Readers' Favorite

May 2, 2019

April Showers Bring May Flowers and Spring Brings Hours of Great Reading

by Susan Roberts

Some wonderful books have already come out this spring and there's still more to come before we get into the summer blockbusters. Here are some April and early May books you need to add to your reading list.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Death on the River by Diane Fanning

Death on the River
April 2019; St. Martin's; 978-1250092045
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); true crime
Bestselling and award-winning true crime author Diane Fanning recounts a tragic kayak accident that left one man dead—and his fiancée arrested for his murder. Delving into the story that garnered international media attention, Fanning takes readers behind the headlines to the emotional core of the case.

It seemed like the perfect romantic afternoon: a kayaking trip for two on the Hudson River. But it ended in tragedy when beautiful, blonde Angelika Graswald called 911 to report that her fiancée, the handsome and athletic Vincent Viafore, had fallen into the choppy frigid waters. Authorities assumed it was an accident. But when the bereft bride-to-be posted videos of herself doing cartwheels on social media—shortly before Vincent’s body was found—suspicions of murder rose to the surface…
After hours of questioning, Angelika made several shocking admissions. She said she felt “trapped” and fed up with Vincent’s “demanding” sexual lifestyle: the nightlife, the strip clubs, the three-ways. “I wanted him dead,” she had said, even though she insisted that she didn’t kill him. But as more lurid details emerged—including a $250,000 life insurance policy—a killer question remained: Did Angelika remove the plug of her fiancé’s boat…and knock away his paddle as he sank?

Fanning, an Edgar Award finalist for true crime writing, recounts the shocking twists and turns of this case as detectives searched for the truth about the troubled couple and what really happened on the river that April day.

My Comments: I used to read a lot of true crime but quit reading it for some reason.  After reading and enjoying this book, I think it's time to start reading more in this genre.   I find it interesting to find out the story behind the news story and to try to understand the mind of a person who feels that murdering another person is ok.  In this case, she murdered someone that she was engaged to which made the crime even more unimaginable.

The story begins on a perfect day when Angelika and Vincent go on a kayaking trip in the Hudson River.  They were both experienced kayakers but something went wrong at the end of their day.  The water got rough and she called 911 to try to get help after his kayak turned over.   The authorities considered it an accidental death until they questioned her.  Her story kept changing and she didn't seem too upset over the death.  In fact, she seemed almost happy that he was gone.  As the police questioned her, they kept getting more and more honesty from her and finally had information to charge her with murder. As more details emerged—including a $250,000 life insurance policy—a killer question remained: Did Angelika remove the plug of her fiancé’s boat…and knock away his paddle as he sank?

I hadn't heard anything about this crime before I read the book and found it all very interesting.  Since I finished the book, I have watched several videos about Angelika and her life today.

I thought that this was a well written and deeply researched book and recommend it to readers of true crime.

Buy Death on the River at Amazon

Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen

Park Avenue Summer
April 2019; Berkley; 978-1101991145
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); historical fiction
Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.

Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.

My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense.
(famous quotes from Helen Gurley Brown)

The Historical Novel Society says, “To be deemed historical, a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described. "  That definition would make this book - set in the mid-1960's part of this genre.  Due to my age, this wasn't really historical to me because I was growing up during these years.  The clothing and attitudes were something that I lived with and yes, I do remember when the first issue of the new Cosmo came out and I remember knowing that I needed to keep it hidden from my parents.  All that said,  Park Avenue Summer is a wonderful look at NYC  in the mid-60s and the juxtaposition of what women wanted in their lives and what men thought that women needed out of life.

The year is 1965 and Alice has moved to New York City from Ohio.  She has no job and very little money but her mother always encouraged her to go to NYC and after her mother's death, she was determined to go.  She had a camera and a portfolio of pictures and wanted to be a successful photographer but soon finds out that there are lots of very talented photographers in the city.  Through a friend of her mother's she ends up getting a job as a private secretary to Helen Gurley Brown.  Helen has become very well known due to her novel Sex and the Single Girl and has been hired to edit Cosmopolitan magazine.  Cosmo first published in 1886 and was full of recipes and articles about how to clean house and be a good wife.  When Helen took over the failing magazine, her goal was that it should represent what was going on with women during this time - her girls as she referred to them.  Her girls were single girls who wanted a better life for themselves and had questions and doubts about their bodies, sex, men and their careers.

With Alice as the reader's window into the front office at Cosmo, we learn about the fights that Helen had with Hearst management over her proposed changes and the underhanded things that were done to try to keep her from reaching her goals at Cosmo.  The magazine cover at the beginning of this post is the first magazine cover under Helen Gurley Brown's leadership and is a vast change from previous issues. As Helen fights the Hearst leadership for her girls, Alice also begins to change from a girl in small-town Ohio to a strong woman in NYC.

