I’m presenting the second title I’m reviewing for the Harlequin Summer 2021 Beach Reads Blog Tour today and it was a perfect beach read or backyard book. Today is the last day in the tour for Sarah Morgan’s newest release, The Summer Seekers. It is aptly named as it’s a quintessential summer read!
Get swept into a summer of sunshine, soul-searching and shameless matchmaking with this delightfully bighearted road-trip adventure by USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan!
Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves—what she needs—is adventure.
Liza is drowning in the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.
Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.
When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She’s not the world’s best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And traveling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?
As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it’s never too late to start over…
The Summer Seekers is an absolutely delightful lighthearted novel with charming characters full of humour and heart. Don’t let the lightheartedness fool you though, there are some deeper issues addressed while the characters tackle growth, trust, and tinges of regret. It is a sweet, feel-good read and most readers will find it relatable to some degree as it presents the challenges and joys of family, friendships, and the standards we and society place on ourselves. It’s a good reminder to put aside the critical voices, personal fears, and over-commitment and prioritize a life lived freely of the weight of unreasonable expectations. If this doesn’t make you want to pack your bags and head cross country (or to the nearest coast) to soul-search and live a vivacious life, I’m not sure what will! Just be sure to make some new friends and cherish the old ones along the way!
Recommended for: fans of contemporary women’s fiction and romance
THE SUMMER SEEKERS Author: Sarah Morgan ISBN: 9781335180926 Publication Date: 5/18/2021 Publisher: HQN Books
My thanks to the publisher for the gifted ARC. Opinions expressed are my own.
While I would typically share a review in my stop on a blog tour, I opted to share an excerpt this time around. Thank you to Park Row Books for the complimentary advanced review copy of The Woman with the Blue Star, the latest release from Pam Jenoff, published earlier this month. It is spectacular and I would recommend for fans of Pam Jenoff, obviously, but also for anyone who enjoys WWII historical fiction. It was unique enough to stand out among a very saturated market. (I mean those of us who enjoy this genre can’t quite get our fill!) It is a remarkable tale that you won’t be able to put down as you fall in love with Sadie and Ella in a tale of extraordinary courage from ordinary women brought together in volatile circumstances.
ABOUT THE BOOK: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris comes a riveting tale of courage and unlikely friendship during World War II.
1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents in the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous tunnels beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.
Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.
Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.
Kraków, PolandMarch 1942
Everything changed the day they came for the children.
I was supposed to have been in the attic crawl space of the three-story building we shared with a dozen other families in the ghetto. Mama helped me hide there each morning before she set out to join the factory work detail, leaving me with a fresh bucket as a toilet and a stern admonishment not to leave. But I grew cold and restless alone in the tiny, frigid space where I couldn’t run or move or even stand straight. The minutes stretched silently, broken only by a scratching—unseen children, years younger than me, stowed on the other side of the wall. They were kept separate from one another without space to run and play. They sent each other messages by tapping and scratching, though, like a kind of improvised Morse code. Sometimes, in my boredom, I joined in, too.
“Freedom is where you find it,” my father often said when I complained. Papa had a way of seeing the world exactly as he wanted. “The greatest prison is in our mind.” It was easy for him to say. Though he manual ghetto labor was a far cry from his professional work as an accountant before the war, at least he was out and about each day, seeing other people. Not cooped up like me. I had scarcely left our apartment building since we were forced to move six months earlier from our apartment in the Jewish Quarter near the city center to the Podgórze neighborhood where the ghetto had been established on the southern bank of the river. I wanted a normal life, my life, free to run beyond the walls of the ghetto to all of the places I had once known and taken for granted. I imagined taking the tram to the shops on the Rynek or to the kino to see a film, exploring the ancient grassy mounds on the outskirts of the city. I wished that at least my best friend, Stefania, was one of the others hidden nearby. Instead, she lived in a separate apartment on the other side of the ghetto designated for the families of the Jewish police.
It wasn’t boredom or loneliness that had driven me from my hiding place this time, though, but hunger. I had always had a big appetite and this morning’s breakfast ration had been a half slice of bread, even less than usual. Mama had offered me her portion, but I knew she needed her strength for the long day ahead on the labor detail.
As the morning wore on in my hiding place, my empty belly had begun to ache. Visions pushed into my mind uninvited of the foods we ate before the war: rich mushroom soup and savory borscht, and pierogi, the plump, rich dumplings my grandmother used to make. By midmorning, I felt so weak from hunger that I had ventured out of my hiding place and down to the shared kitchen on the ground floor, which was really nothing more than a lone working stove burner and a sink that dripped tepid brown water. I didn’t go to take food—even if there had been any, I would never steal. Rather, I wanted to see if there were any crumbs left in the cupboard and to fill my stomach with a glass of water.
