Julybrary – The Winston Brothers Series

⇒ “Everyone in Green Valley, Tennessee knows that the six bearded Winston brothers have been imbued with an unfair share of charm and charisma… and are prone to mischief.” – Penny Reid

A few years ago, I got a free Kindle download of Truth or Beard, Penny Reid’s first Winston Brothers book — a spin-off of her Knitting in the City series. I had every intention of reading the book right away – I was intrigued by the book cover and finding a cute, funny romance is always a bonus with free downloads.

However, as any reader with an overflowing TBR list can tell you, reading that book right away was a long-shot at best.

So here we are, many moons later, and I am just now getting around to experiencing Penny Reid’s Winston boys… er… men. And, man oh man, am I sorry that I waited so long!

If you are already familiar with Jethro, Billy, Cletus, Duane, Beau, Roscoe, and their sister, Ashley, then you are in good company with this large family from small-town Tennessee. And if you’ve never really thought about serving your romance up with an extra large dose of sexy beard and classic literary middle names, then you may end up being as surprised as I am now that this whole brotherhood has now made my Man Crush Monday list:

-Penny Reid

What makes a good romance for you? Is it all about the characters; how beautiful they are or how hot their chemistry is? Is it all about the circumstances of the story; their meet-cute or how they overcome obstacles? Or is it all about the boom-chicka-wow-wow for you? <wink, wink!>

Whatever it is, I am sure that you’ll find some element of everything you love about reading romance in this series by Penny Reid. The characters are quirky and comical, each in their own way. The story lines are well-thought out and connected, even though each book could be read as a standalone (but why would you want to do that?!?! You wouldn’t, so let’s just forget I ever said anything. Moving on…)

The thing I like best about this series is that it managed to actually make me laugh! Not just an acknowledgement like, “Yes, that was humorous, now on to the next paragraph.” Nope. This was a genuine stop-reading-for-a-moment-because-I-just-lost-my-place-in-the-book-because-I-was-laughing kind of humor (even though I was listening to it on audiobook, the general example still applies.)

Let’s look at each of these books in publishing order…


This is Duane’s story. He’s the serious twin. His brother Beau is the one everyone likes. Everyone, including Jessica James – who has had the hots for Beau Winston since childhood. And she has hated Duane. But, as we all know, there’s a thin line… well, you know.


This eldest Winston brother hasn’t always been on the right side of the law and there used to be a time when he much preferred pushing the limits rather than toeing the line. But those days are behind him now. And he’s not looking for anyone to rock his boat – that is, until Sienna Diaz comes to town.


Fan favorite, Cletus, is easily the brains of the brotherhood. He always has a trick up his sleeve and his personal motto should just be, “I’ll handle it.” (In actuality though, it’s more like, “Hold my sausage.”) So what could be more of a mismatch than Cletus and Jennifer Sylvester, the Banana Cake Queen?


This Winston brother is the one the whole town loves – especially all the ladies! He’s got a ladykiller reputation and the looks to back it up. Beau finds a way to spread his charm around everyone he meets – until he meets Shelly Sullivan.


You know how it is when your ex keeps popping up everywhere? Well, that’s where Roscoe is now. For years Simone Payton has been on his mind, and for those same number of years, Simone has been trying to forget about Roscoe Winston.

Scarlet St. Claire

OK, no, I am not trying to trick you. I know Scarlet isn’t technically one of the Winston brothers, BUT her story is pivotal to perhaps the most anticipated story of the whole lot. Scarlet St. Claire is Claire McClure and she and Billy Winston can’t stand to be in the same room with each other. But why…?


His name is William Shakespeare. Not joking. But nothing about Billy is a joke. He is serious. He doesn’t laugh, doesn’t even smile. He is moody and quiet, and stubborn. And he is heart-wrenchingly in love.

Intrigued? You should be. I am loving getting to know this family and experiencing all of their forays into love. I am starting book #5 now, which I want to read so fast, but then it’ll only put me that much closer to the end of the series and… noooooo! Just noooooo!

