Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Seven Days of Hilderbrand: Beautiful Day

While I liked the basic premise of this novel--Jenna Carmichael's deceased mother leaves behind a notebook detailing all her advice for Jenna's wedding day--it didn't impact as much as I thought it would emotionally. I've read reviews where other readers said they thought the mother, Beth, came across as pretty manipulative in "the Notebook" and I can't say I disagree.

What I enjoyed about this book was the calamity surrounding the characters during the weekend of the wedding. It's refreshing and honest to read a story and know most families have a fair amount of discord in them at all times. Jenna's father, Doug, who remarried after losing his wife to cancer, is trying to decide whether or not he should get divorced. There's Margo, Jenna's disillusioned and recently divorced older sister, who tries to spend the entire weekend dodging acquaintance Griffin Wheatley for reasons unknown until the last part of the book. Jenna's two older brothers are also in attendance, and one of them is engaging in a weekend fling with the Matron of Honor, who also happens to be married. Then there's the family of the groom--the  Grahams--and talk about a doozy. I instantly saw the story of John and Elizabeth Edwards as inspiration for Stuart's parents Jim and Ann Graham, right down to child Jim had with another woman (the despicable Helen, also in attendance on Nantucket), before returning to his wife and their three sons.

The extravagance of this wedding (there was a similar one planned in the novel, The Island) definitely makes this an appropriate light summer read. No one I know could remotely afford a wedding costing close to $200,000. And when the bride declares the wedding is off? You'll have to read Beautiful Day for yourself to check out the resolution.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Seven Days of Hilderbrand: The Blue Bistro

I couldn't write "Seven Days of Hildebrand" book reviews without including The Blue Bistro, so I'm re-running a post I wrote a few years ago. Enjoy and stay cool!

(Originally posted on March 26, 2013)

I love a good beach read, even if it's not summertime. Several years ago I swapped books with a friend while on summer vacation and got my first taste of Elin Hilderbrand. The book was Barefoot, and I got sucked into it immediately. Since then, I've made it my mission to read all her books, and I'm excited that she has a new one coming out this summer, called Beautiful Day. For this post, I want to focus on my favorite Elin Hilderbrand book, The Blue Bistro (a story I never tire of!)

The Blue Bistro is set on the island of Nantucket, as all of Hilderbrand's books are. I've put Nantucket on my bucket list of places to visit in this lifetime just so I can enjoy the world the author describes so well in her books.

In The Blue Bistro, a young woman named Adrienne Dealey arrives on Nantucket after a disastrous stint working at a swanky hotel in Aspen, Colorado. She's broke, desperate, and determined not to get involved in yet another disastrous relationship. She's told The Blue Bistro is the place to go for quick cash and good food, and she's immediately drawn to the owner, Thatcher Smith. He hires her as a manager of the bistro, and soon all her financial problems are solved, but she can't deny the chemistry between them. She also can't figure out what his relationship is with the beautiful yet moody chef, Fiona, who is Thatcher's best friend from childhood and business partner. Nor will anyone tell her why the wildly successful restaurant is closing its doors for good after the summer season.

I related to the tale of The Blue Bistro because I spent much of my early 20s also broke and working in restaurants. The people in those restaurants became my surrogate family, much like The Blue Bistro became to Adrienne in the book. I could relate to all the behind the scenes drama, the complicated interactions between the customers and the servers, and the ways delicious food can bring people together and fill the void in the employees' lives.

I enjoyed reading about the relationship between Thatcher and Fiona, and his determination to be there for her as she battles a life-threatening illness, as well as his conflicting emotions as he falls in love with Adrienne.

If you're looking for a good summer read, The Blue Bistro has it all -- romance, intrigue, food and drink, and unforgettable supporting characters. For more about why Hilderbrand writes solely about Nantucket, and a little about her creative process, check out this article.

Do you have a favorite book by Elin Hilderbrand? What is it and why?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Seven Days of Hilderbrand: The Matchmaker

Even though it came out last summer, I only read The Matchmaker a few months ago. As a self-proclaimed Elin Hilderbrand fan this is painful to admit, especially because I believe this to be one of her best works.  And when I did finally download it to my Kindle, I finished it in two days and suffered from what I like to call a "book hangover" afterward.

