Powered By Blogger

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Backtrack by Erin La Rosa

The Backtrack by Erin LaRosa
Published by Canary Street Press ISBN 9781335009456
Trade paperback, $18.99, 304 pages

From the publisher:


From the author of FOR BUTTER OR WORSE and PLOT TWIST comes a new speculative contemporary romance. One woman is sucked into the past—and shown glimpses of what her life could have been—as she listens to nostalgic hits on her old CD player. For fans of Rebecca Serle and Allison Winn Scotch.

When pilot Sam Leto jet-setted out of small town Georgia, she promised she’d never be back—even though it meant leaving behind her best friend, Damon Rocha. Now on a forced vacation home to pack up her childhood house (and help her injured grandmother), Sam is unexpectedly hit with nostalgia from her teens--especially her bedroom, perfectly preserved from the time she left all those years ago. Sam discovers an old CD player among her teenage possessions, and in listening to the burned disc inside, she receives flashbacks from her past life--senior prom, graduation, leaving home. But the memories aren't as she remembers them. They show an alternate past. What could have been. If she never left Georgia all those years ago, would she now have the life (and love) she always wanted for herself?

My Thoughts:

I liked that Sam has an unusual occupation- she's a pilot who flies international routes. We don't see that often in romance novels. Sam and her in-flight crew play the "What If" game with passengers. They seat people together that they believe will make a connection- friendship or romantic- and see if anything develops.

When Sam's old CD player from high school plays a disc her marching bandmate and best friend-wannabe-boyfriend Damon gave her, she sees snippets of an alternate life she could have led- the ultimate "What If" game. It begins with the night that changed everything: the night Damon asked to kiss Sam and she said no.

In Sam's alternate past, she says yes and each song on the disc plays out a different incident related to the song and her life. Sam writes down what happens in each incident and tries to piece together what it could possibly mean.

Now that Sam is back in the hometown she ran away from after high school, she has to face Damon as she cares for her sassy grandmother. (I love a good sassy grandmother!) Does Sam have romantic feelings for Damon and does he still feel the same for her? If so, what do they do about it?

The Backtrack brings the reader back to their own high school days, and I'm guessing many will relate to the outsider status that Sam and Damon shared. It creates a nostalgic feeling in the reader, and readers may reflect on their own "What If" moments from that time.

Anyone who came of age in the 2000's will truly enjoy all the music references, and there is a playlist at the end of the book.

I enjoyed the nostalgic aspects of the story, and the romance of the guy-she-got-away-from is well-done. While I don't usually look for magical aspects in a story, I found this one intriguing. I recommend The Backtrack.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer 2024 Blog Tour.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Beat the heat with two great reads

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

Summer is in full swing and this month’s Book Report has two books to beat the heat.

We last heard from Jane L. Rosen with her wonderful novel On Fire Island, which made my list of the Most Compelling Books of 2023. In it, we met young widower Ben grieving the tragic loss of his wife. His older neighbor Shep, a widower himself, helps Ben navigate his new life, and Ben in turn takes a teen neighbor under his wing. (She is one of my all-time favorite characters.)

Rosen returns to the same Fire Island community with Seven Summer Weekends. Addison is poised to become the first female head of the art department at a prestigious Manhattan advertising agency when she accidentally sends a message to everyone in a Zoom that ends her career. 

When an aunt that Addison hasn’t seen in years passes away, she leaves Addison her Fire Island home. Addison goes to Fire Island to regroup, and plans to sell the house to tide her over until she can find a new job.

There’s one catch though- the guest house on the property is booked throughout the summer so Addison can’t sell the home until the fall. And the hot neighbor guy tells Addison that her aunt promised him that he could buy the house for a very reasonable price.

It turns out the neighbor is Ben, the young widower from On Fire Island. Ben and Addison have a push-pull relationship- one moment Addison is very attracted to him, the next he does something that makes her rethink her friendship with him.

Addison discovers that each of the weekly guests have a connection to her aunt, and through them she learns more about the aunt she never knew due to a family feud between her parents and her aunt. As the summer goes on, Addison becomes more involved in the Fire Island community and questions her future- should she stay or sell?

