Review: Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

Review: Local Woman Missing by Mary KubicaLocal Woman Missing by Mary Kubica
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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People don’t just disappear without a trace…
Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.
Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find…
In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

My Review:

The story begins with an abused, captive little girl escaping from her captors and the dank basement in which they kept her for 11 long, dark years. And the story begins 11 years in the past with the events that somehow led to the girl being imprisoned in that basement.

11 years ago, in a mostly well-to-do Chicago suburb, a woman went running late one night who never came home. In a place that everyone thought was safe. A few days later, after her body was found half buried in a park, a second woman went missing, this time along with her 5-year-old daughter.

This woman, too, was found dead, this time in a cheap room in a no-tell motel, of self-inflicted wounds. Her daughter was never found, although the woman’s husband never stopped looking. Leaving her younger son picked out and picked upon as a freak because his sister disappeared. All the adults felt sorry for him, and all the kids took that out on him.

There are no happy campers in this story. Not even at the end.

What there is in this book is an increasing ratcheting of tension and dread as the story moves on parallel tracks. In the here and now, there’s the wonder and the relief that surrounds the return of the much-abused and long-missing girl who has little memory of her kindergarten self and next to no information about the identity of the people who kidnapped and imprisoned her.

Back in the there and then, a truth is slowly and inexorably revealed. A truth that no one suspects, but that one person – at least – will do anything to keep from being revealed.

After all, they already have.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those mixed feelings reviews, because Local Woman Missing turned out to be one of those books where I am able to recognize that it is a very good exemplar of its type, in this case a domestic thriller, while being all too aware that it’s not my cuppa.

Although there’s plenty of suspense and the tension and dread ramp up slowly, steadily and inexorably – and that part happens very well indeed – there’s a bit too much domesticity for my personal taste.

Your reading mileage, of course, may vary. As it will, and has for other readers, on the way that the dual timelines work. We need that slow unraveling of the past in order to reach the absolutely chilling conclusion in the present, but the switches back and forth may seem a bit abrupt – or at least they did to this reader.

As a former Chicagoan, I did find myself trying to guess which suburb the location was or was at least modeled on. The Riverwalk fixes it at Naperville, but it could be an amalgam of places. I also used to walk late at night in a similar suburb and felt perfectly safe, so I can see where the first woman thought it was safe until it suddenly wasn’t. And yes, I’m sitting here realizing that I was also very damn lucky. We live and learn.

Back to the story.

Like any story about deadly secrets in sleepy little towns and suburbs, we learn a lot that’s honestly pretty awful. Every marriage that everyone else thinks is perfect is discovered to be, well, at least real if not downright dreadful. Everyone has secrets and everyone tells lies. As people do.

I’m not sure that anyone in this story turns out to be likeable. But the search for the truth keeps you turning pages as fast as possible to discover, not so much whodunnit as how did the little girl end up in that terrible house? She deserves justice – the adults, not so much.

The way the story works, seeing into each person or at least someone in each household, brings all the secrets to light as the story works its way towards those fatal events and their even more terrible aftermath. The truth, when it’s revealed, is cathartic but it doesn’t lead to happiness. Only relief.

And that’s how it should be.

Review: The Lady Has a Past by Amanda Quick

Review: The Lady Has a Past by Amanda QuickThe Lady Has a Past (Burning Cove #5) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #5
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley on May 4, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Beauty and glamour meet deception and revenge in this electrifying novel by New York Times bestselling author Amanda Quick.
Investigative apprentice Lyra Brazier, the newest resident of Burning Cove, is unsettled when her boss suddenly goes on a health retreat at an exclusive spa and disappears without another word. Lyra knows something has happened to Raina Kirk, and she is the only one who can track her down. The health spa is known for its luxurious offerings and prestigious clientele, and the wealthy, socialite background Lyra desperately wanted to leave behind is perfect for this undercover job. The agency brings in a partner and bodyguard for her, but she doesn't get the suave, pistol-packing private eye she expected.
Simon Cage is a mild-mannered antiquarian book dealer with a quiet, academic air, and Lyra can't figure out why he was chosen as her partner. But it soon becomes clear when they arrive at the spa and pose as a couple: Simon has a unique gift that allows him to detect secrets, a skill that is crucial in finding Raina.
The unlikely duo falls down a rabbit hole of twisted rumors and missing socialites, discovering that the health spa is a façade for something far darker than they imagined. With a murderer in their midst, Raina isn't the only one in grave danger—Lyra is next.

My Review:

All the ladies in this story have a past. Honestly, all the ladies in every Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle story have a past. It makes them all that much more interesting to read about – and just that much more fascinating for the heroes who oh-so-frequently come to rescue them – but generally end up fighting right alongside them.

Raina Kirk, who becomes the focus of the investigation rather than the heroine of this particular story, very definitely has a dark and dangerous past. A past that her lover Luther Pell –  hotel and casino owner and occasional government secret agent – thought he knew about.

But when that past reaches out and snatches Raina, Luther discovers that he didn’t know as much as he thought he did. He is, however, smart enough to know that as much as he wants to rush in guns blazing, that he’s a bit too close to the case – and more than a bit too high profile – to investigate Raina’s disappearance without tipping all the cards.

That’s where Simon Cage and Lyra Brazier come in.

Raina’s last known location was a luxurious and exclusive – read that as expensive – deluxe hotel, health spa and over-the-top beauty emporium. All done up in shades – and scents – of the exclusive violet perfume that the beauty products maven Madam Guppy has created as her signature perfume.

But that nearly overpowering smell of violets is covering up something rotten. It’s up to Simon and Lyra to get to the bottom of the stink and rescue Raina – before the poison miasma that surrounds the entire enterprise drags them under.

Escape Rating B+: This is the fifth book in the author’s Burning Cove paranormal historical romantic suspense series. (I dare you to try and say THAT three times fast!)

