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 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!