Review: Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

Review: Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel MonaghanNora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan
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: 272
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on June 7, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Nora's life is about to get a rewrite...
Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it's her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage's collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it's picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne'er do well husband Nora's life will never be the same.
The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He'll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it's the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it's the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.
Filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, Nora Goes Off Script is the best kind of love story--the real kind where love is complicated by work, kids, and the emotional baggage that comes with life. For Nora and Leo, this kind of love is bigger than the big screen.

My Review:

This initially anti-romantic Nora actually writes those made-for-TV-sponsored-greeting-card-company romances that the Nora in yesterday’s book initially believed cast her as an unfeeling villain in every single outing. Unlike the romances that either of them reads, writes, agents or even watches, the particular script that this Nora is dealing with when this story begins is the story of her own life, and it’s about to be filmed in her very own picturesque but slightly run down home.

Or rather, it’s about to be filmed on her lawn and in “The Tea House” on the grounds where she does her writing. It’s a bit of art imitates life imitates art, as that Tea House was her emotional escape from an emotionally abusive but otherwise absent husband. It was the place where she wrote the scripts that literally kept their life afloat – because the asshole was just too “good” – at least by his own definition – to go out and get a damn job to contribute to the household.

Which also wasn’t good enough for him in any way, shape or form. Not Nora, and not their two kids. So he upped and left and she was actually pretty damn happy about it. She chose not to be a victim of any of her circumstances, and that’s her story and it sold and it’s being filmed and just the fees from using her house for part of the movie shoot is going to get her out of the debt the asshat left her in.

But her asshat ex is being played by the Sexiest Man Alive, and Nora is just a bit smitten. Or at least her fantasy life has suddenly taken on some new dimensions. Still, Leo Vance’s invasion of her life and occasionally her house is just a bit of excitement in her otherwise pretty ordinary and pretty contented life.

And she can’t wait for the film crew to be gone so she can get back to writing. But when the film crew leaves, Leo decides to stay. And stay. And STAY.

That’s where what was merely a blip – although a pretty damn big blip – of excitement turns into a whole lot more. Leo doesn’t just camp out in her tea house, he becomes part of her life and the lives of her two kids, Arthur and Bernadette. In a few short weeks, they become a family.

It’s easy for all of them to fall for him. He’s more involved in all their lives than the asshat EVER was. And it’s not an act. He’s not playing a part. So when Nora and Leo finally give in to the simmering tension between them, it seems like something that shouldn’t be possible might be possible after all. They might, just maybe and possibly, have some kind of future. No matter how much that seems like a fairytale.

But just when they do – they don’t. Leo gets a call, jets off to LA and then to Asia to film a big movie, and he ghosts the whole family. He misses all the things he promised he’d come back for and just disappears out of their lives if not out of their hearts.

Howsomever, this isn’t Nora’s first time on this particular merry-go-round. She wasn’t a victim before, and she isn’t going to be one now. She knows what to do. She writes her pain. She picks up the pieces and moves on. She survives.

It’s then, and only then, that the truths finally come out. The only question is whether or not it’s too late.

Escape Rating A: I fell into this one nearly as hard as I did Book Lovers, and that’s saying a lot. The two romances have a lot in common, particularly in the way that they both mix in a lot of relationship elements. Because this isn’t just a romance between the scriptwriter and the actor, it’s also a love story about the actor and the scriptwriter’s kids. They have to be able to become, not just a couple but actually a family in order for this to even possibly work.

And Nora is as surprised as anyone – if not a bit more so – that it might possibly work. So she’s not surprised at all when it doesn’t. Heartbroken this time around, but not surprised.

One of the things that makes celebrity romances so much fun – especially when they work as well as this one does, is that we’ve probably all had that daydream at least once or twice – if not a whole lot more times. It’s not remotely likely or even plausible, but it’s fun to dream.

But to make it work as in a novel that dream has to at least seem like it might possibly come true in this one particular case. (Spoiler Alert and All the Feels, both by Olivia Dade, also play with this idea but in a completely different way.) And it does seem to be working in Nora Goes Off Script – at least from Nora’s perspective.

Howsomever, because the story is told entirely from Nora’s point of view, we get why it works but we also see exactly how much she questions whether the relationship has ANY long term potential whatsoever. She knows she wants it to, but she’s realistic about wondering whether it can. That we don’t see things from Leo’s point of view means that we share her doubts and totally get why, when he disappears it’s disappointing but not as surprising as either she – or we – want it to be.

(Some of the folks in my reading circle saw these events as a giant misunderstandammit. While it’s true that the mess might have been cleared up by a conversation or a series of texts in their particular case, because of the agency in the middle of things it was easy to see that that conversation actually couldn’t happen. YMMV, as theirs obviously did.)

