REVIEW: JUST SAY YES, BY ALYSSA GOODNIGHT

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Jade Moran is a web designer and a single mom to thirteen-year-old Evie; the two of them are managing without a man in their lives. Evie isn’t so sure she is all in for that, however, and she sets in motion a whole new era when she persuades her mom to visit a new restaurant, The Pantry, and introduces her to Opal, the woman who believes in the magic of food. A “kitchen witch.”

Max Gianopoulis has taken up residence in The Pantry at his own table where he works as if it is his office. He, of course, is a hunk…and he happens to be a contractor. Jade needs a new kitchen remodel, as she is sick of the 70s style appliances and vibe in her own.

Somehow they connect on this issue, at least, and before long, more is going on. Predictably, the two are hot for each other.

Fun characters included Max’s grandmother, Yia Yia Cleo, and his younger sister Tessa, who is a roller derby girl.

I liked that Evie wasn’t a belligerent teen, as so often seems to happen in books. She had her own mind and had her ways of working her mom, with the little “say yes” game they had going on. But she was not working to undermine her, so that felt good to me.

Set in Austin, Texas, there was a great Southwestern feel to the story, and the food definitely fit in nicely, too. In some ways, Just Say Yes felt a little too smooth, so I liked when an obstacle presented itself in the form of Jade’s ex-husband. Watching everything play out afterwards was very satisfying. A 4 star read.

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REVIEW: HOUSE OF WONDER, BY SARAH HEALY

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Growing up on Royal Court in Harwich, NJ, was full of poignant memories for Jenna, now an adult with her own preschool daughter Rose.

But the memories of a childhood with her twin brother Warren would be bittersweet, as now in adulthood, Warren and her mother are both considered a blight on the old neighborhood. Her mother, Priscilla, once Miss Texas, has turned into a hoarder, and Warren is “weird” to those around him. He is a loner with obsessive behaviors and habits, but to Jenna, he will always be the beloved twin who was there for her. And she wants to be there for him.

When the neighbors rise up to protest the Parsons home and Warren, Jenna will do whatever she can to clear her brother’s name against the allegations of the neighbors, some of whom have been sending harassing letters.

But there is still some good in that old neighborhood, Jenna discovers, as she reconnects with a high school flame, Bobby Vanni, now a resident at the nearby hospital, and the single father of Gabby, Rose’s new playmate.

House of Wonder is narrated by Jenna’s first person voice, and also flips back into the past where we see Priscilla (Silla) growing up in the 50s and 60s, with a horrible stepmother Hattie, and the loss of her own mother. Secrets veil the past for Priscilla…and probably set in motion some of her present day habits and behaviors. But beneath the secrets lie the freedom from the scourge of the past and an offering of hope for the future. A delightful story that earned 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: NORA ROBERTS LAND, BY AVA MILES

91UxRlZpifL._SL1500_She grew up believing in happily-ever-after, and at her mother’s knee, she learned to love Nora Roberts’s novels and how each one seemed to follow a pattern of finding out that dreams can come true and love conquers all.

But grown-up journalist Meredith Hale, a New Yorker, has just been dumped and divorced by her husband, Richard Sommerville, another journalist, now interested in a political career. And he has lashed out at her about how her belief in Nora Roberts’s view of the world had ruined their marriage.

Determined to prove to herself that love like that does exist, Meredith heads to her home town of Dare, Colorado, to find her hero and then write about it. There she works for the family newspaper.

Meanwhile, Richard has blackmailed one of his journalists, Tanner McBride, previously a war correspondent, into taking on a project that will definitely sabotage Meredith’s plans…and hopefully keep her from using information she has about him.

What will happen to Meredith and Tanner when they finally connect? Will the instant attraction between them lead to more? What unexpected events will seemingly derail whatever they have between them? And what will be Meredith’s final conclusions about her premise?

Nora Roberts Land (Dare Valley Series, Book 1) mimics the famous author in its basics: vulnerable girl meets hunky man and they rise about a series of conflicts and finally begin a relationship. Throw in a few obstacles that they overcome and you have true love. Add in necessary ingredients, like sheer determination (by the woman) and gutsy moves by both man and woman, and you have a combustible mix and interesting characters.

The only thing that really saved this predictable novel was that I realized, despite the copycat notions, that there were a few fun and suspenseful elements that kept me reading. Otherwise, I would have had to say that this story was merely a copy of the originals created by Nora Roberts. But I was happy to conclude that the ride was a fun one, and fans of Nora Roberts will probably enjoy this book. 3.5 stars.

REVIEW: TRAIL MIX, BY PAULITA KINCER

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Jess and Andi had met years before when their daughters were taking ballet classes. Something clicked between them, and their friendship had continued, even as now their children are entering adulthood. The teenage years have presented challenges for them, and the empty nest is looming.

Andi has always exercised, while Jess avoids it, but counts calories and watches carbs. But neither woman feels good about her physical condition. Each would love to lose weight and tone up her body.

So when Andi finds out about a hike up the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, she is determined to do it. But first she has to persuade Jess.

Not at all interested, Jess finally wavers and agrees. She wants to leave her troublesome daughter Meaghan for a while, and her younger daughter Sydney is going to France on a trip.

Andi is proud of her son Liam, but reluctant to discuss Taylor, who is behaving like a spoiled brat. Getting away now seems like perfect timing.

Leaving behind their children and husbands, they begin a journey that will change their lives in unimaginable ways. Jess’s husband Mike is opposed and not at all supportive; Andi’s husband Rex is more amenable. None of the children seem at all interested, being typically self-absorbed.

What will Jess and Andi learn about themselves as they challenge their bodies? Will they discover that their friendship is tested by their very different goals? How will they overcome the conflicts between them? And how will their journey end?

At times, I really could not stand Andi, often sprinting ahead and leaving Jess behind to struggle. Sometimes it seemed as though Andi only cared about her own needs. Her competitive nature seemed to dictate her choices.

However, as some issues were resolved between them and as they realized what the other could contribute, they learned a lot about how to overcome challenges. A delightful read that was so much more than a story about hiking, Trail Mix was a book I could not put down. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: DARK WITCH, BY NORA ROBERTS

91U3d-DUvxL._SL1500_When Iona Sheehan heads to Ireland, to County Mayo, she is on a quest. To find her destiny and a sense of belonging.

With her cousins Branna and Connor O’Dwyer, she finds more than she bargained for, and as she begins her instruction to become one of them, she also finds her place working with the horses at the ranch of Boyle McGrath and Finbar Burke. Meara Quinn is also a part of that world.

There is an almost immediate powerful force that connects Iona with a unique horse called Alastar; a horse that others cannot tame or control.

And its owner, Boyle, seems to be part of that connection.

Is it a love thing? Is there a magical pull between them? Or is something more going on?

As Iona struggles to hone her skills as a witch, she recalls the story of her ancestor, Scorcha, and her endless battle with Cabhan, a tale that began in 1263.

Will the struggle continue in the present? And will Iona learn enough to win out over the forces that would defeat her? What final confrontation will continue the battle for the future?

A magical tale of love and the power of destiny, Dark Witch: Book One of The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy was one I could not leave behind. The settings, the characters, and the feeling of magic was refreshing to me, since I don’t usually read this kind of story. This one earned 4.0 stars from me.

REVIEW: DANCE THE EAGLE TO SLEEP, BY MARGE PIERCY

3277As an admirer of Marge Piercy’s volume of work, from novels to memoirs, I was eager to read this earliest novel, Dance the Eagle to Sleep: A Novel.

In her iconic style, she zeroes in on the young during an exploratory time in their lives, as they seek to free themselves from the strictures of ordinary society, to escape from the “boxes” in which they reside and the stilted mantra their parents perpetuate.

Our MCs are four teens caught up in a revolutionary fervor, and the story spotlights them one by one, in alternating perspectives, from Shawn (previously Sean) the rocker to the Native American Corey. Runaways are drawn to this fledgling group that expands as the zeal increases. Like Jill (Joanna) or Billy. As we examine their inner thoughts and feelings, through these individuals we come to understand their stories and their causes.

Through music, through dance, and ultimately through experimenting with their own structures, including a farm commune, they become their own persons.

Piercy is great at showing us what the “revolutionary world” of the sixties and seventies was all about. I enjoyed some of her later works a lot more, like Small Changes. But I also liked this glimpse of her beginnings. 3.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE SILVER BOAT, BY LUANNE RICE

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Three sisters with saddened hearts return to the beach cottage on Martha’s Vineyard…one last time. Due to financial issues, they must sell their beloved family home, even though it has been in the family for generations.

Dar McCarthy lives on the island year-round; she is a graphic books artist/author, and the loss of her beloved father, a talented boat builder, has inspired this fantasy series. Back in her twelfth year, her father Michael McCarthy sailed the Atlantic to Ireland, bent on finding the land grant deed that would bring him his own pride of place on Martha’s Vineyard. He safely arrives, calls the family, and then is not heard from again.

Meanwhile, Dar and her sisters, Delia and Rory, bury their mother after a long illness.

As they pack up the house, Dar discovers some secrets that make her wonder about what she thought was true. More questions spur them on a journey.

The journey takes the sisters to Ireland, where they learn more about their father.

Will they find the answers in their quest? What does the glitch in their property title during escrow signify for their future? What conflicts between the sisters might jeopardize their serenity? How will they finally find the peace of mind they seek?

Dar was my favorite character. A tortured soul, she finds catharsis in her writing. I could relate to her. Rory was annoying and selfish, in my opinion, and her constant cyber-stalking of her ex-husband seemed to be her main focus. Delia was so immersed in the feelings of others that she could not focus on her own needs.

The Silver Boat: A Novel is an engaging story of family, connections, and the journeys we take to find ourselves. 4.0 stars.