book reviews

Best laid plans: Grace Grows

Today’s review comes from the lovely Monique from Write Notes Reviews. Monique recently reviewed Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners (Allen and Unwin) and here’s what she thought of it. I particularly like the recommended accompaniment of chocolate when reading this novel…

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Grace GrowsAs we all know, best-laid plans sometimes fall by the wayside when life gets in the way. Grace Grows is a fun and engaging novel based on the premise that, to paraphrase John Lennon, “life is what happens when you’re busy making plans”. While the concept is nothing new, the book delivers an old idea with a fresh approach that makes it highly readable…

You can read the full review here…

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If you’d like to find out more about Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners, you can visit the Allen and Unwin website here.

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I like it: Web of Deceit

I’ve discovered a little something about myself – much to my surprise, I quite like crime fiction.

Up until now, I thought that the few crime novels that I’d read and enjoyed had been a bit of a fluke. I read Kathryn Fox’s Cold Grave last year and loved it, and earlier, thoroughly enjoyed The Siren’s Sting, by Miranda Darling. I thought they must just have been particularly good examples of the genre.  I’ve since read others, and enjoyed them equally.

Web of DeceitAnd now, I’ve just finished reading Web of Deceit, by Katherine Howell (Pan Macmillan) and found myself unable to put it down, I was enthralled by the mystery and entertained by the action. I couldn’t wait for the truth to be revealed…

So on reflection, I think it’s fair to say that a pattern has emerged. I really like crime fiction, and in particular those that have a ‘speciality’ to which the author can write authentically from personal, professional experience. In this case, Katherine Howell is a former paramedic and brings to the story all the drama, trauma and heroism that the work of a paramedic involves.

Web of Deceit is the latest in the Ella Marconi series…

When paramedics Jane and Alex encounter a man refusing to get out of his crashed car with bystanders saying he deliberately drove into a pole, it looks like a cry for help. His claim that someone is out to get him adds to their thinking that he is delusional.

Later that day he is found dead under a train in what might be a suicide, but Jane is no longer so sure: she remembers the terror in his eyes.

Detective Ella Marconi shares Jane’s doubts, which are only compounded when the case becomes increasingly tangled. The victim’s boss tries to commit suicide when being questioned, a witness flees their attempt to interview her and a woman is beaten unconscious in front of Jane’s house.

Ella is at a loss to know how all these clues add up and then a shocking turn of events puts even more people in danger…

Howell’s novel twists and turns relentlessly, leaving the reader guessing right up until the very end. It’s not only unclear who is guilty for these crimes, but it’s also uncertain until the close, just who is going to be the hero of the hour.

There’s romantic relationships and personal conflicts, all of which allow the reader a chance to get inside the head of the fantastic characters in this story. These relationships; lover to lover, father to daughter, ex-wife to new wife, are all handled brilliantly – creating interest, diversion and introducing additional complexity to the already complicated scenario unfolding around the characters of Alex, Jane, Ella and Murray.

There’s plethora of clues to gather and assess and in keeping with the formula of many a quality crime story, Detective Marconi is not only pushing against time to solve this puzzle, but also against her penny-pinching, clock-watching boss. The reader is kept wondering – will his lack of commitment to solving this mystery cost Ella the chance to prove that Marco was a victim of foal play? Will Ella have the back-up required to make sure that she too doesn’t become a victim of this web of deceit? It’ll have you on tenterhooks.

You can enjoy an excerpt of Katherine’s novel on Pan Macmillan blog’s here.

I really enjoyed this book, I’ll be adding the previous Katherine Howell titles to my collection. If you’d like to find out more about Katherine and her books, you can visit her website.

Have you ever been surprised to find that you quite liked a particular genre, perhaps one you’d dismissed in the past?

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A new voice and a Man Drought

Of late, I’ve been exploring some different ways to join forces with other bookish people, in order to add new voices to TBYL and as a way of being able to tell you about more and more great books. There are always far more books to talk about than I have time to read and so I wanted to share the reading pile around a little.

