Book Excerpt: Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne

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.

2

VIOLET

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.

Or for her parentage.

Excerpted from Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne. Copyright © 2022 by RaeAnne Thayne. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

I received a complimentary copy of this title. Thoughts expressed are entirely my own.

HTP Books Women’s Fiction – Blog Tour & Book Reviews

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.

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird

I was supposed to post this yesterday, but as usual, I had no idea what the date actually was. Does anyone else get caught up in the day-to-day but lose sight of where we actually are on the calendar? Speaking of dates, on February 8th, debut author Kristen Bird released The Night She Went Missing, published by Mira and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a review copy.

About the Book:
Months after she disappeared, a high school senior is found floating in the town’s harbor, alive but unconscious. Where has Emily been, and how did she get into the water? In Kristen Bird’s “gripping” (Publishers Weekly) debut The Night She Went Missing, three friends-to-frenemies mothers in a close-knit, wealthy Texas community decide to investigate after the police hit a dead end. While each woman has secrets to protect, they’ll all be forced to look at their own children – or each other’s – to uncover the truth.

With the relentless pacing and complex female characters of Big Little Lies and an expertly crafted small-town setting, The Night She Went Missing introduces Kristen Bird as a new force in the world of domestic suspense. Her novel goes well beyond that, exploring complex questions about mothers and daughters, loss, and the line between taking chances and living dangerously. 

My Thoughts:
This was slow-burn suspense that started really strong. One of my complaints is that halfway through, I really wanted it to pick up speed. With horribly flawed characters (who needs enemies with such cut-throat so-called friends?) and alternating viewpoints, this delved into the lengths a mother goes to in protecting her children and how truth can become a fluid concept in such a close-knit, insular community. As a woman, I very much wanted to see justice done. As a mother, I could relate somewhat to the struggle between trusting your child and questioning their choices. As a fairly decent human, I was appalled at how twisted this story unfolded and the diabolical elements that led to not only Emily’s disappearance but the obstructions of justice that hindered the investigation. While it was dark – most suspense has that aspect – I didn’t find it disturbingly unsettling although there is definitely content that may bother some readers. It was, for me, middling entertainment that will be enjoyable for some but might not quite meet the mark for others expecting a high stakes domestic suspense.

The Night She Went Missing 
Author: Kristen Bird
ISBN: 9780778332107
Publication Date: February 8, 2022
Publisher: MIRA

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher with thanks. Opinions are entirely my own.

HTP Winter Reads Blog Tour: The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

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.

Book Summary:

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

Harlequin Winter Believer Blog Tour – Her Christmas Dilemma by Brenda Minton {Excerpt}

Another title I’ve recently had the chance to read compliments of the publisher is the recent release, Her Christmas Dilemma by Brenda Minton. It’s just one of the books featured in the Harlequin Winter Believers Blog Tour. It’s a part of the Love Inspired imprint of Harlequin, featuring inspirational romance. I had a few mixed feelings during this one – it still felt a little “judgy” to me. I don’t want to give away any major spoilers but think the main female lead didn’t need redemption in the classic sense – she needed love and support and a really good therapist. Regardless, my overall impression was that this was a sweet, heartfelt read with a leaning towards faith over religion,

Excerpt:

I’ll take the job,” she said, as if they’d been discussing the job.

“I’m sorry?”

“Have you hired someone?” She glanced at her watch. “In the past fifteen minutes?”

“No, I haven’t. I…” He didn’t know what to say. This woman had secrets. She had a brokenness that scared the daylights out of him.

But she made his niece smile. For that matter, she made him smile.

“If you’d rather find someone else, I understand. I’m obviously not experienced. I’ve already admitted that I can’t cook and I’m also only here temporarily, but I could fill the spot until you find someone more suitable.”

“What made you change your mind?” he asked, glad that his niece had wandered ahead to talk to a friend.

She shrugged a shoulder and glanced around. “A lot of reasons. Shay needs someone who understands what she’s going through. I do know how much it hurts to feel abandoned by the people who should care the most. Also, I feel the need to do more than sit by myself in Nan’s boat shop. Plus, Nan fired me this morning.”

