‘How to Change a Life’ by Stacey Ballis: A Beach Read to Squeeze in Before the Beaches Close

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“How to Change a Life” by Stacey Ballis is not just a lovely beach read; it’s filled with yummy food ideas and also some more serious topics. For example, when is a friend not really a friend? What happens when you lose touch with a friend and then find it’s too late to renew the friendship?

Ballis’ writing is lovely. It’s apparent that she is an experienced author. She does a nice job balancing description, dialogue, and plot. When Eloise, almost forty, meets up with her two best friends from high school, her life changes. They reunite and decide to pursue some of the dreams that they haven’t fulfilled in the past twenty years. They make it a bet, and they have to accomplish it before their 40th birthday.

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‘Ultimatum’ by Karen Robards Is a Beach Read Must-Have

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With “The Ultimatum,” Karen Robards creates a strong, powerful, intelligent female protagonist/criminal whose abilities and actions rival the best male hero. Super criminal power? Bianca’s got it down. Karate moves a must? Bianca’s mastered them all. Spy gadgets? Bianca’s got them in her super sexy garter belts.

She stays cool under pressure, has a perfect alter ego life when she’s not working, and doesn’t exactly remember her past. In this first book of a series, Bianca comes face to face with who she is and where she comes from. She uncovers secrets that were meant to remain hidden, and that had remained hidden at the cost of many human lives.

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‘The Café by the Sea’ by Jenny Colgan

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“The Café by the Sea” continues Jenny Colgan’s string of lovely, light stories about women who need to take charge of their lives and make difficult changes. In this story, it’s rather the reverse — or it appears to be at first.

Flora MacKenzie has fled the tiny northern Scottish island where she — and her ancestors going waaaay back — were born, to live a “modern” life in London working as a paralegal for a large law firm. It becomes apparent from the start that Flora has no desire to go home. Absolutely none. Moreover, there appears to be a reason, not shared, why she can’t go back.

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‘The Good Widow’ a Clever Mystery about Betrayal and Second Chances

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With their new book, “The Good Widow,” Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke depart from their usual “turning forty” theme and create a mystery about two couples and the betrayal that the survivors face when two of them die.

Jacks, a teacher married to James for many years, had a secret she kept from him until long after they said their vows. Now she’s regretting keeping the secret and wondering if that’s why he died in Maui, far away from Kansas, where he was supposed to be traveling for work. The fact that he died on what was clearly a vacation with another woman, Dylan, was devastating.

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‘The Whole Way Home’ by Sarah Creech Is a Perfect Beach Read

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Longing for a bit of country lovin’ in your life? “The Whole Way Home” has country and loving to spare because the main character is a country singing star on her way to the top. Like many of the most famous and successful country singers, Jo Lover’s life has not been easy.

Jo Lover grew up in a one-bedroom cabin in a small town in Virginia. She and JD Gunn played music together since they were in fifth grade. They were best friends and then lovers. But JD left their band when he went to L.A. to make a movie, and since then, Jo has been determined to make a life — and a successful career — without him.

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Don’t Miss Fabulous ‘Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows’ by Balli Kaur Jaswal

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In “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows,” Balli Kaur Jaswal manages to combine several interesting story lines into one fascinating read that is in turn tender, touching, humorous, exciting, and exotic. The protagonist is Nikki, whose parents immigrated to Great Britain in search of a better life. She considers herself quite a modern woman, and contrary to her family’s very conservative Sikh principles, moved out and quit law school trying to figure out what she wants in life.

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‘I Found You’ by Lisa Jewell: A Novel Rich with Suspense and Atmosphere

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“I Found You” by Lisa Jewell is a mystery that will keep readers reading, turning pages, and loving the various intertwining stories right to the end. The mystery begins on the second page with a strange man who has appeared on the beach outside Alice Lake’s rather rundown, small cottage.

A man sitting on the sand would not be notable, except for the fact that it’s pouring rain and he’s been there for hours. Alice is the type who takes on stray dogs and others, so she brings him a jacket and some hot tea. Later, she invites him to stay in her shed. The man does not know who he is or why he is in the small oceanside town of Ridinghouse Bay.

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Two Children’s Picture Books Perfect for Summer and Water: ‘Vampirina at the Beach’ and ‘Holly’s Day at the Pool’

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Two new picture books are the perfect introduction to a water-filled summer of fun, be it at the pool or the beach.