As you already know, there’s the team of TBYL Reviewers – a growing group of wonderful readers, and now I’ve also paired up with the lovely Monique from Write Notes Reviews – another fantastic book reviews blog – to share some of our reading experiences.

In short, it’ll mean that from time to time I’ll let her speak for a book here at TBYL and in turn I’ll share the occasional review at Write Notes Reviews. I’m excited as I’m sure you’ll enjoy her reviews as much as I do.

Today, I’m really thrilled to be able to share with you, Monique’s take on Rachael John’s most recent novel Man Drought (Harlequin). I spoke with Rachael last year (read it here) and I was really looking forward to hearing about her most recent story.

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Man droughtRachael’s name started popping up last year in the Australian book blogging community with lots of positive reviews about her novel, Jilted. Too busy reading other books, I simply added the book to my mental to-be-read list and picked up another book from my towering pile. When I saw the anticipation leading up to the release of Man Drought, I knew it was time to check out Rachael’s books myself. I’m glad I did; Man Drought made me smile, laugh and sigh (sometimes all at once)…

You can read the full review here…

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If you’d like to find out more about Man Drought by Rachael Johns, you can visit the Harlequin website here.

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A delicious story: The Storyteller’s Daughter

I’m thrilled to be able to welcome our newest TBYL Reviewer to the team – the amazing Carolyn Jones! Welcome Carolyn, I can’t wait to share your wonderful reviews!

Over the summer break, Carolyn read The Storyteller’s Daughter, by Maria Goodin (Allen and Unwin) and kindly shares her thoughts on it today…

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storyteller's daughterThe Storyteller’s Daughter is a tale of a young and intelligent woman who suddenly leaves her ordered life and promising career as a geneticist to look after her sick Mother.  Meg May believes her mother to be crazy, largely due to that fact that she has always avoided answering direct questions, rather replacing factual answers with a wonderful, imaginative concoction of make-believe centred around food; Val’s favourite thing in the world.  As a result, all that Meg remembers from her early childhood is a mixture of stories created by Val.

“She was always such a sweet girl. When she was little she was so sweet I used to dip her toes in my tea. It saved me a fortune on buying sugar. I used to lend her out to the neighbours. ‘Don’t bother buying sugar,’ I used to tell them, ‘my daughter’s the sweetest thing around and she doesn’t rot your teeth.’”

I found it hard, in the beginning, to warm to Meg while she distanced herself from her mother’s creativity and focussed on the factual. However, Maria Goodin develops this character gently so that I was able to find a place in my heart for her.  If you want to make the perfect sponge cake you need to prepare the batter carefully for it rise.  Meg’s memory is peppered with holes and she wants more than anything to fill those gaps.  So much so that she feels she has to grow up well before her time and to become the parent to her fantastical and eccentric mother.  Throughout the novel Meg takes a journey of discovery, learning about her past and interestingly, surrounding herself with others who prefer make-believe over concrete and scientific evidence.

The other characters this novel serves up all have a tale to tell, some factual and others mythological, but all delightful for the reader to immerse themselves in.

Upon starting The Storyteller’s Daughter, I must admit, I thought I knew where the narrative was going, following a recipe of a strained mother-daughter relationship.  How wrong could I be?!  Even though Val makes up stories to hide behind her own past, the reader can’t help but be intrigued by her colourful accounts.  The stories are delicious and I could imagine how cosy it would be to sit by the Aga in Val’s kitchen, with the aromas of baking buttery pastries, sipping on a cup of tea and tasting her famous raspberry tartlets all the while savouring exotic tales of a beautiful time and relationship between mother and daughter.

I really enjoyed this book, it allows the reader to conjure up images of delectable treats, baked goods, abundant vegetable gardens, orchards and a delightful English cottage, all in order to tell a story of two people facing their past and present.  I was moved to the point of tears at times as Val and Meg learn what it means to truly love someone.  Some elements of the story made me laugh but it was the unexpected outcomes that made more of an impact.  The Storyteller’s Daughter was a great holiday read and it left me feeling satisfied, just like one does after an afternoon of eating (including dessert).

