Susan Mallery’s Blog Tour for The Vineyard at Painted Moon – Book Review

It’s publication day for Susan Mallery’s The Vineyard at Painted Moon, a moving fictional exploration of complex human relationships between friends and family and those who are both. Mallery is one of my go-to authors when it comes to women’s fiction so I was eager to participate in the Vineyard at Painted Moon blog tour through Harlequin and NetGalley.

About the Book:

MacKenzie Dienes’s life isn’t perfect, but it’s as close as she could ever hope to get. Her marriage to Rhys, her best friend’s brother, is more friendship than true love. But passion is highly overrated, right? And she loves her job as the winemaker at Bel Apres, her in-laws’ vineyard. So what if it’s a family business and, even after decades of marriage and incredible professional success, she’s still barred from the family business meetings? It’s all enough…until one last night spent together leads to an incredibly honest—and painful—conversation. Rhys suggests that they divorce. They haven’t had a marriage in a long time and, while he wants her to keep her job at Bel Apres, he doesn’t think they should be married any longer. Shocked, MacKenzie reels at the prospect of losing the only family she’s ever really known…even though she knows deep in her heart that Rhys is right.

But when MacKenzie discovers she’s pregnant, walking away to begin a new life isn’t so easy. She never could have anticipated the changes it would bring to the relationships she cherishes most: her relationship with Barbara, her mother-in-law and partner at Bel Apres, Stephanie, her sister-in-law and best friend, and Bel Apres, the company she’s worked so hard to put on the map.

MacKenzie has always dreamed of creating a vineyard of her own, a chance to leave a legacy for her unborn child. So when the opportunity arises, she jumps at it and builds the Vineyard at Painted Moon. But following her dreams will come at a high price—one that MacKenzie isn’t so sure she’s willing to pay…

About the Author:

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

My Thoughts:

There are some individuals who believe consumer book reviews are meant for other readers rather than the authors themselves. Others believe reader reviews can help an author hone their craft. I’m somewhere in the middle on this line of thought. I don’t think Susan Mallery needs help from some random middle-aged mom in rural Canada to sharpen her talents. I generally craft my public reviews for other readers. I’m posting that preface to say I actually enjoyed this novel so much that knowing I’d be posting about the title today, I still reached out to the author privately to say I loved the book.

First, my content clause. This is contemporary women’s fiction and deals with adult issues and adult themes – it’s not always hearts and rainbows. Much like real life, it’s not always squeaky clean and some may wish to avoid the mess. Reader discretion is advised.

Second, this novel had so much heart! It made me laugh at times. It made me feel warm and fuzzy. I felt strong emotions (and even some sympathy) towards Barbara (when you’ve read it, you’ll know.) I have never been more grateful for the very bump-free relationship I have with my in-laws. And Rhys? Well, Rhys had my feelings all over the place and by the end, I was done. I will admit I am not much of a wine drinker at all, but I was absolutely captivated by the charm of wine country and the closeness of the industry. Mackenzie appealed to me – realistically, we had very little in common, but she was my age and had been married for 16 years. It’s always fun to find some parallels between yourself and the heroine of the story. My only “complaint” was that it seemed to take a while to see any progress with Painted Moon itself – I want to know more about Mackenzie’s successes and less of the drama at Bel Apres even though that drama was necessary to the story as a whole.

Overall, this was an easy to read, enjoyable work of fiction highlighting the courage it takes to grab what you want when the world falls apart around you and the importance of crafting our own family through friendships with women who will stand by our side when life goes off the tracks. I enjoyed it so much I would actually love to see more about some of the other women and the community in general. A short series, perhaps, pretty please?

Available today from all major book outlets but I’d encourage you to shop your favourite local bookseller!

The Vineyard at Painted Moon
Susan Mallery
On Sale Date: February 9, 2021
ISBN 9781335912794, 1335912797

Book Review: Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman

I have been slowly making my way through my backlist of NetGalley titles, attempting to alternate between some new and upcoming releases with titles that have been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for some time. All things considered, many of these “older” books have still be published within the last year, but I’ve missed the opportunity for release day (or close to release day) hype. My bad. (<— do people still say that?)

