Review: The Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster

Review: The Summer of No Attachments by Lori FosterThe Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Summer Friends #2
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on June 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Summer flings with no strings mean nobody gets hurt.At least, that was the plan…
After putting the brakes on her dead-end relationship, local veterinarian Ivey Anders is ready to soak up this summer on her own terms. The way she sees it, no dating means no disappointment. Why complicate life with anything long-term? But when she meets Corbin Meyer—and his troubled young son, Justin—Ivey’s no-strings strategy threatens to unravel before she can put it into practice.
Trust doesn’t come easy for Ivey’s best friend, Hope Mage, a veterinary-clinic assistant who’s affected by an incident that’s colored every relationship she’s had. Though Hope’s happy for Ivey, she can’t quite open her own heart to the possibility of love. Not just yet… Maybe not ever. Soon, however, she’s faced with a dilemma—Corbin’s older brother, Lang. He’s charming, he’s kind…and he may just be the reason Hope needs to finally tear down her walls.
And as the sweet summer months unspool, the two friends discover love won’t give up on them so easily.
"Brimming with heart, heat and humor."—Jill ShalvisNew York Times bestselling author, on Worth the Wait

My Review:

The irony of The Summer of No Attachments is that the first thing that Ivey does after declaring that she isn’t going to get attached to anyone this summer is that she immediately gets attached to someone.

However, as Ivey is a veterinarian, that she finds herself instantly attached to a slightly skittish rescue dog named Daisy – along with all of the puppies that Daisy gave birth to practically in Ivey’s lap – is not all that big a surprise.

But Daisy and her puppies are all adorable, so we all do fall right along with her. That Daisy is the first Jack-A-Bee dog I’ve heard of or read about made her extra cute. (A Jack-A-Bee is the result of mating a Jack Russell Terrier with a Beagle and the whole idea just oozes cuteness.)

Ivey’s romance with Daisy would have been an adorable story, but that’s not what we’re here for. And honestly, that’s not what Ivey is there for, either. Okay, it is part of what she’s there for, but not ALL of it.

As the story opens, Ivey finds Daisy and Daisy has her puppies at the end of what has already been a very long day for Ivey and her best friend and veterinary assistant Hope Mage. When Ivey finally makes it home, her boyfriend of two years is lounging on her couch bitching about her being home late.

It’s the latest in a string of disappointments in that relationship, and it’s the last. Ivey kicks Geoff to the curb and vows to have a summer of hookups with no need to fall into another relationship.

Haven’t we all made those kinds of vows?

Ivey’s promise to herself turns out to be about as successful as you might expect. The meet cute in this story isn’t between Corbin Meyer and Ivey Anders, although they certainly do meet. But the real cute in that meeting is the one between Corbin’s son Justin and Daisy and her pups.

There’s something about Justin, scared, shy and uncertain, that reaches out to Daisy – and surprisingly vice-versa for the boy and the dog. That the dad and the vet can’t resist seeing the two fall in love and help each other heal makes this a lovely story with a lot of heart.

And doggie kisses!

Escape Rating A: I just plain fell in love with these characters, this place and this story, to the point where I was up until 4 am because I couldn’t resist reading just a little longer – all the way to the very heartwarming conclusion with its happy ever afters all around. HEAs for everyone turned out to be just what I needed.

The primary story is in not just the romance between Corbin and Ivey, but in the way that they both fall in love with Justin and build a family together out of some pretty shaky circumstances.

As the story begins, Corbin and Justin are still walking on eggshells around each other. Justin’s mother dumped him on Corbin, after telling Corbin that the child she never bothered to inform him existed was his and it was time for him to take over childcare full-time while she ran off. As the truths about Justin’s circumstances are slowly revealed – not just to the reader but to Corbin – the scope of the tragedy-in-the-making becomes both clearer and wider.

So Corbin is adjusting to having a pre-teen son he never knew about. He hasn’t really got the time or the energy for a relationship and Ivey is more than a bit gun-shy about diving into a relationship with anyone at all. (Not that her ex was evil or anything, but she feels like she just climbed out of a rut and is worried about climbing into another one.)

But they do it anyway, in spite of themselves, two steps forward and one step back, while Corbin’s family rallies around and life goes on.

The secondary characters were icing on a very tasty cake, especially the romance between Corbin’s brother Lang and Ivey’s bestie Hope. That could have been a whole romance all of its own, and it would have been a great one even by itself, but the story was even better in the contrast between the kind of second chance that Corbin, Ivey and Justin are reaching for and the much more difficult one that Hope needs to let herself have after trauma and betrayal.

The depth of the friendship between Ivey and Hope was beautiful, and added something special to the whole story. A story that was just plain special all the way around.

Goodreads says that this book is the second book in The Summer Friends series that begin with The Somerset Girls, which I have but have not read. Although now that I’ve visited Sunset, Kentucky, I’m sure I’ll find my way back!

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayShiftless (Night Shift #3) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #3
Pages: 112
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on June 19th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Night Shift is the city's thin, silver line- and some nights it's thinner than others.

It isn't the fact he almost died last night that's thrown Night Shift officer Kit Marlow. He's used to that. It's the fact that instead of a werewolf trying to rip his throat out, it was his friend and colleague who tried to put him in the ground.

Well, 'friend.'

Now Marlow's been framed for a murder he didn't commit by a man who's committed more than his fair share. Half the cops in San Diego want to see Marlow behind bars for what he's supposedly done, and the other half want him dead before he can tell his side of the story. The problem is that he can't tell them apart.

There's only one person in town that Marlow can trust, even though he knows he shouldn't drag Cade Deacon into his problems. The sharp-tongued CEO of a private security firm might have gotten close to Marlow over the last few weeks, but taking on the SDPD is a lot to ask.

Marlow doesn't have much choice, though. If he can't clear his name before the last full moon of the month sets, he might not see another one. That'd be a shame since Marlow would really like to spend the night with Cade without needing protective gear.