What will I do without these beards in my life? Thankfully I won’t have to find out for another 2 books, and then there are the Cletus cozy mystery spin-offs and the Knitting series, and… Penny Reid, you’ve got me hooked!

Penny Reid


Julybrary 2020!

⇒ OK, so libraries are still closed in my county, but I found a way to celebrate Julybrary anyway!⇐

Last year I shared my love of libraries in my first – of what I hope will be an annual event – Julybrary challenge! Never heard of it? Good. I made it up. Just go with it.

I do really love libraries, there is just something intrinsically magical and hopeful about a library. There is always something new waiting to be found there, and it’s an exciting adventure to find what is perfect for you behind those doors.

Growing up, trips to the school library always made my day. I would get so frustrated if they only let me take home 3 books, so I would pick the 3 fattest books I could find; but I still read them so fast that I couldn’t wait to go back to the library the following week.

So, because of my love for libraries and everything they have to offer, I decided to continue my Julybrary challenge this year. It’s an easy concept, really. I just make my entire July TBR books that I have selected from my local library. Last year it worked perfectly; I put several titles on hold on my library’s website and then picked them up at the library a few blocks away from my house. The convenience of their hold system is incredible! This year, though, there’s just one huge, gigantic problem…

Our county’s libraries are still closed due to Covid-19.

I was so concerned that I wouldn’t be able to properly acknowledge Julybrary this year, but it turns out that I shouldn’t have worried. My library, as usual, had my back.

Just underneath the apologetic note on their website that explained that all branches remain closed with no announced reopening date as of yet, our librarians also posted the link and instructions for downloading an app that has seen me through my July TBR thus far… Hoopla!

I downloaded the app, signed in with my library card number and – not even exaggerating – within 10 minutes I was listening to my first audiobook of the month. It was SO easy. And I get 5 downloads each month, all of which are available to me for 21 days each, and are absolutely FREE!

I know that sounds suspiciously like an ad, but I promise you that I am not affiliated with or paid by Hoopla; I am just so impressed by their app! And it’s not just audiobooks, there are also ebooks, comics, music CDs, television shows, and movies available. Covid tried to lock me out of my library, but instead, the library ended up being closer to home than before.

So in upcoming July posts, I’ll show you what I’m reading and how I’m making the most of the Hoopla app during quarantine.

Did you already know about Hoopla (please tell me I’m not the only one who didn’t know that this existed!). If you don’t already have the app, you can fix that in the next 5 minutes – all you need to do is grab your library card and click below…


One-Star Ratings & My Guilty Conscience

⇒One-star ratings are the hardest for me to give, and yet they’re just as important as five-stars. So why do I feel so guilty?!⇐

Several years ago, I rated a book very poorly on Goodreads. In my review, I went in on everything I didn’t like about the book and said that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, ever. I was not the least bit sympathetic and I didn’t balance out the bad with very much good. It was more than a little brutal.

A few days after I posted my scathing review, the author of the book I hated so much commented on my less-than-flattering evaluation. She said how she had worked hard on the book, but that she was sorry that it hadn’t been good for me. Her apologetic response to my negative comments about her work made me approach reviews in an entirely different way.

While I do still feel like it’s very important to be honest when posting reviews about anything – be it books, restaurants, movies, whatever – I also feel like balance can add even more veracity to a review. So, although I do still occasionally drop a 1-star bomb, I never do it without adding a little balance to my assessment. Now I remember that there is someone on the other end of my ranting and raving who put a lot of work into a project that they then released for the world to see, and critique. That’s hard! And it’s something that I’ve never done, so I’m more appreciative even if their story doesn’t end up being my favorite.

