California Girls by Susan Mallery

Have you ever heard the saying that bad things happen in threes? Susan Mallery takes that saying and expands upon it in her newest book, California Girls. Three sisters have their lives together until one fateful week when everything for each of them begins to fall apart. Finola, Zennie, and Ali all live in California with their mother close by. The sisters may live in a sunny state, but their lives have definitely taken a darker turn.

California Girls by Susan Mallery tells the story of Finola, Zennie, and Ali at defining moments in each of their lives. Oldest sister Finola is a popular LA morning show host. She has been married to her husband Nigel for the last four years. Finola loves her job as well as the publicity, fame, and clout the position gives her. She lives a happy and successful life. The couple is set to go to Hawaii for a weeklong vacation when she plans on telling him that she is ready for them to have a child. At her last day of work before her vacation begins, Finola is blindsided when her husband announces (right before she’s supposed to go on air) that he’s been having an affair. Finola decides to deal with this by pretending everything is fine and that Nigel will come back to her when he’s grown tired of his mistress. She hides from the tabloids and continues to believe all will go back to normal.

Middle sister Zennie has also gone through a breakup. However she’s not heartbroken because she never really wanted to be in a relationship anyway. Zennie would rather be doing literally anything else: surfing, running, working out, etc. When her best friend asks her to be the surrogate for her and her husband, Zennie instantly agrees. She would do anything for her best friend and it’s not like she has a pressing desire to pair up and have kids anytime soon(if at all). When she announces this news to her family and friends, almost all of them think she is making a huge mistake. With no way out, Zennie discovers that this surrogate pregnancy is going to be much harder than she initially thought it was going to be.

The youngest sister Ali has always lived in her older sisters’ shadows. Finola is their mother’s favorite, while Zennie is the apple of their father’s eye. Of the three, Ali isn’t the thinnest or the prettiest or the tallest. She’s just Ali. As a result when she first met her fiancé, Ali thought she had found her forever. That forever is destroyed when her fiancé decides to call off the wedding SEVEN WEEKS before they are supposed to get married. To make things worse, he is too cowardly to do it himself and sends his brother Daniel to break things off instead. Ali is drowning in everything she has to do to cancel the wedding, but Daniel keeps showing up and offering to help. His constant support leads Ali to believe that Daniel may end up being more than a friend.

All three sisters are forced to start over their lives, but the good thing is that they have each other to rely on. As this story progresses, readers follow each sisters’ life journey as they rebuild their relationships with each other and with the other people around them. Read this book and let me know what you think in the comments!


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The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner’s newest book, The Last Year of the War, is the story of a German-American girl whose life forever changes when her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas during World War II. I urge you to give this book a try because Davenport, Iowa is the family’s hometown! Most reviews only mention that the family is from Iowa, so I was pleasantly surprised when Davenport and other Quad City landmarks were frequently discussed through character background and development.

The Last Year of the War flashes back and forth between past and present. Elise Sontag’s family has been in the United States for nearly two decades. This fact proves not to mean much when government forces show up at their front door. Elise’s father is arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Elise’s mother struggles to provide for the family amidst government and local judgment and pressure. Her entire family is eventually sent to an internment camp in Texas where they are reunited with Elise’s father. In Texas, the family lives behind barbed wire and amidst armed guards and other fellow internees. Despite being with her family, Elise feels lost as almost every physical thing her family had loved and was familiar to them is gone. Elise struggles to find a sense of belonging and quickly feels herself becoming unmoored.

The one bright spot in Texas? Mariko Inoue. Mariko is a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles living with her parents and her two older siblings. Mariko and Elise become fast friends, much to the chagrin of other people given that Mariko is Japanese-American and Elise’s family is German. In order to survive the harshness of the camp, the two make plans for what they’ll do when they get out of the camp and turn 18.  Knowing, hoping, and praying that they will have a bright future outside of the camp, they work hard to stay together and build a positive future.

Flashing between past and present, readers see what happened to Elise and Mariko. Were they able to keep their big plans? What happened to both of their families? How did the war and its far-reaching aftershocks affect the different people that they came in contact with? The character development throughout this book really drew me in, as well as the references to places that I was familiar with throughout Davenport. Give this book a read and let me know what you think!


