Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + GiveawayWhen We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of The Art of Inheriting Secrets comes an emotional new tale of two sisters, an ocean of lies, and a search for the truth.

Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…

Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.

After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.

Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

My Review:

This is the story about the deconstruction of a life. Not in the sense that things fall apart, because the lives of both Kit and Josie Bianchi fell apart a long, long time ago. The echoes of what happened in their childhood have rippled like aftershocks through everything that has happened since.

Including, but definitely not limited to, Josie’s death – and the faking thereof.

When We Believed in Mermaids is rather about the examination, in memory, of those long ago events. What begins as a look back at a seemingly perfect childhood that was ripped apart by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 reveals cracks in that perfection – just as the girls’ examination of their cliffside house revealed cracks that made the house’s fall inevitable.

There were plenty of warning signs that a disaster was coming – but the adults were too wrapped up in themselves, and much too damaged themselves, to see it. And the girls were children. It’s only as adults that they are able to look back and see that what went wrong was hardly their fault.

But now they are both adults. And both still scarred. Both, in their own ways, isolated because of it. Kit, whose life has come to be confined to her ER practice, her surfing, and her cat. While Josie, who seemingly has it all, is isolated by her secrets. No one knows her true self. Her past is another country, on another continent, and it happened to someone else.

One brief moment in the background in someone else’s camera frame brings Josie’s worlds into collision. And Kit’s walls come tumbling down.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story that can best be described as quietly charming. It feels like one of those stories where not a lot happens on the surface, but that surface is only 10% of what’s happening. Underneath, Kit and Josie are paddling like crazy.

While the comparison is to an iceberg, there’s nothing cold about the story – including its two settings, the California coast and Auckland, New Zealand. Where it’s a hot and steamy late summer when Kit arrives to investigate that three-second sighting of the sister who has been presumed dead for 15 years.

We begin the story from Kit’s point of view as she believes, disbelieves, questions and investigates a possibility that has haunted her for all of her adult life. What if Josie is still alive?

In alternating chapters we find ourselves looking through the eyes of a woman named Mari. Who seemingly has it all, a rich and handsome husband, two terrific kids, a storied house to investigate – and a gigantic secret.

As both Kit and Mari remember their childhoods, with each dive into the past revealing more cracks in that originally perfect surface, their memories converge. It’s obvious fairly quickly that Mari is Josie, and that she’s rightfully worried that her few seconds in that background shot are going to bring her world crashing down – and she’s right.

But until the crash, it’s Kit’s view that holds the attention. While Mari has found the life she dreamed of, and is afraid of losing it – Kit is very much still seeking, not just Josie, but a life that will not merely sustain her but support her and enrich her spirit. Her search, including her hesitant relationship with the handsome Spanish guitarist Jose Velez, opens her heart and shakes her certainties – even as she hunts down the sister she never expected to find.

Kit’s on a quest, and somewhat ironically, Josie is the macguffin she’s looking for. But all the while, both of them are internally exploring their memories of the life they once shared together. As those memories reach toward the present, Josie and Kit reach towards each other.

And the possibility of a shared – and much brighter – future.

I picked up When We Believed in Mermaids because I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets by this same author very much, with just a few quibbles. The same is true about When We Believed in Mermaids, including the quibbles. Both are stories where events in the present cause the narrator(s) to search through their own pasts as well as the past of a place that they become involved with in the course of the story, so if you like one you’ll definitely like the other.

In The Art of Inheriting Secrets, I had a couple of issues with the way that the hesitant romance in that book proceeded, but loved the look back into the past of the house she inherits and the mother she discovers that she never really knew. There’s also an old house in Mermaids, and I was hoping for as interesting a reveal of its history as there was in Secrets, but alas, it was not to be. The secrets about Sapphire House, when finally revealed, felt anticlimactic. That was the one part of the story where I really expected more.

Then again, I love stories about research done well and filled with fascinating reveals. And there were plenty of those fascinating reveals in Kit and Josie’s hesitant journeys down memory lane. As I said, this story is quietly charming, and I was certainly charmed. If you’re looking for a beach read this summer all you have to do is believe in these mermaids!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of When We Believed in Mermaids to one lucky (US/CAN) commenter on this tour!

