Sunday, August 30, 2020

One Perfect Summer

Title:  One Perfect Summer
Author:  Brenda Novak
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 432 pages.
ISBN:  0778310035 / 978-0778310037

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Gripping the steering wheel tightly, Serenity Alston navigated the winding freeway heading east toward Donner Summit."

Favorite Quote:  "But I have plenty of experience with trying to meet everyone's expectations so they won't reject me. It's easy to become a slave to that - to lose yourself in it." 

The premise of this book is based in the current trend toward commercial DNA testing for medical reasons or just as an experiment in learning more about your heritage. Serenity Alston sends off her swab to 23andMe and, much to her shock, discovers that her DNA matches that of two women - Lorelie and Regan. They are not her siblings. She does not know them or even know of them. Together, the three half-sisters decide to meet to see if they can possibly discover the connection between them.

The lives of the three have followed very different paths. Serenity grew up in an affluent, loving family surrounded by her parents, siblings, and other family members. Lorelei was found abandoned in Florida and grew up in the social welfare system; she is now married and a mother herself. Reagan was raised by a single mother with high expectations.

When they meet, they are all at a turning point in their individual lives beyond just the discovery of sister. These crossroads are about the relationships in their lives but also about them as individuals. "Not every change comes about peaceably, even changes that are for the best."

Some of this book is contrived. The three women gather in beautiful Lake Tahoe at Serenity's family cabin. There is an initial moment of discomfort, but sisterhood somehow comes instantly and easily. The comfort, the openness, and the love between sisters comes so very quickly. The ending picks up on recent news headlines somewhat out of left field and then does not really take that anywhere. It is somewhat of a jarring note in an otherwise totally family based book. To me, the resolution of the their connection is not needed because the story is more about where these women are headed rather than where they come from.

The book has other story lines that are introduced but not really followed. What happens to the neighbors and the recovery of one in particularly? What happens to Lorelei's husband? How does Serenity's family - her siblings in particular - react to the results of the DNA test? Not following these threads means the story stays focused on the three women, but then what is the need for them to be included? Just background or filler?

The book, of course, has romance including some graphic scenes. For the most part though, the romance is the summer read background of the book. The romances are not brought to a conclusion, which I appreciate because this is a story of these women not the romances. Rather than a loose end, in this instance, it keeps the focus on the story where I would rather see it -  on the women and the bond between sisters.

What I do appreciate about the book is the independence and strength of the women as they navigate the challenges of their lives. What I also appreciate is the sisterhood, even though it is too easily achieved. That kind of a support system, if any individual is able to find it, deserves celebration no matter how it is achieved. Over all, One Perfect Summer ends up one easy to get through summer read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

In Five Years

Title:  In Five Years
Author:  Rebecca Serle
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1982137444 / 978-1982137441

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Twenty-five."

Favorite Quote:  "You mistake love. You think it has to have a future in order to matter, but it doesn't. It's the only thing that does not need to become at all. It matters only insofar as it exists. Here. Now. Love doesn't require a future."

What would you do differently if you knew the future or thought you saw a vision of the future? What would you do if that vision was completely differently from the direction you think your life is heading? What would you do if that vision implied that you might betray the important relationships that exist in  your life at this moment? How would you spend those five years?

These are the questions Dannie Kohan is struggling with. She is happy in her life - in a long-term stable relationship with a wedding being planned, in a stable career heading for success, and surrounded by love and friendship.

Then a dream or a vision shows her a completely different future - a different place and different relationships. Dannie believes in the reality of the vision.

This book is very much a love story. Dannie is planning a wedding, but the man in her vision is not her fiancé. This book is very much a love story, but it is not the one you expect. "I have been asked if I've needed help so many times that I have been allowed to forget the question, the significance of it. I see, now, the way the love in my life has woven into a tapestry that I've been blessed enough to get to ignore."

It is the story of two best friends and the men who love them. A lot of it is about life in New York - the big city, which I can do without for it is the cliche image of that life with the glamorous career, the tourist locations, and the name dropping that implies. At the same time, the book is about unexpected news that upends all you thought about what life was going to be. Without a spoiler, I will say that this is not a light hearted read. It is about the challenges of navigating a life altering occurrence both for the person facing that and for the surrounding loved ones.

Once that challenge is revealed, the book goes where I expect it to. There is no surprise after that; the book remains about the journey getting there. Part of me travelled along on that journey of friendship. Part of me wishes that the book had gone somewhere more unexpected to match the fact that begins in an unexpected direction.

I love the premise of this book and was excited to see where it went. Part of me is disappointed at the direction; part of me walks away with life lessons that we would all do well to remember. The main lessons from the book is that life is unexpected, the reality that you think you see may not be what it seems, people have a tendency to take for granted the love and support that surrounds them, and that so often, people settle for what is comfortable unless someone or something jars them out of that comfort zone.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, August 24, 2020


Author:  Heidi Pitlor
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2020. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1616207914 / 978-1616207915

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher book tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I once saw a woman in a library pick up a biography of Mother Teresa."

Favorite Quote:  "'Sometimes people aren't nice,' I began. 'Then why are you always telling me to be nice?' Because someone has to break the cycle. Kindness can be contagious. And it has to start somewhere, right?"

***** Blog Tour *****


Allie is a ghostwriter. A nondisclosure clause is an integral part of every assignment. Her books have been successful, but she is not successful. She is lways struggling to make ends meet and create a stable life for her and her son. Her contracts never seem to be comparable to the money going to the stated author or the publisher. On top of that, her latest project is cancelled, and rent and other bills are way past due.

A new project brings Lana Breban, a successful, strong woman who is an economist, a lawyer, and a women's advocate. She is married, a mother, and a vocal feminist. The focal point of the memoir is to be motherhood. Allie is to be the ghostwriter. From the inception to the culmination of this project, Allie's voice and her story cover a lot of issues that have dominated the headlines in recent years.

I love books that reference other books. Allie is trying to read a book titled To the Lighthouse by Virginia Wolff. She describe the book as follows. "Someone had once said of the book, 'Nothing happens, and everything happens.' The same could be said about life, I thought." The reference to the book repeats over and over again though the narrative as Allie in unable to move forward with her reading. To me, the description and Allie's inability to move forward with her reading is a metaphor for this story and for where Allie is in her life. To some extent, nothing happens, but a lot of ground is covered in this book.

The time period is 2016-2017 in the United States, the time leading up to and subsequent to the the 2016 presidential election. Political commentary becomes part of this book, with what I feel is an accurate description of the emotional upheavals that many people went through during that time. Given the time period, the #metoo movement becomes a background for this book along with the women's marches. Given that Allie is always struggling for money, the issue of pay equity is there. On a more personal level, the book is very much about relationships and about motherhood. Allie's love for her son and her attempt at trying to do the best for him shines through. Watching the differences between Allie's household and Lana's also highlights the conversations around privilege and class.

I am not always a fan of books that are character driven rather than plot driven, but this one works. Allie, in all her imperfections, becomes a character I relate to. Perhaps, it is the time period and the emotion of it. Perhaps, it is her joy in motherhood. Perhaps, it is the constant balancing act between home, work, and relationships. Perhaps, it is because I find ghostwriting a fascinating subject. Perhaps, it is the insight into the publishing world from an author who has long been part of the industry.

