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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Review: California Summer by Anita Hughes

I love a good starting-over story. In California Summer, Rosie doesn’t have much of a choice. Her Hollywood life fell apart and she ended up in Montecito – uncertain of her future. But, a mother figure/ butler friend/ bff/ neighborhood guy later, and Rosie’s on her way back up. Question is, does she want to go back to the fast lane, or does she want to settle in to Montecito life with the ones she loves?

I loved every fish taco, every Estelle dinner party, and every rose garden chat. Anita Hughes rocked the luxuriousness, as usual, and threw in some pop stars and surfers for good measure. The plot twist was perfect – completely believable and not overdone – and endeared me to Rosie’s boyfriend even more.

The only shortcomings of this novel were that Rosie had two very annoying habits: 1- wearing the same red, full length cocktail dress randomly and to every gathering under the sun, whether it was appropriate or not, and 2- Rosie ran and hid like a toddler from any uncomfortable situation. I just wanted her to get a new dress and grow a set!

Apart from those two things, I liked all the characters, even spoiled Angelica and Hollywood agent Ryan. Hughes did a great job rounding out character development and writing someone for every reader to identify with. My favorite parts were meeting Esmerelda through Rosie’s eyes, and watching Rosie finally grow up.

-calliope

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Review: How Hard Can It Be by Allison Pearson

If you’re a woman over 40 — either working or going back to work after taking time off to raise children — you’ve got to read this. Actually, if you’re any woman you’ve got to read this. You’ll either identify with it because you’re just like Kate, or you’ll identify with Alice or Candy or Sally. If you’re a husband you should read it for its eye-opening characteristics. If you’re a single guy with a job, well, it might enlighten you too, man.

I’m just going to admit it. This is exactly what’s it’s like to be a 40ish woman going back to work after a decade off. Luckily I have a husband and colleagues who are a little more forgiving, but other than that, How Hard Can It Be is the cold unvarnished truth about raising teenagers, the pressures and interruptions of managing a home and extended family problems, the difficulty finding time to exercise, and the change of life that hits everyone with XY chromosomes.

It’s funny, authentic, heartbreaking. I furrowed my brow wondering how Kate could miss so many red flags with her kids, but in her defense, she had a LOT going on., And throughout every chapter I thought It is so nice to know I’m not the only one in this particular boat!

-calliope

P.S. This book reminded me of a couple of women in real life who are offering an online course for women wishing to re-enter the workforce after opting out to care for family. You can find details at Prepare To Launch U.

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