Harlequin Trade Publishing Summer Blog Tour: Confessions From the Quilting Circle by Maisey Yates

CONFESSIONS FROM THE QUILTING CIRCLE
Author: Maisey Yates
ISBN: 9781335775856
Publication Date: 5/4/2021
Publisher: HQN Books

Where to Buy: 


Harlequin 
Indiebound
Amazon
Barnes & Noble 
Books-A-Million
Walmart
Google
iBooks
Kobo

Contact Maisey:


Author Website
Twitter: @maiseyyates
Facebook:@MaiseyYates.Author
Instagram: @maiseyyates
Goodreads

About the Author:

New York Times Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit. 

About the Book:

The Ashwood women don’t have much in common…except their ability to keep secrets.When Lark Ashwood’s beloved grandmother dies, she and her sisters discover an unfinished quilt. Finishing it could be the reason Lark’s been looking for to stop running from the past, but is she ever going to be brave enough to share her biggest secret with the people she ought to be closest to?Hannah can’t believe she’s back in Bear Creek, the tiny town she sacrificed everything to escape from. The plan? Help her sisters renovate her grandmother’s house and leave as fast as humanly possible. Until she comes face-to-face with a man from her past. But getting close to him again might mean confessing what really drove her away…Stay-at-home mom Avery has built a perfect life, but at a cost. She’ll need all her family around her, and all her strength, to decide if the price of perfection is one she can afford to keep paying.This summer, the Ashwood women must lean on each other like never before, if they are to stitch their family back together, one truth at a time…

Excerpt:

1
March 4th, 1944
The dress is perfect. Candlelight satin and antique lace. I can’t wait for you to see it. I can’t wait to walk down the aisle toward you. If only we could set a date. If only we had some idea of when the war will be over.
Love, Dot

Present day—Lark

Unfinished.
The word whispered through the room like a ghost. Over the faded, floral wallpaper, down to the scarred wooden floor. And to the precariously stacked boxes and bins of fabrics, yarn skeins, canvases and other artistic miscellany.
Lark Ashwood had to wonder if her grandmother had left them this way on purpose. Unfinished business here on earth, in the form of quilts, sweaters and paintings, to keep her spirit hanging around after she was gone.
It would be like her. Adeline Dowell did everything with just a little extra.
From her glossy red hair—which stayed that color till the day she died—to her matching cherry glasses and lipstick. She always had an armful of bangles, a beer in her hand and an ashtray full of cigarettes. She never smelled like smoke. She smelled like spearmint gum, Aqua Net and Avon perfume.
She had taught Lark that it was okay to be a little bit of extra.
A smile curved Lark’s lips as she looked around the attic space again. “Oh, Gram…this is really a mess.”
She had the sense that was intentional too. In death, as in life, her grandmother wouldn’t simply fade away.
Neat attics, well-ordered affairs and pre-death estate sales designed to decrease the clutter a family would have to go through later were for other women. Quieter women who didn’t want to be a bother.
Adeline Dowell lived to be a bother. To expand to fill a space, not shrinking down to accommodate anyone.
Lark might not consistently achieve the level of excess Gram had, but she considered it a goal.
“Lark? Are you up there?”
She heard her mom’s voice carrying up the staircase. “Yes!” She shouted back down. “I’m…trying to make sense of this.”
She heard footsteps behind her and saw her mom standing there, gray hair neat, arms folded in. “You don’t have to. We can get someone to come in and sort it out.”
“And what? Take it all to a thrift store?” Lark asked.
Her mom’s expression shifted slightly, just enough to convey about six emotions with no wasted effort. Emotional economy was Mary Ashwood’s forte. As contained and practical as Addie had been excessive. “Honey, I think most of this would be bound for the dump.”
“Mom, this is great stuff.”
“I don’t have room in my house for sentiment.”
“It’s not about sentiment. It’s usable stuff.”
“I’m not artsy, you know that. I don’t really…get all this.” The unspoken words in the air settled over Lark like a cloud.
Mary wasn’t artsy because her mother hadn’t been around to teach her to sew. To knit. To paint. To quilt.
Addie had taught her granddaughters. Not her own daughter.
She’d breezed on back into town in a candy apple Corvette when Lark’s oldest sister, Avery, was born, after spending Mary’s entire childhood off on some adventure or another, while Lark’s grandfather had done the raising of the kids.
Grandkids had settled her. And Mary had never withheld her children from Adeline. Whatever Mary thought about her mom was difficult to say. But then, Lark could never really read her mom’s emotions. When she’d been a kid, she hadn’t noticed that. Lark had gone around feeling whatever she did and assuming everyone was tracking right along with her because she’d been an innately self focused kid. Or maybe that was just kids.
Either way, back then badgering her mom into tea parties and talking her ear off without noticing Mary didn’t do much of her own talking had been easy.
It was only when she’d had big things to share with her mom that she’d realized…she couldn’t.
“It’s easy, Mom,” Lark said. “I’ll teach you. No one is asking you to make a living with art, art can be about enjoying the process.”
“I don’t enjoy doing things I’m bad at.”
“Well I don’t want Gram’s stuff going to a thrift store, okay?”
Another shift in Mary’s expression. A single crease on one side of her mouth conveying irritation, reluctance and exhaustion. But when she spoke she was measured. “If that’s what you want. This is as much yours as mine.”
It was a four-way split. The Dowell House and all its contents, and The Miner’s House, formerly her grandmother’s candy shop, to Mary Ashwood, and her three daughters. They’d discovered that at the will reading two months earlier.
It hadn’t caused any issues in the family. They just weren’t like that.
Lark’s uncle Bill had just shaken his head. “She feels guilty.”
And that had been the end of any discussion, before any had really started. They were all like their father that way. Quiet. Reserved. Opinionated and expert at conveying it without saying much.
Big loud shouting matches didn’t have a place in the Dowell family.
But Addie had been there for her boys. They were quite a bit older than Lark’s mother. She’d left when the oldest had been eighteen. The youngest boy sixteen.
Mary had been four.
Lark knew her mom felt more at home in the middle of a group of men than she did with women. She’d been raised in a house of men. With burned dinners and repressed emotions.
Lark had always felt like her mother had never really known what to make of the overwhelmingly female household she’d ended up with.
“It’s what I want. When is Hannah getting in tonight?”

Hannah, the middle child, had moved to Boston right after college, getting a position in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She had the summer off of concerts and had decided to come to Bear Creek to finalize the plans for their inherited properties before going back home.
Once Hannah had found out when she could get time away from the symphony, Lark had set her own plans for moving into motion. She wanted to be here the whole time Hannah was here, since for Hannah, this wouldn’t be permanent.
But Lark wasn’t going back home. If her family agreed to her plan, she was staying here.
Which was not something she’d ever imagined she’d do.
Lark had gone to college across the country, in New York, at eighteen and had spent years living everywhere but here. Finding new versions of herself in new towns, new cities, whenever the urge took her.
Unfinished.
“Sometime around five-ish? She said she’d get a car out here from the airport. I reminded her that isn’t the easiest thing to do in this part of the world. She said something about it being in apps now. I didn’t laugh at her.”
Lark laughed, though. “She can rent a car.”
Lark hadn’t lived in Bear Creek since she was eighteen, but she hadn’t been under the impression there was a surplus of ride services around the small, rural community. If you were flying to get to Bear Creek, you had to fly into Medford, which was about eighteen miles from the smaller town. Even if you could find a car, she doubted the driver would want to haul anyone out of town.
But her sister wouldn’t be told anything. Hannah made her own way, something Lark could relate to. But while she imagined herself drifting along like a tumbleweed, she imagined Hannah slicing through the water like a shark. With intent, purpose, and no small amount of sharpness.
“Maybe I should arrange something.”
“Mom. She’s a professional symphony musician who’s been living on her own for fourteen years. I’m pretty sure she can cope.”
“Isn’t the point of coming home not having to cope for a while? Shouldn’t your mom handle things?” Mary was a doer. She had never been the one to sit and chat. She’d loved for Lark to come out to the garden with her and work alongside her in the flower beds, or bake together. “You’re not in New Mexico anymore. I can make you cookies without worrying they’ll get eaten by rats in the mail.”
Lark snorted. “I don’t think there are rats in the mail.”
“It doesn’t have to be real for me to worry about it.”
And there was something Lark had inherited directly from her mother. “That’s true.”
That and her love of chocolate chip cookies, which her mom made the very best. She could remember long afternoons at home with her mom when she’d been little, and her sisters had been in school. They’d made cookies and had iced tea, just the two of them.
Cooking had been a self-taught skill her mother had always been proud of. Her recipes were hers. And after growing up eating “chicken with blood” and beanie weenies cooked by her dad, she’d been pretty determined her kids would eat better than that.
Something Lark had been grateful for.
And Mom hadn’t minded if she’d turned the music up loud and danced in some “dress up clothes”—an oversized prom dress from the ’80s and a pair of high heels that were far too big, purchased from a thrift store. Which Hannah and Avery both declared “annoying” when they were home.