“Holly’s Day at the Pool” is about a young hippo, Holly, who is shown on the title page playing catch with her younger sister, Dottie. When Dottie’s favorite toy gets stuck in a tree, Holly is the only one who can rescue it. The illustration of Holly retrieving the toy shows her climbing a huge mountain and saying she is very brave.

But when it’s time to go to the pool, Holly’s bravura abandons her. She explains her fears. “What if…”

“The water is too cold?” “I get water in my eyes? Or my nose? Or my ears?” “I sink, sink, sink to the bottom?” “A BIG, scary snapping turtle pinches me?”

But when Dottie’s toy falls in the pool, Holly comes to the rescue. Children will enjoy hollydatatpoolreading about Holly, the wonderful big sister. She’s a good role model for those who have younger siblings, and kids who might be frightened of pools will relate.

This book is part of the Walt Disney Animation Studios Artist Showcase Books selection. According to Disney, “This series of original picture books puts the spotlight on the incredible artists of Disney Animation Studios. The pages of each book showcase the personal work of one of these talented artists and introduce a brand-new world and characters.”

vamprinia“Vampirina at the Beach” by Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by LeUyen Pham is another perfect read for summer. This is the third book in the series that started with “Vampirina Ballerina” and continued with “Vampirina Hosts a Sleepover.” Here, Vampirina and her family and friend head to the beach at night — of course! — so the not-too-scary monsters can enjoy some sandy adventures.

The illustrations show Vampirina and her friends, who are all monster-ish, but there is one family who look just like a normal family who happen to be mixed up with the monsters. In the beginning, they don’t interact with the monsters and appear to be looking at them as if they are strange.  The boy, who seems to be the same age as Vampirina, starts to have fun with her. And about a third of the way into the story, while the two are surfing together, the boy sprouts animal ears, then a tail, then paws. Turns out that he and his parents are werewolves — so they fit right in!

There is a lovely page that folds out to show the dancers during the beach dance contest. The illustrations manage to show the emotions on the faces of the different characters and are beautifully creepy.

The text gives no hint as to the monstrous nature of the characters in the illustrations. It’s simply about how to have fun at the beach and includes lessons on character. “It’s hard to be the best at something new,” and “Whether or not you come out on top, finishing with grace is what makes you a real winner.” And those lessons are just a couple of the reasons that this book is a real winner, too.

Please note, this review is based on the final hardcover books provided by Disney-Hyperion, the publisher, for review purposes. 

‘The Odds of You and Me’ by Cecilia Galante: Gritty story of impossible love

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“The Odds of You and Me” by Cecilia Galante is not a typical love story. It’s really a story about how the smallest moments, the smallest mistakes, can alter our lives in profound ways.

And that’s what happens to Bernadette, or Bird, Sincavage. Galante shares her story slowly, interspersing the past and the present to slowly pull back the covers on how the past influenced the present in ways that will surprise not only the reader, but also the main character, Bird.

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‘Back on Track’ is Book Two in “The Wildwater Walking Club” series by Claire Cook

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Bestselling author Claire Cook‘s newest adventure — and it is an adventure — is “Back on Track,” Book Two in “The Wildwater Walking Club” series. The first book about the Wildwater Walking Club was first published in 2009, and Cook decided that it was time for these characters to take another walk together — and fly-together — to France and lavender country.

I’m sure when Cook picked this destination, it wasn’t with the idea that she could go there first to get the details of a river cruise for the book — or maybe it was. Cook takes what she learned and experienced on her trip to fill the book with details that flood the story and make it real. The reader can almost smell the fields of lavender, and many will want to grow their own lavender and make lavender wands (instructions included).

Cook explained, “I didn’t want to fake this. I’d never done a river cruise but thought it would be a good way for them to do this.”

One of the things that many readers love about some of Cook’s books are the recipes that she includes. In “Best Staged Plans,” she includes ideas about how to use Trader Joe’s food to create sumptuous meals. In this book, she includes recipes to make lavender water, lavender moisturizer, and more.

Cook also does what she excels at: She creates characters who are just like her readers. They are not young, nor are they old. They are not fabulously wealthy, nor are they poor. They each have their own insecurities — which is true of almost all of us. When her main character, Noreen, signs up to take a health coaching session (who knew that was a career?), she sees all the others have brought expensive water bottles made of stainless steel or BPA-free plastic. Noreen reflects:

“Great. My own water bottle was a disposable. Not even a hip, overpriced throwaway like Evian or Fiji or Smeraldina, but a cheap, flimsy supermarket brand. Health coach training had barely begun and already I didn’t fit in.”