Over the Christmas holidays, I finally dove into Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman. It’s not one of my regular genres (middle grade fiction) but something about the description called to me when I first requested it. Now, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’m an almost 40-year-old woman. I’m not in middle school. I’m not even sure my children still qualify as middle-school aged (although I think if J. gave this one a chance, he’d enjoy it.) All that being said, I’m not the target audience for this book, and still it mesmerized me.

There is a reason Kadarusman is a Governor General’s Literary Award finalist and this title was issued the JLG Gold Standard. It’s poignant and eloquent, simple without pandering, and absolutely engaging. Touching on issues of conservation, extinction, family roots, secrets, bullying, and neurodiversity, it’s a heart-warming richly crafted novel for the young (but not too young) reader. The publisher describes it as “A moving coming-of-age story wrapped up in the moss, leaves, and blue gums of the Tasmanian rainforest where, hidden under giant ferns, crouches its most beloved, and lost, creature.” I think it was absolutely brilliant (and may gift some copies to elementary teachers I know!)

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.

Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Myrick Marketing & Media, LLC; Pajama Press
ISBN: 9781772780543

Note: Amazon’s recommended age level is 8 – 12, grade level 4 – 7

Blog Tour Book Review: Wrong Alibi by Christina Dodd

I’ve been reading Christina Dodd for years. Her books are sassy, well paced, with elements of humour, danger, and intrigue. When Harlequin sent me the list of titles available for the Mystery Thriller Fall Reads Blog Tour, I was excited to see Wrong Alibi on the list and eagerly selected it as a title to read and review.

From the Publisher:

Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell, New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd delivers an all-new thriller, featuring a bold and brash female protagonist.

WRONG JOB
Eighteen-year-old Evelyn Jones lands a job in small-town Alaska, working for a man in his isolated mountain home. But her bright hopes for the future are shattered when Donald White disappears, leaving her to face charges of theft, embezzlement—and a brutal double murder. Her protestations of innocence count for nothing. Convicted, she faces life in prison…until fate sends her on the run.

WRONG NAME
Evie’s escape leaves her scarred and in hiding, isolated from her family, working under an alias at a wilderness camp. Bent on justice, intent on recovering her life, she searches for the killer who slaughters without remorse.

WRONG ALIBI
At last, the day comes. Donald White has returned. Evie emerges from hiding; the fugitive becomes the hunter. But in her mind, she hears the whisper of other forces at work. Now Evelyn must untangle the threads of evidence before she’s once again found with blood on her hands: the blood of her own family.

My Thoughts:

This novel contains all the twists, turns, drama, and danger you’d expect in a gripping piece of contemporary suspense, but I do find it was missing the sass and humour I have come to expect, which, yes, I can admit would probably have been out of place in a book with a dark side. I found myself frustrated throughout, screaming “No!” or “That’s not fair!” or “Why would you do that?” silently to myself. Needless to say I was engaged with the drama and mystery – wanting to know the backstory and see where we were headed. Beautifully descriptive settings land you in the middle of Alaska, hiding in the wilds with those who find the vast remote landscape the perfect place to become someone new or hide their true identities. As with most of Harlequin’s novels, I would recommend for adult readers due to content.

This title hit shelves today and is available through all the major booksellers and I’m sure through your favourite local bookstore!

WRONG ALIBI
Author: Christina Dodd 
ISBN: 9781335080820
Publication Date: December 29, 2020
Publisher: HQN Books


Book Review: Autumn Skies by Denise Hunter

The third and final novel in the Bluebell Inn series, Autumn Skies is an absolutely wonderful conclusion to a beautifully written contemporary family saga. Three siblings renovate and run the Bluebell Inn to commemorate their parents, each novel devoting itself to one love story at a time. My review of the first title, Lake Season, can be found here.