Her mom hadn’t understood her, Lark knew that. But Lark had felt close to her back then in spite of it.
The sound of the door opening and closing came from downstairs. “Homework is done, dinner is in the Crock-Pot. I think even David can manage that.”
The sound of her oldest sister Avery’s voice was clear, even from a distance. Lark owed that to Avery’s years of motherhood, coupled with the fact that she—by choice—fulfilled the role of parent liaison at her kids’ exclusive private school, and often wrangled children in large groups. Again, by choice.
Lark looked around the room one last time and walked over to the stack of crafts. There was an old journal on top of several boxes that look like they might be overflowing with fabric, along with some old Christmas tree ornaments, and a sewing kit. She grabbed hold of them all before walking to the stairs, turning the ornaments over and letting the silver stars catch the light that filtered in through the stained glass window.
Her mother was already ahead of her, halfway down the stairs by the time Lark got to the top of them. She hadn’t seen Avery yet since she’d arrived. She loved her older sister. She loved her niece and nephew. She liked her brother-in-law, who did his best not to be dismissive of the fact that she made a living drawing pictures. Okay, he kind of annoyed her. But still, he was fine. Just… A doctor. A surgeon, in fact, and bearing all of the arrogance that stereotypically implied.
One of the saddest things about living away for as long as she had was that she’d missed her niece’s and nephew’s childhoods. She saw them at least once a year, but it never felt like enough. And now they were teenagers, and a lot less cute.
And then there was Avery, who had always been somewhat untouchable. Four years older than Lark, Avery was a classic oldest child. A people pleasing perfectionist. She was organized and she was always neat and orderly. And even though the gap between thirty-four and thirty-eight was a lot narrower than twelve and sixteen, sometimes Lark still felt like the gawky adolescent to Avery’s sweet sixteen.
But maybe if they shared in a little bit of each other’s day-to-day it would close some of that gap she felt between them.

Excerpted from Confessions From the Quilting Circle by Maisey Yates, Copyright © 2021 by Maisey Yates. Published by HQN Books.



Harlequin Summer Reads Blog Tour: The Last Wife by Karen Hamilton

THE LAST WIFE

Author: Karen Hamilton

ISBN: 9781525831744

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher: Graydon House Books

Buy Links:

Harlequin

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Books-A-Million

Powell’s

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @KJHAuthor

Instagram: @karenhamiltonauthor

Facebook: @KarenHamiltonWriter

Goodreads

About the Author:

Karen Hamilton spent her childhood in Angola, Zimbabwe, Belgium and Italy and worked as a flight attendant for many years. Karen is a recent graduate of the Faber Academy and, having now put down roots in Hampshire to raise her young family with her husband, she satisfies her wanderlust by exploring the world through her writing. She is also the author of the international bestseller The Perfect Girlfriend.

About the Book:

In Karen Hamilton’s shocking thriller, THE LAST WIFE (Graydon House, July 7, $17.99) Marie Langham is distraught when her childhood friend, Nina, is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Before Nina passes away, she asks Marie to look out for her family—her son, daughter, and husband, Stuart. Marie would do anything for Nina, so of course, she agrees.

Following Nina’s death, Marie gradually finds herself drawn into her friend’s life—her family, her large house in the countryside. But when Camilla, a mutual friend from their old art-college days, suddenly reappears, Marie begins to suspect that she has a hidden agenda. Then, Marie discovers that Nina had long suppressed secrets about a holiday in Ibiza the women took ten years previously when Marie’s then-boyfriend went missing after a tragic accident and was later found dead.

Marie used to envy Nina’s beautiful life, but now the cards are up in the air and she begins to realize that nothing is what it seemed. As long-buried secrets start surfacing, Marie must figure out what’s true and who she can trust before the consequences of Nina’s dark secrets destroy her.

My Review:

Karen Hamilton is a new publisher to me as I haven’t yet got a copy of The Perfect Girlfriend.
The plot sounded great. Two women. A dying wish and a web of lies. I was intrigued.
What would you do if your best friend was suddenly diagnosed with a terminal illness? How would you feel? Then, what if she asked you to fulfill her dying wishes?

That’s exactly the situation Nina was in when she asked Marie to fulfil her wishes.
But Marie wants Nina’s life and she’ll do whatever she has to to get it.
Marie feels she is self-sufficient in being able to carry out Nina’s wishes. But will she get her way or more than she bargained for?
I was so excited at the start of this. But unfortunately the pace was too slow and I wasn’t as hooked as I hoped I’d be. I didn’t feel like I could feel, or root, for any of the characters and I have many thrillers I absolutely loved because the writing and plot twists meant I was compelled to do so.
Unfortunately, I came away disappointed with this one. Despite the premise, it was not a thriller that sucked me in and kept me there. And I usually love a Harlequin!
Thanks to Karen Hamilton and Harlequin/Graydon House Books for my ARC in exchange for an honest and voluntary review.
I’ll try The Perfect Girlfriend.
3.5 stars
PROLOGUE

Clients trust me because I blend in. It’s a natural skill—my gift, if you like. I focus my lens and capture stories, like the ones unfolding tonight: natural and guarded expressions, self-conscious poses, joyous smiles, reluctant ones from a teenage bridesmaid, swathed in silver and bloodred. The groom is an old friend, yet I’ve only met his now-wife twice. She seems reserved, hard to get to know, but in their wedding album she’ll glow. The camera does lie. My role is to take these lies and spin them into the perfect story.

I take a glass of champagne from a passing server. I needn’t be totally on the ball during the latter half of the evening because by then, people naturally loosen up. I find that the purest details are revealed in the discreet pictures I snatch during the final hours, however innocuously an event starts. And besides, it seems this event is winding down.

The one downside of my job is the mixed bag of emotions evoked. I rarely take family photos anymore, so normally, I’m fine, but today, watching the wedding festivities, the longing for what I don’t have has crept up on me. People think that envy is a bad thing, but in my opinion, envy is a positive emotion. It has always been the best indicator for me to realize what’s wrong with my life. People say, “Follow your dreams,” yet I’d say, “Follow what makes you sick with envy.”

It’s how I knew that I must stop deceiving myself and face up to how desperately I wanted to have a child. Delayed gratification is overrated.

I place my camera on a table as the tempo eases and sit down on a satin-draped chair. As I watch the bride sweep across the dance floor with her new husband, I think of Nina, and an overwhelming tide of grief floods through me. I picture her haunted expression when she elicited three final promises from me: two are easy to keep, one is not. Nonetheless, a vow is a vow. I will be creative and fulfill it. I have a bad—yet tempting—idea which occasionally beckons me toward a slippery slope.

I must do my best to avoid it because when Nina passed the baton to me, she thought I was someone she could trust. However, as my yearning grows, the crushing disappointment increases every month and the future I crave remains elusive. And she didn’t know that I’d do anything to get what I want. Anything.

ONE

Ben isn’t at home. I used to panic when that happened, assume that he was unconscious in a burning building, his oxygen tank depleted, his colleagues unable to reach him. All this, despite his assurance that they have safety checks in place to keep an eye out for each other. He’s been stressed lately, blames it on work. He loves his job as a firefighter, but nearly lost one of his closest colleagues in a fire on the fourth floor of a block of flats recently when a load of wiring fell down and threatened to ensnare him.

No, the reality is that he is punishing me. He doesn’t have a shift today. I understand his hurt, but it’s hard to explain why I did what I did. For a start, I didn’t think that people actually sent out printed wedding invitations anymore. If I’d known that the innocuous piece of silver card smothered in horseshoes and church bells would be the ignition for the worst argument we’d ever had, I wouldn’t have opened it in his presence.

Marie Langham plus guest…

I don’t know what annoyed Ben more, the fact that he wasn’t deemed important enough to be named or that I said I was going alone.

“I’m working,” I tried to explain. “The invitation is obviously a kind formality, a politeness.”

“All this is easily rectifiable,” he said. “If you wanted me there, you wouldn’t have kept me in the dark. The date was blocked off as work months ago in our calendar.”

