Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
(Edited to avoid spoiling the previous book in the series).
Charlotte Holmes receives a tempting offer: Find a dossier the crown is desperately seeking, and she might be able to go back to a normal life. Her search leads her aboard the RMS Provence. But on the night Charlotte makes her move to retrieve the dossier, in the midst of a terrifying storm in the Bay of Biscay, a brutal murder takes place on the ship. Instead of solving the crime, as she is accustomed to doing, Charlotte must take care not to be embroiled in this investigation, lest it become known to those who harbor ill intentions that Sherlock Holmes is abroad and still very much alive.(publisher)
I love a locked-room mystery so when I discovered the newest installment of the Lady Sherlock series was set on a ship I knew I’d be all in. Charlotte and her friends Mrs. Watson, Lord Ingram and others are all on board the Provence sailing for Gibralter and points east. When a murder occurs the wheels of Charlotte’s brilliant mind are set in motion. Rest assured, with the help of Lord Ingram and Mrs. Watson the murderer will be found. This was an entertaining story, a bit convoluted at times, but ended as you might expect. As the novel wrapped I was smiling with all the romantic vibes that subtly appeared. Well done, Sherry Thomas!
About the author:
USA Today bestselling author Sherry Thomas is one of the most acclaimed historical romance authors writing today and a two-time RITA Award winner. Learn more online at www.sherrythomas.com.
When a local teenager discovers a severed hand and foot washed up on the shore of the small town of Point Mettier, Alaska, Cara Kennedy is on the case. A detective from Anchorage, she has her own motives for investigating the possible murder in this isolated place, which can be accessed only by a tunnel. After a blizzard causes the tunnel to close indefinitely, Cara is stuck among the odd and suspicious residents of the town—all 205 of whom live in the same high-rise building and are as icy as the weather. Cara teams up with Point Mettier police officer Joe Barkowski, but before long the investigation is upended by fearsome gang members from a nearby native village. Haunted by her past, Cara soon discovers that everyone in this town has something to hide. Will she be able to unravel their secrets before she unravels?”(publisher)
About the author:
Iris Yamashita is an Academy Award–nominated screenwriter for the movie Letters from Iwo Jima. She has been working in Hollywood for fifteen years developing material for both film and streaming, has taught screenwriting at UCLA, and is an advocate of women and diversity in the entertainment industry. She has also been a judge and mentor for various film and writing programs, and lives in California.
This was my first book of 2023 and what an intriguing story to start the year. Thanks to Berkley for the finished copy. Author Iris Yamashita’s debut novel had a slow start but the short chapters kept me reading and I ended up finishing City Under One Roof in three days. Point Mettier made for a unique and mysterious setting. I did a search and came up with a lot of info on the town of Whittier, AK, including this youtube short, that is the actual town in this book.
Detective Cara Kennedy is on leave from the Anchorage PD but is drawn to the town and hopes to help solve the mystery of the body parts that have turned up on shore. When an avalanche strands her for the unknown future she becomes more determined. In this enclosed city the quirkiness of the residents comes to the forefront and take the story in different directions all leading to an exciting denouement. So, if interesting characters, a gruesome crime, and a different kind of setting sounds appealing to you, I say give City Under One Roof a try.
Praise for CITY UNDER ONE ROOF:
“Heralds the arrival of a major new talent.” —Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
“An offbeat, sharply written thriller.”—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review
“The claustrophobic atmosphere in this unique one-building town, isolated by tunnels, weather, and secrets, builds a memorable debut crime novel.”—Library Journal, STARRED review
“Northern Exposure meets Dexter in this clever thriller in which an isolated community is rocked by a twisted murder, increasingly dark secrets and the terrifying knowledge that the people they always thought they knew are now the ones they should fear the most.”
—Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of One Step Too Far
“Iris Yamashita blasts into the world of crime fiction by doing something spectacular: introducing us to a totally unique location and sub-culture. A compulsive page-turner that’s both atmospheric and claustrophobic at the same time.”
—C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Shadows Reel
“CITY UNDER ONE ROOF is a gripping, unsettling and oppressive thriller that welcomes a wonderful new talent to the genre. Prepare to be quickly immersed in this dark and moody murder mystery.”
—Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of Local Woman Missing
“Electric and fast-paced, this debut thriller is a testament to Yamashita’s skills as a storyteller. There’s no escape from the isolated Alaska setting for either the murder investigator or the reader. I fell down the rabbit hole and couldn’t come out until I read the final page.”
—Naomi Hirahara, Edgar Award-winning author of Clark and Division
“Iris Yamashita delivers! Compelling characters, clever plot twists, and a story that will chill you to your bones. CITY UNDER ONE ROOF is a must-read thriller.”
–New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin
“A well-crafted novel, told through the eyes of three very different women, with a wonderfully claustrophobic and atmospheric background.”
—Ann Cleeves, New York Times bestselling author of The Long Call and Vera Stanhope novels
Berkley Trade Paperback Original; August 2, 2022; Women’s Fiction; Romance
After her mother’s tragic death ten years ago, Lolly abandoned her dream of opening a restaurant and left her first love behind to care for her younger sister and grieving father and keep her family’s struggling Seattle diner afloat. Now, a decade later, nothing has changed. Each morning Lolly dutifully whips up the diner’s famous lemon meringue pies while fantasizing about the life she should be living.
As Lolly’s thirty-third birthday approaches, she finds herself re-evaluating everything. After sharing her discontentment, her quirky great-aunt gives her a mysterious gift—three lemon drops, each of which allows her to live a single day in a life that might have been hers. What if her mom hadn’t died? What if she had opened her own restaurant in England? What if she hadn’t broken up with the only man she’s ever loved? All these questions and more will be answered with each adventure.(content from the publisher)
Lucy Duff Gordon knows she is talented. She sees color, light, and texture in ways few people can begin to imagine. But is the male-dominated world of haute couture, who would use her art for their own gain, ready for her?
When she is deserted by her wealthy husband, Lucy is left penniless with an aging mother and her five-year-old daughter to support. Desperate to survive, Lucy turns to her one true talent to make a living. As a little girl, the dresses she made for her dolls were the envy of her group of playmates. Now, she uses her creative designs and her remarkable eye for color to take her place in the fashion world—failure is not an option.
