Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Reviews at Amazon--July/August 2021

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!



Spotlight: One Last Kiss

Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Rian Kerry, and I’m in huge trouble.

This is how it happened: I had a crush. You know those teenage crushes, which I’m sure you’ve all experienced, too. It was that kind of crush that makes your knees tremble, that makes you blush violently and stammer when you’re with that person. One of those crushes that you assume you’ll just grow out of, the way the seasons change.

The problem is that my crush didn’t go anywhere. Actually, it only got worse, transforming into something absurd and unbearable, which no one could seem to understand.

Especially not him.

Because he’s off-limits. He’s barricaded himself within his walls, from a sense of fear and guilt. He’s locked up his heart forever, and seems to have no intention of letting anyone in ever again.

My friends, Jordan, Anya, and Holly, say that he just needs a little push. They say that he needs to learn to believe again.

But I don’t think he’ll ever be ready, because he simply doesn’t want to be.

He doesn’t want to believe.

Not in something like us.

Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Parker Hayes, and I’m an idiot.

Yep, you heard me right. I’m a real idiot. And, I swear, that’s putting it lightly.

But I’m a lot of other things, too. I’m a fireman, and a single father to two cheeky, hyperactive six-year-old twins. I’m a brother to Tyler, another fireman – and another idiot – who always seems to stick his nose into my business. I’m a kind-of friend to Niall, yet another idiot with nothing to do but barge into my life, uninvited.

Let’s get back to the point, here: the reason I’m an idiot.

Well, it’s pretty simple. I’ve lost my mind. Literally. It happened again. I fell for it. With my head, with my body, and with the heart I was sure I’d never be able to piece back together after another inevitable disaster.

The problem is that she’s not like the others.

She bakes cakes with my daughters, laughs with them, and shows them her magic bag. They’re crazy about her.

And so am I.

And now she knows it, and I know it, and everyone around us knows it. But I can’t take that step. I can’t let everything go to start over.

I can’t live through this again – because this time, I won’t be left standing.

Not if she’s the one to break my heart.

Purchase Links:

A. S. Kelly was born in Italy but lives in Ireland with her husband, two children and a cat named Oscar.

She’s passionate about English literature, she’s a music lover and addicted to coffee.

She spends her days in a small village North of Dublin, looking for inspiration for her next stories.

Rainy Days is her debut novel.

Visit A.S. online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Visit all the stops on the blog tour:

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Monday, August 30, 2021

Book Review: The Paris Connection

By Jami Denison

I love travel. But as a writer and a fan of domestic thrillers, I’m always hyper aware of what could go wrong. Getting lost in a city where I don’t speak the language is one of my worst nightmares. I once traveled to Germany with a friend rather than meeting her in Italy just so I wouldn’t get stranded in an Italian airport on my own. 

In Lorraine Brown’s debut novel, The Paris Connection (also published as Uncoupling), her heroine Hannah gets caught up in this very specific nightmare of mine. Luckily for Hannah, she’s starring in a romantic comedy, not a thriller, so her stakes are relatively low and fun. But there’s always a message in romance, and this one had me thinking.

British couple Hannah and Si are on their dream trip to Venice before his sister’s wedding in Amsterdam. Hannah thinks she and Si are mismatched; he’s a dreamboat with rich parents, a great job, and the ability to handle everything. Hannah, though, is a mess with daddy issues. On the overnight train to Amsterdam, Hannah can’t get to sleep, and she changes carriages in order to spread out. When she wakes up that morning, she’s in Paris – the trains uncoupled overnight, and Si is in Amsterdam with her passport and money. Hannah is stranded and Catherine’s wedding is that evening! Luckily, there’s one other person in this same predicament – an arrogant Frenchman named Leo. When they both miss the next train to Amsterdam, they have hours to kill in Paris, and decide to spend them together. Naturally, sparks fly.

This book takes readers on a tour through the Paris that only the locals know. There are quaint little shops (so much eating!), a special view of the Eiffel Tower, a motorbike tour. Hannah, a budding photographer stuck in an admin job, has her camera and shares with Leo her dream of taking a real photography class. Si, she confides, thinks it’s an expense that spendthrift Hannah can’t afford. And while Hannah and Leo spill their secrets to each other, Hannah starts to wonder about secrets that Si might be keeping. Why is he texting with one of his sister’s bridesmaids?

