The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner
What a wonderful read. Twenty-two-year-old Rachel lives in LA and has always known her father was a sperm donor, but working as a research assistant on a show that helps celebrities discover their family history, she’s inspired to track down him. Thirty-year-old Marin, a New Yorker from Philadelphia has just broken off her engagement because she’s in love with a man at the law firm she works at. Unfortunately, everything in her life gets ruined one after the other.
DNA testing connects Rachel and Mirin—and their paternal grandmother who runs a B&B in Provincetown. Rachel convinces Mirin to spend a few days meeting their grandmother. Since Marin’s life has been destroyed in a variety of ways, she agrees.
What follows is beautifully written story about family and secrets and lies. The secrets unfold naturally—I never felt manipulated by the author. The Forever Summer is truly a feel-good book with a happy ending you don’t see coming. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Negalley and Little Brown for the opportunity to review this book.
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
I enjoyed this book. Told from multiple points of view, beginning in eighth grade and returning to the same characters as junior and seniors in high school, the author manages to make even the drug dealers and bullies empathetic. They are either ignored by their wealthy parents, who spend all their time making money; smothered by their parents who think their child is more gifted academically, athletically, and socially than they actually are; or bullied by their parents. It’s also told from different teachers’ points of view. I never thought teaching was an easy profession, but I can’t imagine doing it in an age where kids are surgically attached to their cell phones, especially in a wealthy town where the parents treat them like “babysitters or maids.”
Reading this made me extremely grateful I made it through junior high, high school, and college before the invention of Facebook and Twitter. In two different tragic episodes, these social mediums cause tremendous distress to the students who are made fun of and horribly teased and bullied, but sometimes also cause a rippling and lasting effect on the other students in this privileged small town in Marin County, not far from San Francisco.
A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay
Women’s Fiction > Romantic Elements
This book had a lot of promise. Emily has an interesting career with an insurance agency to restore artwork. A job in Atlanta takes her from her Chicago home for two weeks. Her firm set her up to stay in Joseph’s studio. Joseph is a gorgeous Italian man. Emily has tried to teach herself Italian, though she’s far from fluent. He’s not the most welcoming man, but he takes her to the restaurant of his aunt and uncle, where she meets his younger brother, Ben, who is also tall, dark, gorgeous, and of course, Italian.
While Emily works on restoring the works of art in the Atlanta home damaged by fire, she gets a call from her sister Amy, who tells her she got laid off from the accounting job that Emily pulled strings to get her. Amy insists it wasn’t just her—although she was not good at her job because she never wanted that kind of work in the first place—there are layoffs happening all over the company.
Emily discovers it’s true—she gets an email telling her that when she finishes the two-week job here, she has no job to go back to. It’s not a field where there are tons of positions to fill. She feels obligated to look for a job for both her and her sister, since she’s the responsible one and Amy is the flake. Meanwhile, she’s falling for Ben, and might have an opportunity to stay on working for Joseph, who has been estranged from Ben and his family for seventeen years.
Ben is trying to turn his aunt and uncle’s restaurant around by updating the menu. Emily helps by freshening up the décor.
Here’s what doesn’t work for me: Emily and Ben fall in love way too fast. There are no barriers they must overcome, which is what makes romance novels fun. You want two people to be perfect for each other, but they must overcome huge obstacles so they can be together. In just two weeks, Bam! Ben and Emily are in love and believe they should get married. I want to believe in love in first sight, but I don’t feel their love. I don’t believe that they are so madly in love they should get married right away.
Then, while I love Italy and art, it wasn’t enough to get me quickly turning pages to find out what happens next, because very little happens next. When Ben and Emily move home to his parent’s place, the entire rest of the book is filled with tiny moments of small conflicts, but no major conflicts. Yes, Ben’s father is dying and his mother, Donata, is obviously unhappy about that and about the fact that Ben got married so quickly, so she doesn’t warm up to Emily, nor do the other women in his family except for his sister Francesca. Emily finds projects around the house and at their church to keep herself busy and out of Donata’s way. Ben is busy with the family restaurant his father started. Ben’s absence in Atlanta through the restaurant into a chaotic mess Ben must work overtime to straighten out and get back on track.
I would have liked Emily to have been a more complex, layered character. I wanted a deeper, more complex relationship with her sister. I wanted Emily’s problems to be bigger, but mostly, I just never believed the love between Ben and her was so powerful they had to get married so quickly and once they were married, that it was strong enough to overcome any major problems. Even the things that were supposed to feel like dramatic dark moments got resolved too easily.
When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker
I listened to this book, and I might have enjoyed it more if I’d just read it because I can get through a book by reading it in a couple days. This took me a while to get through, and while the initial mystery was intriguing, toward the end, it seemed like the author was piling on mystery after mystery and dark moments piled on top of each other that are resolved much too easily.
