Review: Before Everything by Victoria Redel 

This book is a lot of work to read. It’s emotionally taxing (although I didn’t even cry until near the end) and, frankly, depressing. Anna is dying of cancer. And that’s no spoiler, pal. That’s the premise of the book. 

Before Everything is also about love and friendship and family and a few secrets. Victoria Redel designs Anna’s friendships so realistically that the secrets the women have make me remember secrets I have with my friends … not contrived or hyperbolic or beyond belief, but just stuff we know about each other because we’ve been friends for so long. 

I read this book in hopes that I’d come to a better understanding of what it’s like for the family of a person dying of cancer. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let myself feel it 100%. So instead I read with my shoulders tensed, my mind rushing to get to the next scene, and only half my heart with Anna. 

It’s a good read if you can let your guard down. I held back because otherwise it would’ve been too painful. Thinking about that, well, maybe I did learn what it’s like to be close to someone who’s dying. 

-calliope

Buy BEFORE EVERYTHING

Review: A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe 

Lovely story, but not what I expected. I thought, “A wedding! France! Cheese! Pastry!” And I got a wedding… but not until the very very end; France… well a part of France  caught very much in between England and France in language and culture; cheese… yes, but not everyone liked it; and pastry… oh the very best pastries and cakes made by chef Juliette. 

Juliette set aside her personal baggage to be Max’s personal chef. For Juliette, life was even easier that way. When Max invited a bunch of friends to stay at his home for the weekend, Juliette was ready to cook for them like a madwoman. But things went wrong at every turn due to the shadow Max’s mood cast. Whether he meant to or not, Max kind of ruined everything for his friends and his chef. And that kind of ruined the story for me. 
Good writing, good plot, depressing main character. 

-calliope 

Buy A FRENCH WEDDING

Review: Under a Summer Sky by Melody Carlson

This is a cute summer read set in Savannah, where we find art teacher Nicole house-sitting for a family friend and working at an art gallery. Nicole thought she’d have a quiet summer with plenty of time to paint, but instead finds herself overwhelmed with a difficult co-worker, childhood friends-turned-handsome-men, and a teenager who just needs a little love and direction. 

I loved all the references to art and architecture, the Savannah sunsets, and the diplomatic way Nicole finessed her way through a few unexpected situations. As usual for her novels, Carlson includes a little bit of God to illustrate his presence, but doesn’t use the novel to preach or proselytize. And as usual for my favorite summer reads, this one ends in a happily ever after. 

-Calliope 

Buy UNDER A SUMMER SKY

Review: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr

Sierra shows up at Sullivan’s Crossing and finds more than just her brother and sister-in-law with welcoming arms. Sierra finds a father figure, some peace of mind, and Connie (Conrad) the firefighter. 

Carr did a wonderful job pacing the romance and the family dynamics, making the relationships realistic as they grew. I liked that Sierra and Connie had a support system, and that the people around them were part of the fabric of the story – not just background characters. 

I’m not exactly a fan of the “quirky drifters appearing at the campground” type setting of these Sullivan’s Crossing books … but the endearing characters make up for it. 

-Calliope 

Buy ANY DAY NOW

Review: Kiss Me at Willoughby Close by Kate Hewitt

I love these quick and fun Willoughby Close novels. Trying circumstances send a person to Willoughby Close to rent a cottage on manor property. The person grows in various ways, gets a hand up if necessary, chooses a direction, and makes their life the best they can. Kiss Me is Ava’s story… and boy howdy does she need a cottage to live in after her rich husband dies and leaves her with next to nothing, not even one of their several homes. 

At Willoughby Close, Ava learns how to interact with people on a friendly and neighborly level, reach out when someone needs help, and show her true colors instead of putting on a façade. Ava finds more than just her strength at Willoughby… she also finds the handsome and sensitive alpha groundskeeper, throwing a wrench into all her plans to be independent. 

While Ava is surrounded by good people who want to help her, she does plenty of helping herself — and even taking the time for a young woman who could use a break. 

I love that Hewitt focuses on second chances, and it’s uplifting to see good people making something positive out of those chances. 