Mostly, though, I think it is the way Allie's character is drawn. I fall in love with Allie's voice and fly through the story to see where it goes.

About the Author

Heidi Pitlor is the author of the novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage. She has been the series editor of The Best American Short Stories since 2007 and the editorial director of Plympton, a literary studio. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Huffington Post, Ploughshares, and the anthologies It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art and Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers. She lives outside Boston.

About the Book

As the longtime series editor of The Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor brings her talent for capturing the zeitgeist to her remarkably timely new novel, IMPERSONATION (Publication Date: August 18, 2020; $26.95), which follows a single, working-class ghostwriter as she inhabits the world of her subject, a high-profile, powerhouse women's rights attorney. “Heidi Pitlor has written a wonderfully rare thing,” Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women. “A comedy of manners set in the 21st century that brilliantly grapples with some of the more thorny issues of class, privilege, and parenting of our day. Smart, funny, and generous in spirit, IMPERSONATION is an engaging meditation on who controls the narrative and why it matters.”

Years of striving to meet cultural and parental expectations for both career and family have drained Allie Lang's idealism. But on the cusp of #MeToo and the 2016 election, she is offered the job of writing a memoir for Lana Breban, who hopes a book about motherhood will soften her steely image. After years of working as a ghostwriter for other celebrities, Allie knows the drill: she has learned how to inhabit the lives of others and tell their stories better than they can. But this time, everything becomes more complicated. Allie’s childcare arrangements unravel; she falls behind on her rent; her subject, Lana, is better at critiquing than actually providing material; and Allie’s partner decides to go on a road trip towards self-discovery. At what point will Allie speak up for all that she deserves?

“I suppose being a kind of worker bee myself inspired the idea, as well as the economic disparities that exist within publishing,” says Pitlor, author of the critically acclaimed novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage and former book editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “When I was first an acquiring editor and later a part-time freelance editor with young twins and a teacher husband, things got pretty tight for us. I found myself shuttling between some fabulous work lunch at the Four Seasons with a well-known writer and a dinner of Kraft mac n’ cheese with my family. Twin diapers and daycare do not come cheap. When some more financially comfortable friend mentioned an upcoming eco-conscious vacation or their locally made toys, I grew frankly jealous, well aware that this was a first-world trouble. Still, I began to wonder if living according to certain ideals was only possible for the economically privileged.” Through this lens, with a satirical eye and a feminist bent, Pitlor, whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Ploughshares, and elsewhere, scrutinizes the society that scrutinizes women, delving into the complex interplay between class, politics, and family, in and out of the public eye.

“IMPERSONATION is the book we need now,” says Anna Solomon, author of The Book of V. “An unflinching look at our current moment, and at questions few of us dare to ask. If our personas do good in the world, does it matter what we did to create them? How much hypocrisy are liberals willing to tolerate? Can women raise good men? Provocative, heartfelt, and often hilarious, this is a novel I’ll be thinking about for a long time to come.”

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Dazzling Truth

  The Dazzling Truth
Author:  Helen Cullen
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1525815822 / 978-1525815829

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was Christmas Eve."

Favorite Quote:  "Consider this - when you ask a child to draw you a picture, or tell you a story, they never refuse because they 'aren't creative.' We just learn as we get older whether we're allowed to call ourselves the anymore because we're trained only to invest time in what we are 'good at.' And its a tragedy - when we can't create purely for the joy it brings us. Don't be afraid to play, Fionn. It's good for the soul."

***** Blog Tour *****


Tell all the truth but tell it slant
by Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

This poem is the inspiration for the title of this book set in a small village in Ireland. The heart of this book is about what the truth of the Moone family is and even more so what their individual truths are. To give a hint of it, a theme that finds its way into the book is the Japanese art of kintsugi or kintsukuroi. This art form takes broken pottery and repairs the breaks with gold, silver, platinum lacquer. Rather than hiding the breaks and the flaws, it celebrates them and acknowledges that the breaks are the beauty of the piece. What a lovely idea for art and what an even more beautiful concept for life.

The book begins with a tragedy for the Moone family, who lives on the small island of Inis Óg off the Irish mainland. The tragedy comes on Christmas Eve and on the birthday of the eldest Moone daughter. The family is Murdagh, Maeve, and their four children with the youngest at sixteen.

Two-thirds of the book then goes back through Murdagh and Maeve's history and the events - big and small - that lead up to the tragedy. This is a love story intensely written. It is also a story of when love alone is not enough to "save" someone. It is a story of the struggle with mental illness. It is the struggle of the one who suffers and the impact on family, friends, and community. The journey of this family is poignant and compelling.

The story winds its way back to the beginning event. The rest of the book is about the path forward for this family. At this point, the book changes directions completely. It's almost as if I read two completely different books. From an intensely personal story of a family in a remote setting, this book goes to the same family and its stance in Ireland's legal and political battle on a social issue. Stating the issue would be a total spoiler!

Given the setting, I can see the need to document history. That, in and of itself, would make an entire book. However, in this case, it really does lead to my feeling that this is two books in one - the first two thirds about a family struggling with mental illness and the last third about capturing a momentous turn in recent Irish history. The connection between the is drawn, but it is tenuous at best. My hesitation is not about the two individual pieces of the book. Both are stories that can stand on their own. It is just that they do not feel like they belong in the same book. I acknowledge the need to mark history, but I wish the book has stayed with the first two thirds and the intensity of that journey. 

About the Author

HELEN CULLEN wrote her debut novel, The Lost Letters of William Woolf, while completing the Guardian/UEA novel writing program. She holds an MA in Theatre Studies from University College Dublin and is currently studying further at Brunel. Prior to writing full-time, Helen worked in journalism, broadcasting and most recently as a creative events and engagement specialist. Helen is Irish and currently lives in London.

About the Book

Poised to celebrate Christmas Eve on a beautifully scenic island off the coast of Ireland, the Moone family’s holiday is instead marred by tragedy. So begins Helen Cullen’s stirring family saga, THE DAZZLING TRUTH (Graydon House; August 18, 2020; $17.99 USD). Maeve and Murtagh Moone’s love story began in 1978, at Trinity College. As an aspiring actress and potter respectively, the two creative spirits were drawn to each other in an intense and lasting way, able to withstand almost anything, even Maeve’s bouts of crippling depression and anxiety. For a short time, anyway.

Marriage and children are the next chapters in the Moone family story, but Maeve struggles to reconcile her old life with that of the wife and mother she is supposed to be. Until one heartbreaking Christmas Eve in 2005 changes everything. Now each member of the Moone family must learn to confront the past on their own, until one dazzling truth brings them back together towards a future that none of them could have predicted. Except perhaps Maeve herself.

Q&A with Helen Cullen

1. How did you get the idea for THE DAZZLING TRUTH?
The Dazzling Truth was initially inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi – the practise of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The breakage, and the repair, remains visible to show the history of an object rather than something to be disguised, and so the pots become even more beautiful than before they were broken.

As any family spans decades, both hairline fractures and critical breaks, can damage its foundations. Some tragedies seem insurmountable; we can’t go on, and yet we do. Some cracks feel irreparable, but then often reveal themselves to be the gap we squeeze through so that we can find a way to keep moving.

