My First Ten Books of 2023

The first book I listened to this year was It Gets Easier! . . . And Other Lies We Tell New Mothers: A Fun, Practical Guide to Becoming a Mom by Claudine Volk.

3.5 stars: A good giode but a little patronizing in some parts

Next up was Sunrise with the Silver Surfers by Maddie Please.

4 stars: nteresting backstory and great attention to detail.

Perpetual West by Maren Mesha

4 stars: Interesting journey

Moonrise over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks

4 stars: Atmospheric with great attention to detail. A time period I knew nothing about.

Berlin Calling by Lilo Moore

4 stars: Eurvision and great songs, would have liked lyrics.

Blinded Me With Science by Tara September

4 stars: A quick pace with great attention to detail and hot romance at times. Relatable. Excellent narrator in the audiobook version.

My Sister’s Secret by Diane Saxon

4 stars: Sisters and secrets. I enjoyed the twists and turns in this and love books about sisters.

The Pocket Guide to Neurodiversity by Daniel Aherne

5 stars: Short but excellently explained and I identified with some things and learned more about others.

The Perfect Girl by Kelly Golden

4.5 stars: Dark in some parts, gripping and mysterious

Tilly’s Tuscan Teashop by Daisy James

5 stars: Daisy James’ style shines through in this book located in Tuscany. Amazing start to a new series.

Harlequin Fall 2022 Blog Tours: Mystery / Thriller- The Opportunist by Elyse Freidman @elysefriedman @http_books

The Opportunist
Author: Elyse Friedman
ISBN: 9780778386957
Paperback Original
Publication Date: December 6, 2022
Publisher: MIRA

About the Author:

Elyse Friedman is a critically acclaimed author, screenwriter, poet and playwright. Her work has been short-listed for the Trillium Book Award, Toronto Book Award, ReLit Award and Tom Hendry Award. She has also won a Foreword Book of the Year Award, as well as the 2019 TIFF-CBC Films Screenwriter Jury Prize and the 2020 TIFF-CBC Screenwriter Award. Elyse lives in Toronto.

About the Book:

A deliciously sly, compulsively readable tale about greed, power and the world’s most devious family.

When Alana Shropshire’s seventy-six-year-old father, Ed, starts dating Kelly, his twenty-eight-year-old nurse, a flurry of messages arrive from Alana’s brothers, urging her to help “protect Dad” from the young interloper. Alana knows that what Teddy and Martin really want to protect is their father’s fortune, and she tells them she couldn’t care less about the May–December romance. Long estranged from her privileged family, Alana, a hardworking single mom, has more important things to worry about.

But when Ed and Kelly’s wedding is announced, Teddy and Martin kick into hyperdrive and persuade Alana to fly to their father’s West Coast island retreat to perform one simple task in their plan to make the gold digger go away. Kelly, however, proves a lot more wily than expected, and Alana becomes entangled in an increasingly dangerous scheme full of secrets and surprises. Just how far will her siblings go to retain control?

Smart, entertaining and brimming with shocking twists and turns, The Opportunist is both a thrill ride of a story and a razor-sharp view of who wields power in the world.

“The rich are different and Elyse Friedman brings the receipts in this twisty story of familial double crossings. The Opportunist is a visceral joy to read and Friedman’s storytelling has more levels than a superyacht. She never hides from the staggering truth that money, in fact, changes everything.” — Emily Schultz, author of Little Threats and The Blondes
“The Opportunist is a wry and unsettling novel featuring one of the most conniving families ever committed to paper. It’s a dark Highsmithian treat about love and greed and murder, and it will make your screwed-up family look like the von Trapps. I devoured it in one sitting. Highly recommended.” — Michael Redhill, author of Bellevue Square
“In The Opportunist, family brings unavoidable dangers. So does money. So does our memory of who we used to be. For her part, Elyse Friedman brings wit and pace and plenty of surprises to a novel you think you’ve figured out at least three or four times, but each time you’ll be thrilled when proven wrong.” — Andrew Pyper, author of The Residence and The Demonologist

Where to Buy:
Barnes & Noble

Contact Elyse:

Author Website
Twitter: @elysefriedman


When the calls started up again, Alana ignored them. Ditto the texts and emails, including ones with red exclamation points attached. She had a part-time job that felt full-time and a daughter who required around-the-clock care. She had neither the hours nor the inclination to delve into family drama. And she already knew why her brothers were so desperate to reach her. The younger of the two, Martin, had been messaging sporadically for months about the “skank” their father had taken up with—a nurse, hired by the eldest, Teddy, to tend to the old man’s needs as he grew increasingly infirm and cranky. Nurse Kelly, a woman forty-eight years their father’s junior, a gold digger, obviously, and a clever one according to Martin. Pretty sure she had him at the first sponge bath. Alana was more amused than disturbed. She told her brothers she couldn’t care less. She had more important things to worry about. Eventually, they stopped contacting her.
Then a few weeks ago an oversize envelope had arrived in Alana’s mailbox. Thick creamy paper, her name embossed in swirling gold script—an invitation to the wedding of Edward Shropshire Sr. and Kelly McNutt. Ha! Clever indeed. She felt a fizz of satisfaction, even as she braced for the onslaught from her siblings, who would be outraged at the prospect of losing any portion of their massive inheritance. Alana hated her father and felt nothing but disdain for her brothers. She had no interest in “protecting the family investments” or “presenting a united front” or “having Dad’s back” or any of the increasingly urgent drivel that trickled in from her greedy siblings. She had been estranged from her father for decades and had no stake in this game. It was frankly a shock that she had been invited to the wedding. It must have been Kelly McNutt who insisted on that. The calls, texts and emails started up again with renewed fervor. When Alana finally concluded that her brothers would not leave her in peace until she responded, she composed a simple three-word text, not exactly a family joke, but something they would recognize and understand: BEYOND OUR CONTROL. She added a laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emoji and sent it to Teddy and Martin.
She stopped hearing from them after that.
It was a rough night. Lily’s BiPAP alarm had gone off twice. She could breathe without the machine, but not as well, and Alana was programmed to leap into action from the deepest slumber. The first time it sounded, around 1:00 a.m., it was a mask-fit alarm. A quick adjustment and back
to bed. The second was more annoying: a leak alarm at 4:28 that took forever to rectify—no matter how much she fiddled, the alarm kept sounding. She finally got it fixed and Lily was able to get back to sleep, but Alana couldn’t. She lay in bed, her brain churning. At 5:40 she got up, made coffee, and bolted two cinnamon buns in quick succession, an act she immediately regretted, even as she was scraping the last bits of hard white icing from the aluminum pan into her mouth.
It was a workday, so she woke Lily early, helped her dress, and did her hair in French braids. Ramona was coming for the day and Lily liked to look nice for her favorite support worker. Unlike Alana, Ramona was big into girlie stuff: hair, nails, fashion. She would give Lily mani-pedis, and they would flip through Harper’s Bazaar and Teen Vogue and critique the outfits. Ramona had been with them since Lily was three years old, and Alana trusted her completely. She was hugely competent and a ton of fun. Lily was an earnest child, but when Ramona was around, she let herself be silly and boisterous. It would not be unusual for Alana to come home and find them both with teased-up hair and full-on glitter makeup, binge-watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. Ramona was what Lily called “chill.” Pretty much the opposite of Alana, who was always stressed out and exhausted.
“What time will you be home?” Lily asked.
“If all goes well, five thirty.”
“When does all ever go well?”
Alana laughed. “It’s rare, but it has been known to happen. I was home on time twice last week.”
“And you have Ramona.”

“OK. But try.”
“I always try, lovey. But if someone shows up out of the blue at four thirty, I can’t just leave. I have to help them.”
“I know.”
Alana worked part-time at the RedTree Shelter, which offered emergency housing for victims of domestic abuse. It was a foolish job for her to have: low-paying and high stress. Not what she needed in practically her only hours away from managing Lily’s health. She should have taken employment that was easy on the soul, like flower arranging—some vaguely pleasant, not overly cerebral activity that would give her time to refresh and restore. She often fantasized about becoming a professional dog walker or making perfect heart shapes in foamy coffees all day, but she stayed with RedTree. It was important work that made her feel a little better about herself. She sometimes wondered if her motivations were selfish at root.

When Ramona arrived, Alana kissed Lily goodbye and left for work. On her third try she managed to get her Stone Age Honda Odyssey to start and was backing out of the drive when a Lexus pulled in behind her, blocking her way. She tapped the horn—a polite “I’m actually leaving here” signal. Nothing. The car just sat there. She honked again, harder, wondering why it always seemed to be a Lexus or a Mercedes or a BMW that cut her off in traffic, or jumped its turn at a four-way stop, or blocked her driveway when she was trying to get to work, for fuck’s sake. She curbed an impulse to ram her SUV into the shiny roadster, and instead left the Honda running while she strode toward the offending vehicle, getting ready to unleash years of pent-up luxury-car-inspired fury on the entitled asshole behind the wheel. But before she could bang her fist on the tinted window, it slid down smoothly, revealing her brother Martin talking on a cell phone. He had it resting flat on an upturned palm held in front of his face. “OK,” he said. “I know. I’ll take care of it.”
“What the hell, Martin? I have to go to work.” It had been years since she had seen him, but he looked pretty much the same—a slightly higher hairline, maybe a few extra pounds. He was still conventionally handsome, fair and blue-eyed with their father’s chiseled chin, but he now had the slightly puffy face of a drinker, the lightning-bolt blood vessels on the side of his nose. He smelled faintly of good cologne with a top note of leather from the luxury rental car’s seats.
He gave Alana the “I’ll-just-be-one-second” finger. “Listen, Damian, I gotta go. I’ll call you in an hour.” Martin pocketed the phone and smiled at his sister. “Sorry about that.”
“What are you doing here?”
“You didn’t get my texts? I need to speak to you. You have a minute?”
“Not at the moment, no.”
“I flew across the country to talk to you. You can’t give me two minutes of your time?”
“I have to go to work, Martin. If you want to ride with me, you’re welcome to. Just let me out, then you can park in the drive and Uber back.”
Martin eyed the dented Odyssey that was belching out exhaust. “Why don’t I drive you and give you cash to cab home?”
“No, thanks.”