The Paris Connection is a sweet, typical romantic comedy. And in a rom-com, readers know who and what to root for. But I had mixed feelings about it, especially about the ending. Maybe it’s because I’m 53, not 30, or maybe because I’ve never followed the rules about which couples I’m supposed to root for. The book brought up big questions for me about forgiveness, about how to handle a situation when a person isn’t who everyone expects them to be. Life is complicated; love is complicated, and even one beautiful day in Paris doesn’t change that. 

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

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Friday, August 27, 2021

Book Review: A Million Things

By Jami Denison

As a proud card-carrying member of Generation X, I can clearly remember walking to school alone or with classmates as early as the first grade. And this school wasn’t exactly close, either. I had to go all the way down Brett Lane to the walking path, which wound its way through the woods, past the tot lot and up a hill before reaching Steven’s Forest Elementary. 

Can you imagine a child doing that today? Of course not. The police would get involved. Child Protective Services would come out. A child alone is a child in danger!

In A Million Things, Australian writer Emily Spurr’s heartbreaking debut, 10-year-old Rae is used to walking to school alone. After all, it’s just Rae, her mom, and her dog Splinter, and sometimes Rae’s mom disappears for a couple of days. Or rages at her. Rae goes to the grocery store on her own; she knows how to use her mother’s debit card and log onto her mother’s online banking. No one really pays any attention to them except the nosy old lady next door, Lettie. 

But today is different. Today Rae’s mother is gone and there’s a smell in the shed that Rae has to cover up. And now Rae has to go to school and to the grocery store and back home and pretend like everything is fine, especially to Lettie, who won’t stop asking questions. And then Lettie has a fall in her own home, and Rae realizes she’s not the only one with secrets. 

A Million Things is narrated by Rae in first person; the book reminded me of Emma Donoghue’s smash 2011 bestseller Room, which is narrated by a five-year-old boy imprisoned in a shed with his mother. Rae’s voice is incredibly mature, though, and I had trouble believing that this girl was in grade school. The character explains that she reads the dictionary when asked about her sophisticated vocabulary, but that doesn’t account for the complex sentence structure. 

Perhaps her upbringing does. A child forced to fend for herself, treated like an equal by a mother who refused to be one, develops a world view and an internal monologue older than her age. 

The too-sophisticated voice was the only thing that bothered me about A Million Things. Even though it doesn’t take place in the U.S., it felt like a very American book, a treatise on how we are conditioned not to ask for help, how we hide our secrets and insist that everything is okay even while the shed in the backyard betrays the rot that is really taking place. And part of me wanted Rae and Lettie to succeed; to be able to live their lives the way they wanted, without outsiders coming in and upsetting everything. 

I may have walked to school on my own at six years old, but there’s no way at 10 I would have been able to survive on my own for longer than a day or two. But today’s children, helicoptered though many of them are, know their way around the internet and food delivery apps and bank payments. We wouldn’t want our children to have to survive on their own… but it’s nice to know they could if they had to. 

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

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Book Review: First Date Stories

By Cindy Roesel

Chances are, if you’re in your mid-thirties or over and you’re dating, you have a few really good and bad first date stories. In FIRST DATE STORIES: Women’s Romantic and Ridiculous Midlife Adventures (She Writes Press), Jodi Klein shares some of her pre-Mr. Yes stories, along with friend’s triumphs and disasters. Before she begins, Jodi says right up front that being single should be celebrated and this is just some knowledge to have before you go out there. “Jodi writes these stories focus on heterosexual daters and shouldn’t be regarded as purposefully exclusionary of the LGBTQ community. It’s my hope that everyone finds the love they seek.”

FIRST DATE STORIES is broken up into several sections. First are the dating stories and then the takeaways each woman experiences, along with some lessons to be learned. Jodi suggests keeping a journal so you can keep track of what dating sites you use, what you talked about with a date and hopefully it keeps you from not dating Mr. No twice.

