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Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★☆

Please note: This review is for the 5th book in the Tradd Street series. There are no spoilers for this book, but there might be spoilers from the previous four installments.

The Guests on South Battery is the fifth book in Karen White’s Tradd Street series, one of the few series that I believe continues to get better and better as the main characters evolve and new characters enter their lives. Centered on psychic Realtor Melanie Middleton, now married to Jack Trenholm with 10-month-old twins, the novel begins as Melanie prepares to go back to work for the first time since the babies were born.

As she laments losing some clients in her specialty area of historic homes, she meets Jayne Smith, who recently inherited a home belonging to a childhood friend of Melanie’s mother. Jayne is a shy, skittish young woman, and she wants nothing more than to sell the home as fast as possible. Having grown up in the foster care system, no one is quite sure why the home was left to her in the first place, but knowing from personal experience the troubles that accompany historic homes, Melanie has no qualms about helping Jayne sell. However, she wants her to see the home before making any snap decisions, and on the first tour of the property, Melanie knows something isn’t quite right. Her “gift” of seeing spirits is slowly coming back to her after having the twins, and she senses an evil spirit in the house.

Being new to Charleston, the whole process of renovating and selling a historic home is a bit overwhelming, and Jayne has no job or home. This, coupled with her experience with children and glowing references, works out perfectly for Melanie, who is in desperate need of a nanny, especially since Jack is trying to work on a new book, dealing with the fallout from a previous failed book deal, and playing stay-at-home dad all at the same time. In Jayne, Melanie finds a lifesaver, but Jayne’s youth and beauty, coupled with Melanie’s insecurities about her post-pregnancy body, make Melanie concerned about her marriage. Meanwhile, Melanie also must deal with a cistern discovered in the backyard of her Tradd Street home, weird phone calls in the night, and her mother’s desire to use their psychic abilities to help solve a cold case, as well as navigate her mother’s difficult past and what it means for her own future.

There was a lot going on in The Guests on South Battery, but none of it is confusing or overwhelming. White paces the novel perfectly, and Melanie’s first person narrative is always entertaining. It was nice to see Melanie coming into her own as a wife and a mother, juggling the various tasks that those roles and a full-time job entail, and realizing that she can no longer control and schedule literally every aspect or detail of her children’s lives. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and recognize that you can’t do it all, and perfectly at that.

As always, White does a great job making the ghostly aspects of the story seem believable and adding a bit of creepiness to balance out Melanie’s humorous antics. It also was nice to see more of Melanie’s best friend, Sophie, an historic homes expert who is in charge of the South Battery renovation, and Jayne was an interesting character to try to figure out. Despite piecing together the big twist before it was revealed, I loved the story, and I can’t wait for the next installment, The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street, which will be released in October.

Other reviews:

The House on Tradd Street

The Girl on Legare Street

The Strangers on Montagu Street

Return to Tradd Street

Disclosure: I received The Guests on South Battery from NAL for review.

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Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★☆

Now that I’ve caught up with reviews of the holiday books I read over the last couple of months, the rest of this week and all of next week will be reviews of books I read since last summer that I hadn’t had a chance to review until now.

First up is Return to Tradd Street, the fourth book in Karen White’s Tradd Street series.

Please note: This review is for the 4th book in the Tradd Street series. There are no spoilers for this book, but there might be spoilers from the previous three installments.

Karen White has long been on my list of favorite authors, and I don’t know why I waited so long to continue this series. Return to Tradd Street, book four in the Tradd Street series, continues to follow psychic Realtor Melanie Middleton as she struggles with her feelings for writer Jack Trenholm and the renovations on her historic home in Charleston, South Carolina. When the novel opens, Melanie is still angry with Jack and determined to take on parenthood alone. However, Jack is equally determined to be in his child’s life, and when he hires Melanie to help him find a bigger house, she finds that she can’t get rid of him.