While it does tie in a bit with the previous books in the series, (which begins with The Girl Who Knew Too Much), and offers plenty of hints that it is somewhere in the recesses of the Arcane Society that the author invented as Quick, continued into the 20th and 21st centuries as Krentz and shipped out to the stars as Castle.

However, those are hints only, providing a smile for the reader if you’re in the know but not spoiling the enjoyment if you don’t. Although the entire collective series is wonderful and would make a great reading binge if you have not already indulged.

This would also be a plausible place to begin in Burning Cove, as Simon and Lyra are new to the place and the series in this volume, while we haven’t ever exactly seen Raina and Luther’s romance and probably won’t see it in full. They are VERY private people with extremely murky pasts.

But this story is about the pasts of all of the “ladies” that it touches upon. The case begins with the unrevealed parts of Raina’s already shady past but the real focus is on Lyra’s past and her present.

It’s between the wars, the Roaring 20s, and a time when young women had a bit more freedom than previous generations – especially wealthy young women such as Lyra. She’s not exactly running away, more like walking away swiftly and deliberately from a purely decorative life that did not suit her – while heading towards a life filled with both purpose and adventure – if she can just figure out exactly what that would be.

And one of the things that I love about anything tied to the Arcane Society, however tangentially as Burning Cove seems to be, is the way that the heroines are either forced to or decide to ignore the restrictions placed on women in every time period – at least so far – and live the lives they choose – damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead – even with the not-so-occasionally forced step back.

Something that this particular story displays in abundance is the way that Lyra insists on taking charge of her own life and her own talents. Simon wants to protect her – increasingly so and in spite of himself – but ends up acknowledging that while she is differently talented she is equally talented. They make good partners – in investigation, in adventure and in romance.

It will take both of them, and both of their talents, to get to the bottom of this messy, misdirected and multi-layered case. It begins with a missing person, but the trail of bodies, living and dead, leads to some very dark places hidden in the shadows of the once – and future – war. Which is perfect, at least story-wise, because it means that there will be more to come in this terrific series!

Review: Peaches and Schemes by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peaches and Schemes by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeaches and Schemes: A Georgia B&B Mystery by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B #3
Pages: 304
Published by Crooked Lane Books on May 11, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Anna Gerard's third delightful Georgia B&B mystery, Nina Fleet learns that despite the satin, lace, and buttercream trappings, weddings often prove to be anything but sweet...
Undeterred by the handful of hiccups she's had with her bed and breakfast in the small tourist town of Cymbeline, Georgia, Nina Fleet has her pedal to the medal to make her inn the best it can be with her trusty Australian Shepherd, Matilda. Looking for potential new guests, Nina takes a booth at the annual Veils and Vanities Bridal Expo, put on by the town's two wedding pros: Virgie Hamilton, retirement-aged dress shop owner, and Roxanna Query, a Gen X event planner and Nina's new friend. But everything goes wrong when Roxanna comes tumbling out of an oversized prop wedding cake, strangled to death by a scarf.
Virgie is immediately arrested for the crime, having been overheard accusing her partner of embezzlement. Nina is incensed to believe Roxanna's denials from the argument since Virgie has a relationship for burning bridges. Meanwhile, Nina's sometimes nemesis and current tenant Harry Westcott informs Nina that her lousy ex-husband is engaged to be married again. Unable to wrap her mind around the news, and incensed by her friend's murder, she goes to do the very least she can: rescue Roxanna's now ownerless dog. But when she does to Roxanna's house, the place is ransacked.
Virgie's been in custody this whole time, without enough time to have made the scene since Roxanna left her house. The police have the wrong man, but when he's released from custody, he immediately disappears, and Nina is convinced it's more than a case of skipping bail. That's when she finds on her front gate a scarf identical to the one on Roxanna's neck when she died. A warning? Now Nina fears that if she can't find Virgie, tying the knot will take on a whole new meaning just for her.

My Review:

I have to say that Cymbeline Georgia is growing on me with every book in this series – but I still miss the nuns from Peach Clobbered. They were definitely something special and I’m still hoping for a return visit.

Even if the homicide rate is approaching that of Cabot Cove, Maine.

The murder that kicks of this particular installment of “as the bodies drop” takes place in a scene that is often fraught with high drama – even if in this case the drama inducement is a bit of by proxy.

I’m referring to weddings. Tensions often run high at weddings, whether on the part of the couple getting married, their respective families, the audience, or all of the above. The stakes feel so high and so many people want to get everything perfect on this special day. But there are plenty of ways that things can go wrong, and so many people are so stressed that its easy for even the littlest things to get blown out of proportion.

The wedding business, therefore, is a business of high stakes and high drama. So it’s not all that surprising that Nina Fleet, owner of the Fleet House Bed and Breakfast, hears not one but two threatening “conversations” between one of the organizers of the local wedding convention and various participants in the event said organizer organized.

But the stakes get higher when the corpse of one of the participants in those conversations spills out of a fake cake at the end of the bridal fashion show in front of an audience expecting to see the latest in bridal creations and not the town’s most recent corpse.

Nina can’t help getting involved this time – not that ever can. The victim was a close friend, while the suspected murderer – as argumentative as the woman ALWAYS is – just plain didn’t have the physical strength to strangle someone with their own scarf. Especially considering that the scarf tripped her Trypophobia.

The cops aren’t quite ready to believe they’ve got it wrong – but someone sure thinks that Nina is on the right track – and keeps trying to run her over with their car to prove it. The question is who – along with why. And how many “shots” at Nina will they get to take before Nina finally puts the pieces together.

Escape Rating B+: Part of the charm of this series – and it certainly is charming – is in the cast of characters and the setting the author has created to contain them and their murderous ways.

Well, not their murderous ways exactly. So far, at least, when Nina puts on her “Secret Squirrel” hat and starts looking into something she has no business investigating, both the victim and the murderer inevitably turn out to be people who are new in town – or new back in town. Nina and her cast of friends and regulars may occasionally be suspects but they’re never the guilty party.

And that’s the way it should be in a cozy mystery series.

