‘Musical Chairs’ by Amy Poeppel is a charming tale of ambition, family expectations, and love

musical chairs

For those who want their fiction to start with a huge hook — a first sentence that grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go — “Musical Chairs” by Amy Poeppel is not the book for you. Rather, this charming story begins like a lovely overture, with an introduction that gets you used to the rhythm and feeling of the piece, and slowly, you become entranced and rapt in the characters and plot of this beautifully composed novel.

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‘How to Save a Life’ by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

how to save

How far would you go to save the life of your true love? In “How to Save a Life,” co-authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke explore this concept in a touching novel that has more than a few “Groundhog Day” movie references. It also has a wonderfully imperfect first person narrator who either lunches or talks to his mother daily, wears his shirts buttoned up one button too many, and looks both ways before crossing the street — always. Dom is just not the adventurous type, and he wonders if that’s what made him fall in love with Mia a decade ago.

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‘Head Over Heels’ by Hannah Orenstein is a sweet love story that also dishes about Olympic gymnasts

head over heels

What happens when a prospective Olympic gymnast has an injury during the Olympic Trials that ends up destroying her dreams of Olympic glory? In “Head Over Heels,” Hannah Orenstein creates a main character whose whole life had been dedicated to the goal of being an Olympic contender. Avery Abrams had worked for hours after school at the gym and then had been homeschooled so that she could devote even more time to training.

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‘What You Wish For’ by Katherine Center

what you wish for

Last year, Katherine Center brought us the wonderful novel, “Things You Save in a Fire.” In my review, I said that if you only read one book last summer, that should be the book you chose. This summer we are treated to “What You Wish For.” It’s another lovely story about a strong young woman facing a difficult situation with determination and best intentions, if not with complete dignity.

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‘Dance Away With Me’ by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

dance

“Dance Away with Me” is not one of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ light, humor-filled romances featuring sassy women and sexy athletes. Rather this one delves into issues about loss and grief, family values, teenage pregnancy, child abuse, what it takes to do the right thing. The novel begins with Tess Hartsong, who has run away to a cabin in the aptly-named Runaway Mountain to try to heal from the death of her husband, Travis, two years previously. Tess and Travis were schoolmates before they were lovers, and now that Travis has died tragically, too young, Tess can’t seem to recover. She wallows in her grief and hopes that wild dancing outside while playing music way too loud will help, and she imagines that only the neighboring wild animals will hear it.

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‘Big Summer’ by Jennifer Weiner – take a fabulous trip to the beach

big summer

Jennifer Weiner never fails to grab readers with main characters who are entirely relatable, and who — in spite of many admirable qualities — usually have many of the same foibles that the rest of us suffer from. In “Big Summer,” main character Daphne Berg is an up-and-coming social media influencer. Her hashtags include #sorrynotsorry and #justasIam and her blog’s name is Big Time. Daphne is not slender, and during her whole life, she has been ashamed of her weight and her body.

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‘After Sundown’ by Linda Howard and Linda Jones is a story of survival, solitude, and two lonely people who find each other

after sundown

While the publicity for “After Sundown” by Linda Howard and Linda Jones emphasizes that it’s a love story, it’s also quite a tale of survival — how appropriate for right now. In this novel, there is a huge CME, or coronal mass ejection, that hits Earth, causing a massive disruption of the electrical grid. Sela Gordon and Ben Jernigan live in rural Tennessee, and have met infrequently at her gas station/general store when Ben has purchased gas. And while there was a mutual interest, neither of them actually did anything about it. Continue reading

‘The Last Sister’ by Kendra Elliot is a nail-biting mystery that pushes all the right buttons

last sister

Kendra Elliot has sold over seven million books, and after reading “The Last Sister,” this first book in a new series, “Columbia River,” her success is understandable. And this is a perfect opportunity to jump into a Kendra Elliot series at the beginning. Main character FBI special agent Zander Wells was introduced in a previous series, but readers “meeting” him for the first time will be charmed and touched by his story.

In this mystery, a man and his wife are brutally murdered in a small Oregon logging town. Emily, who is the first to find the murders, is horrified, especially when she sees that the husband was hanged just like her father when he was killed decades earlier. She also notices a racist symbol carved into the hanging man’s forehead, so when the sheriff declares it a murder-suicide, Emily calls the local FBI office and won’t get off the phone until they agree to send an agent to the scene to investigate it as a hate crime.

Zander and his partner Ava arrive and realize that they may have more than just one crime to figure out. Is there a connection between the current stabbing/hanging and what happened to Emily’s father all those years before? When there is another murder, it seems that everything has to be examined, including where Emily’s older sister went immediately after her father’s murder.

Elliot’s omniscient narrator works superbly in terms of letting us know what the characters are thinking and feeling. We are able to see the night of their father’s murder from both Emily’s point of view and that of her younger sister, Madison. So we know more than they do about what each sister is hiding from the other.

Slowly, clue after clue is uncovered and revealed, allowing us to try to connect the different threads at the same time as the characters in the novel try to put the puzzle pieces in place. We are thinking about the clues, and we are also feeling a genuine camaraderie with Emily as she struggles to keep their decrepit old mansion home in one piece while someone is slashing her tires and harassing Emily and her three sweet great-aunts. Their only source of income is their diner, because the logging operation that financed the opulence that Emily’s ancestor’s enjoyed was long closed.

Readers will find they enjoy meeting the three aunts, who all dress alike, and each of whom is a character worthy of admiration in her own right. When a mystery is certainly thrilling but also a character study of the people inhabiting the pages, readers know that the author got it right. And when the mystery is finally solved, and very satisfactorily, readers will be happy to remember that this is just the start of a series in which Zander, Ava, and maybe Emily will return to entertain us and amaze us.

This review was originally posted on Bookreporter.com.