Meanwhile, the ongoing renovations at 55 Tradd Street unearth the remains of a newborn buried in the foundation, which explains why she has been hearing a baby cry throughout the house. But soon a more sinister presence reveals itself, and Melanie must uncover the source of its unrest despite her psychic abilities being dulled by pregnancy. As if her relationship troubles, pregnancy at 40, and ghosts aren’t stressful enough, Melanie’s inheritance of the Tradd Street property is called into questions just as it is finally starting to feel like home.

I love the way White brings together romance, humor, and a suspenseful ghost story in the Tradd Street series, and Return to Tradd Street didn’t disappoint. As soon as I started the book, I realized how much I’d missed Melanie, Jack, his teenage daughter Nola, and even Melanie’s inherited dog General Lee. After having visited Charleston — and, of course, Tradd Street — on vacation two years ago, I was better able to picture the setting, and that made reading it even more enjoyable.

I’ve always found Melanie a bit over the top when it comes to her need to control everything, but it’s endearing and funny, especially when she expects that she will be able to control every aspect of a baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule. And of course, I loved Jack, especially when he refuses to give up and accepts Melanie, flaws and all. As always, the secondary characters, especially Nola and Melanie’s best friend Sophie, are a breath of fresh air (and a much needed dose of reality for Melanie), and the ghost story was clever and believably written.

I immediately started book five, The Guests on South Battery, after finishing this book (stay tuned for my review tomorrow), and I can’t wait for the next book in this series.

Other reviews:

The House on Tradd Street

The Girl on Legare Street

The Strangers on Montagu Street

Disclosure: I received Return to Tradd Street from NAL for review.

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Karen White’s New York Times bestselling hardcover The Night the Lights Went Out was released in paperback on March 27. Penguin Random House has invited me to give away a copy to one lucky reader.

KAREN WHITE, the New York Times bestselling author of over 20 beloved novels, has given her devout readership a new type of story – now in paperback.

With a plot worthy of Shonda Rhimes and a cast of characters made for Desperate Housewives’ Wisteria Lane, THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT (Berkley Trade Paperback Reprint; March 27, 2018; $16) brings a glinting new edge to White’s signature fusion of complicated family relationships, evocative prose, and picturesque southern locales.

Set in the gilded realm of Sweet Apple, Georgia, THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT achieves a magnetic sense of place, and with good reason—it is the first novel White, the “Queen of southern fiction” (Huffington Post), has set in her own community, the affluent suburbs of Atlanta.

White says: “I was sitting at a stop sign in my town behind a large white SUV and the license plate read YERSERV. . . and the whole Atlanta tennis­­–suburban mom–thriller idea came to me. . . . I realized perhaps for the first time that my hometown had a past and a story to tell.”

In THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT, recently divorced Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to Sweet Apple, Georgia. It’s not her first time starting over. But her new beginning isn’t helped by an anonymous local blog that reveals for the whole town the scandalous affair that caused her marriage to fail. And Merilee’s new landlord, the proud, irascible, Atlanta born-and-bred 93-year-old Sugar Prescott, certainly isn’t helping.

But off Sugar’s property, Merilee finds herself swallowed into Sweet Apple’s most elite ranks—its inner circle of wealthy school moms—thanks to her blossoming friendship with the belle of the town, Heather Blackford. But behind the tennis whites, shiny SUVs, and immaculate women, lurk generations of secrets and resentments. And Merilee quickly learns that, in a town where appearance is everything, sins and secrets can be found in equal measure in the dark woods on Sugar’s property, and within the gated mansions of her newfound friends . . .

THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT is what would happen if ABC’s Revenge followed the machinations of Southern PTA moms instead of Hamptons elite.  For readers of Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary Alice Monroe, and Pat Conroy, this novel delivers everything her readers love and more.

****

About the Author

Karen White
Photo Credit: Marchet Butler

Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including the Tradd Street series, The Night the Lights Went OutFlight PatternsThe Sound of GlassA Long Time Gone, and The Time Between. She is the coauthor of The Forgotton Room with New York Times bestselling authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. She grew up in London but now lives with her husband and two children near Atlanta, Georgia.