But there’s one continuing character in this series who, while not generally a murder suspect, is usually suspected of being up to something, and this entry in the series is no exception.

Nina Fleet and Harry Westcott have been the best of frenemies since Peach Clobbered, when Harry rode into town on a tour bus dressed as Harvey, the 6’ tall white rabbit, claiming that he was the true owner of the home that Nina had just converted into a B&B. Harry is now living at Fleet House, in the high turret he used to occupy when his great-aunt owned the place. Nina and Harry aren’t exactly friends, aren’t exactly enemies, and certainly aren’t lovers, but they have come to rely on and depend upon each other in a way that makes both of them more than a bit uneasy.

They care about each other but they don’t exactly trust each other. They can’t resist sniping at each other about their true motivations for continuing to look out for each other. Neither of them is ready for any kind of a relationship and neither of them is quite willing to let go.

So they end up as partners in crime and the solving of it more often than not. I hope the resolution of whatever they are going to be to each other takes a long time because it’s fun to watch them spark and snipe.

Reading Nina’s latest adventure, I also can’t help but think that Nina Fleet and Charlie Harris, the increasingly less amateur detective of the Cat in the Stacks series, would get along like a house on fire, comparing notes on how they each got into being amateur detectives in their small Southern towns, and just how often they’ve each promised local law enforcement to keep their inquisitive noses out of police business – only to break that promise as soon as the case starts to hit too close to home. As small as both Cymbeline GA and Athena MS are, it’s all too easy for that to happen in blink of an eye.

As it does in Peaches and Schemes, much to my reading enjoyment. I had a great time visiting Cymbeline again and I’m looking forward to Nina’s next case. But I still miss those nuns!

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Review: The Bodyguard by Anna Hackett

Review: The Bodyguard by Anna HackettThe Bodyguard (Norcross Security #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #4
Pages: 306
Published by Anna Hackett on April 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
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For a princess with a deadly stalker, the only place she feels safe is in the arms of her big, tough, and very off-limits bodyguard.
Princess Sofia of Caldova is in San Francisco to spearhead a fabulous royal jewelry exhibition and raise money for her charity...but danger has followed her. With an unhinged stalker hunting her, a dangerous international ring of jewel thieves targeting her exhibition, and her own secret task no one can know about, she's in need of security.
Enter big, grumpy, ex-military bodyguard Rome Nash. A man who's guarded her once before, and who she embarrassed herself by kissing...a kiss he didn't return.
After years on a covert special forces team, Rome Nash thrives on working for Norcross Security as its chief bodyguard. Driven by the losses of his past, he needs to help keep people safe. But guarding a beautiful, elegant princess who surprises him at every turn, and who he knows is hiding secrets, is testing his legendary self-control.
For months, all he's thought about is Sofia, and now that she's in danger, Rome's willing to cross all the lines to keep her safe.
As the exhibition draws closer, jewel thieves attack, Sofia's stalker strikes, and infamous thief Robin Hood enters the picture. Rome and the men of Norcross Security step in, and Rome will risk everything to protect his princess, no matter the risk, no matter the cost.

My Review:

The title for this one is a dead giveaway – meaning that there is, just occasionally, truth in advertising. The Bodyguard, the fourth book in the terrific action adventure romance Norcross Security series, is, indeed, definitely, absolutely, a bodyguard romance.

So if bodyguard romances trip your trope meter, then this is definitely the book for you – not that the entire Norcross Security series isn’t a whole lot of fun, and not that there isn’t an element of somebody guarding somebody’s body in every single story.

After all, that’s what Norcross Security does – secure, protect and guard precious things and even more precious people. Especially when they discover that those people are especially precious to them.

There’s a certain pattern to bodyguard romances, and that pattern is very much in evidence in this story – with just a few of this author’s signature twists and turns.

We met Rome and Sofie – and more to the point they met each other – in the previous book in the series (my personal fave so far), The Specialist. And they struck plenty of sparks off each other then, even though they weren’t the main event – more like the preview of coming attractions – pun fully intended.

Now that those attractions are very definitely here – the UST is such a big thing in the room that it just can’t remain unresolved for long. But the heart of this story is not about the conflict between Rome’s duty to remain objective so that he can put all of his focus on protecting Sofie.

For one thing, his focus is shot the minute she steps back into his life – and neither of them can step away in spite of the gulf of differences between them.

Not just because Sofie is Princess Sofia of Caldova is a real-life royal, but also because she’s also a real-life thief bearing the nom-de-plume Robin Hood – a secret that she can’t afford to let go of.

But whether she’s the princess or the thief, she is also caught in the cross-hairs of a stalker who plans to kidnap her, rape her and murder her while his gang steals the jewelry collection she plans to auction for charity. A charity that benefits abused women – women like the best friend that her stalker also kidnapped and raped.

Sofie’s out to make someone pay. And pay, and pay some more. The same someone who is very, very definitely out to get her. Rome can’t stop this collision course – no matter how much he tries – but he can be there to make sure that evil gets punished and Sofie walks away more-or-less unscathed.

If she’ll let him.

Escape Rating B: I have some pretty mixed feelings about this book. I’m kind of all over the map about it.

For one thing, if you like the bodyguard trope this is an outstanding example of it. Howsomever, if it’s not your fave – and I have to admit that it isn’t mine, at least in a contemporary setting – the patterns necessary to fit the trope are inherently too obvious for my taste.

But, as I said, if this is your jam it’s a very jammy jam indeed. It’s hard to do a contemporary bodyguard story well – and this is definitely done well.

On my other hand, I personally love the “it takes a thief to catch a thief” concept and pretty much have since the TV show all the way back in the 1970s – I watched it in syndication, so not the original run, but still a damn long time ago.

It’s just that, in this particular story, it jerked at my willing suspension of disbelief because Sofie was so damn good at it with not nearly as much training as it seemed like she would need. But mostly because the idea of breaking out of the house where you’re being protected from your extremely creepy and dangerous stalker in order to break into secure buildings where you might get into even more or worse trouble, when you know that your stalker is watching your current location seems somewhere past foolish.

