While we were on vacation in South Carolina I read Sarah Morgan’s Beach House Summer on the sandy shores of the Atlantic. The story was a perfect beach read, my reading setting was bliss… and at the back of the book was a teaser for an upcoming novel that sounded fun and quirky and festive.
Enter Snowed In For Christmas – set for the most part on a snowy rural Scottish estate, it’s not quite what you’d expect someone to be excited about while lounging by a pool with palm trees overhead. Alas, I love a warm Christmasy work of fiction so I knew this one was going on my to-be read list for the cooler months.
Thankfully, I was offered an electronic review copy and invited to participate in a blog tour for this release so I got to read it before the snow and cold returned and I question why I live in a northern country. It was everything I wanted – a pure delight that centered around finding family and all the messy stuff that comes with having people to love. If you’re a fan of women’s fiction with messy characters, gentle romance, and all the chaos and comfort a bunch of relatives can bring, you’ll love this one! Sweet for the snowy season for sure – turn on the fireplace channel, grab a cozy blanket, and settle in!
What happens if the only Christmas celebration you want to attend is one you haven’t been invited to? USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan delights with this hilarious and heartwarming Christmas cracker of a novel!
SNOWED IN FOR CHRISTMAS Author: Sarah Morgan ISBN: 9781335630940 Publication Date: September 20, 2022 Publisher: HQN
Sounds intriguing, right? Why would anyone who hates books be interested in a book club? The Book Hater’s Book Club by Gretchen Anthony was released this week and I’m seeing it on a lot of TBR and muat-read lists. If falls under the womens fiction umbrella and is being shared as part of the HTP Books Fall 2022 Women’s Fiction Blog Tour.
The premise is that the co-owner of a quaint bookshop can recommend the right book to turn any self-proclaimed nonreader into a lover of books. Unfortunately, he dies and his passing causes some complications for those he leaves behind and the bookshop must be saved!
Library Journal is toting this one as “an exuberant love song to the power of books, bookstores, and the durable community that they create. Laugh-out-loud funny, this book will restore hope to all those fearful for the survival of bookstores and libraries.”
Now, I’ve not read it for myself but I am a self-proclaimed book lover. And I love libraries, bookstores, and seeing the delight in someone when they find a book they love. And I’m always hard-pressed to name a title when someone is looking for a literary escape despite the hundreds of titles I’ve explored in my lifetime. And all of this begs the question – do you consider yourself an avid reader, a moderate reader, or a non-reader? More importantly what is one book you would recommend for any non-reader or someone who wants to get out of a reading slump?
The Book Haters’ Book Club Author: Gretchen Anthony ISBN: 9780778333067 Publication Date: September 13, 2022 Park Row Paperback Original
This week I’ve been taking my time reading the newest novel from Viola Shipman. The Edge of Summer, which published July 12th, revolves around Sutton’s search for clues into her family history after the covid-related death of her mother. She ends up in a quaint small town on the shores of Lake Michigan which Shipman crafts with such picturesque detail that of course you’ll want to stay there. This novel, so far, reads with the typical nostalgic sentimentality that characterizes Viola’s works. Read on for an excerpt that I’ve been invited to share by the publisher.
BUTTONHOLE A small cut in the fabric that is bound with small stitching. The hole has to be just big enough to allow a button to pass through it and remain in place.
My mom told everyone my dad died, along with my entire family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all—one Christmas Day long ago.
“Fire,” she’d say. “Woodstove. Took ’em all. Down to the last cousin.”
“How’d you make it out with your little girl?” everyone would always ask, eyes wide, mouths open. “That’s a holiday miracle!”
My mom would start to cry, a tear that grew to a flood, and, well, that would end that.
No one questioned someone who survived such a thing, especially a widowed mother like Miss Mabel, which is what everyone called her out of deference in the Ozarks. Folks down here had lived hard lives, and they buried their kin just like they did their heartache, underneath the rocky earth and red clay. It took too much effort to dig that deep.
That’s why no one ever bothered to check out the story of a simple, hardworking, down-to-earth, churchgoing lady who kept to herself down here in the hollers—despite the fact me and my mom both just appeared out of thin air—in a time before social media existed.
