Angela Amman

Book review: Summer on Firefly Lake

Summer on Firefly Lake Review Jen Gilroy’s Summer on Firefly Lake worked its way onto my summer reading list in the midst of a couple of thrillers, a refresher of A Wrinkle in Time, and a possible revisiting of Stephen King’s IT in anticipation of the movie’s fall release.

The sometimes sweet and sometimes sultry summer read ended up being exactly what I needed to clear my head. Summer reading lends itself to romance, no matter how many dark and stormy titles I add to my pile.

Summer on Firefly Lake is part of an interwoven, three-part series, and I hesitated to accept a copy for review at first. Truthfully, I didn’t have time to read the first book (The Cottage at Firefly Lake), and I didn’t want to dive into a book where I’d be playing a lot of catch up in relationship to characters and locations. (The promotional materials said the novel could be read as a stand-alone, but I still waffled.)

I needn’t have worried. The story functions well as a stand-alone, and I never felt lost or unsure about who people were or the role they played in Mia and Nick’s lives.

Mia Gibbs returns to Firefly Lake after her divorce, a place she visited — but never really loved — as a child. The desire for stability for her children draws Mia there, because her sister Charlie made a life there, and Charlie’s the only family Mia has left. Reconnecting with Nick McGuire, a bad boy turned respectable attorney, provides her with a solid friendship as she navigates a potentially lonely summer with her girls visiting their father.

Nick McGuire grew up in the small town, but he’s only back to help his mother move out of her family home after a health scare. His back-to-New-York countdown ticks loudly in the back of his head, even as he finds himself thinking of Mia as much more than a friend.

The attraction between Mia and Nick sizzles, and their mutual hesitation about getting into a relationship feel real. Their dance around their chemistry works without feeling forced, even as you wish they’d communicate some of their hidden worries a little bit more. Watching each of them come to terms with their own worries ups the tension as the reader wonders if they would, indeed, be better off as just friends.

Life, as life does, throws complications between them. Nick’s mother isn’t as eager to move as he might have helped, and a twelve-year old foster child comes into Nick’s life when he’s least likely to take on any additional responsibilities.

Nick, Mia, and the other residents of Firefly Lake embody the kind of people we encounter each day: mostly kind, a little stubborn, and just a touch unsure about where they want to go, even when their hearts are pointing them in the right direction.

I’m glad I took a chance on Firefly Lake, and I plan on visiting the other novels in the series (Back Home at Firefly Lake will be available in December, 2017.)

For more information about Jen Gilroy, please visit her website

Information about where to purchase Summer on Firefly Lake — and her first novel, The Cottage at Firefly Lake — available here

I received a copy of Summer on Firefly Lake for consideration for review. All opinions, as always, are my own.

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5 Things: Lightning quick book reviews

Like my thoughts, my reading habits keep jumping around this summer. I dive into books, then read others in tiny, chapter-size bites. I read books specifically sent to me for review and others that finally make their way to my house via the library hold system. I re-read favorites. Basically, I find the time to read when I can, and I hope my quick and easy reviews point you in the direction of something you might like.

summer reading recommendations Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

I can’t just make things easy and stick to beach reads this summer. I found myself on a little thriller kick, and Before I Go to Sleep came home with me from the library. (It’s currently in paperback if you want to buy it!)

I’m not the first person to compare this book to Christopher Nolan’s Memento, but I think it’s important to mention. Christine wakes up every morning without memories of the prior day (and several prior years). Each day, her husband Ben needs to explain parts of her life to her, after he explains who he is and why she doesn’t have any recollection of him or her immediate past.

Thanks to a therapist, Christine soon records her memories in a journal, hiding it each night and keeping its existence a secret. Soon, readers see inconsistencies in Ben’s answers, and tension builds — both between the reader and the story and between Christine and Ben.

Of course, Christine epitomizes the concept of an unreliable narrator. Is she really recording everything she learns? What does she deem unimportant and important? Watson builds the tension artfully, keeping readers turning the page while leaving clues to the eventual conclusion scattered through the narrative. One of the best parts of the book, which I enjoyed and highly recommend, is how uncomfortable it felt to read. I really felt like I imagine Christine felt: something doesn’t feel exactly right — but we aren’t sure exactly what it is until she is.

