Review: A Matter of Happiness by Tori Whitaker

Review: A Matter of Happiness by Tori WhitakerA Matter of Happiness by Tori Whitaker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on November 8, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A cherished heirloom opens up a century of secrets in a bittersweet novel about family, hard truths, and self-discovery by the author of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish.
Melanie Barnett thinks she has it all together. With an ex-fiancé and a pending promotion at a Kentucky bourbon distillery, Melanie has figured out that love and career don’t mix. Until she makes a discovery while cleaning her Jordan MX car, a scarlet-red symbol of the Jazz Age’s independent women that she inherited from her great-great-great-aunt Violet. Its secret compartment holds Violet’s weathered journal—within it an intriguing message: Take from this story what you will, Melanie, and you can bury the rest. Melanie wonders what more there is to learn from Violet’s past.
In 1921 Violet Bond defers to no one. Hers is a life of adventure in Detroit, the hub of the motorcar boom and the fastest growing city in America. But in an era of speakeasies, financial windfalls, free-spirited friends, and unexpected romance, it’s easy to spin out of control.
Now, as Melanie’s own world takes unexpected turns, her life and Violet’s life intersect. Generations apart, they’re coming into their own and questioning what modern womanhood—and happiness—really means.

My Review:

Melanie Barnett and her ‘Great Aunt Grape’ were simpatico in a way that Melanie and her judgmental, disapproving and disappointed mother were not. So it wasn’t at all surprising that the late and much lamented Violet Bond left her classic 1923 Jordan Playboy car to Melanie when she died.


1920 Jordon Playboy at Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum

What is surprising is the treasure trove of her personal papers and memories that Violet hid inside the car – just waiting for Melanie to check all the compartments and bring them to light.

As this story opens, Melanie is finally claiming that legacy, wishing that she had taken a look a whole lot earlier. But the time is now, and Melanie discovers the whole truth of Violet’s story just in time to help her decide the path she should take for her own.

In spite of her mother’s constant needling that Melanie’s choices are all the wrong ones. Inspired by Violet’s story, Melanie takes a good hard look at what she’s doing and where she’s going, and figures out that when it comes to the matter of her happiness the choices will have to be her own.

Just as Violet’s did. No matter what anyone else might think.

Escape Rating B+: I picked up A Matter of Happiness because I loved the author’s first book, Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish. I liked A Matter of Happiness quite a bit, but it didn’t quite match up to the first book, although I think that the nostalgia of its Cincinnati setting pulled a bit more at my personal heartstrings than this one did. But I think that’s a ‘me’ thing and not a commentary on either book. A Matter of Happiness was definitely worth the read.

Like Millicent Glenn’s story, this one also exists in two time frames – but it is also told by two rather different people. Melanie’s story is set in pre-COVID 2018 (I have a feeling that authors are going to avoid the COVID years a LOT because they were just SO WEIRD). Melanie is at a bit of a crossroads in her life. The man she thought she’d marry thought that she would be happy to give up her career for his big promotion. But that promotion was taking him to Silicon Valley, and her career is in the Kentucky bourbon industry, which necessitates that she live, unsurprisingly, in her home state of Kentucky.

And now she’s sworn off men, devoting herself to her career, pursuing a promotion to management at the company she’s been working at for several years. She hopes that if she reaches a management position that her striving, seeking, disapproving mother will finally be proud of her.

But she’s found her great-aunt’s diary in the hidden compartments of that old car. A diary of Violet Bond in the 1920s, in her 20s, at a crossroads in her own life. Going off to Detroit to get a job in the burgeoning automobile industry, living on her own by her own wits and on her own wages, pursuing a career and swearing off men – albeit for different reasons than Melanie.

Melanie sees a bit of her own journey in her beloved great-aunt’s story. And we see a bit of our own in both of theirs. And in reading about the choices and the sacrifices that her aunt made in order to live the life she wanted, Melanie finds her own way forward.

Along with a secret that changes her perspective on how both she – and her mother – see their past and their places in a family they thought they knew.

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Review: This Place of Wonder by Barbara O’Neal

Review: This Place of Wonder by Barbara O’NealThis Place of Wonder by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 316
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 19, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the wake of a personal tragedy, four women face the past, their futures, and each other in a novel of broken ties and healing by the Amazon Charts bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids.
When famed chef Augustus Beauvais dies, he leaves behind a celebrated reputation―and four women grappling with loss, anger, pain, and the question of how the world will turn without him…
Meadow, the ex-wife with whom Augustus built an empire―and a family―still holds a place for him in her heart, even as she continues to struggle with his infidelities, which ended their twenty-year marriage. More unforgiving is Maya, his estranged daughter, who’s recently out of rehab but finally ready to reclaim her life. Norah, his latest girlfriend, sidelined her own career for unexpected love and a life of luxury, both of which are now gone with Augustus. And then there’s Rory, Meadow’s daughter, the voice of calm and reason in a chorus of discontent.
As Meadow, Maya, Norah, and Rory are flung together by tragedy, grief, and secrets yet to be revealed, they must accept―or turn away from―the legacy of great intentions and bad decisions Augustus left them. And when the circumstances around his death are called into question, their conflicted feelings become even more complicated. But moving forward is the only choice they have, and to do so, they’ll need to rely on family, friendship, and inner strength.
Set on the stunning, rugged California coastline, This Place of Wonder is an emotional, lush, and empowering story of four women finding their way in a changed world―and what a wondrous journey it will be.