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All That Glitters is Gold Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the All That Glitters is Gold Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

When I first saw the name of this particular blog hop, the following instantly came to my mind:

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost…”

I first read those lines more than 50 years ago (OMG, OMG, OMG) when I was in the 4th Grade. A friend’s older brother had introduced me to The Lord of the Rings, and those are the words that Gandalf used to describe Aragorn, the last of the Rangers. I’ve been hooked on epic fantasy ever since – and will forever remember the person who introduced me to what become one of the great loves of my life. And by that I mean epic fantasy in general. As much as I loved LOTR, I still have arguments with it. (Not nearly enough women, not remotely enough women with agency, ARRRGGGHHH!)

But this blog hop is all about gold that actually does glitter. Or at least posits that all the things that glitter are gold. I was thinking that silver glitters, but it gleams more than it glitters. Or it glistens. Or something. I digress.

We all have things that glitter in memory. For me, that first introduction to epic fantasy is one, as is the memory of watching the original Star Trek with my dad, at least the final season, as it was broadcast. From thence comes my lifelong love affair with science fiction.

What about you? What was your first introduction to something that turned out to be a lifelong love or lifelong influence? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at one of my usual prizes, either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books from the Book Depository.

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For more glittering prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Christmas in July Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Christmas in July Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds!

What do you think of the whole Xmas in July idea? I don’t celebrate Xmas, so to me the whole idea of doing it in July too feels rather blatantly commercial. Potentially a whole lot of fun, but if there’s any holiday that feels like a “Hallmark holiday” instead of a real one, this is probably it.  That Amazon has ganged onto for their Prime Day in July promotions just adds to that impression.

Although there is something ironic – at least here in the Northern Hemisphere – about celebrating a holiday that is normally accompanied by chilly weather and even snow at a time of the year when we’re more likely to be getting record-setting high temperatures than even a cool breeze.

Still, any chance to give or get presents is probably a good one. Hence this giveaway hop, and my usual rafflecopter giveaway of the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open to anywhere the Book Depository ships.

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For more terrific prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop:

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-14-19

Sunday Post

The Star Spangled Giveaway Hop ends tomorrow, just in time for the Xmas in July and All That Glitters Giveaway Hops to begin!

Is it just me, or is summer absolutely flying by? It feels like they go faster the more of them I have behind me in the rearview mirror. Maybe it’s just me. All I can see is that our trip to Ireland for Worldcon is whizzing towards me at accelerating speed. I can’t wait! And Amy is going to take over the blog while I’m gone, so it should be fun times for everyone!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Star Spangled Giveaway Hop (ends TOMORROW!)
Her Other Secret + The Protector by HelenKay Dimon
3 Signed Print Copies of Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
A- Review: Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin
B Review: Her Other Secret by HelenKay Dimon + Giveaway
A- Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + Giveaway
A- Review: A Beach Wish by Shelly Noble
Stacking the Shelves (348)

Coming This Week:

Christmas in July Giveaway Hop
All That Glitters is Gold Giveaway Hop
When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal (blog tour review)
Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews (review)
The Eagle Has Landed edited by Neil Clarke (review)

Stacking the Shelves (348)

Stacking the Shelves

Not a huge stack, but some interesting books on it all the same. Like always.

About Empress of Forever. Well, I was on a treadmill, and was about to bail on my second audiobook in a week. And I was in an SFnal mood and well, here we are. A couple of days in, this one looks like a winner! At least it keeps the time on the treadmill feeling shorter than it is – as an audiobook is supposed to do. There were a couple there that were making the time on the treadmill seem LONGER, and it’s long enough already!

