Susan Mallery delivers another hit with The Summer Getaway. She has a way of crafting situations and characters that feel familiar and relatable (even when they’re not!) This novel touches on family relationships, romance, and new beginnings – it’s never too late to start something new.
About The Book:
Already a worldwide success in mass market and trade paperback formats, Susan Mallery’s newest hardcover is an emotional, witty, and heartfelt story about a woman who takes a trip to California to figure out her life and get a break from her family…only to be reminded that life–and your children–follow you wherever you go. With a powerful mother/daughter relationship at its core, fans of Elin Hilderbrand, Susan Wiggs, Mary Alice Monroe, and Nancy Thayer will love this book.
Robyn Caldwell’s family is driving her crazy. There’s Harlow, her daughter, who’s engaged to a man she’s only known a short time and is rapidly turning into bridezilla. And her son, Austin, who would rather work with his dad’s family charter boating business than go to college. Her friend, Mindy, who’s playing with fire by contemplating an affair with her tennis instructor. And let’s not forget her ex-husband whose bad behavior has just crossed the line yet again.
Robin needs some time to catch her breath and figure out what her next step should be. So when her beloved aunt Lillian asks her to come to Santa Barbara for an overdue visit, Robyn jumps at the chance. Her aunt Lillian is working on settling her affairs and a distant relative is staying with her that stands to inherit the house. Trouble is the last thing Robyn needs, but she refuses to let her aunt be taken advantage of.
While staying in her aunt’s beautiful, quirky mansion and spending time in the Santa Barbara sunshine with the woman who’s like a mother to her, Robyn will see herself—and the people she loves most—with a bit more clarity. And it will push her to take chances she hadn’t dreamed of before.
But life has a funny way of following you wherever you go. What began as an escape soon becomes an unforgettableadventure… and Robyn is ready to dive in, feet first.
First, my favourite character was absolutely Lillian – pulling strings and playing fairy godmother to make a difference in the lives of her family. I enjoyed watching the relationship between Robin and her daughter, Harlow. Harlow especially showed a lot of growth. I didn’t understand Mindy’s role besides adding some secondary drama, but felt like the chaos in the Caldwell’s circle was drama enough.
There’s a bit of “heat” that I found a little more jarring than I wanted or expected. Beyond that, the romance itself is sweet and tender. Mason was easy to fall in love with.
Overall, this was an easy enjoyable read. I would love to escape winter to spend time in Santa Barbara with Robin’s varied group of loved ones. This would be a perfect read in a hammock with a lemonade and the sounds of waves.
The Summer Getaway: A Novel Susan Mallery On Sale Date: March 15, 2022 9781335479990 Hardcover $27.99 USD, $34.99 CAD 416 pages
I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.
Can this be a post of honesty and maybe a little TMI and a book review all at once? The last few days have been rough. I’ve come down with a bug of some sort, I’ve missed two days of work during one of the most inopportune weeks, and I’ve also been PMSing. If you know me – at all – you know that I get emotional when I’m not well and well, let’s add some unruly hormones into the mix and we have a real Lindsey disaster.
My house is a mess. My body is a mess. My life, frankly, at this moment in time is a mess. I’m not a stranger to messes. I’ve shared stories on Facebook and social media about my gaffes and blunders, usually with a side of laughter, so when I find a book written by an author who is fiercely transparent about her messes, passionate about a God who loves her, and actively seeking his fingerprint in the messy parts of life, well, I’m going to dive right in to her book.
Mary Katherine Backstrom wrote Holy Hot Mess with humor and heart and a tone of vulnerability and relatability. I started it on a whim – I’ve had a NetGalley ARC sitting on my Kindle for a month or two – and thought why not? Before I even got to the end, I had ordered a hard cover copy. It should arrive this week and I’ll need to pull out my actual real life sticky notes and highlighters – digital markup just isn’t the same.
Within the first few chapters, I had laughed and cried and snorted diet pepsi up my nose. Because this book feels authentic in a way I really connected to. If you’ve ever felt a bit on the outsides, craving acceptance or grace or normalcy, you’ve got to read this book – and remind yourself that we didn’t come off an assembly line like perfect Stepford wives, all the same, all flawless in the eyes of society. I devoured this beautiful creation of a book in one evening.
