Nice Girls

Posted October 18, 2021 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Catherine Dang
William Morrow
September 14, 2021
10-0063027550


Nice Girls is a thoroughly gripping novel from a debut author.”

Mary was constantly bullied while growing up in Liberty Lake, Minnesota. Being overweight and an A student caused her to bear the brunt of cruel comments from her peers. The last to be picked for anything, her only friend was Madison Nguyen, a Vietnamese girl also considered an outcast. Mary studied hard to make good grades, for she dreamed of getting away from her hometown. Her life started going downhill when her beloved mother died young, and as an only child, her father more or less withdrew away from her.

Mary’s dream came true when she got accepted to Cornell University, miles away from home. She breaks her old habits, is friendly to everyone, loses weight, and now as a senior, she is an RA (resident advisor) in her dorm.

As the new freshman arrives, one of the students she mentors, Carly, strikes up a friendship with Mary. She is happy, for she never really had anyone want to be her friend, except Olivia, who dumped her after grammar school and then, Madison in high school. They spend time together until Mary gets expelled. Offering no excuse, her father picks her up to return home with her tail tucked between her knees. Her life and prospects are now over.

Back home, Mary faces the facts—she needs a job to cover her student loans. Living with her father is not what she wants, but where else can she go, and what kind of employment can she gain? She is hired at the local market, and for minimum wage, she sees her education wasted and has no friends. Madison resides in California, and her dad barely speaks to her. Could her life be any worse?

Mary is shocked to learn Dwayne Turner, the star football player from her high school class, is the assistant manager. Calling her “Ivy League Mary,” which embarrasses her, she wonders why he is not in college, for he too had a promising future ahead of him. Though they chat, he is reticent about his past.When he invites her to attend his cousin’s birthday party, she is happy to go having nothing else to do. Yet when they arrive (at the seedy part of town), they witness Dwayne’s cousin Jayden punch a guy till he’s unconscious. Deciding to take off before the cops show up, Mary, Dwayne, Jayden, and his girlfriend Charice hop into Mary’s car and head for Dwayne’s apartment, surprised to see he lives in a luxury complex. How can he afford to live here on a grocery store paycheck? Even though it’s a studio, it still is an expensive residence.

Olivia Willand, Mary’s childhood best friend, goes missing. She is well-liked, with a popular Instagram account, and is home for a visit. Mary carries a great deal of angst, especially after learning 19-year-old DeMaria Jackson disappeared not long ago. When walking along the lake with Dwayne, a couple stumble upon a body part, later identified as one of DeMaria’s arms. Where is the rest of her body, and who killed her?

A widespread search commences for Olivia. Mary gets involved though hesitant, but her gut tells her DeMaria and Olivia’s disappearance are connected. Passing herself off as a journalist, she interviews DeMaria’s mom Leticia. She is unsettled seeing her holding DeMaria’s infant son, whom she now cares for. Leticia is angry at the police, stating more effort had been spent looking for Olivia. Still, no one seemed to care about DeMaria, alleging it was due to her being black and not from a well-to-do family.

Mary does not tell anyone why she got expelled, leaving the reader to wonder what happened. After being home a short time, Mary digs more into the two missing women, she receives a text, and it shows her police report from school, and it not only went to her and her job too.

When she arrives at work, Jim, her boss, confronts her:

“After I opened the checkout lane, Jim came by. I could hear it in the way he walked, each step halting for a slight second too long.

“I tried to smile so hard that my cheeks hurt.

“‘How’s it going, Jim?’

“‘You have a criminal record?’ he asked.

“I froze mid-smile.

“Jim was frowning, his arms folded across his chest. He was wary, as if he were looking at a bomb instead of a person.

“‘So it’s true?’ Jim asked. ‘The fourth-degree assault charge?”

“‘It was dropped,’ I blurted out. My mind was focused on the email. Jim had received it. ‘It’s not . . . it’s not real.’

“‘You lied, Mary. On the paperwork, you said you had no criminal record.’ Jim didn’t blink. ‘And you’re got a whole article. That’s something you should’ve told us.’

“I was watching myself slip away, my hands slackening off the rope, gravity tugging me down. There was no stopping it. . . .

. . . “People were fired every day. They were let go because of budget issues or a lack of skills. Sometimes the boss was in a bad mood. Other times they deserved it.

“But I wasn’t like them. I was boring and smart, and I had busted my ass off to get into Cornell. I was nice. I wasn’t someone who got fired.”

Things turn depressing for Mary. Her father is disappointed in her. With no employment, no friends, things keep going downhill.

When parts of Olivia’s body are discovered, Mary becomes more concerned about a serial killer in town. Both women’s deaths are connected. But who will believe her?

One cannot help but pity Mary for all the pain she faced during her life, and a hoped-for future goes down the drain. But between the many subplots and backstories included, this tale is complex, with a lot of fodder to whet a mystery lover’s appetite. There are so many suspects, it’s challenging to discern who the perpetrator is in these crimes. In addition, the ending is unexpected. Nice Girls is a thoroughly gripping novel from a debut author. Will there be a sequel?

PUG ACTUALLY

Posted June 5, 2021 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

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Pug Actually by Matt Dunn
MIRA
June 29, 2021
10-0778311236
320 pages
Contemporary Women’s Fiction


For dog lovers and even those who aren’t too fond of canines, Pug Actually offers readers a delightful change of pace. This novel is written from the point of view of Doug, an enchanting, rescued pug who has found his forever home with Julie Newman. As Doug recalls:

“Long story short, one morning, my original human didn’t wake up, and it took three days for anyone to notice. You’d have thought I killed her, given the home they sent me to after that. But at least I got fed there regularly, was walked a few times a day; had all my basic needs met, until the day Julie and Julie’s day Jim took me somewhere much better. A real home. Julie’s home.

“At the time, it never occurred to me that there was a grander life out there than the one I had. I didn’t realize the situation I was in wasn’t healthy. Had no idea I needed to be rescued. A little, I suspect, like Julie feels right now.”

Doug is so happy in his new home, but he worries about his “mom” Julie, who definitely is not content. She loves her job and is having an affair with her boss, Luke, but she is anxiously waiting for their relationship to become permanent. Unfortunately, Luke is married, a fact he did not disclose until after sucking in Julie hook, line, and sinker, making her fall deeply in love with him. Though he promises to leave his wife, Julie wonders if it will happen.

Jim, Julie’s friends Priya, her husband, Sanji, and even Doug cannot understand why Julie is so set on being with Luke. He is a scoundrel of the top order, but Julie seems to like wallowing in self-pity. She receives the sympathy she seeks at first, but soon it becomes tiring to those listening. Doug decides it’s up to him to get her away from this two-timer as no one else is doing so. He loves Julie but hates seeing her so bereft and what’s worse is, he can see right through Luke.

Though Jim listens patiently to Julie’s tale of woe, she won’t take his advice. Instead, Julie wants Jim to start dating, though Julie’s mother passed away five years prior, Jim is not ready, nor does he feel he ever will be. Dot, a waitress at the local café they patronize shows interest in Jim, and when Julie suggests he starts seeing her, he is stunned but tells Julie to do the same and seek a new relationship.

Somewhat fearfully, Jim seeks out Dot who invites him, (and Doug, of course) for a barbecue. Mentioning her son, Tom is now living with her after divorcing his wife, they plot to get Julie and Tom together, believing they would not only be perfect for each other, but this would lure Julie away from Luke and give Tom a new chance at love.

Unfortunately, Julie and Tom’s first meeting doesn’t go as expected for Tom chastises Julie for having an affair with a married man. Though they clash, Doug detects an attraction between them, albeit a faint one. Now he has the incentive to try harder to make Julie realize Tom is a good guy. But, when Doug learns Tom is a vet, he has misgivings. Doug does not like veterinarians, yet meeting Tom changes his mind as Tom is completely captivating, not only to Julie but to him as well. Not only that but to spare Doug’s feelings, every time Tom’s name comes up, he’s mentioned as the “V-E-T” not realizing Doug is smart and can spell.

One day Julie is in the park with Doug and spots Tom trying to catch a dog who is running loose. Doug runs over to make friends, but this errant canine wants bites Doug on the ear, shocking both him and Julie. Though Doug hopes to get the two together, this isn’t the way. Tom rescues Doug then takes him to his office to get stitches. This is where Doug and Julie observe how compassionate he is and the frost between Julie and Tom is thawing.

To bolster Julie’s spirits, Priya gives her a certificate for a makeover for both her and Doug. His thoughts on this are:

“She may not be particularly keen to go given how she feels Luke’s rejected her and, to tell the truth, I can understand that. When you’re a rescue dog, you’ve been rejected too in a way, which means you’re naturally very suspicious of anyone who comes along to rescue you. Partly it’s the unsettled feeling–you’ve been in one place, then another, now you’re going to be taken to a third, with no guarantee you’re not going to be returned if things don’t work out. Also, it’s the worry that you might just be going to more of the same—after all, you don’t need qualifications to own a dog. Or a license. You can just . . . get one. And the same is true for relationships.

“It took me months of living with Julie before I was sure I wasn’t going back to that place. Ages before I stopped thinking every trip in the car was the last one I’d be taking with her. The best part of a year until I could finally relax.

“And this is why I identify with Julie, sympathize with her situation, feel for her dilemma—because I’d be exactly the same. Her concept of a relationship has come from her time with Luck. She’s used to playing second fiddle. Always being an afterthought. Never being taken out for walks, if you like, because that just wasn’t an option.”

Meanwhile, Tom is skittish about getting together with Julie, even with a spark between them. His ex-wife cheated on him, so how can he trust another? Julie needing to realize Luke is a deadbeat, wonders if all guys are like him. Even a deadbeat who shows her some attention is better than being alone, isn’t it?

As Julie rescued Doug, he is determined to rescue her using his whimsical and imaginative antics proving the intelligence he possesses. This tale takes place in the U.K. describing the loveliness of the area and the friendliness of its populous. Matt Dunn’s cleverness of delving into the mind and personality of a canine by giving him a “human” voice demonstrates the insight and love our pets can offer which makes a heartwarming and delightful read.

One More Time for Joy

Posted November 9, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Amy Lillard

Zebra

March 28, 2023

10-1420155245

The Amish community of Paradise Valley, Missouri, is the setting where local widows share their bond of grief and faith in the “Whoopie Pie Widow’s Club.” Taking on the sole responsibility of caring for her four children is tedious, so member Joy Lehman missed many meetings since losing her beloved husband, Rudy. Then when her oldest son, Johnny B, falls from the loft in the barn and sustains injuries that may prevent him from ever walking again, Joy finds free moments are scarce. 

Johnny B is morose after being relegated to sleep in the living room for he is unable to climb the stairs to the room he shares with his younger brother, Chris. This causes more tension in the household. Joy not only worries about him, but she tends to coddle him, too, something no 18-year-old young man wants. Losing his ability to navigate is horrendous enough, but having his bedroom out in the open and among all the family members is depressing.

Chris doesn’t like this situation either, for he is now moody and hostile, and insists everyone call him “Topher”—the last half of his name. Joy does not like this, but what can she do? With so much to contend with, after Rudy’s death, she needs to support herself and her children. She opens a bakery—a popular one—which keeps her extremely busy. She loves baking, but between her business and caring for her family, her life is not her own. No wonder she is wrung out and under constant stress. Thank goodness, her oldest daughter Leah helps in any way she can, taking some of the burdens off Joy. And, her youngest, Jane, never complains or causes any fuss, for which Joy is grateful.

Joy loves her independence and fiercely guards it, even with all the duties she sets for herself though she is constantly fatigued. Proud her business is doing well without relying on others, she lives by the power of her faith and is determined Johnny B will walk again, though the doctors think differently.

When Rudy’s brother, Uriah, offers to add a bedroom addition to the house for Johnny B to guarantee his own space and privacy, Joy is against it. Not only would it be expensive, but her pride will not allow her to accept his offer; she can take care of her family by herself. However,  Uriah owns a lumber yard and can attain the materials at cost. He feels the need to help her for his brother’s sake. 

Uriah too, suffered a loss when his wife passed from cancer, leaving him with four daughters to raise alone. The oldest Rebecca, 18, and Rachel, 16, are reliable, but he worries about the two younger ones and how the impact of losing their mother affects them. 

Adamant to assist Joy, Uriah states it is the Amish way. Seeing the strain she is under, he believes it’s his duty to his late brother to look after her and the family. Before long, Uriah and his helpers are busy adding a “dawdihaus” addition for Johnny B—not just a bedroom, but his own separate apartment with a bedroom/living room, tiny kitchen, and bath, so this way he can be self-sufficient.

Joy and Uriah argue about this:

“‘Uriah, I barely agreed to a room. A dawdihaus?’ She shook her head. ‘That is way more than I planned for.’ . . . 

. . . “‘What if Johnny B doesn’t walk again?’

“‘But he will.’

“‘You can have all the hope in the world, but you should consider the fact that if he doesn’t, he may very well live in this house until he dies. He might not get married. He will certainly need some care from his family.

“‘Now a dawdihaus would add value to your own house, give him some independence as he gets older, and since we’re already building this, we can lower the cabinets and countertops so he can utilize the space.’

“Forever. Until he dies.

“It was a staggering thought, and one she hadn’t allowed herself to have. Until now. She was taking it one thing at a time. And first up was getting him to walk again. Once that happened, she could deal with the rest.” 

While Uriah works on the addition, he and Johnny B talk about everything and anything. Uriah understands it is hard for Johnny B to discuss guy things with his mother, so he fills in by becoming a mentor. Also worried about Chris’ recent behavior, he pulls him aside to find out what is going on with him. He thinks it is important to help Joy by alleviating some of her pressures any way he can.

Soon, Uriah suggests the two families spend Friday nights together for take-out dinners and board games. Joy is relieved her youngsters are happy, but observes something is up with Rebecca and Rachel, Uriah’s oldest daughters. The two young women consider Joy is trying to trap their father into marrying her, and they don’t like it one bit. Secretly they share a plot to put a wrench in the whole possible wedding scenario.

 The girls discuss:

 “‘Pay attention tonight,’ Rebecca told Rachel.

“‘To what?’ her sister asked.

“‘Everything. Anything. We have to find something about her that will show him her true colors. Once we have that, we can make sure it doesn’t go any further than him building this addition to her house.’”

As the holidays approach, Joy realizes she needs help in the bakery. She hires a young girl who is not good for much except for keeping company with Johnny B. Joy wonders how she’ll be able to handle all her orders when Rebecca and Rachel offer to work for her. The girls think if they become more friendly with her, they can find out her intentions with their dad. She is their aunt, yet they don’t trust her and don’t want their family to deal with another upheaval. They believe things are fine as they are and do not want another mother and more siblings. 

Uriah spends more time working on the addition, and he and Joy are thrown together often. Surprisingly, a stirring of desire erupts between them. But Joy tries not to think about her sudden feelings for Uriah. She refuses to give up her business and independence. As time passes, she recognizes what a loyal man he is with her children, and he notices how well she gets along with his daughters. Most important is their attraction. Can they deny it? 

Book #3 in the Paradise Valley series is a sweet tale focused on love and loss for a woman trying to raise a large family as a single parent. It asks the question, Can there be a second chance for her? Many Amish stories not only give insight into their quiet and peaceful lives but demonstrate they share many of the same trials and tribulations as the non-Amish experience. Giving a great view into another way of life with confidence and faith as strong motivators in this quick-paced novel, the reader is also provided with a few mouth-watering recipes. 

Where Are the Children Now?

Posted November 3, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

Simon & Schuster

April 18, 2023

10-198218941

Suspense/Thriller

288 Pages

More than forty years ago, Nancy Harmon was a young mother charged with drowning her two children, and due to a technicality, she was set free. Though suspicion was on her, she insisted she was innocent. She loved her children and would never do anything to harm them.

Her husband Carl left her, and she became a pariah in her California community, which forced her to move across the country and settle in Cape Cod. It was here she started a new life, remarried, became Nancy Eldredge, and later gave birth to Mike and Melissa. When these two went missing, Nancy’s earlier history was revealed. Again, she faced criticism, but secrets from her past allowed her to locate and rescue her kids.

Mike and Melissa have grown up with careers of their own. Mike captains a boat during the winter in St. Maarten and Melissa practices law in New York City. When Melissa’s father passes away, she is overcome with depression. Katie Palmer, Melissa’s best friend, and a New York, junior assistant district attorney researches therapists for Melissa to help with her grief. While attending counseling sessions, Melissa meets a man named Charlie Miller who is mourning the loss of his wife, Linda. The two share their bond of sorrow and soon become inseparable.

Before long, Charlie proposes, yet Melissa’s mother and Mike believe the relationship is moving too quickly. Melissa had recently been dumped by her ex-steady, Patrick Higgins, a man she had dated for a long time and thought she would marry. Recovering from a broken heart, she is thrilled to find Charlie is the “perfect man.” He not only loves her as she does him, but she also adores Charlie’s three-year-old daughter, Riley.

Melissa defends a woman named Jennifer Duncan who allegedly killed her older and abusive husband, Doug, in self-defense. Though she is exonerated, this turns into a hotly debated case because the prosecution tries to prove she murdered him for his money. Melissa and Jennifer become close, but soon afterward her acquittal, their friendship fizzles:

 “But then Jennifer also wanted Melissa’s help in probate court, where her husband’s estate was still pending. Under the law, Jennifer’s criminal conviction prevented her from inheriting what she otherwise would have received under their will—which was the entire estate. Once her conviction was set aside, Jennifer claimed she was entitled to inherit everything after all. . . .

“Melissa tried to explain that she wasn’t an estate lawyer and wanted to focus her attention on criminal justice and not a probate battle with Doug’s children, but Jennifer lashed out at her in a fierce rage.”

From this trial with Jennifer, Melissa is given the opportunity to host a podcast, The Justice Club, where she highlights cases of those unjustly accused. She gives up her law practice and, in addition, she becomes a best-selling author and sought-after speaker on the lecture circuit.

Nancy, as a widow, still lives on Cape Cod but decides to sell the family house and move to the Hamptons. Mike is home for the summer, and he and Melissa help Nancy with her move. Charlie, now Melissa’s husband, is away on a business trip, and Riley is with Melissa while they are in the process of relocating Nancy. After her horrendous abduction as a child, Melissa keeps a vigilant eye on Riley, loving her as if she was her own flesh and blood. But helping her mother and working on her podcast exhausts her.

She tells Riley they both need to take a nap, and Melissa puts down the child and then falls into a deep, almost drugged sleep, only to wake up to discover Riley is missing. Panic-stricken, she searches everywhere, wondering where the child could be. She rushes to the nearby park where she took the child recently, remembering how much Riley enjoyed it there. Her mind goes cold when she recalls the woman who tried to befriend Riley while she watched from a nearby bench. Could Riley have gone to the park? Was that woman there? Did she take Riley? She did seem very interested in the little girl.

Fear and anguish consume Melissa, bringing back the horrific memories of when she and Mike were taken. How can she tell Charlie about this? Riley is his life.

Melissa’s thoughts turn to Carl Harmon, her mother’s first husband, and the one who abducted

Mike and her so long ago. One could say the man “looked completely normal on the outside—people like Carl Harmon. His name. She hated that name and wished she could forget it forever.” Is he back again, and taken Riley?

The authorities are summoned and an intense search commences. Charlie is notified of his daughter’s disappearance and speeds home to go to police headquarters. Melissa contacts Grant “Mac” Macintosh, an attorney friend and part-time co-host on her podcast. She begs him to help Charlie, whom the police now believe it was he who captured and did away with his daughter. Mac agrees to counsel Charlie though he feels she and Charlie should have no contact with each other, which could be seen as a scheme they both concocted to get rid of Riley. Melissa thinks this is absurd but goes along with his demands.

Of course, Melissa is totally distraught, not to mention Nancy. Is history repeating itself a third time? How often can something like this happen to one person?

Confused, Melissa senses something is fishy with the whole situation, so she takes a deeper look into Charlie’s past, hoping to learn more about his deceased wife—a woman he never talks about. What she learns chills her to her bones making her question—who is this man I’ve married?

A Mother Would Know

Posted October 28, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Amber Garza
MIRA
December 13, 2022


“Powerful characters with unforeseen events make this novel a page-turner. This is a psychological thriller sure to keep the reader on tenterhooks up to the unexpected conclusion.

Valerie Jacobs is in a quandary. She is beginning to forget things, and now she has to write herself notes so she won’t miss something important. When her mother had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease when she was still young, Valerie learned the ailment runs in families. Has this illness caught up with her, too? After all, she forgot to pick up her grandson for Kendra, her daughter, and her oldest never ceases to remind her of her transgressions.

Things have been tough for Valerie for quite a while. Though she lives in her Victorian dream house, one that’s said to be haunted by six-year-old Grace Newton who died a mysterious death more than 50 years ago, Kendra constantly tries to get her to sell the old place and move in with her, her husband, and baby, Mason. No way. Valerie would be smothered living with her staid and arrogant daughter not to mention her stick-in-the-mud, son-in-law, Theo.

Married to Darren for many years, Valerie loved her career as a singer with a band called, Flight of Hearts, which did well. But did this affect her family? She and Darren drifted apart with him taking to the bottle and more often than not, he was inebriated while in the care of Kendra and younger brother Hudson, leaving them to fend for themselves. The two kids were always at odds with each other and never failed to show their disdain for Valerie, believing she “abandoned” them.

Now they are grown. Kendra has a family, and Hudson, a deadbeat, who left a long time ago, returns home. Kendra claims their mother is losing her faculties and needs Hudson to be with her. So it wouldn’t seem as if he’s to be her caretaker, Hudson informs Valerie his last lover threw him out, and he has no place else to go. In reality, he does not want to return to his childhood home where his presence is frowned upon by the neighbors. When only a teenager, Hudson’s BFF, and girlfriend Heather died in a freak accident. Hudson was cleared of all charges, yet everyone still considers him guilty of killing the young girl, though he swears he is innocent.

Valerie, lonely with only Bowie, the pooch who keeps her company, is thrilled to have her son back home. A few years before, Darren passed away thanks to his drinking, and the band split up, all because of Valerie, making her world crumble around her. Now she is alone and considered a pariah in her neighborhood, so she is happy to have Hudson back with her, though he’s hardly ever home. As time progresses, they become closer, which annoys Kendra to no end. She always maligned her mother saying she put her band before them, so she was close to her father, and she blamed Valerie for his passing.

Hudson now works at a decent job and socializes a lot with his friends, and when Valerie happens to notice a text sent to him by his ex, she starts to worry—worry to the point of checking her out and going to see her, needing to find out what happened between them. She learns the woman had a restraining order out on Hudson, which has Valerie questioning Heather’s death. Could Hudson have pushed her off the cliff causing her to perish? Though Hudson has a temper, would he go so far as to kill someone?

Then when a new neighbor named Molly is found murdered, suspicion turns again to Hudson. He was seen talking to her at a local bar the night before she was killed, though Hudson is adamant about having nothing to do with her demise, saying he just chatted briefly with her.

Valerie’s antenna goes up, and she breaks into Molly’s home looking to see if she can find anything that could implicate Hudson. When she finds a man’s watch, she thinks it looks familiar, but who does it belong to, and was it left there by mistake? Could it be Hudson’s?

As her thoughts and suspicions grow, her mind becomes more distorted, and Kendra is more certain Valerie is in need of constant help. Sure, Valerie’s mind is jumbled for she cannot figure out what is happening or who she can trust. She also wonders if how she raised her children caused them to still be rivals with each other, even as adults when she notices their rivalry and malice toward each other has escalated. What exactly is going on with her children? Has she lost her mind?

Powerful characters with unforeseen events make this novel a page-turner. This is a psychological thriller sure to keep the reader on tenterhooks up to the unexpected conclusion.

