#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike ChenA Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, science fiction, science fiction romance, time travel
Pages: 368
Published by Harlequin MIRA on January 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The only thing harder than finding someone in a time loop is losing them.

Grieving her best friend's recent death, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s ready to give up everything to start anew. Even her career— after one last week consulting at a top secret particle accelerator.

Except the strangest thing a man stops her…and claims they've met before. Carter Cho knows who she is, why she's mourning, why she's there. And he needs Mariana to remember everything he’s saying.

Because time is about to loop.

In a flash of energy, it’s Monday morning. Again. Together, Mariana and Carter enter an inevitable life, four days at a time, over and over, without permanence except for what they share. With everything resetting—even bank accounts—joy comes in the little a delicious (and expensive) meal, a tennis match, giving a dog his favorite treat.

In some ways, those are all that matter.

But just as they figure out this new life, everything changes. Because Carter's memories of the time loop are slowly disappearing. And their only chance at happiness is breaking out of the loop—forever.

My Review:

Carter Cho recognizes that he’s in a time loop. He has four days to live, over and over and over and OVER again, with no way to stop it and no way out. All he can do is watch, wait and repeat. It’s boring, it’s disheartening, it’s downright depressing. Most of all it’s terribly, terribly lonely.

Until Carter decides to take one loop and do the opposite of everything he did the first and all the subsequent, mind-numbing, heart-breaking times he’s looped before. And in that opposition he manages to convince, coerce, drag another person into the loop with him.

Dr. Mariana Pineda and technician Carter Cho are opposites in every possible way, but all they have is each other. And a seemingly endless amount of time to figure out what keeps making the Hawke Accelerator accelerate itself into a catastrophic explosion, time after time after time – and resetting the world as everyone but the two of them knows it.

Neither of them has the training or the tools to diagnose what’s going wrong – but they are all they have. And that turns out to be more than enough. Just in the nick of, well, time.

Escape Rating B+: If the blurb or the description above are making you think of the movie Groundhog Day, you are not alone. Neither was it alone in my head as I was reading my way through the first part of the story – because time travel loops have been done before.

In other words, this loop has been looped before. As they do.

At one end of that time loop story perspective there’s Groundhog Day, which has kind of a sweet ending no matter how much of an asshole the protagonist (played by Bill Murray) is as the story begins. But Carter Cho is a really nice guy – if a bit of an underachiever according to his parents – so that resemblance isn’t 100%

The ending of A Quantum Love Story, or rather, all the endings of the world before the resets, have all of the explosive punch of the movie Edge of Tomorrow, although there’s no war in Quantum.

A Quantum Love Story felt more akin to the Stargate SG-1 episode “Window of Opportunity” as following the protagonists through the loops of that journey goes through many of the same stages that Carter and Mariana go through while following characters that one really does want to follow. Also there’s no real villain in “Window of Opportunity”, which is also true in Quantum. The story, the journey, the battle if you will, is to solve the mystery and break the cycle – not to break heads.

But the chasing down of just how many different time loop stories this one brought to mind kept me from being as invested in Carter and Mariana’s problem solving through their loops, although the emotional journey they took did hold my interest even as it briefly looked like it was heading for Flowers for Algernon territory which made for some tense moments for this reader. (Don’t worry too much, it doesn’t go there, but there were a few bits that just about gave me the weepies when it looked that way. Howsomever, the author has form for this, as that’s part of the direction that his lovely Light Years from Home went.)

The heart of the story, and it very much does have one, is in the relationship between Carter and Mariana, who begin as opposites in just about every sense of the word and bond through shared trauma. But what they discover through that sharing is that their version of opposites attract brings out the best in both of them, and that there are possibilities in life that neither of them ever imagined.

Including the possibility of a happy ever after with someone that they would otherwise never have had a chance to meet. A chance that will be whisked away if they ever manage to solve the problem and stop the resets.

The solution to both problems, to the endless resets of the time loop and to stopping those resets, turns out to be exactly the same thing. With one surprising and beautiful deus ex machina of an exception.

Ultimately, the repeating time loops with their repeating reminders of other time loop stories is both a bit of a bug AND a feature. After all this is a story about things repeating until they don’t, so it seems right that they kind of do. In the end I was charmed by the story and the characters as they worked through both repeating and not repeating time at the same time.

I’ll certainly be repeating my exploration of this author’s work and his signature combination of science fiction and relationship fiction with his next outing, hopefully this time next year. In the meantime, if you are intrigued by this review, check out the first chapter excerpt I posted last week. If you like SF with just a touch of romance and a heaping helping of relationship building and problem solving, you just might fall in love with A Quantum Love Story!

Review: Role Playing by Cathy Yardley

Review: Role Playing by Cathy YardleyRole Playing by Cathy Yardley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, geek romance, relationship fiction
Pages: 331
Published by Montlake on July 1, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

From Cathy Yardley, author of Love, Comment, Subscribe, comes an emotional rom-com about two middle-aged gamers who grow their online connection into an IRL love story.
Maggie is an unapologetically grumpy forty-eight-year-old hermit. But when her college-aged son makes her a deal—he’ll be more social if she does the same—she can’t refuse. She joins a new online gaming guild led by a friendly healer named Otter. So that nobody gets the wrong idea, she calls herself Bogwitch.
Otter is Aiden, a fifty-year-old optimist using the guild as an emotional outlet from his family drama caring for his aging mother while his brother plays house with Aiden’s ex-fiancée.
Bogwitch and Otter become fast virtual friends, but there’s a catch. Bogwitch thinks Otter is a college student. Otter assumes Bogwitch is an octogenarian.
When they finally meet face-to-face—after a rocky, shocking start—the unlikely pair of sunshine and stormy personalities grow tentatively closer. But Maggie’s previous relationships have left her bitter, and Aiden’s got a complicated past of his own.
Everything’s easier online. Can they make it work in real life?

My Review:

I was tempted to start this review by doing one of those “there are two types of people” kind of things, but those always leave some people out. Also, in this particular case, there are four types of people, introverts, extroverts, ambiverts and omniverts.

This is very much a story about introverts, as both Maggie and Aiden are both clearly on the far end of the introvert side of the introvert vs. extrovert teeter-totter. Maggie, in fact, may be just a bit too far over, as she realizes that she hasn’t been outside in days and has run out of absolutely every food in her pantry and will be forced to rely on condiments if she doesn’t go to the local small town gossip factory that passes for a grocery store.

For anyone wondering why not just get food delivered, well, food delivery is something that Maggie misses – a lot – by having moved to tiny Fool’s Falls in eastern Washington State. She’s so far out of town that even the local pizza place doesn’t deliver.

Maggie is a freelance editor, so she doesn’t need to go TO a job to HAVE a job. She’d rather socialize online anyway, which is why she’s still very much an online gamer at 48. She’s also suffering – really, really hard – from empty nest syndrome as her son, and fellow introvert – has just started college at the University of Washington in Seattle.

But she’s right about the grocery store being town gossip central, and she’s equally right about being accosted the minute she steps in by one of the local, means so very well but isn’t listening, obvious, oblivious, obligate extroverts who is determined that Maggie get out of her house and won’t take no for an answer.