The Book of Summer reviews

The Book of Summer by Michelle Gable

The Book of Summer came to me via the She Reads summer book picks, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The literal Book of Summer exists between the pages of Gable’s book, a guest book of sorts in Cliff House, a Nantucket summer home. Through its entries, we get a glimpse into Ruby’s life, a background that slides forward to present day, where Ruby’s granddaughter Bess has retreated to Cliff House.

Bess’s mother, Cissy, wants to save Cliff House from tumbling into the sea. Bess’s father has entrusted her with getting her mother to see that even Cissy’s stubbornness can’t stop erosion. Bess, of course, has other reasons for welcoming a return to Cliff House: a failing marriage, memories of an old love, and secrets she’s ignoring for as long as she can.

I loved Ruby’s voice and the cadence, language, and tone of the 1940s. Her story emphasized the role women played as the United States entered World War II.

The Book of Summer reads like a summer book, with a beautifully done cover and shenanigans from Bess and Cissy. However, Gable wraps complicated social issues in a beach-read package. I loved how much I thought about this book after I finished it. I particularly related to the nature of mother-daughter relationships and how we sometimes rail so hard against something that could be so much simpler than we make it.

The Book of Summer doesn’t end with a beautifully tied bow, allowing the reader to extrapolate happily-ever-afters — or not.

liane moriarty booksTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Thanks to the HBO miniseries, people went bonkers for Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. I eventually read that, too, but I had to sit on the waiting list for a while. In the meantime, I grabbed Truly Madly Guilty off the library shelf and dove in.

I’d already read What Alice Forgot and The Husband’s Secret, and as I made my way through Truly Madly Guilty, I remembered the way Moriarty lets her reader know about an “incident” immediately, revealing details as the book unfolds.

Personally, I felt like the actual incident got blown up into more than it was in Truly Madly Guilty. I worried about it, a lot, as I got closer to the reveal, but it felt a little anticlimactic when it finally came.

Six adults find their lives entwined because of Erika. Though her character seems unassuming, she’s the cog in the relationships, linking each of the three couples to the others. She and her husband, Oliver, live next door to Vid, Tiffany, and their daughter (at whole house the mysterious “incident” occurs). Erika is old friends with Clementine, whose husband, Sam, and their two daughters all play an integral role in what happens during the night in question.

If the “incident” and “night in question” feel a little obtuse and overdrawn, Truly Madly Guilty might not be the right book for you.

The interesting aspect of TMG comes from the reader’s bird’s eye view into different views of friendships and relationships versus how they look from the outside. Moriarty shines when she contrasts what her characters reveal with what they hide. In this particular story, I felt myself drawn to her exploration of gender and parenting roles. Though I don’t think this is her strongest story, it’s definitely worth a read if you’re looking for a Moriarty fix.

You Will Know Me reviewsYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

I adored You Will Know Me last summer and loved it just as much this summer. Also, quick aside, but it doesn’t seem like a year ago that I read those five books. Time flies, truly.

During this read, I thought about what binds us as families and the link between desire, drive, and desperation. With a gymnastics prodigy at the core of their family, the Knox family knows more than their share about determination. Devon and her steely determination rule the vault on which she excels, but when tragedy strikes Devon’s gym, we pull back from her singular focus to see where her parents fit into her drive and desire.

Devon’s father, Eric, presides over many of the social machinations at the gym and in the parent Booster Club. Katie’s quiet presence in the gym bleachers becomes more complicated as the story unfolds and she pieces together the events surrounding the death of a young man connected to many people in the gym’s hierarchy.

The link between mother and daughter loomed large for me as I read You Will Know Me this summer, especially a scene in which the reader sees Devon watching Katie. Most of the book shows Katie watching Devon, so the contrast feels weighted, especially when I went back to one of Katie’s quotes:
“‘Being a girl is so hard,’ Katie thought. ‘And it only gets harder.'”

summer thrillersThe Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I continued my thrilled kick with The Woman in Cabin 10.

Many years and many books ago, I sat on the gold shag carpeting in my parents’ guest room/computer room and worked my way through my mom’s extensive (seriously extensive!) collection of Agatha Christie mysteries. Coaxed along by Dame Agatha, I learned all about red herrings and eliminating suspicious suspects — and in Curtain, I learned about trusting — or not trusting — a narrator.