MK, my new best friend, reminds us that even in our day to day messes, there is a purpose and a plan. She may not be to everyone’s tastes – she has a distinctive voice (but if you don’t love her, you’re wrong), she comes across a little crude (if you’re a stuffy old biddy), and well, quite honestly, she doesn’t have it all together. I may not agree with all the “theology” behind her words, but I completely understand her heart and this book was an absolute sweet and refreshing balm to my soul. It’s beautifully written, a compilation of personal experiences almost crafted as parables, reflecting us back to our Creator.
I received a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley with thanks to Worthy Publishing.Opinions expressed are entirely my own .
Holy Hot Mess published August 3, 2021 and should be available through all major booksellers. I purchased my hard cover through Indigo.
I was supposed to post this yesterday, but as usual, I had no idea what the date actually was. Does anyone else get caught up in the day-to-day but lose sight of where we actually are on the calendar? Speaking of dates, on February 8th, debut author Kristen Bird released The Night She Went Missing, published by Mira and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a review copy.
About the Book: Months after she disappeared, a high school senior is found floating in the town’s harbor, alive but unconscious. Where has Emily been, and how did she get into the water? In Kristen Bird’s “gripping” (Publishers Weekly) debut The Night She Went Missing, three friends-to-frenemies mothers in a close-knit, wealthy Texas community decide to investigate after the police hit a dead end. While each woman has secrets to protect, they’ll all be forced to look at their own children – or each other’s – to uncover the truth.
With the relentless pacing and complex female characters of Big Little Lies and an expertly crafted small-town setting, The Night She Went Missing introduces Kristen Bird as a new force in the world of domestic suspense. Her novel goes well beyond that, exploring complex questions about mothers and daughters, loss, and the line between taking chances and living dangerously.
My Thoughts: This was slow-burn suspense that started really strong. One of my complaints is that halfway through, I really wanted it to pick up speed. With horribly flawed characters (who needs enemies with such cut-throat so-called friends?) and alternating viewpoints, this delved into the lengths a mother goes to in protecting her children and how truth can become a fluid concept in such a close-knit, insular community. As a woman, I very much wanted to see justice done. As a mother, I could relate somewhat to the struggle between trusting your child and questioning their choices. As a fairly decent human, I was appalled at how twisted this story unfolded and the diabolical elements that led to not only Emily’s disappearance but the obstructions of justice that hindered the investigation. While it was dark – most suspense has that aspect – I didn’t find it disturbingly unsettling although there is definitely content that may bother some readers. It was, for me, middling entertainment that will be enjoyable for some but might not quite meet the mark for others expecting a high stakes domestic suspense.
The Night She Went Missing Author: Kristen Bird ISBN: 9780778332107 Publication Date: February 8, 2022 Publisher: MIRA
I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher with thanks. Opinions are entirely my own.
The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf hit shelves earlier this week! If my feelings after reading a preview copy (courtesy of the publisher) are any indication – it’s going to be a huge success! Set in three timelines or narratives, this suspenseful novel twines threads of suspense together into a novel that kept me guessing and that I couldn’t put down. The present is set in the midst of an isolated farmhouse in a snowstorm and shines the spotlight on a true crime author who is on a quest for truth and stumbles upon more than she expected when trouble arises right outside her very own doorstep. Please note, this novel does deal with some heavy themes and darker elements – the kidnapping of a young teenager and a family that is murdered. Be warned – it’s not your knitting club’s warm and cozy mystery read.
In a snowstorm, the safest place is home. Or is it?
True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book. A cozy fire, complete silence. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace.
As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. How long had the child been there? Where did he come from? Bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.
THE OVERNIGHT GUEST Author: Heather Gudenkauf ISBN: 9780778311935 Publication Date: January 25, 2022 Publisher: Park Row Books
Another title I’ve recently had the chance to read compliments of the publisher is the recent release, Her Christmas Dilemma by Brenda Minton. It’s just one of the books featured in the Harlequin Winter Believers Blog Tour. It’s a part of the Love Inspired imprint of Harlequin, featuring inspirational romance. I had a few mixed feelings during this one – it still felt a little “judgy” to me. I don’t want to give away any major spoilers but think the main female lead didn’t need redemption in the classic sense – she needed love and support and a really good therapist. Regardless, my overall impression was that this was a sweet, heartfelt read with a leaning towards faith over religion,
“I’ll take the job,” she said, as if they’d been discussing the job.
