Friday, June 30, 2023

June Read: The Bookshop by the Bay by Pamela Kelley


Bookshop, summer, beach...yes, I'm a sucker for it! I've read Ms. Kelley's Nantucket Restaurant series so I knew I would enjoy this summer read that takes place on Cape Cod. It's a place I've had on my travel radar for a long time. For now, I'll have to do armchair travel.

Jess is married to Parker and they're both lawyers in a thriving firm in Charleston. Their daughter Caitlin still lives with them as she bounces from job to job, unsuccessfully trying to find a career path. She's a hard worker, but never a "good fit".

All is not great in the marriage; Jess has noticed they're more friends than partners after 30 years of marriage. Before she can bring up divorce, she discovers her husband's been unfaithful with his secretary and now is expecting another child. Jess is DONE. She decides to return to her hometown of Chatham on Cape Cod for the summer to visit her mother and think about what she wants to do, and Caitlin decides to come along. It's a life changing trip for both of them. 

Jess' best friend Alison still lives in Chatham and works for a magazine that is in financial trouble. She's looking for a part-time job and finds out the local bookshop, which has been a staple in Chatham for decades, may be for sale. It's been her dream to own a bookshop and here's her chance, if she can pull the finances together. 

Along comes Jess with time on her hands, an impending divorce, and the means to invest in the bookshop and become co-owner with Alison. Soon Caitlin has taken over managing a defunct coffee shop next door to the bookshop, and the summer really kicks in! Plenty of characters are introduced and smaller plot lines run alongside the main bookshop/divorce storyline. 

All three women are going through life changes--all involving career changes as well as romantic. Although Jess and Caitlin have set October as a deadline to return to Charleston, will they stay in Chatham for good?

This is what I call a gentle novel. What makes a novel gentle (to me) is when there are no big plot twists; characters are all likable, and the story moves along at a gentle pace. Everyone is likable and the setting is a place that's perfectly perfect. No big surprises, but a satisfying read. 

I enjoyed this read, mostly because it was a relaxing one. My only slight beef was Caitlin expressing over and over how she was going to return to Charleston. It got old after a bit, especially when you, as a reader, knew there was nothing in Charleston to return to except shallow friends and temp jobs. It took her a bit too long to figure it out. 

Romantic interests for all, delicious food descriptions, and a seaside town that sounds like a dreamy place to live. And of course we can't forget the bookshop. I can't think of a more satisfying career than to own a bookshop in a seaside town. 

Rating: 4/6 for a perfectly enjoyable summertime read. Women enjoying their friendships, figuring out life, and realizing that you can go home again. And--you can love the ocean and not swim in it!

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

June Read: The Seamstress of Sardinia by Bianca Pitzorno


I came across this novel at B&N about three months ago and immediately added it to my TBR. My reason for my interest in this novel mostly lies in the fact that I have a family member who spends a lot of time on the island of Sardinia and someday I hope to visit. Photos show a stunning island that looks like something out of a fairy tale. 

Bianca Pitzorno is an Italian novelist and this is her first novel translated into English. I absolutely enjoyed this novel that was more like a "dramedy" than historical fiction. 

The novel is written in first person narrative, and looking through it, I realized the narrator's name is never mentioned! She's known as a sartina, who is a seamstress who either works at home or travels to client's homes to sew for them. They sew sheets, undergarments, trousseaus; anything that's required in a home. It is hard work and doesn't make much money, but this sartina manages to remain independent and have a small apartment. 

Let me backtrack! The story starts with this sartina as a small child, living with her grandmother, who is a well-respected sartina on the island of Sardinia. The time is somewhere around the early 20th century; there is never an exact date or year. Both are the last surviving members of a large family which was wiped out during an epidemic. They struggle to survive, but the grandmother teaches her granddaughter how to sew, so that she may lead an independent life and not be forced to become a maid. 

The novel is more of a collection of stories about important events in the sartina's life: her early years with her grandmother; her friendship with the very important (and wealthy) Signorina Ester; her friendship with La Miss, and all the little ways the sartina's life evolved. Her ongoing relationship with Guido, a handsome student, slowly unfolds throughout the last half of the novel. I never lost interest in the story and all of the characters were most definitely good and helpful or bad and vengeful. This was a life where everything was definitely black and white, with very little grey. 

There is love, friendship, tragedy, and a sense of community all throughout this novel. The sartina is not perfect and does make a few bad choices, but overall she is  wise and careful to keep her independence and not give up on her dreams. 

This was an enjoyable novel about one woman's quiet, unique life. It's not about the riches you make, but about the life you make and the people you love. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel about a woman who learns to take care of herself and along the way is witness to some unique people and events. There are definite themes of poverty and wealth, the disparity between classes, and societal pressures to remain in your lane. 