That all of Nora’s justified angst does lead to both another big money script sold to Hollywood AND to an HEA without her having to compromise a thing – because she shouldn’t – was a surprise and a delight. The ending fed the fantasy in a way that made this reader end the book with a big smile on my face – although probably not as big a smile as the one on Nora’s daughter Bernadette’s face.

Nora Goes Off Script is the author’s debut adult novel, although she has previously published both YA fiction and grown-up nonfiction. I’m so very happy that there is more where this one came from, and I’m looking forward to reading her sophomore adult romance, Same Time Next Summer, coming out THIS summer!

Review: Look Closer by David Ellis

Review: Look Closer by David EllisLook Closer by David Ellis
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 448
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on July 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the bestselling and award-winning author comes a wickedly clever and fast-paced novel of greed, revenge, obsession--and quite possibly the perfect murder.
Simon and Vicky couldn't seem more normal: a wealthy Chicago couple, he a respected law professor, she an advocate for domestic violence victims. A stable, if unexciting marriage. But one thing's for sure ... absolutely nothing is what it seems. The pair are far from normal, and one of them just may be a killer.
When the body of a beautiful socialite is found hanging in a mansion in a nearby suburb, Simon and Vicky's secrets begin to unravel. A secret whirlwind affair. A twenty-million-dollar trust fund about to come due. A decades-long grudge and obsession with revenge. These are just a few of the lies that make up the complex web...and they will have devastating consequences. And while both Vicky and Simon are liars, just who exactly is conning who?
Part Gone Girl, part Strangers on a Train, Look Closer is a wild rollercoaster of a read that will have you questioning everything you think you know.

My Review:

It begins with a dead socialite hanging from the stair railing in her wealthy suburban Chicago home. And it begins from the perspective of the man who killed her, walking away from the scene of the crime, on Halloween night, in a Grim Reaper costume with no one the wiser.

From there, this twisty, turny, rollercoaster of a thriller is off to the races.

Because nothing and no one in this story is what they seem. Or even close to it. At all.

Except for the suburban police detective investigating her first murder in a tony suburb that has never seen murder before. A place where everyone expects police investigations to be wrapped up in 60 minutes like they do it on TV.

Detective Sergeant Jane Burke is investigating the case of a lifetime, the kind that will make her name and her career. And the more evidence she turns up, the more the whole thing looks like a slam-dunk. She has means, motive, opportunity and a suspect wrapped up in a nice neat bow.

Even better, a dead suspect, a con artist who got caught up in his own con and killed himself in his expensive condo when it all fell apart.

The case has been gift-wrapped so neatly that Jane can’t convince her superiors – or the village at large- that it’s all a frame and that there’s a puppet master hiding in the shadows pulling all the strings including her own.

After all, he’s done it before. And she can’t stand the fact that he might manage to do it again.

Escape Rating A+: Look Closer is a thriller about the ultimate long game, a game that is played on the reader every single bit as much as it is on the victims and on the detective stuck with the investigation.

Initially, we’re fooled along with everyone else. Socialite Lauren Betancourt is dead, and from the shifting narratives and time frames that make up the story, initially it seems very clear that her lover, Simon Dobias, killed her because she broke off their affair.

We know that nothing is quite as it seems – except for Lauren’s corpse – but what we discover over the course of the story is just how we, and every single person in the story – has been taken for one hell of a ride.

Saying anything else about the story itself is going to hit spoiler territory, and this is a story that deserves to be read without spoiling. Although I have to confess that about halfway through I tried thumbing to the end and the deception has so many corkscrews in it that reading to the end didn’t tell me much at all about how they finally got there – both the mystery and the narrative about the mystery.

The way that it’s written starts at the murder and then goes both backward and forward in time, frequently changing points of view as it goes. (Although I read this instead of listening to it let just say that there’s a reason that the audio had a full cast.)

So at first we know what happened – at least on the surface. As we go forward in time we see the detective investigating what happened and coming up with something she KNOWS is a frame but can’t prove is a frame with her boss and her whole town breathing down her neck for resolution.

As we see her doubts we start seeing the bits and pieces of what really happened, only to discover that what we thought was true was yet another frame embedded in one smokescreen on top of another. And even when we think we know, we don’t actually know much at all.

The way that this story worked – and does it ever! – reminded me more than a bit of Never Coming Home by Hannah Mary McKinnon. Not only in the story itself but in the way that the reader ends up grudgingly admiring all the players involved in this elaborate game even though we KNOW they are not exactly on the side of the angels.