My Review:

The one thing I knew going into this book was that she couldn’t do it to me again. Thank goodness.

Shiftless is the final novella in the Night Shift trilogy, which meant that the author simply couldn’t end the book on a damn cliffhanger the way that she did the first two books, Shift Work and Split Shift.

Honestly, if she’d managed to do it again anyway I’d have figured out a way to reach through the screen and deliver a Howler from up close and personal because damn that would have been the absolute limit.

Not that I won’t be riveted, again, if the author ever returns to Marlow and Cade’s world. Because it’s fascinating and they’re snarky, hot and a whole lot interesting to follow.

Escape Rating A-: First of all, the Night Shift series isn’t so much a “series” as it is a single story split into three bite-sized pieces. So if you love paranormal romance, if you enjoy enemies-into-lovers, if a world where even though it isn’t quite ours the story still captures your attention from the first page, takes you away and still manages to say quite a bit about our world into the excellent bargain, start with Shift Work and settle in for a compelling ride – and read.

This is a world where werewolves rule, and the laws are bent to fit them, because they have all the power and it seems like a fair amount of the money. One of the things that makes this world a bit different is that being a werewolf also seems to be completely normal – it’s the so-called “nulls” that are weird.

If you’ve ever heard of the 80/20 law, it’s kind of like that, only the proportions aren’t nearly so even. Some people, not a big percentage at all, can’t be turned. They don’t “wolf out” the three nights of the full moon and can’t be changed to do so.

Kit Marlow is one of those nulls. He’s a police officer, a member of the “Night Shift” who works those three nights. Because someone has to serve and protect the people who don’t have an inner wolf – and sometimes even the werewolves need to be protected from themselves or each other.

The problem Kit has – well, he has two, come to think of it. He can’t trust his fellow officers at his back. Too many of them are tied in with the dirty cop he sent to prison a few years ago – and the rest looked the other way. The one person he can trust is the one person he really shouldn’t. Because three nights of the month, Cade Deacon thinks Kit Marlow is dinner – and not in any good way from Kit’s perspective.

But Kit has been framed, and Cade is his only hope of something. Whether that’s rescue, protection or the opportunity to clear his name is to be determined. What they’ll be at the end of it all, if Kit will still be anywhere at all, is anybody’s guess.

So a big part of this story is Kit trying to clear his name. An important part of the story is Kit and Cade trying to figure out what they are to each other, as neither of them has any experience with relationships to begin with – and theirs has the possibility of being especially fraught. The occasionally-partially-resolved sexual tension between the two of them heats up the entire story.

The third part is, in its way, even more interesting. Because Marlow needs to figure out who he’s going to be when this whole mess comes out the other side. Unless he’s dead or in prison and then dead which is still a possibility. He trusts a person who’s supposed to be an enemy way more than anyone who is supposed to be at least a colleague if not a friend. There’s a whole lot wrong with that picture and what that says about the Night Shift in specific and possibly about the real world in general is still keeping me thinking.

I’m going to miss Marlow and Cade and their very fascinating world. While they seem to have reached as much of an HEA as either of them is capable of, I’d love to explore this place more. Lots, lots more.

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Night Shift short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Shiftless by TA Moore, which completes the Night Shift trilogy! I believe it is still technically a novella, although it’s the novella that kicked the other novellas out of the nest and ate all the food!

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Night Shift world. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter Two

Warden Brunell stepped back from the door and waved Marlow into the hut. He glanced over at the crowd of people still stuck behind red tape and reminded himself that there was only one way to find out what he needed to know.

Or only one he could think of.

Associate Warden Brunell’s office was warm and faintly ripe with the odor of old sweat and recent fear. There was no shame in that. Brunell spent the full moon with only pre-fab walls and chains between him and a few dozen hungry wolves, and not even a single silver bullet for emergencies.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? The quiet echo of Piper’s voice bounced around inside Marlow’s skull. Shouldn’t there be a level playing field?

It sounded reasonable, but Piper always did. That was why Marlow was here and not at the bar with the rest of the squad. He wanted to make up his mind before Piper made it for him.
Brunell extended his hand. “Officer…?” he trailed off, one eyebrow raised expectantly.

“Marlow.”

“First or last?”

“Yes.”

There was a pause, and then Brunell laughed. It sounded scratchy and exhausted, but genuine.

“There it is,” he said. “Never met a Night Shift officer who wasn’t an asshole. No offence. Midnight under the full moon, that’s a survival instinct. Sit down. How can I help you?”

Brunell waved Marlow to one of the chairs—metal and folding. Like everything else in the hut, it was portable and cheap… just in case—as he went back behind his desk. There was a stack of folders by his elbow, intake forms that needed to be matched with the release forms being signed right now, and a glass of something that probably wasn’t water by one hand.

“Kit,” Marlow provided as he sat down. “Thirsty work running the Crate?”

“It is,” Brunell agreed, unphased, as he took a drink. If it was liquor—and Marlow would put money on it that it was—Brunell didn’t flinch as it hit the back of his throat. “But while I can’t leave until the last inmate has gone through their exit interview, my shift ended at the same time as yours. So, technically, I’m not drinking on the job. Want one?”

It was tequila, and it wasn’t good tequila. Marlow recognised the bottle that Brunell pulled out of a drawer. The idea of it made Marlow’s mouth twist in a confused mixture of parched and revolted. He might want a drink after last night, but the idea of getting cheap tequila drunk didn’t appeal.

“I’ve plans for the day I need to be upright for,” Marlow said. “At least, for part of the day.”

Brunell chuckled and winked at Marlow. “Enjoy it while you can. Night Shift don’t die in bed, so make the most of the time you do spend there, that’s what I say.”

He raised his glass in a toast. Marlow didn’t have the heart to disillusion him.

Night Shift could get laid, that was true. Sleep was more elusive. Given a choice between the two…

Okay, most of the time they’d pick sex. On the second day of the Full Moon? An empty mattress, cool sheets, and no-one who needed anything from you? Then it was a harder question.
Marlow’s only plans for his bed involved him, slightly more Tylenol than recommended on the bottle, and a good six hours of not doing anything at all. He didn’t want any company. If it got Brunell onside, though, let him think that Marlow had a much more Piper-like life.