But I did. Want to know why? My mom never cried. She was the least emotional soul I’d ever known.
“How did you make it out with me?” I asked her countless times as I grew older, when it was just the two of us sitting in her sewing room in our tiny cabin tucked amongst the bluffs outside Nevermore, Missouri.
She would never answer immediately, no matter how many times I asked. Instead, she’d turn over one of her button jars or tins, and run her fingers through the buttons as if they were tarot cards that would provide a clue.
I mean, there were no photos, no memories, no footsteps that even led from our fiery escape to the middle of Nevermore. No family wondered where we were? No one cared? My mother made it out with nothing but me? Not a penny to her name? Just some buttons?
We were rich in buttons.
Oh, I had button necklaces in every color growing up— red, green, blue, yellow, white, pink—and I matched them to every outfit I had. We didn’t have money for trendy jewelry or clothes—tennis bracelets, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans—so my mom made nearly everything I wore. Kids made fun of me at school for that.
“Sutton, the button girl!” they’d taunt me. “Hand-me-downs!”
Wasn’t funny. Ozarks kids weren’t clever. Just annoyingly direct, like the skeeters that constantly buzzed my head.
I loved my necklaces, though. They were like Wonder Woman’s bracelets. For some reason, I always felt protected.
I’d finger and count every button on my necklace waiting for my mom to answer the question I’d asked long ago. She’d just keep searching those buttons, turning them round and round, feeling them, whispering to them, as if they were alive and breathing. The quiet would nearly undo me. A girl should have music and friends’ laughter be the soundtrack of her life, not the clink of buttons and rush of the creek. Most times, I’d spin my button necklace a few times, counting upward of sixty before my mom would answer.
“Alive!” she’d finally say, voice firm, without looking up. “That’s how we made it out…alive. And you should feel darn lucky about that, young lady.”
Then, as if by magic, my mom would always somehow manage to find a matching button to replace a missing one on a hand-me-down blouse of hers, or pluck the “purtiest” ones from the countless buttons in her jar—iridescent abalone or crochet over wound silk f loss—to make the entire blouse seem new again.
Still, she would never smile. In fact, it was as if she had been born old. I had no idea how old she might be: Thirty-five? Fifty? Seventy?
But when she’d find a beautiful button, she would hold it up to study, her gold eyes sparkling in the light from the little lamp over Ol’ Betsy, her Singer sewing machine. If I watched her long enough, her face would relax just enough to let the deep creases sigh, and the edges of her mouth would curl ever so slightly, as if she had just found the secret to life in her button jar.
“Look at this beautiful button, Sutton,” she’d say. “So many buttons in this jar: fabric, shell, glass, metal, ceramic. All forgotten. All with a story. All from someone and somewhere. People don’t give a whit about buttons anymore, but I do. They hold value, these things that just get tossed aside. Buttons are still the one thing that not only hold a garment together but also make it truly unique.”
Finally, finally, she’d look at me. Right in the eye.
“Lots of beauty and secrets in buttons if you just look long and hard enough.”
The way she said that would make my body explode in goose pimples.
Every night of my childhood, I’d go to bed and stare at my necklace in the moonlight, or I’d play with the buttons in my mom’s jar searching for an answer my mother never provided.
Even today when I design a beautiful dress with pretty, old-fashioned buttons, I think of my mom and how the littlest of things can hold us together. Or tear us apart.
The Edge of Summer Author: Viola Shipman ISBN: 978-1525811425 Paperback Original Publication Date: July 12, 2022 Publisher: Graydon House
Hello my fellow booklovers! It is Canada Day here today and we are taking it super low key… between playing chauffer for our oldest’s work schedule, it’s been a day of laundry, Netflix, and reading.
Earlier this month I got a tantalizing opportunity to read through Sasha Summers’ newest release The Sweetest Thing to be a part of the publisher’s blog tour this week. The book, gently paced at the beginning, was sweet as can be – pun intended.