-Calliope

Buy KISS ME AT WILLOUGHBY CLOSE

Review: Return to Huckleberry Hill by Jennifer Beckstrand

This installment of The Matchmakers series is just as good as the rest were – and fine to read as a standalone. What sets this one apart is the angst! Most of Beckstrand’s other books are fun and flip, adventuresome and whimsical. In Return to Huckleberry Hill, Reuben deals with the demon of pride, and though I didn’t feel bad for him in the least, I did sympathize with those around him. 

Fern King, too, deals with demons. Oh how I wanted to cry for her — trying to be strong, always showing a cheerful face, never complaining, yet truly dying inside. Fern endures so much, and I really almost couldn’t take it! (I’ll never forgive you, Ms. Beckstrand, if Barbara Schmucker doesn’t get her due.)  But Fern also gets to see Reuben and her brother John in a new environment – and witness their growth (or lack of it). 

Anna and Felty remain the cute elderly couple that gets in everyone’s business trying to make love connections. I haven’t tired of them yet, and I’m almost endeared to Anna’s creative cooking.  

This is a non-traditional Amish novel in that it doesn’t center around faith and obedience as much as some might; yet Beckstrand gives the main characters the gift of self-reflection… something that made me want to be best friends with Fern, and let me forgive Reuben for almost all of his trespasses. 

-Calliope

Buy RETURN TO HUCKLEBERRY HILL

Review: Restless Waters(Left Drowning #2) by Jessica Park

01 rest My heart has been squeezed and shredded, and glued and mended. Restless Waters is filled with enough emotion to sweep you out to sea, unless you’re holding tight to someone.

“Breathe. Just breathe.”

“There’s no air, Blythe.”

“Reach for me. I won’t let you drown. I’m right here.”

He rubs my back some more and then laughs lightly. “You’re already taken.”

“I have two hands, Sabin. Grab one.”

I have loved Sabin from the very first moment we met him, in Left Drowning. I knew there was more going on inside his head than he let on. I KNEW that his story, however it was told, was going to make me feel. I was so right.

SYNOPSIS
A storm is coming, and with storms come restless waters.

Pulled from the depths of catastrophe and depression, Blythe McGuire has learned to escape from her past while embracing the future. A future now entwined with the Shepherd siblings.

With Chris, she shares a staggering romance that kicks heartbreak’s ass.

With Sabin, she shares an intense friendship, one that’s becoming more complicated than either had expected. A friendship now being put to the test because Sabin’s brutal past still haunts him. Because trauma is the gift that keeps on giving without mercy.

Now Sabin is the one left drowning and struggling to breathe, and his turmoil threatens to send all three into dark currents they cannot escape. Even after going through her own hell, saving Sabin will take much more than Blythe had anticipated. Their connection and their love could help, but getting him to reach for her hand could be Blythe’s biggest challenge ever.

Blythe has found a way to breathe, with the love of Chris and Sabin. Sabin is her best friend. In fact, everyone would count themselves lucky to have a friend like Sabin. He is charismatic and loving, and loyal to a fault. He wants his loved ones to feel no pain. But as they grow closer, she notices that Sabin is falling apart. He wants to be free, but at the same time, he can’t stand being alone. If Blythe isn’t strong enough to save him, she’s going to drown right along with him.

My heart was breaking this entire time. True to the Left Drowning feel, I had to step away from everyone, as I couldn’t contain the sobs that overcame me, at one scene. I was completely caught off guard and my heart squeezed so tight.

I wanted Sabin to be happy. But no matter how loud and crazy he was, there was undercurrent within him, that you felt through the pages. Restless waters is the perfect description of him. He was all over the place. Never settled. He was hurting and helpless. After growing up the crazy household they did, there are bound to be scars that remain below the surface. Healing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of fierce love and compassion to prevent someone from drowning in sadness and pain.

So hold on. Grab a box of tissues and get cozy. You won’t want to get up until you’ve finished.

~Melpomene

Buy Restless Waters: A Left Drowning Novel (Left Drowning Series Book 2)

Read Left Drowning (Left Drowning Series Book 1) first, to fully understand where Sabin is coming from. This book is in my top 10 of all times. I have much love for this series.