Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Last Bookshop in London

Title:
  The Last Bookshop in London
Author:  Madeline Martin
Publication Information:  Hanover Square Press. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  133565304X / 978-1335653048

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Winter 2021 historical fiction blog tour from Harlequin Trade Publishing free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Grace Bennett had always dreamed of someday living in London."

Favorite Quote:  "Reading is ... going somewhere without ever taking a train or ship, an unveiling of new, incredible worlds. It's living a life you weren't born into and a chance to see everything colored by someone else's perspective. It's learning without having to face consequences of failures, and how best to succeed ... I think within all of us, there is a void, a gap waiting to be filled by something. For me, that something is books and all their proffered experiences."

**** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

1940. London. A time of war. A time of the Blitz. This book is a story of war on the home front in London during the Blitz. This book is a story of ordinary people finding extraordinary courage to survive and to bring aid and succor to others This book is a story of books and the power of books to brighten even the darkest hours:
  • "Books are what have brought us together. A love of the stories within, the adventures they take us on, their glorious distraction in a time of strife. And a reminder that we always have hope."
  • "Every day you read to a crowd. But they're not just stories, for many of us, they're a sanctuary."
  • "There might be loss, and sometimes there may be fear but there was also courage to face such challenges. For in a world such as theirs, with people of spirit and love, and with so many different tales of strength and victory to inspire. there would always be hope."
Following her mother's death, Grace Bennett comes to London with her best friend Viv to start over. She needs a job but has no references to obtain a position. Her mother's friend, who provides Grace and Viv lodging, also recommends Grace for a job at Primrose Hill Books. The position is to be temporary - six months - long enough for Grace to be given a recommendation for another position. Grace is not a reader and knows nothing about books. However, she is smart, enthusiastic, and understands how to run a shop.

In the process of beginning a new life in London, Grace finds a new family. Viv has always been a part of her life. Mrs. Weatherford was a friend to Grace's mother. She and her son Colin now provide Grace and Viv a home. Mr. Evans is the proprietor of Primrose Hill Books and has a sad story of his own. George Anderson is a new friend. He introduces Grace to the love of books and so much more.

Overshadowing this new beginning is war coming ever closer to England and the war effort. Grace remains on the home front and tries to do her part by volunteering as an air raid warden. She continues to work at Primrose Books, which has an impact on her and the community that is more far reaching than she realizes.

This books paints a horrifying picture of the Blitz through Grace's eyes. Night after night. Sleeping in a tube station for safety. Watching bombs hit a neighbor's house and barely miss yours. Losing friends. Watching the destruction rage out of control as you watch helplessly because nothing can be done. The search for survivors and the dead.

At the same time, the book paints an idealistic picture of what happens when people come together and support each other. "You showed me that when all seems lost to the enemy, one can always find a friend." In this way, Grace is painted as an ideal character - lovely inside and out with a lack of recognition of her own abilities and impact. In this way, this story of war ends up a sweet, feel good story of the triumph of good over the worst of circumstances and, for this reader, a love letter to the power of books to heal.

About the Author

Madeline Martin is a USA TODAY bestselling author of historical romance novels filled with twists and turns, adventure, steamy romance, empowered heroines and the men who are strong enough to love them.

About the Book

Inspired by the true World War II history of the only bookshop to survive the Blitz, a sweeping story of wartime loss, romance, and the enduring power of literature, perfect for fans of The Paris Wife and The Lilac Girls

London, autumn 1940: the Blitz has only just begun when Grace Bennett arrives in London to find the city she’s spent a lifetime dreaming about now cast in the clouds of war, and all of her plans unraveling at the seams. After accepting a job at a charming bookshop nestled in the heart of the city, a haven for literary-minded locals, she feels like a fish out of water – she’s never been much of a reader, after all.

As the bombs rain down on the city night after night, a devastating air raid leaves London’s literary center in ruins, and the libraries and shops of Paternoster Row are destroyed in a firestorm. But against all odds, one bookshop miraculously survives. Through blackouts and air raids, Grace continues staffing the shop, discovering a newfound comfort in the power of words and storytelling to unite her community in ways she never imagined, a power that triumphs even the darkest nights of war-torn London.

Excerpt

Excerpted from The Last Bookshop in London @ 2021 by Madeline Martin, used with permission by Hanover Square Press.

August 1939 London, England

GRACE BENNETT HAD ALWAYS DREAMED OF SOMEDAY living in London. Never did she imagine it would become her only option, especially not on the eve of war.

The train pulled to a stop within Farringdon Station, its name clearly marked on the wall inside a strip of blue set within a red circle. People hovered on the platform, as eager to get on as those within were to get off. They wore smartly cut clothing in the chic styles of city life. Far more sophisticated than in Drayton, Norfolk.

Equal parts nerves and eagerness vibrated about inside Grace. “We’ve arrived.” She looked at Viv beside her.

Her friend clicked the top on her lipstick tube closed and gave a freshly applied vermillion smile. Viv glanced out the window, her gaze skimming the checkerboard of advertisements lining the curved wall. “After so many years of wishing we could be in London.” Her hand caught Grace’s in a quick squeeze. “Here we are.”

Back when they were mere girls, Viv had first mentioned the notion of moving away from dull Drayton for a far more exciting life in the city. It had been a wild concept then, to leave their slow-moving, familiar existence in the country for the bustling, fast-paced pulse of London. Never had Grace considered it might someday become a necessity.

But then, there was nothing left in Drayton for Grace anymore. At least nothing she cared to return to.

