People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry

Poppy and Alex met by accident in college. Coincidentally they came from the same small hometown. Even so, their childhoods could not have been more different. But as the old adage says, opposites attract and they became the best of friends.

They spent all their college days together, and even spent their summers back home with Poppy dragging Alex places to try and give him new experiences. Alex, a bit set in his ways, always hesitant, but agreeable when it came to what Poppy wanted. Their friendship had no boundaries, even when Poppy moved to New York City to become a travel writer. And every summer, regardless of where they were in life, or who they were dating they always went on one vacation together.

Until two years ago when something happened and they have not spoken since.

For Poppy those two years were long and agonizing. Nothing compared to her time with Alex. She realizes what she has been missing these past years is Alex and their friendship. So on a whim she sends him a text and he replies. They begin to catch up on the time they spent apart.

Poppy then gets a brilliant idea to see if she can convince Alex to go on their annual summer vacation. She hopes they can get back to where they were prior to the disastrous last vacation. But can you really go back when so much time has passed? Can you ever conquer the roadblocks put in place when there has been a falling out? Can relationships really recover?

As Poppy reflects on their previous vacations through the years, she suddenly begins to see a pattern emerge. Perhaps not everything was as it seemed. Were there other feelings and emotions going on that they were both unaware?

Now Poppy must try and fix what has broken between her and Alex in hopes that she will not lose her best friend forever, a devastating thought she can hardly contemplate. She will do whatever it takes to mend this friendship. But this vacation seems to be one disaster after another. And as the days wind to a close, Poppy makes one realization which will change her and Alex’s connection forever.

People We Meet On Vacation is a tender, comedic, heartbreaking, emotional story in which all the reader can do is go along for the ride (or the vacations) and root for these two beautiful souls to fix what never should have been fractured in the first place.

Cul-De-Sac by Joy Fielding

Hooked from the first page, this incredibly intense story begins with a description of a group of families who all live in houses on a cul-de-sac discussing the shots fired and the death which occurred the night before.

The story then moves backwards and explains the varied lives and relationships of the families living on the street and their interactions and secrets with each other up until the sudden gunshot from the early morning hours before.

First we have Nick, a highly respected doctor and his wife Dani, a southern belle who is a dentist. Nick has a tendency to pick at his wife’s pronunciation feeling her southern slang is tacky. They have two young children, both boys. From the outside looking in they seem to be the all-American family, but when the doors close, they are anything but. Nick, by the way has a gun collection.

Sean and Olivia are next. Sean is a miserable stay at home dad. He was laid off from his executive position over a year ago and has been unable to find work. Olivia, his wife, was fortunately able to get her lucrative job back at the advertising firm she worked at prior to having their children. Sean has become extremely depressed and is secretly drinking and lying to Olivia about finding work. As his anger towards everything and everyone escalates, he considers buying a gun.

Julia is an elderly widow whose husband died of cancer. Nick was his doctor. She is incredibly indebted to him. Her relationship with her only son is a bit strained, as is his son’s relationship with his own son, Mark, a man in his early twenties who would rather steal from wallets and pawn jewelry for drugs rather than get a job. Julia takes Mark in as he has nowhere to go. While rifling through old things, Mark finds his late grandfather’s gun.

Craig and Maggie found themselves living on the cul-de-sac after an incident occurred with Maggie and the family was being harassed. They were so affected they moved to another state. But Maggie’s personality changed because of what happened. She has become fearful and paranoid of everything and everyone, to the point where Craig has moved out, unable to live with her anymore. They have two children, a rebellious teenager and a young boy. Maggie secretly carries a gun in her purse everywhere she goes and keeps it by her bedside at night.

Finally, newlyweds Heidi and Aiden are happily in love, except for the fact that Aiden’s mother dislikes Heidi and is super rich and has basically bought them everything they own, even the house where they are living. This has put incredible pressure on the couple who both work at the mall and without her help could barely make ends meet. To add to their stress, Aiden sees a therapist for PSTD from what he saw during combat in the war. As his stress increases, it seems so do his flashbacks.

So here are the cast of characters who live on this beautiful street, some of whom have unbearable deep rooted secrets. As they begin to interact and get to know each other, some of the secrets begin to fall out of the houses and into the streets where others can see. So which of these neighbors will finally snap? And who is the victim?

Cul-De-Sac reads like an updated version of Peyton Place or Knot’s Landing, where the dark secrets run deep and the gossip flows like good wine! Quite the page turner!

Thank you @NetGalley @BallentineBooks @Cul-De-Sac @JoyFielding for the advanced copy.

The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison

Nicola Harrison’s second novel, The Show Girl, is about a small town girl from Minneapolis, who has big dreams of becoming a famous Ziegfeld Follies girl fighting against all odds and unsupportive parents and many obstacles along the way hoping to achieve her dreams.

Olive McCormick realized she wanted to dance from a young age. She really knew she wanted to be a Ziegfeld girl. This was during the 1920’s and women’s dreams depended mostly on men’s assessments of them. Against her mother’s wishes and her father’s disappointment in her she chose to follow her dreams. And after many regrets, failures and hard work she became a show girl for Ziegfeld! She was singing and dancing. But when her parents are invited to see her perform, their reaction is nothing but disgust. Her father embarrassed by her. Having to make the hardest decision of her life, she decides to pursue her dreams over her family, never realizing how this predicament would someday come back to haunt her.

