Book Review: The Ocean in Winter by Elizabeth de Veer—and a Giveaway! @BlackstoneAudio @TLCBookTours

The Ocean in Winter
Elizabeth de Veer
Blackstone Publishing, July 2021
ISBN 978-1-982674649
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The lives of the three Emery sisters were changed forever when Alex, eleven at the time, found their mother drowned in the bathtub of their home. After their mother’s suicide, the girls’ father shut down emotionally, leaving Alex responsible for caring for Colleen, then eight, and little Riley, just four. Now the girls are grown and navigating different directions. Alex, a nurse, has been traveling in India and grieving her struggle to have a child; Colleen is the devoted mother of preteens in denial that her marriage is ending; and Riley has been leading what her sisters imagine to be the dream life of a successful model in New York City. Decades may have passed, but the unresolved trauma of their mother’s death still looms over them creating distance between the sisters.

Then on a March night, a storm rages near the coast of northeastern Massachusetts. Alex sits alone in an old farmhouse she inherited from a stranger. The lights are out because of the storm; then, an unexpected knock at the door. When Alex opens it, her beautiful younger sister stands before her. Riley has long been estranged from their family, prompting Colleen to hire the private investigator from whom they’d been awaiting news. Comforted by her unexpected presence, Alex holds back her nagging questions: How had Riley found her? Wouldn’t the dirt roads have been impassable in the storm? Why did Riley insist on disappearing back into the night?

After her mysterious visitation, Alex and Colleen are determined to reconcile with Riley and to face their painful past, but the closer they come to finding their missing sister, the more they fear they’ll only be left with Riley’s secrets. An unforgettable story about grief, love, and what it means to be haunted, The Ocean in Winter marks the debut of a remarkable new voice in fiction.

Eleven-year-old Alex lost her childhood in an instant the moment she found her mother dead from suicide. Even that extremely traumatic event might have not been so overwhelming if only her father had been strong enough to step up to his duties but, no, he retreated. The three children were pretty much left on their own with Alex taking on the role of mother to Colleen and Riley.

The three girls promised to always be there for each other but life didn’t cooperate and they drifted apart, each on a very different path. Then certain circumstances bring them back into each other’s orbits again and the deep-seated love is still very evident.

This is a character-driven story with limited plot and, as such, the pacing is much slower than I usually like but there is no shortage of feeling. In fact, emotions run high and numerous themes come into play including some that might be considered triggers (suicide, depression, drug addiction, emotional abandonment, etc.). Ms. de Veer handles all of this with grace and compassion beyond her status as a debut author.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon 
Blackstone Publishing // Indiebound

”Do we choose our memories, or do our memories choose us?
That’s the central question for the three sisters in Elizabeth de Veer’s
emotionally rich, incandescent debut novel. Ocean in Winter is
a page-turner of a book with a family mystery at its core, and profoundly
explores the ways in which women struggle to rebuild their lives
after grief and trauma. You won’t want to put it down once you start.”
—Holly Robinson, author of Beach Plum Island and Chance Harbor

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An Excerpt from
The Ocean in Winter

I am hurtling through Massachusetts at a rate of speed I cannot understand; the wind blows my cheeks, but it does not feel cold. I know only generally where I am going: deep into the state’s north- east corner where small towns cluster at the coast like grapes, nestled by a fragile barrier island at the mouth of the Merrimack River. The towns, blanketed now in briny mist, go by these names: Rowley; Newbury; Newburyport; Salisbury; and, inland, the city of Amesbury, the rough-edged river-fed mill town where my sisters and I grew up, a place I left when I was eighteen and never returned to. The town was too small for me, I suppose, and too much had happened for me and Amesbury to pretend that we had ever been all that close.

A storm has been raging here all day, but now the rain has stopped. In this strange moment, I come to stand on the doorstep of a house in the town of Newbury that I have never seen before, an old farmhouse whose white paint and green trim are cracked and peeling, wooden beams rotted. Behind me, I leave no foot- prints in the cold mud.