I loved Seven Summer Weekends just as much as On Fire Island, and that is a lot. The characters are interesting (Shep makes an appearance!), and Rosen’s writing is filled humor, heart, and even some steamy heat. I'd like to take the ferry to Fire Island and hang out with Addison, Ben, and the gang. I give it my highest recommendation. 

Francis S. Barry decided to buy a Winnebago during the pandemic and take off with his wife Laurel to follow the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco. He recounts their adventures in Back Roads and Better Angels- A Journey Into The Heart Of American Democracy. 

Barry, a writer for Bloomberg News, previously served in Michael Bloomberg’s administration as chief speechwriter when Bloomberg was mayor of New York City.  Dismayed by the rancor and political division he sees today in this country, he wanted to discover what people really thought about what was happening.

The fact that neither Barry nor his wife had ever driven a Winnebago didn’t damper their enthusiasm, and they had their fair share of mishaps (including a toilet pedal that continuously malfunctioned).

As they travel the country, they camp in KOAs and Walmart parking lots and meet up with people they know and those they don’t know. They stop at historic sites and find more places named Lincoln than you might think could possibly exist.

One learns a great deal about history that you’d never find in history books, particularly with regards to Native American people. Some of it is incredibly disturbing, and made me gasp at the callous inhumanity people inflicted on each other.

Barry ties the Lincoln Highway sites, as well as the state of the country today, to events and words spoken by Abraham Lincoln himself. He clearly studied our 16th President and gives him his due, showing Lincoln as the politician, man, and leader he truly was.

The one question Barry asks each person he meets is “What binds us together as Americans?”. The answers given are often profound, thought-provoking, and shine a light on where we are today as well as where we'd like to be.

Barry meets a politician in Nebraska who explains how the state legislature has the reputation as “one of the most civil and cooperative in the nation” because political parties are less relevant there. People work together in common cause to make government work better for all. Perhaps that is the most important export Nebraska has to share with the rest of the country.

Anyone who likes to read road trip stories and has an interest in history and Abraham Lincoln will get great pleasure and learn much from Back Roads and Better Angels. It is essential reading for all citizens, I give it my highest recommendation.

Seven Summer Weekends by Jane L. Rosen- A+

Published by Berkley

Trade paperback, $19, 302 pages

Back Roads and Better Angels by Francis S. Barry- A+

Published by SteerForth Press

Hardcover, $35, 552 pages

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Summer Reads

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

Memorial Day has passed us by and now it is time to prepare for our Summer Reading Season. Whether you’re headed to the lake, the beach, or just your own front porch, you’re going to need some good books to enjoy. 

Abby Jimenez’s romance Just For the Summer is the perfect way to kick off summer reading. Emma is tired of dating guys, breaking up with them and then finding that they find their true love after the breakup. 

When she discovers through social media that a young man named Justin has the same bad luck, they decide to date each other. Their theory is that when they break up, they will each then go on to meet their soulmate. So they decide to date ‘just for the summer’ to test their theory. What could go wrong? This is a fantastic read and so well-written.

Catherine Newman’s novel Sandwich is set on Cape Cod during an annual summer vacation. Rocky looks forward each year to having her husband and adult children all together, along with a visit from her parents. 

This year Rocky is dealing with menopause, along with family secrets that come to light. Sandwich is funny and charming, and anyone who has vacationed with family will relate to Rocky’s situation. The characters are wonderful.

Holly Gramazio’s novel The Husbands has a unique concept. When Lauren arrives home one night after too much partying she is greeted by her husband, but she isn’t married. Her husband goes up to the attic and when he comes back down, he is a different man- literally. 

Lauren discovers that every time her husband goes up into the attic, a different husband comes down. She cycles through several men, and when she decides she doesn’t like something about them, she sends them up to the attic to get a new husband. It’s hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time.

Speaking of husbands, author Beatriz Williams’ Husbands & Lovers has two main characters in three time lines. In 2018, single mom Mallory Dunne’s 10 year-old son Sam gets acute mushroom poisoning at summer camp and has to go on dialysis. 

Three years later, her sister convinces Mallory to finally tell her summer fling from 2008 that he is Sam’s father. The only problem is that she is going to tell him on the weekend he is to be married to another woman.

In 1952, Hungarian war refugee Hannah is in Egypt with her British diplomat husband. She begins an affair with a hotel manager who has something to hide. We slowly get Hannah’s backstory, and how Beatriz Williams connects the stories of these two women is just brilliant. 

Historical mystery fans will want to read the final chapters of two of the best series in recent years. Jacqueline Winspear closes out her captivating WWII Maisie Dobbs series with The Comfort of Ghosts. 

We meet up with all of the characters in private investigator/psychologist Maisie’s life that we have come to love as she attempts to help some young orphaned squatters and a seriously injured serviceman. Maisie discovers that they have some connection to her deceased husband. This is one of the most satisfying endings to a series that I have ever read.

Susan Elia MacNeal says goodbye to her protagonist Maggie Hope in The Last Hope. We have seen Maggie go from a secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a spy for the top secret WWII SOE agency where she risked her life many times over. Maggie is one of the most intriguing characters in historical mysteries and MacNeal gives her a proper sendoff. 

If Nonfiction is more to your taste, Erik Larson is back with The Demon of Unrest about the battle at Fort Sumpter that began the Civil War. History buffs have already made it a best seller. 

For more current history, George Stephanopoulos and Lisa Dickey team up for The Situation Room which puts the reader right into the famed Situation Room in the White House where they recount the tales of twelve presidents who have dealt with crisis and disasters at critical junctures in our history. 

If you love looking at birds in your backyard, author Amy Tan’s The Backyard Bird Chronicles is for you. Tan’s beautifully illustrates the bird she saw in her backyard and has a story about each of them in this lovely book that would make a great gift. 

Happy Summer Reading!

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Three Great Spring Reads

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

Spring is traditionally a busy time of year with many publishers releasing some of their most promising books of the year and this year is no exception. This month’s Book Report has a few of them in different genres.

Colm Tobin’s latest novel, Long Island picks up the story he began in his novel Brooklyn twenty years ago. We met young Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey who moved to Brooklyn, fell in  love, and married Tony Fiorello in Brooklyn

Twenty years later, Eilis, Tony and their two teenage children live amongst Tony’s large family in a Lindenhurst, Long Island cul-de-sac. Eilis still feels like an outsider in the large Italian-American family years later.

When a man comes to the door and says that his wife is pregnant with Tony’s child, and that when the baby is born he will be dropping the baby on Eilis’ doorstep, she tells Tony that she will not raise another woman’s baby.

As Tony and his mother make arrangements for her to take care of the baby, Eilis returns home to Ireland for a planned visit to see her own mother whom she hasn’t seen in twenty years.

Eilis’ last visit home was fraught with complications. She never told anyone she was married to Tony, and wasn’t sure then whether she would stay in Ireland or return to Brooklyn and Tony.

She began a relationship with Jim, whose family owned a pub in her hometown. After leaving Jim heartbroken, she never spoke to him again. Jim is now in a relationship with Nancy, a widow who was Eilis’ best friend. 

Eilis’ return again causes complications for Jim. He loves Nancy and wants to build a life with her, but seeing Eilis again brings up old feelings he thought were buried.

I found the character of Jim the most intriguing in Long Island. He is a good man who is torn between doing right by Nancy, a woman he truly loves, and wanting to be with Eilis, even if it means leaving all he knows behind.

Colm Toibin writes complicated, realistic characters, and I felt completely immersed in the small Irish town where most of the story takes place. We waited twenty years for the continuation of Eilis’ story and it was certainly worth the wait. I highly recommend Long Island.

I have two books that resonate with mothers and daughters. Andromeda Romano-Lax’s novel The Deepest Lake tells the story of Rose, a mother whose twenty-something daughter Jules drowned in a lake in Central America. 

