The WeekendersFor me, it’s not summer without a Mary Kay Andrews novel to read. I started reading her novels about the Charleston Low Country area when I lived in Charleston, SC a long time ago (we won’t say how long) and I’ve been a fan ever since. So when the publicist approached me about reading and possibly reviewing The Weekenders, it was a no brainer. When I opened this novel and found that it was inspired by locations just a few miles up the road from me, I cracked up. How appropriate!

Bestselling author Mary Kay Andrews wrote The Weekenders while staying on Bald Head Island, just a ferry ride from Southport, NC. Southport and Bald Head Island are both just a short drive from my little beach town. What were the odds? I even lived in Southport for a year, teaching school, right after I got out of college. It was really a sleepy little village that time had forgotten then. Now it’s turned into a beautiful town with tons of restored homes – a great place to visit and live. In fact it was named the Happiest Seaside Town in the U.S. in 2015. And Bald Head Island is a unique island, with no cars allowed.

I loved every nail-biting minute of The Weekenders, which depicts the interwoven relationships of small towns whether they’re located on isolated islands or not – and I think you’re going to love it too. It’s a great beach read like many of Mary Kay Andrews’ beach novels plus it’s a mystery. Yay! It’s hard for me to part with my copy, and I’m still going to pay it forward in a giveaway that one of you will win.

Belle Isle is just a short ferry ride across the sound from the scenic village of Southpoint on North Carolina’s southern coast. It’s a largely unspoiled island with strong founding family ties that are determined to keep it that way. Some people live there year-round but most arrive for the summer when the temps begin to rise and that almost visceral need to get to the beach takes over.

Riley Nolan Griggs’ family is one of Belle Isle’s founding families. She and her husband, Wendell, live in Raleigh, but she and their twelve-year-old daughter, Maggie, can hardly wait to get to the ferry and onto the island they love. Their plan is to meet him at the ferry since he’s been spending a disproportionate amount of time at Belle Isle this year. He’s been putting together a large development project for the island that Riley has decidedly mixed feelings about. She also has mixed feelings about being back at Belle Isle for the first time ever.

The other thing she has mixed feelings about is Wendell Griggs. In fact, one of the reasons he’s supposed to meet them is that he and Riley plan to finally tell Maggy that they are getting divorced. The marriage hasn’t worked for quite some time. Counseling also didn’t work because he didn’t go after a few sessions. And then there’s the other woman. Riley knows there’s another woman – she just doesn’t know who that woman is. Sigh. No wonder she has mixed feelings about being back on the island she has loved her whole life.

“Wendell Griggs was big on promises. Always had been. On their first date, he’d promised Riley Nolan she’d never want to date anybody else. When he’d presented her with her engagement ring – a three-carat diamond bigger than any of her girlfriends had – he’d promised it was the start of a life that would be big and rich and exciting. No doubt about it, her husband was a dreamer. And a schemer.
But lately, Wendell’s promises meant nothing. Just talk. Hollow words meant to placate or stall. Nothing more. What was it her grandmother used to say?
‘All hat, no cattle.’
Like today. Wendell had promised – sworn – he’d meet them at the ferry dock at Southpoint in time to make the last boat over to Belle Isle.”

To make matters worse, Wendell is a no show at the ferry. And then Riley gets the shock of a lifetime when she and her daughter get to their island home only to find it locked with a foreclosure notice on the front door. WTH is going on? There must be a mistake, she thinks, yet she soon learns that this foreclosure is just the tip of the financial disaster awaiting her.

“’Hey, Mom!’ Maggy called.
‘Honey, I’m coming! Just give me a few minutes, will you? You’re not the only one who needs a bathroom.’
‘There’s some kind of sign on the door,’ Maggy called.
Riley dropped the bags and hurried toward the doorway, where her daughter stood bathed in a pool of light.
Taped to the door was an official-looking plastic-coated poster.
‘Oh my God,’ Riley whispered.
‘What does it mean?’ Maggy asked, dancing from one foot to another. ‘Why can’t we get in the house?’
‘Oh my God,’ Riley repeated. She took out the document she’d been served on the ferry and actually read it this time, her eyes glazing over all the legalese. But there were two words she understood: default and foreclosure.”