Won’t even hear ‘no’ as an answer.

Which is where Role Playing takes off, as Maggie finds herself stuck in the role of introvert at a party of extroverts who all focus on her. One thing leads to another – not necessarily bad things, just frustrating things from Maggie’s point of view – leading to the lovely heartwarming answer to a question that hasn’t been asked but should be: how do introverts find each other as they retreat to their homes to escape a world full of loud, intrusive extroverts who are just sure that their way is best.

The answer is delightful from beginning to end, and all the more so because Maggie and Aiden – or rather Bogwitch and Otter – are not your typical 20somethings finding true love. Instead, it’s a story about two grown ups who have given up on finding someone who will ‘get’ them EXACTLY as they are, and who will love them not in spite of their introversion, or even because of it, but because together they fit in a way that neither ever expected to find.

And it makes for the best kind of romance, between two people who have accepted who they are in themselves and have finally found ‘their’ person in spite of all the meddlers and extroverts trying to get in their way.

Escape Rating A: I picked this book out of the virtually towering TBR pile for two reasons. One, I loved the author’s Fandom Hearts series with its combination of romance and geeky fun. And two, because it’s a reality in my house, particularly this month when there are long weekends and time off built in, that the two introverts who live here are going to be spending a LOT of time playing video games. Because that’s part of what brought us together, too.

So, I fell hard for this book because I felt hard for both Maggie and Aiden, but especially for Maggie. I really got her, both in the whole sense of how easy it is to get lost in your own little world when your job lets you avoid the big world outside – even if it’s lonely. AND her combination of extreme annoyance and absolute cringing when confronted with determined extroverts – because they are all determined and they are all wrong but convinced that they are right.

(Obviously I’m venting my own feelings here, but hers were just SO REAL and felt SO TRUE. Also, I’m also still a gamer, and a bit older than Maggie, so people’s reactions to that part of her persona felt equally spot on.)

I digress, but hopefully in a germane way.

And then there’s Aiden, who is caught up in a bunch of really, really HARD adult dilemmas, with no good outlet for the stress except, of course in this context, gaming. (I understand so completely that there are nights when pixels just need to die that I can’t even…)

Both Maggie and Aiden are in some very hard places, but they are also very grown up places. Maggie needs to make a life that works for her by herself now that her son is in college. Which is going to mean changes – and that she’ll have to find ‘her people’ somehow because Kit’s presence in the house kept the social isolation at bay for both of them.

Aiden has also been in a holding pattern as he came home to tiny Fool’s Falls to take care of his dying father. But his father has been dead for a year and Aiden is left in a place he never wanted to come back to, dealing with his grief-stricken mother who is determined to blame Aiden for never being the son his parents wanted him to be in spite of his very real success.

His mental health requires his departure, but his mother still needs him even if she seems to hate everything he is and does. (If you’ve ever read any 9-1-1 fanfic, Aiden’s mother is toxic in the same way that Eddie’s mother is. I digress again, but geeky references are part of the fun of this story)

Maggie and Aiden find each other through the gaming that everyone in their lives thinks they should have given up years ago. Quite possibly because it’s a symbol of the fact that they are both determined to live THEIR OWN lives and not FOR anyone else.

Obviously, I had a ball with Role Playing, to the point that I’m a bit chagrined that I missed it when it came out back in July , but am oh-so-glad I rediscovered it now thanks to Book Riot’s Best Books of 2023. I sincerely hope the author gives us some more grown-up but still geeky romances to fall in love with, but in the meantime I’m going back to see where I left off with Fandom Hearts the next time I need to put a little more heart in my reading!

Review: The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman

Review: The Wishing Bridge by Viola ShipmanThe Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: holiday fiction, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

With unabashed winter charm, The Wishing Bridge sparkles with the humor and heart fans of Kristy Woodson Harvey, Nancy Thayer and Jenny Colgan love most.
Once the hottest mergers and acquisitions executive in the company, Henrietta Wegner can see the ambitious and impossibly young up-and-comers gunning for her job. When Henri’s boss makes it clear she’ll be starting the New Year unemployed unless she can close a big deal before the holidays, Henri impulsively tells him that she can convince her aging parents to sell Wegner’s—their iconic Frankenmuth, Michigan, Christmas store—to a massive, soulless corporation. It’s the kind of deal cool, corporate Henri has built her career on.
Home for the holidays has typically meant a perfunctory twenty-four-hour visit for Henri, then back to Detroit as fast as her car will drive her. So turning up at the Wegner’s offices in early December raises some eyebrows: from her delighted, if puzzled, parents to her suspicious brother and curious childhood friends. But as Henri fields impatient texts from her boss while reconnecting with the magic of the store and warmth of her hometown, what sounded great in the boardroom begins to lose its luster in real life. She’s running out of time to pull the trigger on what could be the greatest success of her career…or the most awkward family holiday of her life.
Includes the bonus novella Christmas Angels

My Review:

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” at least according to Robert Frost. But just because they have to take you in, or even if they WANT to take you in, that does not give you permission to steal it out from under them.

Which is EXACTLY what Henrietta Wegner plans to do when she returns home to Frankenmuth, MI and to the ‘all Christmas all the time all year round’ store named after her family. A store that anchors not just the Christmas season in Frankenmuth but the whole, entire town.

50something Henri is on the ropes at the cutthroat mergers and acquisitions firm she cut a wide swath through back in the day – when she first left home to make her own mark. Now she’s back home, attempting to defend that mark by ‘acquiring’ the store her parents have put their heart and soul into.

Henri sees herself as the Grinch, descending upon Whoville with a heart that’s three sizes too small – if not a bit more.

But just as no plan survives contact with the enemy – a description that Henri is sure will be left in her wake – Henri’s plan to put the Grinch into her family’s Christmas doesn’t look like it can survive contact with the Spirit of Christmas.

Henri’s story has all the makings of one of those Hallmark holiday movies that she and her mother are not-so-secretly fond of – if she’ll just let it. Happy Holidays, indeed!

Escape Rating B+: The Wishing Bridge, in addition to being a heartwarming story for the holiday season, combines two romance/women’s fiction tropes in a way that the one reinforces the other and back around again, and both lean in to the holiday season in a way that just wraps the whole story up with a bright red holiday bow with an ornament hanging from it.

At first, The Wishing Bridge is that tried-and-true story about the stone-hearted corporate bigwig coming to a tiny town to take it over and make it over – or tear it down – who discovers that he or she has a heart after all that gets captured by the town, the people who live there, and some special someone.

AND The Wishing Bridge is also a story about second chances. Not just a second chance at romance, although that too, but a second chance at pretty much everything. It’s a story about that ‘road not taken’ winding back around and intersecting with the road that Henri took all those years ago, giving her the opportunity – not so much to do things over, because life has happened and this isn’t a time travel story – but rather to make a different choice for the next phase of her life.

Both of those tropes require that the main character take a good, hard look at the life they have and decide whether it’s REALLY the life they want or need, and those are never easy decisions – and they’re certainly not for Henri.

