Occasionally oversentimental, but watching members of a warmhearted Southern family sticking together remains a rewarding...

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A Season for New Beginnings

An activist fights to change Georgia law to protect abused women and children, while her husband and kids make momentous career decisions, in this second installment of a historical drama.

By 2000, 52-year-old Caroline Wellington Winthrop has a loving marriage with Garrett and two fully grown children, John and Katie. She’d founded the successful New Beginnings Home for Abused Women and Children years ago, helping educate women to live confidently and independently of abusive men. Caroline herself grew up with an alcoholic father who often beat her mother, Charlotte. This fuels her passion to amend Georgia law to protect women and children in abusive homes. She’ll just have to convince the governor that opening a detention center for domestic violence offenders is valid, as well as rehabilitating the inmates with anger management classes and therapy. Members of her family, meanwhile, struggle with individual vocations. John isn’t sure what to do next now that he’s graduated from law school; he’s also in danger of mirroring his grandfather’s descent into alcoholism. Katie, ready for her senior year at Duke University, is prepped for medical school, but her newfound support of alternative healing may set her on an entirely different path. And Garrett, who incessantly travels between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta as the press secretary for a U.S. senator, also considers a change so he can be with the ones he loves. While Updegraff’s (A Season for Living, 2011) previous novel followed Caroline from birth to the start of this story, the sequel is more focused, concentrating on a period of less than two years. This allows subplots to shine, such as New Beginnings resident Sarah Foster overcoming her battered life, and both John and Katie entering into romances. The relaxed prose makes reading the book a breeze; predominantly honest characters, for one, tend to say exactly what they’re thinking. In the same vein, conservatism is a little glaring: liberals are the true villains, generally opposed to Caroline’s project or a potential mole on Garrett’s boss’s staff. Oft-uttered emotions, too, while sparking upbeat, gratifying moments, can be excessive, with trite words like “amazing” repeatedly used to describe others. There are, however, tragedies Caroline must endure—doleful scenes Updegraff’s slow but disciplined pacing more than earns.

Occasionally oversentimental, but watching members of a warmhearted Southern family sticking together remains a rewarding experience.

Pub Date: June 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4917-9532-3

Page Count: 600

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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A thoughtful and pensive tale with intelligent characters and a satisfying romance.

THE LAST LETTER

A promise to his best friend leads an Army serviceman to a family in need and a chance at true love in this novel.

Beckett Gentry is surprised when his Army buddy Ryan MacKenzie gives him a letter from Ryan’s sister, Ella. Abandoned by his mother, Beckett grew up in a series of foster homes. He is wary of attachments until he reads Ella’s letter. A single mother, Ella lives with her twins, Maisie and Colt, at Solitude, the resort she operates in Telluride, Colorado. They begin a correspondence, although Beckett can only identify himself by his call sign, Chaos. After Ryan’s death during a mission, Beckett travels to Telluride as his friend had requested. He bonds with the twins while falling deeply in love with Ella. Reluctant to reveal details of Ryan’s death and risk causing her pain, Beckett declines to disclose to Ella that he is Chaos. Maisie needs treatment for neuroblastoma, and Beckett formally adopts the twins as a sign of his commitment to support Ella and her children. He and Ella pursue a romance, but when an insurance investigator questions the adoption, Beckett is faced with revealing the truth about the letters and Ryan’s death, risking losing the family he loves. Yarros’ (Wilder, 2016, etc.) novel is a deeply felt and emotionally nuanced contemporary romance bolstered by well-drawn characters and strong, confident storytelling. Beckett and Ella are sympathetic protagonists whose past experiences leave them cautious when it comes to love. Beckett never knew the security of a stable home life. Ella impulsively married her high school boyfriend, but the marriage ended when he discovered she was pregnant. The author is especially adept at developing the characters through subtle but significant details, like Beckett’s aversion to swearing. Beckett and Ella’s romance unfolds slowly in chapters that alternate between their first-person viewpoints. The letters they exchanged are pivotal to their connection, and almost every chapter opens with one. Yarros’ writing is crisp and sharp, with passages that are poetic without being florid. For example, in a letter to Beckett, Ella writes of motherhood: “But I’m not the center of their universe. I’m more like their gravity.” While the love story is the book’s focus, the subplot involving Maisie’s illness is equally well-developed, and the link between Beckett and the twins is heartfelt and sincere.

A thoughtful and pensive tale with intelligent characters and a satisfying romance.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64063-533-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Entangled: Amara

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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