The Moone family of the new book are no exception and as their narrative revealed itself to me, I became more and more convinced of how powerful it can be to confront the past, to stop burying inconvenient, uncomfortable or hurtful truths. Telling the story of Maeve, an actor from Brooklyn who arrived in Dublin in the 70s, her husband, Murtagh, and their four children, Nollaig, Mossy, Dillon and Sive, I was inspired by the power of the truth – how it can give your legs the power to keep walking, your heart to keep beating. And the setting for their story is very special to me - their lives on a fictional island on the west coast of Ireland was inspired by my own time spent on the Aran Islands in Ireland and in particular on Inis Oírr.

2. Where did the title come from?
It comes from an Emily Dickison poem, Tell all the truth but tell it slant. The theme of personal truth is a very important one in the novel - and in particular, how personal truths may not always align with what can be considered universally accepted truths. Sometimes it is only with acceptance of that that we can find peace. And sometimes that truth or awareness needs to creep up on us slowly as it would be too blinding if confronted too quickly or head on. My working title as I was writing the book had been Kintsugi as mentioned above but I wanted the title to reference the truth that is at the heart of the novel. I had spent some time thinking of it when one day the Emily Dickinson line just came me as I was sitting on the London tube. In the UK and Irish edition, the title is the full quote, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually, but in America we opted for The Dazzling Truth.

3. Who was your favorite character to write and why?
I always really enjoyed spending time with Murtagh Moone, the father of the family, as he was the first character that came to me out of the ether and where the story began for me. He isn’t based on my own father at all but his great love for his children definitely is a mirror of how devoted my own father is to his six children and so I have a huge spot for him.

4. Which character do you relate to most and why?
I think it’s true to say that I relate to all of the characters in different ways– if I didn’t I’m not sure I would be able to write them with any empathy or authority.

5. How important is music to your writing process and to the novel itself?
It’s incredibly important to me. Every day, before I begin to write, I choose a song to listen to that encapsulates for me the energy or the feeling of the scene I want to work on. Sinking into the music, the physical world around me slips away, and I am able to cross the bridge from reality to the wonderland of the imagination. I also love working out the musical tastes of all the characters and curating a soundtrack for the novel as I’m writing – there is so much music scattered throughout. The song, Moon River, is definitely the theme song for The Dazzling Truth and I listened to it on vinyl record a lot while writing the book.

6. Do you find it easier or harder to write character and dialogue for the opposite sex?
The gender of the character doesn’t really affect my approach in that way – as individual characters some just tend to evolve more easily than others for lots of different reasons.

7. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m a pantser. I would really struggle to plot out a novel in advance and think if I did I would get bored with following the plan. I find the most exciting and engaging writing I do is usually a result of the narrative taking a surprising turn. At the beginning I tend to know in a big picture way what the story loosely is and what the closing image is that I’m working towards – everything else is a mystery until I discover it on the page.

8. What is your writing Kryptonite?
Anxiety – if I’m anxious about anything that is happening in the real world I find it really difficult to disconnect and focus on the writing. It would be amazing if I could use the fictional world as an escape pod but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that for me.

9. Where is your favorite place to write?
I’ve learned not to become too superstitious or precious about where I can write as those things just become excuses for me not to get work done in the end but I do love escaping on writing retreats where the only thing I have to focus on is whatever book I’m writing. I’ve been to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig in Ireland a few times and absolutely love it there – despite the fact that I’m scared out of my wits by the resident ghost Miss Worby.

10. What book have you read recently that you loved?
There are so many wonderful books coming out of Ireland at the moment that it feels like a glorious age of literature. One of my all-time favourite writers and literary heroines, Anne Enright, published a new book this year called Actress which is unsurprisingly phenomenal. I recommend it whole-heartedly but also every single book the genius has written.

The book's title comes from a line from Emily Dickinson, "The truth must dazzle gradually." What appealed to you about that quote, and how was the title chosen?

11. What are you working on next?
I’m working on what will hopefully be my third novel and preparing a commence a PhD in October at the University of East Anglia.

12. What was the first book to make you cry?
I don’t remember the first book that made me cry but the last one was probably My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout which I loved.

13. What are you reading?
I’m always reading multiple things at the same time. Recently I’ve started Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell and Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A House is a Body

  A House is a Body
Author:  Shruti Swamy
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2020. 208 pages.
ISBN:  1616209895 / 978-1616209896

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Sudha and Vinod had a modest wedding."

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes, when you lose - when people die - it is very hard to make tears. You feel like you want to make tears but something inside you stops them and they press your chest. Like something sitting on it."

***** Blog Tour *****


"The house is a body, a body houses souls." I love books where the author defines the book or references the concept important enough to be the title. I love the cover of this book - the fire and the heat it portrays. It invites you to find out more. This debut collection of stories is set in the United States and in India. It picks up on many Indian cultural concepts. Representation in books matters.

The book contains twelve short stories:  Blindness. Mourners. My Brother at the Station. The Siege. Earthly Pleasures. Wedding Season. The Neighbors. A Simple Composition. The Laughter Artist. Didi. A House is a Body. Night Garden.

As with any collection of short stories, every reader will find some more appealing than others. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, I was not the reader for this book and these stories. 

Starting with the first story, the book contains graphic sexual descriptions. I am not the reader for graphic descriptions. In addition, the book descriptions reads, "Dreams collide with reality, modernity with antiquity, and myth with identity." To then find mundane, physical descriptions interlaced with stories that are more philosophical and poetic in nature highlights the descriptions even more so, making them a jarring interruption to the story.

The book description also "these stories are written with the edge and precision of a knife blade." The biggest issue I have with the book is that I don't feel like I understood the stories. Perhaps, for me, the story needed greater grounding to explain the situation or the concept. The stories seem to depict a moment - in the middle of a relationship. There is no context before and no resolution after. This is the nature of short stories, but a little context would help in the understanding.

Interestingly, I don't find that a fault  of the book. Rather, I take responsibility as a reader. There seems to be something I am missing that I don't really get the stories. I see glimmers of moments in the story that become real but the rest seems just beyond my grasp.

If not for the graphic nature of the book, I could see it being discussed in a literature class to discern the meaning and intention behind each story. I as a a casual, solo reader just did not get there. I am left with the sense of sadness that seems to permeate each story.

About the Author

The winner of two O. Henry Awards, Shruti Swamy's work has appeared in The Paris Review, the Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. In 2012, she was Vassar College's 50th W.K. Rose Fellow, and has been awarded residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center, and Hedgebrook.

She is a Kundiman fiction fellow, a 2017 – 2018 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and a recipient of a 2018 grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her story collection A House Is a Body is forthcoming in August from Algonquin Books.

About the Book

Dreams collide with reality, modernity with antiquity, and myth with identity in the twelve arresting stories of A House Is a Body. In “Earthly Pleasures,” a young painter living alone in San Francisco begins a secret romance with one of India’s biggest celebrities, and desire and ego are laid bare. In “A Simple Composition,” a husband’s professional crisis leads to his wife’s discovery of a dark, ecstatic joy. And in the title story, an exhausted mother watches, hypnotized by fear, as a California wildfire approaches her home. Immersive and assured, provocative and probing, these are stories written with the edge and precision of a knife blade. Set in the United States and India, they reveal small but intense moments of beauty, pain, and power that contain the world.