****

Giveaway

Penguin Random House is generously offering a paperback copy of The Night the Lights Went Out to one lucky reader, U.S. only. To enter, leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will close on Sunday, April 22, 2018. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Happy New Year!! I thought I would start off 2017 by celebrating the best of the books I read last year. Rather than do my usual Top 10 list, I thought I’d try something new this year and list my favorites in various categories, with links to (and quotes from) my reviews.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (WWII)

A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner

A Moment Forever Cover LARGE EBOOK

A Moment Forever is not a book you merely read; Gardiner ensures you actually live the story — from the overindulgence of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the wartime excitement in the Big Apple, from the airfields and USO dances and the fashions of the ’40s to the solemnity of Paris 50 years after the roundup of its Jewish residents for deportation. There are so many layers to this story, and I never wanted it to end.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (OTHER ERA)

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

lost among the living

Simone St. James is a new-to-me writer, and as soon as I finished Lost Among the Living I determined that I must read her previous novels, which all seem to be equally suspenseful. I loved her writing here, particularly the passages that describe the intensity of Jo and Alex’s relationship, which enable readers to feel Jo’s grief and the frustration inherent in not knowing Alex’s fate. I also liked that while there was romance and passion, Lost Among the Living is at its core a ghost story, but it’s so much more than that. St. James shows the impact of the war on the returning soldiers and the women whose men never came home, as well as the blurring of the boundaries between social classes and how greed and selfishness can tear families apart.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (REGENCY)

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes

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Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is a beautifully written novel, with just the right amount of angst to move me to the brink of tears without making me put the book down in despair. Starnes has a knack for putting Elizabeth and Darcy in impossible situations, delving deep into their souls, and keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder how a happily ever after will be achieved. I loved the pacing of the novel, and Starnes does a wonderful job evolving their relationship through many ups and downs as they navigate the challenges posed by their families and themselves.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (MODERN)

Without a Conscience by Cat Gardiner

without-a-conscience

Like Denial of Conscience, Without a Conscience is sexy (definitely for mature audiences only) and exciting from the very first page. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who weaves clever plots and navigates Darcy and Liz through the twists and turns while further evolving their relationship. In the midst of the danger and excitement, Gardiner provides plenty of humor, and the obvious rivalry between Liz and Caroline had me laughing out loud several times. The novel is perfectly paced, and there’s just something about Gardiner’s writing style that has me hanging on every word.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (SECONDARY CHARACTERS)

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace

the-trouble-to-check-her

The Trouble to Check Her exemplifies why Grace is one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction. Her attention to detail in terms of character development and the history of the era is fantastic, and I hope there is another book in the series (mainly because I want to find out what happened to Jane Bingley after her falling out with Elizabeth Darcy).

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (OTHER)

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James

TEPcover

I enjoyed reading both Elizabeth’s diary and about the rocky start to Charlie and Evie’s relationship and their determination to find Elizabeth’s papers. I especially loved how James showed that even Austen’s beloved couple likely didn’t have a perfect marriage, and by telling that story from the point of view of Elizabeth, readers are able to see her insecurities and her frustration while having little clue what Darcy is thinking or feeling, which creates just the right amount of tension. I also loved getting a glimpse of the Darcys and their family years into their marriage, so they are no longer bright-eyed newlyweds but older and wiser and settled into their life together. Charlie and Evie’s story was exciting and even had some similarities to Darcy and Elizabeth’s, and Charlie’s client, Cressida Carter, is very Caroline Bingley-esque. The dual narratives were seamlessly connected, and the shifts between the two were timed perfectly to ensure readers can’t put the book down.