“Have you hired someone?” She glanced at her watch. “In the past fifteen minutes?”
“No, I haven’t. I…” He didn’t know what to say. This woman had secrets. She had a brokenness that scared the daylights out of him.
But she made his niece smile. For that matter, she made him smile.
“If you’d rather find someone else, I understand. I’m obviously not experienced. I’ve already admitted that I can’t cook and I’m also only here temporarily, but I could fill the spot until you find someone more suitable.”
“What made you change your mind?” he asked, glad that his niece had wandered ahead to talk to a friend.
She shrugged a shoulder and glanced around. “A lot of reasons. Shay needs someone who understands what she’s going through. I do know how much it hurts to feel abandoned by the people who should care the most. Also, I feel the need to do more than sit by myself in Nan’s boat shop. Plus, Nan fired me this morning.”
“She fired you?” He couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Yeah, she did.” Her eyes briefly twinkled. “She said I’m in her way. She likes her solitary time. She doesn’t mind my help, but she doesn’t want me to become a fixture in her shop.”
“Shay is a challenge,” he warned.
If she worked for him, could he remain impartial, not getting involved, not caring what her story might be? He doubted it. But he had to do what Shay’s parents hadn’t done: he had to put his niece first. For some reason, he thought this woman might be the right thing for Shay. For the time being.
“I need a challenge.” She smiled.
“I get weekly calls from the school. I think she thinks if she’s bad enough, her parents will ride to the rescue. They won’t.”
“I’m sorry about that. Parents aren’t always what we need them to be. Sometimes they can’t be, sometimes they choose not to be.”
It made him angry to think about his sister and brother-in-law, the choices they’d made putting them first and Shay last. Could this woman put Shay first? “She needs people who will support her but not allow her to get away with the trouble she’s causing.”
“I can be that person,” she assured him with a subtle lift of her chin. “Give me a week. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to boats.”
He grinned. “I guess we can give it a one-week trial. Can you be at the house tomorrow at six?”
“Second thoughts?” he asked.
“Only for a moment,” she admitted. Then they were next in line to get plates, so they spoke no more on the subject.
Tucker was generally an optimistic person, but he knew that letting Clara into his home—and his life—was going to bring an array of problems.
First and foremost, he liked her. He liked her a lot. And that was a big problem.
A year has come and passed without any big changes to behold. There is a part of me that appreciates the same old and other parts of me just want some excitement to shake things up. One-way trip to somewhere warm with beachfront views? Anyone? One thing that remains the same is my forever overcommitment and forever under-performance. I always grossly overestimate what I can commit to and underestimate my need for simple times of nothingness. This applies to many areas of my life, but I’m specifically finding myself backlogged on some of my ARCs (advanced readers copies). I had a whole list of must-read Christmas novels… and well, as you know, Christmas has come and gone.
I’ve posted about Colleen Coble before. I would dare say she is my go-to Christian romantic suspense author. Judging by the number of awards she’s won or been nominated for, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
A Stranger’s Game is Coble’s latest release and I was able to get a copy for review through NetGalley.
A wealthy hotel heiress.
Even though Torie Bergstrom hasn’t been back to Georgia since she was ten, she’s happy to arrange a job for her best friend at one of the family properties on Jekyll Island.
A suspicious death.
But when Torie learns that her best friend has drowned, she knows it is more than a tragic accident: Lisbeth was terrified of water and wouldn’t have gone swimming by choice.
A fight for the truth.
Torie goes to the hotel under an alias, desperate to find answers. When she meets Joe Abbott and his daughter rescuing baby turtles, she finds a tentative ally.
The more Torie and Joe dig, the more elusive the truth seems. One thing is clear: someone will risk anything—even more murder—to keep their secrets buried.
It was excellent! There is a thrumming hum of danger and intrigue throughout with lots of plotting and drama. It was fast-paced – a whole lot happened between the pages. I read it quickly – in less than a day – and one of the things I love about Coble’s writing is that by the end of the book, I’m curious enough to find information relevant to the plot of the novel – in this case, man-made artificial reefs featuring old transit cars. Who knew?!?