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Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Rules of the Road

Title:  Rules of the Road
Author:  Ciara Geraghty
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0778309711 / 978-0778309710

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Harlequin Trade Publishing 2020 Summer Reads blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Iris Armstrong is missing."

Favorite Quote:  "Memory is a strange beast, isn't it? It throws up such random things. Presents itself to us in different ways. Sepia-tinted, some of them. Black-and-white, others. Glaring Technicolor. Some are magnified. Larger than life. Insistent. And others are like the images you see when you look through the wrong end of binoculars. Distant and small. You doubt the truth of them."

***** Blog Tour *****


The rules of the road are literal and figurative. Literally, this book takes place mostly over the course of an planned road trip, from Ireland all the way to Zurich, Switzerland. There is a beat up car, a ferry, an accident, opposite side of the road driving, a motorway, and a timid, shy driver. The unlikely companions on this trip are Eugene Keogh, Iris Armstrong, and Terry Shepherd.

Eugene Keogh is a frail gentleman suffering from amnesia. Doctor's advice is for his routines be maintained as best as possible; yet, here he is.

Iris Armstrong is a strong, independent woman. She also suffers from multiple sclerosis. She is the only one or whom the trip is intended and planned. She is on her way to a private clinic in Switzerland. Her intent is to end her own life on her own terms before her disease overtakes what she believes defines the quality of her life. Disclaimer:  This book is not about the ethics, morality, or politics of assisted end of life. Iris's decision is a given in this book. Terry's objection is not a moral or ethical one; she just does not want to lose her friend. If the fact that this book accepts Iris's decision with a moral, ethical, religious or other discussion will bother you, this is not the book for you.

Terry Shepherd is Eugene Keogh's daughter and Iris Armstrong's best friend. She is also a wife and a mother to two adult daughters. Her trip is entirely unplanned, and her father is along for the ride as he is under her care. Her intent is to use the time between Ireland and Dublin to change Iris's decision. She has no idea how or even if she can. She is even less sure of her own abilities to take this trip.

Terry's story is the figurative road trip of this book. She lives her life in a small bubble of family, and mostly in the caretaker role for her father, husband, daughter, and friends. Slowly, through the book, her timidness emerges. Even more slowly and as a surprise to herself, she emerges from her comfort zone. In a book that includes serious issues - dementia, multiple sclerosis, and assisted end of life, the story is really about the woman navigating through her own outlook and approach to life. A book dealing with such serious issues ends up a sweet, feel good story of self-discovery and friendship.

For all the gradual revelation of Terry, the book comes to a rather abrupt ending. A testament to the characters and the book is that I wanted more. I wanted to see Terry truly emerge out of her shell and come into herself. There is a glimpse, but it is just that.

The cast of characters - Eugene with his Frank Sinatra story, Iris with her determination, Terry with her strength - along with all the people they meet along the road. For a book that deals with so much sadness, it leaves me more nostalgic than sad.

About the Book

In this emotional, life-affirming novel, two women embark on an extraordinary road trip and discover the transformative power of female friendship--perfect for fans of JoJo Moyes and Gail Honeyman.

The simple fact of the matter is that Iris loves life. Maybe she's forgotten that. Sometimes that happens, doesn't it? To the best of us? All I have to do is remind her of that one simple fact.

When Iris Armstrong goes missing, her best friend Terry—wife, mother and all-around worrier—is convinced something bad has happened. And when she finds her glamorous, feisty friend, she's right: Iris is setting out on a bucket-list journey that she plans to make her last. She tells Terry there’s no changing her mind, but Terry is determined to show her that life is still worth living.

The only way for Terry to stop Iris is to join her—on a road trip that will take them on a life-changing adventure. Along the way, somehow what should be the worst six days of Terry’s life turn into the best. Told in an irresistible voice and bursting with heart, Rules of the Road is a powerful testament to the importance of human connection and a moving celebration of life in all its unexpected twists and turns.

About the Author

Ciara Geraghty was born and raised in Dublin. She started writing in her thirties and hasn’t looked back. She has three children and one husband and they have recently adopted a dog who, alongside their youngest daughter, is in charge of pretty much everything.

Q&A with Ciara Geraghty

What message do you hope readers take away from Rules of the Road?
First and foremost, I hope they enjoy it. My mantra for writing is ‘A good tale, well told’. I don’t write fables or books with morals to be endured and lessons to be learned. I write about people and the messiness of their lives. Because, as everyone knows, life is messy. And complex. And complicated. I want my readers to read one of my books and maybe come away feeling less alone. That is the comfort I take from books as a reader, when I come across characters I can relate to.

What's the story behind the story of how you came to write it?
Female friendship and solidarity have always been very important to me. I wanted to examine the importance of female friendship, the impact it has, the difference it makes. When I was writing the book, we had two referendums in Ireland - marriage equality and access to abortion and both were passed with resounding majorities. While my book does not deal with these specific issues, it is a book about personal autonomy, bodily autonomy, a woman’s right to choose. My subject matter suddenly felt very relevant and positive and hopeful. While the book has a dark heart - Iris, one of my main characters, is determined to end her life in a clinic in Switzerland - I always meant for the book to be ultimately uplifting and life-affirming; a love song sung by women.

During the writing of the book, my father was dying of dementia. I found the writing of Eugene - Terry’s father in ‘Rules’ who has dementia - a very cathartic experience. This is one of the great things about writing; it helps me make sense of the world and the way I feel about it.

Do you have any specific writing rituals (outfit, snacks, pen,music, etc)?
Well, I’d love to get all ‘writery’ and say that I repair to a tall tower where I wander around in a caftan and smoke cigarettes from long, slender cigarette holders and wait for the MUSE to arrive…..Now, wouldn’t that be grand! But, no. Instead, I write at home, in the attic, at a desk, with a laptop. How pedestrian is that? I will say that, for me, the most important part of the process is getting my butt into the seat at the desk. The chair is an all-singing, all-dancing display of ergonomic engineering (it’s got wheels!) and this is important because one thing is for sure; I’m going to be sitting on it for a LONG time. Caftan and cigarette holders are optional (and rarely employed) but the rule I absolutely insist on is never, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, wait for the MUSE to arrive. I just steel myself and start writing. Even when I don’t want to. Especially when I don’t want to. Otherwise I’ll convince myself that the words have all dried up and the cupboard is bare.

Which character do you most relate to in this novel and why?
There are certain traits that I have in common with aspects of both Terry and Iris. Like Iris, I am a year-round sea swimmer. Like Terry, I am a mother who is coming to terms with the fact that some of her children are - technically - grown-ups. I have lived with both of these characters for the past four years and love them both equally, for different reasons. I’d say I relate more to Terry because Iris, for the most part, has it all figured out. She is a woman who knows what she wants and then goes right ahead and gets it. Terry is less certain, she is still feeling her way through her life. She tries so hard to be all things to all people, to the detriment of her own sense of self. As a woman writer who is also a daughter, a mother, a wife, a friend, I relate to this aspect of Terry. I imagine many women these days do. It is the great burden of being a woman, as well as being one of our great strengths.

What is your bucket-list trip?
In the current climate, even thinking about a bucket-list trip feels a bit revolutionary. Or like a plot in a science-fiction novel. However, I can reveal that tomorrow, I’m off to Kerry (in the south west of Ireland) for a week. For anyone who has never been to Kerry, I advise you to put it on your bucket-list immediately. Because of the mountains - the highest in Ireland - and the winds that rush in from the Atlantic ocean, rain is a frequent visitor there. BUT - because of the rain, the vegetation is vivid and lush and almost tropical, with the influence of the Gulf Stream. The place is falling down with ancient castles, monasteries, fairy forts and islands (including Skellig Michael for the Star Wars fans amongst you). The Atlantic may be ‘fresh’ (this is Irish for ‘biting cold’) but the waters are crystal clear and the sand is fine and white and an excellent exfoliator of skin. Afterwards, in the pub where you’re eating a bowl of seafood chowder and struggling to eavesdrop on the locals (the accent is as thick as an Aran jumper), you’ll suddenly realise you’re tingling all over. This could be your blood, doing its best to resume normal circulation after the icy immersion in the sea. Or it could be something else. Something a little more other-worldly. The magic of Kerry, rushing through your body, seeping into your bones, engaging every sense you’ve ever had. And a few you didn’t even know you had. Can you tell I’m looking forward to getting away?

Social Links

Author Website:
Twitter: @ciarageraghty
Facebook: @CiaraGeraghtyBooks
Instagram: @ciara.geraghty.books
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Friendship List

  The Friendship List
Author:  Susan Mallery
Publication Information:  HQN. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1335136967 / 978-1335136961

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "'I should have married money,' Ellen Fox said glumly."

Favorite Quote:  "Moving backward meant more suffering, and staying stuck was just as bad. That left moving forward. There had to be an answer somewhere. All she had to do was find it."

***** Blog Tour *****


Ellen and Unity have been friends for a long time.

Unity married very young. Her husband, who was a soldier, died in action shortly after. She operates her own repair business, and her primary clientele is the residents of a retirement community. She is closed to the possibility of life and joy beyond her limited horizon. The joy of life and love ended with her husband's death.

Ellen became a very young mother. The baby's father chose not to be part of their lives. Ever since then, it has always been just Ellen and her son, a twosome against the world. She teaches in the school her son attends and has made her entire life all about him.

Both Unity and Ellen reach a crossroads that convinces them change - or at least the perception of change for those around them - is necessary. Together, they come up with their individual lists of things each will attempt to do to create change, at least outward change. It is friendly and just a bit competitive and things between friends can be.

I love the premise of the book. Journeys of self-discovery or rediscovery can be moving ones. That journey shared with a best friend can be priceless. Some aspects of this book are exactly that. I find myself laughing and crying along with certain situations they find themselves in. I find myself applauding the attempt. Sky diving. A tattoo. Clothes shopping. Bring on the challenges.

As with many other books such as this one, there are romances involved. The men are sweet and understanding. What is also sweet is that one especially is a friend first. 

Unity and Ellen are strong women who have survived and who have managed to thrive and build independent, successful lives through their own perseverance. I am still waiting for the book on this theme that remains centered on the women and their path to growth that focuses just on that or on their friendship without necessarily a romantic relationship involved.

Perhaps, my expectation is unreasonable. Perhaps, the point is that the growth is about being ready to invite love into their lives. That works, but it does become the prevalent theme of this book. The physical descriptions of the relationships especially I can completely and especially do without in any book. I would like to think that a story of growth and friendship is possible without the romance or that a story with the romance can still focus primarily on the growth and friendship. This is not the case here.

Given all of that, the book is still a light-hearted, often funny summer beach read, perfect for these summer afternoons.

About the Book

Already a worldwide success in mass market and trade paperback formats, Susan Mallery’s newest hardcover is an emotional, witty, and heartfelt story about two best friends who are determined to help one another shake things up and live life to the fullest...only to discover that possibilities are everywhere--especially in the most unexpected of places.

Ellen and Unity have been best friends basically since birth, but they couldn’t be more different. Unity married her childhood sweetheart just after high school and became an Army wife, moving from base to base…until her husband's shocking death in the line of duty leaves her a widow. Grief-stricken, it’s time for Unity to come back home to Ellen—the only person she can trust to help her rebuild her life. But Ellen has troubles of her own. Boys never seemed to notice Ellen…until one got her pregnant in high school and disappeared. Her son is now 17 and she’s wondering what to do with herself now that he’s heading off to college and he's literally her entire world.

But now that Ellen and Unity are reunited, they’re done with their stale lives. It’s time to shake things up and start living again, knowing that they'll always have one another to lean on. So they create a list of challenges they have to accomplish--everything from getting a tattoo to skydiving to staying out all night. And whoever completes the most challenges is the winner. But with new adventures and love just around the corner, there’s no such thing as losing…

About the Author

SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women's lives—family, friendship and romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations," and readers seem to agree—forty million copies of her books have been 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 two Ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as Mom.

Q&A with Susan Mallery

Q: Where did the inspiration for The Friendship List’s plot come from?

A: The inspiration for The Friendship List came from a reader—but I don’t think it’s exactly the story the reader was asking for. A couple years ago, a reader suggested I write a story about empty nesters, a couple whose children had grown up and were moving out. I considered the idea, but it didn’t immediately sing for me.

Then, while washing dishes—which is when I often get ideas—I thought to myself, “What if it isn’t a couple, but a single mom? And what if she had her baby really young, like in high school? She would be in her midthirties when her kid went to college. What would that be like?”

That’s the spark that led to Ellen, a single mom who had her son when she was a senior in high school. Since then, she has put his needs first, always, to the point where she hasn’t dated really at all in her adult life. When her son was little, she worked her butt off to raise him and go to college to become a math teacher.

The story starts as Ellen overhears her son telling a friend he can’t go away to college because his mom doesn’t have a life without him. They’re a team, and she needs him. Ellen is horrified that she’s holding him back, and she knows she has to do something drastic to convince him that it’s safe for him to follow his dreams.

Unity, Ellen’s best friend for as long as they both can remember, is a young widow, still mourning the death of her husband three years ago. She’s stuck in her grief, and reluctant to change that because getting over her grief might mean really letting go of the love of her life forever. But for Ellen’s sake, Unity comes up with the friendship list—a series of challenges designed to shake up their lives.

One way or another, this will be a summer that will change them forever. The Friendship List is a celebration of friendship. I know authors aren’t supposed to have favorite books, but I have to admit, this is one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written—certainly the funniest. Every day, I couldn’t wait to get to my desk, excited to write that day’s fun scene. It was pure joy from page 1 to The End, and I hope you’ll love it, too.

Q: Who is your favorite character in this novel and why?

A: I love both of the friends, but Ellen probably squeaks out a narrow win over Unity simply because her journey was so much fun. Think about it—she had her kid when she was seventeen years old, and from that moment on, her life revolved around him so she missed out on the things most people experience in their twenties. Dating, parties, bar-hopping. She was home studying and taking care of her kid.

And in fact, he’s the impetus for her to change, as well, because she sees that what’s best for him now is for her to let go, to get a life of her own. When she realizes all that she’s been missing, she dives in with her whole heart and body, with such enthusiasm that she had me laughing every day. Suddenly she wants to try everything all at once. Love, love, love, love her.

Q: Of the challenges in the book, which was the most fun to write about? Why?

A: Oh, that’s a tough one! I don’t know if I want to tell you my favorite-favorite because it might be too much of a spoiler. So instead, I’ll tell you one of my other favorites, which is more of a teaser than a spoiler. 😊 One of Ellen’s challenges is to wear clothes that fit, instead of her normal habit of wearing clothes that are at least three sizes too large for her. Baggy is her comfort zone. The first time she wears an outfit that shows the shape of her body, her pal Keith can’t help looking at her in a whole new way.

Q: What is your idea of a good personal challenge for yourself?

A: The challenges in The Friendship List are meant to push the women out of their comfort zone and be a little intimidating for them, so my personal challenge will have to do the same. Hmm… Oh! How about a plunging V neckline? Cleavage makes me really self-conscious, but I admire women who can proudly show off their curves.

I’m nervous just thinking about it!

Q: Do your characters tell you their stories a bit at a time or all at once? Do they ever pull you in unexpected directions changing up the plot you originally planned?

A: Yes, yes, and yes. It depends on the story. Very rarely, a story will come to me fully formed. Daughters of the Bride was like that. A gift book. That almost never happens. Usually, I get a spark of an idea. I write up some notes, then set it aside. If I’m still thinking about it, I know it has potential. I get a lot of ideas that never go anywhere. They might make fine stories for someone else, but if they’re not tugging at me, I let them go.

I’m on the extreme-plotter end of the plotter/pantser spectrum. (For those who don’t know, a plotter is a writer who plots the story in advance. A pantser is a writer who flies by the seat of her pants, without knowing where the story is going.) I generally work out story problems during my plotting process, which makes me feel free to relax and sink into the story while I’m writing.

When I get into the flow of a book, the characters do take over and sometimes they do surprise me. When they take me in a direction I didn’t expect, I have to step back to look at the big picture to adjust. I never try to force a character to do something that doesn’t feel right for him or her. Every decision must be motivated.

In The Friendship List, Unity threw me for a loop early on. I knew she was still in love with her late husband, but until I wrote a particular scene, I didn’t realize just how broken she still was. I did have to make some very serious adjustments to her road to a happy ending. And in the end, as I brought her out of that darkness, I cried. So satisfying!

Q: Do you have pets? How do the animals you have now or have had in the past influence writing animals into your stories?

A: Yes, I have three pets. Two ragdoll cats, siblings Alex and Lucy, and a miniature poodle named Kelli. I love animals of all kinds. I’m a big supporter of Seattle Humane and the amazing work they do for animals in and around Seattle.

Animals play a big role in my books. When they have a part in the story, they are genuine characters because I believe, like humans, each animal has its own unique quirks and personality traits. The book I’m working on right now will be the first book in my new series, Wishing Tree—Christmas romances—and there are two dogs in the book who I adore. Bella is a Great Dane who loves to play dress-up in cute canine ensembles, and who is intimidated by a dachshund named Burt. The first Wishing Tree romance will be out in 2021.

Q: Is there a genre of books that you have not written yet but might contemplate writing in the future? What might that be?

A: I recently toyed with the idea of writing a thriller. I even did quite a bit of research on Bitcoin, which was going to be a big subplot. I decided against the thriller, but research is never wasted—one of the characters in The Friendship List became a Bitcoin millionaire, and then a regular-money millionaire. Plus, I'm kind of proud of myself—it took me two weeks of research to be able to understand crypto-currency, but I'm now I'm at least cocktail-party level literate. 😊

Q: What was the first book you sold/published and how did you celebrate when you received the acceptance letter from the publisher?

A: The first book I sold was a historical romance called Frontier Flame. A few months after that, I sold a book to (then Silhouette) Special Edition. Both books came out the same month, so the first time I was published was with two books. It was very heady! Of course, before that and after that I had many story ideas rejected. Even now, although infrequently, one of my ideas can be rejected. It happened recently. Still stings, but not as badly.

I celebrated my first sale by calling all of my writer friends and squealing over the phone, and then by going out for a nice dinner with my husband.

Q: What do you love to do when not writing?

A: I love hanging out with my friends—and I miss that right now because of the coronavirus. Friendship is one of the most fundamental relationships in a woman’s life. You might argue “in a man’s life, too,” but from what I’ve observed, most men don’t have the same visceral need for community that women do. My husband once told me, “You’re all I need.” Which is sweet and romantic and probably true. I love him dearly, more than any other human being on the planet, but I need friends, too. My friends are the family I chose, and I nurture those relationships in every way I can.

Social Links

Twitter: @susanmallery
Facebook: @susanmallery
Instagram: @susanmallery
Author website:

Buy Links

Barnes & Noble
Indie Bound
Google Play
Apple Books

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Lies, Lies, Lies

  Lies, Lies, Lies
Author:  Adele Parks
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  077838814X / 978-0778388142

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Harlequin Trade Publishing 2020 summer reads blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Simon was six years old when he first tasted beer."

Favorite Quote:  "Do we still live in a world where being polite keeps order or does it leave  you vulnerable?"

***** Blog Tour *****


When a book starts with an opening sentence like the opening line for Lies, Lies, Lies, it's a good bet that alcoholism is going to be part of the story. When a book titled Lies, Lies, Lies has the tag line "every marriage has them", it's a good bet that the ups and downs of the marriage in the book lead to a dark place. The questions are many. What are the lies? Why were they told? Who told them? Who believed them? Were they told out of "love" and a desire to protect? Were they told out of guilt, fear, or some nefarious reason?

Simon and Daisy are supposedly happily married. They have fulfilling careers, a beautiful child, and a close-knit group of friends. They are planning an addition to their family, or at least Simon is. Beneath the surface, dangers lurk and secrets hide. 

A meeting shatters the illusion of perfection. The repercussions of that revelation lead to catastrophe.

A title like Lies, Lies, Lies might suggest a thriller. This book does have its twists and turns and some unknowns, but it is definitely more family drama than thriller. Trigger warning, there are descriptions and incidents of violence. The story is successfully told from the alternating perspectives of Daisy and Simon. This technique works so well in this book for it is the story of a marriage. The reality is that to understand marriage, it is important to see and understand both perspectives.

There are three main lies in this book surrounded by many minor ones.

The resolution of Simon and Daisy's marriage in this book does not come as a surprise. I guess one particular lie early on in the book. Nothing overt really gives it away, but it seems to be the only conclusion possible given the cast of characters.

How the book gets to its ending and the two other big lies, I don't see coming. It's is difficult to say anything without a spoiler. One lie speaks to a major societal issue, and the lie seems entirely realistic and believable given the treatment of women in that situation and given the track record of our legal system. The other appears tacked on at the end because the situation needs to be resolved to conclude the story, but it seems just there. It is there because the question needs an answer no matter how unlikely or unrealistic it may be. Not gonna lie, there is definite "eewww" factor.

The first half of the book centers more on the marriage, and the second half deals more with the reasons behind the big lie of the book. The personal story of the marriage is the more engaging one as it is more intimate, personal one. Either way, the book is a quick read especially due to the short chapters of alternating perspectives. 

About the Author

Adele Parks was born in Teesside, North-East England. Her first novel, Playing Away, was published in 2000 and since then she's had seventeen international bestsellers, translated into twenty-six languages, including I Invited Her In. She's been an Ambassador for The Reading Agency and a judge for the Costa. She's lived in Italy, Botswana, and London, and is now settled in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, teenage son, and cat.

About the Book

LIES LIES LIES (MIRA Trade Paperback; August 4, 2020; $17.99) centers on the story of Simon and Daisy Barnes. To the outside world, Simon and Daisy look like they have a perfect life. They have jobs they love, an angelic, talented daughter, a tight group of friends... and they have secrets too. Secrets that will find their way to the light, one way or the other.

Daisy and Simon spent almost a decade hoping for the child that fate cruelly seemed to keep from them. It wasn’t until, with their marriage nearly in shambles and Daisy driven to desperation, little Millie was born. Perfect in every way, healing the Barnes family into a happy unit of three. Ever indulgent Simon hopes for one more miracle, one more baby. But his doctor’s visit shatters the illusion of the family he holds so dear.

Now, Simon has turned to the bottle to deal with his revelation and Daisy is trying to keep both of their secrets from spilling outside of their home. But Daisy’s silence and Simon’s habit begin to build until they set off a catastrophic chain of events that will destroy life as they know it.

Q&A with Adele Parks

Q: Please give an elevator pitch for Lies, Lies, Lies.

A: Daisy and Simon’s marriage is great. Isn’t it? After years together, the arrival of longed-for daughter Millie sealed everything in place. A happy little family of three. But Simon drinks too much and one night at a party, things spiral horribly out of control. The consequences are horrific, their little family of three will never be the same again. Lies Lies Lies explores the darkest corners of a relationship in freefall as lies are exposed and secrets will not stay hidden. A domestic noir with themes such as addiction, jealousy and secrecy raging throughout.

Q: Which came first: the characters or plotline?

A: The two things are intrinsically linked and need to work together, but for me, it is nearly always plotline that comes first, a hair’s breadth before characters. My domestic noir or psychological thrillers (call it what you will!) are dependent on reveals, rug-pulls, and twists. They only work if the author is confident about where the plot is going from the beginning. That way every word written works harder. If the author is making it up as they go along in this genre it can get complicated at best, farcical at worst! So, I had a plot. Then I thought, ‘which people in the entire world would this be most devastating for?’ At that point, I draw my characters. The same circumstances that Daisy and Simon endure would have a different outcome if they didn’t have particular character traits.

Q: Why do you love Daisy and why should readers root for her?

A: Honestly, hand in the air, time to confess - Daisy is tricky to love to start with. She’s reserved, closed, a little judgemental. However, the more you get to know her, the more you’ll understand she’s incredibly resilient, has a strong moral compass, an incredible sense of loyalty, and is a fiercely strong mom! All great qualities.

Q: What was your last 5 star read?

A: The Guest List by Lucy Foley This is a classic whodunit? Set on a beautiful windswept Irish island, the Wedding of the Year is about to take place between beautiful fashion-forwards magazine editor Jules Keegan and her TV star finance Will Slater. The novel shimmers with tension: past rivalries, family rifts, and barely disguised grudges. The cake has just been cut when a body is found. As a storm is raging, no one can get on or off the island, so which of the guests is the murderer and who is dead? It’s tense, brilliantly paced, and keeps the reader guessing!

Q: What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?

A: It is an industry for the kind and patient. That is a great thing, right? Two fabulous qualities. Nearly everyone I’ve ever met in publishing has been genuinely lovely, with a sincere passion for their work, good intentions, and big hearts. However, it is not a speedy industry! I worked in a global management consultancy before I became a published novelist and was used to a very fast pace in my working life. Publishing is generally rather sedate. I hope I am known for my kindness, but I doubt I am known for my patience! I’m so glad that my last three books have been published by HarperCollins. Luckily for me, they are an incredibly nimble publishing house, not only responsive and reactive but proactive too.

Q: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

A: The next novel of mine that will hit the States is a novel called Just My Luck. It’s about – a lottery win so big, it changes everything for a group of friends who learn to understand what money can, can’t should and definitely should not buy!

For fifteen years, Lexi and Jake have played the same six numbers with their friends, the Pearsons and the Heathcotes. Over dinner parties, fish & chip suppers and summer barbecues, they’ve discussed the important stuff – the kids, marriages, jobs and houses – and they’ve laughed off their disappointment when they failed to win anything more than a tenner.

But then, one Saturday night, the unthinkable happens. There’s a rift in the group. Someone doesn’t tell the truth. And soon after, six numbers come up which change everything forever.

Lexi and Jake have a ticket worth £18 million. And their friends are determined to claim a share of it. A look at the dark side of wealth, in this gripping take on friendship, money, betrayal, and good luck gone bad.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Kids Are Gonna Ask

Title:  The Kids Are Gonna Ask
Author:  Gretchen Anthony
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2020. 416 pages.
ISBN:  077830874X / 978-0778308744

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Harlequin Trade Publishing 2020 Summer Reads blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The house had become an aquarium - one side tank, the other fingerprint-smeared glass - with Thomas McClair on the inside looking out."

Favorite Quote:  "Some people are meant to stay put, and some people are meant to go. But running is different than going. When you're running, you spend the whole time looking over your shoulder. To go forward, you gotta look forward."

***** Blog Tour *****


Thomas and Savannah are twins. They have never known their father, and they lost their mother Beth to a sudden accident. They are being raised by their grandmother Maggie in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

This is not your typical household. Thomas and Savannah are in high school. Savannah is a budding screenwriter and producer. Thomas is an aspiring sound engineer. Maggie seems to collect friends, often inviting people into their homes for dinners prepared by their personal chef. (Yes, they have a personal chef.) Somewhere along the way, they have combined all their interests and started a podcast of Maggie's dinners and the conversations around those dinners. "It's a reminder. That everyone has a voice, and every voice deserves a place at the table."

A time comes that the question of paternity looms larger in the twins' minds, particularly for Thomas. The only information their mother shared was the fact that their conception was the result of a short time association while on vacation. She never expected the relationship to last, but she never said why. Unfortunately, Beth passed away before the twins or Maggie questioned or learned more.

Putting their skills to work, Savannah and Thomas decide to make their search public and conduct it via podcast. One because it's something they know. Second because a podcast will reach more people than they ever could, and someone may know something that will answer their questions.

The question of the father's identity is actually resolved rather early on in the book. The central theme of the book becomes the podcast. Of course, it goes viral. A big name producer gets involved. Social media gets involved. There are proponents and opponents. Both sides are equally vocal, and both sides speak often with no actual information.

This book picks up on the drama that takes place daily online these days of almost any topic in the world. It gets into the manipulation of social media and the influencers who can change the stream of public opinion. "Stories are shaped by the ones who tell them."

Embedded in the public story is the family story of two young people who are surrounded by love and who are looking for answers. Thomas and Savannah display both their maturity and their youth. Maggie loves her daughter and loves her twins, but where are her needs considered? There is a man adrift, who suddenly discovers that he may be father to two children. These emotions ebb and flow with the family trying to address its private concerns in the midst of a public media whirlwind. "And he learned that the worries you think are confined to the space in your head can just as well show up outside it, written in bright letters for all to see."

The characters are quirky, sometimes too much so. Yet, I find myself rooting for them. The topic of podcasts and social media influence is timely, and I have never read a book featuring a podcast as a central component.  Both the personal and the public story leave me with a lot to think about.

About the Book

A whip-smart, entertaining novel about twin siblings who become a national phenomenon after launching a podcast to find the biological father they never knew.

The death of Thomas and Savannah McClair’s mother turns their world upside down. Raised to be fiercely curious by their grandmother Maggie, the twins become determined to learn the identity of their biological father. And when their mission goes viral, an eccentric producer offers them a dream platform: a fully sponsored podcast called The Kids Are Gonna Ask. To discover the truth, Thomas and Savannah begin interviewing people from their mother’s past and are shocked when the podcast ignites in popularity. As the attention mounts, they get caught in a national debate they never asked for—but nothing compares to the mayhem that ensues when they find him.

Cleverly constructed, emotionally perceptive and sharply funny, The Kids Are Gonna Ask is a rollicking coming-of-age story and a moving exploration of all the ways we can go from lost to found.

About the author

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.

Q&A with Gretchen Anthony

Q: What message do you hope readers take away from The Kids Are Gonna Ask?

A: I hope readers grow to love the book’s characters in all their imperfections. One of the themes in all my work is how quick we are to judge each other (and yes, I’m guilty, too). Modern tools, especially social media, have only exacerbated our tendency to criticize — not by making us fundamentally more judgmental, but by forever expanding the horizon of our potential outrage. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and SnapChat are Las Vegas buffets for our egos and I’m as guilty as the next person for over indulging.

In contrast, through story, we are transported into our character’s worlds. If a story is well told, we understand why it must unfold as it does. We understand the characters’ choices — we may not like those choices, but we understand how they came to be. Stories have the power to make us humans more empathetic. Less reflexive. Slower to draw our conclusions. And sometimes, we readers even carry a tiny bit of that grace with us into our daily lives.

Q: What's the story behind the story/how you came to write it?

A: I am a huge podcast fan, so the idea of putting a podcast at the heart of a novel was not a stretch for me. The question of what that podcast would be, however, evolved in the aftermath of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Florida. The students there decided they were finished waiting for something to be done about guns in the U.S. and took over the debate, starting a national movement in which their most outspoken leaders, still just kids themselves, became public lightning rods. One side of the debate celebrated them, the other vilified them.

As a mom, I was both moved by and worried for those kids, proud that they stood up so bravely for change, but horrified at the emotional, life-altering toil they had to endure in the process. I wondered, what other issues could cause that sort of public reaction? And what would a personal-public experience be like for someone who’s no longer a child, but not yet an adult? The Kids Are Gonna Ask became my answer.

Q: What's your favorite podcast?

A: How much time to do you have? I have too many favorites! Here are a handful of the shows I look forward to each week.

Pop Culture

Office Ladies — If you’re a fan of the show, this is a must listen. “The Office co-stars and best friends, Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, are doing the ultimate The Office re-watch podcast for you. Each week Jenna and Angela will break down an episode of The Office and give exclusive behind the scene stories that only two people who were there, can tell you.”

Mamamia Out Loud — A podcast described as “what women are talking about” from the team at the news and pop culture site, Yes, it’s Australia and yes, they cover some topics we don’t talk about in America, but most of the conversation is universal. These women are so smart and so funny, they brighten my day. Plus, it’s always good to broaden our horizons, no?

Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air — Actor, producer, writer and comedian Larry Wilmore in conversation with leading experts about today’s news and pop culture. Thoughtful, provoking, and funny, every show makes me stop at least once and think, “Okay, that’s brilliant.”

Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend — Who knew celebrity interviews could be this good? No pitches about movies or TV shows, just real conversation between friends. Surprisingly good. For real. You can trust me on this.


You’re Dead to Me — “The history podcast for people who don’t like history.” Part comedy, part history lesson, all terrific. Also, it’s a BBC podcast, so the accents are swooney.

Evil Genius — Another BBC podcast, described as, “It’s good, bad, ugly — and very funny. Changing the way we see heroes and villains in history.” I think of it as a new take on cancel culture.

Web Crawlers — History and comedy meet again. This time, two “internet sleuths” go down some very twisty rabbit holes about recent history’s biggest mysteries. And they don’t take themselves too seriously while they’re at it.

Q: Would you be like the twins and try to find your biological parent?

A: I think a person has to face that question personally in order to answer it truthfully. In researching The Kids are Gonna Ask, I spoke with several people who have non-typical origin stories, and each of them answered that question differently. They taught me again and again that to search or not to search is a deeply personal decision based on innumerable emotional, cultural, familial, geographical, and cultural factors — none of which come with any guarantees. For those who did look, some had happy outcomes, some stories were mixed, and some were heartbreaking. I can’t begin to speculate on what their experience was like or what I would do if faced with the same questions. I do know, however, that I have as much respect for those people who search as for those who choose not to.

Q: Do you have any specific writing rituals (outfit, snacks, pen,music, etc)?

A: I’m quirky about two things: my notebooks and my pens.

I dedicate one notebook to each manuscript I work on. In it, I brainstorm, work through character development, keep track of plot points and dates, etc. The only catch is that, because the brainstorming process is very tactile for me, the notebook has to *feel* right. Not too big, but not too small. Not flimsy, but no hardcovers. Sturdy enough to last the year-plus of manuscript development, but not so sturdy it will lie in the landfill for a thousand years when I’m done with it. And because this *feeling* isn’t a constant from book to book, it often means spending an hour of my time in the stationary aisle at Target flipping through every notebook at my disposal. Good news: I like the notebook I have right now very much. Maybe I’ll even buy another one next time.

As for pens, I sign books and brainstorm with medium point felt tip markers. Don’t give me a fine point. Don’t give me a Sharpie. And don’t even come near me with that plastic ballpoint throw away. I am an artist, can’t you see that?!

Q: Which character do you most relate to in this novel and why?

A: I <3 Savannah. She’s smart and outspoken and she knows what she wants. Only problem is, she’s a girl, and that means she’s also often punished, silently and overtly, for exercising her best traits.

I’m a product of the 80s, when Madonna and Cyndi Lauper wanted us to believe we girls could do anything, and so it makes me want to scream when I see my kids’ friends dealing with the same double-standards in 2020 that we did thirty years ago. I was smart and outspoken like Savannah and I feel protective of her as a character. As I wrote her scenes, the teenage girl in me wanted to whisper in her ear, “You’re doing great. Don’t back down. Stay true to who you are, no matter what happens.”

Q: What can you tell us about your next project?

A: I am currently working on a short, audio-only novel for Audible Originals about a celebrity wellness guru whose personal life isn’t nearly as perfect as she’d like her fans to believe. The title and release date are to come, so watch my website or subscribe to my newsletter for details.

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