Wendell has basically bet the farm on his new development deal, and lost everything they have. And he’s missing…but not for long. The police find him floating face-down near the ferry landing, and determine that he didn’t just fall in accidentally – he was murdered.

Now Riley is under suspicion, as are her other family members. She has to discover the details and depth of Wendell’s financial betrayal, which are going to be horrible enough…and she’s also got to figure out who murdered him, because the police don’t seem to be able to handle the job. Oh, and to add just a little more trouble, there’s a storm brewing out in the Atlantic in addition to the storms brewing on the island. This is so not the summer she had planned!

Riley is a strong, intelligent woman, a woman who gave up a promising TV career to raise her daughter. That her father turned over the family business to Wendell when they got married never felt right to her but she was powerless to stop it. Her family all trusted Wendell, and so did she. And now they’re all paying a heavy price for that misplaced trust. Whatever Wendell’s motivations or intentions, he’s landed them all into hot water. And, if his plans for the island had been successful, it would have destroyed what made Belle Isle the wonderful refuge it is.

There is so much going on in The Weekenders with different relatives, friends and foes, legal issues, a murder, and nature that you’d think that would be enough to keep anyone spinning like a top. But this wouldn’t be a Mary Kay Andrews novel if there weren’t a man from Riley’s past who crops up…and he’s – well, I’ll just spoil it all by saying that he’s lovely. Bad timing personified but oh so lovely.

The Weekenders may be my favorite Mary Kay Andrews novel to date, and that’s saying a lot! It’s got all of the hallmarks we look for in a great beach read by her, and it’s got a murder mystery on top of that! I would likely recommend any Mary Kay Andrews novel if you’re looking for a fun beach read, and I’m definitely recommending this one. Loved every nail-biting minute of it!

Upcoming Author Appearances:
May 28, 2016 at 2pm at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
May 29, 2016 at 12pm at Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, Delaware
May 30, 3016 at 9-11:30am at Duck’s Cottage in Duck, North Carolina
May 30, 2016 at 2-4pm at Downtown Books in Manteo, North Carolina
May 31, 2016 at 7pm at Park Road Books in Charlotte, North Carolina
June 1, 2016 at 11am at Reynolds Library in Winston Salem, North Carolina
June 1, 2016 at 7pm at Glenn McNairy Library in Greensboro, North Carolina
June 2, 2016 at 11am at Mars Hill University (County Library Author Luncheon) in Mars Hill, North Carolina
June 2, 2016 at 7pm at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina
June 3, 2016 at 2pm at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina
June 4, 2016 at 2pm at Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, South Carolina
June 5, 2016 at 2pm at Jefferson Public Library in Jefferson, Georgia
June 7, 2016 at 7pm at Bookmiser in Roswell, Georgia
June 8, 2016 at 7:15pm at Decatur Library in Decatur, Georgia
June 14, 2016 at 6:30pm at FoxTale Book Shoppe Woodstock, Georgia
June 18, 2016 at 2pm at Highlands Methodist Church in Highlands, North Carolina

Can’t wait to read it? The Weekenders is available in almost all formats from your favorite online bookseller. Click on the link below to get it immediately!

I’d love to get your comments about The Weekenders, Mary Kay Andrews and/or her other work, and/or this review. Click here to read our review of Beach Town.

Our Giveaway:
One lucky reader will win a finished hardcover copy of The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews!

