Review of IT’S ONE OF US by J.T. Ellison

About the Book:

On Sale Date: February 21, 2023



$27.99 USD, $34.99 CAD


From the New York Times bestselling author comes this twisting, emotionally layered thriller about a marriage torn apart when the police arrive at an infertile couple’s door and reveal the husband’s son is the prime suspect in a murder. The perfect blend of exhilarating suspense and issue-driven book club fiction.

Everybody lies. Even the ones you think you know best of all . . .

Olivia Bender designs exquisite home interiors that satisfy the most demanding clients. But her own deepest desire can’t be fulfilled by marble counters or the perfect rug. She desperately wants to be a mother. Fertility treatments and IVF keep failing. And just when she feels she’s at her lowest point, the police deliver shocking news to Olivia and her husband, Park.

DNA results show that the prime suspect in a murder investigation is Park’s son. Olivia is relieved, knowing this is a mistake. Despite their desire, the Benders don’t have any children. Then comes the confession. Many years ago, Park donated sperm to a clinic. He has no idea how many times it was sold—or how many children he has sired.

As the murder investigation goes deeper, more terrible truths come to light. With every revelation, Olivia must face the unthinkable. The man she married has fathered a killer. But can she hold that against him when she keeps such dark secrets of her own?

This twisting, emotionally layered thriller explores the lies we tell to keep a marriage together–or break each other apart . . .

Dealing with difficult topics and serial murder, this book is rated PG-18.

My Review:

This book was an emotional roller coaster ride for me. I loved the entire ride, but I have to confess that the honesty with which the author deals with the heartbreaking topic of infertility was gut-wrenchingly realistic and a chance to really understand what some of my close friends have gone through. Olivia and Park Bender are trying desperately to have a child when Olivia discovers that Park has fathered children as a sperm donor when he was in college. Not only that, but drum roll for the added dramatic twist, one of his children is a serial killer and has left DNA at a crime scene. Olivia’s world is supposed to be one of order and beauty as she designs home interiors, creating wonderful spaces for happy homes. Instead, her world is instantly an insane combination of reporters, police, distrust of her husband and loss of a dream. The story is told in multiple points of view and although I enjoyed getting into the mind of each character, I identified with and enjoyed Olivia’s POV best. Park was not a favorite character, although he was a devoted husband and wanted to be a father as Olivia wanted to be a mother. The twists that happen in the telling of the intricate web of deceit, murder, infertility and sperm banks was so well written that I was waiting for the documentary credits to roll at the end. I learned from this book as well as being entertained and totally absorbed by the story. The ending was a surprise twist that I didn’t see coming and so good! The fast pace, the mesmerizing topics and the mystery all made this book one of the best books that I have ever read! To leave this book behind would be a travesty. It is haunting in its transparent look at a difficult topic and informative in a way that made me empathetic to friends and to the main character. I would give the book ten stars if possible, five for the writing including the plot and the characters and five more for educating me about infertility in an entertaining yet heart-tugging way. As an added note, if you are a reader who stops reading at the end of the book and doesn’t read dedications, acknowledgements, author’s notes, etc., I recommend that you read all the way to the end, every word on every page and let yourself be caught up in the sacrifice that writing this book must have cost the author.
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.”

About the Author:

J.T. Ellison is the NYT and USA Today bestselling author of more than 20 novels, and the EMMY-award winning co-host of A WORD ON WORDS, Nashville’s premier literary show. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 26 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

Social Links:
Author website:

Available February 21, 2023. Purchase Links:


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There is blood again.

Olivia forces away the threatening tears. She will not collapse. She will not cry. She will stand up, square her shoulders and flush the toilet, whispering small words of benediction toward the life that was, that wasn’t, that could have been.

She will not linger; she will not acknowledge the sudden sense of emptiness consuming her body. She will not give this moment more than it deserves. It’s happened before, too many times now. It will happen again, her mind unhelpfully provides.

There is relief in this pain, some sort of primitive biological response to help ease her heavy heart. Olivia has never lied to herself about her feelings about having a child. She wants this, she’s sure of it. Wants the experience, wants to be able to speak the same language as her sisters in the fertility arts, her friends who’ve already birthed their own. And she loves the idea of being pregnant. Loves the feelings of that early flush of success—the soreness and tingling in her breasts, the spotty nausea, the excitement, the fatigue. Loves remembering that moment when she realized she was pregnant the first time.

She’d known even before she took the test. She could feel the life growing inside her. Feel the quickening pulse. A secret she held in her heart, managing several hours with just the two of them, alone in their nascent lives. Every room of the house looked new, fresh, dangerous. Sharp corners and glass coffee tables, no, no, those would have to be tempered, replaced. The sun glancing off the breakfast table—too bright here, the spot on the opposite side would be best for a high chair. The cat, snoozing in the window seat—how was she going to take an interloper? The plans. The plans.

After a carefully arranged lunch, fresh fruit and no soft cheeses, she’d driven to the bookstore for a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, accepted the sweet congratulations of the bookseller—think, a complete stranger knew more than her family, her husband. She tied the plastic stick with its beautiful double pink lines inside two elaborate bows—one pink, one blue—and gave it to Park after an elegant dinner.

The look on his face—pride and fear and terror and joy, all mingled with desire—when he realized what she was saying. He’d been struck dumb, could only grin ear to ear and pat her leg for the first twenty minutes.

So much joy between them. So much possibility.

Olivia replayed that moment, over and over, every time she got pregnant. It helped chase away the furrowing, the angles and planes of Park’s forehead, cheek, chin, as they collapsed into sorrow when she’d miscarried the first time. And the next. And the next. Every time she lost their children, it was the same, all played out on Park’s handsome face: exaltation, fear, sorrow. Pity.

No, the being pregnant part was idyllic for her, albeit terribly brief. It’s only that she doesn’t know how she feels about what happens ten months hence, and the lifetime that follows. The stranger that comes into being. But that’s normal—at least, that’s what everyone tells her. All women feel nervous about what comes next. Her ambivalence isn’t what’s killing her babies. She can’t help but feel it’s her fault for not being certain to her marrow what she wants. That God is punishing her for being cavalier.

Of course, this internal conversation is moot. There is blood. Again.

She hastily makes her repairs—the materials are never far away. If she stashed the pads and tampons away in the hall cabinet, it would be bad luck. Too optimistic.

Not like they’re having any luck anyway. Six pregnancies. Six miscarriages. IUIs and IVF. Needles and hormones and pain, so much pain. More than anyone should have to bear.

With a momentary glance at the crime scene in the toilet, she depresses the handle.

“Goodbye,” she whispers. “I’m so sorry.”

Olivia brushes her teeth, then pulls a comb through her glossy, prenatal-enriched locks, rehearsing the breakfast conversation she must now have.

How does she tell Park she’s failed, yet again, to hold the tiny life inside her?

Downstairs, it is now just another morning, no different from any over the past several years. Just the two of them, getting ready for the day.

The television is on in the kitchen, tuned to the local morning show. Park whistles as he whisks eggs in a bright red bowl. Park’s breakfasts are legendary. Savory omelets, buckwheat blueberry pancakes, veggie frittatas, yogurts and homemade granola—you name it, he makes it. Olivia handles dinner. If she cooks three nights out of seven, she considers that a success. They eat like kings in the morning and paupers at night, and they love it.

She pauses at the door, watching him bustle around. He is already dressed for work, jeans and a button-down, black lace-up brogues. His “office” is in the backyard, in a shed Olivia converted for his use. A former—reformed—English professor on a semipermanent sabbatical, Park has launched a second career ghostwriting psychological thrillers. He claims to love the anonymity of it, that he can work so close to home, and the money is good. Enough. Not obscene, but enough. They’ve been able to afford four rounds of IUI and two in vitros so far. And as he says, writing is the perfect career for a man who wants to be a stay-at-home dad. There’s no reason for him to go back to teaching. Not now.

A pang in her heart, echoed by a sharp cramp in her stomach. They are throwing everything away. She is throwing everything away. This round of IVF, she only produced a few retrievable eggs, and this was their last embryo.

My God, she’s gotten clinical. She’s gotten cold. Babies. Not embryos. There are no more frozen babies. Which means she’ll have to do it all again, the weeks-long scientific process of creating a child: the suppression drugs, the early morning blood tests, the shots, the trigger, the surgery, the implantation. The rage and fear and pain. Again.

The money. It costs so, so much.

She has frozen at the edge of the kitchen, thoughts roiling, and Park senses her there, turns with a wide smile. The whisk clicks against the bowl in time with her heartbeat.

“How are my darlings feeling this morning? Mama and bebe hungry?”

She is saved from blurting out the truth—mama no more, bebe is dead—by the ringing of the doorbell.

Park frowns. “Who is here so early? Watch the eggs, will you?”

Even chickens can do what she cannot.

It’s infuriating. House cats escape into the woods and sixty days later purge themselves of tiny blind beings. Insects, birds, rats, rabbits, deer, reproduce without thought or hindrance.

Nearly four million women a year—a year!—manage to give birth.

But not her.

She’s not depressed, really, she’s not. She’s come to terms with this. It happens. Today will be a bad day, tomorrow will be better. They will try again. It will all be okay.

Mechanically, Olivia moves to the stove, accepts the wooden spatula. Park disappears toward the foyer, shoulders broad and waist nearly as trim as the day she met him. She will never get over his handsomeness, his winning personality. Everyone loves Park. How could you not? He is perfect. He is everything Olivia is not.

The television is blaring a breaking news alert, and she turns her attention to it, grateful for something, anything, to focus on beside the intransigent nature of her womb and the fear her husband will abandon her. The anchor is new, from Mississippi, with a voice soft as honey. Tupelo? No, Oxford, Olivia remembers; Park took her to a quaint bookstore there on the square one summer, long ago.

“Sad news this morning, as it has been confirmed the body found in Davidson County earlier this week belongs to young mother Beverly Cooke. Cooke has been missing for three months, after she was last seen going for a hike at Radnor Lake. Her car was found in the parking lot, with her purse and phone inside. Metro Nashville Police spokesperson Vanda Priory tells Channel Four Metro is working with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Forensic Medical to determine her cause of death. The Cooke family released a statement a few minutes ago. ‘Thank you to everyone who has helped bring Beverly home. We will have more information on her burial soon. We ask for privacy during this difficult time.’ Metro now turns their attention to identifying a suspect. In this morning’s briefing, Homicide Detective William Osley stated that Metro has a lead and will be pursuing it vigorously. Next up, time to break into the cedar closet, it’s finally sweater weather!”

Olivia sighs in regret. That poor woman. Like everyone in Nashville, Olivia has followed the case religiously. To have a young mother—the kind of woman she’s so desperate to mold herself into— disappear into thin air from a safe, regularly traveled, popular spot, one Olivia herself hikes on occasion, has been terrifying. She knows Beverly Cooke, too, albeit peripherally. They were in a book club together a few years ago. Beverly was fun. Loud. Drank white wine in the kitchen of the house and gossiped about the neighbors. Never read the book.

Olivia stopped going after a few meetings. It was right before she’d started her first official fertility treatments, had two miscarriages behind her, was hopped up on Clomid and aspirin, and all anyone could do was talk babies. Beverly had just weaned her first and was drunk for the first time in two years. She alternated between complaining and cooing about the trials and joys of motherhood. Olivia couldn’t take it, this flagrant flaunting of the woman’s success. She stood stock still in the clubhouse kitchen, fingers clenching a glass of Chardonnay, envisioning the myriad ways she could murder Beverly. Cracking the glass on the counter’s edge and swiping it across Beverly’s pale stalk of a neck seemed the most expedient.

Honestly, she wanted to murder them all, the sycophantic breeders who took their ability to procreate for granted. They had no idea what she was going through. How she was tearing apart inside, month after month. How she felt the embryos detach and knew it was over. How Park’s face went from joy to disdain every time.

Some people wear their scars on the outside.

Some hide them deep, and never let anyone in to see them.

Olivia is still staring at the screen, which is blaring a commercial for car insurance, processing, remembering, fists balled so tightly she can feel her nails cutting the skin, when she hears her husband calling her name.

“Olivia?” His voice is pitched higher than normal, as if he’s excited, or scared.

Park enters the kitchen from the hall between the dining room and the butler’s pantry.

“Honey, they found Beverly—” she starts. But her words die in her throat when she sees two strangers, a man and a woman, standing behind him, people she knows immediately are police officers just by their wary bearing and shifting eyes that take in the whole room in a moment, then settle on her appraisingly.

“I know,” Park says, coming to her side, shutting off the gas. She’s burned the eggs; a sulfurous stench emanates from the gold-encrusted pan. He takes the spatula from her carefully. “It’s been on the news all morning. Liv, these detectives need to talk to us.”


