Thursday, December 31, 2020

Reviews at Amazon-November/December 2020

We're posting some reviews at our Amazon accounts, as either they've been sitting in queue for a while and deserve their time in the sun, fall under our featuring policy, or they're new reads that we couldn't wait to post at the blog. You can check them out at the links below. Hope we can help you find your next favorite book!

Sara:
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Book Review: The Nesting

By Jami Denison


A dead wife. Two motherless children. An isolated home in the cold, snowy woods. Ghosts. Any writer working with these elements will have a high bar to reach, with classic gothic tales such as Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw establishing the genre and still popular more than a century after publication. More recently, Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key proves that gothic plot points can work well in the most modern of settings. 

C.J. Cooke’s latest thriller, The Nesting, combines classic gothic plot points with tropes from Scandinavian literature. The result is a somewhat uneven, but always compelling, mystery.
Lexi Ellis has hit rock bottom, literally homeless and friendless after a suicide attempt and a break-up. A chance encounter leads her to assume the identity of a super nanny and apply for a summer job in Norway. Architect Tom Farraday needs someone to care for his daughters, Gaia and Coco, while he builds his wife’s dream house on an isolated cliff in the woods. His wife, Aurelia, is dead, though… having jumped off that very cliff in the middle of the night. As Lexi becomes closer to the girls—and finds Aurelia’s secret diary—she becomes convinced that Aurelia’s death was not an accident. And the “Sad Lady” without eyes who haunts her in the basement makes things even worse.

Cooke tries to do a lot with this book. Lexi is a troubled narrator, and my initial concern, when she accepted the job, was that this friendless, suicidal imposter who had barely even babysat would do something to hurt the girls. But Lexi pulls off her con with surprising ease and falls in love with the girls (and them her) fairly quickly. The biggest plot point of the book quickly fades in importance. 

Lexi is not the only narrator, and the story takes place in the past as well as the present. Aurelia’s point-of-view is captured in narrative and diary form, and even Tom’s point-of-view is presented, as his complications with the house build are a major plot point, and factor into the feeling of a dangerous, supernatural nature that the book creates. These complications detract from the main plot rather than adding to it; Tom's issues with meeting payroll and his relationship with his father have nothing to do with Aurelia’s death or the atmosphere in the home. 

With its many subplots, flashbacks, narrators, and supporting characters, The Nesting is muddier than a typical thriller. Most thrillers usually build on a strong spine and one specific question that is answered strongly enough to leave readers satisfied; The Nesting leaves some questions unanswered and shrugs off others. Still, it delivers a familiar sense of unease in an unfamiliar setting, creating an atmosphere that is captivating enough to overlook its other shortcomings.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by C.J. Cooke:

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020 Favorites

There were so many great books published in 2020 that it was very hard to choose between the ones we read. Here are some of the books that topped our lists. (We limited ourselves to five each.) However, any book we gave glowing reviews and five stars to this year is definitely recommended for your TBR! 

Melissa:
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
What You Wish For by Katherine Center
Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey
A Little Bit of Grace by Phoebe Fox

Links are to reviews.

Sara:

Links are to reviews.

Jami:

In the weirdest year that most of us can remember, it’s wonderful that we still had the escape of reading…

Links are to Amazon:

Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld’s reimagination of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life if she’d never married Bill. Written in first person, the voice sounds so amazingly like Hillary, it will make her fans ache all over again for what might have been.

In Five Years, Rebecca Serle. The day after accepting her boyfriend’s proposal, Dannie wakes up five years in the future with a different man and a different ring. An hour later, she’s back in the present. Just a dream? Then why does Dannie’s BFF Bella show up with this same man on her arm? The plot sounds familiar, but the book goes in a completely different direction. It’s moving and heartbreaking and stayed with me for a long time after I put it down.

Links are to reviews:

Pretending, Holly Bourne. The opening chapter of Pretending had me laughing out loud, bringing back happy memories of the first Bridget Jones book. But April is not Bridget, and Pretending is a much harder read than Bridget.

Lainey Cameron’s debut novel, The Exit Strategy. In a genre that often hints that the most important thing a woman can do in her life is choose the right man, it’s a relief to read a book where the women put themselves first.

Lian Dolan’s The Sweeney Sisters. If you miss those great Nancy Meyers rich people rom-coms, with the beach settings and the clothes and the houses with amazing kitchens, this book may be right up your alley.

Book Review: Meet Me at Pebble Beach


By Sara Steven

When Regan gets pranked, she finds herself jobless, homeless and boyfriendless in one fell swoop.

Luckily her friendly seaside community provides a beacon of hope, proving to Regan that sometimes you really can rely on the kindness of others – and one local in particular, a handsome fireman called Charlie, helps Regan realise that this could be her chance for a fresh start.

Armed with a list of ways to change her life, Regan decides it’s time to step out of her comfort zone. Because – as Charlie knows all too well – life is for living . . .
(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Meet Me At Pebble Beach
was a pleasant surprise, and here’s why: At first, it appeared as though the reader would delve into a book that is all romantic comedy, yet it turns out there is so much more depth and emotion to it that goes far beyond humor and romance.

As the synopsis indicates, Regan finds herself without a job, a home, or a boyfriend after she is pranked by a coworker. The prank itself was very cleverly done and not expected, and while I had an idea that it really was all just some prank, part of me wondered, much like Regan had with her eternal optimism, if whether or not the prank had been a real windfall for her or not. Of course, it’s not, and this sets off an explosive chain of events that brings her to one of the most unexpected places in order to have a roof over her head. What I kept thinking about as I saw Regan work through her predicament, is how life will push you forward even when you try your damnedest for it not to. So much of the life she’s been living isn’t really where she wants to be at all, so in many ways, where she is after the prank becomes a clean slate into finding a new path.

This is where the story turns into a very touching experience. From the relationships had with unexpected individuals, to the bond formed with her friends and the budding friendship with Charlie, there is continual growth in so many ways for Regan! She starts out as someone who lets life happen to her, and then we get to see the sort of impact she has on her own life and the others around her. Her discovered passions are unconventional, so reading the scenes where she’s chugging along and working hard felt inspirational. It made me reflect on my own direction and the paths I want to go down, in my own unconventional world. 

While Pebble Beach still very much fulfilled the humor and romance aspect that is well anticipated in a romantic comedy novel, it’s in the many underlying emotional and heartfelt moments that made this book a lovely read.
  
Thanks to HarperCollins UK for the book in exchange for an honest review. 

More by Bella Osborne:

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Sophie Sullivan is keeping it real...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Brenda Mallory
Today, Sophie Sullivan is here to celebrate the publication of her debut novel Ten Rules for Faking It. Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

Sophie Sullivan is a Canadian author as well as a cookie-eating, Diet Pepsi-drinking, Disney enthusiast who loves reading and writing romance in almost equal measure. She writes around her day job as a teacher and spends her spare time with her sweet family watching reruns of Friends. Ten Rules for Faking It is her romcom debut novel, but she's had plenty of practice writing happily ever after as her alter ego, Jody Holford.

Visit Sophie online: 
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram 

Synopsis:
What happens when the quiet girl becomes the talk of the town?

As birthdays go, this year’s for radio producer Everly Dean hit rock-bottom. Worse than the “tonsillectomy birthday.” Worse than the birthday her parents decided to split (the first time). But catching your boyfriend cheating on you with his assistant? Even clich├ęs sting.

But this is Everly’s year! She won’t let her anxiety hold her back. She’ll pitch her podcast idea to her boss. There’s just one problem.

Her boss, Chris, is very cute. (Of course). Also, he's extremely distant (which means he hates her, right? Or is that the anxiety talking)? 

And, Stacey the DJ didn’t mute the mic during Everly’s rant about Simon the Snake (syn: Cheating Ex).

That’s three problems.

Suddenly, people are lining up to date her, Bachelorette-style, fans are voting (Reminder: never leave house again), and her interest in Chris might be a two-way street. It’s a lot for a woman who could gold medal in people-avoidance. She’s going to have to fake it ‘till she makes it to get through all of this.

Perhaps she’ll make a list: The Ten Rules for Faking It.  Because sometimes making the rules can find you happiness when you least expect it.

"A wholesome, slow-burn romance that will warm your heart and offer a glimpse into social anxiety disorder. This is a Hallmark movie in book form." 
—Helen Hoang, USA Today bestselling author of The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test

“A funny, sweet rom com from a fresh, sparkling new voice. Everly’s social anxiety was instantly relatable, and I was rooting for her every inch of the way to her happily-ever-after.” 
—Andie J. Christopher, USA Today bestselling author of Not The Girl You Marry

In one sentence, tell us what your journey to publishing was like.
It’s been like Disneyland—exhilarating, fun, a little bit scary, a few rides I’d prefer not to try out but crowded with happiness and interesting characters. 

