Wednesday, April 14, 2021

What I'm Reading Next (44)

I'm a little late to share my April TBR list due to my blog break, but I wanted to be sure to share with you guys some of the amazing books that are coming out this month. Over my break, I did read Under the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey and it was really good and heartbreaking at times.  Here are the other books I hope to read this month:

 

The Last Night in London by Karen White

I love this time period and Karen White never disappoints. 

 


The Social Graces by Renee Rosen


Gilded Age New York? Yes, please!

 

 

The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff

I'm always in the mood for a coming-of-age summer story. 

 

 

The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak

You don't really have to sell me very hard on this one; the title alone has me excited. Could you imagine? Working at a bookstore at the beach is my dream job.  However, this book is a bit darker than I expected. It deals with a lot of serious issues, so I wouldn't classify this as a light beach read by any means. 

 

 

The Widow Queen by Elzbieta Cherezinska

A fictionalized account of a Polish queen...I am intrigued! This story sounds like quite the adventure. 

 

 

Summertime Guests by Wendy Francis


I was part of this blog tour earlier this month and can't wait to read this beach read set at a glamorous hotel.


So, what books do you plan to read this month? Are any of these on your TBR list? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Blog Tour: The Last Bookshop in London

 

Another day, another exciting blog tour! What a fun week this has been so far celebrating all of these amazing new releases.  Today I'm part of the blog tour for The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin, which just came out on April 6th.  Thanks to Harlequin, I am sharing an official excerpt from the novel today.  The book is inspired by the only bookstore in London to survive the Blitz. I really enjoy the WWII time period, so this book is right up my alley. 



Learn More About The Last Bookshop in London:

 

Inspired by the true World War II history of the only bookshop to survive the Blitz, a sweeping story of wartime loss, romance, and the enduring power of literature, perfect for fans of The Paris Wife and The Lilac Girls. London, autumn 1940: the Blitz has only just begun when Grace Bennett arrives in London to find the city she’s spent a lifetime dreaming about now cast in the clouds of war, and all of her plans unraveling at the seams. After accepting a job at a charming bookshop nestled in the heart of the city, a haven for literary-minded locals, she feels like a fish out of water – she’s never been much of a reader, after all.

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


To learn more about The Last Bookshop in London, visit Madeline Martin's website, or connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  You can also purchase your own copy of the novel at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and Bookshop.org.  

 

 

An Excerpt From the Novel:  

 
August 1939 London, England 

GRACE BENNETT HAD ALWAYS DREAMED OF SOMEDAY living in London. Never did she imagine it would become her only option, especially not on the eve of war.
The train pulled to a stop within Farringdon Station, its name clearly marked on the wall inside a strip of blue set within a red circle. People hovered on the platform, as eager to get on as those within were to get off. They wore smartly cut clothing in the chic styles of city life. Far more sophisticated than in Drayton, Norfolk.
Equal parts nerves and eagerness vibrated about inside Grace. “We’ve arrived.” She looked at Viv beside her.
Her friend clicked the top on her lipstick tube closed and gave a freshly applied vermillion smile. Viv glanced out the window, her gaze skimming the checkerboard of advertisements lining the curved wall. “After so many years of wishing we could be in London.” Her hand caught Grace’s in a quick squeeze. “Here we are.”
Back when they were mere girls, Viv had first mentioned the notion of moving away from dull Drayton for a far more exciting life in the city. It had been a wild concept then, to leave their slow-moving, familiar existence in the country for the bustling, fast-paced pulse of London. Never had Grace considered it might someday become a necessity.
But then, there was nothing left in Drayton for Grace anymore. At least nothing she cared to return to.
The ladies rose from their plush seats and took hold of their luggage. Each had only one case with them, faded things, beaten down more by age than use. Both were stuffed to the point of near-bursting and were not only impossibly heavy, but awkward to manage around the gas mask boxes slung over their shoulders. The ghastly things had to be brought with them everywhere, per the government, to ensure they’d be protected in the event of a gas attack.
Lucky for them, Britton Street was only a two-minute walk away, or so Mrs. Weatherford had said.
Her mother’s childhood friend had a room to let, one she’d offered a year ago when Grace’s mother first passed. The terms had been generous—two months for free while Grace acquired a job and even then, the rent would be discounted thereafter. Despite Grace’s longing to go to London, and despite Viv’s enthusiastic encouragement, Grace had remained in Drayton for nearly a year after in an attempt to pick up the pieces of her broken existence.
That was before she learned the house she’d lived in since her birth truly belonged to her uncle. Before he moved in with his overbearing wife and five children. Before life as she knew it shattered even further apart.
There was no room for Grace in her own home, a point her aunt had been eager to note often. What had once been a place of comfort and love became a place Grace felt unwelcome. When her aunt finally had the temerity to tell Grace to leave, she knew she had no other options.
Writing the letter to Mrs. Weatherford the previous month to see if the opportunity still held was one of the hardest things Grace had ever done. It had been a surrender to the challenges she faced, a terrible, soul-crushing failure. A capitulation that had rendered her the greatest failure.
Grace had never possessed much courage. Even now, she wondered if she would have managed her way to London had Viv not insisted they go together.
Trepidation knotted through her as they waited for the train’s gleaming metal doors to part and unveil a whole new world.
“Everything will be brilliant,” Viv whispered under her breath. “It will all be so much better, Grace. I promise.”
The air-powered doors of the electric train hissed open and they stepped onto the platform amid the push and pull of people coming and going all at once. Then the doors shushed closed behind them, and the gust of the train’s departure tugged at their skirts and hair.
An advert for Chesterfields on the far wall displayed a handsome lifeguard smoking a cigarette while another poster beside it called on the men of London to join the service.
It wasn’t only a reminder of a war their country might soon face, but how living in the city presented a greater element of danger. If Hitler meant to take Britain, he would likely set his sights on London.
“Oh, Grace, look!” Viv exclaimed.
Grace turned from the poster toward the metal stairs, which glided upward on an unseen belt, disappearing somewhere above the arched ceiling. Into the city of their dreams.
The advert was quickly forgotten as she and Viv rushed toward the escalator and tried to tamp down their delight as it effortlessly carried them up, up, up.
Viv’s shoulders squeezed upward with barely restrained happiness. “Didn’t I tell you this would be amazing?”
The enormity of it hit Grace all at once. After years of dreaming and planning, here they were in London.
Away from Grace’s bully of an uncle, out from under the thumb of Viv’s strict parents.
Despite all of Grace’s troubles, she and Viv swept out of the station like caged songbirds ready to finally spread their wings.
Buildings rose into the sky all around, making Grace block the sun with the palm of her hand to see their tops. Several nearby shops greeted them with brightly painted signs touting sandwiches, hairdressers and a chemist. On the streets, lorries rattled by and a double-decker bus rumbled in the opposite direction, its painted side as red and glossy as Viv’s nails.
It was all Grace could do to keep from grasping her friend’s arm and squealing for her to look. Viv was taking it in too, with wide, sparkling eyes. She appeared as much an awed country girl as Grace, albeit in a fashionable dress with her perfectly styled auburn curls.
Grace was not as chic. Though she’d worn her best dress for the occasion, its hem fell just past her knees, and the waist nipped in with a slim black belt that matched her low heels. While not as stylish as Viv’s black-and-white polka-dot dress, the pale blue cotton set off Grace’s gray eyes and complemented her fair hair.
Viv had sewn it for her, of course. But then, Viv had always seen to both of them with an eye set toward grander aspirations. Throughout their friendship, they had spent hours sewing dresses and rolling their hair, years of reading Woman and Woman’s Life on fashion and etiquette and then making countless corrections to ensure they “lost the Drayton” from their speech.
Now, Viv looked like she could grace one of those magazine covers with her high cheekbones and long-lashed brown eyes.
They joined the flurry of people rushing to and fro, heaving the bulk of their suitcases from one hand to the other as Grace led the way toward Britton Street. Thankfully, the directions Mrs. Weatherford had sent in their last correspondence had been detailed and easy to follow.
What had been missing from the account, however, were all the signs of war.
More advertisements, some calling for men to do their part, with others prompting people to disregard Hitler and his threats and still book their summer holidays. Just across the street, a wall of sandbags framed a doorway with a black-and-white sign proclaiming it to be a Public Air Raid Shelter.