As with most of Hilderbrand's main characters, Dabney Kimball Beech definitely has her flaws. After her mother abandoned her at a young age, she finds herself unwilling to leave the island of Nantucket at all (except for four years away at college). She has a special gift for matchmaking. If a couple is "a perfect match" she sees a rosy color around them--and if they aren't a match, an unfortunate murky green. She finds her own true love at an early age with Clendenin Hughes, also nicknamed "The Beast," but when he receives the job opportunity of a lifetime in Southeast Asia, her fear of leaving the island prevents her from going with him. Pregnant, she decides to raise the child alone, and never gets over the loss of Clen. She finds security by marrying an older college professor from Harvard, John Boxmiller "Box" Beech, and he raises Dabney's daughter Agnes as his own.

At the start of the book, 48-year-old Dabney is content in her job as the executive director of the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce. Her husband flies home to Nantucket on the weekends and they have a perfunctory relationship.  Agnes is grown and engaged to a man almost Dabney's age, and Dabney can instantly tell there are problems brewing beneath a happy facade. But when Dabney receives an e-mail from Clendenin Hughes announcing that he has suffered a loss and is back on the island, she is shaken to her core. Thus begins a summer filled with stolen moments, conflicting emotions, and a health issue that Dabney can't quite shake.

This novel was filled with distinct and lovable characters, which made me want to keep turning page after page. One my favorites was Riley Alsopp, the dentist-in-training with the "perfect teeth" interning at the Chamber for the summer. I also had a soft spot for Dabney's husband, Box, who had no idea of the consequences of neglecting his marriage for work. Nina Mobley, Dabney's best friend and assistant at the Chamber of Commerce, is also funny and earnest. The only character I truly detested was C.J., Agnes' finance, and that was completely by design.

The Matchmaker is full of all the usual Nantucket staples we've become accustomed to, down to the descriptions of the fall and spring festivals, the makings of a perfect 4th of July picnic, and a dazzling cocktail party overlooking the harbor. It was after reading this novel that I finally convinced my husband that I have to see Nantucket once and for all, and we are heading there for our wedding anniversary in mid--September.

Disclaimer: If you're a sap like me, you are going to want to have a box of tissues handy in the final chapters of this book.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Seven Days of Hilderbrand: A Summer Affair

A Summer Affair is one of Elin Hilderbrand's novels I like to pull out at least once per summer. It also reminds me why I make it a point to never volunteer to chair social functions! The main character in the novel, Claire Crispin, is a frazzled mother of four taking a break from a successful glassblowing career. She is conflicted because she loves her children and wants to be a good mother, but creating beautiful glass sculptures is also part of her core being. When she was pregnant with her fourth child, she had an accident in her hot shop that resulted in her baby being born prematurely. Because of this, her husband Jason, a local contractor, encouraged her to focus on raising the children and not her glassblowing for an undetermined amount of time.

Enter wealthy millionaire Lock Dixon, who calls Claire personally one spring day and asks her to lunch. There, he gently persuades her into co-chairing a huge social function for the nonprofit he works for, Nantucket's Children. He has two different motivations for wanting her involvement. 1.) Claire's high school boyfriend Max West is now a world-famous rock star, and Lock wants Claire to ask him to play a concert as part of the benefit. And 2.) Lock wants Claire to create a one-of-a-kind glass sculpture as the auction's main big ticket item.

After immersing herself in a world of mommydom and living with a husband who is more interested in parking himself in front of television every night rather than having a meaningful conversation with his wife, Claire is instantly flattered after her conversation with Lock. She also feels guilt in his presence--his wife Daphne was involved in a terrible car accident after a night out with Claire and her girlfriends--and still has complications from a brain injury. Claire sets out to co-chair the event for the next summer, with no idea of the curveballs she will be thrown while doing so, the first of which is her beautiful and conniving co-chair, Isabelle French.