“Doctor Ben Crenshaw,” Marlow said.

“Who?” Brunell asked, head cocked to the side.

“Could you check your records?” Marlow asked. “See if someone by that name checked out last month?”

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Book Gemz and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

 

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads |

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Review: Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia

Review: Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa AfiaDead Dead Girls (Harlem Renaissance Mystery #1) by Nekesa Afia
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Harlem Renaissance #1
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on June 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The start of an exciting new historical mystery series set in 1920s Harlem featuring Louise Lloyd, a young black woman caught up in a series of murders way too close to home...
Harlem, 1926. Young black girls like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead.
Following a harrowing kidnapping ordeal when she was in her teens, Louise is doing everything she can to maintain a normal life. She's succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie's Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Manhattan's hottest speakeasy. Louise's friends might say she's running from her past and the notoriety that still stalks her, but don't tell her that.
When a girl turns up dead in front of the café, Louise is forced to confront something she's been trying to ignore--several local black girls have been murdered over the past few weeks. After an altercation with a local police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or let a judge make an example of her.
Louise has no choice but to take the case and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind. She'll have to tackle her own fears and the prejudices of New York City society if she wants to catch a killer and save her own life in the process.

My Review:

It’s 1926. The Roaring 20’s. The period of the “lost generation” post-WW1 and pre-Depression. In Britain, Lord Peter Wimsey is dealing, sometimes badly, with his PTSD and solving crimes. In Australia, Phryne Fisher is seducing young men, solving crimes, and proving to anyone who even thinks to criticize her for doing a man’s job that she’s doing it better than anyone else, including the police, thankyouverymuch and please keep your opinions to yourself.

Dead Dead Girls takes place in the same time period, following the same avocation, but not exactly the same world.

Louise Lloyd, a black woman in her late 20s, is caught up in a seemingly endless round of late nights dancing at speakeasies, waitressing during the day to pay for those late nights, and living in a single women’s boarding house with-and-not-with her best friend and lover, Rosa. Louise is trying to outrun her demons by dancing and drinking her nights away.

But those demons reach out for her in a way she can’t ignore. Young black women are turning up dead in Harlem, and Louise has just discovered the latest victim on the front step of the diner where she works.

So many girls have been killed, so close together, that even the white powers-that-be of the NYPD can’t ignore the serial killings any longer – no matter how much they’d rather sweep it all under the rug.

When Louise’ anger and frustration at the situation, along with the way that the cops seem to be using the murder investigation as an excuse to harrass as many Harlem residents with no pretext whatsoever rather than solve the crime, bubbles over, she hits a cop, ends up in jail and facing the kind of offer that it isn’t safe to refuse.

Help the cops find the killer, or go to jail and let herself be further abused by the system that is designed to keep her people down.

At first both reluctant and amateur in all her investigation and interrogation techniques, as the body count rises and the cops make no progress whatsoever, Louise finds herself drawn deeper into a web of hatred, lies and a determined desire on the part of officialdom to look the other way as long as all of the victims are black.

Louise can’t look away. She’s frightened at every turn, knowing that she, or someone she loves, could be next. And that no one except her own community will care. But when she stares into the abyss, she discovers that the abyss has been staring back at her all along.

Escape Rating B: I have to say that in the end this story hits like a hammer. And I’m still reeling from the blow. But that needs a bit of explanation. Perhaps more than that, because this is one of those stories that made me think – and I’m still thinking.

As a historical mystery, Dead Dead Girls manages to hit the sweet spot – or in this case the bittersweet spot – of being both firmly fixed in its time and place while being utterly relevant to the present, to the point where the reader, as much as they know it’s there and then, is certain that it could just as easily be here and now with entirely too few changes.

The consequence is that the mystery has a bit of a slow start, because it takes a while for the time machine to transport us back to Harlem in the 1920s. It’s definitely worth the trip, but it takes a few chapters to get us there.

At the same time, OMG but this is a hard read after this past year. Because of the way that it feels both historical and all too plausible in the present day. Particularly as I’m writing this review on June 1, the 100th anniversary of the second day of the Tulsa race massacre. Which Louise would have known all about – but which entirely too many of us did not and do not to this day.

Just as the murder spree in Harlem that touches Louise’ life much too closely would have been reported on extensively in the Black newspapers of the day like The Defender but would have been totally ignored by the white papers.

As a character, at first I found Louise a bit difficult to get close to, because so much of her behavior seems so deliberately reckless. It took me quite a while to get it through my head that her irresponsible behavior doesn’t really matter. She’s in a no-win scenario and nothing that she does or doesn’t do will make it any better. Like all of the things that we women are taught not to do because we might get raped, when the fact of the matter is that rape is about power and not about sex, and there’s little we can do to prevent it – and that we’ll be blamed for it anyway.

Louise’ situation is that only multiplied. Exhibiting different behavior, while it might have made her life in her father’s house more tolerable, doesn’t change the way the world perceives her and treats her. She has the power to make things worse, but not to make them better. At least not on her own. Lashing out however and whenever she can is a reasonable response. But I admit that I had to work my way towards that reaction.

The mystery that Louise has to solve is as dark and mesmerizing, twisty and turny as any mystery reader could possibly desire. But the circumstances in which Louise has to solve it are weighted with the baggage of racism and sexism in a way that fill much of the story with the darkness of the evil that men do and the inexorable weight of power corrupting – even just the power of small-minded people with little authority – and absolute power corrupting absolutely and inciting more of the same.

Dead Dead Girls is the author’s first novel – and what a searing debut it is. I’m looking forward to great, great things in her future work – particularly the second projected book in this series!

