• ARC's,  Book Reviews

    Sister Dear: excerpt & review

    Book Details

    Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon

    Publisher: MIRA (Harper Collins imprint)

    Pages: 368

    Publish date: 5/26/2020

    Genre: Psychological/domestic thriller

    Buy Links: 

    Harlequin 

    Barnes & Noble

    Amazon

    Books-A-Million

    Powell’s

    Synopsis

    In Hannah Mary McKinnon’s psychological thriller, SISTER DEAR (MIRA Trade; May 26, 2020; $17.99), the obsession of Single White Female meets the insidiousness of You, in a twisted fable about the ease of letting in those who wish us harm, and that mistake’s dire consequences.

    The day he dies, Eleanor Hardwicke discovers her father – the only person who has ever loved her – is not her father. Instead, her biological father is a wealthy Portland businessman who wants nothing to do with her and to continue his life as if she doesn’t exist. That isn’t going to work for Eleanor.

    Eleanor decides to settle the score. So, she befriends his daughter Victoria, her perfect, beautiful, carefree half-sister who has gotten all of life’s advantages while Eleanor has gotten none.

    As she grows closer to Victoria, Eleanor’s obsession begins to deepen. Maybe she can have the life she wants, Victoria’s life, if only she can get close enough. 

    Excerpt

    Chapter 1

    The police didn’t believe me.

    A jury wouldn’t have, either, if I’d gone on trial, and most definitely not the judge. My attorney had more than a few reservations about my story. Ms. Allerton hadn’t said as much. She didn’t need to. I saw it in her eyes, could tell by the way she shuffled and reshuffled her papers, as if doing so might shake my lies clean off the pages, leaving only the truth behind in her inky, royal blue swirls.

    After our first meeting I’d concluded she must’ve known early on—before she shook my hand with her icy fingers—that I was a liar. Before she’d walked into the room in shiny, four-inch heels, she’d no doubt decided she’d heard my excuses, or a variation thereof, from countless clients already. I was yet another person claiming to be innocent. Another criminal who’d remained adamant they’d done nothing wrong, it wasn’t their fault, honest, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary, a wall of impending doom surrounding me.

    And still, at the time I’d believed the only reason Ms. Allerton had taken on my case pro-bono was because of the amount of publicity it gave her firm. Reducing my sentence—for there would be one—would amplify her legacy as a hot-shot lawyer. I’d accepted her help. There was no other option. I needed her knowledge, her expertise, saw her as my final hope. I now know her motivations were something else I’d miscalculated. All hope extinguished. Game over.

    If I’m being fair, the judgements Ms. Allerton and other people had made about me weren’t completely wrong. I had told lies, some, anyway. While that stripped away part of my claim to innocence, it didn’t mean I was entirely guilty. Not of the things everybody said I’d done. Things I’d had no choice but to confess to, despite that being my biggest lie of all.

    But I’ll tell you the truth. The whole truth and nothing but. I’ll start at the beginning, and share everything that happened. Every last detail leading up to one fateful night. The night someone died because of me. The night I lost you, too.

    I won’t expect your forgiveness. Our relationship—or lack thereof—will have gone way beyond that point. No. All I can hope for, is that my side of the story will one day help you understand why I did the things I did.

    And why I have to do the things I’ve not yet done.

    Excerpted from Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon, Copyright © 2020 by Hannah McKinnon. 

    Published by MIRA Books

    Review

    3.5/5 ✂️’s

    The blurb had me at Single White Female meets Joe of You.

    This book was a page-turner! It’s always tough to give full reviews of books with twists and turns without spoilers. But I will say that I typically enjoy family psychological thrillers and this was no exception. One secret was revealed early on which I’m a fan of – it moved the story forward instead of letting the reader guess about everything.

    The writing was done well and very atmospheric with interesting characters. You could feel the desperation in Eleanor’s life and while she certainly had her faults, she was still a character to empathize with at times. Characters that I can connect with are important to me and this story gave plenty of opportunity for that.