“She fired you?” He couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Yeah, she did.” Her eyes briefly twinkled. “She said I’m in her way. She likes her solitary time. She doesn’t mind my help, but she doesn’t want me to become a fixture in her shop.”

“Shay is a challenge,” he warned.

If she worked for him, could he remain impartial, not getting involved, not caring what her story might be? He doubted it. But he had to do what Shay’s parents hadn’t done: he had to put his niece first. For some reason, he thought this woman might be the right thing for Shay. For the time being.

“I need a challenge.” She smiled.

“I get weekly calls from the school. I think she thinks if she’s bad enough, her parents will ride to the rescue. They won’t.”

“I’m sorry about that. Parents aren’t always what we need them to be. Sometimes they can’t be, sometimes they choose not to be.”

It made him angry to think about his sister and brother-in-law, the choices they’d made putting them first and Shay last. Could this woman put Shay first? “She needs people who will support her but not allow her to get away with the trouble she’s causing.”

“I can be that person,” she assured him with a subtle lift of her chin. “Give me a week. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to boats.”

He grinned. “I guess we can give it a one-week trial. Can you be at the house tomorrow at six?”

“So early?”

“Second thoughts?” he asked.

“Only for a moment,” she admitted. Then they were next in line to get plates, so they spoke no more on the subject.

Tucker was generally an optimistic person, but he knew that letting Clara into his home—and his life—was going to bring an array of problems.

First and foremost, he liked her. He liked her a lot. And that was a big problem.

Book Review: A Stranger’s Game by Colleen Coble

A year has come and passed without any big changes to behold. There is a part of me that appreciates the same old and other parts of me just want some excitement to shake things up. One-way trip to somewhere warm with beachfront views? Anyone? One thing that remains the same is my forever overcommitment and forever under-performance. I always grossly overestimate what I can commit to and underestimate my need for simple times of nothingness. This applies to many areas of my life, but I’m specifically finding myself backlogged on some of my ARCs (advanced readers copies). I had a whole list of must-read Christmas novels… and well, as you know, Christmas has come and gone.

I’ve posted about Colleen Coble before. I would dare say she is my go-to Christian romantic suspense author. Judging by the number of awards she’s won or been nominated for, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

A Stranger’s Game is Coble’s latest release and I was able to get a copy for review through NetGalley.

A wealthy hotel heiress.

Even though Torie Bergstrom hasn’t been back to Georgia since she was ten, she’s happy to arrange a job for her best friend at one of the family properties on Jekyll Island.

A suspicious death.

But when Torie learns that her best friend has drowned, she knows it is more than a tragic accident: Lisbeth was terrified of water and wouldn’t have gone swimming by choice.

A fight for the truth.

Torie goes to the hotel under an alias, desperate to find answers. When she meets Joe Abbott and his daughter rescuing baby turtles, she finds a tentative ally.

The more Torie and Joe dig, the more elusive the truth seems. One thing is clear: someone will risk anything—even more murder—to keep their secrets buried.

It was excellent! There is a thrumming hum of danger and intrigue throughout with lots of plotting and drama. It was fast-paced – a whole lot happened between the pages. I read it quickly – in less than a day – and one of the things I love about Coble’s writing is that by the end of the book, I’m curious enough to find information relevant to the plot of the novel – in this case, man-made artificial reefs featuring old transit cars. Who knew?!?

I received a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. Opinions expressed are my own.

Title: A Stranger’s Game
Author: Colleen Coble
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 0785228578
Published: January 4, 2022

Blog Tour & Book Review: Nanny Dearest by Flora Collins

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.

MY THOUGHTS:

First, this book has some content warnings for a number of things. If you want them, let me know. Secondly, it is definitely a slow burn. It took a while to get going and through that time, the characters were both sympathetic, pathetic, and utterly detestable. I didn’t like them, but I felt sorry for both the protagonist and antagonist in turns. It wasn’t particularly thrilled or suspenseful – I guess I like a bit more speed at times – but I was left questioning what was wrong with people by the end and I didn’t see every twist coming my way. It was entertaining in its own right despite the slow pacing, and let’s just say I’m glad I don’t have a nanny to come haunt my future and play on my frailties, thank you very much.