But Olive is a strong woman able to weather any storm with the brains and wit of any man, and is not afraid to question their decisions.

And as her career takes off something else wonderful happens to Olive, now known as Olive Shine! She falls in love. When she meets Archie Carmichael, a wealthy, handsome businessman with a heart of gold, she finally believes she has it all! He is proud of her career, and loves her. But when they decide to marry, Olive realizes Archie may want more than she is capable of giving him.

Her secretive past now comes back to torture her. She must decide if she should tell Archie what she has been hiding since she was young, and lose him forever, or keep her secret and walk away from the love of her life. Neither decision will make her happy. But her love for him is more powerful than any secret, even though Archie will never truly understand.

Will Olive’s strength and determination be enough to keep her on the new path she has chosen?

I was introduced to Nicola Harrison when I read her first novel back in 2020 called Montauk. It still haunts me to this day. But now I can add to the list of favorite books of 2021 with her latest, The Show Girl. Harrison is able to develop powerfully strong women characters with wills of their own, not afraid to reach out and take what they feel they rightfully deserve.

Thank you #NetGalley #St.Martin’sPress #TheShowGirl #NicolaHarrison for the advanced copy.

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

The Dolan brother’s young lives were very hard. They were dirt poor and had no family left by the time they were in their teens. Gig, the older brother and Rye (Ryan) were hopping trains looking for work and a place to stay and a way to make money fast, legally or not. But this was during the early 1900’s and work was hard to find as was lodging. Gig felt responsible for his younger brother and tried to steer him on the right path.

But both had visions of making money and owning land and a house. They were always looking for jobs which would pay more, but this was a time when unions were just being organized and business owners were not very happy. Unfortunately many higher ups in the police department were on the payroll of rich business owners who would look the other way when union meetings were interrupted and brawls broke out.

But Gig believed in fair wage and was not afraid to fight for the cause. But when pro-union men took it upon themselves to take to the streets to talk about the cause, they were not only arrested, but were put into horrendous prison conditions where some died. Gig was arrested as was Rye who only sixteen followed his unknowing brother and spoke for the cause. This pivotal moment changes both their lives and the paths they will take forever.

Rye is soon released from prison and begins to assist the cause by going around to workers with a young pregnant woman who is a feminist and has been traveling to help collect money to hire a lawyer for all the men still in prisons. His brother was not so lucky. With Gig still in prison, Rye must decide if he wants to stay on the straight and narrow path they both have always believed in or forgo his principles and work for a powerful, shady business owner. A man who has no problem killing for what he wants.

Rye’s conscience and Gig’s inability to forgive himself for not taking care of his younger brother will haunt both of them for the rest of their lives. But trying to hold on to their beliefs and values will involve much effort, perhaps too much.

The Cold Millions is a heartbreaking tender story about two brothers who try to hold on to each other even as their lives become lost to both themselves and each other during a difficult time in our history.

A Good Day for Chardonnay by Darynda Jones

Get comfortable, pour yourself a nice glass of wine, preferably Chardonnay, and dive into the next installment of Sunshine Vicram’s intensely funny, shocking and always eccentric life as sheriff of a small town in New Mexico where people have very uncommon names…such as Crystal Meth and everybody knows everybody and everything about everybody! Although, there are still some secrets buried in this old town.

Called to the scene of a barfight Sunshine finds her not so secret crush, Levi Ravinder hurt and his friend in serious condition after a stabbing. Ravinder does not want to give up any information as to who or why the situation occurred and leaves the bar to begin his own investigation, much to the sheriff’s angst. Putting the pieces together will be difficult. Finding Levi even to answer questions, even more arduous.

Meanwhile her daughter Auri is falling in love and getting into her own trouble unbeknownst to Sunshine. She has taken it upon herself with two friends as her accomplices to look into a myth the town has lived with for many years in which people who visited the area were never heard from again. The rumor has always been there was a serial killer living amongst them. Auri seems to believe she knows who it is and is determined to prove it. A sheriff in training!

If that wasn’t enough, and in this town mystery and puzzles are never enough, a furry critter has taken up residence at the police station and seems to be ruling the roost as the officers are unable to or perhaps too nervous about getting rabies to find him.

As the plots thicken and the reader is given more information into Sunshine’s past, some questions will be answered only to have new mysteries start to take shape. There is never a dull moment in this rural oasis where bodies seem to stack up like pancakes. I tried to be like Sunshine with that line!

A Good Day for Chardonnay is completely laugh out loud amusing, yet has truly suspenseful story-lines and the most impressive back and forth dialogue I have ever encountered. The chapter headers are just as funny as the story itself. Darynda Jones has one incredible imagination and quite the way with words! I had a smile on my face from beginning to end, and the next installment can’t come fast enough!

Thank you #NetGalley #St.Martin’sPress #AGoodDayfor Chardonnay #DaryndaJones for the advanced copy.