The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand (2014)

Moving means that I am currently too far from my (beloved) former local library branch to borrow books and still too disorganized to have been to my new library to check out books there. As a result, my reading options are limited to a stack of dusty paperbacks I found in last year’s beach bag, thus The Matchmaker!

Dabney Kimball Beech is beloved on her island home, Nantucket, not simply because she is a fourth-generation local, nor due exclusively to her encyclopedic knowledge of every inch of the island, but also for her renown as a matchmaker. More than forty couples have been matched by Dabney: all are soulmates, all are still together.

Dabney herself, however, is not living in bliss with her soulmate, Clendenin Hughes. Dabney met Clen at age fourteen and has never once (in thrity-four years) wavered in her belief that he was her soulmate. Despite a deep, desperate love for one another, the two split: Clen to travel the world as a journalist and Dabney to remain on her beloved Nantucket. Clen left Dabney with one parting gift: their daughter Agnes.

Fast forward almost twenty-five years to present day Nantucket: Dabney is known and loved by all Nantucket — residents and tourists alike. She is married to a renown economist to whom she has a pleasant but rather loveless marriage. She is the mother to twenty-four year-old Agnes, who Dabney loves with all her heart, despite Agnes’ engagement to a man Dabney knows is not Agnes’ soulmate.

After almost three decades, having recovered from the tumultuous time after Clen left the island and her years as a single mother, Dabney is living a good, content life. Until she receives an email from Clen, alerting her to the fact that he is returning to Nantucket.

Suddenly, Dabney’s ordered, calm, predictable world in thrown into chaos. She no longer knows who she is; Clen’s return has ignited a flame inside her. She is consumed with a renewed passion for — while still processing her heartbreak by — a man who she has loved for most of her life. She finds herself risking her job, her marriage, her standing in the community, all for chance to be with her true love.

Life, however, will not be put on hold. Dabney cannot act without consequences. By discarding her perfect, predictable life; she must face hard choices about who she will be going forward. A wonderful beach read by one of my favorites, Elin Hilderbrand! Anything by the author is great for summer reading, whose books are all set on the island of Nantucket and never fail to deliver a great story with wonderfully written characters, a dash of drama, and lush descriptions of Nantucket and its residents. Three other of my favorites are: Barefoot, The Island, and Beautiful Day.

 

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Sunburn by Laura Lippman (2018)

sunburn lippman

When Polly and Adam meet on a hot summer evening at a bar in a middle-of-nowhere town near the Delaware coast, their crossing paths seems curious but thrilling. Both young and good-looking, both with nowhere to be and nothing to do but kill time. As though without a thought, they take jobs a run-down bar and begin a steamy affair.

Despite appearances, both Polly and Adam have a lot going on beneath their calm surfaces. She is running from two failed marriages and a criminal past. He is in this small town not on a whim, as he suggests to Polly, but as a PI sent to track her down. Both of them keep their secrets even as their affair deepens, but both know it won’t be long before their true selves catch up with them.

Told in PI-noir manner, Lippman tells Polly and Adam’s stories slowly, deliberately revealing one layer at a time. Carefully, the author unveils small snippets of their histories — one tantalizing piece at a time — and sprinkles in just enough lies to keep the reader constantly guessing whether they know the whole story. A great read by a wonderful author.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes (2017)

This book is the third in the Louisa Clark series, which include Me Before You and After You, the later is reviewed here: https://wp.me/p6N6mT-1W

Please note both blog posts contain spoilers related to Me Before You…read no further if you plan to start the series from the beginning!

still me

Louisa Clark’s life is on the upswing. After several devastating years following the death of her first love, Will Traynor, and a life-threatening accident that left her emotionally unbalanced, things are finally looking up. Louisa has a promising new love, Sam, and a wildly exciting new job awaiting her in New York City.

Leaving London for NYC is both thrilling and terrifying for Louisa, but with her signature determination and spirit she dives into her new life with verve. Handsomely paid to be the personal assistant to a billionaire’s young new wife gives Louisa a posh address in the middle of Manhattan and a glimpse into the glittering world of the super-rich. Soon she is riding in limos, wearing designer gowns at balls, and rubbing elbows with celebrities; a far cry from her modest life waiting tables in London.

The woman whose daily life Louisa is tasked with managing is volatile and unhappy woman named Agnes. Agnes is a young Polish immigrant whose Cinderella-esque romance with her billionaire husband should bring her great joy. Instead, Agnes is constantly on the defensive with her husband’s first wife and their daughter, not to mention the social elite of NYC, who dismiss her as a classic gold-digging second wife.