True. But I couldn’t admit it. He wouldn’t appreciate being called a distraction.

Now, I have to make it up to him because it’s the right time of the month. He hates what he refers to as enforced sex (too much pressure), and any obvious scene-setting like oyster-and-champagne dinners, new lingerie, an invitation to join me in the shower or even a simple suggestion that we just shag, all the standard methods annoy him. It’s hard to believe that other couples have this problem, it makes me feel inadequate.

One of our cats bursts through the flap and aims for her bowl. I observe her munching, oblivious to my return home until this month’s strategy presents itself to me: nonchalance. A part of Ben’s stress is that he thinks I’m obsessed with having a baby. I told him to look up the true meaning of the word: an unhealthy interest in something. It’s not an obsession to desire something perfectly normal.

I unpack, then luxuriate in a steaming bath filled with bubbles. I’m a real sucker for the sales promises: relax and unwind and revitalize. I hear the muffled sound of a key in the lock. It’s Ben—who else would it be—yet I jump out and wrap a towel around me. He’s not alone. I hear the voices of our neighbors, Rob and Mike. He’s brought in reinforcements to maintain the barrier between us. There are two ways for me to play this and if you can’t beat them…

I dress in jeans and a T-shirt, twist my hair up and grip it with a hair clip, wipe mascara smudges from beneath my eyes and head downstairs.

“You’re back,” says Ben by way of a greeting. “The guys have come over for a curry.”

“Sounds perfect,” I say, kissing him before hugging our friends hello.

I feel smug at the wrong-footed expression on Ben’s face. He thought I’d be unable to hide my annoyance, that I’d pull him to one side and whisper, “It’s orange,” (the color my fertility app suggests is the perfect time) or suggest that I cook instead so I can ensure he eats as organically as possible.

“Who’s up for margaritas?” I say with an I’m game for a big night smile.

Ben’s demeanor visibly softens. Result. I’m forgiven.

The whole evening is an effortless success.

Indifference and good, old-fashioned getting pissed works.

Excerpted from The Last Wife by Karen Hamilton, Copyright © 2020 by Karen Hamilton

Published by Graydon House Books

Harlequin Summer Blog Tour: She’s Faking It by Kristin Rockaway

She’s Faking It by Ktistin Rockaway

FICTION/Romance/Contemporary  

Trade Paperback | Graydon House Books

On Sale: 6/30/2020 

978152580464

$15.99

$19.99 CAN

 

About the Book:

You can’t put a filter on reality.
Bree Bozeman isn’t exactly pursuing the life of her dreams. Then again, she isn’t too sure what those dreams are. After dropping out of college, she’s living a pretty chill life in the surf community of Pacific Beach, San Diego…if “chill” means delivering food as a GrubGetter, and if it means “uneventful”.
But when Bree starts a new Instagram account — @breebythesea — one of her posts gets a signal boost from none other than wildly popular self-help guru Demi DiPalma, owner of a lifestyle brand empire. Suddenly, Bree just might be a rising star in the world of Instagram influencing. Is this the direction her life has been lacking? It’s not a career choice she’d ever seriously considered, but maybe it’s a sign from the universe. After all, Demi’s the real deal… right?
Everything is lining up for Bree: life goals, career, and even a blossoming romance with the chiseled guy next door, surf star Trey Cantu. But things are about to go sideways fast, and even the perfect filter’s not gonna fix it. Instagram might be free, but when your life looks flawless on camera, what’s the cost?

 

About the Author:

Kristin Rockaway is a native New Yorker with an insatiable case of wanderlust. After working in the IT industry for far too many years, she traded the city for the surf and chased her dreams out to Southern California, where she spends her days happily writing stories instead of software. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, and planning her next big vacation.

My Review:

Meet Bree Bozeman: A college dropout living in the town of Pacific Beach California (or PB to locals), she earns a meager living working as a driver for a fast food chain. All she has to her name is a studio apartment over a garage round the back of a triplex. And let’s not forget a failed relationship. 
In complete contrast to her sister Natasha, she feels like she has not accomplished much at all. She wants more- much more. 
When a random chat with her starts to make her see sense, she decides to ditch the job, car (which is dead anyway) and fight to get bavk on her feet. She considers some options but they don’t convince her. 
There’s the distraction of the beautiful, modern blue house next door. But it’s an Airbnb rental. Her fantasies about being the owner keep her safe from the reality of her own life. 
She wonders when a change is going to come. What it’ll take to turn her life around.
Then she meets Trey, a famous surfer dude. The way they meet is imaginative and there’s some drama there, too which made me fear for Bree and hope things would be OK. 
The part I found slightly predictable and I saw coming was that he’s the owner of Bree’s dream property, so it’s bye bye to her fantasies over that. The way she found out that he was was verr realistic and true to life as well as well woven in. 
The whole atmosphere of Pacific Beach was well created and I just wanted to go there. 
Another original aspect of this book is that, for once, the neighborhood is not completely moneyed and the characters are not dripping in wealth (although I have some books in which this was done especially well and they are amongst my all time favourites). 
From the word go, I felt invested and interested in Bree’s story, her life and her fate as well as what was going to happen with hwr relationships (sister, friend ex and Trey). 
She had a lot against her, but also more going for her than she realized at first. And the moment she does realize is beautiful. I felt proud of her. 
When circumstances conspire to have her creating an Instagram account — @breebythesea — one of self-help guru Demi DiPalma, owner of a lifestyle brand empire gets wind of what has happened. Bree has Demi’s book, but is Demi really the guru she claims to be? 
Suddenly, Bree’s life has done a complete 360° turn- but is it in the right direction and will it stay that way? Or is the happiness she feels too good to be true? 
A beautiful book about how big things can happen from humble beginnings. It’s about love, friendship falling in and out of love starting afresh and figuring out who is really there for you through life’s ups and downs. Fast-paced yet relaxing with a realistic setting and characters that make you care what happens to them. 
In short, it is really about the persuit of happiness. And how sometimes you have to fake it to make it even though that is not what you thought you’d have to do…..
She’s Faking it is the second Kristin Rockaway novel I have in my Kindle library. I want to get all her books. 
I think She’s Faking It will appear to teen and adult readers alike and you’ll like it whether you enjoy women’s fiction, romance or the surfing culture. 
Oh, and I loved the mention of horchata in this novel- it’s one of my favorite summer drinks so that scene captured my heart. Very original choice of drink. My congratulations to Kristin for that and on a completely perfect summer novel. I think this is great year-round too. I’d also recommend it as a beach read.
Thanks to Kristin Rockaway and publisher for my ARC in exchange for an honest and voluntary review.
5 stars.

 

Contact Kristin:

Home

 Facebook: /KristinRockaway

Twitter: @KristinRockaway

Instagram: @KristinRockway
 
 

SOCIAL LINKS:

Home

 Facebook: /KristinRockaway

Twitter: @KristinRockaway

Instagram: @KristinRockway

BUY LINKS:

Harlequin

Amazon

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

Google Play

IndieBound

Kobo

Where to Buy :

Harlequin

Amazon

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

Google Play

IndieBound

Kobo

From Chapter Two

“Don’t these books make your purse really heavy? There’s gotta be some app where you can store all this information.”

“Studies show you’re more likely to remember things you’ve written by hand, with physical pen and paper.” She reached across my lap and opened the glove compartment, removing a notebook with an antiqued photograph of a vintage luxury car printed on the cover. “For example, this is my auto maintenance log. Maybe if you’d kept one of these, like I told you to, we wouldn’t be in this predicament right now.”

I loved Natasha, I really did. She was responsible and generous, and without her I’d likely be far worse off than I already was, which was a horrifying thought to consider. But at times like this, I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake the shit out of her.

“A maintenance log wouldn’t have helped me.”

“Yes, it would have. Organization is about more than decluttering your home. It’s about decluttering your mind. Making lists, keeping records—these are all ways to help you get your life in order. If you’d had a maintenance log, this problem wouldn’t have caught you off guard in the middle of your delivery shift. You’d have seen it coming, and—”

“I saw it coming.”

“What?”

“This didn’t catch me off guard. The check engine light came on two weeks ago.” Or maybe it was three.

“Then why didn’t you take it to the mechanic?” She blinked, genuinely confused. Everything was so cut-and dried with her. When a car needed to be serviced, of course you called the mechanic.

That is, if you could afford to pay the repair bill.

Fortunately, she put two and two together without making me say it out loud. “Oh,” she murmured, then bit her lip. I could almost hear the squeak and clank of wheels turning in her head as she tried to piece together the solution to this problem. No doubt it included me setting up a journal or logbook of some sort, though we both knew that would be pointless. The last time she’d tried to set me up with a weekly budget planner, I gave up on day two, when I realized I could GrubGetter around the clock for the rest of my life and still never make enough money to get current on the payments for my student loans. You know, for that degree I’d never finished.

But Natasha was a determined problem solver. It said so in her business bio: “Natasha DeAngelis, Certified Professional Organizer®, is a determined problem solver with a passion for sorting, purging, arranging, and containerizing.” My life was a perpetual mess, and though she couldn’t seem to be able to clean it up, that didn’t stop her from trying. Over and over and over again.

“I’ll pay for the repairs,” she said.

“No.” I shook my head, fending off the very big part of me that wanted to say yes. “I can’t take any money from you.”

“It’s fine,” she said. “Business is booming. I’ve got so much work right now that I’ve actually had to turn clients away. And ever since Al introduced that new accelerated orthodontic treatment, his office has been raking it in. We can afford to help you.”

“I know.” Obviously, my sister and her family weren’t hurting for cash. Aside from her wildly successful organizing business, her husband, Al, ran his own orthodontics practice. They owned a four-bedroom house, leased luxury cars, and took triannual vacations to warm, sunny places like Maui and Tulum. They had a smart fridge in their kitchen that was undoubtedly worth more than my nonfunctioning car.

But my sister wasn’t a safety net, and I needed to stop treating her like one. She’d already done so much for me. More than any big sister should ever have to do.

“I just can’t,” I said.

“Well, do you really have any other choice?” There was an edge to Natasha’s voice now. “If you don’t have a car, how are you going to work?”

“I’ll figure something out.” The words didn’t sound very convincing, even to my own ears. For the past four years, all I’d done was deliver food. I had no other marketable skills, no references, no degree.

I was a massive failure.

Tears pooled in my eyes. Natasha sighed again.

“Look,” she said, “maybe it’s time to admit you need to come up with a solid plan for your life. You’ve been in a downward spiral ever since Rob left.”

She had a point. I’d never been particularly stable, but things got a whole lot worse seven months earlier, when my live-in ex-boyfriend, Rob, had abruptly announced he was ending our three-year relationship, quitting his job, and embarking on an immersive ayahuasca retreat in the depths of the Peruvian Amazon.

“I’ve lost my way,” he’d said, his eyes bloodshot from too many hits on his vape pen. “The Divine Mother Shakti at the Temple of Eternal Light can help me find myself again.”

“What?” I’d been incredulous. “Where is this coming from?”

He’d unearthed a book from beneath a pile of dirty clothes on our bed and handed it to me—Psychedelic Healers: An Exploratory Journey of the Soul, by Shakti Rebecca Rubinstein.

“What is this?”

“It’s the book that changed my life,” he’d said. “I’m ready for deep growth. New energy.”

Then he’d moved his belongings to a storage unit off the side of the I-8, and left me to pay the full cost of our monthly rent and utilities on my paltry GrubGetter income.

I told myself this situation was only temporary, that Rob would return as soon as he realized that hallucinating in the rainforest wasn’t going to lead him to some higher consciousness. But I hadn’t heard from him since he took off on that direct flight from LAX to Lima. At this point, it was probably safe to assume he was never coming back.

Which was probably for the best. It’s not exactly like Rob was Prince Charming or anything. But being with him was better than being alone. At least I’d had someone to split the bills with.

“Honestly,” she continued, “I can’t stand to see you so miserable anymore. Happiness is a choice, Bree. Choose happy.”

Of all Natasha’s pithy sayings, “Choose happy” was the one I hated most. It was printed on the back of her business cards in faux brush lettering, silently accusing each potential client of being complicit in their own misery. If they paid her to clean out their closets, though, they could apparently experience unparalleled joy.

“That’s bullshit, and you know it.”

She scowled. “It is not.”

“It is, actually. Shitty things happen all the time and we have no choice in the matter. I didn’t choose to be too broke to fix my car. I work really hard, but this job doesn’t pay well. And I didn’t choose for Rob to abandon me to go find himself in the Amazon, either. He made that choice for us.”

I almost mentioned the shittiest thing that had ever happened to Natasha or to me, a thing neither of us had chosen. But I stopped myself before the words rolled off my lips. This evening was bad enough without rehashing the details of our mother’s death.

“Sometimes things happen to us that are beyond our control,” Natasha said, her voice infuriatingly calm. “But we can control how we react to it. Focus on what you can control. And it does no good to dwell on the past, either. Don’t look back, Bree—”

“Because that’s not where you’re going. Yes, I know. You’ve said that before.” About a thousand times.

She took a deep breath, most likely to prepare for a lengthy lecture on why it’s important to stay positive and productive in the face of adversity, but then a large tow truck lumbered onto the cul-de-sac and she got out of the car to flag him down.

Grateful for the interruption, I ditched the casserole on her dashboard and walked over to where the driver had double-parked alongside my car.

“What’s the problem?” he asked, hopping down from the cab.

“It won’t start,” I said, to which Natasha quickly followed up with, “The check engine light came on several weeks ago, but the car has not been serviced yet.”

He grunted and popped the hood, one thick filthy hand stroking his braided beard as he surveyed the engine. Another grunt, then he asked for the keys and tried to start it, only to hear the same sad click and whine as before.

“It’s not the battery.” He leaned his head out of the open door. “When was the last time you changed your timing belt?”

“Uh… I don’t know.”

Natasha shook her head and mouthed, Maintenance log! in my direction but I pretended not to see.

The driver got out and slammed the hood shut. “Well, this thing is hosed.”

“Hosed?” My heart thrummed in my chest. “What does that mean? It can’t be fixed?”

He shrugged, clearly indifferent to my crisis-in-progress. “Can’t say for sure. Your mechanic can take a closer look and let you know. Where do you want me to tow it?”

I pulled out my phone to look up the address of the mechanic near my apartment down in Pacific Beach. But Natasha answered before I could google it up.

“Just take it to Encinitas Auto Repair,” she said. “It’s on Second and F.”

“You got it,” he said, then retreated to his truck to fiddle with some chains.

Natasha avoided my gaze. Instead, she focused on calling a guy named Jerry, who presumably worked at this repair shop, and told him to expect “a really old Civic that’s in rough shape,” making sure to specify, “It’s not mine, it’s my sister’s.”

I knew she was going to pay for the repairs. It made me feel icky, taking yet another handout from my big sister. But ultimately, she was right. What other choice did I have?

The two of us stayed quiet while the driver finished hooking up my car. After he’d towed it away down the cul-desac and out of sight, Natasha turned to me. “Do you want to come over? Izzy’s got piano lessons in fifteen minutes, you can hear how good she is now.”

Even though I did miss my niece, there was nothing I wanted to do more than go home, tear off these smelly clothes, and cry in solitude. “I’ll take a rain check. Thanks again for coming to get me.”

“Of course.” She started poking at her phone screen. A moment later, she said, “Your Lyft will be here in four minutes. His name is Neil. He drives a black Sentra.” A quick kiss on my cheek and she was hustling back to her SUV.

As I watched Natasha drive away, I wished—not for the first time—that I could be more like her: competent, organized, confident enough in my choices to believe I could choose to be happy. Sometimes I felt like she had twenty years on me, instead of only six. So maybe instead of complaining, I should’ve started taking her advice.

 

Excerpted from She’s Faking It by Kristin Rockaway, Copyright © 2020 by Allison Amini. Published by Graydon House Books.

 

Blog Tour: That Summer in Maine by Brianna Wolfson

THAT SUMMER IN MAINEBy Brianna Wolfson

On Sale: June 23, 2020

MIRA

CONTEMPORARY FICTION/Sisters/Family/WomensFriendship/MothersandDaughters

978-0778351238; 0778351238

$16.99 USD

320 pages

 

About the Book

 

A novel about mothers and daughters, about taking chances, about exploding secrets and testing the boundaries of family

 

Years ago, during a certain summer in Maine, two young women, unaware of each other, met a charismatic man at a craft fair and each had a brief affair with him. For Jane it was a chance to bury her recent pain in raw passion and redirect her life. For Susie it was a fling that gave her troubled marriage a way forward.

 

Now, sixteen years later, the family lives these women have made are suddenly upended when their teenage girls meet as strangers on social media. They concoct a plan to spend the summer in Maine with the man who is their biological father. Their determination puts them on a collision course with their mothers, who must finally meet and acknowledge their shared past and join forces as they risk losing their only daughters to a man they barely know.