I received a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. Opinions expressed are my own.
Title: A Stranger’s Game Author: Colleen Coble Publisher: Thomas Nelson ISBN: 0785228578 Published: January 4, 2022
Here is a story about success in small doses and listening to our bodies. I’ve been heading to my personal training sessions for 14 weeks or so. One hour. Once a week. Workouts at home. Lots of strength training and low impact stuff – a plan molded for me and my goals and my personality and my headspace and my fitness level. I love my trainer and the environment at the studio and the whole community, but I don’t like working out.
In addition to the once a week private sessions I’ve also been to a few classes and fallen in love with strength and stretch. I have been striving for better functional movement and general muscle and joint improvements. My first 6 week assessment was an ego booster of accomplishment.
…and then I stepped on the scale. Which hasn’t moved. And last week I had to modify all my exercises because I hurt my back sliding across a slippery deck. I was feeling frustrated. Down. Wondering what was wrong with me.
But today was a day of refreshed hope. Of achievement. Of a better outlook on life. I finished up my session and wanted to commit homicide. HA. I love my trainer but she worked me hard and I had to stop talking by the last set of exercises because it took every ounce of strength to push through. I am sore. It hurts to get out Of a chair. And in front of a full wall of mirrors it can be easy to pick apart the flaws you perceive in yourself.
But then I remembered when I started 3 months ago I couldn’t:
– do a pushup.
They’re still a struggle but I did 30 modified ones today. (3 sets of 10 reps.)
– Do a weightless hinge without back pain (nevermind a deadlift.)
Today I did 30 deadlifts with a 45 lb trap bar.
– Make it through a full circuit of exercise.
Today my PT snuck 4 extra exercises into my circuit without me realizing and we made it through all 3 sets of everything. (I still think pushup are evil.)
This may not sound like a huge accomplishment for some, but for me they are small measures of success. I didn’t have the strength or energy to do this two years ago. I’ve struggled to get to this place. These are small but huge ways to acknowledge that I am worth investing in. That my health matters.
One, our bodies are amazing and even if they don’t do what we want they’re intricate and beautiful and worthy of care, whatever that may look like for you. Two, it’s okay to listen and slow down and rest. (If I hadn’t been smart about that last week I don’t think I would have made it through this week.) Three, the scale is nothing more than a source of information. It hasn’t moved for me… but I’m feeling amazing and sore and proud of myself and seeing physical improvements in the mirror and in my movement. (Also, I rescued two pairs of pants from my too tight pile last week – not an end goal but a measure of the changes happening as a result of my efforts.)
So… don’t give up! Set your goals. Look to the future. Whether it’s lifting weights or trying to prepare more home-cooked meals or or sticking to a budget or making it through math class… don’t give up! You are worth the investment, too, my friend. You want someone to cheer you on because you passed an exam? I’m your girl. I think it’s important to celebrate the small successes along the way and to celebrate those successes with one another!
Confession Time: I enjoy a good thriller – nothing too scary, but something with enough stakes and edge to creep me out just a little. It doesn’t have to be action-movie intense, or slasher-film gory, I just want that “what did I just read factor?” by the time I close the book. Strangely enough, I’m also the girl who doesn’t like walking through the woods at night, who wakes up to every little creak in the house, and thinks that everyone has a closet full of skeletons (perhaps I just have an active imagination?) Hoping to find a bit of a rush that doesn’t involve heights or jump scares, I thought a domestic suspense might be the cure. Enter “Nanncy Dearest” by Flora Collins – a digital copy was provided for me to read in exchange for my thoughts as a stop on the HTP Books Fall 2021 Mystery & Thriller Blog Tour. (Second confession: sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t post anything in a long time and then you get content I’m “obligated” to schedule. Hang in there for personal stuff again one day. I’ll have some deep thoughts and wisdom to impart eventually…)
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Compulsively readable domestic suspense, perfect for fans of THE TURN OF THE KEY and THE PERFECT NANNY, about a woman who takes comfort in reconnecting with her childhood nanny after her father’s death, until she starts to uncover dark secrets the nanny has been holding for twenty years.