MOST UNIQUE AUSTEN VARIATION

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Beau North and Brooke West

fitzwilliamdarcy_frontcoverprint-1

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy is unique and exciting. It made me laugh, and it left me in tears, so much so that my husband kept asking if I was okay and I worried I would short out my Kindle! It’s been a while since I’ve been so emotionally affected by a Pride and Prejudice variation. It’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly one of my all-time favorites, and definitely one I won’t forget!

BEST HOLIDAY NOVEL

Lucky 13  by Cat Gardiner

lucky 13

Oh, how I loved this novel! Gardiner is a master at bringing Jane Austen’s characters into the present day and turning up the heat (and the laughs). From their heated arguments to their heated encounters at the jaw-dropping calendar audition and the chest-oiling photo shoot, I couldn’t get enough of this Lizzy and Darcy. The secondary characters are equally entertaining, from Jane, the supermodel with a secret, to Caroline, the matchmaking poochie mama, and especially Charlotte (aka “Punky) and Darcy’s cousin, Rick (aka “Preppy”), who are the most obnoxious of the numerous matchmakers.

BEST POETRY COLLECTION

The Jane and Bertha in Me by Rita Maria Martinez

BerthainMe

Martinez’s poems are full of vivid imagery (“The Bertha in me sleeps until three in the afternoon and sits on the back porch with a cup of Earl Grey that quells the desire to chop up her crotchety landlord,” from “The Jane and Bertha in Me”), sensual (“Charlotte’s manuscript sepulchered like an incorruptible saint, splayed on its back like a woman whose architecture I want to touch,” from “At the British Library”), insightful (“Pain caused by first love never truly subsides,” from “Jane’s Denial”), and even humorous (“She’ll be sorry for canoodling with the missionary, thinks Rochester, who’s exceeded his cursing quota and looks like Wolverine,” from “Jane Eyre: Classic Cover Girl”). Martinez even writes about Brontë herself, from her different personas to the migraines she suffered through in order to create her “pristine prose” (from “The Literature of Prescription”).

BEST SHORT STORY/COLLECTION

“Tea Time” by Tiffani Burnett-Velez

tea-time

I finished reading “Tea Time” in less than half an hour, and I was satisfied with the abrupt ending even though I wasn’t ready for the story to be over. The final few lines pack a punch and made it a story I won’t soon forget. I can’t wait to read more from Burnett-Velez.

FAVORITE COVER

Undercover by Cat Gardiner

undercover book cover

Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who had me hooked from the very first page. The use of slang from the era, her vivid descriptions, the steamy scenes, and the murder mystery are handled so perfectly that I could picture the entire book in my head, as though I were actually watching a black-and-white hard-boiled crime drama on the screen. She moved Austen’s characters into 1952 New York City in a way that felt true to them. I loved that she gave Darcy a painful back story and that Elizabeth and Jane weren’t the best of friends. Gardiner’s portrayal of Georgiana as a modern and independent though innocent and sheltered young woman is handled beautifully, as is Lydia’s downfall at the hands of Slick Wick.

****

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Some of the more memorable 5-star books from 2016 (click the covers to read my reviews)

darcys-hope

denial-of-conscience

undeceived

COAOEB cover

Miss Darcy's Companion front cover_V4

img_0878

Liebeslied-Final-Kindle

the forgotten room

What were your favorite books of 2016? I’d love to know!

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the forgotten room

Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★★

But it was better this way, wasn’t it? Better that she pretended it hadn’t happened. Better that the door to the room upstairs remained shut, because what beckoned beyond it — she had a vague impression of colors and vibrancy and imagination and laughter, something extraordinary and never ending — was nothing more than a fairy tale.