(That her boss is an utter douchecanoe seems like it should make the decision easier, but it’s right that it doesn’t and even right-er that he’s not her ex. Because that would be gross under the circumstances. This is about Henri and what she wants, his asshattery is not REALLY what her decision needs to be about and that’s handled well.)

One thing that turned out to be difficult for this reader, and leads to a bit of a trigger warning. A lot of what makes the idea of selling Wegman’s out from under her parents instead of signing on and continuing their legacy is that the all-Christmas all the time dream was one that she shared with her father. He still has that dream, but she’s let it fall behind her – or buried it under her own ambitions. There’s a lot about fathers and daughters in this one, and it gave me a bit of the weepies even though the ending is a happy one. (In other words, if you have unfinished business with your dad, it may hit you the same way.)

To make a long story at least a bit shorter, even though the eARC did not include the bonus novella Christmas Angels, The Wishing Bridge all by itself is a charming story and a lovely start to the holiday reading season!

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

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Wishing Bridge by Viola ShipmanThe Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, holiday romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

With unabashed winter charm, The Wishing Bridge sparkles with the humor and heart fans of Kristy Woodson Harvey, Nancy Thayer and Jenny Colgan love most.
Once the hottest mergers and acquisitions executive in the company, Henrietta Wegner can see the ambitious and impossibly young up-and-comers gunning for her job. When Henri’s boss makes it clear she’ll be starting the New Year unemployed unless she can close a big deal before the holidays, Henri impulsively tells him that she can convince her aging parents to sell Wegner’s—their iconic Frankenmuth, Michigan, Christmas store—to a massive, soulless corporation. It’s the kind of deal cool, corporate Henri has built her career on.
Home for the holidays has typically meant a perfunctory twenty-four-hour visit for Henri, then back to Detroit as fast as her car will drive her. So turning up at the Wegner’s offices in early December raises some eyebrows: from her delighted, if puzzled, parents to her suspicious brother and curious childhood friends. But as Henri fields impatient texts from her boss while reconnecting with the magic of the store and warmth of her hometown, what sounded great in the boardroom begins to lose its luster in real life. She’s running out of time to pull the trigger on what could be the greatest success of her career…or the most awkward family holiday of her life.
Includes the bonus novella Christmas Angels

Welcome to the blog tour for The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman. I first discovered this author through participation in a blog tour, so it’s fitting that they are back again with not just another book but also another tour. I will be reviewing The Wishing Bridge at the end of next week. Howsomever, the book is coming out TODAY, so here’s an excerpt from the very first chapter to whet all of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from Part One, Chapter 1 of The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman

December 7
I hit the brakes, my car fishtailing on the slippery road. I come to a stop just inches from the car before me.
Ah, the hazards of winter in Michigan and Detroit drivers who think snow is a reason to hit the gas.
I cock my head and see an accident just a few cars in front of me. A man is out of his car, screaming into the window of the car he hit.
Merry Christmas!
I take a breath, sip my coffee—which miraculously didn’t spill—hit my blinker and wait to merge into the next lane.
That’s when I notice it: the abandoned house I drive by every day to work.
There are many abandoned homes in many forgotten neighborhoods in this proud city whose shoulders were slumped by the mortgage crisis, layoffs in the auto industry and never-ending
winters that used to be as brutal and mind-numbing as a Detroit Lions football season. Neighborhoods stand like ghost towns, and, in winter, they look even sadder, the grass dead, the green gone, broken glass shimmering in the sun before the snow arrives to cover their remains.
This particular home is a three-story redbrick beauty that looks like a castle. The windows are broken, the walls are collapsing and yet the wooden staircase—visible to the world— remains intact. I slow down just enough every day to admire the finials, worn and shining from the hands that have polished them over the years.
There is a line of shattered windows just above the ground, and as you pass by, you catch a glimmer of red in the basement. Coming the opposite way, you swear you can see a man smiling.
I stopped years ago to investigate. I parked, careful to avoid nails, and wound my way in high heels through the weeds to the broken window. I knelt and peeked into the basement.
Santa!
A plastic molded Santa smiled at me. It was a vintage mold—like the one my grandparents centered in the middle of a wreath on their front door every year—of a cheery Santa with red cheeks, blue eyes, green gloves, holding a candy cane tied in a golden bow.
I scanned the basement. Boxes were still stacked everywhere.
Tubs were marked Christmas!
In the corner of the basement sat a sign overrun with cobwebs that read Santa’s Toy Shop!

December 1975

“They’re here! They’re here!”
My voice echoed through my grandparents’ house. I ran to the front door, grabbed the first catalog, which seemed to weigh nearly as much as I did, and tottered down the steep basement stairs. Back up I went to retrieve the next one from Mr. Haley, the postman, who looked exactly like Captain Kangaroo.
“Don’t move!” I said, disappearing and returning moments later.
Then back down the stairs I scrambled once again.
Mr. Haley laughed when I returned the final time, out of breath.
“Last one,” he said. “Oh, and a bunch of Christmas cards for your grandmother.”
I bent over, panting, as if I’d just done wind sprints on the track.
“Tired?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No! Think of what Santa carries! Not to mention what you carry every day!”
“You got me there,” he said. “Here’s the cards. I’ll see you tomorrow. Merry Christmas!”
I watched him trudge through the freshly fallen snow, just enough to dust the world in white. If there’s one thing we never had to worry about in our town of Frankenmuth, it was a white Christmas. My dad said it was one of the gifts of living in a Christmas wonderland.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Haley!” I yelled, my breath coming out in puffs.
I shut the door, tossed the cards on the telephone desk sitting in the foyer and hightailed it back down to the basement.
I looked at the catalogs where I’d set them on the shag carpet and ran around them in a happy circle doing a little jig.
I turned on the electric fireplace. It was so cool, fake brick, and it just faded into the Z-BRICK walls. The flames seemed
to dance, even though they weren’t real.
I went over to the card table where my grandparents played games—bridge, canasta, hearts—and I grabbed my marker from a cup.
The red one.
The one I used every year.
The one Santa would recognize.
I took a seat on the orange shag and arranged the catalogs in a semicircle around me: the Christmas catalogs from JCPenney and Monkey Wards, and my favorite, the Sears Wish Book.
The catalogs were heavy and thick, big as the Buick my grandpa drove. They were brand-new and all mine. I began to f lip through the crisp pages, turning quickly to the ones that showed all the toys, clothes and games I wanted for Christmas.
I was lost for hours in the pages, dreaming, hoping, wishing. “Yes, yes, yes!” I said, my marker in constant motion.
“Are you using a red marker so Santa will see?”
I looked up, and my dad was standing over me. He was tall, hair as fair as mine. He had just gotten off work. He was an accountant at a car dealership, and he never seemed happy when he got home from work.
Until he came down to my grandparents’ basement.
“Of course!” I said. “Finn gets green. I use red!”
“So what do you want Santa to bring you this year?”
I patted the carpet, and my dad took a seat next to me. I began showing him all the things I’d marked in the wish catalogs.
“I want this eight-room dollhouse, and, oh! this Shaun Cassidy phono with sing-along microphone and this battery-operated sewing machine! It’s the first ever like this!” I stopped,
took a deep breath and continued, “And this dress, and this Raggedy Ann doll, but—” I stopped again, flipping through pages as quickly as I could “—more than anything I want this
game called Simon. It’s computer controlled, Daddy! It’s like Simon Says, and you have to be really fast, and…”
“Slow down,” he said, rubbing my back. “And what about your brother?”
“What about him?”
“What does he want?”
“He’ll want all the stupid stuff boys like,” I said. “Stars Wars figurines, an erector set, a Nerf rocket and probably a drum set.”
My father winced at the last suggestion.
“Maybe a scooter instead,” my dad suggested. “What do
you think?”
“Good idea, Daddy.” I placed my hands over my ears.
He laughed and stood up.
“Hey?” I asked. “What do you want for Christmas?”
My dad headed over to the workshop he had on the other side of the basement. We lived in a small ranch house on the other side of town that didn’t have a basement, much less any extra room. My grandparents let my father convert this space a few years ago so he could pursue a second career and his true passion: Christmas.
“You know what I want,” he said with a smile.
My dad picked up a sign and turned it my way. It was a handcarved wooden sign that read Frohe Weihnachten! Frankenmuth is a Bavarian town filled with all things German: a wooden bridge flowing over a charming river, a glockenspiel that—on the hour—played the Westminster chimes followed by an entire show complete with dancing figurines,
a cheese haus and competing chicken-and-noodle restaurants. I was named Henrietta, my father Jakob, my brother, Finn. Only my mother, Debbie, escaped the German name game with the
very American moniker.
“What’s this mean, Henri?” my dad asked.
“Merry Christmas,” I said.
“And what do I want?”
“Christmas all year long.”
“Exactly,” he said. “Just like you. Except as a grown-up.” He looked at his sign. “That’s my Christmas wish.”
For a long time, everyone thought this was just a hobby of my father’s, sort of like other dads tinkered on car engines, went fishing or coached baseball. For an even longer time, people thought my dad was nuts.
Why would a man spend all of his time creating Christmas signs in July, or designing ornaments in March?
They didn’t know my dad.
They didn’t how serious he was, that he often worked until three in the morning from October through December and countless weekends the rest of the year.
“You have a good job, Jakob,” friends would tell him. “Don’t ruin your life over some silly notion.”
But my mom and grandparents believed in him just as much as I believed in Santa.
I watched my father work. As he did, he began to whistle Christmas tunes.
The world was finally catching up with my father’s dream.
He was now creating window displays for two of the biggest stores in town: Shepherd Woolen Mill and Koch’s Country Store.