About the Book
The birds and the bees and longtime rivalries…
For Tansy Hill, nothing is sweeter than honey from her farm—except maybe revenge on the man whose father stole her family’s secret honey recipe years ago. Dane “The Viking” Knudson has been Tansy’s rival since childhood, and though he’s grown into a frustratingly handsome charmer, he’s also standing between her and the best honey award at the Honey Bee Festival, which Honey Hill Farms desperately needs to stay afloat.
Fanning the sparks that have forever flown between them, the competition is on. Sure, Tansy and Dane have plenty in common—more than they’ll admit—but Dane’s plans to expand Viking Honey are also on the line. When buried family secrets come to light, they’ll have to decide whether taking a chance on each other is worth risking the happiness they’ve been longing for.
This was an easy to read book that included the high school sweethearts and enemies-to-lovers tropes. It had a strong emphasis on family connections and community. It’s big on small town vibes and if you’re into farmers’ markets, all things honey, and some quirky side characters, it might just be the sweet summer read you’re looking for. It was cute and I loved the included recipes at the end.
THE SWEETEST THING Author: Sasha Summers ISBN: 9781335458544 Publication Date: June 28, 2022 Publisher: HQN Books
Never Coming Home by Hannah Mary McKinnon will have you questioning yourself. How can you actually want the guy who plotted his wife’s demise to get away with it? Yet that’s exactly what she’s managed to do in this engaging domestic thriller, high in psychological suspense.
I had the opportunity to not only read a review copy of McKinnon’s latest, but to chat with the author in an online engagement group. She’s sweeter than her devious mind would lead you to believe.
I really enjoyed this one, even with its darker content (murder, crime, addiction, etc.) It played in my mind like a movie, so vividly was each scene written. I enjoyed Lucas as the lead villain and while I had my suspicions early on as to who was behind his perfect plan falling apart, I didn’t quite see the end twist coming. Kevin may have been driven to *shut me up* during this one because I’m still talking about it.
Gone Girl meets Fargo in this deliciously sinister suspense novel about a man who plots his wife’s murder to cash in on her inheritance, only to have his brilliant plan turned around on him.
First comes love, then comes murder
Set to inherit his in-laws’ significant fortune, which would help him care for his ailing father, Lucas Forester decides to help things along by ordering a hit on his wife. (Michelle’s not exactly the most lovable person, anyway.) Everything is going according to his meticulous plan, until he receives a potentially recent photograph of Michelle. Frantic that his plan is being foiled, Lucas must find out if she’s alive, and silence her forever before she can expose him.
NEVER COMING HOME Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon ISBN: 9780778386100 Publication Date: May 24, 2022 Publisher: MIRA Books
I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher to participate in the HTP Books Summer 2022 Mystery & Thriller Blog Tours.
Today I get to share with you the final title I was lucky enough to read as part of the HTP Books Women’s Fiction Blog Tours. I really enjoyed Summer At The Cape by RaeAnne Thayne – during a very hectic week, it was a perfect fictional escape during the downtime I managed to eke out. This new summer-friendly novel was released April 5th. While I’ve enjoyed each title I read for this tour, Thayne’s was possibly my favourite – lighthearted but full of meaning with just the right balance of romance, family, and community.
Below is an excerpt from the book to give you a little snippet of what you’ll find in this new release.
WILD, FRENZIED BARKING RANG OUT WHEN Violet Porter let herself into the back door of her mother’s comfortable kitchen at Moongate Farm.
Rosemary was nowhere in sight. Instead, a cranky-faced schnauzer–toy poodle mix planted himself in front of the door, telling her in no uncertain terms that she was an intruder who wasn’t welcome here.
“Hi, Baxter,” she said, mouth stretched thin in what she knew was an insincere smile. “How are you, buddy?”
Lily’s dog only growled at her, baring his teeth with his hack-les raised as if he wanted to rip her throat out.
The dog hated her. Violet wasn’t exactly sure why.
She might have thought he would look more fondly toward her, considering she was the identical twin to his late owner. But maybe that was the problem. Maybe the fact that she looked so much like Lily but clearly wasn’t her sister confused the dog and made him view her as a threat.
He had never really warmed to her, even when he lived in her condo with Lily. Since Lily’s death, he had become down-right hostile.