Set in New York city and upstate New York, NANNY DEAREST is the story of twenty-five year-old Sue Keller, a young woman reeling from the recent death of her father, a particularly painful loss given that Sue’s mother died of cancer when she was only three. At just this moment of vulnerability comes Anneliese Whitaker, Sue’s former nanny from her childhood days in upstate New York.
Sue, craving connection and mothering, is only too eager to welcome Annie back into her life; but as they become inseparable once again, Sue begins to uncover the truth about Annie’s unsettling time in the Keller house all those years ago, particularly the manner of her departure – or dismissal. At the same time, she begins to grow increasingly alarmed for the safety of the two new charges currently in Annie’s care.
Told in alternating points of views, switching between Annie in the mid-90s and Sue in the present day, this is a taut novel of suspense with a shocking ending.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Flora Collins was born and raised in New York City and has never left, except for a four-year stint at Vassar College. When she’s not writing, she can be found watching reality shows that were canceled after one season or attempting to eat soft-serve ice cream in bed (sometimes simultaneously). Nanny Dearest is her first novel, and draws upon personal experiences from her own family history.
First, this book has some content warnings for a number of things. If you want them, let me know. Secondly, it is definitely a slow burn. It took a while to get going and through that time, the characters were both sympathetic, pathetic, and utterly detestable. I didn’t like them, but I felt sorry for both the protagonist and antagonist in turns. It wasn’t particularly thrilled or suspenseful – I guess I like a bit more speed at times – but I was left questioning what was wrong with people by the end and I didn’t see every twist coming my way. It was entertaining in its own right despite the slow pacing, and let’s just say I’m glad I don’t have a nanny to come haunt my future and play on my frailties, thank you very much.
Nanny Dearest : A Novel Flora Collins On Sale Date: November 30, 2021 9780778311614 Trade Paperback 336 pages
Fan Club by Erin Mayer published earlier this week. I got my hands on a digital Advanced Readers Copy from the publisher, Mira Books, and am lucky enough to share the first chapter excerpt with you. It was interesting – a weirdly twisted rat’s nest of obesssive behaviour and the drawbacks of living in the spotlight of a digitally-reliant, social media driven society, heavy with a crafted “facade of intimacy.”
ABOUT THE BOOK:
In this raucous psychological thriller, a disillusioned millennial joins a cliquey fan club, only to discover that the group is bound together by something darker than devotion.
CHAPTER 1 EXCERPT:
I’m outside for a cumulative ten minutes each day before work. Five to walk from my apartment building to the subway, another five to go from the subway to the anemic obelisk that houses my office. I try to breathe as deeply as I can in those minutes, because I never know how long it will be until I take fresh air into my lungs again. Not that the city air is all that fresh, tinged with the sharp stench of old garbage, pollution’s metallic swirl. But it beats the stale oxygen of the office, already filtered through distant respiratory systems. Sometimes, during slow moments at my desk, I inhale and try to imagine those other nostrils and lungs that have already processed this same air. I’m not sure how it works in reality, any knowledge I once had of the intricacies of breathing having been long ago discarded by more useful information, but the image comforts me. Usually, I picture a middle-aged man with greying temples, a fringe of visible nose hair, and a coffee stain on the collar of his baby blue button-down. He looks nothing and everything like my father. An every-father, if you will.
My office is populated by dyed-blonde or pierced brunette women in their mid-to-late twenties and early thirties. The occasional man, just a touch older than most of the women, but still young enough to give off the faint impression that he DJs at Meatpacking nightclubs for extra cash on the weekends.
We are the new corporate Americans, the offspring of the grey-templed men. We wear tastefully ripped jeans and cozy sweaters to the office instead of blazers and trousers. Display a tattoo here and there—our supervisors don’t mind; in fact, they have the most ink. We eat yogurt for breakfast, work through lunch, leave the office at six if we’re lucky, arriving home with just enough time to order dinner from an app and watch two or three hours of Netflix before collapsing into bed from exhaustion we haven’t earned. Exhaustion that lives in the brain, not the body, and cannot be relieved by a mere eight hours of sleep.
Nobody understands exactly what it is we do here, and neither do we. I push through revolving glass door, run my wallet over the card reader, which beeps as my ID scans through the stiff leather, and half-wave in the direction of the uniformed security guard behind the desk, whose face my eyes never quite reach so I can’t tell you what he looks like. He’s just one of the many set-pieces staging the scene of my days.