The author of Park Avenue Summer did some great research for this book.  She had everyone wearing clothes that were popular during this time and eating at famous restaurants.   Since I've never been a smoker, it was interesting to be reminded of how everyone smoked - and I mean everyone -- they smoked at work, at restaurants and while they were out shopping.

This was a terrific look back at an icon of the 60s who helped women realize that they weren't alone in their quests to have careers and a life of their own.

Buy Park Avenue Summer at Amazon

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Mother-in-Law
April 2019; St. Martin's Press; 978-1250120922
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); domestic thriller
This new compelling novel by Sally Hepworth will have you rapidly turning pages to follow the twisted path to the surprise ending. This novel is Sally Hepworth at her very best and one of my favorite books of the year.

When you get married, you become part of your husband's family. Most important of all is the mother-in-law that you gain. She can welcome you as part of the family or make your life a living hell because of her dislike of you. I won't admit which side I ended up on except to say that I really identified with Lucy. When Lucy meets her husband's family for the first time, she has dreams of her mother in law replacing her mother who died years earlier. She thought that they could become friends. She found out very quickly that Diana doesn't want to be her friend and really isn't very nice to her. Five years later, after numerous battles,  large and small, Diana is found dead and Lucy is left to wonder who is to blame.

Lucy is a fantastic character - written like someone that you know - flaws and all. In the beginning of her marriage, she tries so hard to make Diana like her but as their battles continue, she asserts her independence. By the time Diana is found dead,  any one of several characters could be to blame - was it suicide or was it someone in the family? As I read, my idea of who was to blame changed over and over until I got to the surprise ending that was just perfect!

Clear your calendar before you start The Mother-in-Law because you won't want to put the book down until the end.

Buy The Mother-In-Law at Amazon

The Summer Cottage by Viola Shipman

The Summer Cottage
April 2019; Graydon House; 978-1525831522
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); women's fiction
This will be the perfect book to read as Summer 2019 begins. It's about starting over despite adverse circumstances and it's about love and family. The setting is beautiful Saugatuck Michigan, one of the resort towns along the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline.

Adie Lou is facing middle age with her only son in college when her husband decided to leave her for a much younger woman. She decides to leave Chicago and move back to the small lakeshore cabin that her parents owned in Michigan and turn it into a bed and breakfast. When she starts out, she has no idea of the work and the costs involved. Her belief that her parent's cabin can successfully be turned into a B&B is met by problems all around - from the unexpected repairs to the Historical Society of the town who won't allow the home to be modernized. Along the way, Adie Lou has to find inner strength that she didn't know she had, she has to learn to rely on others and to accept the help of her son and her friends to make a success of her plans.

Adie Lou was a wonderful character. She loved her cottage and she had strength and determination to make her plans a success. Her goal was to move on with her life and be a success instead of thinking about her husband's betrayal. The other star of this novel was the location - the author described it all so well that you'll feel like you've been to Lake Michigan when you finish it.

Buy The Summer Cottage at Amazon

Only One Life by Ashley Farley

"She spent her last ten dollars and coasted into Beaufort on fumes. She was surprised how much her hometown had grown since she was last there, that day in early May, 2002 when she'd gone to her parents for help and they'd turned their backs on her."  (loc 1902)

Only One Life
April 2019; Lake Union Publishing; 978-1542093842
audio, ebook, print (298 pages); southern fiction
Ashley Farley has done it again -- brought her readers a riveting tale of family and love and heartache set in the beautiful low country of South Carolina. The characters are well written and the story will have you turning the pages to see how it ends. This dual timeline novel gives us the mother's story as well as her daughters'. Both stories are equally interesting and show the heartache and love that can come from family.

When Julia met Jack, she knew she wanted to marry him despite her rich parent's threat to kick her out of their home. She marries Jack and lives in a tiny house, estranged from her family but in love with her husband and her soon to be born son. When Jack is killed in a car accident, she tries to make it on her own but with only one salary, she is about to lose everything until she decides to go back to her parents and ask for help. Her father refuses to help Julia and her infant son but her mother, Iris, insists that Julia will be allowed to live with them - much to the dismay of her sister who has spent her entire life bullying Julia. We also get Iris's story. She was brought up poor and she ended up marrying the rich man who pursued her. He treated her and Julia terribly and only bonded with their daughter Alex who is as hateful and manipulative as he is. As Julia tries to navigate her new life in a home where she is not accepted, Iris is also forced to look at her past to see if it will help her change the future for herself and her daughter, Julia.

This is wonderfully well written Southern fiction. The characters are so well written that they feel like people that you know. It's a story of family and love and forgiveness not only of others but also of yourself. I've enjoyed all of this authors books and this one is my new favorite.