How are you similar to or different from Everly?
Some of my worries are similar to Everly’s, especially the ones where she second guesses what she says after spending time with people. We both love Converse but only she can wear them because they hurt my feet. 

If Ten Rules for Faking It were made into a movie, who would star in the lead roles?
I love Lucy Hale. She’d be a great Everly. Jenna Coleman would also suit the lead.  Kate Hudson would pull of Stacey perfectly and for Chris…it feels like I should choose one of the Chris’ but how can I choose between them? I think Scott Eastwood would be a great Chris. 

Since you are a Disney enthusiast, what is your number one favorite Disney movie of all time?
Wow. The Little Mermaid. It’s the songs. They’re just so good. 

What is a new year's resolution you try to make every year?
To be a better person than I was the year before in both my actions and reactions. 

What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
Originally, I’d hoped to take my publishing journey in the picture book genre. I’m so glad I ended up where I did.

Thanks to Sophie for chatting with us and to St. Martin's Press for sharing her book with our readers.

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Giveaway ends January 3rd at midnight EST.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Book Review: Back on the Market

By Jami Denison

As a realtor who recently divorced and remarried, I was keen to pick up Back on the Market (A Realtor’s Guide to Love and Life) by Holly Parker, an extremely successful New York City broker who had words of wisdom on both subjects. Published by Forefront books, a Simon & Schuster company that marries self and traditional publishing for high-profile businesspeople, Back on the Market notes the similarities between marketing a house for sale and marketing a person for a relationship, based on Parker’s personal and professional life. 

Parker seems like a go-getter right from the start. Reconnecting with and quickly marrying a childhood acquaintance, she moves from Boston to New York City and starts her real estate career all over again. Since success in real estate seems directly correlated with how many people you know, I was really interested to learn how she rebuilt her connections to become as successful as she is. Unfortunately, there’s only a brief allusion to getting early to the office every morning. Whatever else she did to generate her $500 million in sales a year goes undescribed. 

The marriage falls apart about eight years later, and much of the book is spent with Parker rebuilding her own self-image from the blow that delivered. She sees herself as a house no one wants, using real estate terms such as “out of contract” and “as is” to make the comparisons. Clearly, she was absolutely crushed by the death of her marriage, and it took a lot of time and hard work to dig herself out of that emotional hole. At the same time, she was able to stay in her expensive NYC apartment and go on glamourous international vacations. With nearly eighty percent of divorced women experiencing a significant drop in income and lifestyle after divorce, Parker’s rebuilding techniques may be hard for other divorced women to identify with.

The book is at its best when Parker couples general ideas about real estate and emotional rebuilding with anecdotes about her clients. Buying and selling in New York City has unique requirements and language—coop boards, the “classic six”—that make the real estate game there more challenging than anywhere else in the country. When she finally meets the man she eventually marries, she doesn’t offer too many details, leaving her happily ever after mostly to the readers’ imagination. 

Parker is a charming writer, a hard worker and seems like a terrific friend. Reading the book is a bit like watching an HGTV show and wondering about the private lives of the realtor and featured buyers and sellers. The book’s biggest drawback is that Parker chronicles events that happened to her about fifteen years ago. Back on the Market, a guide to love and real estate, never mentions the two biggest dot coms in those games—Match and Zillow. When you can find love and a new condo without ever leaving your computer chair, new rules are created and the old no longer apply. 

Thanks to Elise Silvestri Productions for the book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Book Review: If She Had Stayed

By Sara Steven

Kaley Kline is thrilled to have landed a job as director of the new Tesla Museum in Colorado Springs. To make the museum successful, she searches for undiscovered works to display. When she finds an old safe that might have been Tesla’s, she’s shocked to find some diary pages supposedly written by the inventor himself.

Kaley initially thinks either that the journal is a fraud or Tesla was experiencing a nervous breakdown when he wrote it. However, if his experiments were real, the world will never be the same. She decides to secretly build Tesla’s time machine and attempt to go back into her own life to change a decision she has always regretted.

She prepares for a trip to the past, not knowing whether she will electrocute herself or travel back to the Boulder of her sophomore year in college. But an old boyfriend might have hidden some secrets from her—secrets that could have her fighting for her life.
(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I’ve heard of the name “Tesla” but had been unaware of how many inventions the real Nikola Tesla had been on the forefront of. We learn that Kaley discovers diary pages from Tesla hidden within an old safe, pages that hint towards the possibility of time travel. Given his many other inventions and the viability that goes with the Tesla name, she begins to formulate a plan that will potentially make her the first, or really, the second person ever to successfully experience time travel. 

Throughout all of this is the former boyfriend, a man who Kaley can’t get a firm read on. I felt the same way, as the reader. It made the moments with him all the more suspenseful. It seemed as though Kaley walked a fine line, not sure if she could trust him yet feeling as though she doesn’t really have anyone else to trust. I could tell just how difficult it was for her. 

The moment when Kaley decides to take the plunge and try to time travel and all the moments going forward felt like an emotional and physical rollercoaster. As disoriented as she felt, I felt that way, too. It was like a kaleidoscope of experiences and miscalculations that really added to the accurate sensations and rollercoaster ride. The moments before the plunge felt slow at times. I’d wanted to get to the time machine sooner than what Kaley allowed, which made a few chapters drag in some areas. However, the rest of the time I time warped ahead and beyond, unable to put the time machine and everything else that went with it in the book, down. 

A book about the potential for time travel is an interesting idea. Throwing in the secrets and suspense, along with a potential romance with a former boyfriend who can either make or break Kaley’s experiences and success only added to the interest, making If She Had Stayed a truly unique read!

Thanks to Red Adept Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Diane Byington:

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Book Review: Say Hello, Kiss Goodbye

By Cindy Roesel

"Sometimes a cute random can turn into the love of your life."

Leia and Tarquin are both inside a London big box store when the lights go out. In Jacquelyn Middleton's new novel SAY HELLO, KISS GOODBYE (KirkwallBooks) they have a meet cute once the lights are back on. They're both smitten but very standoffish. Trust me, that won't be for long. They get to know every inch of each other very well. Tarquin wants to give Leia his number, but gives her his friend Simon's number instead.

Leia is a Canadian visiting her sister from her home base, Brooklyn, New York. She's a dressmaker and her company, "Frill-Seekers" is on the verge of success. Tarquin is part of one of Britain's richest families, but he doesn't behave with any attitude. He goes over to Simon's workshop and invites Leia out. They are both fresh off very hurtful relationships and don't want anything serious.  The date turns into the best sex either one has ever had. Tarquin opens up to Leia about his depression and she can relate but doesn't tell him. She extends her trip, but eventually has to go home. They agree that neither one can do long distance, so they call it quits, or do they? 

SAY HELLO, KISS GOODBYE is about sharing secrets, trusting your instincts and ultimately embracing the courage to be yourself. I liked both of the main characters, Leia and Tarquin. They are compelling, relatable and their love is true. We've all had our own first dates and know what a disaster that can be or surprise magic. SAY HELLO, KISS GOODBYE is filled with diverse side characters that all have their own distinct humor. But in addition to being a sexy rom-com, SAY HELLO, KISS GOODBYE includes a serious message.

If you suffer from anxiety or depression, please contact one of the websites below:
US Anxiety and Depression Association of America
The Canadian Mental Health Association
Mind (UK)

Thanks to Jacquelyn Middleton for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Jacquelyn Middleton:

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Book Review: The White Coat Diaries

By Jami Denison


Every year, suffering Grey’s Anatomy fans are promised that this season, the series will return to the light-hearted funny show it was when it first premiered. And every year, people end up dying, leaving town abruptly for fan-hated exes, getting addicted to drugs, etc. Then after the season finale, we are promised next year will be the light and funny one. It’s a vicious circle that Grey’s fans can’t escape.

The White Coat Diaries, which is pitched as Grey’s Anatomy meets Scrubs, will remind Grey’s fans of the roller coaster ride the show has put us on. Madi Sinha’s debut novel mostly delivers on the promise of the pitch. But three-quarters of the way through, it becomes a darker book. 

There’s a lot about Dr. Norah Kapadia to remind fans of Dr. Meredith Grey. A brilliant intern who occasionally oversteps her bounds? Check. A challenging, demanding parent in a mental health crisis? Check? A parent whose medical legacy she dreams of fulfilling? Check. (Although in Norah’s case, these are two separate parents.) A secret, inappropriate relationship with a supervising doctor? Check. A group of inseparable intern pals? Check. But Norah’s not a Meredith clone – she’s an Indian-American who feels a special burden to please her controlling mother, who’s never gotten over the death of Norah’s father when Norah was ten or the way her in-laws once treated her. In Norah’s culture, she’s supposed to marry a doctor, not become one, and this expectation—plus her complete lack of love life before the aforementioned supervisor became a factor—helps differentiate her from Meredith. Because of her upbringing, Norah has trouble saying no to anyone, and part of the fun of the book is rooting for her to find her voice at last. 

For most of the book, The White Coat Diaries provides the same kind of sexy fun that Grey’s did in its first season. It was a little episodic, but I was enjoying the ride so much I didn’t care. Then the tone changed about seventy-five percent of the way through. Norah makes a decision that is clearly wrong, seems out of character, and violates the arc that she had been on. Then at the eighty percent mark, the action jumps ahead two years. This is a jolting change that deprives readers of the chance to see Norah’s growth as a doctor, rather than infer it. With twenty percent of the book left—and a major plot point that still needed resolution—this fast forward is not an epilogue, and I wish Sinha had found a way to structure the book to avoid it. 

Truthfully, though, if I hadn’t loved most of the book so much, I might not have been disappointed in the final acts. Perhaps like the producers of Grey’s Anatomy, Sinha couldn’t help but include the darker side of the doctor’s coat. Readers (and viewers) expect our idealistic heroines to always do the right thing. When they don’t, it’s jarring. But maybe it’s more realistic.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Book Review: Family for Beginners

By Sara Steven


New York florist Flora Donovan is living the dream, but her bubbly optimism hides a secret. She’s lonely. Orphaned as a child, she’s never felt like she’s belonged anywhere…until she meets Jack Parker. He’s the first man to ever really see her, and it’s life changing.

Teenager Izzy Parker is holding it together by her fingertips. Since her mother passed away a year ago, looking after her dad and little sister is the only thing that makes Izzy feel safe. Discovering her father has a new girlfriend is her worst nightmare—she is not in the market for a replacement mom. Then her father invites Flora on their summer vacation…

Flora’s heart aches for Izzy, but she badly wants her relationship with Jack to work. As the summer unfolds, Flora must push her own boundaries to discover parts of herself she never knew existed—and to find the family she’s always wanted.
(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

This was a very introspective read for me. Given how this year has gone and how in close proximity I’ve been with my immediate family, I think I sometimes take for granted that I have this group of people who love me and want to be around me. Flora hasn’t had that. In fact, it’s something she yearns for and wishes she could have. When she falls for Jack and he tells her he has two daughters who are reeling after losing their mother, she figures this could be her opportunity in finding a way to help them, and who would know better than she would about the myriad of emotions and experiences that come from losing a loved one.

The ideal is no where near reality. I think Sarah Morgan did a wonderful job of showcasing what it is like to lose someone, particularly for children. While there were moments where I’d start to feel really aggravated by Izzy’s behaviors, especially when it is directed towards Flora, I also realized that it would be very true to life and I like that she didn’t pull any punches with that. It felt like this ever-changing scenario where Flora is trying to find a way to fit in, something she’s never felt like she knows how to do, and Izzy is trying to find some semblance of security after her world has been completely altered forever. The little sister, Molly, appears to be the peacemaker, a potential gateway towards healing, but even that threatens Izzy. Jack is also trying to find a new normal in his life and is trying to move on with Flora, and in many ways appears blind to what is really going on around him.

There are secrets that lurk beneath all of this, adding an even richer element to the story and gives a better view of why Izzy and her father have reacted the way they have. As the book progresses, we get to see a gradual transition of change with all characters involved, along with the perfect addition of Claire, a family friend who I felt provided a nice balance to what is going on with Flora and the children. And as mentioned in the synopsis, there are plenty of boundaries pushed, not only for Flora but for all of the characters, in different ways. It created a means for character evolvement, one of my favorite elements to any story.

Family for Beginners is a deep-rooted love story about family. There are moments of romance and moments of friendship, yet the overwhelming drive is family and how important one can be, whether it’s a family we’ve picked or the one we’re born into. It was beautifully written and a bit of a departure from the other books I’ve read by this author, but in the best of ways.

Thanks to HarperCollins for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Sarah Morgan:

Friday, December 18, 2020

What's in the mail

Melissa:
Dead to Me by Lesley Pearce from Agora (e-book via NetGalley)
The Arctic Fury by Greer MacAllister from Sourcebooks (e-book)
12 Men for Christmas by Phillipa Ashley from Sourcebooks (e-book)
The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
For the Love of Friends by Sara Goodman Confino from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy from HarperCollins (e-book via NetGalley)
Did I Say You Could Go by Melanie Gideon from Simon & Schuster (e-book via NetGalley)
The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
The Newcomer by Mary Kay Andrews from St. Martin's Press


Sara:

Opposites Attract by Camilla Isley from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
The Forever Girl by Jill Shalvis from William Morrow (e-book)
Mr Right Across the Street by Kathryn Freeman from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
A Summer to Remember by Erika Montgomery from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)


Jami:
Girls with Bright Futures by Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman from Sparkpoint Studio (e-book via NetGalley)
The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford from Pegasus Books
The Juggle by Emma Murray from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
Rhapsody by Mitchell James Kaplan from Gallery  (e-book via NetGalley)

"What's in the mail" will return in January!

Book Review: The Heatwave

By Jami Denison


Missing and dead children are a staple of domestic thrillers, along with the heartsick parents that search for them. In Kate Riordan’s new suspense novel The Heatwave, however, Sylvie Durand’s life has been better ever since she lost her 14-year-old daughter Eloide nine years ago. But now she’s drawn back to the home in southern France where her psychotic daughter terrorized her and tore her marriage apart. The family home was abandoned after Sylvie split with her husband Greg and took her younger daughter Emma back to London; a small fire has forced Sylvie to return to fix up the place for a possible sale. But with memories of Eloide at every turn—and Emma still fascinated by the older sister she can barely remember—Sylvie may be forced to tell Emma the ugly truth about Eloide long before she had planned.

The Heatwave is a hypnotic, languid mystery with language that keeps readers hooked even when describing the smallest plot points. Drenched in the heat of a 1990s summer, coupled with mysterious wildfires, the book is a perfect (socially distanced) beach read for those who like to revel in the heat rather than escape it.

The book is told linearly in two alternating timelines – the 1970s, where Sylvie and Greg are married and Eloide’s behavior increasingly troubles her mother while her father remains in denial – and the present-day 1990s. Written in first person from Sylvie’s point of view, the narration also employs second person, as Sylvie addresses Emma directly in the book. The mystery of how Eloide died and what secrets Sylvie is hiding from Emma loom on every page, as the tension twists and builds. While Riordan does an excellent job foreshadowing Eloide’s most heinous act, she still pulls off a major surprise halfway through the book. 

I was completely mesmerized by this book, and I loved the big plot twist. But with all the tension and heat implying an explosive ending, I felt let down by the climax and the questions left unanswered by the end of the book. The final confrontation was not the huge eruption I’d anticipated, but a smaller event left open to interpretation. There were also plot holes left unfilled and gaps in the timeline that defied logic.

The epilogue, however, was outstanding, and gives hope that Riordan might pen a sequel. Her question of whether nature or nurture is responsible for a “bad seed” is something that can be explored for generations of this troubled family.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Kate Riordan:

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Book Review: A Million Little Lies

By Sara Steven


A lifetime of lies, and a truth too painful to tell.

When Suzanna Duff was ten years old, she lost her mama, and that’s when the lies began. At first, they were just harmless little fibs, a way to hide her unbearable loneliness and the truth about a daddy who came home rip-roaring drunk every night. But in time, the lies grew bigger and now, when she is a grown woman with a daughter of her own, they threaten to destroy everything she loves.

The irony of this situation is that Suzanna never planned to stay in Georgia, she was simply passing through, looking for a fresh start in New Jersey. Attending that wake with her daughter Annie, was a fluke. An opportunity to enjoy a free meal. It should have entailed nothing more than a solemn nod and a brief expression of sympathy but, Ida Parker, the grieving widow mistook her for her the granddaughter who was carried off as an infant. Too embarrassed to do anything else, Suzanna played along. What harm was there in pretending to be someone else for a few hours? Hours turned into days and days into weeks; strangers became friends, love happened, and before long a year had flown by.

