Review

When We Were Worthy by Mary Beth Whalen

Book coverPublished:Lake Union
Date:12th September 2017
Format:e-ARC
Pages:278
Genre:Mainstream Fiction
Source:Publisher via NetGalley

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When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they’d watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they’re faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders—their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car—the only one to survive—is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn’t. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption—or will it be their downfall?

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When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen was a really good, thought provoking story. It is set in the small town of Worthy, where the local high school football players are kings – and full of themselves. Alongside them are the cheerleaders and it is these girls who form the basis of the book.

The story is told mainly from the alternating points of view of…

  • Marglyn – mother of Mary Claire one of the cheerleaders. We first meet her when she has just had an argument with her daughter and made a choice that displeases her daughter. Through this relationship the story explores the mother/daughter relationship and what is good parenthood and all the emotions that go with that.Darcy – mother of Graham, who is about fifteen years of age. She is split from her husband Tommy who went off with someone else. Darcy married young and is now only thirty-six. She is really annoyed when Tommy buys Graham a new car – sure to make him esteemed among his peers.
  • Leah – a young sophomore cheerleader and friend of Mary Claire, Keary and Byrnne. On the night of a fatal accident she is split from her friends for a reason and so misses a fatal accident. She has a secret and we watch her make a journey of courage, trust and truth as the story reveals itself.
  • Finally Ava, new to Worthy, with a husband who suddenly seems to have deserted her. She has two young children and is a sub teacher at the high school. As she is trapped into something not of her making I felt for her as those she should have been able to count on for support abandoned her.

This story fully engaged me, I didn’t mind going from one character point of view to another. It was realistic and showed the foibles and weaknesses – even evil of human nature, people’s blindness – sometimes by choice, to what goes on around them. It also explores parenthood, friendships, the difficulties of fitting in and being accepted. Most of all it shows how trust, hope, truth and love are so important and are what really counts.

Review

The Summer That Made Us by Robyn Carr

Book coverPublished:Harlequin – MIRA
Date: 5th September 2017
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 336
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
Source: Publisher and Little Bird Publicity

Rating
Goodreads callout

For the Hempsteads, two sisters who married two brothers and had three daughters each, summers were idyllic. The women would escape the city the moment school was out to gather at the family house on Lake Waseka. The lake was a magical place, a haven where they were happy and carefree. All of their problems drifted away as the days passed in sun-dappled contentment. Until the summer that changed everything.

This is now…  Torn apart, none of the Hempstead women speak of what happened that summer, and relationships between them are uneasy at best to hurtful at worst. But in the face of new challenges, one woman is determined to draw her family together again, and the only way that can happen is to return to the lake and face the truth.

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As always Robyn Carr has written a well crafted story that fully engaged me all through the book The Summer That Made Us. It has many threads to it, many issues and themes that ebb and flow as the story unfolds.

This is a story about relationships mostly – that of sisters and cousins, plus some of the people that surround them. As it starts out it is rather obvious that you could put a capital D on dysfunctional for many but not all of the family members.

There is Lou and Jo, two sisters – once such good friends, now estranged. Two families who grew up close to each other, spending time as children at a lake house in Minnesota. Two families of thre girls each. However one summer everything turned to ruin and they never went back…

Until Meg wants to go back to that house. She is dealing with cancer, she has had her last ditch treatment and it is time to see will it work… or not. Charlie her sister wants to make that happen for her and does so. As Charlie begins her renovations there, her cousin Krista turns up, just out of prison. We are also introduced to Hope, Krista’s sister and all is not right in the state of Denmark for sure in her life.

We see things from all their points of view which does help me the reader be sympathetic towards them and to wish the best for them. I am not always engaged by so many characters in one book with issues and things to deal with. But the fact that they are all related and have been affected by the same family dynamics and tragedy, pulled me in. It perhaps lost a little though in the focus being on so many, not much, just a tad, it left me feeling a little distant from the full emotion of the characters.

Each woman grapples with her own life, moving towards resolution, new hope, forgiveness and healing in various forms as the story is retold and understood. Another well told story from Robyn Carr.

Review

Something Like Happy by Eva Woods

Book coverPublished: Harlequin
Date 5th September 2017
Pages: 384
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
Source: Publisher via NetGalley and LBP

Rating
Goodreads callout

Annie Hebden is stuck. Stuck in her boring job, with her irritating roommate, in a life no thirty-five-year-old would want. But deep down, Annie is still mourning the terrible loss that tore a hole through the perfect existence she’d once taken for granted—and hiding away is safer than remembering what used to be. Until she meets the eccentric Polly Leonard. Bright, bubbly, intrusive Polly is everything Annie doesn’t want in a friend. But Polly is determined to finally wake Annie up to life. Because if recent events have taught Polly anything, it’s that your time is too short to waste a single day—which is why she wants Annie to join her on a mission

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Something Like Happy could have been a sad, emotional read, and to some extent it is, however it is also enchanting and uplifting.

Annie has gone through a lot and really is in a dark place, she struggles through each day not really caring.  And to make matters worse Annie’s mother doesn’t recognise her as she has early onset Alzheimers. Until one day she meets up with the inimitable Polly. Polly who is keen to live one hundred days doing something happy every day. However Polly has a journey to make as well – she has a brain tumour that means she on some level knows her days are short.

Polly is quite madcap, yet it turns out she is the best thing out for Annie. Through her Annie begins to come back to life while it slowly ebbs from Polly. The things they do are mostly simple but the proof is in the changes that come into Annie’s life. And for Polly she has a new found friend who stays with her in her bid to live out her last days fully. They make a formidable team.