Available in trade paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Friday, June 16, 2023

June Read: The Block Party by Jamie Day


Fresh off a few feel-good novels, I needed a break in genres so I dove into The Block Party. It kept me tied to my iPad for a few days, and the build up to the end had me skipping my lunch so I could finish it. 

The narrators are two: Alex and her teen daughter Lettie. They live on Alton Road in Meadowbrook, MA. Alex has a drinking problem--she hits the wine pretty hard every day (and night), while mourning the creeping distance between herself and Lettie. Lettie is the typical teen--full of angst, anger, and wrestling with her desire to go to college out of state vs. her Dad, Nick, wanting her to go to school in state. It's a huge issue and has caused her to pull away from her parents. 

There are plenty of other folks on Alton Road, and they've all got issues, too. Emily is Alex's sister and her husband Ken is a boaster of the highest order; praising his eldest son while putting down his second son. Widow Brooke is beautiful and sexy, with the rumor mill saying she killed her husband on a cruise. And Willow is unhappily married to Evan but feels trapped. 

It's Memorial Day and the annual Aton Road get together is underway. We hear from a Meadowbrook Facebook page that there's been a shooting, and someone may be dead. But who and why? 

The story moves back to the year previously, and the story moves through the year, building the tension to the Memorial Day party that starts the story. In this year, we see all of the characters and the issues unfolding; plenty of motives for revenge, lots of family issues and marital issues--wow. Relationships that are complicated. This is what kept me reading, even though I felt the novel was a bit long. I had to keep reading to get to the present day Memorial party, where everything came to a head. 

Revenge is a major theme in this novel; making assumptions based on what you see rather than asking for the truth. Neighbors watching neighbors. 

I enjoyed the suspense and can't say I got the warm fuzzies for any of the characters. Not a street I'd like to live on!

Rating: 3/6 for an entertaining domestic thriller that builds in suspense with plenty of characters with motive for murder. It's a bit of a YA novel from Lettie's point of view, but also a tense look at adult motives for revenge and the lengths people will go to get even. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. A big thank you to Edelweiss for the ARC!

Saturday, June 10, 2023

June Read: The Enchanted Hacienda by J. C. Cervantes


I'm a sucker for a novel that involves gardens, flowers, and magic. 

Harlow Estrada is fresh off a break up with her loser boyfriend on the same day she loses her job.  She leaves New York City for the family farm and business in Mexico. Run by her mother and aunt, the Hacienda Estrada is a magical place. And I mean magical in every sense of the word. Acres of flowers, a fantastic hacienda, and yes, a bond with the land courtesy of a goddess. 

Harlow is the only woman in her family that has no apparent magic. Everyone else has a way with flowers that amplifies their gift. Now Harlow is back to stay for a few weeks while her mother and aunt take a vacation to Italy. It's just the break Harlow needs to find her creative spark and maybe, just maybe, her magical gift. 

There's also a gorgeous man she meets in the local village--Ben. He's drop dead hot, and seems to be interested in Harlow. But wow, their relationship is a bit of a hot mess, and it's the main romance of the novel. Harlow's emotions get in the way of her heart and cause a lot of trust issues with Ben.

This was a cute read; I was mostly interested in the farm and the magic used with the flowers. I found that all fascinating and dang if I wouldn't like to live on a magical flower farm. I thought the story dragged a bit and Harlow's questioning herself and Ben over and over was a bit annoying. 

I hope there are more stories involving Harlow's sisters and cousins--they each have magical gifts and none of them are in relationships--so many possible sequels to this novel. 

I don't have a deep introspective review of this novel. It was enjoyable; I'll be honest I went outside to my lavender pot and swept my hand over the buds to inhale the scent. Too bad I don't have a magical bone in my body! But this was a great reminder for me to see the magic in the flowers I have in my backyard. 

Themes about starting over; ending something can mean the beginning of a great new life; embracing being creative, trust yourself and your feelings. 

Fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Heather Webber will enjoy this magical novel.

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that will take you away from everyday life for just a bit, to a place where the flowers bloom and magic is all around. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, June 4, 2023

June Read: The Only Purple House in Town by Ann Aguirre


Another ARC I've had for a bit and I finally sat down to dive into it! This novel won't be published until July 11th (U.S.). It was a perfectly fun read for early summer. 

Ann Aguirre has written three other romances that make up the Fix-It Witches series. While this also takes place in St. Claire, IL, and features pop-ins from characters in that series, it can be read on its own. The romance is on the light side with no spicey scenes; it' actually quite mild, but that is part of the charm. 

St. Claire, IL is chock-full of witches, shape shifters, and other paranormal folks. It's a magical place. Iris Collins inherits her great Aunt's purple victorian home and can't wait to move to St. Claire. She's definitely the odd one in her family of psychic vampires; Iris has no talents or magic and can't seem to catch a break. Her online jewelry business hasn't taken off and she's up to her neck in debt. This sudden inheritance is the perfect way for her to start all over again, away from her family and roommates who can't wait to see her leave. 