Review: Her Scottish Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Her Scottish Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayHer Scottish Scoundrel (Diamonds in the Rough, #7) by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #7
Pages: 424
Published by Sophie Barnes on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Destined for the hangman's noose, love is a dream he cannot afford to have...
When Blayne MacNeil agrees to be Miss Charlotte Russell's bodyguard, he doesn't expect her to expand the job description to fake fiancé. After twenty years in hiding, announcing his engagement to a viscount's daughter could prove fatal. For if anyone were to recognize him, he'd be charged with murder.
Determined to keep her independence in order to safeguard her writing career, Charlotte must avoid marriage. After all, no respectable gentleman would ever permit his wife to pen outrageous adventure novels. But when her most recent manuscript disappears, the roguish Scotsman posing as her fiancé becomes her closest ally—and the greatest threat to her freedom.

My Review:

I picked this up because I fell in love with this series all the way back at its very beginning, with A Most Unlikely Duke. Because he was, and because the way that story worked was just lovely.

I’ve stuck with the series because I’ve enjoyed every single one of these unsuitable romances, admittedly some more than others as is generally the case with a series that is 8 books and happily counting.

Or at least I’m happily counting, and I’m sure that other readers are too.

What makes this series so much fun in general, and this entry in particular, is that all of the matches that occur are not just unlikely, but are completely unsuitable and generally downright scandalous into the bargain. And that the reason for the unlikeliness, unsuitability and scandalousness shifts and changes from one story to the next and from the spear side (male) to the distaff side (female) and back again as the series continues.

(I had to look up just what the opposite of “distaff” actually was.)

The other thing that makes these so fascinating, and something that was a big part of this particular story, is that the women have agency in an era when we didn’t used to expect that in a romance, and, even better, that their agency feels at least plausible – if not necessarily likely – for their time and place.

BUT, and this is a huge but that provides a lot of both realism and tension, their agency is always precarious, even if they aren’t necessarily aware of it. They have agency at the sufferance, benign neglect or downright absence of their fathers. And that agency can be taken away at any point.

That’s what happens in this particular story. Now in her late – very late – 20s, Charlotte Russell is very firmly on the shelf. She’s happy with that fate, and believes that her parents are resigned to it. Charlotte, because of her on-the-shelf designation, has a fair bit of freedom, and she has used that freedom to become a best-selling author of the slightly scandalous adventures of a rakehell spy.

Of course, those stories are written under a male nom-de-plume, and published by a friend who owns a small publishing company. Keeping her secret is of paramount importance to Charlotte, as the scandal that would result from her exposure would taint not just her own non-existent chances of marriage but also her parents’ reputation in society as well as that of her two sisters and their husbands.

And it would absolutely kill sales of her books, which she is counting on to secure her own freedom.

But everything Charlotte believes about her life and her parents’ acceptance of it all goes down the drain when her father announces that he’s invited an American businessman to London to not just meet her but to marry her, will she or nil.

In response to being essentially bought and sold, Charlotte makes an arrangement with the entirely unsuitable owner of a dangerous pub and boxing establishment in the East End to be her bodyguard and fake fiance. Not that she’s consulted him about the second part of the arrangement before she springs it on him in front of her parents!

So Charlotte Russell finds that she was always much less free than she thought. She has no idea that Blayne MacNeil is much more unsuitable than she believed.

And neither of them expects to fall in love.

Escape Rating B+: What made this story for me was, honestly, Charlotte. Because she wants the same two things that many of us still want – love and purpose. And she’s honest enough with herself to understand that those two desires may lie in opposition to each other.

Not that fulfillment through marriage and children is not a noble or worthwhile purpose, but it isn’t Charlotte’s purpose. Her dream is to write, and she is aware that in order to be free to achieve that dream she’ll most likely have to be a spinster. And she’s okay with that choice.

Her parents don’t know about her writing, because it’s too scandalous to reveal, and don’t understand or don’t care that she is willing to quietly flout societal expectations in order to make her own way in the world.

Her mother, honestly, just wants what’s best for her and isn’t able to make that leap that what most people think is best just isn’t what is best for Charlotte. But her father doesn’t care what Charlotte wants and further doesn’t care that he initially treated her as a son because he didn’t have any, and his expectation that she will now be obedient like a daughter is supposed to be is more than a bit shortsighted.

And he needs the money that her marriage to the American businessman will bring – because he screwed up the family finances – and can’t bring himself to give a damn about any dissenting voices from anyone.

Charlotte’s crisis is that she just didn’t see how easily all of her freedom could be taken away if she didn’t tow the line. That diminishing of freedom diminishes her spirit and in turn, herself.

Where Blayne gets himself in trouble is that he can’t bear to watch that diminishment, no matter how dangerous it makes his own situation. And it IS dangerous. Because he is not what he seems.

This is a big part of the reason that this entire series reminds me of the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt, in that many of the characters either live and work on the wrong side of the law abiding fence or are caught in criminal circumstances not of their own making. In Blayne’s case it’s both.

And the resolution of that part of the scenario was a bit of a surprise. It’s not a surprise that Blayne and Charlotte manage, in spite of several rather desperate circumstances, their HEA, because this is after all a romance and they’re supposed to reach it. What’s surprising is the way it’s achieved.

Blayne has to choose between being right and being happy. In real life that can be a harder choice than it ought to be, and it’s not easy here, either. But it makes that ending very much earned.

Diamonds in the Rough will be back later this year when The Dishonored Viscount (of course through no fault of his own!) makes his own way to his own kind of honor – and falls in love along the way.

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Review: The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman

Review: The Clover Girls by Viola ShipmanThe Clover Girls by Viola Shipman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Graydon House on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Like a true friendship, The Clover Girls is a novel you will forever savor and treasure." —Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author
Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where over four summers they were the Clover Girls—inseparable for those magical few weeks of freedom—until the last summer that pulled them apart. Now approaching middle age, the women are facing challenges they never imagined as teens, struggles with their marriages, their children, their careers, and wondering who it is they see when they look in the mirror.
Then Liz, V and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily with devastating news. She implores the girls who were once her best friends to reunite at Camp Birchwood one last time, to spend a week together revisiting the dreams they’d put aside and repair the relationships they’d allowed to sour. But the women are not the same idealistic, confident girls who once ruled Camp Birchwood, and perhaps some friendships aren’t meant to last forever…
Bestselling author Viola Shipman is at her absolute best with The Clover Girls. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will love its powerful, redemptive nature and the empowering message at its heart.

