The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman

One cannot lose when reading a Viola Shipman book. First, be prepared for a few tears, some smiles, plenty of comfort and always, always a feel-good life lesson you did not think you needed, with an ending which gives you peace, satisfaction, sadness at ending the book and excitement as to when the next will be coming. The Secret of Snow is no exception.

We are first introduced to Sonny Dunes, a 50 year old meteorologist who lives in California as she is having a meltdown live on air after being let go from her job and being replaced by a perky robot meteorologist. Sonny knows the score. At her age, she knows her days are numbered as an on air personality.

Now jobless, she gets a call to become the chief meteorologist at one of her hometown television outlets. They are hoping to boost their ratings by hiring her banking on her new notoriety as a crazy weather broadcaster. Her hometown being in Michigan, which is the total opposite of the warm and fairly quiet weather in California. She cannot stand the thought of going back to the raw cold, the ice and especially the snow…so much snow! Besides, not only would she have to live with her mother, she would also have to see friends she sort of dumped and then ignored from years past. But most of all, her return would bring up the memories of the death of her sister years ago when they were young. A sister who loved the snow more then anything else.

But back to Michigan she goes, unprepared for both the weather and the memories that will be evoked. There she must face a new boss, an acquaintance from college who Sunny never really gave the time of day, a young journalist who is jealous of Sonny and seems to have her envious eyes set on Sunny’s new job and her mother who only wants to help Sunny put her life back on track. A life she has been running away from for years.

The plan…make the watchers fall in love with Sunny by sending her fun, cold and snowy assignments, get them to empathize with her…the local girl who made it big and came back! But, unfortunately that is not what happens. As she tries to adjust to the new job, living with her mother, the weather, and a handsome widower who himself has felt great loss, someone is trying make her look horrible through videos they are sending out. Her initial instinct, as always, is to flee.

How on earth can she stay here knowing wherever she looks, she sees her late sister and the sadness and guilt she always feels. When will she ever be able to forgive herself and move on to a life she is sure her sister would want her to have. Perhaps with the help of her newly made friends, some whom she had rejected years ago and her mother, her only living relative will she be able to face her distress from all those years ago and finally bury her past for good in the snow her sister loved so much.

Thank you #NetGalley #GraydonHouse #ViolaShipman #TheSecretofSnow for the advanced copy.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Ted Bannerman lives in a creepy boarded up house at the end of Needless Street. Deemed odd by his neighbors and by those who encounter him, he is needless to say, a loner. He had been questioned years ago in connection with the disappearance of a young girl at the lake near his house whose body has never been found. Cleared of any wrongdoing he is still obsessed with the vanishing. He spends his days drinking, taking care of his daughter who he will not allow to leave the house, fussing over his cat who does not get along with his child. His cat adores him, or so he thinks…

Ted’s childhood was not a very happy one. He had an overprotective mother who was a nurse and worked a great deal. She explained to Ted that the gene pool on her side of the family was not very good and she did not want him to turn out like anyone from her side of the family. Then one day, as Ted explains, she upped and left and never returned leaving Ted alone.

Dee is the sister of the missing girl who disappeared all those years ago from the lake. She has made it her life’s mission to solve the mystery of what happened to her sister. She has always suspected that Ted, who was a person of interest back then, had something to do with her missing sister Lulu. Dee decides to buy the dilapidated house across from Ted when it comes up for sale. She decides she will do her own investigation of him to see if he can somehow lead her to her sister, or if she can prove his involvement in her disappearance.

As Dee watches Ted and interacts with him, she becomes even more convinced he is hiding something. Her obsession with him grows increasingly all-consuming. But Ted and Dee have more in common than they know. The both hold past secrets deep within their souls. Some harmful and others which protect them.

Without giving too much away, I will say as the story progresses the shocking lives of Ted and Dee will be made clear. Sometimes it is hard to discern between good and evil, love and hate, fear and heroics and the weak and the strong. Try to never judge a book by its cover because the story inside can be incredibly more shocking.

The Last House on Needless Street is a perfectly crafted tale of horror, pain and courage.

Thank you #NetGalley #Nightfire/Macmillan #CatrionaWard #TheLastHouseonNeedlessStreet for the advanced copy.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Nina Riva has led a very complicated life. Her mother died when she was still in high school leaving her to raise not only herself, but her three other siblings while barely making ends meet running her mother’s family restaurant in Malibu. Their father, Mick Riva, a very famous crooner with an incredible career as well as libido, turned his back on his family years ago. But today is the Riva annual end of summer party. The guest list is massive. It’s at Nina’s mansion which sit up on a cliff and overlooks the beach. Well, it’s not really her house, but her soon to be ex-husband’s. That’s way Nina is having a difficult day. Her tennis pro husband has recently left her for another tennis pro. She cringes at the thought of everyone seeing her so vulnerable tonight. But as usual Nina does not think about herself, but of her siblings, Jay, a professional surfer, Hud a photographer and Kit, her youngest sister who wants to follow in Jay’s footsteps. They look forward to this party all year.