Continuing the family story while tying up the loose ends as the Bennetts look to the future, we encounter Grace’s romance in this last installment. Engaging and heartwarming, Denise Hunter knows her audience and creates dynamic characters that you love. There is an innocence or winsomeness to Hunter’s writing that is appealing, and yet her characters and storylines have a depth to them – scars and doubts and obstacles that all must be dealt with for any healthy relationships to occur – especially as truths are exposed that make heartache a very real possibility. Set in a picturesque small town that you’ll want to visit, this is another winner for Ms. Hunter, I’m sure.

Released October 20th, you should be able to find this title at your favourite local bookseller or through the usual online distributors. If not – request it and the other titles in the series and find a quiet spot to get lost in their charm!

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley.
Opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Publication Date: October 20, 2020
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 9780785222804



Book Review: Take The Lead by Shelley Shepard Gray

Readers familiar with Shelley Shepard Gray may know she’s a top notch writer when it comes to inspirational contemporary fiction set among the Amish.  I will admit that while no doubt well-written, those novels appeal to a very niche market and just aren’t for me.  When I was first introduced to the Bridgeport Social Club series, I quickly realised that I was guilty of pigeonholeing the author without cause.  Her contemporary women’s fiction is enjoyable reading.  If you’re familiar with Bridgeport, some of the characters and landmarks in The Dance With Me series will seem recognizable. 

I read the first title, Shall We Dance, in fall of 2019 and gave it a warm review.  Last month, I eagerly read an advanced readers copy of the second title in the series, Take The Lead, and was not disappointed in the least.  It continued along familiar lines with charming characters and a heartwarming celebration of family. While part of a series, it could easily be read as a stand alone title.

Growing up in foster care, Officer Traci Lucky had a rough start to life, but things are looking up now that she’s found a place in Bridgeport with two sisters she never knew she had. One night while on the job Traci finds Gwen, a pregnant teen caught up in a dangerous world of drugs, and takes her straight to the hospital. There Traci encounters the oh-so-charming Dr. Matt Rossi, who surprises Traci with his compassion—and his movie-star good looks.

A busy ob-gyn with a huge, meddling Italian family, Matt Rossi hasn’t had much time for love in his life. All that changes when he meets the beautiful Officer Lucky. He’s intrigued by her strength and the kind heart she tries to hide beneath her tough exterior.

When Matt confides that he needs to learn to waltz for his brother’s wedding, Traci reveals that her sister happens to be a ballroom dance teacher. Next thing they know, Matt and Traci are juggling busy careers, helping young Gwen with her pregnancy and personal safety, and learning to waltz together. But when Gwen’s escalating problems threaten to put all of them in danger, they wonder if they’ll ever find time for a little romance too.

The characters are flawed but charismatic and, as a girl with absolutely no rhythm, I enjoy the beauty of how dance is portrayed. The chemistry is spot on as is the drama. The novel presents a complex balance of romance, peril, and emotion with an engaging, easy-to-read appeal. I look forward to the final book to see how the sisters continue on their path to happily ever after.

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy via NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.

Publication Date: September 8, 2020 Publisher: Blackstone Publishing ISBN: 9781982658557

Book Review: Acceptable Risk by Lynette Eason

Way, way back when the summer sun kissed our skin, the trees were green, and I wasn’t working (the beginning of August, to be exact), Revell released the second title in the Danger Never Sleeps Series by Lynette Eason. I read the first title, Collateral Damage, even earlier in the year and found it gripping – unfortunately, I don’t think I ever got around to a review.

When the newest title, Acceptable Risk, became available on NetGalley, I knew I needed to get my hands on a copy! Without giving away too much of the storyline, the series is lauded as {clean} romantic suspense. Each title is packed with intrigue, twists, turns, conspiracies, and cover ups that just keep coming – these are non-stop fast-paced works of fiction. Beyond that though, the character-work is superb. Flawed, courageous characters lead the charge for justice and truth and along the way, find some romance.

