Review: If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins

Stephanies Book Reviews Header

Synopsis from Good Reads:

Wedding-dress designer Jenny Tate understands the happily-ever-after business, yet somehow she’s still involved in her ex-husband’s life. In fact, Owen’s new wife may—inexplicably—be Jenny’s new best friend. Sensing this, well, relationship isn’t helping her move on, Jenny trades the Manhattan skyline for her hometown up the Hudson, where she’ll be able to bask in her sister Rachel’s picture-perfect family life…and hopefully make one of her own.

Her timing couldn’t be more perfect, since Rachel will need her younger sister. Her idyllic marriage has just fallen to pieces in spectacular fashion after she discovers her husband sexting with one of his colleagues. Second chances aren’t in Rachel’s nature, but the desire for an intact family has her rethinking her stance on adultery, much to Jenny’s surprise. Rachel points to their parents’ “perfect” marriage as a shining example, but to protect her sister Jenny may have to tarnish that memory—and their relationship­—and reveal a secret about their family she’s been keeping since childhood.

During this summer of secrets and lies, temptation and revelation, Jenny and Rachel will rely on each other to find the humor in their personal catastrophes, the joy in their triumphs…and the strength to keep hanging on.


If You Only Knew is a bit of a departure from Higgins other books. This book focuses on two sisters – in which we get multiple 1st Person POV – instead of two romantic leads. There’s still some zany family members and funny moments, but it’s overall more…mature. That’s not at all to say that her other books are immature because they’re not. They’re light and fun and I adore them. But this one is just much more serious and her main characters may be a little more realistic.

Jenny is a wedding dress designer who is moving back to her hometown from Manhattan. She’s had a divorce that devastated her, but she’s still friends with her ex-husband. In fact, the book opens up with her at her ex-husband’s new wife’s baby shower. Her relationship with Owen and Ana-Sophia (the ex and his wife) was frustrating. Jenny tried very hard to appear that she was totally fine with everything and because they’re such nice people, she couldn’t really despise them like she thinks she should.

Rachel is Jenny’s sister and is a stay-at-home mom, mother to three-year-old triplets. (Yikes.) She loves her life, though, and her husband and her kids. Her world is rocked, though, when she finds out her husband, Adam, is cheating on her. Throughout the book Rachel’s and Adam’s relationship goes from one extreme to another. They try counseling and make baby steps towards healing, but it seems every time Rachel gets a little closer to moving on from it, Adam lies again. I was soooooo frustrated by Rachel throughout all of this. I know it’s much easier to say from outside the situation, but she really needed to end things. She just kept denying it and then going back to him time and time again. I think she was right to try counseling first. She wanted things to get better. But after the 2nd lie – or even the 3rd – I think it should have just been done.

Jenny isn’t doing a whole lot better with her new romance. She’s developed a relationship with the super at her new apartment, Leo. Leo is not the typical romantic hero from Higgins’ books. He’s withdrawn, often surly, appears to be a bit of a slacker. But I loved his sense of humor and the banter between him and Jenny. That was probably my favorite part of the book. Despite the fact that he obviously has feelings for Jenny, he’s very firmly stated that he’s “only for recreation” and does not want a relationship. Even though Jenny does want a relationship, she agrees to go along with it, thinking he’ll change his mind. You can guess how that goes.

The heart of the story is really Jenny and Rachel coming to terms with who they are and how to handle the new events of their lives. They both grow backbones and confront the people who are treating them poorly. While I enjoyed both storylines, I have to say that I enjoyed Jenny’s a little bit more. I found her slightly more likable and I was just so frustrated with Rachel pretty much all the time. The times she really shined, though, was when she was with her triplet daughters, which also provided some great humor.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Though the ending didn’t tie everything up in a happily-ever-after, definitive way, I did like what happened with both sisters and am hopeful for their futures. I was feeling in a bit of a book slump and this definitely brought me out of it. Though it was different than her other books, I still love Higgins’ writing style and character development. I never wanted to stop reading it. My biggest complaint is that there is a lot more foul language in this book than her others which I didn’t care for. However, I would definitely recommend this to fans of Higgins and character-driven novels.

Overall Rating (out of 5:) 4 Stars

4 stars

There’s a giveaway from the book’s publisher for a trip to New York for you and a friend, including $1k in shopping money. You can enter it HERE.

Review: First Frost (Waverly Family #2) by Sarah Addison Allen

First Frost (Waverley Family #2)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree… and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.

Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen’s enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins.