But they too are having problems of their own. Jay may have to give up surfing, Hud has been keeping secrets and Kit who at twenty has never been kissed and has decided that tonight’s the night.

Nina’s upbringing was difficult, her mother an alcoholic, her father coming in and out of her mother’s life, Nina having to always be the adult in the room. Then she was spotted surfing by a photographer and her life catapulted her into both fame and fortune. And this seems to be where her problems really began. She was not made for stardom. So as much as she understands the party must go on, she dreads the feeling of embarrassment of the evening when all eyes will be turned to her to see how she is reacting to the news of her husband’s infidelity.

But the evening begins to take an awkward turn from the first ring of the doorbell as the guests arrive, two not expected at all and the siblings will find themselves not only fighting with each other, but with ghosts from long ago. As the evening progresses and the usual chaotic party begins to take a turn into complete pandemonium, with guests literally hanging from chandeliers, the family will have to come together when these revelations come to light. They each will need to come to grips with hurtful memories no one ever wanted to revisit. By the next morning, their lives will be changed forever.

The story, which is told between two times, an hourly accounting of the day of the party leading up to and into the next morning, and the love story of Nina and her sibling’s mother and her father Mick and all the heartbreak it caused.

It is a story of love, loss, greed and having to make tough decisions. It is a story of a family united by Nina’s perseverance always afraid to think of herself for fear her family will be torn apart. And finally, by its conclusion, a united family who will finally all take their individual control back as the create a new family unit.

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt lives in New York City. Her father is a well-known rabbi, her mother a doctor. Rachel’s occupation is a secret from her parents and just about everyone else. You see, Rachel lives and breaths for one holiday a year…Christmas! And to make matters worse, she is a best-selling Christmas author known as Margot Cross whose books have been turned into movies. She can hardly brag about that to her orthodox Jewish family.

Rachel has another secret. One she has kept from her book editors. She was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome when she was in college. On bad days she can not get out of bed, and sleeps for twenty hours. On good days she can get up and watch a bit of television. Rachel had to drop out of college, and she needed to reevaluate her career goals, figure out what she could possibly do which would keep her motivated and interested without having to go to work a 9 to 5 job somewhere. That was when she discovered her love of writing, especially creating Christmas stories!

But when her editor calls her into her office to suggest she change her next Christmas novel into a Hanukkah story she is not happy. Although she of course knew all about Hanukkah traditions, none seemed as exciting as the exhilaration of Christmas. But Rachel’s editor was adamant. Either write a Hanukkah story or lose your next contract. So Rachel begins to try and plot her next move. With her parents not knowing what she does for a living, just her real name on the book would blow her cover.

Adding to her stress which does not help her physical condition at all, she learns her years ago summer camp love, Jacob Greenberg was coming back from Paris, France where he mysteriously took off for after their one summer of torturing each other to organize a Hanukkah celebration in New York called the Matzah Ball. Her father was asked by Jacob Greenberg to light the last candle on the Menorah the day of the Ball.

That’s when something clicks inside Rachel. She decides she will write the story of their courtship during summer camp in which he dumped her and pull the Matzah Ball into the story. Which means she must get a ticket to the already sold out event. Which means she has to ask Jacob Greenberg. Who says no. Unless she wants to be a volunteer, which for Rachel would normally be out of the question because of her health, but she jumps at the chance. That’s when Jacob begins his I will get you back for dumping me in summer camp tour.

Soon, they begin to see each other in different lights. Jacob seems caring. Rachel is kind and smart. Is it possible for these two hot heads to finally make peace with the friction they have felt for each other all these years? Perhaps they can not only learn more about each other, but about themselves. As Rachel pours her heart and sweat into the Matzah Ball, she sees the Hanukkah traditions as she never has before. Why did she think there was no story here? But Rachel and Jacob still have some personal obstacles to climb. Can they let go of their past and open up to a new future?

The Matzah Ball is an adorable story, but it is also a remarkable learning experience for those unaware of ME, which unfortunately author Jean Meltzer has, but who has learned to not only live with, but incorporate into her work-life and which hopefully will inspire others with the same disease to believe in themselves and to aspire to accomplish what they want.

Thank you #NetGalley #MiraBooks #TheMatzahBall #JeanMeltzer for the advanced copy.