Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

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Map of the Heart will be published August 22, 2017. I was in the mood for a love story, and this one was a perfect fit. This is a modern-day romance mixed in with a healthy dose of historical fiction, historical mystery, and a forbidden historical romance.

36 year old widow and single mother, Camille, has shut off her own heart from feeling happiness or true love, since her husband died in a tragic accident five years prior. At that time, she also gave up her favorite past-time which brought her the most joy – photography.

Camille spends her days trying to figure out the best way to deal with her moody teenage daughter and aging father, whose cancer is fortunately in remission. Part owner of Oh-La-La, a home-goods shop in downtown Bethany Bay, the New England touristy beach town she calls home, Camille also has a film developing business. She specializes in developing and restoring very old film.

Enter Finn, Malcolm Finnemore, but known only as Finn. He’s a handsome historian and professor who specializes in war and military history and volunteers his time recovering lost soldiers remains to give families closure. His own father, a soldier, disappeared during the Vietnam War before Finn was born, and Finn has been unable to find any clues to locate him, until a lost roll of film from his father’s camera was uncovered. The film could be images of the last place his father was alive, and it could even lead to his whereabouts. Giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting closer to finding his father, he contacts an expert, Camille, to restore and develop the very old, important film for him.

What follows is a series of sparks, then fires, then uncertainty, and passion in a romance made for the movies. Oh la la, indeed!

Camille’s father, Henri, who grew up in Bellerive, France, receives a box found in the attic at Sauveterre, and estate in southern France where he grew up and that he owns. Inside are some puzzling items that belonged to Henri’s mother, Lisette, who died during childbirth. There is little to no resemblance between Henri and his presumed father, Didier. Camille and Henri begin to question whether Didier Palomar, mayor of Bellerive and a Nazi supporter who was killed shortly after WWII ended, is actually Henri’s birth father.

Henri and Julie, Camille’s daughter, decide to spend the summer in southern France at Sauveterre, despite Camille’s resistance. She finally gives in after Julie is involved in an accident at school and Camille is unsure whether Julie is the bully or the bullied. Julie is miserable, and a summer away with a mystery to solve may be just what she needs to snap back into a happier childhood. And, of course, Camille realizes that Aix-en-Provence where Finn lives is very close to Bellerive. A summer in beautiful southern France AND a handsome, charming, single man dying to meet up with her as soon as possible – any woman in her right mind would be crazy to turn that down! Thank goodness, for the sake of the story, Camille lets go and heads to France.

The story switches back and forth to the 1940’s as readers get to know young Lisette and her remarkable story. Once the truth about Henri’s real father and Lisette’s past are revealed, readers will not be able to put the book down. I know I certainly couldn’t!

Map of the Heart is well-written with equal parts heartbreak and romance. The romance isn’t too steamy, but subtle and implied. I felt transported back and forth between the beach town of Bethany Bay and the picturesque estate of Sauveterre in the Var – both places that I would love to be. I loved the story and even the ending, which I sometimes do not like in romantic fiction. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Kristin Hannah will love this story.

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Weber

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Review first appeared in School Library Journal, January 2017.

WEBBER, Katherine. The Heartbeats of Wing Jones. 336p. Delacorte Press. Mar. 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780399555022.

Gr 8 Up – Set in 1990’s Atlanta, this coming-of-age story is realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism, is full of diverse and strong female characters. Bullied for her looks, Wing Jones, half Chinese and half black, doesn’t stand out like her football star, golden boy brother, Marcus. After a night of drinking, Marcus causes an accident, killing two people and ending up in a coma.  Unable to sleep at night, worrying for Marcus and living on the brink of poverty, Wing starts running. Though Marcus is one of the reasons Wing is running, she is able to step out of his shadow, finally feeling acceptance and accomplishment. Aaron, Marcus’s best friend and Wing’s long-time crush, is also a runner, providing a romantic element and additional distraction for Wing. Running gives her the courage to embrace her differences and stand out. Wing’s family back-story regarding her father is heartbreaking, revealed early on, explaining why her father is not in the picture. Wing lives with her mother and both grandmothers, and as such, is surrounded by female role models with take-charge attitudes. The plot moves along quickly, written in first person through Wing’s perspective of the changing world around her. Fans of Jandy Nelson and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy Webber’s debut novel. VERDICT A uniquely original novel about family, love, and the courage to stand up to life’s challenges and triumph which will delight teen readers. Recommended as a general purchase for all libraries.