 

About the author

 

Brianna Wolfson is a New York native living in San Francisco. Her narrative nonfiction has been featured on Medium, Upworthy and The Moth. She buys a lottery ticket every Friday.

 

Social Links:
Goodreads
 

Q: What message do you hope readers take away from That Summer in Maine?

A: I hope readers consider, and reconsider, the role of blood in their relationships to their family.

Q: What’s the story behind the story/how you came to write this novel?

A: I come from a mixed family and feel that it is an extremely important part of my identity. As a result, I find myself talking to a lot of people about their family setup and experiences play a role in their identity. Through those conversions, I learned just how many people have non-blood immediate family members and wanted to tell a story that reflected a different flavor of family structure.

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

A: Every morning! It’s just like going to the gym; the more you write, the easier it gets and the more you can do.

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

A: I think every character has a little bit of every writer in them. Same is true here!

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

A: I’m considering something non-fiction, actually. To my response above, I really enjoy hearing about people’s lived family experiences and hope I can do something with those kinds of stories one day.

Q: Why Maine?

A: Maine is a magical place. It has so much physical beauty (especially the lakes and trees in the summer) while also having some mystique. I thought it was a ripe setting for an adventure.

Q: What would you do if you discovered a sibling you never knew you had?

A: Give them a big hug and welcome them to my already wacky family.

My Review: 

Everyone loves a nostalgic story set in summer. I adore the cover of this book. 

When two young women who don’t know each other at all, meet Silas Box at a craft fair in Maine, they are each drawn to him. 
Jane Box is on a quest to bury recent pain. Married to Cam and the mother of baby boys, she also has a daughter. Hazel is 16 and feels pushed out. She and her mum are everything to each other but not to the extent they once were since the revent additions to the family. 
Hazel is helpful and respectful but also just wants to be a teenager. She dreams of doing her own thimg. Of one day moving away. 
When Hazel and Eve meet on social media, they plan to meet in Maine to spend time with their biological father, Silas Box. Hazel feels detatched from her life with her mum, Cam and the babies although she loves her mum and baby brothers. She needs out. 
I was drawn to the complexity of the synopsis and was rooting for Hazel. Jane does some soul searching of her own bout her place in Hazel’s Cam’s and her baby boys’ lives. Silas makes Jane uneasy but she also had a history with him (and Hazel). How does she cope with everything? 
Susie, Eve’s mum, also met, and fell in love with Silas. How will it go when the two mothers meet? 
That Summer in Maine had me feeling anxious one minute, sad or happy the next. I felt frustration at Cam and Silas, and also saw Jane’s point of view as Hazel’s mum: wanting to protect her, but also needing to let go and allow her to forge her own path. 
Susie and Eve had similar issues but I felt that Jane and Hazel had a slightly stronger mother-daughter bond than they did. 
Maine is a state that I have visited and the title image and cover elicited those memories. 
This novel has it all: heartbreak, suspense surprising reveals twists and turns. There are pkenty of tender moments and Brianna Wolfson has a talent for combining all this that made me devour the book. I smiled, and even was close to tears in some parts. 
That Summer in Maine is about mothers- daughter relationships, lost and found relationships small-town life taking chances exploding secrets and testing family boundaries. Above all, it is the kind of gritty emotionally powerful novel that made me question every character and madr me think “who can you really trust?” 
It is very tender though too. 
I was rooting for morhers and daughters, loved Hazel and Eve. And the baby boys were cute. A winning, realistic cast of characters. 
Thanks to Brianna Wolfson and MIRA Books for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
5 sparkling stars. A completely engrossing novel. 
Brianna’s debut is on my TBR list.

Where to Buy:

 Amazon (US)

B&N
Indiebound
Books-a-Million
Apple iBooks

 Google Play

Excerpted from That Summer in Maine by Brianna Wolfson © 2020 by Brianna Wolfson, used with permission by MIRA books.

 

ONE YEAR AGO

All mothers wish a perfect love story upon their daughters. The wish that their daughters will grow up wrapped in love and that one day they will go on to wrap others in love. They wish for their love to be simple and pure and uncomplicated.

As a single mother, Jane did everything she could to uphold that perfect love for her daughter, Hazel. At least, she’d tried.

Today, Jane gave birth to twin boys with a man she had recently fallen in love with and married. In the postbirthing haze, Jane could taste the salt on her upper lip where her sweat was now dried. The fiery heat deep within her body was starting to subside and her spine still felt sore and twisted. Jane held one twin against her bare chest while the other was tucked into the crease of her husband Cam’s arm. Jane motioned for him to come closer and embrace the start of their family. “I love you,” she said and kissed him and then the two babies gently. She looked up to see if she could find her daughter. The back of Hazel’s shoulder was just visible in the doorway as she stood cross-armed, looking away from the room. Hazel, at fourteen years old, looked both young and old for her age all at once standing there.

“Come in, honey, and meet your brothers,” Jane said gently.

Hazel turned around slowly, her black hair like a veil in front of her eyes. She shuffled toward her mother without lifting her feet and leaned over her bed. Jane brought her free arm up toward Hazel’s face and tucked her daughter’s hair behind her ear, revealing her eyes of different colors. Her lashes were damp, and her eyes—one green and one hazel—were clear and dewy. A mother can always tell when her child has been crying. Jane leaned over to kiss Hazel’s cheek, but her sudden movement startled her newborn, who let out a brief wail that ended when Jane returned her body to its original position.

Hazel’s shoulders fell. Hazel wanted that kiss. Perhaps needed it.

“Meet your brother Griffin,” Jane whispered to Hazel, tilting her arm ever so slightly so that her daughter could see her brother’s face. “And that’s Trevor over there.” Cam took a few steps toward Hazel and smiled with pride.

“I thought we were going to name him August,” Hazel challenged.

Jane chuckled.

“Last-minute change. Give them both a big kiss, big sis.”

Hazel rolled her eyes and placed her lips on each baby and then huffed out of the room without another word. To Jane, her family finally felt full. But she could tell that for Hazel, something had emptied.

In her happiness of sharing this moment with Cam and welcoming her two new healthy babies, Jane had neglected to consider the impact on Hazel’s perfect love story. Cam came over and kissed her forehead.

“I love this family,” he said.

Jane let that sink in. Deep. And then wondered if he was including Hazel in his definition of family. And couldn’t deny a shift within her own heart. It had expanded and made room for two more babies. And these two new sons deserved their own pure, simple, uncomplicated love story. And Jane would give it to them wholeheartedly. She felt resolute and focused about it.

Indeed, she forgot to wonder what it would mean for Hazel’s happiness. For her sense of family and her sense of self.

 

 

Harlequin Summer Blog Tour: The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season 

ISBN: 9781525804557

Publication Date: June 6, 2020

Publisher: Graydon House Books

 

 

About the Author: 

Molly Fader is the author of The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets. She is also the award-winning author of more than forty romance novels under the pennames Molly O’Keefe and M. O’Keefe. She grew up outside of Chicago and now lives in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter, @mollyokwrites.

 

About the Book:

For fans of Robyn Carr, commercial women’s fiction about three generations of women who come together at the family orchard to face secrets from the past and learn to believe in the power of hope and forgiveness.

 

In cherry season, anything is possible…
Everything Hope knows about the Orchard House is from her late-mother’s stories. So when she arrives at the Northern Michigan family estate late one night with a terrible secret and her ten-year-old daughter in tow, she’s not sure if she’ll be welcomed or turned away with a shotgun by the aunt she has never met.
Hope’s aunt, Peg, has lived in the Orchard House all her life, though the property has seen better days. She agrees to take Hope in if, in exchange, Hope helps with the cherry harvest—not exactly Hope’s specialty, but she’s out of options. As Hope works the orchard alongside her aunt, daughter, and a kind man she finds increasingly difficult to ignore, a new life begins to blossom. But the mistakes of the past are never far behind, and soon the women will find themselves fighting harder than ever for their family roots and for each other.

 

SOCIAL:

Author Website: http://mollyfader.com/

TWITTER: @MollyOKwrites

FB: @MollyFader

Insta: @mokeefeauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18435981.Molly_Fader

Q&A with Molly Fader

Q: What message do you hope readers take away from The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season?

A: Oh wow! So many! I hope they think about about the power of memory in their own lives. That memories are what make us – good and bad. Mothers are fallible in a million ways and most are just trying their best. Grace and forgiveness feel better than resentment. When times are tough – get yourself some chocolate cherry brioche? 🙂

Q: What’s the story behind the story/how you came to write this novel?