    My one issue was that this was narrated in the first person by Eleanor and that is not my favorite narration style – strictly personal preference though. I was thoroughly captivated and while this was my first book by Hannah Mary McKinnon, it will not be my last.

    Thank you to MIRA Books and NetGalley for a gifted copy of this book in exchange for my honest review and promotion.

    About the author

    Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing, and is now the author of The Neighbors and Her Secret Son. She lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons, and is delighted by her twenty-second commute.

    Twitter: @HannahMMcKinnon

    Instagram: @hannahmarymckinnon

    Facebook: @HannahMaryMcKinnon

     

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews,  Bookish,  Recommendations

    NetGalley 101

    I am a book snob. Like a physical book in my hand with pages I can turn snob. I got used to ARCs (advance reader copy) showing up on my front porch almost everyday. Books to read and review before they were released? Life was pretty good.

    Then COVID hit.

    I started getting emails notifying me that the ARC that was supposed to be headed my way was in NYC, the heart of the publishing industry, and wasn’t going to make it to me in time for the blog tour or publishing date. Certainly understandable and a problem that reached beyond the publishing house – I didn’t want to needlessly expose a postal worker or UPS delivery person to one extra home or package when I had another way to get a book.

    Enter NetGalley.

    I’ve had an account for a few years but never was very active. But when you want to read new books, review, and promote them, a reader will do just about anything. So I purchased an iPad mini (my preferred eReader) to use the Kindle app on, dusted off my NetGalley password, and got to downloading books and requesting more.

    Want to access ARCs from NetGalley? Here’s how:

    1. Set up an account. Be as clear and detailed when filling out your profile as possible. Include your number of Instagram followers, blog readers/metrics, how long you have been reading and reviewing books, the genres you love, what kind of work you’re available for (promotions, reviews, giveaways, blog tours, etc.). Also link Twitter and LinkedIn (if you have them) to your account.
    2. Blogs. They are important to publishers. Your blog reviews show up in Google searches while Instagram reviews do not. They are not a must but they are a great platform for detailed reviews. Plus, with Instagram changing something every week and questions about who owns the content I’m all for blogs if you’re serious about reading and reviewing books.
    3. Link your Kindle account to NetGalley. Every Kindle account has an email address and that’s how NetGalley sends the eBooks to you.
    4. Find your favorite publishers and request some books. When you are approved for a title you will get an email with a “widget” to click on to download the book. You will also get declined. It’s not personal. But the longer you review on NetGalley, the higher your review rate, and the better your stats are outside of NetGalley, the better your chances are of getting approved. A great place to start is with Read Now titles. Anyone can request and review them.
    5. Review, review, review. Look at each publisher’s requirements for the timing of reviews prior to the publishing date. Be on time and be sure to share the links to your reviews that you post outside of NetGalley I.E. your blog and Instagram. And lastly, share your reviews on Barnes & Noble and Amazon using the NetGalley site. Simply posting your review on NetGalley isn’t enough.

    A few tips:

    • Don’t go crazy requesting books. Publishers respond in their own time and the last thing you want is 50 books waiting for you to read and review.
    • If an actual person from the publisher sends you the widget, be sure to respond to them. Thank them and then when you review the book, also send them the links. This is a great way to establish relationships within publishing houses and this alone has opened up multiple opportunities for me for physical finished copies and giveaways.
    • Keep your profile up to date. That’s the first thing publishers look at when they get your request.
    • Only pursue this route if you’re serious about actually reading and reviewing books. This is not the site for getting book mail to post on Instagram. Requesting books and doing nothing with them is not a good way to develop a solid reputation with publishers.
    • Always include the disclosure! Something like, “Thanks to NetGalley and X publisher for a gifted copy of this eBook in exchange for my unbiased review.” This is an FTC regulation and a must.
    • Lastly, here is an example of a recent NetGalley blog review and the corresponding Instagram review.

