Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + GiveawayReturn to Virgin River (Virgin River, #19) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Series: Virgin River #21
Pages: 320
Published by Mira on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1
New York Times
bestselling author Robyn Carr returns to the beloved town of Virgin River with a brand-new story about fresh starts, new friends and the magic of Christmas.
Kaylee Sloan’s home in Southern California is full of wonderful memories of the woman who raised her. But the memories are prolonging her grief over her mother’s recent death. A successful author, Kaylee hoped she could pour herself into her work. Instead she has terrible writer’s block and a looming deadline.
Determined to escape distractions and avoid the holiday season, Kaylee borrows a cabin in Virgin River. She knows the isolation will help her writing, and as she drives north through the mountains and the majestic redwoods, she immediately feels inspired. Until she arrives at a building that has just gone up in flames. Devastated, she heads to Jack’s Bar to plan her next steps. The local watering hole is the heart of the town, and once she crosses the threshold, she’s surprised to be embraced by people who are more than willing to help a friend—or a stranger—in need.
Kaylee’s world is expanding in ways she never dreamed possible. And when she rescues a kitten followed by a dog with a litter of puppies, she finds her heart opening up to the animals who need her. And then there’s the dog trainer who knows exactly how to help her. As the holidays approach, Kaylee’s dread turns to wonder. Because there’s no better place to spend Christmas than Virgin River.

My Review:

The story in Return to Virgin River is all about Kaylee Sloan’s, well, return to Virgin River. But Kaylee was never a resident of that much-loved little town. Rather, Kaylee was an occasional visitor during her childhood, and her most recent visit was ten years in the past, during a previous crisis in her life. Because Kaylee has never really been a part of this community when she returns to Virgin River less than a year into her mourning for her beloved mother, she makes an excellent point of view character to introduce new readers (like me) to this well-loved place and series.

As Kaylee is introduced to everyone who has come to, or come back to, live in this lovely little place, we get to meet them for the first time along with her. For readers who have been here before, It’s undoubtedly lovely to catch up with old friends from previous books in the series.

But Kaylee’s advent makes this a great place for new readers to jump in without feeling like they missed the plot. I knew these people had history, as one does whenever one is introduced to new people in real life, but I didn’t feel like I had missed something important to this story by not knowing everyone’s past.

This turned out to be a great way of getting involved in Virgin River, right along with Kaylee.

And for any long-term readers who may have lost track of everyone in the 8 year hiatus since the previous book in the series, My Kind of Christmas, Kaylee’s arrival in town should serve as a great way to get caught back up!

Kaylee returns to Virgin River because she needs a long, quiet, productive getaway. She inherited her mother’s house, and has been living there since her mother’s death. She and her mom were very close, best friends, and Kaylee feels surrounded by her grief in that house – no matter how much she loves it.

Kaylee makes her living as a mid-list author of suspense thrillers, and she has a book on contract that is not merely due but overdue. She hasn’t been able to write since her mother’s diagnosis, but she has to get her own life on track in order to support herself. She has a cushion, but it isn’t infinite.

They seldom are.

So Kaylee returns to Virgin River, the place her mother took her to several times during her childhood, and the place her mother brought her to heal after her divorce. Kaylee comes to Virgin River to be close to her memories of her mother but not so close that she continues to drown in them.

She arrives to find her planned six-month rental house on fire. Literally on fire. She can’t go home because she’s rented out her own house until after New Year’s – and it’s currently AUGUST. She feels both overwhelmed and stuck.

And that’s where her life takes its unexpected turn. As one door closes – or catches fire – another door opens. The door to Landry Moore’s guest house.

As Kaylee’s life opens up and fills up, between her rescue of the orphaned kitten Tux, the abandoned dog Lady and her puppies, and everyone in the welcoming town of Virgin River – especially her handsome landlord – Kaylee discovers that her grief for her mom, while it hasn’t exactly gotten less has become a less all-consuming part of her much-expanded life.

And that those we love never leave us, not even when they’re gone.

Escape Rating A-: There’s definitely a life imitates art imitates life thing going on here. Kaylee is supposed to be writing a suspense novel – which she eventually manages to do. But she also begins a kind of fictionalized journal or a contemporary romance/women’s fiction novel, which is also the category that Return to Virgin River fits into.

Kaylee’s novel-of-her-heart is a story about a woman who comes to a small town for a fresh start after a death in HER family. Her fictional character falls for her equally fictional landlord – except that neither of them actually is. Fictional, that is. Kaylee pours her growing feelings for Landry into her character’s growing feelings for “Landon”. The disguise is adorably cute and rather “paper” thin. But fun and a great way for Kaylee to process both her hope and her grief.

But the course of true love never does run completely smooth, and in this story the waves are provided by Landry’s long-absent wife. Yes wife. He and Laura have lived apart for 10 years of their 11-year marriage, but neither of them ever bothered to file for divorce.

So naturally, just as Landry realizes that he wants a divorce so that he can become more involved with Kaylee, Laura decides that her acting career, the reason for their separation, isn’t going anywhere and that she wants Landry – or at least the security he can provide – back.

I have mixed feelings about this plot thread. Something had to derail what would have otherwise been Landry and Kaylee’s straightforward amble towards domestic bliss. But the Laura angle felt particularly tacked-on. It was so obvious that she only wanted the security, to the point where not even Landry took her “act” all that seriously.

On the surprising but definitely plus side of the reading equation, Return to Virgin River turned out to be an unexpectedly poignant counterpart to yesterday’s book, Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish. Both stories are about mothers and daughters, but Kaylee and her late mother had the kind of mother-daughter relationship that Millicent and Jane had stopped dreaming of long ago. These two stories make a great back-to-back read if you are well-prepared with plenty of tissues.

Closing on a much happier note, I enjoyed my first trip to Virgin River and now that I’ve met everyone, I’ll be back. Whether by starting at the very beginning with the first book in the series, Virgin River, continuing on with the next whenever it comes around, or maybe BOTH!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Return to Virgin River to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Sunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: Sunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr + GiveawaySunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Mira on April 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sometimes the happiness we’re looking for has been there all along…

Adele and Justine have never been close. Born twenty years apart, Justine was already an adult when Addie was born. The sisters love each other, but they don’t really know each other.

When Addie dropped out of university to care for their ailing parents, Justine, a successful lawyer, covered the expenses. It was the best arrangement at the time, but now that their parents are gone, the future has changed dramatically for both women.

Addie had great plans for her life but has been worn down by the pressures of being a caregiver and doesn’t know how to live for herself. And Justine’s success has come at a price. Her marriage is falling apart despite her best efforts.

Neither woman knows how to start life over, but both realize they can and must support each other the way only sisters can. Together they find the strength to accept their failures and overcome their challenges. Happiness is within reach, if only they have the courage to fight for it.