For Review:
Angel Mage by Garth Nix
Black Hornet (Lew Griffin #3) by James Sallis
The Blacksmith Queen (Scarred Earth #1) by G.A. Aiken
Bluebottle (Lew Griffin #5) by James Sallis
The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup
Cooperative Lives by Patrick Finegan
Count on Me (Petal, Georgia #3) by Lauren Dane
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
Eye of the Cricket (Lew Griffin #4) by James Sallis
Ghost of a Flea (Lew Griffin #6) by James Sallis
Moth (Lew Griffin #2) by James Sallis

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone (audio)
Half Moon Street (Leo Stanhope #1) by Alex Reeve

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Click here to enter


Review: A Beach Wish by Shelly Noble

Review: A Beach Wish by Shelly NobleA Beach Wish by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, women's fiction
Pages: 371
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble returns to the beach in her latest summer read about the family we create and the wishes we make that can shape us.

Zoe Bascombe has never said no to her family. When she blew her Juilliard audition, she caved to their wishes and went to business school. But when her mother dies and leaves instructions for Zoe to spread her ashes at a place called Wind Chime Beach, she defies her brothers and starts out for a New England town none of them has ever heard of and discovers a side of her garden club mother that her wildest dreams hadn’t imagined.

Zoe has another family.

Her first instinct is to run home. Instead she is caught in the middle of her feuding new relatives. With one family fighting among themselves and the other not speaking to her, Zoe must somehow find a way to bridge her new life with her old.

For the first time in her life, Zoe must make a stand for her family—both of them. If only she can only figure out how.

Her answer lies at Wind Chime Beach where for generations people have come to add their chimes to the ones already left among the trees. And when the wind blows and the air fills with music, their secrets, dreams, and hopes are sent into the world. There’s a message for Zoe here—if she has the courage to open her heart.

My Review:

A Beach Wish is purely delightful women’s fiction. Or chick lit. Some of the women who move forward with their lives in the course of this story are young enough to be figuring their lives out for the first time. And some are on their way to second, third or even fourth inventions of self. And one who might be on fifth or sixth – except that she fails, again.

That’s only part of the story.

As so many stories begin, to paraphrase Charles Dickens in his immortal Christmas Carol, Jenny Bascombe was dead, to begin with. But the mess she left behind is very much alive, and plenty of people are getting kicked in the process of resolving that mess.

Jenny left instructions upon her death. Detailed instructions. She was just that kind of organized. Buttoned-up. Controlled. Definitely controlled – at least for all of the life that her three sons and one daughter ever saw.

So her last request makes no sense whatsoever. For her daughter Zoe, and just her daughter Zoe, to take her ashes to a place called Wind Chime Beach and scatter them there.

Her two older brothers are up in arms. Her closest brother, Chris, wants to help her however he can.

But Zoe does what she has always done – she listens to her mother, one last time, and drives north from New Jersey to that beach.

Where she discovers that she never really knew her mother after all – but that there are a whole lot of people who did. And that they have all been waiting for Jenny to finally come home. One last time.

Escape Rating A-: I expected to like this, but I really, really liked this. Finishing at 2 am in the morning liked.

This is one of those stories where the family is hella complicated, and only gets crazier as it goes. Zoe’s two oldest brothers seem to be chips off the old block, meaning dear old (left mom for his secretary) dad. Not that they seem likely to bail on their wives, just that they’ve bought into the whole corporate, suit and tie, climbing the ladder of success, living their lives based on other people’s judgments, kind of thing.

Zoe and Chris are the rebels. Chris is an actor who is out of work as often as he’s in. He’s also gay, but that seems not to be much of an issue for the family (times definitely have changed, at least in fiction). But he’s not ever planning on doing the 9-to-5 routine that his brothers do, and it drives said brothers a bit crazy.

Zoe tried the 9-to-5 – more like the 7-to-whenever, but her job as an events manager to the stars has just dried up. She got into events managing the music business because she wanted to BE in the music business, but now she’s neither. And at more than enough loose ends to be willing to carry out her mother’s last request – no matter how little sense it makes.

Until it does. What makes this story so interesting and so much fun is what Zoe discovers at Wind Chime Beach. Once upon a time, her mother was someone entirely different from the uber-organized uber-planner who raised Zoe and her brothers.

