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Friday, May 28, 2021

Threadneedle by Cari Thomas

Happy Friday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Threadneedle!

Anna has grown up with a magic she isn't allowed to use. 

Raised by her Aunt, Anna has been drilled endlessly on the danger of magic. It's why, when she's sixteen, she's to be bound to the Binders. In their eyes, magic is a sin. 

But Anna longs for more! And when Selene brings Effie and Attis on her next visit, Anna finally has her chance. 

Introduced to the wider world of the magic around her, Anna begins to finally come into her power. But the further she becomes drawn into magic, the more clear it becomes that there is something dark in her past. 

Threadneedle is great witchy fantasy fun!

First, the world building in Threadneedle is fabulous! The atmosphere of Anna's London is so imbued with magic through Thomas's words, but it's woven very subtly into the story.

Anna is a stubborn teen. She's lost her mother and her father and has been raised by an aunt who isn't affectionate or seemingly caring at all. One of the things Anna wants most is to practice real magic, but her aunt keeps her under such tight constraints that she knows it's likely never to happen. 

But then her mother's friend Selene arrives and Anna finally experiences a bit of freedom. More than that, she meets others who definitely don't feel the same way about magic as her aunt. 

The magic system in Threadneedle is a really cool one! In fact, it was probably my favorite thing about the book. And again, Thomas's descriptions were fabulous here!

Threadneedle is the first in the Language of Magic trilogy. It'll be really interesting to see what happens in the next installment.




Monday, May 24, 2021

The Break-Up Book Club by Wendy Wax

Every month, an unlikely group of friends gets together at their local bookstore to talk about books. Sara, Judith, Jazmine, and others pick a new book each month and then spend an evening together, eating and drinking, and talking about said book. 

Judith, a middle-aged woman with grown kids and a husband who takes her for granted; Jazmine, a sports agent and single mother; Sara, who works part time at the bookstore to kill time while her husband is out of town for work. They would seemingly have nothing in common. 

Even newbies to the group like Erin, the young assistant who recently started working for Jazmine, and Dorothy, Sara's mother in law, find friendship and hope in the group. 

Each is facing different challenges in life but with their books and their reading friends by their sides, they find they can overcome just about anything. 

I love, love, love Wendy Wax's work. And I really love when her books revolve around books. Like this one!

But in addition to the books, it's the characters that really get me. Here, Wax has created a number of fully realized characters with their own unique stories and voices to tell them. 

And it's the connections between these women that I especially loved!

As I mentioned, this is a motley group. And there are more to the group than just the ones I've mentioned, including Jazmine's best friend, Judith's best friend, a pair of twin siblings, a fashion designer, an EMT, a golfer, and the bookstore owner herself (hopefully I got them all!). While the narrative does alternate between just Sara, Erin, Judith, and Jazmine's perspectives, Wax does a truly fabulous job of giving voice to each of the other members of the group as well. And that's a pretty big accomplishment! Developing even one main character can be a challenge for some. Never a challenge for Wax, however!

The whole group is a bit of a found family. A support system, working behind the scenes that comes through for each and every one of our narrators in the ways that they need them to. Which is saying something considering that in both Erin and Judith's positions, their own family and friend groups fall a little bit down on the job!

I've been purposely hazy about the actual plot points for each of the narrators. This is because I kind of dove into this one with very little knowledge of the book. Wax is an auto read for me, so I didn't read the book description at all and I truly enjoyed the journey of getting to know the characters without any teasers to get me started. 

The Break-Up Book Club is a fizzy and fabulous feel good read about female friendships and connections. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

I want to add a little note here, because the intro to the book was a harsh reminder of the events we're still going through to some extent. My most heartfelt condolences to Wendy Wax. I truly hope that the people in this book are based, at least in part, on the friends that she has around her in her own real life. And I truly hope that for anyone who has struggled in any way through these times. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Perfect Couple by Jackie Kabler

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Jackie Kabler's The Perfect Couple

Gemma and and Danny have been married just under a year. They recently moved from London. Danny has started a new job. They're perfectly happy! 

Or so Gemma thought. 

After returning from an overnight trip, it appears that Danny has gone missing. He'd promised that he would be there when she got home. He also promised he'd cook dinner. It's not unheard of that his job in IT would require him to work late hours. But he doesn't come home Friday. Or Saturday. And so Gemma goes to the police. 

Unfortunately, Danny looks a little familiar to the cops. Because they have two dead bodies, both of whom look an awful lot like Danny. Fearing they have a serial killer on their hands, they know that they need to find Danny before it's too late. But there's something strange about Danny's case. Like the fact that there's almost no sign of him in Gemma's home. And the fact that Gemma herself is the only person who seems to have heard from Danny at all in recent weeks...

The Perfect Couple is a whirlwind of a read!

I think we've been somewhat conditioned now not to entirely trust a narrator, especially when the book is told in first person. And that is one of the things that makes this book so interesting!

We meet Gemma as she's returning home from an overnight trip to a spa. She's a journalist and she'd been tapped to review the new resort. It was just an overnight trip and she says she got an email from her husband just the night before. 

Email. Because he has no phone. Because his new job hasn't provided one for him just yet. So no one really has any reliable way to get in touch with him!

Meanwhile, there's a secondary storyline from the perspective of the police. 

They aren't initially interested in a missing husband. He's a grown man and there are all kinds of reasons he may have left. But when they see his picture, they immediately take note. Because they've already got two dead bodies on their hands!

So is Gemma a killer? The police certainly have concerns!