(from The Forgotten Room)

Quick summary: In 1944, Kate is a doctor at Stornaway Hospital who is drawn to one of her patients, Captain Cooper Ravenel, who seems to recognize her from somewhere, though she’s never seen him before. The mystery of a miniature portrait and a ruby pendant bring them together while the reality of their lives outside the hospital threaten to keep them apart. In 1920, Lucy is a secretary for a dashing lawyer whom she believes holds the key to uncovering her true identity, but she is captivated by a smooth-talking art dealer from Charleston who is looking for the truth about his father. In 1892, Olive is a housemaid seeking revenge against the wealthy family who tore her family apart, but her attraction to the charming, artistic Harry Pratt could be her undoing. The Forgotten Room is a beautifully written collaboration by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig that follows three generations of women as they navigate society’s constraints, love and loss, secrets and betrayals — all connected to an attic room in a Gilded Age mansion in Manhattan.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m a big fan of Karen White, and I was intrigued by the mystery and the World War II setting.

What I liked: I loved this novel from the start. The women’s stories switch from chapter to chapter, and the layers of the mystery are gradually and beautifully unraveled. The writing is so seamless, it’s hard to believe that it’s a collaboration among three authors. I felt like I truly knew and understood all three women, and I loved that each was ambitious, hardworking, and strong.  There were some aspects of the story that were predictable, but there also were some twists and turns that I didn’t expect. I also equally enjoyed each of the narratives, which is unusual for me when the story shifts back and forth in time.

What I disliked: Sometimes it was hard for me to keep track of all the characters and their connections, but that’s only a minor quibble. There are some pretty amazing coincidences that occur throughout the novel, which are hard to believe, but it is fiction after all.

Final thoughts: I was surprised by how emotional I was at the end of the book. I liked that the stories weren’t all happily ever after and tied up neatly, but that made me a bit sad, too, because I’d grown so connected to the characters. The Forgotten Room is a rich novel with memorable characters whose stories span more than five decades, from the Gilded Age to Prohibition to World War II. The authors did a fantastic job with each setting, and the pacing was spot on. I really hope they team up again for another novel!

Disclosure: I received The Forgotten Room from NAL for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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grand central

Source: Review copy from Berkley
Rating: ★★★★★

In those moments when she was alone, her body propped up in bed and a borrowed book she was using to study English on her lap, she saw her mother saying good-bye for the last time through a forced smile, and her father still holding on to her bag for a few more moments.  She didn’t want to look at those horrible photos in the paper and believe her parents could be amongst the piles off bodies or reduced to dark ash.  She wanted instead to look at the family photograph that sat on her nightstand and believe that they were still just as she had left them.  Father in his dark brown overcoat and stylish fedora, and Mother always with something warm and sweet in her hands.

(from “Going Home” by Alyson Richman, Grand Central, page 27)

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion is a collection of 10 short stories that at some point bring readers to Grand Central Terminal in New York City on the same day in September 1945.  The stories are set shortly after the end of World War II, when refugees were creating new lives in America and soldiers were making their way home.  When I saw the list of authors and stories in this collection, I definitely couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it.

  • “Going Home” by Alyson Richman (The Lost Wife)
  • “The Lucky One” by Jenna Blum (Those Who Save Us)
  • “The Branch of Hazel” by Sarah McCoy (The Baker’s Daughter)
  • “The Kissing Room” by Melanie Benjamin (The Aviator’s Wife)
  • “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Sarah Jio (Blackberry Winter)
  • “I’ll Walk Alone” by Erika Robuck (Call Me Zelda)
  • “The Reunion” by Kristina McMorris (Bridge of Scarlet Leaves)
  • “Tin Town” by Amanda Hodgkinson (22 Britannia Road)
  • “Strand of Pearls” by Pam Jenoff (The Kommandant’s Girl)
  • “The Harvest Season” by Karen White (The Time Between)

I don’t usually read short stories because I often feel like they end before the story takes off, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself satisfied by every one of these stories.  I couldn’t put this book down, and while I liked some stories more than others, in the week since I finished it, I still can’t decide which story was my favorite.