Despite its modern setting — web critics, bloggers, and investors make up much of the cast of characters — The Woman in Cabin 10 felt like one of those old-school, tradition mystery novels. Readers need to slowly work out who can be trusted, who can be believed at their word, and who is what they seem.

Lo Blacklock finds herself among the first passengers to voyage on an intimate, luxury cruise ship — luckily, she thinks at first. (And, of course, my mind skipped happily back to two of Christie’s other mysteries: Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express.) She doesn’t feel nearly as lucky when she hears a splash in the night, sees blood smeared on glass, then can’t account for the “woman in cabin 10,” from whom Lo borrowed mascara when she realized she’d forgotten her own. Soon the mascara in question disappears from Lo’s cabin, no one appears to be missing from the boat, and everything begins to feel off-kilter.

The small ship ends up being the perfect setting for Ware’s book. Claustrophobia and the swaying of the ship affect Lo, and they affect the reader, too. In addition, the cold-weather cruise feels disorientating to me, though I’m sure not everyone associates cruising with warm weather.

Ware adds to the Agatha Christie vibe with observations about those with (lots and lots of) money versus the working class, including placing some members of the press/travelers into each of the categories. Texts and emails from Lo’s friends and boyfriend add to questions about Lo’s reliability — and to what might happen to her as the story draws to a conclusion.

This post contains affiliate links. 

summer book recommendations

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Multiples Illuminated: An excerpt

Multiples Illuminated excerptMultiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Tween Years is the collection of essays from Megan Woolsey & Alison Lee. Both editors parent multiples themselves, and they’ve gathered stories from other parents of multiples. This collection includes an essay from a twin, offering a different perspective than the parenting side of living with multiples.

This is an excerpt of “When One Twin Has Cancer” by Jessica Martineau from Multiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Tween Years.

We were whisked into a private room filled with a team of people. Brief introductions later, we had met Mila’s oncologist team. Doctors, surgeons, social workers, and nurses.
The pediatric oncologist, a young-looking man, warm by default, Dr. X, took the lead.
“Jessica, Mark … we received the results of the biopsy. Mila has Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma.”

That was the scary medical term for what was a large tumor I’d discovered on Mila’s right hip during a routine trip to tubby time.

He proceeded to inform us that this was a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

Mark put his hand to his face and tears fell. I had never seen him like this before, and it scared me. I must have missed something. I was not following. There were so many solemn eyes looking at us. Awaiting a response. I felt like a deer caught in headlights.

Dr. X continued, “We will begin with surgery to remove the tumor and the muscle surrounding it. From there, we will decide her specific treatment plan. It is definitive that she will receive weekly chemotherapy for 12 months. The pending factor will be the addition of radiation. This will be an unknown until we see what we are dealing with.”

The reference to chemotherapy hit me like a boulder. As I started to lose it, Mark began to compose himself. It was as if we passed off the strength baton.

This was the moment we were welcomed into the family we never wanted to be a part of.

Immediately after Mila’s diagnosis, Ava popped into my mind. Was this her impending doom? Would she get cancer now? Or after Mila finished her treatment? Years down the road, would we hit the repeat button? We needed to know if this disease was genetic, because our twins are identical.

Our worries were laid to rest later when a genetic test proved that this cancer did not develop from a genetic strand. Ava as well as Presley, had as slim a chance of developing cancer as any other healthy child. The other silver lining of this diagnosis was a recent study that confirmed that a six-month treatment would be just as effective as a year-long one. Just like that, Mila was halfway through.

After a successful surgery, Mila began her journey of weekly chemotherapy. It was the first time she and her twin had been separated for several days. Ava spent the day with her grandmother and Mila received sole attention from me. They both loved the one-on-one time. However, the moment we walked in the door on Wednesday evenings, they ran to each other and commemorated the reunion with joyful squeals.

Every third Wednesday, Mila came home with a hydration backpack and was on a strong, continued, dosage of anti-nausea drugs that caused her to be a bit loopy. The hydration backpack was connected to her through a port in her chest. It had about two feet of slack. On these evenings, Mila, Ava and I would curl up into a chair together and watch Curious George for a few short hours until bedtime. Ava, having the flexibility to be up and about if needed, would grab her water bottle or a banana for herself and Mila just in case she wanted it. She was unapologetically thoughtful and supportive, as if she knew how her sister was feeling.