My Review:

As wonderful as this story is, its protagonists are not exactly in a place of wonder as it opens. Unless that wonder is wondering WTF happens now that Augustus Beauvais is dead.

Not in the way that stories like this used to be written, with all of the late man’s “relicts” desperate to figure out how they are going to survive in the literal sense now that their financial support is gone. Thankfully, women’s stories don’t work that way anymore.

But Beauvais was a towering figure (literally as he was 6’4”) in the American culinary scene of the 1990s and early 2000s. And even though his best days may have been behind him, he was still a huge personality and an outsized influence on everyone whose life he touched.

Especially the four women he, in various ways, tried to save. Because he needed to be needed. And because he couldn’t save the one woman who mattered the most.

Meadow was the love of his life, something that was as true on the day he died as it was on the day he met her, even though they had been divorced for eight years because the two things he seems to have been incapable of being were faithful in marriage or alone either inside or outside of it.

Rory, the daughter he adopted and Maya, the daughter he abandoned. And last, but surprisingly not least in the end, Norah, the much, much younger woman he thought needed saving, but who, in the end, turned out to be strong enough to help his family save themselves.

In the aftermath of Beauvais death, in the midst of the suspicious questioning of police who are adding two plus two and reaching a number that might be getting a bit too close to four, Maya learns that the father she never forgave left her everything except one final opportunity to get him to accept the blame for so many things he did that were so very wrong. And Meadow accepts that just because she built a life more or less without him it doesn’t mean that she will ever be ready to let him go – no matter how much she needs to.

Escape Rating A-: Like several of the author’s previous books that I have enjoyed, When We Believed in Mermaids, The Art of Inheriting Secrets and Write My Name Across the Sky, This Place of Wonder is about a multi-generational group of women who share a tragedy in the past that has come crashing down in the present.

What links all four of these women, besides their obvious links to Augustus Beauvais, is that they all see – or at least saw – themselves as damaged. Or perhaps it’s that Beauvais saw them all that way and that’s how he drew them into his orbit – because he needed their damage to fix his own.

Only Meadow – and by extension Augustus, are old enough to even have a past – or at least one far enough in the past for it to be hidden. For good or for ill, Rory’s and Maya’s lives have been lived in the public eye – because of their relationships with August and Meadow.

Who isn’t actually Meadow at all. Or at least wasn’t, back in the days before the internet made all the salacious details of everyone’s life available at the press of a few keys.

Which is what Norah came to California to discover, once upon a not very long ago time, before she got caught up by Augustus’ magnetic pull. And with the loss of his overwhelming presence, its a search she picks back up again. Because Norah is a whole lot stronger, and a whole lot less damaged, than anyone thought.

The stories are on a collision course from the opening of the book. Augustus is dead, in the arms of yet another damaged young woman. His death was sudden, the tests are inconclusive and the stories told by the women in his life almost but not quite match up. At least not until the other half of the story is revealed, and Norah’s probe into Meadow’s past reveals exactly how the past connects to the present.

But for a lot of the book, that investigation is in the background. In the foreground is the way that this strange and damaged family stitches itself together and learns that the hole in their center is something that has always been there. That, in some ways, it’s easier to deal with now that they know it will never be filled. And that they have a way forward without it, and without him, both together and separately.

And it’s that part of the story that gives this its heart. In spite of where they came from. In spite of what was done to them – and in spite of what he did to them as well. That they are, each of them, the legacy of a flawed and fascinating man. And that they are all, together and separately, so much more than that.

And they always have been, even if they haven’t always been able to see it.

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Review: Tough Justice by Tee O’Fallon

Review: Tough Justice by Tee O’FallonTough Justice (K-9 Special Ops #1) by Tee O'Fallon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: K-9 Special Ops #1
Pages: 368
Published by Entangled: Amara on March 29, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

It should have been a routine investigation. Instead, DEA K-9 agent Adam “Deck” Decker watches in horror as one Denver hospital seems to be Ground Zero for overdoses of a new drug. Now Deck can only hope a certain icy, green-eyed ER doctor will help him and his canine partner track down the deadly source.

Dr. Tori Sampson has her reasons for not trusting federal agents, especially ones working for the DEA. But the rash of overdoses―including a heartbreaking case involving a teen―is alarmingly high. And the new opioid is not only extremely dangerous, it defies all the usual medical treatments. So Tori has a choice: work with the big, brawny, and annoyingly hot DEA agent…or watch more innocent people die.

Tori’s the only person who can help Deck break the case, and they’ll need to trust each other, no matter how high the tension and attraction sizzling between them runs. But with every question answered, they realize there’s something more behind these typical teen overdoses. There’s a pattern here, and a pattern can only suggest one thing. There’s a killer on the loose.

My Review:

First, and most important to a whole lot of people in my reading circle, the dog is fine at the end of the story. Actually Thor is more than fine. He seems to be the only person in this romantic suspense thriller who survives this case pretty much unscathed. Quite a few of the central humans in this story are a bit worse for wear by the time they reach their HEA.

But the dog is just fine. So rest easy and hang on for this wild ride of a case.

There’s a temptation to call Tough Justice an enemies to lovers romance, but that just doesn’t feel right. Enemies to lovers implies that the protagonists have met before and rubbed each other the wrong way, and that’s just not the case here.

When Deck (along with Thor) and Tori first collide in the story, it’s the first time they’ve ever met. The baggage they pretty much immediately start flinging at each other is not about either of them personally. It’s about what they – or rather their professions – represent.

Deck distrusts doctors – in the extreme – because his younger sister died of a drug overdose. She got hooked on opioids after an accident, when a doctor – either overworked, irresponsible, or both – prescribed pain-killers for her very real pain and injuries but didn’t pay attention to her growing dependence on the drugs.

Tori has no love for the DEA or its agents, because they used her father to make a case against a much bigger fish. But what put her pharmacist dad in their sights in the first place were corners that he shaved and mistakes that he made – both in giving away meds without prescriptions to people who needed them but couldn’t afford them – and for helping in assisted suicides before it was legal in Colorado.

Tori blames the DEA for promising her dad to help him if he testified – but they hung him out to dry when their case was made and he lost the family savings, his pharmacist’s license and spent several months in jail. Tori attributes her mother’s death to the stress of the situation.

That Deck and Tori meet in a face-off over the care of Deck’s partner agent who has OD’d on a new super-heroin through incidental contact as part of a takedown has Deck on edge. While Tori just needed to get the behemoth out of her ER so she can save his friend’s life without literally bumping into him every time she turns around in the small, frantic treatment room.

You would not think that opening scene, especially when coupled with their past history and mutual distrust, would turn into anything positive at all – let alone a romance.

But Tori has seen too many people, especially kids, die as a result of this new heroin compound. She NEEDS to do something proactive and not just reactive to help stem this tide. Deck needs Tori’s skills, first as a doctor who knows how to treat this new and deadly epidemic, and second for her contacts with patients.

He doesn’t want to violate the laws about patient privacy, but anyone who manages to survive – already a much too small percentage – and who is willing to talk to the DEA about where they bought the drug and who they got it from will get them one step closer to figuring out who is creating and dealing this particular form of death.

That they are both looking for an excuse to see each other again isn’t something that either of them is able to admit. At least not until it is very nearly too late for more than they’d ever thought they’d want.

Escape Rating B+: Tough Justice manages to combine a downright combustible romance with a deadly twisted thriller that feels so close to real you can practically feel the heat of the literally explosive climax right through your fingers as you’re holding the book.

(Even if you’re reading an ebook, which is actually kinda dangerous!)

So, on that one hand, we have a romance between two people who start out not really knowing each other and almost hating what they do know. On the other hand, once they let each other in, just a little bit, they realize that they are more alike than would first appear.

Because they’re both scared of risking their hearts, and they both cover that fear with by letting their work consume their entire lives so they don’t have to think about what might be missing. That both of them have jobs that both require intense focus AND are all about saving people just adds to the constant pressure to be the best, do the best, and forget about anything that might distract from those goals.

Like romance. Or hobbies. Or even taking the occasional vacation that isn’t mandated one way or another.

And on the other side of the equation, there’s this big, huge, deadly case that turns out to be a mission for both of them. Someone is selling a new, “improved”, even more addictive and more deadly formula of heroin called “Gray Death” because that’s what it looks like and that’s what it delivers.

As the story begins, Tori is treating the victims and Deck is hunting the perpetrator. Then they join forces and suddenly it seems like someone is after them. Only because someone IS after them. And that’s where the case ramps up and goes just a bit over the top.

I did figure out who the villain was long before Deck and Tori – although it didn’t make sense at first. (This is one of this times when I paged to the end to see if I was right because it was driving me nuts! Also, the villain was nuts!)

The casework was painstaking in just the way I like. Linking one clue to another with a bit of luck but not too much. But once they got there, I have to say that the villain and his villainy read as more than a bit “out there”. YMMV. I expected him to be awful – after all, he is the villain. I just didn’t expect him to be “bwahaha” insane on top.

On the whole, I loved the romantic heat between Deck and Tori and the come-here-go-away progress of their romance. I found the case they were investigating to be absolutely riveting along the way, and the ending was an edge-of-the-seat thrill ride, albeit with a villain who flew off that thrill-ride and went over the top.

Still, this was a fun, absorbing read from beginning to end, and I absolutely could not put it down. It was made even better because the dog was the only character to emerge from the story without even a scratch on him – even though he helped save the day in the absolute nick of time!

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Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels

Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison MichaelsThe Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Secrets, Scandals, and Spies #2
Pages: 457
Published by Entangled: Amara on February 14, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He wants justice
Underestimating Marcus Black is the last thing his enemies ever do. After all, the respected Earl of Westwood is a deadly threat… when her Majesty needs him to be. And his only goal is to avenge his brother’s murder. Which would be much easier if the viciously-skilled Lady Kaitlyn Montrose wouldn’t swoop in, knee him in the bollocks, and then run off with his only lead…
She wants revenge
Kat is determined to avenge her beloved uncle’s murder and nothing will stop her. Especially not the devastatingly handsome, and equally lethal Marcus Black. The fact that he’s after the same target is a complication she hadn’t planned on. And as much as she enjoys taunting him, she has a job to do—one that doesn’t include sparring with the infuriating man at every turn. Except Kat has a new plan… one that Marcus will just hate.
Now they’ll have to work together… if they don’t kill each other first
Individually, Marcus and Kat are deadly. If they worked together, they could be unstoppable. But when attraction gets in the way of vengeance, it’s more than hearts on the line. And only one person can win...

My Review:

There are three threads to this story. The part of that braid that we are introduced to first is the revenge story, as Kat Montrose watches her guardian and beloved uncle die on the street after an attack by a foreign agent known only as “The Chameleon”. The second strand of that braid is the instant attraction between Kat and Marcus Black – an attraction that is as inconvenient and inappropriate as it is irresistible.

Last but not least, the central thing that ties those two pieces together is the “Great Game” of power, politics and general one-upmanship that was conducted between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in places and with proxies all around the world, but most especially in Central and South Asia.

It’s the playing of this game of lives, fortunes and futures that eventually resulted in World War I. But at the point of this story in 1884-85, it’s mostly a spy game. A spy game in which Kat, Marcus, Kat’s late uncle AND the Chameleon have all played their parts.

Kat, formally Lady Kaitlyn Montrose, is a spy, a member of Her Majesty’s War Office. So is Marcus Black, the Earl of Westwood. Both were trained by her late uncle in the work. When he was killed, Kat began her search for the Chameleon, intending on taking “an eye for an eye”, the Chameleon’s life for her uncle’s.

But the Chameleon has been avoiding people like Kat for years, all too successfully. No one has ever been able to discover the identity of the elusive assassin. Kat needs a bit of assistance in tracking the Chameleon down. Assistance that she expects to garner in the form of the Earl of Westwood, who should want to avenge her uncle – his mentor – as much as she does.

Westwood has been hunting the Chameleon for far longer than Kat has been looking, and Victor’s death only adds to the reasons for his pursuit. He doesn’t want Kat getting in his way – or honestly working the case at all. Nor does he have any hope of stopping her.

Which doesn’t keep him from trying for entirely too long.

But the Chameleon is working through a hit list of the highest echelons of the War Office. Kat and Marcus will have to work together to stop the decimation of Britain’s intelligence services while war looms on the horizon.

Too bad they’re spending so much time fighting a war with each other to find the source of the threat before it’s nearly too late.

Escape Rating B: I loved the opening of this. The whole idea of a female spy in Victorian England had the potential to be so much fun! And the first scenes, with Kat burgling some papers then decimating the thugs who try to stop her  – was fantastic. That Kat has a burning line of snark for such circumstances was icing on the cake.

But the cake turned out to be more of a cupcake.

Kat is still an utterly fascinating character, and she does continue to kick ass and take names throughout this story. I especially loved her friendship with Livie (heroine of the first book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain) and Etta, and their joint publishing venture to take down the unrepentant asshole noblemen who abused women and didn’t think they’d have to pay for their perfidy. That was excellent. (I haven’t read the first book – yet – but didn’t feel like I’d missed anything essential. Just that I might have missed a good reading time!)

And I can’t say that I didn’t like her budding relationship with Westwood, because that certainly had oodles of passionate potential, which it mostly fulfilled. What fulfilled less, at least for me, was the degree to which he just plain refused to accept that Kat was NEVER going to submit to his protection and was not under any circumstances going to hold herself back from the investigation. Marcus wants Kat to be safe, and takes much too long to acknowledge that safety was about the last thing that Kat was built for.

If he hadn’t been aware of how she was raised and trained – and intimately aware at that because he was trained by the same person – it would have made more sense. His behavior would have been the expected thing for that time and place. But he went into this mess knowing that Kat was absolutely NOT the expected thing so treating her as if she was was going to get him nowhere but an argument. The repetition went on too long, and Kat in particular was a bit too angsty about her developing feelings. She was portrayed as a person of action at every turn and the moody angst just didn’t “feel right”.

On the other hand, the case was a cracking good one – and the solution was nothing like I expected at all. The Chameleon was both clever and totally unexpected, adding a frisson of danger and temptation to the scenario that made the whole thing that much more diabolical and entertaining.

In other words, mixed feelings. The way the romance worked didn’t quite fit the characters of Kat and Marcus as they were drawn, but I was certainly sold on them being meant for each other. I certainly liked this more than enough to consider picking up the previous book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain, the next time I’m in the mood for a romantic spy story.

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer Getaway by Susan MalleryThe Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Hqn on March 15, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

One woman takes the vacation of a lifetime in this poignant and heartwarming story about the threads that hold a family together from #1
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery.
Single mom Robyn Caldwell needs a new plan for her future.  She has always put her family first.  Now, with her kids grown, she yearns for a change. But what can she do when her daughter has become the most demanding bride ever, her son won’t even consider college, her best friend is on the brink of marital disaster and her ex is making a monumentally bad decision that could ruin everything?
Take a vacation, of course. Press reset. When her great-aunt Lillian invites her to Santa Barbara for the summer, Robyn hops on the first plane to sunny California.
But it’s hard to get away when you’re the heart of the family. One by one, everyone she loves follows her across the country. Somehow, their baggage doesn’t feel as heavy in the sun-drenched, mishmash mansion. The more time Robyn spends with free-spirited Lillian, the more possibilities she sees—for dreams, love, family. She can have everything she ever wanted, if only she can muster the courage to take a chance on herself.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery. I’ll be reviewing this book next month as part of another tour, but in the meantime, here’s a teaser to whet ALL of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery (continued from Monday’s Excerpt at Books, Cooks, Looks)

“She also found a couple of early Dutch strongboxes,” Mindy added. “Those sell for at least thirty K.”

Mindy, along with her three sisters, owned an exclusive antique shop in Naples. None of the other sisters lived in Florida, so Mindy was in charge of retail. Her sisters traveled extensively, keeping the shop well-stocked with unique and expensive items.

Robyn and Mindy had met in the store. Robyn was a frequent client, although her taste was slightly less upscale than much of Mindy’s inventory. They’d quickly moved to having lunch every month. When a part-time position had opened up, Robyn had applied. It was only a few hours a week, but Robyn enjoyed working with the other clients, as well as checking out whatever was new in the store. The selling wasn’t her favorite, but learning about different eras and the history of each piece enthralled her.

Mindy set down her glass. “How goes the wedding?”

Robyn did her best not to grimace. “So far we’re just talking generalities.”

“You’re still not happy they’re engaged?”

Robyn again resisted the urge to chug her wine. “Kip’s great. He adores Harlow, and doesn’t every mother want that in a future son-in-law? I just wish…”

She placed her hands flat on the table. “She’s barely twenty-two. They’ve known each other less than a year, and getting married is such a big step. Why can’t they live together for a few years? Take off for Paris or go hiking in Chile? Why get married so quickly?”

Mindy tried to hide her amusement. “And how old were you when you married Cord?”

“Nineteen.” Robyn sighed. “Which is my point. I had a two-year-old when I was Harlow’s age. Sure, I had my kids early, but what if I hadn’t? What if I’d gone to college or spent six months in Australia or done something other than what I did?”

“So is your concern about what Harlow might miss out on or what you gave up?”

A very valid question, Robyn thought. “How can you be insightful? That’s your third glass of champagne.”

“Liquor brings out my best qualities.”

“I don’t regret my life. I love my kids. I wouldn’t wish them away.”

“But?”

“I want her to have options.” She picked up her fork. “Not a conversation my daughter wants to have with me.” She and Harlow had managed to survive the teen years with hardly a cross word, but lately, they seemed to be fighting all the time.

“Would you have listened to your mother?” Mindy asked.

“I’m not sure. She died when I was eleven.”

Mindy’s brown eyes widened. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay. As for talking to her when I was Harlow’s age, I probably wouldn’t have listened, either. I want to say I would have been mature and interested in her opinion, but it seems unlikely.”

Mindy touched her hand. “It’s your past, Robyn. You rewrite it however you’d like.”

“Thanks. The last time Harlow mentioned the wedding, she said something about wanting to dye the pool to match the bridesmaids’ dresses.”

“Can you even do that?”

“No idea, and I really don’t want to know.” She could only hope that her daughter’s wedding plans became a little more normal as time passed. Or that she decided to elope. Or hey, postpone.

“Want to play tennis next week?” Mindy asked brightly.

Robyn eyed her. “I’m not interested in meeting your fantasy guy.”

“Why not? Once you see him, you’ll have to admit he’s totally worth the risk.”

Robyn gave in to the inevitable and swallowed the rest of her wine. “Mindy, you make me crazy. You have a perfectly good penis at home. One is enough. Forget about Derrick.”

“Dimitri.”

“Whatever. Don’t risk your marriage and your family. He’s not worth it.”

“But I’m not doing it for him. I’m doing it for me.” She smiled dreamily. “At least let me see him naked.”

“See a therapist instead.”

Mindy assumed Robyn was kidding and burst out laughing. Robyn faked a smile, even as she told herself to stop trying to convince her friend of anything. Based on how her children were behaving lately, she had no skills at persuasion. Oh, for the days when she could bribe them with a Popsicle.

Excerpt Tour continues tomorrow at Susan Loves Books) Follow the tour for more exciting excerpts:

Excerpt tour:

Monday, February 21st: Books Cooks Looks

Tuesday, February 22nd: Reading Reality

Wednesday, February 23rd: SusanLovesBooks

Thursday, February 24th: Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, February 25th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, February 25th: View from the Birdhouse

Sunday, February 27th: Subakka.bookstuff

Monday, February 28th: Laura’s Reviews

Tuesday, March 1st: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, March 2nd: The Bookish Dilettante

Thursday, March 3rd: What is That Book About

Friday, March 4th: The Romance Dish

Sunday, March 6th: The Cozy Book Blog

Monday, March 7th: Girl Who Reads

Tuesday, March 8th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, March 9th: Helen’s Book Blog

Thursday, March 10th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Friday, March 11th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Sunday, March 13th: Novel Gossip

Monday, March 14th: Books and Bindings

About the Author:

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

Review: Ten Rules for Marrying a Duke by Michelle McLean

Review: Ten Rules for Marrying a Duke by Michelle McLeanTen Rules for Marrying a Duke by Michelle McLean
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 289
Published by Entangled: Scandalous on February 14, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Bookish Arabella Bromley never gave a fig for society’s rules—until her sister ran off with a man below her station. Now Arabella is desperate to restore her family’s ruined reputation to favor amongst the ton. She’ll have to marry quickly and well. But in order to carry off her plan, Arabella needs a duke… and she has just the rakish fellow in mind.
The Duke of Whittsley has an ungentlemanly tendency to disregard the rules. Unfortunately, a sense of mischief doesn’t excuse a high-ranking noble from family duty—especially where it concerns producing a son. And that’s where he can’t quite resist Arabella’s distinctly outrageous plan: if he saves her family, she’ll give him an heir.
Now the deal’s been struck. They have one year to achieve their goals and ten iron-clad rules to keep them on track. Like long, scorching kisses and ensuring they’re both exquisitely satisfied. And the only thing that could ruin their plan is the one thing they never planned on: love.

My Review:

If you are easily seduced by witty banter you will surely fall in love with Ten Rules for Marrying a Duke just as thoroughly as Arabella Bromley and Silas, Duke of Whittsley fall in love with each other.

Not that that’s what either of them expects when the story begins. In fact, they outright plan against such a thing. That’s what those rules are for, after all. Creating a partnership rather than a relationship so that they can help each other out of the pickles they have both landed in – and then go their separate ways.

Silas needs an heir, but he doesn’t really want a wife. A wife who will become a permanent part of his life and might very well make demands on him. He’s been turning both a deaf ear and a blind eye to his grandfather’s nearly constant harangues about taking his responsibilities seriously, ceasing his frivolous pursuits, doing his duty by his title, and especially marrying and siring an heir.

Silas does take his responsibilities to his estate seriously. Well, more like semi-seriously, which is how he treats pretty much everything. He recognizes that he will have to marry and have an heir someday but he’s only 30 and not ready to settle down in any form or fashion whatsoever.

Arabella Bromley, on the other hand, thought she was settled. Her father was content for her to settle into the happily bookish spinsterhood she intended to revel in. He’s an introvert just as she is, so he understands her as no one else in the family does. She can’t inherit his title, and neither can her sisters, he has plenty of money to ensure that she will be comfortable even if she never so her bluestocking nature is not a problem.

At least not until her older sister Alice marries their groom, bringing scandal down on all their heads. The invitations to events dry up in the hot wind of gossip blowing through the ton. It’s find for her father, it’s fine for Arabella, and Alice certainly doesn’t care. But their younger sister Anna cares very much. Her Season was cut short due to illness and she expected to have another Season to find a husband and get herself settled.

The entire family is now social poison and Anna won’t be able to make a good match. It’s up to Arabella to concoct a scheme that will allow their family to weather the storm of scandal. All she has to do is convince the Duke of Whittsley to marry her and sponsor her sister back into society.

And that’s where those pesky rules come in. The ten rules they write together in a bit of hilariously embarrassing but utterly necessary one-up-person-ship, in order to hammer out just how they will convince the ton that they are madly in love, rescue her sister AND detail how to handle their lives once they part company after all the deeds are done.

They should have put in a rule about what to do when they both broke the unstated rule of the whole affair – that neither of them was supposed to fall in love with the other.

Escape Rating B: The first half of this book is an absolute delight. The second half was a bit overshadowed by the giant misunderstandammit that takes over the story, but still had plenty of verve left from that first half to carry this reader through to the end.

Arabella’s scheme to marry Silas is a bit contrived. Both in the sense that she has contrived it on a wing and a prayer, and that the entire situation tries so hard to be a meet cute – although it mostly manages to get there.

What carries that day – and the entire first half of the book – is the way that they both approach the possibility of turning this half-baked scheme into a fully-baked reality. On the one hand, they are opposites. Arabella takes pretty much everything seriously, while Silas takes almost nothing seriously.

He enters into the entire scheme because he’s having fun tweaking Arabella into a reluctant smile at every opportunity. It’s the most “real” fun he’s had in a long time.

It all works because in spite of coming at the situation from opposite directions they are both witty and intelligent people and determined to give as good as they get in every encounter. Arabella wants to stick to the rules they create while Silas pushes the boundaries of all the rules all the time.

And both of them are having a great time doing it – just as the reader does watching them talk and tease each other into friendship and ultimately marriage. Which is where that misunderstandammit rears its ugly little head.

Because they do the one thing neither ever expected. They fall in love with each other. But all their rules were predicated on that NEVER happening. They want to stay together but each is quite reasonably afraid that if they change the rules and the other isn’t on the same page then they’ll lose the happiness they’ve found. It IS a conundrum.

One that they wallow in just a bit too long. It makes sense that the conversation they need to have is hard to have but…the wallowing turned both of them into just the kind of angst-ridden lovesick fools – emphasis on fool – that they so successfully and entertainingly avoided in the first half.

Howsomever, that second half also brings to light some things that I really liked but don’t see nearly often enough in Regencies in the treatment of that scandalous older sister. Because she hasn’t disappeared from her family’s lives and she isn’t treated like a dirty secret. She’s happy in her marriage, her husband is wonderful, and they’re living in a family house out in the country. Because they’re both happier there not because her family has disowned them.

And when Arabella is having the inevitable crisis, it’s her big sister she turns to for solace, for advice, and for safe harbor from her self-created storm. One gets the definite impression that if it hadn’t been for the youngest sister still wanting to find a husband the entire family would have told the ton to go fly a kite – or whatever the appropriate Regency phrase would have been. And wouldn’t that have made for a delicious story?

I very much liked that the family didn’t do any of the terrible things that happen so often to scandal-prone daughters in Regency romance.

So I adored the first half, had mixed but mostly positive feelings about the second half, and ended the book remembering their witty banter very fondly. If you like romances where the protagonists talk each other into love, watching Arabella and Silas make – and break – those ten rules is a lot of fun.

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Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva DevonThe Wedding Wager by Eva Devon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 317
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

All Lady Victoria Kirby wants is to dig in the dirt, take notations, and record history, thank you very much. Bumbling through ballrooms and getting disdained by the ton for her less than ideal looks, on the other hand, is the last thing she wants. But her reckless father has a different idea for her future when he puts up the ultimate ante—her hand in marriage—and loses. Over her dead body.
The Duke of Chase cannot bear to see a woman misused. After all, he saw that often enough as a child. So when he’s witness to a marquess gambling away his daughter to a lecher of a man, he has no choice but to step in and rescue her. Lady Victoria has a reputation for being as tart as a lemon and as bitter as one, too. So, he may have just found the perfect wife to keep a promise he made to himself long ago--to never have an heir. With her, surely, he'll never be tempted to take her to bed and break that promise.
But when he meets the wild, witty intelligent young lady he’s bound to marry, he knows trouble is headed his way... And everything he ever swore to uphold may very well come undone, especially his heart.

My Review:

Once we get to know the Duke of Chase, it seems as if he’s a bit too good to be true. Even if at the beginning he seems a bit too bad to be trustworthy.

However, I loved Victoria from her very first appearance – as did Chase although he was much less willing to admit that even to himself.

But Chase is absolutely right about Victoria’s father. He is utterly irredeemable. There are no such thing as best intentions when one is wagering one’s daughter’s hand in marriage on a roll of the dice – even if it’s best two out of three and the dice are rigged.

That’s where we meet our hero, and our villain. Not that Victoria’s father turns out to be all that effective – or energetic – in that particular endeavor. The Marquess of Halford is determined to find his bluestocking daughter a husband before she’s permanently on the shelf – even though that’s exactly where his older daughter wants to be.

Victoria is a dedicated archaeologist, who has served as her father’s lead assistant ever since she was a child. She enjoys her work, and indeed pretty much any intellectual pursuits. She also hates the ton and the feeling is very, very mutual. She thought her father understood that, and he certainly encouraged her work.

Until the night he wagers her future, allowing her hand to be won by the scandalous rakehell otherwise known as Derek Kent, the Duke of Chase. A man whose reputation is hard-earned, hard-won, and utterly false.

Chase seems to have more than a bit of “white knight” syndrome, and Victoria is the latest in a long line of damsels he has rescued – generally by helping the world to think that they are not damsels at all.

Victoria doesn’t want the usual lot of high born women, marriage, motherhood and never allowed a thought in her head about anything serious, important or intellectual. Chase is caught on the horns of a dilemma, he needs a wife to keep the predatory mamas of the ton at bay, but he gave his word that he would never father an heir to the dukedom. Marrying Victoria, with her reputation as a plain-faced shrew should solve all of both their problems. He’ll give her the respectability of being his duchess, and the freedom to do whatever she likes. He’ll never desire her enough to bed her, so there will be no danger of an heir.

All’s fair in love and war, and the best laid plans of mice and men often go very far astray. While it’s true that Victoria’s caustic wit and sharp tongue are quite capable of disemboweling a man with a single phrase, she is beautiful. The ton’s narrow definition of beauty simply can’t encompass a woman who is meant to stride through the world like a goddess.

But by the time they’re each past admitting, at least to themselves if not each other, that they both want a marriage in full and not merely a platonic friendship, they’re both so deep in lies and misconceptions that they may not be able to wade across the chasm that they’ve dug between them.

Escape Rating B: The Wedding Wager is deliciously frothy and a quick and utterly lovely read. I liked Victoria so very much as a character, and I loved Chase’s response to her. He does think she’s beautiful, but the attraction between them is as much about her intellect as it is about her appearance. Nor does the story dwell on every detail of her appearance, and I really liked that. It felt like we got way more of the female gaze, Victoria’s appreciation of Chase’s charms, than we did the other way around.

And yet we still got that sense that she is beautiful and that the ton’s rules have become so narrow that they just can’t see it. Victoria doesn’t have to change anything about her physicality to become a “success” with the ton, she just has to own her authentic self.

One of the parts of this story that really sings is Victoria’s forthright nature and her unabashed cultivation and use of her own intellect. She’s smart, she’s thoughtful, she finds the restrictions of the ton unbearably frustrating, finds the entire thing a stupid but stupidly painful farce and does her best to ignore it as much as possible. I particularly enjoyed the scene at the theater where the older woman, Lady Gannet, enjoys Victoria and matches her in intelligence and agreed that the girls of the ton were generally forced to be stupid. Yes, Lady Gannet believed that Victoria’s prime duties as duchess were to take care of her husband and provide him with children, but she also used her brain and missed a time when other women did as well and wasn’t in the least bit shy about saying so.

I loved Victoria and Chase’s intelligent banter, although he seemed a bit too good to be true in his appreciation and support of her goals and ambitions. I wanted him to be, it makes the romance work, but at the same time it felt a bit too easy.

Speaking of easy, Chase’s secrets were too easy to figure out, so I’m glad that he revealed them to Victoria relatively early on. In the end, the conflict between them wasn’t about the secrets, it was about his clinging to the past that created those secrets.

And he gives very good grovel when he finally figures it out.

One final note. Something about the way the story was set up gave me the niggling feeling that this was part of a series. I think it was in the depth of Chase’s friendship with Brookhaven. It felt like there was prior history that was known but not present in this book. That might be true, but this is not – at least so far – part of a series. Howsomever, if it turned out to be, particularly if the next book were about Brookhaven himself, I’d be EXTREMELY interested!

