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Thursday, August 19, 2021

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

Happy book birthday week to Catherine Ryan Howard whose latest, 56 Days, released this week from Blackstone!

56 days ago, Ciara and Oliver struck up a conversation outside of the store. They went to coffee, scheduled a date, then another...

It was the beginning of something. 

But then, thanks to Covid, everything shut down. With rules that would prevent them from seeing one another—and seeing where this new budding relationship might go—they decided to move in together and ride out the lockdown as a pair. 

Not even two months later, though, one of them is dead. 

It was the smell that prompted the call to the police. And now, amidst a global pandemic, the investigators must determine exactly what happened. 

The Covid times have sucked. And I am definitely one of those people who doesn't want any reminder of it all. And yet, this is admittedly the kind of premise that I will make an exception for. Because it is a premise that fits, without question, with those early days. 

What would happen if you met someone you liked just days before the shutdown? Most places had restrictions that limited interaction to those within your household. I, fortunately, have a family of my own. But there are plenty of people who have been alone. And I can absolutely see craving a connection so badly that you would rush into something in order to have that connection during such an awful time. 

But that's not all that's going on here!

Oliver wants a chance to build a relationship with Ciara without outside influence! 

I really loved Ciara and Oliver—and Lee as well. The story plays out in such a way that the reader is almost continuously having to revise their notions about exactly who these characters are and what motivates them (except Lee, she's a detective and her motivations are clear from the beginning). 

Chapters alternate between in timeline, bouncing between Ciara and Oliver's meeting, their moving in together, the investigation, and even prior to their meeting as the plot unfolds. And POVs switch between Ciara, Oliver, and Lee. And it's done in such a way that it doesn't hamper the pacing at all! Which I also LOVE!

56 Days won't be for everyone simply by way of it being set in the early Covid days. But if you're intrigued by the premise, as I was, you'll love this latest from Catherine Ryan Howard. I'm pretty excited to dive into her backlist now that I've met her work :)

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Where I Left Her by Amber Garza - Excerpt

Happy Tuesday! Today I get to share a sneak peek at Amber Garza's upcoming release, Where I Left Her

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

Whitney had some misgivings when she dropped her increasingly moody teenage daughter off for a sleepover last night. She's never met the friend's parents, and usually she'd go in, but Amelia clearly wasn't going to let something so humiliating happen, so instead she waved to her daughter before pulling away from the cute little house with the rosebushes in front.

But when she goes back to get her, an elderly couple answers the door--Amelia and her friend are nowhere to be found, and this couple swears she's at the wrong house. As Whitney searches for Amelia, she uncovers a trail of secrets and lies her daughter has told her--from Finsta accounts to rumors of a secret relationship. Does she really even know this girl she's raised, and can she find her before it's too late?

I really enjoyed last summer's When I Was You (you can read my review here), so I cannot wait to dive into Garza's latest! And thanks to the publisher, I've got an excerpt to get us all started!

1

FRIDAY, 5:00 P.M.
DROP-OFF


WHITNEY WANTED TO get rid of her daughter.

How awful is that?

Not forever, of course, but for the night. She was weary of the sixteen-year-old attitude. The rolling of eyes, stomping of feet, the judging glances and biting remarks.

That’s why she wasn’t paying as much attention as she should’ve been when dropping Amelia off at Lauren’s. Her mind was back in their apartment, her butt planted on the couch, bare feet propped on the table, a pint of ice cream in her lap.

“The destination is on your right.” She turned the steering wheel, following the instructions given by the disembodied voice of the GPS in her daughter’s phone. Amelia held it up, giving the illusion that her palm was talking. The house in front of them was nondescript. A tract home, painted tan with beige trim, a cream door, two large windows overlooking the narrow front walkway. The only thing that set it apart from the others was the row of rosebushes lining the left perimeter of the yard, scarlet red petals and thorny, jagged stems.


Whitney pulled her car over, tires hugging the curb.

Amelia hopped out the minute her mother’s foot pressed down on the brakes, as if she was desperate to be free of her.

“You sure this is her house?” Whitney asked.

Amelia shrugged, glancing down at her phone and then back up. “This is the address she gave me.” Her tone was impatient, irritated. That’s how she’d been lately. Distant and moody. Everything her mom said and did annoyed her.

Originally, she’d planned to walk Amelia up to the front door and meet Lauren’s mom. But on the way over here, Amelia had begged her not to do that, pointing out that she was no longer a little girl.

As much as Whitney hated to admit it, she could see her point. Amelia was sixteen. As soon as she finished her driver’s training and passed her test, she’d be driving on her own and then Whitney wouldn’t even have the option of dropping her off at her friend’s. It was time she learned to let go, loosen the death grip a little.

Instead of following her daughter, Whitney stayed inside the car, watching through the smudged glass of the passenger-side window. Amelia’s dark hair swished down her spine as she sped to the front door. When she reached it, she readjusted the blue overnight bag that was secured on her shoulder while lifting her other hand to knock.

Lauren appeared in the doorway, flashing a smile at Amelia. She wore a pink headband that made her look much younger than seventeen. Amelia peered over her shoulder before stepping forward, her lips curling at the corners as she threw her mom another wave. It was the largest grin Whitney had gotten in days, and she welcomed it, grabbed hold of it and then gave it back.