The elevator ride to the eleventh floor is long enough to skim one-third of a longform article on my phone. I barely register what it’s about, something loosely political, or who is standing next to me in the cramped elevator.
When the doors slide open on eleven, we both get off.
In the dim eleventh-floor lobby, a humming neon light shaping the company logo assaults my sleep-swollen eyes like the prick of a dozen tiny needles. Today, a small section has burned out, creating a skip in the letter w. Below the logo is a tufted cerulean velvet couch where guests wait to be welcomed. To the left there’s a mirrored wall reflecting the vestibule; people sometimes pause there to take photos on the way to and from the office, usually on the Friday afternoon before a long weekend. I see the photos later while scrolling through my various feeds at home in bed. They hit me one after another like shots of tequila: See ya Tuesday! *margarita emoji* Peace out for the long weekend! *palm tree emoji* Byeeeeee! *peace sign emoji.*
She steps in front of me, my elevator companion. Black Rag & Bone ankle boots gleaming, blade-tipped pixie cut grazing her ears. Her neck piercing taunts me, those winking silver balls on either side of her spine. She’s Lexi O’ Connell, the website’s senior editor. She walks ahead with her head angled down, thumb working her phone’s keyboard, and doesn’t look up as she shoves the interior door open, palm to the glass.
I trip over the back of one clunky winter boot with the other as I speed up, considering whether to call out for her attention. It’s what a good web producer, one who is eager to move on from the endless drudgery of copy-pasting and resizing and into the slightly more thrilling drudgery of writing and rewriting, would do.
By the time I regain my footing, I come face-to-face with the smear of her handprint as the door glides shut in front of me.
I work at a website.
It’s like most other websites; we publish content, mostly articles: news stories, essays, interviews, glossed over with the polished opalescent sheen of commercialized feminism. The occasional quiz, video, or photoshoot rounds out our offerings. This is how websites work in the age of ad revenue: Each provides a slightly varied selection of mindless entertainment, news updates, and watered-down hot takes about everything from climate change to plus size fashion, hawking their wares on the digital marketplace, leaving The Reader to wander drunkenly through the bazaar, wielding her cursor like an Amex. You can find everything you’d want to read in one place online, dozens of times over. The algorithms have erased choice. Search engines and social media platforms, they know what you want before you do.
As a web producer, my job is to input article text into the website’s proprietary content management system, or CMS. I’m a digitized high school janitor; I clean up the small messes, the litter that misses the rim of the garbage can. I make sure the links are working and the images are high resolution. When anything bigger comes up, it goes to an editor or IT. I’m an expert in nothing, a master of the miniscule fixes.
There are five of us who produce for the entire website, each handling about 20 articles a day. We sit at a long grey table on display at the very center of the open office, surrounded on all sides by editors and writers.
The web producers’ bullpen, Lexi calls it.
The light fixture above the table buzzes loudly like a nest of bees is trapped inside the fluorescent tubing. I drop my bag on the floor and take a seat, shedding my coat like a layer of skin. My chair faces the beauty editor’s desk, the cruelest seat in the house. All day long, I watch Charlotte Miller receive package after package stuffed with pastel tissue paper. Inside those packages: lipstick, foundation, perfume, happiness. A thousand simulacrums of Christmas morning spread across the two-hundred and sixty-one workdays of the year. She has piled the trappings of Brooklyn hipsterdom on top of her blonde, big-toothed, prettiness. Wire-frame glasses, a tattoo of a constellation on her inner left forearm, a rose gold nose ring. She seems Texan, but she’s actually from some wholesome upper Midwestern state, I can never remember which one. Right now, she applies red lipstick from a warm golden tube in the flat gleam of the golden mirror next to her monitor. Everything about her is color-coordinated.
I open my laptop. The screen blinks twice and prompts me for my password. I type it in, and the CMS appears, open to where I left it when I signed off the previous evening. Our CMS is called LIZZIE. There’s a rumor that it was named after Lizzie Borden, christened during the pre-launch party when the tech team pounded too many shots after they finished coding. As in, “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks.” Lizzie Borden rebranded in the 21st century as a symbol of righteous feminine anger. LIZZIE, my best friend, my closest confidant. She’s an equally comforting and infuriating presence, constant in her bland attention. She gazes at me, always emotionless, saying nothing as she watches me teeter on the edge, fighting tears or trying not to doze at my desk or simply staring, in search of answers she cannot provide.