Some things to consider while on a first date: does he seem safe, nice, make you laugh or can you imagine kissing him? Remember every no is closer to a yes. Love yourself enough so you can walk away from Mr. Maybe and then find Mr. Yes.

“You’ve got to keep showing up.”

Jodi says you’re not alone on this journey considering how many dating sites, apps and virtual meeting places there are available. She says to grow your network, try activities you’ve never done before, talk to strangers and don’t be afraid to go to social events alone. You never know!

Thanks to SparkPoint Studio for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Book Review: Finding Tranquility

By Sara Steven

Jess Cooper lost her husband on 9/11. Just not in the way she thought.

On September 11, 2001, Brett Cooper checks into a flight to go on an interview for a job he doesn’t want, in a city where he doesn’t want to live. All to make his wife happy. He loves her, but he’s not happy in his marriage. Or in his body, really. As boarding begins, Brett panics and gives his ticket away. When his plane strikes the World Trade Center, he realizes that he's been given a second chance to live the life he always wanted.

Brett disappears into the chaos, hoping to figure out who he’s meant to be. With help from some new friends, Brett begins to transition into Christa. A tragedy sends Christa further north to Canada, where she builds a new life. For eighteen years, Christa’s life is peaceful and easy until she runs into Jess. Jess used her husband's life insurance to go to medical school. When she discovers that she's actually not a widow, it throws her entire future into question. Making matters more complicated is the discovery that all of the love Jess held for her spouse is alive and well. Christa and Jess must figure out what the future holds for them—if Christa has a future at all, with the reemergence of the missing Canadian woman whose identity Christa “borrowed”.

Can love conquer all, or is it sometimes better to let go? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Finding Tranquility was yet another unique read by Laura Heffernan. Her characters are often complicated and not one dimensional, as with the primary characters here. At first, I found it hard to relate with Brett and the decision he made in walking away from his wife. But as the story progresses and I learned more about him, I realized that there is a lot of inner struggle going on, and in walking away and starting over, it was a way to live the life he wanted, much like the synopsis suggests.

The path he takes is one riddled with not only self-discovery, but hardship. My heart hurt for him. I felt that Heffernan delved into the journey beautifully, gradually allowing us to see the type of growth and transition Brett goes through in becoming who he has always felt he should be, Christa. While it might have felt a bit easy to put her wife, Jess, back in Christa’s wife coincidentally, stranger things really have happened. And at some point, it stood to reason that Christa would have to come to terms with the decisions she’s made and would have to account for it with the one person she had loved most in her life.

There are a lot of dramatic moments, one being the missing woman whom Christa borrowed her identity from. I loved the stacking of the cards here, that first, Christa runs into her wife and has to figure out where to go from there, and then, the dealings with a woman who sets out to try to elicit some sort of payback for the fact that Christa has lived the life the missing woman never got to live. It’s another unique obstacle that really added to the suspense and drama. 

The reactions all of the characters have to one another, the choices made, the secrets that have been kept hidden for years, and surprising revelations made Finding Tranquility an eye-opening read, and one that I feel deserves five stars!

Thanks to Laura Heffernan for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Laura Heffernan:

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Helen Hoang's heartwarming new novel...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Eric Kieu
Introduction by Melissa Amster

When I read The Kiss Quotient in 2018, I was immediately impressed by Helen Hoang's writing style. And the fact that she was masterful at writing steamy scenes was a bonus for me. A year later, I included The Bride Test on my 2019 favorites list. So I was more than eagerly anticipating her latest novel, The Heart Principle. It was worth the wait...and more. Check out my review. Not only is Helen a great writer, but she is so kind and gracious to her adoring fans. I think you'll enjoy her answers to my questions. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy of The Heart Principle for a lucky reader! (Please note that there are some spoilers for The Kiss Quotient in this novel, but it can be read as a standalone.)

Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since.

In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT.

She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish. (Bio courtesy of Helen's website.)

Visit Helen online:

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She's going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.