Excerpted from The Wishing Bridge. Copyright © 2023 by Viola Shipman. Published by Graydon House, an imprint of HarperCollins.

About the Author:

VIOLA SHIPMAN is the pen name for internationally bestselling LGBTQIA author Wade Rouse. Wade is the author of fifteen books, which have been translated into 21 languages and sold over a million copies around the world. Wade writes under his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the working poor Ozarks seamstress whose sacrifices changed his family’s life and whose memory inspires his fiction.
Wade’s books have been selected multiple times as Must-Reads by NBC’s Today Show, Michigan Notable Books of the Year and Indie Next Picks. He lives in Michigan and California, and hosts Wine & Words with Wade, A Literary Happy Hour, every Thursday.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS

 

Review: The Book Club Hotel by Sarah Morgan

Review: The Book Club Hotel by Sarah MorganThe Book Club Hotel by Sarah Morgan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, holiday fiction, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Canary Street Press on September 19, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

This Christmas, USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with another heartfelt exploration of change, the power of books to heal, and the enduring strength of female friendship. Perfect for fans of Emily Henry and Jennifer Weiner.
With its historic charm and picture-perfect library, the Maple Sugar Inn is considered the winter destination. As the holidays approach, the inn is fully booked with guests looking for their dream vacation. But widowed far too young, and exhausted from juggling the hotel with being a dedicated single mom, Hattie Coleman dreams only of making it through the festive season.
But when Erica, Claudia and Anna—lifelong friends who seem to have it all—check in for a girlfriends’ book club holiday, it changes everything. Their close friendship and shared love of books have carried them through life's ups and downs. But Hattie can see they're also packing some major emotional baggage, and nothing prepares her for how deeply her own story is about to become entwined in theirs. In the span of a week over the most enchanting time of the year, can these four women come together to improve each other’s lives and make this the start of a whole new chapter?

My Review:

This is the story of how the Hotel Book Club transformed the Maple Sugar Inn into The Book Club Hotel – with a little bit of help from the spirit of Christmas. It’s also the story of four women living the old saying that goes, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

The members of the Hotel Book Club, former college roommates Ericka, Anna and Claudia, have met up every year since those college days at some hotel or another to catch up with each other, sightsee a bit, drink wine and talk about books. Not necessarily in that order.

As the story begins they are all just one side or the other of 40. Which is turning out to be one hell of a milestone birthday for each of them – even if they are having a difficult time admitting that to themselves – let alone each other.

There’s that saying about the grass being greener on the other side of the fence? They’re all feeling a bit of that because they went very different directions after college, which was not exactly a surprise as they were not exactly peas in a pod when they met.

Anna and Claudia both envy Ericka for her high-powered and highly-successful career and the lifestyle it affords her. Ericka and Claudia both see Anna’s happy marriage and picture-perfect family as a touchstone, proof that some relationships do work and some marriages are successful and some families are perfect – even if that hasn’t been the experience for either of them in their birth families or their own history. While Ericka and Anna both have a touch of that same envy over Claudia’s passion for and expertise in being a chef.

And all of those things are true, but, under the surface each situation is nowhere near as perfect as it seems from the outside. Anna is beset by empty-nest syndrome as her ‘job’ as the ever-supportive mother to twins Meg and Daniel is moving to a new and dreaded phase as those twins get ready to leave for college.

Claudia’s 10-year relationship with John has just ended, and she’s just lost a job that burned her out so badly she’s thinking seriously about re-inventing herself as something, anything, to get out of soulless kitchens run by abusive dictators that do not respect her skills AND leave her no time for a personal life.

While Ericka is waffling on the first steps of the road not taken. Or rather, the road her father took minutes after she was born, leaving her and her mother behind to fend for themselves while he ran about as far away as he could get. An event that sent her life into an utter inability to depend on anyone else for anything ever – with Anna and Claudia seeming to be the only exceptions.

When the friends gather at the Maple Sugar Inn that early December, they enter what seems like a picture perfect place to spend a week putting each other back together – even if none of them can admit that’s a big portion of what they are there for.

Just as they arrive, that picture-perfect picture melts down. The innkeeper Hattie is having a crisis of her own. Multiple crises, in fact, as both her head housekeeper and her five-star chef have quit in the midst of tantrums worthy of a two-year old while the inn is full to the rafters and there seems to be no help in sight.

But there is. And in the course of helping Hattie set the inn on the course she finally has the spoons to create for herself, Anna, Claudia and Ericka each find the fork in their own roads – and reach out to take it.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this up for two reasons, and I’m not sure which is first or second. The whole concept of a vacation just to read and spend time with lifelong friends and read, (did I mention read?) and relax and oh, yes, read – sounds a bit like heaven. And the setting of The Book Club Hotel seemed particularly idyllic, including a brief trip to a ‘Winter Wonderland’ without having to stick around for the next several months of freezing temperatures, gray snow and mud. (Been there, done that, the t-shirts are all long-sleeved and insulated.)

