Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

9780062425485_f19d8

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.

Advertisements

Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand

9780316396769_c4658Winter Storms, which will release on October 4, 2016, is the third and final installment in the Winter Street trilogy, which is Elin Hilderbrand’s annual Holiday Nantucket story of the Quinn family. I look forward to more time with the Quinn family every season, but just like Christmas festivities each year, the story always ends far too soon.

The Quinn family is never short on drama, especially near the Holidays. This season, however, it’s the Quinn women who are keeping us on our toes. The youngest Quinn sibling, Bart, is still missing, captured as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan. Bart’s family has not lost hope that he is alive and will be home someday, but their busy lives on Nantucket continue. Margaret is planning a Christmas wedding to her long time beau, Drake. Meanwhile, her daughter Ava’s love life is a bit crazy. Ava is dating two men, Nathaniel and Scott, but is unable to decide which one she should settle down with permanently. She’ll take a trip with Margaret, where she’ll meet another potential suitor, and as they say, three’s a crowd. Who will win Ava’s heart, or will it be too late? Will she swear off men for good and decide to only worry about her own happiness? Or can she have both love and happiness in the future?

As Patrick is  to be released from prison, Jennifer is in over her head with a major pain pill addiction. Everyone was amazed at how Jennifer kept herself and her family together while Patrick was incarcerated, but what they didn’t know is that Jennifer was barely functioning without the help of an old acquaintance-turned-dealer supplying her pills. Will Jennifer ever be able to redeem herself once the Quinns find out that she really isn’t perfect? How can she face her mother-in-law, Margaret, to whom she admires so greatly?

With weddings and celebration on everyone’s mind, Kevin decides to take the plunge and marry Isabelle on Christmas eve at the Inn. They pray that by some miracle, Bart will be home to join in the festivities. But as they receive a bit of good news, a whopper of a winter storm strikes, threatening to keep the Quinns from reuniting at the Inn for the wedding and Christmas. You’ll have to read to find out who will make it to the wedding, as well as who Ava will choose or not choose to be her leading man. I can honestly say that this has been one of my all-time favorite series. The Quinns are a rather likable bunch, even with their flaws, and I admire the way they treat each other with respect and love throughout the trials they face. It’s also really cool how they embrace those that aren’t actually family, but feel like family – such as George, the Santa Claus. There is truly never a dull moment in the Winter Street Inn!

Thank you to Little, Brown, and Company for an advanced copy of this book.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

small-great-things-hc-400w

Small Great Things will be published on October 11, 2016. I love Jodi Picoult’s novels because they usually tackle a time relevant and profoundly sensitive issue, causing readers to step back and take a look at things from different points of view. Small Great Things is written in the same manner, but this time Picoult explores the heavily debated and recently newsworthy issues of prejudice, race, and justice. This is one of my favorite Picoult novels, ranking up near the top with Change of Heart and The Storyteller.

On a routine shift in the labor and delivery ward at Mercy-West Haven Hospital where Ruth Washington has been a nurse for 20 years, her life changes dramatically based upon a family member’s request. Ruth is assigned to postpartum care of the mother and routine infant care for the Bauer family, who she quickly learns are white supremacists. Ruth happens to be the only black nurse on the ward, and the Bauers request that she is not allowed to care for their infant son solely because of the color of her skin. Though hurt and embarrassed by the hospital’s actions in not allowing her to care for a patient despite her stellar work record, Ruth tries to move on and focus on caring for patients, for which she is more than capable. However, when Davis Bauer goes into cardiac arrest after a routine procedure, Ruth is the only one in the room with him. She hesitates, knowing that she has been forbidden to touch the child, but ends up performing CPR and trying to save Davis’s life. Tragically, Davis Bauer dies. As expected, Turk and Brittany Bauer are out for justice and revenge, believing that Ruth Washington is the sole reason their son perished. Ruth finds herself on trial with a white public defender who has not yet defended anyone in a murder trial. Ruth’s husband passed away 10 years prior while on military duty, leaving her the sole provider for their son Edison, now a high school student working hard to get into college and be successful. An overly independent woman, she must learn to trust and lean on Kennedy, her lawyer, if she wants to be around for her son’s future.

Kennedy McQuarrie begs her boss to take on Ruth’s case, in part because she wants the challenge of her first murder trial, but also because there is something about Ruth which Kennedy can’t shake. She knows in her heart that Ruth, a nurse who took the Florence Nightingale pledge and cares deeply for her patients,  would not deliberately cause the death of an infant. Though she has hundreds of public defender cases open and precious little time, Kennedy throws herself into Ruth’s case with a new fervor, and in the process learns a lot about Ruth, but even more about herself. Kennedy claims that she doesn’t see color, and believes blacks and whites to be equal. She cautions Ruth from bringing up race in the trial, knowing that it will blow any chance of an acquittal. Even though race is the sole reason for the unfortunate tragedy and the underlying reason Ruth is on trial, Kennedy is scared to bring the issue to light in front of the media and jury. As she spends more time with Ruth, Kennedy begins to notice so many things Ruth faces that she would have never noticed before. Readers will be proud of the way Kennedy “grows up” during the course of the story. I know I was.

All in all, this is a wonderful story about human connection, no matter the color of one’s skin. The ending had me teared up, but smiling because the outcome from such an ugly, unfortunate situation turned into something truly beautiful when the final chapter came to a close. The story shows that one person can cause a ripple which can lead to a tidal wave. It only takes a small, great thing to start a change that can affect a great many people.