“Stop that. What’s gotten into you? I could hear you clear back in my bedroom.”
Her mother’s voice trailed out from down the hall, becoming louder as she approached the kitchen, still fastening an earring.
She stopped dead when she spotted Violet.
“Oh! Violet! You scared me! What are you doing here?”
“You invited me. Remember? You’ve known for months I was coming to help you out during my summer break.”
“You were coming tomorrow. Not today!”
Okay. That wasn’t exactly the warm welcome she might have expected, Violet thought wryly. Instead, her mother was staring at her with an expression that seemed a curious mix of chagrin and dismay.
She shrugged as Baxter continued to growl. Wasn’t anybody happy to see her?
“I finished cleaning out my classroom and calculating final grades this morning. Since all my things were already packed and loaded into my car, I couldn’t see any reason to wait until the morning to drive up. Is there a problem?”
Rosemary, usually so even-tempered, looked at her, then at the giant wrought iron clock on the wall of the Moongate Farm kitchen with a hint of panic in her eyes.
“No. It’s only…this is, er, a bit of a complication. I’m expecting dinner guests any moment.”
“That must be why it smells so good in here.”
It smelled like roasting vegetables mixed with garlic and cheese. Violet’s stomach rumbled loud enough she was certain her mother had to hear, but Rosemary didn’t seem to notice, looking at the clock again.
Why was she so nervous? Who was coming? If she didn’t know better, Violet might have suspected her mother was expecting a date.
Not impossible, she supposed. Her mother was still a beautiful woman, with high cheekbones, a wide smile and the deep blue eyes she had handed down to Violet and her identical twin.
Rosemary didn’t date much, though she’d had a few relationships since her divorce from Violet’s father.
As far as Violet knew, she had broken up with the most re-cent man she had dated more than a year earlier and Rosemary hadn’t mentioned anyone else.
Then again, just as Violet didn’t tell her mother everything that went on in her life in Sacramento, Rosemary likely had secrets of her own here in Cape Sanctuary.
“No problem,” she said, trying for a cheerful tone. “You don’t have to worry about feeding me. If I get hungry later, I’ll make a sandwich or something. I’ll get out of your way.”
“You’re not in the way,” Rosemary protested. “It’s just, well…” She didn’t have time to finish before a knock sounded at the back door. Baxter, annoying little beast, gave one sharp bark, sniffed at the door, then plopped down expectantly.
Violet thought she heard a man’s deep voice say something on the other side of the door and then a child’s laughter in response.
Something about that voice rang a chord. She frowned, suddenly unsettled. “Mom. Who are you expecting?”
“Just some…some friends from town,” Rosemary said vaguely. She heard the man’s voice again and her disquiet turned into full-fledged dismay.
No. Rosemary wouldn’t have. Would she?
“Mom. Who’s here?” Her voice sounded shrill and she was quite sure Rosemary could pick up on it.
“I didn’t know you were coming tonight,” her mom said defensively. “You told me you were coming tomorrow, so I…I invited Alexandro and his daughter for dinner. He’s been such a help to me with Wild Hearts. I could never have set up all those tents or moved in the furniture without him. I’ve been meaning to have him and his daughter over for dinner but the time got away from me, until here we are. I’m sorry. You weren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow and I didn’t think it would be a problem.”
The news hit her like a hatchet to the chest. Alex was here, on the other side of the door. Alex, who had once been her best friend, the man she thought would be her forever.
Alex, who had betrayed her.
She had seen him exactly twice since they broke up a decade ago.
One previous encounter had been a few years after he married Claudia Crane, when she had bumped into him at the grocery store while home from college for a brief visit.
The second time had been four months earlier at Lily’s memorial service.
That was two times too many, really. Three encounters was asking far too much of her.
She wanted to jump back into her car and head back to Sacramento.
No. This was silly. She had known she would see him this summer. How could she avoid it? Cape Sanctuary was a small town. Not only that, but his house and boat charter business were both just down the road from Moongate Farm.
The concept had seemed fine in the abstract. Like algebra and the periodic table.