Sarah Denning is a military journalist with the Army in the Middle East when her convoy is attacked and she’s taken hostage. When former Army Ranger Gavin Black is asked by his old unit commander–Sarah’s imposing father–to plan an extremely risky rescue, he reluctantly agrees and successfully executes it.

Back in the US, Sarah is livid when she’s discharged on a false psychiatric evaluation and vows to return to the Army. Until she learns of her brother’s suicide. Unable to believe her brother would do such a thing, she puts her plans on hold and enlists Gavin to help her discover the truth. What they uncover may be the biggest story of Sarah’s career – if she can survive long enough to write it.

I’m not a big fan of military themed novels on the whole, for no other reason than it just isn’t my thing – but Eason creates such a fantastic fictional world with each page that you can’t help but be drawn into the drama and the mystery as it unfolds. The layers and risks of each step in the journey are balanced with easy to read dialogue, well-crafted backdrops, and heart-pounding action. The lead characters are complex and each have a rich history that entangles in a strong, gritty, emotional read dealing with difficult, but real, issues such as PTSD, suicide, family tragedy, and reconciliation. I can’t wait to dive into the next title in the series to see where the author takes us next. My recommendation is to get your hands on your own copy of each for yourself!

My thanks to the publisher for a complimentary ARC of this title via NetGalley. Opinions are my own.

Published By: Revell (Baker Publishing Group)
Publication Date: August 4, 2020
ISBN: 9780800729356

Our Hectic Mundane… and A Book Recommendation

It’s a quiet Friday morning in September – it was 3 degrees (Celsius) when I woke up and I can feel in my frozen toes that winter is coming.The boys have headed back to school, but like most people around here, that has meant nothing in terms of routine. As of today, we are officially on our specific schedules which still seems to involve a lot of juggling with varied timetables even though we opted (optimistically) for in person learning. My contract was reestablished and I headed back into the office on a scaled-back schedule.

While I have a few hours to myself (the oldest is only out of the house for 3 hours, every other day) on this dedicated “day off”, I sat down with a Tetley gingerbread tea latte (featuring a combo almond/coconut milk and oat milk froth because I’m eliminating reducing dairy) and realized I have a to-do list, yes, but nowhere and nothing that NEED to be done. If I want to sit in my pajamas all day and read, well, I could do that – guilt-free. (I won’t though, because I don’t think that’s what my body needs today. Yesterday, yes – I worked, I napped, I ate (ugh) cup-o-soup for dinner instead of the veggie stir fry I prepared because I wasn’t feeling up to anything. Not all days are a success on this journey.)

I have been scaling back on my NetGalley reads – the to-be read list is still ridiculously long, but so is my pile of books I’ve actually invested in. I most recently picked up The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri from the fabulous Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge. (It’s one of my favourite independent bookstores – probably my favourite locally!) I’ve been tip-toeing my way through this title because I’m feeling book burnout. It’s an unfortunate state of being. So instead of reading what I “need” to – as I felt I was sometimes missing the pleasure of the read and therefore, perhaps unconsciously skewing my reviews – I opted to read something that grabbed me in the moment.

The Wikipedia summary of this title blandly states: The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a 2019 novel by Christy Lefteri. It deals with the flight of refugees from Aleppo in Syria to Europe during the Syrian Civil War. While a work of fiction, it is based on the author’s experience over two summers volunteering in Athens at a refugee center.

What Wikipedia fails to mention is the passion, heartache, and beauty that has gone into this work. I don’t have a full review for you – I’m only half-way through, but I would, based on reading to date, recommend this title to anyone and everyone. It’s captivating and moving and almost too much for me to read in a binge session. It’s heavy-weighted and I need air in between passages at times, but it’s beautiful. Perhaps my view is a little slanted because as I read, I can’t help but relate the carefully crafted words to the experiences those of my own limited acquaintance have encountered as they lived the plight of the refugee.

