Short & Sweet Sunday: Stardust Summer

sundays

StardustsummercoverFrom the publisher: Single mom Grace Mason doesn’t believe in miracles, magic, or love at first sight. She likes the quiet life, complete with her eight-year-old son, their tiny house, and her teaching job. For Grace, happiness means that nothing much ever changes in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Then, one thousand miles away, tragedy strikes. A massive heart attack leaves Grace’s estranged father comatose in an Upstate New York hospital. While a team of doctors fight to keep Henry Mason alive, Grace and Evan rush to his bedside to say their final goodbyes. Henry’s passing brings little closure for Grace, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to her new surroundings. What begins as a short trip results in an entire summer spent with Henry’s second wife, Kathleen, and her next-door neighbor, Ryan Gordon, the town doctor. When a series of unlikely events lead to Evan’s disappearance, Grace must face her worst fears to find her son and bring him back home. Stardust Summer explores the complexities of forgiveness, what it means to be a family, and the fabulous possibility of falling in love—again

Why I picked it up: I can totally relate to stories about family dysfunction and second chances, so this book looked right up my street. Plus I’m in full spring-fever mode, so I was really looking forward to immersing myself in the gorgeous upstate New York lakefront setting.

What I liked most: The setting is – hands down – my most favorite element of this book. The descriptions of watercolor sunsets amid the Catskill Mountains, the sweet-smelling woods, the outdoor picnics – it all just makes me want to pack up my Hello Kitty suitcase and head out to the Adirondacks.  Oh how I wish I could be sipping on a sugary iced tea on Ryan’s porch watching the sun dip under the lake.

Favorite character: I can be a little fickle about main characters, especially in romance novels. Typically the quirky best friend seems far more interesting and likeable. But surprisingly, I found Grace to be the most endearing character in this book. Maybe because I can empathize with her family struggles and trust issues. Sure, she makes some really dumb decisions – especially in the love department – but she eventually comes into her own. I should also mention that I got a big kick out of Kathleen, the estranged stepmother. After her husband’s death, I expected her to fall apart, but she went on living life to the fullest – taking quite a few twists and turns in the process. I’ll stop right here before I give anything away…but I will say that a pink house is involved.

What I want more of: Please, Lauren, tell me that we’re going to see more of Ryan and Grace! I got a nice little taste of their budding romance – and now I want more fireworks, more tension, more hot-and-heavy smooching sessions. I’m not talking 50 Shades of Grey, just maybe a PG-13 bedroom scene would be a fun little bonus for us hopeless romantics.

Final verdict: Overall this is another win for Lauren Clark. What I love about this author is that I know she’s going to strum my heartstrings and make me swoon over a sweet budding romance. If you’re looking for a beach read that will make you wax nostalgic about your childhood summers by the lake, download this book immediately!

 Summed up in three words: Sweet, romantic, atmospheric.

Shameless self-promotion: Guess whose name was mentioned in the acknowledgments! That’s right, Jessica Sinn, book blogger extraordinaire! In my humble opinion,  Lauren is right up there with top women’s fiction authors like Fern Michaels, Kathy Lamb, and Susan Mallery, so this is a true honor.

For more about this fabulous author, check out my reviews for Dancing Naked in Dixie here, and Stay Tuned here. Check out her Q&A here.

The Friday Five: Naturally Charlie by S.L. Scott

In honor of the coolest day of the week, I bring you The Friday Five. Every Friday I will ask the same five questions to myself, or any other willing participant! All my fellow book lovers are welcome to join in on the fun.

15821735Synapsis: Twenty-five year old Charlotte “Charlie” Barrow is caught between her old life, and the one she is beginning to build, when she crosses paths with a handsome stranger on the subway. Not looking for romance, she closes her heart off to the possibilities of love. With a knack for mishaps, Charlie maintains her sense of humor while befriending the kind stranger who seems to be there at all the right times. New York freelance writer, Charlie Adams, is forging his own path beyond the expectations of the society circles of his childhood. Rejecting family money, and fast-lane friends, he is snubbed by his family as he follows his own compass to a life more extraordinary. Through a coincidence of events, they come to rely on each other for comfort. This is the tale of two Charlies learning to trust again while fighting their fates to create their own destiny.

Why did you choose this book? I came across this book at the Texas Book Festival last fall and couldn’t resist picking up a new title by an up-and-coming Texas author.  Although I have to admit that I dragged my heels for a while because I’m rarely in the mood for a light-hearted romance novel without sleuths, vampires or ghosties.

Where did the author go right? Or if it’s a turkey, what went wrong? Let me start off by explaining why I’m not a big fan of straight-up romance novels. The leading ladies are typically one-dimensional and painfully neurotic. They jump at the chance to be haughty and angry toward their love interest and it just grates on my nerves. There’s always a miscommunication and stupid squabbles ensue. I guess authors feel they need to do this to keep the romantic tension boiling, but it just annoys the crap out of me. But you know what surprised me about this book? I actually liked Charlie! She’s just your typical girl-next-door who loves to bake cupcakes and watch movies on a Friday night. We could totally hang out! Sure she has some serious emotional baggage, but it didn’t turn her into a complete ninny. The dynamic between her and Charlie (the dude) is very reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally….only the male Charlie is WAY hotter than Billy Crystal!

I also have to give the author props for thinking up the most bizarre first date of all time. I loved how the Charlies forged a bond under such stressful and emotionally-straining circumstances. From that moment on it was clear they were meant to be together.

Did anything bug you about the book? There were quite a few moments when I just wanted to shake Charlie and yell, “Get the hell out of the friend-zone, you idiot! He’s freakin’ perfect!”

Would you read another book by this author? Yes! When it comes to writing romance, S.L. Scott really knows how to hit the sweet spot. Her characters are believable, the dialogue is entertaining, and the grand finale is ultimately satisfying. Although I have to say that I’m a little tired of the Manhattan scene. Hopefully her next story will be set in Austin, or perhaps a small Texas town.

How would you sum up the book in three words? Sweet, romantic, cute.

“Summer Island” by Kristin Hannah

Nora Bridge had what appeared to be the American dream – a devoted husband, two loving daughters, and a quaint beach house on Summer Island. Yet one day she turned her back on them all and vanished into thin air.

A decade later her youngest daughter Ruby  finds herself grappling with the heartbreaking legacy of her mother’s selfishness. Stuck in the spin cycle of financial and emotional debt, Ruby is listless, angry and desperate to make a buck. After Nora, ironically a nationally beloved radio advice show host of “Family First,” becomes the center of a scandal, Ruby decides to write a tell-all roast about her absentee mother for a sleazy tabloid.

Just when life couldn’t get worse for poor Nora, she totals her car in an alcohol-induced haze, rendering herself  incapacitated  in a wheelchair. Alone and helpless, she’s left to rely on the one person who despises her the most: Ruby.

Guilted into taking care of her down-trodden mother at her childhood home in Summer Island, Ruby decides to maximize her quality time with mother dearest by writing her tell-all. But when her anger ebbs and forgiveness fights its way to the surface, she struggles with the moral dilemma of cashing in on her mother’s scandal or killing the story and letting her mother back in her heart.

Lessons of redemption and second chances are also infused in the two subplots: one a romance between Ruby and Dean, an old boyfriend who she kicked to the curb after her mother split, and another involving Dean’s dying brother who’s struggling to make peace with his broken family. Conveniently they’re all summering on the island and  rebuilding their relationships.

Brimming with sentiments of forgiveness and unconditional love, the book reads like a lengthy episode of a Lifetime movie under the influence of “Delilah after Dark.” Get out those boxes of Kleenex ladies, this one is a surefire tearjerker.