    Please let me know if you have any questions! I have loved using NetGalley and plan to continue to use it even after COVID is over. It has made me reevaluate and realize that I don’t need a physical copy of every single new book.

  • Book Reviews,  mental health,  Personal,  Writing

    Wednesday Words & More: Untamed

     

     My therapist’s memo. I wouldn’t burn this one…

     

    What if we had missed The Memo?

    Or if the first person who got it, looked at it and realized it was a terrible idea and burned the memo?

    I burned the memo that defined selflessness as the pinnacle of womanhood, but first I forgave myself for believing that lie for so long…Selfless women make for an efficient society but not a beautiful, true, or just one. When women lose themselves, the world loses its way. We do not need more selfless women. (p. 75)

    I did a short review of Untamed here but I have a lot more to say. Specifically around anxiety and Glennon’s thoughts on the subject.

    Real talk: my anxiety is often all-consuming. Some of it comes from the belief that I must be selfless and available at all times. The rest of it is that I have lots to worry about.

    Some of it is real. Some of it is imagined. Some of it is planned – it is my worst case so I plan. Not because I want it to happen but because several of my worst case scenarios are no longer scenarios. They happened, I survived, but I must be on guard so they do not happen again to my family members or myself.

    I put on a good face and I try and stay busy. I love to read and I love to write. But the second life begins to flirt with the almost worst case scenario, I am not OK. I don’t read. I don’t write. And if it’s bad enough it can take me time to recover. I have always felt bad about this downtime.

    Maybe I shouldn’t.

    One of my favorite words is selah.

    Selah is found in the Hebrew Bible seventy-four times. Scholars believe that when it appears in the text, it is a direction to the reader to stop reading and be still for a moment, because the previous idea is important enough to consider deeply. (p.136)

    What are my reflections?

    What can I learn from the almost?

    What boundaries need to be set?

    What do I need to do to take care of myself?

    I live with two people who take up a lot of space. I love them and love the space that they inhabit. But with those large spaces come a huge desire to control on my part. It comes from a place a love for sure but it isn’t healthy for anyone.

    My answer? Selah. Be still.

    If I ever got a tattoo, that’s what it would be. A constant reminder that the text, the email, the phone call – they all can wait. Because if I’m not healthy I’m not going to be any good for the person on the other end.

    This book came along at the perfect time for me but I hesitate to call this book self-help. It’s far closer to a memoir or a collection of short stories. Whatever it is, her openness around addiction, anxiety and mental health are worth their weight in gold.

    Untamed is a book I will continue to revisit because there is so much good information in this book. From white privilege, to racism, to raising confident kids, to creativity – it’s all there. No, I don’t agree with everything but I don’t believe it’s the job of the author to put something out there that everyone loves and agrees with.

    But that’s another post for another day.

     

     

     

     

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews,  Recommendations

    The Summer Set: excerpt & review

     

    Author: Aimee Agresti

    Publisher: Graydon House

    Pages: 384

    Publish date: May 12, 2020

    Genre: Women’s fiction

    My rating: ✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    Excerpt:

    I MISSED YOU TOO

    Charlie studied herself in her bathroom mirror. In just a week her bruised eye had faded to the dull gray of rancid meat, now easily disguised by concealer. She flat-ironed her raven hair, securing it in a sleek, low ponytail, then rummaged the closet for her most professional-looking getup: that slim black suit, pale pink silk blouse with the bow at the neck and the stilettos she only wore when she felt compelled to impress. Her wardrobe from that perfume ad a decade earlier but timeless nonetheless, just like the moniker that had been etched in script on the curved bottle of the fragrance.