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The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson

I grew up in a small town where beauty pageants happened every summer. Moving away to college, I discovered that spending your summer watching beauty pageants was not the norm. I honestly had not thought much of the pageant life again until recently when I discovered The Accidental Beauty Queen  sitting on the new shelf at work. The premise was intriguing, so I decided to give it a try!

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson tells the story of two identical twins. Charlotte and Ginny Gorman look alike, but that is where their similarities end. Charlotte is an elementary school librarian who absolutely loves her job. Being a librarian allows her to spend her day around books and help her students. Her twin sister Ginny is a beauty pageant contestant. Building her brand through various social media platforms, mainly Instagram, Ginny works hard to fill their mother’s beauty pageant shoes(not literally). Their mother died when both Ginny and Charlotte were young and Ginny chose to honor her by competing in the same pageant she had competed in before.

Ginny is a repeat beauty pageant contestant, someone who has been after a crown for as long as Charlotte came remember. Her ultimate goal? Being crowned Miss American Treasure. Charlotte may begrudgingly support her sister, but she still doesn’t understand the appeal. Charlotte accompanies Ginny to her latest beauty pageant because she’s promised a week of vacation with Harry Potter World close at hand. Staying in the same room with Ginny, Charlotte is privy to some behind the scenes looks as Ginny prepares. Ginny is pretty sure she has this pageant in the bag.

It all comes crashing down when Ginny has a severe allergic reaction to the dinner she shares with Charlotte the night before the competition begins. After Charlotte rushes Ginny to an urgent care (under cover and in secret, of course), they both realize that Ginny will not be back to her normal beauty queen self for at least three days. Those three days are the bulk of the pageant! At her wit’s end, Ginny begs Charlotte to fill in for her for those three days. Her doing so would allow Ginny the time she needs to heal, but she would be able to swoop in at the end for the finals. Reluctantly agreeing to help, Charlotte soon finds herself thrown headfirst into full-blown pageant life. Ginny gives Charlotte a makeover full of push-up bras, glittery pageant gowns, hair extensions, false eyelashes, and full faces of makeup. As Ginny tries to prepare Charlotte for everything that goes into a pageant, Charlotte quickly finds out that there is way more to this way of life than crowns and gowns.

The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood

The public has always had a fascination with multiple births. Television shows, movies, books, and news articles exist to help satisfy the public’s curiosity. The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood is based on the real-life story of the Dionne Quintuplets who were born in Northern Ontario in 1934. While certainly some parts of this story are fictionalized, I did some digging and found that the majority of the story presented, the historical reporting included, is true. I encourage you readers to look into the story of the Dionne Quintuplets when you have finished this book to learn more.

The Quintland Sisters tells the story of the world’s first recorded quintuplets to survive infancy. Another interesting fact? The Dionne quintuplets were all girls! Born at least two months premature on May 28th, 1934, Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile, and Marie entered into a world where no one thought they would survive the night. The quintuplets were born on a small farm in the village of Corbeil in northern Ontario, Canada, to Elzira and Oliva Dionne who were already parents to five other children. Present from the moment of birth is Emma Trimpany, a 17 year old assistant to the midwife. Uneasy about being there in the first place, Emma helps to care for the newborns while hoping that they survive the night. Disagreements arise from the moment of their birth between their parents, the doctors, and the government over everything from who is allowed to see the children, who is their legal guardian, and whether or not money should be made from the girls being alive.

After the government removes the children from their parents’ care, Emma decides to sign on as their nurse. The quintuplets are now wards of the British King. Now that the government has custody of the quints, tourism and advertising continues to skyrocket. More than 6,000 visitors a day descend upon Quintland to watch the quints play, buy anything touristy, and take a quint stone for fertility luck. While the rest of the world sees the quintuplets as 100% identical, Emma uses her artistic eye to notice the unique differences that allow those closest to the quints to tell them apart. Deciding to keep a record of her time with the quintuplets, Emma records every event and sketches those around her in her private journal.