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

 
 
What do you guys think?  Are you a fan of WWII novels? Is The Last Bookshop in London on your TBR list? Let me know in the comments below.
  

Monday, April 12, 2021

Blog Tour: The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak


I am back from my blog break and kicking off the week with an exciting blog tour.  I am part of Brenda Novak's blog tour for her latest novel, The Bookstore on the Beach.  Just the title of the book makes my heart happy.  A bookstore at the beach is pretty much my heaven. Thanks to Harlequin, I am sharing an official excerpt from the novel today.  The Bookstore on the Beach just came out last week, so keep your eye out for it and add it to your TBR list!

 

 

Learn More About The Bookstore on the Beach:

 

"For fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Kay Andrews, comes New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak's newest standalone work of women's fiction, a big, sweeping novel about family and the ties that bind and challenge us. In this novel, three generations of women from the same family share a house and work together at a bookstore in Colonial Beach over the course of a summer. How do you start a new chapter when you haven’t closed the book on the last one? Eighteen months ago, Autumn Divac’s husband went missing. Her desperate search has yielded no answers—she still has no idea where he went or why. After being happily married for twenty years, she can’t imagine moving forward without him, but for the sake of their two teenage children, she has to try. Autumn takes her kids home for the summer to the charming beachside town where she was raised. She seeks comfort by working alongside her mother and aunt at their quaint bookshop, only to learn that her daughter is facing a life change neither of them saw coming and her mother has been hiding a terrible secret for years. And when she runs into Quinn Vanderbilt—the boy who stole her heart in high school—old feelings start to bubble up again. Is she free to love him, or should she hold out hope for her husband’s return? She can only trust her heart…and hope it won’t lead her astray." 

 

You can learn more about The Bookstore on the Beach by visiting Brenda Novak's website, following her on Facebook, or connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.  You can also purchase your own copy of The Bookstore on the Beach at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Bookshop.org, and IndieBound
 

 

An Excerpt From the Novel:

CHAPTER 1
Tuesday, June 8

Today her daughter was returning for the summer. Mary Langford gazed eagerly out at the street in front of her small bookstore, looking for a glimpse of Autumn’s car and, when she saw nothing except a large family going into the ice cream parlor at the end of the block, checked her watch. Three-thirty. Autumn had called at lunchtime to say that she and the kids were making good time. They probably wouldn’t be much longer.
“You’ve been quiet today,” Laurie commented from where she sat behind the counter, straightening the pens, tape, stapler and bookmarks.
Mary turned from the large front window she’d recently decorated with posters of the hottest new releases. “I worry when she’s on the road for so long.”
“She’ll make it, and it’ll be great to see her and the kids. They haven’t been back since Christmas, have they?”
“No.” She picked up the feather duster and began cleaning shelves—a never-ending job at Beach Front Books, which she and Laurie owned as 50/50 partners. Autumn lived in Tampa, Florida, far enough away that it wasn’t easy to get together when Taylor and Caden were in school. “And I doubt they’ll come back for the holidays this year.” Fortunately, they were more consistent about returning for the summer—except for last summer, of course, which was understandable. Mary hoped she’d be able to count on that continuing, but with the kids getting older, nothing was certain. Taylor had only one more year of high school before heading off to college. Caden had two. Mary feared this might be the last time, for a while, they’d all be together in Sable Beach.
“You could go visit them,” Laurie pointed out.
Autumn had invited her many times. Remembering the arguments her refusal had sparked over the years caused Mary’s stomach to churn. She wanted to go to Tampa, wanted to make it so that her daughter wouldn’t have to do all the traveling. Autumn had been going through so much lately. But the thought of venturing into unfamiliar territory filled Mary with dread. Other than to go to Richmond occasionally, which was the closest big city, she hadn’t left the sleepy Virginia Beach town she called home in thirty-five years. “Yes, but you know me. This is the only place I feel safe.”
Laurie rocked back on the tall stool. “Well, if the fear hasn’t gone away by now, I guess it’s not going to.”
“No. I don’t talk about it anymore, but the past is as real to me now as it’s ever been.”
Although the store had been busy earlier, what with the influx of tourists for the season, foot traffic had slowed. When that happened, they often talked more than they worked. Beach Front Books wasn’t Laurie’s sole source of income. Her husband, Christopher Conklin, was a talented artist. He painted all kinds of seascapes, and while he wasn’t in any prestigious galleries, he sold his paintings in a section they reserved for him in the store as well as online.
But Mary, who’d never been married, had no other support. Beach Front Books didn’t make a large profit, but no one loved the escape that books provided more than she did, and the store garnered enough business that she could eke out a living. That was all that mattered to her.
“Autumn gets so mad that I won’t go out and see the world. Visit. Travel. That sort of thing,” she murmured, wishing she didn’t have the scars and limitations that had, at times, put such a strain on their relationship. “She keeps saying I’m too young to live like an old lady.”
“She has a point.”
Mary sighed. “I’m not young anymore.”
“What are you talking about? You’re nine years younger than me. Fifty-four is not old.”
That was true, but she’d had to grow up far sooner than most people. “I feel ancient.”
“Next year, you should go to Tampa, if they ask you.”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
“Maybe you’ll prove that you can.”
Mary couldn’t help bristling. She didn’t like it when Laurie pushed her. “No.”
“Autumn doesn’t understand, Mary. That’s what causes almost every fight you have with her.”
“I know. And I feel bad about that. But there’s nothing I can do.”
Laurie lowered her voice. “You could tell her the truth…”
“Absolutely not,” Mary snapped. “Why would I ever do that?”
“There are reasons. And you know it. We’ve talked about this before,” Laurie said, remaining calm, as always. That was one of the many things Mary liked about her—she was steady and patient, and that steadiness somehow helped Mary cope when old feelings and memories began to resurface.
In this instance, Laurie might also be right. Mary could feel the past rising up from its deep slumber. Maybe it was time to tell Autumn.
But there were just as many reasons not to—compelling reasons. And the thought of revealing the past, seeing it all through her daughter’s eyes, made Mary feel ill. “I can’t broach that subject right now, not with what she’s been dealing with the past year and a half. Besides, it’s been so long it’s almost as if it happened to someone else,” she said, mentally shoving those dark years into the deepest recesses of her mind. “I want to stay as far away from that subject as possible.”
Laurie didn’t call her out on the contradiction her statement created. And Mary was glad. She couldn’t have explained how it could be real and frightening and always present and yet she could feel oddly removed from it at the same time.
“Except that it didn’t happen to someone else,” Laurie responded sadly. “It happened to you.”

 