A: Well, the opening scene literally just arrived in my head. Mom with a dead cell phone driving through the dark dark Michigan night. She’s absolutely out of options. Her daughter isn’t speaking to her. And she’s been beaten up.

As far as opening scenes go it’s one of my absolute favorites. Women out of options, out of pride, trying SO HARD to do the next thing… I love it.  

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

A: I wake up early, make the coffee and go. Sometimes the internet is a little too distracting so I need to turn it off. But most days, that’s how it works. Some days – when I go on retreats or I’m really behind – I work in the morning, go for a long walk, come back and have a beer before writing some more. When I was a newbiWhen I was a newbie writer I had a few more tricks I needed – there were books I wrote listening to the same album on repeat, but now I can’t have any music. I’ve written some books in different rooms in the house -because for whatever reason that’s where the writing magic happened. The McAvoy Sister’s was written almost entirely in my daughter’s bed room… I have no explanation for it.

Which character do you most relate to and why?

A: Honestly, all of them in different ways and in different parts of the story. I have never been in the situation that Hope has been in but there have been parts of motherhood when I find myself in situations outside of my control and I have to treat my kids like adults. Or expect them to act like adults. And I know it’s not fair, but it’s what happens sometimes. I can also really relate to how she can find a million reasons to beat herself up as a mother – but struggles to see what an amazing job she’s doing. I think most mothers understand that reality.

 I also understand Peg’s reluctance to open herself up to more pain. And how what she thinks is keeping her safe is actually a prison. And I can also appreciate her – If I don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen – stance. I think that’s a very real part of human nature.

And frankly even Tink – I LOVED how she used what power she had to make her point clear. The story about Tink and the broken leg – that came from real life. My kid’s friend spent most of a year wrapping his leg up in an ace bandage and telling everyone it was broken – it was like he was conducting a very specific social experiment on us. And then one day… done.

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

A: Oh, I’m so excited about it. The title is always changing… so we’ll skip that part and get right to the good stuff…

Sarah Beecher has died and everyone in Greensboro, Iowa has shown up for her funeral. She was a beloved Administrator and Nurse at the Nursing School who has lived almost the entirety of her life in this small town. Her daughter’s are there – each battling some real life demons but supporting each other, despite old resentments and feuds. They are absolutely firm in the knowledge that Sarah Beecher had no secrets.

Into this funeral walks Kitty Deveraux – legendary star of stage and screen. And she’s there to tell Sarah’s daughters their mother was not who they thought she was.

And neither are they.

It’s got two timelines! Family secrets! Twists! Seriously, I enjoy it so much. AND it’s based in part on my mother’s experience at St. Luke’s Nursing School in Iowa.

Q: Have you been to the cherry festivals in MI?

A: I have! I’ve been to the cherry festival in Traverse City. I competed in a cherry pit spitting contest and ended up spitting the pit on my shoe. I was an embarrassment to my kids and husband. Luckily there was plenty of cherry ice cream (thank you Kilwin’s!) around with which to console myself after that poor showing.

  Actually I spent part of almost every summer of my life in Michigan. First along Southern Lake Michigan – St. Joseph’s and South Haven. And then in Northern Lower Michigan – Traverse City, Boyne City and Petosky. A few summers on Beaver Island. I have enjoyed The Cherry Festivals, The Tulip Festivals, a million Beer Festivals and the odd Elvis Festival.

Q: Why did you decide to use a cherry orchard?

A: I wanted to set the book in Michigan. I knew I wanted it to be rural and agricultural and lots of hard work. And after all the summers in Michigan – picking up bags of fresh washed cherries from road stands all over the state – a cherry orchard seemed perfect!

 My Review:

The Bitter and sweet of Cherry Season had me hooked from the first word til the last. I adore plots about generations of families as I know there will be secrets hidden in there. And I was right. 
Hope Orchard House from what her mother who recently passed away told her. 

Life’s circumstances lead her and her daughter Tink to the house and she’s nervous as to the welcome she’ll get. 
Hope’s aunt, Peg, has lived in the now run- down Orchard House all her life.
 The deal is that Hope and Tink can stay there if they help with the cherry harvest. They have a learning curve in front of them in more ways than one when they have to adjust to farm life while trying to hide from someone who is trying to find them. Tink is silent, traumatised by what happened but can she open up?
Tink is just 10 and Hope is all she has. And Abel seems to get on with Hope too…..
The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season is tender,full of suspense, homely atmospheres and family. Can Hope and Tink learn to trust again? 
I was rooting for them, all the while scared they’d be found out. 
A fast paced, homely,warm suspenseful novel of taking chances and doing what you have to do to be safe from harm.
Molly Fader is a new author to me and I definitely want to discover more of her books. Utterly gripping! 
Thanks to Molly Fader and publisher for my ARC in exchange for an honest and voluntary review.

BUY LINKS:

Harlequin

Indiebound

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

Target

Walmart

Google

iBooks

Kobo

Chapter 1

 

HOPE

 

​Night up in Northern Michigan was no joke.

Hope had never seen a dark so dark. It had heft and dimension, like she was driving right into an abyss. She thought about waking up Tink in the back to show her, but the girl had finally fallen asleep and she needed the rest.

And Hope needed a break.

Who knew traveling with a completely silent, angry and traumatized ten-year-old could be so exhausting?

Hope’s phone had died when she got off the highway about twenty minutes ago. In those last few minutes of battery she had tried to memorize the directions:

Left on Murray Street.

Slight right onto County Road 72.

Your destination is five miles on the right.

But County Road 72 wasn’t well marked and now she feared she was lost. Well, for sure she was lost; in the grand scheme of things she was totally off the map.

But she was clinging to the one ratty thread of hope she had left in her hand.

And then just as that tiny bit of thread started to slip out of her fingers, from the murk emerged a blue sign.

County Road 72.

The road took a long arcing right into the dark, and she unrolled her window, trying to keep herself awake. Adrenaline and gas station coffee could only do so much against two sleepless nights.

Her yawn was so wide it split her lip. Again. Copper-tasting blood pooled in her mouth.

“Shit,” she breathed and pressed the last of the napkins against her mouth. She was even out of napkins.

In the back, Tink woke up. Hope heard the change in her breathing. The sudden gasp like she was waking up from a nightmare.

Or into one. Hard to say.

“Hey,” Hope said, looking over her shoulder into the shadows of the back seat. Her daughter’s pale face like a moon slid into the space between the driver and passenger seats. “We’re almost there.” Hope sounded like they were about to drive up to the gates of Disney World.

Tink rubbed her eyes.

​“Did you see the stars?” Hope’s voice climbed into that range she’d recently developed. Dementedly cheerful. Stepford Mom on helium. She winced at the sound of it. That wasn’t her. It wasn’t how she talked to Tink. And yet she couldn’t tune her voice back to normal. “There are so many of them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars.”

​Tink ducked her head to look out the windshield and then turned to cock her head at an angle so she could look out the passenger windows.

​They’d gone to an exhibit about the constellations at the Science Center a year ago and Tink still talked about it. Pointing up at Sirius like she’d discovered it herself.

“Aren’t those the pieties?” Hope got the name wrong on purpose, hoping for a snotty-toned correction from her miniature astronomer. Or at least a throat-clearing scoff.

​But no.

​“Sooner or later you’re going to talk to me,” she said. “You’re going to open that mouth and all the words you haven’t said all day are gonna come pouring out.”

​Silence.

​“Do you want to ask me questions about where we’re going?” They were, after all, heading deep into Northern Michigan to a place she and Tink had never been, and Hope had never told her about until today.

​Tink rubbed her eyes again.

​“Or maybe what happened…tonight?” Her gaze bounced between Tink and the road.

​When you’re older, you’ll understand. When you’re a mom, you’ll understand. She wanted to say that to her daughter, but she herself barely understood any of what had happened the last two days.  

​Still silence.

​Hope tried a different angle. “I’m telling you, Tink. I know you and you can’t keep this up much longer. I’ll bet you ten bucks you say something to me in five…four…three…two…” She pulled in a breath that tasted like tears and blood.

Please, honey. Please.

“One.” She sighed. “Fine. You win.”

Her beat-up hatchback bounced over the uneven asphalt and Tink crawled from the backseat into the front, her elbow digging into Hope’s shoulder, her flip-flopped foot kicking her in the thigh.

The degree of parenting it would take to stop Tink from doing that, or to discuss the potential dangers and legality of it, was completely beyond her. She was beyond pick your battles, into some new kind of wild west motherhood. Pretend there were no battles.