What year is this? I think for a moment. Wait, how do I not know the answer immediately?

It’s 2014. The answer comes to mind like a vague memory, as though the question itself does not matter. The house belongs to my oldest sister, Alex. Time is confusing to me right now—how long has it been since I saw her? Years, I think. But how many? Four, five, six? More? Maybe seven. I pushed her away. I pushed everyone away, far away, all to protect my ugly little secrets. Regret lingers in my throat like bile; I’ve made so many mistakes.

I glance through the front window; the room beyond is pitch black. The electricity in this area is out and has been out for a couple of hours. How do I know this? I’m not sure. In the woods beyond this clearing, trees creak high and long like old rocking chairs, swaying slowly in one direction and then the other. The effect is eerie, ghostly.

Many secrets stand between me and my sisters, Alex and Colleen, but not all will be revealed tonight. Tomorrow, after dawn breaks, one of these secrets shall become known. Others will unfold in the days to follow. Far from here a little boy sleeps soundly in his bed in the city. My awareness of him is so intense, I can almost hear his soft steady breath. Goodbye, sweet Caleb. Mama loves you, though she never did a good job of showing it.

I stand for a moment at the threshold of this house and take a deep breath of damp, mossy air, while a chill wind presses against my neck and blows my hair in my face. Alex is inside alone. She is not waiting for me, in fact, she is not expecting my visit. I raise my fist to the door and rap my knuckles against it. One moment passes, and then another. Nothing happens, so I knock again. Finally, Alex opens the door a crack.

“Hello?” she whispers. “Is someone there? Colleen?”

“Alex, it’s me,” I say, pushing my hair away from my face. “Riley.”

“Riley?” she says, incredulous. Then she opens the door the rest of the way. She points her flashlight toward me; I squint in the light and raise my hand to shield my eyes. From the shadows Alex stares, her pale face wide-eyed with fear and surprise. Slowly her expression registers recognition and then she gasps.

“Riley!” She pulls me inside and slams the door to leave the wind and wildness behind us. She throws her arms around me and hugs me hard and long; I do the same. There is a damp towel over her shoulder. Her wool sweater smells dusty, and the air reeks of plaster and paint.

“Hi, Alex,” I say.

“Where have you been?” she says, touching my arm as though she does not believe that I am real. “We’ve been searching for you. Are you okay? Wait, how did you find me?”

“That’s a lot of questions,” I say.

“Let me look at you,” she says, and she holds my face in her hands. She’s shorter than I am, which is surprising because she is eight years older, and I remember her as tall, although I suppose the last time I saw her I was already over a head taller. In my childhood memories, she’s a grown-up, which I guess she has been since she was eleven, since the day she saw what she saw. In the pale shimmer from two utility candles in paper cups, her skin looks tired, her eyes sunken as though she has not been sleeping. Her eyes bear the beginnings of fine lines at the corners; she, too, has aged in these past years. The dark, curly waves of her hair are streaked with a few gray strands, tied back in a sloppy ponytail. She looks strong, like she’s someone who knows what she’s doing. The kind of person I always wished I were or would someday become.

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About the Author

Elizabeth de Veer has a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and has been admitted to writing residencies at the Jentel Artist Residency, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of several writing groups, including Grub Street Writers’ Collective of Boston, the Newburyport Writers’ Group, Sisters in Crime New England, and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She lives in a small town in Northeast Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle.

To learn more, check out her web site at elizabethdeveer.com.

Connect with Elizabeth
Website // Facebook // Instagram

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a print copy of
The Ocean in Winter, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
on the evening of Thursday, July 29th.
US entrants only.