The man—stocky, slick smoky-lensed gold glasses, perfectly worn-in cowboy boots and a leather jacket over a button-down—takes a small step forward and removes his sunglasses. His eyes are the deepest espresso and hold something indefinable, between pity and accusation. It’s as if he knows what she is thinking, knows her uncharitable thoughts toward poor dead Beverly.

“Detective Osley, ma’am. My partner, Detective Moore. We’ve been working Beverly Cooke’s case. I understand you knew her? Our condolences for your loss.”

Olivia cuts her eyes at Park. What the hell has he been saying to them?

“I don’t know her. Didn’t. Not well. We were in a book club together, years ago. I don’t know what happened to her. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”

“Oh, we understand. That’s not why we’re here.” Osley glances at his partner. The woman is taller than he is, graceful in the way of ex–ballet dancers even in her street clothes, with a long, supple neck, hooded green eyes devoid of makeup and blond hair twisted into a thick no-nonsense bun worn low, brushing the collar of her shirt.

“Why are you here, exactly?” Olivia asks.

Park frowns at her tone. She’s come across too sharp, but my God, what she’s already handled this morning would break a lesser woman.

“It’s about our suspect in the Cooke case. Can we sit down?”

Olivia reigns in her self-loathing fury and turns on the charm. The consummate hostess act always works. Park has taught her that. “Oh, of course. Can I get you some coffee? Tea? We were making breakfast. Can we offer you some eggs, or a muffin? I have a fresh pan here—”

“No, ma’am, we’re fine,” Moore demurs. “Let’s sit down and have a chat.”

Olivia has a moment of sheer freak-out. Was it Park? Had he killed Beverly Cooke? Was that why they wanted to talk, because he was a suspect? If he was a suspect, would the police sit down with them casually in the kitchen? Wouldn’t they want something more official? Take him to the station? Did they need to call a lawyer? Her mind was going fifty thousand miles an hour, and Park was already convicted and in prison, and she was so alone in the big house, so lonely, before she reached a hand to pull out the chair.

She needs to knock off the true crime podcasts. Her husband is not a murderer. He is incapable of that kind of deceit.

Isn’t he?

Sometimes she wonders.

“Nice kitchen,” Osley says.

“Thank you.”

Olivia loves her kitchen. It is the model for all her signature looks. Airy, open, white cabinets with iron pulls, leathered white marble counters. A black granite–topped island just the right size for chopping and serving, light spilling in from the big bay window. A white oak French country table with elegant cane-backed chairs. It was the heart of her home, the heart of her life with Park.

Now, though, it is simply the site of his greatest betrayal. Forevermore, from this morning—with the burned eggs and the somber police and Park’s face whiter than bone—until the end of her tenure here, and even then, in remembrance, she would look at this precious place with fury and sadness for what could have been. The ghosts of the life they were supposed to have clung to her, suckled her spirit like a babe at her breast never would. Everywhere she looked were echoes of the shadow existence she was supposed to be living. Here, a frazzled mother, smiling despite her fatigue at the children she’d created. There, a loving father, always ready to lend a hand tossing a ball or helping with homework. And look, a trio of towheaded boys and a soft blonde princess girl, the teasing and laughter of their mealtimes. How the table would seem to grow smaller as the boys got older and took up more space. The girlfriends came, the boyfriends. The emptiness when it was just the two of them again, the children grown with their own lives, the table bursting at holidays only. The grandchildren, happiness and racket, the noise and the joy creeping out from the woodwork again.

She is alone. She will always be alone. She will not have this life. She will not have this dream.

Park made it so.

As the detectives continue to speak, softly, without rancor, and her world splinters, Olivia hardens, compresses, shrinks. She watches her husband and holds on to one small thought.

I have the power to destroy you, too. Dear God, give me the chance.

Excerpted from It’s One of Us @ 2023 by JT Ellison, used with permission by MIRA Books.

I appreciate being a part of this blog tour and highly recommend J.T.’s book! Have tissues ready and enjoy!

Review of DON’T OPEN THE DOOR by Allison Brennan

About the Book:

Publishing Date: January 24, 2023
Publisher: Mira
ISBN-10: 0778333620
ISBN-13: 9780778333623


US Marshal Regan Merritt never bought the FBI’s theory that her ten-year-old son’s murder was tied to her job. Yet as leads went cold, she’d had to walk away from the marshals, the case and her now ex-husband, Grant, who blamed her for Chase’s death.

After Regan receives a chilling voice mail from her former boss, Tommy, claiming new information about Chase’s murder, she can no longer stay away from her pain-filled past. Especially when Tommy’s murdered before she can return his call.

Now more than ever, Regan’s determined to find the truth, but the more she digs, the more evidence points to Grant as the killer’s true target. But Grant isn’t talking. As she tries to pin down her ex, Regan discovers something much bigger and far more sinister is at play—and she’s running out of people she can trust.

My Review:

I love Regan Merritt’s tenacity and boldness, but mostly I love how real she is. This is the second book in the series but can definitely be read as a standalone. Regan thought the worst pain she could ever endure was when her ten year old son Chase was murdered. But she finds out that there is pain that is equally hard to endure when a close friend and mentor is killed and she is determined to follow the clues no matter where they may lead. All of the characters are relatable and realistic although not all of them are likable. The villains are definitely not on my “I would like to meet this guy” list unless I have Regan backing me up with her Glock. The pace is fast and maintained my interest from beginning to end. There are some real unexpected twists here that I did not see coming and I really enjoyed them. I liked finding out more about Regan’s current situation and her quest to find peace with her past. The mystery is real, the red herrings are numerous and this is a well-written whodunit that had me on the edge of my seat. Loved it and look forward to the next book in the series!
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.”

I would rate this book PG due to content (there are murders involved in the plot).

Meet the Author:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan believes life is too short to be bored, so she had five children and writes three books a year. Reviewers have called her “a master of suspense” and RT Book Reviews said her books are “mesmerizing” and “complex.” She’s been nominated for multiple awards, including the Thriller, RWA’s Best Romantic Suspense (five times), and twice won the Daphne du Maurier award. She lives in Arizona with her family and assorted pets. (From Author’s website at

Purchase Links:


Barnes and Noble


Poisoned Pen


Google Play




Other book in the series:

Book #2 can be read as a standalone, but if you are like me and like to read books in order, here is Book #1! It’s also a riveting read and introduces the character of Regan Merritt.

Review of THE SUNSHINE GIRLS by Molly Fader

About the Book

A cross between Firefly Lane and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, a dual-narrative about two sisters who realize their mother isn’t who they’d always thought when a legendary movie star shows up at her funeral, unraveling the sweeping story of a friendship that begins at a nursing school in Iowa in 1967 and onward as it survives decades of change, war, fame—and the secrets they kept from each other and for each other.

A moment of great change sparks the friendship of a lifetime…

1967, Iowa: Nursing school roommates BettyKay and Kitty don’t have much in common. A farmer’s daughter, BettyKay has risked her family’s disapproval to make her dreams come true away from her rural small town. Cosmopolitan Kitty has always relied on her beauty and smarts to get by, and to hide a devastating secret from the past that she can’t seem to outrun. Yet the two share a determination to prove themselves in a changing world, forging an unlikely bond on a campus unkind to women.

Before their first year is up, tragedy strikes, and the women’s paths are forced apart. But against all odds, a decades-long friendship forms, persevering through love, marriage, failure, and death, from the jungles of Vietnam to the glamorous circles of Hollywood. Until one snowy night leads their relationship to the ultimate crossroads.

Fifty years later, two estranged sisters are shocked when a famous movie star shows up at their mother’s funeral. Over one rollercoaster weekend, the women must reckon with a dazzling truth about their family that will alter their lives forever…

ISBN: 9781335453488

Publication Date: December 6, 2022

Publisher: Graydon House

MOLLY FADER is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets, The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season, and more than 40 romance novels under the pennames Molly O’Keefe and M. O’Keefe. She grew up outside of Chicago and now lives in Toronto. Author Website: Facebook:
Goodreads: P

My review:

This is a book about friendship and perseverance, but it is so much more than a story. It is a look into the hearts of friends and the relationship that develops and endures in spite of differences in lifestyles and choices. Set in the tumultuous era of the Vietnam War and the ensuing generations following, this is almost but not quite like historical fiction. It certainly has that vibe about it as I lived in that time and can recall the draft, the solders leaving for war and not returning and the sacrifices made by those left behind. The story of BettyKay, Jenny and Kitty is memorable not only for the realistic historical details but also because of the characters themselves who popped off the page and into my heart and mind, with their wishes and dreams for a bright future. I really enjoyed reading about how their friendship evolved from not quite trusting to trusting completely with all of the secrets. There were some unexpected revelations made to the reader as well as to BettyKay’s daughters after her death. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the story was intricately and perfectly woven around the lives of the women and then spread out to include the next generation. This is a timeless novel and one that will long reverberate in my heart for the lessons it teaches about moving on, accepting and surviving the unthinkable with grace and fortitude. This book presents women’s fiction at its best!
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.”

My rating:

I would rate this book PG due to content.



Greensboro, Iowa


There were too many lilies. Clara wasn’t an authority on flowers or funerals. But, it was like a flower shop—that only sold lilies—had exploded in the blue room of Horner’s Fu­neral Home.

This was what happened when everyone adored you. They buried you under a mountain of your favorite flower—in this case, stargazers with their erotic pink hearts and sinus-piercing pollen—before they actually buried you.

And it was just a cosmic kick in the pants that Clara Beecher was allergic to her mother’s favorite flowers.

“Clara!” Mrs. Place, her eighth-grade language arts teacher, clasped Clara’s hands in her bony grip. Mrs. Place had not changed at all. She was the kind of woman who seemed mid­dle-aged at seventeen and just waited for time to catch up. “Your mother was so proud of you. You and your sister, you were her pride and joy.”

“That’s nice of you to say,” Clara said, keenly aware of her sister, Abbie, across the room doing the sorts of things that would make a mother proud.

“At book club, she’d go on and on about you and the im­portant work you were doing in the city and, well, most of it went right over my head,” Mrs. Place said. There was nothing complicated about Clara’s work; Mom just lied about it so, as a former hippie, she didn’t have to say the words my daughter is a corporate shill. “But you could tell she was just so proud.”

Clara pulled her hand free in time to grab a tissue from one of the many boxes scattered around the room and held it to her allergy-induced, dripping nose. “Thank you,” she said through the tissue.

“Everyone is going to miss Betts,” Mrs. Place said. “So much. There’s not a part of this town that she wasn’t involved in. Church, the library. Park board. Community gardens.”

Like an invasive species. Invite her to something and she’d soon be running the show.

Grief is making you sharp. That was something her mother would say. If she wasn’t dead.

The Blue Room of Horner Funeral Home was hot and wall-to-lily packed with people coming to pay their respects to one of Greensboro’s favorite citizens.

BettyKay Beecher had lived her whole adult life in this tiny town, and the town had shown up bearing casseroles and no-bake cheesecakes for the reception after the burial, wearing their Sunday best, armed with their favorite BettyKay stories.

She sat with my dad when he was dying.

She helped us figure out the insurance paperwork when our son was in his accident.

They were all mourning. The whole room and the hallway outside and the people still sitting in their cars in the park­ing lot. People were crying real tears, huddling, sobbing—actually sobbing—in corners. And all Clara could think was:

Did they know?

Had Mom, in true fashion, told the entire town the secret she’d kept from her own daughters for nearly forty years? The bombshell, life-rearranging, ugly secret she’d blurted, exasper­ated and furious with Clara in their last phone call?

Would they be mourning so hard if they knew?

Clara sneezed.

“Oh, bless you, honey,” Mrs. Place said.

“It’s just allergies.” Clara folded up the tissues before put­ting them in the pocket of her new black Marco Zanini suit with the sash tie and the sky blue silk lining. She’d thought the lining might be a bit much for a funeral, but that was be­fore she knew about the lilies.

And don’t get her started on all the men wearing camou­flage. To a funeral. Were they all going hunting after this?

“She’s with your father now. I hope you find comfort in that.”

“I do, thank you.” It was, as it always had been in Greens­boro, Iowa, easier to lie.

Another person came up with another story about Bet­tyKay Beecher. “Is that your sister?” She pointed across the room after sharing an anecdote about their time together in the Army Nurse Corps. “Abbie?”

Abbie was surrounded by her friends from childhood—who used to be Clara’s friends from childhood, not that it mattered—who kept bringing her mugs that were not filled with coffee. Abbie’s cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright and she was half-drunk, crying and hugging and not at all bothered by the lilies.

“Yep. That’s my sister,” Clara said, ushering the woman toward Abbie and not even feeling bad about it. “She’d love to hear your story.”

Three years ago, they’d stood in this exact same room, mourning their father, Willis Beecher. It was hard to be home and not see him in the corners of rooms. She couldn’t drink rum or Constant Comment tea and not miss him. The smell of patchouli could bring her to tears. A sob rose up in her throat like a fist, and her knees were suddenly loose. She put a hand against the table so she didn’t crumple onto the floor.