Set in the stunning coastal town of Half Moon Bay, California, Robyn Carr’s new novel examines the joys of sisterhood and the importance of embracing change.

My Review:

Sunrise on Half Moon Bay is an absolute heartbreaker of a story that leads its heroines through some very dark places. But when they emerge on the other side, they are all made stronger by the journey. And they beautifully earn their peace, their joy, and their happy ever afters.

Even if – or perhaps especially because those HEAs are not dependent on the men in their lives. But rather on their love for each other as sisters, daughters, aunt and nieces. The women of the Descaro family have learned to help each other stand tall and strong. And it’s marvelous.

The story is focused on the Descaro sisters, successful Justine in her early 50s, and rudderless Adele, their parents’ surprise baby, in her early 30s. But as the story begins, both of them are at crossroads in their lives.

Adele’s situation is the more obvious. She’s depressed, unfocused and not sure how to pick up her life and her dreams after 8 years of being her invalid parents’ caregiver. Now that her mother has died, her life is her own again. She just doesn’t know what to do with it now that she has it back.

Justine, a successful corporate attorney, is facing a decision. The company she has worked long nights and weekends for for over 20 years has just gone through a merger. Positions are being eliminated right, left and center, and she knows that hers is on the chopping block. She’s burned out and wants to do something different, but her family, her stay-at-home husband, her two high school age daughters, AND her sister are all dependent on her income. An income that is now in jeopardy.

But so is her marriage. When Addie witnesses her brother-in-law passionately kissing a woman other than his wife at the local pizza parlor, she feels compelled to tell her sister what she saw.

And that’s where everyone’s life goes more than a little pear-shaped, as the perfect life that Justine thought she had goes up in flames. Leaving her with a choice. She can continue putting her time and energy into a relationship based on lies, and into a job that has long since lost its appeal. Or she can choose another path. She can divorce the cheating husband and find work that fills her soul.

While Addie, shocked into motion at the shattering of her sister’s life, begins to take charge of her own.

Together they find a way forwards into the future. And finally into becoming the friends, the sisters, the family that they never really were.

Escape Rating A: I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did. But I really, really did. I found it to be a completely compelling read, and I basically lost a day between its pages, pulled along in this story of growth and change and sisterhood.

I loved Justine’s side of the story. I found her easy to identify with and enjoyed the time spent in her head, even when there was so much in her headspace that was hard and painful. She thought her life was perfect. She believed her marriage was good. She counted on her husband as her partner in life and in raising their girls. The arrangement where she worked and he took care of their daughters was one that they had agreed to, and that appeared to be working for both of them. Until she learned that it wasn’t.

I adored her decisiveness in the face of her discovery. She didn’t waffle or dilly-dally. She was fortunate to have a successful career, and she picked up the pieces and started moving on. There were painful days when the pieces seemed to scatter all over again, but she kept moving forward and eventually got through.

Of the sisters, Addie was the dilly-dallier, but her journey was a portrait of a different kind of learning and growing. She started by just putting one foot in front of the other, but learned to find a new purpose as well as let go of old baggage. It was only in her search for love that she kept holding herself back.

I liked the way that the two sisters grew up, grew together and grew towards each other. And that they did their level best to provide examples of strong women who learned to stand their ground to Justine’s two daughters.

I also liked the fact that while romantic relationships do eventually become part of their lives, those romances are not the reward. Finding a new man is never the be-all and end-all of either woman’s journey, and that’s a great example for the teenagers.

Instead, they both get their own stuff together first and then reach out for someone who not merely loves but genuinely respects them and their strength.

A great story with the best kind of happy ending!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Sunrise on Half Moon Bay to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Country Guesthouse by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Country Guesthouse by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Country Guesthouse (Sullivan's Crossing #5) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #5
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on January 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A summer rental, a new beginning…

Hannah Russell’s carefully crafted plans for her life have been upended without warning. When her best friend died suddenly, Hannah became guardian to a five-year-old named Noah. With no experience at motherhood, she’s terrified she’s not up to the challenge. She and Noah need time to get to know each other, so she decides to rent a country house with stunning views on a lake in rural Colorado.

When they arrive at the house, they are greeted by the owner, a handsome man who promises to stay out of their way. But his clumsy Great Dane, Romeo, has other ideas and Noah immediately bonds with the lovable dog. As Hannah learns to become a mother, Owen Abrams, who is recovering from his own grief, can’t help but be drawn out of his solitude by his guests.

But life throws more challenges at this unlikely trio and they are tested in ways they never thought possible. All three will discover their strengths and, despite their differences, they will fight to become a family. And the people of Sullivan’s Crossing will rally around them to offer all of the support they need.

My Review:

It has been my experience that bosses who LOVE sending their staff on lots of “team building” retreats have other bad habits. Especially the ones who send the “team” but not themselves. Hannah’s boss seems to be the exception that proves the rule – lucky for her!

In the end, the only important thing about that team-building retreat is its location. Because it’s held in photographer Owen Abrams’ beautiful house across the lake from Sullivan’s Crossing. And as much as Hannah hates the retreat, she adores the house. Her escape by way of Sully’s general store only sweetens the deal and makes her long to return.

So she does, after two crises that would make anyone need to schedule a getaway from at least parts of the real.

Hannah returns home early from that retreat to find her about-to-be-ex fiance banging Hannah’s assistant in not just their house – that Hannah pays for – but their bed. She tosses them both out on their asses, him from her life and her from her job.

But that’s not the real crisis. In the end it’s just a blip on the radar. (He’s a blip, too.) Hannah’s best friend for nearly two decades, through college and beyond, dies suddenly of complications from pneumonia. Leaving Hannah as the grieving and scared but willing instant mother of her BFF’s 5 year old son.

So Hannah and Noah “escape” for two weeks in Sullivan’s Crossing. Hannah has rented Owen’s house while Owen is supposed to be on a photo shoot in Vietnam. But the shoot has been cancelled and Hannah needs the escape too badly to take a raincheck on the Airbnb rental.

She and Owen both expect to not see much of each other while she and Noah are there. Owen expects to live in his studio, as he often does when his plans fall through but the Airbnb doesn’t.

Instead, Owen’s dog Romeo and Noah bond instantaneously – and so do Owen and Hannah.

The surprising friendship blossoms rapidly, not just between the boy and the dog – or even the one between the two love-scarred adults. In two short weeks they are well on their way to being a family – even if none of them had the remotest thought such a thing could happen.

Extending Hannah’s vacation into an entire summer only makes it clearer that this family is meant to be – and meant to be in Sullivan’s Crossing. But every paradise has its own particular snake – and Sullivan’s Crossing is no different.