After watching them both disappear inside, Whitney pulled away from the curb. Without even looking in the rearview mirror, she sped toward her night of freedom, dreaming of a couch to herself and a movie Amelia couldn’t make fun of.


SATURDAY, 10:00 A.M.
SEVENTEEN HOURS AFTER DROP-OFF


Whitney had been up for hours, and still hadn’t heard from Amelia. Last night was restful. Quiet. Peaceful. All the things Whitney had wanted it to be. Much needed. But this morning she was suffering from a serious case of mom guilt. She missed her daughter. Was anxious for her to come home, attitude and all. Unlocking her phone, she shot her a quick text: Ready for me to pick you up?

Even after several minutes, no response came. Not that she was shocked. When Amelia had friends over, they stayed up all night giggling and talking. No matter how many times Whitney would remind them to keep it down, within minutes their muffled voices would return, drifting through the adjoining bedroom wall. Most likely, she’d done the same at Lauren’s and they were both still asleep.

The house smelled like Saturday morning—coffee, creamer, maple syrup.

French toast had been a weekend tradition for years. When Amelia was little, she’d wake up early and bound into her mom’s bedroom, eager for breakfast. But lately it seemed Whitney ate alone more often than not. Even when Amelia was home, there was no guarantee she’d join her. Amelia lived in her room, earbuds perpetually plugged in her ears, as if she’d grown another extremity. Still, Whitney couldn’t bring herself to stop the tradition altogether. The French toast would get eaten, even if it took a couple of days. Whitney didn’t mind leftovers, anyway. Not that she had many this morning. She’d gone for an extra-long jog and had been ravenous.

After cleaning up the kitchen, Whitney went back into her phone and clicked on the Snapchat app. Amelia may have been quiet around the house lately, but she had no problem sharing her life with the rest of the world. Whitney expected to be greeted by smiling selfies of her and Lauren, maybe some photos of the food they were eating, proof to all the other teenagers on social media that they were having a blast on their Friday night together. But nothing had been posted on her story in the last twenty-four hours.

With slick fingertips, Whitney closed out of Snapchat and checked Instagram. Nothing there either. A chill brushed over her neck, causing the hairs to stand on end. She shook the feeling away with an abrupt jerk of her head. Whitney had always been like this. Anxious. A worrier, especially when it came to Amelia. Perpetually thinking the worst. Amelia hated it. So had her ex-husband. It was one of the many things they fought about. And it was probably one of many reasons why Dan had ended up marrying that sunny, smiling, high-pitched preschool teacher. If Whitney had to take a guess, she’d say there were no skeletons in Miss Karen’s closet. No past indiscretions she was afraid of coming to light. No monsters from her past lurking around the corner.

No secret buried inside, so deep the roots had become invisible.

When Dan married Karen, Whitney remembered thinking how he had succeeded in finding someone completely opposite from her, just like he said he would. It didn’t take him long either. He’d met Karen less than a year after they’d split up. He and Karen were friends for a while, and then dated for several years before marrying.

That was how he always defended it.

We were friends first.

We took it slow.


But that was never the point. He should have made Amelia his priority. Whitney hadn’t dated at all while Amelia was growing up—she’d only started within the last couple of years. Once Amelia hit high school and started having a life of her own, Whitney figured it was time she did too.

Leaning against the counter, she stared out the kitchen window. There wasn’t a view. The window overlooked the apartment across the way. A man stood in his kitchen, his back to Whitney as he drank coffee. His build vaguely reminded Whitney of Jay, and it made her smile.

Going into her last text thread with him, she typed, I miss you.

Then she bit her lip. Too forward? Too soon?

They’d been dating for a couple of months, and he’d only been on an overnight business trip. He was returning later today. She didn’t want to come on too strong.

Backspace. Delete. She tried again: Hope your trip was good.

Too formal?

Whitney paused, thinking.

Why am I making this so hard?

She really liked Jay. That was the problem. He was the first guy in a long time she felt hopeful about. Usually by month two of dating someone, the red flags popped up and her interest waned. That hadn’t happened yet with Jay.

Turns out, she didn’t need to stress over what to text. Jay beat her to it.

Boarding the plane now. Will call you when I’m back, he texted.

Sounds good, she responded.

It was 10:30. There were a million things on the agenda today and waiting around for Amelia wasn’t one of them.

After hitting the grocery store and Target, Whitney swung by Lauren’s, using the memory of how they’d gotten there yesterday as her guide. It was a little tricky, since she hadn’t paid enough attention to Amelia’s directions yesterday, but after a few minutes of circling the neighborhood, she came upon a familiar street and turned on it. A couple of houses in, she recognized the rosebushes.

It had been well over an hour since she’d sent the last text to Amelia. Although there hadn’t been any response yet, Whitney was sure she was up by now. Probably hoping to buy more time with her friend.

Whitney had gotten Amelia a bag of gummy worms. She pulled it out of one of the grocery bags. It crinkled as she set it on the passenger seat. Amelia probably wouldn’t even eat them. Certainly, they didn’t fit within the parameters of her latest diet, but, still, Whitney couldn’t resist. Whitney’s habit of picking up treats at the store had started back when Amelia was a toddler, when she’d surprised her with a bag of cookies one afternoon when picking her up from preschool. Whitney would never forget how wide Amelia’s eyes got, how broad her smile became as she clutched the little bag. A lot of things may have changed between them over the past few years, but Whitney didn’t want that to be one of them.

