Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Review- One Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak

Today I'm going back to my early 2020 Netgalley backlist to pick up a book that I should have read right away.

ISBN-13: 978-0778309468
Publisher: Mira
Release Date: 4-7-2020
Length: 464pp
Source: Publisher/Netgalley for review
Buy It: Publisher/Amazon/B&N/IndieBound

ADD TO: Goodreads


"A great book to finish off your summer reading."—Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Some families we’re born into
Some we find for ourselves

When Serenity Alston swabbed her cheek for a genetic test, she joked about uncovering some dark ancestral scandal. The last thing she expected was to discover two half sisters she didn’t know existed. Suddenly, everything about her loving family is drawn into question. And meeting these newfound sisters might be the only way to get answers.

The women decide to dig into the mystery together at Serenity’s family cabin in Lake Tahoe. With Reagan navigating romantic politics at work and Lorelei staring down the collapse of her marriage, all three women are converging at a crossroads in their lives. Before the summer is over, they’ll have to confront the past and determine how to move forward when everything they previously thought to be true was a lie. But any future is easier to face with family by your side.

"This heartwarming story of sisters who bond as adults is sure to please...those who enjoy books by Susan Mallery and Debbie Macomber."—Library Journal

Don’t miss Brenda Novak’s latest book, When I Found You!

Read an excerpt:



GRIPPING THE STEERING wheel tightly, Serenity Alston navigated the winding freeway heading east toward Donner Summit. Dark, ominous clouds hung low on the horizon. Although she was driving a BMW X5, which had 4-wheel drive, if it started to snow, the highway patrol could close the road before she could get over the pass. This was California, where even a little bad weather was cause for panic.

The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey,” a song that had been popular when she’d first married Sean eight years ago, came over the sound system, bringing to mind the way he’d been back then—handsome, charming and so earnest and true.

Or so it had seemed...

She told Siri to delete it, but the next song—Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up”—brought painful memories of how committed she’d been to him, and what it had cost her.

Unwilling to go through her entire playlist right now, for fear she’d be tempted to delete most of her collection—and lose too much of her focus—she turned off the music. Snow didn’t often come to the Sierra Nevada Mountains after April. But here it was nearing the end of May and those dark clouds loomed ahead. She needed to beat the storm, just in case. The two women she was meeting at the cabin were relative strangers; only she had a key. If she got caught on the road, how would they get in?


She eased off the gas pedal. Maybe it would be better if she didn’t make it through. She’d been experiencing some regret since she first set this up. Sean’s trial was over. She could finally close that chapter of her life, put it behind her and move on. Why ask for a whole new problem? One that could easily create more wreckage in her life? Right now her family was strong, functional, happy. They could stay that way if she ignored what she’d found, just let it go.

Part of her was tempted to do that. She could head back right now. But another part—her natural compulsion to reach the truth at any cost—won out. She’d never been able to turn a blind eye to anything, which was why, she supposed, she’d become a true-crime writer.

At any rate, she couldn’t ask two people to come clear across the country to meet her and then stand them up.

Her phone rang and Bluetooth announced that it was her mother.


After taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she told it to answer. For the sake of everyone involved, she had to continue to act as though nothing had changed. “Hello?” “Hi, honey!” her mother chirped, as breezy as ever.

Serenity winced at the sound of her voice. Hiding anything from Charlotte was difficult. But if she hadn’t answered, her mother would’ve just called back. And if she didn’t behave normally, Charlotte might begin to suspect something was wrong, which would only make the next days and weeks, maybe months, while she was trying to figure this thing out, that much harder to navigate. “Hi, Mom.”

“What are you up to?” she asked.

Serenity adjusted the heat, increasing the warmth inside the car. “I’m heading to the cabin.” She spoke casually, as though this trip was just like every other, even though it wasn’t remotely the same.


“Sure, why not?” Serenity couldn’t see why her mother would mind, not if she didn’t know what Serenity had planned. Ever since her parents had moved away from Berkeley, where she lived, to San Diego, the place sat empty. With the rest of the family nowhere near Tahoe, it wasn’t as if anyone else could drive to the cabin for just a couple of days. Serenity had a brother and two sisters, but her brother, the youngest at twenty-four, was getting his master’s at UCLA, and her twin sisters, who were twenty-eight, both lived in San Antonio. One had married a man who was from there, and the other had married a man who was flexible enough to move to Texas so the twins wouldn’t have to live too far apart.

“It’s just... I don’t know,” her mother said. “You’ve been going to Tahoe almost every weekend.”