I stayed in the kitchen longer than I should, reading the dog-eared copy of the book I’d brought with me. The thing I detested most about my hiding place in the attic was the fact that it was too dark for reading. I had always loved to read and Papa had carried as many books as he could from our apartment to the ghetto, over the protests of my mother, who said we needed the space in our bags for clothes and food. It was my father who had nurtured my love of learning and encouraged my dream of studying medicine at Jagiellonian University before the German laws made that impossible, first by banning Jews and later by closing the university altogether. Even in the ghetto at the end of his long, hard days of labor, Papa loved to teach and discuss ideas with me. He had somehow found me a new book a few days earlier, too, The Count of Monte Cristo. But the hiding place in the attic was too dark for me to read and there was scarcely any time in the evening before curfew and lights-out. Just a bit longer, I told myself, turning the page in the kitchen. A few minutes wouldn’t matter at all.
I had just finished licking the dirty bread knife when I heard heavy tires screeching, followed by barking voices. I froze, nearly dropping my book. The SS and Gestapo were outside, flanked by the vile Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst, Jewish Ghetto Police, who did their bidding. It was an aktion, the sudden unannounced arrest of large groups of Jews to be taken from the ghetto to camps. The very reason I was meant to be hiding in the first place. I raced from the kitchen, across the hall and up the stairs. From below came a great crash as the front door to the apartment building splintered and the police burst through. There was no way I could make it back to the attic in time.
Instead, I raced to our third-floor apartment. My heart pounded as I looked around desperately, wishing for an armoire or other cabinet suitable for hiding in the tiny room, which was nearly bare except for a dresser and bed. There were other places, I knew, like the fake plaster wall one of the other families had constructed in the adjacent building not a week earlier. That was too far away now, impossible to reach. My eyes focused on the large steamer trunk stowed at the foot of my parents’ bed. Mama had shown me how to hide there once shortly after we first moved to the ghetto. We practiced it like a game, Mama opening the trunk so that I could climb in before she closed the lid.
The trunk was a terrible hiding place, exposed and in the middle of the room. But there was simply nowhere else. I had to try. I raced over to the bed and climbed into the trunk, then closed the lid with effort. I thanked heavens that I was tiny like Mama. I had always hated being so petite, which made me look a solid two years younger than I actually was. Now it seemed a blessing, as did the sad fact that the months of meager ghetto rations had made me thinner. I still fit in the trunk.
When we had rehearsed, we had envisioned Mama putting a blanket or some clothes over the top of the trunk. Of course, I couldn’t do that myself. So the trunk sat unmasked for anyone who walked into the room to see and open. I curled into a tiny ball and wrapped my arms around myself, feeling the white armband with the blue star on my sleeve that all Jews were required to wear.
There came a great crashing from the next building, the sound of plaster being hewn by a hammer or ax. The police had found the hiding place behind the wall, given away by the too-fresh paint. An unfamiliar cry rang out as a child was found and dragged from his hiding place. If I had gone there, I would have been caught as well.
Someone neared the door to the apartment and flung it open. My heart seized. I could hear breathing, feel eyes searching the room. I’m sorry, Mama, I thought, feeling her reproach for having left the attic. I braced myself for discovery. Would they go easier on me if I came out and gave myself up? The footsteps grew fainter as the German continued down the hall, stopping before each door, searching.
The war had come to Kraków one warm fall day two and a half years earlier when the air-raid sirens rang out for the first time and sent the playing children scurrying from the street. Life got hard before it got bad. Food disappeared and we waited in long lines for the most basic supplies. Once there was no bread for a whole week.
Then about a year ago, upon orders from the General Government, Jews teemed into Kraków by the thousands from the small towns and villages, dazed and carrying their belongings on their backs. At first I wondered how they would all find places to stay in Kazimierz, the already cramped Jewish Quarter of the city. But the new arrivals were forced to live by decree in a crowded section of the industrial Podgórze district on the far side of the river that had been cordoned off with a high wall. Mama worked with the Gmina, the local Jewish community organization, to help them resettle, and we often had friends of friends over for a meal when they first arrived, before they went to the ghetto for good. They told stories from their hometowns too awful to believe and Mama shooed me from the room so I would not hear.
Several months after the ghetto was created, we were ordered to move there as well. When Papa told me, I couldn’t believe it. We were not refugees, but residents of Kraków; we had lived in our apartment on Meiselsa Street my entire life. It was the perfect location: on the edge of the Jewish Quarter but easy walking distance to the sights and sounds of the city center and close enough to Papa’s office on Stradomska Street that he could come home for lunch. Our apartment was above an adjacent café where a pianist played every evening. Sometimes the music spilled over and Papa would whirl Mama around the kitchen to the faint strains. But according to the orders, Jews were Jews. One day. One suitcase each. And the world I had known my entire life disappeared forever.
I peered out of the thin slit opening of the trunk, trying to see across the tiny room I shared with my parents. We were lucky, I knew, to have a whole room to ourselves, a privilege we had been given because my father was a labor foreman. Others were forced to share an apartment, often two or three families together. Still, the space felt cramped compared to our real home. We were ever on top of one another, the sights and sounds and smells of daily living magnified.