After getting out of the car, she slipped the key ring around her finger and walked up the front walkway, flip-flops slapping on the pavement. It was a warm, spring day. Kids played outside a few houses down. A lawnmower kicked on. A couple rode their bikes past, bright neon helmets bouncing up and down like beach balls bobbing in the waves. Amelia used to love to ride bikes. For a while, it had been a weekend tradition. Whitney couldn’t remember the last time they’d hit the trails together, but she made a note to ask her about it. Most likely her answer would be a big resounding no, coupled with the same cringey, horrified look she had whenever Whitney suggested they hang out. Still, it was worth a shot. Sometimes Amelia surprised her with a yes, reminding Whitney of the girl she used to be before the teenage monster took over.

When Whitney reached the door, she lifted her hand to knock the same way she’d watched Amelia do the day before. A minute passed and no one answered. That funny feeling returned, but she shoved it down, feeling silly.

She knocked again, this time so hard it stung her knuckles. The girls were probably listening to music or something. Or maybe they were in the backyard. It was a nice day. Ears perked, she listened for the sound of her daughter’s voice or of music playing inside. Hearing neither of those, she frowned.

Finally, Whitney caught the hint of footsteps inside.

The door creaked open, an older woman peering out, eyebrows raised. She looked to be in her late sixties, maybe early seventies.

Whitney was taken aback. She’d never met Lauren’s mom, but there was no way this was her. Maybe Lauren’s grandparents lived with them. Recently, Whitney had watched a news report about how the cost of living had gone up, causing multigenerational homes to become a growing trend. And Lauren had mentioned that her parents were divorced. Whitney knew firsthand how financially taxing it was to raise a child alone.

“Hi, I’m Whitney. Amelia’s mom.” Smiling, Whitney jutted out her hand.

But the elderly woman just stared at it, not saying a word. She glanced over her shoulder where a man around her same age stood. He furrowed his brows and stepped forward. Whitney’s body tensed.

Maybe she’s got dementia or Alzheimer’s or something. Whitney caught the old man’s eyes. “Hi, I’m Amelia’s mom. She spent the night here.”

“Nope. Not here.” Shaking his head, he came closer. “You must have the wrong house. They all kinda look the same in this neighborhood.”

Whitney glanced around. Hadn’t she thought the same thing yesterday? She must’ve turned down the wrong street or something.

Face warming, she backed away from the door. “I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”

“No bother at all,” the man said, and the woman offered a kind smile.

Whitney turned on her heels and made her way back to the car. She turned on the ignition and pulled away from the curb. The couple had already disappeared inside. Whitney drove to the main street and turned right. When she came up on another street, she turned onto it. The man was right. There were lots of houses that looked like theirs. She pulled up in front of one, scanning the yard.

Nope. No roses.

That’s what had set the other house apart. The one she dropped Amelia off at.

She moved farther down the street, carefully looking to the right and to the left, searching for a one-story house, roses lining the perimeter. Coming up empty, she swung the car around. Maybe her mistake had been turning right at the main street.

Backtracking, this time Whitney turned left.

This street was almost identical to the other two she’d just been down. Same tract homes. Manicured lawns. Shuttered windows. A sea of tan paint and beige trim. The odd red door or colorful lawn art. But, again, no roses. At least, not in the correct spot.

Turning onto another street, she finally found it. The simple house. The roses lining the side.

After parking in front, she leaped out and hurried to the front door. It was answered after only a couple of knocks.

She gasped, taking in the elderly man standing in the doorway. The same one she’d just spoken to a few moments ago.

Oh, my God.

She’d ended up right back where she’d started. As she backed away from the door, apologizing profusely, she took in the shuttered windows, the manicured lawn, the roses lining the perimeter of the yard. Peering back at her car, she envisioned Amelia in the front seat holding her phone, the voice of the GPS speaking in her palm.

There was almost no doubt in Whitney’s mind—this was where she’d left her.

Excerpted from Where I Left Her by Amber Garza, Copyright © 2021 by Amber Garza. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

About the author: Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they're real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California.

Where I Left Her is out 8/24 from Mira. Preorder a copy: Bookshop - Harlequin - Barnes & Noble - Books-A-Million


Monday, August 16, 2021

The Layover by Lacie Waldon

Ava Greene is getting married! And her life as a flight attendant doesn’t fit with her new plans. So she’s decided that it’s time to move on. 

After one last, fabulous trip!

But Ava didn’t plan on her farewell trip—which includes a relaxing layover at a resort in Belize—including the awful Jack Stone. 

Stone, a fellow flight attendant and former pilot, is Ava’s nemesis. But he doesn’t know it. Which makes him all that much more maddening to be around. And she definitely doesn’t want to spend her time in Belize with the man!

Except that maybe Jack isn’t all that bad after all. And maybe Ava herself has a few things in her own life she needs to reckon with before her new start can truly begin. 

The Layover is the perfect read for anyone who loves a good rom-com AND needs a vacation. 

And let’s face it, we all need a vacation these days. 

Ava is fun and easygoing. But her lifestyle hasn’t made making friends all that easy. No one likes her crazy schedule. And no one likes her unreliable availability. Least of all Ava’s fiancé. Which is why Ava is ready to chuck it all. 