It's inevitable that Claire will begin an affair with Lock Dixon, but there are also several other storylines in the novel that keep it intriguing, including a character embezzling money from the charity and Claire's history with the rock star, Max West. The presence of food is also alive and well in this novel, as Claire's best friend and sister-in-law run a catering business the island, and description of their culinary creations abound. As the big day of the benefit approaches, you'll barely be able to keep up with all the shenanigans among the characters.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Seven Days of Hilderbrand: The Castaways

While I love most of Elin Hilderbrand's novels, The Castaways stands out as one of my favorites, probably because a mystery lies embedded in the opening pages. In an attempt to salvage their marriage, Greg and Tess McAvoy head out on a sailboat to Martha's Vineyard, but before the afternoon is over, they are both dead in a tragic drowning accident. Their best friends--wealthy couple Addison and Phoebe Wheeler, police chief Ed Kapanash and his wife Andrea, and Jeffrey and Delilah Drake--are devastated by the news as they try to put the pieces together and help care for the McAvoy's young twins, Finn and Chloe.

The Castaways is told from the viewpoints of the survivors: Addison, Phoebe, Ed, Andrea, Jeffrey, and Delilah, and you soon learn the relationship among the four couples is richly layered and complex. Part of me had a hard time believing each spouse could be so oblivious to what was going on right under their noses, but I suppose these things do happen!

Phoebe is a once vivacious woman who has given her life over to prescription painkillers after losing her twin brother in 911, and her husband Addison falls in love with kindergarten teacher Tess after years of living with the distant and drug-addicted Phoebe. Andrea is Tess's older cousin and more like the big sister Tess never had, Delilah feels stifled in her marriage to straight-as-an-arrow Jeffrey and therefore drawn to the sexy musician Greg. At the time of their deaths, Tess and Greg were both still trying to recover from a sexual misconduct accusation from one of Greg's gorgeous and promiscuous music students.

The mystery unfolds as we get a glimpse of the inner workings of each marriage, including several child-free vacations the group takes throughout the course of the book. This is another area where I feel the reader has to suspend her belief. Could a police chief of a small island and his stay-at-home mom/wife, two public school teachers, and a farmer and restaurant hostess actually afford luxe trips to places such as Miami, Las Vegas, Mexico, etc? Out of the group, Addison and Phoebe really are the only ones with the means to take such extravagant trips on a regular basis.

Even with these small issues, I consider The Castaways a page turner, and breezed through the book so I could devour each detail as it emerged. Jeffrey and Andrea dated before Andrea married the police chief? Greg pursued Delilah at the restaurant they worked at in the evenings every chance he got? Why did the innocent Tess have opiates in her blood at the time of the drowning? And why is Addison convinced Greg was the cause of the accident?

Bonus: Elin Hildebrand's publisher, Little Brown, has released a new paperback version of The Castaways that includes an excerpt from her latest novel, The Rumor, a Q&A with Hilderbrand, book club discussions, and a drink recipe perfect for summer!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Seven Days of Hilderbrand: Winter Street

When I first heard Elin Hilderbrand had published a Christmas-themed book, Winter Street, I wasn’t as anxious to read it right away. Maybe it’s because one of the things I love about her novels is the image of Nantucket at its finest—during the warm summer months when anything seems possible. That said, when I stumbled across a copy of Winter Street a few weeks ago in my library, I didn’t hesitate to snatch it up.

Winter Street tells the story of former financial wizard Kelley Quinn, who now runs a bed and breakfast with his second wife, Mitzi. I laughed out loud in the opening pages when he catches his wife in a compromising position with the man who plays Santa Claus at their annual Christmas party. The novel is a quick read, as we follow Kelley’s story, that of his ex-wife, Margaret, now a famous news anchor, his children with his first wife (Ava, Patrick, Kevin) and his son with Mitzi, (Bart, who has just been shipped overseas as a member of the Marine Corps). Hilderbrand paints a vivid and snowy picture of Nantucket during the cold, winter months, and fills the inn with rooms and rooms of Christmas-themed memorabilia (most of which belongs to the somewhat flaky and materialistic Mitzi).