The initial mystery is who is sending Luke letters from his wife of sixteen years, a woman he just buried, leaving him to raise their three kids alone. She began journaling letters to him when her cancer returned a year earlier, a battle she obviously didn’t win, since the book opens with them coming home from the funeral.
In the letters, Natalie writes what you might expect from a cancer patient who may or may not survive. The usual “I love you and the kids so much. I want you to be happy” stuff, as well as little complaints about her treatments and her illness. She also slowly reveals a huge secret that she’s kept from him for years.
I like Luke and Natalie’s best friend, Annie, who lives close by and helps out a lot with the kids and around the house in the days following Natalie’s death. She’s married to a cop, someone Luke has known for ten years but isn’t close to. There is also the tutor, Jessie, and of course the children.
While the reader still wants to know who is mailing these letters, Luke begins to hunt down answers that the letters and other discoveries have brought to light. Those, too, are initially intriguing, but overall, at the end, it just felt like a little too much, although we do get some satisfying answers to questions Natalie’s letters brought up.
The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt
Women’s Fiction > Suspense
I’m afraid this book just didn’t work for me. Dahlia returns home to Aurora, TX, after fifteen years to get answers to why she and her mother, Memphis, spent the first twelve years on the run. Her mother never enrolled her in school until they returned to Aurora. Before that, her mother took jobs working as a maid in hotels so they could get housing and get paid under the table. The excuse her mother always gave for why Dahlia couldn’t enroll in school was they lacked “paperwork.”
Dahlia leaves Aurora at the age of eighteen, but she doesn’t apply to college because she still has no identity. Instead, she does exactly what her mother did—she flits from one low-paying job after the other as long as it pays under the table. At the age of eighteen, she should have figured out some way to claim an identity. It’s very hard to believe she’d wait fifteen years to return home to get answers.
When she comes back to Aurora, she meets up with Bobby, her childhood friend, who became a cop just like his father.
Early on, Dahlia finds the body of woman who has been beaten into a coma. The discovery in the woods so surprises Dahlia, she slips into the creek and hits her head.
While the Jane Doe remains hospitalized in a coma, Dahlia now tries to figure out her own past as well as the identity of Jane Doe. Memphis seems to be going crazy, so it’s not easy to get the truth out of her.
Also, in addition to alternating points of view of Dahlia and Memphis, we get chapters from the point of view of Aella, who knows how to help people with solves and potions and chants, Tain, and Quinn, a woman who was brutally gang raped as a teenager, and we have to read the gruesome details of this rape over and over again, which is simply not my idea of an enjoyable read.
The link between all these characters with weird names does come together eventually, but it’s confusing at first.
Also, Dahlia and Bobby stumble on a huge clue that is obvious to the reader (not the details, but what the clue indicates) and they don’t investigate at all. Really? A police officer and a woman obsessed with discovering the identity of a woman she doesn’t know can’t be bothered to dig into this (literally, dig into the clue).
None of these characters are likeable in any way.
Evelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone
Women’s Fiction > Suspense
After a twenty-year marriage, when Evelyn discovers her husband is having an affair, plus another secret that wouldn’t just destroy their marriage, but her husband’s practice and their seventeen-year-old son’s life, Evelyn is obviously distraught.
She calls in sick from her part-time job and the high school her son attends and stops all her volunteer work. She also stops eating. All she can do is find out more about this woman her husband confessed to have been sleeping to for six months.
Juliette is only five years younger—at least not a generation younger like some middle-aged men might have gone for—and is a blond, petite size four whereas Evelyn, even with her recent weight loss, is a size ten. She’s tall and dark and unlike Juliette, does not run for fun—or work out at all.
Evelyn does have an interest in art, however. She used to be a painter before she put all her energy into supporting her husband’s career as a doctor of psychiatry and raising her son. So when she learns Juliette’s husband owns an art gallery by trolling Facebook, she decides to go to the gallery, just to see the other person who is unknowingly being hurt because of her husband and Juliette’s affair.
Because of the weight loss and her attraction to Noah, she buys new clothes and pays more attention to what she wears. She realizes that for too long, she’s happily faded into the background, someone who cooks and cleans in her yoga pants and baggy tops.
When Noah realizes she knows about art, he asks to help pick out new works for the front window. As she goes through the work of an artist she likes, she comes upon the artist’s works in watercolors. “That had never been Evelyn’s favorite (medium). It was too pale and formless. Like her.”
In some ways, learning of her husband’s deceit empowers her. This is a tautly plotted, fast-paced book. It doesn’t read like your typical suspense novel, but I felt the tension on two separate story lines the whole way through.
Without giving away the ending, I will say it was tied up a little too neatly for my taste. It wrapped up more simply than I’d anticipated.
Still, I enjoyed this book. I didn’t hate any characters, despite their flaws. I thought it was a satisfying read. I’d be interested to know your thoughts.
Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book.