It had been nearly a decade, after all. She was a completely different person from that besotted girl she had once been.
He meant nothing to her anymore. She should be able to blithely chat with him about what he had been up to the past decade.
Yeah. Not happening.
Maybe she could turn around, climb back into her car and go hang out at The Sea Shanty until he was gone.
No. That was just kicking the can down the road. She had to face him eventually. Why not now?
She could come up with a dozen reasons, but none of them seemed compelling enough for her to flee without at least saying hello.
“I’m sorry,” Rosemary said again, her hand on the doorknob. “It’s fine, Mom. Don’t worry about it. Don’t leave them standing outside. I’ll just say hello and then head over to the bunk-house to settle in. You won’t even know I’m here. It will be fine.”
She didn’t believe that for a minute, but she forced herself to put on a pleasant smile as her mother opened the door.
And there he was.
As gorgeous as ever, with those thick dark eyelashes, strong features, full mouth that could kiss like no one else she had ever met…
Her toes curled at the unwelcome memories and she forced her attention away from Alex to the young girl standing beside him. She had dark hair that swung to her shoulders, bright brown eyes and dimples like her father.
Right now she was staring at Violet like she had just grown a second head.
“Miss Lily?” she whispered, big brown eyes wide and mouth ajar.
Of course. Ariana thought Violet was her sister. It was a natural mistake, as they were identical twins, though as an adult, Vi had mostly seen the differences between them.
She approached the girl with the same patient, reassuring mile she used in her classroom when one of her students was upset about something.
“Hi there,” she said calmly, doing her best to ignore Alex’s intense gaze for now. “You must be Ariana. I’m Violet. Lily was my twin sister.”
“You look just like her,” the girl said breathlessly. Her gaze narrowed. “Except I think maybe your hair is a little shorter than hers was. And she had a tattoo of flowers on her wrist and you don’t.”
When they were in college, Lily had insisted on getting a tiny bouquet of flowers, intertwined lilies and violets and camellias to represent the three Porter sisters.
She had begged Violet and Cami to both get one, too. Cami, older by two years and always far more mature than either Vi or Lily, had politely explained that she didn’t want any tattoos because of the serious nature of the law career she was pursuing. Violet had promised she would but then kept putting it off.
She still could go get a tattoo. After Lily’s death, she had thought more seriously about it, but the loss of her sister was always with her. She didn’t need a mark on her skin to remind her Lily wasn’t here.
She forced a smile for the girl. “Right. No tattoo. That’s one sure way of telling us apart.”
Plus, she was alive and Lily wasn’t. But she wasn’t cruel enough to say that out loud, especially not to this child.
Lily had drowned after rescuing Ariana and a visiting friend when a rogue wave from an offshore winter storm dragged the girls out to sea. Lily had somehow managed to get both girls back to safety, but the Pacific had been relentless that day, and before Lily could climb out herself, another wave had pulled her under.
Violet certainly couldn’t blame this child for a cruel act of nature.
It’s the time of year when new beachy summer reads are popping up on the shelves of booksellers and libraries and women’s fiction lovers! The covers alone will make you want to book a vacation to a destination involving sand, surf, and sun. They’re usually light enough – in both physical weight and actual storyline – to toss in your tote and enjoy poolside with a straw hat, sunglasses, and cool drink – just don’t forget the sunscreen!
Two of the titles I was gifted by the publisher and got to dive into recently – reading on my couch and not on distant sandy shores – include A Family Affair by Robyn Carr (of Virgin River fame – she’s been a go-to author since maternity leave with my little ones who are not so little anymore!) and the prolific Brenda Novak’s Summer On the Island whose works I have also enjoyed over the years. Both titles were released earlier this week (April 5th) and are available to purchase wherever your heart desires.
Typically, I would offer a separate review for each title but in celebration of the fact that they’re both featured in HTP’s Women’s Fiction Blog Tour, I’m going to offer a combined review. The books have similarities – both are written by popular, accomplished authors. They were both a little heavier than I was anticipating with grief and infidelity being a foundational aspect of both stories. Yet they still contained the elements of romance (with a little spice), family bonds, friendship, resilience, and forgiveness that you want and expect. Don’t be concerned that when you pick up one, you’ve already read the plot for the other – each novel offers its own distinctive dynamic.
