this story, the teenage girl next door who helps “manage” the beach house for its owner. She’s also searching, but hers is based in fear of being left.

It’s a well written, engrossing story.

Then comes the second story, which, while entertaining, is way too pat. The four friends who reunite are each hiding something (of course they are), but the bonds of friendship help them regain their trust of one another. Each of the women has her own voice, and the struggles each face ring true. I enjoyed when there was friction because, let’s face it, you put four women together, and there will be friction. Bockhoven understands her characters and lets us get to know them.

What stops me from enjoying this one as much as the first story is its ending. The tension builds and builds, and then it just sort of falls flat.

The third story … oy vey.

Matt and Lindsey’s relationship will make you wonder why they’re together and what they see in each other. They are together so infrequently that their hold on each other must be intense, right? Yet they each keep HUGE information from the other. I just did not understand that at all. The ending almost seems discordant compared to the emotional toll their story casts over us.

This third story was not my favorite.

But the first one? I loved it. The second one, too, is enjoyable. I just didn’t care for the third.


About the AuthorGeorgia Bockoven

Georgia Bockoven is an award-winning author who began writing fiction after a successful career as a freelance journalist and photographer. Her books have sold more than three million copies worldwide. The mother of two, she resides in Northern California with her husband, John.

 

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