“I love Tahoe.” The cabin had become a refuge for her. As soon as Sean had been sentenced, and she no longer had to worry about his smarmy lawyers getting him released on probation with time served, she’d started trading the rat race of the Bay Area for the peace and tranquility of the mountains whenever she could. Heading up the hill gave her something to do, somewhere to go when she’d normally be with the man she’d married. It also gave her a break from researching the gruesome facts behind the Maynard murders that were the subject of her latest book—about Frank “Coop” Maynard, a pharmacist who killed his whole family, fled the state, married again and started anew. She used to be able to maintain a sort of clinical separation from the crimes she wrote about, but she seemed to be losing that. Ever since she found those files on Sean’s computer, the fact that a person could be a monster down deep troubled her more and more. And that made her fear, at some point, she wouldn’t be able to continue writing.

What would she do then?

“We all love it up there,” Charlotte was saying. “But do you have to go every weekend? You’re still so young.”

Although she was only thirty-five, Serenity felt older. Having to testify against her own husband seemed to have aged her by a decade or more. “What does my age have to do with anything?” she asked. “You should be out meeting people. It’s not as though you socialize during the week. You write at home and never get out.”

She had to work. She had deadlines. And now that she was no longer planning to take a break to have a baby while Sean supported them—thank God she’d found those files before they’d gotten that far—she had to be extra careful to maintain her career, or she could wind up without an income. That was one of the reasons she went to Tahoe so often; the beauty and isolation helped clear her mind. “Are you talking about another man? Another relationship?”

“Of course.”

Irritation made Serenity tense up even more—until she felt as though she’d shatter at the slightest touch. “I’m not interested in another man, Mom.”

“You need to move on at some point, Serenity. You’re only getting older.”

“You just said I was too young to closet myself away at the cabin every weekend. Now you’re saying I’m too old?” “I’m saying if you want to have a family, you can’t wait forever.”

“I’d like a family one day. But if it isn’t meant to be, it isn’t meant to be.”

“You can’t take such a passive approach—or it won’t be. Not all men are like Sean. Look at your father.”

Her mother was using her father as an example of integrity? When he might be in on the lie they’d been living? Serenity was no longer sure she was even related to him or to the rest of the family. The Facebook message she’d received six months ago, after taking a DNA test mostly on a lark—just to see how it all worked for the sake of her writing—had upended everything she’d ever believed she could rely on. “I’m not ready to start dating,” she reiterated.

“What about Sawyer?” her mother asked. “I suspect he’s always been attracted to you.”

Where had that come from? Sawyer had never shown any romantic interest in her. “Sean’s brother?” “Oh, stop! You don’t look at him like a brother. He was in the military most of the time you were married. You barely ever saw him.”

She pictured Sawyer. At six foot four, he was taller than most men, had a sturdy warrior’s build, thick sandy-blond hair and stormy green eyes that had probably seen too much. “He was raised with Sean.”

“So? He’s not really related to him. He didn’t even live with him for very long.”

He was still connected to Sean. “Sawyer should be glad he’s not actually related to him,” she grumbled.

“Except that now Sawyer has no family.”

Serenity felt bad for him. He hadn’t had an easy childhood. When his mother died shortly after she married Sean’s father, Sean’s father was kind enough to finish raising him. So when Sean went to trial and the whole Alston clan rallied behind him, they considered Sawyer an ungrateful traitor when he wouldn’t join forces with them. “The way they treated him once the trial started wasn’t fair. He was just trying to stand up for what’s right. But as far as the two of us ever getting together, there’s no way. We’ve always butted heads on everything. No matter what the issue is, we’re on opposite sides.”

“You were on the same side when it came to Sean,” her mother pointed out.

“Because Sawyer was able to put his head above his heart, something the rest of the family couldn’t do—or refused to do.” The way Sawyer had handled the situation showed emotional maturity. Serenity had been impressed but not all that surprised. He was incredibly smart, which was why it bugged her so much whenever he disagreed with her. Not only did he think faster than anyone she’d ever met, he was the only person she couldn’t beat, regardless of the game they played—even games of complete chance.

When the entire family got together for a reunion two years ago, they challenged each other at everything they could think of—horseshoes, volleyball, chess, backgammon, trivia. She’d won at backgammon once or twice but lost at all the rest. She’d never forget the enraging smile that had tugged at his lips when she insisted he give her another chance.

“Sean put up a pretty convincing front. He had me fooled for a long time. You, too,” her mother added.

Serenity didn’t need to be reminded of that. She’d fallen hard, planned her whole life around him. “He was a good liar,” she admitted. “And his lawyers were even better.” So good, in fact, there were moments Serenity had wondered if she was crazy for trusting her instincts above what she heard from his counsel in court—moments when she’d asked herself if she was not only being a bad wife, but ruining an innocent man’s life.

If she hadn’t been the one to find the proof and confront Sean before he had time to concoct the slick lies he and his lawyers presented afterward, they might’ve swayed her. Maybe she shouldn’t be so shocked that his family went the other way and only Sawyer could figure out the truth.

“He almost got off,” her mother said. “He would have, if not for your testimony. You were great on the stand. So poised. And Sawyer was right there to support you through it all. I love the way he stood by you. That had to have taken a great deal of courage when the rest of his family was glaring daggers at him, day in and day out.”