Giveaway Rules:
1) The deadline for entries is Saturday night, 6/11/2016, at 11:59pm EDST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
2) This giveaway is open to entries with U.S. mailing addresses only because we do not ship books outside of the U.S.
3) Please note: You must be at least 15 years old to enter this particular giveaway because of the nature of this book’s content.
4) You must use the Rafflecopter form. Even if leaving a comment is part of the giveaway, you must use the form in addition to leaving the comment for the comment to count as an entry.
5) If you already follow Popcorn Reads on Twitter or Linky, you must still complete that part of the Rafflecopter form for your follow to count as an entry.
6) If you do not provide a complete mailing address in the Rafflecopter form, your entry will not be eligible. We will use your mailing address to ship your book to you. Please allow 2-3 weeks for book delivery.
7) That’s it – this is an easy giveaway, so have fun and best of luck!

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Enchanted IslandsWhen I read Enchanted Islands by award-winning author Allison Amend, I didn’t realize I had previously read a novel by her that I loved, A Nearly Perfect Copy (link to my review at the end of this review). I loved Enchanted Islands every bit as much. Not realizing I had read anything by her, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t discovered this author before…talk about a head-desk moment when I realized I had. These novels are so different from each other that hopefully I can be forgiven that brain fart moment.

Enchanted Islands is fiction but it’s based on memoirs written by Frances Conway, chronicling her life with her husband as World War II spies stationed on the Galapagos Islands, of all places. Nobody could make that kind of stuff up and have it be believable; however, apparently the U.S. actually had spies stationed there during the war…go figure. This is not, however, just a story about people living among Darwin’s evolutionary creatures in a jungle setting. It is a story about relationships, deep and often dark secrets, survival and hope. At its heart, it is also very much a fish out of water story. And this new tale from Ms. Amend is filled with layers and layers to uncover, making for a riveting story. Should you read it?

Frances Francowski was born to first generation immigrants in Duluth, Minnesota in 1882. She’s very aware of how different she is from the girls around her, girls whose families have been in the U.S. for a long time. Her best friend is Rosalie Mendel, a girl with spunk and courage – a girl who comes from privilege and seems to have everything going for her. Frances would love to be Rosalie, if only she had the courage. Instead, she becomes Rosalie’s supportive friend and co-conspirator. What she doesn’t know is that Rosalie’s life isn’t anywhere near as wonderful as it looks from the outside.

When they’re only fifteen, Rosalie decides she can’t live with her family anymore so she hatches a plan to escape. She and Frances will run away to the big city, to Chicago. There she will become a famous actress or something else terribly exciting and exotic, and they will be wealthy. Rosalie firmly believes it will be a piece of cake and she convinces the more conservative Frances they can do it. To be honest, it doesn’t take a lot of convincing because Frances has already seen how her life will turn out if she stays in Duluth, and she can’t wait to get away from that humdrum existence. Of course, things don’t work out at all the way Rosalie’s fantasies depicted. It isn’t long before Rosalie does something Frances can’t forgive and they part ways.

Frances takes a more practical approach to life than Rosalie ever did, gets herself trained as a top-notch secretarial assistant and becomes a career woman. She has never felt she was the kind of beautiful woman Rosalie was, who could live on charm alone, so Frances knows she must depend on herself for her financial well-being. She’s quite smart and is realistic bordering on pessimistic about her marriage prospects, which she believes are slim to none. It’s not that she doesn’t want to meet someone theoretically – it’s just that she doesn’t view it as a very realistic possibility.

Eventually, Frances goes to work for Naval Intelligence in San Francisco and becomes an invaluable asset there. She’s dependable, efficient, and conscientious – just what Naval Intelligence values most in its staff. She’s intrigued by the field intelligence work being done and by the officers who do it. Secretly, she’s always wanted to be given the opportunity to do that kind of work but she knows she doesn’t fit the type and probably doesn’t have the courage to be a spy. And then something happens…

Frances is called in one day and introduced to Ainslie Conway, one of the office’s top field agents. Ainslie is constantly in demand for operations all over the world, but he’s being given a new critical assignment and it’s quite different from his normal ones. This assignment requires that he be married, and Naval Intelligence has decided that Frances would make the perfect candidate for his wife…a marriage of convenience only…strictly business.