So if you enjoy thrillers that go through some extreme corkscrew turns before they slide headfirst into their wildly surprising conclusions, Look Closer is one hell of a pulse-pounding read.

Review: Love and Saffron by Kim Fay

Review: Love and Saffron by Kim FayLove & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: foodie fiction, historical fiction, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 208
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on February 8, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads


The #1 Indie Next Pick, in the vein of the classic 84, Charing Cross Road and Meet Me at the Museum, this witty and tender novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine.

When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter--as well as a gift of saffron--to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine, and while she can hunt elk and dig for clams, she's never tasted fresh garlic--exotic fare in the Northwest of the sixties. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the unexpected in their own lives.
Food and a good life--they can't be separated. It is a discovery the women share, not only with each other, but with the men in their lives. Because of her correspondence with Joan, Imogen's decades-long marriage blossoms into something new and exciting, and in turn, Joan learns that true love does not always come in the form we expect it to. Into this beautiful, intimate world comes the ultimate test of Joan and Imogen's friendship--a test that summons their unconditional trust in each other.
A brief respite from our chaotic world, Love & Saffron is a gem of a novel, a reminder that food and friendship are the antidote to most any heartache, and that human connection will always be worth creating.

My Review:

It’s 1962 and the world is about to change. Neither Joan Bergstrom in LA nor Imogen Fortier on Camano Island (in Puget Sound outside Seattle) have any foreknowledge of what the 60s are going to bring, either to the country or to themselves.

They are both writers, and their correspondence begins when 27-year-old Joan writes a fan letter to 59-year-old Imogen about Imogen’s monthly column in a Seattle-based lifestyle magazine, Northwest Home & Life. Imogen is kind of who and what Joan wants to be when she grows up. Joan is Imogen’s chance to help, befriend, advise and share her soul with a woman living on the cusp of change.

They tell their stories to each other in letters over the next four years as the country grieves through the assassination of JFK and watches the Civil Rights Movement come to life. They mourn together, they hope together, and most importantly for their friendship, they explore the cuisines of the world together even though they’re usually eating more than 1,000 miles apart.

But they begin their friendship, their correspondence, and that delicious sharing with Joan’s first letter. It includes both a recipe and a few, precious strands of saffron to make the flavors come to life. And they do.

Joan is the explorer while Immy supports her and cheers her on. Joan starts out wanting to explore the cuisines of her native Los Angeles, and ends up finding the love of her life. Immy shares Joan’s discoveries, her recipes and her saffron, and discovers whole new facets of her husband of over 40 years. Both of their worlds expand because of their friendship with each other.

It all makes for a beautiful story, a sharing of hearts, minds and perspectives. With an ending that will make even the hardest of hearts shed a tear that it doesn’t last forever.

Escape Rating A: This is a bit more Charing Cross Road than Meet Me at the Museum, but it is every bit as marvelous as they are. It’s just that the ending has the bittersweetness of the former more than the hope of the latter. Not that both of those things aren’t part of its story.

I did figure out how this was going to end long before I got there but it honestly didn’t matter. This is one of those stories that are about the journey and not the destination.

More than anything else, what I read was that this journey was all about opening. Joan and Immy begin their journey far apart, in geography, in age, in circumstance. While those gaps aren’t bridged, they cease to matter. Because what they open up to each other are both their minds and their hearts.

They laugh together, they cry together, they share their triumphs, their tragedies, and their innermost thoughts. They inspire and encourage each other to leap and believe that the net will appear – even if the other has to provide that net. It’s impossible not to envy the depth of their friendship.

This is also not a book to read if you’re already hungry. From the very first letter, they share recipes, occasionally actual food and condiments, and encourage each other to explore new tastes and new cuisines at a time when the height of suburban culinary achievement was a fancy jello mold. They encourage each other to live a bigger life than they have been.

Love & Saffron is a very quick read with a lot of heart that kind of sidles up to the issues that were fomenting during the mid-1960s. We’re led into Joan and Immy’s sometimes sideways discussion of the Civil Rights Movement, racial prejudice and women’s rights through the perspectives of two intelligent women who are in the midst of having their eyes opened and their consciousness raised and figuring out where they are going to stand. It was easy to feel with them and for them and this is just a story that I’m very glad I read.