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Book Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley @lucyfoleytweets @WmMorrowBooks

The Guest List
Lucy Foley
William Morrow, June 2020 (CA)
ISBN 978-0-06-298895-9
Trade Paperback
William Morrow, June 2020 (US)
ISBN 978-0-06-286893-0
Hardcover

A wedding is about to take place in a rather unusual location, a remote Island off the coast of Ireland. The bride, Jules Keegan, a magazine publisher, and her groom, Will Slater, a television star, seem to be the perfect couple.  It’s a weekend affair and the guests are arriving by boat the morning of the wedding, catered by a couple who are hoping to gain some exposure to boost to their wedding planner business.

The book opens late into the evening after the wedding ceremony is over. In the author’s deft hands we shift back and forth from the present to the past and learn a good deal about the bride and groom as well as their relatives and closest friends.

The use of Chapter headings keeps the reader from getting confused as we move through the bridal party and guests, learning a variety of information regarding the history of the relationships of those close to Jules and Will. They include the bride’s half-sister and bridesmaid Olivia, a troubled young woman, Johnno, the best man, Charlie, the bride’s best friend, three groomsmen who all attended the private school with Will and Will’s father, a teacher at the school.

Nuggets of information letting us know how their relationships evolved are dispersed throughout the novel, and like a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces slowly begin to fit together to show a surprising and disturbing picture.

As the storm due to hit the island draws closer,  the degree of tension that has been escalating throughout this intriguing novel reaches a crescendo and culminates in an explosive conclusion not to be missed.

A terrific read.  Check it out!

Respectfully submitted,

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, August 2020.

Book Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan—and a Giveaway!

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery
Little Beach Street Bakery Trilogy #3
Jenny Colgan
William Morrow, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-266299-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

In the Cornish coastal village of Mount Polbearne, the Christmas season has arrived. It’s a joyous time for family, friends, and feasting, as decorations sparkle along the town’s winding streets and shop windows glow with festive displays. And in Polly’s Little Beach Street Bakery, the aroma of gingerbread cookies and other treats tempts people in from the cold.

Though Polly is busy keeping up with the demands of the season, she still makes time for her beekeeper boyfriend, Huckle. She’s especially happy to be celebrating the holiday this year with him, and can’t wait to cuddle up in front of the fireplace with a cup of eggnog on Christmas Eve.

But holiday bliss soon gives way to panic when a storm cuts the village off from the mainland. Now it will take all of the villagers to work together in order to ensure everyone has a happy holiday.

A wintry setting on a Cornish beach where a young-ish couple live in a lighthouse seemed like the perfect reading getaway from the usual gritty stuff I read and, while it wasn’t exactly perfect, Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery suited me at the time. A little romance, a bit of dysfunction and a village I’d love to visit, not to mention an absolutely adorable puffin named Neil gave me a few hours of pleasure undisturbed by thoughts of murder, paranormal beings or alien invasions. Neil, by the way, does not solve murders nor does he speak to his people.

For the most part, the four main characters—Polly, Huckle, Kerensa and Reuben—are people I’d love to have in my universe but there was a time about halfway through when I could have chucked them all out the window with great cheer. Fortunately, they eventually redeemed themselves and I certainly never lost my adoration for Neil, the puffin who loves to play ping pong football and is quite dashing when he wears a bowtie.

If you’re looking for a charming, whimsical story to give someone for a holiday gift, Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery might be just the thing 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Indiebound // HarperCollins

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About the Author

Jenny Colgan is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including Little Beach Street Bakery, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop, and Christmas at the Cupcake Café, all international bestsellers. Jenny is married with three children and lives in London and Scotland.