That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she herself has just started to understand. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing The Heart Principle?
The biggest challenge that I faced while writing The Heart Principle was definitely overcoming my anxiety. I had frequent panic attacks, which required me to stop writing, reset my brain, and continue when I'd calmed down. I was writing very painful, uncomfortable things, and I knew I'd be disappointing lots of readers because they craved something light and fun and easy. But even though I sensed it wasn't the best thing for my career and people's opinion of me, this was the story that I needed to tell. Making it through and staying true to myself creatively was the reward. If readers don't connect, I have to accept that.

How did it feel to go from writing in third person to writing in first person?
Transitioning from third person to first person was actually really easy. I don't know if I'll continue writing in first person in the future, but for this book it felt very natural. I think it was the personal nature of the story that made it so.

If The Heart Principle were made into a movie, what are some songs that would be on the soundtrack?
I'm a big fan of Max Richter's music, his recomposition of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" especially, so the soundtrack for this story would belong to him (in whatever fantasy alternate reality where this was remotely possible). In my mind, the piece that Anna struggles with is similar to one he's written called "Mercy." Mari Samuelsen's performance of this song is simply breathtaking.

Which TV series have you been binge watching lately?
The most recent series that I've loved are The Expanse and The Queen's Gambit.

What is something you have learned about yourself during the pandemic?
During the pandemic, I learned that I do, in fact, need human interaction to be mentally healthy. While it was a relief not having to interact with strangers on a regular basis (this is extremely stressful for me), I needed the handful of people close to me (my husband, my little sister, and my writer friends whom I talk to via text messages) in order to stay sane. I'm antisocial--but not as antisocial as I thought.

Did you have any back-to-school rituals when you were growing up?
I loved getting school supplies and organizing it all. I clearly recall the joy I felt in packing my backpack with new folders and notebooks and carefully fitting my writing utensils and things into my pencil box. Even now, it's hard to top the joy I get from a brand new set of pens.

Thanks to Helen for visiting with us and to Berkley 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.

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Giveaway ends August 29th at midnight EST.

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Monday, August 23, 2021

Book Review: When I Last Saw You

By Sara Steven

GEORGIA, 1968 - Margaret Rose McCutcheon has just buried her husband and must now name a beneficiary for their estate in case of her demise. She is hard-pressed to do so because there is no one. No children. No family. At least none to speak of. At one time, she had two sisters and six brothers, but the lot of them were scattered to the four winds, with no one knowing where the others went. In the hope of finding at least one of her siblings, Margaret hires a detective and sets off on a journey to uncover the truth of why the family broke apart as it did.

WEST VIRGINIA, 1901 – When Eliza Hobbs gives birth to her sixth child, her husband is not there to welcome his daughter into the world. No surprise, because Martin is seldom there. He works in Charleston and returns to Coal Creek only when he has a mind to. Yes, he sends money on occasion, but seldom enough to make ends meet. Although Eliza believes each new child a blessing, he sees them as yet another responsibility on his already overloaded shoulders. When he discovers another child is on the way, he demands she get rid of it. he stops returning home and there is no more money.

Left with the children, a mountainside patch of land, and a house in sorry need of repair, Eliza seeks help and turns to someone powerful enough to hold sway over Martin and force him into providing for his family. Pushed to the brink, Martin does something unforgivable and the family is forever torn apart.

Now, after all these years, will Margaret be the one to find the pieces of her broken family? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Somehow, I missed the fact that When I Last Saw You was based on a true story. That only adds to the depth and sincerity I found while reading about Margaret Rose and Eliza’s experiences.

Most of the books I read focus on the younger generations, but Margaret Rose is a sexagenarian who has recently lost her husband. Her perspective on life was refreshing, particularly when she recounts the past. Coming from a large family that had lived a small-town life in Coal Creek, it’s hard for her to reconcile one tough existence with the other. When she hires a detective to find her missing family members, I was anxious to uncover truths and hidden secrets right along with her, and I loved hearing about her adventurous spirit in an age where the older generation is made to feel like their wild days are behind them. She goes against the grain of stereotypes, even when there are moments of fear--what will people say?

