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.

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Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

9781250121004_9c076.jpgBehind Closed Doors is set for a release date of August 9, 2016 by Macmillan. Previously released in the UK, it was an instant bestseller. After binge reading it all in one evening, I can certainly understand why!

Jack and Grace are the perfect newlywed couple. He’s a gorgeous, wealthy, high-profile attorney who stands up for battered women. She’s the picture of charm and elegance, always right beside her husband, eager to please his every request. Others envy their perfect, loving relationship. They often entertain in their state-of-the-art mansion with enchanting meals and wine. The neighbor ladies and other wives of the law firm would like to get to know Grace better, but find it almost impossible. She never leaves her husband’s side, and always cancels lunch dates with the girls.

If their marriage and life are so perfect, why doesn’t Grace ever answer the phone? And why has she never made one of the lunch dates, other than one Jack escorted her to, of course. The other wives wonder how Grace can eat so much during the dinner parties, but remain so frail and thin. Do they really have the perfect marriage, or are they living in a perfect lie? Will someone look closer at their relationship before it’s too late?

This is one of the most terrifying books that I’ve ever read. I had goosebumps while reading the last page. Upon finishing, I found myself thinking back to when Grace met Jack and fell in love with him. It’s unsettling to see how easily one can be charmed into such terrifying situations. Read this and I promise you’ll love it. It blows Gone Girl out of the water, in terms of plot and thrill factor. I promise you’ve never read a psychological thriller like this one before. Major kudos to B.A. Paris for a brilliant debut!

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.

 

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

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This is a heartbreaking, raw story of mental illness and how it can systematically unravel the bonds between a family. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story, but it was so much more than a young adult coming-of-age story. Of course, there is some young romance and dating involved, but poor Cassie was forced to grow up so early in her life, and was therefore wise beyond her years. For these reasons, the plot is more mature than some young adult novels, and adults would enjoy it as much as teens.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot because you will enjoy it much more learning the story as I did – in bits and pieces of Cassie’s past as she remembers them, discovering moments that have been hidden or repressed in her own memory.

Cassie was placed in a mental institution by her mother, out of the blue, and against her will at the age of 15. She spent two and a half years there, with no support from her family and most everyone believing that she was lying. Even the therapist assigned to her, Dr. Meeks, didn’t believe her or support her. When she turns 18, she emancipates herself and leaves the institution to attend college at her mother’s alma matter. Her only regret is leaving the only true friend she has ever had, James, behind at the institution. Readers get the truth behind why Cassie was at the institution in snippets and flashbacks of her life and tumultuous relationship with her mother. At times, it is hard to read, to imagine what Cassie went through all her life. Once I read the full story of what all happened to her, when she finally revealed it to Liz, near the end, tears streamed down my face.I felt so horrible for Cassie, yet so proud of her ability to carry on and try to find herself. This is a beautiful story, and a unique look at mental illness and perception. Not everything is as it seems.

I was intrigued by the title of this book, and after reading it, I couldn’t think of a more fitting title. Drowning doesn’t always have to be in the literal sense of drowning in water. Unfortunately, as young Cassie is well aware, she spent most of her life drowning.

This is a debut novel and it packs a huge emotional punch. I’ll not be forgetting Cassie or her story any time in the near future. I hope Kletter writes many more stories. I highly recommend this book, if for nothing else but a reminder to everyone to have compassion and empathy for others.

Fans of We Were Here, Everything, Everything, and All the Bright Places will surely enjoy this novel.

Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

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Here’s to Us will be published on June 14, 2016 by Hachette Book Group.

Deacon Thorpe, celebrity chef and well-known bad boy with a healthy appetite for living life to the fullest, has passed away unexpectedly at his summer cottage in Nantucket. Left behind are two ex-wives, his widow, and three children (one from each marriage). The only connection between Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett is their love and devotion for Deacon, even after his many faults, addictions, and poor decisions. His three wives couldn’t be any more different. Laurel was his high school sweetheart, Belinda is a high-profile actress who won him over with money and glamour, and Scarlett was the younger, bombshell nanny which he couldn’t resist.

Deacon’s will designates that the whole family gather at the Nantucket cottage to spread his ashes at sea, which brings us to the story. His family, along with his best friend, Buck, begrudgingly head for Nantucket to spend the weekend together. As if the story needed to be livened up even more; Buck has always had his eyes on Deacon’s first wife, Laurel. There is also a bit of drama going on with each of Deacon’s adult children, Angie and Hayes. Throwing these headstrong, grieving family members together in cramped quarters (with a lot of wine and whiskey, of course) makes for some interesting confrontations, to say the least. As memories of Deacon are shared and secrets are uncovered, tensions run high and some surprisings things occur. The plot moves along rather quickly, all taking place during one weekend, with flashbacks to the past mixed in to give readers background information on each of the women’s relationships with Deacon.

Sound like a crazy plot? It is! But, as always, Elin Hilderbrand makes it work oh so well, with just the right amount of humor, drama, romance, and cat fights. She has created the recipe for a great romantic drama which readers will absolutely love until the very last page. Another really cool addition to this book are the actual recipes that are included, such as Deacon’s famous Fluffy White Champagne Cake with Champagne Candied Strawberries and Clams Casino Dip, to name a few. As with all of her novels, Elin set this story in her hometown of Nantucket, causing readers such as myself to long for the quaint streets and beautiful beaches. I would love to visit Nantucket some day and catch a glimpse of some of the places mentioned in her novels. I loved this book, and I can’t wait for it to be released this summer.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

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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? 

 

 

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

9780812996081_8119b.jpgMiller’s Valley is set to be published on April 5, 2016.

I’ve always been a big fan of whatever Anna Quindlen writes, one of my favorites is Black and Blue. Quindlen has a knack for making the reader feel like they are really submersed in the story and in the life of the family being portrayed. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this story, but I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

This is the story of Mary Margaret Miller, who goes by Mimi. It’s a coming of age story, in which the reader watches Mimi grow up and move on with life over and over again, despite some road blocks along the way. The largest of which being the fact that the government plans to flood the valley in order to build a dam, like they did to the neighboring town of Andover a few years back. Along with the day to day stress of family life in a rural farming community is the constant impending doom of when their home and life as they know it be flooded out from under them.

Mimi is not the type to cause any trouble within her family, because there are plenty of others doing that for her. Her older brother, Tommy, also her mother’s pride and joy, is and always will be a playboy, in and out of trouble for as long as Mimi can remember. Mimi grew up on the farm, one of the last remaining Millers of Miller’s Valley, where her family before her has lived for generations. Her father is a farmer and fix-it man, while her mother is a nurse at the local hospital. Mimi’s aunt Ruth lives in the little house just behind her parents house, and she has refused to leave the house for years. Mimi goes through school getting good grades and attempts to leave Miller’s Valley, things keep happening with her brother Tommy, father, aunt Ruth, or mother to hold her back.

My favorite part of this book are the deep relationships between Mimi and the other characters. Mimi narrates the story, so the reader gets to know how she thinks and recognizes all the times where she holds back what she really feels led to say or do, because she is appeasing someone else or keeping the peace, or what little is left of it. Her childhood relationships with friends, Donald and LaRhonda, sibling relationships with Ed and Tommy, and even the parent-child relationships with her father and mother are interesting and keep the reader’s attention. Will Mimi end up like her aunt Ruth, refusing to leave her home or Miller’s Valley? Or will she finally do what Tommy encouraged her to do, get out of Miller’s Valley while she can, in order to make a life for herself? You’ll want to read it to find out. Great story. I especially loved the ending, where Mimi as an old woman looks back on her life and really puts everything in perspective.