Quantcast

Pies & Peril by Janel Gradowski

Source: Janel Gradowski, the author
ebook, 192 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Pies & Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski is punchy and fun, a perfect read for kicking back on a rainy day or on the beach during the summer.  While “beach read” is often a looked down on term, these are the kinds of books readers crave when they want pure entertainment and to enjoy characters and their stories.  Gradowski’s characters are not like those in typical cozy mysteries; they have good heads on their shoulders, are professional, and are not throwing themselves in harm’s way without thinking things through first.  Amy Ridley is no dumb blonde. She’s focused to win every culinary baking contest she enters, but when things go awry for her former friend and now baking nemesis, Mandy Jo, she takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of her death.

“The physical side effects of becoming a triple champion made her feel like she had been caught in a stampede of tap dancers from Ms. Carrie’s Dance Academy.” (ARC)

“Okay.  Dirty dishes didn’t talk, but she couldn’t stand to see them sitting there, like batter coated chore devils perched on her shoulder.” (ARC)

Amy is spunky and determined to uncover the truth, but she’s also aware that there should be boundaries to her tenacious search for a killer.  She’s lurking in corners to eavesdrop and running into clues, but she’s also wise enough to know that she should be careful and scared of the killer who is writing her threatening notes.  Her friend Carla is a doll, and readers will enjoy their banter as they go over some of Amy’s theories about the murder and her even more outrageous theories behind the murder.  Gradowski’s style is filled with humor and characterization; readers will get to know these characters in such a short period of time, it will feel like they are friends known for much longer.  The author has a way of packing in a lot of background and characterization in a small space, making it easier to flow with the relationships and the story as it unfolds.

“… The Cookbook Nook.  Not a single auto repair or vampire book could be found on the shelves.  Just cookbooks.  Glorious, fascinating cookbooks.” (ARC)

Pies & Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski will have readers’ mouths watering, and it includes recipes at the end to keep those taste buds dreaming.  Cozy mysteries may drive some readers crazy for their dopey heroines that carry their infants into dangerous situations or just rush headlong into places they shouldn’t as they investigate mysteries, but Gradowski has found the perfect balance between the cozy mystery formula and strong heroines that leave the tough stuff up to the cops.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten­-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications.  Check her Website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Check out her books.

Other books by this author, reviewed here:

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax

Source: Berkley Books
Paperback, 416 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax is like getting together with old friends — Nikki, Avery, Deidre, Kyra, and Maddie.  These renovation gurus are back shooting another season of their Lifetime television series, Do Over, but the next location is a surprise hidden in the Florida Keys.

(If you haven’t read the previous books in this series, this review could contain spoilers for previous books.)

Nikki and her man, Joe, seem to be on the right track, but she’s still got commitment issues after the brother she raised was sent to prison for his Ponzi scheme that took her money and those of her clients.  Meanwhile, Kyra and her son Dustin are adjusting to her mother’s new life as a 50+ single woman.  Maddie’s decided that its best to leave a sinking ship, and her ex-husband seems nonplussed about the break up.  Avery and Chase are still playing house and she’s still shutting out her mother, but the tensions are less on these pairings and more about Maddie and her search for a new life.  Like the name of their show implies, life is full of second chances, and many of these ladies have been given theirs in more ways than one.  Maddie is just the latest who needs to spread her wings.

“Close up, the house was far larger than they’d been able to discern from the water and in far worse shape.  The board-and-batten siding was not just devoid of paint but had been badly pummeled by the elements.  Like a boxer who’d gone one too many rounds, the house almost seemed to be standing upright from sheer force of will.  Of possibly from habit.” (page 51)

Mermaid Point, their next renovation project, is hidden on a private island, and private is how ex-rocker William Hightower would like to keep it.  Like the house, Hightower is a battered rocker who’s looking to redeem himself, just as some of these ladies have picked themselves out of the dumps and started new.  Hightower has a lot of repairing to do, from his relationship with his son to his ability to connect with people who want to get close to him.  There’s a lot of gentle nudging as they scrape the layers off the old wood to smooth it down, but as Hightower lets down his walls he’s struck by what’s been missing in his life — a sense of belonging and of family.  Like his home, he transforms little by little coming out from the jungle and the weathered walls to expose himself to scrutiny and relationships he never thought possible.