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

9781250069795_0272eTruly, Madly, Guilty will be released on July 26, 2016.

This is a story of a simple backyard cookout between three families, neighbors and friends, – 6 adults, 3 children, and dog. What could possibly go wrong? From the very beginning of the story, it’s clear to the reader that something very bad happened at the party, but the reader doesn’t find out exactly what happened until close to the end of the book. The backstory and the events leading up to the “bad thing” unfolds through the perspective of three very different women – Erika, Clementine, and Tiffany.

Erika is a younger, happily married woman who came from a less than stellar childhood, but thanks to her best friend Clementine, she made it to adulthood. Erika and her husband, Oliver, love children and adore Clementine’s girls. Erika has a secret, though, and when it is discovered, her relationship with Clementine starts to fizzle.

Clementine is a cellist, wife to Sam, and a mother of two girls. She feels pressure from her job and an upcoming major audition that she really wants to nail, but also from every day interactions as a mother and wife during a very busy/hectic time. Ever since the “bad thing” that occurred, her marriage has become less than stable and is threatening to crumble.

Erika’s neighbor, Tiffany, is what I would picture as a desperate housewife. A former dancer with a body that would stop traffic, Tiffany is married to Vid and his larger-than-life personality. They have a teenage daughter, a huge estate, and enviable lifestyle (at least from the outside looking in.)

The story begins two months after the devastating event which caused a ripple effect for these three women and their families. Clementine and Erika are asking themselves, What is we hadn’t gone? while Tiffany and Vid try to live with a crushing guilt, reliving the moment over and over and wondering how it could have been prevented.  

This book had me intrigued from the very first chapter. I had guessed a few scenarios of what I thought had happened at the cookout, but I was wrong. When the whole story of what happened was revealed, I felt much differently about the characters. In the beginning I judged them for their actions, but when I found out what they had been going through for two months, I realized that I was way off base. This story serves as a great reminder to all that it only takes a second for something tragic to happen, even in the most innocent of moments.

I would highly recommend this book, as with all of Liane Moriarty’s books. She has a knack for hooking the reader and taking them on a wild ride, twisting and turning frequently before coming to a lurching stop at the truth.

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

9780062425430_2354bFamily Tree will be published on August 9, 2016 by William Morrow. This is a perfect romantic story for Fall, set mostly in Vermont during maple sugar collection season. Finishing it on the first day of Spring made me long for Fall a bit.

Anna Rush Harlow is living in Manhattan, enjoying married life and her successful career. She is the producer of a hit cooking show starring her celebrity chef husband, Martin. She is unexpectedly surprised and ecstatic when she realizes she is pregnant. However, her life changes in the blink of an eye when there is a freak accident on the production set. A year later, she wakes up from a coma a divorced woman who has lost everything she built her life on in Manhattan. She moves back home with her mother, older brother and his wife, and her nieces and nephews on the family’s maple sugar farm in Vermont. As she tries to pick up the pieces and move forward with a plan in life, she realizes that the place she couldn’t wait to get away from when she was young might just be the place she is happiest. It also happens that Fletcher, her former love still lives in their hometown and is also divorced. Is it too late for Fletcher and Annie, or will they be able to get past the hurt they caused each other when they were younger and life’s plans got in the way?

The story switches between present day after Annie’s accident to when she first met Fletcher, her college years, when she first met Martin and started the cooking show, when she and Fletcher rekindled the flames years later, and finally to her marriage with Martin. Through the flashbacks, readers get to know the real Annie, smart as a whip, fun-loving, and dedicated to her lifelong dream and love of cooking.

Much of the story is heavily centered on family, forgiveness, and second chances. The ending is a little predictable, but I loved the story so much that I didn’t really care. Readers will feel like they are working alongside Annie and her brother as they harvest the maple sap, boil it, and make Sugar Rush, their famous maple syrup. Food and cooking play a big part in the novel as well, as many mouthwatering dishes are prepared and described in detail. I really loved this book, and I know you will too. Fans of romance, contemporary women’s fiction, and regular fiction rejoice – this novel has a little something for everyone.