* * *
The scent of the ocean, more than anything else, told Autumn she was home. She lowered her window as soon as she rolled into town and breathed deeply, letting the salt air fill her lungs.
“What are you doing?” Taylor held her long brown hair in one hand to keep it from whipping across her face as she looked over from the passenger seat.
Autumn smiled, which was something she knew her children hadn’t seen her do enough of lately. “Just getting a little air.”
“You hate it when I roll down my window,” Caden grumbled from the backseat.
“I’m hoping I won’t be so irritable anymore.” For the past eighteen months, Autumn had been mired in the nightmare that had overtaken her life. She almost hadn’t come to Sable Beach because of it. But when her children had each pleaded with her, separately, to ask if they could spend the summer with “Mimi” like they used to, she knew they needed some normalcy in their lives—needed to retain at least one of their parents. Her grief and preoccupation with her husband’s disappearance had probably made them feel as though she’d gone missing, too—at least the mother they’d known before. She hoped by returning to the place that held so many wonderful memories for them all, they’d be able to heal and reconnect.
It wasn’t as if she could do anything more for Nick, anyway. That was the ugly reality. She’d exhausted every viable lead and still had no idea where he was. If he was dead, she had to figure out a way to go on without him for the sake of their children.
The second she spotted the bookstore, the nostalgia that welled up—along with memories of a simpler, easier time—nearly brought her to tears. When she was a little girl, she’d spent so many hours following her mother through the narrow aisles of that quaint shop, which looked like something from the crooked, narrow streets of Victorian London, dusting bookshelves or reading in the nook her mother had created for her.
She’d spent just as much time at Beach Front Books when she was a teenager, only then she was stocking shelves, ordering inventory, working the register—and, again, reading, but this time sitting on the stool behind the counter while waiting for her next customer.
God, it was good to be back. As hard as she could be on her mother for her unreasonable fears and idiosyncrasies, she couldn’t wait to see her. Until this moment, she hadn’t realized just how much she missed her mother. So what if Mary was almost agoraphobic with her unwillingness to leave her little bungalow a block away from the sea? She was always there, waiting to welcome Autumn home. Maybe Autumn had never had a father, or the little brother or sister she’d secretly longed for, but she was lucky enough to have the enduring love of a good mother.
“There it is.” She pointed to the bookstore as she slowed to look for a place to park.
“We’re not going to the beach house?” Caden asked, looking up from whatever he’d been doing on his phone.
“Not right now. First, we’re stopping to see Mimi and Aunt Laurie. Then we’ll take our stuff over to the house.”
A glance in the rearview mirror showed her his scowl. “I hope it won’t be too late to go to the beach,” he said.
“I’m sure we can manage to get there before dark,” she responded as she wedged her white Volvo SUV between a red convertible and a gray sedan and grabbed her purse.
Taylor spoke, causing her to pause with her hand on the door latch. “You already seem different.”
“In what way?” Autumn asked.
“Less uptight. Not so sad.”
“Coming here makes me happy,” she admitted.
“Then why were we going to skip it again?” Caden asked.
Autumn twisted around to look at him. “You know why.”
A pained expression claimed her daughter’s face. “Does this mean you’re letting go?”
“Of Dad? Of course she’s letting go,” Caden answered, the hard edge to his voice suggesting he considered the question to be a stupid one. “Dad’s dead.”
“Don’t say that!” Taylor snapped. “We don’t know it’s true. He could be coming back.”
“It’s been eighteen months, Tay,” Caden responded. “He would’ve come back by now if he could.”
“Stop it, both of you.” Autumn didn’t want them getting into an argument right before they saw her mother. They were at each other’s throats so often lately; it drove her crazy to constantly have to play referee. But she could hardly blame them. They’d lost their father, and they didn’t know how or why. And she had no explanation. “Life’s been hard enough lately,” she added. “Let’s not make it any harder.”
“Then you tell her,” Caden said. “Dad’s dead, and we have to move on. Right? Isn’t that the truth? Go ahead and say it—you are letting go.”
Was she? Is that what this trip signified? If not, how much longer should she hold on? And would holding on be best for them? She couldn’t imagine her kids would want to spend another eighteen months swallowed up by grief and consumed with seeking answers they may never find. Taylor was seventeen, going to be a senior and starting to investigate colleges. Caden was only a year behind her. Surely, they would prefer to look forward and not back.
Regardless, Autumn wasn’t sure she could continue to search, not like she had. She was exhausted—mentally and physically. She’d put everything she had into the past year and a half, and it hadn’t made a damn bit of difference. That was the most disheartening part of it.
“I’m continuing to hold out hope,” she said, even though everyone she’d talked to, including the FBI, insisted her husband must be dead. It was difficult to see the idyllic, two-parent upbringing she was trying to give her kids—something she’d never had herself—fall apart that quickly and easily, and the heartbreak, loneliness and frustration of looking for Nick, with no results, created such a downward spiral for her. She knew it had been just as painful for her children. That was why maybe she should let go—to provide the best quality of life for them as possible.
“What does that mean? Are you going to keep looking for him?” Caden pressed. “Is that how you’re going to spend the summer?”
He could tell something had changed, that coming here signified a difference, and he wanted to reach the bottom line. But Autumn wasn’t ready to admit that she’d failed. Not with as many times as she’d tried to comfort them by promising she’d have answers eventually.
She opened her mouth to try to explain what she was thinking in the gentlest possible way when she spotted her mother. Mary had come out of the store and was waving at them.
“There’s your grandmother,” she said.
Thankfully, her children let the conversation lapse and got out of the car.
“Hi, Mimi.” With his long strides, Caden reached Mary first. Although he wasn’t yet fully grown, he was already six-one. And Taylor was five foot ten. They were both tall, like their father.
Mary gave each of the kids a big hug and exclaimed about how grown-up they both were and how excited she was to see them before turning to Autumn.
“You’ve lost weight,” she murmured gently, a hint of worry belying her smile before they embraced.
“I’m okay, Mom.” Autumn could smell a hint of the bookstore on Mary’s clothes and realized that was another scent she’d never forget. It represented her childhood and all the great stories she’d read growing up. She’d once hoped to read every book in the store. She hadn’t quite made it, thanks to new releases and fluctuating inventory, but she’d read more books than most people. She still considered books to be a big part of her life. “It’s good to be home.”
“Laurie’s dying to see you. Let’s go in and say hello,” Mary said and held the door.
As soon as the bell sounded, Laurie hurried out from behind the register. “There you are! It’s a good thing you came when you did. I was afraid it would drive your mother crazy waiting for you. She’s been so anxious for you to arrive. We both have.”
Taylor allowed her aunt to give her an exuberant squeeze. “I’m glad we got to come this year. Where’s Uncle Chris?”
“Probably on the beach somewhere, painting. You know how he is once the weather warms up—just like a child, eager to get outdoors.”
They took a few minutes to visit the small section of the store dedicated to Christopher’s work so they could admire his latest paintings. Autumn was especially enamored with one he’d done of the bookstore that portrayed a child out front, hanging on to her mother with one hand and carrying a stack of books with the other. That child could’ve been her once upon a time. She almost wondered if his memory of her had inspired it, which was why she decided, if that painting didn’t sell before she left, she’d buy it herself and take it back to Tampa.
Fortunately, she had the money. As a corporate attorney, Nick had always done well financially. After the first few years of their marriage, which he spent finishing school, they’d rarely had to scrimp. But it was what he’d inherited when his father passed away that’d really set them up. After Sergey’s death, Autumn had quit working as a loan officer for a local bank and, for the past ten years, had focused on her family, her home, gardening and cooking. Her financial situation was also one of the reasons she rejected the idea that Nick might’ve left her for another woman, a possibility that had been suggested to her many, many times. Why would he leave his children, too, and walk away without a cent? Sure, they’d had their struggles, especially in recent years, when his work seemed to take more and more of his time and attention, but neither of them had ever mentioned separating.
“This is amazing,” she exclaimed as she continued to study the little girl in the painting. “I love Chris’s work.”
“The last original he donated to charity went for six thousand dollars,” Laurie announced proudly.
“Who bought it?” Autumn asked. If whoever it was lived in Sable Beach, chances were good she’d know him or her.
“Mike Vanderbilt, over at The Daily Catch. He was drunk when he got into a bidding war for it, and now it’s hanging in his restaurant. I think he’s glad to have it, but I imagine he also sees it as a reminder not to raise his paddle when he’s been drinking.”
They all laughed to think of the barrel-chested and good-natured Mike letting alcohol bring out his competitive nature.
“His wife must be doing well, then,” Autumn said. “She’s still in remission?”
Laurie shot Mary a surprised glance, and it was Mary who answered. “I’m afraid not. She was when he bought that painting, but they received word just a couple of months ago that Beth’s breast cancer has come back.”
“Oh no,” Autumn cried. Everyone knew the owners of The Daily Catch. They did a lot for the community. And it was her favorite restaurant. When she was home, she ate there all the time. “What’s her prognosis?”
“Not good. That’s why Quinn has moved home from that little town in upstate New York. He helps his father with the restaurant these days. I’m sure he’s also here to spend time with his mother before…well, before he has to say goodbye to her for good.”