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax is a great summer beach read; these ladies will make you laugh, make you cry, but most of all want to hold all of your friends close.  Avery, Maddie, Deidre, Kyra, and Nikki all face their troubles head on, even if it is with a little push from their friends.  These ladies are ready to take on the next big challenge, and readers will be ready to go with them on their next adventure.

About the Author:

Award-winning author Wendy Wax has written eight novels, including Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist The Accidental Bestseller, Leave It to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights, which was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A St. Pete Beach, Florida native, Wendy has lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. A voracious reader, her enjoyment of language and storytelling led her to study journalism at the University of Georgia. She also studied in Italy through Florida State University, is a graduate of the University of South Florida, and worked at WEDU-TV and WDAE-Radio in Tampa.

Also Reviewed:

Giveaway for 1 copy of The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax for 1 U.S. resident.  Leave a comment below by July 16 by 11:59 PM EST.

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

Source: Tandem Literary
Hardcover, 448 pages
On Amazon, on Kobo

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews came unexpectedly in the mail, but my mom decided to pick it up when she was here on vacation.  Rather than write a traditional review, I offered to ask her some questions about her reading experience.

Who are the main characters?

Cara, Brook, Jack, Bert, Gordon, Patricia, Cullen Kane, Marie, and Ryan.

Cara is a florist and wedding planner originally from Ohio who moves to Georgia.  She has issues with love after her divorce.

Ryan and Jack are carpenters who restore buildings.  Bert works for Cara in her shop.  Brook is supposed to get married to Harris, but has a bit of cold feet.  Gordon and Patricia and Marie are Brook’s parents.

Does Cara blend in well with Savannah residents?

She seems to fit in with everyone well, and she has a lot of friends.  She also gets a lot of referrals to her flower shop.  She does floral arrangements for weddings, funerals, graduations, etc.

Is it obvious who Cara’s love interest will be?

Yes.  She meets him at his brother Ryan’s wedding.  They hit it off for a bit and then end up going their separate ways, etc.

What’s the theme?

Love has a restorative power.

Overall impression?

Read to see what happens.  5-star reads.

Mom read this one in a couple of days.  Share your thoughts about this one.

She Likes It Rough by GVR Corcillo

Source: Blackbird Press
Paperback, 302 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

She Likes It Rough by GVR Corcillo is not the erotica novel most will imagine when they see the title for the first time.  In fact, Lisa Flyte, the protagonist, is eager to live life to the fullest, get braver, and do something positive and improve the lives of others.  She meets Jack Hawkins in her MBA class, and knows he’s the one to teach her about bravery.  He’s an outdoor adrenaline junkie who designs professional equipment for similar people, but he’s also got a secret and Lisa’s going to help him achieve that goal.

“I should stop.

In fact, I should’ve stopped chasing Jack twenty minutes ago.  That’s when he veered off the trail and disappeared into the forest.  But I didn’t stop.  I kept after Jack.  I pulled into the lot just in time to see him lope off the path and vanish into the green mess of a mountain.  Without stopping to consider for even a second, I put my car in park, popped the trunk, grabbed my workout bag, and jammed on my running shoes.  Then I stripped off my jacket and followed Jack into the wild.” (page 1-2)

Corcillo has a flare for comic timing, and this is a laugh fest that readers will enjoy over the summer and recommend it to others on the beach.  Female readers in particular will laugh out loud as these two spar with one another from the most mundane activities to their own trajectories in life.  Jack and Lisa are polar opposites when it comes to tackling physical and emotional challenges, but they are destined to learn from one another.  While there are moments that are overly dramatic and soap opera-like, it’s a fun ride and readers will love the antics of Lisa.  She’s a klutz who takes every challenge thrown at her by Jack, but he’s a little more reluctant to take on the challenges she throws at him.

She Likes It Rough by GVR Corcillo was fun, engaging, and a wild ride, but worth it.  Spending an afternoon with these characters is like watching a comedy.  It’s certainly that feel good read, with a good deal of romance thrown in, plus some quirky sidekicks.  Readers should be cautioned that there is some harsh language as Lisa is not a shrinking violet.