I’m an orphan. Me and Abbie—orphans.

She was a full-grown adult. A corporate lawyer (about to make junior partner, fingers crossed) who billed at $700 an hour. She had a condo on Lakeshore and a good woman who loved her. Abbie had two kids of her own, a husband of twenty-five years and kept slices of homemade lemon loaf in the freezer that she could pop in a toaster in case someone stopped by for coffee. They were far from orphans.

But she couldn’t shake the thought.

Clara found the side door and stepped out.

The wind was icy, blowing across the farmland to the west, picking up the smell of fries and burgers from The Starlite Room, only to press her flat against the yellow brick. She felt the cotton-silk blend of her suit snag on the brick.

The first few days of March were cold, too cold to be out here without a jacket, but the freshness woke her up. Spring hadn’t committed to Iowa yet and the cornfields were still brown, lying in wait, like everything else in Greensboro, for the last blizzard to come hammering down from the Dakotas.

Her phone buzzed. She left it in her pocket.

Horner’s Funeral Home was on the other side of town from the Greensboro University, and St. Luke’s School of Nursing’s white clock tower was just visible over the trees. The univer­sity had all the flags lowered to half-mast for the week. It was a nice touch. Mom had been a student there and then a teacher and for the last twenty years, an administrator.

She closed her eyes, letting the wind do its work.


Clara felt her sister lean back against the wall next to her, smelling of vanilla and Pinot Grigio.

“Hey,” she said, eyes still closed.

“The lilies—”


“You okay?”

Clara hummed in her throat, a sound that wasn’t yes or no. That was, in fact, the exact sound of the exhausted limbo the last few days had put her in.

“Me neither,” Abbie said. “It just… I feel like I’m missing something, you know? Like I’m walking around all wrong.”

Clara felt the same. Being BettyKay Beecher’s daughter was a part of her identity she didn’t always carry comfortably, but it was there.

“Where’s Vickie?” Abbie asked, and Clara caught herself from flinching at the sound of her girlfriend’s name.

“She wishes she could be here but she has a case in front of the Illinois Supreme Court.”

She felt Abbie’s doubt, the way she wanted to probe and pick.

“Did you have to blow up that picture so damn big?” Clara asked, before Abbie could get to her follow-up questions.

All around the funeral home were pictures of the Beecher family. And—God knows why—Abbie had decided to blow up to an obscene size, the picture of their mother that was on the back of her book: Pray for Me: The Diary of an Army Nurse in Vietnam. In it BettyKay was a fresh-faced twenty-two-year- old, with a helmet-shaped brunette bob wearing an olive green United States Army Nurse Corps uniform.



“Fiona’s turning into a little parrot, so we don’t swear any­more. We say ‘effing’ and ‘darn’ and ‘poop.’”

“That’s effing nonsense.”

“Probably.” Clara could hear the smile in her sister’s voice. “And yes, I did. I love that picture of Mom. She looks so brave.”

Clara thought she looked terrified.

“Max and Fiona don’t understand what’s happening,” Abbie said. “They keep asking why Gran is lying down.”

Clara’s laugh was wet with the lingering allergic reaction to the flowers. “That’s awful.”

“Denise from the hospital keeps trying to get the kids to touch Mom’s hand. So they can feel how cold she is and then they’ll understand.”

“What will it make them understand?”

“That she’s dead.”

“That’s morbid even for Denise.” They were both laugh­ing, which felt alien but sweet.

“She says it will give them closure.”

Abbie reached out and grabbed her hand. Clara started to pull away, but Abbie didn’t let go.

I should tell her. Part of her even wanted to. To share the burden of information like they were kids again. And Abbie, who liked the view from the perch her reputation as a Beecher in this town gave her, would tell Clara it wasn’t true. Couldn’t possibly be. That Mom had been wrong. Angry. Something.

Some excuse to keep everything the way it was.

That was why Clara couldn’t tell her. Because Abbie had to live in this town side by side with the memory of Mom. Bringing Abbie into it would make her sister’s life harder.

“Abbie, don’t get upset but I am going to leave after the re­ception at the church.” There. Done. Band-Aid-style.

“And go where?” Abbie asked.

“Back home.”

And here comes the look. “Chicago? You’re kidding.”

“We have a new client—”

“You’re leaving?” Accidentally Clara caught Abbie’s furious gaze and wished she hadn’t. She could see her sister’s rage and her grief and it felt worse than her own.

“I’ll be back,” Clara lied.

“Bullshit.” So much for not swearing.


“You know. I should have expected this. You show up last-minute in your car and your ugly suit—”


“With your nose in the air—”

“I’ll pay to have the house boxed up.”

Abbie sucked in so much air Clara went light-headed from the lack of oxygen around her.

“Can we please not make this a big deal?” she asked.

“What did I ever do to you, Clara? To make it so easy for you to leave me behind?”

The wind caught the side door as it opened, banging against the brick with a sound that made Clara and Abbie jump like they’d been caught smoking.

Ben, Abbie’s husband, stuck his head out and Abbie stepped forward. Ben was a good-looking guy in a gentle giant kind of way. Constantly rumpled, but usually smiling. He reminded Clara of a very good Labrador retriever.

She wanted to pat his head and give him a treat. And then yell at him for tracking mud across the rug.

“There you are,” he said.

“I was just getting some air,” Abbie said, with surprising defensiveness. “Is everything okay?”

“There’s…” Ben glanced over his shoulder and made a face, bewildered and somehow joyful in a way that made Clara and Abbie push off the wall. It was his mother-in-law’s funeral after all. Joy was a strange sentiment.

“What?” Clara asked.

“Well, I think you should come in and see for yourself.”

Ben held the door while Abbie and Clara walked back into the packed room. Everyone was silent now, pressed to the walls and corners in little clumps, whispering in that painfully fa­miliar way out of the corners of their mouths and behind their hands. There was a path down the center of the room right to Mom’s casket, where she lay with her arms crossed, wearing her favorite green dress and way too much blush.

Standing at the casket, was a woman. A stranger.

Everything about her screamed not from around here. She wore an elegant long black skirt and a pair of boots with low heels of rich black leather. A gray sweater (Ralph Lauren Col­lection cashmere or Clara would eat her own boots) with a black belt around her trim waist. Her hair was long and sil­very blond, the kind that appeared natural but Clara would put money on the fact that it cost a lot and took a lot of time to keep that way.

She kind of…glittered.

“Who is that?”

“You don’t recognize her?” Ben whispered between Abbie and Clara’s shoulders, his breath smelling of coffee and cough drops.

Something about the woman did seem familiar, polished.

“Is she from the publishing company?” she asked Abbie.

“I don’t think so. They sent a cheesecake.”

“That morning show Mom did sometimes, in Des Moines? Ramona?”

“Ramona Rodriguez died, like, ten years ago.”

Clara should know this woman. But her mother’s funeral was throwing her off.

“Are you kidding me? You really don’t recognize her?” Ben asked. “It’s Kitty Devereaux.”

Excerpted from The Sunshine Girls by Molly Fader. Copyright © 2022 by Molly Fader. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

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Review of HOME SWEET CHRISTMAS by Susan Mallery

Told with the author’s signature wit, this story about two couples who need to find love and a place to belong is one that is heartwarming and laugh out loud funny at times. Camryn is in Wishing Tree because of her mother’s death the previous year and she has sacrificed her life in Chicago to come home to take care of her younger twin sisters. She is also running the family business, “Wrap Around the Clock,” a clever concept to provide wrapping services with personalized and unique gift wrap. River Best is an introvert who is in Wishing Tree because her sister moved there with her niece and as an internet genius, she can work anywhere. Both Camryn and River are thrown out of their comfort zones and into the world of finding true love. The atmosphere of the town is magical, especially the names of the businesses that just sing out with the love of all things about the holiday. There are many characters in this story that just make the entire story come together seamlessly, but my absolute favorite was Helen Crane, the matriarch who sets out to find a bride for her son Jake because she wants to have grandchildren before she dies. What a lovable hoot she is! Of course, one of her candidates for Jake is Camryn and although he admonishes her to back off and allow him to run his own love life, Helen is not so easily maneuvered. I also liked River, the introvert who is encouraged by her new friends to enter her name in the hat for the Snow Queen so that she will get to know the town and its people better. Her Snow King is Dylan, a young man with a big secret that almost destroys the budding relationship that he is developing with River. The twists and humor in the book are numerous and so delightful that this book had me rushing to the end to find out what would happen with the couples, the twins, and Helen. I thoroughly enjoyed the realistic details and the banter between the couples that made the book more like a play that I was watching than a book that I was reading. The plot moves along swiftly to a satisfying conclusion that was not unexpected, but it was so much fun getting there. Pure pleasure from beginning to end, this book is one that touched my heart and definitely prepares me for the season of love, laughter and giving.
This is the second book in the series, but it can definitely be read as a standalone.
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. The 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.”

Sweet romance with premarital sex included. No graphic details but I would rate the book PG-13
SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women’s lives—family, friendship, romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations,” and readers seem to agree—40 million copies of her books have sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She’s passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the ragdoll cat and adorable poodle who think of her as mom. Visit Susan online at
Free cookie cookbook! Just follow the link and become a member of Susan’s All Access Group.



“Your teeth are lovely, Camryn. Did you wear braces as a child?”

Camryn Neff reminded herself that not only was the woman sitting across from her a very wealthy potential client, but also that her mother had raised her to be polite to her elders. Still, it took serious effort to keep from falling out of her chair at the weirdness of the question.

“No. This is how they grew.”

Hmm, that didn’t sound right, although to be honest, she didn’t have a lot of experience when a conversation turned dental.

She refocused her mind to the meeting at hand. Not that she knew for sure why Helen Crane, leader of Wishing Tree society, such as it was, and sole owner of the very impressive Crane hotel empire, wanted to meet with her. The summons had come in the form of a handwritten note, inviting her to the large, sprawling estate on Grey Wolf Lake. Today at two.

So here Camryn was, wearing a business suit that had been hanging in her closet for over a year. The dress code for Wishing Tree retail and the dress code for the job in finance she’d left back in Chicago were very different. While it had been fun to dust off her gorgeous boots and a silk blouse, and discover her skirts still fit, she was ready to get to the point of the invitation.

“How can I help you, Mrs. Crane?” she asked.

“Helen, please.”

Camryn smiled. “Helen. I’m happy to host a wrapping party, either here or at the store. Or if you’d prefer, I can simply collect all your holiday gifts and wrap them for you.”

She casually glanced around at the high ceilings of the sitting room. There was a massive fireplace, intricate molding and a view of the lake that, even with two feet of snow on the ground, was spectacular. And while there were lovely fall floral displays on several surfaces, there wasn’t a hint of Christmas to be found. Not in Wishing Tree, eight days before Thanksgiving. Those decorations didn’t appear until the Friday after.

“I have some samples for custom wrapping paper,” she said, pulling out several sheets of paper from her leather briefcase. “The designs can be adjusted and the colors coordinated with what you have planned for this holiday season. Wrapped presents under a tree are such an elegant touch.”

“You’re very thorough,” Helen murmured. “Impressive.” She made a note on a pad. “Are you married, dear?”

“What?” Camryn clutched the wrapping paper samples. “No.”

Helen nodded. “Your mother passed away last year, didn’t she?”

A fist wrapped around Camryn’s heart. “Yes. In late October.”

“I remember her. She was a lovely woman. You and your sisters must have been devastated.”

That was one word for it, Camryn thought grimly, remembering how her life had been shattered by the loss. In the space of a few weeks, she’d gone from being a relatively carefree, engaged, happy junior executive in Chicago to the sole guardian for her twin sisters, all the while dealing with trying to keep Wrap Around the Clock, the family business, afloat. The first few months after her mother’s death were still a blur. She barely remembered anything about the holidays last year, save an unrelenting sadness.

“This year the season will be so much happier,” Helen said firmly. “Victoria and Lily are thriving at school. Of course they still miss their mother, but they’re happy, healthy young adults.” The older woman smiled. “I know the teen years can be trying but I confess I quite enjoyed them with Jake.”

Camryn frowned slightly. “How do you know about the twins?” she asked.

Helen’s smile never faded. “It’s Wishing Tree, my dear. Everyone knows more than everyone else thinks. Now, you’re probably wondering why I invited you over today.”

“To discuss wrapping paper?” Although even as Camryn voiced the question, she knew instinctively that was not the real reason.

Helen Crane was close to sixty, with perfect posture and short, dark hair. Her gaze was direct, her clothes stylish. She looked as if she’d never wanted for anything and was very used to getting her way.

“Of course you’ll take care of all my wrapping needs,” Helen said easily. “And I do like your idea of custom paper for faux presents under the tree. I’ll have my holiday decorator get in touch with you so you two can coordinate the design. But the real reason I asked you here is to talk about Jake.”

Camryn was having a little trouble keeping up. The order for wrapping and the custom paper was great news, but why would Helen want to discuss her son?

She knew who Jake was—everyone in town did. He was the handsome, successful heir to the Crane hotel fortune. He’d been the football captain in high school, had gone to Stanford. After learning the hotel business at the smaller Crane hotels, he was back in Wishing Tree, promoted to general manager of the largest, most luxurious of the properties.

They’d never run in the same circles back when they’d been kids, in part because she was a few years younger. She’d been a lowly freshman while he’d been a popular senior. Her only real connection with Jake was the fact that he’d once been engaged to her friend Reggie.

Helen sighed. “I’ve come to the conclusion that left to his own devices, Jake is never going to give me grandchildren. I lost my husband eighteen months ago, which has been very hard for me. It’s time for my son to get on with finding someone, getting married and having the grandchildren I deserve.”

Well, that put the whole “did you wear braces” conversational gambit in perspective, Camryn thought, not sure if she should laugh or just plain feel sorry for Jake. His mother was a powerful woman. Camryn sure wouldn’t want to cross her.

“I’m not sure what that has to do with me,” she admitted.

Helen tapped her pad of paper. “I’ve come up with a plan. I’m calling it Project: Jake’s Bride. I’m going to find my son a wife and you’re a potential candidate.”

Camryn heard all the words. Taken individually, she knew what Helen was saying. But when put together, in that exact way, the meaning completely escaped her.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“You’re pretty, you’re smart. You’ve done well at Wrap Around the Clock. You’re nurturing—look how you’ve cared for your baby sisters.” Helen smiled again. “I confess I do like the idea of instant grandchildren, so that’s a plus for you. There are other candidates, of course, but you’re definitely near the top of the list. All I need is confirmation from your gynecologist that you’re likely to be fertile and then we can get on with the business of you and Jake falling in love.”

“You want to know if I’m fertile?”

Camryn shoved the samples back in her briefcase and stood. “Mrs. Crane, I don’t know what century you think we’re living in, but this isn’t a conversation I’m going to have with you. My fertility is none of your business. Nor is my love life. If your plan is genuine, you need to rethink it. And while you’re doing that, you might want to make an appointment with your own doctor, because there’s absolutely something wrong with you.”

Helen looked surprisingly unconcerned. “You’re right, Camryn. I apologize. Mentioning fertility was going a bit too far. You’re the first candidate I’ve spoken to, so I’m still finding my way through all this.” She wrote on her pad. “I won’t bring that up again. But as to the rest of it, seriously, what are your thoughts?”

Camryn sank back on her chair. “Don’t do it. Meddling is one thing, but you’re talking about an actual campaign to find your son a bride. No. Just no. It’s likely to annoy him, and any woman who would participate in something like this isn’t anyone you want in your family.”

Helen nodded slowly. “An interesting point. It’s just they make it look so easy on those reality shows.”

“Nothing is real on those shows. The relationships don’t last. Jake’s going to find someone. Give him time.”

“I’ve given him two years. I’m not getting younger, you know.” Her expression turned wistful. “And I do want grandchildren.”

“Ask me on the right day and you can have the twins.”

Helen laughed. “I wish that were true.” Her humor faded. “Do you know my son?”

“Not really.”

“We could start with a coffee date.”

Camryn sighed. “Helen, seriously. This isn’t going to work. Let him get his own girl.”

“He’s not. That’s the problem. All right, I can see I’m not going to convince you to be a willing participant. I appreciate your time.” She rose. “I meant what I said about the wrapping. I’ll arrange to have all my gifts taken to your store. And my holiday decorator will be in touch about the custom paper.”

“Is the holiday decorator different from the regular decorator?” Camryn asked before she could stop herself.

Helen chuckled. “Yes, she is. My regular decorator is temperamental and shudders at the thought of all that cheer and tradition. He came over close to Christmas a few years ago and nearly fainted when he saw the tree in the family room.”

She leaned close and her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “It’s devoted to all the ornaments Jake made for me when he was little. There are plaster handprints and little stars made out of Popsicle sticks. My favorite is a tuna can with a tiny baby Jesus in the manger tucked inside. There’s bits of straw and a star.” She pressed both hands to her heart. “I tear up thinking about it.”

Baby Jesus in a tuna can? Helen was one strange woman.

Camryn collected her briefcase and followed Helen to the front door. Helen opened it, then looked at her.

“You’re sure about not being a part of Project: Jake’s Bride?”

“Yes. Very.” Camryn kept her tone firm, so there would be no misunderstanding.

“A pity, but I respect your honesty.”

Camryn walked to her SUV and put her briefcase in the backseat. Once she was behind the wheel, she glanced at the three-story house rising tall and proud against the snow and gray sky.

The rich really were different, she told herself as she circled the driveway and headed for the main road. Different in a cray-cray kind of way.

She turned left on North Ribbon Road. When she reached Cypress Highway, she started to turn right—the shortest way back to town. At the last minute, she went straight. Even as she drove north, she told herself it wasn’t her business. Maybe Jake knew about his mother’s plans. Maybe he supported them.

Okay, not that, she thought, passing the outlet mall, then turning on Red Cedar Highway and heading up the mountain. She might not know Jake very well, but Reggie had dated him for months. Reggie was a sweetie who would never go out with a jerk. So Jake had to be a regular kind of guy, and regular guys didn’t approve of their mothers finding them wives.

Besides, she doubted Jake needed any help in that department. He was tall, good-looking and really fit. She’d caught sight of him jogging past her store more than once and was willing to admit she’d stopped what she was doing to admire the view. He was also wealthy. Men like that didn’t need help getting dates.

The sign for the resort came into view. She slowed for a second, then groaned as she drove up to the valet. Maybe she was making a mistake, but there was no way she couldn’t tell Jake what had just happened. It felt too much like not mentioning toilet paper stuck to someone’s shoe.

If he already knew, then it would be a short conversation. If he didn’t care, then she would quietly think less of him and leave. If he was as horrified as she thought he might be, then she’d done her good deed for the week and yay her. Whatever the outcome, she would have done the right thing, which meant she would be able to sleep that night. Some days that was as good as it was going to get.

Excerpted from Home Sweet Christmas by Susan Mallery. Copyright © 2022 by Susan Mallery. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

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Review of THE BOOK HATERS’ BOOK CLUB by Gretchen Anthony

With a slow start but ultimately a heartwarming lesson about family and determination, this book is worth reading. The first half of the book, I honestly was not sure that I would be able to finish it since the whole premise of the book about selling the bookstore was all that seemed to be the focus. At the beginning of the book, Elliot has passed away and his co-owner of the bookstore, Irma, has decided to sell Over the Rainbow. Irma refuses to explain to anyone why she would even consider selling Elliot’s beloved bookstore to a condo developer, but she is determined to do so in spite of all of the objections from her daughters Laney and Bree and Elliot’s partner Thom. Bree’s employment, in fact her entire life, is centered around the bookstore, so she is understandably about to melt down. Laney flies home from CA when she is summoned by her mother and is as bewildered about Irma’s choice as everyone else. The most charming part of the book and the reason I rounded up was the newsletter that was written by Elliot and interspersed throughout the regular plot. In the newsletter, Elliot gives book recommendations that are filled with recommendations for real books to those who don’t like to read. Elliot was convinced that a non-reader just has not met the right book yet, so in his newsletter, he strives to introduce them to what he thinks would be a good fit. The entire small town gets involved in the dilemma about selling Over the Rainbow so the drama is heightened. There is a lot of heart and humor in the book. I particularly found Laney to be humorous, snarky at times and vulnerably wistful at others. Once the secret was revealed for why Irma has decided to sell, the book’s pace picked up and the story continued on its merry way to a conclusion. I was not a fan of the relationship between Thom and Elliot, seeing it as a nod to that lifestyle, but it was not portrayed in a way that was offensive, so I was able to read the book without any problems. I did enjoy the sense of family overcoming things together and the town pitching in to help, even if their methods were a bit unconventional. I also enjoyed the blooming romance between Bree and the bartender Witt as well as finding out his real job before he decided to tend bars. The characters were credible, the plot was slow at first and then moderately paced and the story itself is worth reading.
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 reviewer. The 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 for content
GRETCHEN ANTHONY is the author of Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, which was a Midwestern Connections Pick and a best books pick by Amazon, BookBub, PopSugar, and the New York Post. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Medium, and The Write Life, among others. She lives in Minneapolis with her family. Social Links: Author Website
Twitter: @granthony
Facebook: Gretchen Anthony
Instagram: @gretchenanthony.writer

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Q & A with Gretchen Anthony:

How do you come up with your themes?

I love this question because I believe theme is crucial to telling a powerful story. It should radiate, become the answer to the question, What’s the book about?

All that said, themes are difficult! They refuse to be twisted into a story that won’t have them or manipulated to fit a character. For that reason, I’ve written many stories that I thought were “about” something, only to realize later they were about something else. In The Kids Are Gonna Ask, for example, I originally believed it was a story about family bonds. But as the two teenage characters grew in the plot and in my mind, I realized the story was as much about the bonds these kids shared, as it was about discovering what made each of them own unique.

And yet, I always knew that The Book Haters’ Book Club was about found family. We book nerds can be quirky folk, and when we quirky folk find our people, we never let go! I wanted this to be a story that brought people together. I also wanted the primary setting, the Over the Rainbow Bookshop, to be a place that lived up to its motto: “Books and Rainbows are where dreams come true.”

What is the attraction to writing/reading about women’s friendships?

What a lovely question… There’s so much talk about women tearing each other down at work and in society. And yes, I think we do cut each other sometimes. But most of us don’t want all that drama in our lives or from our friendships. Drama is exhausting!  So, if I don’t want that in my life, why should I write about it?

Personally, I’m drawn to stories that remind me of the real people I know. Sure, a story may be set in post-WWII Paris, but if the characters are honest with each other, if they make one another laugh and help each other out of a jamb, those are my people. That’s who I want to spend time with–in fiction and in life.

Which comes first: characters or plot?

Always, definitely characters. I have to “hear” the people telling the story. I can plot and plot but if the characters don’t feel real to me, what happens to them is just a hollow shell.

Have you ever been writing a novel and realized the theme is very much like something you’ve experienced?

Yes! I had that experience for the first time with The Book Haters’ Book Club. One of the characters, Laney, came very naturally to me. She grew up in her mother’s bookstore, but as an adult, she wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, when the novel opens, she’s living two-thousand miles away with a job that’s about as different from bookselling as one can imagine. 

As I wrote, Laney’s scenes flowed so easily that I grew curious about my affinity to her. I realized that I, too, “pulled a Laney” after graduating from college. I moved two-thousand miles away and ignored the “good, predictable” opportunities that came my way for riskier, unfamiliar ones. Like Laney, I needed to find out who I was, and to do that, I needed distance and time. 

I can’t tell you what happens to her because that would be a spoiler. But I will say that my life turned out great! [wink, wink]

Thanks to HTP Books that invited me to participate in the Fall 2022 Women’s Fiction Blog Tour.