The mornings Mila woke up in her crib after sleeping with the hydration backpack were not the easiest. The medicine made her nauseated, and occasionally she would vomit. As I tended to Mila to get her clean and comfortable, Ava waited patiently in her crib. When Mila was cleaned up, I would place her in Ava’s crib to continue cleaning the rest of the room. The girls sat contentedly together. Despite not understanding the seriousness of cancer, Ava became her sister’s safe space and kept her smiling. When the twins were together, you would never have known Mila had cancer and was undergoing a treatment that could bring a 200-pound man to his knees.

Together, with Presley and Ava’s support, love and laughter kicked this disease to the curb.

The book launches on August 4, 2017, National Twins Day!

The digital version of the book is available for preorder now for $2.99 on Amazon for Kindle and other digital devices. Come August 4, launch day, all preorders will be delivered automatically to buyers. 

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The perils of a good book

Before We Were Yours review

I started Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate much in the way I start all books. I picked it up, fell into the first chapter or so, and rested it on my favorite spot on the couch when I needed to do something more mundane (probably make dinner).

The Saturday after I started the novel, the kids and I were planning to wander to the pool. The long Memorial Day weekend beckoned, and we were all ready to relax in the sunshine, though I knew the water would be hovering at a temperature I wouldn’t touch unless necessary. Something about the sun streaming through the windows encouraged me to pick up Before We Were Yours instead of starting to pack our bags.

“I’ll just read one chapter,” I said to the kids. “Maybe two,” I whispered, more to myself than to them.

“Can I play Minecraft?” he asked a while later, when the two chapters I’d thought I’d read were long gone.

I balked at that. After all, we were almost ready to go play outside, not sit inside with electronics all day. I just wanted to finish one more chapter, so I suggested he do “anything but that.”

His sister’s ears ferreted out the distraction in my voice, and she lugged out the giant container of Elmer’s Glue. “Anything but that” always means slime-making at our house lately, and I was so engrossed in Wingate’s story I didn’t mind.

I didn’t even mind cleaning the mess a while later, when the glue had started to congeal on the granite counters and the end of the book lingered in my mind. Cleaning gave me the chance to think about Before We Were Yours without much interruption, because slime-making doesn’t always lend itself to slime-cleaning-up.

Two stories unfold between the pages of Before We Were Yours, one happens in 1938 in Memphis, Tennessee and the other in present-day South Carolina.

Rill Foss and her siblings find themselves wards of the state under tenuous circumstances, and Rill finds herself fighting to keep her family together while surrounded by a corrupt system. Avery Stafford grew up comfortably privileged, her political family grooming her for a possible political position in the event her father’s illness progresses more quickly than anticipated.

As the reader might guess, Rill and Avery’s stories converge on each other. Wingate’s prose leads the reader gently toward the intersection. However, the collision still jars when Avery must reconcile what she discovers about her family’s past with the ethical compass with which she’s lived her life, both as the daughter of an upstanding politician and as a lawyer.

Part of what made it difficult for me to stop reading Before We Were Yours (and to stop the slime explosion in my kitchen), was the balance of the past and present stories. Both Rill’s story and Avery’s felt well-paced. Neither detracted from the other, which made it tough to put down the book.

The historical basis for Rill’s story fascinated me. After I finished Before We Were Yours, I learned a little more about Georgia Tann and the corruption of her adoption business. The families she exploited scattered across the country. Although those children were adopted by parents who wanted them desperately, it doesn’t change how she wrenched children away from their own loving parents.

Even with the heartbreaking corruption laying the groundwork for Rill’s story, Wingate’s focus on family commitments and what we need and expect from our families felt like the heart of her novel. Avery’s quest for truth leads her to unexpected places, and she needs to reconcile her strong moral center with the ambiguity occurring when good people do the wrong thing for what they consider the right reasons.

I highly recommend Before We Were Yours. Wingate’s warm descriptions and southern ambiance beg for it to be read during the summer months, though the story will stick with you well after the weather begins to change.

This post contains affiliate links. I received a copy of Before We Were Yours in consideration for review. All opinions are my own. 

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