The Stacking the Shelves stack that included this book garnered a whole lot of comments about just how wonderful this particular vacation sounded, so I’m clearly not alone in thinking it would be lovely.

That other reason for picking up The Book Club Hotel is that I really enjoyed this author’s The Summer Seekers a couple of years ago, and was hoping for something similar.

In spite of the wildly different settings, that particular wish was just a bit too on the nose. The characters read a bit too similarly particularly Ericka and Anna standing in for emotionally distant Kathleen and helicopter worrywart mother Liza.

The story follows a familiar outline. Four women, each at their own personal crossroads, come together accidentally and on purpose and forge or re-forge the bonds between them while figuring out which way to turn at that crossroad with a little help from their old and new friends.

It’s a familiar formula because it works – and it certainly does in The Book Club Hotel. And that’s down to the four protagonists, Ericka, Anna, Claudia and Hattie. It helps a lot that not only are they all individually charming, each in their own ways, but they also represent different but very real dilemmas. Readers may not identify with all of them, but it would be difficult not to resonate with one or two. (Personally, I was on Team Ericka and Team Claudia but your reading mileage may take you down the other fork in the road.)

What really makes it all work is that each of these women does find a happily ever after, but it’s not the SAME happy ever after – and it shouldn’t be. I particularly liked that not all of those HEAs were wrapped around relationships and children. They each needed to work on themselves, and happiness followed from that work.

I have to confess that, in spite of my deep, abiding love for the concept of an actual Book Club Hotel, the story in said hotel didn’t pull at my heartstrings quite as hard as The Summer Seekers but a good reading time was absolutely still had by this reader.

If you like women’s fiction/relationship fiction, I’m confident that you will, too.

Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Review: Beach Read by Emily HenryBeach Read by Emily Henry
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 358
Published by Berkley on May 19, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they're living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer's block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

My Review:

Beach Read has been in the virtually towering TBR pile ever since I read – and fell in love with – Book Lovers early this year. I’ve been “playing along” with the Kindle Achievements every quarter, so when the list of possible titles to fulfill that last badge included Beach Read, it seemed like the universe was telling me that now was the time. So here we are.

Both January Andrews and Augustus Everett are best selling authors – but most definitely NOT in the same genre. January writes women’s fiction (not all that different from the author herself), while Augustus Everett is famous for his dark and gritty literary fiction.

Their characters and worlds do not even begin to intersect – but they do. They are both graduates of the same University of Michigan Creative Writing Program. In fact, they attended together and graduated at the same time, spending four years competing for every single award and critiquing pretty much every single one of each other’s works.

Saying they are familiar with each other is hardly a stretch – even if they have nothing in common. Or believe they have nothing in common. At least not until they find themselves next door neighbors in a northern Michigan beach community, wanting nothing to do with each other.

But needing each other all the same.

They’ve each fallen into some really deep ruts, and they are separately having a damn hard time crawling out of those ruts. January has stopped believing in happy ever afters, after the one she believed her parents had found turned out to be based on a lie. A year after her dad’s death, she has a book due, an empty bank account, and a severe case of writer’s block.

Leading her to her dad’s old home town and the house he shared with his childhood sweetheart at a point considerably after either of their childhoods.

Gus has never believed in happy ever afters. Or even happy for nows. He’s always looked on the dark side and is in the throes of his third book, this time about death cults and their few survivors. But he’s going through his own case of writer’s block, for reasons that he isn’t willing to share with January. Because sharing isn’t something that Gus does easily. Or at all.

Still, they’re both writers and they’re both stuck and they have a whole lot of common ground to build on – even if that ground is more than a bit shaky on both sides. So they challenge each other as a way of breaking their writer’s block.

And it turns into the making of a happy ending for everyone – including sorta/kinda – the protagonists of not one but two surprising new books.

Escape Rating A-: I enjoyed Beach Read, but not quite as much as Book Lovers, because it’s a bit too much like Book Lovers. Which isn’t fair to Beach Read, as it was published first even though I read it second. Still, if you like one you’ll like the other – although it probably isn’t a good idea to read them too close together.

Like Nora and Charlie in Book Lovers, January and Gus are not just both in the book business, but in the same end of the book business as each other. (Nora and Charlie were both editors, January and Gus are both authors). Which means that both books, in addition to being just the kind of stories that January writes, are steeped in the book business – merely different aspects of that business.

And both stories begin when the protagonists meet when both parties are in the midst of a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” What makes both stories fun to read is the way that they get themselves and each other past the horribleness.

We’re in January’s head in this story, so we know what she’s been through, what she’s thinking, and what she’s feeling. Because she and Gus knew each other fairly well – and very nearly better than that – once upon a time, we are also aware of all of her pre-conceived notions of who Gus is and what he thinks of her and in both of their situations.

Which gives Beach Read a very strong sense of “assume makes an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me’” because January’s assumptions about Gus were and are too frequently wrong, wrong, wrong. But this steers clear of misunderstandammit territory because Gus has a damn hard time communicating his thoughts and feelings in any way other than expiating the worst of them through his writing.

While it was a given from the outset that January and Gus were going to reach at least the kind of happy for now that both the character January AND the author usually write, what made this book interesting and different was the books that January and Gus each produced on their way to it, and how those books managed to be both a departure from their usual styles while still expressing the core parts of their personalities and their reasons for becoming writers in the first place.

So a good reading time was definitely had in Beach Read. Because it was most definitely a good reading time, and because one of the other possible titles for that last achievement was the author’s People We Meet on Vacation, I bought that too. I’m pretty sure I’ll be picking that up and meeting those people the next time I’m looking for a feel-good read!

Review: Famous in a Small Town by Viola Shipman

Review: Famous in a Small Town by Viola ShipmanFamous in a Small Town by Viola Shipman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Graydon House on June 13, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

"Full of summertime delight…and sweet, nostalgic charm, Famous in a Small Town is a beautiful reminder to…fully embrace the magic that lives inside you." —Heather Webber, USA TODAY bestselling author of Midnight at the Blackbird Café
For most of her eighty years, Mary Jackson has endured the steady invasion of tourists, influencers and real estate developers who have discovered the lakeside charm of Good Hart, Michigan, waiting patiently for the arrival of a stranger she’s believed since childhood would one day carry on her legacy—the Very Cherry General Store. Like generations of Jackson women before her, Cherry Mary, as she’s known locally, runs the community hub—part post office, bakery and sandwich shop—and had almost given up hope that the mysterious prediction she’d been told as a girl would come true and the store would have to pass to…a man.
Becky Thatcher came to Good Hart with her ride-or-die BFF to forget that she’s just turned forty with nothing to show for it. Ending up at the general store with Mary is admittedly not the beach vacation she expected, but the more the feisty octogenarian talks about destiny, the stronger Becky’s memories of her own childhood holidays become, and the strange visions over the lake she was never sure were real. As she works under Mary’s wing for the summer and finds she fits into this quirky community of locals, she starts to believe that destiny could be real, and that it might have something very special in mind for Becky…
Bursting with memorable characters and small-town lore, the enchanting new novel from the bestselling author of The Clover Girls is a magical story about the family you’re born with, and the one you choose.