Review: Devoted in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Devoted in Death by J.D. RobbDevoted in Death (In Death, #41) by J.D. Robb
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: In Death #41
Pages: 384
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on September 15th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Eve Dallas tracks a couple whose passion is fueled by cold brutality in the newest crime thriller from the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of Obsession in Death and Festive in Death.
When Lieutenant Eve Dallas examines a body in a downtown Manhattan alleyway, the victim’s injuries are so extensive that she almost misses the clue. Carved into the skin is the shape of a heart—and initials inside reading E and D . . .
Ella-Loo and her boyfriend, Darryl, had been separated while Darryl was a guest of the state of Oklahoma, and now that his sentence has been served they don’t ever intend to part again. Ella-Loo’s got dreams. And Darryl believes there are better ways to achieve your dreams than working for them. So they hit the road, and when their car breaks down in Arkansas, they make plans to take someone else’s. Then things get messy and they wind up killing someone—an experience that stokes a fierce, wild desire in Ella-Loo. A desire for Darryl. And a desire to kill again.
As they cross state lines on their way to New York to find the life they think they deserve, they will leave a trail of evil behind them. But now they’ve landed in the jurisdiction of Lieutenant Dallas and her team at the New York Police and Security Department. And with her husband, Roarke, at her side, she has every intention of hunting them down and giving them what they truly deserve . . .

My Review:

I read this in the car while we were coming back from Cincinnati. It had me so completely absorbed that I zoned out and left my poor but wonderful husband to do all the driving with no good radio stations for a large chunk of the way. I was bad but the book was good.

The story here is always two-fold. On the one hand, we have a case of a spree-killing Bonnie and Clyde who make the mistake of coming to New York City and continuing their spree on Eve Dallas’ turf.

The second story is, as always, the continuing adventures of the family that Eve and Roarke have created – their friends and and Eve’s colleagues and cops at NYPSD Central. The line between friends, colleagues and subordinates has blurred so far that it is usually hard for Eve to figure out which is which, especially since she never thought she would have anything other than colleagues kept at arm’s reach.

The case is a particularly nasty one. A couple of spree-killers have discovered that torturing and murdering a victim sends their sex life into overdrive. They aren’t really all that smart, but they really are scary. They are also very, very lucky, and they’ve found a formula that works for them all too well. Pick a lonely spot. Entice a victim. Knock them out, throw them in the trunk, and carry them off to whatever flop they have secured for two days of fun and torture, until they kill their prey and dump the body far from wherever the crime took place. Then they move on down the road, heading for New York.

And that’s where Eve gets involved. Ella-Loo and Darryl decide to take up residence in New York City, where Eve and her merry band of murder cops have all the latest equipment and a whole lot of savvy about what makes people kill, and how to catch the ones that do.

A clock ticks during this story. Ella-Loo and Darryl have picked up what looks like their first NYC victim, and everyone involved in the case knows that Eve has at most 48 hours to find the lover/killers before they dump this body and grab another one.

So as Eve hunts down her prey, she tracks back through all the places that Ella-Loo and Darryl have struck, and in the process discovers a couple of places where small-town law enforcement preferred to hope that there was no murder, in spite of the evidence, rather than bring down a whole lot of federal oversight. There were too many times when these two killers could have been caught, long before their spree stretched to 24 bodies and counting.

A lot of heads will roll in a lot of places, but first Eve has to catch the killers before they rack up more bodies on her watch.

Escape Rating A-: This was one of the good ones in this series, because the race to find the killers remained front and center during the entire story. Long time fans do get some marvelous moments with the crew, and we do get to see how everyone is doing and what’s happening in their lives. But the focus of this story is always on finding Ella-Loo and Darryl before they finish their grisly business.

We also see how much police work has changed between our now and Eve’s 2060. In NYC, there is a lot of technology, a ton of resources, and a tremendous number of places where the killers can slip up just because they don’t know how much of live in NYC is observed by cameras. Which doesn’t help a whole lot until Eve has a clue of who they are looking for and where to look. Basic investigative work is still basic.

At the same time, we get a glimpse at police life outside NYC, where it doesn’t seem like things have changed all that much. One of the local law enforcement officers along Ella-Loo and Darryl’s route to questionable glory has never been satisfied with the accidental death verdict on a couple of their early victims. Deputy William Banner arrives from Oklahoma to tell Eve everything he knows, and everything he suspects, in the hopes that she can finally get justice for all the victims. He’s able to help the team deal with a lot of law enforcement agencies back home that don’t want to expose their mistakes to big city cops like Eve.

The FBI is going to be digging itself out of its part in this screw up for months, and that’s a good thing. As this case progresses, and we see who failed whom, we want them to eat their share of crow in this mess.

In the end, good triumphs, evil gets its just desserts and Eve and her crew go home to fight crime another day. The ending of the story is marvelously cathartic, as one of the regulars gets a much deserved boost just in time to let the accumulated tension out of the reader and the story.