A satisfying introduction to a new series, featuring relatable characters and an engaging storyline.

Leaving Oxford

From the Southern Hearts Series series , Vol. 1

A relationship between an ad executive and a football coach changes them both in ways neither could have imagined in this debut romance.

Sarah Beth LeClair teaches an advertising class at the University of Mississippi, but with a degree of trepidation. She’s a specialist in her field, and she enjoyed a successful career with a prestigious agency in Los Angeles until a tragic loss prompted her to return to the safety of her family home in Oxford, Mississippi. Sarah Beth drifted away from the church after the deaths of her parents, but then she renewed her commitment to her Christian faith. Although teaching is rewarding for her, it can’t quell her constant anxiety. One afternoon, football coach Jess McCoy stops by her office to discuss one of his players taking her class, and they begin a casual, if cautious, friendship. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, the nonreligious Jess finds himself drawn to both Sarah Beth and her faith. As their friendship deepens, she opens up to him about her tumultuous past, her tragic losses, and her anxiety. He resolves to help her overcome the latter, and their friendship turns into a romance. But after Jess receives an offer to coach a professional team, he wonders whether he should stay with the woman he loves or leave Oxford to pursue his dream. This first novel in Ferguson’s Southern Hearts series offers strong, well-developed characters and a nuanced narrative that never strikes a false note. Sarah Beth and Jess are appealing protagonists with complicated, painful pasts who draw strength from their growing friendship. Ferguson handles the subplot about Sarah Beth’s anxiety with great compassion and sensitivity. Subtle foreshadowing hints at the cause of Sarah Beth’s unease, while extended flashbacks expand her back story and offer insight into the importance of religion in her life. Ferguson builds Sarah Beth and Jess’ relationship slowly and methodically, and the story is particularly effective at conveying the positive effect that she has on him. The well-rounded cast of supporting players includes Jess’ best friend, Nick Russo; Nick’s young daughter, Katie; Sarah Beth’s brother, Mark; and her colleague, Jill Martin.

A satisfying introduction to a new series, featuring relatable characters and an engaging storyline.

Pub Date: April 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9974822-0-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Southern Sun Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

ALMOST JUST FRIENDS

Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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