I received a copy of this title from Good Reads. It does not impact my review.

I didn’t think it would be possible to like this book as much as I did Garden Spells, but I was once again pleasantly surprised. Allen effortlessly weaves together multiple perspectives and storylines into one heartwarming tale of magic and family.

First Frost picks up ten years after Garden Spells ends. While Claire and Tyler and Sydney and Henry are still all happily married, they are not without their problems – mostly brought on by the magical craziness that always accompanies the wait for the first frost of the season that brings the temperamental apple tree into bloom. Claire has ditched her catering business in favor of candy making, which is a national success. However, she doesn’t find the growing success as gratifying as she thought she would and she begins to question to her magical Waverly ability. Sydney is obsessed with getting pregnant so she can give Henry a son, but things are not going according to plan. Bay is now a teenager and has found the boy that she belongs with, who happens to be the son of Sydney’s old high school boyfriend, but he – and the rest of the school – is not quite convinced.

I love Allen’s writing style. We get the perspective of many different characters which could become overwhelming, but here it’s balanced very well. There was never a time I felt was spent too long with one character and one perspective was never left in a cliffhanger. My only complaint is that I would’ve liked to have seen more from Tyler and Henry’s POV, but at it’s heart, the story is about the Waverly women, so I was ok with it.

Overall, I really enjoyed First Frost. It’s a very character driven novel, which I always appreciate. Even though I was skeptical of seeing these characters ten years later from the first book, I loved them just as much and enjoyed seeing their growth. There were plenty of sweet moments and a few surprising twists. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has read Garden Spells, and if you haven’t read Garden Spells, you should do that now!

Overall Rating (out of 5)

4 stars

Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay – 4 stars (out of 5)

Never Look Away: A Thriller

Never Look Away centers on David Harwood, reporter at small town newspaper, husband, and father. He’s working on a story of corruption about the town council members accepting bribes from Elmont Sebastian, the owner of Star Spangled Corrections, a private prison that’s looking to build in town.  David is also dealing with the sudden, inexplicable depression of his wife, Jan, who has been taking off from work and hinting at having suicidal thoughts.

Things seem to be getting better with Jan when she orders tickets for the family to go to the local amusement park. Things quickly take a turn for the worse when Ethan is abducted shortly after their arrival, causing David and Jan to separate to try and find him. David finds him after a quick, frantic search, but can’t reach Jan on her cell phone to tell her. He returns to their planned rendezvous point and she never shows up. Park security and the police are soon part of the search for Jan Harwood.

As the search goes on, the park finds no record of Jan Harwood having ever entered the park. And no one but David has noticed her depression. The search for Jan begins to turn into a suspected murder investigation, with David as the sole suspect. Knowing he’s innocent, David starts an investigation of his own, which leads him to question everything he’s ever known – or though he’s known – about his wife.

Thoughts: (Beware of possible spoilers)

-This book reminded me a lot of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Read it. Love it. You’re Welcome.), but less psychotic.  So I wasn’t entirely surprised when Jan went missing and David was taking the fall for it. What made it so interesting was seeing how it all played out, all the work that Jan put into it to make sure all roads led to David.

-David Harwood is a smart, likable character. He loves his parents, who live nearby and often help out with Ethan, he loves his wife and is genuinely concerned about her depression, urging her to seek professional help, and he loves his son. He’s a good reporter and doesn’t sell out when he’s given the opportunity. But, he did drive me crazy at times. For a smart guy, he seemed to keep shooting himself in the foot when it came to the investigation. Everything he did made him look more guilty and even though he recognized he shouldn’t say or do certain things, he did them anyways.

-Though it kept the story moving, there were almost too many side plots. The private prison and Elmont Sebastian’s desire to intimidate David into revealing his source for the corruption story, *SPOILER ALERT* the parents of the real Jan Richler, who David’s Jan pushed in front of a moving car as a child, Jan’s trip with her old partner Dwayne to cash in on their diamonds they stole from a man several years earlier, and that man’s plan of revenge to get back at them for cutting off his hand. *END OF SPOILER* Barclay did a good job of connecting all of these sub plots to the main story, but I would’ve liked more time spent with David and less time with everybody else.

Never Look Away is the first book of Linwood Barclay that I’ve read, but his other books are definitely going on my To Read list. He writes smart, empathetic characters and the story was well paced and contained enough twists to keep me guessing, without ever going overboard or into the completely unbelievable. I give this book 4 stars and would suggest it to lovers of crime/mystery/suspense/thrillers.