In fact, Ava can sympathize. After growing up with parents why never settled anywhere, Ava has always dreamed of setting down roots. And now she finally has that chance. 

But Ava also loves her job. And as much as she thinks she’s ready to trade in her polyester suit for something a little less itchy, she knows she needs to go out with a bang. Hence the Belize flight. 

Enter Jack Stone who has absolutely no idea why Ava hates him so much! And neither does the reader. In fact, it isn’t actually revealed until Ava herself admits it to Jack. And it’s safe to say that she’s been a bit hard on the poor guy!

But it does make for some fun reading :)

The Layover is fun and flirty and trope-y in all the best ways. It’s also a very fast read that’ll make you forget you’re stuck trying to make do with a tanning pool while dreaming that you’re really on an island enjoying fruity cocktails with tiny umbrella adornments… 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Bookseller's Secret by Michelle Gable - Excerpt

Good morning, readers! Today I'm super excited to be able to share a peek at Michelle Gable's The Bookseller's Secret, which is out on 8/17. But first, here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

From New York Times bestselling author Michelle Gable comes a dual-narrative set at the famed Heywood Hill Bookshop in London about a struggling American writer on the hunt for a rumored lost manuscript written by the iconic Nancy Mitford—bookseller, spy, author, and aristocrat—during World War II.

In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.

Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.

Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…

And now, a look at The Bookseller's Secret:

April 1946

Hotel de Bourgogne, Paris VII


There they are, held like flies in the amber of that moment—click goes the camera and on goes life; the minutes, the days, the years, the decades, taking them further and further from that happiness and promise of youth, from the hopes…and from the dreams they dreamed for themselves.

—Nancy Mitford,The Pursuit of Love


“Alors, racontez!” the Colonel said, and spun her beneath his arm.

Nancy had to duck, of course. The man was frightfully short.

“Racontez! Racontez!”

She laughed, thinking of all the times the Colonel made this demand. Racontez! Tell me!

“Allô—allô,” he’d say across some crackling line. “Were you asleep?”

He might be in Paris, or Algiers, or another place he could not name. Weeks or months would pass and then a phone rang in London and set Nancy Mitford’s world straight again.

“Alors, racontez! Tell me everything!”

And she did.

The Colonel found Nancy’s stories comical, outrageous, unlike anything he’d ever known, his delight beginning first and foremost with the six Mitford girls, and their secret society. Nancy also had a brother, but he hardly counted at all.

“C’est pas vrai!” the Colonel would cry, with each new tale. “That cannot be true!”


“It all happened,” Nancy told him. “Every word. What do you expect with a Nazi, a Communist, and several Fascists, in one family tree?”

“C’est incroyable!”

But the Hon Society was the past, and this gilded Parisian hotel room was now, likewise Nancy’s beloved Colonel, presently reaching into the bucket of champagne. How had she gotten to this place? It was the impossible dream.

“Promise we can stay here forever,” Nancy said.

“Here or somewhere like it,” he answered with a grin.

Nancy’s heart bounced. Heavens, he was ever-so-ugly with his pock-marked face and receding hairline, the precise opposite of her strapping husband, a man so wholesome he might’ve leapt from the pages of a seedsman catalogue. But Nancy loved her Colonel with every part of herself, in particular the female, which represented another chief difference between the two men.

“You know, my friends are desperate to take a French lover,” Nancy said, and she tossed her gloves onto the bed. “All thanks to a fictional character from a book. Everyone is positively in love with Fabrice!”

Bien sûr, as in real life,” the Colonel said as he popped the cork.

The champagne bubbled up the bottle’s neck, and dribbled onto his stubby hands.

“You’re such a wolf!” Nancy said. She heaved open the shutters and scanned the square below. “At last! A hotel with a view.”

Their room overlooked Le Palais Bourbon, home to l’Assemblée nationale, the two-hundred-year seat of the French government, minus the interlude during which it was occupied by the Luftwaffe. Mere months ago German propaganda hung from the building: DEUTSCHLAND SIEGT AN ALLEN FRONTEN. Germany is victorious on all fronts. But the banners were gone now, and France had been freed. Nancy was in Paris, just as she’d planned.

“This is heaven!” Nancy said. She peered over her shoulder and coquettishly kicked up a heel. “A luncheon party tomorrow? What do you think?”

“Okay, chéri, quoi que tu en dises,” the Colonel said, as she sauntered toward him.

“Whatever I want?” Nancy said. “I’ve been dying to hear those words! What about snails, chicken, and port salut? No more eating from tins for you. On that note, darling, you mustn’t worry about your job prospects. I know you’ll miss governing France but, goodness, we’ll have so much more free time!”

Nancy was proud of the work the Colonel had done as General de Gaulle’s chef du cabinet, but his resignation made life far more convenient. No longer would she have to wait around, or brook his maddeningly specific requests. I’ve got a heavy political day LET ME SEE—can you come at 2 minutes to 6?

“It’s really one of the best things that could’ve happened to us,” Nancy said. “Oh, darling, life will be pure bliss!”

Nancy leaned forward and planted a kiss on the Colonel’s nose.

“On trinque?” he said, and lifted a glass.

Nancy raised hers to meet it.

“Santé!” he cheered.

Nancy rolled her eyes. “The French are so dull with their toasts. Who cares about my health? It’s wretched, most of the time. Cheers to novels, I’d say! Cheers to readers the world over!”