My Review:

Actual adulting is very different from what we imagined life would be like when we were kids. Even more different than real life was from summer camp life, back in that long ago day.

Or at least that’s true for the Clover Girls of Camp Birchwood as they look back on those four golden summers more than 30 years ago, back when they were certain they were going to be best friends 4-EVER, just like their names. Back when they were 15 instead of 50. Before they broke their friendship and went their separate ways.

Back when they were all full of life and hope and dreams. Back when they were all alive.

Because none of those things are true any longer. Veronica, once a supermodel, has faded into the background of her marriage and her life. Liz is caught in the mid-life sandwich, divorced, taking care of her dying mother and coming to the harsh realization that her grown up children are selfish, self-centered and self-absorbed, and that Liz is going to be all alone in the world when her mother dies. Rachel is possibly the most hated woman in America, a former actress and conservative political handler and TV personality who lives out of a suitcase and goes on TV to spin the deeds of vile politicians into soundbites that can be all-too-easily swallowed by people looking for demons to embrace.

Emma is dead. But before she died she returned alone, to Camp Birchwood, one last time, to make the abandoned campground ready for one final visit from the Clover Girls. Emma hopes that a return to the place where they were free to be their best and most authentic selves will give the friends she loved so much one last chance to fix what they broke between them.

And what they broke inside themselves.

Escape Rating A-: The Clover Girls reads like “sad fluff”, but it’s the fluffiest, tastiest marshmallow fluff that ever fluffed, lightly toasted and nestled lovingly between two graham crackers and just the right amount of chocolate. In other words, it may be sad fluff, but it’s the quintessential s’more of sad fluff, just as messy, gooey and tasty as the s’mores we ate at summer camp way back when.

And if my read of it is any indication, it’s clear that you can take the girl out of summer camp, time can put the entire experience (far) into the rearview mirror, but you can’t really take the girl out of the woman or the s’mores out of the girl.

There is a LOT of sad in this story – and not just because Emma is dead from the beginning. But it’s a weep in the middle rather than a cry at the end kind of story. All of the remaining Clover Girls have a lot to get over, a lot to forgive each other for and an equal amount of crap to forgive themselves for, but the story ends with a smile and twinkle in its eye.

Along the way, there’s a lot about the boxes that women get shoehorned into from a very young age, and how there’s even less time than there was when the Clover Girls were girls for girls to just have a chance to be and to find out who they can be when there’s less pressure to fit into the molds that society and their parents have already laid out for them.

One thing I was grateful for is that there aren’t a ton of flashbacks. There’s just enough for the reader to understand what went right and wrong back then that led them to the lives they have now, without spending half the book reliving the past.

It’s the present that’s important. Acknowledging the past is necessary in order for them each to move forward, but rehashing the past in all of its gory detail won’t help them deal with the issues they have in the present. And I’ll admit that I wouldn’t have liked the story half as much if that was the way it had been written.

Something else that I liked about this story was the way that the author dealt with the recent past and the political strife that has occurred in the U.S. over the past few years. Not just the conflict between political parties but divisions between family members. The remaining Clover Girls seemed to run the political gamut from liberal to conservative, but with the exception of Rachel it was conservative in the way that anyone who lived through the Reagan Era would think of conservative rather than the pure factionalism that’s occurring now. I found that acknowledgement to be both real and tastefully done, although I’m sure that others’ reading mileage will vary.

There turned out to be much more to this story than I expected on any number of fronts, all of them thought provoking and in the end rather joyful. And that sad fluff was surprisingly tasty as well as nostalgic. All in all, an absolutely lovely read.

Review: The Halo Conspiracy by Michael Murphy

Review: The Halo Conspiracy by Michael MurphyThe Halo Conspiracy by Michael Murphy
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Series: Lucas Nash #1
Pages: 254
Published by Michael Murphy on April 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In mid-twenty-first century, solving murders hasn't become any easier. Cutting edge science has created more opportunities for crime than offered solutions.

A ruthless technology company threatens to reveal Project Halo, a scientific breakthrough that will change humanity forever. Layers of secrecy conceal cutting-edge robotics, artificial intelligence and even rumors of synthetic humans. Before scientists can correct flaws that threaten the program, someone or something murders the brains behind the project.

Michael Murphy's witty fast-paced sci-fi mystery introduces Lucas Nash, a gritty, by the book homicide detective thrust into a world he always avoids, high tech. He sifts through a maze of suspects; Rachel, a spirited intern, a brute of a security chief, a treacherous woman, the murdered man's partner, and two ambitious Army officers, one found dead in the arms of a married schoolteacher, and a Colonel who can't be found.

A media starved religious leader warns the world against the evils of technology with his beautiful assistant, Lucas's one-time flame. Before uncovering the killer's identity, an unlikely romance threatens to derail the investigation and end Lucas's career. With pressure mounting from his superiors and the government, Lucas must set aside his feelings and solve the murder before technology makes him and humanity the next victims.

My Review:

This near-future mystery/technothriller begins in the way that all mysteries do – with a dead body. And then another. Along with, of course, a detective to investigate whodunnit.

It turns out to be “who done them?”, because the long arm of coincidence doesn’t stretch to two unrelated deaths at the opening of a detective story.

It’s with that second death, however, that the story draws the second arrow in its metaphorical quiver. The first case looks pretty ordinary, at least at first with its fairly obvious triangle of absent husband, cheating wife and dead one-night stand lying in a pool of his own blood with two gunshot wounds.

But that second body that Detective Lucas Nash goes to examine – that’s entirely different. Because it looks like natural causes, but sets enough of the hairs rising on the back of Lucas’ neck to make him suspicious that it isn’t.