Much of the story takes place in a hospital and we meet the chocolate loving, Scottish doctor – Dr. Max and another one who seems serious but when you scrape the surface has his own burdens to carry. Polly has a brother George and Annie has a flatmate – Costas, both characters who come to life and are very much part of the story.

For me this book worked. At one point I wondered if  I would keep going as I have a sister with a brain tumour so it felt a little close to home, however the story is told with the right amount of irreverence, compassion and love that it became a celebration of life and the reminder that each of us have  a limited time in which we can choose to live all the sad and happy moments of life with whole heartedness.

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Review

No Place I’d Rather Be. Cathy Lamb

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Published:Kensington Books
Date: 29th August 2017
Format: e-ARC
Pages:480
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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Two years ago, Olivia Martindale left behind her Montana hometown and her husband, Jace, certain it was the best decision for both of them. Back temporarily to protect her almost-adopted daughters from their biological mother, she discovers an old, handwritten cookbook in the attic. Its pages are stained and torn, their edges scorched by flame. Some have been smeared by water . . . or tears. The recipes are written in different hands and in different languages. In between the pages are intriguing mementos, including a feather, a pressed rose, a charm, and unfamiliar photographs.

Hoping the recipes will offer a window into her grandmother’s closely guarded past, Olivia decides to make each dish, along with their favorite family cake recipes, and records her attempts. The result, like much of her life to date, involves a parade of near-disasters and chaotic appearances by her doctor mother, her blunt grandma, her short-tempered sister, and Olivia’s two hilarious daughters. The project is messy, real—and an unintended hit with viewers.

Even more surprising is the family history Olivia is uncovering, and her own reemerging ties to Montana, and to Jace. Generations of women have shared these recipes, offering strength and nourishment to each other and their loved ones. Now it’s Olivia’s turn to find healing—and determine where her home and her heart truly belong.

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No Place I’d Rather Be – and no book I’d rather be reading. Cathy Lamb has managed to enthral me again with her far reaching story of strong women who are loads of fun.  Lamb has a strong, unique voice in all her writing, as Kristy Harvey says in her review “If I was on a deserted island and stumbled across a blank copy of No Place I’d Rather Be with no title, no author page and no distinguishing marks, I would still know it was Cathy Lamb’s. Her voice is totally unique, pitch perfect and utterly charming.” I couldn’t agree more. And I’d know it too.
This is a mix of historical and contemporary fiction, both heart warming and heart breaking. Gisela is the great grandmother, a German Jew who was uprooted when the Nazi’s went to work. She lost everyone, but did find a strong Montana man in Oliver Martindale an American airforce officer and a doctor. Together they set up a practice and have one child Mary Beth, who in turn becomes a doctor. She did not find a strong Montana man, her husband abandoned her and left Mary Beth and her daughters Olivia and Chloe. But like Gisela these women have spines of concrete. I so loved them all.
Olivia has left her wonderful husband Jace for some reason we don’t know, and it takes quite awhile for that mystery to unfold. I kind of guessed it, but had to wait and see. Jace is amazing and it did break her heart to do it. Olivia has taken on the guardianship of two young girls who need her and she makes a wonderful mother. When she has to return to her home town relationships change, stories unfold and we are introduced to a family I’d love to meet. Chloe, Olivia’s sister has a son – Kyle who has Aspergers.  I loved his part in the story and how he was involved, his whole journey.
If you are a food lover then this book would definitely appeal from that angle. Much to Mary Beth’s disappointment Olivia did not follow her into the medical field, but rather is a fantastic cook. And the discovery of a family cookbook in the attic is a thread that runs through the book, linking past family to the present.
This book has all I could ask for in a book – some history, some humor, some romance, some mystery and suspense, and a huge focus on family and what brings love and happiness. The characters are smart, flawed and totally loveable. Its a big, warmhearted, compassionate feast of a book. I’ll be buying myself a paperback version to reread in future.
Review

The Art of Hiding. Amanda Prowse

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Published: Lake Union
Date: 22nd August 2017
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 290
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating:
4.5 stars            Add to Goodreads

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In The Art of Hiding, Amanda Prowse tells a story of a woman who seems to have lost almost everything. Nina has come from a poor background but has been caught up in the love and promise of nice things and a worry free life from her husband Finn.  When her husband dies in an accident she has two sons, a fifteen year old and ten year old, and she is about to find out all the things that Finn has been hiding from her.
Nina and her boys have lived in a large house, the boys have gone to an elite school and Nina has never worked since marrying Finn. She has been safely ensconced in her large house taking care of all the needs of her boys and husband. Now according to her sister that is not really healthy and as the days unfold, Nina’s sister Tiggy just might be right.  Where are those rich women when Nina’s world falls down around her. Well like rats leaving a sinking ship – they are gone.
When Nina returns with her two boys to her home town, it is really, really tough. Declan the ten year old is in shock, Connor her fifteen year old is by turn sullen with flashes of caring at odd times. Nina needs a job, but… how many jobs is she qualified for? Well very few or none actually.
The neighbourhood is a far cry from what they have been used to, but step by step they all make their way. Nina has guts and aided by her sister Tiggy she slowly finds her way forward. She begins to examine her life and choices, who was she… who is she now? It is difficult, her boys are struggling as you would expect, they are all grieving.  But there are unexpected offers of support and the people they meet are quite different to those they once knew.
This is a very realistic story of grief, shock and loss. Of being thrown in the deep end with the choice of sinking or swimming. It is about family and what it means to have true friends and the place of money in happiness.
I really liked the book and found myself returning to it any moment I had.