    Outside, Boston did its best impersonation of her supposed hometown, London. (Though she had lived away from there enough during childhood to have eluded the accent.) The dreary May rain made her think of her mom: the estimable Dame Sarah Rose Kingsbury. News of Charlie’s incident had warranted mentions in a few celebrity weeklies and, unfortunately, made the hop across the pond. Her mother had called, texted and finally, after no response, emailed: Charlie, Did you receive my voice mail and text? I trust you’re alright. Another of your stunts? Please respond. Love, Mum. Her mom’s correspondence always scanned like a telegram, full of stops and full stops—much like their relationship itself. Charlie, reveling in being briefly unreachable and not in the mood to answer questions, hadn’t yet bothered to replace her phone and had indeed missed the call but wrote back assuring her mom that she was fine, though the accident had not, in fact, been performance art.

    By the time Charlie reached the foreboding Suffolk County Courthouse, her lawyer/friend Sam—who had shepherded her through the theater purchase (while questioning her sanity)—was already there pacing, barking into her phone.

    “This should be easy,” Sam told her, hanging up, hugging her while scrolling her inbox. Sam wore suits and radiated responsibility, two things Charlie found comforting in a lawyer. “Be contrite and it should be open-and-shut for community service.”

    The sterile courtroom’s pin-drop silence made Charlie shiver. Next to her, Sam tucked her phone in her bag and rose to her feet, gesturing for Charlie to stand as the judge materialized at the bench. Charlie found it oddly reassuring that the judge was the kind of woman who wore pearls and a frilly collar outside her robe.

    “You were okay with my email, right?” Sam whispered, as they sat again.

    “What email?” she whispered back.

    “My email. An hour ago? You have got to get a new phone,” Sam scolded.

    “I know, I know—”

    “There was this arrangement, last minute, I hope you’ll be amenable to but—”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Charlie pleaded.

    The judge had begun speaking, so Sam hushed her. Too late.

    “Ms. Savoy, this is the part where I get to talk.” The judge looked up from the paper she had been reading aloud. “Maybe it was different in your episodes of Law & Order?”

    “No, ma’am, I mean, Your Honor, sir, ma’am, no,” Charlie stumbled. She had been wrong about the judge. The woman continued on about the damage Charlie caused and the significant hours of service required like Charlie was the honoree at one of those Comedy Central roasts, albeit one that could end with her in a jail cell.

    Until finally, the judge cut to the chase: “…an assignment has presented itself,” she said slowly. “Which will make fine use of Ms. Savoy’s expertise…” Charlie caught Sam’s side-eye. “So Charlotte Savoy shall be required to complete sixty days with the Chamberlain Summer Theater in—”

    “NO!” Charlie expelled the word, an anaphylactic response. The judge scowled as though jail might still be an option. “Sorry, Your Honor, I just mean—can I object?” Sam shot her a lethal glare. “It’s just that, well—” Charlie tried again as a door at the back of the courtroom creaked open, footsteps echoing. She turned to discover the equivalent of a ghost.

    Nick Blunt—director, ex, first love, disappointment, invertebrate—heading her way.

    “Mr. Blunt, thank you for joining us,” the judge said, unimpressed.

    Charlie’s posture straightened, heartbeat ticking faster than seemed medically sound. She felt betrayed by her own being, muscles, nerves, ashamed of this reaction.

    “Sorry, Your Honor,” he said in that deep rasp.

    Charlie wished she hated that voice. And it seemed an abomination that he could still be attractive—physically at least.

    Rugged with an athletic build, he wore black jeans, a blazer and aviator sunglasses, which he pulled off as he walked (pure affectation since, to her knowledge, it was still raining outside), tucking them into the V of his slim sweater.

    He took his place beside Charlie, flashing that smile he deployed when he aimed to be his most charming.

    “Hi there,” he said, as though surprised to be meeting this way.

    “Shouldn’t you be wearing a cape?” Charlie rolled her eyes, focused on the judge reading again, and returned her body to its proper slouch, recalibrating her expression between boredom and disgust.

    “I missed you too, Charlie,” he whispered back.

