Category Archives: Berkley

Review: Out of the Clear Blue Sky by Kristan Higgins

Title: Out of the Clear Blue Sky by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 496 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From New York Times bestselling author Kristan Higgins comes a funny and surprising new novel about second chances–and why the lies we tell ourselves are the most dangerous.

Lillie Silva knew life as an empty nester would be hard after her only child left for college, but when her husband abruptly dumps her for another woman just as her son leaves, her world comes crashing down. Besides the fact that this announcement is a complete surprise (to say the least), what shocks Lillie most is that she isn’t…heartbroken. She’s furious.

Lillie has loved her life on Cape Cod, but as a mother, wife and nurse-midwife, she’s used to caring for other people…not taking care of herself. Now, alone for the first time in her life, she finds herself going a little rogue. Is it over the top to crash her ex-husband’s wedding, dressed like the angel of death? Sure! Should she release a skunk into his perfect new home? Probably not! But it beats staying home and moping.

She finds an unexpected ally in her glamorous sister, with whom she’s had a tense relationship all these years. And an unexpected babysitter in of all people Ben Hallowell, the driver in a car accident that nearly killed Lillie 20 years ago. And then there’s Ophelia, her ex-husband’s oddly lost niece, who could really use a friend.

It’s the end of Lillie’s life as she knew it. But sometimes the perfect next chapter surprises you…out of the clear blue sky.

Review:

Out of the Clear Blue Sky by Kristan Higgins is a poignant, humorous and uplifting novel of new beginnings.

Lillie Silva is not looking foraward to her empty nest when her son, Dylan leaves for college. But she has a plan that she hopes will ease her into her new life. She has arranged for a vacation for her and her husband, Brad. When he asks her out to dinner, Lillie plans to surprise her husband with the trip. Instead, she receives the shock of her life when Brad tells her he has met someone else and he wants a divorce. Lillie puts on happy face as she and Brad pretend nothing is wrong between them until Dylan leaves for college. Although Lillie wants nothing more than to try to fix her marriage, Brad is resolute. With their divorce and his upcoming second marriage moving at breakneck speed, Lillie gets a little revenge as she tries to adjust to her new life.

Lillie is a nurse midwife and she loves her job. She never imagined herself as a single woman and she is having trouble adjusting to living alone. Lillie veers between anger and grief as Brad turns into someone she barely recognizes. With her stoic yet loving father and her sister Hannah’s support, she moves through the grief she feels over the end of her marriage.

Lillie also unexpectedly renews her friendship with Ben Hallowell. When she was younger, Ben was a bit of a fixture in her house since he worked with her dad on his fishing boat. They lost touch before Lillie left for college and now her dad’s retired, Ben now owns his mentor’s fishing boat. Lillie discovers a lot about herself and Ben as they get to know one another again.

Out of the Clear Blue Sky is a thought-provoking novel that touches on a number of topics that are relatable. Lillie is a vibrantly developed character who is flawed but is also stronger than she knows. Dylan is a well-mannered caring young man and he is quite supportive of his mom. Ben is a steady presence who has changed a lot in the intervening years since they last saw one another. Lillie handles her heartbreak in some not so mature ways but those occasions are funny and quite memorable. As she settles into her post-divorce life, she comes to terms with past losses and life-altering events. The plot is multi-layered and  Kristan Higgins brings this captivating novel to a highly satisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Kristin Hannah, Out of the Clear Blue Sky, Rated B+, Review, Women's Fiction

Review: This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wrobel

Title: This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wrobel
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the USA Today bestselling and Edgar-nominated author of Darling Rose Gold comes a dark, thrilling novel about two sisters—one trapped in the clutches of a cult, the other in a web of her own lies.

Welcome to Wisewood. We’ll keep your secrets if you keep ours.

Natalie Collins hasn’t heard from her sister in more than half a year.

The last time they spoke, Kit was slogging from mundane workdays to obligatory happy hours to crying in the shower about their dead mother. She told Natalie she was sure there was something more out there.

And then she found Wisewood.

On a private island off the coast of Maine, Wisewood’s guests commit to six-month stays. During this time, they’re prohibited from contact with the rest of the world—no Internet, no phones, no exceptions. But the rules are for a good reason: to keep guests focused on achieving true fearlessness so they can become their Maximized Selves. Natalie thinks it’s a bad idea, but Kit has had enough of her sister’s cynicism and voluntarily disappears off the grid.

Six months later Natalie receives a menacing e-mail from a Wisewood account threatening to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from Kit. Panicked, Natalie hurries north to come clean to her sister and bring her home. But she’s about to learn that Wisewood won’t let either of them go without a fight.