Jules was working at a writers’ workshop run by Eve Marshall, a popular memoir writer whom Jules greatly admired. Rose is troubled by the fact that Jules was afraid of water, and wonders why Jules was last seen in a small boat out in bad weather. 

Rose decides to go incognito to the writers’ workshop to find out what happened to her daughter. While there, Rose meets the other women at the workshop, and begins to probe them and others about what exactly goes on at this retreat, without blowing her cover.

Rose can see why so many women are seduced by Eve’s glamour and personality, but she comes to feel that Eve’s methods to get these women to open up and write their own stories are disturbing. She feels that Eve is hiding something that may have to do with Jules’ mysterious death.

There is a twist at the end that I did not see coming that upends the story and creates tension in the novel. At the heart of the story is the strength that a mother finds in herself to discover what happened to her daughter. If you like well-written literary thrillers with intriguing characters, put The Deepest Lake on your list.

After the death of Mary Lou Quinlan’s mother, she discovered that her mother had stashed small boxes all over her home filled with little slips of paper containing petitions to God. 

The God Box shares many of the prayers her mother Mary wrote asking God to help her children, friends, and even people she barely knew. From serious health matters to job advancement to help with relationships, Mary’s faith, compassion, and empathy for others shines in this slim read, and it’s a beautiful tribute to her life.

The God Box is a lovely inspirational gift for any mom or daughter, it will encourage you to reflect on your own mother’s life.

Long Island by Colm Toibin-A

Published by Scribner

Hardcover, $28, 320 pages

The Deepest Lake by Andromeda Romano-Lax- A-

Published by Soho Crime

Hardcover, $26.95, 384 pages

The God Box by Mary Lou Quinlan- A-

Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press

Hardcover, $16.95, 122 pages

Monday, May 13, 2024

The Summer Swap by Sarah Morgan

The Summer Swap by Sarah Morgan
Published by Canaray Street Press ISBN 9781335474940
Trade paperback, $18.99, 336 pages

From the Publisher:

A recent widow’s plan to spend the summer in Cape Cod hiding from her interfering family is upended when she discovers her beach house has an unexpected guest, and the secret she's been keeping about her marriage threatens to be exposed. Perfect beach reading for fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid and Emily Henry.

70 year old widow Cecilia Lapthorne can’t bear the prospect of a family party to celebrate her birthday and the memory of her husband, famous artist Cameron Lapthorne. They had a toxic marriage but stayed together for the children, and bound by a big secret. She runs away to the Cape Cod seashore cottage she owned with Cameron--it’s where they first fell in love--but she hasn’t returned since she discovered him cheating on her there (for the first time). No one in her family knows about it, so she will be perfectly, delightfully alone for the summer.

Except struggling artist Lily has been secretly crashing on the sofa of the seashore cottage for the last couple of weeks. Unable to make rent after dropping out of medical school to pursue her dreams of becoming an artist and working as a housekeeper in Cecilia's Cape Cod enclave, she’s been illicitly camping at the cottage. Which isn’t a problem as it’s been unoccupied for years…until Cecilia unexpectedly shows up.

After the drama of discovering she has an unexpected house-guest has faded, Cecilia decides she’ll get along just fine with Lily for the summer. They form a tentative and powerful bond, based on shared love of art, but also the vulnerabilities they both share with each other. And when Todd, Cecilia’s beloved grandson (and the man who broke Lily’s heart in college) tracks her to the cottage, the three of them settle in for a summer of self-discovery, self-belief and second chances.

My Thoughts:

As someone who has visited Cape Cod on more than a few occasions, I was drawn to Sarah Morgan's The Summer Swap initially because of its setting. Morgan paints a vivid picture of the cottage that Cecelia, Lily, and eventually Todd end up spending the entire summer. I could see the cottage in my mind's eye and would love to have spent time there myself, and if you are someone who loves interior decorating, you'll enjoy this part of the story even more.

The characters are also vividly portrayed and you can see why Cecelia and Lily were drawn to each other. They are both trying to discover what the rest of their lives should be, what would make them happy and fulfilled. It was also enjoyable watching the relationships between Todd and Lily and Cecelia and her old friend blossom.