But Hannah is. She’s determined to make the best life possible for Noah, no matter what ugliness from his birth mother’s past tries to take it away. With the entire town of Sullivan’s Crossing standing squarely behind her.

Escape Rating B+: Sullivan’s Crossing and the nearby town of Timberlake just seem like a great place to live. Also a nice place to visit, as Hannah discovers during her escape from that disastrous team-building retreat.

One of the things I love about this type of small-town women’s fiction/contemporary romance is just how terrific these tiny towns are. Timberlake seems to have just enough of everything to make it a great place to live. And it’s within a half day drive of Denver – at least in good weather.

Hannah brings Noah to Sullivan’s Crossing because they need to get away from the location of their recent grief – even though the grief itself comes along with them. In Owen Abrams’ house they are not confronted with every single memory every single minute. They need this chance to bond as well as this respite to heal.

One of the things that makes this story special is the way that the town rallies around them when trouble comes calling. As it inevitably does. The past may be reaching out to grab them, but everyone in town stands ready, willing and able to help them beat it back.

That the nature of the trouble is not dissimilar to previous events in the series doesn’t mean that this time around isn’t just as heartwarming. The nature of the place just seems to bring it out of everyone who stays. (And this story stands alone, but the series is simply lovely, starting with What We Find. Just saying…)

The romance between Hannah and Owen feels like it happens just a bit too quickly, especially in a situation where Hannah is in the throes of re-figuring out her entire life. Owen’s response makes more sense – he’s been carrying his baggage for over a decade and Hannah and Noah are the catalyst that finally allows him to let some of it go.

But she’s just picked hers up, along with picking up Noah and working out their new life together. She’s grief-stricken at her friend’s death, she’s scared about being an instant mother, and she’s grateful for Noah’s presence in her life. But adding a romance feels like something that she would either shy away from or would be a bit co-dependent. Possibly both.

Which doesn’t mean that the romance between Owen and Hannah isn’t sweet, because it certainly is.

The blast from the past is frightening in a very real way. One thing that was very well done was the way that the reader initially thinks the problems will be coming from Hannah’s ex-fiance. That turns out to be a bit of easily resolved misdirection. The true threat is also carefully hidden. We know that Noah’s bio-family have never been part of his life, we think we know why, then we discover that the situation is both not quite what we thought but even more dangerous than we expected.

And the dog is a delight. Owen’s big, clumsy, adorable Great Dane, Romeo, steals hearts at every turn. Romeo and his person find their Juliet in Hannah – without the messy ending of his namesake.

I always adore visiting Sullivan’s Crossing, and my trip to The Country Guesthouse was no exception. I hope my next visit will be soon!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Country Guesthouse to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Mira on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr delivers a poignant and powerful story about how one woman’s best intentions lead to the worst of situations and how the power of love helps her to heal and ultimately triumph.

From the outside looking in, Lauren Delaney has a life to envy—a successful career, a solid marriage to a prominent surgeon and two beautiful daughters who are off to good colleges. But on her twenty-fourth wedding anniversary Lauren makes a decision that will change everything.

Lauren won’t pretend things are perfect anymore. She defies the controlling husband who has privately mistreated her throughout their marriage and files for divorce. And as she starts her new life, she meets a kindred spirit—a man who is also struggling with the decision to end his unhappy marriage.

But Lauren’s husband wants his “perfect” life back and his actions are shocking. Facing an uncertain future, Lauren discovers an inner strength she didn’t know she had as she fights for the love and happiness she deserves.

My Review:

This is a story about finally taking your life into your own hands and making a new beginning. And it’s also a story about karma being a beautiful brass-balled bitch.

Lauren Delaney is 24 years into a marriage that looks perfect on the outside – but is completely rotten on the inside. She knows that she’s let herself be a victim, and she’s pretty damned ashamed of that.

At the same time, she’s also aware that her husband is a controlling douchebag, and that she’s stayed because he threatened to cut their daughters off without a penny – or at least without enough pennies to pay for college.

He’s also certain that because he’s been the breadwinner as a successful and (self-) important surgeon that everything will go his way in any divorce. He knows how to turn on the charm when he needs to suck up – not that Lauren has had that charm directed at her in nearly two decades. But that over-inflated sense of his own self-importance has led him to completely ignore the fact that California is a community property state. Just because he’s done his level best to convince Lauren that she’s stupid doesn’t mean that she actually is.

Her departure is arranged. And secret. Her daughters are grown or nearly so, and it’s time to start living her own life without fear of abuse.

But no plan survives contact with the enemy – and neither does Lauren’s.

The family takes sides, with Lauren, her sister and her older daughter on one side – and her husband and younger daughter on the other. Along with a whole lot of friends that Lauren never realized she had.

She just has to survive long enough to see it all through.

Taking another chance at romantic love is absolutely nowhere on her horizon. After the way her marriage descended into an abyss, and the emotional cost of keeping up appearances long enough to get her daughters launched, she just isn’t ready to trust another man with any part of her slightly battered self.

At least not until she meets someone who has run the same gauntlet she has – someone who helps her see that the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel isn’t always an oncoming train.

Escape Rating B+: This was a hard books for me personally. In the end, a terrific one, but difficult at the beginning. My own first marriage went down on the same rocks that Lauren’s did. Not to the same degree by any means (and no kids for him to hold hostage), but the paths were surprisingly similar. It was painful and cathartic to read the story of someone else who came out the other side.

I also enjoyed that this is a story of a second chance at life and love for two people who are not 20somethings anymore. I always enjoy romances where the protagonists are a bit seasoned (and a bit closer to my own age!)

The story sits on the border between contemporary romances and women’s (or relationship) fiction. Because as much as the second half of the story focuses on Lauren’s initially stumbling steps towards a new relationship, a great deal of the narrative focuses on Lauren getting out of the old one, the bigger stumbling blocks to reaching that goal, and her relationships with the other women in her life.

Particularly her relationships with her daughters, her sister, and the women she thought were keeping her at arm’s length. After she leaves the jerk, she discovers that she was the one holding everyone else away, because it was easier to keep her secret in isolation than to lie with every second breath.

The way that her daughters react is painful but also feels all-too-real. The older one remembers more of the abuse than Lauren herself was willing to acknowledge. She’s thrilled that her mom is finally breaking away. But the real part is the way that the older girl was always aware that her younger sister was her dad’s favorite so she and her mother are more closely bonded.

The younger girl believes everything her daddy says, and is convinced her mother is having a midlife crisis and will come to her senses at any moment. It’s only when she is faced with incontrovertible evidence that she is finally able to let go of her own selfishness enough to realize that her mother has been telling the truth all along.

