About The Space Between Sisters by Mary McNear (from the publisher): They are two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Win organized and responsible, plans her life with care. Poppy impulsive and undependable, leaves others to pick up the pieces. But despite their differences, they share memories of the idyllic childhood summers they spent together on the shores of Butternut Lake. Now, thirteen years later, Win, recovering from a personal tragedy, has taken refuge on Butternut Lake, settling into a predictable and quiet life.
Then, one night, Poppy unexpectedly shows up on her sister’s doorstep with her suitcases, an aging cat named Sasquatch, and a mysterious man in tow. Although Win loves her beautiful sister, she wasn’t expecting her to move in for the summer. At first, they relive the joys of Butternut Lake. But their blissful nostalgia soon gives way to conflict, and painful memories and buried secrets threaten to tear the sisters apart.
As the waning days of summer get shorter, past secrets are revealed, new love is found, and the ties between the sisters are tested like never before…all on the serene shores of Butternut Lake.
My take: It’s hard to explain why novels about sisters draw me so. I don’t have a sister (only brothers), yet the sister-sister relationship hits very near to my heart. There’s something so universal about it, I think, regardless of whether we have sisters. Certainly, there’s much about that particular connection that finds an echo in other relationships, such as those with our mothers and girl friends. Anyway, the promise of an exploration of sisters who are opposite — plus a lovely, summertime setting — was enough to make me say yes to this one.
Conceptually, it reminded me of an American version of Kate Hewitt’s English-set Rainy Day Sisters. Chances are, every reader will relate more to one sister than the other, and both sisters’ gently unfolding romances are made for feminine hearts. For my personal taste, the prose sometimes lacked the nuance that adds that indefinable sparkle to a story, and the pace was a bit slow, with a lot of attention to daily detail. Neither did the story offer many real surprises in terms of characters or plot. On the other hand, the warmhearted conclusion fits the prescription for an easy summertime read.
About The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig (from the publisher): Claire “Neely” Davis is no ordinary pastry chef. Her flavor combinations aren’t just a product of a well-honed palate: she can “taste” people’s emotions, sensing the ingredients that will touch her customers’ souls. Her gift has never failed her—until she meets a free-spirited bride-to-be and her overbearing society mother. The two are unable to agree on a single wedding detail, and their bickering leaves Neely’s intuition frustratingly silent—right when she needs it most.
Between trying to navigate a divorce, explore a new relationship, and handle the reappearance of her long-absent father, Neely is struggling to make sense of her own conflicting emotions, much less those of her hard-to-please bride. But as she embarks on a flavorful quest to craft the perfect wedding celebration, she’ll uncover a family history that sheds light on both the missing ingredients and her own problems—and illustrates how the sweet and sour in life often combine to make the most delicious memories…
My take: While not your typical “beach read,” this book has enough summer in it to include here. I kept being surprised by the layers of story, including not only a number of point-of-view characters, but the vast shifts in time and place. Maybe too many. The scope of the story seemed almost too much for the otherwise lightweight novel. It presented a challenge to keep the shifting storylines straight, and they didn’t interest me equally, making me impatient to get back to one thread or another.
The descriptions of food, however, are downright delectable. I challenge anyone to read this book and not feed her sweet tooth. The Memory of Lemon, with its touch of magical realism, is slightly on the fluffy side for my taste, but with surprising bursts of tart.
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About Flight Patterns by Karen White (from the publisher): Georgia Chambers has spent her life sifting through other people’s pasts while trying to forget her own. But then her work as an expert of fine china—especially of Limoges—requires her to return to the one place she swore she’d never revisit…
It’s been ten years since Georgia left her family home on the coast of Florida, and nothing much has changed, except that there are fewer oysters and more tourists. She finds solace seeing her grandfather still toiling away in the apiary where she spent much of her childhood, but encountering her estranged mother and sister leaves her rattled.
Seeing them after all this time makes Georgia realize that something has been missing—and unless she finds a way to heal these rifts, she will forever be living vicariously through other people’s remnants. To embrace her own life—mistakes and all—she will have to find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and the secrets she was forced to keep…
My take: I count myself among Karen White’s myriad fans whose summer would be incomplete without her latest tucked into my beach bag. She must understand her niche, too, because while not all of her settings are “beach,” they do tend to be coastal, and warm, which lends to summer-reading appeal.
While, yes, Flight Patterns does deliver all of this, it didn’t grab me the same way many of her previous novels have. I’d chalk it up to a combination of factors. The characters, with their unique blend of strengths and flaws, weren’t particularly likable, and I didn’t feel the connection with the love interest. I also got a bit lost in all the minutiae of fine china, and while the bee trivia was interesting, it didn’t really grow on me. That said, other Karen White trademarks are fully present, including her smooth narration and impeccably researched story.
About Barefoot Beach by Toby Devens (from the publisher): For Nora Farrell, Tuckahoe, Maryland, isn’t just a summer refuge, it’s home—where she married the love of her life, decided to have a child, and has remained connected with her two closest friends. Even now, long after her husband’s passing, Nora reunites with Margo and Emine every June….
But this year, challenges invade the friends’ retreat. Even as Nora delights in teaching at her dance studio, she is shaken by the possible loss of her beach house…and by a tentative new romance. While Margo directs a musical at the Driftwood Playhouse, she finds her marriage on rocky ground. And Em, who relishes running her family’s café, struggles to handle her rebellious daughter.
With their personal dramas reaching a fever pitch, the women will discover that it isn’t only the beach that brightens their lives. Their bond with one another provides the ultimate magic.
My take: Barefoot Beach promised me an “enchanting and emotional story about love, loss, and the powerful bonds of female friendship,” which made it an easy “yes,” but which also gave it a lot to live up to. Did it succeed? On the plus side, I relished the rich, beachy atmosphere, the easy prose, and the cast of colorful, female characters. I enjoy stories like this one that allow me to be a bystander to something that feels pretty much like real life, watching friends circle ’round each other in support as they help one another untangle their problems.
Despite these good things, however, I wasn’t particularly grabbed by this novel. Maybe some of the characters were just a shade to edgy for my taste, or perhaps the issues felt like ones I’d seen before. I did appreciate the story as a tribute to the gift of female friendship, and to bonds that last a lifetime.
Thanks to William Morrow, NAL Accent, and Berkley for providing free copies of these books to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: What’s in your beach bag this summer? And while you’re telling me, don’t forget to check out this giveaway opportunity! (U.S. residents only, please.) Enter here: