A Testimony and a Praise

These last few months, I have felt as though I knew what it was like to be the desperate woman who reached out to touch Jesus for her healing. I have been to specialist after specialist and had more medical tests than I knew existed, but the answer to my fainting and dizziness has been elusive. Then on Thursday, I saw a Balance Specialist. If you are blinking and looking again to see if you read that right, I can assure you that there is such a thing although it’s a totally new concept to me, too. My cardiologist had done innumerable tests and suggested I see my ENT to check for an inner ear problem. My regular ENT referred me to a Balance Specialist, a physician’s assistant who is actually a specialized physical therapist. I must admit that I went to the office with a little trepidation, wondering what in the world the new test would be like. This likable thirty-ish young man spent about half an hour with me. First he used some goggle like instrument that made me feel as though I were playing a video game in total darkness. He said that was checking my inner ear and there was no problem there. Then he had me lie down on a table, took my blood pressure, sat me up suddenly and took it again. Voila! An answer! It seems that the med that I am taking for my high blood pressure is a Beta blocker that keeps my heart from speeding up as it needs to do when I change positions. As a result, I get dizzy and if it doesn’t correct quickly enough, I faint. So, I was given instructions to talk to my cardiologist about changing or modifying my medicine. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But apparently it wasn’t since I have been to five different specialists since February and not one of them picked up on this problem. Anyway, I still have a few more tests to undergo to satisfy my neurologist but I am delighted to have an answer that seems to be something that can be easily addressed. What amazes me is that God knew all along what has been happening and has kept me right in the palm of His hand. I haven’t been frustrated, angry or discouraged as I am accustomed to getting when faced when plans that had to change. God has comforted me and encouraged me that everything will be okay if I am patient.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my “word” for the year is TRUST. I set out at the beginning of the year with the goal in mind that I will learn to lean into the Lord, trusting Him no matter what. God took me at my word and is helping me to fulfill that promise.

I would like to think that the worst is behind me, but even if that is not proven to be true, I know that I can completely trust God’s love for me. My health may not be what I want it to be, but my soul is thriving with God.

This is a quotation from a devotional that I read this week. Hudson Taylor had a lot of challenges in his life, yet he could still write these words and mean them with his whole heart. I plan to copy this and put it on a card on my bathroom mirror, just to remind myself that I am still moving forward and God is still with me, fulfilling His promises to me.

What has God done for you lately? What is your testimony of His greatness in your life? Small things, big things, all things. Give God all the glory!

Thank You, God, for Spring

Spring has arrived in all of its colorful glory and I am so thankful to see the beauty all around me. God has provided awesome displays of His handiwork everywhere we look. We just have to take time to appreciate it.

It’s the season of hummingbirds, flowers, blooming trees and blossoming roses. It’s the season when God makes all things new. Although sometimes the winter seems long and never-ending, we have to remember that spring is coming. Even as the snow covers the ground, the plants that will come forth in the spring are already getting prepared to come out and up and astonish us with their beauty. It’s all part of God’s plan…a stage of dormancy and then an eruption of beauty. I think that says something about God’s plan for us, too.

To Gain Peace, Be Steadfast

Most who know me well are amazed that I have not been “falling apart” lately as I go through multiple medical tests weekly, all without really coming to an answer for my medical problems. However, those who know me well also know that I have put my trust in God and my eyes remain fixed on Him. He knows the root of the problem and He has the answer. If He reveals it to a doctor and there is a treatment for it, that’s good. If not, that is okay, too, because He is in control.

That is not to say that I have been enjoying being poked, prodded, stuck and next week, I get electricity coursing through me as the doctors study my brain. No, no enjoyment here, but rather peace in the process. My mind is focused on the Lord, trusting Him to bring this all to an end in His time. I have had to postpone visits with grandchildren and other family, an extended trip with my husband to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary and other plans that I had looked forward to with great anticipation. That is all of little importance to me these days. I know that God is holding me in the palm of His hand and He knows what needs to happen for me to feel whole again. So, I wait, I trust and I keep my eyes on Him. I don’t want to be like Peter and lose my focus so that I start to sink into the deep waters; instead, I am spending more time in God’s Word, talking to Him continually and asking Him to show me what to do next. Trust is an easy thing when there are no tests or trials, but the more trials that come along, the harder it is to trust. I am determined to be steadfast in my pursuit of the Lord, regardless of outward circumstances. I hope that is where you find yourself, too…peacefully waiting for God to act and trusting that in His time, He will.

Review of ZORA BOOKS HER HAPPY EVER AFTER by Taj McCoy

ZORA BOOKS HER HAPPY EVER AFTER by Taj McCoy

On sale: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780778333524

MIRA

Fiction; Romance

$18.99 

320 Pages

ABOUT THE BOOK:

A heart-pounding, curvy romance about an indie bookstore owner who finds herself in a love triangle when she meets the author she’s had a crush on for years…and his best friend.

Zora has committed every inch of her life to establishing her thriving DC bookstore, making it into a pillar of the community, and she just hasn’t had time for romance. But when a mystery author she’s been crushing on for years agrees to have an event at her store, she starts to rethink her priorities. Lawrence is every bit as charming as she imagined, even if his understanding of his own books seems just a bit shallow. When he asks her out after his reading, she’s almost elated enough to forget about the grumpy guy who sat next to her making snide comments all evening. Apparently the grouch is Lawrence’s best friend, Reid, but she can’t imagine what kind of friendship that must be. They couldn’t be more different.