Of course it isn’t. And that’s where this case really begins to twist in the mind of both Nash and the reader.

We’re all presented with a series of red herrings that at first don’t look even slightly pink.

The late Dr. Beltran works for an ultra-secretive and highly profitable company that creates artificial intelligence solutions for both computers and robotics. The company is the financial mainstay of the little town of Green River, and an economic engine for the entire country, with its automated and artificial intelligence tentacles in many, many places. They even have big contracts with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

And they have a crack security team that is out sweeping the late Dr. Beltran’s house in the middle of the night in order to cover up something really big. Something possibly really illegal, or unethical, or immoral, or all of the above.

Lucas Nash is determined to get to the bottom of this mess – no matter what he has to compromise along the way. Or what might try to compromise him.

Escape Rating B: I picked this one up because I really enjoyed the author’s Prohibition Era Jake and Laura mystery series (start with The Yankee Club because the whole series is a lot of fun!) So I knew going in that I’d like this one.

What I didn’t expect was how much the setup would remind me of J.D. Robb’s In Death series.

It’s that Lucas Nash’s world, like Eve Dallas’, is set in a future so close that we can see it from here, while being just far enough out that extrapolating future technology from present development creates a world that is recognizable enough to not need a whole lot of technobabble while being just far enough away that the differences that do exist don’t feel so much science fictional as simply logical.

Or to put it another way, this book takes place in 2038. All of the adult characters in the story have already been born. Not just born, but many of them are in high school during the pandemic that we all sincerely hope is ending right now in the real world.

So a future we can see from here and imagine living in fairly easily, and that makes a lot of the SF in the story easily accessible to readers who don’t read much SF.

At the same time, one way of looking at the case is that it’s wrapped around some very high tech concepts that already exist today – artificial intelligence and robotics. Along with a real-world application that has been the stuff of SFnal-tinged nightmares for decades. If AI and robotics get to be good enough, will the government use them to create supersoldiers? Can anyone seriously imagine that they won’t?

After that, the question of how fast we get to Skynet and the Terminator starts to loom pretty large. But we’re not there yet even in 2038 – not that it stops everyone from thinking about it. And making terrible jokes about it.

The technology here is just a means to an end. It’s fascinating and it’s very easy to get wrapped up in it but it’s the human dimension of the suspense that keeps the reader turning pages. Because all those red herrings at the beginning that aren’t even pink? This story is red herrings all the way down, to the point where Lucas – and the reader – go haring off on one false lead after another, thinking that we know what’s REALLY going on only to learn that we’ve been heading down a primrose path – AGAIN – and that we have to re-think everything we thought we had figured out.

In the end, all of the motives are human ones, whether the perpetrators are themselves all human or not. And in the middle of it all, there’s Lucas Nash, who doesn’t do all that well with the technology that surrounds him.

But who can figure out what makes people tick – or what ticks them off into murder – perfectly well with his own, purely human, intelligence. No matter how anyone ends up defining “people”.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley

Review: Talk Bookish to Me by Kate BromleyTalk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Graydon House on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Inspiration can come from the most unlikely—and inconvenient—sources.
Kara Sullivan’s life is full of love—albeit fictional. As a bestselling romance novelist and influential bookstagrammer, she’s fine with getting her happily-ever-after fix between the covers of a book.
But right now? Not only is Kara’s best friend getting married next week—which means big wedding stress—but the deadline for her next novel is looming, and she hasn’t written a single word. The last thing she needs is for her infuriating first love, Ryan Thompson, to suddenly appear in the wedding party. But Ryan’s unexpected arrival sparks a creative awakening in Kara that inspires the steamy historical romance she desperately needs to deliver.
With her wedding duties intensifying, her deadline getting closer by the second and her bills not paying themselves, Kara knows there’s only one way for her to finish her book and to give her characters the ever-after they deserve. But can she embrace the unlikely, ruggedly handsome muse—who pushes every one of her buttons—to save the wedding, her career and, just maybe, write her own happy ending?
"A fun and sexy romp, with chemistry that gave me all the feels!" —Jennifer Probst, New York Times bestselling author of Our Italian Summer
"Add this book to your TBR list immediately!" —Sarah Smith, author of Faker

My Review:

Romance book tropes are not nearly as much fun to experience in real life as they are between the pages of the best-selling romance novels that Kara Sullivan writes. Or so she discovers when it seems like all of her favorite tropes are happening to her, all at once, when her muse is on strike and she runs into her ex in a meet-not-so-cute at her best friend’s pre-wedding party.

Some of Kara’s favorite tropes are enemies-to-lovers, forced proximity and forbidden love, and she gets all of those and more in this second-chance at love story. Which is, of course, yet another romantic trope.

Now that I think about it, Kara REALLY should have paid more attention to her list of favorite tropes from the very beginning. It would have saved her a lot of heartbreak – but it might have also prevented her chance at her very own HEA.

Not to mention keeping her from missing the deadline to submit her next book!

Escape Rating B: I’m putting the rating in really, really early because I really need to talk about this book and the myriad mixed feelings it gave me. Because there were lots. Bunches. Oodles.

A LOT.

For me, this didn’t read so much as a second chance romance as it did a kind of “unfinished business” romance. Kara and Ryan fell in love in college, and it was one of those stars blazing in the night overwhelming kinds of love that happens when we’re young and not yet jaded and haven’t felt anything quite like it before. It’s that first romance on the cusp of adulthood, when you can imagine spending the rest of your life with this person and you’re old enough for that to be real but you may not be quite mature enough to get through the hard parts.

Kara and Ryan didn’t so much break up as explode while both of them were dealing with terrible situations in their birth families. But it feels like when they broke up they weren’t really done with each other, so when they meet again ten years later, everything that wasn’t resolved back then comes back up now. Unfortunately along with bringing back all the feelings, they regurgitate the bad parts as well.