“Kinder, raus!” the police called over and over again now as they patrolled the halls. Children, out. It was not the first time the Germans had come for children during the day, knowing that their parents would be at work.
But I was no longer a child. I was eighteen and might have joined the work details like others my age and some several years younger. I could see them lining up for roll call each morning before trudging to one of the factories. And I wanted to work, even though I could tell from the slow, painful way my father now walked, stooped like an old man, and how Mama’s hands were split and bleeding that it was hard and awful. Work meant a chance to get out and see and talk to people. My hiding was a subject of much debate between my parents. Papa thought I should work. Labor cards were highly prized in the ghetto. Workers were valued and less likely to be deported to one of the camps. But Mama, who seldom fought my father on anything, had forbidden it. “She doesn’t look her age. The work is too hard. She is safest out of sight.” I wondered as I hid now, about to be discovered at any second, if she would still think she was right.
The building finally went silent, the last of the awful footsteps receding. Still I didn’t move. That was one of the ways they trapped people who were hiding, by pretending to go away and lying in wait when they came out. I remained motionless, not daring to leave my hiding place. My limbs ached, then went numb. I had no idea how much time had passed. Through the slit, I could see that the room had grown dimmer, as if the sun had lowered a bit.
Sometime later, there were footsteps again, this time a shuffling sound as the laborers trudged back silent and exhausted from their day. I tried to uncurl myself from the trunk. But my muscles were stiff and sore and my movements slow. Before I could get out, the door to our apartment flung open and someone ran into the room with steps light and fluttering. “Sadie!” It was Mama, sounding hysterical.
“Jestem tutaj,” I called. I am here. Now that she was home, she could help me untangle myself and get out. But my voice was muffled by the trunk. When I tried to undo the latch, it stuck.
Mama raced from the room back into the corridor. I could hear her open the door to the attic, then run up the stairs, still searching for me. “Sadie!” she called. Then, “My child, my child,” over and over again as she searched but did not find me, her voice rising to a shriek. She thought I was gone.
“Mama!” I yelled. She was too far away to hear me, though, and her own cries were too loud. Desperately, I struggled once more to free myself from the trunk without success. Mama raced back into the room, still wailing. I heard the scraping sound of a window opening and felt a whoosh of cold air. At last I threw myself against the lid of the trunk, slamming my shoulder so hard it throbbed. The latch sprang open.
I broke free and stood up quickly. “Mama?” She was standing in the oddest position, with one foot on the window ledge, her willowy frame silhouetted against the frigid twilight sky. “What are you doing?” For a second, I thought she was looking for me outside. But her face was twisted with grief and pain. I knew then why Mama was on the window ledge. She assumed I had been taken along with the other children. And she didn’t want to live. If I hadn’t freed myself from the trunk in time, Mama would have jumped. I was her only child, her whole world. She was prepared to kill herself before she would go on without me.
A chill ran through me as I sprinted toward her. “I’m here, I’m here.” She wobbled unsteadily on the window ledge and I grabbed her arm to stop her from falling. Remorse ripped through me. I always wanted to please her, to bring that hard-won smile to her beautiful face. Now I had caused her so much pain she’d almost done the unthinkable.
“I was so worried,” she said after I’d helped her down and closed the window. As if that explained everything. “You weren’t in the attic.”
“But, Mama, I hid where you told me to.” I gestured to the trunk. “The other place, remember? Why didn’t you look for me there?”
Mama looked puzzled. “I didn’t think you would fit anymore.” There was a pause and then we both began laughing, the sound scratchy and out of place in the pitiful room. For a few seconds, it was like we were back in our old apartment on Meiselsa Street and none of this had happened at all. If we could still laugh, surely things would be all right. I clung to this last improbable thought like a life preserver at sea.
But a cry echoed through the building, then another, silencing our laughter. It was the mothers of the other children who had been taken by the police. There came a thud outside. I started for the window, but my mother blocked me. “Look away,” she ordered. It was too late. I glimpsed Helga Kolberg, who lived down the hall, lying motionless in the coal-tinged snow on the pavement below, her limbs cast at odd angles and skirt splayed around her like a fan. She had realized her children were gone and, like Mama, she didn’t want to live without them. I wondered whether jumping was a shared instinct, or if they had discussed it, a kind of suicide pact in case their worst nightmares came true.
My father raced into the room then. Neither Mama nor I said a word, but I could tell from his unusually grim expression that he already knew about the aktion and what had happened to the other families. He simply walked over and wrapped his enormous arms around both of us, hugging us tighter than usual.