So today, I leave you with that recommendation and quick glimpse into our current life. Myself? Well while the dishwasher runs, my toes warm under a blanket on the couch, and the kittens (yes, we adopted two kittens this summer) run amok through the house, I will take a few breaths, enjoy my few hours of freedom, find joy in the sunshine, and peace in our special hectic mundane (which may or may not involve unclogging a shower drain – oh the glamour!)

Book Review: Of Literature & Lattes by Katherine Reay

In a follow up to The Printed Letter Bookshop (reviewed here), comes Katherine Reay’s new release, Of Literature & Lattes. I’m part of a Facebook group that Reay is one of the moderators on and I read A LOT of praise for this title prior to getting my hands on a copy. In full disclosure, I started the draft of this review a couple months ago and just found it dusty and with not much more than the opening sentences. Whoops!

What I remember of this title is that it was worth a blog post – it was sweet with small town charm, a cast of endearing supporting characters, and a heartwarming romance. It was easy to read as a stand alone title, but has some familiarity for those who read The Printed Letter Bookshop. Reay creates an easy-to-read enjoyable “everyday” novel – not that it’s mundane, but the plot lines aren’t completely unbelievable and us normal folk can often relate to the struggles and challenges the characters face. Overall, I’d recommend this one. It’s a cozy, slow paced, easy read that’ll leave you with a happy sigh by the final chapter – second chances for the win!

My thanks to Thomas Nelson for a complimentary copy of this title that I received via NetGalley. It was published May 12, 2020 and should be available from your favourite bookseller!

Blog Tour & Book Review: Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon

I’ve really been enjoying thrillers lately – something about trying to figure things out while biting my nails in anticipation and sitting on the edge of my seat only to be blindsided has really worked as an escape mechanism. Plus, there’s usually a whole lot of mess in a thriller, which leaves me feeling happily complacent with my mundane and normal life – no skeletons falling out of closets, figuratively or literally. When I read the blurb for Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon I thought it fit the bill perfectly, being touted as a psychological thriller. With the author being a fellow Ontario resident, I couldn’t pass it up.

From the Publisher:
In Hannah Mary McKinnon’s psychological thriller, SISTER DEAR (MIRA Trade; May 26, 2020; $17.99), the obsession of Single White Female meets the insidiousness of You, in a twisted fable about the ease of letting in those who wish us harm, and that mistake’s dire consequences.

The day he dies, Eleanor Hardwicke discovers her father – the only person who has ever loved her – is not her father. Instead, her biological father is a wealthy Portland businessman who wants nothing to do with her and to continue his life as if she doesn’t exist. That isn’t going to work for Eleanor.

Eleanor decides to settle the score. So, she befriends his daughter Victoria, her perfect, beautiful, carefree half-sister who has gotten all of life’s advantages while Eleanor has gotten none.

As she grows closer to Victoria, Eleanor’s obsession begins to deepen. Maybe she can have the life she wants, Victoria’s life, if only she can get close enough. 

My Thoughts:
As you first dive into this title, it feels a bit depressing – there’s a lot of drama, wallowing, and a bleakness that doesn’t lend you to actually like Eleanor at first, despite the hard knocks she’s been handed, although you do pity her to some degree. The thriller element is a bit of a slow burn – there’s a build up to it and then *BAM*, it’ll hit you out of nowhere, cut you off, slam you into a wall, and you’ll seriously wonder where the heck it came from. You may grow apathetic during the build up and that’s where it will catch you off guard. This aspect alone was truly worth the wait.

This novel had dysfunction, some adult themes, but you won’t be able to help yourself from getting sucked into the characters’ issues despite your initial dislike and eventually you’ll be rooting for them. It’s not a fast paced read, so I did miss that edge-of-the-seat feeling I often look for in a thriller, but again, that’s where I was blindsided so it worked. It feels a lot like women’s fiction throughout the novel – relationships, family issues, etc. with a dose of feel good thrown in – and that curve ball out of left field comes sailing in and you realise it may not having the happy ending you anticipated. I leave you with this – I enjoyed this novel and felt a little sucker-punched with the twist. Well done, McKinnon, well done.