My Review:

In the summer of 2023, “Cherry Mary” Jackson is eighty years old and holding both a record and legacy in Good Hart, Michigan.

Mary Jackson has held the world record, officially certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, for the furthest distance a cherry pit (from a Michigan cherry, of course) has ever been spit. By anyone, male or female, man, woman or child. It’s a record she’s held since 1958, when she was 15 years old and cherry spitting was considered to be utterly unladylike.

But Mary has never thought of herself as a lady – and neither did either her mother or grandmother.

Which relates to the legacy that Mary is holding. She’s the latest in a long, unbroken line of female owners of the Very Cherry General Store in the heart of Good Hart. It’s not exactly an untarnished legacy, as Mary is all too aware. That Mary’s grandmother was able to pass the store intact to her daughter, who was, in her turn, able to pass it intact to Mary herself, had a rather active hand in making it happen in more ways than just the obvious.

Mary has always known she’s supposed to pass the store to another woman in her family when it’s her time to go. At age eighty, Mary is all too aware that her time is coming sooner than she’d like to think. But her only child was a son, and now, her son’s only child is a son in his mid-30s who seems to be following in his father’s footsteps far away from Mary and the store.

Meanwhile, just-turned-forty Becky Thatcher (yes, her parents really named her that and the inevitable schoolyard taunts and bullying were every bit as awful as one might imagine) has also always known that she had a destiny out there waiting for her to find it. A destiny she learned about when she was a child, spending summers with her beloved grandparents on the shores of Lake Michigan.

They’re gone now, but the memories remain, including Becky’s memory of a dream, or a vision, or a Fata Morgana mirage out of the lake, of a group of three women coming towards her and herself walking towards them.

This summer of 2023, after breaking up with her long-term utter douche-sponge of a boyfriend, Becky and her BFF Monique (AKA Q) take a ride back through time. Not time travel, more like a reboot. They take a ‘Girl’s Vacation’, just like they used to before adult responsibilities sucked them under, and they drive to Lake Michigan, back to where Becky’s grandparents used to take her, to take a summer off from real life to decide if the real life they have to go back to is the one they really want for the next forty years.

Becky and her fate run straight into “Cherry Mary” and her legacy – along with Mary’s yummy grandson – and it finally all comes together. For all of them. In the ‘Blue Hours’ and ‘Golden Hours’ of one beautiful Lake Michigan summer.

Escape Rating A: Famous in a Small Town is an utterly charming take on “we are too soon old and too late smart” applied across multiple generations, from 80-year-old Mary to 40-year-old Becky while in between Mary’s parents are trapped in their own fears and expectations and need to drive a cherry red convertible out of their damn garage and into a life they can both love.

But to give the story a bit of spice (and body!) it also includes just a pinch of the bad decisions and ruthless practicality that seasoned those Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

It’s also a marvelous if sometimes bittersweet tale of the power of women’s enduring friendships – as well as the lifelong enmity that can be spawned when those friendships go sour. As much as the laughter in this story is buoyed by the rock solid, lifelong sisterhood between Becky and Q, it is salted with tears over the even longer relationship between Mary, Francine and Virgie, who now in their sunset are celebrating both the support that Mary and Francine have always given each other as well as the once-upon-a-time kick-in-the-pants that Virgie administered to Mary when she needed it the absolute most.

Sometimes friendship involves standing side by side, and sometimes it manifests as a boot up the backside – even if that boot pulls that friendship apart.

I picked up this book because I loved the beautifully “sad fluff” of the author’s earlier novel, The Clover Girls. (I’ve liked the author’s subsequent books but I just haven’t loved them the way I did The Clover Girls.)

At least not until now.

The very cherry flavored fluff of Famous in a Small Town isn’t nearly as sad as The Clover Girls. There is a touch of bittersweetness in the chocolate the cherries are enrobed in, but the story as a whole is considerably lighter – even though there are some absolutely appropriate and completely justified dark spots.

Then again, I like dark chocolate considerably better than milk because it has just the bit more bite.

I think that’s because the characters in this one, especially Mary and Becky, are at much better places in their lives than any of The Clover Girls were when their story begins. That Becky’s part of this one begins just as she’s kicked her dead weight of an ex to the curb starts her part on a bit of a celebratory note – even as she’s kicking herself for having tolerated the situation for so long.

But still, this one starts out at a point where no one is in dire straits. Things could be better, things will be worse on the horizon, but they’re at a point where they begin by being open to something good happening, so the fact that it does and that the good happening is the story bakes the whole thing into a delicious Cherry Chip Cake with Cherry Vanilla Buttercream Frosting – the recipe for which is included at the end!

Review: The Little Italian Hotel by Phaedra Patrick

Review: The Little Italian Hotel by Phaedra PatrickThe Little Italian Hotel by Phaedra Patrick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, travel fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Park Row on June 6, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a relationship expert’s own marriage falls apart, she invites four strangers to Italy for a vacation of healing and second chances in this uplifting new novel from the author of 
The Messy Lives of Book People
.
Ginny Splinter, acclaimed radio host and advice expert, prides herself on knowing what’s best for others. So she’s sure her husband, Adrian, will love the special trip to Italy she’s planned for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. But when Ginny presents the gift to Adrian, he surprises her with his own very different plan—a divorce.
Beside herself with heartache, Ginny impulsively invites four heartbroken listeners to join her in Italy instead while live on air. From hiking the hills of Bologna to riding a gondola in Venice to sharing stories around the dining table of the little Italian hotel, Ginny and her newfound company embark on a vacation of healing.
However, when Adrian starts to rethink their relationship, Ginny must decide whether to commit to her marriage or start afresh, alone. And an unexpected stranger may hold the key to a very different future… Sunny, tender and brimming with charm, The Little Italian Hotel explores marriage, identity and reclaiming the present moment—even if it means leaving the past behind.
Look for Phaedra Patrick’s previous charming bestsellers! The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone The Library of Lost and Found The Secrets of Love Story BridgeThe Messy Lives of Book People

My Review:

There are a slew of really good reasons why doctors make the worst patients and lawyers who represent themselves have fools for clients. In both cases the practitioner, no matter how successful they are in their profession, are generally incapable of having the emotional distance necessary to do that job well when it comes to their own lives.

The same thing is true of therapists – and undoubtedly advice columnists. It’s easy to give advice to other people, but hard to see one’s own problems – even when they are staring you in the face.

And that’s where Ginny Splinter’s journey to The Little Italian Hotel begins, when a caller into her radio talk show/advice column tells her that her so-called ‘perfect life’ is anything but. A truth that Ginny has been trying to keep herself from looking into for a whole lot longer than she is willing to admit. Even to herself. Especially to herself.

Ginny’s marriage has, not a communications problem, but a communications chasm. She keeps trying to patch it over, while her husband Adrian has just detached himself from it and from her. Neither of them is innocent. Neither of them is particularly guilty – at least not yet – either.