As we sat, silent and still, I looked up at my parents. Mama was a striking beauty—thin and graceful, with white-blond hair the color of a Nordic princess’. She looked nothing like the other Jewish women and I had heard whispers more than once that she didn’t come from here. She might have walked away from the ghetto and lived as a non-Jew if it wasn’t for us. But I was built like Papa, with the dark, curly hair and olive skin that made the fact that we were Jews undeniable. My father looked like the laborer the Germans had made him in the ghetto, broad-shouldered and ready to lift great pipes or slabs of concrete. In fact, he was an accountant—or had been until it became illegal for his firm to employ him anymore. I always wanted to please Mama, but it was Papa who was my ally, keeper of secrets and weaver of dreams, who stayed up too late whispering secrets in the dark and had roamed the city with me, hunting for treasure. I moved closer now, trying to lose myself in the safety of his embrace.
Still, Papa’s arms could offer little shelter from the fact that everything was changing. The ghetto, despite its awful conditions, had once seemed relatively safe. We were living among Jews and the Germans had even appointed a Jewish council, the Judenrat, to run our daily affairs. Perhaps if we laid low and did as we were told, Papa said more than once, the Germans would leave us alone inside these walls until the war was over. That had been the hope. But after today, I wasn’t so sure. I looked around the apartment, seized with equal parts disgust and fear. In the beginning, I had not wanted to be here; now I was terrified we would be forced to leave.
“We have to do something,” Mama burst out, her voice a pitch higher than usual as it echoed my unspoken thoughts.
“I’ll take her tomorrow and register her for a work permit,” Papa said. This time Mama did not argue. Before the war, being a child had been a good thing. But now being useful and able to work was the only thing that might save us.
Mama was talking about more than a work visa, though. “They are going to come again and next time we won’t be so lucky.” She did not bother to hold back her words for my benefit now. I nodded in silent agreement. Things were changing, a voice inside me said. We could not stay here forever.
“It will be okay, kochana,” Papa soothed. How could he possibly say that? But Mama laid her head on his shoulder, seeming to trust him as she always had. I wanted to believe it, too. “I will think of something. At least,” Papa added as we huddled close, “we are all still together.” The words echoed through the room, equal parts promise and prayer.
Excerpted from The Woman With the Blue Star @ 2021 by Pam Jenoff, used with permission by Park Row Books.
The Woman with the Blue Star Pam Jenoff On Sale Date: May 4, 2021 9780778389385, 0778389383 Trade Paperback $17.99 USD, $22.99 CAD Fiction / Historical / Jewish 336 pages
I first requested The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman directly through NetGalley when I first saw it because of my appreciation of Shipman’s novel that I reviewed previously, The Heirloom Garden. I had already read my digital ARC (advanced readers copy) via NetGalley when the publisher invited me to join the Summer 2021 Beach Reads Blog Tour and it was one of the titles available. Because I have a tendency to ramble, the short version is that this was a delightful book and if you’re a fan of heartwarming women’s fiction, you’ll want to pick up a copy for yourself.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
As comforting and familiar as a favorite sweater, Viola Shipman’s novels never fail to deliver a heartfelt story of friendship and familty, encapsulating summer memories in every page. Fans of Dorthea Benton Frank and Nancy Thayer will love this new story about three childhood friends approaching middle age, determined to rediscover the dreams that made them special as campers in 1985.
Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where they called themselves The Clover Girls (after their cabin name). The years following that magical summer pulled them in very different directions and, now approaching middle age, the women are facing new challenges: the inevitable physical changes that come with aging, feeling invisible to society, disinterested husbands, surley teens, and losing their sense of self.
Then, Elizabeth, Veronica and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily – she has cancer and, knowing it’s terminal, reaches out to the girls who were her best friends once upon a time and implores them to reunite at Camp Birchwood to scatter her ashes. When the three meet at the property for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, another letter from Emily awaits, explaining that she has purchased the abandoned camp, and now it belongs to them – at Emily’s urging, they must spend a week together remembering the dreams they’d put aside, and find a way to become the women they always swore they’d grow up to be. Through flashbacks to their youthful summer, we see the four friends then and now, rebuilding their lives, flipping a middle finger to society’s disdain for aging women, and with a renewed purpose to find themselves again.
This novel had some small elements of humour, but mostly it was packed full of heart. Themes of friendship and the resiliency of women in the midst of the demands and unreasonable expectations upon them run deep throughout. If you have ever felt yourself questioning where you’re at in life and wondering how you got there, you’ll probably be able to related on some level to any one of the Clover Girls. Some bittersweet scenes will get the tear ducts working and by the last chapter you’ll feel like you’ve just made some new BFFs and won’t want to leave them behind. Told in dual timeline from multiple narrators, you’ll feel like your at summer camp and (re)experience some childhood angst on one hand, but get caught up in the chippy battered relationships of women who have seemingly outgrown their youthful naivety and find they still need each other. It is truly a pleasure to get caught up in a read as emotional and rewarding as this one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for People, Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.
My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title. Opinions are my own.