I like my heroines with agency, but not the kind of agency that makes them look like idiots in desperate need of rescuing.

On my third, or perhaps fourth, hand – how many hands am I up to this time? – I do enjoy the setup of Norcross Security and I’m on tenterhooks waiting for the boss of this crew of ex-military badasses, Vander Norcross, to finally take the fall into romance that he’s watched his brothers (and sister) and his crew plunge into. I loved getting a glimpse of what the folks at Treasure Hunter Security are up to these days, and I liked watching the heat rise – and pretty much combust – between Rome and Sofie – so I’m still happy I read this one.

But, upon reflection, I think that this just wasn’t the right book at the right time for me. If you’re in the mood for an action adventure romance in general, or a bodyguard romance in particular, it might be the right book at the right time for you!

Review: The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert

Review: The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. ReichertThe Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on April 20, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A charming rom-com with a supernatural twist...Filled with a strong sense of place, mouthwatering descriptions of food, and a sweet love story (or two), Reichert's latest will surely delight readers." Booklist Starred Review
Named a Must Read for spring by Buzzfeed * Bustle * Booktrib * PopSugar * BookRiot * Midwest Living

Jobless and forced home to Wisconsin, journalist Sabrina Monroe can tolerate reunions with frenemies and kisses from old boyfriends, but not the literal ghosts that greet her in this heartwarming tale of the power of love and connection from acclaimed author Amy E. Reichert.
For Sabrina Monroe, moving back home to the Wisconsin Dells–the self-described Waterpark Capital of the World–means returning to the Monroe family curse: the women in her family can see spirits who come to them for help with unfinished business. But Sabrina’s always redirected the needy spirits to her mom, who’s much better suited for the job. The one exception has always been Molly, a bubbly rom-com loving ghost, who stuck by Sabrina’s side all through her lonely childhood.
Her personal life starts looking up when Ray, the new local restaurateur, invites Sabrina to his supper club, where he flirts with her over his famous Brandy Old-Fashioneds. He’s charming and handsome, but Sabrina tells herself she doesn’t have time for romance–she needs to focus on finding a job. Except the longer she’s in the Dells, the harder it is to resist her feelings for Ray. Who can turn down a cute guy with a fondness for rescue dogs and an obsession with perfecting his fried cheese curds recipe?
When the Dells starts to feel like home for the first time and with Ray in her corner, Sabrina begins to realize that she can make a difference and help others wherever she is.

My Review:

The saying goes that “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Sabrina Monroe, unemployed and in student loan debt hell way over her head, has to go there – no matter how much she really, really doesn’t want to.

Her parents are more than willing to take her in. The rest of the town, not so much. Or, at least not so much in the person of her lifelong arch-nemesis, who is happy to have Sabrina back in the Dells just so that she can continue her literally lifelong torture of the one girl in school who never begged to be part of her inner circle of bitches.

I have to say that part of the story was not my favorite.

What was lovely, however, was the relationship that Sabrina reluctantly develops, one-step-forward and two-steps-back, with Ray Harper, the new owner of The Otter Club, a restaurant and supper club that has been in his family – and in the Dells – so long that both are institutions.

A relationship that is pushed and pulled and connived at and encouraged, not just by Sabrina’s mother who wants her oldest daughter to come home, but by the Monroe family’s resident ghost, Molly.

The Monroe women see dead people. It’s their duty to help the recently deceased with unfinished business finish that business so they can actually rest in peace. Or in the light. Or wherever they go when they shuffle off this mortal coil and all the worries and responsibilities that go along with it.

Molly, dead since Prohibition, is an exception. Whatever unfinished business she has can’t seem to be resolved, so she sticks around and helps the Monroes do the work that only they can do.

So far, at least, it hasn’t been a terrible afterlife. Molly loves movies – especially romantic comedies. She wants her friend Sabrina to get her own happy ending – no matter how much baggage Sabrina has piled in the way. Little do either Sabrina or Molly know that helping Sabrina get out of her own way with Ray Harper will lead Molly to her own, long delayed but seemingly literal, happy ever after.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those books that drove me absolutely crazy, both in a good way AND in a bad way at the same time.

The good way took me on a bit of a search, because as I read I kept having that “I’ve read this before” kind of deja vu. The trip down reading memory lane was a whole lot of fun, as I managed to latch onto what this reminded me of so strongly.

For most of this story, Molly reads very much like Colleen, the genius loci of Stella Maris Island in Susan M. Boyer’s cozy mystery series that begins with Lowcountry Boil. Both Molly and Colleen are ghosts that protect their respective families, have limited ability to act in the real world, and do one heck of a lot of spying for their favorite people. Both also died young with unfinished business.

But the heart of the ghostly interactions in The Kindred Spirits Supper Club echoes the way that the paranormal talent that Clare Cermak the protagonist of Robin D. Owens’ Ghost Seer series finds herself inheriting a family gift for interacting with the spirit world and helping the recently and not-so-recently dead finish their unfinished business and “go towards the light”. Clare and Sabrina would have a lot to talk about, especially about the negative impact that “seeing dead people’ has on their social life, professional reputation, and opportunities for romance.

In the not so good way of driving me bonkers, while I know that Erika is supposed to serve as the villain of the piece, her behavior, especially the way it continued to the present day, read as much too far over the top. The amount of humiliation that she has put Sabrina through since grade school – and continues into adulthood – made for an uncomfortable read. As did the way that Ray’s parents treated him over his desire to stay in the Dells and continue to operate his late uncle’s supper club. The way that relationship resolved worked out for the best, but it middled in a way that was pretty damn nasty.

And it still made more sense than Erika’s crazy. I detested Erika’s crazy and it colored my feelings about the entire book, which is a real shame because I wanted to love this book and expected to love this book but the Erika plotline made that impossible.

Your reading mileage may vary.