There is a bit of a mystery here, but one that careful readers will probably guess at early on; that doesn't make it any less interesting however. 

The Summer Swap is a perfect novel with which to start the summer beach reading season. Pop it in your beach bag next to the sunscreen.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Sarah Morgan's blog tour.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Two Books By My Favorite Authors

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

There are some authors whose work I will always read. Their books are filled with characters that feel like people I want to know, the stories are interesting, and writing entrances me. Lisa Grunwald and Caroline Leavitt are two of those authors, and they both have wonderful books publishing in April.

Lisa Grunwald’s last novel Time After Time (about a young woman who, after she dies in train crash in a tunnel in Grand Central Station before WWII, returns to life but can only exist within the walls of Grand Central Central Station, falls in love with a train conductor) is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a beautiful love story.

Her new novel, The Evolution of Annabel Craig also has a historical setting. In 1925 Dayton, Tennessee, Annabel is married to George, a lawyer. Annabel overhears a group of the town’s businessmen discussing a newspaper article that states that the American Civil Liberties Union was offering to back any teacher in Tennessee who was willing to test a new law signed by the Tennessee governor. 

The Butler Act forbid the teaching of evolution in public schools in order to protect the children from hearing something that is in direct contrast to religious teachings. The Dayton businessmen believed that this test case could be a boon to business in town. 

Luckily for them, John Scopes, a young substitute science teacher and high school football coach, had taught a class about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is found in their science textbook. John agrees and history is about to be made.

Annabel’s husband George ends up on the defense team, and their lives immediately change. Their neighbors and friends become angry with them. Over 200 reporters descend on the town, including a female reporter named Lottie Nelson. 

Lottie befriends Annabel and opens Annabel’s eyes to a life beyond being a housewife. Annabel likes to take photos and Lottie encourages her in this pursuit, telling Annabel that “what a person wants can change”. 

The Evolution of Annabel Craig may be a historical novel, but it has so many parallels to things happening right now. The media circus, the debate over separation of church and state in schools, the country coming out of a recent horrific pandemic (the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic), it all resonates with today's issues.

If you’re familiar the play Inherit the Wind, you know about this story. Lisa Grunwald tells it through the lens of Annabel’s growth as a woman, discovering who she is and what is important to her. It’s a book that leaves the reader with so much to think about, I read it months ago and I still think about it. I give it my highest recommendation.

Caroline Leavitt’s new novel, Days of Wonder is more contemporary, but also tells the story of  a woman’s growth. When Ella was sixteen years old, she fell madly in love with Jude. They were inseparable and their love became nearly obsessive.

When it appears that Ella and Jude poisoned his father, a judge, after he disapproved of their relationship, Ella is sent to prison while Jude’s father moves him far away.

Ella was pregnant with Jude’s baby and Ella’s mother Helen made the decision that the baby would be given up for adoption. Six years later, Ella gets out of prison and returns home to Helen, who just wants her daughter to be safe and happy. Ella cannot forget about the daughter she gave up however and is determined to find her.

Moving to Ann Arbor, Ella doesn’t tell her mother she is going to find her daughter who has been adopted by a couple. Ella becomes involved in the lives of her daughter and the woman who has adopted the baby without them knowing who she really is.

Meanwhile, Helen, who has never had a relationship with a man since she had Ella, finds herself involved with a man who treats her with kindness and respect. Her life has opened up in ways she never believed possible.

Leavitt does a remarkable job with the characters of Helen and Ella. We watch them change and grow as they have to deal with an impossible situation and we root for them. Helen and Ella have found a place in my heart and no one writes the mother-daughter relationship in novels better than Caroline Leavitt. I also give Days of Wonder my highest recommendation, and it may be Caroline Leavitt’s best book yet.

The Evolution of Annabel Craig by Lisa Grunwald- A

Published by Random House

Hardcover, $30, 320 pages

Days of Wonder by Caroline Leavitt- A

Published by Algonquin Books

Hardcover, $29, 320 pages