He smiled tightly. “Fine.”
Alana returned to the SUV to wait for her brother. When Martin climbed in, he was carrying a stiff white envelope with a button-and-string closure and an airport gift-shop bag.
“Here, I got this for…your daughter.”
“Her name is Lily.”
“I know that. Of course…you named her after Lillian.”
A demented-looking doll with stiff blond ringlets stuck out of the tissue paper.
“Thanks,” said Alana. “She’s a little old for dolls though.”
“Oh. How old is she now?”
“Wow. Time flies. But I thought…”
“You know… I figured she’d still be into dolls.”
“She’s not slow, Martin. Her brain is fine.”
“Oh. So…?”
“She has a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Well, rare for girls, common for boys.”
“She’s inside, by the way. You want to meet your niece?”
Her brother looked confused and pained, as if she’d asked if he wanted to donate a kidney or breastfeed a cat. “I thought you were in a hurry?”
“I am. I’m just messing with you.” Alana eased the Odyssey out of the driveway. She knew Martin wouldn’t want to meet Lily. And she didn’t want Martin to meet Lily.
“Can you turn the AC on?” Martin fanned himself with the white envelope. “It’s so freaking humid in this city.”
“Sorry, it’s busted.” Alana opened the rear windows to
let in more air but felt a perverse pleasure in depriving her brother of climate control.
“So, look, I understand you don’t care about Dad’s wedding—”
“I really don’t and I’m not going.”
“I don’t give a shit if you go or don’t go, but I’m here to tell you that you should care, actually.”
“And why is that?”
“Because this Kelly woman is seriously messing with Dad’s head.”
“His head or his assets?”
“Both. She’s got him wound around her finger. They’re in the process of setting up a charitable foundation.”
“And that’s a bad thing because…?”
“Because guess who’s going to run it and have access to three hundred million dollars?”
“Kelly McNutt?”
“Yes, Kelly McFucking Nutt. It’s a problem. This girl is dangerous.” A harp gliss sounded from Martin’s pocket. He switched his phone to silent mode.
“Well, it’s not my problem. And anyway, how do you know she won’t use the funds charitably and wisely?”
“Very funny.”
“I’m serious.”
“The same way I know that a twenty-eight-year-old nurse doesn’t fall madly in love with her seventy-six-year-old patient.”
Alana shrugged. “Unlikely, but you never know. I saw his picture in Forbes a few weeks ago. He still looks like Charlton Heston on steroids. Maybe she has daddy issues.”

“It would have to be more like granddaddy issues. I doubt she gets off on adult diapers.”
“He wears diapers?”
“He’s been incontinent for years.”
“You must have seen a pre-stroke picture in Forbes.”
“Dad had a stroke?”
“Yes. I told you that last year, Alana.”
“You did?”
“Jesus. Don’t you read your emails?”
“Sometimes the family stuff slips through.”
“Anyway, between that and the prostate surgery, I doubt he can even get it up for Miss McNutt.”
“OK, you know what? I don’t want to talk about this. I’m sorry you and Teddy are going to lose a chunk of your inheritance. But I’m sure there’s more than enough to go around.”
“Yeah, in a perfect world, we’d all be satisfied with our piece of the pie. He’s had playthings before, right? And wasted money on them. But this is different. This one is setting off alarm bells. She isn’t satisfied with having the run of the house and getting a Ferrari and—”
“He bought her a Ferrari?” Alana laughed.
“An 812 GTS. I don’t even want to tell you what that costs.”
“Like how much?”
“A lot.”
“Like a hundred Gs?”
“Try four times that.”
“Yeah. You think she’d be happy with the lifestyle, right? And some agreed-upon sum in a prenup that would effectively let her retire in high style eight years out of college. But no. Apparently, there isn’t going to be a prenup because he trusts her.”
“Really? That’s surprising.”
“I know. This is what I’m saying. Because she makes him exercise and eat his greens, he actually believes she has his best interests at heart. The woman is very savvy, and basically on a mission to alienate us from Dad. She’s been trying to discredit us from the beginning. And she’s subtle about it. She’s supersmart. He’s already given her power of attorney for personal care. How long before she’s in charge of his property too?”

The Sea Glass Beach by Tanya Pritchard @rararesources

About the Book:

In 1950’s southern Ireland, single mother Theresa gives birth to a child she names Roisin. Arrangements are in hand for the adoption when Theresa changes her mind. The child, gifted and intuitive, is viewed by the local community as ‘odd’. Reeling from the news of Roisin’s heart-breaking expulsion from convent school, Theresa makes a momentous decision. To protect her daughter, she must send her away.
Canada’s wild beauty serves as a backdrop to a year of challenges for Roisin. She encounters trauma and devastating loss, but also gains a new family and finds love with the enigmatic Cal. Death, grief and culpability are potent forces she must somehow come to terms with. Can a tiny model boat unshackle her from her past and help her journey into a hopeful future?

About the Author:

Tina Pritchard spent most of her life engaged in bringing up a family, taking a social science degree, working as a lecturer, a trainer and more recently as an independent celebrant conducting funerals, weddings and naming ceremonies. Her first book, a psychological thriller, In A Deep Dark Wood, was published in 2021. The Sea Glass Beach is a departure in genre and started life as a short story morphing over the years into a novel. It is a work of fiction inspired in part by her own mother’s experience of giving birth to a child at Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home in the 1950’s. That child, born all those years ago in Co Tipperary, Ireland, is the author of this book.
Tina loves to write and has won competitions for both her short stories and her poetry. She lives in a beautiful part of the world and gains much of her inspiration from walking her badly behaved terrier, Horace, in the Derbyshire countryside.

Where to Buy:


This extract follows Theresa’s invitation to attend a meeting with the school Principal, Sister Agnes, to discuss Roisin’s educational future.

Approx 452 words

Theresa felt a flare of anger and her cheeks flushed red. Had this woman any concept of what she was saying? Did she know her daughter at all? It seemed, with little forethought, she was ready to deprive her child of the opportunities an education would afford her. It was a ridiculous proposition. Everyone knew how much Roisin hated being confined. Putting her to work in the laundry would be akin to keeping a wild bird in a cage. Over my dead body Theresa thought, outraged by the idea. They want to sap the life and spirit out of her and I am not having it. Whatever the consequences.
She stood, knees knocking and pushed back the chair. It made a sharp scraping sound against the wooden boards. Theresa didn’t care. Her legs felt insubstantial, as though turned to jelly, but inside her anger had become white-hot. Head held high, she paused to take a deep breath. ‘I can’t and won’t agree to your offer,’ Theresa said, holding back tears of rage. ‘but I do ask one thing of you. I don’t want it mentioned by anyone at the school. I should be the one to tell her when I feel the time is right.’
Her composure regained, she strode from the room, down the corridor and out through the front door, slamming it with such force behind her, the windows rattled.
If Theresa had chanced to look back, she would have gained some satisfaction from seeing Sister Agnes’ demeanour. The nun, having observed Theresa’s indignant retreat, had pushed back her own chair and was attempting to stand. Her knuckles, gnarled with age, were gripping the edge of her desk. She appeared diminished and unsecured, as though steadying herself in a gale. On her wizened face was a look of complete bewilderment.
Theresa had always been so respectful and compliant. What on earth was she thinking, stomping out in such high dudgeon? As far as Sister Agnes was concerned, the recommendations were in everyone’s interest, including Roisin’s. Theresa should be grateful. It was a sorry state of affairs when someone in her position could afford to turn her nose up at such a well-thought out offer. The notion her proposal, rejected in such a cavalier manner, might have far-reaching consequences escaped Sister Agnes completely. She wasn’t to know she would be the catalyst for momentous change. Had she had one iota of awareness of her role in altering the course of direction of not one, but two lives, she likely would have remained untroubled. It would be out of her hands and in the remit of the Lord. What will be will be, as she was so fond of saying, ad nauseam.

Operation Mom by Reenita Hora @Bookgal

About the Book:

Ila Isham has a lot to worry about – the angst of being an Ali Zafar groupie and the extra layers of fat she has inherited from her Punjabi lineage. Add to this separated parents,an enthusiastic best friend, Deepali, whose idea of variety means dating three guys at the same time and Aunty Maleeka, mom’s BFF, whose savvy skills throw up more problems than solutions.

Ila’s life takes an exciting turn when she decides to hunt for the perfect partner for her mother. With a little help from Deepali, Aunty Maleeka and Dev of the inviting chocolate-pool eyes, she’ll have to brave it all – from and Ok-cupid profiles to handlebar-moustache colonels and middle-aged psychos, if she wants to succeed in her quest!

About the Author:

Reenita Malhotra Hora is a founder, executive-level content, operations & marketing leader, and prolific writer. With multiple years of experience in media, entertainment, communications, tech/innovation and wellness industries in the USA and Asia, she grows organizations, ranging from early stage startups through mid-size businesses, through storytelling, creative marketing and business strategy.

Reenita has written seven books – five non fiction and two fiction. She is the writer, anchor and executive producer of Shadow Realm and True Fiction Project podcasts and founder of the Chapter by episode fiction app. She has contributed to The Hindu, South China Morning Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN, Asian Investor, Times of India, National Geographic Kids, Cartoon Network Asia, Disney, and more.