But as she starts seeing Lawrence, and spending more and more time with Reid, Zora finds first impressions can be deceiving. Reid is smart and thoughtful—he’s also interested. After years of avoiding dating, she suddenly has two handsome men competing for her affection. But even as she struggles to choose between them, she can’t shake the feeling that they’re both hiding something—a mystery she’s determined to solve before she can find her HEA.

My Review:

A good romance with some steam and a lot of innuendo going on, but also a little mystery, too. Zora is totally dedicated to running a thriving bookstore in her neighborhood in D.C. and invites a local author to speak. That’s when the book gets more interesting as two men begin to vie for her affections and Zora has to decide who is being real and who is playing a part. The romance was part of the book was okay if not totally engaging or realistic. I liked getting to know the characters, but I must say that Granny harping on getting grand babies got annoying after about the tenth time of her using the same lines. I liked the support and encouragement that Zora’s friends gave her and thought that added the friendship dimension to the story. Lawrence, the author, seemed to be arrogant at times so he was not totally likable or trustworthy. His friend Reid also seemed to be secretive about something but he was more likable although he was portrayed as grumpy. When Zora is wooed by both men, she has to determine who is most likely to be a good mate, demonstrating fidelity and honesty, and there’s a lot of humor built into her quest to determine who is portraying themselves and who is putting on an act. I thought it was obvious after a few clues what was going on, so that is not what kept me reading. I wanted to see how Zora discovered the truth and how she handled the whole dilemma that she had gotten herself into. Knowing this was a debut novel, I didn’t expect to have a lot of fun reading it, but I did, especially the parts in which Zora works at investigating and investing in a relationship. The dialogue was sharp and the overall story was satisfying and clever.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Giving a debut author the benefit of the doubt, I rounded my rating up from a 3.5. The book is definitely a fun read but it is not for everyone and I would rate it a PG-15 for content.

About the Author:

Law grad Taj McCoy is committed to championing plus-sized Black love stories and characters with a strong sense of sisterhood and familial bonds. Born in Oakland, Taj started writing as a child and celebrated her first publications in grade school. When she’s not writing, Taj boosts other marginalized writers, practices yoga, co-hosts the Fat Like Me and Better Than Brunch podcasts, shares recipes, and cooks supper club meals for friends.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.tajmccoywrites.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tajmccoywrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the1whowill
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20626681.Taj_McCoy

Excerpt:

“Well, is he attractive? You know I don’t want no ugly great-grandbabies.”

“Granny!” Zora laughed, pulling books from the stocking cart to arrange on the shelving display for the storefront window. The sun poked through the cloudy morning, threatening to scorch another early September day. Opus Northeast had been open for less than fifteen minutes, and its owner was already rolling her eyes. Silly her for making the mistake of mentioning the man who hit on her as she walked from her parked car into the store. “There’s no such thing as an ugly baby.”

Granny Marion shook a ruby-red fingernail at her granddaughter. “Now, I know I taught you better than that. Ain’t no reason to lie, baby. You know good and well that the li’l girl two doors down from you has one, bless his heart.”

Zora stifled a snort as she stacked middle-grade fantasy books next to some young-adult ones. Stories of witches, magic, and other worlds rich in cultural traditions and majesty. Running her fingers over the foiled titles of their hardcover jackets, she pictured her younger self staring into the window in awe, ready to devour each word in the safety of her cozy bedroom fort. Her parents would shake their heads in amusement before turning her loose in the children’s section. She’d beg to take home every new story that she hadn’t previously spent hours poring over, eventually convincing her parents to allow her a new armful. “That baby is cute. He just has a big head.”

“Hmmph. I think the word you’re looking for is oblong. And why are his eyes so big?” Granny Marion widened her eyes until they bulged behind her wire-rimmed glasses, her taut brown skin hugging high cheekbones and a proud forehead. Her long, salt-and-pepper hair twisted neatly into a bun at the nape of her neck—a nostalgic reminder of her past as a professional dancer turned dance teacher. Every move of her petite frame flowed with grace and intention, even when she ridiculed their neighbor’s newest family addition.

“Granny.” Zora squeezed out from the window front, smoothing her hands over her shapely figure clad in her usual skinny jeans, camisole and cardigan—today’s was hip length and plum colored. She loved a layered look, and her sweater matched her matte lipstick perfectly. “I’m sure he’ll grow into his features as he gets older.” She leaned down to kiss her grandmother on the cheek. “Remember, I had to grow into my smile—I had that awful headgear the orthodontist made me wear.”

For her entire fifth grade year, Zora had been plagued with jeers and jokes about the metal contraption affixed to her upper jaw to help with her overbite. Her only reprieve was when she ate, but even then, her classmates would tease Zora about her protruding front teeth. She’d sit with her closest friends on benches outside to avoid the meanest kids posted up at tables in the cafeteria.

Granny Marion kissed her granddaughter back, eyes sparkling. “Mmm-hmm, I remember. That gear gave you character. But there ain’t no headgear to fix a misshapen head, baby.”

“Jesus.” Zora shook her head, unable to hide her smile. She grabbed Granny’s hand, entwining their arms, and led her farther into the store. “So what are your plans for today?”

They walked past rows of bookshelves, display tables full of must-read paperbacks, and the checkout counter to a large corner filled with comfortable furniture for patrons to enjoy their purchases. Four-top tables lit with antique desk lamps were often filled with college students studying or local writers needing a change of venue. Against the farthest wall stood a coffee kiosk operated by a local Black-owned coffee shop and bakery. “I’m going to grab myself a latte and a breakfast bagel before I enjoy today’s newspaper.”

Granny Marion visited the store daily without fail, only deviating slightly from her routine when the Kerri’s Coffee kiosk sold holiday-inspired treats and she craved a holiday spice latte with a splash of eggnog instead of her regular skim latte. From open to close, Granny was often the one constant, greeting patrons, playing with kids, sharing her favorite reads and best cake recipes and reading her morning paper. She set her newspaper down on her favorite plush, high-backed chair in the reading corner, winking at the barista as they neared the coffee kiosk. “Hey there, young man, how you doin’ today?”

As they approached, Brian, a shy college sophomore, circled in front of the kiosk to wrap his arms around her. “Good morning, Ms. Marion. I’m doing good. How you doin’?” He waved at Zora. “Hey, Z.”

“What up, B?” Zora slapped him five and grabbed her usual from the counter—a raspberry cheese Danish and an oat milk latte. Before she could grill Brian about his upcoming calculus exam, the bell on the front door jingled. She raised her latte in thanks, and left her grandmother to chat. On Zora’s way to the front, she picked up a folded paper towel from the floor and chucked it into a waste bin. “What’s this doing here?”

Rushing in with several bags in her hands and flushed cheeks was Emma, Zora’s best friend and roommate. Her box braids were swept up into a high bun and framed by a colorful head wrap. Big hoop earrings barely skimmed the shoulders of her chambray dress shirt, which was tied at the waist over a colorful pleated skirt. “Girl. It’s already hot out there—I’m sweating! Now, don’t get mad. I know I’m late.”

Zora bit into her Danish and chewed, waiting. “I’m not mad.” Ain’t nothin’ new.

“It’s just that, I don’t even know how to tell you this…” She shoved her bags into a cabinet under the checkout counter, clenching and releasing her hands as she shuffled from one foot to the other nervously.

Zora sipped her latte, side-eyeing her friend. Nothing was new about these antics. “Rip the Band-Aid off, Em.”

She blew out a breath, grimacing. “I think I lost the inventory tablet. I couldn’t find it last night. It wasn’t in any of my bags or at home. I am so, so sorry. If we can’t find it, I promise I’ll pay for a replacement.” Emma wrung her hands. “I’m kinda hoping you can do your Zor-lock Holmes thing and help me retrace my steps.”

Emma lost everything. Back when they were college roommates, she lost her dorm keys the day she moved in. She lost her car in parking lots, lost her water bottle at yoga, and lost good wigs on multiple occasions when there was no logical reason for them to have been removed in the first place. One time she lost her date, which Zora never let Emma live down. Emma tried organizing differently, or keeping a note on her phone so that she knew where she parked, but then she’d lose her phone. Their freshman year Zora spent all of her free time retracing Emma’s steps to find her lost items, eventually printing instructions to call Zora onto adhesive labels to stick onto most of Emma’s property for the next time it went missing. They used Emma’s number originally, but she lost her phone more than anything else that she owned.

Chewing on a bit of Danish, Zora interlaced her fingers, pushing her palms out in front of her to stretch her arms before shaking them out at her sides. She tilted her head side to side, cracking her neck. “Okay, so you stayed to do inventory last night. What section were you working on?”

“Cookbooks.” Emma bit her lip.

Zora pulled her lips into her mouth, pressing them together as she nodded. “What did you eat for dinner?”

“I bought a chicken wrap from Brian, but then I wanted French fries, so I grabbed some duck fat fries from next door.” The bistro next door boasted New American cuisine with a hefty price tag.

“Ooo, I love those.” Now I want some.

“Right? They’re perfection.” Emma brought her fingertips to her mouth, kissed them and splayed them wide.

“Hmm.” Zora sipped her latte thoughtfully. This is too easy. “Did you check the bathroom? On top of the paper towel dispenser.”

Emma frowned, hugging her arms over her stomach. “Why would I check the bathroom? This isn’t like that time I ate those deep fried Oreos…”

Zora giggled. “I promise you, I wasn’t thinking of the day you blew up the bathroom. Honestly, I’d rather forget that one. Just go check.”

In a huff, her friend turned on her heel, walking back toward the coffee kiosk. “Hey, B! I’ll be right back for my coffee.” The bathroom door opened. “What the— How?” Emma rushed back, tablet in hand, mouth wide open. “How did you know it would be in the bathroom?” She plugged it into a charger hidden behind the counter and grabbed the backup, which was fully charged.

Zora sipped her latte, serving enough suspense to make her friend bounce with anticipation. “You had a chicken wrap and then ordered duck fat fries. You brought the food over to the cookbook section, but you always forget napkins, so you went to the bathroom. You carried the tablet with you, because you were worried you’d lose it. I found a paper towel on the floor next to the cookbook display.”

“So much for keeping it safe,” Emma muttered, eyeing it like the device betrayed her.

“It’s fine, we found the tablet, and now we can keep going through the inventory. Are you still on cookbooks?”

Emma nodded. “One last shelf, and then on to travel.”

“Okay, well let’s try to get through travel and self-help today? I want us to get through a full inventory sweep so that we can place our next orders and start planning out the short-story contest. We only have a couple of months left.”

“You got it. What are you working on today?” Emma leaned against the counter, looking surprised when Brian brought over her cinnamon-topped cappuccino. “You betta stop flirting with me, B!”

He grinned, walking back to the kiosk, as several shoppers wandered into the store.

“I’ve got social media posts, graphics for event flyers, and I’m trying to nail down this author for a book signing in two weeks.” Zora logged in to her workstation, climbing onto her black mesh-back stool at the main checkout desk of the bookstore.

Emma surveyed and greeted the guests, offering a friendly nod. “You know you could work in your office, Z. Take advantage of the peace and quiet? I can handle this out here while you get through some of that computer work.”

“I know you can, but I like it out here.” Zora shrugged.

Emma sucked her teeth. “You should be a professional people-watcher, girl.”

She chuckled in response. “It’s an addiction. I really can’t help it!” Zora watched her friend turn toward the cookbooks, but not before giving Granny Marion some sugar. Squeezing the matriarch’s hand, Emma plopped a big kiss on her cheek before leaning down to whisper something in her ear. Granny chuckled and they slapped five, as Emma strode to the cookbook display, sat cross-legged on the floor and started reviewing inventory figures on the tablet.

Z exchanged an amused look with her grandmother, who blew a kiss in her direction. Catching it, she touched the tips of her fingers to her cheek. She blew a kiss back and turned her attention to her computer monitor. After pulling up the bookstore’s calendar, she made a list of the upcoming events for the next three weeks, putting together digital flyers using templates she’d made previously. She added book covers and author photos to author event flyers, candid photos of regular customers highlighting some of their favorite reads that year, and a photo of Granny Marion reading to a group of children to publicize upcoming story time events. She dropped links to all of the graphics into her social media spreadsheet, where she scheduled out posts weeks in advance, complete with post language, hashtags, author account handles, and registration links. Such a Capricorn.

Being organized was how Zora had gotten the business running smoothly so quickly. After her father died, she’d received a generous inheritance that allowed her to purchase Opus Northeast from its previous owner, Ms. Betty. A bookeller for decades, Ms. Betty had decided to retire and move to Arizona to be closer to her grandchildren. Betty had known Zora since adolescence, and she was delighted to sell her store to someone who loved the place just as much as she did. Zora took great pride in updating Opus Northeast in a way that invited the community to come in and stay awhile.

After a couple of hours of events and social media planning, she moved on to email, deleting all of the spam before responding to emails from book distributors, patrons inquiring about upcoming releases not currently available for preorder, and local authors replying to her invitations for in-store author events. Looking down at her desk, she clicked her tongue at herself for leaving her breakfast sitting there as she worked. She had a habit of leaving food sitting next to her for hours as she zoned in on a task only to pick at it once it was cold. She popped the last of her flaky Danish into her mouth, as a new email hit her inbox. “Oh, my God.”

“What is it?” Emma asked curiously as she advanced toward the counter, setting a fresh latte in front of Zora.

“He said yes.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. She lifted the latte to her lips on autopilot, humming softly as she took in the scent. “Thanks.”

Her friend peered over her shoulder. “Is he who I think he is?”

Stunned, Zora looked up at Emma, her brows furrowed in confusion. “He said yes?”

“Are you having a stroke? I’m gonna need for you to use your words, sis.” Emma waved her hand in front of Z’s face.

She couldn’t find the words. Her mouth went dry. Helpless, Zora pointed to her computer screen.

Emma leaned forward. “‘Dear Ms. Dizon,’ blah blah blah. ‘I’ve spoken to Lawrence Michaels, and he would love to have an author event hosted at Opus Northeast! As you may know, he grew up not far from there, and he is excited for an opportunity to read an excerpt from Trial by Fire, which is also based in Northeast D.C. Following the reading, he can stay for a brief Q&A and a book signing,’ blah blah blah. Wow, are you freaking out right now?”

It was no secret that Zora had been crushing hard for years on bestselling author Lawrence Michaels, whose newest installment of his Langston Butler mystery thriller series was selling like hotcakes, and word on the street was that the first two books in the series were being optioned for film. Aside from being a local star, Lawrence’s good looks were undeniable. “I bet he’s tall,” Zora murmured, grabbing his book from a pile of new releases on the counter behind her. Opening the book to the author photo inside the back cover, she ran her fingertips over the image of his clean-shaven brown skin, a hint of a smile curving at the edge of his closed mouth. A cleft in his chin and strong jaw led down the column of his neck to broad shoulders cloaked in a dark blue blazer. “Wonder if he has dimples.”

Emma stared at her friend, pinging her eyes back and forth between Zora and the author photo. “I think you might need to break out the ol’ vibrator tonight, girl. This ‘hot for author’ thing is getting unhealthy. Look at you—you can barely string words together right now. What are you going to do when he gets here? Drool on him?”

Zora swatted her friend away. “I’m fine. It’s just… I didn’t think he’d actually be willing to come here.”

“Why? He’s too big and bad for Brookland? He’s from here!” Emma shoved her hands onto her hips.

Zora pulled at one of her tight curls, coiling it around her finger. “You know what I mean. Folks like that set their sights higher than modest indie bookstores like this. And he’s from Petworth.”

“He’s from D.C. And he could still be a total douche. Besides, when have you ever cared about someone having too much bravado to fit their big ass head through our doors? He’s lucky to be invited, girl. Don’t gas that dude up too much.” Emma dragged her fingers across her throat, deading the subject. She really should have gone to law school.

She struggled to find the words. “I just— I’m surprised is all.”

“‘Oh, Rexy, you’re so sexy.’” Emma quoted one of their favorite movie quotes from their college days—they’d scored a box of her sister’s old DVDs and binge-watched everything, but some lines stuck forever. Emma was forever quoting Empire Records, Center Stage, and The Cutting Edge. She curled her fingers into a claw and delicately pawed in Zora’s direction as she turned toward the travel section.

Exasperated, she pursed her lips, still tugging at her curls. “I hate you.”

“I heard that, heffa.”

Excerpted from Zora Books Her Happy Ever After by Taj McCoy © 2023 by Taj McCoy, used with permission from HarperCollins/MIRA Books.

Purchase Links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books a Million

IndieBound

BookShop.org

Google Play

Apple

Don’t Give Up

I have heard a lot of discouraged people bemoaning the state of the world and the rampant sin that is taking over. God told us that this was coming, so we shouldn’t be surprised. Neither should we give up on the mission that He left for us to do.

The “he” in this Scripture is Jesus (read all of Hebrews 12 for the context). Jesus endured all kinds of spiteful treatment even before He was nailed to the cross. The Pharisees and Sadducees kept trying to trap him into saying something that would turn the people against him. They were incensed at his popularity and wanted to find a way to discredit him so kept asking him “trick” questions. For Jesus, though, they were like little bugs biting at him to no avail. He did not give up on the mission that God had sent Him to complete, i.e. the salvation of mankind and the establishment of a new covenant. Jesus gave His life for our sins and the author here points out (perhaps somewhat prophetically) that the readers have not yet given their lives for the cause of the Gospel. Of course, many early believers were martyred for their faith later; that’s why I say this could be prophetic. Nevertheless, we are called upon to be like Jesus and not to give up. When the world gets darker, we are to shine brighter. When the world seems to have lost their way, we are to show them the only way. When all seems lost, we are to remember that Jesus was and is victorious! No matter what ridicule or condemnation we face in this life, it will be worth it in the end because we will see Jesus and live with Him forever. The MSM paints Christian conservatives as a fringe group, but we are the Army of the Victorious Savior, and we are not giving up on the fight to win souls for Him. We will never give up, never turn away, never stop fighting in His Name for righteousness and truth!

A Source of Life

When the woman at the well was thirsty, Jesus said that He had living water that would always refresh her. We have that same living water living in us and we are called to pour it out to others.

The words that we speak should be a source of life for others, giving them hope and encouragement and love just when they need it the most. The wicked, however, spew words of death and discouragement and hatred. They plot to destroy, not to build up. It is up to those of us who know the Lord to be a source of life to others, to speak boldly and proclaim with courage that our hope lies in the Lord and in His plan for salvation for the world. Let’s be a source of life together!

Review of THE BEACH READS BOOKSHOP by Lee Tobin McClain

About the Book:

THE BEACH READS BOOKSHOP

Author: Lee Tobin McClain

ISBN: 9781335427441

Publication Date: April 25, 2023

Publisher: HQN Books

Book Summary:

Don’t miss this brand-new romance in New York Times bestselling author Lee Tobin McClain’s Hometown Brothers miniseries!

Running a bookstore on a quaint Chesapeake island is exactly the life Deena Clark would have chosen for herself. But helping billionaire businessman Luis Dominguez figure out fatherhood is part of the package. Can bonding over books and one little girl help them open their hearts to each other?

My Review:

The two storylines in this book mesh perfectly and create a wholesome and unique story about starting over and building a new life. Deena Clark has the task of caring for her best friend’s toddler daughter when Tammalee dies unexpectedly. She seeks the help of billionaire entrepreneur Luis Dominguez, a self-made man who also happens to be the baby’s father. Luis has the brilliant idea to open a bookshop on Teaberry Island and to put Deena in charge of it. Thus, she becomes the baby’s caregiver and a shop manager at the same time, changing all that is familiar to her for a totally new life. The second story centers around an older woman named Carol who loses her tutoring job and is at a loss as to where to turn for new employment at her age. She goes to the family home on the island and expects to open her grandfather’s old bookstore, only to find that Luis has purchased it already. Thus, the two plot lines intersect beautifully. I must say that at first I didn’t really like Carol because she seemed manipulative and too needy. But as the story progressed and I got to know her better, I did enjoy her flaws as well as her strengths. The romance is a central part of the story, too, and although it is totally predictable, there are a few surprises along the way that made it entertaining and a fun read. With dynamic characters who grow along with the story and a plot that moves along at a good clip, this was an enjoyable and quick read that I can highly recommend. It warmed my heart that each character discovered their place in the world and how they could support each other through their many challenges.
Disclaimer
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Rated PG
Lee Tobin McClain is the bestselling author of more than thirty emotional, small-town romances described by Publishers’ Weekly as enthralling, intense, and heartfelt. A dog lover and proud mom, she often includes kids and animals in her books. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking with her goofy goldendoodle, chatting online with her writer friends, and admiring her daughter’s mastery of the latest TikTok dances. Learn more at www.leetobinmcclain.com.
Social Links:
Author Website
Twitter: @LeeTobinMcClain
Facebook: @Lee Tobin McClain
Goodreads

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

“Have you ever considered slowing down?” The doctor’s words were as out of place as his white coat in Luis Dominguez’s busy corporate office. Mergers and acquisitions were what they did here, and at a fast pace. No one slowed down, ever. “What are you trying to tell me, Doc?” Luis attempted to ignore the text messages that kept pinging into his phone. “I’m only twenty-eight. I can’t have something wrong with me.” Dr. Henry fastened the blood pressure cuff on his arm. “My understanding is that you got dizzy at a board meeting. And that you live on coffee and nachos.” He tightened the cuff, studied the numbers and frowned. “It’s 130/90. That’s concerning. Family history of heart or kidney disease?” “I don’t know.” Luis didn’t want to go into his family medical history, or lack of one, in the middle of a regular work week in mid-April. “I’ll try to take it easier. Eat better.” Even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true, but he needed to get on with his day. “I hope you will. Your board members are worried. Apparently, you’re indispensable.” The man patted Luis’s shoulder. “I’ll see you next week. We’ll need to talk about medication, unless I see significant improvement.”

“You’ll see it,” Luis promised. Ever the overachiever. He was a bit touched that his board of directors was worried enough about his health to set up weekly inoffice checkups. He’d built a life where no one had to worry about him, and he didn’t have to worry about anyone else. That was how he wanted it, but every now and then, it was good to know someone cared. He went to the door and gestured for his assistant, Gunther, to come in. “Everything ready for today’s presentation?” “Slides are all cued up and people are arriving.” Adrenaline surged. “Good.” The doctor clicked his medical bag closed. “How about getting a hobby? Starting a family? Being married is good for your health, you know.” “Not gonna happen.” Luis had already made peace with his single status, mostly. He was no good at forming and maintaining relationships. Didn’t want the responsibility. Didn’t want to fail at the responsibility, the way his parents had. Plenty of women were up for a no-strings fling with a millionaire. The trouble was, that lifestyle got old fast. “Come on,” he said to Gunther, heading for the door. “Let’s start the party.” The offices of Dominguez Enterprises buzzed with energy, people leaning over computers, the elevator pinging, voices speaking rapidly into phones. This was Luis’s hobby. This was his family. He was on track to reach his financial goals by age forty, but his lifestyle didn’t leave room for coaching Little League or cutting the grass.

“Excuse me, Mr. Dominguez?” A gorgeous blonde woman came out of the reception area and intercepted him. She was holding a toddler dressed in pink, a bow in her dark curls. Cute. Luis liked babies. He reached out and tickled the little one’s chin, clicking his tongue, and the child giggled. “Can I speak to you for a moment, sir?” the woman asked. He refocused on the blonde. “Not now. Make an appointment with Mrs. Jackson, there at the desk.” He gestured toward her then headed into the conference room, smiling at the sight of the suit-clad men and women around the table. Men and women from whom he’d soon make a bundle of money. Fairly and legally, of course. The small tech firm that was being acquired by the larger one would get a boost of capital and be able to keep all its employees on payroll, and the bigger firm would benefit from the diversification. Ideally they’d all leave as happy as he was. In fact, two hours later they did leave happy. Everyone shaking hands, his own people congratulating him and him thanking them for their hard work. Who’d have ever thought that a kid from his background would end up making deals with some of the most important businesspeople in Washington, DC? Then again, maybe his career was at least a little predictable. As a young teenager, he’d borrowed a few bucks from a friend and bought a case of high-caffeine soda, then sold it at a markup on test days. With the profit, he’d bought two more cases and expanded his business from the middle school to the high school. Of course, he’d had to skip class to do that.

“He’s not the brightest kid, but he sure does have the Midas touch,” the teacher who’d caught him had said to his foster mom. And Luis had done his best to make the most of whatever talents and abilities he had. Now, as he walked out of the conference room, the woman who’d approached him before came toward him, this time accompanied by Mrs. Jackson. The woman looked a little disheveled, blowing the blond hair off her face as she shifted the now-sleeping toddler in her arms. She was still pretty, though. Maybe even prettier with her face flushed and her hair loose. “I’m sorry, Luis,” Mrs. Jackson said. “She wouldn’t leave.” “I really need to speak with you.” The woman’s voice was low, but determined. There was a sexy rasp to it. He’d have blown her off if it weren’t for those stunning slate-colored eyes that seemed to hold all kinds of secrets. But it had been weeks since he’d had a date, and he was feeling celebratory. “Come on back, I have a few minutes,” he said, gesturing toward the hallway that led to his office. He usually avoided women with kids. He definitely avoided women with husbands, so he stepped to the side and checked out her left hand as she passed him. No ring. She wore a dark skirt and vest and a white shirt, and there was a slight swing to her walk. He reached the office just behind her and held open the door. “Go ahead, have a seat by the window.” He kept his voice low so as not to awaken the child. He nodded an it’s okay to Mrs. Jackson, who tended to be a mother hen, and followed the woman inside. He knelt down by the minifridge. “Something to drink? I have water, soda. Juice if the kiddo wakes up.” Outside, he could hear people calling goodbyes to each other. He’d given everyone the rest of the day off. They worked late for him plenty of times, so he liked to offer perks when the occasion merited it. “Water, please.” The woman spoke quietly, too, but the child murmured in her arms and opened her eyes. “Juice as well, if you don’t mind.” He stood, holding two bottles of water in one hand and a juice in the other. He twisted the top off a water bottle and handed it to her, then did the same for the apple juice. Sitting on the edge of his desk, he studied the woman. “So what can I do for you?” She sipped water, cradling the child in one arm, and then looked at Luis with a level stare. “I’d like for you to meet someone.” “Tell me more.” So she did have an agenda. Probably some project she wanted him to finance. Bringing her kid was a rookie mistake, but because she looked so serious and earnest, he’d let her down easy. She nodded down at the baby. “This is Willow,” she said. “Hi, Willow.” Luis smiled at the little one, then sipped water. The woman’s skirt slid up above her knees in the low chair. He lifted his eyes to her face. “What’s your name?” “I’m Deena Clark,” she said. “But Willow is the important one.” The baby held a small rubber doll out to Luis. He took it from her, hid it behind his back and then held it out again, jiggling it, making her laugh. “Why is Willow the important one?” he asked. “Because,” the woman said, “she’s your daughter.” There. She’d gotten it out. Deena blew her hair out of her eyes and made soothing circles on Willow’s back, holding the apple juice for her to sip. She inhaled Willow’s baby-powder scent and patted her chubby leg. She loved the two-year-old fiercely, and she hadn’t wanted to give up even the modicum of control that would come with rich Mr. Dominguez knowing he was the child’s father. But she was pretty sure Luis wouldn’t want much, if anything, to do with the baby. He was too wealthy and entitled. His wealth would make it easy for him to pay some child support, though. And that would allow Deena to stop working so much, to spend more time at home and to get Willow the services she needed. Maybe this would go okay. Luis Dominguez wasn’t quite what she’d expected. True, he’d made her wait for two hours, but then again, she’d arrived unannounced. She’d heard him saying nice things to his workers, and he’d gotten her and Willow something to drink. So maybe he wasn’t as uncaring as Willow’s mommy had believed. He was hot, too. Deena didn’t do relationships, but if she did…well. Curly black hair, light brown skin, an athletic body and a dimple in his cheek when he smiled… No wonder Tammalee had gone for him. He took a sip of water, studying her. “I wouldn’t have invited you in if I’d known you were one of those women.” “What women?” She bounced the baby doll in front of Willow, who laughed and grabbed for it then held it to her chest in an adorable imitation of motherhood. “Women looking to pin paternity on a wealthy man.” Luis crossed his arms over his chest. She raised her eyebrows. “That happens?” “Pretty often.” He took another sip of water and then put the bottle down with a thump. He looked oddly disappointed. “I’m not falling for it, so why don’t you take your child and your scam elsewhere.” “This isn’t a scam. I’m serious.” “It’s a new twist,” he said in a fake-thoughtful way, “approaching a man you never slept with. Creative.” That made her cheeks heat. She didn’t sleep with anyone, not that he needed to know that. “No,” she said, reaching for her phone. “You slept with my roommate.” She scrolled through her pictures, found one of Tammalee and held it up for him to see. He squinted at it. “Oh, yea-a-ah,” he said, his brows drawing together. “Sweet girl. But why are you coming here, not her, to claim this is my child?” Deena glanced at Tammalee’s smiling photo, swallowed hard and slid her phone back into her purse. “Tammalee is dead,” she said. His eyes widened. “What? Really?” She nodded. “An accident.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” He stared at the carpet for a minute and then met her eyes. “You realize I’m going to verify all this?” She blew out a sigh. “Look up Tammalee Johnson, obituary.” He studied her a moment as if wondering if there were even a chance her story was true. She must have looked honest, because he walked around his massive desk, bent over the computer and typed and clicked. He found what he was looking for. “She died two months ago?” He turned the computer so she could see. The large-size picture of her friend, the one that had accompanied her obituary, made Deena choke up. And that made her angry at herself, and by extension, at this guy. Neither reaction made sense, but then, grief didn’t make sense. The baby stiffened in her arms, probably sensing her tension. Or maybe she’d spotted the picture of her late mother. “Shh, it’s okay,” Deena whispered, rubbing her back again. But this time, it didn’t help; Willow wailed. The high, keening cry was a sound Deena had heard daily for the past two years, but it still grated on her. “Okay. Okay, honey. Want more juice?” Willow slapped the bottle away, spilling juice all over Deena, and the guy’s fancy carpet. “Sorry.” Although she shouldn’t apologize for what his own kid had done. She rocked Willow in the vigorous way that sometimes calmed her down, trying to gauge whether this tantrum was likely to be a long one. She looked at Luis from under the cover of her lashes. Tammalee had been sure he wouldn’t understand Willow, saying he only cared about money. Still, if this meltdown went on, he might require an explanation. But first things first. She needed to get him to acknowledge paternity before going into Willow’s issues. Willow’s cries were softening, to Deena’s experienced ear, but they were still grating. Luis looked uneasy, his forehead wrinkling. “Can’t you do something?”

“She’s hungry and tired,” Deena said by way of explanation. “You could have found a better time to talk to me about this, when you didn’t have to wait.” “You could have given me five minutes before your big important meeting.” But she could see that the baby’s crying was impacting Luis, and she didn’t want it to make him dislike Willow before even getting to know her. “We can leave,” she offered, “but only when you agree to the next step.” “Fine. I’ll do a DNA test.” He sighed. “There’s a doctor I can call.” “I have a test right here.” She fumbled in her purse and pulled out the drugstore version. “You just have to rub the swab inside your mouth for fifteen seconds.” It had cost a hundred dollars, which was a hardship, but for Willow, it was worth it. He was already opening it. “How long does it take?” “Two days from receipt. You mail it in, so…next week?” “I’ll take care of it.” He pulled out his phone. “Mrs. Jackson? Hey, before you leave, could you get a courier up to my office ASAP?” He listened. “Yes, I’m still here. I know. Soon.” He ended the call and looked at Deena. “I’ll have it sent to a better lab and try to get the results faster.” He studied Willow, still crying, and shook his head. She could tell he was hoping he’d get the good news that he wasn’t Willow’s father. Which, she supposed, was a possibility. Tammalee had enjoyed life, and men, and hadn’t been particularly choosy about who she’d spent time with—in or out of bed. But she’d insisted that Willow’s father was Luis, and Deena believed her.

She swabbed the baby’s mouth, making her cry again. Handed Luis the swab, and stood. “She’s a terrific kid and deserves the best,” she tossed over her shoulder as she left.

Whether the best outcome would be having Luis as a father, or not having him, she didn’t know.

Excerpted from The Beach Reads Bookshop by Lee Tobin McClain. Copyright © 2023 by Lee Tobin McClain. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

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Dependent or Independent?

For all the years that my husband was in the military, I was known as a dependent. At first, I resented the terminology, saying vocally and emphatically, that I was not really dependent on anyone because I could take care of myself just fine, thank you. After all, I had graduated with honors and had a teaching job and career in front of me. But, for the purposes of the military, I was a dependent. And you know what? I learned that it wasn’t such a bad thing. My husband’s status as active duty got me into the commissary to shop for groceries, the exchange to shop for other things, the Officers’ Club for luncheons and housing on the base at a lower cost and at a convenient location. So, maybe being a dependent wasn’t so bad.

I have since been schooled regularly by the Lord about the necessity of my losing my independent streak and being willing to submit myself to Him. Unless I am dependent on Him, I can’t grow, learn and teach others.

No matter what I try to do on my own, it really doesn’t work out well unless I first invite the Lord to be the leader. He is the chief everything…He is the one who gives me my identity, just as my husband provided my military ID for me that is still available for me to use today as a spouse of a retiree. My entire being is wrapped up in who I am in Jesus. I am independent in my choices because He lets me make them, even when I make bad ones. But He is also always there to help me out of the situations I get myself into because of those wrong choices and to help me back onto the path that I was supposed to take all along.

When I admit that I can’t do anything all alone, then Jesus steps in and it is His power that works in me to complete the task that He has given me to do. Sometimes I need His help and intervention more than others, but I am always thankful that I know that He is right there, ready to offer assistance, guidance and strength.

So, dependent or independent? I choose to be dependent on the Lord Jesus, grafted into His vine so that I can produce quality fruit for Him. It’s nice to let go of the wheel and know that Jesus is steering me in the right direction as I depend on Him to take me safely to my final destination!

Secret Things

I have so many questions to ask when I get to Heaven, don’t you? Like how God chose colors when there weren’t any. And how does he work on men’s hearts to get them to turn to Him when they are so stubborn? And where did Enoch disappear to? So many questions that will all be answered in Heaven. Trivial, sure, but I’m still inquisitive.

God has an answer to the questions already in His Word. They are the “secret things”, the ones that we are not meant to know yet. However, all that He has revealed we are to share with our children; they are our legacy forever on this earth. Once we get to Heaven, then we can perhaps know the secret things, if they even matter to use any longer once we are in the presence of the Lord Jesus. I’m content these days to know what I know…God is in Heaven, He is the ruler of the universe, and He loves me. And He loves you, too!

Choose Life

I hear these words a lot in referring to abortion, but just so it’s clear, God used these words first and they did not refer to murdering infants but to our choice for our eternal destiny.

God gives us the choice and it is up to us to make the right one. Notice that the verse shows that God yearns for us to choose life, not just for us but for our descendants that follow us. Our choices make a difference, not only for us, but for those who come behind us.