And there are a whole lot of people who remember that Jenny. The Jenny who might have been her best self. Those people are ready and willing to welcome Zoe into their midst. Some with open arms, some with a clenched fist.

Figuring out the who and why of that past, and why Zoe’s strong resemblance to her mother evokes such strong reactions, is the heart and soul of this book. It’s Zoe’s journey of discovery, but that’s not all it is. It’s also a story of grief and reconciliation.

In the end, Zoe and the people Jenny left behind at Wind Chime Beach have a chance to finally say their goodbyes and move on with their lives. It makes for a fascinating contrast that one of them doesn’t. Some people don’t want closure, they want to clutch their hurts like pearls – and isn’t that all too human.

I enjoyed Zoe’s journey of discovery. I also found it refreshing that while Zoe opens her heart and lets plenty of new people into her life, there is no romance here – nor should there be. This is not intended to be a story about finding an HEA. It is appropriately, and wonderfully, a story about finding oneself. A Beach Wish is a terrific beach read – or a lovely read for any time at all.

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Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeach Clobbered: A Georgia B&B Mystery by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B Mystery #1
Pages: 320
Published by Crooked Lane Books on July 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

What’s black and white and dead all over? Georgia bed and breakfast proprietor Nina Fleet finds out when she comes across a corpse in a penguin costume.

Nina Fleet’s life ought to be as sweet as a Georgia peach. Awarded a tidy sum in her divorce, Nina retired at 41 to a historic Queen Anne house in quaint Cymbeline, GA. But Nina’s barely settled into her new B&B-to-be when a penguin shows up on her porch. Or, at least, a man wearing a penguin suit.

Harry Westcott is making ends meet as an ice cream shop’s mascot and has a letter from his great-aunt, pledging to leave him the house. Too bad that’s not what her will says. Meanwhile, the Sisters of Perpetual Poverty have lost their lease. Real estate developer Gregory Bainbridge intends to turn the convent into a golfing community, so Cymbeline’s mayor persuades Nina to take in the elderly nuns. And then Nina finds the “penguin” again, this time lying in an alley with a kitchen knife in his chest.

A peek under the beak tells Nina it’s not Harry inside the costume, but Bainbridge. What was he doing in Harry’s penguin suit? Was the developer really the intended victim, or did the culprit mean to kill Harry? Whoever is out to stop Harry from contesting the sale of his great-aunt’s house may also be after Nina, so she teams up with him to cage the killer before someone clips her wings in Peach Clobbered, Anna Gerard’s charming first Georgia B&B mystery.

My Review:

I want to know where Cymbeline is – because it sounds like a great place to visit that would only be a hop, skip and a jump from my home in the Atlanta exurbs. And we all need a quiet place to escape to every once in a while.

Not that things are really quiet in tiny Cymbeline – especially not for Nina Fleet.

Nina would love to open a B&B in her newly acquired Victorian house, but there are roadblocks a-plenty in her way, including plenty of B&Bs that beat her to the punch. As much of a tourist mecca as Cymbeline has become, no place needs an infinite number of inns – until a sudden influx of displaced nuns gives the mayor a reason to fast-track Nina’s application.

Opening an instant B&B isn’t the only problem that Nina has to contend with. She bought her house legally, fair-and-square, cash on the barrel-head, etc., etc., etc. And she absolutely loves it. But Harry Westcott, the nephew of the late owner of Nina’s house, believes that he is the rightful owner of the property – and he’ll see her in court.

The worst part for Nina is that he might be. He probably isn’t, but there’s an off chance. Not that Nina did anything wrong in her purchase, but that the seller might not have had the right to sell in the first place. She’d get all her money back, but she really, really, really just wants the house. In a few short months, it’s become home.

Between Harry and the nuns, Nina seems to have her hands full. They only get fuller when a local property developer is killed while wearing Harry’s penguin suit. How that translates to Harry becoming a suspect in his murder is anybody’s guess, considering that Harry may be one of the few people in town who didn’t have a motive.

Including the nuns.