My eyes droop in their sockets as I scan the articles that were submitted before I arrived this morning. The whites threaten to turn liquid and splash onto my keyboard, pool between the keys and jiggle like eggs minus the yolks. Thinking of this causes a tiny laugh to slip out from between my clenched lips. Charlotte slides the cap onto her lipstick, glares at me over the lip of the mirror.
That’s Tom, the only male web producer, who sits across and slightly left of me, keeping my view of Charlotte’s towering wonderland of boxes and bags clear. He’s four years older than me, twenty-eight, but the plush chipmunk curve of his cheeks makes him appear much younger, like he’s about to graduate high school. He’s cute, though, in the way of a movie star who always gets cast as the geek in teen comedies. Definitely hot but dress him down in an argyle sweater and glasses and he could be a Hollywood nerd. I’ve always wanted to ask him why he works here, doing this. There isn’t really a web producer archetype. We’re all different, a true island of misfit toys.
But if there is a type, Tom doesn’t fit it. He seems smart and driven. He’s consistently the only person who attends company book club meetings having read that month’s selection from cover to cover. I’ve never asked him why he works here because we don’t talk much. No one in our office talks much. Not out loud, anyway. We communicate through a private Morse code, fingers dancing on keys, expressions scanned and evaluated from a distance.
Sometimes I think about flirting with Tom, for something to do, but he wears a wedding ring. Not that I care about his wife; it’s more the fear of rebuff and rejection, of hearing the low-voiced Sorry, I’m married, that stops me. He usually sails in a few minutes after I do, smelling like his bodega coffee and the egg sandwich he carefully unwraps and eats at his desk. He nods in my direction. Morning is the only word we’ve exchanged the entire time I’ve worked here, which is coming up on a year in January. It’s not even a greeting, merely a statement of fact. It is morning and we’re both here. Again.
Three hundred and sixty-five days lost to the hum and twitch and click. I can’t seem to remember how I got here. It all feels like a dream. The mundane kind, full of banal details, but something slightly off about it all. I don’t remember applying for the job, or interviewing. One day, an offer letter appeared in my inbox and I signed.
And here I am. Day after day, I wait for someone to need me. I open articles. I tweak the formatting, check the links, correct the occasional typo that catches my eye. It isn’t really my job to copy edit, or even to read closely, but sometimes I notice things, grammatical errors or awkward phrasing, and I then can’t not notice them; I have to put them right or else they nag like a papercut on the soft webbing connecting two fingers. The brain wants to be useful. It craves activity, even after almost three hundred and sixty-five days of operating at its lowest frequency.
I open emails. I download attachments. I insert numbers into spreadsheets. I email those spreadsheets to Lexi and my direct boss, Ashley, who manages the homepage.
It’s not often that an ARC I’m lucky enough to read via NetGalley becomes an all time favourite book deserving a permanent place in my library collection, but Patti Callhan’s Once Upon A Wardrobe is just that good. Now that it’s on sale to the public (released today), I’ll be adding it to my bookshelves. It will be a classic to be read throughout the years.
When asked what I loved in particular about this story by a fellow booklover, I had a difficult time putting it into words. It is about CS Lewis and his inspiration for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but it told his story through a bigger story. It was heartbreaking, but Callahan also did a remarkable job of blending fact and fiction and making you want to celebrate imagination.
There is so much warmth and love in this book, like being wrapped in a hug made of words. It’s a delightful celebration of worlds beyond our imagination and a tribute to wonder and whimsy. It’s Magical. Poignant. Immersive. Beautiful!
There are heartbreaking moments, lovable characters, rich backdrops, and the plot intricately weaves this fictional emotional tale of reason vs. imagination with these historical anecdotes and crafting of a real life person. I particularly enjoyed the afterword from C.S. Lewis’ stepson. I’d recommend for those who have read Becoming Mrs. Lewis, of course, but also for fans of historical women’s fiction.
My thanks to the publisher, Harper Muse, for my complimentary copy. Opinions are entirely my own.