Toward the end of the book, Noreen sees another couple and says,

“A couple in jeans and sunglasses walked by the ship, so close I could almost touch them from the balcony. The man reached over and twirled a lock of the woman’s long straight hair. She laughed and gave her head a flip, as if she were filming a shampoo commercial. As if he were the luckiest guy in the world to get to touch her hair. In my wildest dreams, I could never be that cool.”

But while she is saying that, she has also grown emotionally over the course of the story. At the beginning, she was in a kind-of-relationship with Rick, who had also been made redundant at her former place of employment. They met during the job counseling that the company provided for those employees. While they dated, it was not serious. Neither of them was in an emotional frame of mind to take it further.

Cook uses the health coaching classes as an instrument to include some real truths about life in this novel. Some are the same truths that she shares in her nonfiction books, “It’s Never Too Late” and “Shine On.”

Cook touches on the real and current issue of bullying. It actually becomes a twist in the story, but it’s thoughtfully done and touching. It should make every reader think about whether she’s ever done anything like that or been the victim of anything like that.

 

“And I remembered that health coach thing you said about the difference between a fixed mindset, when if you screw up, it means you’re a screw-up, end of story. But a growth mindset is like being in beta, where your screw-ups give you the information you need so you can fix the bugs. And I realized that if you buy into that, you don’t have to cut and run when you mess up. Or when somebody else does. You can take the lesson and grow.”

Cook reflected on this last book. She explained:

“I think that for me, as I jumped into the book, I wanted to share that we think that change is a destination, but the truth is that the backsliding happens to all of us. And that’s okay. That’s how we continue to grow. I hear from my readers, “I’m not as far along as I thought I’d be…” whether they are talking about getting in shape or a new job or finding out their passion.  They say, “I was doing so well for a while.”

Cook wanted the characters in the book to reflect that reality. “All three women slid back, and that’s normal and we should accept it. I sat in on health coach training at Emory to make sure that I had the picture. What I wrote in the book were fictional people, but the details were authentic.”

The reason fans love each one of Claire Cook’s books is that every book — fiction and nonfiction — helps readers find ideas that they can use in their lives. Whether it’s a river cruise in France or health coach training, or just learning something new, we all are growing and changing throughout our lives. And that’s wonderful. Readers always learn something from Cook’s books — about life and lifelong learning.

 

Enjoy the story. Learn about river cruises and lavender and health coaching. Learn that making mistakes in life just helps us grow as people. And Cook would certainly say to enjoy the journey. That’s what life is all about.

 

‘The Perfect Neighbors’ by Sarah Pekkanen

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In “The Perfect Neighbors,” Sarah Pekkanen addresses the question: Do you ever really know those around you? In a perfect town with perfect lawns and no crime live several women. They have become friends, but each is struggling with a personal problem that the others are not aware of. Each will need help before the end of the story.

The story is about friendship and family, and the lengths to which we will go to protect both. In this story, Kellie has started working after being a stay-at-home mom for many years. She relishes her high heels and new clothes and the feeling she gets when a handsome co-worker flirts with her.  How much flirting will ruin her marriage?

Susan Barrett still struggles to recover from being blindsided when her husband left her — and whom he left her for was almost the worst blow. She admirably doesn’t allow her feelings to show to her son, but it’s difficult. She still stalks her husband and can’t let go of her feelings of betrayal. Gigi is the third main character. Her husband is running for Congress, but it’s making things difficult at home. Her teenage daughter, especially, is becoming emotionally distant from the family, and Gigi doesn’t know what to do. Then there is Gigi’s drinking problem and her rather colorful past.  When Tessa, the fourth member of the group, and her husband move into the neighborhood, the group befriends her. But they also notice something mysterious about the family. Both husband and wife respond strangely to simple questions. What is the secret they are hiding?

Pekkanen slowly allows the reader to get to know this group of women. She gradually reveals their secret thoughts and pasts. She also effectively makes the readers care about each of them. And in the end, what Pekkanen shows through her story about these four women is that there is nothing like family and friends — they need to be cherished and appreciated each and every day.

Longtime fans of Pekkanen will relish this addition to her books, and new readers will surely become fans.  (Washington Square Press)