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.

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The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

9780316375191_91b3aThe Identicals will be released on June 13, 2017. It’s definitely going to be a hit summer beach read, as are most of Elin’s novels.

Elin Hilderbrand’s novels have a way of transporting me into the story with such force that I can think of nothing else but the characters. I’ve no shame in admitting that my mind was wandering during the sermon on Sunday, thinking about Harper and Tabitha, looking forward to finishing the book during naptime. I look forward to her books with such intense anticipation, but then I read them too fast. Then, I am left wishing that I would have savored them at a slower pace.

Twin sisters Tabitha and Harper are as different as can be, even though they look identical. It’s fitting for Hilderbrand to write this story, as she is also a twin, though not an identical. Readers will appreciate her authentic voice as the author, fully aware of the unique relationship between twins. The story unfolds in alternating points of view between Harper and Tabitha, but also between the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket themselves.

Harper lives with her father, Billy, on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha lives with her mother on Nantucket. Where Harper is laid back and reckless, her twin sister Tabitha is dignified and methodical. Harper is often the subject of gossip on the island, and her current love interest happens to be Billy’s married doctor. She’s made a few mistakes, but she could care less what people think of her. Their mother, Eleanor Roxie-Frost, a famous fashion designer, owns clothing boutiques which carry her brand and designs. Tabitha works for her mother in the Nantucket boutique, and caters to Eleanor’s every whim, while also trying to ride out the moods and rebellion of her teenage daughter, Ainsley. Though the twins only live 11 miles apart on separate islands, they haven’t seen each other for more than a decade. Since they were teenagers and the fateful day they were forced to split up, one moving to Martha’s Vineyard with Billy and one staying on Nantucket with Eleanor, Harper and Tabitha have avoided each other at all costs.

The drama escalates when the twins decide to switch islands in order to handle matters for their parents in the best possible way. Billy’s house needs remodeled and sold, a task which Tabitha is best fit. What she discovers over in the Vineyard may change her outlook on the future, at least where her love life is concerned. Over in Nantucket, however, the boutique needs a fresh outlook and Ainsley needs some adult supervision and encouragement. Will Harper be able to handle her sister’s matters, or will she disappoint her and drive them further apart? Her love life is a hot mess, so she figures that getting a little distance from the Vineyard and all the gossip won’t hurt.

You will not be disappointed with this story. It is full of humorous moments, tender family situations, heartbreak, love, and even a few (sorta) steamy romantic scenes. It has everything readers would want for a summer beach read. I read the book in one evening! Elin also compares and contrasts Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket as sister islands which are unique, much like Harper and Tabitha.

The Identicals ripped my heart out and pieced it back together with the final chapter, narrated by Fish (a dog), Harper’s faithful companion and best friend. This was a clever and fitting way to end such a beautiful story. I can hardly wait for her next summer novel to be released!

Guest Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

I’m thrilled to have my friend and colleague, Cameron, who blogs at Cam Loves Books, here for a guest review post. Cam reviews YA books and her reviews are witty & fabulous!

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About Cam

Children’s and young adult book blogger. Library professional. Dog mom. English major. Intersectional feminist. Livin’ life one book at a time.

Cam’s Review of History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera  (release date 1/17/17)

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History is All You Left Me, Adam Silvera’s sophomore novel, cements him firmly in the ranks of my auto-buy, auto-love, absolute rock star, favorite young adult authors. His main characters, Griffin, Theo, and Jackson, all leap off the page as fully-formed, deeply grieving boys, mapping uncharted territories of love and friendship in ways I’ve yet to see explored in YA fiction. The book’s plot is new and intriguing, and its gorgeous execution left me speechless. I know it’s early, but I’m calling it now: this will be one of my favorite reads of 2017.

When Griffin’s ex-boyfriend, Theo, drowns while swimming in the ocean, Griffin is devastated. Griffin, who has OCD, thought that he and Theo were a perfect match, and that Theo might be the only person in the world who could understand and love him. He had always believed he and Theo would get back together, and imagining a future without him is something Griffin never thought he would have to do. His grief, guilt, and loneliness are threatening to consume him when Jackson, Theo’s boyfriend at the time of his death and the only other person who could understand what it’s like to lose him, offers to talk to him about their shared loss. As the surviving boys become closer and help each other heal, each must reveal secrets that could destroy their friendship, and potentially their memories of Theo, forever. With lovely writing and frank, complex examinations of grief and friendship, History is All You Left Me is a masterpiece from one of YA’s bravest new voices. 

Adam Silvera is an evil genius, and perhaps the greatest praise I can give his book is that I started crying in chapter three. It took me no time at all to understand the relationship dynamics between the characters and to care enough for each of them that it brought me to tears. And in a book that starts out with a bang – the death of a major character – it would have been easy for the action to fizzle, but Silvera managed to maintain a slight air of mystery throughout the entire story that leads to an even more shocking second act. I blame Adam Silvera for the worst book hangover of my life, because after reading his debut, More Happy Than Not, it took me five full weeks to be able to finish another book. So I knew I had to mentally prepare myself to read History. I knew it would make me cry, and I knew I would be faced with brutal realities packaged in gorgeous writing, which is an emotional one-two punch in itself. I definitely think you should come prepared to be knocked down, too: I think you should bring tissues, a fuzzy blanket, and your best waterproof mascara. However, I also think you should come prepared to be built back up, to think hard about friendship and healing, to learn something important about mental health, and to come out the other side a little more hopeful than you started out. 

Thanks again to Cam for this beautiful review. You can check out more of her reviews here.