Review:

This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wrobel is a captivating mystery featuring two slightly estranged sisters.

Natalie Collins is hard-working career woman who goes in search of her sister Kit after receiving a threatening email. Natalie has not heard from Kit since she went to Wisewood, a self-improvement retreat on an island off the coast of Maine. The sisters’ lives have been completely different with Natalie focusing on her career while Kit cannot quite seem to find her niche. Despite their lack of contact, Natalie is not only worried her sister learning her secret. She is also very concerned about Kit’s well-being. In hopes of bringing Kit back home, Natalie immediately sets off for the isolated island.

Natalie is not exactly welcomed by the other members of the retreat. The people are reluctant to provide her any information about Kit nor will they direct her to Wisewood’s owner. Natalie has the eerie sensation someone is watching her in her cabin and while on the retreat grounds. She is also unnerved when she discovers someone has been in her room. The weather is not aiding her cause as a storm threatens her departure.

Passages from Kit’s perspective detail the journey that led her to Wisewood. Despite Natalie’s disapproval, she keeps firm in her decision to spend six months at the retreat. Kit is soon taken under Wisewood’s owner’s wing and she is soon taking on more duties. She is at peace for the first time in a long time and Kit does not miss the outside world.

Chapters from an unknown person’s point of view reveal shocking abuse for two sisters. One sister is more acquiescent than the other so she experiences less cruelty at the hands of her father. The other sister can never do anything to please her malicious father. She finds an outlet that she hopes will be her escape from her family. Her rise and eventual fall eventually span several decades and her identity is not revealed until around about halfway into the story.

This Might Hurt is a riveting novel that moves at a fast pace. Natalie and Kit are well-drawn women whose relationship has always been strained. The unknown woman’s story arc is interesting and a little better developed than Natalie and Kit’s. Wisewood is somewhat creepy and the worsening weather adds another layer of tension to the story. With well-placed plot-twists, Stephanie Wrobel brings this suspenseful mystery to a shocking conclusion.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Stephanie Wrobel, Suspense, This Might Hurt

Review: Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Title: Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (70s), Literary Fiction
Length: 367 pages
Book Rating: A+ & A Recommended Read

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A searing and compassionate new novel about a young Black nurse’s shocking discovery and burning quest for justice in post-segregation Alabama, from the New York Times bestselling author of Wench.

Montgomery, Alabama, 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend intends to make a difference, especially in her African American community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she hopes to help women shape their destinies, to make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But when her first week on the job takes her along a dusty country road to a worn-down one-room cabin, Civil is shocked to learn that her new patients, Erica and India, are children—just eleven and thirteen years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her role, she takes India, Erica, and their family into her heart. Until one day she arrives at their door to learn the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same for any of them.

Decades later, with her daughter grown and a long career in her wake, Dr. Civil Townsend is ready to retire, to find her peace, and to leave the past behind. But there are people and stories that refuse to be forgotten. That must not be forgotten.

Because history repeats what we don’t remember.

Inspired by true events and brimming with hope, Take My Hand is a stirring exploration of accountability and redemption.

Review:

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a poignant literary novel that is loosely based on real life events.

In 2016, Dr. Civil Townsend travels back to her hometown in Montgomery, Alabama after learning someone dear to her has been diagnosed with cancer. During her drive, she reflects on the events that changed so many lives during her first job as a nurse in 1973. Although she is from a middle-class Black family, Civil decides to work for a birth control clinic that services poor women in the area. Her first patients are India and Erica Williams, whose living conditions shock Civil. The young girls live with their father Mace and grandmother Patricia in a ramshackle shack out in the country.  Although harboring doubts about giving birth control shots to girls of such young ages, Civil follows her boss’s orders. She is also moved by their plight and she successfully finds them a better place to live and assists Mace in finding employment. After a discussion with her childhood friend, Tyrell “Ty” Ralsey, Civil realizes she might be doing more harm than good by giving those shots. She then makes a decision that sets in motion events that define and haunt her throughout her life.

Civil does not realize how privileged she is until she meets the Williams family. Although aware poverty exists around her, her father has shielded her from witnessing it firsthand. Civil’s questions are not welcomed at the clinic and she quickly leans to keep her thoughts to herself. But after she learns the troubling information about the birth control shots, she and her friend Alicia take matters into their own hands. This sets off a chain of events that eventually exposes and alters common practices in federally funded birth control centers across the United States.

