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!

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

9781250099563_3fe1aOne Perfect Lie is due for publication from Macmillan on April 11, 2017.

I always enjoy Scottoline’s stand-alone novels. They are quick reads because they are hard to put down, with just enough mystery mixed into the story line to keep readers guessing until the very end. The topics of her novels are varied so that when you read them, it doesn’t feel like a mystery you’ve read many times already with the same general story line. I appreciate that, on account of the large number of mysteries that I read. Unique is good!

One Perfect Lie is trademark Scottoline – equal parts thrilling and entertaining. “Chris Brennan” has just secured a teaching job at Central Valley High School in Pennsylvania. Handsome, quick-witted, and perfect for the job, he is hired without much trouble. He’ll also be the assistant baseball coach, allowing him to get even closer to some of the students and find a much-needed baseball player to serve as a pawn . The only catch is that Chris isn’t a teacher at all, so why is he at Central Valley and what kind of game is he playing? As the intriguing stranger gets to know the students and their families, the mission he is on becomes a bit more personal, even if know one knows his real name or the reason he is hiding out at Central Valley as “Coach Brennan.”

Readers will find out Chris’s true identity and purpose about halfway through the novel, so I won’t reveal it here. What would be the fun in that?!  When one of his fellow teachers is found dead, the stakes increase and Chris has to decide what is most important to him – keeping the secrets and sticking to the mission or finally letting down his guard and feeling like he has a home. No family of his own, Chris grew up in foster care, leading him to live a pretty private adult life perfect for the type of work he is caught up in at Central Valley. He’s a very likable character, despite appearing to be the “bad guy” in the beginning of the story. Once you find out why Chris is at Central Valley, your opinion of him will likely change.

I will mention that there are quite a lot of other main characters in the story, including baseball players Jordan, Evan, and Raz and their respective families. There is even a hint of possible romance involved. Each of the young men and their family have their own unique situations and challenges. Scottoline weaves their stories in with Chris’s mission to add to the richness of the story. I just chose to focus my review on Chris’s character, but rest assured there is a lot going on in this story!

Thank you to Macmillan for the early review copy of this book.

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You is the much anticipated, highly necessary, second installment in the Me Before You series, featuring Louisa (Lou), a character readers, myself included, absolutely love. I say “second installment” rather than “final installment,” because I’m hoping that Jojo writes many more stories featuring Louisa. For those of you wanting to read this book, I would highly suggest reading Me Before You first. It is absolutely wonderful, and you won’t be able to put it down until you’ve devoured it like a piece of chocolate lava cake.

I enjoyed After You just as much, if not more than Me Before You. Louisa has been traveling around Paris, hoping to experience new things to help counterbalance the grief of losing Will. She then settles down in a London flat, but it doesn’t seem much like a home, lacking any personal items or furniture. She takes a job as a bar maid in the airport, where she works thankless hours on not so fun tasks with no satisfaction or hope of finding something else. Perhaps the worst is the ridiculous outfit and wig she has to wear at work (you’ll have to read it for the specifics!).

After an unfortunate accident, Louisa finds herself in the hospital and then in need of help while she recuperates for 9 weeks. She moves back in with her loud, and mostly dysfunctional family until she can no longer handle the monotonous conversations, bickering between her Dad and Mum, and repeated family meals. Back to London she goes for more unhappy days of work and lonely nights in her flat. Then, an unexpected visitor turns up at her doorstep, someone with a connection to her past with Will, and her life becomes much less boring, and much more chaotic in a flash. She joins a grief counseling group against her initial wishes, and becomes rather connected to the motley crew of fellow grieving men and women. Leaving the group one day, she has a pleasant run in with the handsome EMT, Sam, who helped her after the accident months prior. She hadn’t realized at the time how kind and caring he was, and oh so handsome! Lou finds herself not so lonely any longer. When the story ends, we see Lou embarking on a new journey with a fresh outlook and so many people supporting her unselfishly. I only wish I could have a few more chapters to read!

The scenes from this book caused me to both laugh out loud and also wipe tears from my face. As a matter of fact, I cried through the last two chapters! Some of the things that come out of Lou’s father’s mouth are just plain hilarious. Also, the grief group has its share of characters who will say anything that comes to mind. Laughter is the best medicine, as they say; and Lou (as well as the reader) is subjected to plenty of humor. Jojo Moyes has a knack for developing characters in such a way that readers do not want to turn the last page, because they will physically miss the characters. I find myself in a depressive sort of state today after finishing the book. I miss Lou, Sam, Lily, Mr. and Mrs. Clark, the Traynors, and even sourpuss Richard from the bar. What a story this was! I absolutely loved it, and I will be most thrilled if Jojo Moyes decides to keep Lou’s story alive for many more installments.

Now, what in the world am I going to read next? Stay tuned, readers…