THE CLOVER GIRLS Author: Viola Shipman ISBN:9781525896002 Publication Date: May 18, 2021 Publisher: Graydon House
Once upon a time, I tried to use my sister-in-laws sewing machine to make Halloween costumes for myself and my then boyfriend (now husband.) To put it lightly, it was a disastrous experience. Then in the future, I purchased a basic sewing machine so I could teach myself and well, let’s just say I broke the sewing machine. Hand-sewing is not an improvement – I can sew on a button and darn a small hole, but the thought of creating a quilt seems so ambitiously talented and I envy those who can do fine needlework, despite the fact that once upon a time I could complete a pretty decent cross stitch. My creative talents lie elsewhere, but one day I will pick up a needle and thread again to make something pretty.
Now that we’ve cleared up that I’m absolute rubbish when it comes to sewing, I’d like to say that the Ashwood women are much more talented than I am. I received a complimentary e-book version of Maisey Yates’ new release, Confessions from the Quilting Circle, which releases May 4th. It sounded like exactly my kind of book and I happily read it in anticipation of being a part of the publisher’s blog tour. Crafts, secrets, romance? I want to be part of this world!
The Ashwood women don’t have much in common…except their ability to keep secrets.
When Lark Ashwood’s beloved grandmother dies, she and her sisters discover an unfinished quilt. Finishing it could be the reason Lark’s been looking for to stop running from the past, but is she ever going to be brave enough to share her biggest secret with the people she ought to be closest to?
Hannah can’t believe she’s back in Bear Creek, the tiny town she sacrificed everything to escape from. The plan? Help her sisters renovate her grandmother’s house and leave as fast as humanly possible. Until she comes face-to-face with a man from her past. But getting close to him again might mean confessing what really drove her away…
Stay-at-home mom Avery has built a perfect life, but at a cost. She’ll need all her family around her, and all her strength, to decide if the price of perfection is one she can afford to keep paying.
This summer, the Ashwood women must lean on each other like never before, if they are to stitch their family back together, one truth at a time…
My Thoughts: This contemporary novel was easy to read with flawed characters, second chances, and a lot of secrets. The parallels between each sister and the journal entries they read were a nice touch in uniting the past with the present. The romantic elements are sweet (and there is some passion!) but they’re almost secondary to the story of the Ashwood family coming to terms with their distant relationships with each other. There’s a lot for each woman to overcome to get to a place of happiness and fulfillment, despite their individual successes (or illusion thereof.)
It was interesting to peel back the layers to see where the fabric of their lives had frayed or torn, leaving them a little unfinished or incomplete. I loved the concept of a united project and the truths and beauty that came out of time spent together creating a work of art in their grandmother’s (mother’s) memory. I quite enjoyed getting to know the characters and unravelling the threads of who they are and where they came from, flaws and all. This title hits bookshelves today – pick up a copy from your favorite independent bookstore or all major book retailers.
My thanks to Harlequin/HarperCollins for the advanced readers copy. All opinions are my own.
Author Bio: New York Times Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit.
Last week, The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson was released in North America. I was fortunate enough to be given a complimentary e-book with thanks to Harper Collins. Additionally, I get to be a part of a blog tour touting all the wonders of this amazing book!
I’ve read a few titles lately that have earned a place on my “top reads of 2021” and this is definitely one of them. It has heart and humour and an eclectic cast of characters. I can be an emotional reader, but It isn’t easy to make me laugh out loud and silently sob all in the same chapter, but Norman did. As he deals with grief and chronic illness, Norman, accompanied by his mom and surrogate grandfather, embarks on a whirlwind quest of epic proportions: performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The challenge, besides Norman’s age? He’s not the world’s funniest kid and he’s missing the other half of his comedy duo.
I wanted to envelop Norman in the world’s biggest, most careful hug and I absolutely adored Jax. (We’ve had some encounters with the Jax of this world and I think they’re misjudged and mislabeled.) This novel is irreverent and funny and pulls the heartstrings right to the very end. One of the “perks” for me was the relatability to Sadie as a mother – her internal dialogue, while not entirely relevant to me personally, was familiar enough that I wanted to pull her aside and tell her she’s an excellent mother. She wasn’t perfect, but she loves Norman wholeheartedly.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but can say without a qualm of hesitance that I absolutely recommend it. Julietta’s writing has a unique rhythm that pulled me in as a reader. Throughout the story, there’s a lot to explore, but if it doesn’t tickle your funny bone or touch your heart, than you might just be made of stone.
About the Book:
Little Miss Sunshine meets Wonder in this delightfully charming, uplifting book club debut about a twelve-year-old would-be comedian who travels across the country to honor his dead best friend’s dream of performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe—the only problem being that his friend was the funny one of their duo.
Twelve-year-old would-be comedian Norman has got a lot going on, including a chronic case of psoriasis, a distinct lack of comic timing and a dead best friend. All his life it’s just been him, his single mum Sadie, and Jax, the ‘funny one’ of their comedy duo. So when Jax dies not only is Norman devastated, it’s also the end of the boys’ Five Year Plan to take their comedy act to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when they turned fifteen.