Review of WOULD YOU RATHER by Allison Ashley

With the theme of friends to lovers, this is a romance book that has an original twist to it. Mia needs a kidney transplant so has to keep a job that she doesn’t really like but she is willing to continue to sacrifice her own happiness in order to have medical insurance. Her best friend Noah, an ever-present boy since her childhood, is the boss’s son who wants Mia to be happy. In his quest to help her, he offers to marry her (fake it) so she can go back to school and finish the degree that she has been longing for. The story itself is almost magical in Noah’s unselfishness as he is willing to lose status in his dad’s company rather than have Mia give up her dream. Both characters are well-developed and relatable, and I especially enjoyed the office pranks they played on each other. There is even an unlikable (on purpose) guy named David who wants to usurp Noah’s role in the company and expose his marriage as fake, so it becomes very important that the new couple convince others of their true love for each other. The real romance starts over halfway through the book even though I kept anticipating it as Noah was already committed to Mia and she was stubbornly resisting. Her reasons for resistance are almost altruistic as she doesn’t want anyone saddled with her health issues and costs. The plot moved along well with a lot of humor and a few clever twists. This book presents a compelling dilemma at the same time that it gives insight into the challenges of leaving the past behind and reaching for a new future together. The dialogue between Mia and Noah was flirty and fun while that between David and the other characters was terse and demanding. In other words, the characters fit their roles perfectly. Fans of light romance with some steam building will enjoy this story from beginning to end because getting to know the couple involved is entertaining as well as thought-provoking at times. The theme of sacrifice and true love is one that resonated with me and I think will be enjoyable for those looking for something a little deeper in a rom-com.
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. The 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-13 due to content
Author Bio: Allison Ashley is a science geek who enjoys coffee, craft beer, baking, and love stories. When she’s not working at her day job as a clinical oncology pharmacist, she pens contemporary romances, usually with a medical twist. She lives in Oklahoma with her family and beloved rescue dog.
Social Links:
Author Website
Twitter: @AllisonAuthor
Facebook: Author Allison Ashley
Instagram: @authorallisonashley

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Review of BECOMING FAMILY by Elysia Whisler

The story of Tabitha Steele and Chris Hobbs touched my heart in all of the right places. Tabitha was abandoned by her mother and raised by her foster mom, whom she calls Auntie El. She has never felt wanted or completely accepted or loved and her brief stint in the military where she was sexually harassed did not help matters. Now suffering from PTSD, she has a support dog named Trinity. She is working hard at becoming a survivor. She joins a gym called Semper Fit and meets Hobbs, one of the trainers. The story of their starting and building a relationship is well written, incorporating both of their pasts and the trauma that they both went through. I enjoyed the fast pace and getting to know the characters, all of whom became like friends to me by the end of the book. What I did not enjoy about the book was the description of all of the exercises at the gym which were too detailed and boring for me because I’m not a gym enthusiast. In fact, for some of them, I had no idea what the exercise entailed, but I wasn’t interested enough to look it up online. This is a good romance, with triggers including assault, abuse and alcoholism.
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. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Rated PG due to sensitive topics and triggers in the content.
Elysia Whisler is the author of RESCUE YOU and other coming titles in the Dogwood County series. She was raised in Texas, Italy, Alaska, Mississippi, Nebraska, Hawai’i and Virginia, in true military fashion. Her nomadic life made storytelling a compulsion from a young age. Her work as a massage therapist and a CrossFit trainer informs her stories. She lives in Virginia with her family, including her large brood of cat and dog rescues, who vastly outnumber the humans. Author Website: Facebook:

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Tabitha’s radar was lit before the woman even entered the store. The way she whipped into the parking space, killed the engine at a crooked angle and jangled the bell over the shop door like it was being throttled. Tabitha had just taken a bite of the Really Big Cookie—a birthday indulgence bought at the community college cafeteria—when the woman marched right up to the front counter and, without so much as hello, slapped down some pictures. “My father’s old Harley has been sitting in the barn for decades,” she declared, out of breath. “And I’m determined to get it going.”

Tabitha closed up her Journal of Invincibility—I am not afraid; I was born to do this. ~Joan of Arc—and tucked it behind the counter, like a mother protecting her young. The woman went on for a bit, while Tabitha tried to chew and swallow her treat. When she was done ranting, she stood there in silence. Eventually, she shook her head. “Don’t you know anything about motorcycles?” Big-breasted, big-hipped, big personality, big, brassy red hair, the customer rested her elbow on the counter and leaned against it, settling in.

“Not much, no.” A hunk of cookie fell from Tabitha’s lips and landed on the front of her Triple M Classics employee T-shirt. She hastily brushed it away and gestured to the shelves that lined the rear of the shop. “I just ring up the merchandise. Keep tabs on the floor when the mechanics are in the back.” She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, but that just prompted images from school this morning, which she didn’t want in her head. Still, with her eyes closed, Tabitha sensed that this wasn’t really about the motorcycle. The woman was upset, possibly grieving. The motorcycle meant something to her and she wanted quick answers because she was searching for a way to ease her pain. Tabitha opened her eyes again, looked past the woman and settled her gaze on Trinity, the little black rescue pit bull who always made her feel better.

“Then get the mechanic. Or, better yet, get the owner. Where’s Delaney Monroe?”

“She’s on an errand.” Tabitha kept her gaze on Trinity, who lay near the stairs that led to Delaney’s apartment. She was catching some zees in the dog bed intended for Delaney’s dog, Wyatt. For about the third time that day Tabitha thought, What am I doing here? I’m not cut out for this.

“Delaney Monroe is who I came to see,” the woman pressed. “I heard she’s an expert on classic bikes. If you work in a bike shop, you should know about bikes. I don’t have time for this.” She straightened up and planted her hands on her hips.

“Delaney’s out. Maybe I can help.”

Tabitha turned to the sound of Nora’s raspy voice.

“I’m Nora. One of the mechanics.” Delaney’s mom had come out of the back room, wiping grease from her fingers with a shop rag. She had a cigarette tucked behind her ear, right where her temples were starting to gray. The rest of her hair was silky black and tied back in a ponytail. Nora was a small woman with a slight build, but the way she carried herself, she might as well have been six feet tall. She wore blue jeans and the same Triple M Classics T-shirt and she locked her fearless, almond-shaped eyes into the irritated gaze of the customer. “Whatcha got?” She nodded at the photographs.

The woman pushed them across the countertop. “This has been in my father’s barn for ages. He recently passed and I’m not sure if it’s worth fixing up.”

Nora went silent while she leafed through the pictures. “An old Harley Panhead,” she murmured. “Sweet. Do you know the year? Looks like a ’49.”

“Yes. How did you know that?”

Tabitha felt a shift in the air as the woman’s demeanor changed, her anger melting away, relief softening her shoulders and her scrunched-up mouth. Crisis averted.

“The window on a Panhead is only ’48 to ’65. The emblem on the gas tank in this shot tells me it’s a ’49.” Nora tapped the top photo with her grease-stained finger.

The woman stuck out her hand, a huge grin on her face. “Nelly Washington. Nice to meet you.”

“Nora.” Nora glanced at Nelly’s hand but didn’t touch her. “My girl owns this place.”

“I’ve heard good things.”

“Damn straight you heard good things. My girl’s the best.”

Nelly gave off a deep belly laugh and used the humor as an excuse to withdraw her unrequited handshake. “Can she fix it up? Make it run?”

Like a cowgirl walking into a saloon in an old Western, Delaney pushed open the shop door at that moment. The bell jangled as she strode inside, motorcycle boots thunking over the floor, helmet in her gloved hand. Delaney was taller than her mother by several inches, had the same slender build and dark hair, but in a pixie cut. Wyatt, the wandering white pit bull with the brown eye patch, trotted in next to her, still wearing his Doggles. Delaney slipped the eye protection off her motorcycle-riding companion. Wyatt spotted Trinity on his dog bed and raced over to play. He leaned on his front paws, butt in the air, tail wagging, then jumped backward and spun. When that didn’t work, he danced all around her, flipping his head and poking his muzzle in the air. Trinity, unmoved, looked to Tabitha for instruction.

“Break, Trinity,” Tabitha said, and the dogs were soon twining necks like ponies.

Nora waved at her daughter and shrugged at Nelly. “You’ll need to bring the bike in. See what’s up. Is it dry?”

“Been in the shed. Covered up.” Nelly’s gaze went to Delaney as she neared.

“She means did you drain the carburetor and gas tank,” Delaney clarified, settling her helmet on the counter. “Before you stored it.”

“Oh.” Nelly’s face went straight. “I don’t know, actually. My father is the one who stored it. Once his arthritis got too bad for him to ride.”

“That’ll make a difference,” Delaney continued, like she’d been in on the conversation from the beginning. “That, and how straight the bike was when it was put up.” She glanced at the photos. “A ’49 Panhead. Cool. Bring it in. We’ll take a look.”

“I will definitely do that. Thank you. My father recently passed away. He used to take me on rides on that bike when I was a little girl.” Nelly’s voice grew faraway, wistful. “We’d go to the general store and he’d buy me a grape soda. I loved feeling the wind in my hair.” Nelly waved a hand. “This was before helmet laws. Anyway.” The reminiscent look in Nelly’s eyes slid away and she sniffed deeply. “Are you Delaney?”

“Yes, ma’am. Don’t worry. I’ve never met a Panhead I can’t get going.”

Tabitha stuffed the rest of the cookie in her mouth and tried to sneak away, her lack of motorcycle knowledge no longer an issue. Her shift was over, she was exhausted and she was ready to go home.

“Get back here, Steele.” Delaney grasped the hem of Tabitha’s shirt and pulled her back gently. “You need to take down this lady’s information. The more you listen, the more you’ll learn. Pretty soon you’ll know a Harley Panhead on sight.” Delaney nodded at Tabitha. “She’s still learning.”

“She seems like a nice young lady.” Nelly was all smiles now, like their earlier interaction had never happened.

After Tabitha filled out a capture sheet with Nelly Washington’s information, and the woman had left the shop in an entirely different mood than the one she’d barged in with, Delaney turned to her and said, “What’s going on, Steele? You look ready to lie on the floor and call your dog for Smoosh Time.”

Smoosh Time was Delaney’s slang for the deep pressure therapy Trinity was trained to provide if Tabitha was having a panic attack. It was affectionate rather than sarcastic. Unused to affection, Tabitha liked it and had taken to calling the therapy Smoosh Time herself. Smoosh Time actually sounded really good about now. But Trinity was still on break, chasing Wyatt around the perimeter of the shop. “It’s been a long day.”

“Massage school getting you down?”

“Old Nelly was kinda rough on her,” Nora offered. She slipped the cigarette from behind her ear and stuck it between her lips.

“That’s why she’s learning as much as she can.” Delaney tapped the capture sheet. “That’s all you can do, Steele. I don’t expect you to become a mechanic, unless you want to, but you soak in everything you can while you’re here.” She glanced at her mother. “Don’t you dare light that in here, Nora.”

Nora pulled it from her lips and rolled her eyes. “I’m not. It’s just a prop, okay?”

“How many days has it been?” After some hemming and hawing Delaney clarified, “For real.”

“Half a day,” Nora admitted. “I’d gone two days and then I caved this morning. It’s so hard not to smoke after I eat. Maybe I need to stop eating.”

Delaney shook her head. “You gotta be tough, Nora. Like Tabitha here.”

“I’m not tough.” Tabitha had been enjoying watching the mother-daughter pair interact, despite how rough her day had been so far. They made her wonder what her relationship with her birth mother would’ve been like, if she’d known her. Tabitha’s relationship with Auntie El—the woman who’d raised her and the only mother Tabitha had ever known—was as old-fashioned as it got. Yes, ma’am, No, ma’am, please and thank you, respect your elders and all boundaries clearly drawn and rarely crossed. There was none of this role reversal or sarcastic banter. Life certainly hadn’t been easy, and Tabitha had been handed absolutely nothing. If that didn’t make her tough, nothing would. “Tough is just not my nature.”

Sensitive was Tabitha’s nature, for good or bad. The armor she lacked had never been very useful, not until she joined the navy and her main job in Afghanistan was to protect her chaplain from harm. She’d been pretty good at smelling trouble, hearing things nobody else heard, seeing things nobody else saw. Some had even jokingly called her Radar, after the character from M*A*S*H. It made her good at her job, despite the fact that she hadn’t been able to prevent the IED that had got her chaplain hurt, and despite the fact that the skill was kind of useless, and often counterintuitive, in everyday life.

“You’re tough-ish, Tabitha,” Nora agreed. “Which means you got potential. Just gotta stand up for yourself with lippy women like Nelly.”

“Spill it, Steele.” Delaney shot her mother a silencing look. “What’s going on?”

“You were right, Sarge,” Tabitha admitted. She hadn’t planned on discussing her day, but there was just something about Delaney, the woman she’d met at Camp Leatherneck years ago. The woman who’d helped her keep her head straight during that awful day when an IED had taken out her convoy. “It’s massage school.”

“What about it?”

“It’s the student exchanges.” Tabitha drew a deep breath. “We have to swap with our classmates once a week to practice the strokes we learn in class. At first, I was doing really well. Everyone loved my massages and said that I just had that magic touch. But then…well… I’m doing something wrong. I’m not…massaging right.” Tabitha bit down on her lower lip.

“How can you not massage right?” Nora spoke around the unlit cigarette dangling from her lips. “Aren’t you just squirting lotion on each other? How hard can that be?”

“No. We’re not just squirting lotion. It’s a lot more than that.” Tabitha was used to Nora’s directness at this point, and did her best to not let Delaney’s mother get under her skin. “You have to learn all the bones and muscles and physiology. Plus all the strokes. There’s a lot of science. You have to learn about how the body moves and how everything works together. And then you have to massage in such a way that you’re helping people. And right now, I’m not helping anyone.” Just like she hadn’t been able to help Nelly Washington with her Panhead. Tabitha wasn’t helping anyone, anywhere.

She was an impostor in every aspect of her own life.

Nora pulled a Zippo from her pocket and flipped it open. “How do you know?” She ran her thumb over the wheel, making a clicking sound with the lighting mechanism without actually bringing the flame to life.

“I’m…” Tabitha sighed and faced the blank expressions of the women. “I’m giving the men erections.”

A round of silence passed.

“I’ve done it three times now, to three different men. So it’s not like a one-off. I’m doing something wrong.”

“Man,” Delaney said, shaking her head. “It’s always the quiet ones.”

Wyatt gave off a loud woof and everyone burst into laughter.

“Well.” Nora stuck the cigarette behind her ear and jammed the lighter in the front pocket of her jeans. “Au contraire, but I bet those men think you’re doing something right.”

“We’re definitely not supposed to get erections,” Tabitha insisted. All three men had reacted differently. Todd—young, indifferent, thought massage therapy would be an easy career field—had pretended it didn’t happen. Frank—in his forties, quiet, deliberate—had been embarrassed and would no longer make eye contact with Tabitha in class. Corbin—a loud twentysomething who called everyone dude—had eyed his own erection with detached interest and announced, “You’re doing something wrong, dude.”

Delaney shook her head. “Men are just like that. The wind blows and their dicks get hard. I wouldn’t be so down on yourself.”

“I already struggle with the science. Like right now we’re learning all the bones, with all their divots and ridges and stuff. It’s excruciating and not coming easily to me,” Tabitha said. “And now I’m screwing up the massages. I’m starting to think I’m just not cut out for it.” Just like I’m not cut out for this bike shop, she didn’t add. She already knew Delaney had given her the job out of pity. No need to shine a spotlight.

“Sounds like the bones are coming easily to you,” Nora muttered as she collected today’s paperwork from the counter and started to file it away. “You’ll be the most requested massage girl in the county. I don’t see what the big problem is.”

Delaney stifled a laugh. “Don’t listen to her. Ask Red about it later. We have the Halloween party, remember?”

The party. Tabitha died a little inside. “Right. The party. Tonight.” But Delaney was right. Tonight she could ask Constance, “Red” for short, the famous massager of humans and dogs alike, about the erections. See what advice she had to give. She’d been the one to talk Tabitha into massage school in the first place, claiming Tabitha had a gift for connecting with people. She was connecting, all right. Just not in the way she meant to.

Delaney grinned and slapped her on the shoulder. “Go home and get some Smoosh Time with your dog, Steele. Rest up. We’ll figure out the boners later.”

Excerpted from Becoming Family by Elysia Whisler. Copyright © 2022 by Elysia Whisler. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Many thanks to HTP Books for including me in the August 2022 Blog Tour!

Review of MR. PERFECT ON PAPER by Jean Meltzer

This is such a fun romance to read and educational, too, as I learned a lot about Jewish culture by reading this book. Dara Rabinowitz, the protagonist, is a reclusive CEO of J-Mate, a matchmaking service for Jewish people. With generations of matchmakers in her past, Dara is the first to use algorithms and modern tech to set up a successful online presence. When she and her beloved grandmother are interviewed on a morning news show, Dara is humiliated that her beloved Bubbe presents to the viewers her list of what her perfect mate would be like. Chris Steadfast, a widower and single father is quickly attracted to Dara. But he is suffering from poor ratings and about to lose his job until he comes up with the brilliant idea of building shows around Dara and her quest for her perfect match. This book was laugh out loud funny, especially when Bubbe was around or when Dara was giving herself talks about what should and should not be happening in her life. The interaction between the main characters was entertaining and so realistic! I loved the characterization that was believable as well as relatable. Chris’s dilemma about his job was heart-touching and Dara’s loneliness was understandable since she has an anxiety disorder that kept her from seeking a mate. I enjoyed finding out the cultural differences as Chris discovered them and waited impatiently for Dara to realize that she had already met her perfect match, even if he wasn’t Jewish. That part, of course, was predictable, but what fun it was to get there with Dara! This is the first book that I have read by this author and it was so engaging that I did not want it to end!
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. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Rated PG
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Author Website
Facebook: @JeanMeltzerAuthor
Instagram: @JeanMeltzer

Author Bio:

Author Jean Meltzer studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch, and served as creative director at Tapestry International, garnering numerous awards for her work in television, including a daytime Emmy. Like her protagonist, Jean is also a chronically-ill and disabled Jewish woman. She is an outspoken advocate for ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), has attended visibility actions in Washington DC, meeting with members of Senate and Congress to raise funds for ME/CFS. She inspires 9,000 followers on WW Connect to live their best life, come out of the chronic illness closet, and embrace the hashtag #chronicallyfabulous. Also, while she was raised in what would be considered a secular home, she grew up kosher and attended Hebrew School. She spent five years in Rabbinical School. She is the author of The Matzah Ball and Mr. Perfect on Paper.



“Now,” Dara said, glancing down at her watch. “If you don’t mind, we’re on a tight schedule here. I need to get out of here before the coming of Moshiach.”

    With that, the entire room jumped into action. Dara took a seat at her vanity. Bobbi laid out the makeup palettes, flipping on two nearby lights to mimic the high-intensity light-ing of a studio. Simi took the clip out of her hair, allowing Dara’s thick black corkscrews to fall free around her shoulders.

    Naveah moved to the center of the room, by the built-in island that housed an impressive array of shoes, and began unzipping the plastic packaging. Hanging the outfits up on a mobile rack, she worked hard to carefully display each item.

    “Okay, we have three looks for you to choose from this morning.”

    Dara analyzed her choices. There was an elegant pleated skirt and tight cashmere sweater. It was Jewy, which went with her brand, but possibly too Jewish for a nationally syndicated televised event that needed to appeal to a broad audience. She glanced over to her next choice, a pair of smart silk pants and a floral blouse. Finally, there was the casual tech look. A pair of tight blue jeans, Converse sneakers and a Patagonia vest.

    “Number two,” Dara said.

    “Fabulous,” Naveah swooned, hanging it up on the room divider screen.   

    Dara stepped behind the screen, tossed off her robe and changed into the outfit. After a few moments, she returned to the center of the room, taking her usual place in front of the full-length mirror to analyze the final look.

    The black silk pants, cinched at the ankles, gave her more curves than usual. The dramatic blouse, made from the most luxurious of fabrics, was imprinted with stunning large white orchids. It achieved the right type of look for her interview. Professional yet feminine. Assertive without feeling aggressive. It was all the things she needed to accomplish as a powerful female executive—often held to a different standard than her male counterparts.

    “What do you think?” Naveah asked, looking over her shoulder.

    “It’s perfect.”

    Everyone applauded. Dara sat back down at the vanity. Simi ran her fingers through her curls, while the rest of her staff gathered round, peering down at her with tablets and makeup brushes in hand.

    “And what’s the look we’re going for today?” Cameron asked.

    “Professional,” Dara instructed.

    “Got it,” Cameron said, moving to pick out a pair of maroon heels. “A pop of color to go with all that black and white!”

    “And the hair?” Simi asked.

    “Just put it up.” She smiled. “A stylish bun, nothing too sexy.”

    Bobbi and Simi began working on her hair and makeup. 

    Meanwhile, Naveah pulled up a chair and turned on her tablet. “Now, I know you’re taking this afternoon off to be with your grandmother, so what do you need me to work on in your absence?”

    “I sent you a list this morning.”

    Naveah tapped on her screen. Moments later, she had the to-do list that Dara had sent her at four o’clock in the morning. “‘Grocery,’” Naveah said, reading the items aloud, “‘laundry, check with caterers for Yom Kippur breakfast, confirm travel for all executives attending October J-Mate sales conference, confirm all of Miriam’s oncology and radiation therapy appointments for September…’”

    Dara was always making lists. Always trying to figure out how to turn her chaotic and extremely busy life into some-thing manageable and organized. In truth, her to-do lists, like her obsessive planning, helped her control her anxiety.

    She was certain that her nonstop list-making drove every-one she worked with—including Naveah—straight-up meshugana. Janet had even once jokingly referred to Dara as the Good List Dybukk, a dislocated soul who appeared without warning and sprinkled to-dos on every person who crossed her path. Fortunately, as Dara paid her staff extremely well for their efforts, they kept the majority of their criticisms to themselves.

    Dara heard the familiar refrain of an incoming Skype call. “Got it!” Naveah said, snapping at Cameron to grab Dara’s phone. “It’s Janet.”

    Dara waved Simi away from her face. She asked everyone to give her a minute, and her entourage left the room. Dara waited for the door to shut firmly behind them before continuing.

    “Good morning!” Janet beamed from her home office in Colorado.

    “What time is it there?” Dara asked.

    “Early.” Janet laughed. “You got the whole crew with you today, huh?”

    “You know it,” Dara said, glancing at her half-done makeup in the mirror.

    Just as Dara’s generalized anxiety disorder was well-known among those she worked with, so, too, was the fact that she genuinely despised all types of public appearances. Alas, that didn’t stop her from doing them. She had learned early on that selling herself on television, in interviews and on Instagram was a necessary evil. Everybody wanted a face, a real person to support, behind the brand. Over the years, Dara had de-vised all sorts of systems for handling her anxiety regarding these appearances.

    “And how are you feeling this morning?” Janet asked, get-ting right to the point.

    “Oh, you know me,” Dara said. “I’m only nervous for the three days before and the six days after…so in terms of the actual interview, I imagine it will go just fine.”

    Janet laughed. “You’re going to do great, Dara.”

    In truth, she always did great. She was a perfectionist, after all. She always had a plan and always said all the right things. She smiled in all the right places. She was never caught off guard, and therefore, never floundered. Though the glam squad and to-do lists may have seemed overkill to some, her obsessive-compulsive tendencies worked. Her business was thriving. Her reputation in tech, and the Jewish world, was flourishing, too.

    “Like we already discussed,” Janet continued, “there shouldn’t be any surprises, okay? Everything has been worked out between our publicity people and their producers. You want to run through the script one more time?”

    “No,” Dara said, firmly. “I got this.”

    Janet nodded. “Then I hope you have a blast with your bubbe today.”

    The camera shut off. Dara put her phone away, catching sight of her reflection in the mirror. Her hair had been ar-ranged into a sophisticated bun. Her angular features had been softened with light contouring. On the surface, she was the picture of poise and finesse. And yet, her hands were shaking.

    She cracked her knuckles, took a sip of tea. She knew it was ridiculous, being this nervous about going on Good News New York, a show that nobody even watched…but she couldn’t help herself.

    Dara watched it.


    It was a habit of hers to keep the television running in the background while she worked. She liked the noise, the hum of familiar voices. It helped her anxiety. She especially liked the deliciously handsome head anchor of Good News, Christopher Steadfast, and the easygoing way he ended every episode with the words, “I’ll be waiting for you.”

    Unfortunately, it had a weird time slot. Midafternoon, during the week, squeezed between the morning talk shows and the soap operas. Plus, it was an oddity in the world of live broadcasting in that it only focused on positive stories. Good news and human interest tales, like the two kids who donated proceeds of a lemonade stand to a homeless shelter, and Bucky, the vegan golden retriever.

    Dara adored the segments on Bucky. She watched all of them, often on repeat, staying up late into the night, scrolling through all his reposted videos on the Good News New York Facebook fan page. In fact, the only reason she had even suggested going on Good News New York to begin with was for a chance at meeting the King of Aww himself. Though she was far too mired in her own busy schedule (and anxiety) to ever own a pet herself, she had adopted the quirky golden retriever in her heart.

    As for Christopher Steadfast, it could never happen. And the reason it could never happen was right there in his name. Christopher Steadfast was not Jewish. As such, and thanks to a very clear rabbinic prohibition against interfaith marriage, she regarded the man the same way she would some beautiful non-Jewish Fabergé egg you passed by in a museum. Some-thing to gaze upon and admire…but never, ever touch.

    She couldn’t believe she would be meeting him today. The dog, obviously.

    Not the man.

    She had no interest at all in some sexy Southern heartthrob with a voice that could melt schmaltz and the pectoral muscles of a Norse god.

    Dara shook the thought away. Then, as her own ema, or mother, had taught her, she focused all her energy on dealing with practicalities.

    She had Simi and Bobbi come back to the room, finish her hair and makeup. She did one final run-through of her sched-ule with Naveah. She had Cameron and Alexa double-check her bags at the front door, packing up her phone and tablet. Eventually, with well wishes and air kisses, Naveah and the entourage departed for the day. Normally, she would have someone from her staff accompany her to her events. But today, she wanted to focus on spending time with her grandmother.

    Dara found herself alone in her apartment once more. She glanced down at her watch. She still had fifteen minutes left before she needed to head out to her bubbe’s. Fifteen minutes. It was a long time to sit around staring at the concrete walls of her apartment. Quiet was dangerous for Dara. It left her open to obsessing.

    She moved to fill the space. She brushed her teeth again. Double-checked the bedroom, making sure the bed was made and everything was neat and tidy. She turned off her computer monitors and all the lights. She unplugged her coffee maker and double-checked the third bedroom for any hair straighteners or curling irons left plugged in. She made sure all the knobs on the oven were turned off, and that the patchouli candle was blown out. She pulled out her phone and snapped a photograph of both. Just in case her brain started obsessively worrying that she had left something on by mistake, and she was single-handedly responsible for burning down all of Hoboken.

    Dara landed at the front door. Her eyes wandered down to her red high heels. She hated wearing heels in the city. Not for any practical reason, or because they gave her blisters. But because in case of emergency, the zombie apocalypse or an-other mass casualty event, she was worried about having to traverse sixty city blocks—or, God forbid, a bridge—to get back home.

    She debated her options. She could pack her heels and wear sneakers for the commute, but that would require yet another bag for the simple day trip into Manhattan.

    She hated that it had to be that way. That she couldn’t just be judged on who she was and what she created. Sadly, Dara was a realist. A huge part of her success in life had been understanding how the world works, and the way people inter-act with each other. Whether she agreed with it or not, first impressions were important. Like a shidduch sheet, or a profile on J-Mate, everybody went to the photo first.

    Otherwise, she looked perfect. The house looked perfect, too. Perfection was the layer of armor she wore to protect her-self from the swings and swipes of an uncertain world.

    She reminded herself of the positive. She was going to be spending the day with her beloved bubbe. They would be making important memories together. Necessary memories. Any anxiety she felt—any sense that something terrible was about to happen—was simply the neurons in her brain misfiring. Her feelings could not be trusted.

    Forcing her shoulders back, and her chest upward, she projected confidence. And then, slinging her messenger bag over one arm, she grabbed that box of black-and-white cookies from the kitchen counter and headed out.

Excerpted from Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer, Copyright © 2022 by Jean Meltzer. Published by MIRA Books

This humorous and frolicking good romance releases on Tuesday, August 9th! Purchase Links:


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I’m delighted to participate in this romp through rom-coms this summer! Thank you to HTP BOOKS!

Review of THE SWEETEST THING by Sasha Summers

The story of Tansy and Dane and their second chance at love is as sweet as the honey they both make. Dane and Tansy have a rivalry going that is one for the record books, revolving around who can make the best honey and come away with the coveted prize from the local Honey Bee Festival. Both of them are desperate to capture the prize money in order to keep their respective business going, and the competition is not helped by the fact that Tansy and Dane have a history together going back to high school. The book had me laughing out loud, telling the realistic characters what to do and rooting for them to overcome their differences. I enjoyed how the plot was woven around family for each of the main characters. Dane’s brother Levi was a favorite character of mine. He’s just a teen who is lost in the world of not really being understood or accepted and is very relatable. I also enjoyed reading about Tansy’s aunts who raised her, both of them with their own past that is revealed in the book, much to my delight. This is such a well-written story that I got to the end before I was ready for the story to conclude. Although it is a predictable romance, getting there was so entertaining and a lot of fun! The book is also very informative about bees and bee keeping and I was enamored with the idea of decorating the bee houses with themes. It was kind of like a Disney World for beekeepers, and I totally wanted to visit the Alice in Wonderland one even if it would mean wearing a beekeeper’s suit. This is the first book that I have read by this author and it can definitely be read as a standalone. Fans of light and humorous romance will enjoy this journey into the buzzing world of bees and honey.
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 G
Author Bio: USA Today Bestselling Author Sasha Summers writes stories that celebrate the ups and downs, loves and losses, ordinary and extraordinary occurrences of life. Sasha pens fiction in multiple genres and hopes each and every book will draw readers in and set them on an emotional and rewarding journey. With a puppy on her lap and her favorite Thor mug full of coffee, Sasha is currently working on her next release.She adores hearing from fans and invites you to visit her online.

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Facebook: Sasha Summers, Author

Twitter: @sashawrites

Instagram: @sasha.summers


This book will be released on June 18, 2022, but you can preorder it today. Purchase Links:


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“He cannot be serious.” Tansy stared at the front page of the local Hill Country Gazette in horror. At the far too flattering picture of Dane Knudson. His long, pale blond hair pulled back in a sloppy man-bun—which should look ridiculous but, on him, never did. The skintight Texas Viking Honey T-shirt vacuum-sealed over what appeared to be a very Viking-like chest. And that smile. That smug, “that’s right I’m superhot and I know it” smile that set her teeth on edge. “What was he thinking?”

“He who?” Tansy’s sister Astrid, sat across the kitchen table, her lap occupied by Beeswax, their massive orange cat. “Who has poor Tansy-Wansy all worked up, hmm, Beeswax?” She smiled down at the cat, who was staring up at Astrid with pure adoration. “Maybe you should go cuddle with her.”

“Dane.” Tansy shook the newspaper. “Who else?”

“Who else, indeed?” Aunt Magnolia said. She stood, straight and tall and willowy, stacking fresh-from-the-oven lavender-honey lemon poppy seed muffins on a plate.

“What did he do now?” Aunt Camellia asked, looking and sounding the appropriate mix of outraged and sympathetic Tansy was hoping for. She wiped her hands on her apron before tightening the lid on the Mason jar full of her lavender-scented beeswax lotion.

“What did he do now?” Lord Byron, Aunt Camellia’s parrot, sat on his perch close to her chair waiting for one of the oyster crackers she always had tucked away in her pocket, just for him.

“This.” Tansy shook the newspaper again. “Texas Viking Honey to Help Honey, Texas, Develop Its As Yet Untapped Agri-Tourism Opportunity.” She paused, waiting for the reaction.

“This is bad?” Astrid asked, leaning around Beeswax to pick up her teacup. “Why is this bad? If they’re scaling back on honey, then—”

“‘While continuing to produce their award-winning clover honey,’” Tansy read, then snorted, “‘Texas Viking Honey, with the support of the Honey City Council, will be expanding operations and combining their Viking ancestry and Texas heritage—”

“That does sound rather impressive, Tansy.” Aunt Magnolia slid the plate of muffins onto the kitchen table and took her seat. “That doesn’t mean it is impressive.”

“Impressive? More like pompous.” Aunt Camellia took a muffin and joined them at the table. “All the Viking this and Viking that. That boy is pure Texan.” She devoured the muffin in a few angry bites.

“The Viking thing is a marketing gimmick,” Tansy agreed.

“A smart one.” Astrid winced at the glare Tansy shot her way. “What about this has you so worked up, Tansy?”

“I haven’t gotten there, yet.” Tansy held up one finger and continued clearly now, over-enunciating each syllable as she read, “‘Combining their Viking ancestry and Texas heritage for a one-of-a-kind event venue and riverfront cabins ready for nature-loving guests by next fall.’”

All at once, the room froze.

Finally. She watched as, one by one, they realized why this was a bad thing.

“But, the bees.” Astrid frowned. Beekeeping wasn’t just their family’s livelihood, it was their way of life. But Astrid had an extra connection to their winged friends. For her, it wasn’t about the honey or the beeswax or the money, it was about protecting them. There was one thing that made Astrid Hill upset—endangering the bees.

Two years of scorching heat and drought had left Honey Hill Farms’ apiaries in a precarious position. Not just the bees—the family farm itself. They all knew this season could make or break the Hill family. None of them wanted to say the words out loud, of course, but there was an inordinate amount of pressure to win the cash prize at this year’s Honey Festival—and the distribution contract with Healthy & Wholesome Markets. If they didn’t, they’d lose their home and their bees… Of course, Dane’s stupid plan might run off the bees long before then.

Astrid looked crestfallen. “It’s almost as if he doesn’t understand or…or care about the bees.”

“He doesn’t care about the bees.” Tansy wanted to hit something. Or someone. “If he did, this wouldn’t be happening.” She scanned the paper again—but not the photo. His smile only added insult to injury. “The noise and traffic and guests, and who knows what ‘event venue’ means? Before that, there will be construction and machinery and workers and…and destruction.” She shook her head. “What is he thinking?”

“I’ll tell you what he’s thinking.” Aunt Camellia took another muffin. “Come to think of it, he’s a Knudson, so chances are he’s not thinking… But, if he’s anything like his father, he’s determined to milk every cent he can out of every avenue available to him. This little…stunt will likely bring them a pretty penny.”

“Now, now, Camellia.” Aunt Magnolia held her hand out for the newspaper.

Tansy handed it over and exchanged a look with her sister. They didn’t know all the ins and outs of what had happened between Aunt Camellia and Harald Knudson—only that their aunt had zero tolerance for all things Knudson.

On that, she and Aunt Camellia were of one mind.

She and her aunt had spent the last eighteen months perfecting their newest honey to make absolutely certain they’d win top prize at this year’s Honey Festival. All the long hours and tweaking of flavors had led to the best honey Tansy had ever tasted—and she’d tasted a lot of honey in her lifetime. That was how Tansy knew, deep in her bones, they’d win. They’d win the blue ribbon and the cash prize and the Healthy & Wholesome Markets deal that would keep Honey Hill Farms alive and well for the long-term. But the cherry on top? Winning top honors would put the Knudsons in their place and avenge her aunt Camellia. Her aunt was bighearted and generous and kind to a fault. That Harald Knudson had done something to hurt her was enough to make the Hills and Knudsons business rivals. Thanks to Tansy’s incident with Dane, the rivalry was intensely personal for her. Up until ten minutes ago, she’d been on a sort of high just thinking about Harald Knudson’s shock as the Hill family took first place—not to mention how ecstatic she’d been imagining wiping the grin off Dane Knudson’s impossibly handsome and perpetually condescending face. Sweet victory.

But now…this…

Tansy stood and carried her coffee cup to the kitchen sink, leaning against the counter to clear her head. Her gaze bounced around the farmhouse kitchen, taking in Granna Hazel’s hand-painted bee and flower details on the pale yellow walls, Aunt Camellia’s leftover lotion materials atop the large island, and the dozen or so full jars sealed and lined up beneath the window over the sink. Aunt Camellia’s pups, all five of them, were a patchwork mass of fur, piled close in a long beam of sunlight that cut across the Spanish-tile kitchen floor. This room was the heart of the old house. This was where they gathered at least twice a day to share a meal, news, and work through any concerns together. Even with stacks of bee journals, magazines, books, baskets of honey, soap- and lotion-making supplies, and all sorts of bits and bobs tacked to the refrigerator and oversize corkboard by the pantry, it was impeccably clean. Aunt Camellia believed in organized chaos—that’s how she described it. Tansy sighed, peering out the window at the bluebonnets and golden agarita waving in the spring breeze, beckoning to the bees that called Honey Hill Farms their home.

A home Dane Knudson is jeopardizing…

“You have to give the boy credit,” Aunt Magnolia said, folding the newspaper and laying it on the table. “He has drive.”

Tansy wasn’t giving the boy a thing. As far back as she could remember, Tansy and Dane had gone toe-to-toe. From middle school spelling bees, fundraisers and Junior Beekeepers competitions, to two publicly humiliating and painful weeks in high school that forever cemented their mutual dislike of one another. She stopped that line of thought cold. Bottom line, they’d been each other’s fiercest competition. But it wasn’t the competition that irked her or the time and work she’d put in to besting him, it was Dane. He had been—he still was, this article proved that—heartless. Heartless and selfish. To him, life was a game, and toying with people’s emotions was all part of it. Over and over again, she’d invested time and energy and hours of hard work and he’d just sort of winged it. As far as Tansy knew, he’d never suffered any consequences for his lackluster efforts. No, the great Dane Knudson could charm his way through pretty much any situation. One thing was certain: Dane and his father were both rotten to the core.

“Drive? Or ego? Maybe he’s finally bitten off more than he can chew?” Tansy shook her head. “What he’s planning has nothing to do with beekeeping.” If anything, there was the potential for disaster. For all of them. And now this…this expansion of his could cost her family their home, the farm, the bees…everything. Tansy’s stomach knotted with dread.

“We should file a protest,” Aunt Camellia said, taking a third muffin.

“It’s his private property, Camellia.” Aunt Magnolia sipped her tea, one fine red eyebrow arching. “He can do as he pleases. Besides, it sounds like the city council is on board.”

Tansy didn’t want to think about just how charming he’d been to manage that. Ugh. She took one of the still-warm lavender-honey lemon poppy seed muffins and pulled it apart. The scent flooded her nostrils and made her stomach growl. Fluffy and golden, with just the faintest hint of their homegrown lavender-infused honey. She took a bite and moaned. “Oh, yum, Auntie Mags. These are heaven.”

“Of course, they are. I made them.” Magnolia smiled. “But mostly because it’s Granna Hazel’s recipe.” She winked.

Tansy spread on some of the honey butter she’d made the week before. Over the years, she learned how to balance rich flavors with a smooth-as-silk texture—making all Honey Hill honey butters spread perfectly. She took a bite, moaned again and smiled. “So, so good.”

“Why not go talk to him?” Astrid asked.

Tansy almost choked on her muffin. “Me?”

“Yes, you.” Astrid shot their aunt a look. “Aunt Camellia can’t.”

“I can’t and I won’t. I’m not setting foot on that man’s property.” Aunt Camellia nodded so vigorously that her reddish-blond curls shook. She crossed her arms over her ample bosom and leaned back against her chair, declaring, “And I won’t be responsible for my behavior if he ever dared show up here.” He meaning Dane’s ne’er-do-well father, Harald Knudson.

“Dared show up here,” Lord Byron repeated, the parrot bobbing up and down on his perch.

Aunt Camellia smiled at the parrot. “What do you have now?” she asked, retrieving the page of newspaper Lord Byron was standing on. The parrot was always taking things and hiding them away, but Aunt Camellia so adored him that he was rarely scolded—much to Aunt Magnolia’s disapproval. “Little thief,” Aunt Camellia all but cooed, then she fed him a cracker.

“I don’t think Harald Knudson would ever think about visiting Honey Hill Farm, Camellia.” Aunt Magnolia shrugged. “Which is good because we need to spend our money carefully, not bailing you out of jail. Your bird, however, could use some time locked up.” She glared at the parrot. Lord Byron glared right back.

Astrid shrugged. “You have to go, Tansy. I’d only make things ten times worse, and you know it.”

“I doubt that,” Tansy argued, though she knew what her sister meant. Astrid would go on a long diatribe about the welfare of the bees, how beekeeping was about equity and respect and balance, before she ever addressed the very real, very legitimate concerns this expansion could cause. A whole list of worries that included things like how vehicle exhaust fumes disrupted a bee’s scent signals, the necessity of an environmental study done prior to any construction—all to ensure no harm or disruption for the land, animals and bees…

Oh, how she loathed Dane Knudson—now more than ever.

He had to know that clearing or changing his property could cataclysmically alter the hives’ pollen source, didn’t he? Or that a queen would relocate her hive if she feared they were in danger? Or that bringing in people, people who didn’t understand bees or honey or anything about beekeeping, could stress a hive and impact their honey production or have them desert their home? A real beekeeper would carefully consider all of this, plus some, before considering such a…a scheme. Since Dane Knudson proclaimed to be a beekeeper, from a long line of beekeepers, he should know of this. He should know better.

“Aunt Magnolia shouldn’t go because she intimidates…well, everyone. That’s not exactly conducive to conversation.” Astrid shrugged, running a hand along Beeswax’s orange-striped back. “Sorry, Aunt Mags.”

Tansy couldn’t help but wonder if Dane Knudson didn’t need to be intimidated a little. Or a lot.

“Don’t be. I love being intimidating. It’s so…so powerful.” Aunt Magnolia smiled. “You can do the same, Tansy. Try it, you’ll like it. Put that brawny boy in his place.”

“Too bad Rosemary isn’t here.” Astrid sighed. “She’d have the perfect talking points for him, spout off just the right numbers and present it so matter-of-factly that he couldn’t argue.”

But their genius little sister, Rosemary, was off following her dreams and participating in a truly innovative bee genomics postgrad study in California. Too far away to call in for backup.

So apparently, Tansy was it. “Unlike Rosemary, the chances of me remaining matter-of-fact are slight.” Especially when I’m face-to-face with that self-inflated, condescending, ridiculously good-looking, unethical jerk.

“Tansy, darling, there is absolutely no reason to let him upset you so. Make your concerns known.” Aunt Magnolia sipped her tea. “Stay calm and cool. Keep the upper hand.”

“She’s right, Tansy. He’s the same bully he was in high school. Getting under your skin for fun,” Astrid reminded her. “But you’re older and wiser and you know how he works so he can’t get to you anymore.” She smiled, sort of. “Just remember what Auntie Mags said. Be intimidating.”

“They’re right, Tansy, darling.” Aunt Camellia patted her hand. “You can do it.”

“You can do it,” Lord Byron squawked.

Tansy didn’t miss the way both her aunts looked at her—Astrid, too. None of them appeared convinced that she could have a productive conversation with their Viking-ish neighbor. And that included herself. But if I don’t talk to Dane, then there’s no chance of stopping his idiotic plan. What choice did she have?

Excerpted from The Sweetest Thing by Sasha Summers. Copyright © 2022 by Sasha Summers. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Thanks to HTP Books for including me in their Summer 2022 Romance Blog Tour!

Review of GOOD HUSBANDS by Cate Ray

This is a book with an original plot and a slow burn. Jessica, Stephanie and Priyanka all receive the same letter, accusing their husbands of sexual assault about two decades ago. The victim is dead and no one is talking, so the three women set out to discover the truth. Stephanie is the most reluctant participant in the investigation, but all three women have a lot to lose if the truth is what they suspect it is. There are some definite triggers in this book and some real surprises as more is revealed. The plot was slow and methodical, laying out the case against each male as the women continue to find more clues. I did not particularly like or identify with any of the women since they are all more upper crust than I am. Also, they seemed somewhat stiff and unrealistic in their reaction to their husbands’ purported crimes. All of them reveal a very human and selfish side while also trying to protect their ways of life. That seemed somewhat realistic but stilted and not a totally natural reaction. The plot was original and engaging for the most part. I even managed to like two out of the three husbands; one was too self-centered to be likable or relatable. All in all, the book was good domestic drama with some secrets revealed slowly and some surprises along the way.
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. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Rated M for mature readers due to content.
Cate Ray is an author of four previous novels of suspense published in the UK under the name Cath Weeks. She was named an Author to Watch by Elle magazine. She lives in Bath with her family.
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Excerpted from GOOD HUSBANDS by Cate Ray, © 2022 by Cate Ray, used with permission from ark Row Books/HarperCollins.


I’m one hundred percent average, said no one ever. Yet that’s what most of us are, myself included. I know the sum of my parts and it equals ordinary and there’s no shame in that. In fact, it’s a strength. My parents were ordinary too and as their only child they raised me to respect being a leaf on a tree, a grain of sand on the beach. You get the picture. But it doesn’t mean being insignificant, anonymous. It means being part of a community, a tribe, a cause greater than yourself.

I realise this kind of thinking isn’t very now. The idea of being average scares my girls to death. I wouldn’t accuse them of it outright, yet it’s probably in their DNA too and at some point, they’ll have to confront it. Mediocrity isn’t something they can deal with and perhaps that’s where we’re going wrong because ordinary is what gets you through. Ordinary is noble, life-affirming. It’s the heart of humanity and somehow, we’ve forgotten that.

And then the letter arrives and I know as soon as I read it that I’m going to have to re-think everything. Because I’m fairly sure that ordinary people don’t get letters like this.

It’s the first day of autumn and I don’t know if it’s actually colder or whether I’m imagining it, as though a door closed yesterday on summer and a chillier one opened, but I’m definitely feeling it today. The tip of my nose is icy and I would get a hot water bottle for my lap, only I’m leaving the house in twenty minutes.

I’m meeting Duane Dee, my favourite sculptor—the only sculptor—on my client list and anything could happen. You never know what you’re going to get with artists, which is why I like working with them. They’re up and down but more than that, they’re honest. I’ve never known a profession like it. My artists talk about integrity and authenticity all the time and I lap it up. I love that the men don’t shave for meetings, the women don’t dye their greys, no one bothers ironing anything.

The investors are another sort altogether. People who buy and sell art are very different from those who create it. I know whose company I prefer, but I keep that to myself because even I know not to bite the hand that feeds me.

Max thinks it’s funny that I work for Moon & Co—he calls them the Moonies—even though he was the one who got me the job. He knows everyone in Bath because he grew up here, whereas I’m originally from the East End, London. I’ve been living here for twenty years and it still makes me laugh that locals think it’s urban, even though I can see cows from our bathroom window.

I’ve just got enough time for a quick look at Facebook. I don’t know why I do it to myself, but sometimes I feel that if I don’t keep up, I’ll be left behind. Which is odd because it’s not as if it’s a race, is it, being human?

I’m forty-six years old and still looking for friends. I’m pretty sure I won’t find them here in this endless scroll of happy images. People work so hard to make themselves look perfect, it’s hard not to try to find faults. I don’t enjoy it. It makes me feel bitchy but still I return and peek.

I glance at the time: ten minutes until I have to go. Outside, red leaves are hanging on the trees as though they’ve gone rusty and can’t move. There’s no wind today, the air completely still.

Duane Dee doesn’t use social media. He thinks the tech companies are using us to get rich and that it’s odd I’m willing to be a pawn in Silicon Valley because I strike him as militant.

It’s probably because I still have a slight East End accent, which can sound blunt, tough, but I like to think of it more as plain-talking. My late Dad used to say that the EastEnders wore their hearts of gold on their sleeves. A firefighter all his life, he believed in helping people out, especially along our street of identical terrace houses where no one could set themselves apart.

Enough of Facebook. I shut it down, telling it I won’t be back, knowing I will. And then I gather my things, ready to take off.

In the hallway, I sit on the stairs to put on my trainers, wondering when I started dressing like a teenager, and that’s when the postman comes. There’s only one small piece of mail, which slips in like a piece of confetti, drifting to the mat. I pick it up with interest because it’s handwritten and I can’t think when I last received one of those.

Then it’s out of my mind because I’m locking up and putting on my puffa jacket as I walk to the car. And then I’m driving to town—the sun a pale wedge of lemon above me—running through what to say to Duane Dee.

Is he well? Is he pushing himself too hard? Is he sleeping enough? He always looks chronically tired. 

I ask too many questions. Intrusive. That’s the little bit of feedback my boss always gives me. Jess, here’s some feedback you didn’t ask for…

When people say you’re intrusive, assertive or direct, they’re basically telling you to be quiet. Are men given feedback like that? I don’t know. But I’m thinking about this as I enter the Sicilian café which is my personal preference and not Duane’s. Whenever he chooses, we end up somewhere too dark to see our food, sitting on tasselled mats.

The service here is very good. Within seconds of my sitting down, the waitress hands me a menu even though I always have an Americano and an almond pastry.

Glancing in the wall mirror beside me, I note that my expression is severe. A semi-friend told me recently that I carry a lot of tension in my face. It was a bit passive aggressive of her to say so, but I know what she means. I have bony cheekbones and thin lips that can look mean if I’m not careful.

So, I’ve been making an effort lately to smile more, worry less and unclench my hands. I also tend to tap my teeth together and I’m doing that now in time to the café music as I wait for Duane.

And then I remember the letter.

It takes me several minutes to find it, as well as my reading glasses. Since hitting my mid-forties, I misplace things all the time. I normally ask myself, where would I have put it? And it’s never there.

The letter is in the front compartment of the rucksack which I haven’t used for so long, there are crumbs and bits of foil in there from the primary school-run. Flicking the crumbs off the envelope, I examine the handwriting, feeling a pang of nostalgia at the idea of someone putting pen to paper just for me.

The writing is tiny and in capitals, internet code for shouting, but in this case is more like whispering. Something about it gives me the sense that it’s trying its hardest not to offend or take up too much space. I have to prise the paper out of the envelope, where it’s wedged, folded into eighths.





For what? I check the postmark on the envelope: Monday 5th October, 5pm. That was last night. Shifting uneasily in my seat, I turn over the letter to see who sent it: Holly Waite.




9780778333203_TS_SplitBG_txt.indd 19 11/12/21 8:18 AM CATE RAY 20 











The kiss throws me the most. I stare at it. It’s like she’s trying to add a softener, after making the worst possible accusation.

I read the letter again, my eye lingering on Maximilian Jackson. No one ever calls Max that. It doesn’t even sound like him.

“Jess?” I glance up to see Duane standing there, untying his Aztec scarf, clay stains on his jumper. “Alright, darlin’?”

I can’t pull out a smile for him. I’m not great at hiding my emotions. It’s one of the things Max has always loved about me and I like it about myself too. Yet suddenly, it feels like an impairment; a liability even.

Slipping the letter into my bag, I stand up robotically and we exchange kisses. He smells of autumn air and his cheek as it brushes mine is so cold it makes me shiver. “Hi, Duane.”

We sit down and Duane scans a menu before tossing it aside. “Who am I kidding? I’m gonna get the calzoni. I always get the calzoni.”

“So…how are you?” I manage to ask. “How’s the new project going?” I sound uptight, formal. I clench my hands, trying to stop them from trembling.

The waitress takes our order. And then I sit rigidly in my chair, listening as Duane describes his latest creation—how it embodies technoculture, hyperreality, paranoia.

When the coffees arrive, I drink mine too quickly and burn my tongue.

“You OK?” He cocks his head at me.

No, I’m not. How could I be?

“Actually, I just need to pop to the ladies. Could you excuse me a minute?”

Out in the restroom, I stand with my hands against the sink, trying to breathe, feeling dizzy. Closing my eyes, I see Maximilian Jackson again in that tiny handwriting.

It’s not Max. It’s some sort of mistake. Holly Waite…whoever that is…is wrong. And perhaps, dead. 

I don’t think I’ve ever felt happy before to hear of someone’s demise, but as I open my eyes it occurs to me that if this woman is deceased then there’s no one present to make any accusations.

I return to the table, where Duane is tucking into his calzoni, a thread of cheese hanging from his lip. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to tell him, or anyone, so they could set themselves straight.

But something strange happens and I just sit there, silent, watching the thread dangle as he chews and talks. It seems to me that I don’t know who I am. Or more to the point, who my husband is.