Nina can’t resist poking her curious nose into the affairs of her neighbors, and the murder of the least liked among them. And she can’t help but band together with Harry and the nuns when they are all under threat.

When they set a trap to catch the killer, the tables get turned. It’s up to the nuns to save the day!

Escape Rating A-: This was just a load of fun from beginning to end, from Harry’s first appearance in the penguin suit right up to his driving off into the sunset at the end, with the murder resolved but the ownership of the B&B still very much up in the air – along with Nina and Harry’s completely unresolved potentially romantic and currently contentious relationship.

Their “relationship” begins with a fairly twisted meet cute. Harry arrives on Nina’s doorstep, suffering from heat stroke (all too plausible with our hot, muggy Georgia summers) while wearing a penguin costume. Which isn’t helping with the heat stroke. Clutching an envelope in his hand that he believes proves his rights to own Nina’s house.

Watching the ebbs and flows of their always just-one-tick-away-from-mutually-assured-destruction relationship is always fun. They want to like each other. They want to trust each other. It’s entirely possible that they have the hots for each other. And they want to destroy each other’s claim to the house they both love.

And they need each other to solve the murder, just adding to the fraught possibilities.

The nuns, on the other hand, are surprisingly delightful from beginning to end. They are the perfect opening guests for Nina’s B&B, even if their reason for landing in her lap (so to speak) is pretty awful. And directly relates to their possible motive for killing that hateful real estate developer.

He’s the one who evicted them from their home and business. Most of the nuns have been together, making excellent cheese and saying their prayers, for 50 years together. With the loss of their convent and fromagerie, the archdiocese plans to retire them to separate communities. They are broken-hearted at the thought of losing their family-of-choice.

And absolutely perfect guests. Also surprisingly with the 21st century for a group of elderly semi-cloistered nuns. Their customers have kept them firmly rooted in the now – to Nina’s surprise, and to the detriment of the killer stalking Cymbeline.

This is definitely a cozy mystery, as it’s wonderfully light-hearted – even if it does feature a dead body – albeit a dead body in a borrowed penguin suit.

Nina’s exploration of the town in her process of eliminating would-be suspects introduces readers to all of the residents of this quirky little place. Even if she does go off the track of whodunnit on more than one occasion. Or perhaps especially because. And I went right there with her. I didn’t guess this one at all.

As Peach Clobbered reads like the first book in a series, I’m looking forward to reading Nina’s (and hopefully Harry’s) future adventures. And definitely getting to know the denizens of Cymbeline a whole lot better.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Her Other Secret by HelenKay Dimon + Giveaway

Review: Her Other Secret by HelenKay Dimon + GiveawayHer Other Secret: A Novel by HelenKay Dimon
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Whitaker Island #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Is it the perfect escape?

 Whitaker Island is more than a getaway. For Tessa Jenkins, the remote strip of land in Washington state is a sanctuary. Fleeing from a shattering scandal, she has a new name, a chance at a new beginning, and a breathtaking new view: Hansen Rye. It’s hard not to crush on Whitaker’s hottest handyman. At six-foot-three and all kinds of fine, he’s also intensely private—and the attraction between them soon simmers dangerously out of control.


…or a private trap for two lovers?

After a devastating family tragedy, Hansen finds the pebbled shores of the faraway island to be an ideal refuge. Letting down his guard for the sexy, impulsive Tessa is an unexpected pleasure. But there’s another newcomer to Whitaker. He’s no stranger to Hansen. And when he’s murdered, the crime casts a threatening shadow. As suspicion falls on Hansen, all his secrets are about to collide with Tessa’s. Now the pasts they were determined to outrun are catching up to them. So is a killer who’s putting their love—and their lives—on the line.

My Review:

Don’t let the hottie on the cover fool you – as he tries to do to every single person on Whitaker Island. Her Other Secret is definitely romantic suspense, and that hottie has plenty to hide.

As does our heroine – as well as every single other resident of this tiny island off the coast of Washington State. But only some of those secrets are deadly.

While everyone on Whitaker is running away from something, it’s hottie Hansen Rye’s secrets that have come to get him – not that he knows that – at least at first.