Nanny Dearest : A Novel 
Flora Collins
On Sale Date: November 30, 2021
9780778311614
Trade Paperback
336 pages

Fan Club Blog Tour – Novel by Erin Mayer – An Excerpt

Fan Club by Erin Mayer published earlier this week. I got my hands on a digital Advanced Readers Copy from the publisher, Mira Books, and am lucky enough to share the first chapter excerpt with you. It was interesting – a weirdly twisted rat’s nest of obesssive behaviour and the drawbacks of living in the spotlight of a digitally-reliant, social media driven society, heavy with a crafted “facade of intimacy.”

ABOUT THE BOOK:

In this raucous psychological thriller, a disillusioned millennial joins a cliquey fan club, only to discover that the group is bound together by something darker than devotion.


CHAPTER 1 EXCERPT:

I’m outside for a cumulative ten minutes each day before work. Five to walk from my apartment building to the subway, another five to go from the subway to the anemic obelisk that houses my office. I try to breathe as deeply as I can in those minutes, because I never know how long it will be until I take fresh air into my lungs again. Not that the city air is all that fresh, tinged with the sharp stench of old garbage, pollution’s metallic swirl. But it beats the stale oxygen of the office, already filtered through distant respiratory systems. Sometimes, during slow moments at my desk, I inhale and try to imagine those other nostrils and lungs that have already processed this same air. I’m not sure how it works in reality, any knowledge I once had of the intricacies of breathing having been long ago discarded by more useful information, but the image comforts me. Usually, I picture a middle-aged man with greying temples, a fringe of visible nose hair, and a coffee stain on the collar of his baby blue button-down. He looks nothing and everything like my father. An every-father, if you will.

My office is populated by dyed-blonde or pierced brunette women in their mid-to-late twenties and early thirties. The occasional man, just a touch older than most of the women, but still young enough to give off the faint impression that he DJs at Meatpacking nightclubs for extra cash on the weekends.

We are the new corporate Americans, the offspring of the grey-templed men. We wear tastefully ripped jeans and cozy sweaters to the office instead of blazers and trousers. Display a tattoo here and there—our supervisors don’t mind; in fact, they have the most ink. We eat yogurt for breakfast, work through lunch, leave the office at six if we’re lucky, arriving home with just enough time to order dinner from an app and watch two or three hours of Netflix before collapsing into bed from exhaustion we haven’t earned. Exhaustion that lives in the brain, not the body, and cannot be relieved by a mere eight hours of sleep.

Nobody understands exactly what it is we do here, and neither do we. I push through revolving glass door, run my wallet over the card reader, which beeps as my ID scans through the stiff leather, and half-wave in the direction of the uniformed security guard behind the desk, whose face my eyes never quite reach so I can’t tell you what he looks like. He’s just one of the many set-pieces staging the scene of my days.

The elevator ride to the eleventh floor is long enough to skim one-third of a longform article on my phone. I barely register what it’s about, something loosely political, or who is standing next to me in the cramped elevator.

When the doors slide open on eleven, we both get off.

In the dim eleventh-floor lobby, a humming neon light shaping the company logo assaults my sleep-swollen eyes like the prick of a dozen tiny needles. Today, a small section has burned out, creating a skip in the letter w. Below the logo is a tufted cerulean velvet couch where guests wait to be welcomed. To the left there’s a mirrored wall reflecting the vestibule; people sometimes pause there to take photos on the way to and from the office, usually on the Friday afternoon before a long weekend. I see the photos later while scrolling through my various feeds at home in bed. They hit me one after another like shots of tequila: See ya Tuesday! *margarita emoji* Peace out for the long weekend! *palm tree emoji* Byeeeeee! *peace sign emoji.*

She steps in front of me, my elevator companion. Black Rag & Bone ankle boots gleaming, blade-tipped pixie cut grazing her ears. Her neck piercing taunts me, those winking silver balls on either side of her spine. She’s Lexi O’ Connell, the website’s senior editor. She walks ahead with her head angled down, thumb working her phone’s keyboard, and doesn’t look up as she shoves the interior door open, palm to the glass.