Agnes befriends Louisa, the two bond over their newness to America and the world of the super wealthy. Louisa, a woman who cannot help but care for and fix the problems of everyone around her, is drawn into Agnes’ unhappy melodrama and soon the two woman are working together to hide secrets from Agnes’ husband…a man who could destroy Louisa’s new life if her disloyalty is discovered. Although Louisa grows more and more uncomfortable with Agnes’ deceptions, she feels powerless to stand up to the woman and, more importantly, is deeply sympathetic to her plight.

Meanwhile, long-distance is wreaking havoc on the brand new romance between Louisa and Sam, who remains back in London. Sam feels intimidated by Louisa amazing new life; Louisa feels intimated by Sam’s new (gorgeous) work partner. Soon the two are spiraling toward break-up and neither seems able to stop it.

When Louisa’s employer finds out that she has been helping his wife deceive him, she is fired and left homeless in NYC. Louisa, fearing no life awaits her back in London and determined not to return home disgraced, plucks up her courage and tries to find another way to build a life in the city.

Told with Moyes signature humor and heartache, Still Me gives readers a hundred more reasons to love Louisa Clark and her indefatigable spirit. A great conclusion to the series.

My True Love Gave To Me (2014)

Young Adult Holiday Short Story Collection, Various Authors

This collection of short stories provided an lazy afternoon with some wonderful holiday reading. In the book, twelve best-selling young adult authors each write a short story about teens who find a little (or a lot of) romance during the holidays.

Some romances have taken a long time to blossom — as in Rainbow Rowell’s “Midnight” — others explore a romance between two teens in New York who may be living in the same city but in very different worlds — as in Matt De La Pena’s “Angels in the Snow” — other’s explore holiday romance between two young men of different faiths — as in David Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa.” Written with a very modern and expansive definitions of love and romance, each story does a great job presenting how young adult relationships can as complex as there adult counterparts. Even more, each author does a great job highlighting what courage it takes for young person to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to ask for love.

The collection was a fun, fast, festive read and a reminder that young adults are still seeking a holiday filled with magic now that they are too old for Santa, but while romance can be magical, it can also be a nerve-wracking endeavor.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (2010)

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohen & David Levithan (2010)

“I wanted to ask her, What does a stranger feel like? Not to be snarky or sarcastic. Because I really wanted to know if there was a difference, if there was a way to become truly knowable, if there wasn’t always something keeping you a stranger, even to people who weren’t strange to you at all.” 194

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares was selected by one of my book club’s for our December book selection. This is a month that our group tries to pick a light, uplifting story that is neither too lengthy nor too sad. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is a Young Adult romance novel, set in Manhattan on Christmas, and it fit the bill perfectly.

Lily is a smart, funny, quirky girl who is beloved by her huge extended family, but who sees herself as set apart from her peers, especially boys. She adores Christmas in all its forms — the music, the food, the gifts, even the crowds, tourists, and lines. This holiday season she is on her own and finds herself adrift with no relatives to fill her time. Her older brother, sensing Lily is a lost cause when it comes to finding a boyfriend on her own, devises a scavenger hunt that they will set up in a local used bookstore. Should an adventurous, intelligent, book-loving boy happen to find the first clue? Well, then he might just find his way to Lily. The romance of it all persuades Lily to agree and a red notebook is hidden in the bookstore, with a set of clues that will lead a boy right to Lily.

Enter Dash, a cynical, cranky boy who absolutely hates Christmas and everything associated with it. He prefers the company of books — the more complex and obscure the better — to people and hopes to spend his holiday week alone. While browsing his favorite bookstore on December 21, Dash finds Lily’s book and cannot help but be intrigued. A young woman, clearly knowledgeable and daring, who wants to use a trail of books to help them meet? Who would pass up the chance to meet her?

Soon the notebook takes on a life of its own as Dash and Lily take turns writing cryptic notes that take the other all around the city. While decoding messages and hunting down clues set up in New York’s iconic institutions– the more crowded and touristy the destination, the better — the two begin to write their stories to one another as well. Even though they have not met, the two begin to grow closer and closer — emotionally and physically — as they hunt down clues that they hope will lead them to one another.

Dash and Lily is written in a style very similar to John Green and told with the same snappy dialogue and precociousness that Green is famous for; including quirky-but-understanding relatives and multi-cultural cast of friends. The story was touching reminder of just how alone teens can feel and how hard they can find it to befriend people who will love them just as they are…no upgrades required.

 

 

 

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (2017)

rules of magic hoffman

“Do as you will, but harm no one. What you give will be returned to you threefold. Fall in love whenever you can.” From the Owen Family Grimoire

The three Owens’ siblings — Franny, Jet, and Vincent — have always known they were different from other Manhattan children: with their child psychologist father who sees them as experiments and a mother who makes them follow harsh, incomprehensible rules and lies to them about her family history.