Take My Hand is an emotionally compelling novel that seamlessly moves back and forth in time. Civil is a compassionate young woman who firmly believes that women should be in charge of their reproductive health. India and Erica are wonderful young teenagers who quickly adapt to the changes in their lives. From the Williams’ filthy shack to government housing to the courtroom, the settings spring vividly to life. The storyline is incredibly moving and fully captures readers’ attention from beginning to end.  With impeccable research, Dolen Perkins-Valdez shines a bright light on a shameful period in American history.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Dolen Perkins Valdez, Historical, Historical (70s), Literary Fiction, Review, Take My Hand

Review: The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

Title: The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense, Supernatural Elements
Length: 350 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A true crime blogger gets more than she bargained for while interviewing the woman acquitted of two cold case slayings in this chilling new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Sun Down Motel.

In 1977, Claire Lake, Oregon, was shaken by the Lady Killer Murders: Two men, seemingly randomly, were murdered with the same gun, with strange notes left behind. Beth Greer was the perfect suspect—a rich, eccentric twenty-three-year-old woman, seen fleeing one of the crimes. But she was acquitted, and she retreated to the isolation of her mansion.

Oregon, 2017. Shea Collins is a receptionist, but by night, she runs a true crime website, the Book of Cold Cases—a passion fueled by the attempted abduction she escaped as a child. When she meets Beth by chance, Shea asks her for an interview. To Shea’s surprise, Beth says yes.

They meet regularly at Beth’s mansion, though Shea is never comfortable there. Items move when she’s not looking, and she could swear she’s seen a girl outside the window. The allure of learning the truth about the case from the smart, charming Beth is too much to resist, but even as they grow closer, Shea senses something isn’t right. Is she making friends with a manipulative murderer, or are there other dangers lurking in the darkness of the Greer house?

Review:

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James is a suspense-laden mystery with eerie ghostly elements.

Twenty-nine-year-old Shea Collins is a divorced survivor of a failed childhood kidnapping attempt. Although the kidnapper remains in prison, she takes great care to ensure her safety. She is a bit quirky and socially awkward and no one, including her sister, Esther, understands why she is so dedicated to her true crime blog, the Book of Cold Cases. With the still unsolved murders of two men in her hometown on the Oregon coast, Shea is thrilled when the woman acquitted of the decades old crime agrees to an interview.

Beth Greer is a wealthy recluse who still lives in her family’s secluded mansion. After the trial ended in an acquittal, she retreated to her somewhat creepy childhood home. Beth has never discussed the murders she was arrested for committing, but she believes Shea will not only treat her fairly but follow the clues she drops during their conversations.

Needless to say, Shea is excited but nervous about upcoming interview with Beth.  As Beth recounts her lonely childhood with her extremely unhappy parents, Shea is unnerved by the unexplained, otherworldly events she experiences at the mansion. Despite her continued unease, she becomes deeply invested in finding out the truth about Beth and the unsolved murders. With the help of private detective Michael De Vos and the retired detective who investigated the case, will Shea uncover the truth about whether or not Beth got away with murder?

The Book of Cold Cases is an atmospheric mystery with terrifying supernatural elements that are hair-raising. Shea is a sympathetic character who grows and evolves as she tries to uncover the truth about Beth and the killings. Beth’s revelations are shocking but is she being truthful with Shea? The storyline is well-developed and the various settings spring vibrantly to life. With a stunning denouement, Simone St. James brings this mesmerizing mystery to a highly satisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Simone St James, Supernatural Elements, Suspense, The Book of Cold Cases

Review: Doctors and Friends by Kimmery Martin

Title: Doctors and Friends by Kimmery Martin
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Hannah, Compton, and Kira have been close friends since medical school, reuniting once a year for a much-needed vacation. Just as they gather to travel in Spain, an outbreak of a fast-spreading virus throws the world into chaos.

When Compton Winfield returns to her job as an ER doctor in New York City, she finds a city changed beyond recognition—and a personal loss so gutting it reshapes every aspect of her life.

Hannah Geier’s career as an ob-gyn in San Diego is fulfilling but she’s always longed for a child of her own. After years of trying, Hannah discovers she’s expecting a baby just as the disease engulfs her city.

Kira Marchand, an infectious disease doctor at the CDC in Atlanta, finds herself at the center of the American response to the terrifying new illness. Her professional battle turns personal when she must decide whether her children will receive an experimental but potentially life-saving treatment.

Written prior to Covid-19 by a former emergency medicine physician, Doctors and Friends incorporates unexpected wit, razor-edged poignancy, and a deeply relatable cast of characters who provoke both laughter and tears. Martin provides a unique insider’s perspective into the world of medical professionals working to save lives during the most difficult situations of their careers.

Review:

Doctors and Friends by Kimmery Martin is a captivating (non-Covid) pandemic novel centered around a group of doctors who are close friends.