Eliza was the quintessential mother. My heart broke for her. Despite the hand that she had been given, she could find the beauty in what she does have-her children. Certain scenes with Eliza could be tough to read, particularly when she is trying desperately to find a way to provide for her children in a time when women were not encouraged to work outside the home.  She is very dependent on Martin, but he has detached himself from his Coal Creek family and it seems they’re all better off without him.

Both women share the same struggle in trying to go against their own societal standards, all in the name of family. Even in my own moments of having other things I needed to do, I kept coming back to When I Last Saw You, eager to discover where it was headed and ultimately, how it would end. Would Margaret Rose find her siblings? Would Eliza find a way to break free from Martin? It was another great experience by Bette Lee Crosby, a well-deserved five-star read!

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

More by Bette Lee Crosby:

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Friday, August 20, 2021

What's in the mail

The Party Crasher by Sophie Kinsella from Dial Press (e-book via NetGalley)
All Are Welcome by Liz Parker from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)
The Next Thing You Know by Jessica Strawser from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)
The Light of Luna Park by Addison Armstrong from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)
Sister Stardust
by Jane Green from Harlequin  (e-book via NetGalley)
Christmas in Peachtree Bluff by/from Kristy Woodson Harvey  (e-book via NetGalley)
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun from Atria (e-book via NetGalley)
And the Bridge is Love by David Biro from Emi Battaglia PR  (e-book via NetGalley)
The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)

The Unexpected Love Story of Lexie Byrne (aged 39 1/2) by/from Caroline Grace-Cassidy (e-book)
Will They, Won't They? by Portia MacIntosh from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
Landscape of a Marriage by/from Gail Olmstead (e-book)
Floating Underwater by Tracy Shawn from Book Publicity Services (e-book)

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Book Review: An Ambush of Widows

By Jami Denison

It’s the most common plot in a domestic thriller: The husband disappears or dies, and the wife discovers that he isn’t the man she thought he was. So how about this plot, times two? That’s what author Jeff Abbott decides to do in his latest psychological thriller, An Ambush of Widows. The result, while sometimes uneven, is a good ride.

When Kirsten North gets an anonymous call that her husband Henry has died in Austin, she’s terrified and confused – Henry was supposed to be in New York! Learning that an unidentified man was killed in a warehouse along with Austin venture capitalist Adam Zhang, Kirsten flies to Texas to learn the truth. 

She has no idea that the hitman who killed Henry and Adam is after her.

Meanwhile, Adam’s widow Flora is just as confused and terrified. She knew Adam was keeping secrets—but she thought it was an affair. She doesn’t know who Henry was or what Adam was doing with him—and now the police are asking questions about her marriage. Then Kirsten shows up, and Flora wonders if this woman is her ally, or the real killer.

Abbott bites off a lot with this setup, and the reader does a lot of chewing. The first big surprise was the inclusion of the hit man’s point-of-view. Right away this lets us know that the deaths are professionally criminal in nature. At the same time, the hit man has a job to do before returning home to his very pregnant fiancée. It’s hard not to feel something for him.

Kirsten and Flora are in the same boat, but Kirsten has the much more well-developed back story, with chapters in the past devoted to how she first met Henry and her foster brother, Zach, and the foster parents she and Zach lived with. Now an enforcer for the mob, Zach comes to Austin to protect Kirsten. Flora is suspicious of Kirsten and Zach, as well as Adam’s business partner, his cousin, and the woman who claims to be Adam’s lover. There are twice as many people to keep track of, making the story twice as hard to follow.

I rooted hard for Kirsten; I didn’t feel I knew Flora as well. But the introduction of all the mob elements was a turn-off for me. I hate mob stories, and I’m not sure they fit well into traditional domestic thrillers. With so many characters and with the back stories being so important, the ending felt convoluted and overly complicated to me. But Abbott did leave enough unresolved to give himself material for a sequel.

An Ambush of Widows has a great concept, and Abbott delivers in many places. But readers might need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the characters and twists.   

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

More by Jeff Abbott:

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Thursday, August 19, 2021

Robyn Harding's perfect new thriller...plus a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I am thrilled to have Robyn Harding back at CLC today. I've enjoyed her past four domestic suspense novels and her latest, The Perfect Family, is at the top of my Kindle queue (which means it is up next). I am definitely excited to read it! Robyn is always a delight to work with and I hope you will enjoy our interview. Thanks to Gallery, we have TWO copies of The Perfect Family for some lucky readers!