We learn how Kelley has invested in life’s savings into the inn, which currently has no paying guests, and he’s close to bankruptcy. Ava, a schoolteacher on the island lives at the inn and is in love with someone who has gone back to his hometown for Christmas with plans to visit with his now-divorced ex-girlfriend. Kevin, a bartender, has been secretly romancing the inn’s housekeeper, and Patrick has received glum news about his job that sends him packing home for Christmas without his wife and sons. No one can reach Bart in Afghanistan. Can the family pull together a find happiness despite their problems?

The book ends in such a way that you just know a sequel is in the works, and when I checked, sure enough, Winter Stroll is scheduled for release in October of this year. This time, I’ll be sure to pick this one up a little more quickly, as I’m interested to see how the Kelley clan is faring after the last book.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Seven Days of Hilderbrand: The Rumor

Special Note: Welcome to Seven Days of Hilderbrand! Want to learn more about Elin Hilderbrand’s novels? In celebration of The Rumor’s release, I’ll be posting a different review of one of her novels for the next seven days. Be sure to come back by and visit!

Every summer I look forward to visiting the beaches of either North or South Carolina with my family, relaxing under a shaded umbrella, and losing myself in the world created by one of my favorite authors, Elin Hilderbrand. Imagine my excitement when I received an ARC copy of The Rumor in the mail a few months ago—I couldn’t wait to dive back into Nantucket Island with Hilderbrand’s latest cast of characters.

The first thing I noticed about the book is that it is shorter than her usual novels. I immediately attributed the shorter length to the fact that Hilderbrand was fighting breast cancer during the time she was writing this book—completely understandable. Also—the subject matter of The Rumor—how quickly gossip can spread on a small island—is decidedly lighter than her other books, such as The Matchmaker (I cried for probably two hours after finishing that one), Summerland, Barefoot, etc. The novel centers around novelist Madeline King, struggling with writer’s block and a looming deadline for her next deadline (art imitating life, perhaps?) and her best friend Grace Pancik’s crush on her hunky gardener, Benton Coe.     

As the mother of two children and a freelance writer, I found myself relating to working mom Madeline much more than Grace, who comes off as privileged and so into her house and gardens that it borders on the ridiculous. Grace’s husband, the realtor “Fast Eddie,” spends so much time wheeling and dealing (and digging them deeper into debt) that Grace is left to her own devices, which includes a beautiful estate, her gorgeous gardens, and a gardener who is just the distraction Grace is seeking. When she begins an affair with Benton and confides in Madeline, she never imagines Madeline will use the affair as the basis for her next novel as the answer to her writer's block.

The Rumor is juicy, fun, and fast-paced. Rumors abound all throughout the book, and they include Grace’s twin daughters, Hope and Allegra, and Madeline’s son, Brick. Is Allegra cheating on Brick, and why does Hope seem so happy about it? Why is Madeline renting a studio apartment on the island instead of staying at home—and why did someone see Grace’s husband Eddie visiting her there? The usual Hilderbrand mainstays are all in this novel—the gourmet food, the social scene, the pristine beaches, and a whole lot of sneaking around with some calamity thrown in for good measure.

I enjoyed The Rumor for the most part, except for the resolution of the storyline involving Fast Eddie. It’s wrapped up a little too simply for my taste and doesn’t jive with information given earlier in the novel. Also, at the beginning of the book, the relationship with Hope and Allegra is horribly strained, but after an incident toward the middle, they magically repair it, which I felt happened unrealistically. Those few items aside, if you’re looking for a light, entertaining beach read, Hilderbrand remains the “Queen of the Summer Novel,” in my humble opinion.

As a fun side note, I finally read Hilderbrand’s Christmas-themed novel Winter Street recently, and noticed Eddie and Grace Pancik made an appearance in that novel as well, as did a few characters from her other novels.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Guest Post: From Nurse to Author by Michelle Dim-St. Pierre

Today I'm happy to welcome Michelle Dim-St. Pierre, author of the romance novel Pinnacle Lust, as part of her WOW! Women on Writing blog tour. She is one of many who has made the bold but satisfying transition from one successful career to that of an author. Learn more about her in this interview and then come back to read about her experiences as she followed the path to publication.