But Norman decides to honor Jax by performing at the Fringe, on his own. And not when he’s fifteen—but rather in four weeks’ time. But there’s another, far more colossal objective on Norman’s plan that Sadie wasn’t quite ready for: Norman wants to find his father. Eager to do anything that might put a smile on her boy’s face, Sadie resolves to face up to her own messy past and track down the father who doesn’t even know Norman exists, and whose identity Sadie herself isn’t quite sure of.
Thus begins a road trip from Cornwall to Scotland, featuring a mother and son who will live in the reader’s heart for a long time to come.
About the Author: Julietta Henderson is a full-time writer and comedy fan who splits her time between her home country of Australia and the UK. The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman is Julietta’s first novel.
I have run into some hit and miss situations with women’s fiction lately and it’s tilted me towards a bit of a mystery/suspense streak. If one genre isn’t working, why not try another? Now, I don’t want to lead anyone to the incorrect assumption that I’ve given up on women’s fiction or romance, I just needed to cleanse the palate a little, leaving me ready for RaeAnne Thayne’s latest title, The Path to Sunshine Cove. After reading it, my love for the genre is firmly intact once again.
One thing I’m not sure I’ve ever explained is regarding how the book review blog tours work. The publicity team at the publishers reach out months in advance asking if you’ll agree to read and review a certain title (or three) well in advance of publication date. You agree and then download the book or wait for the download to become available. Then you wait for the related assets (photos, bios, etc.) and then you post on a pre-selected date. I didn’t just wake up last week and decide it was time to dive into this one… I selected my title and blog date back in November and in typical Lindsey fashion, waited to read the book last week. I don’t recommend this method, but my review is at least fresh in my mind.
ABOUT THE BOOK: She knows what’s best for everyone but herself…
With a past like hers, Jessica Clayton feels safer in a life spent on the road. She’s made a career out of helping others downsize—because she’s learned the hard way that the less “stuff,” the better, a policy she applies equally to her relationships. But a new client is taking Jess back to Cape Sanctuary, a town she once called home…and that her little sister, Rachel, still does. The years apart haven’t made a dent in the guilt Jess still carries after a handgun took the lives of both their parents and changed everything between them.
While Jess couldn’t wait to put the miles between her and Cape Sanctuary, Rachel put down roots, content for the world—and her sister—to think she has a picture-perfect life. But with the demands of her youngest child’s disability, Rachel’s marriage has begun to fray at the seams. She needs her sister now more than ever, yet she’s learned from painful experience that Jessica doesn’t do family, and she shouldn’t count on her now.
Against her judgment, Jess finds herself becoming attached—to her sister and her family, even to her client’s interfering son, Nate—and it’s time to put everything on the line. Does she continue running from her painful past, or stay put and make room for the love and joy that come along with it?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.
MY THOUGHTS: As I was first getting into this title, I assumed that it was a light and easy beach read, a little bit of family drama, a whole lot of romance, sandy shores, and sunshine. I was right… but I was also wrong. It reads like a warm and easy feel-good novel, but that shouldn’t deceive the reader. The author doesn’t go deep with a lot of issues, but she has created characters with weighty backstories who are definitely shaped by their pasts. There are experiences of neglect, abuse, and suicide, and a more prominent thread of grief and loss that have created the flawed, bruised characters of the present. Lest you think, wow, that’s dark, know that the characters are living, growing, changing, experiencing life, despite or in spite of those experiences – building business, families, relationships and finding themselves day by day.
The setting is absolutely gorgeous. For those of you not living on the west coast with sunshine and palm trees, after being cooped up for the last year it will definitely stir the travel bug. The entire cast of characters is delightful – Nate’s mom is just the best. There’s a balance in the developing romance and the strengthening of the sister’s relationship – defining this as women’s fiction vs. romance would be a struggle for me. I don’t think either outcome takes center stage and both carry an equal importance in the telling of the story of the whole. We’d be lost without one or the other. Overall, it hit all the right notes for me – it’s a feel-good, delightful, easy-to-read, happily ever after – just don’t be fooled that it’s all fluff and nonsense.
The Path to Sunset Cove hits booksellers shelves today! Pick up a copy for yourself and let’s compare notes. Happy publication day, Ms. Thayne!
Note: This is the second title in a series but is absolutely able to be read as a standalone.
My thanks to the publisher for including me in this one.
THE PATH TO SUNSHINE COVE Author: RaeAnne Thayne ISBN: 9781335665430 Publication Date: March 30, 2020 Publisher: HQN Books
Way back in January of last year, I had the opportunity to preview a copy of Allison Brennan’s The Third to Die. You can find my blog post here. It was the first in her book-a-year Quinn & Costa series. While I don’t remember the plot in it’s entirety, I remember it as a knock out thriller with twists and turns and heart pounding action. Last week, I finished up my review copy of the second title in the series, Tell No Lies, and I think it was even better than the first!