Contact Reenita:





Author Marketing Experts tags for social media:
Twitter: @Bookgal
Instagram: @therealbookgal


IT ALL BEGAN with Deepali wanting to experiment with her sexuality.
“It’s about discovering the feminine mystique,” Deepali said. She peered out of the corner of her eye towards the far end of the school canteen, twirling a thick lock of hair that hung down over her left ear.
“That’s a book by Gloria Steinem…No, Betty Friedan,” I replied.
“Yaar, don’t be so literal. Just think about it. If you kiss a girl, maybe you’ll understand how a boy feels when he kisses you. It’s an experiment.” Interesting…the only thing I had experimented with was with sulphuric acid in a lab.
“There must be something you want to experiment with this summer,” Deepali continued, scrutinizing her perfectly manicured nails. “Something that you are obsessed with, that you love.
And that Aunty Veena probably despises you for.”
It was just like Deepali to have a dig at Aunty Veena, my mom. She did it only to test boundaries; riling me up was a matter of entertainment for Deepali. It had been ever since we were five. Every play date, every sleepover. Deepali was convinced that I was too over my head in trying to please my mother, so she did everything possible to encourage me to rebel. Although this trait had annoyed me throughout our twelve or so years of friendship, it was definitely a truism that helped me confront my inadequacies. Isn’t that what BFFs are for?
But back to being obsessed. Yes, I knew all about that. In no particular order, I was besotted with:

  1. Ice-cream
  2. Puppy dogs
  3. Ali Zafar
  4. Roller-coaster rides
  5. Sleeping in on weekends.
  6. Dev

Okay, okay, I admit that’s not entirely true. So let me rephrase.
In this particular order, I was crazy about:

  1. Ali Zafar
  2. Ali Zafar’s voice
  3. Ali Zafar’s eyes
  4. Dreaming about Ali Zafar
  5. Ice-cream, puppy dogs, roller-coaster rides, sleeping in
    on weekends, Dev.

No, not Dev! Perish the thought! He was far from being anywhere near my league. In recent days, I had more exposure to this particular so-called love interest of Deepali’s. Yes, I choose my words carefully, but as long as the ‘so-called’ part was still valid, I needed to put him out of my head and focus on Ali Zafar, Pakistan’s hunkiest singer-songwriter who, until my very recent experience with Dev, had been the object of my attention since I was fifteen.
Mom could never stomach my obsession with Ali Zafar. As far as she was concerned, two years was way too long to have a teen pop idol crush. “For god’s sake, Ila, get a grip,” she would grumble, perhaps on a weekly, if not daily, basis. I couldn’t understand why it so riled her, but I did try to reason. “I’m in love, Mom. You were seventeen once. You should know the deal.”
“Yes, I do know the deal.” She was, as always when it came to Ali Zafar, dismissive. “The deal being that, at seventeen, you can’t tell love from the backside of a bus.”
Mom’s metaphors are so confusing. “Ali Zafar is a beautiful man. He can hardly be compared to the backside of anything.”
“Still, you should set a more achievable target.”
Should. Conversations with Mom are always peppered with the word. Ila, you should this; Ila, you should that. Perhaps I should, but in my eyes, just one target counted—Ali Zafar. He was definitely more achievable than Dev.
I’ve never been much of a groupie, but I figured I could spend most of the summer following Ali around the country from concert to concert. Some people travel, some do internships. I could make an art out of stalking my celebrity. If not an art, a science. That’s what I wanted to experiment with.
Recently, while shopping at Phoenix Mills, I couldn’t help but notice a horde of people and cars in front of the mall. I finagled my way into the crowd, anxious to find out what the fuss was about. A big black sedan drove up to the front. A sedan in Mumbai? Must be some big shot. The car door opened and out stepped a black tank-topped, skin-tight-jeaned Ali Zafar, bodyguard and all! A lady-killing machine. You should have seen the jaw-dropping entourage cluster around him as he sauntered over to the popcorn vendor.
My heart pounded harder and harder with every step he took farther into the mall. He took off his dark glasses and smiled at the crowd. At one point, his eyes actually met mine—the ultimate moment of romantic connection.
“Hey, babe,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Of course, I couldn’t say anything. What can one possibly say in response to a ‘hey, babe’ from the world’s hottest teen pop idol? I just stood there, frozen to the bone, trying to conceal the embarrassment that spread through my being. What I was actually nervous about, I have no idea—the sheer thrill of being acknowledged by my heartthrob had rendered me utterly useless.
Within seconds, he had left me for someone else at the other end of the crowd. He posed coyly for photos with some girl and then with another girl, both of whom had been frantically pushing and shoving to get framed with him. And then his bodyguards skillfully maneuvered him into the lift.
What a colossal idiot I was. Instead of standing there like a victim of Medusa, I should have gone right up front and demanded a photo with him. I hate it when my nerves take over
my powers of judgement.
That was two months ago but, of course, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Every day since, I have become increasingly obsessed with the idea of tracking him down.

Just One Day: Autumn by Susan Buchanan @Susan_ Buchanan @rararesources

About the Book:

Pregnant Louisa is just getting back on track when life throws her another curveball. Now, it’s not a case of how she’ll get through her to-do lists but how she’ll manage being a mum again.
No one seems to understand. How will she run her company, be partner in a new venture, look after her three kids and handle a newborn? And why does everyone think this will be easy? Except her.
All Louisa wants is to be a good mum, a good wife and have a bit of time left for herself, but sometimes that’s too big an ask. Can she find the support she needs, or will she forever be pulled in too many directions, always at the mercy of her to-do lists?

Purchase Link –

About the Author:

Susan Buchanan has published eight books in the romantic comedy and contemporary romance genres: Sign of the Times, The Dating Game, The Christmas Spirit, Return of the Christmas Spirit, Just One Day – Winter, Just One Day – Spring, Just One Day – Summer, and now Just One Day – Autumn.
As a freelance developmental editor and copy editor, if she’s not reading, editing or writing, she’s thinking about it. She loves romantic fiction, psychological thrillers, crime fiction and legal thrillers.
She lives near Glasgow with her two children and a Labrador. Oh, and her husband.
She’s a member of the RNA, the SoA, ALLI and SAW.
When she’s not editing, writing, reading or caring for her two delightful cherubs, she likes going to the theatre, watching quiz shows and eating out, and she has recently discovered a love of writing retreats.

Contact Susan:

Website –
Twitter –
Facebook –
Instagram – yeah

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Louisa’s had to leave her family on holiday to help Fabien out urgently at a trade show in Italy.

I sip my latte and tilt my face to the sky, enjoying the sun’s rays bathing my face in their warm glow. It’s hard to remember it’s October, particularly since when I left Arran, it was squalling rain, punctuated by the odd hailstone shower, and an inclement twelve degrees. I’ve just taken a bite of my polenta cake – to die for – when my phone rings. Unknown number.
‘Hello, Louisa speaking.’
‘Louisa, I am Lorenzo. I am so sorry I was not at the hotel to meet you. We had an unexpected delay and I had no way to contact you. I have your message from the hotel now.’
Somewhat mollified by his explanation, I say, ‘No problem. I’m in Piazza Vecchia right now. I figured there was no point hanging around the hotel when I can check my emails from this lovely piazza instead.’
‘Oh, you are right. It would be a waste. I will come and meet you and then we can go to the fiera.’
I’m guessing he hasn’t remembered the word for trade show, or exhibition. I only know because the name of the exhibition is Fiera Bergamo Sposi, effectively Bergamo exhibition for the bride and groom.
I haven’t long finished my coffee and cake and am busy people-watching when a man of about six feet tall approaches. Crikey, he’s George Clooney’s double, well, George in his ER days. I was never a huge Clooney fan, I didn’t see the attraction, but now I can appreciate why people found him so attractive.
‘Louisa?’ Lorenzo’s sonorous tone startles me out of my reverie. He smiles and his gleaming white teeth dazzle, actually dazzle. I need a pair of sunglasses and fast.
‘Yes,’ I squeak. ‘I’m Louisa.’
‘Piacere.’ He holds out his hand.
Ah, a word I know. That – pleasure to meet you – and grazie are some of the few Italian words in my repertoire, gleaned from a phrase book in the airport bookshop.
I grasp his hand. ‘Piacere.’
‘Ah, you speak Italian. Wonderful.’ His voice is so melodic and sing-songy, I could listen to it all day.
‘Unfortunately, no, I only know a few words. And I mean a few,’ I say self-deprecatingly.
‘You are too modest.’ He looks at my empty cup and plate. ‘Are you finished? Are you ready to leave yet?’
I nod. ‘Yes. I’m done.’
He goes to leave some money on the table, I have no idea how he knows how much will cover it, but I’m touched he’s offered. I raise a hand. ‘Thanks, but I’ve already paid.’
He scrunches his eyes up slightly and shrugs. ‘No problem. Anyway, let’s go. We will take a taxi from the hotel to the show. We have a couple of hours and then we will come back and go for dinner. I’m not sure yet who else will come, but I will take you to a good place in the Città Alta, if that is OK for you.’
So not room service then. And I could do worse than sit opposite George Clooney’s lookalike for a few hours whilst I eat. And it’s not as if he’s going to give me a second glance romantically, or cause me any trouble, so what harm is there in it?
As we walk back to the hotel, I struggle to keep pace with Lorenzo. It is pretty hilly, after all. Sweat beads my forehead and my blouse is sticking to my back. It’s not that hot, it’s clearly the exertion.
Lorenzo continues to talk, filling me in on the layout of the show and what’s expected, what Charles has asked of us. He stops and turns round. ‘Oh, Louisa, are you OK?’ He looks at my stomach, where my blouse is straining over it. ‘I’m so sorry, I hadn’t realised you were pregnant. Had I known, I would have walked more slowly.’
I try to say, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ but my breathing is laboured.
‘Do you need to rest for a bit?’ Lorenzo asks, concerned. He goes to put his arm around my shoulder, protectively I think, but must think better of it.
I shake my head. ‘No, just let me catch my breath a bit.’ I pant. ‘The heat, the lack of sleep and the babies are taking their toll.’
His eyes light up. ‘Twins? You’re having twins. How marvellous. I am a twin. My brother, Federico, is elder by seventeen minutes.’
There are two of them? Two George Clooney doppelgangers! The world is truly blessed.

The Placeholder by Lynda Wolters

About the Book:

THE PLACEHOLDER, a mash-up of Thelma and Louise besties meet Eat, Pray, Love and Me Before You. 