The ladies rose from their plush seats and took hold of their luggage. Each had only one case with them, faded things, beaten down more by age than use. Both were stuffed to the point of near-bursting and were not only impossibly heavy, but awkward to manage around the gas mask boxes slung over their shoulders. The ghastly things had to be brought with them everywhere, per the government, to ensure they’d be protected in the event of a gas attack.

Lucky for them, Britton Street was only a two-minute walk away, or so Mrs. Weatherford had said.

Her mother’s childhood friend had a room to let, one she’d offered a year ago when Grace’s mother first passed. The terms had been generous—two months for free while Grace acquired a job and even then, the rent would be discounted thereafter. Despite Grace’s longing to go to London, and despite Viv’s enthusiastic encouragement, Grace had remained in Drayton for nearly a year after in an attempt to pick up the pieces of her broken existence.

That was before she learned the house she’d lived in since her birth truly belonged to her uncle. Before he moved in with his overbearing wife and five children. Before life as she knew it shattered even further apart.

There was no room for Grace in her own home, a point her aunt had been eager to note often. What had once been a place of comfort and love became a place Grace felt unwelcome. When her aunt finally had the temerity to tell Grace to leave, she knew she had no other options.

Writing the letter to Mrs. Weatherford the previous month to see if the opportunity still held was one of the hardest things Grace had ever done. It had been a surrender to the challenges she faced, a terrible, soul-crushing failure. A capitulation that had rendered her the greatest failure.

Grace had never possessed much courage. Even now, she wondered if she would have managed her way to London had Viv not insisted they go together.

Trepidation knotted through her as they waited for the train’s gleaming metal doors to part and unveil a whole new world.

“Everything will be brilliant,” Viv whispered under her breath. “It will all be so much better, Grace. I promise.”

The air-powered doors of the electric train hissed open and they stepped onto the platform amid the push and pull of people coming and going all at once. Then the doors shushed closed behind them, and the gust of the train’s departure tugged at their skirts and hair.

An advert for Chesterfields on the far wall displayed a handsome lifeguard smoking a cigarette while another poster beside it called on the men of London to join the service.

It wasn’t only a reminder of a war their country might soon face, but how living in the city presented a greater element of danger. If Hitler meant to take Britain, he would likely set his sights on London.

“Oh, Grace, look!” Viv exclaimed.

Grace turned from the poster toward the metal stairs, which glided upward on an unseen belt, disappearing somewhere above the arched ceiling. Into the city of their dreams.

The advert was quickly forgotten as she and Viv rushed toward the escalator and tried to tamp down their delight as it effortlessly carried them up, up, up.

Viv’s shoulders squeezed upward with barely restrained happiness. “Didn’t I tell you this would be amazing?”

The enormity of it hit Grace all at once. After years of dreaming and planning, here they were in London.

Away from Grace’s bully of an uncle, out from under the thumb of Viv’s strict parents.

Despite all of Grace’s troubles, she and Viv swept out of the station like caged songbirds ready to finally spread their wings.

Buildings rose into the sky all around, making Grace block the sun with the palm of her hand to see their tops. Several nearby shops greeted them with brightly painted signs touting sandwiches, hairdressers and a chemist. On the streets, lorries rattled by and a double-decker bus rumbled in the opposite direction, its painted side as red and glossy as Viv’s nails.

It was all Grace could do to keep from grasping her friend’s arm and squealing for her to look. Viv was taking it in too, with wide, sparkling eyes. She appeared as much an awed country girl as Grace, albeit in a fashionable dress with her perfectly styled auburn curls.

Grace was not as chic. Though she’d worn her best dress for the occasion, its hem fell just past her knees, and the waist nipped in with a slim black belt that matched her low heels. While not as stylish as Viv’s black-and-white polka-dot dress, the pale blue cotton set off Grace’s gray eyes and complemented her fair hair.

Viv had sewn it for her, of course. But then, Viv had always seen to both of them with an eye set toward grander aspirations. Throughout their friendship, they had spent hours sewing dresses and rolling their hair, years of reading Woman and Woman’s Life on fashion and etiquette and then making countless corrections to ensure they “lost the Drayton” from their speech.

Now, Viv looked like she could grace one of those magazine covers with her high cheekbones and long-lashed brown eyes.

They joined the flurry of people rushing to and fro, heaving the bulk of their suitcases from one hand to the other as Grace led the way toward Britton Street. Thankfully, the directions Mrs. Weatherford had sent in their last correspondence had been detailed and easy to follow.

What had been missing from the account, however, were all the signs of war.

More advertisements, some calling for men to do their part, with others prompting people to disregard Hitler and his threats and still book their summer holidays. Just across the street, a wall of sandbags framed a doorway with a black-and-white sign proclaiming it to be a Public Air Raid Shelter.

Social Links

Website: http://www.madelinemartin.com/
Facebook: https://facebook.com/madelinemartinauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/madelinemmartin
Instagram: https://instagram.com/madelinemmartin
Pintrest: https://pinterest.com/madelinemartin9

Buy Links

Amazon: http://hyperurl.co/lbsilprintamz
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-last-bookshop-in-london-madeline-martin/1137772028
Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/the-last-bookshop-in-london-a-novel-of-world-war-ii-original/9781335284808
IndieBound: http://hyperurl.co/lbsilibprint
Libro.fm: https://libro.fm/audiobooks/9781488211362-the-last-bookshop-in-london
Books-A-Million: http://hyperurl.co/lbsilbam
Target: http://hyperurl.co/lbsiltpb
Kobo: http://hyperurl.co/lbsilkobo
AppleBooks: http://hyperurl.co/lbsilib
Google Play: http://hyperurl.co/lbsilgp
Audible: https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Last-Bookshop-in-London-Audiobook/1488211361?qid=1607083722&sr=1-8&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_8&pf_rd_p=83218cca-c308-412f-bfcf-90198b687a2f&pf_rd_r=HXZW0CA174HAPG2TZBQ1 


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

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Just Get Home

Just Get  Home
Title:
  Just Get Home
Author:  Bridget Foley
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2021. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778331598 / 978-0778331599

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Winter 2021 mystery/thriller from Harlequin Trade Publishing free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Assist the client in gathering possessions."