    From the corner of her eye, Charlie spotted the sharp beak of that tattoo—the meadowlark—curving around from the back of his neck. It was still there, which gave her a pang of affection, a flare-up she forced herself to snuff out. She imagined how they might look to those few people sitting in the rows behind them. Nick and her with these identical birds inked onto the backs of their necks, midflight and gazing at each other anytime he stood on her right side, as he did now. Mirror images, bookends, the birds’ once-vibrant golden hue as faded as the memory of the hot, sticky night she and Nick had stolen away from campus to get them together.

    Over the years, she had considered having hers removed or morphed into some other design, but why should she? She liked it. At face value. Charlie sighed again, more loudly than intended, as her mind sped to how this summer would now be.

    “Ms. Savoy, is there a problem?” the judge asked, irked.

    “Your Honor, I just wondered—is there a littered park or something? Instead?”

    “We’re fine, Your Honor.” Sam patted Charlie’s arm in warning.

    “Ms. Savoy will report to service June 1.” The judge slammed the gavel, which, to Charlie, sounded like a nail being hammered into a coffin.

    “I had a client last week who’s cleaning restrooms at South Station this summer,” Sam said apologetically as they walked out.

    Charlie just charged ahead down the hall, an urgent need to escape, her mind struggling to process it all.

    “So, craziest thing happened,” Nick launched in, catching up to them at the elevator. “I was reading the news and saw about your little mishap—” He sounded truly concerned for a moment.

    “Don’t pretend like you don’t have a Google alert on me,” Charlie cut him off, stabbing the down button too many times.

    “You always were a terrible driver—”

    “That river came outta nowhere—”

    “But a stellar swimmer—”

    She nodded once. She couldn’t argue with that.

    He went on, “So I made a few calls and—”

    “Don’t be fooled by…that.” She waved her hand back toward the courtroom. “You need me more than I need you.”

    The elevator opened.

    “We’ll see about that.” He let them on first. Charlie hit the button again-again-again to close the doors, but he made it in. “How long has it been, anyway?”

    “You know how long it’s been,” she said as the doors closed so she was now looking at their reflection. It had been six years, three months, two weeks and two days since they last saw each other. At the long-awaited premiere for Midnight Daydream—which should’ve been a thrilling night since a series of snags had pushed the film’s release date back two years after filming. But instead of celebratory toasts, it had ended with a glass of the party’s signature cocktail—a messy blackberry-infused bourbon concoction the shade of the night sky—being thrown. In retrospect, she thought, there’d been so many signs the movie was cursed.

    “You’re just mad your self-imposed exile is over.” He smirked.

    “Always with the probing psychoanalysis.” She watched the floor numbers descend, doors finally opening.

    Sam scurried out ahead of them. “My work here is done. I’m sure you two have a lot of catching up to do.” She gave Charlie an air-kiss before striding off.

    “Wait, no, I just need to—” Charlie tried to stop her, but Sam had already hopped in a cab.

    “So, I have an office not too far, off Newbury Street, off-season headquarters for Chamberlain—” Nick started.

    “Luckily you’re usually phoning it in, so I haven’t had the privilege of running into you around town.” She walked ahead in the cool, pelting rain.

    He stayed where he was. “I’d invite you out for a drink—”

    “It’s, like, 10 a.m. That’s too early. Even for you—” She glanced back.

    “Summer is gorgeous in the Berkshires, as you may recall,” he shouted, sunglasses back on, absurdly, and that smile again. “Welcome back to Chamberlain, Charlie.

    Excerpted from The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti, Copyright © 2020 by Aimee Agresti. 

    Published by Graydon House Books

    Review:

    I am a huge fan of books having anything to do with the theatre. And I was sold on the premise of an A-lister returning to her roots to do community service at a small, struggling theatre. This book had a campy feel full of auditions, rehearsals, on-stage and off-stage drama, and finally performances. As a theatre parent myself, I could fully appreciate all aspects of this plot as they consume most of my life.