“Quinn’s home?” Autumn said. She wasn’t expecting that; the mention of his name knocked her a little off-kilter. When he was a senior and she was a junior, she’d given him her virginity in the elaborate tree house that was in his backyard, even though he hadn’t been nearly as interested in being with her as she was him. And then he’d broken her heart by getting back together with his girlfriend, the same woman he married five years later. “So his wife and kids are here now, too?”
“No, he doesn’t have any kids,” Laurie said, chiming in again. “And he and Sarah—what was her maiden name?”
“Vizii,” Autumn supplied.
“Yes. Vizii. They divorced almost two years ago. You didn’t know?”
“How would I?” She’d seen nothing about it on social media, but then, Quinn had never been on social media, and she’d never been able to find Sarah, either—not that she’d checked recently because she hadn’t. “I haven’t seen him since he was working as a lifeguard at the beach after his first year of college and he had to swim out and save me from drowning.” She didn’t add that she’d faked the whole episode just to get his attention. She was mortified about that now and cringed at how obvious it must’ve been to him.
“I’m surprised the gossip didn’t reach you all the way down in Tampa,” Laurie said. “For a while, it was about the only thing anyone around here could talk about.”
But who would tell her? Her mother wasn’t much for gossip, which was ironic, considering she’d lived in Sable Beach for so long. The town where Autumn had been raised took talking about their friends and neighbors to a whole new level.
“Why would his divorce be such big news?” she asked. Besides being one of the most popular boys in school, Quinn had been handsome, athletic and at the top of his class—undoubtedly one of Sable Beach’s finest. But still. Divorce was so commonplace it was hardly remarkable anymore. And Quinn was thirty-nine. He’d been gone from this place—except for when he visited his folks—for twenty-one years. How could what was going on in his life be such a hot topic?
Laurie tilted her head toward Taylor and Caden in such a way that Autumn understood she was hesitant to speak in front of them. “There were some…extenuating circumstances. Have your mother tell you about it later.”
“I want to hear,” Caden protested.
“Why? We don’t even know him.” Taylor jumped in before Autumn could respond, then Caden snapped at her to shut up and they started arguing again.
“Don’t make Mimi regret inviting us.” Autumn rolled her eyes to show how weary she was of this behavior.
“Should we go over and get you settled in?” Mary asked. “Laurie offered to close the store tonight, so I’m free to start dinner while you unpack.”
“Sure,” Autumn said. Once Caden and Taylor got to the beach, maybe they’d mellow out and fall into the same companionable rhythm they usually achieved when they came to Sable Beach.
Her mother’s house seemed the same, except that its shingle siding was now white instead of green. It had needed a fresh coat of paint, and the white looked clean and crisp. But as much as she loved the update, Autumn was relieved to find that nothing else had changed. Visiting Mary was like going back in time. Not many people could do that twenty years after they’d left home.
Because it was such a small cottage, Caden had to sleep on the couch, Taylor took Autumn’s old room next to Mary’s, and the three of them shared the only bathroom, which was off the hallway. Autumn slept above the detached garage, where she had her own bed and bath, thanks to Nick. Because he’d typically had to work when she brought the kids, he’d never spent more than a few days at a time in Sable Beach. That had caused more than a few arguments over the years, so she’d readily agreed when he’d insisted they have their own space for when he did come. She’d thought it might mean he’d accompany them more often, or stay a little longer when he did. It made no difference in the end, but he was the one who’d hired an architect to create the plans to finish off the top of the garage, even though it had been Autumn who’d picked out the finishes and colors.
A wave of melancholy washed over her as she left the kids with her mother to get settled in at the main house, let herself into the garage and climbed the narrow stairs at the back to the apartment, where she’d be living for the next few months, by herself. As often as she’d been here over the years, it felt strange to know that Nick would not be visiting. At times, she was still so lost without him.
“Where are you?” she whispered as she walked around, touching the things he’d touched. She’d come for Christmas without him, but she and Taylor had shared her old room in the house. They could do that for a week or so but not for three months—not without wanting to turn around and head straight home.
She stopped in front of the dresser, where her mother had put a picture of her family. She’d known her husband was getting involved in something secretive, that a friend who was with the FBI had recruited him for his knowledge of Ukraine. Because his parents had emigrated from there, he’d known the language, was familiar with the customs and still had a few relatives in the country. That made him useful in what had become a very troubled region.
Although he couldn’t tell her exactly what he was doing for the government, she guessed he was working in counterterrorism, probably trying to infiltrate various radical groups. She’d read that the FBI sometimes used civilians who were particularly adept with computers, or had some specific knowledge or ability, to assist them.
Maybe he’d become a full-fledged spy, and whoever was on the other side had discovered his activities. The FBI claimed they hadn’t sent him to Ukraine to begin with, but she’d discovered that he’d flown into Kyiv before disappearing and had no idea why he’d go there if not at their request. If he wanted to reacquaint himself with his uncle and cousins, he would’ve told her. Besides, the family he had there claimed they hadn’t heard from him. She’d traveled halfway across the world to speak to them face-to-face—not that the long, tiring trip had accomplished anything.
She lifted her suitcase onto the bed and was unpacking her clothes when her mother came up. “The kids would like to go to the beach before we have dinner, but I told them I’d rather they not go alone.”
“Mom, they’re sixteen and seventeen,” she said. “Kids that age go to the beach by themselves all the time.”
“Still. I don’t mind walking down with them.”
That was her mother’s polite way of saying she was afraid they wouldn’t be safe and felt the need to watch over them. Mary had always been overprotective. But Autumn managed not to say anything. What would it hurt for their Mimi to walk down to the water with them? There was no need to transfer the suffocation she’d felt to her children, especially because they’d had to put up with so much less of it. “Okay.”
“Would you like us to wait for you?”
“No, I’ll find you in a few minutes.”
With a nod, her mother turned to leave but paused before descending the stairs. “It can’t be easy for you to stay out here, knowing that Nick won’t be coming. Would you rather we make other arrangements, like we did at Christmas? Have you stay in the house with us?”
Unless Nick suddenly showed up, she’d have to brave it at some point, wouldn’t she? It might as well be now. “No. There’s not enough room. Taylor and I both need our space.”
“If you’re sure.”
“Mom?”
She looked up. “Yes?”
“Before you go, tell me what Laurie was referring to at the bookshop.”
“About…”
“Quinn and Sarah,” she said.
“Oh. No one really knows exactly what happened,” her mother said.
“There must’ve been a story circulating.” And she was eager to focus on something besides her own troubles for a change. She could see Nick’s rain boots in the corner of the room and knew there would probably come a time—in the not-too-distant future—when she would have to make the difficult decision about what to do with them.
She couldn’t even imagine that. But she had a whole houseful of his belongings in Tampa, and if he didn’t come back, she’d have to decide what to do with all of it. Should she box it up and put it in storage? Stubbornly continue to wait? And if so, for how long?
Her mother seemed as reluctant as ever to repeat gossip, but she must’ve understood that what’d happened to Quinn might create a good distraction, because she finally relented. “Sarah claims he was having an affair, which caused her to fly into a jealous rage and stab him.”
This was not what Autumn had expected. “Did you say stab him?”
Her mother frowned. “I’m afraid so.”
“But…he must be okay. Laurie said he was here, helping his father run the restaurant.”
“She didn’t hit anything vital, thank goodness. But I heard he spent a few days in the hospital, so his wounds weren’t superficial, either.”
Autumn whistled as she imagined how bad their marriage must’ve been for something like that to happen. “I thought they’d be happy together. They dated for so long before they got married. It’s not as if they didn’t know each other well.” She sank onto the bed next to her suitcase. “Did he admit to cheating?”
“Not that I know of.”
“But you think he did—cheat, I mean.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. Something had to have made her react so violently.”
Mary never gave the benefit of the doubt to a man. Autumn had noticed this before and assumed her father was to blame. Although Mary refused to talk about the past—went rigid as soon as Autumn mentioned her father—there were times, more of them as she got older, when she found herself wondering who he was and what he was like. Before Nick went missing, she’d told her mother that she was tempted to try to look him up, and Mary had been so appalled—that Autumn would have any interest in him when he was such a “bad person”—that she’d dropped the idea.
It was something she thought she might like to revisit, though. Times had changed. Nowadays, a simple DNA test could possibly tell her a great deal. And there were moments when she felt she should be allowed to fill in those blanks.
But she hated to proceed without her mother’s blessing. She owed Mary a degree of loyalty for being the parent who’d stuck with her.
Finished unpacking, she put her empty suitcase in the closet while trying to ignore Nick’s snorkel gear, which was also in there, changed into her bathing suit and cover-up, slipped on her flip-flops and grabbed her beach bag. She was on her way down the stairs when she heard her phone buzz with an incoming call.
Assuming it would be her mother or one of her children, wondering what was taking her so long, she dug it out of her bag so that she could answer. But according to Caller ID, the person attempting to reach her wasn’t a member of the family. It was Lyaksandro Olynyk, the Ukrainian private investigator she’d hired to look for Nick.
It was seven hours later in that part of the world. Why would he be calling her in the middle of the night?
 