Favorite Quote:  "Before you say you can't do something, think of what would happen if you didn't have any choice."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

Disaster strikes. The big California earthquake happens. Many die. Many are hurt. Many are left stranded. All of a sudden, Los Angeles is thrust into a post-apocalyptic world. This is a world that brings out the best and the worst in people. Some help each other. Some look out only for themselves. Some take advantage, reverting to the worst of mankind's behavior. "The earthquake isn't the real disaster ... The disaster is what happens after."

At the heart of this story are Dessa and Beegie. Dessa is a single parent out for a rare night out with a friend. Her three year old daughter Olivia is home with the babysitter. When the earthquake strikes, Dessa has one goal. "All that mattered was now. Her feet. Moving forward. Just. Get. Home."

Beegie is a teenager who has bounced from home to home in the foster care system. Unfortunately, most of the placements have not been a kind family environment. Some have been abusive. Her life has been one in which trust, love, and safety have been lacking. "Beegie though maybe the reason she liked scary things - movies, books, stories, whatever - was that at the end of most of them the monster was defeated. That was how the stories would go; everything was good, then a monster came, then the monster was defeated, and then everything was good again. That wasn't how things were in real life though. In real life, people live with their monsters. In real life the monster didn't come ... in real life the monster was already there." Trigger warning:  The "monsters" in Beegie's life lead to abuse and rape. She is fifteen years old.

Circumstances bring Dessa and Beegie together. Choice keeps them together. At first, Dessa tries to atone for the fact that she witnessed an assault and did nothing to stop it. That sense of responsibility makes her reach out to Beegie. For both, staying together is also the practical choice. Two is better than one in an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile.

It becomes a journey of the road. It also becomes a story of this relationship that begins to develop. Will Beegie learn to trust an adult in her life? Will Dessa be someone else who betrays Beegie? This relationship and the characters shine in this book because in the middle of this post-apocalyptic scene that is prefaced by a life of abuse, a story of love and the family we choose emerges. Both Dessa and Beegie  have been betrayed. Both bring the scars of their lives. It is fascinating to see them struggle with their own challenges and the impact that has on how they deal with each other. It is lovely to see that glimmer of trust emerge. There is no promise of a future, but a belief in it emerges regardless.

Choices are made, and I am not sure how they are going to turn out. However, by that point, I am invested enough in the characters to hope that they make the "right" ones. That keeps me reading until the very last page.

About the Author

Originally from Colorado, Bridget Foley attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television. She worked as an actor and screenwriter before becoming a novelist. She now lives a fiercely creative life with her family in Boise, Idaho.

About the Book

When the Big One earthquake hits LA, a single mother and a teen in the foster system are brought together by their circumstances and an act of violence in order to survive the wrecked streets of the city, working together to just get home.

Dessa, a single mom, is enjoying a rare night out when a devastating earthquake strikes. Roads and overpasses crumble, cell towers are out everywhere, and now she must cross the ruined city to get back to her three-year-old daughter, not even knowing whether she's dead or alive. Danger in the streets escalates, as looting and lawlessness erupts. When she witnesses a moment of violence but isn't able to intervene, it nearly puts Dessa over the edge.

Fate throws Dessa a curveball when the victim of the crime—a smart-talking 15-year-old foster kid named Beegie—shows up again in the role of savior, linking the pair together. Beegie is a troubled teen with a relentless sense of humor and resilient spirit that enables them both to survive. Both women learn to rely on each other in ways they never imagined possible, to permit vulnerability and embrace the truth of their own lives.

A propulsive page-turner grounded by unforgettable characters and a deep emotional core, JUST GET HOME will strike a chord with mainstream thriller readers for its legitimately heart-pounding action scenes, and with book club audiences looking for weighty, challenging content.

Q&A with Bridget Foley

How much research do you do before beginning to write a book? Do you go to locations, ride with police, go to see an autopsy, etc.
It depends on the story – research is one of my favorite parts of writing! For JUST GET HOME, I’d lived in Los Angeles for over a decade so I was pretty familiar with the locations… but I needed to do a lot of research into the foster care system as well as first hand accounts of earthquakes.

What hobbies do you enjoy?
Weightlifting, Walking and Water coloring -- probably because they’re all things I can do while listening to audio books!

Do you write under one name for all books across genres or do you have other AKA's?
Just the one name.

Do you have pets?
My dear sweet dog passed away at the age of 14 at the end of 2019. I was advised to wait a month for every year we had her before getting a new companion. It’s odd, because while I missed her I didn’t long for another pet at all for that time… and then suddenly after 14 months I went dog crazy. It got to the point where I was slowing the car down to tell people walking their dogs how cute and fluffy their pups were. My children were mortified. So, no, we don’t have a new pup yet, but I feel sure it will happen soon.

What’s your favorite part of writing suspense?
I’m an outliner, which I prefer because it means I get to use an entirely different part of my brain once I get to the drafting process. Since by then the heavy lifting of plot is done, I can fully immerse myself in the experience of the characters - which means I spend a lot of time holding my breath and sweating in my writing chair.

Do you prefer reading and/or writing suspense with elements of romance? Why or why not?
I adore a good love story… but I haven’t cracked my version of one yet. My first novel HUGO & ROSE was a subversion of the ‘man of your dreams’ trope, so I suppose there were elements of romance in the book but not in the expected ways. JUST GET HOME is filled with desperate, aching love, but none of it is the romantic kind.

From the books you’ve written or read, who has been your favorite villain and why?
I’ve found in life that most people are their own villains. There is usually no shadowy figure pulling the strings or arch enemy subverting plans - for many of us, when our lives go awry, we ourselves are personally responsible for whatever choices that led us there. Obviously that’s not always the case in life or in fiction, but as a writer I’m most creatively interested in characters who are grappling with their internal villains rather than an externalized source. So I suppose the answer is that my favorite villains are also my favorite heroes.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Just My Luck


Title:
  Just My Luck
Author:  Adele Parks
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2021. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0778331903 / 978-0778331902

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Winter 2021 mystery/thriller from Harlequin Trade Publishing blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Elaine Winterdale, 37, a property manager, has been handed a suspended prison sentence for failing to maintain a faulty gas boiler that caused the death of two tenants from carbon monoxide."

Favorite Quote:  "Relationships were all about power, who has it, who wants it. The balance, the imbalance. All longing was in the gap in between."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

Decades long friendships break up over money, or perhaps they are broken to begin with and the quest for money brings out all the fault lines. That is the premise of Just My Luck.

Lexi Greenwood buys a lottery ticket every week. She buys it at the same place. She buys the same numbers. She has been doing it for years. She has never won.

One night, her luck changes. Her ticket is the sole winner of a multi-million pound lottery jackpot. The question is who does the jackpot belong to? It depends on who you ask. Lexi and Jake Greenwood are best friends with the  Pearsons and the Heathcotes. They have been ever since they were young couples moving out to the suburbs to raise their children. The lottery began as almost a joke amongst friends; each couple pick some numbers and pitched in money. For years, the purchase has been a group purchase. Lexi has always kept track of the contributions and the tickets.

With the win, opinions now differ. Lexi and Jack claim that the other couples pulled out of the group the week before, and the ticket is theirs alone. The other couples, of course, claim the exact opposite. So begins the fight between "friends" and the unraveling of the relationships that at one time seemed so solid and secure.

Embedded in this drama over money is the drama of the lives of these couples - jobs, careers, legal issues, money issues, affairs, children, and much more. Added to that are some broader societal issues such as immigration,  homelessness, depressions, and slum landlords. As you may guess, all these facets intermingle for these couple whose lives are so intertwined. There is a lot going on.

Like Adele Park's book Lies, Lies, Lies, this is a book about relationships much more so than it is a thriller. Ultimately, even more than a story about relationships, this is story about greed both before and after the lottery winnings. 

That being said, what this story lacks for me is focus in terms of one strong main character that I can root for. Unfortunately, all the characters in the book are culpable to some extent for the situation in the book, and unfortunately, none of them are likable. With three couples and three families, the  focus becomes even more scattered although the narration of the story remains with the Greenwood family. The fact that one of the narrators is a child scatters the story further because a teenager's perspectives introduces other elements and emotions to an adult story. Her perspective in many ways tells its own story rather than furthering that of the adult relationships.

Twists and turns do enter into the story close to the end. One I see coming, and one I don't. One seems conveniently contrived as to the players involved. The other seems implausible. The fact that the story ends up neatly tied up in a package also does not help its plausibility. Unfortunately, beginning to end, I am not the reader for this book even though I enjoyed Lies, Lies, Lies by the author.

Author Bio

Adele Parks is the #1 Sunday Times bestselling author of twenty novels, including Lies Lies Lies and Just My Luck, as well as I Invited Her In. Just My Luck is currently in development to be made into a movie. Her novels have sold 4 million copies in the UK alone, and her work has also been translated into thirty-one languages. 

Book Summary

Adele Parks has brought her #1 Sunday Times sensation, JUST MY LUCK (MIRA Trade Paperback; April 6, 2021; $17.99) to the US!

Be careful what you wish for...

After spending happy hours, parenting classes and barbeques together for the last 15 years, Lexi and Jake Greenwood have celebrated and shared almost everything with the Pearsons and the Heathcotes, including their lottery numbers. Then one night, the unthinkable happens. Someone has been telling lies – lies dark enough to burn bridges and tear the tight group of friends apart. When the Greenwoods win a stunning $23 million in the lottery with their group’s numbers shortly after their dramatic falling out, the Heathcotes and Pearsons believe they’re entitled to part of the prize... and the three couples will do anything to claim what is theirs.

Reader beware: the last chapter will change everything. 

Q&A with Adele Parks

How much research do you do before beginning to write a book? Do you go to locations, ride with police, go to see an autopsy, etc.
    For me, one of the best things about being a writer is that I get to poke around in so many different worlds. I am not limited to my own career or viewpoint. I can - and do - research so many other professions, lifestyles, businesses or scenarios. Over the years, I have shadowed people who worked in the TV industry, teachers, police, florists, charity workers, bankers, photographers, prison wardens, librarians…I pride myself on being as thorough as possible in my research, especially if someone else’s profession is involved. For example, with my novels that have any crime procedure included, I interview police people, I visit their places of work and I also ask them to read over the parts of the novel that relate to their world. It’s critical to me that I not only get the facts spot on, but also nail the tone of voice and language that might be used. For Just My Luck I worked closely with some people who work at the British lottery company, I also interviewed lottery winners.
    I often join forums and support groups that relate to my plotlines, it’s a great way to research. I have joined forums for people who have won the lottery, others where the objective is to support alcoholics, forums for Alzheimer’s sufferers and those who care for them, and for people with rare specific genetic diseases. I always declare that I am an author doing research, because I think it’s only fair that people know who they are sharing with. I find people who have been through these challenging life situations are often looking to tell their stories.
    I always visit the locations where I set my novels and become familiar with them. I research in galleries, museums and libraries too. I’m certain I’ll never attend an autopsy though; I’m fairly squeamish!

What hobbies do you enjoy?
First and foremost, I am a reader. I always have a book with me and most of my down time you will find me with my nose buried. I am also a big fan of upscaling furniture. I enjoy mooching around junk shops, vintage fairs and eBay. I am always buying bits of old furniture, which I then, strip, paint, stain, or have re-upholstered etc. I love finding something that is past it’s best and no longer loved, then breathing new life into it. I really value having unique one-off pieces, that have a story behind them, in my home. I also enjoy walking and practicing yoga.

Do you write under one name for all books across genres or do you have other AKA's?
I write under my name all the time, no matter what genre. Looking back, I’m not sure this was my smartest marketing move. Maybe I should have written my historical novels (IF YOU GO AWAY and SPARE BRIDES) under a pseudonym as they are set during WW1 and the 1920s and quite a different feel from all my other novels which are contemporary. However, even within my contemporary novels I’ve written in different genres - from romantic comedy to dark psychological thrillers and domestic noir. If I’d had a different name for each genre that might have got confusing too! I can see an advantage of writing under a different name. It might have saved my blushes; some of my novels are quite steamy in places and when my son was younger, the school gate was sometimes a little awkward if the other mums were reading my novels!

Do you have pets?
I have a moggy cat; her name is Lilac. She’s 10 years old and much adored! Sadly, she’s not really keen on giving or receiving affection; her area of expertise is looking incredible and treating the humans in her family with disdain. She’s quite a loud cat and ‘chats’ to me a lot which is fun! 

What’s your favorite part of writing suspense?
I’m a great fan of the plot! I do pride myself on rather unexpected but utterly believable reveals and twists. The intellectual challenge of constructing plots is unquestionably my favorite part of writing. The best suspense novels continually astonish and defy the reader until the final page. How great is it when we think we’re heading in one direction, but the author spins us around and takes us somewhere else? That’s what I like to achieve, action that appeals to sharp, inquisitive minds.

I also love taking my readers on an emotional ride. It’s undoubtedly compelling for readers to track a seemingly ordinary family and then watch as something exceptional happens when they’re placed under extraordinary stress. I believe we’re all capable of horrendous actions under the right – maybe that should be wrong – circumstances. A fascination with darkness is part of being human. We all have light and dark in us but we’re not heartless, books provide a safe environment to explore these different lives without ruining our own or anyone else’s.

Do you prefer reading and/or writing suspense with elements of romance? Why or why not?
I don’t think I mind whether there is romance in a book or not, but I do need relationships of some kind. Without a doubt, the most important thing in life is my relationships with people, yes my romantic relationship – now limited as I’m married 😉 - but also my relationship with my son, my parents, sister, friends. For me, in real life, stakes are always highest when my relationships are threatened in some way, or when the people I love are in turmoil or jeopardy. I do not think I’m alone in this. Ultimately, the vast majority of us prioritize relationships over fame, money or career. I believe we are defined by who we love and who we are loved by. Therefore, in the suspense novels I write, I use relationships as a device that heightens the drama and the potential threat. Suspense novels do not have to be full of blood and dead bodies (although they can be!). I think the most successful ones are those where the reader feels a sense of familiarity and connection with the characters or environment. We believe the story really could happen, and most awfully, it could happen to us. For me, the best suspense looks at the horror that goes on in seemingly normal everyday families.

From the books you’ve written or read, who has been your favorite villain and why?
What a great question, I’ve never been asked it before. Thinking about it now though, I realize I’m not a fan of the villain. I’m always rooting for the goodie, I guess I’m secretly very square. I do like writing villains though, possibly because they get to say all the harsh one-liners that I only ever think up way after the efficacy has passed! Villains are dangerous, extreme and usually selfish or cruel. They are also quite often glamourous and charismatic, so definitely fun to write.

What was your inspiration behind the book?
A friend of mine works for the lottery company in the UK. He was telling me fun stories about what winners spend on, what their reactions were to hearing the news they’ve won, how the lottery company has a duty of care towards the winners etc. It was all fascinating. Then he just casually commented, ‘We always offer to arrange security for their children if the win is seriously big’. I found that so interesting. Imagine, the best moment of your life, being handed a check for millions and then suddenly realizing your family were now at risk in a way they never had been before. That was the moment I thought, I really need to write about this!

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

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Summertime Guests

Summertime Guests

Title:
  Summertime Guests
Author:  Wendy Francis
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2021. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1525895982 / 978-1525895982

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 wasn't as if Riley could have anticipated what would happen later that day."

Favorite Quote:  "Because if today's tragedy has underscored anything for him, it's that life needs to be celebrated. That even when death surrounds them - maybe most especially when death surround them - they need to push on and celebrate all that they hold dear."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review


Summertime Guests, with its lovely water side summery cover, is set not on a beach but in an iconic hotel in the heart of Boston. The water views are of the bay. The summer delights are of a hotel that has recently reopened after a renovation and reinvention.

The book begins with a dramatic event. A woman falls to her death from a higher up floor of the hotel. The event is witnessed by hotel guests and staff. The identity of the woman is unknown. hence the mystery.

As the book proceeds, it is clear that unless an ending brings in a character out of the blue, there are two possibilities for who the deceased is. The question of accident, suicide, or foul play remains open.

As the book  proceeds, it is also clear that the book is about more than the mystery. As the author's note at the end states, "I've also been wanting to write a modern love story, one that centered on four different couple who were in various stages of a relationship."

That is the heart of the book. There are Gwen and Jason, the young couple in a relatively new relationship who come to the hotel to celebrate a birthday. The uncertainty and the baggage each brings to the relationship looms large. There are Riley and Tom, the couple who are planning their wedding and determining how their lives and families mesh together. They are also trying to prevent the monumental task of planning a wedding from overshadowing their joy in each other. There are Jean-Paul and Marie, the couple who has been married for a while. With a job-related move from France to the United States and a new baby, many pressures tug on their relationship and their love. Finally, there is Claire, the recent widow, who contemplates what her life has been and thinks of the paths not taken.

Within the context of these relationships, the author traverses a lot of emotional ground, reaching back into childhood traumas and first loves and forward into medical diagnoses. Depending on the stage of life the reader is at, you can find much to relate to with any of these characters. Trigger warning:  one of the relationships involves abuse and violence.

By the end of the book, the mystery of the deceased identity is not much of a mystery. However, that does not matter because I invest in the stories of the characters and the relationships and where they are going. The relationships are also not fully resolved, which is real life. All, however, have a path forward and hence a conclusion to the story is satisfying. It may or may not be a happily ever after, but that adds to the reality of the book.

What I expect to be a summer beach read mystery turns into something else. It is still an easy, quickly read summer beach read but about family, relationships, and emotions that leaves much to relate to and much to think about.

About the Author

Wendy Francis is a former book editor and the author of the novels The Summer Sail, The Summer of Good Intentions, Three Good Things, and Best Behavior. Her essays have appeared in Good Housekeeping, The Washington Post, Yahoo Parenting, The Huffington Post, and WBUR's Cognoscenti. A proud stepmom of two grown-up children, she lives outside Boston with her husband and eleven-year-old son.

About the Book

Sip cocktails in the lounge, bask in the summer sun by the pool, and experience the drama of the rich and famous firsthand in Wendy Francis’s newest novel, SUMMERTIME GUESTS (Graydon House; April 6, 2021; $16.99 USD). With its rich history and famous guests, The Seafarer is no stranger to drama. But the bustle at the social hotspot reaches new heights one weekend in mid-June when a woman falls tragically to her death from the tenth floor, unwittingly intertwining her life with the lives of the hotels’ guests and staff.

Claire O’Dell, reeling from the loss of her husband and possibly her job, has gone to The Seafarer for a little vacation…and to reconnect with a long-lost-love. Jean-Paul, the hotel’s manager, is struggling to keep his marriage and new family afloat. Bride-to-be Riley is at the hotel to plan her wedding with her fiancĂ© ... or, she’s at the hotel with her fiancĂ© while her mother-in-law tells them how to plan their wedding. Jason, whose romantic getaway with his girlfriend has not exactly gone the way he'd hoped and instead has him facing questions about his past that he can't bring himself to answer.

As their truths and secrets come to light, the lives of these four will collide in tragic, beautiful ways none of them could have expected that will teach them about the love they deserve and the strength they possess to change their lives for the better.

Excerpt

Excerpted from Summertime Guests by Wendy Francis, Copyright © 2021 by Wendy Francis
Friday June 11th, 2021
ONE

It wasn’t as if Riley could have anticipated what would happen later that day. None of them could. Because when you’re at a tasting for your wedding reception at one of Boston’s ritziest hotels, trying to decide between crab cakes or lobster quiches, no one thinks of anything bad happening. Or at least, this is what Riley tells herself later. Why she—and no one else there—could possibly be to blame.

At the moment, though, Riley is sitting at a table by the window, half-listening to her future mother-in-law while she sips gazpacho the color of marigolds. Something about wanting to know if the outdoor terrace can be transformed into a dance floor, assuming the weather cooperates. If Riley were asked to gauge her interest in planning her own wedding, she would characterize it as mild at best. Her only requirement being that she and Tom marry in July—and that the flowers are pale pink peonies from Smart Stems, the shop where she has worked for the past three years.

It was Tom who’d suggested the Seaport District for their reception, Boston’s new up-and-coming neighborhood, and Riley had happily agreed. It’s an easy spot for guests to travel to, and the setting is over-the-top gorgeous with views of both the city and the water. Not to mention the promise of fresh seafood—an almost impossible request if they were to wed in Riley’s hometown of Lansing, Michigan, where everything remains hopelessly landlocked.

But she hadn’t counted on Tom’s mother wanting to be so, well, involved. Maybe it’s the fact that Riley’s own mother passed away a few short years ago, and so Marilyn feels compelled to step up and fill her mother’s shoes. A retired schoolteacher, her mother-in-law-to-be still tackles each new day with the necessary energy for a classroom of boisterous second-graders, a gusto which she now seems to be funneling into her son’s nuptials. At first, Riley was grateful, but while she sits listening to the hotel’s wedding coordinator drone on about the Seafarer’s rich history, she’s beginning to feel as though she has stepped into one of those horrible, never-ending lines at Disney for a ride she doesn’t particularly want to go on.

Riley is well aware that the Seafarer is one of the most coveted venues for weddings, especially in light of its recent renovations. It’s no secret that New England’s most glamorous, its most fashionable clamor to stay here and that the Seafarer’s well-appointed rooms are typically booked months in advance. She should be grateful that they’re even considering it as an option. Rumor has it that everyone from Winston Churchill to Taylor Swift has been a guest (as the saying goes, if you want to appear in the society pages of the Boston Globe, then spend a few hours at the Seafarer’s exclusive summer cocktail hour from four to six). As for out-of-towners hoping to take in the full scene that Boston can be—with its attendant snobbishness and goodwill and weird accents wrapped into one—the Seafarer, Riley understands, puts you in the heart of it.

Not that she has anything against tradition, but if it were up to her alone, she would probably choose a smaller, more modest setting, a wedding with no more than fifty guests. There’d be a justice of the peace and rows of white chairs lining the harbor, the wind whipping her veil in front of her face. Naturally, she’d want a reception afterward, but Riley counts herself as the type of girl who’d be equally content with trays of fish tacos and margaritas under a tent as with oysters on the half shell served in a tony hotel restaurant.

“I can’t reveal everyone,” the coordinator is saying in hushed tones, “but it’s no secret that some of Boston’s greatest legends have celebrated their nuptials with us.” Riley shoots Tom a sideways glance, as if to say Is she for real? but her fiancĂ©’s chin rests firmly in his hand, his attention rapt. He’s eating up every word.

“Well, Gillian, it’s all very impressive,” Tom’s mother says, slipping her reading glasses back into her pocketbook after a review of the menu. Her hair is pulled back in a severe ponytail, her lips coated in her trademark color, fuchsia. “It’s no wonder Boston’s finest flock here for their special occasions. The view alone is to die for.” She gestures toward the expanse of crystalline water out the window, the romantic outline of the city’s financial district in the distance. “Kids, wouldn’t it be something to come back here every year to toast your anniversary?”

Marilyn shoots Riley a wink, as if the two of them are in cahoots to convince Tom that this is the spot, meant to be. There’s no need to point out that she and Tom could never afford such a venue. They already discussed it over dinner the other night when Marilyn revealed that she’d gone ahead and booked an appointment for a tasting at the Seafarer on Friday and how she hoped Riley wouldn’t mind. “I don’t want you to worry about money, dear,” she instructed. “Tom’s dad and I would be honored to host. Tom is our only child after all.”

And Riley had breathed a tiny sigh of relief while swallowing her pride. Not because she wants an extravagant wedding but because it means that she and Tom can now channel the nest egg they’ve been building toward a mortgage on a new home instead of toward an elaborate one-day celebration. It’s a much more sensible use of their money, and Riley, having grown up poor verging on destitute, is nothing if not sensible.

Can she really imagine herself celebrating her marriage here, though? Tom keeps missing her not-so-thinly veiled comments about the food on the menu, which leans toward the bite-size variety that he hates (precisely because it never fills him up), but he has said nothing. Maybe he’s just being polite. Riley quickly scans the room for other future newlyweds, but most of today’s diners appear to be here for business lunches—buttoned-up men in suits and women in sharp blazers with silk shifts underneath. A few couples, perhaps away for a romantic long weekend, and a group of older women sharing a bottle of wine, sit wedged into the corners. It’s a lovely space, but is it too lovely?

She shifts in her seat and tries to picture her dad here, wearing his familiar old sports coat that’s nearly worn through at the elbows, his khaki pants and penny loafers, pretending to feel comfortable when he wouldn’t know which fork to reach for, which glass to use.

When Marilyn turns toward to her and says, “Don’t you agree, Riley?” Riley feels her cheeks flushing because she hasn’t been paying attention. She has no idea what her future mother-in-law is referring to.

“I’m sorry. What was the question again?” She’s slightly annoyed that Tom can’t—or won’t—decide on a few things himself or at the very least rein his mother in. Especially because they talked about this very thing—not letting Marilyn take over the tasting—last night! They’re discussing the appetizers, apparently, and all Riley knows is that she doesn’t want cruditĂ©s. If there’s one rule she’s abiding by, it’s that her wedding menu will include only those foods that she can pronounce.

It seems there should be a box on a list that they can check for the Standard Reception—something not overtly cheap but not insanely expensive, either. Tom squeezes her knee beneath the table, though it’s unclear if it’s meant as encouragement or as a reprimand for her not giving this conversation one hundred percent. What Riley really wants to know is this: How can she avoid attending any more tastings with Marilyn? Should she just agree to the Seafarer right now and be done with it?

“Mom was wondering,” Tom says in complete seriousness, “if you thought it would be better to have cold and hot hors d’oeuvres or just cold since the wedding will be in July?”

“Oh, right.” Riley pretends to consider her options. “Good point. It’s bound to be hot, so I wonder—”

But somewhere between the words so and wonder, a loud whistle of air followed by a deafening blast socks through the room like a fist, sending Riley to grab the table and Tom to reach for her hand. Marilyn’s fork drops from her elongated fingers, clattering onto her plate, and the room seems to shake for a brief moment. There are shouts followed by an eerie hush while the dining room settles back into itself. Riley watches the other diners who begin to mumble to each other across their tables, asking if they’re okay and spinning in their seats to better determine the source of the blast. The woman at the adjacent table hovers on the edge of her chair, as if considering diving underneath the table.

When Riley glances over at Gillian, she looks equally alarmed and as surprised as the rest of them, which means this isn’t some kind of bizarre emergency testing by the hotel. Whatever they heard was real. Significant. Riley’s eyes slide toward Tom, then Marilyn, whose face has turned a shade as pale as milk, then back to Tom.

“What on earth was that?” Marilyn gasps, her voice an octave too high, her fingers fluttering to her necklace. It’s a silver chain studded with azure stones, the kind of jewelry that Riley has come to associate with women of a certain age.

“I’m not sure.” Gillian’s voice cracks. “It almost sounded like some kind of explosion, didn’t it?” And then, as if remembering her wedding-coordinator cap, she rushes to reassure them. “But I’m sure it’s nothing like that. Maybe a blown transformer?

But both Riley and Tom exchange glances because no matter how ill-versed they are in loud noises, that definitely was not a transformer. It wasn’t so much a popping sound as a crash, she thinks. Did the massive chandelier in the lobby fall? Did it come from the kitchen? Construction work outside maybe? It’s hard to tell.

“Not to be overly dramatic, but it almost felt like an earthquake,” Riley says. “The table actually shook, I think.” And although she understands that the curiosity sparked inside her is somehow inappropriate, she wants an explanation. “Whatever it was,” she says, lowering her voice, “it sounded awfully close.”

“Yes, very close,” Marilyn agrees, still fiddling with her necklace.

And that’s when the screams begin. Not from the kitchen at the back of the restaurant, not from the lobby, but from outside, just beyond the elegant bay windows peering out onto the terrace that fronts the water, the ocean seemingly close enough to dip a hand into. Riley’s glance swivels toward the small crowd that’s beginning to form outside near the firepit and hot tub.

“If you’ll excuse me?” Gillian says, as if emerging from a fog, and rises awkwardly to her feet before heading toward the row of windows.

Riley’s gaze follows her, and suddenly, she, too, feels compelled to get up, as if an invisible string tugs her toward the window. She hurries forward and angles around Gillian for a better view. But when she does, she immediately regrets her decision. Because it’s not a collapsed scaffolding or an awning or even construction work that has caused the sudden shaking, the loud blast.

But a woman, lying facedown on the terrace, several yards beyond the window.

The body lies completely still, the woman’s legs scissored like a rag doll’s, her left leg angled upward awkwardly. A curtain of muddy blond hair shields her face from view. Riley watches while a few bystanders move hesitantly toward the woman, as if afraid of startling her, until someone kneels down and grasps her wrist, presumably to check for a pulse. A man in blue running shorts and a Red Sox T-shirt yells for someone to call 9-1-1.

To Riley, it looks as if the woman was perhaps reaching for a glass that slipped from her hand, her arms still outstretched above her head. Her body is long, lean, even elegant. Riley holds her breath, waiting, and feels Gillian stiffen beside her when a youngish man, nicely tanned and formally dressed, parts the crowd and gently encourages everyone to take a few steps back. He assures them that an ambulance is on the way and speaks with an authority that suggests his importance.

“That’s Jean-Paul, our manager,” Gillian says quietly as they watch him crouch down next to the woman and brush her hair away from her face.

Just then, a young man in the crowd throws his hand to his mouth and rushes off, and Riley stands on her tiptoes for a better view. And that’s when she sees it, too—the wild splash of bright red she hadn’t noticed earlier that lies at the far edge of the woman’s hair. And in that awful moment, Riley—and everyone else watching—understands. An image of a woman in her yellow summer dress, cartwheeling through the air from somewhere up high, perhaps her hotel balcony, spirals through her mind.

“Oh, my God.” It hits her all at once, a hollow pit forming in her stomach.

“Jesus,” says Tom, who has come up beside her to rest a hand on her shoulder. “She’s not moving.”

“No.”

It’s obvious to them both, but somehow still needs to be said, as if by acknowledging it aloud, the woman might hear their words through the open window, might somehow will herself to move an inch, if only to give them a sign—a flutter of a hand, the shifting of a foot—that she’s going to be all right.

But her body remains completely, horribly still.
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Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Children's Blizzard


Title:
  The Children's Blizzard
Author:  Melanie Benjamin
Publication Information:  Delacorte Press. 2021. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0399182284 / 978-0399182280

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

Opening Sentence:  "They came on boats, on trains, great unceasing waves of them - the poor, the disenfranchised, the seekers, the dreamers."

Favorite Quote:  "The Great Plains were immense enough to inspire the grandest, most foolish of dreams - but they were also vast enough that no one could ever explore every corner."

The Children's Blizzard is also known as the Schoolhouse or School children's Blizzard. It hit the plains states on January 12, 1888.  "The blizzard, created when an enormous trough of cold air rushing in from the Arctic had met up with an equally enormous influx of warm, wet air from the gulf, gobbled up everything in its path. The collision generated a force of energy no one could remember seeing in their lifetimes, but that all would talk about with wonder until the day they died." The blizzard hit on an unseasonably warm day, and it hit suddenly at a time when many were at work and at school. In other words, there was no warning, and 235 lives were lost. "... those who experienced the storm would never forget it; they would pass the stories down from one generation to the next, and they wouldn't embellish them because they didn't need to."

This book tells a fictionalized account of this storm and its aftermath. It presents three views. One teacher let out school early, leaving the children to find their way home. One teacher kept her students together as best she could. A parent found his way to his daughter's school, determined to keep those in that school safe. The impact and repercussions of these decisions forever altered the course of their lives and the lives of those in their care.

Within the context of this storm, this book also paints a picture of a time and a place. It tells of the immigrant experience and the settler experience of people who left all they knew in search of a better life. It speaks of the treatment of Native Americans and the schooling available for their children. It speaks of the racial divides and the prejudices. It depicts the harshness of prairie life and the resilience and perseverance of those who settled this nation. This provides context and background, but it also means that there is lot going on in this book.

The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of the storm and goes in many different directions. Ultimately, this half ends up the story of women and the men in their lives. The personal stories of the women head in the direction of being attracted to, being duped by, longing for, and making decisions in reaction to men in their lives. The book even ends on a romantic note, with a romance born out of loss. That entire tone in the book seems not in line with the rest of the story. In a time and place where survival often relied on the strength of the women, this focus seems a disservice to the women.

Based on the title and timing, the theme of the book is the blizzard. Given the wide net the book casts, there are a lot of characters and stories. Overall, there is a bit too much going on. However, I truly appreciated learning about the blizzard and the historical context of the time. 


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