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.

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!

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.

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.

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.