From Nurse To Author
by Michelle Dim-St. Pierre

If someone had asked me ten years ago, where I saw my career heading in the next decade, “a writer,” would not have been the first thing to roll off my tongue.

Even as a small child, I knew that caring for people was my true passion—what I was built for. I remember running around my childhood home with my first toy stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and thermometer, which my family had rather reluctantly condensed into a small leather briefcase for me after tiring of my incessant begging. I practiced and practiced—on them, on my friends, and on any visitor who happened to linger at our house longer than five minutes. Looking back, their reluctance may have stemmed from a weariness of opening their mouths and sticking their tongues out, yet again, instead of the distaste for the gathering of toy medical supplies and leather briefcases for an overly eager child.

No matter, as I grew into adulthood, I followed the path I knew to be most true to myself. I poured my heart and my soul into my studies and eventually my profession. Sometimes the hospital felt more like home than home itself. The sense of order and cleanliness juxtaposed against chaos and distress—all set amidst a regular buzz of activity, soothed my soul in a way that I still find hard to describe with mere words.

Over time, nursing became second-nature. A profession that I loved, and that fundamentally shaped my personality, intellect and emotional development, had finally reached its peak. I knew it was time for a new challenge.

I began to give in to my desire to write.

What started as a hobby—a deviation from my daily work schedule, an imaginative escape into a fantasy world that I could shape and produce as I saw fit—has turned into so much more. A few pages here grew into a few chapters. A few chapters grew into more chapters and before I knew it I had an intricate story and an admirable heroine. I felt like I’d found my second calling.

As I dipped into creative writing, I also had to learn the business side and the logistics of publishing from scratch. As much as writing was a joy it also became a challenge with concrete goals—something that I could pour myself into, and something that I could aspire to, much like I did with my nursing career.

About Michelle Dim-St. Pierre:

Michelle Dim-St. Pierre was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel, where she spent more than half of her life before relocating to the United States. She lived through four wars and served in the Israel Defense Forces for two years. Unlike her first year of service in an armored division in the Golan Heights, she spent her second year serving in the medical corps where she interacted directly with the injured soldiers of the Peace of Galilee war and their families. This interaction, along with the exposure to the hospital atmosphere, fascinated Michelle and further touched her heart.

After graduating from nursing school with a BS in Nursing in Tel-Aviv, she practiced internationally for 32 years in various positions in the surgical field and quickly advanced into health care administration. During her career she worked in the Operating Room, Recovery Room, and CCU--along with many other duties.

Writing was Michelle's outlet at first, but it soon became her passion. Recently she left nursing and became a full-time writer. Her international background, along with her military and nursing experience is always at the tip of her pen. Her first novel, Pinnacle Lust, starts the Pinnacle trilogy. 

Michelle is a world traveler who enjoys cooking epicurean food and creating original recipes.

Find out more about Michelle by visiting her online:

Website and blog:



About Pinnacle Lust:
Pinnacle Lust by Michelle Dim-St. Pierre is the story of what happens when there isn't a happily ever after. In a Tel-Aviv hospital during Operation Desert Storm, Sharon Lapidot, a beautiful young nurse, is having an affair with a married doctor. Sharon's colorful and exciting life is ultimately destroyed by powerful and eroding mistakes. But her courage and wisdom lead her to an unregretful commitment. Vividly told, this compelling journey of love and lust, honor and betrayal, loss and redemption, will move you--and perhaps even change you.
Pinnacle Lust is a perfect balance of romance and drama--a great addition to your summer reading list or as a selection for your book club. It invites some spirited discussions on the choices people make and just who is the "villian" in Pinnacle Lust.

Want the chance to win your own copy of Pinnacle Lust for summer reading? Be sure to visit the two blogs below for giveaways:

Monday, June 8 @ Empty Nest

Thursday, June 11 @ Romance Junkies