The romance that Lauren finds develops slowly and reluctantly. She’s been damaged, and her new friend has been hurt in the same way. They both lived with abusive spouses, both managed and cajoled and tolerated the abuse for the sake of their children, and both were finally able to let go once the children were nearly grown.

That both of their separated spouses tried to take the law into their own hands provided the tension in the story. This was a case, or rather two cases, where Chekhov’s Ex (the creepy stalkerish ex-relationship that looms over the entire plot like Chekhov’s Gun) took itself down off the shelf and hit the story with both barrels.

That the shots rebounded on their shooters made for a deliciously cathartic ending. Karma really is a beautiful bitch.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The View from Alameda Island to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Best of Us by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Best of Us by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Best of Us (Sullivan's Crossing, #4) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #4
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Sullivan’s Crossing, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr has created a place where good people, powerful emotions, great humor and a healthy dose of common sense are the key ingredients to a happy life. Sullivan’s Crossing brings out the best in people. It’s a place you’ll want to visit again and again.

Dr. Leigh Culver loves practicing medicine in Timberlake, Colorado. It is a much-needed change of pace from her stressful life in Chicago. The only drawback is she misses her aunt Helen, the woman who raised her. But it’s time that Leigh has her independence, and she hopes the beauty of the Colorado wilderness will entice her aunt to visit often.

Helen Culver is an independent woman who lovingly raised her sister’s orphaned child. Now, with Leigh grown, it’s time for her to live life for herself. The retired teacher has become a successful mystery writer who loves to travel and intends to never experience winter again.

When Helen visits Leigh, she is surprised to find her niece still needs her, especially when it comes to sorting out her love life. But the biggest surprise comes when Leigh takes Helen out to Sullivan’s Crossing and Helen finds herself falling for the place and one special person. Helen and Leigh will each have to decide if they can open themselves up to love neither expected to find and seize the opportunity to live their best lives.

My Review:

The Best of Us has a lot of themes that echo back to the first book in this series, What We Find. Not that you have to have read that to enjoy this. More that the stories hit some similar beats, and that the issues that led to the situation Maggie finds herself in at the beginning of What We Find have parallels with rather different outcomes in The Best Of Us.

Also that Maggie’s father Sully, who all of the residents of the Crossing and the nearby town of Timberlake love, finally gets his own romance in addition to the central love story between the 30somethings that this series has featured so far.

Unlike the Jones siblings featured in the first three books of this series, Leigh Culver comes to Timberlake with a purpose. She has come to take over the urgent-care clinic in town. Well, that’s her job. Her personal purpose is to finally live on her own after spending the first 34 years of her life living with her Aunt Helen, the woman who raised her.

As part of that living on her own, Leigh is also in Timberlake to actually get a life – not that she would see it that way. She went through high school intending to marry the boy next door, and when he left her at the altar she threw herself into her studies, not just college but also medical school, an internship, a residency and ultimately a practice as both an ER doctor in a major Chicago hospital and a private family practice.

She’s been part of the rat race for too long, and as much as she loves her work, it hasn’t left her time for a life outside of it. So she comes to Timberlake, where she has a practice that keeps her busy but not insanely so, makes friends and has time to look around her and see what she wants to do next.

What she sees is her neighbor Rob Shanahan, a single father of two nearly grown up boys. One of whom lands in her clinic after slicing his hand open at Rob’s pub. In the process of treating Finn’s cut and Rob’s fainting spell, he manages to ask her out. She thinks he’s delirious – and he kind of was – but he’s serious about the date.

And once they’ve finally figured out that what they have is more than a fainting spell and some truly amazing chemistry, they can’t keep their hands off each other. No matter how difficult it is to find some private time between his boys and her Aunt Helen coming to Timberlake for a long visit.

Not that Helen doesn’t find plenty of ways to keep herself busy. She’s a very successful mystery writer, and the Crossing turns out to be the perfect place to write away an afternoon. That she finds herself amused and entranced by Sully is definitely a surprising but lovely added benefit.

It all seems too good to be true, until things start to go pear-shaped, at least for Rob and Leigh. Neither of them has wanted to talk about love. Rob’s wife died when the boys were babies, and he hasn’t been looking for love since then – he hasn’t had time either. Leigh has resigned herself to being alone like her Aunt. She may have gotten over loving that boy next door who abandoned her, but she’s never recovered from the betrayal.

When Leigh discovers that the birth control implant she thought still had a couple of years to run had in fact expired a couple of years before, there are suddenly a lot of decisions to make, and a lot of acknowledgements to figure out – before that hot spark gets smothered.

Escape Rating B: There were three things I really, really loved about this story, and one that personally drove me bananas – although I realize that this is one of my quirks and other people will love it.

First, I love this place. The Crossing and Timberlake have turned out to be yet another of this author’s lovely, friendly, liveable communities, filled with marvelous scenery and absolutely terrific people. I’ve sincerely enjoyed every single visit, and hope there are lots more. It’s a place that I think anyone would love to live in.

Second, I really got into the romance between Leigh and Rob. They are terrific people, and it was fun to get to know them and their families. I enjoyed the way that, while Leigh had been in town for several months, there hadn’t been a reason for them to really get to know each other until his son’s accident. And that they both discover themselves unexpectedly “all in” to a relationship that neither expected.

Their difficulties in managing to get time alone were priceless.

Third, I very much enjoyed Sully and Helen’s relationship. Falling in love, including a sexual relationship, is not a need that gets turned off at some age. These are two really interesting people who actually don’t have much in common but their joy in life. But they also have perspective and experience and each gives the other something that they lack. And they make each other laugh. The way that they tentatively reach towards romance and their clear happiness when it is reciprocated is marvelous.

That Leigh is completely thrown for a loop that her Aunt and Sully have fallen in love with each other was well done. I’ve always said that the two things that no one wants to think about are their parents having sex and their children having sex. We all know that it happens, but our minds don’t want to go there. Leigh’s reactions when forced to go there were very real, as is Helen’s joy and happiness.

However, the part of the story I wish hadn’t happened was Leigh’s unplanned pregnancy. Early in their relationship, Rob and Leigh had agreed that neither of them wanted children – or in Rob’s case more children. While the tension of how to resolve the situation once the choice had been taken from them provided realistic conflict in the story – it’s just not a plot device I personally care for.

That does not mean it wasn’t well done in this instance, because like all of the stories in this series so far, it certainly was. But that plot thread just isn’t my cup of tea.

Which does not mean that I didn’t love the rest of the story, because I certainly did. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t be thrilled to return to Sullivan’s Crossing at the next available opportunity – because I most definitely will!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a hardcover copy of The Best of Us to one lucky US commenter on this post!