Giving a book a low rating still isn’t easy for me, I think hard before I do it, but here are some for which I still solidly stand by my one-star rating:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Released: October 22, 2013

No doubt you’ve read/heard about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt before and may have even seen the movie adapted from it. Theo’s mom dies in a horrific event and he is shuffled off to live with friends. His life then shifts as he enters the world of art dealing and antiques. There’s more… close to 800 pages more, but none of it is much more interesting than that short synopsis. I was so disappointed by this book and the time I spent reading it expecting something monumental to happen, that, by the end, I genuinely wanted to throw it against the wall. Here’s my Goodreads review…

I really wanted to like this book. I wanted to be sympathetic to Theo’s plight, and I wanted to see him overcome tons of adversity to become someone I admired. Sadly, that never happened – any of it.
Warning: if you are an easily-depressed person, skip this book. It begins with tragedy and ends basically by saying that all of life is only about death. Lovely.
It pains me to know I spent so much time with this painfully annoying main character only to feel so unfulfilled in the end. Maybe the book would have been more exciting if some of it had been told from Boris’s perspective. But it wasn’t.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Released: January 2, 2018

Agoraphobe Anna Fox’s whole existence is inside her home with her movies, her writing, and her wine. Her favorite pastime is spying on her neighbors. When she witnesses something she can’t explain away, Anna may have to do the one thing that makes her the most uncomfortable – leave her house. You’d think that witnessing your neighbors’ deadly secrets would make for a thrilling read, right? Not so fast! My summary of this book is: Spend 450 pages following a drunk around who may or may not have seen something suspicious while she was spying on her neighbors. Here’s a portion of my Goodreads review (officially, I gave this book 2 stars, but I was being generous because the book was popular. I disliked it enough that, in retrospect, I really can’t give it more than one)…

I struggled with this book because I try my best to relate to the main character(s) – to have some sort of insight into the whys of what he or she does. And I just couldn’t get there with Anna. ..I just wanted this book to be so much better than it was. Even the “great reveal” at the end fell flat.

How Hard Can it Be? by Robyn Peterman

Released: January 1, 2013

It pains me to even summarize this book, but here goes… Rena the accountant decides to try to write a book. Then there’s a pirate, some horny grandmas, and a random arrest by a “hunky cop”. This was a story that I had completely forgotten all about within 24 hours, except for how much I disliked it. See below for my short and sweet Goodreads review…

How do I review this and not trash it or the author (or the narrator)?
I can’t. So, I’ll just say that this book was not for me. It was a struggle to complete it. I’m glad it’s over.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Released: October 2, 2018

Man oh man, this one book came the closest to a DNF that I have had in many years! A women’s health care center comes under attack and everyone from staff to patients is being held captive. See below for my posted thoughts on why this title didn’t work for me – at all.

II keep telling myself to stop being swayed by books that ride happily along on the social media popularity wave, but somehow I keep letting myself get dragged along on the bandwagon of new release hype.
This is one that I should have let pass me by.
I was intrigued by the hostage standoff premise, but even the treatment of that portion of the book lacked the tension and thrill I was expecting.
Abortion is an important topic. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, you should have the right to your own opinion. My dislike of this book is in no way directly related to my opinions about abortion. I wasn’t happy with the development of the story, it’s lack of true action, and the lackluster ending (beginning?) and epilogue.
Jodi Picoult fans will still rate this book highly and it will fare well despite my poor rating, but I will definitely be warier of bandwagon book picks from now on.”

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

Released: February 7, 2017

I absolutely got pulled in to this book through its cover. The cover art is great! It makes you think that something mysterious and important is going to happen in between these pages. Ahh, foiled again! Ingrid isn’t happy in her marriage, so instead of putting on her big girl panties and working to fix things, she writes gripey letters, hides them all in books in her house, and then disappears, leaving her husband and abandoning her two daughters. Tragic. Check out my Goodreads review to see why this book didn’t pan out to be the great work of literary fiction that its cover promised me it would be…

“-Things I liked about this book: That Flora perceived scents as colors. And the implication of Ingrid’s revenge at the end.
-Things I disliked about this book: Everything else.
The triggers took away from the book in a major way. Name a trigger, it was in there: Teacher/student sexual misconduct, infidelity, cancer, rape, drowning, sexism, drugs, abortion, prostitution, etc. Those aren’t just examples. All of that was in this book. Let’s just say that it isn’t the type of book that will leave you in a good mood.”

So there are some of my lowest rated books in the past few years. How do you feel about giving books only one or two stars?


New or Old – That Smell is Incredible

Welcome to my book review blog. Thanks for dropping in!

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.