Then, on a frigid night in 1912, Lucy’s life changes once more, when she becomes one of 706 people to survive the sinking of the Titanic. She could never have imagined the effects the disaster would have on her fashion label Lucile, her marriage to her second husband, and her legacy. But no matter what life throws at her, Lucy will live on as a trailblazing and innovative fashion icon, never letting go of what she worked so hard to earn. This is her story.(publisher)
Digital galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
A burned-out veterinarian takes a much-needed beach vacation, where a charming surfer makes waves in her love life, and a unique foster pup renews her passion for her work. Exhausted veterinarian Morgan Pearce is feeling overworked and under-thanked, so when two favorite clients ask her to watch their special needs senior dog in their Nantucket home, she jumps at the chance for a summer break. She hopes her time on the island will be a reset from the stress of her everyday life, but her chill vacation vibe takes a hit when she gets roped into fostering a challenging, anxious dog and helping plan the local rescue group’s glittery annual fundraiser. Her trip starts to feel more like a vacation when Morgan begins falling for Nathan Keating, an irresistible entrepreneur who thinks every problem can be solved on a surfboard. Just as the summer is shaping up to be the magical refresh she needs, thanks to a fling that feels like the beginning of something real and Hudson, the foster dog who reminds her how much she loves her job, a visit from her estranged brother and the discovery of who Nathan really is changes everything. Morgan finds herself at a crossroads, trying to determine if mistakes from the past must define the future, or if she should forgive, forget, and grab hold of a chance to finally rescue herself.(publication)
Morgan Pearce is a veterinarian who heads to Nantucket for a couple of months to recover from major anxiety. She will stay at the home of friends and watch their dog at the same time. As can happen she meets other dog people and then some – including the handsome Nathan. So there’s some romance, some family dynamics and more than a few emotional issues.
Fans of beach reads, dogs, and a Nantucket setting will find all that and more in Victoria Schade’s new novel.
Digital galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
The filling is looking grim for pastry chef and amateur sleuth Juliet Capshaw in Donut Disturb, the next in Ellie Alexander’s beloved Bakeshop Series.
Love is in bloom in Ashland, Oregon. The Shakespearean hamlet is bursting with fresh spring energy. Fragrant lilacs and the sweet aroma of vanilla cake fill the air as everyone in town gathers at Lithia Park for the celebration of the year—Thomas and Kerry’s wedding.
It’s a picture perfect day. Guests gather on picnic blankets in front of the bandshell to watch Kerry walk down the aisle and wed Ashland’s favorite detective in training, Thomas. Jules and her team at Torte have been tasked with catering the outdoor reception and everything is going according to plan, until a wedding crasher shows up.
The uninvited guest isn’t just someone looking to score a free glass of champagne. It’s Kerry’s estranged father who is supposed to be behind bars. Kerry is distraught. Jules vows to do everything she can to make sure that there are no other surprises on her friend’s big day. But when the bassist for Heart Strings, the wedding band, is found stabbed with the blunt end of his instrument Jules’s promise takes on new meaning. Now she’ll have to slice through the five tiered cake and a bevy of potential suspects in order to track down a killer before they turn the knife on her. (publisher)
My take: I’m jumping into the Bakeshop Mystery series rather late in the game but I didn’t feel lost at all. Author Ellie Alexander’s descriptions of setting, foods and various citizens of Ashland were just right and I felt up to speed with all.
I’m sure fans of the series will be excited that the wedding of Kerry and Thomas is about to happen. If I lived in Ashland I’d want to be a guest at this celebration. Everything sounded amazing. Well, until one of the people involved in the big day is found dead. And one of the suspects is the bride’s estranged father.
Alexander gives the reader plenty of red herrings and it was interesting to see how the case was solved. A quick read that I enjoyed and would read more of the series. Recommended to fans of cozy mysteries.
Lillie Silva knew life as an empty nester would be hard after her only child left for college, but when her husband abruptly dumps her for another woman just as her son leaves, her world comes crashing down. Besides the fact that this announcement is a complete surprise (to say the least), what shocks Lillie most is that she isn’t heartbroken. She’s furious. Lillie has loved her life on Cape Cod, but as a mother, wife, and nurse-midwife, she’s used to caring for other people . . . not taking care of herself. Now, alone for the first time in her life, she finds herself going a little rogue. Is it over the top to crash her ex-husband’s wedding dressed like the angel of death? Sure! Should she release a skunk into his perfect new home? Probably not! But it beats staying home and moping. She finds an unexpected ally in her glamorous sister, with whom she’s had a tense relationship all these years. And an unexpected babysitter in, of all people, Ben Hallowell, the driver in a car accident that nearly killed Lillie twenty years ago. And then there’s Ophelia, her ex-husband’s oddly lost niece, who could really use a friend. It’s the end of Lillie’s life as she knew it. But sometimes the perfect next chapter surprises you . . . out of the clear blue sky.(publisher)
Lillie is at a point of big change. Her only child is set to graduate high school and head off to a distant college. But her life as a nurse midwife in her small Cape Cod town is full and she can only imagine what the future will bring. Well. Her husband has plans and they don’t include her. He’ll soon find out the truth in the old saying about the fury of a woman scorned. Lillie goes a little crazy and who could blame her.
Then there’s ‘the other woman’. She set a plan to change her life as a young girl and, by golly, she did it. In her mind, she’s worked hard and deserves everything she earned. I wasn’t sure if I was to admire her or be repulsed. I ended up in the latter camp.
Not a bad beach read but my complaint would be the book addressed too many issues. At just under 500 pages it felt long and a few issues could have been edited out. Also, the romantic interest for Lillie felt too convenient and too late in the book. There are some moments of levity and I ended up pulling for Lillie to have a great life going forward.
About the author:
Kristan Higgins has sold 4.5 million books worldwide, scored nine New York Times bestsellers, and is published in more than two dozen languages. Her novels have received rave reviews from the New York Times and NPR and regularly receive national media attention from People, Entertainment Weekly, Woman’s World and more.
The perfect neighborhood can be the perfect place to hide…
Who wouldn’t want to live in Brighton Hills? This exclusive community on the Oregon coast is the perfect mix of luxury and natural beauty. Stunning houses nestle beneath mighty Douglas firs, and lush backyards roll down to the lakefront. It’s the kind of place where neighbors look out for one another. Sometimes a little too closely…
Cora thinks her husband, Finn, is cheating—she just needs to catch him in the act. That’s where Paige comes in. Paige lost her son to a hit-and-run last year, and she’s drowning in the kind of grief that makes people do reckless things like spying on the locals, searching for proof that her son’s death was no accident…and agreeing to Cora’s plan to reveal what kind of man Finn really is. All the while, their reclusive new neighbor, Georgia, is acting more strangely every day. But what could such a lovely young mother possibly be hiding?
When you really start to look beyond the airy open floor plans and marble counters, Brighton Hills is filled with secrets. Some big, some little, some deadly. And one by one, they’re about to be revealed… “A writer to watch.” —Publishers Weekly
Paige stands, watering her marigolds in the front yard and marvels at how ugly they are. The sweet-potato-orange flowers remind her of a couch from the 1970s, and she suddenly hates them. She crouches down, ready to rip them from their roots, wondering why she ever planted such an ugly thing next to her pristine Russian sage, and then the memory steals her breath. The church Mother’s Day picnic when Caleb was in the sixth grade. Some moron had let the potato salad sit too long in the sun, and Caleb got food poisoning. All the kids got to pick a flower plant to give to their moms, and even though Caleb was puking mayonnaise, he insisted on going over to pick his flower to give her. He was so proud to hand it to her in its little plastic pot, and she said they’d plant it in the yard and they’d always have his special marigolds to look at. How could she have forgotten?
She feels tears rise in her throat but swallows them down. Her dachshund, Christopher, waddles over and noses her arm: he always senses when she’s going to cry, which is almost all the time since Caleb died. She kisses his head and looks at her now-beautiful marigolds. She’s interrupted by the kid who de-livers the newspaper as he rides his bike into the cul-de-sac and tosses a rolled-up paper, hitting little Christopher on his back.
“Are you a fucking psychopath?” Paige screams, jumping to her feet and hurling the paper back at the kid, which hits him in the head and knocks him off his bike.
“What the hell is wrong with you, lady?” he yells back, scrambling to gather himself and pick up his bike.
“What’s wrong with me? You tried to kill my dog. Why don’t you watch what the fuck you’re doing?”
His face contorts, and he tries to pedal away, but Paige grabs the garden hose and sprays him down until he’s out of reach. “Little monster!” she yells after him.
Thirty minutes later, the police ring her doorbell, but Paige doesn’t answer. She sits in the back garden, drinking coffee out of a lopsided clay mug with the word Mom carved into it by little fingers. She strokes Christopher’s head and examines the ivy climbing up the brick of the garage and wonders if it’s bad for the foundation. When she hears the ring again, she hollers at them.
“I’m not getting up for you people. If you need to talk to me, I’m back here.” She enjoys making them squeeze around the side of the house and hopes they rub up against the poi-son oak on their way.
“Morning, Mrs. Moretti,” one of the officers says. It’s the girl cop, Hernandez. Then the white guy chimes in. She hates him. Miller. Of course they sent Miller with his creepy mustache. He looks more like a child molester than a cop, she thinks. How does anyone take him seriously?
“We received a complaint,” he says.
“Oh, ya did, did ya? You guys actually looking into cases these days? Actually following up on shit?” Paige says, still petting the dog and not looking at them.
“You assaulted a fifteen-year-old? Come on.”
“Oh, I did no such thing,” she snaps.
Hernandez sits across from Paige. “You wanna tell us what d id happen, then?”
“Are you planning on arresting me if I don’t?” she asks, and the two officers give each other a silent look she can’t read.
“His parents don’t want to press charges so…”
Paige doesn’t say anything. They don’t have to tell her it’s because they pity her.
“But, Paige,” Miller says, “we can’t keep coming out here for this sort of thing.”
“Good,” Paige says firmly. “Maybe it will free you up to do your real job and find out who killed my son.” Hernandez stands.
“Again, you know we aren’t the detectives on the—” But before Hernandez can finish, Paige interrupts, not wanting to hear the excuses.
“And maybe go charge the idiot kid for trying to kill my dog. How about that?”
Paige stands and goes inside, not waiting for a response. She hears them mumble something to one another and make their way out. She can’t restrain herself or force herself to be kind. She used to be kind, but now, it’s as though her brain has been rewired. Defensiveness inhabits the place where empathy used to live. The uniforms of the cops trigger her, too; it reminds her of that night, the red, flashing lights a nightmarish strobe from a movie scene. A horror movie, not real life. It can’t be her real life. She still can’t accept that.
The uniforms spoke, saying condescending things, pulling her away, calling her ma’am, and asking stupid questions. Now, when she sees them, it brings up regrets. She doesn’t know why this happens, but the uniforms bring her back to that night, and it makes her long for the chance to do all the things she never did with Caleb and mourn over the times they did have. It forces fragments of memories to materialize, like when he was six, he wanted a My Little Pony named Star Prancer. It was pink with purple flowers in its mane, and she didn’t let him have it because she thought she was protecting him from being made fun of at school. Now, the memory fills her with self-reproach.
She tries not to think about the time she fell asleep on the couch watching Rugrats with him when he was just a toddler and woke up to his screaming because he’d fallen off the couch and hit his head on the coffee table. He was okay, but it could have been worse. He could have put his finger in an outlet, pushed on the window screen and fallen to his death from the second floor, drunk the bleach under the sink! When this memory comes, she has to quickly stand up and busy herself, push out a heavy breath, and shake off the shame it brings. He could have died from her negligence that afternoon. She never told Grant. She told Cora once, who said every parent has a moment like that, it’s life. People fall asleep. But Paige has never forgiven herself. She loved Caleb more than life, and now the doubt and little moments of regret push into her thoughts and render her miserable and anxious all the time.
She didn’t stay home like Cora, she practically lived at the restaurant. She ran it for years. Caleb grew up doing his homework in the kitchen break room and helping wipe down tables and hand out menus. He seemed to love it. He didn’t watch TV all afternoon after school, he talked to new people, learned skills. But did she only tell herself that to alleviate the guilt? Would he have thrived more if he had had a more nor mal day-to-day? When he clung to her leg that first day of preschool, should she have forced him to go? Should he have let him change his college major so many times? Had he been happy? Had she done right by him?
And why was there a gun at the scene? Was he in trouble, and she didn’t know? Did he have friends she didn’t know about? He’d told her everything, she thought. They were close. Weren’t they?
As she approaches the kitchen window to put her mug down, she sees Grant pulling up outside. She can see him shaking his head at the sight of the cops before he even gets out of the car.
He doesn’t mention the police when he comes in. He silently pours himself a cup of coffee and finds Paige back out in the garden, where she has scurried to upon seeing him. He hands her a copy of the Times after removing the crossword puzzle for himself and then peers at it over his glasses.
He doesn’t speak until Christopher comes to greet him, and then he says, “Who wants a pocket cookie?” and takes a small dog biscuit from his shirt pocket and smiles down at little Christopher, who devours it.
This is how it’s been for the many months since Grant and Paige suffered insurmountable loss. It might be possible to get through it to the other side, but maybe not together, Paige said to Grant one night after one of many arguments about how they should cope. Grant wanted to sit in his old, leather recliner in the downstairs family room and stare into the wood-burning fireplace, Christopher at his feet, drinking a scotch and absorbing the quiet and stillness.
Paige, on the other hand, wanted to scream at everyone she met. She wanted to abuse the police for not finding who was responsible for the hit-and-run. She wanted to spend her days posting flyers offering a reward to anyone with information, even though she knew only eight percent of hit-and-runs are ever solved. When the world didn’t respond the way she needed, she stopped helping run the small restaurant they owned so she could just hole up at home and shout at Jeopardy! and paper boys. She needed to take up space and be loud. They each couldn’t stand how the other was mourning, so finally, Grant moved into the small apartment above their little Italian place, Moretti’s, and gave Paige the space she needed to take up.
Now—almost a year since the tragic day—Grant still comes over every Sunday to make sure the take-out boxes are picked up and the trash is taken out, that she’s taking care of herself and the house isn’t falling apart. And to kiss her on the cheek before he leaves and tell her he loves her. He doesn’t make observations or suggestions, just benign comments about the recent news headlines or the new baked mostaccioli special at the restaurant.
She sees him spot the pair of binoculars on the small table next to her Adirondack chair. She doesn’t need to lie and say she’s bird-watching or some nonsense. He knows she thinks one of the neighbors killed her son. She’s sure of it. It’s a gated community, and very few people come in and out who don’t live here. Especially that late at night. The entrance camera was conveniently disabled that night, so that makes her think it wasn’t an accident but planned. There was a gun next to Caleb’s body, but it wasn’t fired, and there was no gunshot wound. Something was very wrong with this scenario, and if the po-lice won’t prove homicide, she’s going to uncover which of her bastard neighbors had a motive.
She has repeated all of this to Grant a thousand times, and he used to implore her to try to focus on work or take a vacation—anything but obsess—and to warn her that she was destroying her health and their relationship, but he stopped responding to this sort of conspiracy-theory talk months ago.
“What’s the latest?” is all he asks, looking away from the binoculars and back to his crossword. She gives a dismissive wave of her hand, a sort of I know you don’t really want to hear about it gesture. Then, after a few moments, she says, “Danny Howell at 6758. He hasn’t driven his Mercedes in months.” She gives Grant a triumphant look, but he doesn’t appear to be following.
“Okay,” he says, filling in the word ostrich.
“So I broke into his garage to see what the deal was, and there’s a dent in his bumper.”
“You broke in?” he asks, concerned. She knows the How-ells have five vehicles, and the dent could be from a myriad of causes over the last year, but she won’t let it go.
“Yes, and it’s a good thing I did. I’m gonna go back and take photos. See if the police can tell if it looks like he might have hit a person.” She knows there is a sad desperation in her voice as she works herself up. “You think they can tell that? Like if the dent were a pole from a drive-through, they could see paint or the scratches or something, right? I bet they can tell.”
“It’s worth a shot,” he says, and she knows what he wants to say, also knows he won’t waste words telling her not to break into the garage a second time for photos. He changes the subject.
“I’m looking for someone to help out at the restaurant a few days a week—mostly just a piano player for the dinner crowd—but I could use a little bookkeeping and scheduling, too,” he says, and Paige knows it’s a soft attempt to distract her, but she doesn’t bite.
“Oh, well, good luck. I hope you find someone,” she says, and they stare off into the backyard trees.
“The ivy is looking robust,” he comments after a few minutes of silence.
“You think it’s hurting the foundation?” she asks.
“Nah,” he says, and he reaches over and places his hand over hers on the arm of her chair for a few moments before getting up to go. On his way out, he kisses her on the cheek, tells her he loves her. Then he loads the dishwasher and takes out the trash before heading to his car. She watches him reluctantly leaving, knowing that he wishes he could stay, that things were different.
When Paige hears the sound of Grant’s motor fade as he turns out of the front gate, she imagines herself calling him on his cell and telling him to come back and pick her up, that she’ll come to Moretti’s with him and do all the scheduling and books, that she’ll learn to play the piano just so she can make him happy. And, after all the patrons leave for the night, they’ll share bottles of Chianti on checkered tablecloths in a dimly lit back booth. They’ll eat linguini and clams and have a Lady and the Tramp moment, and they will be happy again.
Paige does not do this. She goes into the living room and closes the drapes Grant opened, blocking out the sunlight, then she crawls under a bunched-up duvet on the couch that smells like sour milk, and she begs for sleep.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she’d be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women.
For months, rumors have been swirling about deplorable conditions at Blackwell’s, but no reporter can get in—that is, until Nellie feigns insanity, gets committed and attempts to survive ten days in the madhouse. Inside, she discovers horrors beyond comprehension. It’s an investigation that could make her career—if she can get out to tell it before two rival reporters scoop her story.
From USA Today bestselling author Maya Rodale comes a rollicking historical adventure series about the outrageous intrigues and bold flirtations of the most famous female reporter—and a groundbreaking rebel—of New York City’s Gilded Age.(publisher)
For readers new to this era of historical fiction (1880s) The Mad Girls of New York is a good introduction. Author Maya Rodale shows the challenges faced by women who wanted to work in the newspaper world, the social challenges of marginalized groups, and the plight of women who just wanted to survive their circumstances in New York City.
Nellie, our heroine, was daring, plucky and smart. She had to fight the perception that women were not good reporters. Her willingness to put her life on the line for her job and infiltrate an insane asylum was astonishing. She was easy to cheer on and I look forward to seeing what the next book in the Nellie Bly series will bring.
About the author:
Maya Rodale is the best-selling and award-winning author of funny, feminist fiction including historical romance, YA and historical fiction. A champion of the romance genre and its readers, she is also the author of Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. Maya reviews romance for NPR and has appeared in Bustle, Glamour, Shondaland, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and PBS. She began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and has never been allowed to forget it.
Published: April 26, 2022 – Zebra Books/Kensington
Review galley from the publisher and NetGalley
Jessica Ann McKenzie—“Jam” to everyone in Honey Creek—has fulfilled her dream of owning the best restaurant for miles around. Serving candlelit dinners to every couple in town on Valentine’s Day is a reminder of another dream, one she’s just about given up on. Until, that very night, Sergeant Tucson Smith clambers out of the muddy river and onto her land, bringing the promise of something they’ve both been searching for. When McCoy Mason crashes on Interstate 45, he doesn’t just bust up his Mustang, his leg, and his relationship. He also loses his prospects of a job and apartment in Houston. Honey Creek, home to his estranged grandfather, offers a temporary respite, a place to recover before moving on again. After all, what permanent use could a town so picture-perfect have for a man like him? At sixty-seven, Charles H. Winston III lives by order and routine. One of his most cherished rituals is a regular lunch date with three lovely ladies at the Honey Creek Café, including the very proper Miss Lilly Lambert. But it’s not too late to surprise the whole town—or himself—by seizing a chance for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. And there’s no better season than spring, when the warm breeze blowing in from the Brazos River brings fresh hope and second chances to those who need them most . . .(publisher)
With her new novel, Sunday at the Sunflower Inn, Jodi Thomas proves why she is on my favorite authors list. This is book four in the series but easily stands alone. That said, if you love a good comfort read I highly recommend any of her books.
As usual, Jodi Thomas writes relatable (on one level or another) characters and situations. I won’t rehash the synopsis included above. I enjoy that she always includes characters of different generations in a way that isn’t caricature. In this book there is young love between a teen couple, love in the 30s for a few people, and love at last for a couple who thought it might have passed them by.
Told with the warmth and humor I’ve come to expect this was a book with characters I wasn’t ready to leave by the last page. Recommended to fans of Jodi Thomas and contemporary women’s romantic fiction.
The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon
Published: April 12, 2022 – Atria Books
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Vacuum repairman and self-appointed mayor of Prometto, Italy (population 212) Signor Speranza has a problem: unless he can come up with 70,000 euros to fix the town’s pipes, the water commission will shut off the water to the village and all its residents will be forced to disperse. So in a bid to boost tourism—and revenue—he spreads a harmless rumor that movie star Dante Rinaldi will be filming his next project nearby.
Unfortunately, the plan works a little too well, and soon everyone in town wants to be a part of the fictional film—the village butcher will throw in some money if Speranza can find roles for his fifteen enormous sons, Speranza’s wistfully adrift daughter reveals an unexpected interest in stage makeup, and his hapless assistant Smilzo volunteers a screenplay that’s not so secretly based on his undying love for the film’s leading lady. To his surprise—and considerable consternation, Speranza realizes that the only way to keep up the ruse is to make the movie for real.
As the entire town becomes involved (even the village priest invests!) Signor Speranza starts to think he might be able to pull this off. But what happens when Dante Rinaldi doesn’t show up? Or worse, what if he does?(publisher)
This book is so different from what I usually read (women’s fiction, suspense, romance) but it was the right book at the right time. Christine Simon’s story has quirky characters, some more larger-than-life than others, a beleaguered everyman protagonist in Speranza, and an almost hopeless cause that could either break his tiny town or make it stronger than ever. The author had me often laughing with the madcap happenings as the story played out. The pace was good and I was happy with how she wrapped things up.
3.5 stars rounded up
About the author:
Christine Simon grew up in a very large and very loud Italian family and now lives with her husband and four children. The Patron Saint of Second Chances is her first novel.
Happy release day to author Sherry Thomas. Her new book in the Lady Sherlock series is here! I can’t wait to read it but today I’m shining the spotlight on it. Isn’t that a gorgeous cover?
Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry Thomas
Published: Nov. 2, 2021 – Berkley Trade
All content courtesy of the publisher
Charlotte Holmes comes face to face with her enemy when Moriarty turns to her in his hour of need, in the USA Today bestselling series set in Victorian England.
A most unexpected client shows up at Charlotte Holmes’s doorstep: Moriarty himself. Moriarty fears that tragedy has befallen his daughter and wants Charlotte to find out the truth.
Charlotte and Mrs. Watson travel to a remote community of occult practitioners where Moriarty’s daughter was last seen, a place full of lies and liars. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s sister Livia tries to make sense of a mysterious message from her beau Mr. Marbleton. And Charlotte’s longtime friend and ally Lord Ingram at last turns his seductive prowess on Charlotte—or is it the other way around?
But the more secrets Charlotte unravels about Miss Moriarty’s disappearance, the more she wonders why Moriarty has entrusted this delicate matter to her of all people. Is it merely to test Charlotte’s skills as an investigator, or has the man of shadows trapped her in a nest of vipers?(publisher)
About the author:
Sherry Thomas is one of the most acclaimed historical romance authors writing today. Readers of Deanna Raybourn and C. S. Harris, and fans of Netflix’s Enola Holmes will be delighted by Thomas’s next Victorian-set mystery, complete with murder, intrigue, and plenty of romantic chemistry between a brilliant sleuth and the gentleman who helps her solve crime.
Published: Oct. 26, 2021 – Berkley Trade Paperback Original
Content courtesy of the publisher
Travel magazine writer Celeste Bell is in a terrible mood. Not only was her flight to the Caribbean diverted to a Massachusetts island, now it looks like she’ll have to spend Christmas there. Single and still mourning the loss of her mother a year earlier, Celeste is desperate to avoid any emotional entanglements and all holiday festivities. She just doesn’t feel like celebrating. But that’s exactly what community center director Nathan White and his young daughter Abigail want to do. Nathan is entirely focused on making sure that his daughter has a happy Christmas, especially with the knowledge that if he can’t raise money for the community center soon, it will close and they’ll have to leave the island. When he meets Celeste, Nathan begins to feel a connection and wonders if he’s brave enough to risk his heart once more.
Thawing their frozen hearts, and saving the community center will require a Christmas miracle. But tis’ the season… (publisher)
About the author:
Carrie Jansen earned an MFA in creative writing and published many poems and short stories before becoming a novelist. An avid bodyboarder and beach walker, she spends as much of the year as she can on Cape Cod, where she draws inspiration for her contemporary romances. She also writes Amish romance novels under her pseudonym, Carrie Lighte. Learn more online at carriejansen.com.
Everybody wants a piece of grand chef Sophie Valroux. With her once-destroyed reputation fully recovered and then some, Sophie is making her mark in the culinary world. She’s running the restaurants of Château de Champvert, the beautiful estate that she inherited from her grandmother. She and her fiancé, Rémi, are closer than ever, and she’s even bonding with his daughter Lola. Everything should be perfect.
Yet, Sophie still feels something in her heart is missing.
When she’s invited to cook at an exclusive event her culinary idol is attending, she thinks this could be the thing to catapult her to greater heights, maybe even bring her one step closer to her one and only dream of achieving the stars—Michelin stars.
But fate has other plans for Sophie. After she accepts to cook for the Parisian elite, her world crumbles. She suffers a fall and loses her senses of smell and taste. Certain that her career will vanish if people find out, she keeps this secret to herself, not even telling Rémi. She fakes it all: the menus for every meal, the taste of fresh figs, the juicy cherries in the orchard. All she has to do is get through life—and the event—tasteless without missing a single step. Fake it ‘til you make it…right?(publisher)
I loved Samantha Vérant’s previous novel about Sophie Valroux and am happy to say this new novel didn’t disappoint. I enjoyed going back to the southwest of France where Sophie’s wonderful chateau is situated. Sophie is feeling more confident in her role as chef and things seem to be running smoothly at the chateau. When Sophie is invited to an exclusive event in Paris it might be her chance at gaining notice for her culinary talent and possibly a Michelin star. But not everyone is happy about her going to Paris. Will this upset life back at the chateau? Might it spoil her dreams? I enjoyed it all and turned the final page with a satisfied reader’s smile. Recommended to fans of foodie fiction, a sweet romantic story, and french food. Added bonus? The recipes, of course!
About the author:
Samantha Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, at home French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she’s married to a French rocket scientist she met in 1989, a stepmom to two incredible kids, and the adoptive mother to a ridiculously adorable French cat. When she’s not trekking from Provence to the Pyrénées or embracing her inner Julia Child, Sam is making her best effort to relearn those dreaded conjugations.
Two sisters. The Great War looming. A chance to shape their future.
Sisters Ruth and Elise Duncan could never have anticipated volunteering for the war effort. But in 1914, the two women decide to make the harrowing journey from Baltimore to Ypres, Belgium in order to escape the suffocating restrictions placed on them by their father and carve a path for their own future.
Smart and practical Ruth is training as a nurse but dreams of becoming a doctor. In a time when women are restricted to assisting men in the field, she knows it will take great determination to prove herself, and sets out to find the one person who always believed in her: a handsome army doctor from England. For quiet Elise, joining the all female Ambulance Corps means a chance to explore her identity, and come to terms with the growing attraction she feels towards women. Especially the charming young ambulance driver who has captured her heart.
In the twilight of the Old World and the dawn of the new, both young women come of age in the face bombs, bullets and the deadly futility of trench warfare. Together they must challenge the rules society has placed on them in order to save lives: both the soldiers and the people they love.
Suzanne Feldman, a recipient of the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize and a finalist for the Bakeless Prize in fiction, holds an MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins University and a BFA in art from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her short fiction has appeared in Narrative, The Missouri Review, Gargoyle, and other literary journals. She lives in Frederick, Maryland.
New dog, no tricks! Becket Branch has one birthday wish—a dog! Dogs are outgoing and friendly, and they live life loud, just like Becket. Becket’s twin, Nicholas, wants a pet more like him—a peaceful, quiet indoor cat. When their parents take them to the shelter to choose a dog and a cat, it should be Becket’s biggest BEAUTIFUL ALERT ever. But Becket’s dream dog, Dibs, turns out to be a super-shy scaredy-pooch. Meanwhile, Nicholas’s kitty, Given, loves being the center of attention and greeting visitors to Blackberry Farm. Can Becket and Nicholas learn how to love Dibs and Given as they are—even if they aren’t exactly the pets the twins dreamed of? With black-and-white drawings throughout by award-winning illustrator LeUyen Pham (Real Friends), this second volume of the Blackberry Farm series offers a gentle message about embracing new friends who may not match preconceived expectations. (publisher)
All Pets Allowed by Adele Griffin is a cute story with fun illustrations (from LeUyen Pham) sprinkled throughout. I think many middle grade readers will find some relatable feelings, emotions and challenges experienced by twins Beckett and Nicholas. I have to say I really felt for Nicholas. His feelings were palpable and made me want to hug him. Beckett earned my affection too because she’s a polar opposite of her twin but also a wonderful spirit. I laughed as she exclaimed about almost everything. When the twins receive their twin birthday gifts from mom and dad they can’t believe their luck! I’m going to stop there to avoid spoilers. I’ll just say lessons abound.
I have three middle grade granddaughters who would love this book. Recommended for the age level and fans of chapter books.
About the author:
Adele Griffin is the acclaimed author of Tell Me No Lies and Be True to Me, as well as Sons of Liberty and Where I Want to Be, both finalists for the National Book Award as well as the middle grade series The Oodlethunks and Blackberry Farm. She lives with her husband and children in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her online at adelegriffin.com or on Twitter: @adelegriffin.
PRAISE FOR THE BLACKBERRY FARM SERIES:
“A sparkling story of weathering change.”
–Booklist, starred review
“Becket is an outgoing, refreshingly self-confident protagonist…Readers will appreciate her ability to bounce back from whatever life hands her. Pham’s sketch drawings scattered throughout enhance the energy and humor of the story. Give this to kids who enjoy stories with plucky female protagonists.”
–School Library Journal
“Warm and amusing as Becket and her two siblings navigate their new life on a farm.”
“An enjoyable novel for young readers beginning to explore the world on their own terms.” –Horn Book Magazine
“Becket’s narration vibrates with energy and cheer…Pham’s black and white illustrations…have just the right amount of comic flair to match the vibrant humor of Becket’s story.”
–The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Perfect…This fun and colorful novel will surely make you happy and brighten up your day.”
Lieutenant KD Whitcomb had mapped out her career from West Point to the Pentagon. But when an injury under questionable circumstances forces her to leave the army, her dreams fall dead at her feet. Feeling lost and needing to rediscover the tough woman beneath the uniform, she heads back to the family ranch in Rough Creek. Only two things get her through the nightmares and sleepless nights: the support of her family and the CID officer investigating the incident in Afghanistan. He infuriates her. Makes her laugh. Gives her hope.
Richard Murdock is struggling, too. There’s something fishy about this last case…and the threats coming from Afghanistan aimed at both him and KD. He’s ready to leave the army and make a new start. But how will he protect KD? And what should he do about the growing attraction between them? He’s been burned before. But there’s something about KD’s vulnerability and strength that calls to him, and he’ll do whatever it takes to protect her and give her a chance to build new dreams…including helping her start a PTSD equine therapy program at the Texas ranch.
If they can overcome the threats against them and heal old wounds, this second chance might be better than they ever dreamed.(publisher)
When Lt. KD Whitcomb survives a horrendous event in Afghanistan she finds herself without the future she’d dreamed of with the army. She heads home to her family’s ranch in Texas with lots of questions and no answers. She also meets up with the CID officer who investigated the incident that send KD home. He’s also found himself figuring out his future – but he’s ready for a change. These two had chemistry from the get-go. If ever there were two people suited for each other it’s them. I enjoyed their story which became quite suspenseful when the past catches up with them in Texas. This is the second book in a series about the Whitcomb family. It can stand alone but I recommend reading the first! If you enjoy romantic suspense you’ll want to give this series a try. I’m looking forward to the third book.
About the author:
Kaki Warner is a RITA-winning author and longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest. Although she now lives in the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Kaki grew up in the Southwest and is a proud graduate of the University of Texas. She spends her time gardening, reading, writing, and making lists of stuff for her husband to do, all while soaking in the view from the deck of her hilltop cabin.
Sometimes all you need is one person to really see you.
Piper Parrish’s life on Frick Island–a tiny, remote town smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay–is nearly perfect. Well, aside from one pesky detail: Her beloved husband, Tom, is dead. When Tom’s crab boat capsized and his body wasn’t recovered, Piper, rocked to the core, did a most peculiar thing: carried on as if her husband was not only still alive, but right there beside her, cooking him breakfast, walking him to the docks each morning, meeting him for their standard Friday night dinner date at the One-Eyed Crab. And what were the townspeople to do but go along with their beloved widowed Piper?
Anders Caldwell’s career is not going well. A young ambitious journalist, he’d rather hoped he’d be a national award-winning podcaster by now, rather than writing fluff pieces for a small town newspaper. But when he gets an assignment to travel to the remote Frick Island and cover their boring annual Cake Walk fundraiser, he stumbles upon a much more fascinating tale: an entire town pretending to see and interact with a man who does not actually exist. Determined it’s the career-making story he’s been needing for his podcast, Anders returns to the island to begin covert research and spend more time with the enigmatic Piper–but he has no idea out of all the lives he’s about to upend, it’s his that will change the most.
USA Today bestselling author Colleen Oakley delivers an unforgettable love story about an eccentric community, a grieving widow, and an outsider who slowly learns that sometimes faith is more important than the facts.(publisher)
About the author:
Colleen Oakley is the USA Today bestselling author of You Were There Too, Close Enough to Touch and Before I Go. Her books have been named best books by People,Us Weekly, Library Journal and Real Simple, and have been long-listed for the Southern Book Prize. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, four kids and the world’s biggest lapdog.
THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND (Berkley; May 25, 2021; trade paperback original).
Congratulations to author Barbara Dunlop! Her new book publishes on May 25th. I thought it was a cute fish-out-of-water contemporary romance. I envisioned a movie version from the first page. If Hallmark movies are your thing give this book a try!
Supermodel Mia Westberg finds herself on the run from the paparazzi after the death of her much older husband. In order to stay out of the public eye until the fate of her late husband’s fashion house is decided, Mia leaves behind her lavish Los Angeles lifestyle for the wilderness of Alaska—a place where no reporter would follow. It’s immediately clear that Mia isn’t ready for everything Paradise, Alaska has in store for her: the wild animals, insanely harsh weather, and a gorgeous no-nonsense bush pilot who is immune to her charms.
When pilot Silas Burke flies a beautiful blonde into town, he thinks he has her all figured out from the jump. She’s a city girl who has no business in the rough Alaskan terrain. Silas decides against his better judgment to help Mia acclimate to life in Paradise after seeing her struggle. But he’s an impatient teacher and she’s a frustrated pupil—and nothing gets them more fired up than each other. Can these two polar opposites find common ground and let their hearts soar?(publisher)
About the author:
Barbara Dunlop is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has published more than fifty novels. Her stories have ranged from lighthearted comedies to family sagas. Barbara is a four-time finalist for the RWA RITA award, and her Tule novel His Jingle Bell Princess has been optioned by Motion Picture Corporation of America for a Hallmark movie. Barbara resides in Yukon, Canada with her bush pilot husband. You can find her at www.barbaradunlop.com.
I turn my gaze from the floor to the well-dressed man standing beside me. There are only two of us in the elevator, so he must be talking to me.
“I think it’s a matter of personal preference,” I answer. “I’m the maid of honor so I had to be excessive.”
His eyebrows bob up as I adjust my grip on the Great-Dane-sized gift basket I’m carrying. The cellophane wrapping paper crinkles each time I move, echoing through the confined space just loudly enough to keep things weird. Because if everyone isn’t uncomfortable for the entire ride, are you even really in an elevator?
I’m low-key ecstatic when the doors glide open ten seconds later. With my basket now on the cusp of breaking both my arms and my spirit, I beeline it out of there and stride into the rooftop lounge where my best friend is hosting her pre-wedding party, drinking in the scent of heat and champagne as I maneuver through the sea of guests.
Like most maids-of-honor, I flung myself down the Etsy rabbit hole headfirst and ordered an obscene amount of decorations for tonight’s event. Burlap “Mr. & Mrs.” banners dangle from floating shelves behind the bar as twinkle lights weave around the balcony railings like ivy. Lace-trimmed mason jars filled with pink roses sit on every candlelit cocktail table. Cristina and I worked with the tenacity of two matrimonial Spartans to get everything ready this morning, and it’s clear that our blood, sweat and tears were very much worth it.
It’s then that I spot Cristina mingling near the end of the bar. Beautiful, petite and come-hither curvy, I’d hate her if she weren’t one of my favorite people ever. Her caramel hair spills down her back and her white high-low dress sets her apart from the crowd in just the right way—she’s a princess in the forest and we’re her adoring woodland animals. I’m her feisty chipmunk sidekick to my core.
I place my gift on a nearby receiving table and give a little wave when I catch her eye. She’s waiting for me with a huge grin when I arrive at her side.
“Hey, lady!” she says, pulling me in for a hug. “Look at you, rolling in here looking all gorgeous.”
We step apart and I stand up a bit taller. “Why, thank you. I feel pretty good.”
It’s also very possible that Cristina is just so used to me dazzling the world with yoga pants and sweaters every day that my transformation seems more dramatic than it is.
“Were you able to get any writing done this afternoon?” she asks, handing me a glass of champagne from off the mahogany bar top.
I get a twisting knot in my gut at the mention of my writing, or lack thereof. Having been dying a slow literary death for almost a year, I’m never without some stomach-turning sensation for long. The final deadline for my next romance novel is officially a month away and if I don’t deliver a bestseller by then—
“Okay, you’re making your freak-out face,” Cristina interjects. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
I inhale a shallow breath and force a smile. “It’s fine. I’m good.”
“Let’s switch gears—are you sure it’s not weird that I’m having a pre-wedding party? Was booking the salsa band too much since I’m having one at the wedding, too?”
Beyond grateful for the booming trumpet and bongos that are drowning out my own thoughts, I turn to the corner and find the ten-piece group playing with addictive abandon. Cristina’s relatives, who are essentially non-trained professional salsa dancers, dominate the dance floor, and rightfully so. Cristina’s brother, Edgar, once tried to teach me the basics but I’m fairly confident I looked like a plank of wood that was given the gift of limbs. Cristina recommended dance lessons. Edgar suggested a bottle of aguardiente and prayer.
“The band is amazing,” I say as I swing back around, “and of course people have pre-wedding parties.” I’ve actually never heard of a pre-wedding party. An engagement party, yes. A bachelorette party, absolutely. But what’s going down tonight is basically a casual reception days before the mega-reception.
“Jason and I just have so many people coming in from out of town, plus we wanted the bridal party to get acquainted. We figured a little get-together would be fun.”
“I’m all for it. Who doesn’t want to pre-game for a wedding a week in advance?”
“I know I do,” Cristina says, lifting her own champagne and taking a sip. “Everyone is here except Jason and some groomsmen. Can you believe that creep is late to his own party?”
“Should you really be calling your fiancé a creep?”
“He’s my creep so it’s okay.”
“Picture please! Will you girls get together?”
I look to my right and find a teenage boy with wildly curly hair pointing a camera at us. He’s dressed in all black and looks so eager to take our photo that I can’t help but to find him endearing.
“Absolutely! Big smile, Kara.” Cristina throws her arm around my waist and after we withstand an intense flash, the young man is gone before my eyes can readjust. “That was Jason’s cousin, Rob. He wants to be a photographer, so I hired him for the night.”
“That was thoughtful of you,” I say, still recovering from my momentary blindness. “By the way, where is Jason?”
“He’s still at home. Two of his groomsmen are driving up and he wanted to wait for them since, apparently, grown men can’t find their way to a party by themselves.”
“Driving in Manhattan is intimidating. He probably didn’t want them to get lost.”
“Right, because neither of them has GPS? Jason should be here.”