Tessa Jenkins has been watching a yacht parked in the water opposite her tiny cottage for more than 24 hours, and she’s had enough. Something has to be wrong. The marina has plenty of space – and its on the other side of the island.

There are no lights on the boat – and no movement. It’s interesting that Tessa doesn’t think it’s her own secrets that have come to get her, but then, the person looking for her is generally a whole lot splashier than anything happening on that boat – which seems to be nothing at all.

Tessa is currently on the outs with the island’s only cop, so when she can’t stand the suspense any longer, she calls the person that everyone on Whitaker calls when they need something done. She calls Hansen, the resident handyman – and Tessa’s secret crush.

Not that Hansen isn’t the secret crush of every woman on the island – single or not – and probably some of the men as well. He’s gorgeous. A complete grump to the point of being an antisocial asshole, but gorgeous.

And generally useful. He fixes everything that’s broken, so Tessa is sure that he can fix whatever must be wrong with that silent, parked boat. That it’s a good excuse to call him is just icing on the cake.

That’s when things go pear-shaped. As Hansen and Tessa argue about going out to the boat, a man walks out of the water, fully dressed in a business suit, and heads inland – right past them. It’s weird. Really, really weird – especially when the man disappears.

It gets weirder still when the man turns up dead on Tessa’s front yard the next day. And all of Hansen’s secrets come out. And Tessa’s comes to the island to get her.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those stories that can best be described as “oddly charming”. I liked it, I enjoyed reading it, but it doesn’t hold up to a whole lot of scrutiny. It’s what I call “mind candy”. A good reading time that does not require deep thought that I probably won’t remember this time next year. But fun while I on Whitaker Island with Hansen and Tessa. It’s a beach read, ironically (or not) set mostly on a beach!

The setup of Whitaker Island, both the way it works and the people who inhabit it, was interesting. All 200 or so residents merely rent their cottages – there’s a mysterious owner behind the scenes who actually owns everything. There’s no government – just a governing board. One firefighter and one cop – both employees of that mysterious owner. Who remains mysterious throughout the book. I kept expecting him, her or it to be revealed, but they were not. (There’s a second book in this series, The Secret She Keeps, coming out in December. Maybe all will be revealed then.)

Whitaker seems to be a place where people escape from the rat race but bring all the rats with them – including their own ratty selves. Everyone has something to hide, and everyone gossips like it’s going out of season – which of course it never does.

I liked both Hansen and Tessa, as well as the way they got together, but I think that their respective secrets were both a bit over-the-top, contributing to the whole “fun while it lasted” vibe of the story.

While not giving those secrets away, it felt like Tessa’s secret just wasn’t nearly as big or as bad as she made it out to be. And the “ripped from the headlines” reasons for that secret didn’t quite gel.

Hansen’s secrets, on the other hand, were so big and so bad and ended up being so convoluted that they ended up in “bwahaha” villain territory. And I did figure out whodunnit way before our protagonists and wondered why they didn’t feel the clue-by-four whizzing over their heads.

But then, the epic storms cutting off the island and isolating the villagers may have had something to do with their distraction – not to mention their on-its-way-to-resolution sexual and emotional tension.

They were busy!

In the end, a good reading time was had by all. Her Other Secret feels like it would be a great beach read – at least as long as a corpse doesn’t turn up on your stretch of beach!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

To celebrate the release of HER OTHER SECRET by HelenKay Dimon, we’re giving away a paperback set of Her Other Secret and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon to one lucky winner!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2EQgLJt 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of Her Other Secret and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 7/15/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin

Review: Never Look Back by Alison GaylinNever Look Back by Alison Gaylin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Reminiscent of the bestsellers of Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben—with a Serial-esque podcast twist—an absorbing, addictive tale of psychological suspense from the author of the highly acclaimed and Edgar Award-nominated What Remains of Me and the USA Today bestselling and Shamus Award-winning Brenna Spector series.