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Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing, #3) by Robyn Carr
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #3
Pages: 288
Published by Mira Books on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Review:

The title of this book turns out to have multiple meanings. The family gathers together, and the family gathers more people into itself. This happens to multiple families during the course of this entry in the Sullivan’s Crossing series. And it’s lovely all the way around.

The main story of this book focuses on Dakota Jones, just as the previous books in the series have focused first on his older brother Cal (What We Find) and then his younger sister Sierra (Any Day Now). And while you probably don’t have to read the first two books to enjoy this one, Sullivan’s Crossing is a marvelous place, the members of the family have an interesting set of dysfunctions, and the books are relatively quick reads that end with smile-on-your-face happy endings.

These are all nice people, and it’s great to see them get their acts together. Because they all sure need the help.

Dakota comes to Sullivan’s Crossing because he’s unexpectedly out of the military after 17 years, and is at a bit of a loose end. After years of staying as far away from his family as he can get, now that he doesn’t know what to do with himself he realizes that he wants to see how they are. Or at least how his brother and younger sister are. His parents still drive him crazy (with very good reason) and his older sister is a bossy control-freak that he can’t stand to be around.

Sullivan’s Crossing pulls him right in, just as it has Cal and Sierra. Part of that pull turns out to be Sid, the beautiful bartender at the local watering hole, just as Maggie changed Cal’s life and Connie did Sierra’s. Dakota doesn’t have any other place to be, no ties anywhere else that he wants to get closer to, and his brother and sister are both happy. Their newfound friends and family are extremely welcoming, and they have babies he can spoil without having to change their diapers.

Dakota may be drifting into life in Sullivan’s Crossing, but he is actively pursuing the extremely gunshy Sid. It’s only when not one but two of the local single women go out of their way to chase Dakota down with painfully obvious sexual intent that he eventually gets the clue that he’s after much more with Sid than just a quick fling. And that’s a good thing, because it’s going to require not just a lot of patience but also a sincere friendship for Sid to let any man other than her brother close enough to see if she might be willing to let her guard down again. Ever.

Escape Rating B+: The Family Gathering, and the entire Sullivan’s Crossing series, is simply a lovely, good time with a really quirky family. The quote that opens the book sums it all up very nicely – “In our family, we don’t hide crazy…we put it on the porch and give it a cocktail.”

The Jones siblings have all been a fairly nice brand of crazy. It’s in this entry that we see some of the darker sides of what has driven all of them to end up in Sullivan’s Crossing.

Their father is a non-functional schizophrenic who self-medicates with marijuana to keep the voices toned down. He’s not violent, in fact he’s rather sweet, but his inability to function in society made for a chaotic childhood for the four kids. Their mother was too busy enabling her husband to make sure that their children had any responsible parenting, but the kids mostly turned out okay with the help and guidance of their grandparents.

While Cal seems to have ended up the most functional, Sierra’s response was to self-medicate her fears of ending up like their father with alcohol, and Dakota ran away to the military at 17 and took a vat of resentment with him. Dakota’s older sister Sedona, the bossy control freak, has anxiety and OCD issues to the point where her family has to stage an intervention. Dealing with Sedona’s crisis is a big part of the story, and an important factor in the gathering of this family back together.

The other issue holding this book together, is the stalking of Dakota. Not that Dakota is stalking anyone, but that he is being stalked by a woman who entered the series in Any Day Now seeming slightly unhinged, but with Dakota entering the picture has escalated into full-scale criminal behavior – and she’s ramping up the violence along with the crazy.

It was marvelous to see this particular shoe on the other foot. I’ve read the trope where a woman is endangered by a crazed sexual stalker so many times that they all read alike, and usually read as an excuse to put the heroine in jeopardy so the hero can save her, often with some rape-porn on the side. Ugh!

This was different, but it was fresh and it also felt realistic. Dakota wants to dismiss it all. He doesn’t want to make trouble, he doesn’t want to seem like trouble to Sid, and he really doesn’t want to get his stalker in trouble for incidents that seems merely misguided – at least at first. It’s the police chief who convinces Dakota that even though the individual incidents don’t seem like much, that there is something going on that needs to be monitored. And that just because Dakota is a soldier doesn’t mean that he can’t be misled, misguided or be a victim of something awful just because the perpetrator is a woman and not another man.

There is also a romance in The Family Gathering, and even though the developing relationship between Sid and Dakota is the tentpole of the plot, it’s really the way that Dakota falls in love with the town, his life there, and his growing relationship with the rest of his family that carries the story.

And it is a lovely read.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Family Gathering to one lucky US commenter!

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Review: The Summer that Made Us by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Summer that Made Us by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Summer That Made Us by Robyn Carr
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print ebook, audiobook
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Mothers and daughters, sisters and cousins, they lived for summers at the lake house until a tragic accident changed everything. The Summer That Made Us is an unforgettable story about a family learning to accept the past, to forgive and to love each other again.

That was then…

For the Hempsteads, summers were idyllic. Two sisters who married two brothers and had three daughters each, the women would escape the city the moment school was out to gather at the family house on Lake Waseka. The lake was a magical place, a haven where they were happy and carefree. All of their problems drifted away as the days passed in sun-dappled contentment. Until the summer that changed everything.

This is now…

After an accidental drowning turned the lake house into a site of tragedy and grief, it was closed up. For good. Torn apart, none of the Hempstead women speak of what happened that summer, and relationships between them are uneasy at best, hurtful at worst. But in the face of new challenges, one woman is determined to draw her family together again, and the only way that can happen is to return to the lake and face the truth.

Robyn Carr has crafted a beautifully woven story about the complexities of family dynamics and the value of strong female relationships.

My Review:

This is a story that will get you right in the feels. It certainly did me. And it will probably make you feel all the feels as well, as the story runs from tragedy to hope, if not to triumph, and hits every emotional stop along the journey.

Most of all, it’s a story about one particular extremely dysfunctional family, and their attempt to get to the heart of at least some of their dysfunctions and heal, before it’s too late.

And it’s about one final gift that one member of that family gives to herself, and to everyone that she has to leave behind.

The story begins with Charley and Megan, who seem more like sisters than cousins – possibly because they sorta/kinda are. Once upon a time, a young mother began bringing her two daughters to Lake Waseka, one of the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, every summer. The two Hempstead girls, Louisa and Jo Anne, had the time of their lives. When those girls grew up, they continued the family tradition, bringing their daughters to the lake, until the summer when it all went smash.

Lou and Jo married Chet and Ray, two sisters marrying two brothers. Continuing to outwardly mirror each other’s lives, they each had three daughters, alternating years, so that the six girls looked more like stair-step sisters than cousins. Even double-cousins.