It is only when they become teenagers that just how different they are becomes clear: mind reading, talking to animals, ability to attract or repel people as they wished, and even occasional glimpses into the future are certainly not common gifts. When they approach their parents about these talents, they are told it is nothing, only nonsense. But the children know there is much, much more to it than that.

The year the oldest daughter, Franny, turns seventeen, an summer invitation arrives asking the teens to stay in Salem, Massachusetts with a Great-Aunt who lives in the Owen family ancestral home. All three readily agree to go, despite their father’s protests (their magic should have been nurtured out of them) and their mother’s protests ( they did not know what powerful forces they were tempting.) But the very existence of the invite and the reluctant acknowledgment from their parents that what they could do was magic is too thrilling to ignore.

The teenagers arrive in another world: a place where magical powers are common attributes; where their relatives are considered both cursed and capable of great power; and where they must face the knowledge that the paths they choose could have great consequences.

Franny is curious to know why her mother has lied to her children and hidden from her past. What made her mother so terrified of her children exploring their magical powers? It is in the local library that Franny learns of the curse on the Owens’ witches — cast down upon them more than three-hundred years ago from a women, heartbroken and abandoned– the curse: “ruination for any man who fell in love with them.”

Franny is desperate to know which rules she should follow, the request of the family’s Grimoire, that she “fall in love whenever you can,” or the threat of the family curse that warns of “ruination?” The answer, her beloved aunt tells her, is complicated. It lies in the actions of each member of their family and who they love, but to ignore the curse would be foolish and deeply dangerous.

When a series of accidents, heartbreaks, and deaths occur in quick succession after that summer the three siblings — suddenly alone — know that their magic has grave consequences and that what they choose to do with their powers can indeed ruin their loved ones, and themselves. All three must grapple with the family gifts and the family curse for the rest of their lives: shall they live in fear? In denial? With reckless abandon? What path would be best?

The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor (2017)

black tip shark

When she was twelve years old, Maeve Donnelly was bitten by a shark in the waters outside her Florida home. While this trauma would have left many fearful of sharks for the rest of their lives, the exact opposite was true: Maeve became obsessed with sharks. She made learning about them one of her greatest passions as a child and, as an adult, made protecting and studying them her life’s work.

Maeve’s other great passion was her first and only love, Daniel. Their love began when they were teens on their island home and continued until, in their early twenties, Maeve chose to move to Fiji to study sharks rather than stay with Daniel. Her choice and her absence led Daniel to have an affair that resulted in a baby daughter. That betrayal was too great for Maeve to forgive, she left Daniel and dedicated the next several years to shark research around the world. She channeled her grief and sadness into ground-breaking work; she kept her heart closed to all but her sharks.

“I’d been an island of my own making.” 78

When Maeve returns home to a job on her beloved Palermo Island after years away, she is shocked to find that Daniel and his daughter, Hazel, have moved back after Hazel’s mother’s sudden death. Outraged that he would invade her home and horrified that she would have to face — daily — him and his daughter, the little girl she could not help but feel should have been theirs; Maeve is determined to keep her distance.

But that proves to be much harder than she ever imagined. The island is small and her life and Daniel’s seemed destined to intersect. Soon, being so near to the man she had loved so deeply for so long, begins to weaken her resolve to keep him out of her life. In the end, it is Hazel and her open-heart and her curiosity for the ocean — so like Maeve’s when she was a girl — who breaks down Maeve’s walls. She “slips right over the falls” and back into Daniel’s arms.

“What we were doing was miraculous, as if we’d lost our way back then, had been blown wildly off course, and were finally rescuing ourselves, rescuing our life together.” 126

As she returns to her home, her work at a local marine conservancy, and to Daniel; Maeve begins to settle into a pattern that she cannot help but feels like coming home, the life that would have been if not for Daniel’s betrayal seven years previously. However, there are flaws in this “perfect” new life and, despite her best efforts, they begin to wear on Maeve. Daniel is perplexed by vigilant defense of the local marine life, hurt when it takes up her time, and he is out-right jealous at her plans to travel to Africa for further research.

The more these problems grow, the harder it is for Maeve to ignore the feeling that she is playing house, pretending to be Hazel’s mother and continuing her love affair with Daniel as if his betrayal had never happened. In order to preserve the illusion of perfection, Maeve fear she may have to change her life to suit theirs.

Maeve begins to worry that her relationship with Daniel is a “ghost” that she has been trying to “resurrect,” all the while ignoring that truth that he intends her to give up her hopes for her future — travel, research, work — to fit better into his visions of the future.

“I’d lived with the ghost of him. I’d made a nightly pastime of remembering and imagining him. Resurrecting what used to be. I’d circled back to the place where he’d been severed from my life, trying to graft him back on. What I loved was the memory of him, the hope of him. I loved a Daniel that I’d created, one that didn’t really exist except inside of me.” 256