I loved that Kabler plays with the reader's minds in that way. Can we trust Gemma or not? I'm not going to tell!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here

For more on the author and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Final Twist by Jeffrey Deaver

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Jeffrey Deaver's latest, The Final Twist!

Colter Shaw is on a mission. He was just sixteen when his father died. But in the decade plus since, he's become determined to uncover evidence against BlackBridge—making his father's one time mission his own. Course Colter believes that BlackBridge is responsible not only for decades of crimes, but for his own father's death and his brother's disappearance. 

It all began with a letter. A letter his father left years ago, leading Shaw on a hunt for other clues squirreled away by the man before his death. But as the clues take him from one location to another, Colter himself becomes an inevitable target. Until he gets help from the last person he expected.

It was my fault for not realizing this was the latest in a series. Oops!

The Final Twist apparently picks up immediately after the second book in the series, The Goodbye Man. And there's definitely some character development and back story that you should have in hand before diving into this third Colter Shaw title (book one is The Never Game).

Shaw is something of a private investigator. And he was raised in a family of survivalists. To put it in a very tongue-in-cheek way, he and his family all have a certain set of skills. 

And now he's putting his skills into resolving something that's been hanging over his family for some time. 

While I wish that I had started with book one, and would caution other readers to do so, I will say that this is the kind of book you expect from one of the masters of the genre. With his usual whiplash pacing, tight chapters, and cliffhangers that force you into that just-one-more-chapter mindset that keeps you up all night (a signature of Deaver's style), The Final Twist is sure to please longtime Deaver fans and fans of the series in general. 

The Final Twist is out now in both the UK and here in the States. 


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley - Excerpt

Next week marks the release of Kate Bromley's debut rom-com, Talk Bookish To Me. And thanks to the publisher, I have a sneak peek to offer up to you today! 

But first, here's a bit about the book from Graydon House: 

Kara Sullivan is definitely not avoiding her deadline. After all, it's the week of her best friend's wedding and she's the maid of honor, so she's got lots of responsibilities. As a bestselling romance novelist with seven novels under her belt, she’s a pro and looming deadlines and writer’s block (which she definitely doesn’t have) don't scare her. She's just eager to support Cristina as she ties the knot with Jason.

But who should show up at Cristina and Jason's rehearsal dinner but Kara's college ex-boyfriend, (the gorgeous and infuriating) Ryan? Apparently, he’s one of Jason's childhood friends, and he's in the wedding party, too. Considering neither Kara nor Ryan were prepared to see each other again, it's decidedly a meet-NOT-cute. There is nothing cute about this situation, and a bit of notice to mentally prepare would’ve been nice, Cristina! However, when Kara sits down to write again the next day, her writers' block is suddenly gone. She has to wonder what’s changed. Are muses real…? And is Kara's muse...Ryan?

Talk Bookish To Me is being compared to Beach Read and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. So of course I cannot wait to dive into this one!

And now you can get a taste as well!

One

“Wait, was I supposed to bring a gift?”

I turn my gaze from the floor to the well-dressed man standing beside me. There are only two of us in the elevator, so he must be talking to me.

“I think it’s a matter of personal preference,” I answer. “I’m the maid of honor so I had to be excessive.”

His eyebrows bob up as I adjust my grip on the Great-Dane-sized gift basket I’m carrying. The cellophane wrapping paper crinkles each time I move, echoing through the confined space just loudly enough to keep things weird. Because if everyone isn’t uncomfortable for the entire ride, are you even really in an elevator?

I’m low-key ecstatic when the doors glide open ten seconds later. With my basket now on the cusp of breaking both my arms and my spirit, I beeline it out of there and stride into the rooftop lounge where my best friend is hosting her pre-wedding party, drinking in the scent of heat and champagne as I maneuver through the sea of guests.

Like most maids-of-honor, I flung myself down the Etsy rabbit hole headfirst and ordered an obscene amount of decorations for tonight’s event. Burlap “Mr. & Mrs.” banners dangle from floating shelves behind the bar as twinkle lights weave around the balcony railings like ivy. Lace-trimmed mason jars filled with pink roses sit on every candlelit cocktail table. Cristina and I worked with the tenacity of two matrimonial Spartans to get everything ready this morning, and it’s clear that our blood, sweat and tears were very much worth it.

It’s then that I spot Cristina mingling near the end of the bar. Beautiful, petite and come-hither curvy, I’d hate her if she weren’t one of my favorite people ever. Her caramel hair spills down her back and her white high-low dress sets her apart from the crowd in just the right way—she’s a princess in the forest and we’re her adoring woodland animals. I’m her feisty chipmunk sidekick to my core.

I place my gift on a nearby receiving table and give a little wave when I catch her eye. She’s waiting for me with a huge grin when I arrive at her side.

“Hey, lady!” she says, pulling me in for a hug. “Look at you, rolling in here looking all gorgeous.”

We step apart and I stand up a bit taller. “Why, thank you. I feel pretty good.”

It’s also very possible that Cristina is just so used to me dazzling the world with yoga pants and sweaters every day that my transformation seems more dramatic than it is.

“Were you able to get any writing done this afternoon?” she asks, handing me a glass of champagne from off the mahogany bar top.

I get a twisting knot in my gut at the mention of my writing, or lack thereof. Having been dying a slow literary death for almost a year, I’m never without some stomach-turning sensation for long. The final deadline for my next romance

novel is officially a month away and if I don’t deliver a bestseller by then—

“Okay, you’re making your freak-out face,” Cristina interjects. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

I inhale a shallow breath and force a smile. “It’s fine. I’m good.”

“Let’s switch gears—are you sure it’s not weird that I’m having a pre-wedding party? Was booking the salsa band too much since I’m having one at the wedding, too?”

Beyond grateful for the booming trumpet and bongos that are drowning out my own thoughts, I turn to the corner and find the ten-piece group playing with addictive abandon. Cristina’s relatives, who are essentially non-trained professional salsa dancers, dominate the dance floor, and rightfully so. Cristina’s brother, Edgar, once tried to teach me the basics but I’m fairly confident I looked like a plank of wood that was given the gift of limbs. Cristina recommended dance lessons. Edgar suggested a bottle of aguardiente and prayer.

“The band is amazing,” I say as I swing back around, “and of course people have pre-wedding parties.” I’ve actually never heard of a pre-wedding party. An engagement party, yes. A bachelorette party, absolutely. But what’s going down tonight is basically a casual reception days before the mega-reception.

“Jason and I just have so many people coming in from out of town, plus we wanted the bridal party to get acquainted. We figured a little get-together would be fun.”

“I’m all for it. Who doesn’t want to pre-game for a wedding a week in advance?”

“I know I do,” Cristina says, lifting her own champagne and taking a sip. “Everyone is here except Jason and some groomsmen. Can you believe that creep is late to his own party?”

“Should you really be calling your fiancĂ© a creep?”

“He’s my creep so it’s okay.”

“Valid point.”

“Picture please! Will you girls get together?”

I look to my right and find a teenage boy with wildly curly hair pointing a camera at us. He’s dressed in all black and looks so eager to take our photo that I can’t help but to find him endearing.

“Absolutely! Big smile, Kara.” Cristina throws her arm around my waist and after we withstand an intense flash, the young man is gone before my eyes can readjust. “That was Jason’s cousin, Rob. He wants to be a photographer, so I hired him for the night.”

“That was thoughtful of you,” I say, still recovering from my momentary blindness. “By the way, where is Jason?”

“He’s still at home. Two of his groomsmen are driving up and he wanted to wait for them since, apparently, grown men can’t find their way to a party by themselves.”

“Driving in Manhattan is intimidating. He probably didn’t want them to get lost.”

“Right, because neither of them has GPS? Jason should be here.”

I’m honestly shocked that Jason isn’t here. I love Cristina and Jason both to death but they’re one of those couples that rarely go out socially without each other. Even when I invite Cristina over to my apartment for a wine night, she asks to bring Jason. I’ve always thought it was a bit much, but I guess it works for them.

“Okay, forget everyone else, let’s toast.” I clear my throat and hold up my champagne. “When we were both waitressing at McMahon’s Pub in grad school, I had no idea it would lead to nine amazing years of friendship. Now I’d be lost without you. Here’s to you having a magical night. I’m so glad I’m here to celebrate with you.”


We smile and tap our glasses together, the ding of the crystal echoing my words.

I take a sip and the bubbly drink slips easily down my throat. Still savoring the sweetness, I ask, “So, who are these mystery groomsmen Jason’s waiting for?”

“One is named Beau and I can’t remember the other one. They’re two guys he grew up with when his family lived in North Carolina.”

“North Carolina? I thought Jason was from Texas?”

“He spent most of his life in Texas, but he lived in North Carolina until he was ten. He somehow kept in contact with these two through the years.”

“That’s nice, him staying friends with them for so long.”

“Yeah, it’s adorable, but they still should have gotten their asses here on their own.” Cristina is poised to elaborate when her gaze locks on something across the room. She tries and fails to look annoyed instead of excited.

“I’m guessing the groom has arrived,” I say, glancing over my shoulder. My suspicions are confirmed as I see Jason making his way toward us, smiling at Cristina like a fifth grader saying “cheese” on picture day. He’s tilting his head and everything.

“There she is! There’s my incredibly forgiving future wife.” Jason leans down and kisses Cristina before she can verbally obliterate him. He gives me a quick kiss on the cheek next and then shifts back to his fiancĂ©e’s side, sneaking an arm around her waist and pulling her to his hip.

“So, I’m going to go ahead and disregard all the semi-violent text messages you’ve sent me over the past hour. Bearing that in mind, how’s everything going?”

Cristina looks up at him, feigning disinterest. “It’s going great. Since you weren’t here, I talked to several nice men. Turns out, pre-wedding parties are a great place to meet guys.”

“I’m so happy for you.”

“I appreciate that. Four contenders, specifically, really piqued my interest.”

“Are they taller than me?” Jason asks. “Do they make a lot of money?”

“Obviously. They’re way taller and all of them are independently wealthy.”

“Nice. Kara, did you meet these freakishly tall and rich men?”

“I did and spoiler alert, I’m engaged now, too! Double wedding here we come!”

Jason smiles and pulls Cristina in even closer, his gaze holding hers. “I guess this is where being late gets you. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. Do you forgive me?”

“Don’t I always?”

He leans down and gives her another picture-perfect kiss.

It’s official. I’m dying alone. Just putting that out there.

“Now, where are these friends of yours? Oh! Let’s set one of them up with Kara!” Cristina looks at me with a dangerous matchmaker gleam in her eyes.

“Actually, I already mentioned Kara, and one of my buddies said he went to college with her.”

Went to college with me?

Jason looks towards the entrance and waves. “Hey, Ryan! Come over here!”

And then I go catatonic. I can’t move. I stand stock still, looking at Cristina like she sprouted a third arm out of her forehead and it’s giving me the middle finger.

Someone walks past me and a soft breeze ghosts across my overheating skin. I stare in a state of utter disbelief as Ryan Thompson steps into view beside Jason.

“It’s been a while, Sullivan,” he says, his voice as steady and tempting as ever.

My champagne glass falls from my fingers and shatters against the floor.

“Kara?” Cristina’s voice rings with concern as she nudges us away from the broken glass that’s now littered around our feet. She grasps my elbow, but I don’t feel it. She could backhand me across the face with a polo mallet and I wouldn’t feel it. My mind is spiraling, plummeting inwards as I come to grips with the realization that Ryan is standing two feet away from me.

Dressed in a navy suit, a crisp white button-down and brown dress shoes, he’s come a long way from the sweatshirts and jeans that were his unofficial uniform in college. His dirty-blond hair is on the shorter side, but a few wayward strands still fall across his forehead. Ten years ago, I would have reached up and brushed them aside without a thought. Now, my hand curls into a tight, unforgiving fist at my side.

If we were another former couple, seeing each other for the first time in a decade might be a dreamy, serendipitous meet-cute—a Nancy Meyers movie in pre-production. We’d have a few drinks and spend hours reminiscing about old times before picking up right where we left off. It would be comfortable and familiar as anything, like a sip of hot chocolate at Christmas with Nat King Cole crooning on vinyl in the background.

But we are not that kind of former couple, and I’m convinced that if Nat King Cole were here and knew my side of the story, he would grab Ryan by the scruff of his shirt and hold him steady as I roundhouse-kicked him in the throat.

It’s a tough pill to swallow but Ryan looks good. Like, really good. His face is harder than it was when he was twenty-one and the stubble on his chin tells me he hasn’t shaved in a few days, making him seem like he just rolled out of bed. And not rolled out of bed in a dirty way, but in a “I just rolled out of bed and yet I still look ruggedly handsome and you fully want to make out with me” kind of way.

The bastard.

“Ryan,” Cristina says, always the first to jump in, “Jason mentioned that you and Kara went to college together.”

“We did.” His eyes don’t move from mine for even a second. “It’s got to be what, ten years now?”

“Yeah, it’s been a long, long time,” I say quickly, turning to face Cristina. “I think I may have mentioned him before. Remember my friend from North Carolina?”

If someone were to look up “my friend from North Carolina” in the Dictionary of Kara, they would find the following:

My friend from North Carolina (noun): 1. Ryan Thompson. 2. My college boyfriend. 3. My first real boyfriend ever. 4. My first love. 5. Taker of my virginity. 6. Guy who massacred my heart with a rusty sledgehammer and fed the remains to rabid, ravenous dogs.

Cristina is well versed in the dictionary of Kara and recognition washes over her. “No way,” she says, her voice dropping.

“Yes way,” I answer happily, overcompensating.

Now’s it’s Cristina’s turn to panic. “Wow. Okay, wow, what a small world, huh?” She grabs Jason’s hand in an iron grip, making him wince as she blasts an over-the-top smile. “Well, we should give you guys a chance to catch up. My abuelita just got here so Jason and I are going to say hello.”

“Your abuelita died two years ago,” I hiss.

“I know, it’s a miracle. See you two later!” She drags her soon-to-be husband away before he can get a word out.

I watch them go, sailing away like the last lifeboat as I stand on deck with the string quartet, the cheerful Bach melody only further confirming that this ship is going down.

Excerpted from Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley, Copyright © 2021 by Kate Bromley Published by Graydon House Books.

About the author: KATE BROMLEY lives in New York City with her husband, son, and her somewhat excessive collection of romance novels (It’s not hoarding if it’s books, right?). She was a preschool teacher for seven years and is now focusing full-time on combining her two great passions – writing swoon-worthy love stories and making people laugh. Talk Bookish to Me is her first novel.

Huge thanks to the publisher for providing the excerpt today!

For more on Kate Bromley and her work you can check out her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

Talk Bookish To Me is officially out on shelves May 25, but you can preorder a copy: Harlequin - Bookshop - Barnes & Noble - Books-A-Million

Monday, May 17, 2021

Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

Happy Book Birthday Week to Mary Kubica whose latest, Local Woman Missing, releases this week!

Delilah and her mother went missing eleven years ago. Now, Delilah is back, but the mystery of what happened to them has never really been solved. 

Eleven years ago, Delilah was just six and her younger brother Leo was four. Meredith was working as both a doula and a yoga instructor. And given that her clients could go into labor at any time, it wasn't unusual for her to be working odd hours. 

But on the last day they were seen, she kept Delilah home sick with a fever. She dropped her son at the babysitter's. And that was it. No check in with her husband to say she'd been called to a birth. No messages about where they might have gone. She was later found dead, ruled a suicide. No one knew where Delilah had gone.

As it turns out, Meredith had been keeping secrets. Like the threatening messages she'd started to receive just a few months before her disappearance. And the malpractice suit against a local OB that she'd be testifying in. 

And then there's Shelby Tebow, the other woman who went missing not long before Meredith. As it turns out, she was one of Meredith's clients. She was also the one suing her doctor. But how are the two cases connected? Or are they even connected at all?

Mary Kubica is one of the reigning rulers of thriller and suspense these days and it's easy to see why. Local Woman Missing is compulsively readable, with twists and turns where you'd least expect them!

What's really interesting about the narrative is that Delilah herself seems to be our main character when we begin. But that's not the case at all. She gets one POV chapter and the rest of the story alternates between Meredith, in the months leading up to her disappearance; Kate, a neighbor, both present day and eleven years ago; and Leo, in the days after Delilah's return. 

The choice of narrators is interesting and the pacing is great. It makes for a tense read, though, waiting to learn the how and why of what happened all those years ago instead of getting Delilah's story first hand. 

And I promise, you won't see the end coming!

Huge thanks to the publisher for inviting me to be part of the release tour! 

For more on Mary Kubica and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


Friday, May 14, 2021

We Go On Forever by Sarah Govett

It's Friday! We made it!

Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Sarah Govett's We Go On Forever!

For Arthur, a brain tumor doesn't mean death. It means it's time to choose a new body. And as the son of the man who made this possible, any hesitancy to do so is a concern—over appearances rather than his son's health and well being. 

Alba, or F3527, has lived a sheltered life. She believes it's to protect her and the others from harmful radiation. She believes her ultimate goal is to become an apprentice to an outside mentor. To help solve the crisis facing humanity. 

But both Arthur and Alba have been lied to. Arthur, who wants to focus on vaccines, realizes that for his father, solving the issues facing their fellow man are never going to be as important as the service they offer. And for Alba, there will never be any apprenticeship...

Wow. The future Sarah Govett has created in We Go On Forever is definitely not one I'd want to live in!

First, the rich have now come up with a way to live forever. Basically. And while that may not be a novel idea in science fiction, Govett's tapping into the darker motivations makes for a pretty disturbing read!

Arthur has the benefit of being raised not only by his father, who created and of course supports the idea of continuing life, hopping from one body to another, but by also by a mother who did not agree. And as he faces health issues forcing him to choose a new host much sooner than anticipated, he finds himself struggling with his position. 

Alba is bright eyed and determined to fix things. But she doesn't know that the existence she's been brought up in is false. It's a created reality to keep her and the other hosts busy, never worrying about what really comes of them when they're chosen. 

Like I said, it's not a future I'd want to live in. And the read is a tense one, anxiously waiting to see what will happen to Arthur and Alba. Waiting to see if there will be change. Waiting to see if things will turn around for their society. 

And worrying about the fact that it seems all too likely a future for us as well! It's especially unsettling given our current situation.

This is an incredibly gripping read and while it is technically YA, this is definitely one with lots of cross over appeal for adult readers. If dystopian is your jam and if you don't mind reading about a society under attack by drug resistant viruses and bacteria during a pandemic, I definitely recommend adding We Go On Forever to your TBR pile! Preferably towards the top :)

We Go On Forever is out now from Marotte Books! Bonus: you can order We Go On Forever direct from the publisher with free postage and packaging (UK only). You can also request signature and dedication at no extra cost!

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Kjell Ola Dahl's latest, The Assistant!

1924: Jack is a driver. And while he does drive passengers, he also delivers illegal alcohol. But when he's caught and arrested by Ludvig Paaske, he's let go. He isn't the man they want. They want a much bigger fish--Jack's boss. 

1938: Jack now works for Paaske at his detective agency. A woman has hired them to tail her husband. She says she's convinced he's having an affair and wants proof. But nothing is straightforward about this case. And the woman in question resembles someone from Jack's past. It doesn't take long for the case to drag both men back to that very past. To a time when they were on opposite sides. To the events that brought them together in the first place. 

I read quite a bit of Nordic Noir these days, but this one is probably the most noir of all so far!

It's not just the overall tone and style, which feels reminiscent of classics of the genre, but the time period in which the book is set. Alternating between 1924 and 1938, The Assistant focuses on Norway's pre WWII days, something I know absolutely nothing about!

From the very beginning, I was absolutely drawn into this book. 

We meet both Jack and Paaske while Jack is making a booze delivery. It's prohibition-era Norway, a period that lasted until 1926. And the two men are very much on opposing sides. Paaske is a cop and Jack is a smuggler. In fact, Jack delights in basically pulling one over on Paaske as often as he possibly can. 

And then we jump immediately into 1938 and realize the two of them are now partners! How they came to work together is just one of the many elements that I loved discovering in this book. 

Kjell Ola Dahl is well known as one of the biggest names in the Nordic Noir business and though The Assistant is my first of his books, it's clear to see why he has so many fans!

The Assistant absolutely bleeds atmosphere and I cannot wait to dive into more of Dahl's work now!

This one is out now in the UK from Orenda. It'll be out in the States in October.


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Poppy and Alex are opposites in every way. In spite of that fact, they've been close friends since freshman year orientation at college. And each year they take a summer trip together. 

It started out when they were both broke and couldn't afford grand trips. Poppy would blog about traveling on the cheap and they'd spend a few weeks each summer at a different location. But two years ago all of that changed. And Poppy and Alex haven't spoken since that last trip. 

These days Poppy works for R&R, a magazine that focuses on luxe travel. Which means Poppy gets all the perks on her trips. It also means her blog about traveling on a budget has fallen by the wayside. But Poppy realizes those trips were the last time she really remembers being happy. And so she sets about to see if the friendship can be repaired. To see if things can go back to the way they used to be. To see if she can be happy again. And it's going to be the week of Alex's brother's destination wedding in Los Angeles. 

Things start off rocky, but soon the two are in their usual mode. But the events of two years ago still loom large and Poppy isn't ready to face them. The question is, does she have to? Can they truly put it behind them? Because Poppy doesn't want to lose Alex. 

Emily Henry's latest is pure entertainment! A sweet and charming read that will sweep you away in a time when pretty much none of us are traveling. 

I loved People We Meet On Vacation, though I admit I didn't have the easiest start with it. This is a book that you really do want to just sink into for a long one-sitting reading binge and I spent my first day reading in bursts of just a couple of pages at a time. Boo!

But once I was able to really delve in and get lost in the book, I found I really was very invested in Poppy and Alex's friendship! I should note, I'm a total Alex in every way. I would be the person reading a book in a bar (and have been, quite often). I also want to hit every bookshop when I travel—it's a true highlight of a trip for me!

Poppy is bubbly and vivacious. Always ready for an adventure. The kind of person who really does make friends everywhere she goes. But she's holding on to so major insecurities. 

Alex, on the other hand, is a definite introvert who likes the comforts of home. But Alex, too, has some big insecurities. 

And it's the insecurities in both of them that bond them to one another and keep them both at arms' length from one another. 

Like I said, People We Meet On Vacation is sweet and charming! Not overly so, but just the right amount. I adored it and I think every single fan of Henry's Beach Read will as well. And if you're new to her work, trust me, you're going to absolutely love it! Just be sure to carve out a balmy afternoon with no obligations so you can enjoy it to the max!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan - Excerpt

Next week marks the release of Sarah Morgan's The Summer Seekers, and I am lucky enough to be able to share a little sneak peek today! But first, here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves—what she needs—is adventure.

Liza is drowning in the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.

Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.

When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She's not the world's best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And traveling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?

As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it's never too late to start over…

This book sounds like the charming and adorable read we all need in our lives right now! If you agree, read on for a taste of The Summer Seekers!

1

Kathleen

It was the cup of milk that saved her. That and the salty bacon she’d fried for her supper many hours earlier, which had left her mouth dry.

If she hadn’t been thirsty—if she’d still been upstairs, sleeping on the ridiculously expensive mattress that had been her eighti­eth birthday gift to herself—she wouldn’t have been alerted to danger.

As it was, she’d been standing in front of the fridge, the milk carton in one hand and the cup in the other, when she’d heard a loud thump. The noise was out of place here in the leafy dark­ness of the English countryside, where the only sounds should have been the hoot of an owl and the occasional bleat of a sheep.

She put the glass down and turned her head, trying to locate the sound. The back door. Had she forgotten to lock it again?

The moon sent a ghostly gleam across the kitchen and she was grateful she hadn’t felt the need to turn the light on. That gave her some advantage, surely?

She put the milk back and closed the fridge door quietly, sure now that she was not alone in the house.

Moments earlier she’d been asleep. Not deeply asleep—that rarely happened these days—but drifting along on a tide of dreams. If someone had told her younger self that she’d still be dreaming and enjoying her adventures when she was eighty she would have been less afraid of aging. And it was impossible to forget that she was aging.

People said she was wonderful for her age, but most of the time she didn’t feel wonderful. The answers to her beloved cross­words floated just out of range. Names and faces refused to align at the right moment. She struggled to remember what she’d done the day before, although if she took herself back twenty years or more her mind was clear. And then there were the physical changes—her eyesight and hearing were still good, thankfully, but her joints hurt and her bones ached. Bending to feed the cat was a challenge. Climbing the stairs required more effort than she would have liked and was always undertaken with one hand on the rail just in case.

She’d never been the sort to live in a just in case sort of way.

Her daughter, Liza, wanted her to wear an alarm. One of those medical alert systems, with a button you could press in an emergency, but Kathleen refused. In her youth she’d traveled the world, before it was remotely fashionable to do so. She’d sacrificed safety for adventure without a second thought. Most days now she felt like a different person.

Losing friends didn’t help. One by one they fell by the way­side, taking with them shared memories of the past. A small part of her vanished with each loss. It had taken decades for her to understand that loneliness wasn’t a lack of people in your life, but a lack of people who knew and understood you.

She fought fiercely to retain some version of her old self—which was why she’d resisted Liza’s pleas that she remove the rug from the living room floor, stop using a step ladder to retrieve books from the highest shelves and leave a light on at night. Each compromise was another layer shaved from her independence, and losing her independence was her biggest fear.

Kathleen had always been the rebel in the family, and she was still the rebel—although she wasn’t sure that rebels were sup­posed to have shaking hands and a pounding heart.

She heard the sound of heavy footsteps. Someone was search­ing the house. For what, exactly? What treasures did they hope to find? And why weren’t they trying to at least disguise their presence?

Having resolutely ignored all suggestions that she might be vulnerable, she was now forced to acknowledge the possibility. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so stubborn. How long would it have taken from pressing the alert button to the cavalry arriving?

In reality, the cavalry was Finn Cool, who lived three fields away. Finn was a musician, and he’d bought the property pre­cisely because there were no immediate neighbors. His antics caused mutterings in the village. He had rowdy parties late into the night, attended by glamorous people from London who terrorized the locals by driving their flashy sports cars too fast down the narrow lanes. Someone had started a petition in the post office to ban the parties. There had been talk of drugs, and half-naked women, and it had all sounded like so much fun that Kathleen had been tempted to invite herself over. Rather that than a dull women’s group, where you were expected to bake and knit and swap recipes for banana bread.

Finn would be of no use to her in this moment of crisis. In all probability he’d either be in his studio, wearing headphones, or he’d be drunk. Either way, he wasn’t going to hear a cry for help.

Calling the police would mean walking through the kitchen and across the hall to the living room, where the phone was kept and she didn’t want to reveal her presence. Her family had bought her a mobile phone, but it was still in its box, unused. Her adventurous spirit didn’t extend to technology. She didn’t like the idea of a nameless faceless person tracking her every move.

There was another thump, louder this time, and Kathleen pressed her hand to her chest. She could feel the rapid pounding of her heart. At least it was still working. She should prob­ably be grateful for that.

When she’d complained about wanting a little more adven­ture, this wasn’t what she’d had in mind. What could she do? She had no button to press, no phone with which to call for help, so she was going to have to handle this herself.

She could already hear Liza’s voice in her head: Mum, I warned you!

If she survived, she’d never hear the last of it.

Fear was replaced by anger. Because of this intruder she’d be branded Old and Vulnerable and forced to spend the rest of her days in a single room with minders who would cut up her food, speak in overly loud voices and help her to the bathroom. Life as she knew it would be over.

That was not going to happen.

She’d rather die at the hands of an intruder. At least her obit­uary would be interesting.

Better still, she would stay alive and prove herself capable of independent living.

She glanced quickly around the kitchen for a suitable weapon and spied the heavy black skillet she’d used to fry the bacon earlier.

She lifted it silently, gripping the handle tightly as she walked to the door that led from the kitchen to the hall. The tiles were cool under her feet—which, fortunately, were bare. No sound. Nothing to give her away. She had the advantage.

She could do this. Hadn’t she once fought off a mugger in the backstreets of Paris? True, she’d been a great deal younger then, but this time she had the advantage of surprise.

How many of them were there?

More than one would give her trouble.

Was it a professional job? Surely no professional would be this loud and clumsy. If it was kids hoping to steal her TV, they were in for a disappointment. Her grandchildren had been trying to persuade her to buy a “smart” TV, but why would she need such a thing? She was perfectly happy with the IQ of her current machine, thank you very much. Technology already made her feel foolish most of the time. She didn’t need it to be any smarter than it already was.

Perhaps they wouldn’t come into the kitchen. She could stay hidden away until they’d taken what they wanted and left.

They’d never know she was here.

They’d—

A floorboard squeaked close by. There wasn’t a crack or a creak in this house that she didn’t know. Someone was right outside the door.

Her knees turned liquid.

Oh Kathleen, Kathleen.

She closed both hands tightly round the handle of the skillet.

Why hadn’t she gone to self-defense classes instead of senior yoga? What use was the downward dog when what you needed was a guard dog?

A shadow moved into the room, and without allowing her­self to think about what she was about to do she lifted the skillet and brought it down hard, the force of the blow driven by the weight of the object as much as her own strength. There was a thud and a vibration as it connected with his head.

“I’m so sorry—I mean—” Why was she apologizing? Ri­diculous!

The man threw up an arm as he fell, a reflex action, and the movement sent the skillet back into Kathleen’s own head. Pain almost blinded her and she prepared herself to end her days right here, thus giving her daughter the opportunity to be right, when there was a loud thump and the man crumpled to the floor. There was a crack as his head hit the tiles.

Kathleen froze. Was that it, or was he suddenly going to spring to his feet and murder her?

No. Against all odds, she was still standing while her prowler lay inert at her feet. The smell of alcohol rose, and Kathleen wrinkled her nose.

Drunk.

Her heart was racing so fast she was worried that any moment now it might trip over itself and give up.

She held tightly to the skillet.

Did he have an accomplice?

She held her breath, braced for someone else to come racing through the door to investigate the noise, but there was only silence.

Gingerly she stepped toward the door and poked her head into the hall. It was empty.

It seemed the man had been alone.

Finally she risked a look at him.

He was lying still at her feet, big, bulky and dressed all in black. The mud on the edges of his trousers suggested he’d come across the fields at the back of the house. She couldn’t make out his features because he’d landed face-first, but blood oozed from a wound on his head and darkened her kitchen floor.

Feeling a little dizzy, Kathleen pressed her hand to her throb­bing head.

What now? Was one supposed to administer first aid when one was the cause of the injury? Was that helpful or hypocriti­cal? Or was he past first aid and every other type of aid?

She nudged his body with her bare foot, but there was no movement.

Had she killed him?

The enormity of it shook her.

If he was dead, then she was a murderer.

When Liza had expressed a desire to see her mother safely housed somewhere she could easily visit, presumably she hadn’t been thinking of prison.

Who was he? Did he have family? What had been his inten­tion when he’d forcibly entered her home? Kathleen put the skillet down and forced her shaky limbs to carry her to the living room. Something tickled her cheek. Blood. Hers.

She picked up the phone and for the first time in her life di­aled the emergency services.

Underneath the panic and the shock there was something that felt a lot like pride. It was a relief to discover she wasn’t as weak and defenseless as everyone seemed to think.

When a woman answered, Kathleen spoke clearly and with­out hesitation.

“There’s a body in my kitchen,” she said. “I assume you’ll want to come and remove it.”

Excerpted from The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan. Copyright©2021 by Sarah Morgan. Published by HQN Books.

About the author: USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy, contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. Described as “a magician with words” by RT Book Reviews, she has sold more than eleven million copies of her books. She was nominated three years in succession for the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times: once in 2012 for Doukakis’s Apprentice, in 2013 for A Night of No Return and in 2017 for Miracle on 5th Avenue. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their Top Pick slot. As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London, England, with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing, she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.

The Summer Seekers officially hits shelves on May 18. Huge thanks to the publisher for providing the excerpt today!

For more on Sarah Morgan and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram



Thursday, May 6, 2021

All My Lies by Sophie Flynn

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Sophie Flynn's All My Lies!

Anna is going to leave James. Today. 

But when Anna tells her lover, Sam, the one that got away, that she's put a deposit down on a cottage for the two of them, he bolts. He stops returning her calls, he stops answering her texts. Out of desperation, she goes to the police, convinced James has found out and done something to Sam. But the police say Sam is fine. What's more, Sam's own family says he fine and that he wants nothing more to do with Anna. 

Anna knows that can't be true. And she can't go back to her old life. Determined to find out what's going on, she's forced to confront the secrets and lies that have haunted her for so long. 

This is the kind of book where each chapter reveals new hidden details our narrator, Anna, is keeping from everyone—including the reader!

So Anna's relationship isn't great. Once upon a time, it was. But her husband is manipulative and controlling to a really exhaustive point. But it's the return of her high school sweetheart that gives Anna the courage she needs to leave. 

See, she's convinced that James will find her no matter what. But with Sam by her side, she knows she'll be safe. 

And it seems like Sam is all for them leaving together. Until it becomes a reality. 

Sam and Anna have a very complicated past, as becomes clear throughout the book. Anna believes she knows him better than anyone, even though they've been apart for some years now. And in spite of everything his family tells her. 

But does she really know Sam as well as she thinks? 

All My Lies is a tense and perfectly paced suspense!

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Woman With the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff

Happy Book Birthday to Pam Jenoff whose latest, The Woman With the Blue Star, is out today!

Sadie's life has been forever changed now that the Germans have a hold on Poland. 

Her family was forced to move from their cozy apartment to the ghetto and her father's firm had to let him go because he was a Jew. But when the Germans start emptying the ghetto, Sadie and her family manage to escape to Krakow's sewers. 

Their new life is miserable—limited food brought in by the one person they can trust to help them, everything dank and wet, and the smell is awful. But it is life! 

And then Sadie makes a friend from the streets above. 

Ella lives comfortably enough. There is always food on the table, even if it comes from her stepmother's new friends. But Ella has no one she can trust or rely on. Now that her father is missing, presumed dead, Ella only lives in the house by the grace of her stepmother. And she hates it.

But when Ella sees Sadie, through a grate in the street, she knows she has to do something to help. Something to make a difference. 

I've never read In the Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall. It is the true story of the account that inspired Jenoff's latest. But I have actually seen In Darkness, the film based on that book. The Woman With the Blue Star is not that story, but again, it is inspired by it. 

Sadie once had dreams of attending medical school. She and her family led a happy and comfortable life—her father was an accountant and Sadie was the couple's only child. But then the Germans came. 

Sadie is eighteen when we meet her in 1942. She barely escapes being hauled off by German soldiers during a daytime raid of the ghetto, and her parents know things have gone from bad to worse. A few months later, her mother now pregnant with a much wanted second child, the family goes into hiding below the city streets. 

Ella, meanwhile, lives alongside the Germans in Krakow. But like many, she doesn't support the war or the Germans. Her existence is precarious, she knows. Her father enlisted and has been reported missing. Her boyfriend has gone off to fight, breaking their relationship and her heart before setting off, certain he won't return. Left alone with her stepmother, who she's never gotten along with, she fills her days painting and waiting for the end of the war. All the while hiding out from her stepmother's endless parties with German soldiers. 

So when Ella meets and decides to help Sadie, she's taking a huge risk. 

And that's the draw to a story like this: average people fighting, even in small ways, against evil. 

Jenoff's author's note at the end draws comparison to writing about Sadie's experienced isolation and the events of the past year. And it's virtually impossible not to feel the suffocation and claustrophobia of Sadie's existence. It's also completely impossible not to have your heart torn to pieces reading her story, knowing that even though this particular story is fiction, the events the story are based on happened not so very long ago. 

Jenoff herself is a fascinating person. She's a bestselling author who lived in Krakow once upon a time, working at the US Consulate there. Her expertise in WWII history and her deft hand at building rounded and fully developed characters are both things that make her books so adored by readers. 

The Woman With the Blue Star is an emotional read that will remind you that there are indeed heroes amongst everyday people and that even in the worst circumstances, hope, hard as it may be to hold on to, can be all the difference in the world. 


Monday, May 3, 2021

Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Meddy desperately wants to break free from the confines set by her family. 

As the last of her generation to stick around, she always heard about the disappointment associated with her cousins leaving. So she chose a college close to home and when she graduated, she joined the new family business. Where she's been ever since. 

But on the weekend of one of their biggest weddings, she begrudgingly agrees to go on a blind date with the owner of the new resort where the wedding will take place—and accidentally kills the man. With the help of her three aunts and her mother, they plan to dispose of the body, but everything goes completely upside down with it's delivered to the wedding by mistake. Throw in some very unusual wedding day drama, some unhappy local officials, and a brewing storm and you have the recipe for a hilarious madcap disaster!

Oh, how I loved this book! 

Meddy is a wonderful narrator! A woman stuck between her own hopes and dreams and the expectations of family, with the added complication of her being a first generation American in a family of immigrant women whose own parents moved from China to Indonesia. 

Meddy admits that her Mandarin and Indonesian are terrible. But otherwise she's done pretty much all she can to keep her mother and her three aunts happy. And if that means sticking around in a job that's very much less than exciting, that's what she'll do. 

But she's been single since college and her mother really wants her to settle down. Which is how she finds herself on a blind date with a man her mother has been chatting to (as Meddy) on a dating app. And things do not go well!

Meddy's aunts are fabulous! Though she is the narrator, each of the aunts and her mother all come through as splendidly built characters with huge personalities! And they each comprise one component of the family wedding business: the oldest of them is the pastry chef, next in line does hair and makeup, Meddy's mother is the florist, and the youngest is the singer. And then Meddy is the photographer. And things have gone really well for their business. But Meddy isn't happy. And hasn't been for some time. 

Until now, her biggest issue has been trying to find a way to broach the topic of leaving the business...

Dial A For Aunties is a great read! It's all about family, relationships, and the weight of culture and expectations. And it comes in a lighthearted and funny package that had me laughing out loud and desperate to find out what would happen next!

This is definitely going to be one of my favorite reads this year :)

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!