The key characters are varied with major personality differences. (As an aside, some of the supporting characters needed personality transplants and in Summer On The Island, I’m not sure their stories added much to the plotline.) The struggles each family faces are integral to their personal development. The voices, the plotting, the settings – opposite coasts, and the storylines themselves are unique. They are the heartwarming happy-ending easy reads you expect from each individual author. Do I have one title I preferred over the other? Yes – I connected with one a little better. Will I tell you which one it was? Absolutely not! I think each novel will appeal to its own readership and in honesty, they were both enjoyable – messy topics aside. They are both worth picking up if contemporary women’s fiction is the genre you like to have on hand! I’ve included the book descriptions below.
If you read either or both of these titles, let me know in the comments! Did you prefer one to the other? Which character was a standout for you?
My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copies and opportunity to participate in this blog tour. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.
Summer on the Island Brenda Novak On Sale Date: April 5, 2022 ISBN 9780778311850 Publisher: MIRA
ABOUT THE BOOK: For fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Nancy Thayer, New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak’s newest standalone novel about friendship, family and the ties that bind and challenge us follows three friends as they escape to a coastal Florida town for the summer.
Marlo Madsen has just been through a global pandemic that turned her life—and the lives of almost everyone she knows—upside down. Her beloved father has died from COVID. Helping her mother, who has MS, handle his estate means returning to the small coastal Florida town where she was raised.
Having just left her job as a divorce attorney—which paid well but showed her too much of the worst in people—she’s invited two friends to join her for a seaside summer. The two friends are also facing huge life changes after the worsening California wildfires took everything from them, and need to decompress and recuperate. And travel has long been forbidden, so they are beyond appreciative for the ability to escape.
Unfortunately, a restful summer doesn’t seem to be in the cards, especially when Marlo learns about a special provision in her father’s will that reveals he has a love child with Rosemarie, the housekeeper who’s worked for the family for years. Rosemarie’s son was around while Marlo was growing up, but she never suspected a thing. Nobody did. And once the news is revealed, the fallout will cause waves big enough to topple two families and a whole community.
A FAMILY AFFAIR Robyn Carr ISBN: 9780778331742 Publication Date: April 5, 2022 Publisher: MIRA
ABOUT THE BOOK: An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.
When a woman notices a young pregnant woman attending her husband’s funeral she realizes his mid-life crisis went far beyond his weekend warrior lifestyle. But Carr’s story of a family dealing with their grief is full of surprises and as everyone examines their own beliefs and behavior, they become closer than they ever thought possible. Carr tackles the serious issues women face with humor and heart.
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
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
I am a sucker for a dual-timeline novel involving family and WWII legacies. I’m so lucky to have a digital review copy of JoAnn Ross’ latest work, The Inheritance, to add to my must-reads this month. I absolutely love the cover and have an excerpt to share with you below as part of the HTP Books Fall 2021 Women’s Fiction Blog Tour.
Conflict photographer Jackson Swann had traveled to dark and deadly places in the world most people would never see. Nor want to. Along with dodging bullets and mortars, he’d survived a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, gotten shot mere inches from his heart in Niger and been stung by a death-stalker scorpion while embedded with the French Foreign Legion in Mali.
Some of those who’d worked with him over the decades had called him reckless. Rash. Dangerous. Over late-night beers or whatever else passed as liquor in whatever country they’d all swarmed to, other photographers and foreign journalists would argue about whether that bastard Jackson Swann had a death wish or merely considered himself invincible.
He did, after all, rush into high-octane situations no sane person would ever consider, and even when the shit hit the fan, somehow, he’d come out alive and be on the move again. Chasing the next war or crisis like a drug addict chased a high. The truth was that Jack had never believed himself to be immortal. Still, as he looked out over the peaceful view of rolling hills, the cherry trees wearing their spring profusion of pink blossoms, and acres of vineyards, he found it ironic that after having evaded the Grim Reaper so many times over so many decades, it was an aggressive and rapidly spreading lung cancer that was going to kill him.