Find out more about Jenny at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Fans of Colgan’s (The Café by the Sea, 2017, etc.) Mount Polbearne stories will delight—and new fans will find an easy, charming entry into the saga—as Polly, Huckle, and Neil (the puffin) return for the Christmas season. — Kirkus Reviews

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Follow the tour:

Friday, October 27th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, October 10th: BookExpression

Wednesday, October 11th: BookNAround

Thursday, October 12th: A Chick Who Reads

Friday, October 13th: Bibliotica

Monday, October 16th: Buried Under Books

Tuesday, October 17th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, October 18th: bookchickdi

Thursday, October 19th: Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, October 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, October 20th: Reading Reality

Saturday, October 21st: Girl Who Reads

Monday, October 23rd: Into the Hall of Books

Tuesday, October 24th: StephTheBookworm

Wednesday, October 25th: A Bookworm’s World

Friday, October 27th: Jathan & Heather

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I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading copy
of Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery.
Leave a comment below and I’ll draw
the winning name on Thursday evening,
October 19th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Reviews: Whenever I’m With You by Lydia Sharp and Keep Me In Mind by Jaime Reed

Whenever I’m With You
Lydia Sharp
Scholastic Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-04749-3
Hardcover

Gabi’s natural grace is fascinating.  Poise, pragmatic manner and confidence rarely coexist in mere human beings; but this 17-year-old possesses all three.  Of course, she doesn’t realize that.  Her Alaskan acquaintances see only the novelty of a “rich Latina from L.A.”  and they don’t even have as much information ‘about’ her as the tabloids do.

Kai is not like that, but he isn’t living the typical teen-age life either.  When Gabi and her father moved in next door, Kai’s father had been gone for almost a year.  His departure turned Kai and his twin brother, Hunter, from full-time high-school students to home-schooled home-makers.  The boys cared for their younger siblings, their mother worked double shifts.

When Kai slips away to search for his father, he doesn’t tell anyone.  He’s been alone in the Alaskan wilderness, following his father’s footsteps for a couple of days when Gabi and Hunter figure out where he’s gone.  The two immediately realize the dire need to reach him ahead of an upcoming storm.  Even an experienced, outdoors-loving-Alaskan could not be prepared for this.

The dangerous expedition is but part of the plot.  Each twin has a secret and when secrets are shared it is as if someone pulled the missing piece of the almost-completed-jigsaw puzzle from a pocket and asks, “Were you looking for this?”  Fiercely frustrating; a remarkable relief.  Each person that participates in this quest has a solid strength inside.  The individual discovery and use is a pretty great thing to witness.

Aside: I have a particular fondness for the West-Virginian transplant.  Vicki easily embodied traits I recognize in the people from my home state; she amused and delighted me.   Special thanks to Ms. Sharp for that.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2017.

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Keep Me In Mind
Jaime Reed
Point, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-88381-8
Hardcover

The adage ‘opposites attract’ brings no comfort to Ellia as she tries to picture herself in a relationship with the “tearstained boy hovering over (her) bed…declaring his undying love and devotion”.  She’s come out of a coma with no recollection whatsoever of the accident that caused it or the preceding two years.  Her parents, along with some friends are familiar, if not fully known; but the oddly earnest Liam is a stranger.

Liam is a runner. An addict, actually; his entire personality changes if ever he is deprived of his daily run.  An excellent student, he works diligently for his grades and he writes ridiculously well.  Ellia firmly believes that humans should run in emergency situations only and nothing about school holds her attention, aside from the opportunity to people-watch in order to ponder and provide fashion critiques, solicited or not.

Logically, these two people do not belong together, but emotionally Liam is so confident and persuasive that Ellia is compelled to seriously consider the plausibility.  Understandably the most important thing in Liam’s world, this is really just a piece of the wicked jig-saw puzzle that is now Ellia’s life.  Her first priority is to figure out who she is and why; based on what she’s heard so far, she’s not particularly proud of the person she was.

I absolutely adore the way this author captures and conveys the sheer magnitude of emotions that teens experience.  More accurately, I admire the authenticity of her characters.  The surprisingly witty banter exchanges are straight from the hallways of any high-school and exist alongside the lyrical and somewhat haunting soliloquies throughout. I was immediately intrigued, then immersed and invested.  There were enough questions to be answered that the story-line slid smoothly along, keeping me engaged from the first page to the very last word.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.