“À la femme auteur, Nancy Mitford!” The Colonel clinked her glass. “Vive la littérature!”

Excerpted from The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable, Copyright © 2021 by Michelle Gable Bilski. Published by Graydon House Books.

About the author: MICHELLE GABLE is the New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment, I'll See You in Paris, The Book of Summer, and The Summer I Met Jack. She attended The College of William & Mary, where she majored in accounting, and spent twenty years working in finance before becoming a full-time writer. She grew up in San Diego and lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, with her husband and two daughters. Find her at michellegable.com or on Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest, @MGableWriter.

Huge thanks to the publisher for providing today's excerpt!


Sunday, August 8, 2021

Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things blog tour for Shari Lapena's latest, Not a Happy Family!

Easter Sunday and the entire family has gathered at the Merton home on Brecken Hill

Catherine and her husband, Dan and his wife, and youngest sister Jenna and her boyfriend of the moment have convened at the family home to celebrate the holiday with their parents, Sheila and Fred. But it's by no means a happy gathering. In fact, by the end all of the siblings have stormed out after being berated by their father over what a disappointment each of them has been. 

Two days later, Sheila and Fred are found brutally murdered in their home. And absolutely everyone the police questions is lying about something. 

Shari Lapena might be the reigning queen of quick reads!

If you're looking for a dysfunctional family thriller, Not a Happy Family is definitely the book for you!

Catherine is a successful dermatologist, the favorite of all her parents' children. But the fact that she and her husband have yet to provide grandchildren is something Fred Merton apparently holds against them. 

Catherine had hoped to inherit the family home. But is that enough of a reason to kill her parents?

Dan was an employee at his father's company and thought he'd be the one to take over when Fred retired. Unfortunately, Fred had other ideas and sold the company leaving Dan unemployed and desperate for cash. Which is the one thing Fred can absolutely help out with, but refuses. 

So did Dan kill his parents over money?

Finally Jenna, the starving artist. She's always acting out, as evident in her choice of date for Easter. And she lives off of the allowance her father provides, something he's constantly holding over her and threatening to cut off. 

Could it have been Jenna who killed Sheila and Fred?

It quickly becomes evident that many people have both the means and the motive—as well as the opportunity—to commit the crime. But as the clues slowly begin to reveal themselves, Lapena deftly manages to keep the reader on the edge of their seats and guessing just who the real killer might be. 

I'll be honest, I've been in the midst of a reading rut, down by recent Covid news, and stuck in the house thanks to garbage air quality. Not the best of circumstances in which to start a new read. And yet, I found myself pulled into this one from the very start. By the time I came up for breath, I was already a third of the way through the book and barely realized any time had passed at all!

Not a Happy Family is an expertly paced page turner perfect for returning fans and readers new to Lapena's work alike. Fair warning, this is probably not the best book to start at bedtime!

Not a Happy Family is out now in the UK from Bantam Press and in the US from Pamela Dorman Books.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Great Silence by Doug Johnstone

Good morning! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things blog tour for Doug Johnstone's latest Skelfs mystery, The Great Silence

Dorothy, Jenny, and Hannah—three generations of Skelf women at the helm of both a flourishing funeral home and a PI business. And boy do they have their work cut out of them!

When Dorothy, or rather her dog, discovers a dismembered, embalmed foot on their morning walk, it kicks off the first in a string of new investigations for the family. But the foot and the associated big cat on the loose (it's a whole thing!) are the least of their worries when Jenny's ex husband pops his head out of whatever hidey hole he's been squirreled away in. 

Craig, a killer on the loose since escaping prison, has been making their lives hell for quite some time now. And he's not finished. As Jenny continues her search for him, he's always two steps ahead wreaking havoc. 

Meanwhile, Jenny has graduation with top honors and is engaged! About to start a new job that involves planetary discovery, she takes on a case of her own that could involve aliens!? Not really. A fellow researcher is certain someone is pulling one over on him and Jenny has agreed to look into the mess. 

If that were all the family was dealing with, it'd be enough. But the cases and the bodies keep piling in and it's all they can do to keep up with the boom in business!

I'm ashamed to say that this is my introduction to the Skelfs! I've been eyeballing this series for a while and really should have started from the beginning, but it can't be helped now. 

And starting from the beginning is definitely my recommendation here. 

The series kicked off in 2019 with A Dark Matter, followed last year by The Big Chill, and this third in the series plays off of all the events of the previous two. By no means is it hard to follow—at all—but it definitely means I've got a lot of knowledge of the whodunits and whydunits of the previous mysteries. 

All that aside, I really enjoyed my intro to this quirky family! And you'd have to be quirky to run a funeral home, much less a funeral home AND a PI business. 

Dorothy is in her mid seventies. Active and sprightly, she teaches drum lessons, has taken in a teen with a complicated past, is in the midst of a new relationship with a younger man, and runs two businesses quite effectively! Plus, she managed to wrangle both her daughter and granddaughter into helping with both businesses as well. 

Jenny is going through some things. Understandably. In her forties and living with her mother (don't worry, it's a BIG house), she's still reeling from the events that recently transpired with her ex. And she's determined to see him back behind bars where he belongs! Jenny is jaded and hurt while also trying to protect the people around her. Honestly, you kind of want to give her a hug (but kinda not because I think she might punch you!). 