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You can find out more about Maria Goodin’s The Storyteller’s Daughter here…

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Rock and Roll Aura: Stage Fright

Sometimes it’s nice to read something that’s just a little bit left of centre. I enjoy being taken by surprise by a book, especially when I’m thinking I’m heading into one genre and I find myself in quite a different one all together…

Stage FrightStage Fright, by Marianne Delacourt (Allen and Unwin) is very much like this. Having not read either of the previous Tara Sharp stories, when I started to read this most recent instalment, I was expecting a detective novel. I was prepared for a little rock and roll and some hot Queensland weather, but not quite so ready for the particular ‘skills’ that Tara possesses and uses to her great advantage.

It starts off simply enough of course…

Things are a bit hot for Tara Sharp in Perth, so she jumps at the chance to leave her home town when a music promoter offers her a gig looking after a difficult musician who’s touring Brisbane.

Though minding musicians isn’t Tara’s usual line of work, the money is good and she’s a sucker for a backstage pass. Respite from her mother – with her not-so-subtle hints about ‘eligible young men’ and ‘suitable jobs’ – is also a plus, as is the time and distance to try and resolve her mixed up romantic live.

Arriving in ‘BrisVegas’, Tara find her hands full dealing with the bizarre habits of the ‘artist’, not to mention his crazy fans. And it’s not long before she discovers that the music industry can be more cut-throat than she imagined, and it can be very dangerous messing with the big boys…

Tara is happy with her job, but not so much with her bank balance. Her choice of occupation sees Tara living in a bungalow in her parent’s backyard, an arrangement that makes neither Tara or her parents particularly happy. She’s the first to admit that saying yes to the next big job to come along is a very good idea. Not only that, but Tara’s being asked to use her unique skills to help out a mate’s mate – she just can’t say no. And so, leaving her Monaro and her almost-boyfriend behind, she hops a plane to Brisbane.

Tara’s job is to find out information. To ask the right questions, to follow her nose and to use her special sight to unpick mysterious situations…

“Paolo’s aura took on a light brown tint. I guessed that if he was healthier then the colour would normally be a deep tan. People in the tan spectrum tended to be practical and hard-nosed. You don’t push people with tan auras too much because they push back tenfold. I had to head this off at the pass before Stuart lost him on pure stubbornness.”

And it works, but not without its fair share of close shaves and bum leads. Whilst standing in the line of fire to protect the bizarre and troubled musician Slim Sledge, and digging around for information where others fear to tread, Tara finds herself wrestling crazed fans and beating off underworld heavies with her fists and a barbequed duck! Her case has no shortage of dramatic episodes and crazy twists.

Delacourt’s novel is fast-paced, witty and fun. It’s jam packed with popular references, creating a really enjoyable sense of time and place. If you know Perth or Queensland at all you’ll feel particularly at home.

Tara is a great character, pragmatic and strong in her work and her self, but she’s also hopelessly conflicted when it comes to love and friendships. This of course creates some really entertaining twists and turns and creates a really likeable character.

If you like female-lead crime and mysteries, Stage Fright will be just the book for you. Great summer reading, it’s a quick, punchy read.

You can pick up a copy from the TBYL Store here, or find out more about the earlier books in the series here...

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Secret Mothers’ Business? The Mothers’ Group

There are some books that just get a conversation going. It’s not even necessarily the book that’s being talked about, sometimes it’s just a chat about memories, experiences, emotions… the book is just the catalyst, the starting point, the excuse.

Fiona Higgin’s The Mothers’ Group (Allen and Unwin) is one such book. A book club favourite, this novel has sparked many conversations in lounge rooms and cafes, over coffee and wine. Not surprisingly it has struck a cord with mothers around the country, all eager to share their own experiences of the spell-binding, mind-blowing and at times terrifying stage of early motherhood:

‘The Mothers’ Group’ tells the story of six very different women who agree to regularly meet soon after the births of their babies.