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.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

This story alternates between9780393081428.jpg 1919 San Francisco and 1960’s Napa, California. In 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is holding on to a dream that her long lost love, David, is still alive somewhere. David has been missing since the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, when it ripped Vivien’s home and entire world apart. Vivien knows grief all too well, which is how she is able to comfort complete strangers who have lost loved ones, when they come to her asking her to write an obituary.  Sadly, with both the Earthquake and the Spanish influenza, Vivien is very busy writing obituaries, and many of which are for young children. Vivien believes that dates (date of birth, date of marriage, date of death) do not matter so much as the deceased person’s story – their passions, their loves, their quirks. Her talent allows her to write perfectly fitting tributes for so many lives.

In 1960’s California, Claire is stuck in a loveless marriage with Peter. She is under-appreciated and her hopes and passions stifled by her husband on a daily basis. She wouldn’t dare leave him because of their young daughter, Kathy, and fear of what she would do on her own. Then, she meets Miles, a man who appreciates her, listens to her, and makes her come alive in ways she has never experienced before. Will she decide to remain with Peter, sacrificing any chance at future happiness? Or will she go against what is expected of her and attempt to start over.

This is a wonderful, historically-rich tale of family, loss, love, hope, and courage. Both Vivien and Claire are strong women and lovely characters who will draw readers in and capture their hearts. The author brings the two women together in a most unexpected and extraordinary way at the end. I would highly suggest this story for fans of historical fiction, romantic fiction, and mainstream adult fiction. It’s a quick read, but it will remain in your memory far after you turn the last page.

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

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The Darkest Corners offers fast-paced thrills and suspense. The main character, Tessa, is sort of an unreliable narrator, causing readers to wonder whether she can truly be trusted, or if she is in on some secret herself. As more of Tessa’s family history and past is revealed, readers may start to feel sorry for her, rooting for her to make it out of the nightmare her life has become.

We first meet Tessa as she travels from Florida, where she lives with her aging Gram, back to her hometown. She hasn’t been back in 10 years, and is only going to say goodbye to her father, who is in prison and dying of cancer. He has been in prison for most of her life, and the memories of her father from childhood are mostly sad and violent. Tessa ends up staying with her former best friend and childhood playmate, Callie, who she also hasn’t seen in 10 years. Callie was born into a loving, stable family whereas Tessa came from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. Despite their differences, they were best friends once, prior to being separated at the age of 8. Now, neither wants to admit the truth of what actually happened 10 years ago to the other.

While they are in a sort of standstill with each other, one of their mutual old friends, Arial, goes missing and her body is found shortly thereafter. Her murder matches that of the Ohio River Monster, a man named Stokes, who is only behind bars because of 8 year old Callie’s and Tessa’s testifying that he abducted and then killed Callie’s cousin, Lori. So, if Stokes is still locked up, does that mean the Ohio River Monster is still on the loose and has been the whole time? Add into the mix that neither Tessa’s mother or sister have contacted her in 10 years and she is unable to locate either of them. What does that mean for Tessa? Who can she trust, and why is her family in hiding? Tessa has to figure out who the real serial killer is before it’s too late.

The ending is totally unexpected and will throw readers for a tailspin, in a good way, of course. I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it to suspense, mystery, and thriller fans.

 

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

9781101883075_f1cf2Lilac Girls is a beautiful, heartbreaking story of three strong-willed women with very unique backgrounds and circumstances, but each impacted greatly by WWII and the Holocaust.

Kasia, a young Polish teenager was taken by train along with her mother and older sister to an all women’s prison camp, Ravensbruck, where she and her sister Zuzanna were subjected to horrible torture, as “rabbits” for (sulfonamide) experiments.by the Nazis.

Herta, a young German doctor who was given the opportunity to employ her physician’s training at an all women’s work camp, Ravensbruk, reports for duty. Little did she realize that she would be the only female doctor and would be responsible for carrying out lethal injections, and horrible experiments on healthy women prisoners.

American actress and society girl, Caroline Ferriday, spends her days working in the French consulate in New York City. She organizes and sends care packages to French orphans in Paris, but her mission chances dramatically when her love, Paul, a French actor is taken to a prison camp. As Caroline tries to locate Paul, Kasia struggles to survive at Ravensbruk (while many of her friends and mother disappear or worse), Herta continues carrying out horrible experimental surgeries in the medical ward at Ravensbruck.

The novel switches back and forth between Herta, Kasia, and Caroline’s stories, causing readers to always be wondering what will happen next to each character. Though it is a rather  large book, I read through it very quickly because of the fast pace.

When Kelly connects the three women together in Part 3, it is so well written, providing some much needed closure to the characters and to readers. Readers will experience so many emotions while enjoying this novel; and I challenge anyone to read it through with dry eyes.

One of the neatest things about this novel is that it is based upon the actual Caroline Ferriday and her work for the Ravensbruk Rabbits after WWII. Kelly came across an article in Victoria magazine about Caroline and her lilacs, as well as her work with the Ravensbruk Rabbits, and was inspired to write this story. She based Kasia and Herta’s characters off of women she had read about in her extensive research as well.

For a debut novel, I consider this to be a masterpiece. It reminds me of two of my other favorite WWI historical fiction novels, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. Kelly’s website (http://www.marthahallkelly.com) has many additional resources that add a richness to the story, such as maps, photographs of her research journey, and video clips. It is clear that Martha Hall Kelly researched thoroughly in order to give a voice to so many important women affected by the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust. I promise you will enjoy this novel. It is just wonderful.