Iris is a sweet, gentle character who does her best to put everyone she meets at ease. She moves into her purple home, but still doesn't have any money. She decides to advertise for roommates, as the home has plenty of bedrooms and the rent will help Iris pay bills. She gets more than she could have expected, though, because the folks who rent rooms from Iris are all wonderful people. There's Henry Dale, an older man who has no  family, but loves to stay busy with woodworking projects; Sally, who is suddenly single and exploring her options; and Eli. Eli is a young man who knew Iris when they were kids; she left a lasting impression on Eli and he's never forgotten her In fact, he's checked out her social media and found out she's moved to St. Claire. Meeting her unexpectedly at a cafe, he's all ready to introduce himself when Iris mistakes him for a potential roommate. Eli takes the opportunity and rents a room from Iris. He's got some deep feelings for Iris, but doesn't know how to even begin to express himself. Iris doesn't recognize him from childhood, so his secret is safe. For now. 

Iris' home soon becomes a happy place for a group of misfits who all bring talents that bloom once they've found a safe place to land. Part of the novel is about Eli and Iris, and Eli's secrets (he's got money, he rented a room under false pretenses).  There's a grumpy neighbor who's out to make Iris' life miserable. There's the bombshell that Iris' family drops on her. Little things here and there that keep the story moving along. Interesting twist in Iris' story unfolds in the last part of the novel, but it answers some questions about who she is and if she has any magical talent. I enjoyed this novel very much. 

Rating 4/6:  

Just a sweet, gentle read about people finding their new family and letting go of people who don't accept or love them for what they are. Most of the characters begin loving themselves and opening up to others after years of not feeling they are worthy of love. There are  some LGBTQ themes, which makes this a great book to review in June for Pride Month. 

A big thank you to Sourcebooks Casablanca for an advanced reader's copy. This novel will be out in trade paperback on July 11, 2023 in the U.S. It will also be available in ebook and audio. I'd call this "cozy fantasy" rather than a full out romance. If you liked Legends and Lattes, you will like this, too.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

June Read: The House on Prytania (a Royal Street novel) by Karen White


I don't know who creates the cover art for Karen White's novels; they are beautiful and I've decided I'd like to live in every house on every cover. Just gorgeous!

This was another highly anticipated read for me. I started it on my flight home from vacation, got busy, and just finished it up the last few days. This is the follow up to The Shop on Royal Street, which introduced us to Nola and her move to New Orleans from Charleston. 

Nola is the daughter of Jack and Melanie Trenholm, the two main characters from Ms. White's previous Tradd Street Series. I adored that series for many reasons: the setting of Charleston, the paranormal plots, and the ever evolving relationship between Jack and Melanie. Now Nola is grown up, settling in New Orleans to work in the historic preservation field as a consultant. 

As a second novel in the series, the characters felt much more familiar to me and it was interesting to see relationships evolve. I especially love Nola's roommate and perfect Southern Belle, Jolene. I wish I had half her energy and cooking talent. She is the calm in the middle of chaos. Nola's first romance, Cooper, moves to New Orleans and there's a spark again, and a sense of familiarity between the two which will be interesting to see develop. He's a solid guy who understands Nola and her sense of comfort around him bodes well for a possible romance in the future. 

Nola's biggest problem, of course, is the evil spirit that still haunts her home. She thought they'd sent him onto the light in the first novel, but it appears Antoine Broussard isn't ready to leave, and he wants to protect his awful secrets at any cost. Nola and Beau have to work together to defeat Antoine and figure out why Antoine continues to stay and terrify not only Nola, but others who sense and see his horrible presence. 

Ah, Beau. Nola and Beau. This is my big frustration with this series. Nola and Beau are a hot mess. It's obvious they love each other, but Beau has a girlfriend in spite of his very deep feelings for Nola. I just can't get why they both have to make it so complicated. The tension between the two is not good romantic tension; it's just too darn stressful to enjoy. I feel like any chance of a long lasting romance between them is not going to happen. I'd rather Nola end up with Cooper. I like both Beau and Nola, but especially Nola's decision making (or lack of) can be frustrating. Get out of your own way, Nola!

There are other things that happen in this novel, especially involving Beau's family, which is one of the backbones of this series. Some questions were answered, but of course the ending scene set us up for more to follow in the next book. I'll be waiting  patiently for that!

Do not start this series without reading the Tradd Street series first. You just won't get a lot of the back story for this series and you'll miss so much! Plus, you get to see Nola's story from the beginning, which is very interesting. She's a great character, but her stubbornness can get a bit old. 

Rating: 5/6 for a series continuation that starts right from the end of the first novel. I like that very much. Some character development that was good, some lack of development that was annoying. However, I love Ms. White's paranormal novels and eagerly read each and every one. Fans of contemporary fiction mixed with history and the paranormal will gleefully dive right in. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.