But their lives weren’t as similar as they seemed. And neither were they. Lou’s husband was boring but responsible and respectable, while Jo’s was every woman’s bad-boy dream, in more ways than one. Ray was an alcoholic and a conman, and every woman’s bicycle – not that he would have thought of it quite that way. Lou was strong and decisive, while Jo was soft and often needed direction. Apart, they drifted into the extremes of their natures, with Lou turning sharp and angry, and Jo being the world’s doormat.

Those summers kept them grounded, and they helped each other stay strong in their broken places. Until they shattered, one summer night, when Lou’s youngest daughter, 12 year old Bunny, drowned on the lake in a tragic accident.

Twenty-seven years later, the cottage is still closed up, Lou and Jo are still estranged, and every single one of the remaining girls, their now grown up daughters with children of their own, are, in one way or another lost or dysfunctional.

Megan decides to spend her very last summer trying to patch the broken places in her family. With her waning energy, she gets everyone back to the lake for one last summer, in the hopes that if they can go back to where it all went wrong, they’ll have one last chance to patch things back together.

To be each other’s strength in all their broken places once more.

Escape Rating A-: As much as I deride the term, The Summer That Made Us is a stellar work of women’s fiction. The story is all about this group of women, their feisty grandmother, their battling mothers, the troupe of sister-cousins, and even their own daughters, and all the myriad ways that those relationships have played out over time, both good and bad.

The men in this story are merely supporting characters, and spend most of the story off-stage, whether in another city or a cemetery. There’s plenty of trauma that relates all the way back to the Judge, Grandma Berkey’s husband who was Lou and Jo’s father. He’s certainly dead, and thank goodness for that!

While there is a romance in this story, the romance itself is a sub-sub-sub-plot. But it is important both as part of one sister’s healing, and as part of clearing up one of the mysteries of Charley’s last time at the lake.

At the beginning of the story, ironically, the one thing that seems marginally hopeful is Megan’s final, experimental cancer treatment, and the one thing that seems beyond all possibility of healing is Charley’s contentious relationship with her mother Lou. In that regard, nothing is as it seems.

But at that beginning, all the relationships seem to be going to hell in a handcart, and it’s a bit of a hard read to get through. Nothing seems to be looking up, and some of the interactions are downright painful.

As things begin, every single member of the family is damaged in one way or another. And all in ways that seem to trace their origins back to Bunny’s death and the abandonment of those idyllic summers at the lake. But the girls were all girls at the time, ranging up from Bunny to somewhere in their teens. They all saw those lake summers as perfect, and were not necessarily aware of all the tensions running underneath, especially the roiling tensions between Lou and Jo.

Bunny’s death was not the only thing that went wrong that summer. But after it, nothing went right. And unfortunately for everyone, one of the underlying dysfunctions of the entire family was that no one ever talked about what was really wrong.

One of the things that is so terrific about this story is that even though it all went wrong and the same time and in the same place, for each one of the women that wrongness burst out into entirely different directions. All of the women, even in the end Lou, appear as ultimately sympathetic and surprisingly unique characters. They never seem alike, they are not cookie-cutters of each other. Each one is distinct, both in their voice and in their manifestation of the family dysfunction.

And that’s the biggest problem they have to work with. Or against. Until they can finally share all the separate pieces of that broken story, none of them will be able to heal.

At the beginning of The Summer That Made Us, it feels like this one, last summer on the lake is Charley’s gift to Megan. But in the end, this summer turns out to be one final gift that Megan gives to Charley, and everyone in her family.

And it’s beautiful.

(Bring tissues)

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m very pleased to be able to give away a copy of The Summer That Made Us to one lucky US or Canadian commenter. I hope that the winner enjoys the story as much as I did.

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Review: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr + GiveawayAny Day Now (Sullivan's Crossing, #2) by Robyn Carr
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #2
Pages: 384
Published by Mira Books on April 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The highly anticipated sequel to #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr's What We Find transports readers back to Sullivan's Crossing. The rustic campground at the crossroads of the Colorado and Continental Divide trails welcomes everyone—whether you're looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or a whole new lease on life. It's a wonderful place where good people face their challenges with humor, strength and love.
For Sierra Jones, Sullivan's Crossing is meant to be a brief stopover. She's put her troubled past behind her but the path forward isn't yet clear. A visit with her big brother Cal and his new bride, Maggie, seems to be the best option to help her get back on her feet.
Not wanting to burden or depend on anyone, Sierra is surprised to find the Crossing offers so much more than a place to rest her head. Cal and Maggie welcome her into their busy lives and she quickly finds herself bonding with Sully, the quirky campground owner who is the father figure she's always wanted. But when her past catches up with her, it's a special man and an adorable puppy who give her the strength to face the truth and fight for a brighter future. In Sullivan's Crossing Sierra learns to cherish the family you are given and the family you choose.

My Review:

First of all, I love the places that Robyn Carr creates. Thunder Point was a terrific little town, and now Timberlake Colorado, the town near Sullivan’s Crossing, also seems like a fine place to get a fresh start.

And that’s just what Sierra Jones is looking for when she arrives in Timberlake in her beat-up orange VW Beetle, fondly known as “The Pumpkin” for obvious reasons. Nearly 30 and just 9 months sober, Sierra has come to Timberlake planning to spend some quality time with her brother Cal (hero of What We Find) and getting to know her new sister-in-law and the ‘bump’ that will become her niece in a few short months time.

Cal found a new life and fresh start in Timberlake, and healing in the beauties of nature that surround Sullivan’s Crossing at the conjunction of the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails. Sierra hopes for the same.

She ran away to rehab to escape something horrible, only to discover that the events that led up to her break happened, at least partially, because she really was an alcoholic, just like so many people, including Cal, told her. Running away from her messes into rehab was the first smart decision she had made in quite a while.

Sierra got scared straight. And she’s putting in the work to stay straight, one day at a time. But what scared her is big and bad and very, very real, and until she deals with it, she’s always going to feel just one day away from making more bad choices, or having her choices taken away from her, once and for all.

So Sierra comes to Timberlake for a fresh start where she can stand on her own two feet but still have support when she needs it. And so that she can be there for Cal when he needs her. It’s about time.

But just like her brother, Sierra comes to Timberlake looking to heal herself, and certainly not looking for a relationship. And that’s always just when you find one – when you are definitely not looking.

Conrad Boyle, (everyone calls him Connie whether he likes it or not), is a member of the Timberlake Fire Department. He’s also a paramedic who does search and rescue in his “off” hours. He doesn’t think he’s any better at picking the right partner than Sierra is. His last relationship ended in disaster, and he’s sure he’s better off not looking for love, because what finds him turns out to be anything but.