Picoult does a fabulous job of showing the perspective of two very different sides of racial equality and prejudice. The story progresses back and forth between Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk Bauer. Picoult’s author notes at the end of the story are not to be missed. She explains why she wanted to write a story about race, why she waited so long to do so, and about the real life situation she used as background for Small Great Things. The research she completed for the story is phenomenal and much appreciated.

The title of the book references a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” The characters in this story certainly did small things in a great way, as well as Jodi Picoult did by writing this story. Picoult notes that she will get push-back for this story, both from white people and people of color. She knew it wouldn’t be easy or fun, but she wrote the novel “because the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know.” Well said, Jodi Picoult. I am very grateful you wrote Small Great Things and I truly believe it will change the perspectives of many readers.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

book

The bad news is that we have to wait until June 28th for this beauty to be published! The good news is that it is totally worth the wait! I love, love, LOVE this book. I’ll try to do it some justice with my review.

First Comes Love is filled with highly relatable family situations and candid conversations among the characters. The characters are likable, despite their flaws. They seem real, and Giffin goes a wonderful job of making them come to life. At times, the scenes are hilarious, while at others tender and heartfelt.

The story begins as the family is approaching the 15 year anniversary of Daniel’s tragic and untimely (at the age of 25) death due to an auto accident which was of fault to no one. Each character’s outlook on life and circumstances for the past 15 years demonstrate the different ways loss & grief can affect relationships between siblings, spouses, parents/children, and even best friends.

Sisters Meredith and Josie are about as opposite as can be, with regard to their personality and life choices. Yet, their tumultuous relationship is refreshing, as it proves that they can put love first despite their differences and overcome some major rough times. They likely wouldn’t have a thing to do with each other, save for Josie’s love for her younger sibling Meredith’s 4 year old daughter, Harper. Meredith is a high profile lawyer and busy mother, living with constant stress and strain in her marriage to Nolan, her late brother Daniel’s best friend. Josie is a 1st grade teacher, life of the party, but worried about finding “the one” because she is getting closer to 40 and has always wanted to be a mother.

Nolan & Meredith’s marriage is particularly true-to-life, because in reality no marriage is perfect. Marriage takes work by both parties, whether the parties love each other or are “in love,” or both. Giffin makes a point that with social media, everyone seems even more worried about keeping up appearances and appearing perfect in front of the world. It is mentioned by one of the characters that everyone assumes that everyone else has the perfect life and marriage, when in reality most everyone struggles at some point – and that’s ok. Life wasn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be lived. Much of the beauty found in life is revealed in times of tragedy and struggle. Everything about this book is relatable, which makes me love it more.

Emily Giffin has a knack for realistic fiction and she slams a home run with this one. I truly loved The One & Only (released May 2014), but I enjoyed this story so much more because of the message it sends – love truly does come first.

I already miss these witty characters, and wish I could spend more moments in their lives. I want to be there for Josie and Gabe, but also for Nolan and Meredith as they are all about to experience a major life change when the story comes to an end. Sequel, please? 

 

 

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

The Rumor will be published on June 16, 2015.

Elin Hilderbrand has done it again – created a beautiful story that I absolutely couldn’t put down! Although her books are mostly all set during the summer on the island of Nantucket, she manages to create distinctly different story lines and characters that blend perfectly. The Rumor is a story of Grace and Madeline, who have been friends forever. As each woman deals with their own family issues and stress, rumors start to swirl throughout town. One thing I really loved is that each chapter has a different character perspective, and Elin gives makes the island of Nantucket a character in itself. The chapters titled Nantucket are informative about just how skewed actual events become when they are turned into rumors. I found myself laughing out loud at the absurdity of some of the rumors. Another awesome thing is that Elin wrote this book while also battling breast cancer, and as such, she dedicated it to her doctors and medical staff. I won’t give away much about the plot, because you have to read it for yourself to fully appreciate the story. No spoilers! I absolutely loved this book. Thanks, Elin, for keeping my must-have-great-books addiction in control.

The Summer of Good Intentions – Wendy Francis

This novel will be published July 7, 2015.

This was my first summer read for the season to come. When I saw that my favorite summer read author, Elin Hilderbrand, endorsed this book and author, I simply had to read it. I enjoyed the story line, and the writing kept me entertained and intrigued. I appreciated that their wasn’t a lot of nasty language or graphic sexual scenes. The story follows three sisters and their divorced parents as they make their annual trek to their summer house on the Cape for the month of July. Each chapter switches back and forth between the perspective of one of the three sisters, Maggie, Jess, and Virgie, as well as their aging father, Arthur. The month starts out with not much excitement, as each sister and their families learn to wind down from the hustle and bustle of busy lives. As the month goes on, however, there are some minor and some major events which shape the story line. At times, I laughed out loud, and cried at others. I hope Wendy Francis writes more of these summer reads, because I really enjoyed it.

Water from my Heart by Charles Martin

Charles Martin’s new book Water from my Heart will be published May 19, 2015.

My favorite part of the book was the vivid description of the different places in which the story took place, such as Bimini and Nicaragua. The rich details of the setting cause the story to really come alive in the reader’s imagination. The thing I didn’t like about the book was that the ending was too predictable and sort of tied up with a neat tidy little bow. This book is not really like Charles Martin’s other books. I really enjoyed The Mountain Between Us, Unwritten, and A Life Intercepted. The story line of Water From My Heart was very unlikely. However, the end-papers explain that the story was inspired by a real life situation and people the author met in Nicaragua who suffered similar hardships to the characters depicted in the book. The beginning was a little hard to get hooked, but once the character became immersed in the daily life of a Nicaraguan family, I was captivated by the story. Fans of mainstream or Christian fiction would enjoy this book.