Even though I guessed the resolution of Molly’s story fairly early on, I still liked that part of the story and Molly as a character. I also enjoyed the strong sense of place that imbues this book – another similarity to the Lowcountry Boil series, BTW. In spite of living in Chicago for 20 years, I never visited the Dells as so many Chicagoans do. This story both made me wish I had and made me feel like I almost but not quite did.

I also felt for Sabrina, her love of her family combined with her conflicting desires both to be with them and to be as far away from the Dells as possible. Her retreats into herself, her panic attacks and her anxieties made her feel real and I liked her a lot. I wanted to see her happy as much as Molly did.

In the end, while there was one character/situation to hate, there was a LOT to love about The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.

Review: The Three Mrs Greys by Shelly Ellis

Review: The Three Mrs Greys by Shelly EllisThe Three Mrs. Greys by Shelly Ellis
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 320
Published by Dafina Books on March 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

One wealthy businessman, a trio of unsuspecting wives, and an explosive turn of events. In this scandalous, twist-filled new series from award-winning author Shelly Ellis, will too many secrets and one devastating bond unite three women--or destroy them?
Noelle. Diamond. Vanessa. Each woman believes she is Cyrus Grey's only wife--until he's nearly shot to death. Now, as he lies in a coma, the deceptions keep coming, unraveling everything they thought they knew...
Gorgeous model Noelle's marriage to Cyrus anchored her--though she couldn't understand why he wouldn't have a baby with her. They certainly had the money. But she's learning fast just how Cyrus became so rich--thanks to his fatally attractive business partner...
For Diamond, marrying Cyrus saved her from the streets--and being a pimp's punching bag. But her past makes her the police's prime suspect in Cyrus' shooting. She's determined to get to the truth--if she can she survive long enough to tell it...
Even with her beautiful house, three kids, and elegant lifestyle, Vanessa sensed something was wrong in her marriage. But she never expected this--or that taking a lover for comfort would change the game completely.
With danger closing in, Cyrus' life hanging in the balance, and collateral damage threatening to take them all down, how far will each woman go to be the real Mrs. Grey?

My Review:

Grey is not an uncommon surname. It’s not out of the question for there to be three – or probably a whole lot more – Mrs. Greys in the Washington DC/Baltimore megapolis.

But Cyrus William Grey is a considerably less common name taken all together. While it’s still possible for the man to have had three wives one after another – divorce is certainly a thing, after all – for three women to all believe that they are CURRENTLY Mrs. Cyrus William Grey is a bit of a stretch.

That they all had a reason to kill him – or to have him killed – after their mutual discovery isn’t actually a surprise. That one of them may have attempted to do the deed before she found out about the other two is what makes this story so fascinating.

The story of the three Mrs. Greys is really about the falling of a house of cards – and just what happens to all of those cards once they’ve crashed to the ground around the builder of that house – in this case Cyrus William Grey.

At first, it seems like the story is all about the women – and just about the women. Mostly because Cyrus is laid up in the hospital after taking three bullets to the chest and is in a medically induced coma. He’s not “there” to keep his house of cards from crashing.

That’s where things get interesting, as the three Mrs. Greys reveal who they are, or who they used to be, or a bit of both, without Cyrus there to keep them guessing or placated or too busy to notice what the man behind the curtain is doing.

Who might not be, or might not only be, Cyrus Grey.

Escape Rating B: I don’t want to say too much about the story, because this is one of those stories where layers keep peeling back, not just the layers that Cyrus deliberately put in place, but also the layers of secrets that his three wives managed to wrap around themselves during all the time when they thought he was away on a business trip.

After all, if each of them was only getting about a third of his time, that means they each had another 2/3rds to spend alone. Or not alone, as at least one of the cases turns out to be.

The story is told through alternating points of view, day by day, for the week after Cyrus Grey gets himself shot. And he certainly did get himself shot. Not that he set himself up, but that he wasn’t keeping track of all the messes he left in his wake as he danced between his wives and his not-quite-successful-enough business.

Supporting three separate households in the style to which they wished to become accustomed is an expensive undertaking. One that threatens to send Cyrus Grey to an undertaker – one way or another.

This isn’t a case where the reader has to like one – or honestly any – of the protagonists in order to get caught up in the story. No one has clean hands in this one, and everyone has secrets that aren’t as secret as they thought they were. But the whole thing is utterly fascinating. The reader – along with all three Mrs. Greys – can’t help but marvel at the whole thing. It’s not a surprise that it fell apart, it’s a surprise that he managed it as long as he did.

So The Three Mrs. Greys is that kind of deliciously scandalous story where just desserts get passed all around. And it’s so satisfying in the sense that the whole thing couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch of people. (Not quite like the Thrombey family in Knives Out – but comparisons could be made)

It’s also not over yet. The author plans to continue the story in further books. After all, nobody’s dead yet. Considering just how big of a mess this is, somebody’s going to be a dead body before the last of those just desserts is finally served.

One final note: when I was growing up, Cincinnati was not as big as the Baltimore/DC metro area is now, but it wasn’t exactly a small town, either. We used to regularly get telephone calls for the other Joe Harris who lived in Cincy, whose wife was also named Shirley like my mother. It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t old enough to be interested in books like this one, otherwise I would have been VERY suspicious!

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Review: Just Get Home by Bridget Foley

Review: Just Get Home by Bridget FoleyJust Get Home by Bridget Foley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Genres: suspense, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by Mira on April 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When a devastating earthquake - the Big One - hits Los Angeles, two strangers are brought together by an act of violence and must help each other survive the wrecked city.
Beegie is riding the bus when the quake hits. The teenager was heading back to her unhappy foster home, but then she’s thrown into a broken world. Roads crumble, storefronts shatter and people run wild.
Dessa, a single mom, is enjoying a rare night out when it strikes. Cell towers are down, so without even knowing if her 3-three-year-old daughter is dead or alive, she races to get back across town.
As danger escalates in the chaotic streets, Beegie and Dessa meet by a twist of fate. The two form a fragile partnership, relying on each other in ways they never thought possible, and learn who they really are when there’s only one goal: Just get home.