So of course Sierra and Connie fall for each other. Both unwilling at first to admit that what they have found is more than a fling. And Sierra more than a little bit afraid that when Connie learns the whole truth about her, he’ll run away as far and as fast as he can, leaving her devastated and alone. Again.

Instead, her past comes looking for her. But when it finally catches up to her, this time she doesn’t cave in. She nails it to the wall and beats it with a baseball bat.

Escape Rating B: I do love visiting Sullivan’s Crossing. It’s a great place, populated with a terrific bunch of people. Even the local bad apples are reasonably sympathetic and understandably human, if still a bit sour to the local taste.

I also like that the protagonists of the series are all adults with real adult problems. There’s plenty of angst at the right spots, but it’s real-life angst. Everyone has been banged around a bit in the school of hard knocks, and whatever they are agonizing over is stuff that’s really there, not made up drama. The series so far is also blissfully free of ridiculous misunderstandammits.

In spite of his spectacularly bad luck at relationships, Connie is a genuinely nice guy. He’s a good man who does some very hard things. Being a paramedic, even in a small town, means that he’s seen a lot of death and dismemberment, and had to rescue a lot of people from a lot of bad things. Sometimes he fails. So although his life looks mostly sunny, he understands in his bones that there are dark places and dark things in the world. He has the empathy to understand Sierra’s pain without either papering it over or rejecting it, and her.

Sierra, of course, is just certain that he can do better than her mixed-up self. But the heart wants what the heart wants.

The journey in this book is Sierra’s. She needs to decide she’s worthy, and she does it by facing the demons in her past. And that’s where things get both interesting and a bit murky.

I loved watching Sierra build a life for herself. Not just the romance, but everything that Sierra does to make herself part of Sullivan’s Crossing, and the way that it makes itself part of her. The mentor/father-figure relationship she builds with Sully is lovely. I’d say sweet but Sully probably wouldn’t approve.

But the more she reveals about herself, not just inside her own head but to Cal and eventually Connie, the more the reader is certain that her past is coming to get her. Literally. The story builds and builds the tension of Sierra waiting for that very dangerous other shoe to drop, to the point where I wanted to read ahead just to find out if they ever did get Chekhov’s gun down off the wall and just shoot it already.

When that climax finally comes, it gets wrapped up a bit too quickly. The way it gets wrapped up was wonderful, but that other shoe hung up there much longer than the actual drop got wrapped up.

But I loved my visit to Sullivan’s Crossing, and enjoyed it so much that I raced through the book just to see how everyone was doing and get to know the newbies. I can’t wait to go back!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Any Day Now to one lucky winner in the continental U.S.

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Review: The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Life She Wants by Robyn Carr
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr creates an emotional and uplifting ensemble of characters in this rags-to-riches-to-rags novel about women, friendship and the complex path to happiness
In the aftermath of her financier husband's suicide, Emma Shay Compton's dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients' life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband's crimes. She is left with nothing.
Only one friend stands by her, a friend she's known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn't easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she'd rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.
Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can't escape her husband's reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she'd ever ask for help—her former best friend. It's an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they've made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants.

My Review:

The roots of this story will sound familiar to readers. If Bernie Madoff had been the kind of silver fox portrayed in Mad Men, and if he’d had a trophy wife instead of his original wife (I keep looking for a better way to put that and coming up short), you might get a story like Emma Shay Compton’s.

Her late husband seems to have been second only to Madoff in the size and chutzpah of his Ponzi scheme. And if it hadn’t been for the bursting of the real-estate bubble that leads up to the Recession, he might not have been caught.

But Emma Shay is innocent of his crimes. She was chosen to be Richard Compton’s trophy wife (by his mistress!) because she was young, beautiful, naive and vulnerable. Emma was completely cut off from any support network before she married the late and unlamented bastard.

Her job was to look pretty and ask no questions. Now that the whole rotten mess has been exposed, and over-exposed, she can look back and see all the questions that she should have asked, but didn’t. And maybe she bears a tiny amount of guilt there. But the fact is that she didn’t know and her wealthy and powerful husband deliberately kept her in the dark. And he was very, very good at deceiving people.

But now it’s all over. When his last stash was finally discovered, Richard Compton committed suicide and left his young widow to deal with the mess. Both literally and figuratively.

The bones of his estate have been picked clean, and all of his ill-gotten gains that could be found have been returned to as many of his bilked investors as possible. Emma, feeling horribly guilty leaves the marriage with not much more than she brought into it. A couple of boxes of dishes, linens and towels, just enough clothes to get by, and the $9,000 in savings she started with.

So Emma goes home. Not to her parents’ home, because they are both long dead. But to the town where she grew up. Everyone already knows her there, and the scandal, she hopes, has been long chewed over. After all, she left in scandal 16 years ago, so this isn’t new. Just bigger.

Emma goes home to face the scene of her biggest betrayal, and the mistake that set her on the course she is desperately trying to get off of. Only to discover that nothing has been forgotten, and nothing has been gotten over.

Before she can move on in the present, she has to face the past. The former best friend who betrayed their friendship by getting pregnant with Emma’s boyfriend’s baby. Emma has to face not just that betrayal, but the child that might have been hers, and everyone she left behind.

Patching up that old, deep hurt is the first step to the future, not just for Emma, but for all of them. But lancing the pain of that wound may be more agony than any of them can bear to face.

Escape Rating B+: If the Madoff scandal had a love child with Nickel and Dimed, you might get some of the struggle in this book. Emma is a mostly innocent victim in all of this, but the people who are desperate to get a piece of something back from her dead husband don’t see her that way. And the stink of scandal that follows her makes her unemployable. She isn’t getting by on minimum wage at, let’s call it Burger Thing.

Her only salvation is her old friend Riley, the girl who betrayed her so horribly way back when. They both have to eat a lot of crow to make that even possible, but it’s a serving of crow that heals them both.

Although there is a romance in The Life She Wants, the “she” in that title applies to both Emma and Riley. Emma is looking for an authentic life, after years of dreams and denial amidst the jet set high-life. Riley needs to find peace. There is no question that she betrayed Emma all those years ago – but she’s spent her life turning her anger at herself outward, and blaming everyone around her – most of all Jock, the boy they both loved.

Jock, like Emma and Riley, has grown up but can’t move on. The difference is that Jock is willing to admit his part in the whole mess. But over the years of co-parenting his and Riley’s daughter Maddie, Jock has realized that his biggest mistake was with Riley. He’s loved her all along, and keeps hoping for a second chance. Riley hasn’t forgiven him for what was admittedly a whole lot of cowardly behavior when he was all of 18, and refuses to see the person he is now.