Although there’s a vat of acid waiting for Adrian because he IS a real douche about the whole thing. But that’s attitude and not adultery – at least not yet.

When the feces hits the oscillating device Ginny is left with an empty house, a hole in her heart, an adult daughter she’s not ready to rip the emotional bandage off of just yet – and an over-the-top, romantic-to-the-max, totally non-refundable, three week holiday in Italy that she has no idea what to do with.

Her solution to that one practical part of her dilemma sits right on that fine line between genius and insanity – and could tip either way at a moment’s notice. She can’t get her money back, but she can switch the trip from expensive and uber-romantic for two to a much less expensive family-run small-town pensione for five. Since the trip is already paid for, she invites four of her listeners to come along with her on a trip to hopefully heal all of their broken hearts.

She has no plan, no itinerary, and no previous knowledge of ANY of her new traveling companions. It’s either going to be three weeks of wonder, three weeks of limbo, or three weeks of hell on Earth.

But it just might work. And it will absolutely, positively (or perhaps negatively) be an adventure!

Escape Rating B: The thing that struck me about The Little Italian Hotel, once we start getting to know the whole ensemble, is that the story doesn’t give any one kind of grief more weight than any other. And that was terrific because of the way it validates all the feelings in ways that we don’t often see jumbled together in one story.

While the group wasn’t as diverse as it could have or possibly should have been, it did represent a spectrum of the different ways that life can fall completely apart and just how hard it is to get out of your own head to get yourself on a positive trajectory after the fact.

Ginny, as is obvious from the blurb, is 50 and is looking at a marriage that wasn’t nearly as ‘perfect’ as she thought it was. A revelation that will change the course of the rest of her life, whether they patch things back together or go their separate ways. And I loved that even though some of the blurbs refer to this as a romance, it really isn’t. This is Ginny’s journey to finally learning what she wants out of her life for her ownself and that’s lovely.

Her travel companions range from 20 something Eric who has lost his best friend, to 80 something Edna who lost her husband and special needs daughter decades ago and has just sold her house full of memories to move to a retirement village. The griefs and losses weighing down 30 something Curtis and 40 something Heather are just as heartbreaking and completely different from each other’s and everyone else’s.

What makes the story fun is that it is a journey of discovery for everyone, including the pensione’s owner and his college-age daughter. The group as a whole grows together, sometimes drifts apart, drives each other crazy and individually and collectively goes places both emotionally and physically they never thought they’d go.

And wouldn’t have been able or willing to go alone.

This is also a bit of a slice-of-life/slice-out-of-life story, and like life itself, it doesn’t really come to a definitive ending, at least not for Ginny herself. She decides to continue her journey of discovery, but not by either traveling around the world or falling in love as happens in Eat, Pray, Love. (The whole thing is a bit of Eat, Pray, Love mixed with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, making it charming all the way around.) But it’s not quite a happy ever after, and it’s not exactly a romance, and it’s just a tiny bit equivocal in its finish that is not exactly an ending.

And isn’t that just like life?

Review: Big Trouble on Sullivan’s Island by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Big Trouble on Sullivan’s Island by Susan M. BoyerBig Trouble on Sullivan's Island (Carolina Tales Book 1) by Susan M. Boyer
Narrator: Courtney Patterson
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery, relationship fiction, Southern fiction, women's fiction
Series: Carolina Tales #1
Pages: 312
Length: 9 hours and 55 minutes
on April 11, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

From the Author of the Best-selling Liz Talbot Mystery Series comes a novel about family and secrets, and the lengths we’ll go to in order to protect both.
Can this charming do-gooder carry the day?
Charleston, SC. Hadley Cooper has a big heart. So when the easy-going private investigator gets a request from a new friend to stake out her husband’s extramarital activities, she immediately begins surveillance. And when her client is discovered dead on her kitchen floor, the Southern spitfire is certain the cheater is the culprit… even though he has the perfect alibi: Hadley herself.
Flustered since she observed the cad four hours away in Greenville at the time of the murder, the determined PI desperately searches for clues to tie him to the crime. But with her policeman ex-boyfriend arrests a handy suspect, Hadley fears a guilty man is about to walk free.
Can this Palmetto-State sleuth make an impossible connection to prevent a miscarriage of justice?
With dry wit and delightful dialogue, Susan M. Boyer delivers an eccentric, vegan gumshoe sure to appeal to any fan of Southern women’s fiction. With her merry band of sassy friends, Hadley Cooper is a Lowcountry detective you won’t soon forget.
Big Trouble on Sullivan’s Island is the engaging first book in the Carolina Tales series. If you like strong heroines, quirky sisterhoods, and a plenty of Southern charm, then you’ll love Susan M. Boyer’s wonderful whodunit.
Read Big Trouble on Sullivan’s Island and take a trip to the lush Lowcountry today!

My Review:

Everyone knows that something that is too good to be true generally is. Although they also say never to look a gift horse in the mouth – except that the Trojans really should have when that big, fancy wooden horse was wheeled up to their gates.

I do know that the cliche about the horse doesn’t actually refer to the infamous historical incident, but the combination of cliches absolutely does apply when Charleston private investigator Hadley Cooper is asked whether she is willing to house sit her dream house on the beach of Sullivan’s Island, just across the Ben Sawyer Bridge from Charleston.

As the story begins, before the titular ‘big trouble’ visits the island, Hadley Cooper is busily NOT celebrating her 40th birthday, as her birthday is also the anniversary of her mother’s death. She’s certainly not expecting to have either a beautiful friendship, a gorgeous house or a puzzling and heartbreaking case to drop into her lap, all on that day.

But that’s what happens.

First, there’s the house. She knows the offer is too good to be true – but she can’t resist. She’s been mooning over that house all through its construction, as she regularly includes Sullivan’s Island on her morning bike ride. She investigates the client as thoroughly as she can – which is very – but can’t find a catch in the offer. So she takes it and tries desperately not to fall in love with this temporary arrangement that seems to have been built just for her.

She also finds a circle of friends that draws her right in, led by the charismatic, dynamic Eugenia Ladson, a woman just tailor-made to step into the aching place in Hadley’s heart where her mother’s ghost still lingers. It seems like kismet.

At least it does until her new, dear friend is murdered, and Hadley realizes that she, herself, doing her job to investigate Eugenia’s estranged husband to find evidence of his infidelity, is the bastard’s alibi for the murder of his wife. A situation which can’t possibly be allowed to stand no matter how much the logic of the situation gets in Hadley’s way.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I love the author’s Liz Talbot mysteries (start with Lowcountry Boil) and I was hoping for more of the same. To the point where I kept looking for Liz to turn up in the background somewhere. Liz doesn’t, and shouldn’t, but the two series do have a similar tone and feel of small town, tight knit coziness, so if you like one you’ll like the other.