Which was why he was here, sitting on the terraced patio of Chateau de Madeleine, the towering gray stone house that his father, Robert Swann, had built for his beloved war bride, Madeleine, to ease her homesickness. Oregon’s Willamette Valley was a beautiful place. But it was not Madeleine’s child-hood home in France’s Burgundy region where much of her family still lived.
Family. Jack understood that to many, the American dream featured a cookie-cutter suburban house, a green lawn you had to mow every weekend, a white picket fence, happy, well-fed kids and a mutt who’d greet him with unrestrained canine glee whenever he returned home from work. It wasn’t a bad dream. But it wasn’t, and never would be, his dream.
How could it be with the survivor’s guilt that shadowed him like a tribe of moaning ghosts? Although he’d never been all that introspective, Jack realized that the moral dilemma he’d experienced every time he’d had to force himself to re-main emotionally removed from the bloody scenes of chaos and death he was viewing through the lens of his camera had left him too broken to feel, or even behave like a normal human being.
Ten years ago, after his strong, robust father died of a sudden heart attack while fly-fishing, Jack had inherited the winery with his mother, who’d professed no interest in the day-to-day running of the family business. After signing over control of the winery to him, and declaring the rambling house too large for one woman, Madeleine Swann had moved into the guesthouse next to the garden she’d begun her first year in Oregon. A garden that supplied the vegetables and herbs she used for cooking many of the French meals she’d grown up with.
His father’s death had left Jack in charge of two hundred and sixty acres of vineyards and twenty acres of orchards. Not wanting, nor able, to give up his wanderlust ways to settle down and become a farmer of grapes and cherries, Jack had hired Gideon Byrne, a recent widower with a five-year-old daughter, away from a Napa winery to serve as both manager and vintner.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to call them?” Gideon, walking toward him, carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses, asked not for the first time over the past weeks.
“The only reason that Tess would want to see me would be to wave me off to hell.” In the same way he’d never softened the impact of his photos, Jack never minced words nor romanticized his life. There would be no dramatic scenes with his three daughters—all now grown women with lives of their own—hovering over his deathbed.
“Have you considered that she might want to have an opportunity to talk with you? If for no other reason to ask—”
“Why I deserted her before her second birthday and never looked back? I’m sure her mother’s told her own version of the story, and the truth is that the answers are too damn complicated and the time too long past for that discussion.” It was also too late for redemption.
Jack doubted his eldest daughter would give a damn even if he could’ve tried to explain. She’d have no way of knowing that he’d kept track of her all these years, blaming himself when she’d spiraled out of control so publicly during her late teens and early twenties. Perhaps, if she’d had a father who came home every night for dinner, she would have had a more normal, stable life than the Hollywood hurricane her mother had thrown her into before her third birthday.
Bygones, he reminded himself. Anything he might say to his firstborn would be too little, too late. Tess had no reason to travel to Oregon for his sake, but hopefully, once he was gone, curiosity would get the better of her. His girls should know each other. It was long past time.
“Charlotte, then,” Gideon pressed. “You and Blanche are still technically married.”
“Technically being the operative word.” The decades-long separation from his Southern socialite wife had always suited them both just fine. According to their prenuptial agreement, Blanche would continue to live her privileged life in Charleston, without being saddled with a full-time live-in husband, who’d seldom be around at any rate. Divorce, she’d informed him, was not an option. And if she had discreet affairs from time to time, who would blame her? Certainly not him.
“That’s no reason not to give Charlotte an opportunity to say goodbye. How many times have you seen her since she went to college? Maybe twice a year?”
“You’re pushing again,” Jack shot back. Hell, you’d think a guy would be allowed to die in peace without Jiminy Cricket sitting on his shoulder. “Though of the three of them, Char-lotte will probably be the most hurt,” he allowed.
His middle daughter had always been a sweet girl, running into his arms, hair flying behind her like a bright gold flag to give her daddy some “sugar”—big wet kisses on those rare occasions he’d wind his way back to Charleston. Or drop by Savannah to take her out to dinner while she’d been attending The Savannah School of Art and Design.