I’m honestly shocked that Jason isn’t here. I love Cristina and Jason both to death but they’re one of those couples that rarely go out socially without each other. Even when I invite Cristina over to my apartment for a wine night, she asks to bring Jason. I’ve always thought it was a bit much, but I guess it works for them.
“Okay, forget everyone else, let’s toast.” I clear my throat and hold up my champagne. “When we were both waitressing at McMahon’s Pub in grad school, I had no idea it would lead to nine amazing years of friendship. Now I’d be lost without you. Here’s to you having a magical night. I’m so glad I’m here to celebrate with you.”
We smile and tap our glasses together, the ding of the crystal echoing my words.
I take a sip and the bubbly drink slips easily down my throat. Still savoring the sweetness, I ask, “So, who are these mystery groomsmen Jason’s waiting for?”
“One is named Beau and I can’t remember the other one. They’re two guys he grew up with when his family lived in North Carolina.”
“North Carolina? I thought Jason was from Texas?”
“He spent most of his life in Texas, but he lived in North Carolina until he was ten. He somehow kept in contact with these two through the years.”
“That’s nice, him staying friends with them for so long.”
“Yeah, it’s adorable, but they still should have gotten their asses here on their own.” Cristina is poised to elaborate when her gaze locks on something across the room. She tries and fails to look annoyed instead of excited.
“I’m guessing the groom has arrived,” I say, glancing over my shoulder. My suspicions are confirmed as I see Jason making his way toward us, smiling at Cristina like a fifth grader saying “cheese” on picture day. He’s tilting his head and everything.
“There she is! There’s my incredibly forgiving future wife.” Jason leans down and kisses Cristina before she can verbally obliterate him. He gives me a quick kiss on the cheek next and then shifts back to his fiancée’s side, sneaking an arm around her waist and pulling her to his hip.
“So, I’m going to go ahead and disregard all the semi-violent text messages you’ve sent me over the past hour. Bearing that in mind, how’s everything going?”
Cristina looks up at him, feigning disinterest. “It’s going great. Since you weren’t here, I talked to several nice men. Turns out, pre-wedding parties are a great place to meet guys.”
“I’m so happy for you.”
“I appreciate that. Four contenders, specifically, really piqued my interest.”
“Are they taller than me?” Jason asks. “Do they make a lot of money?”
“Obviously. They’re way taller and all of them are independently wealthy.”
“Nice. Kara, did you meet these freakishly tall and rich men?”
“I did and spoiler alert, I’m engaged now, too! Double wedding here we come!”
Jason smiles and pulls Cristina in even closer, his gaze holding hers. “I guess this is where being late gets you. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. Do you forgive me?”
“Don’t I always?”
He leans down and gives her another picture-perfect kiss.
It’s official. I’m dying alone. Just putting that out there.
“Now, where are these friends of yours? Oh! Let’s set one of them up with Kara!” Cristina looks at me with a dangerous matchmaker gleam in her eyes.
“Actually, I already mentioned Kara, and one of my buddies said he went to college with her.”
Went to college with me?
Jason looks towards the entrance and waves. “Hey, Ryan! Come over here!”
And then I go catatonic. I can’t move. I stand stock still, looking at Cristina like she sprouted a third arm out of her forehead and it’s giving me the middle finger.
Someone walks past me and a soft breeze ghosts across my overheating skin. I stare in a state of utter disbelief as Ryan Thompson steps into view beside Jason.
“It’s been a while, Sullivan,” he says, his voice as steady and tempting as ever.
My champagne glass falls from my fingers and shatters against the floor.
“Kara?” Cristina’s voice rings with concern as she nudges us away from the broken glass that’s now littered around our feet. She grasps my elbow, but I don’t feel it. She could backhand me across the face with a polo mallet and I wouldn’t feel it. My mind is spiraling, plummeting inwards as I come to grips with the realization that Ryan is standing two feet away from me.
Dressed in a navy suit, a crisp white button-down and brown dress shoes, he’s come a long way from the sweatshirts and jeans that were his unofficial uniform in college. His dirty-blond hair is on the shorter side, but a few wayward strands still fall across his forehead. Ten years ago, I would have reached up and brushed them aside without a thought. Now, my hand curls into a tight, unforgiving fist at my side.
If we were another former couple, seeing each other for the first time in a decade might be a dreamy, serendipitous meet-cute—a Nancy Meyers movie in pre-production. We’d have a few drinks and spend hours reminiscing about old times before picking up right where we left off. It would be comfortable and familiar as anything, like a sip of hot chocolate at Christmas with Nat King Cole crooning on vinyl in the background.
But we are not that kind of former couple, and I’m convinced that if Nat King Cole were here and knew my side of the story, he would grab Ryan by the scruff of his shirt and hold him steady as I roundhouse-kicked him in the throat.
It’s a tough pill to swallow but Ryan looks good. Like, really good. His face is harder than it was when he was twenty-one and the stubble on his chin tells me he hasn’t shaved in a few days, making him seem like he just rolled out of bed. And not rolled out of bed in a dirty way, but in a “I just rolled out of bed and yet I still look ruggedly handsome and you fully want to make out with me” kind of way.
“Ryan,” Cristina says, always the first to jump in, “Jason mentioned that you and Kara went to college together.”
“We did.” His eyes don’t move from mine for even a second. “It’s got to be what, ten years now?”
“Yeah, it’s been a long, long time,” I say quickly, turning to face Cristina. “I think I may have mentioned him before. Remember my friend from North Carolina?”
If someone were to look up “my friend from North Carolina” in the Dictionary of Kara, they would find the following:
My friend from North Carolina (noun): 1. Ryan Thompson. 2. My college boyfriend. 3. My first real boyfriend ever. 4. My first love. 5. Taker of my virginity. 6. Guy who massacred my heart with a rusty sledgehammer and fed the remains to rabid, ravenous dogs.
Cristina is well versed in the dictionary of Kara and recognition washes over her. “No way,” she says, her voice dropping.
“Yes way,” I answer happily, overcompensating.
Now’s it’s Cristina’s turn to panic. “Wow. Okay, wow, what a small world, huh?” She grabs Jason’s hand in an iron grip, making him wince as she blasts an over-the-top smile. “Well, we should give you guys a chance to catch up. My abuelita just got here so Jason and I are going to say hello.”
“Your abuelita died two years ago,” I hiss.
“I know, it’s a miracle. See you two later!” She drags her soon-to-be husband away before he can get a word out.
I watch them go, sailing away like the last lifeboat as I stand on deck with the string quartet, the cheerful Bach melody only further confirming that this ship is going down.
Author Bio: KATE BROMLEY lives in New York City with her husband, son, and her somewhat excessive collection of romance novels (It’s not hoarding if it’s books, right?). She was a preschool teacher for seven years and is now focusing full-time on combining her two great passions – writing swoon-worthy love stories and making people laugh. Talk Bookish to Me is her first novel.