But Hadley’s doesn’t get any assistance from any family ghosts. Instead, as this is the first book in a series, we see her put together her own ‘Scooby gang’, which includes her mentors – a retired cop and a retired PI, her new friends on Sullivan’s Island, and quite possibly her ex-boyfriend (he’s ex at the moment, at least) who just so happens to be the lead investigator on Eugenia’s death for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

This case is a too-many-cooks affair, with the police arresting the wrong – but easy – suspect, Eugenia’s friends taking the investigation into their own hands more than they should, and Hadley trying to herd a whole bunch of cats who really don’t want to be herded. The comedy of errors and misdirection make the story every bit as quirky as the Stephanie Plum series without going nearly so far over the top.

Hadley is a very competent investigator, and not nearly so much of a trouble magnet as Plum. That this is a case where someone has used Hadley’s competence against her and the investigation is part of what makes the whole thing so hard to solve.

But it’s still a whole lot of fun to watch as this band of friends, brothers and very quirky sisters comes together to bring justice for the woman who got them all together. And it’s just that little bit more delightful in the audiobook, as the reader gets the feeling of not just being inside Hadley’s head but following along as she investigates and bonds with a fantastic group of women who I hope will become permanent figures in the series.

As much fun as I had with the mystery, there was always that sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop in regards to that ‘gift horse’ of a house. The way that it both was, and wasn’t, too good to be true and the way that Hadley learned that terrible, wonderful truth, turned out to be the perfect ending for this excellent blend of cozy mystery, women’s fiction, and Southern charm. And also made it the perfect book to read, or listen to, this Mother’s Day weekend.

A surprise that I will leave for you to discover, in the hope that it will bring the same smile to your face as it did to mine.

Review: The Beach Reads Bookshop by Lee Tobin McClain

Review: The Beach Reads Bookshop by Lee Tobin McClainThe Beach Reads Bookshop by Lee Tobin McClain
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Hometown Brothers #3
Pages: 352
Published by HQN Books on April 25, 2023
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Running a bookstore on a quaint Chesapeake island is exactly the life Deena Clark would have chosen for herself--but helping billionaire businessman Luis Dominguez figure out fatherhood is part of the package. Can bonding over books and one little girl help them open their hearts to each other?

My Review:

“When one door closes another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” At least according to Alexander Graham Bell. But what if, as occurs in – and at – The Beach Reads Bookstore, it’s not the looking forward and back that does you in, but rather looking next to you at the person who needs to walk through that new door with you – and not trusting them well enough – or at all – when it comes to crossing that next threshold with them at your side.

Two doors have shut behind 50something Carol Fisher. She lost her job and her husband on the same day to the same cause, stupidity. Institutional stupidity on the part of the college where she is suddenly no longer employed in the tutoring center – which is slated to go online. Testosterone-induced middle-age midlife crisis stupidity on the part of her soon-to-be ex-husband, who she caught carrying his nurse through the house on the way to some hanky-panky. A piece of stupidity he’s going to pay for in more ways than one, as he’s currently collecting disability that is going to stop the minute his duplicity is revealed.

An entirely different set of doors has closed for Deena Clark. Her best friend and roommate has died, leaving Deena with custody of her friend’s baby girl, who shows signs of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Deena loves Willow, and wants more than anything to be her mother. But she’s also at the end of her rope. She was barely scraping by financially when she was sharing the apartment, but now that she’s on her own and responsible for a baby who needs extra care, she knows that she doesn’t have the resources to get Willow the help she needs. And that’s just not good enough for little Willow.

Deena sees only one option – to take Willow to her sperm donor and hope that the rich entrepreneur will provide the child support he didn’t know he was responsible for. But Luis Dominguez, once he accepts that Willow is incontrovertibly his, has no plans to pay Deena to make the baby and her caregiver go away.

He intends to be Willow’s father – and he’s willing to cajole or connive in order to make that happen. With all the best intentions – because he’s that kind of Type-A steamroller who believes he always knows best.

His plan is to buy the old, dilapidated bookstore on Teaberry Island, the place where he grew up and where his family still lives, and pay Deena an exorbitant amount of money to manage the bookstore and take care of his daughter – with the able and conveniently nearby assistance of his mother, his two brothers and their wives. His plan keeps Deena with him, gives him something to do on Teaberry Island, and most importantly, gives him time to be a real father to his little girl. All he has to do is tear himself away from his high stakes, high pressure, big time consulting firm in DC.

That his plan to open a door for Willow, Deena and himself runs headlong into Carol’s plan to reopen that same dilapidated bookstore that her family still owns isn’t even on his radar – and he wouldn’t care if it was and doesn’t care when he finds out.

But Teaberry Island is a small town, and everybody pitches in to get the bookstore open again under Luis’ plan for Deena. Except for Carol and her new-found friends, who have plans to take things in an entirely different situation.

Let the games begin!

Escape Rating B: At first it seems as if Carol – along with her friends – is being set up as the villain of this story. Which is entirely unfair, as she’s in every bit as big of a mess when the story begins as Deena is.

But the “A” plot in The Beach Reads Bookshop is Deena’s slow-burn romance with Luis and their pretty inevitable shift from being strangers to becoming a family. It’s cute and it’s sweet and they each have some lessons to learn along the way – but where they’re going to end up is obvious from the beginning so it’s not exactly a surprise when they get there.

Carol’s story, that “B” plot, on the other hand, had a few more twists and turns. (It also went into one nasty corner that I’ll get to in a minute). Carol is the character who is doing a lot of that “regretting the closed door” at least at the beginning, that the quote is talking about. It’s not just that she misses her job and is mourning the end of her marriage, but she’s looking back even further, all the way back to when her grandfather owned the bookstore and the world was just a bit different.

But her sister sold the bookstore out from under her before she even knew Carol wanted it. Which is the point where Carol barged into Deena’s life.

At first it’s that long ago nostalgia that Carol is really trying to recapture – no matter how badly she goes about it. And no matter how much trouble it gets her into. It’s only as she embraces the new life she’s creating on Teaberry Island that her situation really gets interesting – even as it nearly takes a sharp left turn into “grand theft bookstore”.

Once she starts looking forward instead of back she realizes what a fantastic opportunity all of the doors that slammed behind her really were. And while it wasn’t a surprise that her soon-to-be-ex tried – badly – to get her back, it was great that she did not let herself get sucked back into that boring, unfulfilled and unsatisfactory life.

That her journey brings her around to a point where she and Deena are running that bookstore together – and enjoying it and each other’s company – brought everything full circle and tied the story up with a pretty – and somewhat unexpected – bow.

Reviewer’s Note: There was one fly in the sweet-smelling potpourri of this story, at least for this reader, that lies in the way the conflict over the bookstore played out. As ironic as this may sound, in the beginning, both Carol and the local librarian indulged in more than a bit of reader-shaming over the idea that the bookstore would focus on light, fluffy, “beach read” type books. There is a debate, even in library circles, over the question of whether libraries should push people to read “better” books, or if it’s just terrific that people are reading and enjoying it no matter what they choose to read. It’s a debate that was resolved long ago in favor of being happy that people are reading and that it is REALLY bad karma to shame people for what they read. So it left a really bad taste in this reader’s – and librarian’s – to see that debate played out in a rather snide fashion in the earlier parts of this book, especially the way the local librarian was reader-shaming her own patrons. Your reading mileage, of course, may vary. But I hope that whatever you read and love, that we all stop trying to shame other readers for their choices.