When website columnist Robin Diamond is contacted by true crime podcast producer Quentin Garrison, she assumes it's a business matter. It's not. Quentin's podcast, Closure, focuses on a series of murders in the 1970s, committed by teen couple April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy. It seems that Quentin has reason to believe Robin's own mother may be intimately connected with the killings.

Robin thinks Quentin’s claim is absolutely absurd. But is it? The more she researches the Cooper/LeRoy murders herself, the more disturbed she becomes by what she finds. Living just a few blocks from her, Robin’s beloved parents are the one absolute she’s always been able to rely upon, especially now amid rising doubts about her husband and frequent threats from internet trolls. She knows her mother better than anyone—or so she believes. But all that changes when, in an apparent home invasion, Robin's father is killed and her mother's life hangs in the balance.

Told through the eyes of Robin, podcaster Quentin, and a series of letters written by fifteen-year-old April Cooper at the time of the killings, Never Look Back asks the question:

How well do we really know our parents, our partners—and ourselves?

My Review:

There are all sorts of sayings about not being able to know where you’re going until you know where you’re coming from. At the same time, there are plenty of sayings about looking forward and not looking back.

This is a book about when happens when you look back a little too hard and a little too deeply. Because when you undermine the foundations of your life, pretty much everything gets washed away in the resulting flood.

It’s also a story about just how small the world, especially the world of a small town, can be. No matter how long its been since you lived there or how far away you managed to escape.

Or how many bodies you buried along the way. Particularly when there are actual corpses involved.

Once upon a time in the 1970s, a couple of teenagers went on a killing spree, until they were themselves killed in a fire that wiped out an entire cult/hippie compound.

But it’s over 40 years later, and one of the many, many people whose lives were impacted by that crime spree is looking for closure. He thinks the case about the killers is open and shut, and that it’s only the mess it made of his own life – even though he hadn’t been born yet – that needs to be resolved.

It’s not that simple. Closure is hard to come by, especially in a case that might still be open after all.

Escape Rating A-: I can’t really talk about this book without giving much too much away. So I’ll get into what I thought and especially what I felt.

This was a book that I really didn’t expect to get into nearly as much as I did. While I like the occasional thriller, that isn’t usually my jam. Too many heroines in jeopardy for my taste. But this isn’t one of those, not at all.

It’s actually kind of debatable whether there’s either a hero (or heroine) of any kind in this one. This is a story about a lot of confused people who are tied to each other in ways that no one expects or even knows at the beginning.

And no one is a reliable narrator of their own life. Not even while its happening. Perhaps especially while it’s happening.

What wrapped me up into this story were the questions that it asked about all the characters, and about how the past is viewed and how much interpretation, both at the time and later, influences what we think.

It seems indubitable that April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy killed the people they killed back in the 1970s. Certainly those people are all dead, and equally certainly some of the witnesses are still alive. But, and it turns out to be a very big but, we see from the very beginning that even the witnesses interpreted events and motivations in ways that smack of hindsight and putting the pieces together more than they do what was actually seen – and done.

Eyewitnesses are infamously not reliable, after all. And humans want to ascribe causation to events in ways that can’t be verified, because we want things to make sense, even when they don’t. Perhaps especially when they don’t.

The story is about lives unravelling, April and Gabriel’s in the past, and Robin’s and Quentin’s in the present. Not that Quentin’s life seems to have ever been all that ravelled in the first place.

The person I felt for most was Robin. She begins the story believing that her life is a certain way, and that the foundation of it is strong. When it all falls apart, she almost drowns in it, but the truth does set her free.

And I had no idea what that truth would be until it arrived. Which was marvelous!

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Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi WaxmanThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on July 9, 2019
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"Abbi Waxman is both irreverent and thoughtful."--#1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin

The author of Other People's Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings delivers a quirky and charming novel chronicling the life of confirmed introvert Nina Hill as she does her best to fly under everyone's radar. Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own...shell.

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book. When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They're all--or mostly all--excited to meet her! She'll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It's a disaster! And as if that wasn't enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn't he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options. 1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.) 2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee). 3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It's time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn't convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It's going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

My Review:

If you are one of those people (like me) who firmly believes that not only are books the perfect presents to give yourself, but that spending time with them is one of the best things EVAR, than you will probably feel for Nina Hill as much as I did.