Socially awkward Dr. Kira Marchand works for the CDC. She is a widowed mom to six-year-old Beau and fourteen-year-old Rorie.  Kira and her kids join her friends from medical school for a long-awaited vacation in Spain and Morocco. ER doctor Compton Winfield makes a shocking discovery before departing for the trip and leaving behind her husband Ellis and their three kids. OB/GYN Hannah Grier joins her friends and tries to hide her continued sorrow over her infertility.

Kira and her kids arrive in Spain first and they meet with her former boyfriend Declan who works on the vaccine side of medicine. She is notified of a new sickness in the region that bears watching. While Declan takes Beau and Rorie on to Morocco, she and her friends continue  with their plans.  Kira continues to get updates about the new artiovirus but little is still known about the disease. Unfortunately, as their vacation is drawing to a close, the artiovirus explodes onto the world stage and when they return home, nothing is the same.

During the pandemic, Kira has kept Beau and Rorie safe from the artioviurs.  But Kira eventually faces an ethical dilemma that could threaten her future.  Compton returns to New York where the emergency rooms are overwhelmed with sick and dying patients. When the worst is over, she suffers from PTSD and finally must face a loss she has yet to grieve. Hannah is stunned when she becomes pregnant but she is able to safely work from home.

Doctors and Friends is a very compelling novel that is impossible to put down. The characters are richly drawn with flaws and strengths that add to their appeal. The descriptions of the artiovirus are a little too well detailed but these descriptions add urgency to the unfolding pandemic drama. The storyline is well-developed and will resonate with readers. With a hint of suspense, Kimmery Martin brings this outstanding novel to an extremely emotional yet satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend this incredible novel.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Doctors and Friends, Kimmery Martin, Review, Women's Fiction

Review: Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

Title: Well Matched by Jen DeLuca
Well Met Series Book Three
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 335 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A pretend relationship gives two friends more than they bargained for in a Renaissance Faire rom com filled with flower crowns, kilts, corsets, and sword fights.

Single mother April Parker has lived in Willow Creek for twelve years with a wall around her heart. On the verge of being an empty nester, she’s decided to move on from her quaint little town, and asks her friend Mitch for his help with some home improvement projects to get her house ready to sell.

Mitch Malone is known for being the life of every party, but mostly for the attire he wears to the local Renaissance Faire—a kilt (and not much else) that shows off his muscled form to perfection. While he agrees to help April, he needs a favor too: she’ll pretend to be his girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner, so that he can avoid the lectures about settling down and having a more “serious” career than high school coach and gym teacher. April reluctantly agrees, but when dinner turns into a weekend trip, it becomes hard to tell what’s real and what’s been just for show. But when the weekend ends, so must their fake relationship.

As summer begins, Faire returns to Willow Creek, and April volunteers for the first time. When Mitch’s family shows up unexpectedly, April pretends to be Mitch’s girlfriend again…and it doesn’t feel so fake anymore. Despite their obvious connection, April insists they’ve just been putting on an act. But when there’s the chance for something real, she has to decide whether to change her plans—and open her heart—for the kilt-wearing hunk who might just be the love of her life.

Review:

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca is a charming fake dating romance. This third addition to the Well Met series can be read as a standalone but I highly recommend the first two books as well.

With her daughter Caitlin heading off to college in just a few months, forty-year-old April Parker is planning ahead for her empty nest. A single mother, April is getting her house ready to sell so she can move closer to her work. She closely guards her heart in order to avoid getting hurt again so she does not date.  April is an introvert who is rather serious but she has loosened up a bit since her sister moved to town. She and Mitch Malone are social acquaintances but neither knows each other well. Will that change when April agrees to pose as his girlfriend at an upcoming family event?

Mitch is always cheerful and oozes charisma. He is a much-loved coach and gym teacher and he is great with kids. He is very involved in the annual Ren Faire and he is a fan favorite in the human chess event. Mitch is well liked by everyone and he has an extensive dating history. Which is why April is very surprised when he asks her to be his fake date at his grandparents’ anniversary dinner.

Because she always protects herself from getting hurt, April does not typically get to know anyone very well. This is true when it comes to Mitch so her opinion of him is a little superficial.  Needless to say, April is a little taken aback when she realizes that she has a lot to discover about her fake boyfriend.

Well Matched is a delightful romance that is quite steamy. April can be a bit frustrating at times, but she is an overall likable character. Mitch is self-confident but he also has his share of vulnerabilities. The storyline is engaging with realistic issues for April to overcome.  Over the summer, April and Mitch’s relationship takes an unexpected turn, but will she risk her heart again? With a conflict brewing late in the novel, Jen DeLuca brings this third installment in the Well Met series to a heartfelt conclusion.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Jen DeLuca, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Well Matched, Well Met Series