As the quintuplets get older, the animosity between their parents and the doctors/government continues to grow. As they fight over custody and revenue gained from the quintuplets, Emma struggles to decide whether to stay in Quintland with the girls or to go out into the bigger world. Emma’s world may revolve around the quints, but her family and friends decide to move out into the world to do other things. Everything surrounding the quintuplets and their enclosed world comes to a head and Emma must figure out what to do. This novel may focus on an uncommon, but true, story, but the major themes of heartbreak, resilience, love, and family are all wrapped up in a coming-of-age story relatable to people from all walks of life.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Have you ever gone to a health resort? Or even taken a weekend at a spa? As someone whose pampering extends solely to pedicures and manicures, the idea of a spa or health resort sounds heavenly. When I discovered that Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty was set at a health resort with a twist, I decided to give this book a try.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty follows the lives of nine people through ten days at a health resort. Each person gathered at the health resort is there for a variety of reasons. Some are there to lose weight, some to fix their marriages, some to figure out a new way to live, while others are there for reasons that they don’t want to tell others. Even the staff have secrets to hide: both about themselves and the health resort. When setting foot into Tranquillum House, guests are told that this health resort may require them to do things that they aren’t comfortable with. This isn’t your traditional health resort, so they are going to have to work hard to get the results for which they are looking. In the end though, it will be worth the effort(or so they are told).

While each characters is presented somewhat separately in this novel and readers are privy to sections from each one’s point of view, Moriarty chooses to lay the bulk of her exposition on the character of Frances Welty. Frances is a best-selling romance novelist whose latest book is not doing so well. Struggling to figure out what she should do career-wise and simultaneously reeling from a disastrous broken heart, Frances has booked herself into Tranquillum House and is unsure of what to expect. Upon meeting her fellow guests, Frances is immediately intrigued. Using her writerly instincts, Frances tries to figure out the reasons that each has come to Tranquillum House. The person who fascinates her the most is not one of the quests though: it is the director and owner of Tranquillum House itself. Frances finds herself wondering if she really can solve/cure/make better/provide all the answers for Frances and the rest of the guests. Doubts continue to niggle throughout Frances’s stay and leave her wondering if she should stick out her stay or voice her concerns to the other guests. Could the other guests have the same concerns or are they content to follow the staff through the activities planned for each day? Frances will have to figure out a way to connect and figure out what is really happening at Tranquillum House.


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The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

What would you do if you found out that your unborn child had a heart defect that could possibly lead to his/her death? In The Dream Daughter  by Diane Chamberlain, Caroline Sears learns her unborn baby girl has a heart defect that might be fatal. Caroline is obviously devastated. This novel follows Caroline and her family’s journey as they work to find a way, any way, to save her unborn daughter’s life.

The Dream Daughter  by Diane Chamberlain tackles the tender topic of what and how far parents are willing to go in order to save an unborn child. Caroline, known to her family and friends as Carly, has had nothing but bad news lately. Carly has recently been widowed by the Vietnam War. Struggling to find a new normal, Carly moves in with her sister and brother-in-law. More life-changing news comes her way. Learning that she is pregnant, Carly is happy, but a trip to her doctor breaks her yet again. Her doctor tells her that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect. In 1970, there is nothing that can be done to help her child. Told that her child may die soon after she is born(if she survives that long), Carly hopes against all hope that the doctors are wrong and she’ll give birth to a healthy baby girl.

Concurrent to this story line runs the story of Carly’s sister and her husband. Carly’s brother-in-law is a physicist with a slightly mysterious past. Desperate to help Carly while knowing her heart-breaking past, he decides to share a secret with her that has the possibility of shattering their entire family. He knows of a way to save Carly’s baby, but the way to do so is mind-bending. Knowing that he needs to find a way to convince her to listen to him, he pulls out all the stops to get Carly to believe his mind-bending proposal. Carly is flabbergasted by what he proposes. She must pull upon the strength and courage she has deep within herself in order to save her daughter. She must take a giant leap of faith and believe in him. Willing to do anything to save her daughter, Carly embarks on a quest that pushes the boundaries of both science and faith.


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Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson

I have inadvertently been reading a lot of historical fiction about World War II. How is this inadvertent you ask? I put a bunch of audiobooks on hold through OverDrive and as it so happened, five came ready at the same time. The last two that I’ve listened to have all been about World War II with the main women both playing the violin and one of the main men named Max. During the second book, I had to pay very close attention, so I wouldn’t mix up the books. Hidden Among the Stars was the second World War II fiction I listened to this week. It may be time for a lighthearted read…

Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson slips from the past to the future in this gripping tale of hidden treasure, a castle, and ordinary people fighting to resist evil any way possible.  This piece of inspirational fiction unites 1938 Vienna, Austria with 2018 United States.