So Kara’s angst at seeing Ryan again is laid on top of her angst about her next book along with her long held grief and guilt at the sudden death of her father and the arguments they were having at the time he died.

(This was the part that gutted me. My dad also died suddenly, although thankfully not in the midst of us arguing. It’s been almost 30 years now and sometimes the grief still cuts like a knife. I was just so there for Kara that I almost couldn’t go on with the book.)

Also, I don’t know why, but I went into this one thinking that it would be a rom-com. It has all of the witty banter of a rom-com, but as funny as Kara’s and Ryan’s verbal interactions sometimes are, the story at its heart isn’t funny.

Now that I think about it, this might be verging on what some of my bookish friends are calling “sad fluff”. What happened between Kara and Ryan back in college ended sadly, and both of them have been sad about it for pretty much the entire intervening time – at least all of that time when they weren’t still seething with anger.

And what happens in the present, well it ends well. It ends with the chance of happiness. But it doesn’t end with a happy ever after because their relationship still isn’t ready for that. In some ways I’m glad to see a story that is set up as a romance not quite end romantically just because it’s a romance. An HEA at the point Kara and Ryan are at the end wouldn’t feel earned.

But it’s also weird to read a romance that doesn’t end in an HEA or HFN.

Talk Bookish to Me wasn’t quite as bookish as I was expecting, although her portrayal of just how much damn work it is to be a bookstagrammer made me glad that every time I investigated the possibility I backed off. Bookstagram is neat but I’m so much more about the words than about the pictures that I can’t even. So that bit made me perversely happy.

As I said earlier, this one gave me a ton of mixed feelings. Both while reading and after. Your reading mileage may vary but please be advised that emotions in bookish mirror may be closer than they appear.

Review: The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan

Review: The Summer Seekers by Sarah MorganThe Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Harlequin HQN on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“The ultimate road-trippin’ beach read and just what we all need after the long lockdown.”Booklist
, STARRED REVIEW
for
THE SUMMER SEEKERS

The Summer Seekers is the ultimate road trip book.”—Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Get swept into a summer of sunshine, soul-searching and shameless matchmaking with this delightfully bighearted road-trip adventure by USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan!
Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves—what she needs—is adventure.
Liza is drowning in the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.
Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.
When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She's not the world's best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And traveling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?
As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it's never too late to start over…

My Review:

We’re all the products of our families, in one way or another. For some, it’s by imitation. We learned what to do by observing the people around us. For others, it’s in opposition. We learned what not to do by observing the people around us.

It’s pretty clear at the beginning of The Summer Seekers that Liza and her mother Kathleen exist in opposition. Kathleen’s life has been filled with wanderlust, spending most of Liza’s growing up years on the road filming her travel show, titled, just as this book is, The Summer Seekers.

What Liza learned from that experience is that she absolutely did not want that life for herself. She attached herself to home and hearth pretty much as soon as she could. Kathleen craved adventure, leaving Liza to crave the security she never felt she had.

But time has marched on. Kathleen still craves adventure, but at 80 her adventures are not quite as easy to arrange. While 40ish Liza wants above all for her mother, and all of her other loved ones, to be safe. Even though “safe” is the last thing that Kathleen was EVER built for.

There’s that saying about a ship in harbor being safe, but that not being what ships are built for. Kathleen is the ship. Her daughter Liza is the harbor, attempting to keep every ship not just safe but her own definition of safe and worrying so much over every ship – meaning every member of her family and their every need – that she’s worrying herself all the way to a permanent panic attack – if not worse.

And Kathleen and Liza, no matter how much they love each other, manage to just push each other further and further away. Liza wants to keep her mother safe, and she desperately needs to talk about her feelings about her mother’s absences, both physical and emotional, as she was growing up. While Kathleen wants to live the remaining years of her life by wringing out every day until every last drop has been squeezed out – and by never talking about or touching on anything deeply emotional at all.

They are on an emotional collision course when Kathleen announces that she is planning to take the one trip she always intended to but never quite managed. She intends to fly from London to Chicago and take a ride on storied, scenic Route 66. With an unemployed former barista named Martha as her driver, personal assistant and companion.

Liza is practically out of her mind with worry. Because that’s the person she’s become.

But just as Kathleen is about to fly away, just as she did so often during Liza’s childhood, they have one of those moments when they see each other clearly. A moment that puts a shaky bridge across the emotional chasm between them.

And in that moment they throw each other an emotional lifeline. As the miles increase between them, the distance, paradoxically, closes.

But is it too late?

Escape Rating A-: The Summer Seekers begins as Kathleen and Liza are in the midst of a seemingly life-long failure to communicate. Kathleen is emotionally distant – not just with her daughter but with, generally, everyone in her life. Liza, in reaction to her mother’s emotional distance during her childhood, has turned into her mother’s opposite – a woman who has tried to be so present and so involved in the lives of everyone she loves that she does everything for them – and has lost herself in the process.

Into the middle of that gulf steps, or rather drives, Martha. Literally as well as figuratively. Because Martha has the emotional intelligence that both Kathleen and Liza lack. (It’s clearly not in their family DNA!) It’s kind of a surprise that it’s in Martha’s, because her own family can’t seem to appreciate anything she has or is or does – and it’s killing her spirit one hour at a time.

But on this journey, Martha becomes the bridge between Kathleen and Liza. At 25, she’s not quite young enough to be Liza’s daughter, but she’s definitely of an age to be Kathleen’s granddaughter. In the forced intimacy of a very long car trip in a small but fast sports car, they open up to each other in a way that neither has done with their families.

So technology-savvy Martha facilitates the smartphone, email and video chat communication that links Kathleen with her daughter Liza. They share more over the longer distance than they ever have when close.

At the point where the story becomes about Kathleen’s, Liza’s and Martha’s physical and emotional journeys forward and towards each other, it becomes an absolute delight to follow. But the beginning, when Kathleen and Liza are at such cross purposes they are not having the same conversation even when they are in the same conversation, was a painful read for me because it hit much too close to home.