My Review:

One of the things I liked about yesterday’s book was that even with werewolves in the mix the author made it clear that monstrosity and monstrousness was really a human condition. No werewolves – or any creature that goes bump in the night – need apply, because we’re nasty enough on our own.

Just Get Home is a story about the evil that men – and women, but mostly men – do when the restraints of so-called civilized society are stripped away. It’s a story about what happens when the world comes to an end – at least temporarily.

And this story is all the more monstrous for feeling so close to the real and the here and the now.

Escape Rating B: I have more feelings about this book than I do coherent thoughts, so I’m putting the rating up early. I don’t read a lot of thrillers, and I was expecting this one to more about the journey and the unlikely partnership between Dessa and Beegie, and less about the messes their lives were in before.

This is also a book where I recognize that it’s good of its type and that lots of people are going to love it from the edge of their seat, but that I’m not the right reader for it. YMMV.

It doesn’t help my own reading of the story that Beegie and Dessa are hot messes long before the story opens. And that so much of the mess of Dessa’s life was of her own making. She had – and still has at least before the quake hits – PLENTY of options. I’d have felt more sympathy for her if she’d tried and failed than that she doesn’t seem to have tried at all.

But where Dessa is in her mid-late 20s, Beegie is a decade younger or a bit more. She’s been bounced around the foster care system for reasons that are not of her making, and it feels like her life is in the situation it’s in before the story opens because her choices have been so limited by race, by poverty, by age and by gender. She isn’t making good choices, but she is also so stuck in so many different ways that it’s no surprise that she lashes out the few times she can.

One of the things this book does well, when it focuses on the immediate present and not either character’s past, is the immediacy of all the ways that civilization and civilized behavior break down in the wake of a disaster. The frightening thing is that if the “Big One” really does hit California things will likely be even worse.

For this reader, the harrowing nature of their journey drove home that life at its best and certainly at its worst is considerably more dangerous for women in so many ways that their situation forces them to think about constantly.

And us too.

Review: The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

Review: The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys BowenThe Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, World War II
Pages: 412
Published by Lake Union Publishing on April 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Love and secrets collide in Venice during WWII in an enthralling novel of brief encounters and lasting romance by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and Above the Bay of Angels.
Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.
It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever.
Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins.

My Review:

This dual timeline story follows the adventures – and misadventures – of two women in two separate eras but in the same exact place, La Serenissima. Venice.

Their stories are linked, not just by the city, and not just by these two women’s relationship to each other, but also to a family that influences both of their lives.

They are also both at points in their lives when they are making fresh starts – and bittersweet endings.

As we meet Caroline, her marriage is ending, and so is the life of her beloved great aunt, Lettie. Lettie and her sister, Caroline’s grandmother Winnie, raised her after the death of her own parents in their tiny country town not too far from London. Caroline loves both women, but Lettie has been both her inspiration and her rock for all of her life, and now that support is gone.

Leaving behind one final request, that Caroline go to Venice, a place that Lettie seems to have loved but that Caroline never knew was such a part of her great-aunt’s life, along with enough money for Caroline to make the trip, scatter Lettie’s ashes, and perhaps figure out what made the request so important to the dying woman that she hung on long enough to make that one last request.

So Caroline goes to Venice to learn what she can, in hopes of figuring out what compelled Lettie, and to take the opportunity to figure out where her own road will lead her next.

What she discovers, or who she discovers, is the woman her staid, upright, prim, proper and utterly respectable great-aunt Lettie used to be. A young woman named Julietta, an art student trapped in Venice when Britain declared war on Italy.

A woman who became a spy, a mother, a prisoner of war and a refugee. A woman who left behind everything she loved and everything she held dear to make a new life back in her old home. A life that seemed to be a complete rejection – or a tomb – for the woman she had once been.

A woman determined, in her last moments, that it was time for someone she loved to uncover her truth.

Escape Rating B-: World War II is a rich period for historical fiction of all types and stripes. To the point where I have three books in a row that are set during the same period, Friday’s The Consequences of Fear, this book today, and tomorrow’s The Last Bookshop in London. This is also not the only book this year to be set in World War II Italy, the other being Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson, which is somewhere in my virtually towering TBR pile.

All that’s to say that it feels like parts of this story have been done before, and recently, and perhaps for this reader a bit of World War II historical fiction fatigue has set in. So I found this take on that historic conflict to be a bit too much like too many things I’ve read before, in spite of the change in setting.

And as a result of that fatigue I enjoyed Caroline’s side of the story more than I did Julietta’s. I’d rather have seen Caroline actually researching Lettie’s history rather than just reading Lettie’s diary.

I think that the issues I had with Lettie/Julietta’s part of the story was that so much of what she did has been written before, and the parts of the story that were unique to her were a bit too predictable, especially her doomed romance and its results.

Let’s just say it was a VERY good thing for Caroline that Lettie was her great-aunt and not her grandmother.

One piece of Caroline’s story that I felt a great deal of resonance for was the way that it intersected with 9/11 and its aftermath, both in the portrayal of how countries outside the US both viewed the tragedy and moved on, and the way that it impacted people who were not remotely close to the event. It echoed for a while for all of us, and that was captured well.

So this is a story I’m kind of on that painful fence about. I liked Caroline a lot, I ended up seeing Julietta as both heroic and  incredibly naïve at the same time, and I wanted the 21st century story more than I did the historic one. Your mileage may vary, especially if you’ve not experienced the same kind of WW2 historical fiction fatigue or you’ve not read much about that period in Italy as opposed to the more usual settings of France or Britain..

And on my other hand, I have previously enjoyed several of this author’s WW2 stories, particularly In Farleigh Field and The Victory Garden and will undoubtedly be back again the next time she returns to the period.