FROM THE PUBLISHER: New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s newest thriller again features an edgy young female LAPD detective and an ambitious special agent, both part of a mobile FBI unit that is brought in to investigate the unsolved murder of a college activist and its alleged ties to high stakes crime in the desert Southwest.
Something mysterious is killing the wildlife in the desert hills just south of Tucson, Arizona. When Emma Perez, a college-intern-turned activist, sets out to collect her own evidence, she too ends up dead. Local law enforcement seems slow to get involved. That’s when the mobile FBI unit goes undercover to infiltrate the town and the copper refinery located there in search of possible leads. Costa and Quinn find themselves scouring the desolate landscape that keeps on giving up clues to something much darker—greed, child trafficking, other killings. As the body count continues to add up, it’s clear they have stumbled on more than they bargained for. Now they must figure out who is at the heart of this mayhem and stop them before more innocent lives are lost.
Brennan’s latest novel brims with complex characters and an ever-twisting plotline, a compelling thriller that delivers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets.
MY THOUGHTS: Tell No Lies kept me up way past my bedtime. The deeper I got into the novel, the less I wanted to put it down. I feel it started off a bit slower paced than I anticipated, but quickly picked up speed as the mystery deepened, the danger increased, and the team unravel a myriad of secrets in a small town. Edgy, interesting, and absolutely rife with layers of crimes, you’ll find more than you expected as Costa and Quinn and associates start digging into life in the desert. If you are a fan of crime team thrillers, you’ll love Tell No Lies. It releases March 30th, but you can pre-order now through all major booksellers and your favourite independent bookstores.
I’m leaving my pickier book friends with the same disclosure as last time: Reader discretion is advised for violence, mature situations, and strong language. It’s dark and gritty, dealing with some uncomfortable situations as the plot unveils some of the worst of human nature.
My thanks to the publisher, MIRA books, for the complimentary ARC.
Tell No Lies : A Novel Allison Brennan On Sale Date: March 30, 2021 ISBN 9780778331469 Hardcover
When it comes to entertainment, every once in a while I really enjoy a good heart-poundingly intense police drama – bad guys, mystery, the gruff but lovable detective – crime thriller at it’s most interesting. Sign me up for all the tropes, I am in. I was fortunate to get my hands on an advanced readers copy of The Jigsaw Man by debut novelist Nadine Matheson, courtesy of the publisher, and the description had my interest piqued!
FROM THE PUBLISHER: In THE JIGSAW MAN (March 16, 2021; Hanover Square Press), Detective Inspector Anjelica Henley has a lot to deal with on her first day back her from leave from the Serial Crimes Unit of Scotland Yard. After nearly becoming a victim of the vicious serial killer, The Jigsaw Man, just before he was put behind bars, she also has to contend with the subtle digs and microaggressions that come with being the unit’s only black female detective. Add a new trainee and a rocky marriage to the mix, and DI Henley nearly has a full plate. Until the first call comes in…
Along the Thames, a fan of the Jigsaw Man and copycat killer has scattered two dismembered bodies along the shores like a jigsaw puzzle. When DI Henley sees one of the victims, a young black woman, is already being written off by her colleagues, she makes it her mission to solve the case, driving her to seek help from the original Jigsaw Man himself, Peter Oliver. Oliver, however, is determined to get to his copycat before Henley can, and sets into motion a series of events that puts Henley and her family in the crosshairs of two monstrous serial killers.
MY THOUGHTS: This book had a gentle acceleration. While I was expecting for edge of my seat thrills throughout, I found it slowly worked it’s way to the peak, lulling me into a bit of reader’s complacency, and then we plummeted for a white knuckle roller coaster ride. Packed with twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, the heart racing drama is definitely found in the second half of the title while the first half reads more like a procedural with the investigation and the build up.
Matheson’s protagonist is both strong and vulnerable, fierce and feminine. She is no stranger to racial prejudice or gender bias. She’s intelligent but flawed and I absolutely loved her. The secondary characters were also well drawn, creating a team with both likeable and dislikeable traits – flawed, damage, loveable. In speaking of flawed, the charismatic psychopath was absolutely detestable and yet, reflected the charisma that was his trademark. I hated him intensely, and yet… the copycat, however, didn’t shine, but I also don’t believe they were meant to. We were kept guessing as to their identity and the why behind their crimes, but ultimately, the focus was on DI Henley and her encounters with the Jigsaw Man.
Overall, I found this debut title to be a very fascinating work of fiction. My attention was held throughout and the pacing worked well. As with many crime & justice novels, it’s dark and gritty, dealing with the ugliest side of human nature and it highlights the burden and wear the quest for justice can take, physically, mentally, and socially. The subject matter can be disturbing and mature language and mature themes occur – reader discretion advised. By the final chapter, the author wrapped up the mystery in such a way that the audience is satisfied, but there are enough loose threads that we could easily enjoy a sequel (pretty please?) I, for one, want more of Anjelica Henley.