They drove another five minutes until finally, ahead, there was a golden halo of light over the trees along the side of the road, and Hope slowed down. A gravel driveway snaked through the darkness and she took it on faith that it had been five miles.

“This is it.”

Please let this be it.

The driveway opened up and there was a yellow-brick, two-story house.

The Orchard House. That was what Mom called it in the few stories she’d told about growing up here. Actually, the words she used were The Goddamn Orchard House.

It was a grand old-fashioned place with second-story windows like empty eyes staring down at them. White gingerbread nestled up in the corners of the roof, and there was a big wide porch with requisite rocking chairs.

Seriously, it was so charming, it could have been fake.

The car rolled to a stop and Hope put it in park. Her maniacal new voice failed her, and she just sat there. Silent.

Suddenly the front door opened and a dog – a big one, with big teeth – came bounding out. Cujo stopped at the top of the steps and started barking. Behind the dog came a woman in a blue robe carrying a shotgun.

Tink made a high panicked sound in her voice, climbing up in her seat.

Hope’s impulse was to turn the car around and get out of there. The problem was there was nowhere to turn around to. They had no place left to go.

“It’s okay, honey,” Hope lied. She went as far as to put her hand over Tink’s bony knee, the knob of it fitting her palm like a baseball. “Everything’s going to be all right.”

More desperate than brave, Hope popped open the door. The dog’s bark, unmuffled by steel and glass, was honest-to-god blood curdling. “Hi!” she yelled, trying to be both cheerful and loud enough to be heard over the barking.

“Get your hands up,” the woman on the porch shouted.  

Hope shoved her hands up through the crack between the door and the car and did a kind of jazz hands with her fingers.  

“What do you want?” the woman asked.

“Are you Peg—”

“I can’t hear you.”

She stood up, her head reaching up over the door. “Are you Peg?”

“Never mind, me. Who the hell are you?” She pointed the business end of the gun toward them.

Hope quickly side-stepped away from the car door, and Tink reached across the driver’s seat and slammed it shut.

The heavy thud of the engaged lock was unmistakeable.

“You don’t know me—”

“No shit!”

“My name is Hope,” she said.

The gun lowered and the woman’s face changed. From anger to something more careful. “Hope?”

“Yeah. I’m Denise’s girl. I’m…well, you’re my aunt?”

 

Excerpted from The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season by Molly Fader, Copyright © 2020 by Molly Fader. Published by Graydon House Books.

 

Harlequin Summer Reads Blog Tour: Best Behavior by Wendy Francis

BEST BEHAVIOR

Author: Wendy Francis

ISBN: 9781525804625

Publication Date: May 5, 2020

Publisher: Graydon House Books

Where to Buy:

Harlequin

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Books-A-Million

Powell’s

 

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @wendyfrancis4

Instagram: @wendyfrancisauthor

Facebook: @wendyfrancisauthor

Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Wendy Francis is a former book editor and the author of three novels: The Summer Sail, The Summer of Good Intentions, and Three Good Things. Her essays have appeared in Good Housekeeping, The Washington Post, Yahoo Parenting, The Huffington Post, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now lives outside of Boston with her husband and son.

 Q&A with Wendy Francis

Q: What message do you hope readers take away from your story?

A: When I wrote BEST BEHAVIOR, I wanted it to be an entertaining summer read about one family’s quest to get through a graduation weekend gracefully. But now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic/quarantine, I really hope the book will provide a much-needed escape. The novel brings readers to the emerald lawns of a college campus and, later on, to the gorgeous beaches of Manchester-by-the-Sea. The story focuses on Meredith, a mother whose twins are about to graduate from a fictitious college outside Boston, and she’s experiencing some serious pangs of empty-nesting ‒ her kids are preparing to move across the country for their new jobs. I hope readers of “a certain age” will be able to relate to Meredith’s kaleidoscope of emotions. But this is also a story about a blended/extended family that gathers together for the long weekend, and there’s plenty of family drama that ensues. Egos collide, ex-spouses rub elbows at graduation events, judgmental grandparents intervene, and the twins begin to wonder if this weekend is really about celebrating them after all.

suppose if there’s a larger take-away, it would be that we watch these characters killing themselves to impress each other, to be on their best behavior, but it only backfires. Just as in real-life, no one can truly get along until they let their guard down, and that’s how the most genuine relationships are formed.

Q: What’s the story behind the story/how you came to write Best Behavior?

A: I think I always knew that I wanted to write a story set during a college graduation weekend. The possibilities for celebration, catastrophe, and humor all seem to converge in this particular life passage. This was, of course, before anyone had heard of coronavirus, and it breaks my heart that so many high school and college graduates will be missing out on the chance to stride across the stage to receive their diplomas this spring. Fingers crossed that they get their celebrations with friends and family soon.

Also, like many of my friends, when I began this novel I was staring down fifty and starting to think about those scary questions, such as What’s next? Even though I have an eleven-year-old at home, my step-kids were both in college, and my step-daughter was slated to graduate this spring. So, Meredith’s questions about what family will mean in its new configuration were at the forefront of my mind. I also wanted to explore the new “modern” family, which has come to mean so many different, wonderful things today. I love that our definition of family has expanded to include blended families, families with live-in grandparents, adoptive families, families with two dads or two moms or some other variation. As the saying goes, the more people to love – and the more people to love you back – the better.

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

A: My outfit is typically yoga pants and a T-shirt/sweater. My go-to snacks include pretty much anything in the pantry (aka, I’m snacking on things I shouldn’t be) and red licorice. I don’t write long-hand, so there’s no favorite pen, alas, and I have a hard enough time concentrating without music. I typically write at the long farmer’s table in our dining room, which at the moment is scattered with my husband’s work folders, my son’s colored pencils and drawings, my notes, and old flowers that I should probably throw out. In other words, I guess I work around – or through? – the chaos, especially now. When there’s no homeschooling and my husband is at the office, the dining room is much quieter.

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

A: It’s funny when people ask me this because I usually relate to all of my characters in some way. I suppose the most obvious answer would be Meredith because I understand what it feels like to reach a certain age when you’re thoughtful about what might come next in life, i.e. what happens when our kids no longer need us? But I also really grew to like Lily, who has her own struggles, despite the fact that she looks like one of those women I’d love to hate – beautiful, thin, newly rich. Then there’s Joel (Cody and Dawn’s stepdad) who won me over with his roll-with-the-punches approach to the weekend. He’s like the calm eye of the storm. The twins, to be honest, drove me a bit nuts with their shenanigans, like teenagers will do, but I enjoyed drawing their rivalry/friendship in the book. And then there’s Meredith’s mom, Carol, who wasn’t in the novel originally, but who kept pushing her way in, wanting to add her arch comments every now and then.

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

A: I’m in the middle of edits for my new novel due out next summer. It’s a story about three guests who stay at a tony, historic Boston Hotel over a summer weekend – and a bit of a mystery ensues. Hope you’ll check it out next summer!  

Q: Do you have a nursing background or twins?

A: No, I don’t have a nursing degree or twins, but my son was born with complications and spent more than a week in the NICU. So, I have some understanding of what parents of NICU babies go through. It’s an incredibly agonizing, stress-inducing time. Also, one of my friends is a NICU nurse, and she was generous enough to talk with me about her work and different methods for calming NICU babies, especially those addicted to opioids. I also wanted Meredith to have a job where she’d continue to care for others after her own children left, and the NICU seemed like a good fit. 

Why did you choose Boston for Best Behavior?

A: I’m drawn to novels where the setting becomes almost another character in the story. My first novel, THREE GOOD THINGS, is a bit of a valentine to my home state of Wisconsin, and my following novel, THE SUMMER OF GOOD INTENTIONS, is set in another favorite place ‒ on the Cape. Over the last twenty-some years, Boston and its surrounding neighborhoods have become my home, and so it seemed like the natural setting for this book, and my next. I love Boston – it’s wonderfully diverse; it’s home to a rich literary community for writers; and, I’m told it’s a great sports town (my husband and kids are still trying to turn me into a sports fan).J These past few weeks, I’ve also watched in awe as our community has come together to help one another during such scary, crazy times. It gives me hope that we’ll all get through this by supporting one another, which is really, when you think about it, what best behavior is all about.    

 

Book Summary:

 

The drama is hot and the drinks are flying in Wendy Francis’s witty, warm, and quirky family drama, BEST BEHAVIOR (Graydon House; May 5, 2020; $17.99 USD). Heartfelt and relatable, Francis cleverly portrays the nuances of a less-than-perfect but more-than-loving blended family in all its messy glory.