Robyn Harding is the internationally bestselling author of The SwapThe Arrangement, Her Pretty Face, and The Party, which was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel. She has also written four novels of contemporary women’s fiction, a young adult novel, and a comedic memoir with an environmental focus. Robyn is the screenwriter and executive producer of the independent film The Steps, which premiered at TIFF and was the closing gala film at the Miami International Film Festival. She lives in Vancouver, BC with her family. (Bio adapted from Robyn's website.)

Visit Robyn online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


Thomas and Viv Adler are the envy of their neighbors: attractive, successful, with well-mannered children and a beautifully restored home.

Until one morning, when they wake up to find their porch has been pelted with eggs. It’s a prank, Thomas insists; the work of a few out-of-control kids. But when a smoke bomb is tossed on their front lawn, and their car’s tires are punctured, the family begins to worry. Surveillance cameras show nothing but grainy images of shadowy figures in hoodies. And the police dismiss the attacks, insisting they’re just the work of bored teenagers. Unable to identify the perpetrators, the Adlers are helpless as the assaults escalate into violence, and worse. And each new violation brings with it a growing fear. Because everyone in the Adler family is keeping a secret—not just from the outside world, but from each other. And secrets can be very dangerous….

This twisty, addictively page-turning suspense novel about a perfect family’s perfect façade will keep you turning pages until its explosive ending. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“Robyn Harding has long been one of my favourite, must-read authors, and The Perfect Family is another example why. Brilliantly layered, fabulously developed and interesting characters, and twists and turns galore all made for a compelling read I couldn't put down. Add to that Robyn's wry wit and dark sense of humour that made me laugh out loud, and this is definitely a summer hit. I loved it!” 
—Hannah Mary McKinnon, bestselling author of Sister Dear and You Will Remember Me.

"Unsettling and darkly sublime, Robyn Harding deftly explores twisted family dynamics and devastating secrets in suburbia in this stunning novel that will shock readers by the final page. The Perfect Family explores a perfect family’s perfect façade, and how even perfect lies can become perfect nightmares. A mesmerizing, compulsively readable thriller, this one smoulders from the first page to the last."
—Christina McDonald, USA Today bestselling author of The Night Olivia Fell

“Edgy, diabolical and completely suspenseful! The talented Robyn Harding peels back the sleek facade of suburbia to show its disturbing reality—and all the dangerous (and sometimes heartbreaking) secrets that even loving families keep from each other. Incredibly cinematic and jaw-droppingly devious, this book will have you turning the pages as fast as you can.” 
—Hank Phillippi Ryan USA Today bestselling author of The First to Lie

What did you learn from writing your other novels that you applied to The Perfect Family?
Thriller structure is pretty ingrained in me by now. I always use a loose framework that I learned from screenwriting. It helps me ensure that the pacing is on track.

What was the biggest reward and biggest challenge with writing The Perfect Family?
The biggest reward would be the two starred reviews this book has received – one from Publishers Weekly and one from Booklist. I know that these stars are very rare and coveted, so it’s a nice feeling. The biggest challenge was juggling the various storylines of each family member. They all have a lot going on, and I needed them to cross over and interconnect in a way that felt believable but exciting.

If The Perfect Family were made into a movie, what are some songs that would be on the soundtrack?
"Childs Play" by Drake 
"Thiskidsnotalright" by Awolnation 
"Call the Police" by LCD Sound System 

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?

The first (and only) movie I have seen in a theater since the pandemic began was RoadRunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. It offers great insight into his extraordinary life and sad death.

What is something you learned about yourself during the pandemic?

That I need a dog – dogs – in my life. My old papillon passed away at the beginning of the pandemic (he was 15). I hadn’t planned to get another dog, but a year later, we got two rescue chihuahuas.

What is the funniest thing you've seen or heard recently?
Hacks on HBO is so smart and so funny. And The White Lotus is darkly hilarious.

Thanks to Robyn for chatting with us and to Gallery 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.

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Giveaway ends August 24th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Sara and Melissa Talk About...School

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. This month, with it being back-to-school season, we're talking about our own experiences with going to school. 

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.

Melissa Amster:                                                                                                       
I know this may come off as me being lazy, but I am sharing part of a post I wrote at my personal blog about my favorite high school teacher. Since I wrote it a long time ago and since people don't visit that blog as often, I wanted everyone here to know about him and the impact he had on my life.

On freshmen orientation day, Mr. Fritz stood out from all the other teachers I met. He had long blond hair that flopped onto his face, and seemed very young and energetic. I only got to see him for ten minutes that day. He told some fascinating stories about his travels and adventures, including time spent in Africa. When I walked into his classroom the next day, there was a man standing at his desk with short blond hair, looking all clean cut and professional. I asked him if he was the substitute. He explained that he was still Mr. Fritz but had just gotten a haircut. I guess the long hair look wasn’t working for his teacher persona...

In the beginning of the year, we had to write a creative paper about Tom Sawyer, the required summer reading. I am not a fan of required reading and was also not a fan of Tom Sawyer. (Not because it’s not chick lit, just because it wasn’t my cup of tea…and this was a mild summer requirement. The rest were worse.) However, I decided to have fun with the assignment. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but apparently Mr. Fritz had a ball with it. He decided to give it to the head coach of the Forensics team and I received a letter a few days later, personally inviting me to join the team. I took them up on their invitation and Mr. Fritz happened to be one of the coaches. I decided to do original comedy, which was bold of me. I didn’t have much to work with, at first, but he helped me make my piece into something I would have fun with throughout the competition season. He also laughed a lot, which gave me the confidence I needed to stick with it.

After winter break, I auditioned for a play. I hadn’t felt comfortable on stage in the past, as I would get all shy and giggly or would have a hard time projecting. However, thanks to Forensics and all the time Mr. Fritz spent coaching me, I felt good about my auditioning abilities and I then landed a part in the play! It was a small part, but there are really no small parts...only small actors. I felt like I could take on the world while being involved with that production. I still got to see Mr. Fritz, as I was in his class again the following semester and he was leading the crew for the play.

I hope Mr. Fritz knows the impact he has had on my life and that he is continuing to have that impact on the lives of other students. A real teacher doesn’t just write on the chalkboard. (Or are they just typing on a computer and magnifying it on a screen these days?) They get to know their students and find ways to bring out their strengths and make school memorable for them. Mr. Fritz exemplifies what a real teacher is to me.

I shortened this post from the original version, which can be found here.

Sara Steven:                                                                                                                                           
The school year started early for us Arizonians. My boys were back on July 26th, and my husband and I were more than hopeful for a happy, successful, and safe year. The year prior meant socially distanced, remote learning--something none of us were big fans of. My kids handled it the best way they could, but I think it was really hard on them, not having social interaction with their friends, not being part of the classroom atmosphere they’d come to know so well. 

My fifth grader loved his “meet the teacher” night. That happened roughly a week prior to the first day of school, and he got to meet and hug the teachers he never got to meet in person last year, and see the friends that he hadn’t been in contact with for several months. All of this occurred while wearing a mask boasting a large toothy grin, a find on Amazon, and while we were one of the rarities there that night in wearing our own masks, we were hopeful. So damn hopeful.

We had to pull both of our boys out of their respective schools last week. As of today, there are nearly 70 cases of Covid at my teen’s high school, while the fifth grader has 15 cases at his elementary school. The numbers are increasing every day. The school district sent out an email reiterating that they are doing everything they can--well, everything they’re allowed to do. Wipe down surfaces. Provide hand sanitizer. But I imagine it’s hard to control a virus that is also easily spread by coughs and sneezes and droplets, when there are only a handful of children wearing masks.

It’s frustrating and heartbreaking, really. I keep flashing back to the look on my little guy’s face, teary-eyed, when he got to see the educators and friends in person who have shaped his life over the past several years. The last thing we ever wanted was to have to remove either boy from those crucial experiences. But our youngest has the kind of asthma where a cold sends him to the doctor’s office with a round of bronchitis, so it’s hard to fathom what Covid might do. I don’t even want to go there.

Thankfully, our school district offers up a virtual academy option, and both boys are familiar with the format since it’s how they learned last year. But it’s riddled with new challenges, considering the academy is its own school, so there have been makeup assignments to catch up on for a couple of weeks of missed work, and navigating new teachers and goals and deadlines, not to mention a change in scenery and social interaction. It’s been a learning process for them and for me.

I start my final year at ASU this Thursday, so I’m trying to figure out how to handle five courses of my own and assist my boys, how to try to keep the younger one on task, how to make sure we still get screen-free breaks and lunches, how to make sure I’m there when they have questions or need help with something. The teachers are there for the kids, but they’ve got their hands full, too.

Our hope is to see how the rest of the semester pans out, that the numbers will go down significantly. That we can have the boys go back to their respective schools with the start of second semester. But I don’t know. With everything going on right now, I just don’t know. I think no matter where or how our children attend school, this is not an easy year for anyone. 

Tell us about your school memories, experiences, etc.

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Book Review: How to Kill Your Best Friend

By Jami Denison

I think author Lexie Elliott must have had much better friends in college than I did. While Facebook is the only way I've stayed in touch with friends from my University of Maryland days, Elliott has now written two books about a group of college friends who stayed tight after graduation, reuniting after someone’s death. Her debut in 2018, The French Girl (reviewed here), put her on the map; now How to Kill Your Best Friend presents a swimming-centered tale just in time for the end of summer. As usual, Elliott’s keen description and atmospherics create a compelling, although sometimes convoluted, tale.

Lissa, Georgie and Bronwyn were best friends in college in London, drawn together through their love of swimming. Lissa was the strongest swimmer among them, so how is it that she died in a mysterious drowning, her body lost to the waters of Kanu Cove? Georgie and Bronwyn, along with their old friends Duncan and Adam, attend Lissa’s memorial service at the secluded island resort hotel owned by Lissa and her second husband, Jem. But old emails from Lissa to Georgie, and hateful messages to Bronwyn, cast doubt on the official story of Lissa’s death. Was it an accidental drowning, suicide, or did the mysterious creature of Kanu Cove get her? Or could it have been murder? And if it was murder, then who’s next? 

The story is told in alternating first person by Georgie, Bronwyn (Bron), and an unknown narrator who muses about how to kill her best friend. While the narrative voice is incredibly similar for all three, the characters themselves are very different. Career-girl Georgie, now living in New York, feels incredibly guilty for missing the get-together where Lissa died. Bron, who gave up her accounting career to take care of her two children, feels incredibly guilty for sleeping with Lissa’s first husband, Graeme, who died after eating a cookie with nuts and misplacing his Epi-pen. And Lissa, as the best friends describe her, had a taste for vengeance. In fact, Georgie, who kept Bron’s secret about her affair, suspects Lissa might have found out anyway and killed Graeme in retaliation. 

As the locals who work there quit the hotel and the guests cancel their reservations, the four friends are stranded at the resort with Jem and Steve, Jem’s right-hand man. The pace quickens as Georgie is attacked and the threats toward Bron continue. Everything comes together in a masterful, visual climax that would work wonderfully on film.

Mystery writers from Agatha Christie to contemporary authors often use an isolated setting to narrow their potential suspects and trap the possible victims. How to Kill Your Best Friend reminded me less of Elliott’s earlier works and more of Allie Reynolds’s January 2021 debut, Shiver, about former Olympic snowboarders stranded together in the French Alps years after one of their group died mysteriously (reviewed here). Unlike Shiver and many other “old friends” mysteries, author Elliott chooses not to move between past and present. Best Friend is firmly in the here-and-now, and while I usually prefer the past to stay there, in this case, scenes from college or Bron’s affair or anything that showed us Lissa rather than told us about her would have been helpful in keeping all the threads of the story straight. 

One area where Best Friend beats Shiver hands-down is the ending. I thought Shiver’s was a bit campy; Best Friend literally had me jump out of my seat. In a book filled with twists, Elliott really does save the best for last. 

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

Also by Lexie Elliott:


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