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Review: Write My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

Review: Write My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O’Neal + GiveawayWrite My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 366
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 10, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

The USA Today bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids returns with a tale of two generations of women reconciling family secrets and past regrets.
Life’s beautiful for seventysomething influencer Gloria Rose, in her Upper West Side loft with rooftop garden and scores of Instagram followers—until she gets word that her old flame has been arrested for art theft and forgery. Knowing her own involvement in his misdeeds decades earlier, Gloria realizes she could be the next arrest and must flee. But first, she needs to make sure her nieces are protected from any fallout.
The sisters, though in their thirties, are still constantly at odds with each other. Willow, struggling to live up to their mother’s fame as a singer-songwriter, is recovering from a failed album and yet another heartbreak, while Sam is desperate to revive her floundering video game company.
When circumstances out of their control bring the three women back together, they will each have to reckon with and reconcile their interwoven traumas, past loves, and the looming consequences that could either destroy their futures or bring them closer than ever.

My Review:

This is the story of two pairs of sisters all of whom were, in their own ways, trailblazers. Sam and Willow are in their late 30s when this story opens. Sam was one of the first women to head her own gaming company, and one of the first to design action/adventure games specifically intended to appeal to girls. While her company was an “overnight” success 20 years ago, in internet time, 20 years is a century, and her company is floundering.

Her sister Willow is a musician, a violinist who’s most recent solo album tanked. Sank without a trace, taking her boyfriend, her current home and pretty much everything she owned down with it. Willow is a folk/electronica violinist with a unique sound who just hasn’t found the right audience. But at 35, her time couch-surfing and hoping for a big break is running out.

Gloria and her sister Billie came of age in the so-called “Swinging 60s”. Gloria was a stewardess for TWA, back in the days of Coffee, Tea or Me, when stewardesses were expected to tolerate getting groped on every flight in return for the opportunity to visit exotic places for multi-day layovers back when international travel was an expensive novelty and not an every-hour-on-the-hour occurrence.

Bille was a rock musician in the 1960s and 70s, said to be a combination of Joan Jett and Janis Joplin. Unfortunately Billie followed Janis’ trajectory all the way down to an early death, leaving her sister Gloria to raise the daughters she left behind – not that she was all that present when she was alive.

And Billie’s ghost still haunts them all when this story begins. And not just because Gloria is still living in the luxury New York apartment that Billie bought with the royalties from her first album, the place where Gloria raised her girls to adulthood and left them with a yearning to blaze their own trails.

But they’re both failing when this story begins, while Gloria is faced with the sudden failure of the facade she has been maintaining for over 50 years. The man she has loved for all of those years has finally been caught. By Interpol. Suddenly, the biggest of her youthful sins looks like it’s either going to send her on the run or land her in jail for the rest of her life.

Escape Rating A-: Let me get this out of the way first, because it drove me crazy. If the title of the book is giving you an earworm you can’t quite place, it’s because it IS a line in a song, just not the title and not exactly word for word. In the 1971 song by the Stylistics, it went “Write YOUR name across the sky…” but Billie Thorne turned it around because she’d learned from both her mother and her sister not to let anyone else define or restrict her life. Which didn’t stop the world from doing it anyway.

Like the two previous books by this author that I have read, The Art of Inheriting Secrets and When We Believed in Mermaids, this is a story about the past crashing headlong into the present, pushing all of the characters to remember people and events that they have forced into the background of their minds and hearts, until their memories crash into the same heartbreaking epiphany and they’re all finally able to move forward.

I liked this one just a tiny bit better than the previous books, although I certainly liked both of them quite a lot. But the difference in this one was the character of Gloria, who represents a different generation and an entirely different perspective on the people and events that shaped all of their lives. Because through Gloria’s memories we’re allowed to see the late Billie Thorne as she was, through the eyes of someone who was an adult at the time, and not just through the memories of the childhoods that she scarred.

This is also explicitly not a romance, although there are romances in it, and that includes 74-year-old Gloria. For both Gloria and Sam, it’s a second chance at romance, while Willow puts herself and her music first, and finds love as the reward.

As much as the story’s focus is on Sam and Willow, it was Gloria’s story that held my attention. As much as all three women are at crisis points in their lives, it was Gloria’s that brought me the most “feels”, probably because I’m closer to her age than to either of her nieces. I loved that Gloria is happy with the career she had, and has found a second act through her plants and her friends and her instagram feed and followers, because I know how that goes. At the same time, while she doesn’t handle the crisis she is faced with terribly well for most of the story, it was all too easy to slip inside her feelings of desperation, her desire to protect the ones she loves, and her acknowledgement that the long ago events that brought her to this pass were of her own making.

I certainly liked the way that all three of these women’s stories resolved themselves. Gloria faced the demons of her past. Sam found a way to silence the demons inside her head, or at least learned to stop letting them spill out of her mouth. And Willow, in learning from the stories of her mother AND her sister, played her way to the top of the world. A feel good ending all around that I hope will bring as big a smile to other readers’ faces as it did mine.

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

I’m very happy to say that I’m giving away a copy of Write My Name Across the Sky to one lucky US commenter on this tour. But some of you will hate me because the question in the rafflecopter is about songs that give you earworms and how you get rid of them, which will probably implant the song you least want stuck in your head in your brain. “It’s a Small World After All” anyone?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Halo Conspiracy by Michael Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

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

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

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

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

Someone knocked on her window. She rolled it down.

“You okay?” Sage asked.

“Not really. My car won’t start.”

“Want me to take you home?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s your aunt,” Sage offered.

“Then why don’t I know her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s just up there.”

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

“I wasn’t sure.”

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

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

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

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

“Rome,” Sage corrected. “I was.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It looks the same.”

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

 

Author Info:

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

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