Now the past is standing on her doorstep and Suzanna must decide to leave here and disappear as she has done before, or tell the truth and break the hearts of those she loves most.
(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

There is an ambiguity to A Million Little Lies, a continual question on who Suzanna Duff really is. In fact, there were parts to this story that made me question whether Suzanna really is the missing granddaughter, considering she had been carried off and had moved away when she was a baby. There are underlying questions that are always central to this story, questions that pertain to Suzanna’s sincerity, on whether Ida will ever really know the truth, if it even matters. It made for a continual fascination with the human condition.

Suzanna is not typecast as the perfect protagonist. The fact that she would crash a wake in order to score free food for herself and for her daughter shows stark contrasts in what motivates her. On the one hand, she knows it’s wrong, yet she would do anything for her daughter, Annie, even if that means eventually posing as someone else in order to ensure that Annie has an opportunity to live a better life than she’d been given. It takes an impeccable wordsmith to invent a character you endear yourself to, even in the moments where the character isn’t making the best choices- yet, Crosby has done that and done it well. We can identify with and understand where Suzanna comes from, and we want what she wants, we want the security and safety that Ida can provide her.

For Suzanna, the gradual descent into Darla Jean, Ida’s granddaughter, is impressive. Both personalities are displayed, Suzanna and Darla Jean. At times you don’t know for sure who is who or whether she has become a blending of the two, and that’s where readers might begin to question Suzanna’s background, considering not much is known and it is possible that names could have been changed, that maybe Ida’s Darla Jean really is Suzanna. I love how various characters give us their journeys along the way, and when her past begins to catch up with her, I was in suspense. Will Suzanna eventually get caught?

The central theme within A Million Little Lies focuses on love. How love will propel someone to do anything and everything in order to protect, how love can help others forgive, or how misguided love can cause someone to become obsessed and push out all thoughts of reason. In the end, it’s really about love, and given how well it's written and how deeply intricate it gets, I love Suzanna’s story. It’s another five-star success for Bette Lee Crosby!

Thanks to Bette Lee Crosby for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Bette Lee Crosby:

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Sara and Melissa talk about...Holiday Traditions

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. This month we're talking about holiday traditions.

We're always open to topic suggestions, so please don't hesitate to share those in the comments. We'd also love to know if you can relate to anything we've said or hear your own thoughts on the topic. So don't be shy. :) We look forward to getting to know you as much as we're letting you get to know us. You can find our previous columns here, in case you missed them.

We enjoyed doing the columns this year and will be doing more in 2021!

Melissa Amster:

It is currently Hanukkah and while we still can't have guests over, we are doing our best to make the holiday happy and fun. We do the same things we normally do on Hanukkah...light the menorah, give presents to the kids, and eat latkes. Starting last year, we had the kids each buy each other a little something for one of the nights. This time around, I went to Five Below with each kid as they picked out something for one of their siblings. I also designate one of the nights to have the kids pick out something of theirs that they want to donate. 

My daughter took this picture

In the past couple of years, we went to my brother-in-law's house for a Hanukkah gathering. While it won't be happening this year, I hope we'll get to attend this gathering in the years ahead. Since my sister-in-law has four siblings and they all live somewhat nearby and have kids of their own, it's a full house. It's fun to watch all the kids play together. We're not as observant as my brother-in-law's immediate and extended family, but it doesn't matter on this one day. The kids have fun together and no one is being judged. My husband is usually the center of attention because he's the one making the delicious latkes that get consumed as soon as they are put on a plate!


Looking ahead, this is the first New Year's Eve in a long time that we won't be spending with my BFF. She usually visits us the last week of the year and we celebrate together, either with a party or just a quiet night watching movies. The past couple of years, her husband has joined us. I will definitely miss celebrating with them and hope we can at least do something virtually to keep up the tradition. (Although they're an hour behind us...) 

New Year's Eve two years ago

While I don't celebrate Christmas and normally get annoyed at all the earlier than normal store displays and radios playing non-stop holiday music, this year it feels different. This year, I don't mind getting into the Christmas spirit a bit. I enjoy seeing all the Christmas decoration pictures on Facebook and Instagram, almost as much as I enjoyed seeing the menorahs this past week. I'm even in the mood to listen to Christmas music in my car or watch Christmas movies. (I already saw Happiest Season.) I feel like we just need some festivity and light in this tumultuous year. Even if we can't be with family and friends right now, we can connect in other ways, just by seeing everyone celebrate the holidays on social media. 