Set during the first crucial year of their babies’ lives, ‘The Mothers’ Group’ tracks the women’s individual journeys – and the group’s collective one – as they navigate birth and motherhood as well as the shifting ground of their relationship with their partners.

Each woman strives in her own way to become the mother she wants to be, and finds herself becoming increasingly reliant on the friendship and support of the members of the mothers’ group. Until one day an unthinkably shocking event changes everything, testing their bonds and revealing closely held secrets that threaten to shatter their lives.

Sucked in yet? I know I was…

I’d had lots of people recommend this book before I read it, and I’ll admit that at chapter one I wasn’t quite sure why. The story was interesting, albeit a little stereotypical, but on meeting Ginie, the first of six main characters, I found her somewhat unlikeable, she irritated me and therefore, so did the book. But, by about forty pages in, I worked out that this was exactly what I was supposed to feel, and decided to go along for the ride.

The novel paints a picture of challenges, both personal and maternal…

“All those things no one ever tells you about motherhood. It’s like secret mothers’ business. Lots of my friends had babies before me, but not one of them ever told me it would be this hard… It’s like a code of silence.”

…and appeals to a wide range of readers by presenting a fair range of ‘typical’ types of mothers. The story’s mothers’ group is an eclectic mix of woman, and half the intrigue of the novel is watching how these people relate to each other, and overtime, learn from each other.

Higgin’s had constructed a suspenseful, relatable and quite complex novel. It is at times a little cliched, but is no less enjoyable for it. In addition, I think the book encourages important conversations that can be very helpful to new mothers, and equally to those mothers who’ve gone through this challenging stage in the past.

The Mothers’ Group is our September TBYL Book Club book, and I can’t wait to hear what you thought of the book. Discussions kick off online on Monday, 24 September and will continue until Wednesday evening. I’ll be online on Monday night (from about 7:30pm) if you’d like to join me for a live chat. You can join the TBYL Book Club here.

If you’d like to buy a copy of the book, I’ve got copies in the TBYL Store, here…

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So. Much. Fun. Press Here!

Last night on Facebook I was a bit of a tease… I told you all that I’d found the best kids’ book ever. I tested it out on Oscar, and it received his overwhelming tick of approval, and now I want to tell you all about it!

It’s a simple book. It’s not sentimental or sweet, it’s not beautifully illustrated. It’s just clever, and most of all, it’s heaps of fun!

I’m talking about the picture book Press Here, by Herve Tullet. It’s been around since 2010, having first been published in French, and more recently in English by Allen and Unwin.

I won’t describe it to you, instead I’ll let you see for yourself why this book is so much fun…

It is of course educational, a great way for kids to learn about colours, counting, patterns and following instructions. Still, this seems almost besides the point when the kids are having such a great time! I really wish that I’d had a video camera running when Oscar and I first read the book, he was laughing hysterically, throwing himself around. He was fascinated, he thought it was all quite magical and of course wanted to read it over and over.

I’m going to take a copy down to Oscar’s kindergarten this week, and I can’t wait to see what the other kids think of it.

The only problem that I have, is that I’m worried about whether or not I will appear fickle if I now say that this book is my favourite? There’s nothing wrong with having a new favourite every week is there?

Have you and your kids read this book?

Buy your own copy of Press Here at the TBYL Store

 

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Many heartbreaks: My Hundred Lovers

You know I love a good dose of book-talk, and was rapt last month to take part in my very first read-along. Hosted by Bree of All The Books I Can Read, a whole bunch of bookish bloggers, including myself, read and discussed the poetic My Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson (Allen and Unwin).

The book promised to be lusty and powerful:

“A woman, on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, reflects on one hundred moments from a lifetime’s sensual adventures. After the love, hatred and despair is done with, the great and trivial acts of her bodily life reveal an imperfect, yet whole self.”

And from this I expected a catalogue of sorts, of sordid encounters with multiple lovers.

Interestingly, I got was something quite different.