What makes this story is not the physical journey but rather the emotional journey. Martha, with just a bit of Kathleen’s help, learns to listen to the voice inside herself and not all of the naysayers that surround her at home. Kathleen, with a bit of help from Martha’s emotional intelligence, opens up to her daughter about the past Kathleen left behind long ago, and the betrayal that led to the emotional distance that affected both of their lives.

While Liza, with just a bit of prodding from her mother, finally snaps under the weight of all of the worries and obligations that she has buried herself under for so long. In the resounding echo of that snap she drops everything and takes back…herself. She puts herself, her own dreams and her own needs, back near the top of her gigantic to-do list. And every single person in her life is the better for it. Including, most especially Liza.

The “kicks on Route 66” in the Mustang convertible may be the thing that push the story forward, but it’s the emotional journeys that pull very successfully at the reader’s heart.

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
Goodreads

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.

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Stepsisters by Susan MalleryThe Stepsisters by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery pens a love story of a different sort…a heartfelt tale of friendship between two women who used to be sisters.
Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage’s mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.
Sage didn’t have Daisy’s smarts—she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters’ rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage’s first love, and Sage fled California.
Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects—or wants—to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.
Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again…or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery. She writes lovely filled with charming people in sometimes messy relationships that sweep me up, take me away, and put me right into the heart of stories that manage to be both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing The Stepsisters in the weeks ahead, so here’s a teaser to whet all of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery (continued from Friday’s Excerpt at Jathan & Heather)

Someone knocked on her window. She rolled it down.

“You okay?” Sage asked.

“Not really. My car won’t start.”

“Want me to take you home?”

Daisy thought about saying she would call an Uber or Lyft or something, but figured that fate was messing with her and she might as well simply surrender. The sooner she got through whatever hell this was, the sooner it would be over. Later, when the kids were in bed and she had showered, she would review her life and try to decide where she’d messed up so much that she had to be punished. But for now, she had a sick kid and someone willing to give her a ride.

“Thank you,” she said through clenched teeth, looking into the beautiful green eyes of the one woman on the planet she hated more than anyone. “That would be great.”

“How long have you known my mom?” Krissa asked, suddenly sounding significantly better than she had five minutes ago. Yet more proof of Sage’s endless powers, Daisy thought bitterly as she buckled her seat belt.

“Since we were young,” Sage told her. “I think we were eight or nine.”

“I’m eight!” Krissa’s tone indicated there was magic afoot. “But I don’t understand. You were stepsisters. So Grandpa was married to…”

“Sage’s mother,” Daisy explained. “For about six years. Do you remember Aunt Cassidy?”

“I don’t think so.” Her tone was doubtful. “Is she pretty like Sage?”

“Yes.” Annoyingly so. “Cassidy is our half-sister. My father, your grandfather, is her dad and Sage’s mother is Cassidy’s mom. I’m sure you’ve met Cassidy at least once.”

She glanced over her shoulder and saw Krissa’s face scrunch up, as if she were trying to work it all out.

“She’s your aunt,” Sage offered.

“Then why don’t I know her?”

An excellent question, Daisy thought. One of the answers might be that since the divorce all those years ago, Cassidy had made it clear she preferred Sage to Daisy and once Cassidy had turned eighteen, she’d taken off to explore the world. She stayed in touch with Wallace, their mutual father, but not with Daisy.

“You don’t hear from her?” Sage asked, driving through one of the open gates that marked the entrance to Bel Air. “I’m surprised.”

Are you really? But Daisy didn’t actually ask the question. What was the point? In a battle of the sisters, she had always come in last. When she’d been a child herself, she hadn’t understood why she and Sage couldn’t be friends. Unlike many only children, she’d been delighted when her father had told her he was marrying Joanne and giving her a stepsister. She’d imagined having someone to play with, a friend to confide in. She’d wanted a connection, a best friend, a closeness that always seemed to exist between sisters she read about or saw on TV.

But Sage had rebuffed every overture. Even when she was friendly for an afternoon, the next day, she would be cold and distant. At school, she delighted in mocking Daisy. Sage might have been the new girl at their exclusive private school, but Daisy was the one who had felt left out.

Sage glanced in the rearview mirror. “Your aunt Cassidy is a travel writer. She goes all over the world and writes about interesting places and people. Right now she’s in Patagonia studying a group of women selling textiles.”

Krissa’s eyes widened. “She sounds cool.”

“Even saint-like,” Daisy murmured under her breath, before pointing to the street on the right.

“It’s just up there.”

Sage smiled. “I remember where the house is.”

“I wasn’t sure.”

It had been a long time—over twenty years since Wallace and Joanne had divorced, although they’d shared custody of their daughter. Cassidy had gone back and forth between the houses right through high school. Sage had probably dropped her off or picked her up more than once.

Daisy instinctively pointed toward the long driveway. Sage laughed and repeated, “I know where I’m going.”

Which made Daisy feel foolish—a usual state of being when Sage was around.

“I’m surprised you’re in Los Angeles,” she said, mostly to distract herself. “Aren’t you living in Italy?”

“Rome,” Sage corrected. “I was.”

“You live in Rome?” Krissa’s disbelieving tone made it sound as if her almost-aunt had a pied-à-terre on Jupiter. “That’s in the EU.”

“It’s very beautiful there.” She glanced at Daisy. “I came home a couple of weeks ago. My mom was dealing with a cancer scare.”

And just like that, all Daisy’s mad deflated, leaving her feeling small and mean-spirited.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “If you’d like a recommendation for an oncologist, I can get you some names.”

Something flickered across Sage’s perfect face. “Thank you, but it turned out just to be a scare. She’s fine now.”

She reached the end of the long driveway and stared up at the big house.

“It looks the same.”

The inside was different, Daisy thought. They’d updated the kitchen and family room. The master bedroom and bath had also been redone, a remodel completed when Wallace had moved out, allowing Daisy and Jordan to live in the big house. Not that she was going to discuss any of that with Sage.

 

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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