1938. Austria. Hitler’s troops are sweeping into Vienna, much to the chagrin of Max Dornbach. With political views that differ from his parents, Max has no desire to shun his Jewish friends. Max offers to help his Jewish friends hide their most valuable possessions, so they won’t fall into the hands of the Nazis. Max works closely with the father of Luzia Weiss, a young Jewish woman he has grown to love. Smuggling those goods to his family’s summer estate near Hallstatt, Max quickly finds himself needing the help of Annika Knopf. Annika’s father is the current caretaker of the summer estate, meaning that Annika and Max have grown up together. Annika has loved Max for as long as she can remember and has thusly decided to help him however she can. Her loyalty and love for Max is stretched when Max brings Luzia with him on one of his trips to the summer estate. Agreeing to hide Luzia in the castle, Annika doesn’t realize the full extent of what is on the line until the Nazis come to Hallstatt and destroy the castle. Luzia and the treasure have disappeared, throwing everyone’s lives into turmoil.

Flash forward eighty years. Callie Randall may not be living the life she thought she’d have at this point, but she’s mostly happy with what she has. Callie is running a small local bookstore with her sister where she is known as Storygirl with amazing striped socks. Callie also runs a blog where she writes stories about different authors. While working on her current article, Callie stumbles upon a cryptic list in an old edition of Bambi that introduces her to the bewildering world of Annika’s story. Digging into Annika’s life, Callie finds that this story may be connected to the life of a close dear friend of hers. In order to find the truth, Callie must venture outside of the safe place she has built for herself. She soon finds herself on an adventure with a chance for new love and long-awaited for answers.


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That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron

If you could read a book and get a glimpse into another society, would you? By reading fiction books, I will often find a topic that intrigues me that will then push me to read a nonfiction book about the same topic. It’s an enjoyable cycle! Historical fiction is one of the biggest genres that leads me to nonfiction books. I love fact-checking the fiction book to see how closely the author wrote to what happened in real life. Historical fiction that focuses on remarkable women is one of my favorites. Stephanie Barron’s latest works falls under this category.

That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron chronicles the life of one of history’s most remarkable, controversial, and influential women: Winston Churchill’s scandalous American mother, Jennie Jerome. Jennie was born in Brooklyn to a prosperous American financier father and a mother with high social ambitions for both herself and her daughters. Eventually ending up in Europe with her mother and siblings after a scandal rocked her parents, Jennie realizes that she is responsible for securing her own destiny. Jennie is wealthy, privileged, and raised by her father to be fiercely independent. The moment she landed in Victorian England, Jennie and her family took the area by storm.

Jennie runs into Lord Randolph Churchill at a party and decides she wants to marry him when she is just nineteen years old. The shocker? They have only known each other for three days when Jennie decides to marry him. Once they are married, she is instantly swept into a crazy whirlwind of British politics and the social climbers that surround Bertie, Prince of Wales. Jennie is now the new Lady Randolph Churchill, a brash American woman who thinks for herself and is careless of English society rules. She becomes a London sensation, traveling without her husband to Marlborough House and gathering admirers and critics along the way. Since Jennie knows about politics and is also a gifted piano player, she uses her talents to begin shaping her husband’s rise in Parliament. Jennie is also widely known as the mother of Winston Churchill. She uses her talents to help navigate Winston’s journey into manhood. He had a difficult childhood, but Jennie made sure to be at his side.