 Buy Only One Life at Amazon

Emily, Gone by Bette Lee Crosby

"It's been forty-seven years since the music festival took place out at Harold Baker's farm but everyone in Hesterville remembers that weekend.  Not because of the music, which was so loud your could hear it clear over in Weston, and not even because of the nineteen people arrested - twelve for shoplifting, six for parading down Main Street naked and one for breaking the front window of Brian's Pet Shop.  No, the reason the people of Hesterville remember that weekend is because of what happened to the Dixon Family."  (p3)

Emily, Gone
April 2019; Lake Union Publishing; 978-1542044929
audio, ebook, print (398 pages); southern fiction
The year was 1971 and there was a huge music festival right outside of town.  The people at the festival were all hippies and there were lots of drugs to take and share...what they didn't have was enough food and since there were more people at the festival than expected, the small town of Hesterville had bare shelves.  In a small house not too far from the festival, as the crow flies, live the Dixon family - George who owned the hardware store in town, his wife Rachel and their 6-month-old baby Emily.  The noise from the music festival was so loud that they couldn't sleep and Emily kept them awake with her crying.  When the baby finally went to sleep, George and Rachel both fell into a deep sleep and never heard Vicki, come into their house looking for food and leaving with Emily.  When Vicki's boyfriend, Murph, found out that she had taken a baby, he panics and doesn't know what to do. Vicki had recently lost her baby during pregnancy and was convinced that Emily was really her baby.  When George and Rachel get up in the morning, they can't believe the Emily is gone.  "He saw Rachel standing beside the empty crib.  her eyes were wide with horror, her face a ghastly white and her entire body shaking as she choked back the sound of a sob." (loc 416)

Will George and Rachel ever find Emily again or will Vicki and Murph raise her as their own?  This book is full of twists and turns and lots of tears.  Bette Lee Crosby can write family drama better than most authors today and she does a wonderful job of presenting both sides of an issue.  I cried with Rachel at the loss of her daughter but I was also sympathetic to Vicki and Vicki's sister, Angela.   Rachel is convinced that Emily is alive somewhere and prays that she is with someone who makes sure that she is safe and happy.

This is an intense book that will keep you turning the pages, hoping and praying that Emily will be returned to her family.  It's also a wonderful story about the importance of family and friends; love and hope.  It is a book that will make you feel the pain of a mother with a missing child and her attempts to go back to living her life.  It will make you cry - not just at the end but several times throughout the book but at the end, they will be happy tears for all of the characters that you've come to love.

Buy Emily, Gone at Amazon

Drawing Home by Jamie Brenner

"The people and places you discover along the way in life can be as significant- sometimes more significant- than the family you're born into."

Drawing Home
May 2019; Little, Brown and Company; 978-0316476799
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); coming of age
This is a wonderful book about love and forgiveness and family - not just the family you are born into but the family that you create with the people you love. The characters are well written - flaws and all and feel like people I know in my life.

Emma and her daughter Penny live in Sag Harbor. Emma works long hours at a hotel and struggles financially to take care of her daughter. Penny struggles with OCD and low self-esteem. She has befriended a world renowned artist who lives in town and he helps her take her drawing talent to a higher level. When he dies unexpectedly, he leaves his beautiful home and art work to Penny. No one is more shocked that Bea, an art dealer and good friend from his younger years and she moves into the house and decides to contest the will. As the battle wages over the ownership of the house and art work, there are lessons to be learned about love and family and forgiveness.

This is a wonderful heartwarming novel and has a terrific ending.

Buy Drawing Home at Amazon

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

"'It's the usual story, ' the man at the tiller reflected, regarding the beautiful derelict on the hill.  'At the end of old money there is real estate.'" (p 1)

The Guest Book
May 2019; Flatiron Books; 978-1250110251
audio, ebook, print (496 pages); historical fiction
The Guest Book is a sweeping saga of three generations of the very rich Milton family from the 1930s to present day. It's the story of not only how money and privilege isolate a family from the rest of the world but the way it affects their feelings about other races and religions. Each generation feeds their views and their secrets into the next until no one is really sure what is true about the family history.

The novel begins in 1935 with Ogden and Kitty Milton and their three children. They are living a very privileged life and when a tragedy happens in the family, Ogden buys an island and a grand house in Maine to help the family become whole again. The family spends their summers on the island, entertaining all of their rich friends whose lives are reflections of their own. This all begins to break down in the next generation when the 3 Milton children grow up and realize that they want different things out of life and their values are different than their parents. Moss doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps in business but wants to write music, much to his parent's dismay. One daughter marries the man who is just like her dad but the other daughter falls in love with a man who was totally unacceptable in their upper-class lives. By the next generation, the money has run out and the grandchildren have to decide if they can afford to keep the island and all of their memories. Will this decision also help uncover some of the secrets from the previous two generations that have affected their lives so much?

This book is a well-written look at past mistakes and betrayals that ripple throughout generations., It examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America.

"Wars, plagues, names upon tombs tell us only what happened.  But history lies in the cracks between.  In the inexplicable, invisible turns - When someone puts a hand down, pushes open one particular gate, and steps through. THAT is history. " (p 43)

Buy The Guest Book at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter

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