What this novel delivers is a reminiscence of a life lived in the shadow of others and in the pallor of self doubt. It is an exploration of self-worth, held against the fond and fearful memories of romantic endeavour. Deborah, ‘the girl’, ‘the Suspicious Wanderer’ remembers her family – her first bittersweet relationships, her friends, her lovers – men and women, her son and her lost husband. Some of these relationships are fleeting, others life-long but all make their mark on who and how Deborah finds herself in her later years:

“Once, in London on New Year’s Eve, traffic prevented me from being at the party where I was supposed to be. At midnight I found myself alone in the back of the black cab, caught in a traffic jam.

We were stuck in Westminster, right beside Big Ben, when I heard the bells start up. Suddenly I wanted to hear them with my unwrapped ears, to hear time being counted out as we passed through it. I leant over and tapped on the screen separating me from the taxi driver.

‘Can you wind the window down, please, so I can hear the bells?’

‘It’s bloody freezing,’ he said, but lowered the windows so the thrilling air rushed in, bearing with it the complicated, pealing sound of time passing.

I turned my face up to the icy air, to the bells, to the gold of the clock tower lit up against the black winter night, and as midnight struck a beautiful strangers leant into the taxi and kissed me.”

As per the arrangements of the read-along, we read and discussed this book in three parts and I think that reading it that way worked really well. Stopping and discussing at each third made it a really interesting reading experience. For me I found the first third very raw and hyper-sexual, the second third as very sad, introspective and then this final third of the book I found incredibly poetic:

“How could I forget the poetry of the bath? The limbs collapsing, swimming, cupped warm and safe, the skin and nerves and fibres of the heart surrounded once again by comforting water, as warm as amniotic fluid.”

Overall I felt very sorry for Deborah, despite her comfortable, adventurous life. There was a real sadness in her story, in the tone of the narrative, and I found myself wishing that she could have cared for herself just a little more. Her sexual encounters so often involved her surrendering something of herself in a way that ultimately caused her harm of one type or another.

This novel takes a little getting used to and it’s not always pretty. It is sensual, but at time confronting. But, it is rewarding and poetic and resolves itself nicely. Its picture of Paris and its view of Australia from the outside looking in, is enticing and romantic.

I would recommend that you give this novel a go, give yourself a little time get a feel for the narrative and pacing, and I think you’ll really enjoy this moving and unique story.

Buy your own copy of My Hundred Lovers at the TBYL Store


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True entertainment: The Good Father

I’ll admit that in the past I’ve steered clear of most genre lit. I’ve been a bit sceptical, about the obvious focus on ‘entertainment’ and the general popularity of writers like Picoult etc. They seemed to me a little bit mainstream, to be a little too matter-of-fact, even a little tele-movie for my liking… but I’ll be honest, I hadn’t read any and as such I’m not sure what I was basing these assumptions on.

As you know, this past year and a half I’ve challenged myself to read differently… more widely, and this has in turn help me to lighten up a bit and embrace a lot of different types of writing and writers, popular or otherwise.

As a result, I’ve recently enjoyed my first Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf, I was drawn in by Carol Marinelli’s Putting Alice Back Together and most recently, I was completely sucked in to Diane Chamberlain’s The Good Father (Harlequin).

Described as; ‘Essential reading for Jodi Picoult fans’ Chamberlain’s newest novel is about a young father, Travis, and the difficult decisions he is forced to make:

“Four years ago, nineteen-year-old Travis Brown made the choice to raise his newborn daughter on his own. While most of his friends were out partying and meeting girls, Travis was at home, changing diapers and worrying about keeping food on the table. But he’s never regretted his decision. Bella is the light of his life. The reason behind every move he makes. And so far, she is fed. Cared for. Safe. But when Travis loses his construction job and his home, the security he’s worked so hard to create for Bella begins to crumble…”

The choice of main protagonist, and his subsequent dilemma is gripping. Travis is very likeable, honourable and a father with the best of intentions. This set-up is really interesting and a nice change from so many stories where fathers are cast as cads, as disengaged or at the very least ineffectual in their children’s lives. Travis, on the other hand, shows a love for his daughter Bella that will see him do anything. And of course, that’s where his trouble begins.

