Now that you mention it by Kristan Higgans (HQN Books, 2017)
The overall plot of this novel is so much like a Hallmark movie that the main character comments on that fact early in the book. For those of you who are not Hallmark movie fans, they all go like this. Young woman in her thirties gets in a accident, breaks up with her boyfriend, and takes a leave from her high-powered big city job to go back her hometown and reconnect with her family. While there she rediscovers an old flame, falls in love, and decides to stick around in small town America. In this story though, the details are a little darker than Hallmark would allow. Nora (a Boston doctor) not only got hit by a van in a freak accident, she was also still getting over a narrow escape from a man who broke into her apartment and tried to kill her. Her hometown family consists of a single mother on an island off Maine; her father left when she was a child and her sister is in jail in Seattle. A high school classmate, still bitter about her getting the Tufts scholarship he expected, is now a drug addict and an ongoing violent threat during her summer visit. Ultimately, there are some surprises you’d never see in a Hallmark movie that keep this novel from being a cliche.
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce (Random House, 2017)
This is a new novel by an accomplished British writer I haven’t run across before, though she has published several previous novels. It is set in 1988 in a run down suburb in England, in a music shop obviously. The main character Frank runs the music shop, which stocks only vinyl records, no CDs. He has a knack for interviewing customers and determining what music would be perfect for their needs. Unfortunately this is not enough to keep his shop in business. The story centers around a mysterious woman customer to whom Frank gives music appreciation lessons, and of course falls in love with. I won’t spoil the plot but it is very sweet.
This Could Hurt by Jillian Medoff (Harper-Collins, 2018)
This is a very entertaining novel about people who run a Human Resources department in a large corporation. No, really. You find out what each of them is really thinking inside, how they feel about each other and the company, and what makes them do the things they do. The company is not doing well and layoffs are part of the story, as foreshadowed by the employee termination notice decorating the front cover of the book. Although I assumed the author was male at first, due to the frequent gutter language and focus on everyone’s appearance, it turned out to be one of those female chick-lit authors. She should be commended for portraying two strong woman executives (one of them Latina) in a positive light.
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)
This novel interweaves the stories of two women in their thirties who are suffering fairly unique forms of heartbreak. Anna is an early onset (age 38) Alzheimer’s patient living in an assisted living residence for the elderly, and Eve is the new cook and housekeeper whose husband just killed himself after being convicted of a massive Ponzi scheme. Throughout the book Anna sadly loses more and more of her memory, but develops a romantic relationship with a man her age who also has early onset dementia. Eve struggles to build a new life for herself and her seven year old daughter, with the help of the handsome gardener who shares her love of organic cooking. The author sensitively portrays the frustration of people who can’t remember what anything is called or which door goes where, as well as the hurt of losing all your friends and living in poverty because of what your husband did. This excellent book will make you sad and yet hopeful, and give you much greater understanding of the experiences of people with dementia and their families.
A Taste for Nightshade by Martine Bailey (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)
This historical novel turned out to be a murder mystery although it took me a while to catch on to it. This is probably deliberate on the part of the author since the main character is an innocent girl who wasn’t expecting all this intrigue either. She accepts an offer of marriage from someone she barely knows, to escape from keeping house for her father, even though she realizes the man is only marrying her for her money and property. It kind of goes downhill from there. But life for women in late 18th century England clearly doesn’t offer a lot of great options. The good news is that the bad guys get their come-uppance and Grace gets her first love in the end. Oh, and the start of every chapter has a recipe for an 18th century dish, drink, or potion. You’ll see why if you read this book.
Everyone brave is forgiven by Chris Cleave (Simon & Schuster, 2016)
This World War II romance is more realistic than romantic, not leaving to much to the imagination as far as what people really suffered. The story follows a young English woman and a man she met at the start of the war in 1939, and all the awful things that happen to them until they get together again. It is written in a literary style, with an educated vocabulary and sarcastic wit that reflects the upper-class background of the characters (like Jane Austen 150 years on). The way the other characters talk about and treat black children is shocking from a 21st century perspective, but I suspect it mirrors the real attitudes of the time (and at least the main characters don’t share these prejudices). So if you want to know what it was really like (the good, the bad, and the ugly), read this book.
The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett (Penguin Random House 2017)
This is a successful first novel by an accomplished British writer of science fiction short stories. It tells the story of what happens when all but 0.0001 percent of the human race (even those that have colonized distant star systems) is killed off all at once by a deadly virus. The story mainly centers on one young woman and the small group of people she ends up traveling with looking for more survivors. It starts out on a distant colony planet but ends up in England. Like a lot of science fiction written by women, it is fundamentally hopeful about our future and doesn’t devote much space to violent battles and power struggles. Instead it explores themes like religion, love, and survival strategies when the world changes overnight.