Excerpted from The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak, Copyright © 2021 by Brenda Novak, Inc. Published by MIRA Books.

 

So, what do you guys think? Is The Bookstore on the Beach on your TBR list and like me, do you plan to throw it in your beach bag? Are you a fan of Brenda Novak's novels? I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this novel! I think this book is made for reading outside in the sunshine. What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments below. 
 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Blog Tour: Summertime Guests by Wendy Francis

 


Guys, can you feel it? Beach read season is almost upon us and I am getting so excited.  I am a big fan of Wendy Francis's novels; they are the perfect beach reads to relax with, so I am thrilled to be a part of this blog tour to celebrate her latest novel, Summertime Guests.  Thanks to Graydon House Books, I'll be sharing an official excerpt from the novel today.  Summertime Guests comes out tomorrow and it sounds like a great escape!  I can't wait to read my copy!

 

 

Learn More About Summertime Guests:

 


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

Claire O’Dell, reeling from the loss of her husband and possibly her job, has gone to The Seafarer for a little vacation…and to reconnect with a long-lost-love.  Jean-Paul, the hotel’s manager, is struggling to keep his marriage and new family afloat. Bride-to-be Riley is at the hotel to plan her wedding with her fiancé ... or, she’s at the hotel with her fiancé while her mother-in-law tells them how to plan their wedding. Jason, whose romantic getaway with his girlfriend has not exactly gone the way he'd hoped and instead has him facing questions about his past that he can't bring himself to answer. As their truths and secrets come to light, the lives of these four will collide in tragic, beautiful ways none of them could have expected that will teach them about the love they deserve and the strength they possess to change their lives for the better." 

 

You can purchase your copy of Summertime Guests at Harlequin, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Amazon. To learn more about the book you can visit Wendy Francis at her website, or connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.   



An Excerpt From the Novel:

Friday June 11th, 2021

ONE


    
         It wasn’t as if Riley could have anticipated what would happen later that day. None of them could. Because when you’re at a tasting for your wedding reception at one of Boston’s ritziest hotels, trying to decide between crab cakes or lobster quiches, no one thinks of anything bad happening. Or at least, this is what Riley tells herself later. Why she—and no one else there—could possibly be to blame.
 
At the moment, though, Riley is sitting at a table by the window, half-listening to her future mother-in-law while she sips gazpacho the color of marigolds. Something about wanting to know if the outdoor terrace can be transformed into a dance floor, assuming the weather cooperates. If Riley were asked to gauge her interest in planning her own wedding, she would characterize it as mild at best. Her only requirement being that she and Tom marry in July—and that the flowers are pale pink peonies from Smart Stems, the shop where she has worked for the past three years.
 