The past is holding all of them back, but Riley most of all. When she finally admits her part of what went wrong, they can all start to heal. The happy ever afters all around are very definitely earned.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Life She Wants to one lucky US commenter:

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Review: What We Find by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: What We Find by Robyn Carr + GiveawayWhat We Find (Sullivan's Crossing, #1) by Robyn Carr
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #1
Pages: 352
Published by Mira on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Join Robyn Carr, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Virgin River and Thunder Point series, as she explores the healing powers of rural Colorado in a brand-new story of fresh starts, budding relationships and one woman’s journey to finding the happiness she’s long been missing
Between the urban bustle of Denver and the high-stress environment of a career in neurosurgery, Maggie Sullivan has hit a wall. When an emergency, high-risk procedure results in the death of a teenager, Maggie finds herself in the middle of a malpractice lawsuit—and experiencing levels of anxiety she’s never faced before. It’s in this desperate moment that Maggie’s boyfriend decides he can’t handle her emotional baggage, and she’s left alone, exhausted and unsure of what her future holds. One thing is certain, though: she needs to slow down before she burns out completely, and the best place she can think to do that is Sullivan’s Crossing.
Named for Maggie’s great-grandfather, the land and charming general store at the crossroads of the Colorado and the Continental Divide trails have been passed down through the generations and now belong to Maggie’s estranged father, Sully. Though raised by her mother and stepfather after her parents divorced, Maggie has always adored Sully—despite his hands-off approach to fatherhood. When she shows up unannounced in Sullivan’s Crossing, he welcomes her with opens arms, and she relishes the opportunity to rebuild their relationship.
But when Sully has a sudden heart attack, Maggie’s world is rocked once again. Consumed with his care, she’s relieved to find that Cal Jones, a quiet and serious-looking camper, has been taking over many of Sully’s responsibilities as he recuperates. Still, Maggie is suspicious of this mysterious man’s eagerness to help—until she finds out the true reason for his deliberate isolation.
Though Cal and Maggie each struggle with loss and loneliness, the time they spend together gives Maggie hope for something brighter just on the horizon…if only they can learn to find peace and healing—and perhaps love—with each other.

My Review:

This week has been a bit symmetrical. Tuesday and Wednesday’s books (The Murder of Mary Russell and Journey to Munich) were read-alikes for each other. Now yesterday’s book, Once a Rancher, and today’s book, What We Find, are also read-alikes for each other.

So if Once a Rancher looked good to you, you’ll probably like What We Find. And vice-versa. And if What We Find looks good to you, you’ll probably really love The Wanderer, also by Robyn Carr. There are a lot of things about the setup that echo from one book (and one series opener) to another. But the people involved feel different, particularly the heroine.

Although they say you can’t go home again, when too many serious crises fall on Maggie Sullivan’s head, that’s exactly what she does. Maggie goes home to Sullivan’s Crossing, where her dad owns, operates and lives next-door to the local general store. Only to present Maggie with yet another crisis, but this time one that she can help to fix.

Maggie is a neurosurgeon in Denver, and generally a successful one. But in the last few months, her world has come crashing down around her. Her practice is closed, because her two partners were accused of fraud and malpractice. Maggie herself was hit with a separate malpractice suit over a heartbreaking trauma incident. Last but not least, 37-year-old Maggie found herself pregnant, and her long-term lover urged her to abort. He wasn’t ready or willing to be a father again, and when Maggie miscarried, he was more relieved than anything else. The jackass couldn’t deal with Maggie’s grief and stress – so he dumped her. In a phone call.

A friend told her to take a damn break already, and let herself heal. So Maggie went home to Sullivan’s Crossing. Less than two weeks later, her beloved but somewhat curmudgeonly dad had a heart attack, and Maggie was back in Denver at the hospital where she used to practice, enduring the complaints and teasing of a man who had never been sick a day in his life, and was a horrible patient to anyone who got near him. But he lived, and he healed, and Maggie took Sully back to Sullivan’s Crossing.

As Sully adjusts to being not quite as active as he used to be (he’s 70 and just survived a bypass) Maggie adjusts to being the one running the store and the Crossing, and finds herself becoming part of the little community where the Continental Divide Trail intersects several other trails just at that point where North America divides between east and west.

And Maggie finds herself falling for an enigmatic camper who pitches in everywhere around Sullivan’s Crossing while Sully recovers, but teases her unmercifully about who he really is and just why he’s hanging around a summer camping resort and obviously not working, from March until July.

As they explore each other, it turns out that Cal Jones is exactly what Maggie Sullivan needed to help her figure out where she wants to go (or stay) next in her life. And that Maggie Sullivan is the best thing that ever happened to Cal Jones.

But once they finally reveal all the truths to each other, can they find a way to move forward from a summer fling to something more?

Escape Rating B+: Anyone who enjoyed The Wanderer and Carr’s Thunder Point series will love What We Find. The stories are similar, but also very different. And while The Wanderer is Hank Cooper’s story, and we see things mostly from his perspective, What We Find is Maggie’s story, and hers is the point of view we see most and empathize with.

Also, Sully is a fantastic character in his own right. He reminds me a bit of Jackson Gibbs on NCIS. He’s the glue that holds the community together, and he loves his grown child without interfering in her life. But he provides interesting advice whenever anyone cares to listen, and creates a haven in his community. And of course there are unresolved issues in his relationship with his grown-up daughter that still fester between them, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the oh-so-obvious love.

Maggie and Cal’s romance is sweet and hot and surprises them both. Not that they are surprised when they finally fall into bed (or tent) together, but surprised that both of them discover more than just a fling. Maggie constantly expects Cal to leave, like her previous summer romances at the Crossing. Cal isn’t sure (with good reason) that once he tells Maggie the whole truth about his past, she’ll want to continue with him.

And they are both at personal crossroads, which may take them in opposite directions. Now that they are both nearing 40, neither of them is exactly sure what they want to be when they “grow up”. And there are certainly plenty of clouds hanging over both their heads, and lots of people pushing (at least pushing Maggie) to make one decision or another. As part of that pushing, it was very, very nice to see someone with an unconventional but loving and respectful relationship with a stepparent.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book is that Cal and Maggie are both firmly adults. They have lives and careers, and are at the point in their lives when they are searching for a next chapter. We don’t get enough of this kind of story.

I also loved that there was no “misunderstandammit” keeping them apart. Cal doesn’t talk about his past because he’s still dealing with the tragedy. He’s not ready to share. Maggie, likewise doesn’t bring up the miscarriage both because she’s still grieving and because her ex’s reaction made her a bit gunshy.

The way that they grow towards each other is lovely, and Cal’s continual teasing of the initially suspicious Maggie is adorable. I ended this book with a smile on my face, and can’t wait for my next visit to Sullivan’s Crossing.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Robyn and Harlequin MIRA are giving away a copy of What We Find to one lucky U.S. commenter:

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