The Secrets of Lake Road by Karen Katchur

I really enjoyed this story, especially because of the rich atmospheric scenes. As a reader, I really felt transported to the little lake community with its local legends and secrets. The story has a little bit of everything: mystery, suspense, coming-of-age, guilt, and regret. The story takes place in a mostly secluded lake community, where 12 year old Caroline’s family has been coming each summer for years. Caroline, as well as her 16 year old brother Johnny love the lake, but their mother, Jo, doesn’t stick around because the memories from her troubled past at the lake are too vivid. When Jo was 16, her boyfriend Billy drowned, and his death was deemed an accidental drowning. Only Jo, and her husband Kevin, who was Billy’s best friend, know the truth.

Caroline tries to ignore her mother’s aversion to the lake, and enjoy a summer of relaxation and stealing glances at her brother’s cute best friend, Chris. Her brother Johnny spends his days hanging at the beach Pavilion, chatting up young girls who fall all over themselves for him. When a seven year old girl, Sara Starr, goes missing from the beach, all the old lies & secrets threaten to surface, while rescue workers search the lake for Sara’s body. When a human bone is brought up from the bottom of the lake and is found to belong to Billy, the investigation surrounding his death starts up again, with help from Billy’s older sister Dee-Dee, who will not rest until she finds out the truth. Now that the investigation is opened up again, the tension between Jo and Kevin builds as well. Does Kevin know more than he is letting on about what really happened to Billy? As it turns out, Sara’s mother, Patricia, spent her summers growing up at the lake. She claims to have been there the night Billy drowned. What does Patricia know; and will she come forward with information while her own daughter is missing?

The author does a fine job of creating tension lines between the characters so that at any second, one could break. Caroline feels estranged from her mother, and she knows Jo is running from something. She is determined to figure out what, but also determined to find Sara, as she was one of the last ones to see Sara alive that day on the beach. The family drama of three generations of women is an interesting dynamic of this novel. Caroline, her mother Jo, and Jo’s mother, “Gram,” each have unique personalities and attitudes toward the lake. When those personalities and attitudes clash, doors slam and more cracks in their already unstable relationships form. What will it take to bring the family back to a sort of peace again? You’ll want to read this one. The plot twists keep coming until the very end, and the story will stick with you long after you finish reading.

I received a signed copy of this book in a contest. I was in no way compensated, or asked to provide this review.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

I saw a lot of early buzz about this book, so I decided to give it a try. It’s not normally the type of YA fiction that I would read or enjoy, but I did enjoy this story quite a bit. It reminded me a little bit of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart as well as a little bit of All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. The story follows siblings Cara and Alice, as well as their ex-stepbrother Sam (who is Cara’s age), and Cara’s best friend Bea the summer that Cara, Sam, and Bea are 17. Every October, which is refereed to as “accident season” in their family, unexplained accidents happen, some more serious than others. Cara’s father and her Uncle Seth both died during an accident season, and Cara, Sam, and Alice seem to develop more cuts, scrapes, and bruises than normal during the season. This October, Cara and Sam are determined to find out the truth behind the so-called accidents, and they are about to uncover some long hidden family secrets. With secrets, there is always pain for someone involved, and in this story it will be no different. The story includes a bit of romance that is considered taboo and forbidden. Forbidden romance always makes for a good story line, in my book! I really got sucked into the story, due to the way the characters are portrayed. The author did a great job with character development and demonstrating the strong bonds of family and close friends. I wouldn’t consider this a cliche or too immature YA book, and therefore I do think other adults like me would enjoy it. Give it a try.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

wewereliarsI’ve heard a lot about this popular YA book and I’ve been meaning to read it for some time. This past week, one of my students checked it out from the public library and put it on my desk with a demand to “read it!” So, I did. And, I am pleased. It was a beautifully written story spanning 3 (what should have been) idyllic summers with the Sinclair family, as they spent time on their own private island, wanting of nothing. However, money doesn’t buy happiness, as they say. The book is surrounded by mystery as the reader follows the main character, Cadence or Cady, as she tries to remember what happened during the summer she was 15 that caused her to have such terrible migraine headaches. She remembers small details, but can’t quite put together the whole story, and no one will answer her questions or tell her what happened, because they don’t want to upset her. By the end the book, I was glad to finally figure out what happened, but it was definitely not what I expected. It’s a quick read, and I would recommend it to my HS kids. I’ve ordered a copy for our school library.