I trip over the back of one clunky winter boot with the other as I speed up, considering whether to call out for her attention. It’s what a good web producer, one who is eager to move on from the endless drudgery of copy-pasting and resizing and into the slightly more thrilling drudgery of writing and rewriting, would do.

By the time I regain my footing, I come face-to-face with the smear of her handprint as the door glides shut in front of me.

Monday.

I work at a website.

It’s like most other websites; we publish content, mostly articles: news stories, essays, interviews, glossed over with the polished opalescent sheen of commercialized feminism. The occasional quiz, video, or photoshoot rounds out our offerings. This is how websites work in the age of ad revenue: Each provides a slightly varied selection of mindless entertainment, news updates, and watered-down hot takes about everything from climate change to plus size fashion, hawking their wares on the digital marketplace, leaving The Reader to wander drunkenly through the bazaar, wielding her cursor like an Amex. You can find everything you’d want to read in one place online, dozens of times over. The algorithms have erased choice. Search engines and social media platforms, they know what you want before you do.

As a web producer, my job is to input article text into the website’s proprietary content management system, or CMS. I’m a digitized high school janitor; I clean up the small messes, the litter that misses the rim of the garbage can. I make sure the links are working and the images are high resolution. When anything bigger comes up, it goes to an editor or IT. I’m an expert in nothing, a master of the miniscule fixes.

There are five of us who produce for the entire website, each handling about 20 articles a day. We sit at a long grey table on display at the very center of the open office, surrounded on all sides by editors and writers.

The web producers’ bullpen, Lexi calls it.

The light fixture above the table buzzes loudly like a nest of bees is trapped inside the fluorescent tubing. I drop my bag on the floor and take a seat, shedding my coat like a layer of skin. My chair faces the beauty editor’s desk, the cruelest seat in the house. All day long, I watch Charlotte Miller receive package after package stuffed with pastel tissue paper. Inside those packages: lipstick, foundation, perfume, happiness. A thousand simulacrums of Christmas morning spread across the two-hundred and sixty-one workdays of the year. She has piled the trappings of Brooklyn hipsterdom on top of her blonde, big-toothed, prettiness. Wire-frame glasses, a tattoo of a constellation on her inner left forearm, a rose gold nose ring. She seems Texan, but she’s actually from some wholesome upper Midwestern state, I can never remember which one. Right now, she applies red lipstick from a warm golden tube in the flat gleam of the golden mirror next to her monitor. Everything about her is color-coordinated.

I open my laptop. The screen blinks twice and prompts me for my password. I type it in, and the CMS appears, open to where I left it when I signed off the previous evening. Our CMS is called LIZZIE. There’s a rumor that it was named after Lizzie Borden, christened during the pre-launch party when the tech team pounded too many shots after they finished coding. As in, “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks.” Lizzie Borden rebranded in the 21st century as a symbol of righteous feminine anger. LIZZIE, my best friend, my closest confidant. She’s an equally comforting and infuriating presence, constant in her bland attention. She gazes at me, always emotionless, saying nothing as she watches me teeter on the edge, fighting tears or trying not to doze at my desk or simply staring, in search of answers she cannot provide.

My eyes droop in their sockets as I scan the articles that were submitted before I arrived this morning. The whites threaten to turn liquid and splash onto my keyboard, pool between the keys and jiggle like eggs minus the yolks. Thinking of this causes a tiny laugh to slip out from between my clenched lips. Charlotte slides the cap onto her lipstick, glares at me over the lip of the mirror.

“Morning.”

That’s Tom, the only male web producer, who sits across and slightly left of me, keeping my view of Charlotte’s towering wonderland of boxes and bags clear. He’s four years older than me, twenty-eight, but the plush chipmunk curve of his cheeks makes him appear much younger, like he’s about to graduate high school. He’s cute, though, in the way of a movie star who always gets cast as the geek in teen comedies. Definitely hot but dress him down in an argyle sweater and glasses and he could be a Hollywood nerd. I’ve always wanted to ask him why he works here, doing this. There isn’t really a web producer archetype. We’re all different, a true island of misfit toys.