Meredith Parker and her husband Joel have been dreading the weekend of their twins’ college graduation. Not only does it mean that Dawn and Cody are flying out of Meredith’s nest to live in Chicago and North Dakota, but it also means Meredith will have to deal with her insufferable ex-husband, Roger, his pompous parents and his new wife Lily, so young she could be the twins’ sister! But Meredith is willing to be the Jackie O. of college graduations. She can handle that for three days, can’t she?

Meanwhile, Dawn, who has spent a lifetime cleaning up after her ‘golden boy’ brother, discovers a mess even she may not be able to get Cody out of. He’s been acting weird last the few weeks of school; picking up smoking, breaking up with his girlfriend, but this… this is definitely a problem. She needs to figure out what’s going on with her twin before he really ruins his life.

My Review:

Meredith Parker is mking her way to her twins’ college as Dawn and Cody are going to graduate and move away. Meredith is a proud mother but she’s not ready to face all the emotions that threaten to overwhelm her. 
Wendy Francis paints a fascinating picture of a complex family dynamic and the expectation around the graduation. We also see what is expected of her as a mother and she has her own demons to fight in the form of her ex husband. 
Best Behavior is the first novel by Wendy Francis I have reviewed and I found the title very apt for the plot. It’s doubly fitting as it is what many a mother says before a special event: “I want you on your best behaviour.” This makes the title powerful on it’s own. 
Thanks to Wendy Francis and Graydon House for my ARC in exchange for an honest and voluntary review.

4 stars
 Chapter 1
On Thursday morning, the temperature outside is seventy-one degrees and climbing while Meredith Parker considers which of a thousand recommended places she would like to visit before she dies. Not that she’s anticipating dying anytime soon, but she needs a distraction. She figures she has already seen at least a handful—Yosemite (breathtaking, as advertised), Niagara Falls (overrated in her opinion ‒ and cold), and San Francisco (lovely, with a charming hippie vibe). It’s the exotic locales that have eluded her over the past forty-six years, places like Tahiti or Rome or the Swiss Alps. Although, come to think of it, Meredith doesn’t really care for skiing, so she can probably cross the Alps right off her list. But Rome would be nice—all that history and pasta—and wine! A cheap fare must be available on one of those best-deal websites, if she searches long enough. Yes, she’s fairly certain she can persuade her husband, Joel, that Rome should be their first-ever international destination, the new green pin on their Where Have You Been? map that hangs on the wall in the den. That is, of course, once the kids have settled into their new homes.

And with the thought of her children’s imminent departure, Meredith’s throat tightens. What’s the use? she thinks. No number of mental hijinks will make her forget the real purpose of today’s trip. She, Joel, and her mother, Carol, are tracing the familiar route up from New Haven to Boston, as they have dozens of times before, the trees beyond the window zipping by in a curtain of emerald green.
But this weekend will be different.
Because this weekend marks the twins’ college graduation, an event that seemed impossibly far away only a few years ago, even a few months ago. Tomorrow her babies, the ones she used to cradle in each arm, will accept their hard-earned diplomas and officially step out into the great wide beyond, otherwise known as Adult Life.
Last night, when she’d gone to her neighborhood book club, the room had been abuzz with excitement over the upcoming weekend. “You must be bursting with pride!” her friend Lauren exclaimed. “I can’t believe that Cody and Dawn are already graduating. It’s so exciting.” And Meredith had nodded, as if she, too, were in a state of shock over this improbable fact.
It’s true that she couldn’t be prouder of the twins, but the moment is bittersweet. Soon, Cody will be off to Bismarck, North Dakota, to teach high school history, and Dawn is headed to Chicago to work at an advertising firm. Her kids will be so far away, they might as well be moving to Bangkok. Even though she knows it’s irrational, Meredith is racked by the feeling that after this summer she might never see her children again.

Admittedly, she is at a corner, or more specifically, at a crossroads in her life. Images of a two-year-old, chubby Cody racing into her arms or of a young Dawn asking for “one more good-night tuck-in” swim through her mind. She can still feel those small arms wrapped tightly around her, the love so palpable she used to think her heart would leap from her chest to theirs. How is it possible that her babies are graduating from college this weekend?
With Lauren’s comment, Meredith had cast her gaze around the book group (who, truth be told, rarely ever discussed the book at hand) and realized with a start that the difference between her own life and that of her friends’ suddenly stretched before her like a giant yawning chasm: Meredith was about to say goodbye to her kids once and for all, while her neighbors still had years of child-raising ahead of them.
Lauren had offered her an affectionate pat on the shoulder, as if she could read Meredith’s thoughts, and handed over a generous pour of chardonnay, which Meredith accepted gratefully. Maybe, she allowed herself to consider, Lauren was right. Maybe the graduation weekend would be exciting, as pleasing as a perfectly folded fitted sheet. Tuck this person into that corner, that person over there, smooth it, smooth it, and everyone would get along swimmingly.
Given her patched-together, hybrid family, though, Meredith sincerely doubts it. Her ex-husband, Roger, will be bringing Lily, his new wife of six months. And as fine as Meredith is with the idea of Roger’s remarrying after all these years, his new marriage somehow feels forced, as if he has just purchased a new set of golf clubs that he’s eager to show off to the rest of the family.
“I know. It’s crazy, right?” Meredith had managed to get out after swallowing her wine. “The twins are officially all grown up.”
Lauren, a corporate attorney, has two young girls, six and eight, whom Meredith adores and dreams of kidnapping one day (she tells herself it wouldn’t really be kidnapping, though, since they’re all neighbors, and obviously she would do Lauren the courtesy of asking before moving the girls into her own home.). As it is, she helps out with the girls whenever she can, usually after school when Lauren works late and Meredith is already back from her shift in the NICU. The girls have her pegged for a softy and know full well that she will buy them ice cream, bake chocolate chip cookies on a whim, and watch every terrible mermaid movie that’s available for streaming. They call her “Auntie,” which makes her heart swell and break simultaneously.
Some days she wishes she and Joel had tried for their own children way back when, even though the timing was off—they didn’t meet till Meredith was in her late thirties—and there would have been a considerable age gap, more than a decade, between a new baby and the twins. But at least she would still hear young voices in the house, would have someone to ferry to ballet practice or help with a book report. As exhausting as it could be some days (that Taj Mahal built out of marshmallows for fifth grade nearly killed her), she misses the maternal responsibilities she was once counted on for, feels the lack like an unfamiliar brittleness settling into her bones.
Theoretically, she understands that the twins flew the coop four years ago when they left for college. But that was different. The kids continued to call every Sunday night, and she and Joel could drop by on the odd weekend. Luckily, both children had decided on the same college in Boston, making spur-of-the-moment visits ridiculously convenient. But traveling so far away for jobs where she might see them only once or twice a year for Thanksgiving and Christmas? She honestly doesn’t know how—or if—she can handle it.

Thankfully, no matter what faults she and her ex-husband, Roger, might have had as a couple, their kids have turned out all right—better than all right—and Meredith lets herself relax slightly with this thought now. Dawn, hands down her most difficult child during the teenage years, has blossomed into a bright young woman. Gone are the days when Meredith’s every comment would prompt an eye roll from her daughter. And despite an unfortunate hiccup with the Administrative Board last year, Dawn has managed to pull off graduating with honors. Meanwhile, Cody (Meredith’s lips part into a smile when she imagines him striding across the stage in his gown) is graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Not only that, but he set the school record for all-time rushing yards this fall, leading his football team to their best season in fifteen years. Cody has become a rock star on his small New England campus, and as his mother, Meredith can’t help but feel a bit smug. After all, she was the one who whipped up protein shake after protein shake and lugged him to hundreds of high school practices. She was the one who allowed her lovely den to be transformed into a weight room filled with smelly sneakers and barbells for four years.
If she knows one thing deep in her bones, it’s that she is a good mom, one who has raised hardworking, resilient children. She imagines holding her breath as they parade across Bolton’s commencement stage, much as she did when they took their first ungainly steps across the kitchen floor, Cody wheeling ahead in wide, determined strides and Dawn following a few paces behind, her tongue twisted into a tight coil of determination. Meredith is enormously proud of them, and, quite honestly, of herself. She didn’t abandon her kids like Roger did, when he’d seen fit to put his penis where it didn’t belong. But that was nearly ten years ago, water under the bridge—more of a tepid stream wandering through her mind these days than a charging river.