About the Author:

Winner of Rebecca’s Reads Choice Awards for Best Indie Book of 2013 and Best Humor Book of 2013!   With her Ivy League education, white-trash sensibility, and pop culture savvy, Corcillo writes humorous women’s fiction about characters who try not to trip as they valiantly march to their own bongo beat.

33rd book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich

Source: TLC Book Tours and William Morrow
Paperback, 368 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich pushes the envelope from the perfectly sculpted Logan Montgomery — personal trainer to the sports elite and their friends who is so worried about his image he never gets too close — to Holly Brennan, an overweight woman who is literally weighed down by her grief and troubled self-esteem.  Mix in Amanda and Chase, a power couple in baseball with a kinky side, plus a dozen or so of Logan’s super model exes, Evanovich has set the stage for an outrageous time once a chance meeting occurs.

“The image on the screen was an amorphous blob.  Flesh stacked upon more flesh oozing all over the couch.  The neon yellow and green from the top of the Funyuns bag between her legs was reflected with unsettling clarity.  She squeezed her thighs together tightly and heard the crunching sound of the Funyuns being pulverized.  Holly leaned her head back on the couch and sighed.”  (page 31)

Holly takes charge of an initially unwelcome opportunity to train with Logan at his private gym, and while she wasn’t prepared for the harsh routines he puts her body through she does little complaining.  True to her strength, she plows through the latest challenge, having learned early on that life is not anywhere close to easy.  Even though his image is illustrious and he is self-absorbed, she falls into a banter that is relaxed and even fun.  They fall into a friendship that leads to new gym-related terms, like swamp ass and Balzac, but it soon becomes apparent to Amanda and Chase that their relationship is deeper than that.

“Logan shot her a look that spoke of extreme tolerance mixed with fatherly reproach.  ‘Telling me I set the incline of a treadmill on Mount Kilimanjaro is not talking.  Asking me if I can see the baby’s head yet when you’re doing abdominal crunches is not meaningful conversation.'” (page 79)

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich is laugh-out-loud funny, except for one early sex scene that may be a bit too graphic and too early on.  Holly Brennan is a strong woman who for a time loses herself in her new body and her new romance, but once she uncovers some dirty secrets, she has a choice to make.  Logan, on the other hand, is so concerned with maintaining his image, he grows even more uncomfortable with his romance and how it upsets every preconceived notion he held about himself and his relationships with women.  Body image plays a large role in this novel, but Evanovich handles the theme with delicacy and wit.

***Another great find in the book is the list of when you need to put on your own big girl panties.***

About the Author:

Stephanie Evanovich is a full-fledged Jersey girl who attended New York Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts, performed with several improvisational troupes, and acted in a few small-budget movies, all in preparation for the greatest job she ever had: raising her two sons. Now a full-time writer, she’s an avid sports fan who holds a black belt in tae kwon do. Connect with Stephanie on Facebook.

6th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Return to Tradd Street by Karen White

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 336 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

***Beware that this review could contain spoilers as this is the 4th book in the series.***

Return to Tradd Street by Karen White brings Melanie Middleton face-to-face with everything she’s been avoiding — her feelings for Jack Trenholm, the future of 55 Tradd Street, and her pending parenthood — but Melanie still falls back on her trademark effort to avoid tough decisions even when decisions look as if they’ll be made for her.  Her gift has helped her hone her avoidance skills over the years, but as she continues to live and refurbish one of the oldest houses in Charleston — one she inherited from a man she met only once — her skills are put to the test when another body is found on the property.  The infant body bricked up in the foundation of the house raises a lot of questions about the Vanderhorst family tree.

“Pregnancy hormones coupled with a rejected declaration of love and a marriage proposal based on pity had wreaked havoc on my self-confidence and backbone.  I wasn’t sure whether I could ever recover.  Besides I’d lived my life on the premise that if you pretended something wasn’t there it would eventually go away.  At least, it usually worked where dead spirits were concerned.”  (page 5)

Pregnancy can play with anyone’s emotions and confidence, but Melanie is particularly thrown by the uncertainty of the baby’s father’s feelings toward her.  Between her mother, Jack, and Sophie pushing her to face the reality of her pregnancy, Melanie is feeling the pressure.  White brings readers back to the characters they love, and they will still cheer for Melanie to get over herself and accept her feelings for Jack.  This story is a little spookier than the others in the series, but perhaps that’s because it will hit closer to home for mothers and parents.