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Review: Game of Hearts by Cathy Yardley

Review: Game of Hearts by Cathy YardleyGame of Hearts (Fandom Hearts #3) by Cathy Yardley
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Fandom Hearts #3
Pages: 236
Published by Cathy Yardley on January 30, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kyla Summers has been offered the opportunity of a lifetime to get her cosplay business off the ground, and only one thing stands in her way. She needs someone to take over the auto shop, and there’s only one person she can think of to call…

Jericho Salomon hasn’t been back in his home town since he joined a biker gang and rode off nine years ago. When his best friend’s kid sister calls begging for help, he knows that he owes the family a debt and he intends to pay. This is easier said than done once he finds that the kid is all grown up…

She needs a pair of skillful hands. He needs to keep his hands off. When sparks begin to fly, can they keep things strictly business, or will their hearts get hopelessly tangled? No more games, it’s time to play for keeps.

My Review:

In the first two books in this series, Level Up and One True Pairing, the fandom in the heroine’s heart was pretty much front and center in their lives. But Kyla Summers’ love of cosplay reads as more like an afterthought in hers – because that’s the way that Kyla treats it.

Or rather, that’s how she lets other people, particularly her brother, guilt her into treating it.

Then again, Kyla lets her selfish and self-centered brother Billy guilt her into pulling all of her weight and most of his in the operation of the family auto repair business that they inherited from their parents.

Not that their parents are dead – it’s not that kind of inheritance. But their parents are off RV’ing on their earned and deserved retirement, leaving both the business and the operation of it to Kyla and Billy.

The problem is that Kyla is the one doing the lion’s share of the work. Not that Billy and Kyla aren’t both excellent mechanics. But Kyla has to be both mechanic and business manager, while Billy is the one who takes vacations while telling Kyla that whenever she wants to take a couple of days its never a good time.

And yes, there’s a problem there in that Billy TAKES vacation while Kyla ASKS for vacation – and gets shot down every single damn time.

Obviously, I don’t like Billy much and nothing that happens in the story makes me warm up to him at all. He’s not evil, but he’s self-absorbed and self-centered and it takes a mammoth amount of swallowing her justified and utterly righteous indignation for Kyla to finally call him on all his shit – of which there is a metric buttload.

When Billy comes back to town a day late after yet another vacation and with a broken arm, no less, Kyla is pretty much at her wit’s end. He can’t work on cars one handed, and the place needs two mechanics to keep up with the business they have and honestly need.

But Kyla was planning on taking every spare minute she could to work on costumes ahead of a Con that’s only a month away. There’s a costume contest, and if she wins it’s $10,000 and publicity for her dream costuming business AND an in with a big costume and geekwear company like Her Universe, but not actually them, of course.

With Billy’s broken arm, along with his unwillingness to learn any of the business side of the garage, Kyla knows it will take her every waking minute – along with any minute she might collapse from exhaustion – to keep the business afloat.

Like always, Billy minimizes and dismisses her cosplay. And pretty much everything else that Kyla wants, needs, or says. So, after a night of drinking and crying on the shoulders of her besties, the sisters who run the bookstore and collectibles shop that serves as an anchor for this entire series, Kyla drunk calls her teenage crush, Jericho Salomon.

Not because it’s a drunk booty call or even just a maudlin, drunk call to an ex-lover, because they never were that, but because Jericho spent his growing up years right beside Kyla and Billy in the Summers’ auto repair shop, and learned how to fix engines right beside them.

With Billy out of commission, Kyla needs another ace mechanic to keep up with the garage and maybe let her carve out enough time to finish the costumes she needs for the contest.

When Jericho comes back to Snoqualmie to help her out, she gets a whole lot more than just a great mechanic, and even more than a man who is willing to work on Kyla’s personal engine until it’s humming a very happy tune indeed.

As much as Jericho and Kyla enjoy each other’s company, both in bed and out, and as much as he wants to support her, not just with the repair shop but with everything in her life, he has too many bad memories in Snoqualmie and too many commitments outside it to ever plan on staying.

And Kyla is much too used to having no one to rely on to trust that he’ll ever come back once he’s gone.

Escape Rating B: I read the second book in this series, One True Pairing, a few years back and absolutely adored it, so I was all in to go back and read Level Up a few weeks ago when it popped up for a tour, and I’m back in Snoqualmie for Game of Hearts.

The title of which, I just realized this minute, is a play on Game of Thrones. Not that there is a Red Wedding or anything remotely like one, but rather that the signature costumes that Kyla works on for that contest are based on GoT.

As I said, I loved One True Pairing, and really liked Level Up. But I had some seriously mixed feelings about Game of Hearts for at least half of the book. Because I wanted to rant and rave about the patriarchy that had conditioned Kyla to believe that her wants and needs always had to take second place to Billy’s.

Not that Kyla isn’t a grown-ass woman who needs to take control of her own life and put herself first because no one else is going to, but I was watching her internal dialog and desperation and wanted to shake her until some backbone filtered in – which it finally did and hallelujah for that.

Let’s just say I REALLY didn’t like Billy because he just never gets hit by a big enough clue-by-four – and not that both Kyla and Jericho didn’t try. Billy’s sense of entitlement was pretty epic.

So this was a really hard read for me until Kyla started to use her own voice and take charge of her own life and stand up for her own self when it came to her brother.

Once Jericho enters the picture the story changed for me, a whole lot and very much for the better. Because Jericho believes in Kyla and does his level best to enable her to fulfill her dreams. That he also falls in love with her and vice versa was just delicious icing on what suddenly became a rather tasty cake, because his belief and real support was the most important thing.

When he does fall down and does disappoint her and doesn’t fulfill all of his promises – which becomes the central dramatic tension in the story, he still never minimizes her dreams or her desires. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t screw up and screw things up, but it happens because he has a lot of his own crap to deal with and doesn’t handle it well at times because he’s human like the rest of us and not ever because he thinks she’s less than.