AUTHOR BIO: Nadine Matheson is a criminal defense attorney and winner of the City University Crime Writing competition. She lives in London, UK.
THE JIGSAW MAN Author: Nadine Matheson ISBN: 9781335146564 Publication Date: March 16, 2021 Publisher: Hanover Square Press
My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title and the opportunity to share my thoughts.
To Catch A Dream by Audrey Carlan is being released next week, but a selection of readers across the blog-o-sphere had the opportunity to read an advanced copy direct from the publisher, alongside an invitation to share our thoughts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Audrey Carlan is a #1 New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of over 40 novels, including the worldwide phenomenon Calendar Girl serial, and her books have been translated into more than 30 languages across the globe. Audrey lives in the California Valley with her two children and the love of her life.
FROM THE PUBLISHER: The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the worldwide phenomenon Calendar Girl series brings readers a poignant and honest look at life’s most complicated relationships.
When their mother passed away, Evie Ross and her sister were each given a stack of letters, one to be opened every year on their birthday; letters their free-spirited mother hoped would inspire and guide them through adulthood. But although Evie has made a successful career, her desire for the stability and security she never had from her parents has meant she’s never experienced the best life has to offer. But the discovery of more letters hidden in a safe-deposit box points to secrets her mother held close, and possibly a new way for Evie to think about her family, her heart and her dreams.
MY THOUGHTS: This book was crafted with passion and that can be seen on every page. I was, admittedly, a little outside my comfort zone a number of times while reading, but can also say the bones of the story – the foundation and core – piqued my attention. The premise of a mother (who I still think was selfish and neglectful) guiding her children into adulthood through letters intrigued me, as did the nuances of family relationships as a whole. The setting was beautifully captured, especially as I read this in the dead of Canadian winter, craving sunlight and warmth like it will never arrive. The romance was fast developing (although it took a lifetime) and also broody – although I’m not sure broody is even the correct word. Alongside the heaviness or the weight of the relationship, there were also elements of sweetness as the author explored first loves and second chances! It wasn’t a perfect fit for me (and not every book will be), but I recognize that Carlan is a talented author and this series should have much success in the women’s fiction/romance market. It featured strong female characters, was well paced, and packed some strong emotion.
This title can be pre-ordered. It is a second in the series, but can be read as a standalone very easily. (I didn’t read the first title and wasn’t lost in the least.) Available in store next Tuesday for purchase. I leave you with my typical HQN disclaimer of reader discretion advised – adult themes, and all that – if you know, you know. My thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review a digital ARC. All opinions are my own.
TO CATCH A DREAM Author: Audrey Carlan ISBN:9781335180933 Publication Date: March 9, 2021 Publisher: HQN Books
In a continuation of the blog tour for historical titles released from Harlequin this winter, one of the titles I was excited to be invited to read was The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. I previously reviewed The Girl from the Channel Islands. Other titles in this campaign include Find Me in Havana and The Last Bookshop in London. I’m seeing all four covers popping up in social media, recommended reading lists, and reading groups I’m part of so lovers of historical fiction are taking notice! Today’s focus is on The Lost Apothecary which I will say upfront exceeded my expectations.
FROM THE PUBLISHER: In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.
A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…
Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.
Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.
With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.
MY THOUGHTS: In all my explorations of historical fiction, apothecaries are not a subject I’ve spent a lot of time musing over with more than a passing thought. I opened this title worried it would either be too gruesome, touch on topics that I have a hard time reading about, or *gasp* just bore me. This is the quandary the reader faces every time they pick up a title from an author they’re unfamiliar with. Thankfully, my worries were absolutely needless in this particular instance.
My only single complaint for this title had not to do with the content, but rather, the length of the book or perhaps just the speed I read it – by the final chapter, I wanted more! It was immersive and easy to read without any confusion switching between the dual timeline. I was struck by the author’s artistry as she created a likeable villain, so to speak, while illuminating a crafty tale of women scorned (hell hath no fury, and all that…) The ignorance (of the naïve, uneducated variety) often seen on subjects we take for granted was spotlighted and necessary to the tale. While the present-day scenario happens all too often, I wasn’t entirely sure how the two stories would intertwine beyond Caroline’s curiosity. I enjoyed how Penner adeptly designed two entirely different worlds and brought them together. The Last Apothecary was a beguiling work of historical fiction that moved quickly and broke my heart.
This title doesn’t hit the market until March 2, 2021 but you can preorder a copy for yourself today! My thanks to the wonderful team at Harlequin for sharing this title with me in advance.
The Lost Apothecary : A Novel Sarah Penner On Sale Date: March 2, 2021 ISBN 9780778311010, 0778311015