“The girl doesn’t possess Blanche’s steel magnolia strength.”
Having grown up with a mother who could find fault in the smallest of things, Charlotte was a people pleaser, and that part of her personality would kick into high gear whenever he rolled into the city. “And, call me a coward, but I’d just as soon not be around when her pretty, delusional world comes crashing down around her.” He suspected there were those in his daughter’s rarified social circle who knew the secret that the Charleston PI he’d kept on retainer hadn’t had any trouble uncovering.
“How about Natalie?” Gideon continued to press. “She doesn’t have any reason to be pissed at you. But I’ll bet she will be if you die without a word of warning. Especially after losing her mother last year.”
“Which is exactly why I don’t want to put her through this.”
He’d met Josette Seurat, the ebony-haired, dark-eyed French Jamaican mother of his youngest daughter, when she’d been singing in a club in the spirited Oberkampf district of Paris’s eleventh arrondissement. He’d fallen instantly, and by the next morning Jack knew that not only was the woman he’d spent the night having hot sex with his first true love, she was also the only woman he’d ever love. Although they’d never married, they’d become a couple, while still allowing space for each other to maintain their own individual lives, for twenty-six years. And for all those years, despite temptation from beautiful women all over the globe, Jack had remained faithful. He’d never had a single doubt that Josette had, as well.
With Josette having been so full of life, her sudden death from a brain embolism had hit hard. Although Jack had im-mediately flown to Paris from Syria to attend the funeral at a church built during the reign of Napoleon III, he’d been too deep in his own grief, and suffering fatigue—which, rather than jet lag, as he’d assumed, had turned out to be cancer—to provide the emotional support and comfort his third daughter had deserved.
“Josette’s death is the main reason I’m not going to drag Natalie here to watch me die. And you might as well quit playing all the guilt cards because I’m as sure of my decision as I was yesterday. And the day before that. And every other time over the past weeks you’ve brought it up. Bad enough you coerced me into making those damn videos. Like I’m some documentary maker.”
To Jack’s mind, documentary filmmakers were storytellers who hadn’t bothered to learn to edit. How hard was it to spend anywhere from two to ten hours telling a story he could capture in one single, perfectly timed photograph?
“The total length of all three of them is only twenty minutes,” Gideon said equably.
There were times when Jack considered that the man had the patience of a saint. Which was probably necessary when you’d chosen to spend your life watching grapes grow, then waiting years before the wine you’d made from those grapes was ready to drink. Without Gideon Byrne to run this place, Jack probably would have sold it off to one of the neighboring vineyards years ago, with the caveat that his mother would be free to keep the guesthouse, along with the larger, showier one that carried her name. Had he done that he would have ended up regretting not having a thriving legacy to pass on to his daughters.
“The total time works out to less than ten minutes a daughter. Which doesn’t exactly come close to a Ken Burns series,” Gideon pointed out.
“I liked Burns’s baseball one,” Jack admitted reluctantly. “And the one on country music. But hell, it should’ve been good, given that he took eight years to make it.”
Jack’s first Pulitzer had admittedly been a stroke of luck, being in the right place at the right time. More care had gone into achieving the perfect photos for other awards, but while he admired Burns’s work, he’d never have the patience to spend that much time on a project. His French mother had claimed he’d been born a pierre roulante—rolling stone—al-ways needing to be on the move. Which wasn’t conducive to family life, which is why both his first and second marriages had failed. Because he could never be the husband either of his very different wives had expected.
“Do you believe in life after death?” he asked.
Gideon took his time to answer, looking out over the vine-yards. “I like to think so. Having lost Becky too soon, it’d be nice to believe we’ll connect again, somewhere, somehow.” He shrugged. “On the other hand, there are days that I think this might be our only shot.”
“Josette came again last night.” “You must have enjoyed that.” “I always do.”
If The Inheritance piques your interest, it published on September 7th and should be available for purchase at all your local booksellers and major book retailers. Be sure to look for it on shelves close to you! If you’d like to read and discuss, I’m always interested in hearing thoughts from other booklovers.
My thanks to HTP Books for the complimentary copy of this much anticipated novel.