As the Churchill family becomes more influential, scandal and tragedy begin to strike them. Jennie has had lovers besides her husband, but none mean as much to her as Count Charles Kinsky. Kinsky is a man who loves horses like she does  and passionately loves Jennie the way her husband can’t. Once Bertie, Prince of Wales, catches wind of their affair, Jennie is forced to rethink their love as she quickly realizes just how much her every move is judged in public. She must decide how to balance duty and desire, a choice which has consequences that ripple across the Atlantic. Jennie’s decision takes her to a new level of scandal as her children’s lives and all of those around her are greatly affected. This novel is a loving portrait of a woman who helped shape the Churchill era. Jennie’s legacy may be of a difficult and scandalous woman, but the balancing act she works out between obligation, desire, duty, love, and freedom is a testament to the soul of a woman who through sheer force of will was able to alter the course of history.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is the story of two young girls who are trying to find their place in a world that values men higher than women. Poornima and Savitha are the eldest girls in their respective families in India. Chance leads the girls together where they strike up a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. Poornima’s mother died when she was young, leaving her to fill the mother role to all of her younger siblings long before she was actually ready to fulfill it. Working hard to help her father provide for the family, Poornima quickly realizes that even though her family isn’t dirt poor, they’re still scraping by. To help supplement their income, Poornima’s father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, thus allowing Poornima’s family to bring in more money while also giving Savitha money for hers. Poornima and Savitha begin to turn to each other for comfort. Savitha’s family is more impoverished than Poornima’s, but Savitha quickly shows Poornima how to find joy and beauty in the little day to day parts of life. Savitha’s infectious personality finally allows Poornima to imagine the possibility of a fulfilling life beyond the arranged marriage her father is so desperately looking for her to fill.

Just when Poornima and Savitha have reached a comfortable rhythm, a devastating act of cruelty and violence occurs that destroys their newfound joy. As a result, Savitha is ruined and driven away from their small village. Poornima is wrecked and decides to do everything in her power to find Savitha, so they can live a happy life together. Poornima’s journey takes her away from everything that she is accustomed to and everything that she holds dear. Poornima finds herself searching India’s dark underworld for any sign of Savitha. Willing to do anything to find her, Poornima goes on a journey across India and even ends up traveling to the United States.

This novel alternates between both Poornima and Savitha’s perspectives. They have never lost hope that they will eventually find each other, even when circumstances turn dangerous. Rao tackles many urgent issues facing women across the world: immigration, feminism, human trafficking, and domestic abuse, just to name a few. These issues provide a solid foundation for Rao to explore how friendship and the will to survive can help women work towards a better, more hopeful future.


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Freefall by Jessica Barry

I’m an anxious flyer. The whole process terrifies me. To keep myself calm, I usually avoid fiction that has anything to do with planes or crashes. Jessica Barry’s novel, Freefall, was a notable exception as from the very beginning, readers know that the main character survived! A novel involving a plane crash with a positive outcome? Yes please!

Freefall by Jessica Barry is a psychological thriller following the lives of Maggie Carpenter and her daughter Allison. Maggie lives in Owl Creek, Maine. At home one day, Maggie isn’t surprised to see a police officer at her front door, given that he’s the husband of one of her best friends. What he has to say, however, shocks her to her core. Allison is dead. She died in a private plane crash in the mountains in Colorado. People keep telling Maggie that Allison’s death was a terrible accident, but she finds that hard to believe. Allison has always been a survivor. Looking for answers, Maggie digs deep into Allison’s life and the situation that led to her death. Maggie lost touch with her daughter over two years ago, but she hopes that Allison’s life hasn’t changed that much since then. Her research pulls up startling revelations that Maggie isn’t prepared to know, but what she finds gives her more hope that Allison is alive. Maggie must do everything she can to find Allison, even if that means looking through every detail of her daughter’s life.

While Maggie learns more about Allison, Allison herself is struggling to survive. She has survived the plane crash and is wounded. Hiking through the mountains, Allison is running from her past. As she fights her way to freedom and struggles to survive in the wilderness, Allison has to come to terms with the mess her life has become. She has lost her perfect fiancé and the luxurious way of life to which she has become accustomed.  As she trudges through the forest looking through any signs of civilization, Allison frequently flashes back to previous moments in her life. Engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, Allison thought she had it all. How did she end up with so many dark secrets? How did she end up willing to leave it all behind? How will she survive? What if the people after her get to her mother? Allison must make it back to her mother in time. Hoping against all hope that Maggie is safe, Allison fights to get to Maine no matter the consequences.

This book is told from both Maggie and Allison’s perspectives giving readers a glimpse into how far a mother and daughter are willing to go when the other is in danger. Even though they are separated by distance and their relationship is strained, both Maggie and Allison feel a tug connecting them as each works to protect and keep the other from coming to any harm.

Also I forgot to mention that Maggie is a retired librarian! How cool is that?? Read this book and let me know what you think of it in the comments below.


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