“I smoothed down the red maternity dress, noticing how it fit much more snugly than when my mother had purchased it for me only a few months before.  I’d resisted wearing it, but it was Nola’s Christmas play and I wanted to look festive.  I wore my mother’s diamond pendant earnings that, according to her, would draw the eye upward, away from my expanding girth.  As I stared at myself in the vestibule mirror, I knew it was like planting flowers in the window boxes of a burned-out house so nobody would notice it needed painting.” (page 220)

Return to Tradd Street by Karen White is engaging, endearing, and enthralling with its mysteries, its pent up tension, and its historical tidbits, and White’s characters are always ready to give you a warm embrace when you need one.  The novel is about letting go of past hurts, embracing our histories as part of who we are today, and moving forward by grabbing a hold of what we want most out of life.

About the Author:

Known for award-winning novels such as Learning to Breathe, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance 2009 Book of the Year Award finalist The House on Tradd Street, the highly praised The Memory of Water, the four-week SIBA bestseller The Lost Hours, Pieces of the Heart, and her IndieBound national bestseller The Color of Light, Karen has shared her appreciation of the coastal Low country with readers in four of her last six novels.

Italian and French by ancestry, a southerner and a storyteller by birth, Karen has made her home in many different places.  Visit the author at her website, and become a fan on Facebook.

Christmas at the Beach by Wendy Wax

Source: Purchased for Amazon Kindle
E-Novella, 92 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Christmas at the Beach by Wendy Wax is an e-novella that follows the talented women of Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach (click for my reviews) — Madeline, Nicole, and Avery — told from the point of view of Madeline’s daughter, Kyra.  Kyra and her now one-year-old son Dustin are arriving at Ten Beach Road and Bella Flora under the close scrutiny of paparazzi.  She has little choice but to don a disguise to keep the photographers on their toes and protect her son as much as she can from Daniel Deranian’s fame and infidelity.

“The celebrity bar has dropped so low that if it were being set for a game of Limbo, that bar would be ankle-height.”

“A couple of weeks ago a crazed Daniel Deranian fan stole one of Dustin’s dirty diapers out of the trash and tried to sell it on eBay.”

Her time at Bella Flora was healing for her and her mother, as well as their new found friends who all found out they owned a piece of the rundown historic site.  Kyra is still struggling with her quasi-fame as the mother of an illegitimate Deranian child, but she still wants her own family to remain the same.  It’s unfortunate that her life plans have a way of changing on her, but she’s clearly poised to learn and grow from those changes.  Wax has created a cast of lovable characters with their own flaws, but these women are tough and ready to take on anything thrown in their way.

“What I really want is something built like a tank and with darkened windows, so that if I mow down a few photographers no one will see the satisfaction on my face,…”

Christmas at the Beach by Wendy Wax is a great novella to catch up with these women and a great set up for the next novel in the series, The House on Mermaid Point.  Kyra’s definitely got her plate full already, but when she learns what’s going on with her own family, she’s bound to feel overwhelmed.  Wax has set up readers for an eventful new novel that comes out in July 2014.

About the Author:

Award-winning author Wendy Wax has written eight novels, including Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist The Accidental Bestseller, Leave It to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights, which was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A St. Pete Beach, Florida native, Wendy has lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. A voracious reader, her enjoyment of language and storytelling led her to study journalism at the University of Georgia. She also studied in Italy through Florida State University, is a graduate of the University of South Florida, and worked at WEDU-TV and WDAE-Radio in Tampa.

Thinking of You by Jill Mansell

Source: Sourcebooks Landmark
Paperback ARC: 432 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Thinking of You by Jill Mansell is another romp in the English countryside.  Ginny Holland has a problem when she’s in emotional turmoil — her mind wanders and the tasks at hand just disappear from her consciousness.  Even when she’s worried about her daughter’s first year at college in Bristol and away from home, Ginny is still not immune to the charms of a hot-looking man in an antique shop.  But while she’s browsing and happily daydreaming about the man in the shop, he catches her red-handed with a shoplifted item.  Mansell has an uncanny way of bringing together the most divergent plots, weaving in secondary characters that are just as fun and hopeless as the main character.  While her books generally have happy endings and wrap-up relationships pretty neatly, they still provide a few hours of escape that can lift any mood.