Large drops of rain began to splatter on her windshield. Serenity scowled as she glanced up at the foreboding sky. “He only did that because he believed Sean was guilty.” She switched on her wipers. “Anyway, I’m sure he was glad when the trial ended and he could go on with his life and forget all about me.”

Although, oddly enough, she’d heard from Sawyer recently. He’d called her, out of the blue, just to check in—not that she was going to tell her mother. Her conversation with him had been awkward, and he didn’t say much before hurrying off the phone.

“You should reach out to him, see how he’s doing,” Charlotte said.

Serenity wished she’d been friendlier during their brief conversation. But she hadn’t expected to ever hear from him again. And she was still so disillusioned after what’d happened with Sean she was off men in general—and anyone who was associated with Sean in particular. She didn’t need the memories Sawyer evoked. She preferred to forget the past eighteen months, start over.

“If I get the chance,” she said, and before her mother could press the issue any further, she asked how her brother was doing in school. He’d been struggling with his grades lately, which was unusual for him.

Her mother said she thought he was improving, at which point Serenity said the weather was getting bad and she needed to go.

Within ten minutes of hanging up, the rain turned to heavy snow, making the road slick and the traffic slow until she was sitting in place, staring at a sea of red taillights.

“Come on, come on,” she muttered impatiently. She’d been hoping to arrive at the cabin before Lorelei and Reagan. To get settled in, walk around and acclimate. To become anchored in the familiar before having to meet the two strangers who were her half sisters.

But at this rate, they’d beat her there.

My Review:

One Perfect Summer
Brenda Novak

While cleaning off my TBR shelf I came across this novel by fave Brenda Novak and do not know how I left this sitting on the shelf so long. It was FAB!!

Novak’s One Perfect Summer is a timely tale amidst this Ancestry and 23andME craze about decades old secrets, family dramas and three brave women at a crossroads willing to make sacrifices to learn the truth. From page one until the explosive end Novak keeps her readers engaged with non-stop dramatics a tense, touchy storyline and a flowing intriguing narrative. The entire cast of characters both friends and foes are spot-on but it’s the three sisters who are the absolute stars and stand-outs and the audience will love seeing these women learn to trust each other while becoming loving siblings. The backdrop of Lake Tahoe is beautiful and the May snowstorm at the beginning sets the stage for all the emotional storms to come during the telling of this turbulent tale. Fans of women’s fiction, strong female protagonists and this author will have a hard time putting this down.

True Crime Writer Serenity Alston, NYC Ad Exec Reagan Sands and Florida stay-at-home-mom Lorelei Cipriano are strangers with nothing in common until they each get a close relative notification after taking a DNA test, they are in fact half-sisters who up until now never knew the existence of the others.

Lorelei was excited when her husband Mark gave her a DNA test, being a product of the Foster Care System she always wondered where she came from and the only thing she knows about her past is that she was found wandering alone on a busy Orlando street when she was two. She is so happy to be meeting her new sisters right now because she needs an escape from her own family drama after just learning that her husband not only cheated on her with her best friend but got her pregnant.

Reagan may have just made the costliest mistake of her life. Being raised by a successful single mom she’s always had the competitive gene and she’s worked her toosh off at her agency and was this close to making partner when she implodes her own life by giving into temptation and has sex with her married boss, at work, on his desk. So, this trip to Lake Tahoe is just the excuse she needs to escape from her own life.

Serenity had just gone through her own tragedy helping put her ex-husband in prison, so hoping to get her writing MOJO back took a DNA test for research purposes and got the shock of her life. After all she was raised by loving parents and has three siblings so how could she possibly have not one but two sisters she never knew she had? Needing to learn more about them she invites them to her family’s Lake Tahoe family vacation home for a week with the intention of getting to know each other and hoping to at least start unraveling the mystery of their origins. 

About Brenda:
New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak has written over 60 novels. An eight-time Rita nominee, she's won The National Reader's Choice, The Bookseller's Best and other awards. She runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity that has raised more than $2.5 million for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). She considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life. www.brendanovak.com


  1. I always wanted to try a DNA test, but I am sure it would be boring as h

    1. our youngest daughter got us one for Christmas one year. It was totally selfish on her part as she had one done already and just wanted to dig deeper into both mine and her dad's ancestry. No surprises like here

  2. Non stop dramatics I am a fan of as well as a tense touchy storyline. Sounds really good Debbie.

  3. Oh wow, now that sounds like quite the story. I enjoy her books already. Way to go dusting it off the review shelf, too.

  4. This sounds fantastic. I have enjoyed Brenda Novak in the past and could see myself reading this one. Great review!

  5. I loved this book am trying to find the novella for it but can't find it . Is driving me crazy.

    1. Karen this was just re-released but I don't think there was a novella for it. If so I'm not aware so good luck