–W. Somerset Maugham

Whenever I get a new book, or mooch an old book, or borrow a book from the library, for that matter, I bring it close to my nose… and inhale.

Sometimes the smell is crisp and warm, almost woodsy. Other times it’s ancient and musky, like well-worn furniture. Either way, it’s a great smell. Remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory is showing Anna (future Yale student) around the library and she picks up a book and smells it? Yes, just like that: #bibliosmia.

So now you know I read old books and new – and I love them both equally. So if you’re here to just see reviews on all the hot new releases that everyone else is reading and blogging about, then you’re not in the right place. Sorry.

I do read selective New Releases, but I also have a lot of “Dusty Bookshelf” reads that I am committed to getting through in this upcoming year (I said that last year too), and a lot of books that people have recommended to me that I will finally get around to. The books I read/review won’t always be current, but they’ll always be interesting.

I prefer reading hardcovers or trade-sized paperbacks (there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands), but I also read several e-books and listen to a few audiobooks each month, so you’ll likely see reviews for publications in those formats as well.

Occasionally, when she lets me, my daughter and I will read her books together. She’s in 5th grade and has a bookcase full of chapter books that we work our way through whenever she’s not bogged down with school-assigned stories. When our read-along books are especially good, I’ll review those too.

I’ll also occasionally be featuring my favorite authors, book events in Georgia, upcoming new releases, links to free e-book deals, and throwback looks at my favorite childhood reads.

I’m a Goodreads member and belong to several groups there. The book cover pics I post will most often come from Goodreads along with mentions of their overall rating of each book. However, I do not – I repeat, NOT – allow the rating from “the masses” influence my personal opinion of any book I read. Reviews are my own individual thoughts and I am absolutely not receiving any compensation for anything I post here.

As you may have guessed, this is my first foray into blogging so I’m sure I have some kinks to work out. If something isn’t working or posting correctly, just bear with me and I’ll get it worked out. Eventually. ♥



Tell Me Lies

“Margot’s clients all lie to her, but one lie could cost her family and freedom.” -Tell Me Lies by J. P. Pomare

Author: J.P. Pomare Narrator: Aimee Horne

(3.79 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Thriller / Mystery

Format: Audiobook (Audible Original)

Publication Date: March 5, 2020, by Audible Studios

Length: 6 Hrs, 20 mins (Audiobook)

#TellMeLies #JPPomare

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies…

Little Lies, -Fleetwood Mac

You’re sitting on the psychologist’s couch, spilling all of your life’s secrets in the hopes that once you leave their office, you’ll have all the answers you need in order to not make a complete mess of the entire rest of your life. I’ve never been to a psychologist, but that’s pretty much how it goes, right? But do you ever think about who was on that couch just before you, or who will arrive right after you?

Ultimately, that one professional analyzes your problems and concerns and the problems/concerns of countless others throughout the entirety of their career. We’ve all heard that it takes a special type of person to be a teacher, but I think that saying is also true for a psychologist. They have to compartmentalize all those issues and still deal with their own lives everyday.

But what happens when the psychologist’s work comes home with her? Well, let’s check out the blurb…

Margot’s clients all lie to her, but one lie could cost her family and freedom. Psychologist Margot Scott has a picture-perfect life: a nice house in the suburbs, a husband, two children, and a successful career. On a warm spring morning, Margot spots one of her clients on a busy train platform. He is looking down at his phone, with his duffel bag in hand as the train approaches. That’s when she slams into his back and he falls in front of the train. Suddenly, one tragedy leads to another leaving her, her family, and her patients in danger. As misfortune unfolds, listeners will soon question Margot’s true role in all of these unfortunate events.

Oh no, no, you can’t disguise. (You can’t disguise, no you can’t disguise)

Little Lies, -Fleetwood Mac

I’m a firm believer that everyone can benefit from a little therapy. Whether it be unburdening yourself, sharing in order to overcome an addiction, or getting in touch with long-repressed emotions tied to deep-seated fears – therapy can be a great way to overcome. And a good therapist may be the shepherd you count on most to get you to the mountain top.

That’s what Margot thought she was doing for her clients. After all, she went to school for this and everything! But, try as she might, she can’t figure out the personality of one of her most mysterious clients. That failure could end up costing her everything – including her own sanity.

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies…

Little Lies, -Fleetwood Mac

I needed an audiobook to travel with during my long work commute. I picked this one out of the Audible Originals selections at random and I ended up being so glad that I did! As the drama of this story built, suddenly my commute became entirely too short.

This is my first time reading anything by J.P. Pomare. I try to go easy in reviews for authors who are new to me, but with this book, that wasn’t even necessary. It really is a good book!

I urge you – for this book’s sake – not to read the reviews that reveal too much of the story. Much of its charm is the steady pace and the way the story unfolds – tidbits here, tiny clues – all of which eventually add up to a plot twist that made me hit pause and rewind just to listen to it again!

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not this book would be something that you’d enjoy, leave me a comment and we’ll discuss it. I’ll ask you questions, you’ll answer, and I may even give you a reading assignment for next week. And then I’ll send you a ginormous bill in the mail! Sound good?

J. P. Pomare

J.P. has always been drawn to the dark. He grew up on a horse-racing farm in small town New Zealand with two brothers, a sister, two cats and two border collies. A first love for literary fiction quickly developed into a taste for sharp, fast paced story telling. Stories that surprised him, stories that tied a cold knot in the pit of his stomach. His work has been widely published in journals including Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, TLB review of books and The NZ Listener. He has also won, and been short-listed for a number of prizes. -Bio adapted from JPPomare.com

Blog Tour | The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season

Blog Tour | It was surprising how sharp happiness was. Bitter and sweet all at once. –The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season by Molly Fader

**Many thanks to Graydon House Books and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author: Molly Fader

(4.42 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Women’s Fiction

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: June 9, 2020, by Graydon House Books

Pages: 384 (Kindle version)

#TheBitterAndSweetofCherrySeason #MollyFader #GraydonHouseBooks #NetGalley

Hope had said that whatever she’s been running from wasn’t going to follow her here, but something had. It was grinding that girl down to nothing.

Say you’re sorry. Remember when your mom or dad made you say that to whatever other kid you had wronged in some way? Most likely, you were never really sorry, but you may have said it anyway to keep the peace. And if you were the wronged little kid, you may not have wanted to forgive, but you did it anyway just to keep life moving forward.

Willingness to request and/or receive forgiveness can make all the difference in the trajectory of a life. Let’s read the blurb to see why…

Three generations of women 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 the stories of her late mother. 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.

…she’d long resigned herself to the fact that everyone liked hope and wanted hope – but that didn’t necessarily mean they liked and wanted her.

Hope only had one place she could turn, so when she landed in the driveway of her aunt Peg’s farm, she needed to believe that there was refuge here – a safe place. Maybe Peg wasn’t familiar to her, but she was family, and that was all that counted.

As this novel opens, there are so many uncertainties. We are tossed into a potentially dangerous situation with a woman and her selectively mute daughter who are fleeing from a dangerous person who may or may not be in pursuit of them. Talk about a quick way to instantly draw me into a book!

…hope was running things now and hope had endless expectations.

Fader’s book captured me and held me throughout, and, honestly I wasn’t ready for it to end. I kinda figured out at least one of the ending points, but that still did not take away from the journey.

This is a touching story about new beginnings and learning to forgive yourself and others for past mistakes. It demonstrates the power of family ties and the strength of love through the years. At the last page, I still hadn’t had enough of this newfound family, their friends, and the Orchard House.

If it’s growing it can’t be ruined. If it’s got roots, it still has a chance.

The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season ultimately is a meaningful look at reuniting loved ones torn apart by secrets. Mentions of depression and drug use may be triggering, but aren’t graphic. The book features an emotionally abusive partner and some violent situations. Fader’s experience hasn’t failed her with this novel, and I gladly recommend it as a perfect summer (or fall, winter, spring) read!

The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season is available now at any of the following retailers:

Molly Fader

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 out-side of Chicago and now lives in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter, @mollyokwrites.