Middle-aged Serenade Kincaid has lost everything: her stepchildren, her house, half her earnings, her sports car, and her husband, all to a decades younger–and more fertile–woman.

Sera now drinks boxed wine from a plastic cup as she attempts to start over from her new home, a seedy motel, as she kills time scrolling dating apps in search of a semi-decent-not-mass-murderer-please-just-spend-time-with-me port in the storm.

As Sera discontentedly leapfrogs through men, her snarky, meddling boss and sometimes-best friend, Carolyn, encourages her to focus more on finding a friend with benefits, just until Prince Charming comes along, of course. Zac fits the bill. 

He’s a self-proclaimed “unsuitable boyfriend” who looks to have jumped straight from the pages of a romance novel. Zac also insists he, too is only looking for some fun, which is perfect for Sera. 

Cue the booty calls. And wow, are they hitting the spot. But just when Sera is starting to figure herself out, get her life back on track and think she may have found someone, life takes a sharp left. And all fun and games come to a screeching halt. 

Now, Sera, Zac, and Carolyn must race against time to disentangle their web of lies and deceit before it’s too late.

The Placeholder is an unconventional, unforgettable, unputdownable story of loss and love.

About the Author:

Lynda was born and raised in a tiny farming community of 400 in northern Idaho. She worked on the family farm, with her first job being picking rocks out of the fields with her dad and grandpa. She graduated to driving both the truck and combine during harvest season. After high school, Lynda traveled to New York to be a nanny for a few months before moving to Las Vegas to further her schooling.

Lynda has worked in the legal field for 30+ years and enjoys ballroom and swing dancing, horseback riding, kayaking, and river rafting. She has a heart for people and regularly volunteers. Following a diagnosis of incurable cancer, Lynda began writing. Her first non-fiction book, Voices of Cancer, was released in 2019 (a piece was done by Jane Brody on January 20, 2020, and published in the NYT, and a grant purchased the Chinese translation rights, and Voices of Cancer is now offered to medical students in the Tawain area), and her second non-fiction book, Voices of LGBTQ+, was released in 2020.

The Placeholder, Lynda’s debut novel, will be released on November 1, 2022. Lynda currently has a middle-grade historical fiction manuscript about her in-laws, who were children in the Netherlands during WW2, in editing. 

Social Media Links – 

Web: Lynda Wolters 

Facebook: Lynda Wolters 

Instagram: Lynda Wolters

Twitter: Lynda Wolters

Giveaway to Win 5 x PB copies of The Placeholder (Open to US Only)

*Terms and Conditions –US entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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At first blush, The Placeholder may feel like a light-hearted rom com, but as the reader dives into the story they will see the sidekick, Carolyn, is a driving force behind the main character, Sera. Carolyn is the type of friend every girl needs, one who is there through thick and thin, good, and bad. And when Sera takes ill, Carolyn shows her true colors. Here is a favorite exchange between Carolyn and Sera when Sera is calling her doctor’s office to follow up on a test:

I dial Meg’s office and ask for Tia. Carolyn pantomimes her request to have the call put on speaker; I oblige. 

“Hi, Sera,” Tia’s voice echoes through the phone. “We got your CT results back. Dr. Delane, Meg, would like to see you at three-thirty.” Her tone clearly says this is not a suggestion. 

“Yes.” Carolyn leans over my desk and into the phone. “She’ll be there.”

Tia pauses. “Sera, are you there?”

“Yes, Tia, I’m here. That was Carolyn.”

“Oh, hey, Carolyn. It’s been a while.”

“Hello. Yes, it has.” Carolyn replies, disinterested in chit-chat.

“So, three-thirty works?” Tia asks.

“Yes,” I answer.

“I’m Going with you,” Carolyn announces as I end the call. 

“No. You’re not.”

“I’m going. You don’t have to want me there, and you can drive alone if you’d like, but I’ll be there, even if I sit in the waiting room.” She storms out, leaving me alone to wonder about her huffiness. 


I walk into the clinic and check in, seeing Carolyn sitting in the waiting room, flipping through a magazine. 

I sit next to her. 

“Hey,” Carolyn refuses to raise her eyes, thumbing through the pages anxiously.

“You can be so stubborn,” she flings the magazine on the side table next to her.

“Why are you so pissed?”

“I’m not, well, maybe a little. I get that you are a strong, independent person, but I’m your friend.” Carolyn’s eyes are watery, “I’m mad because I don’t want to lose you like I lost my mom.”

“And I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to dredge up everything you went through with your mom.”

“I want to be here for you, Sera.”

“Thanks. I want you here too.” I give her a smile. 

“I wouldn’t have missed it,” she whispers, placing a hand on my knee and giving it a light squeeze. “I love you.” She sounds almost put out by the words, as if they might be used against her in the future. She wipes the corner of her eye with her thumb and picks up the magazine again. 

“Sera?” Tia calls from across the waiting room.

I look at Carolyn. “Shall we?”

She nods and stands, then follows me.

The Girl of Lost Petals and Possibilities by Laura Briggs @PaperDollWrites. @rararesources

About the Book:

On holiday in Egypt with Sidney and Dean, young writer Maisie is—in her mind—on top of the world. Her long-labored manuscript is finally going to be published, she and Sidney are deeply in love, and the future looks bright on every level.

In one moment, however, it all changes. Tragedy leads to overwhelming loss that Maisie can’t even begin to process. As the world itself turns upside down, there’s no solace for Maisie from the growing sense that her wonderful future is finished.

No dream about to come true. No certainties of new chances in life.

No Sidney.

Even if the first two did not break her, the last one is determined to. It’s up to Maisie to find her strength and determination to find a new future, even if—unthinkably—it may be nothing like the one she dreamed of.

About the Author:

Laura Briggs is the author of several feel-good romance reads, including the Top 100 Amazon UK seller ‘A Wedding in Cornwall’. She has a fondness for vintage style dresses (especially ones with polka dots), and reads everything from Jane Austen to modern day mysteries. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, caring for her pets, gardening, and seeing the occasional movie or play.

Contact Laura:



Giveaway – Win an e-copy of The Girl of Lost Petals and Possibilities (Open Internationally). 

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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A huge thanks to Katherine for letting me share an extract from The Girl of Lost Petals and 
 with her readers today! It’s the first in a new set of books that brings back characters originally featured in my series known as ‘A Little Hotel in Cornwall’. Novelist Maisie Clark is still working at the quirky and charming hotel Penmarrow, but a tragic accident has left her fiance, Sidney, in the hospital with life-threatening injuries. 

I didn’t tell them why I wasn’t coming in to the Penmarrow, only that I wouldn’t be there. When Dean took his break, I took his place by Sidney’s hospital bed, holding his hand.

We went on like this. Coffee, packaged food, vinyl chairs in the hospitals anteroom. The sounds of the hospital became a familiar rhythm as time passed in slow minutes, armies of hours marching the length of a day as we waited for the next assessment of Sidney’s condition, then the next. We waited for anything to change. 

He moved from critical to stable. His vital signs were improving gradually. Time would tell if the surgery’s measures made a difference.

I stroked his fingers and watched his face. When I talked, it was whatever came into my head. Thinking about our picnic near Tintagel, and the way it felt to be there with him. A lifetime ago, we had watched the sunset, without a care in the world.

“I was telling the truth when I said it was my favorite moment here,” I said. “I said they all were, of course. But there was something extra special about that one.” I traced his fingers, losing myself in memory. “But I’d be kidding myself if I said there wasn’t something special in all of them. All the ones with us together, at least.” 

When Sidney’s eyes fluttered, I thought I was imagining it. His eyelids moved again. I sat up fully in my chair and clutched his hand closer to me. The swollen lid lifted slightly, the other one opened halfway. Sidney’s hazel gaze, uncertain, but conscious.

“Sidney,” I breathed. “Sidney — if you can hear me, squeeze my hand. Please, Sidney.” My tone took on urgency, desperate for a response of any kind. “Squeeze my hand so I know you understand.” 

His gaze was blank, but I felt a slight pressure on my fingers. My spirits rose. “It’s okay,” I soothed. “Everything will be fine. Just stay with us.” 

The pressure on my hand relaxed, and his eyes sank closed again while I was talking. I gripped his hand as if that would bring the moment back, then thought of Dean, the doctors — anybody who should know about this.

A huge thanks to Katherine for letting me share an extract from The Girl of Lost Petals and 
 with her readers today! It’s the first in a new set of books that brings back characters originally featured in my series known as ‘A Little Hotel in Cornwall’. Novelist Maisie Clark is still working at the quirky and charming hotel Penmarrow, but a tragic accident has left her fiance, Sidney, in the hospital with life-threatening injuries. 

I didn’t tell them why I wasn’t coming in to the Penmarrow, only that I wouldn’t be there. When Dean took his break, I took his place by Sidney’s hospital bed, holding his hand.

We went on like this. Coffee, packaged food, vinyl chairs in the hospitals anteroom. The sounds of the hospital became a familiar rhythm as time passed in slow minutes, armies of hours marching the length of a day as we waited for the next assessment of Sidney’s condition, then the next. We waited for anything to change. 

He moved from critical to stable. His vital signs were improving gradually. Time would tell if the surgery’s measures made a difference.

I stroked his fingers and watched his face. When I talked, it was whatever came into my head. Thinking about our picnic near Tintagel, and the way it felt to be there with him. A lifetime ago, we had watched the sunset, without a care in the world.

“I was telling the truth when I said it was my favorite moment here,” I said. “I said they all were, of course. But there was something extra special about that one.” I traced his fingers, losing myself in memory. “But I’d be kidding myself if I said there wasn’t something special in all of them. All the ones with us together, at least.” 

When Sidney’s eyes fluttered, I thought I was imagining it. His eyelids moved again. I sat up fully in my chair and clutched his hand closer to me. The swollen lid lifted slightly, the other one opened halfway. Sidney’s hazel gaze, uncertain, but conscious.

“Sidney,” I breathed. “Sidney — if you can hear me, squeeze my hand. Please, Sidney.” My tone took on urgency, desperate for a response of any kind. “Squeeze my hand so I know you understand.” 