“‘Watching how it’s done?’ Evidently amused, Evie paused on her way to table six with two plates of mussels.  ‘Can’t you just feel all those flirty female hormones in the air?’ With a wink, she added, ‘Good old Finn, he hasn’t lost his touch.’

‘I can see that.’  As Finn crossed the room in order to answer the ringing phone, every female eye followed him.

‘You’d better watch out.  You could be next.’

Ginny grinned because the idea was so ludicrous.  ‘I don’t think that’s going to happen.  He’d be too worried I might nick his wallet.'”  (page 119 ARC)

Beyond the fun, faulted characters, Mansell has a gift for humorous and witty dialogue that will leave readers in stitches.  Ginny is a mother looking to hang onto her daughter Jem for as long as she can, but reality gets in the way when she advertises for a flatmate and ends up with a young woman who is unable to get over her ex-fiance and is utterly depressed.  Mansell’s books aren’t just about the mistakes we make, but also the silver linings of those mistakes.  Without advertising for the flatmate, Ginny never would have been forced by the incessant ex-fiance talk to go out and get a job and a social life.

Even though the main romantic relationship is not only predictable, but also a little less developed than some of the others, Mansell excels at creating other relationships that are dynamic and complicated.  From Ginny’s relationship with the vivacious and slutty Carla to Ginny’s relationship with her grown daughter Jem, each of these relationships provide the characters with a foil and with a sounding board when they get into hot water.

Thinking of You by Jill Mansell is a soap opera on paper with characters in college and middle-age, each striving to find out where they want to go when they hit that inevitable fork in the road.  While some choose the right path, others stumble onto the wrong one for awhile before falling through the bush onto the other side.  But there are still some that blissfully walk the same path they always have.

About the Author:

Jill Mansell lives with her partner and children in Bristol, and writes full time. Actually that’s not true; she watches TV, eats fruit gums, admires the rugby players training in the sports field behind her house, and spends hours on the internet marvelling at how many other writers have blogs. Only when she’s completely run out of displacement activities does she write.

Other Mansell books reviewed:

A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell

A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell is another engaging story about love and coming together as a family.  Lara Carson is forced to leave home at the age of 16 and returns to Bath 18 years later for her father’s funeral.  Things have changed drastically, but Evie is still the warm friend she remembers.  Lara believes she’s prepared to deal with the past, but when Flynn Erskine arrives unexpectedly her feelings nearly overcome her.  Not only does she owe the two most important people from her past an explanation, but she also has secrets she has to reveal — secrets that Flynn and Evie may not be ready for.

Mansell’s characters are always quirky, and there is no absence of that here, from Lara’s strong Aunt Nettie in Keswick to Don the jewelry shop owner in Bath.  While many of these characters are looking for love, denying that they are looking for love, or hoping to fall out of love with a cad, Mansell quietly addresses the fear that still haunts gays who have not come out of the closet, single-parenting obstacles, and how secrets can topple families.

Meanwhile, Lara is blindly making decisions that are best for her daughter, Gigi, but she refuses to look around her to see how her decisions affect herself and others.  She’s also busy trying to make love matches for her aunt and friends, at the same time she’s struggling to ignore her own passionate feelings for Flynn — her former teenage boyfriend.  Life and love is anything but a walk in the park for Lara and her friends, especially when the death of Lara’s mother raises questions about her mother’s faithfulness and about where she got the money to buy the family home.

Readers will note there are a variety of subplots, and while they are successfully concluded, there are some that felt a little rushed, which may be partially due to the multitude of characters Mansell creates.  Mansell novels are full of romance and flirty fun, but this one has some serious notes and a more mature set of story lines.  With a mother-in-law from hell and the outrageous behavior of rap star EnjaySeven, A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell is a literary soap opera that leaps off the pages and makes readers thank their lucky stars their lives are less complicated.

About the Author:

Jill Mansell lives with her partner and children in Bristol, and writes full time. Actually that’s not true; she watches TV, eats fruit gums, admires the rugby players training in the sports field behind her house, and spends hours on the internet marvelling at how many other writers have blogs. Only when she’s completely run out of displacement activities does she write.