In addition to Travis and Bella, Erin’s role in this accidental adventure is also an important one. Her guilt and overwhelming grief at the loss of her daughter is palpable, and provides Chamberlain a vehicle to explore the deep horror of loosing a child; the very thing that Travis is trying so hard not to do.

The story itself is pretty complex, but the storytelling is clear and tidy. It’s not wordy or overly sentimental, a very interesting study of the complexity of peoples lives as they accept their responsibilities, question loyalties and make difficult, life-altering decisions.

All of these things put together saw me read this novel quickly, hardly putting it down. It made me sad, worried, happy and reflective. I think too, I’ll be going back to take a look at some of Diane Chamberlain’s other titles, particularly when I’m after some bookish entertainment.

Has anyone else read any Chamberlain? What did you think? Do you have a favourite?

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Tomorrow, an invite extended to you all… stay tuned!

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All hail, King Otto

I’d been looking for this book for a while, I just didn’t know it.

When Andrew Nicoll’s novel landed on my desk, I thought it just another story. In retrospect maybe I should have guessed from my attraction to the book’s cover, but in my defence, I try not to judge. Imagine my shock when If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead snuck up behind me and gave me a fair smack with the wacky stick. What a delightful surprise…

Andrew Nicoll’s If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead (Pan Macmillan) is Otto Witte’s hastily written memiors:

“Sitting in his caravan, drinking what is left of his coffee (dust), Otto has narrowly escaped death at the hands of allied bombs. Convinced his luck has run out and he will not see morning, he decides to record the story of his life for the poor soul who finds his body.

And what a story it is. Years earlier, when he was in either Buda or Pest, working at the circus, a newspaper article was brought to his attention. Why? Because in it was a picture of a particular Turkish prince, called to Albania to be their new king. And this prince just so happened to bear a striking resemblance to Otto…”

Presented with such an obvious opportunity, Otto does the only sensible thing – he runs away from the circus. He takes with him a camel, a cashbox and a band of strong, beautiful and mysterious friends, all of whom are loyal to the last, a worthy ‘royal’ entourage.

Otto, on his travels must undergo a transformation, from the Acrobat of Hamburg to the Kind of Albania. He uses his charm, and when that fails, his brute strength to coerce, cajole and convince his way from Budapest to Albania, and onto the Albanian throne.

Now, don’t be fooled, this is no boys-own-adventure. Claiming the Albanian crown is a serious undertaking, and it’s exactly when things get their most serious that they can also become their most bizarre:

“Arbuthnot went out and stood in the middle of the courtyard, feet together, arms spread, and he raised his long wolf jaw to the sky and he began to blow. His lips were formed in a tight O and he blew, like a silent whistle at the bring moon sky. All around the courtyard the men lining the walls did the same thing, they turned their faces up to the sky and they blew. There were dozens of men there, more than a hundred of them blowing thin blue trails of tobacco smoke at the sky, cigarettes and hookah pipes all puffing upwards and – this is the part I don’t believe – the sky darkened. The smoke rose and, as it rose, it thickened and grey clouds crept in over the rooftops and hid the sun.”

Unbenounced to Otto and his merry troupe, they were most certainly ‘sailing to murder and greed and ice-cold lust’ and so goes the rise and fall of King Otto.

Nicoll’s has created a fabulous tale, unique and colourful. It’s a fantastically funny story, whilst dark and earnest in perfect measure. The novel itself is magical, nicely reminiscent of works like Alice Through the Looking Glass, or the recent feature film Hugo. For me though, the real highlight was the fact that it reminded me of reading a novel by my favourite author, Tom Robbins. Robbins’ novels are surreal, crazy and lusty and Nicoll’s book has many of the same characteristics.

Of course, If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead is it’s own strange self, it’s wonderfully original, but at the same time it has allowed me to recapture just a little of the delight I took from reading Robbins all those years ago. That is what makes it the book I’ve been looking for, and I’m rapt.

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Tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing a Diane Chamberlain’s edge of your seat read, The Good Father (Harlequin)

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