What Can I Read to Understand More About Black Lives Matter?

“Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of colour to deal with it. It’s up to all of us – Black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.” – Michelle Obama

You’ve seen the protests, you’ve heard the news, and you’ve formed your own opinions. But there’s always room for you (and me) to learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement, how America got to this point, and where we expect to head in the future. The following books can help us broaden our perspectives and enlighten our communities. There is SO much more material available, but these five are a great starting place…

Author: Ijeoma Oluo

(4.52 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / Race / Social Justice / Politics

Publication Date: January 16, 2018, by Seal Press

An honest conversations about race and racism including how to have tough but constructive conversations about everything from police brutality to racist jokes. Ijeoma Oluo is a Seattle-based author whose work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Elle, The Guardian, and more.

Author: Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele

(4.51 Stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir / Race / Social Justice

Publication Date: January 16, 2018, by St. Martin’s Press

NY Times bestseller Khan-Cullors’ memoir about being raised as a black woman in America who eventually also becomes the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement along with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. Patrisse Khan-Cullors is an artist, public speaker, Fulbright scholar, and a freedom-fighter from L.A.

Author: Robin Diangelo

(4.51 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / Race / Social Justice / Politics

Publication Date: June 26, 2018, by Beacon Press

An exploration of the phenomenon of white fragility characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, guilt that result in defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, and how those moves can prevent meaningful dialogue across the races. Diangelo is an author, lecturer, and trainer on issues of racial and social justice.

Author: Angie Thomas

(4.51 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Social Justice / Contemporary

Publication Date: February 28, 2017, by Balzer + Bray

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter strikes an uneasy balance between her own poor neighborhood and the fancy prep school where she attends school. When her childhood best friend is shot and killed by police, his death becomes a national headline, divides a community, and could put Starr personally in danger. Angie Thomas is a bestselling, award-winning author, former teen rapper, and creative writer who was born and raised in Mississippi.

Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates

(4.38 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / Race / Memoir

Publication Date: July 14, 2015 by Spiegel & Grau

In an extended letter to his fifteen-year-old, Coates puts readers inside a dad’s honest and heartfelt conversation with his son about racism’s direct affect on people who look like them. Coates explores the past, confronts the present, and offers a vision for the future. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and is an award-winning author living in New York City.

The Woman in the Mirror

“Rotten, stinking, hated love. Love is for fools, bound for hell.” –The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James

**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author: Rebecca James

(3.85 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Historic / Gothic

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: March 17, 2020, by St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 324 (Kindle version)

#TheWomanInTheMirror #WomanInTheMirror #RebeccaJames

Shadows crawl over the moors, spreading dark against dark. Their torches dance, lit from the fire at the barn. Burn her! Drown her!

Full disclosure, I read this ARC way back in March, but I’m just now getting around to reviewing it on the blog. Please do not read anything negative into my delay. Chalk it up, instead, to just being wholly and entirely distracted by Covid-19 and having to quickly relocate from my office at work to my home office around the same time as I was reading this book. But let’s get into it now…

Governess Alice Miller loves Winterbourne the moment she sees it. Towering over the Cornish cliffs, its dark corners and tall turrets promise that, if Alice can hide from her ghosts anywhere, it’s here.
And who better to play hide and seek with than twins Constance and Edmund? Angelic and motherless, they are perfect little companions.
Adopted at birth, Rachel’s roots are a mystery. So, when a letter brings news of the death of an unknown relative, Constance de Grey, Rachel travels to Cornwall, vowing to uncover her past.
With each new arrival, something in Winterbourne stirs. It’s hiding in the paintings. It’s sitting on the stairs.

It’s waiting in a mirror, behind a locked door.

There was nobody for miles around, just her, the house, and the wide sprawling sea. But she wasn’t afraid. It simply didn’t occur to her to be afraid.

Somehow that blurb doesn’t quite do this book the proper justice. It doesn’t completely make me want to grab this book and start voraciously reading – which is exactly what you should do.

I finished it in one sitting – a rarity for me with any book, even ones that I eventually rate 5 stars. The Woman in the Mirror was just that intriguing! What will sell me on a book faster than almost anything else? Atmosphere. And this book has LOADS of it!