Here's hoping for a more social holiday season next year!


Sara Steven:

One of the biggest priorities for my family for the holidays is to be as comfortable as we can be. There were many years during my own childhood where an expectation had been placed on making sure that everyone was dressed up and/or fancy, a tradition I didn’t want to carry through on when I had my own children. But aside from that, most of what we do now is what I remember from my youth, those special trips to my grandparents’ house, the precious time spent with family members who’d fly in from other states or drive in from nearby cities in order to celebrate together. The Christmas season is my absolute favorite season, hands down.

Christmas pic from when my teenager was little

My family spends Christmas Day in pajamas. In fact, it’s a requirement, and I let anyone who plans on spending the day with us know that I have a dress down policy. Our group is a small one, with the four of us—my two boys, my husband, me. My mother-in-law joins us, too, as does a good friend of mine from a neighboring city. My parents will drive in from Tucson every other year, but this year they’re driving out to see my extended family. And this year, more emphasis has been put on making sure we’re all safe and healthy during the pandemic, an added element to an already disheveled year.

We make cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Nothing over the top; Pillsbury is just fine. I also provide snacks to get us through before the big dinner mid-day, which is always a turkey with mashed potatoes, rolls, stuffing, deviled eggs, salad, and we all fight over the cranberry sauce. We have pumpkin pie and a chocolate silk pie, too, and if for some reason I start to feel hungry again later in the evening, that means it’s time for a cranberry turkey sandwich, with cream cheese. I discovered the sandwich when I briefly worked for a sandwich shop during my teen years, and I’ve been hooked on them ever since. I only eat one during turkey season.

From December 1st through Christmas Day, our car radios are set to the holiday station. And on the actual day, we listen to holiday music while opening presents, later enjoying the wrapping paper carnage that creates a play zone for our pets, particularly the cat, who loves to bat the bows around. In recent years we’ve discovered Jackbox, a bunch of online party games that all of us enjoy, the kids even more so, a new tradition that they’re already looking forward to.

Some of us might fall asleep on the couch. And I can recall a karaoke session in recent years, with dancing. But the biggest thing is that we’re all relaxed and happy, and that it’s an enjoyable day spent with loved ones.     

Tell us about your holiday traditions in the comments section.


Book Review: Christmas Ever After

By Cindy Roesel

From the writer of the Netflix hit, A CHRISTMAS PRINCE, Karen Schaler, comes a new holiday delight, CHRISTMAS EVER AFTER (HawkTulePublishing).

Author, Riley Reynolds is caught off guard during a live television interview, when she's asked how she can write romance novels when she hasn't found "the one"? She answers by saying she's had some great loves in her life. Little does she know, three boyfriends from the past are all watching the interview and think they're "the one."

Riley's last book has flopped, so her publishing team come up with an idea - hold a Christmas Camp and have her fans share ideas for her new Christmas romance novel. She's called Miss Christmas even though she hasn't celebrated the holiday since she was eight and her father passed. Fans from all over the country show up at the Christmas Lake Lodge in Christmas Lake, Colorado, including those three guys from the past for camp.

The weekend is a flurry of activities including making Christmas Lake cookies and popcorn, a Christmas Lake movie night, snowshoeing, a cocktail mixology class, an ugly Christmas sweater pageant, among others all created to bring out the magic of Christmas for attendees. It's about honoring old Christmas traditions and creating new ones.

Over the weekend each old boyfriend attempts to recapture her heart, but there's someone else in her site, but she doesn't think he's interested. It's a fairy tale, a winter wonderland in Christmas Lake, even Riley starts to feel the magic of Christmas. A lot can happen in a weekend, and does.

I liked Riley a lot, because as much as she was against celebrating Christmas, there was an opening for magic in her heart. There's an entire cast of quirky characters, including Comet, the loveable Bernese Mountain dog. Eventually Riley gets her Christmas ever after.

At the end of the book are some holiday recipes like Christmas Lake blueberry muffins and cinnamon rolls. Delish! If you don't believe in the holidays, you certainly will after reading CHRISTMAS EVER AFTER.

Thanks to Kickflip PR for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Karen Schaler: