Review: The Last House on Sycamore Street by Paige Roberts

The Last House on Sycamore Street frames up a slice of life as a suburban mom. You’ve got the preschool /playdate social stratosphere, the how-much-should-i-work dilemma, and the keeping up with the Joneses drama. Except the Joneses are the former owners of the last house on Sycamore Street.

I liked this book – I could identify with the mom and her struggle to work but not work too much. I LOVED that she and her husband had a great marriage – something not every contemporary novel ensures. And the kids were cute – their smarts, their antics, and their occasional obnoxiousness.

But the former homeowners. Whew. What a piece of work those two are. And there’s the rub. I thought with a nutty couple like that, there would be bound to be a plot twist or a psychological thriller element. No such luck, and so I was a bit disappointed. (But to be fair, it was an expectation I came up with from thin air!) So… not a very climactic story, but a contemporary look at life in the suburbs from a people-pleasing mom’s perspective.

-calliope

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Review: Mercy’s Chase by Jess Lourey

FBI agent Salem Wiley is a tough cookie who was raised by an even tougher cookie. In this book 2 of a series, Salem needs to solve a decades-old mystery involving Stonehenge, secret codes, and underground societies.

I never knew who to trust in this book (I mean, neither did Salem!), and that kept me on the edge of my seat. Even when Salem thought she knew someone… e.g. Agent Lucan Stone… she had no guarantee that her government partners, family members, or colleagues had her back.

I loved the adventure and the suspense, I totally missed a fabulous clue about who the bad guy was, and I got to be a fly on the wall watching conspiracy theories and patriarchal politics intersect. Plus, Salem Wiley pretty much had me by the arm, bringing me from one point of interest to another, giving me the sightseeing tour of a lifetime. Really a fun ride.

-calliope

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Review: The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan

Christmas! And sisters! And Scotland! Could there be a better combo? I don’t think so. Ok actually there could be – if Morgan added in some cutie pie kiddos and an awesome set of grandparents and the perfect love interests for the sisters. Which she did. Sigh.

I really liked all the references to New York, Washington state, and then the European locations outside of Scotland. I felt like I was traveling from the comfort of my sofa. And the other thing I so enjoyed was Jason’s admission that being a stay at home parent is not all bon-bons and soap operas. Even though his realization and apology was a teensy bit out of character and not 100% realistic, it was gratifying to read it all the same.

Morgan did a fantastic job individualizing the three sisters, giving them different perspectives on the same childhood tragedy they all suffered, and writing a believable and heartwarming resolution. Love and forgiveness are powerful, especially when you have the support of those around you.

Morgan also added in comic relief in little Ruby, Martha the chicken, and Eric. Beautifully done!

-calliope

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Review: Cottage by the Sea by Debbie Macomber

When Annie moves to the Pacific Northwest, she’s just looking for a safe place to grieve, a comforting and uplifting place. What she finds is a cottage that needs some love, a garden that needs all that love and a bowl of cereal, and a couple people from her past who she can’t quite put her finger on.

Macomber does a great job tying together Annie’s new friendships with the experiences from their pasts. Though the characters don’t dwell on their youth, we see how it colored their behaviors as adults – and how grief and trauma in childhood or adolescence can be debilitating for the long-term.

I found compassion for Annie’s friend Mellie, who seemed so unstable and isolated until she was surrounded by love. I was in awe of Keaton, who shed no tears over how badly he was treated by family and community for decades, but came to the rescue in a heartbeat for those who needed his help or protection.

Macomber created a story of hope and belonging out of a medley of troubled folks. This book could have been depressing – but it wasn’t. It opened my eyes to the hurt people may be walking around with, and showed that people put their mark on the world in varied and unexpected ways.

-calliope

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Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery

Three lovely people grow up -separately- without loving parents, and though they don’t share the same mothers, they do share the same paternal grandfather. This guy might be in the background of the story character-development-wise, but he’s the hub that brings his three grandchildren together. Well, with a little help from a friend.

Susan Mallery wrote a terrific story about a non-traditional family. Malcolm was raised from boyhood by his grandfather. Keira was brought into the family home much later – and at the transitional age of 12 has a hard time feeling like she belongs. Delaney, a woman who works in the same building as Malcolm, helps bridge the brother-sister gap. Meanwhile, a third sibling is found and brought “home.” Callie isn’t sure this new world is for her, but feels a sense of responsibility for Keira.

I’ve read a lot of half-siblings-brought-together stories, but none quite like this. Mallery wrote fresh characters with realistic flaws and shortcomings, characters you can be annoyed with and cry with and laugh with… and sympathize with. And Mallery keeps up the realism all the way to the end, when everyone really has found home, even if it’s not what you’d expect. Terrific story about family, loyalty, and love.

-calliope

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Review: A Vicarage Wedding by Kate Hewitt

Kate Hewitt writes such realistic family relationships in this series focusing on four sisters who grew up in a vicarage. This third novel is about Rachel, the sister who wants a storybook life but never thought about the need for a strong foundation to build upon.

I like how no matter what emotional turmoil or complicated situation the sisters find themselves in, the other sisters are there to support them. Now, if you don’t have sisters, you might not recognize sisterly support. It’s not always soft words and hugs. Sometimes it’s a harsh truth (Esther!!!) and sometimes it’s just being there in the same room (Miriam!).

I also like that Hewitt writes in lovely male characters to (a) distract the sisters from their current problem, and (b) create new issues for them to figure out. And that’s certainly life for Rachel when her new job AND her new apartment come with broody but handsome Sam.

-calliope

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Review: How to Keep a Secret by Sarah Morgan

Sisters Lauren and Jenna have been thick as thieves since their childhood when their mother was always painting and traveling — and their dad was more pal than caregiver.

Decades later, Jenna and Lauren still have each other’s backs as they (and next generation Mack) spend a summer together on Martha’s Vineyard — while mom Nancy tries to sell the childhood home.

I loved the secrets in this book! They weren’t too angsty or twisty… they were barely predictable… just enough to make the book easy and believable. And when they unraveled, I saw exactly why they were such long-held secrets. And I could understand why Mack wanted the truth from everyone from there on out!

Though I enjoyed all the characters – and Morgan developed them all well – I think Mack was a brilliant addition to the cast. As a teenager in a cast largely of adults, she often was by herself or feeling on the periphery of the action. But that was actually a stroke of genius – Mack was the observer of all that was happening, and clued me (the reader) in to the truth.

Besides Mack, I adored Lauren’s boat-builder ex boyfriend. He handled teenager drama like a champ, was the perfect gentleman helping Nancy in her time of need, and was honest as they come.

Way to go, Sarah Morgan. How to Keep a Secret is one of my 2018 favorites!

-calliope

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