I am different. Winterbourne knows I am different. This house is my salvation.

It’s a Gothic creeper featuring a spooky house, eerie twins, and shadowy events that can’t be explained using common sense occurring along a dual timeline (1947 and 2018). Set on the foggy Cornwell coast, this story will drag you into its dark secrets right from the prologue.

I really enjoyed this march into madness from the POV of likable, but not entirely trustworthy main characters. I was actually surprised that the book captivated me as much as it did, as quickly as it did. It was that good.

But it was our fault she ended up like that. We drove her to it. Did she really lose her mind? Or did we steal it from her?

This is the book that I really wanted The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware to be – authentically moody and creepy with an underlying ominous tone that didn’t seem forced or manufactured. It didn’t pan out for that book, but this one gives me everything I was lacking from that other reading experience. This book is a ghost story, a forbidden romance, and a witch hunt all wrapped into one deliciously tragic tale. You should definitely read it!

Rebecca James

Rebecca James worked in publishing for several years before leaving to write full-time, and is now the author of several novels written under a pseudonym, as well as The Woman in the Mirror under her own name. Her favorite things are autumn walks, Argentinean red wine and curling up in the winter with a good old-fashioned ghost story. She lives in Bristol with her husband and two daughters. -bio from US.Macmillan.com

The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient, #2)

“He could give her every thing she wanted, a green card, real diamonds, his body, but love? Stone hearts didn’t love.” -The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Author: Helen Hoang

(3.91 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover (BOTM Edition)

Publication Date: May 7, 2019, by Berkley

Pages: 296 (Hardcover)

#TheBrideTest #HelenHoang

He was strange and tactless and very possibly an assassin, but when she looked at his actions, all she saw was kindness.

Whenever I’m reading a romance novel, I look for a hook that draws me in – something different from the usual tropes that we’re all so used to. I’ve done the difficult woman/heart-of-gold man thing, the playboy-meets-wholesome-girl thing, and the rich girl/poor guy vice-versa thing countless times before.

But when I read the blurb on the inside jacket of The Bride Test, I knew I was holding something a little different. An MC with autism… in a romance novel? And a hardworking immigrant mother who is determined to do everything she can to provide a better life for her daughter? I’m in! Before I get too far ahead of myself and give the whole story away, let’s check out the blurb…

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.
As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.
With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love. 

She couldn’t cry. She was supposed to be happy for the both of them because he didn’t know how.

I hate when this happens, but so often I can’t help it; I start reviewing a book before I’m even done with it. I’m writing the review in my head even as I’m reading the words on the page. It’s distracting, and it’s not fair – especially if I’m nowhere close to the last page.

The premature review-writing usually occurs when I am not at all interested in what’s going on in the pages in front of me. It’s my brain moving on to the next task because it’s bored or supremely dissatisfied.

But by the time I closed the back cover on The Bride Test, I realized that I had no idea what I was going to write in this review. I hadn’t thought about it at all – the book kept me that engaged. In fact, I probably could have finished this book in one sitting if I didn’t have to spend the rest of my time adulting!

Love wasn’t complicated. You either felt it or you didn’t. There was nothing to “figure out”.

So since I didn’t spend half the book ruminating over what I was going to say about it, I had time to really enjoy reading it! The things I enjoyed most are the unconventional main characters, the way the author lets the action play out without over-explaining, and especially how she develops Esme into a wonderful example of strength and self-determination.

I wanted to give it at least one more star than I did; however, there are some important plot points that Hoang glossed over and left readers hanging with even after the epilogue. That’s grating to me – there shouldn’t be a lot of questions at the end of a standalone romance novel! That’s not allowed!

But 3.5 stars is a very respectable rating and I stand by it. This was a good book and I would recommend it to others, especially those who like a little saucy with their sweet (how many authors can successfully make a haircut seem sexy?)! Check it out and see if you have the same questions at the end that I do (and if you end up day-dreaming about sexy men with dimples and teacher glasses!).

Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT. She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish. -Bio from Goodreads