But if there is a type, Tom doesn’t fit it. He seems smart and driven. He’s consistently the only person who attends company book club meetings having read that month’s selection from cover to cover. I’ve never asked him why he works here because we don’t talk much. No one in our office talks much. Not out loud, anyway. We communicate through a private Morse code, fingers dancing on keys, expressions scanned and evaluated from a distance.

Sometimes I think about flirting with Tom, for something to do, but he wears a wedding ring. Not that I care about his wife; it’s more the fear of rebuff and rejection, of hearing the low-voiced Sorry, I’m married, that stops me. He usually sails in a few minutes after I do, smelling like his bodega coffee and the egg sandwich he carefully unwraps and eats at his desk. He nods in my direction. Morning is the only word we’ve exchanged the entire time I’ve worked here, which is coming up on a year in January. It’s not even a greeting, merely a statement of fact. It is morning and we’re both here. Again.

Three hundred and sixty-five days lost to the hum and twitch and click. I can’t seem to remember how I got here. It all feels like a dream. The mundane kind, full of banal details, but something slightly off about it all. I don’t remember applying for the job, or interviewing. One day, an offer letter appeared in my inbox and I signed.

And here I am. Day after day, I wait for someone to need me. I open articles. I tweak the formatting, check the links, correct the occasional typo that catches my eye. It isn’t really my job to copy edit, or even to read closely, but sometimes I notice things, grammatical errors or awkward phrasing, and I then can’t not notice them; I have to put them right or else they nag like a papercut on the soft webbing connecting two fingers. The brain wants to be useful. It craves activity, even after almost three hundred and sixty-five days of operating at its lowest frequency.

I open emails. I download attachments. I insert numbers into spreadsheets. I email those spreadsheets to Lexi and my direct boss, Ashley, who manages the homepage.

None of it ever seems to add up to anything.

Excerpted from Fan Club by Erin Mayer, Copyright © 2021 by Erin Mayer. Published by MIRA Books.


Fan Club : A Novel 
Erin Mayer
On Sale Date: October 26, 2021
ISBN 9780778311591
Trade Paperback
$16.99 USD
320 pages

Book Review: Once Upon A Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

It’s not often that an ARC I’m lucky enough to read via NetGalley becomes an all time favourite book deserving a permanent place in my library collection, but Patti Callhan’s Once Upon A Wardrobe is just that good. Now that it’s on sale to the public (released today), I’ll be adding it to my bookshelves. It will be a classic to be read throughout the years.

When asked what I loved in particular about this story by a fellow booklover, I had a difficult time putting it into words. It is about CS Lewis and his inspiration for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but it told his story through a bigger story. It was heartbreaking, but Callahan also did a remarkable job of blending fact and fiction and making you want to celebrate imagination.

There is so much warmth and love in this book, like being wrapped in a hug made of words. It’s a delightful celebration of worlds beyond our imagination and a tribute to wonder and whimsy.  It’s Magical. Poignant. Immersive. Beautiful!

There are heartbreaking moments, lovable characters, rich backdrops, and the plot intricately weaves this fictional emotional tale of reason vs. imagination with these historical anecdotes and crafting of a real life person. I particularly enjoyed the afterword from C.S. Lewis’ stepson. I’d recommend for those who have read Becoming Mrs. Lewis, of course, but also for fans of historical women’s fiction.

My thanks to the publisher, Harper Muse, for my complimentary copy. Opinions are entirely my own.

Once Upon A Wardrobe
Patti Callahan
ISBN 9780785251729
Publication Date: October 19, 2021
https://www.patticallahanhenry.com/

Blog Tour: The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross – An Excerpt

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.

Prologue

Aberdeen, Oregon

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.”

Excerpted from The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross, Copyright © 2021 by JoAnn Ross. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

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.