And then there's Hannah. After finding out her father was a killer, juggling multiple jobs, and a healthy relationship, she gets a degree with honors! Only to have her big day ruined by the realization that her father isn't done with them yet. Which is why she and her fiancé find themselves also living in house Skelf once again. 

These are some seriously capable ladies!

The Great Silence deals with some darker matter, but overall the book has a healthy dose of humor running through it (and I completely appreciate the pop culture references peppered throughout—that Bill and Ted line wasn't lost on me!). Plus there are the mysteries themselves, one of which involves an escape panther and body parts...

The Great Silence is great fun and I cannot wait to read more about the Skelfs and their oddball adventures!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Nella is the only black woman working at Wagner Books. So when another black girl is hired on, Nella is sure they’ll be fast friends. They can lament together over the woes of being the only women of color! They can support one another and have each other’s backs. Like when Nella points out problematic stereotyping in a literary big wig’s latest book. 

Except that’s not how things happen at all.

Not only does Hazel seem unbothered by the things that Nella has been quietly fighting against for so long, she seems to go out of her way to undercut Nella or even make Nella seem like a problem.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Nella starts to receive threatening anonymous notes. Notes that coincide with Hazel’s hiring.

At first, Nella is sure that Hazel can’t be the one leaving the notes. She’s also willing to believe that the things happening in the office could be less nefarious than they seem. Maybe she’s blowing things out of proportion. Maybe Hazel deserves a second chance.

Or maybe Nella’s suspicions are correct.


Zakiya Dalila Harris combines humor, a little dash of horror, social commentary, and the uncomfortable realities of the publishing world into a debut that is compulsively readable!

When I first saw the announcement about this deal, I knew I had to read it. It was being touted as Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada, which I figured was something that remained to be seen (comps are sometimes really appropriate or a real stretch, in my experience) but it turned out that’s exactly what The Other Black Girl is!

Honestly, to explain the comparison to Get Out is spoilery, in my opinion, but trust me, the horror elements are there. It helps that the prologue in particular sets the reader up for something much darker than the first part of the book really alludes to. 

In the opening pages, the reader is introduced to a character we later learn is a highly-regarded black author. An author Nella herself reads and admires. And in these opening pages, this character is absolutely terrified! 

But the reason behind this terror doesn’t immediately become apparent. Because we next cut to Nella and her introduction to Hazel. Nella’s excitement about the prospect of having someone else on her side is so apparent and, unfortunately, quickly dashed. 

But, like anyone who’s been in a similar situation, it’s easy to see why Nella would believe that maybe it’s all in her own head. Maybe she’s reading too much into things. Maybe Hazel is just trying to fit in and make it in a tough industry. Maybe Hazel is just like Nella but too new to stick up for her beliefs. In fact, Nella begins to wonder if she’s the real problem after all. 

There’s so much that I love in this book. At the most basic level, it’s a super entertaining read. There’s a sense of dread and a suspicion of sinister happenings that makes The Other Black Girl a true page turner in every sense. 

But beyond that, I’m a woman who’s worked in professional spaces for quite some time now. And women in general don’t get great treatment from men or, in a lot of cases, other women either. 

Even more than that, I work in publishing and everything about this book rings true! Which is not unexpected considering Harris worked in publishing as well. And while I think everyone knows the things laid out in this book happen, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in the industry. (The cringe-worthy editorial meeting…I’ve been in on some of those myself, though nothing quite in the vein of the ones in this book!)

Harris, through Nella, gives readers an inside look at the industry and specifically what the experience is like as a black woman, but also adds a twist to it that makes workplace drama much more ominous—and fun to read! Definitely, highly recommended!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, August 2, 2021

Mrs. Rochester's Ghost by Lindsay Marcott—Excerpt, Guest Post, and Giveaway

Hello again, readers! As mentioned in my other post of the morning, today I'm a stop on the blog tour for Lindsay Marcott's latest, Mrs. Rochester's Ghost. 

If you checked out the other post, then you've already seen my review of this latest in the list of Jane Eyre retellings. Now I get to share a piece by Marcott herself and a little sneak peek at the book to whet your appetite. 

Be sure to scroll through to the end because there's a link to a giveaway today as well!

Now, over to the author!

Jane Eyre for the Modern Age with Lindsay Marcott

What is it about Jane Eyre that has made it a blockbuster for over a hundred and seventy years? The breathtaking writing, yes. The gripping plot: part Gothic romance, part coming-of-age story. The swooning romance between a rich man and a poor orphan, and the shock of the mad wife secreted in an attic.

But I think most of all it’s the voice of Jane herself: a young woman with an extraordinary sense of her own worth and independence. A voice that was revolutionary in 1847 when Charlotte Brontë published it. At the time, women had little say outside family and home. Their career opportunities outside of marriage were limited to underpaid servants and schoolteachers. Female characters in early Victorian novels were usually portrayed as either sugary too-good-to-be-true angels or fallen women seeking repentance.

Jane is neither. She’s constricted by the society she lives in--she needs to keep a stifling job as a governess or else starve to death—but she makes it clear she’d rather starve than sacrifice her will or stifle her intelligence. As a child, she has a temper and a will, even though she’s punished harshly for it. Later, when her employer, Mr. Rochester, grills her, she responds with strong opinions and engages in spirited debates. And when he tempts her to go live in sin with him in Europe, she escapes through the only means available to her—by running off to the surrounding moors, though it probably means she will die in those wilds. And she will not return to him until she learns he has fundamentally changed, and she can now love him passionately and physically without compromising her true self.