Those of us who are book dragons (because being a bookworm just doesn’t describe us accurately – we will defend our bookish choices and bookish friends with dragon-like aggression!) may have come to our love of reading from somewhat different directions that Nina, once we’re there, we’re definitely each other’s people. Each reading quietly in a corner when we’re not passionately discussing our bookish loves – and hates.

So it was easy for this reader to identify more than a bit with Nina and her very bookish life as the story opens. She has a tiny apartment, filled with books – and a cat! – loves her bookstore job and reads in her downtime. All of it not spent doing chores, running errands, working, sleeping or attending to the cat’s every need. As we do.

Which means that Nina’s life – although it may seem boring to some, sounds a bit idyllic to those of us who read for pleasure, for solace, and just because.

Admittedly some of us may not be the obsessive planner that Nina is. But still…

Nina’s life revolves around her job, Phil the cat, reading, and trivia night with her friends. Her constant reading makes her an excellent trivia contestant – as every librarian will also agree. But Nina doesn’t just play for fun – she’s a competitive trivia player – right along with her teammates on Book ‘Em Danno.

Their rivals on the LA trivia circuit are You’re a Quizzard, Harry, but Nina is convinced that Harry Potter may be the only book some of them have read. Especially Tom, who helps his team beat Nina’s by being a sports trivia expert – which Nina is just so not.

Of course Nina notices Tom all the time – and vice versa. They may be rivals in trivia, but they sizzle with possibility.

A possibility that Nina is afraid to fit into her overplanned schedule. (Nina and Hermione Granger would have LOTS in common.)

Nina has just discovered that the father she never even knew about has died. Leaving her a piece of his rather large estate and a veritable herd of relatives that painfully introverted Nina never knew existed.

As the only child of a globe-trotting mother who left her in the care of an absolutely fantastic nanny for nearly all of her life, Nina doesn’t know how to let strangers into her life. That doesn’t mean that her new relatives, at least some of them, aren’t more than happy to clue her in on everything she’s missed.

Having to emerge from her comfortable shell into the boisterous horde of her sudden siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and even great-nieces and great-nephews, Nina discovers the joy – and sometimes the pain, of having family.

And once she’s poked out of her shell, she’s able to see just how much sizzle there is between herself and Tom-the-Quizzard.

But her shell was quiet and safe, and she was, if not happy, at least very, very contented there. Turtles may only move forward when they stick their necks out – but Nina isn’t sure she’s ready to protect hers from being chopped off – or maybe that’s her heart.

Escape Rating B+: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill was sweet and fun and funny. It’s a voyage of discovery by a woman who may be pushing 30 but hasn’t been willing to push outside her own very comfortable boundaries.

The fates have conspired against her, in a mostly lovely way, to make her stick her neck out whether she wants to or not. Her newfound family won’t take no for an answer. Most of them are more-than-happy to have a new sibling, cousin, or whatever. And they have charts to show Nina whatever the relationship might be. And they need them. Her sperm donor’s family life was hella complicated but it has mostly produced people that Nina is lucky to have in her life.

And it’s fascinating to watch her as she discovers where the parts of her that were nature and not nurture actually came from. Suddenly seeing her eyes or her chin or her gestures on someone else who resembles her makes her rethink some of her own life in interesting ways.

At the same time that the family descends, Nina job is threatened. The place isn’t making a profit and the owner hasn’t paid the rent. Nina may have to try her wings whether she wants to or not, and in her fear of all the new that has assailed her, she tries to jump back into her shell and leave behind the one new thing that has given her life so much bright sparkle. By that I mean Tom the Quizzard.

While there is a Happy Ever After in Nina Hill’s bookish life, this isn’t a so much a romance as it is a story where a romance occurs. The heart of the story is Nina opening her heart and her life, not just to her friends, but to her newfound family. And it’s a whole lot of bookish fun.