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes is one of those beach reads that barely scratches the surface about what divorce can do to a family, especially when one spouse cheats on the other and more than once.  To Amanda Blick’s credit she doesn’t go postal and take out her husband’s (Andre) French fondue restaurant in Ross, an exclusive, elite neighborhood, and she doesn’t have a nervous breakdown.  Rather, Blick takers their son, Max, out of the San Francisco area to St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort with her mother, Grace, who promises to quit smoking if they come stay with her for the summer in the Presidential Suite.

Pretty posh lifestyle, but nothing less can be expected from the offspring of a society family, whose friends used to call her parents’ home The Palace.  The relationship between Andre and Amanda is rushed, but that’s to be expected as she meets him just after graduating undergrad following a family tragedy.  When Andre’s restaurant partnership sours, he doesn’t turn to his mother-in-law or his wife for help, but a busty former high school classmate of Amanda’s and her husband Glenn.

Clearly blinded by lust or love, Amanda rushes headlong into a marriage and finds contentment with being a mother and wife, as her dream of becoming a fashion designer fades into the rearview.  But her world crumbles around her when she finds the chef’s legs wrapped around her partially naked husband in the restaurant one afternoon.  She’s forced to make a decision or have a meltdown.

“I pulled into the parking lot at the post office, threw my purse under the seat, and started walking.  I was still in my yoga clothes, so I looked like any other mother going for a morning hike.  I left the parking lot and took long strides till I reached the lake, a walk that usually took me half an hour.  That Tuesday I made it in sixteen minutes.  I sat on a bench watching the ducks and took deep breaths.  It was a beautiful spring day.  The sun was warm, the sky a pale blue, and beds of purple and white daisies surrounded the lake.”  (Page 2)

Hughes creates a woman who copes with heartbreak in the only way she knows: she asks her mother’s advice.  Amanda waffles, she indulges, she cries, and she wallows over the summer, and by turns she’s at the beach, eating, or at the bar, but most of all she’s spending time with her son and her mother, the people she cares most about.  Many readers will envy her lifestyle and wonder what she has to complain about, but upon further reflection, readers will find that heartbreak can transcend classes.

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes is beach read that will take most readers’ minds off their troubles.  A satisfying peak into the life of the elite, even when heartbreak is the order of the day.  The ending is a bit open-ended, which could leave readers wondering if there is a sequel in the works.

About the Author:

ANITA HUGHES attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing Program, and has taught Creative Writing at The Branson School in Ross, California. Hughes has lived at The St. Regis Monarch Beach for six years, where she is at work on her next novel.  Please check out her Website. (Photo by Sheri Geoffreys)

This is my 54th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

Ocean Beach by Wendy Wax

Ocean Beach by Wendy Wax reunites readers with Madeline Singer, Avery Lawford, and Nicole Grant on another renovation adventure in South Beach, Miami.  When you don’t know what the house looks like or have its address, but the Lifetime network comes calling for a pilot of Do Over, the cash-strapped friends have little choice but to accept, hoping for reboot to their lives and careers.  Kyra, Deidre, Giraldi, and Chase return as well.

“Avery’s hands tightened on the wheel.  She knew the sinking sensation in her stomach had nothing to do with the dizzying height of the bridge, but everything to do with fear of the fall.”  (Page 19)

From Bella Flora in Ten Beach Road (my review), the women became not only friends, but a YouTube sensation.  Their latest project in Ocean Beach is The Millicent, which is owned by an aging comedian, Max Golden, who has dealt with a heavy loss for many years.  Max is wildly eccentric, but fun, and he takes a shine to the girls and their crew.  Meanwhile, the girls are constantly at odds with the crew from Lifetime that was an unexpected and unwelcome surprise.

As the ladies mix it up with renovation, they are still remaking their lives after losing everything in Malcolm Dyer’s Ponzi scheme, and they are still struggling to rebuild their familial relationships.  Wax also throws in some suspense and a mystery to keep readers turning the pages.  It’s not all fun in the Miami heat as the paparazzi returns when movie star Daniel Deranian re-enters Kyra’s life.  Wax is great at describing the Florida coasts, architecture, and Art Deco homes, making the setting almost a character unto itself.