I believe it’s this will and independence of Jane’s that keep modern readers coming back for more (not to mention that throbbing romance!), and these are the same elements that inspire continual adaptations of the story. I had long dreamed of creating modern versions of these characters, because they so thrilled and delighted me and taught me life lessons over many years of my rereading the book. A nervy dream, yes. But also one that presented huge challenges: there are so many elements of the book that just won’t fly in an updated story.

For example: a current-day Jane would not be able to keep her curiosity under wraps about all the strange and spooky things going on in Mr. Rochester’s house. She wouldn’t just accept vague explanations or agree to his request to simply not ask about them. She would be itching to find out more.

Also a sexual relationship outside of marriage is no longer a taboo for most women of today. Jane wouldn’t have to flee that temptation. And of course a modern Mr. Rochester would be able to divorce a mad wife, though no doubt having to pay a heavy alimony for her future care. So that’s no longer even an obstacle.

But lies are always a problem in a relationship. Especially big lies.

A secret bigamist is a pretty big lie.

Being a secret murderer would be an even bigger one.

It was thinking about this that gave me the idea of adapting the book as a modern thriller. One in which Rochester does not have a stashed-away wife—instead he’s suspected of murdering a famous wife who has now disappeared. Jane would have to surreptitiously seek out the truth about him--guilty or not?--before she could give in to falling in love. And when spooky things happened, she would need to confront those as well. She would be risking an enormous amount. Losing the love of her life. And maybe also losing her life.

And so I set about writing a thriller, adding startling new twists, putting in jumps and shivers. The result is Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost. It was a joy to write, and I certainly hope it’s an equal joy to read.

About the author: Lindsay Marcott is the author of The Producer’s Daughter and six previous novels written as Lindsay Maracotta. Her books have been translated into eleven languages and adapted for cable. She also wrote for the Emmy-nominated HBO series The Hitchhiker and co-produced a number of films. She lives on the coast of California. You can contact the author on her website at https://www.lindsaymarcott.com/.

And now, a look at Mrs. Rochester's Ghost and our Jane's first meeting of Evan:

Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost Excerpt

The fog streamed in white scarves and pennants, with a bright half moon playing hide-and-seek among them. I walked briskly down the asphalt drive, Pilot racing figure eights around me. We cut across switchbacks toward the highway. I kept to the gravel shoulder as the grade descended.

A pair of headlights glowered in the mist, then swept swiftly by.

The highway continued to dip. Pilot romped ahead and disappeared from my sight around a curve.

“Pilot!” I heard him barking but couldn’t see him. I quickened my steps.

I found myself in the middle of a dense cloud. Fog gathered in the depression in the road.

“Pilot?” I yelled again. “Where are you?”

Excited yapping. But he was a ghost dog.

The roar of a motorcycle echoed from around the far side of the bend. Through the blanketing cloud, I caught a glimpse of the poodle trotting onto the road.

“Pilot, get back here!” I screamed.

The motorcycle’s headlamp glowed dimly as it appeared on the near side of the bend. Pilot barked with sudden frenzy. The headlamp veered crazily. Pilot darted off the road into the underbrush. A sickening sound of tires skidding out of control on gravel. A shout.

With horror, I watched motorcycle and rider slam down onto the gravel shoulder.

I ran toward the rider. He was sprawled crookedly next to the bike, but his limbs, encased in black leather and jeans, were moving stiffly. Alive, at least. With a groan, he hoisted himself up onto his elbows.

“Are you okay?” I shined my flashlight on him. He whipped his head. “What the hell are you?”

“Just a person,” I said quickly.

He yanked his goggles down. “For Chrissake. I meant who are you? What are you doing here?”

“Taking a walk.”

“What kind of lunatic goes out for a walk in this kind of fog?”

“Maybe the same kind of lunatic who drives way too fast in it.”

“You call that fast? Christ.” He gingerly gathered himself into a sitting position, then flexed his feet in the heavy boots experimentally. He took off his helmet and shook out a head of rough black curls. A week’s tangle of rough salt-and-pepper beard nearly obscured a wide mouth. The prominent nose might be called stately on a more good-natured face. “What the hell was that creature in the middle of the road?”

“A dog.”

“A dog?”

“A standard poodle. Unclipped.”

He put the helmet back on, then pulled a cell phone from his jacket and squinted at the screen. “Nothing,” he muttered.

“The reception’s kind of iffy around here.”

He flung out an arm. “Help me up, okay?”

I approached him tentatively. He was over six feet and powerfully built. About twice my weight, I guessed. “I’m not sure I can pull you.”

“Yeah, you probably can’t. Stoop down a little.”

God, he’s rude. I did, and he draped his arm around my shoulder, transferring his weight. My knees buckled a little but didn’t give. He began to stand, crumpled slightly, then got his balance and pulled himself up straight.

I suddenly became aware of his intense physicality. The power of his arm and shoulder against my body, the taut spring of the muscles in his chest. As if he sensed what I was feeling, he shook off my support and stood on his own feet.

“At least you can put weight on your feet,” I said. “That’s a good sign.”

“Are you a medical professional?”

“No.”