These stories are all unique in their subject matter, from a Holocaust survivor trying to get on with his life after losing his wife and daughters to a female pilot struggling with a different sort of grief and guilt, from a woman who dreads her soldier husband’s return to a young girl leaving her home in England to start a new life with her mother and GI husband in America.  Another story follows a young girl who travels alone from Shanghai to New York City to reunite with her father only to learn he’s not the man she thought he was, and Sarah McCoy lets readers know what happened to Hazel from The Baker’s Daughter, who joined the Lebensborn program.

Grand Central seems to perfectly capture the postwar atmosphere in a big city, with the chaos in the train station and the roller coaster of emotions within each character.  The changes in society, especially in regards to women and their romantic relationships and career aspirations, also feature prominently in some of these stories.  I was impressed not only by the character development in these stories but also by the ways in which the characters crossed paths with one another, which emphasizes how well this collection is structured.  If you love novels set during World War II or have loved novels by these authors in the past, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on a copy.

war challenge with a twist

Book 16 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 17 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Grand Central from Berkley for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★☆

I tasted briny water as the world went silent around me, a liquid world I vaguely remembered from the beginning of a journey.  What was only seconds suddenly felt like a lifetime, a moment in time spent immersed in the peacefulness of knowing everything and nothing at the same time, of understanding how the water could carry us in any direction regardless of how hard we fought against the current.

(from Sea Change, page 305)

Karen White is one of the few authors I turn to when I’m in need of a comfort read.  I’ll read anything she has published, and while I might not love every book, I’m confident before I even start reading that I’m at least going to enjoy it.  And she certainly didn’t let me down with her latest novel, Sea Change.

Set on St. Simons Island, Georgia, Sea Change successfully weaves together the past and the present in the story of Ava Whalen, a young midwife who falls passionately in love with Matthew Frazier, a child psychologist, and marries him after knowing him for just a couple of months.  Ava knows in the marrow of her bones that she and Matthew belong together, and despite her intense fear of water, she leaves her family home in Antioch to move into the island home that has belonged to the Fraziers for hundreds of years.

Soon after arriving on the island, Ava learns that Matthew was married before and that his first wife, Adrienne, also a midwife, died under mysterious circumstances.  Matthew seems intent on putting the past behind him and moving forward with his new life with Ava, but Ava understandably feels uncomfortable living in a home with so many reminders of Adrienne.  At the urging of Tish, a Frazier family friend, Ava becomes a member of the historical society and grows increasingly interested in digging up the Frazier family history.  Her need to piece together the story of Geoffrey Frazier, whose ghost is said to roam the island in search of the wife who supposedly left him for a British soldier, becomes entwined with her need to know more about Adrienne, why Matthew is withholding information, and why she feels so drawn to the island even though she has dreams of drowning.

White also includes two other points of view, that of Ava’s mother, Gloria, who loves Ava deeply but feels a need to keep her at arms’ length, and that of Pamela, a midwife whose life is thrown into chaos by the War of 1812.  Ava already has enough to contend with when it comes to the secrets in her new marriage without having to deal with the suspicions of Adrienne’s brother, John, whatever her mother is hiding, and the skeletons in the Frazier closet.

I love how White always manages to move seamlessly between the past and the present and cleverly connect the two.  I thought Pamela’s story was the stronger of the two and the most compelling.  Pamela’s fragile relationship with her younger sister, Georgina, and how her fierce love for her husband and son prevented her from seeing the bigger picture were skillfully depicted.  I liked Ava, but her story didn’t grab me the way Pamela’s did, and I grew tired of her mother after awhile.  I think the pace of the present-day story could have been quickened a bit, and I also wish Matthew’s character was more well developed.  Ava’s intense love for him is expressed time and again, but readers never really see for themselves what makes Matthew such a wonderful guy.

Nevertheless, Sea Change is an enjoyable novel, and with all the water imagery and life on the island, it’s a perfect book for the summer.  If you love the convergence of the past and the present and novels about family secrets and relationships between sisters and mothers and daughters, then you’ll want to get your hands on a copy.

Disclosure: I received Sea Change from NAL for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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