“Like a patient on an operating table, The Millicent lay open, her guts spilling out, her innermost self put on display.  The kitchen had been stripped down to walls, floors, and windows.  They were down to one bathroom for however long it took to replace miles of rusted galvanized iron pipe and reconfigure an equal amount of cast iron.  Because they were trying to preserve rather than rip out existing walls, tiles, tubs, showers, and sinks, it often took an excruciating amount of time to move a pipe as little as ten feet.”  (page 243)

Even the house begins to stand in as a metaphor for the women who are bared to public view and raw, and as the house is resurfaced and put together, so too are the women.  Maddie must use her new strength to find her backbone where her marriage is concerned and learn to care for herself as well as others.  Nicole must learn to rely on others rather than go-it-alone all the time, just as Avery must learn the same and to forgive past transgressions.  Ocean Beach by Wendy Wax is a great summer read that will take readers to the beach, show them what it means to come together, and triumph over the most harsh circumstances even without creature comforts.

About the Author:

Award-winning author Wendy Wax has written eight novels, including Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist The Accidental Bestseller, Leave It to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights, which was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A St. Pete Beach, Florida native, Wendy has lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. A voracious reader, her enjoyment of language and storytelling led her to study journalism at the University of Georgia. She also studied in Italy through Florida State University, is a graduate of the University of South Florida, and worked at WEDU-TV and WDAE-Radio in Tampa.

Nadia Knows Best by Jill Mansell

In Nadia Knows Best by Jill Mansell, the Kinsella family is far from conventional with a mother, Leonie who skips out on her husband and two daughters, Nadia and Clare, and drops another daughter, Tilly, off with her former husband James years later.  Living with their high-brow grandmother, Miriam, Nadia and Clare are mostly well-adjusted young women sorting out their own lives, while their youngest sister, Tilly, is just 13 and still looking for her place in the family.

With Mansell readers know their will be misunderstandings, false-starts, romance, and comedy, but as with the last few books, there are moments of seriousness as well.  Nadia and Laurie have known each other for years and become a couple just as his career as a model begins to take off, prompting Laurie to sever ties and branch out to America and leave Nadia devastated.  Her chance meeting with Jay Tiernan, a hot man in the real-estate biz, a year ago still gets her heart beating fast, but it’s unlikely that they will meet again . . . until they do.  If that weren’t enough fodder for romance and mishap, Mansell introduces Clare and her shockingly narcissistic boy toy Piers, plus James, their father, finds himself popping into the same newsstand not just to pick up Tilly after work but to see Annie every day without saying a word.

“‘D’you have a brush in there?’ Piers nodded at the beaded clutch bag on her lap.

‘Yes, do you want to borrow it?’

‘I meant for you.’  He sounded amused.  ‘I prefer your hair down.'” (page 121 ARC)

Unlike Nadia who is honest and cognizant of how everyone feels, Clare is clearly unashamed to ask for what she wants, especially when it comes to selling her paintings.  Even as her relationship with Piers goes rocky, she’s still got her eyes open for the next big catch and on the next rich person to sell her paintings too.  She’s very shameless.  Nadia being the good sister tries to tamp down her sister’s enthusiasm, but at the same time, she’s also the peacekeeper in the family when Leonie resurfaces and wants Tilly to move home with her and her latest man, who has a daughter about the same age.

Despite the varied characters and numerous story lines, the main focus is Nadia who is caring for others almost through the entire book even after she’s dumped by Laurie.  Although the relationship with Laurie ends in the expected way, there are some loose ends that aren’t as neatly tied up as readers may expect, leaving Laurie in a positive light in Nadia’s eyes despite his less than stellar behavior.  There are fits and starts to many of these relationships, as the family members try to navigate their own lives and the drama with the disappearing-reappearing Leonie and other family drama, but it all works well in a complex roller-coaster ride that will keep readers turning the pages.

Nadia Knows Best by Jill Mansell is about taking a gamble, leaping into the unknown and finding out that sometimes there are good surprises in the deep end of the pool.  Mansell’s characters are charming, witty, and fun, but they’re also dynamic and flawed, which will keep readers coming back for more.