Talk about a backward compliment. Ainsley is quite handsome and any woman would probably jump at the chance to marry him…so why isn’t he married already? Is it only because of his job or is there another reason? Frances has recently reconnected with Rosalie, who’s married and living in San Francisco. She envies Rosalie her family and life, and can’t believe Rosalie still seems to have everything Frances doesn’t have. Frances will get to marry Ainsley, a man Rosalie will drool over, but it won’t be a marriage based on love – just business. And Frances will get her big break to become a field agent – a spy – something she has wanted for some time. So why does it feel like she’s been handed the booby prize?

Oh, and there’s another minor detail – Frances and Ainsley will have to convince everyone that they’re so in love that they’ve decided to spend their first year of marriage literally on a desert island, on Floreanna, an island in the Galapagos chain of islands – just as World War II is getting nasty. Right…like that’s going to be believable to anyone who really knows them. But maybe that’s the key to making this work: Both of them are such private people that even the people closest to them don’t really know them that well.

It seems very odd to Frances that they are being posted to Floreanna, at least until they get there. The few people on the island appear to be German and have odd reasons for being there – reasons that don’t make much more sense than Ainsley and Frances’ do. Floreanna is not a place anyone would choose to live if they didn’t have strong incentive to be there – or a strong incentive to hide away from the world.

The question is why these people are here, and whether they are the spies Naval Intelligence believes them to be. What secrets are they hiding? Can anyone be trusted? Can Frances and Ainsley even survive if they can’t trust anyone in this desolate and harsh environment?

It’s important to keep in mind that, although Enchanted Islands is inspired by Frances Conway’s memoirs, it is completely fiction. The storyline is loosely based on real events; however, the author is quite open about having invented motivations, emotions, and secrets from whole cloth. That said, certain story elements do lend themselves to her interpretation based on Ainsley being referred to as a confirmed bachelor and Frances being referred to as a spinster. Whether there’s any basis to that or not is something else again.

Another thing I want to call out is that this is a story about human relationships and how they are affected by the era in which people live and their circumstances. Naval Intelligence, World War II, and the Galapagos Islands are vehicles through which the story is told – this is a story about people, not about those three vehicles. Do they factor into the story and provide important elements? Yes, and it’s the people who are important; their lives and how their secrets affect their lives. Our secrets and how they eat at us are always our undoing in our lives…or, as therapists say, “Our secrets makes us sick.”

Enchanted Islands is a fascinating study in human nature. It looks at how far we will go to protect ourselves and those we care about…and how quickly the veneer of civilization can break down in extreme circumstances. It is a cautionary tale and a tale of hope, all at the same time…a story with many layers. I was riveted by it. Allison Amend’s writing style flows so beautifully that I was captivated from beginning to end. I know this novel won’t be for everyone; however, I’m recommending it anyway.

Upcoming Author Appearances, Readings & Book Signings:
June 2, 2016 at 7pm-8pm at The Book Cellar (book launch) in Chicago, Illinois
June 6, 2016 at 6:30pm-7:30pm at The Book Stall in Winnetka, Illinois
June 11, 2016 at 2pm-3pm at Minor Memorial Library in Roxbury, Connecticut
June 18, 2016 at 7pm-8pm at KGB Bar in New York City
July 17, 2016 at 5pm-7pm at BookBar in Denver, Colorado
July 18, 2016 at 7pm-8pm at Bookworm in Edwards, Colorado
August 8, 2016 at 7pm-8pm at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California

Can’t wait to read it? Enchanted Islands is available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller. Just click on the link below and you can have it to read immediately.

I’d love to get your comments on Enchanted Islands, Allison Amend and/or her other work, and/or this review! Click here to read our review of A Nearly Perfect Copy.

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Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman: Finding Yourself A Bit Late

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