So, as much as my teeth ground on this one in the beginning, I was definitely cheering for Kyla and Jericho by the end. So now that I’m three books in, I’m hoping that the rest of this series is going to turn up on tour in the months ahead. It feels a bit like someone is capitalizing on the overwhelming success and utter wonderfulness of Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert, and I’m just fine with that if it means more books like the Fandom Hearts series get more attention.

Meanwhile, I’ll be looking forward to the next book in THIS series, What Happens at Con the next time my own fannish heart needs a bit of a tune-up.

 

Review: The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak

Review: The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda NovakThe Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 448
Published by Mira on April 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A page-turner with a deep heart."—Nancy Thayer, New York Times bestselling author of
Girls of Summer

How do you start a new chapter of your life when you haven’t closed the book on the previous one?
Eighteen months ago, Autumn Divac’s husband went missing. Her desperate search has yielded no answers, and she can’t imagine moving forward without him. But for the sake of their two teenage children, she has to try.
Autumn takes her kids home for the summer to the charming beachside town where she was raised. She seeks comfort working alongside her mother and aunt at their bookshop, only to learn that her daughter is facing a huge life change and her mother has been hiding a terrible secret for years. And when she runs into the boy who stole her heart in high school, old feelings start to bubble up again. Is she free to love him, or should she hold out hope for her husband’s return? She can only trust her heart…and hope it won’t lead her astray.
"A heart-tugging romance. Readers are sure to be sucked in.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review  

My Review:

The bookstore on the beach in Sable Beach belongs to, let’s call them late-middle-aged sisters Mary and Lauren. As this tumultuous summer opens, Mary is waiting for her grown-up daughter Autumn to arrive for one last summer with her kids, her daughter Taylor and son Caden.

There’s more than a bit of bittersweetness in Mary’s anticipation, and in Autumn’s as well as she makes the drive up from her home in Tampa. Taylor will be a senior in high school in the fall, and Caden will be a junior. This is probably the last summer of their, not exactly childhood, but the last summer when they’ll all be together as a family before Taylor and Caden accelerate their inevitable pull away into adulthood, with jobs, college and relationships speeding up that separation.

But it’s also a first summer for Autumn. This is the first summer she’s come home to the beach without even the prospect of her husband dropping in for a week or two of vacation. Not because they are divorced, and not because he’s dead.

At least not as far as Autumn knows.

Autumn is stuck in a hellish limbo. Her husband went on a business trip to Ukraine, the country his family immigrated to the U.S. from. He left 18 months ago, without telling Autumn he was going. He seems to have gone at the behest, or under the aegis, or at least with the knowledge of, the CIA and/or the FBI or one (or possibly more) of the alphabet agencies.

Nick Divac disappeared somewhere in Ukraine. Or in Russia. Or into an unmarked grave. Or a prison. Or a cave. Autumn doesn’t know and hasn’t been able to get anyone at any of those alphabet agencies to give her much in the way of information. Even the private investigator she hired in Ukraine has found nothing but dead ends. But also no confirmation of Nick’s actual death.

But this isn’t just Autumn’s story. All of the women in her family, her mother Mary, her daughter Taylor, and certainly Autumn’s self, have something huge hanging over them this summer. Some of those things, most of those things, are secrets. All of them have the power to change their lives, when, and not if, they come crashing down.

They can’t go back to the way things used to be. The only question is how they go forward, and whether they can manage to hold on to each other and do it together.

Escape Rating B-: The Bookstore on the Beach is one of those stories where not a whole lot happens, while at the same time a whole lot that might happen or probably will happen is being worried over or anticipated – if not exactly eagerly. The eventual happenings are more of a relief – mostly – than the waiting.

Every woman in the family spends the entire book waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not that the first shoe has actually dropped. They each have something HUGE hanging over their heads. I found myself looking for the collective noun for swords – like a murder of crows, a leap of leopards, an unkindness of ravens. Because this is story about a family walking around with their very own separate and individual Sword of Damocles hanging over their head and following them around.

A cache of Swords of Damocles? A store of Swords of Damocles? Perhaps even an Armory of Swords of Damocles?

Mary is on tenterhooks expecting someone to expose her past – a past she has never revealed to her daughter. Taylor is unsuccessfully pretending that she’s not avoiding even thinking about the secrets in her present. And Autumn lets herself start a new relationship with her biggest teenage crush, all the while caught between hoping and fearing that her missing husband will return – just when she’s given up and moved on.

All of their fears are very, very real, even if the situations that both Mary and Autumn are in stretch the bounds of credulity just a bit. Not that what happened to them doesn’t happen in real life, more that it’s a stretch that both things happened in the same family.

The size of the cria herd of drama llamas (yes, I looked it up, “cria herd” is the collective noun for llamas) is so large as to stretch the pasture that holds my willing suspension of disbelief.

Because this story begins with Autumn’s husband already missing, I felt a bit like I’d been dropped midway into a series. Like I should have read the earlier parts of Autumn’s story as background in someone else’s. But this is a standalone, so no.

Also, because Autumn’s husband has been gone for quite a while at the beginning, her memories of him and their life together have been overlaid or muted by time, confusion and grief. He’s not present enough even in memory for him to really be missed. And her descriptions of their life together, while they don’t paint him in exactly a bad light, don’t give the reader enough to really buy into the romance they are supposed to have had.

Unlike her romance in her present with Quinn, which is lovely and heartfelt and heartbreaking in all of its glory – of which there is quite a lot. The combination of these elements made the ending a bit abrupt. It’s the ending the reader wants, but it’s sharp and hard and doesn’t really feel earned. It’s a situation where a true HEA doesn’t feel quite right, because it’s they are caught up in a mess where someone is bound to end up very unhappy indeed.

But I really liked all three, Mary and Autumn and Taylor. I loved the town of Sable Beach, and felt very envious of the bookstore itself even though I know it’s a much harder and more precarious way to make a living than the book can or should get into. It’s a lovely place, a beautiful haven, and I wouldn’t mind visiting again.