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 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.

Falling by Jane Green

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Falling will be released on July 19, 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group. I’ve been a fan of Jane Green’s quick witted humor and true-to-life family drama ever since reading one of her early novels, Jemima J. Falling is sure to be a summer hit, and a great beach read.

This story was engaging, romantic, and enjoyable. I loved the characters, because they felt so real. Both Dominic and Emma have had their share of stress from family and work life. Emma meets Dominic when she moves from the hustle of New York to quaint Westport, Connecticut and rents a house from him. Convenient for her, Dominic’s house is right next door. As Emma starts fresh, exploring her passion for interior decorating and enjoying a slower pace of daily life, she gets to know Dominic and his young son. She finally starts to feel at home, a feeling she has never really felt before, not even while she was growing up in a well-to-do British home. Dominic is a great father and faithful friend. He falls hard for Emma. But, this isn’t your average love story where the ending is tied up in a neat little bow. The story is both touching and tragic. Even so, you won’t be disappointed.

I was taken aback by the twist of fate near the end of the story. It goes to show that one truly never knows how many days they have to spend with another person, which is all the more reason to cherish each and every moment spent together.

 

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

iletyougoI Let You Go will be published by Penguin Group on May 3, 2016.

Oh my goodness – this book is a roller-coaster ride! This book has it all – part police procedural, mystery, love story, and family drama. There are two story lines, both starting out with a tragic hit & run accident, killing a young boy named Jacob. Jenna Gray leaves her grief from losing her son and a fear-filled life for a remote seaside cottage on the Welsh coast. Meanwhile, seasoned police inspector, Ray, teams up with younger, beautiful inspector trainee, Kate, in an attempt to find the hit & run driver and bring some closure to Jacob’s mother. Ray’s home life is just about as stressful as his work life, due to the tension with his wife, a former police officer, and problems at school with his teenage son. Kate is young, energetic, easily accessible, and a great sounding board for Ray. Will he slip up and jeopardize his future, both at work and at home?

When Part 1 ended with a major twist, I had to go back and reread the first two chapters just to figure out what was going on. It really threw me for a loop, and after that I couldn’t put the book down. Part 2 picks up quickly, with jaw-dropping scenes and unimaginable, terrifying moments, as Jenna’s story is revealed piece by heartbreaking piece. The story line truly proves that things are not always what they seem.

This book made me cry for Jenna, and also gave me chills of terror. The writing is excellent, as even the ending leaves readers wondering if what people believed happened actually did transpire. Upon finishing, I was left with an unsettling, creepy feeling that can only be quelled with a sequel. I do hope Mackintosh writes many more novels. This is her first, and it’s an amazing accomplishment. Ray’s character reminds me a bit of Michael Connolly’s famous character, Harry Bosch. Fans of the Bosch series and of psychological thrillers such as The Girl on the Train, The Luckiest Girl Alive, and The Good Girl will enjoy this book. I highly recommend it.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

This is a work of fiction that certainly lives up to all the hype and anticipation prior to its publication. I absolutely loved the book. I normally don’t think about books being turned into movies right after I read them, but I felt like these characters are so interesting and that this would be great movie material.

On the eve of her only daughter’s wedding, June Reid loses her entire family in an instant in a horrible explosion. Her daughter and her fiance, her ex-husband Adam, and her boyfriend Luke are all inside the house and are killed instantly. In a moment, her entire world is turned upside down and she remains in a state of shock thereafter, almost as if she is on autopilot to a destination she feels will bring her closer to her daughter. After June takes off, the gossip and rumors begin to circulate in the small town and many speculate as to where she has gone. June was no stranger to gossip, often the subject of gossip because Luke was half of her age. Some townspeople even claim that Luke caused the explosion, because he had a past record with drugs. Luke and his mother were not close and were just beginning to patch up their relationship when the explosion stopped all progress at reconciliation in its tracks. His mother is left to deal with the rumors in town, and she becomes a recluse who speaks to no one and only leaves her house for groceries every so often. The story is told through different character narration. Each chapter is a different character, some very close to June and the family, and some acquaintances who have made connections with them in some way or another. June ends up at a motel by the ocean in Seattle, Washington. The owners of the hotel do not ask questions, but can sense that she is grieving or hiding from something. They, along with Cissy, who cleans the motel rooms, become sort of protectors and watch over June as she keeps to herself for months. Meanwhile, back East in June’s hometown, someone knows what really happened the night of the explosion, but he is too scared to say anything. When he finally talks to Luke’s mother, the story takes a major turn. Though June has no remaining blood relatives, it is clear by the end of the story that she certainly does a family who loves her very much, because family can be what you decide it to be. My favorite part is the last chapter, narrated by Cissy, because it is so beautiful and touching. Bill Clegg has a way with creating characters, and he has written a fabulous first novel. I would highly recommend it. It is wonderful!

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

This was a wonderful book and the ending was not at all what I was expecting. I learned quite a bit about elephants, based upon the research Picoult put into the writing of this book. This is actually one of my favorites from Jodi Picoult so far, next to The Storyteller. Highly recommend it!!!