“Then your opinion doesn’t count for much at the moment.”

Go to hell, was on the tip of my tongue. But the fog’s chill was making me sniffle. It seemed absurd to attempt a stinging retort with a dripping nose. I swiped it surreptitiously with the sleeve of my jacket.

He walked, limping slightly, to the Harley. “This thing’s supposed to take a corner. That’s the main reason I bought it!” He gave the seat a savage kick. Then he hopped on his nonkicking boot and shook a fist as if in defiance of some bully of a god who particularly had it in for him.

I laughed.

He whirled on me. My laughter froze. The look of fury on his face sent a thrill of alarm through me. I edged backward; I felt at that moment he could murder me without compunction and leave my corpse to be devoured by coyotes and bobcats.

But then, to my astonishment, he grinned. “You’re right. I look like an ass.”

Pilot suddenly came crashing out of the underbrush.

“Is that your mutt?”

“Yes. Though, actually, not mine. He’s a recent addition at the place I’m staying.”

He stared at me, a thought dawning. I forced myself to stare back: deep-set eyes, dark as ink. I was about to introduce myself, but he yanked the goggles back over his eyes and stooped to the handlebar of the bike. “Help me get this up. Grab the other bar. You pull and I’ll push.”

“It’s too heavy.”

“I’ll do the heavy lifting. Just do what you can.”

Obstinately, I didn’t move.

“Please,” he added. He made the word sound like an obscenity.

I took a grudging step forward and grabbed hold of the handlebar with both hands. I tugged it toward me as he lifted his side with a grunt. The bike slowly rose upright.

“Hold it steady,” he said.

It felt like it weighed several tons—it took every ounce of my strength to keep my side up as he straddled the seat. He grasped both bars. Engaged the clutch, cursing in pain as he stomped on the pedal. He glanced at me briefly.

And then, sending up a heavy spray of gravel, the Harley roared off into the enveloping fog.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Rochester!” I shouted into the deepening gloom.

***

Huge thanks to the publisher for providing today's content!

As promised, there is also a giveaway as part of the tour! Be sure to check that out here if you want to enter to win an Amazon gift card and a digital copy of Mrs. Rochester's Ghost!

Mrs. Rochester's Ghost by Lindsay Marcott

Happy Monday, readers! Today I'm super excited to be a stop on the blog tour for Lindsay Marcott's Mrs. Rochester's Ghost, out now from Thomas & Mercer. 

I'm kicking today off with a review of the book, but be sure to check out the excerpt and guest post I'll be following up with (there's a giveaway included in that one!).

Jane is newly single and living in an apartment she can barely afford when her job as a writer on a popular tv show ends. With her meager savings in danger of running out, Jane agrees to start work as a tutor for Evan Rochester's teenage daughter instead.

The job comes at the recommendation—pleading—of a good friend who just happens to be Rochester's cousin. The estate is huge and remote, but close enough to the city that Jane can still get a good coffee or make a yoga class. And the surly teen she's been saddled with is charming in her own way. 

But rumors swirl around Rochester and the estate. Some say that the entrepreneur murdered his wife. A model who was diagnosed as bipolar, Mrs. Rochester was almost as famous for her outbursts as she was for her beauty. And though her disappearance was suspicious, it has officially been classified as an accident. 

As Jane gets to know Evan, she suspects she might be falling for him. But certain happenings around the estate lead her to believe that not everything about Mrs. Rochester are exactly as the widower tells it. And as Jane begins to fall deeper in love, she has to wonder if she can truly trust Evan. 

I've stated before that I'm a huge fan of Jane Eyre and Rebecca retellings. In fact, I'm pretty much down for any new take on these twisty tales. And that's exactly what Mrs. Rochester's Ghost is—a modern retelling of Jane Eyre

In this version, Jane is a bit more worldly than the original Jane. She's been working in Hollywood, for one! So she's pretty prepared for just about any version of Evan you can imagine. And she's not surprised when she dislikes him immediately!

Chapters alternate between present-day Jane and Beatrice leading up to her own disappearance. 

It's clear in Beatrice's chapters that she has issues. And Jane herself discovers this as she digs deeper into Evan's story. 

Beatrice was a supermodel with a volatile temper. And her brother has continued to hound Evan, and now Jane, over his sister's fate. (He's quite the unpleasant character, to be honest!)

I think that every reader has a different take on Jane Eyre. Personally, I love it. I love Jane, who is young and innocent when we meet her but by no means truly naive; she's lived a complicated life and understands hardship. I think she also goes into her relationship with Rochester with completely open eyes. 

Rochester himself is, in my own opinion, someone trapped by circumstances made more difficult by the times he lives in. And I think it's only in meeting Jane that he truly starts to imagine a different life. 

Marcott, I think, effectively keeps the essence of all of that in her version but also gives it a modern setting and changes that make sense for the times. The pacing is much more quick and the plotting follows today's thriller formatting rather than classic, slow burn gothic lit, but the overall heart and tone of this retelling is very true to the original. 

If you're looking for a new take on Jane Eyre, this isn't really it. But if you love the original and are interested in seeing how the story might play out present day and as a thriller, Mrs. Rochester's Ghost gives you exactly that!

Again, be sure to check out the follow up post for a taste of Mrs. Rochester's Ghost as well as a piece from Marcott herself and throw your name in the hat for the giveaway!