His gaze was blank, but I felt a slight pressure on my fingers. My spirits rose. “It’s okay,” I soothed. “Everything will be fine. Just stay with us.” 

The pressure on my hand relaxed, and his eyes sank closed again while I was talking. I gripped his hand as if that would bring the moment back, then thought of Dean, the doctors — anybody who should know about this.

HTP/Inkyard Press YA Fall Blog Tour-If You Could See the Sun by Ann Liang @annliangy @InkyardPress

If You Could See the Sun
Ann Liang
On Sale Date: October 11, 2022
September 14, 2022
$18.99 USD
Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy / Contemporary
352 pages

About the Book:

In a YA debut that’s Gossip Girl with a speculative twist, a Chinese American girl monetizes her strange new invisibility powers by discovering and selling her wealthy classmates’ most scandalous secrets.

Alice Sun has always felt invisible at her elite Beijing international boarding school, where she’s the only scholarship student among China’s most rich and influential teens. But then she starts uncontrollably turning invisible—actually invisible.

When her parents drop the news that they can no longer afford her tuition, even with the scholarship, Alice hatches a plan to monetize her strange new power—she’ll discover the scandalous secrets her classmates want to know, for a price.

But as the tasks escalate from petty scandals to actual crimes, Alice must decide if it’s worth losing her conscience—or even her life.

About the Author:

Ann Liang is an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne. Born in Beijing, she grew up travelling back and forth between China and Australia, but somehow ended up with an American accent. When she isn’t stressing out over her college assignments or writing, she can be found making over-ambitious to-do lists, binge-watching dramas, and having profound conversations with her pet labradoodle about who’s a good dog. This is her debut novel.

Contact Ann:

Author website:

Where to Buy:



My parents only ever invite me out to eat for one of three reasons. One, someone’s dead (which, given the ninety-something members in our family WeChat group alone, happens more often than you’d think). Two, it’s someone’s birthday. Or three, they have a life-changing announcement to make.
Sometimes it’s a combination of all the above, like when my great-grandaunt passed away on the morning of my twelfth birthday, and my parents decided to inform me over a bowl of fried sauce noodles that they’d be sending me off to Airington International Boarding School.
But it’s August now, the sweltering summer heat palpable even in the air-conditioned confines of the restaurant, and no one in my immediate family has a birthday this month. Which, of course, leaves only two other possibilities…
The anxious knot in my stomach tightens. It’s all I can do not to run right back out through the glass double doors. Call me weak or whatever, but I’m in no state to handle bad news of any kind.
Especially not today.
“Alice, what you look so nervous for ya?” Mama asks as an unsmiling, qipao-clad waitress leads us over to our table in the back corner.
We squeeze past a crowded table of elderly people sharing a giant pink-tinted cream cake shaped like a peach, and what appears to be a company lunch, with men sweating in their stuffy collared shirts and women dabbing white powder onto their cheeks. A few of them twist around and stare when they notice my uniform. I can’t tell if it’s because they recognize the tiger crest emblazoned on my blazer pocket, or because of how grossly pretentious the design looks compared to the local schools’ tracksuits.
“I’m not nervous,” I say, taking the seat between her and Baba. “My face just always looks like this.” This isn’t exactly a lie. My aunt once joked that if I were ever found at a crime scene, I’d be the first one arrested based solely on my expression and body language. Never seen anyone as jumpy as you, she’d said. Must’ve been a mouse in your past life.
I resented the comparison then, but I can’t help feeling like a mouse now—one that’s about to walk straight into a trap.
Mama moves to pass me the laminated menu. As she does, light spills onto her bony hands from the nearby window, throwing the ropey white scar running down her palm into sharp relief. A pang of all-too-familiar guilt flares up inside me like an open flame.
“Haizi,” Mama calls me. “What do you want to eat?”
“Oh. Uh, anything’s fine,” I reply, quickly averting my gaze.
Baba breaks apart his disposable wooden chopsticks with a loud snap. “Kids these days don’t know how lucky they are,” he says, rubbing the chopsticks together to remove any splinters before helping me do the same. “All grow up in honey jar. You know what I eat at your age? Sweet potato. Every day, sweet potato.”
As he launches into a more detailed description of daily life in the rural villages of Henan, Mama waves the waitress over and lists off what sounds like enough dishes to feed the entire restaurant.
“Ma,” I protest, dragging the word out in Mandarin. “We don’t need—”
“Yes, you do,” she says firmly. “You always starve whenever school starts. Very bad for your body.”
Despite myself, I suppress the urge to roll my eyes. Less than ten minutes ago, she’d been commenting on how my cheeks had grown rounder over the summer holidays; only by her logic is it possible to be too chubby and dangerously undernourished at the same time.
When Mama finally finishes ordering, she and Baba exchange a look, then turn to me with expressions so solemn I blurt out the first thing that comes to mind: “Is—is my grandpa okay?”
Mama’s thin brows furrow, accentuating the stern features of her face. “Of course. Why you ask?”
“N-nothing. Never mind.” I allow myself a small sigh of relief, but my muscles remain tensed, as if bracing for a blow. “Look, whatever the bad news is, can we just—can we get it over with quickly? The awards ceremony is in an hour and if I’m going to have a mental breakdown, I need at least twenty minutes to recover before I get on stage.”
Baba blinks. “Awards ceremony? What ceremony?”

My concern temporarily gives way to exasperation. “The awards ceremony for the highest achievers in each year level.”
He continues to stare at me blankly.
“Come on, Ba. I’ve mentioned it at least fifty times this summer.”
I’m only exaggerating a little. Sad as it sounds, those fleeting moments of glory under the bright auditorium spotlight are all I’ve been looking forward to the past couple of months.
Even if I have to share them with Henry Li.
As always, the name fills my mouth with something sharp and bitter like poison. God, I hate him. I hate him and his flawless, porcelain skin and immaculate uniform and his composure, as untouchable and unfailing as his ever-growing list of achievements. I hate the way people look at him and see him, even if he’s completely silent, head down and working at his desk.
I’ve hated him ever since he sauntered into school four years ago, brand-new and practically glowing. By the end of his first day, he’d beat me in our history unit test by a whole two-point-five marks, and everyone knew his name.
Just thinking about it now makes my fingers itch.
Baba frowns. Looks to Mama for confirmation. “Are we meant to go to this—this ceremony thing?”
“It’s students only,” I remind him, even though it wasn’t always this way. The school decided to make it a more private event after my classmate’s very famous mother, Krystal Lam, showed up to the ceremony and accidentally brought the paparazzi in with her. There were photos of our auditorium floating around all over Weibo for days afterward.
“Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that they’re handing out awards and—”
“Yes, yes, all you talk about is award,” Mama interrupts, impatient. “Where your priorities, hmm? Does that school of yours not teach you right values? It should go family first, then health, then saving for retirement, then—are you even listening?”
I’m spared from having to lie when our food arrives.
In the fancier Peking duck restaurants like Quanjude, the kind of restaurants my classmates go to frequently without someone having to die first, the chefs always wheel out the roast duck on a tray and carve it up beside your table. It’s almost an elaborate performance; the crispy, glazed skin coming apart with every flash of the blade to reveal the tender white meat and sizzling oil underneath.
But here the waitress simply presents us with a whole duck chopped into large chunks, the head still attached and everything.
Mama must catch the look on my face because she sighs and turns the duck head away from me, muttering something about my Western sensibilities.
More dishes come, one by one: fresh cucumbers drizzled with vinegar and mixed with chopped garlic, thin-layered scallion pancakes baked to a perfect crisp, soft tofu swimming in a golden-brown sauce and sticky rice cakes dusted with a fine coat of sugar. I can already see Mama measuring out the food with her shrewd brown eyes, most likely calculating how many extra meals she and Baba can make from the leftovers.
I force myself to wait until both Mama and Baba have taken few bites of their food to venture, “Um. I’m pretty sure you guys were going to tell me something important…?”
In response, Baba takes a long swig from his still-steaming cup of jasmine tea and swishes the liquid around in his mouth as if he’s got all the time in the world. Mama sometimes jokes that I take after Baba in every way—from his square jaw, straight brows and tan skin to his stubborn perfectionist streak. But I clearly haven’t inherited any of his patience.
“Baba,” I prompt, trying my best to keep my tone respectful.
He holds up a hand and drains the rest of his tea before at last opening his mouth to speak. “Ah. Yes. Well, your Mama and I were thinking… How you feel about going to different school?”
“Wait. What?” My voice comes out too loud and too shrill, cutting through the restaurant chatter and cracking at the end like some prepubescent boy’s. The company workers from the table nearby stop midtoast to shoot me disapproving looks. “What?” I repeat in a whisper this time, my cheeks heating.
“Maybe you go to local school like your cousins,” Mama says, placing a piece of perfectly wrapped Peking duck down on my plate with a smile. It’s a smile that makes alarm bells go off in my head. The kind of smile dentists give you right before yanking your teeth out. “Or we let you go back to America. You know my friend, Auntie Shen? The one with the nice son—the doctor?”
I nod slowly, as if two-thirds of her friends’ children aren’t either working or aspiring doctors.

“She says there’s very nice public school in Maine near her house. Maybe if you help work for her restaurant, she let you stay—”
“I don’t get it,” I interrupt, unable to help myself. There’s a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, like that time I ran too hard in the school Sports Carnival just to beat Henry and nearly threw up all over the courtyard. “I just… What’s wrong with Airington?”
Baba looks a little taken aback by my response. “I thought you hated Airington,” he says, switching to Mandarin.
“I never said I hated—”
“You once printed out a picture of the school logo and spent an entire afternoon stabbing it with your pen.”
“So, I wasn’t the biggest fan in the beginning,” I say, setting my chopsticks down on the plastic tablecloth. My fingers tremble slightly. “But that was five years ago. People know who I am now. I have a reputation—a good one. And the teachers like me, like really like me, and most of my classmates think I’m smart and—and they actually care what I have to say…” But with every word that tumbles out of my mouth, my parents’ expressions grow grimmer, and the sick feeling sharpens into ice-cold dread. Still, I plow on, desperate. “And I have my scholarship, remember? The only one in the entire school. Wouldn’t it be a waste if I just left—”
“You have half scholarship,” Mama corrects.
“Well, that’s the most they’re willing to offer…” Then it hits me. It’s so obvious I’m stunned by own ignorance; why else would my parents all of a sudden suggest taking me out of the school they spent years working tirelessly to get me into?
“Is this… Is this about the school fees?” I ask, keeping my voice low so no one around us can overhear.

Mama says nothing at first, just fiddles with the loose button on her dull flower-patterned blouse. It’s another cheap supermarket purchase; her new favorite place to find clothes after Yaxiu Market was converted into a lifeless mall for overpriced knockoff brands.
“That’s not for you to worry,” she finally replies.
Which means yes.
I slump back in my seat, trying hard to collect my thoughts. It’s not as if I didn’t know that we’re struggling, that we’ve been struggling for some time now, ever since Baba’s old printing company shut down and Mama’s late shifts at Xiehe Hospital were cut short. But Mama and Baba have always been good at hiding the extent of it, waving away any of my concerns with a simple “just focus on your studies” or “silly child, does it look like we’d let you starve?”
I look across the table at them now, really look at them, and what I see is the scattering of white hairs near Baba’s temples, the tired creases starting to show under Mama’s eyes, the long days of labor taking their toll while I stay sheltered in my little Airington bubble. Shame roils in my gut. How much easier would their lives be if they didn’t have to pay that extra 165,000 RMB every year?
“What, um, were the choices again?” I hear myself say. “Local Beijing school or public school in Maine?”
Evident relief washes over Mama’s face. She dips another piece of Peking duck in a platter of thick black sauce, wraps it tight in a sheet of paper-thin pancake with two slices of cucumber—no onions, just the way I like it—and lays it down on my plate. “Yes, yes. Either is good.”
I gnaw on my lower lip. Actually, neither option is good.

Going to any local school in China means I’ll have to take the gaokao, which is meant to be one of the hardest college entrance exams as it is without my primary school–level Chinese skills getting in the way. And as for Maine—all I know is that it’s the least diverse state in America, my understanding of the SATs is pretty much limited to the high school dramas I’ve watched on Netflix, and the chances of a public school there letting me continue my IB coursework are very low.
“We don’t have to decide right now,” Mama adds quickly. “Your Baba and I already pay for your first semester at Airington. You can ask teachers, your friends, think about it a bit, and then we discuss again. Okay?”
“Yeah,” I say, even though I feel anything but okay. “Sounds great.”
Baba taps his knuckles on the table, making both of us start. “Aiya, too much talking during eating time.” He jabs his chopsticks at the plates between us. “The dishes already going cold.”
As I pick up my own chopsticks again, the elderly people at the table beside us start singing the Chinese version of “Happy Birthday,” loud and off-key. “Zhuni shengri kuaile… Zhuni shengri kuaile…” The old nainai sitting in the middle nods and claps her hands together to the beat, smiling a wide, toothless grin.
At least someone’s leaving this restaurant in higher spirits than when they came in.
Sweat beads and trickles from my brow almost the instant I step outside. The kids back in California always complained about the heat, but the summers in Beijing are stifling, merciless, with the dappled shade of wutong trees planted up and down the streets often serving as the sole source of relief.
Right now it’s so hot I can barely breathe. Or maybe that’s just the panic kicking in.
“Haizi, we’re going,” Mama calls to me. Little plastic take-out bags swing from her elbow, stuffed full with everything—and I mean everything—left over from today’s lunch. She’s even packed the duck bones.
I wave at her. Exhale. Manage to nod and smile as Mama lingers to offer me her usual parting words of advice: Don’t sleep later than eleven or you die, don’t drink cold water or you die, watch out for child molesters on your way to school, eat ginger, lot of ginger, remember check air quality index every day…
Then she and Baba are off to the nearest subway station, her petite figure and Baba’s tall, angular frame quickly swallowed up by the crowds, and I’m left standing all alone.
A terrible pressure starts to build at the back of my throat.
No. I can’t cry. Not here, not now. Not when I still have an awards ceremony to attend—maybe the last awards ceremony I’ll ever go to.
I force myself to move, to focus on my surroundings, anything to pull my thoughts from the black hole of worry swirling inside my head.
An array of skyscrapers rises up in the distance, all glass and steel and unabashed luxury, their tapered tips scraping the watery-blue sky. If I squint, I can even make out the famous silhouette of the CCTV headquarters. Everyone calls it The Giant Underpants because of its shape, though Mina Huang— whose dad is apparently the one who designed it—has been trying and failing for the past five years to make people stop.
My phone buzzes in my skirt pocket, and I know without looking that it’s not a text (it never is) but an alarm: only twenty minutes left until assembly begins. I make myself walk faster, past the winding alleys clogged with rickshaws and vendors and little yellow bikes, the clusters of convenience stores and noodle shops and calligraphed Chinese characters blinking across neon signs all blurring by.
The traffic and crowds thicken as I get closer toward the Third Ring Road. There are all kinds of people everywhere: balding uncles cooling themselves with straw fans, cigarettes dangling out of mouths, shirts yanked halfway up to expose their sunburned bellies, the perfect picture of I-don’t-give-a-shit; old aunties strutting down the sidewalks with purpose, dragging their floral shopping trolleys behind them as they head for the open markets; a group of local school students sharing large cups of bubble tea and roasted sweet potatoes outside a mini snack stall, stacks of homework booklets spread out on a stool between them, gridded pages fluttering in the breeze.
As I stride past, I hear one of the students ask in a dramatic whisper, their words swollen with a thick Beijing accent, “Dude, did you see that?”
“See what?” a girl replies.
I keep walking, face forward, doing my best to act like I can’t hear what they’re saying. Then again, they probably assume I don’t understand Chinese anyway; I’ve been told time and time again by locals that I have a foreigner’s air, or qizhi, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.
“She goes to that school. That’s where that Hong Kong singer—what’s her name again? Krystal Lam?—sends her daughter, and the CEO of SYS as well… Wait, let me just Baidu it to check…”
“Wokao!” the girl swears a few seconds later. I can practically feel her gaping at the back of my head. My face burns. “330,000 RMB for just one year? What are they teaching, how to seduce royalty?” Then she pauses. “But isn’t it an international school? I thought those were only for white people.”
“What do you know?” the first student scoffs. “Most international students just have foreign passports. It’s easy if you’re rich enough to be born overseas.”
This isn’t true at all: I was born right here in Beijing and didn’t move to California with my parents until I was seven. And as for being rich… No. Whatever. It’s not like I’m going to turn back and correct him. Besides, I’ve had to recount my entire life story to strangers enough times to know that sometimes it’s easier to just let them assume what they want.
Without waiting for the traffic lights to turn—no one here really follows them anyway—I cross the road, glad to put some distance between me and the rest of their conversation. Then I make a quick to-do list in my head.
It’s what works best whenever I’m overwhelmed or frustrated. Short-term goals. Small hurdles. Things within my control. Like:
One, make it through entire awards ceremony without pushing Henry Li off the stage.
Two, turn in Chinese essay early (last chance to get in Wei Laoshi’s good graces).
Three, read history course syllabus before lunch.
Four, research Maine and closest public schools in Beijing and figure out which place offers highest probability of future success—if any—without breaking down and/or hitting something.
See? All completely doable.
Excerpted from If You Could See the Sun by Ann Liang, Copyright © 2022 by Ann Liang. Published by Inkyard Press.

A Match Made at Christmas by Patricia Davids PatriciaDavidsAuthor @HTTP_Books

Author: Patricia Davids
ISBN: 9781335453471
Publication Date: October 4, 2022
Publisher: HQN

About the Book:

USA Today bestselling author Patricia Davids continues her Amish romance series set in Harts, Haven, Kansas, with this emotional story about a cancer survivor and a grieving widower who are brought together at Christmas by the matchmakers of Harts Haven who have a little help from the hero’s daughters.
With Christmas just around the corner, an Amish cancer survivor moves to Harts Haven for a fresh start as the new schoolteacher. She wants to escape the pity that she felt from the people back hom eand throw herself into her new job. She’s worried her illness might return at any moment and isn’t looking for love. Neither is a local widower with two daughters. The loss of his wife devestated him, and he never wants to feel that kind of pain again. The matchmakers of Harts Haven set their sights on the pair, by having them work together on a living Nativity for the school Christmas program. With three elderly matchmakers, a school full of rambunctious children, a handsome widower, rowdy sheep and one cantankerous donkey, Harts Haven is about to witness an unforgettable Christmas Eve where two unlikely people discover healing love is the true Christmas gift.

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“Oh, Karl. Yoo-hoo!”

Karl Graber cringed at the sound of Rose Yoder calling his name. He was in no mood to deal with her this morning.

After burning the oatmeal at breakfast, he discovered his renter had moved out in the night without giving notice or paying his back rent. Now Karl was going to be late getting to the store because his buggy horse was limping.

He pretended he hadn’t heard Rose. Maybe the elderly Amish woman who claimed to be the most successful matchmaker in Harts Haven would go pester some other poor fellow.

Bent over Checker’s front foot, Karl noticed that a stone lodged between the horse’s steel shoe and his hoof was the gelding’s problem.

“Hallo, Karl! I must speak with you.”

The tenacity of the eighty-four-year-old romance peddler was another difficulty Karl had to face this morning.

“I’m not interested in meeting your latest hopeful,” he muttered under his breath.

If the stubborn stone would come out, he could be on his way before the elderly woman reached the end of the block and crossed the wide street.

“Daed, Granny Rose is calling you.” His six-year-old daughter, Rachel, stood up and waved. Rose wasn’t related to Karl, but due to her advanced age most of the children in Harts Haven called her Granny.

“She’s coming this way,” Clara informed him from the front seat of the open buggy. His ten-year-old daughter wasn’t any more excited to see Rose than Karl was. She suspected the same thing he did. Rose was on a matchmaking mission.

“Hallo, Granny Rose,” Rachel shouted happily. “We’re taking our puppies to the store so someone can buy them. Would you like to see them?”

The offending stone popped loose. Karl dropped Checker’s hoof. “Got to get the store open, Rose. Can’t take time to visit.”

When he spun around, it was already too late. She had reached the buggy ahead of him. How did someone her age move so fast? She didn’t even look winded.

“Guder mariye, Karl. I’m so glad I caught you. There is a chill in the air this morning, isn’t there?”

It was the second week of November. Of course the air was cool. Rose hadn’t intercepted him for idle chitchat. He moved to step around her since she was blocking the buggy door. “Customers will be waiting for me.”

Rose didn’t budge. Other than picking her up and setting her aside, he had no hope of leaving until she finished having her say. He resigned himself to hearing who she thought would be perfect for him this time. As if any woman could take the place of his Nora.

“Did you find us a new mother?” Rachel’s hopeful tone stabbed his heart. Rachel was too young to remember much about the mother who died when she was three. She only knew other children had both mothers and fathers, and she wanted the same thing.

Clara scowled at her sister. “We don’t need a new mother. Ours is in Heaven. No one can replace her.”

Clara understood. She was old enough to remember what Nora had been like. A sweet, gentle, bright and loving woman. The world was a darker place without her.

Rose’s cheerful expression softened with sympathy. “I’m still looking for someone special to join your family. Clara is right. She won’t be your mother. Instead, she will be your stepmother, but she will love you and take care of you as if you were her own.”

Rachel sighed. “I hope you find her soon.”

“That’s enough, Rachel,” Karl said. “What do you want, Rose?”

“I’m here to tell you about the new teacher. She arrived yesterday. She and her sister are staying at the inn for the time being. They are Grace Sutter’s nieces from the Amish side of her family.”

Grace was another elderly widow, Old Order Mennonite, and co-owner of the Harts Haven Inn along with Rose and Rose’s widowed daughter, Susanna King. The trio were all fond of meddling. A single man stood little chance of remaining unattached in this Amish community unless he avoided the widows. Rose’s knowing smile put Karl on his guard.

Rachel clapped her hands. “Yay, the new teacher is here. Now I can go back to school and be in the Christmas program. I hope I get to be an angel like Thea and Miriam Bachman last year. Their mother made the most beautiful wings for them.”

Rose grinned. “Your teacher’s name is Sophie Eicher. Her sister is Joanna. They are lovely young women.”

“Also single and hoping to find husbands in Harts Haven. I know what you’re doing, Rose. Not interested!” If his cutting tone didn’t drive his point home, maybe his scowl would.

Rose puffed up like an angry little hen. “Don’t take that tone with me, Karl Graber. For shame.”

He was thirty-two years old, but she made him feel like an errant toddler. “I’m sorry.”

She inclined her head. “You are forgiven. I stopped to tell you we are hosting a welcome party at the inn on Saturday so folks can meet Sophie and her sister. Would you kindly spread the word?”

He eyed her suspiciously. Where was the catch? “Sure. What time?”

“We’ll start at noon, but folks can come and go as they please.” She turned to his daughters. “I know you girls must be excited to go back to school.”

“Teacher Becky had to leave to take care of her mother because she got sick,” Rachel said. “I only went to school for one week. I don’t think I learned much.”

“I taught you letters and numbers,” Karl said.

Rachel’s lower lip jutted out. “Only so I could help at the store. Not to read a book.”

There weren’t enough hours in the day to run the hardware store, manage the farm work, cook, keep house and still find time to instruct his daughters. Most days, he struggled just to get out of bed. He was doing the best he could.

“How soon will school resume?” he asked Rose.

“The bishop and the school board haven’t decided.” She leveled her gaze at him. “I know you’ll be at the welcome party.”

That was the catch. Grimacing, he shook his head. “Social gatherings aren’t something I enjoy.”

Her eyes narrowed. “It is common courtesy to introduce yourself and your kinder to the new teacher. You remember what courtesy is, don’t you, Karl?” Rose turned on her heels and strode away.

His conscience smote him. It wasn’t right to be rude to anyone, yet alone an elder. He caught up with her in a few steps. “Rose, wait. I’m sorry.”

Glancing over his shoulder to make sure the girls couldn’t overhear; he lowered his voice. “It hasn’t been easy for me. Nora was the one who loved company. It doesn’t feel right to do things without her. It just makes me miss her more.”

Instantly, he was sorry he had shared that much.

Rose’s expression softened. “You have your daughters to consider. Nora wouldn’t want them shut up in the store all day. Nor would she approve of you taking them home straight after church services instead of letting them play with their friends so you can avoid talking to people. I understand grief, Karl. I buried my husband and a son-in-law who was dear to me. We all cope with loss differently, but don’t let your grief rob your kinder of their childhood.”

He focused on his feet. Maybe Rose was right. In his struggle to get through each day, he hadn’t always put his children’s welfare first. “I reckon I could close early for once. I’ll bring the girls to meet their new teacher.”

He looked up with a hard stare. “But don’t get the idea that I’ll go along with any of your matchmaking schemes.”

She shook her head. “Sophie needs someone special. You are completely wrong for her. I’m afraid the two of you would be at each other’s throats within a week.”

He drew back. “If she’s hard to get along with, should she be teaching?”

Rose poked her finger into his chest. “You are the problem, not Sophie.”

“Me? What’s wrong with me?”

“Plenty. You figure it out. Relax. You aren’t on my list of potential suitors.”

That made him smile. “You have a list already? I thought she only arrived yesterday.”

Rose grinned and winked. “There aren’t that many single Amish fellows in this area.”

Karl watched her walk away with a sense of relief that was quickly followed by an unsettling question. What did Rose think was wrong with him?

He kept to himself, but who could blame him? Losing his wife, his childhood sweetheart, had nearly broken him. Standing by helplessly as cancer sucked the life from her despite everything the doctors tried had devastated him.

His beautiful Nora had endured terrible pain. In her last days, he had stopped praying for her to be healed and only asked that God end her suffering and take her home. The guilt from those anguished thoughts never left him. He couldn’t love another woman. He was better off alone. He had his daughters. That was enough.

“Daed, we’re going to be late,” Clara called out.

Clara was trying hard to be his helper at home and in the business the way her mother had been. She worked hard. Perhaps too hard for a child her age. He returned to the buggy and got in. At least he didn’t have to worry about Rose trying to set him up with the new teacher. He wasn’t on her list.

Excerpted from A Match Made at Christmas by Patricia Davids. Copyright © 2022 by Patricia Davids. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Harlequin Trade Publishing Holiday Blog Tour: The Road To Christmas by  Sheila Roberts @Sheila_Roberts @HTTP_Books

Author: Sheila Roberts
ISBN: 9780778386568
Publication Date: September 20, 2022
Publisher: MIRA

Book Summary:

From USA TODAY bestselling author Sheila Roberts comes a multi-generational Christmas road trip story filled with humor and heart, set against the snowy mountains of Washington state.
Michelle and Max Turnbull are not planning on a happy holiday. Their marriage is in shambles and the D word has entered their vocabulary. But now their youngest daughter, Julia, wants everyone to come to her new house in Idaho for Christmas, and she’s got the guest room all ready for Mom and Dad. Oh, joy.
Their other two daughters are driving up from California. Audrey from L.A., picking up Shyla in San Francisco and hoping to meet a sexy rancher for Audrey along the way. What they don’t plan on is getting stranded on a ranch when the car breaks down.
The ones with the shortest drive are Grandma and Grandpa Turnbull (Hazel and Warren). They only have to come from Medford, Oregon. It’s still a bit of a trek and Hazel doesn’t like the idea of driving all that way in snow, but Warren knows they’ll have no problem. They have a reliable car for driving in the snow—and snow tires and chains if they need them. They’ll be fine.
Surprises are in store for all three groups of intrepid travelers as they set out on three different road trips and three different adventures, all leading to one memorable Christmas.

About the Author:

Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in Washington State, where most of her novels are set. Her books have been published in several languages. On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her novel, The Nine Lives of Christmas, was made into a movie for Hallmark. You can visit Sheila on Twitter and Facebook or at her website (

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MICHELLE TURNBULL WOULD HAVE TWO turkeys in her house for Thanksgiving. One would be on the table, the other would be sitting at it.
“I can’t believe he’s still there,” said Ginny, her longtime clerk at the Hallmark store she managed. “You two are splitting, so why not rip the bandage off and be done with it?”
Rip the bandage off. There was an interesting metaphor. That implied that a wound was healing. The wound that was her marriage wasn’t healing, it was fatal.
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and went to unlock the door. “Because I don’t want to ruin the holidays for the girls.”
“You think they aren’t going to figure out what’s going on with you two sleeping in separate bedrooms? Don’t be naive.”
Ginny may have been her subordinate, but that didn’t stop her from acting like Michelle’s mother. A ten-year age difference and a long friendship probably contributed to that. And with her mother gone, she doubly appreciated Ginny’s friendship and concern.
Michelle turned the sign on the door to Open. “I’ll tell them he snores.”
“All of a sudden, out of the blue?”
“Sleep apnea. He’s gained some weight.”
Ginny gave a snort. “Not that much. Max may have an inch hanging over the belt line but he’s still in pretty good shape.”
“You don’t have to be overweight to have sleep apnea.”
“I guess,” Ginny said dubiously. “But, Michelle, you guys have been having problems on and off for the last five years. Your girls have to know this is coming so I doubt your sleep-apnea excuse is going to fool anyone.”
Probably not. Much as she and Max had tried to keep their troubles from their daughters, bits of bitterness and reproach had leaked out over time in the form of sarcasm and a lack of what Shyla would have referred to as PDA. Michelle couldn’t remember the last time they’d held hands or kissed in front of any of their daughters. In fact, it was hard to remember the last time they’d kissed. Period.
“You have my permission to kick him to the curb as of yesterday,” Ginny went on. “If you really want your holidays to be happy, get him gone.”
“Oh, yeah, that would make for happy holidays,” Michelle said. “Audrey and Shyla would love coming home to find their father moved out just in time for Thanksgiving dinner and their grandparents absent.”
“If you’re getting divorced, that’s what they’ll find next year,” Ginny pointed out.
“But at least they’ll have a year to adjust,” Michelle said. “And this is Julia’s first Christmas in her new home and with a baby. I don’t want to take the shine away from that.”
The coming year would put enough stress on them all. She certainly wasn’t going to kick it all off on Thanksgiving. That wouldn’t make for happy holidays.
Happy holidays. Who was she kidding? The upcoming holidays weren’t going to be happy no matter what.
“Well, I see your point,” said Ginny. “But good luck pulling off the old sleep-apnea deception.”
Their first customer of the day came in, and that ended all talk of Michelle’s marriage miseries. Which was fine with her. Focusing on her miserable relationship didn’t exactly put a smile on her face, and wearing a perpetual frown was no way to greet shoppers.
After work, she stopped at the grocery store and picked up the last of what she needed for Thanksgiving: the whipped cream for the fruit salad and to top the pumpkin and pecan pies, the extra eggnog for Shyla, her eggnog addict, Dove dark chocolates for Audrey, and Constant Comment tea, which was Hazel’s favorite.
Hazel. World’s best mother-in-law. When Michelle and Max divorced he’d take Hazel and Warren, her second parents, with him. The thought made it hard to force a smile for the checkout clerk. She stepped out of line. She needed one more thing.
She hurried back to the candy aisle and picked up more dark chocolate, this time for her personal stash.

Hazel and Warren were the first to arrive, coming in the day before Thanksgiving, Hazel bringing pecan pie and the makings for her famous Kahlua yams.
“Hello, darling,” Hazel said, greeting her with a hug. “You look lovely as always. I do wish I had your slender figure,” she added as they stepped inside.
“You look fine just the way you are,” Michelle assured her.
“I swear, the older I get the harder the pounds cling to my hips,” Hazel said.
“You look fine, hon,” said Warren as he gave Michelle one of his big bear hugs. “She’s still as pretty as the day I met her,” he told Michelle.
“Yes, all twenty new wrinkles and five new pounds. On top of the others,” Hazel said with a shake of her head.
“Who notices pounds when they’re looking at your smile?” Michelle said to her. “Here, let me take your coats.”
Hazel set down the shopping bag full of goodies and shrugged out of her coat with the help of her husband. “Where’s our boy?”
Who knew? Who cared?
“Out running errands,” she said. “I’ll text him that you’re here. First, let’s get you settled.”
“I’m ready for that,” Hazel said. “The drive from Oregon gets longer every time.”
“It’s not that far,” Warren said and followed her up the stairs.
Half an hour later Max had returned, and he and his father were in the living room, the sports channel keeping them company, and the two women were in the kitchen, enjoying a cup of tea. The yams were ready and stored in the fridge, and the pecan pie was in its container, resting on the counter next to the pumpkin pie Michelle had taken out of the oven. A large pot of vegetable soup was bubbling on the stove, and French bread was warming. It would be a light evening meal to save everyone’s tummy room for the next day’s feast.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the girls,” Hazel said.
“So am I,” said Michelle.
She hated that all her girls had moved so far away. Not that she minded hopping a plane to see either Audrey or Shyla. It wasn’t a long flight from SeaTac International to either San Francisco International or LAX, but it also wasn’t the same as having them living nearby. Julia wasn’t as easily accessible, which made her absence harder to take. She’d been the final baby bird to leave the nest, and dealing with her departure had been a challenge. Perhaps because she was the last. Perhaps because it seemed she grew up and left all in one quick motherly blink: college, the boyfriend, the pregnancy, marriage, then moving. It had been painful to let go of her baby. And even more so with that baby taking the first grandchild with her.
Maybe in some ways, though, it wasn’t a bad thing that her daughters were living in different states because they hadn’t been around to see the final deterioration of their parents’ marriage.
Michelle hoped they still wouldn’t see it. She consulted her phone. It was almost time for Audrey’s flight to land. Shyla’s was getting in not long after.
“Audrey’s going to text when they’re here,” she said.
“It will be lovely to all be together again,” said Hazel. “Family is so important.”
Was that some sort of message, a subtle judgment? “How about some more tea?” Michelle suggested. And more chocolate for me.
Another fifteen minutes and the text came in with Max and Warren on their way to pick up the girls, and forty minutes after that they were coming through the door, Shyla’s laugh echoing all the way out to the kitchen. “We’re here!” she called.
“Let the fun begin,” said Hazel, and the two women exchanged smiles and left the kitchen.
They got to the front hall in time to see Max heading up the stairs with the girls’ suitcases and Warren relieving them of their coats.
“Hi, Mom,” said Audrey and hurried to hug her mother.
Shyla was right behind her.
“Welcome home,” Michelle said to her girls, hugging first one, then the other. “It’s so good to have you home.”
“It’s not like we’ve been in a foreign country,” Shyla teased.
“You may as well be,” Michelle said. “And before you remind me how much we text and talk on the phone, it’s much better having you here in person where I can hug you.”
“Hugs are good,” Audrey agreed.
“We brought you chocolate,” Shyla said, handing over a gift bag.
Michelle knew what it was even before she looked inside. Yep, Ghirardelli straight from San Francisco.
“I know you can get it anywhere, but this is right from the source,” said Shyla.
More important, it was right from the heart.
“And you don’t have to share,” Audrey said. “We brought Dad some, too.”
Sharing with Dad. There was little enough she and Max shared anymore. “That was sweet of you.”
“We figured you might need it,” Audrey said.
Was she referring to Michelle’s troubled relationship with their father? No, couldn’t be.
“After last Thanksgiving,” Shyla added.
Michelle breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, they were talking about the power outage, which had ruined both the turkey and the pie she’d had in the oven.
The girls had loved it, settling in to play cards by candlelight. Michelle had been frustrated. And far from happy with her husband who’d said, “Chill, Chelle. It’s no big deal.”
It had been to her, but she’d eventually adjusted, lit the candles on the table and served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with olives and pickles and the fruit salad she’d made, along with the pie Hazel had brought. Hazel had declared the meal a success.
Max had said nothing encouraging. Of course.
“Oh, and this.” Shyla dug in the bag she was still carrying and pulled out a jar of peanut butter. “Just in case we have to eat peanut butter sandwiches again.”
Hazel chuckled. “You girls think of everything.”
“Yes, we do,” Audrey said, and from her capacious purse pulled out a box of crackers. “In case we run out of bread.”
“Now we’re set,” said Michelle and smiled. It was the first genuine smile she’d worn since the last time she’d been with the girls. It felt good.
“Oh, and I have something special for you, Gram,” Shyla said to Hazel. “It’s in my suitcase. Come on upstairs.”
Michelle started. She didn’t need Hazel seeing where the girls were staying and wondering why they were stuffed in the sewing room and not the other guest room. “Why don’t you bring it down here?” Michelle suggested.
“I should stir my stumps,” Hazel said and followed her granddaughter up the stairs.
Audrey fell in behind, and Michelle trailed after, her stomach starting to squirm. Suddenly she wasn’t so sure about that excuse she’d invented for changing her husband’s sleeping arrangements. But the excuse was going to have to do because she didn’t have time to think of anything better.
They passed the first bedroom at the top of the stairs, which had once been Audrey’s and had been serving as a guest room ever since she’d graduated from college and got her first apartment. It was where Warren and Hazel slept when they came to visit. Then came the second room, which had been Julia’s but was serving as Max’s new bedroom. The door was shut, hiding the evidence. Shyla reached for the doorknob.
“Not that room,” Michelle said quickly. “I have you girls together,” she said, leading to Shyla’s old room, which was serving as the sewing room. It still had a pullout bed in it for overflow sleeping when Michelle’s brother’s family came to stay. Bracing herself, she opened it, revealing the girls’ luggage sitting on the floor.
Audrey looked at Michelle, her brows pulled together. “We’re in the sewing room?”
“You girls don’t mind sharing a room, right?” Michelle said lightly.
“What happened to Julia’s old room?” Shyla asked.
“We’re not using that room for now,” Michelle hedged.
“More storage?” Shyla moved back down the hall and opened the door. “What the…”
“Your father’s sleeping there,” Michelle said. Hazel looked at her in surprise, igniting a fire in her cheeks.
“Dad?” Audrey repeated.
“He snores,” said Michelle. “Sleep apnea.”
“Sleep apnea,” Hazel repeated, trying out a foreign and unwanted word.
“Has he done a sleep test?” Audrey asked.
“Not yet,” said Michelle. She kept her gaze averted from her daughter’s eyes.
“Gosh, Mom, that’s a serious sleep disorder.”
“How come you didn’t tell us?” Shyla wanted to know.
“Is he getting a CPAP machine?” Audrey sounded ready to panic.
“Don’t worry. Everything’s under control,” Michelle lied. Audrey looked ready to keep probing so Michelle hustled to change the subject. “Shyla, what did your bring Gram?”
“Wait till you see it. It’s so cute,” Shyla said, hurrying to unzip her suitcase. “I found it in a thrift shop.”
“Still shopping smart. I’m proud of you,” Hazel said.
“I learned from the best—you and Mom.” She pulled out a little green stuffed felt cactus inserted in a miniature terra-cotta pot and surrounded by beach glass. “It’s a pin cushion,” she said as she presented it.
“That is darling,” said Hazel.
From where she stood by the doorway, Michelle let out a breath, then took another. Like a good magician performing sleight of hand, she had diverted attention to something else and pulled off her trick. Now you see trouble, now you don’t.
How long could she keep up the act?
Excerpted from The Road to Christmas by Sheila Roberts. Copyright © 2022 by Sheila Roberts. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.