    I read this book in an afternoon by the pool. It was entertaining and the characters were, well… exactly how I expected them to be based on my own real life experiences. I enjoyed the inclusion of the Shakespeare element and the writing was done well. But what really stood out to me was the backstage drama. It was depicted so accurately and trust me, all these characters all exist in real life.

    In the book they were well-developed and interesting. This book held my attention and it was a very satisfying read. There is a romance as well and while I’m not the biggest romance fan, these things happen in the theatre all the time and it rounded out the story nicely.

    If you enjoyed Trust Exercise, City of Girls, or Limelight you will most likely enjoy this book.

    Buy Links: 

    Harlequin 

    Barnes & Noble

    Amazon

    Books-A-Million

    Powell’s

     

     

     

    About the author

    Aimee Agresti is the author of Campaign Widows and The Gilded Wings trilogy for young adults. A former staff writer for Us Weekly, she penned the magazine’s coffee table book Inside Hollywood. Aimee’s work has also appeared in People, Premiere, DC magazine, Capitol File, the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Washington City Paper, Boston magazine, Women’s Health and the New York Observer, and she has made countless TV and radio appearances, dishing about celebrities on the likes of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Insider, Extra, VH1, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and HLN. Aimee graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, DC, area.

    Social Links:

    Author Website

    Twitter: @AimeeAgresti

    Instagram: @aimeeagresti

    Facebook: @AimeeAgrestiAuthor

    Thanks to Graydon House, NetGalley, and the author for a gifted copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

     

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews,  Recommendations

    Dali Summer: review & blog tour

    About Dali Summer

    • Paperback: 344 pages
    • Publisher: Tule Publishing Group, LLC (May 5, 2020)

    Her wild and vivid visions inspire an icon…

    Synopsis

    Nothing is more important to prim, colorblind Dolors Posa than family and living down the shame of her illegitimate birth, but when the sudden onset of fantastical visions threaten her sterling reputation, she must search for answers before the inhabitants of the tiny village of Cadaqués brand her as demente– crazy like her mother. In a quest to stop her hallucinations, she befriends a beautiful, intoxicating fortune teller and her handsome anarchist brother, as well as becoming a reluctant muse for thirteen-year-old Salvador Dali. In a summer that changes everything, Dolors must choose between her family’s reputation and a life filled with adventure, friendship, rapturous color and the possibility of love.

    Set against the political upheaval of 1917 Spain, Dali Summer captures the fierce spirit of Catalonia, the generosity and stubbornness of its people and the blossoming promise of a woman who thought life was bland and empty and had long ago had passed her by.

    Review

    What a fascinating premise – a colorblind girl and the world she sees portrayed through her eyes. Then the contrast of the vivid color from new friends, including Salvador Dali, and even love. I am a huge fan of books that incorporate art into their storylines so I was hooked from the beginning.

    The characters were just as easily imagined as the colors in this book. They were well developed and easy to identify with. The writing was excellent and I plan to read more by this author.

    My one issue: there were a lot of moving parts to this story. It almost felt as if it needed to decide between being a historical fiction novel and a character-driven story. It certainly was not a deal breaker for me but I was torn between the characters and wanting to learn more about the history of the time period.

    If you enjoyed Where The Crawdads Sing or Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, you will most likely enjoy this book as well

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    Purchase Links

    Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

    About T. J. Brown

    Well behaved women rarely make history. Teri Brown lived that quote way before she ever even heard it. The two things she is most proud of, (besides her children), is that she jumped out of an airplane once and she beat the original Legend of Zelda video game. She is a novel writer, head banger, pet keeper, math hater, cocktail drinker, booty shaker, book reader, city slicker, food fixer, French kisser, rule breaker, wine sipper and word scribbler. She loves her husband, kitties and chocolate.

    Find out more about Teri at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

    Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for the gifted copy in exchange for my unbiased review.

     

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