It was Tom who’d suggested the Seaport District for their reception, Boston’s new up-and-coming neighborhood, and Riley had happily agreed. It’s an easy spot for guests to travel to, and the setting is over-the-top gorgeous with views of both the city and the water. Not to mention the promise of fresh seafood—an almost impossible request if they were to wed in Riley’s hometown of Lansing, Michigan, where everything remains hopelessly landlocked.
 
But she hadn’t counted on Tom’s mother wanting to be so, well, involved. Maybe it’s the fact that Riley’s own mother passed away a few short years ago, and so Marilyn feels compelled to step up and fill her mother’s shoes. A retired schoolteacher, her mother-in-law-to-be still tackles each new day with the necessary energy for a classroom of boisterous second-graders, a gusto which she now seems to be funneling into her son’s nuptials. At first, Riley was grateful, but while she sits listening to the hotel’s wedding coordinator drone on about the Seafarer’s rich history, she’s beginning to feel as though she has stepped into one of those horrible, never-ending lines at Disney for a ride she doesn’t particularly want to go on.
 
Riley is well aware that the Seafarer is one of the most coveted venues for weddings, especially in light of its recent renovations. It’s no secret that New England’s most glamorous, its most fashionable clamor to stay here and that the Seafarer’s well-appointed rooms are typically booked months in advance. She should be grateful that they’re even considering it as an option. Rumor has it that everyone from Winston Churchill to Taylor Swift has been a guest (as the saying goes, if you want to appear in the society pages of the Boston Globe, then spend a few hours at the Seafarer’s exclusive summer cocktail hour from four to six). As for out-of-towners hoping to take in the full scene that Boston can be—with its attendant snobbishness and goodwill and weird accents wrapped into one—the Seafarer, Riley understands, puts you in the heart of it.
 
Not that she has anything against tradition, but if it were up to her alone, she would probably choose a smaller, more modest setting, a wedding with no more than fifty guests. There’d be a justice of the peace and rows of white chairs lining the harbor, the wind whipping her veil in front of her face. Naturally, she’d want a reception afterward, but Riley counts herself as the type of girl who’d be equally content with trays of fish tacos and margaritas under a tent as with oysters on the half shell served in a tony hotel restaurant.
 
“I can’t reveal everyone,” the coordinator is saying in hushed tones, “but it’s no secret that some of Boston’s greatest legends have celebrated their nuptials with us.” Riley shoots Tom a sideways glance, as if to say Is she for real? but her fiancé’s chin rests firmly in his hand, his attention rapt. He’s eating up every word.
 
“Well, Gillian, it’s all very impressive,” Tom’s mother says, slipping her reading glasses back into her pocketbook after a review of the menu. Her hair is pulled back in a severe ponytail, her lips coated in her trademark color, fuchsia. “It’s no wonder Boston’s finest flock here for their special occasions. The view alone is to die for.” She gestures toward the expanse of crystalline water out the window, the romantic outline of the city’s financial district in the distance. “Kids, wouldn’t it be something to come back here every year to toast your anniversary?”
 
Marilyn shoots Riley a wink, as if the two of them are in cahoots to convince Tom that this is the spot, meant to be. There’s no need to point out that she and Tom could never afford such a venue. They already discussed it over dinner the other night when Marilyn revealed that she’d gone ahead and booked an appointment for a tasting at the Seafarer on Friday and how she hoped Riley wouldn’t mind. “I don’t want you to worry about money, dear,” she instructed. “Tom’s dad and I would be honored to host. Tom is our only child after all.”
 
And Riley had breathed a tiny sigh of relief while swallowing her pride. Not because she wants an extravagant wedding but because it means that she and Tom can now channel the nest egg they’ve been building toward a mortgage on a new home instead of toward an elaborate one-day celebration. It’s a much more sensible use of their money, and Riley, having grown up poor verging on destitute, is nothing if not sensible.
 
Can she really imagine herself celebrating her marriage here, though? Tom keeps missing her not-so-thinly veiled comments about the food on the menu, which leans toward the bite-size variety that he hates (precisely because it never fills him up), but he has said nothing. Maybe he’s just being polite. Riley quickly scans the room for other future newlyweds, but most of today’s diners appear to be here for business lunches—buttoned-up men in suits and women in sharp blazers with silk shifts underneath. A few couples, perhaps away for a romantic long weekend, and a group of older women sharing a bottle of wine, sit wedged into the corners. It’s a lovely space, but is it too lovely?
 
She shifts in her seat and tries to picture her dad here, wearing his familiar old sports coat that’s nearly worn through at the elbows, his khaki pants and penny loafers, pretending to feel comfortable when he wouldn’t know which fork to reach for, which glass to use.
 
When Marilyn turns toward to her and says, “Don’t you agree, Riley?” Riley feels her cheeks flushing because she hasn’t been paying attention. She has no idea what her future mother-in-law is referring to.
 
“I’m sorry. What was the question again?” She’s slightly annoyed that Tom can’t—or won’t—decide on a few things himself or at the very least rein his mother in. Especially because they talked about this very thing—not letting Marilyn take over the tasting—last night! They’re discussing the appetizers, apparently, and all Riley knows is that she doesn’t want crudités. If there’s one rule she’s abiding by, it’s that her wedding menu will include only those foods that she can pronounce.
 
It seems there should be a box on a list that they can check for the Standard Reception—something not overtly cheap but not insanely expensive, either. Tom squeezes her knee beneath the table, though it’s unclear if it’s meant as encouragement or as a reprimand for her not giving this conversation one hundred percent. What Riley really wants to know is this: How can she avoid attending any more tastings with Marilyn? Should she just agree to the Seafarer right now and be done with it?
 
“Mom was wondering,” Tom says in complete seriousness, “if you thought it would be better to have cold and hot hors d’oeuvres or just cold since the wedding will be in July?”
 