About the Author:
Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing, and is now the author of The Neighbors and Her Secret Son. She lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons, and is delighted by her twenty-second commute.

Social Links:

SISTER DEAR
Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon
ISBN: 9780778309550
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
Publisher: MIRA Books

Buy Links: 

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti












A few years ago we had plans to take a road trip to the Berkshires. Instead, an incredible deal on a vacation rental led us to Cape Cod instead. Massachusetts does something for this Canadian girl who appreciates the rich history, varied landscapes, and wicked accents. I’d go back and explore a different part of that State every summer if I could, and one day, we’ll find ourselves deep in the Berkshires. When I saw that Aimee Agresti’s newly released title, The Summer Set, was set in one of the places my heart longs to explore, and I was asked if I’d like to read and review it, I was in!

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
With a setting inspired by the real-life Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires where stars like Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lauren Graham, and Chris Pine have performed, THE SUMMER SET (Graydon House Books; May 12; $17.99) is a salacious rom-com, beach read perfect for Broadway nerds and Hollywood gossips alike.

Charlie Savoy was once Hollywood’s hottest A-lister. Now, ten years later, she’s pushing forty, exiled from the film world back at the summer Shakespeare theater in the Berkshires that launched her career—and where her first love, Nick, is the artistic director.

It’s not exactly her first choice. But as parts are cast and rehearsals begin, Charlie is surprised to find herself thriving: bonding with celebrity actors, forging unexpected new friendships, and even reigniting her spark with Nick despite their complicated history.

Until Charlie’s old rival, Hollywood’s current “It Girl,” is brought on set, threatening to undo everything she’s been working towards. As the drama amps up both on the stage and behind the curtains, Charlie must put on one heck of a show to fight for the second chance she deserves in her career and in love.

MY THOUGHTS:
In all honesty, I was blinded by the setting and missed the descriptors like “salacious”, “Broadway nerds” and “Hollywood gossips.” I’m more small-town, feel-good, bit of mystery, hopeless-romantic kind of girl. I’d rather pick up a home and garden magazine than a gossip rag. I couldn’t tell you anything about the latest romantic entanglements on and off screen because I frankly don’t care. Self-proclaimed gossip mavens and theatre buffs and those who enjoy steamy scandal will absolutely love this book – because it’s not bad, it just wasn’t quite my cup of tea. (Although that cover makes me really, really happy!)

That being said, this story is told with a cast of dynamic characters (that you may love or hate at any given moment) in a beautiful setting. The writing is evocative – I could picture every building and feel the refreshing coldness of the lake and hear the laughter and glasses tinkling in the local bar. The pacing is excellent and easy to read. There’s drama, young love, second chances, betrayal, scandal, and more – plus behind-the-scene glimpses into the glamorous and not-so-glamorous world of acting.

Know going in that it’s not all hearts and roses. It’s got some tawdry elements and coarse language that some readers may object to. Final consensus: I enjoyed the young romance, I enjoyed the triumph of the theatre being revived, and I’m glad that two hearts got a successful second chance at true love. (Plus, that cover….) I still want to make a summer escape to the Berkshires.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Aimee Agresti is the author of Campaign Widows and The Gilded Wings trilogy for young adults. A former staff writer for Us Weekly, she penned the magazine’s coffee table book Inside Hollywood. Aimee’s work has also appeared in People, Premiere, DC magazine, Capitol File, the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Washington City Paper, Boston magazine, Women’s Health and the New York Observer, and she has made countless TV and radio appearances, dishing about celebrities on the likes of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Insider, Extra, VH1, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and HLN. Aimee graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, DC, area.

WHERE TO PURCHASE:

ISBN: 9781525823589
Publication Date: May 12, 2020
Publisher: Graydon House Books

Buy Links: 
Harlequin 
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Social Links:
Author Website
Twitter: @AimeeAgresti
Instagram: @aimeeagresti
Facebook: @AimeeAgrestiAuthor
Goodreads