“Oh, right.” Riley pretends to consider her options. “Good point. It’s bound to be hot, so I wonder—”
 
But somewhere between the words so and wonder, a loud whistle of air followed by a deafening blast socks through the room like a fist, sending Riley to grab the table and Tom to reach for her hand. Marilyn’s fork drops from her elongated fingers, clattering onto her plate, and the room seems to shake for a brief moment. There are shouts followed by an eerie hush while the dining room settles back into itself. Riley watches the other diners who begin to mumble to each other across their tables, asking if they’re okay and spinning in their seats to better determine the source of the blast. The woman at the adjacent table hovers on the edge of her chair, as if considering diving underneath the table.
 
When Riley glances over at Gillian, she looks equally alarmed and as surprised as the rest of them, which means this isn’t some kind of bizarre emergency testing by the hotel. Whatever they heard was real. Significant. Riley’s eyes slide toward Tom, then Marilyn, whose face has turned a shade as pale as milk, then back to Tom.
 
“What on earth was that?” Marilyn gasps, her voice an octave too high, her fingers fluttering to her necklace. It’s a silver chain studded with azure stones, the kind of jewelry that Riley has come to associate with women of a certain age.
 
“I’m not sure.” Gillian’s voice cracks. “It almost sounded like some kind of explosion, didn’t it?” And then, as if remembering her wedding-coordinator cap, she rushes to reassure them. “But I’m sure it’s nothing like that. Maybe a blown transformer?
 
But both Riley and Tom exchange glances because no matter how ill-versed they are in loud noises, that definitely was not a transformer. It wasn’t so much a popping sound as a crash, she thinks. Did the massive chandelier in the lobby fall? Did it come from the kitchen? Construction work outside maybe? It’s hard to tell.
 
“Not to be overly dramatic, but it almost felt like an earthquake,” Riley says. “The table actually shook, I think.” And although she understands that the curiosity sparked inside her is somehow inappropriate, she wants an explanation. “Whatever it was,” she says, lowering her voice, “it sounded awfully close.”
 
“Yes, very close,” Marilyn agrees, still fiddling with her necklace.
 
And that’s when the screams begin. Not from the kitchen at the back of the restaurant, not from the lobby, but from outside, just beyond the elegant bay windows peering out onto the terrace that fronts the water, the ocean seemingly close enough to dip a hand into. Riley’s glance swivels toward the small crowd that’s beginning to form outside near the firepit and hot tub.
 
“If you’ll excuse me?” Gillian says, as if emerging from a fog, and rises awkwardly to her feet before heading toward the row of windows.
 
Riley’s gaze follows her, and suddenly, she, too, feels compelled to get up, as if an invisible string tugs her toward the window. She hurries forward and angles around Gillian for a better view. But when she does, she immediately regrets her decision. Because it’s not a collapsed scaffolding or an awning or even construction work that has caused the sudden shaking, the loud blast.
 
But a woman, lying facedown on the terrace, several yards beyond the window.
 
The body lies completely still, the woman’s legs scissored like a rag doll’s, her left leg angled upward awkwardly. A curtain of muddy blond hair shields her face from view. Riley watches while a few bystanders move hesitantly toward the woman, as if afraid of startling her, until someone kneels down and grasps her wrist, presumably to check for a pulse. A man in blue running shorts and a Red Sox T-shirt yells for someone to call 9-1-1.
 
To Riley, it looks as if the woman was perhaps reaching for a glass that slipped from her hand, her arms still outstretched above her head. Her body is long, lean, even elegant. Riley holds her breath, waiting, and feels Gillian stiffen beside her when a youngish man, nicely tanned and formally dressed, parts the crowd and gently encourages everyone to take a few steps back. He assures them that an ambulance is on the way and speaks with an authority that suggests his importance.
 
“That’s Jean-Paul, our manager,” Gillian says quietly as they watch him crouch down next to the woman and brush her hair away from her face.
 
Just then, a young man in the crowd throws his hand to his mouth and rushes off, and Riley stands on her tiptoes for a better view. And that’s when she sees it, too—the wild splash of bright red she hadn’t noticed earlier that lies at the far edge of the woman’s hair. And in that awful moment, Riley—and everyone else watching—understands. An image of a woman in her yellow summer dress, cartwheeling through the air from somewhere up high, perhaps her hotel balcony, spirals through her mind.
 
“Oh, my God.” It hits her all at once, a hollow pit forming in her stomach.
 
“Jesus,” says Tom, who has come up beside her to rest a hand on her shoulder. “She’s not moving.”
 
“No.”
 
It’s obvious to them both, but somehow still needs to be said, as if by acknowledging it aloud, the woman might hear their words through the open window, might somehow will herself to move an inch, if only to give them a sign—a flutter of a hand, the shifting of a foot—that she’s going to be all right.
 
But her body remains completely, horribly still.


Excerpted from Summertime Guests by Wendy Francis, Copyright © 2021 by Wendy Francis
Published by Graydon House Books

 


So, what do you guys think? Will you be adding Summertime Guests to your TBR list? I will definitely be adding this one to my beach bag.  

You can join Wendy Francis at her launch event at An Unlikely Story on April 6th. It's in conversation with Kristy Woodson Harvey, so you won't want to miss this! Let me know what you think in the comments below.  

 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Blog Break


 

Happy Spring break, everyone! No matter where you live or what you celebrate, I hope it's an amazing break. I hope you can enjoy some sunshine and good books! I'll be taking two weeks off to relax and enjoy the holiday with my family.  Over my blogging break, I will be popping in to be a part of a blog tour for an upcoming beach read and I'll also be sharing what I hope to read during the month of April, but other than that it will be quiet around here.

I don't know about you, but I am ready to bring out all the beach reads! While I am on a blogging break, I'll still be active over on Instagram, so you can find me there or on Goodreads.  

I'll be back April 12th.  Till then let me know what book you plan to read over Spring Break. I hope to finish Sunflower Sisters and start Under a Summer Sky, which I'm sure will having me daydreaming of beach days.  What about you?

 

See you soon,

 
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