The Forgiving Quilt

Posted October 22, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Lenora Worth

Zebra

November 29, 2022

The Amish community of Shadow Lake, located near Lake Erie, Pennsylvania, is the setting for book #2 in the Shadow Lake series. When Eliza King breaks her leg after falling off a ladder in the barn, she is laid up for weeks. Wearing a cast and in constant pain, she is frustrated she isn’t able to attend to her animals on the family farm. On a visit to her English doctor, she gets a recommendation for a young man in town who is an experienced farrier looking for part-time work. Jonah, Eliza’s brother-in-law, handles most of the duties, but he cannot manage everything on his own, so Eliza and her mother agree to have this man come for an interview.

Though Eliza can no longer perform laborious tasks, she continues to visit her favorite horses, where she finds solitude and peace. Imagine her surprise when the man slotted to work for them is none other than Levi Lapp. She and Levi were close as teenagers and Eliza often wondered about a future with him, but one night at age 17, when Levi kissed her passionately, Eliza got caught up in the passion and was fearful they’d get carried away. She rushed home to report he had taken advantage of her, and not long after her frightening experience, he left town. Did he leave because of her? Did she tarnish his name? She doesn’t know, but she surprisingly misses him, though she will never forgive him, believing he acted inappropriately.

Now, after several years, he’s back. His father passed away and his mother is not well, so he has returned home to care for his family and their farm. When he spots Eliza in the barn, he is hesitant. She gasps and orders him to leave, but Jonah insists they give him a two-week trial and if things don’t work out, he will go. He is experienced in caring for animals, and his help is greatly needed, so they can’t turn him away.

Eliza wants no part of him and is distressed. She loves spending her time with her horses, but now she won’t, with him being in attendance. She understands they need someone, but why does it have to be him? She is angry and frightened, but still, the sight of the handsome young man gets her heart racing.

Meanwhile, Levi is ashamed of his actions when he was young, but he was infatuated with Eliza, and upon seeing her now, he realizes those feelings never waned. While Eliza does her best to keep her distance from him, he knows he must apologize to her and set things straight. Even after all this time, he still is in love with her and wants to make up for his transgressions. As they are pulled together time and time again, the old spark rekindles.

Eliza’s mind is in turmoil. She too, still has feelings for him, but how can this be? After he came on to her so eagerly, how can she feel desire for him? She confides in her two sisters and her mother; they insist she and Levi clear the air. Her “mamm” also recommends she design a quilt, which could work toward her forgiving him. Eliza dislikes quilting and would much rather spend time with her animals or reading in the apple orchard, but she agrees. Each of the squares she designs signifies moments Levi and she spends together as they work toward reconciling. And they both are surprised their old feelings are renewed.  

Somewhat implausible these days is that a virtuous kiss between two teens would cause such hoopla, but the Amish are naïve and chaste, so in their upbringing, a kiss may be seen as forbidden. However, the way this is portrayed in this book is as though their kissing went much further, which is possibly an apt portrayal of how they are raised in this regard. Their principles seem heartening considering the ways of youngsters today who show little concern for propriety.

Will Eliza forgive Levi, and can they reignite the feelings they once held? Eliza realizes she would like nothing more than to spend her life with Levi, but when his mother offers a confidential proposal to her, can she comply? And what if Levi finds out? Will he go along? As the two mend fences, Eliza hates keeping secrets from him, and if he knew, would he reject her after they’ve finally come to accept each other? Many questions are answered in The Forgiving Quilt.

Summer Blowout

Posted October 19, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Claire Cook

Marshbury Beach Books

June 26, 2014

Though the majority of my reviews are new publications, I did not read this novel by Claire Cook, who happens to be one of my favorite authors. This was so much fun, I had to add it to my reviews.

The coastal town of Marshbury, MA is mainly an Irish community, yet “Lucky” Shaughnessy, thrice-time divorced loves everything Italian. Everything about him supports the Italian heritage and ambiance, from the way he dresses to his use of the language, but mostly to the beauty salons he owns. His businesses are family oriented with his progeny working for him, but the main protagonist in this entertaining novel is Bella Shaughnessy, Lucky’s daughter.

 Grumpy and depressed, Bella is at odds with her half-sister, Sophia who just happened to snag Bella’s husband away from her. Bella and she had been very close until Sophia pulled her nasty tricks to lure Craig away from a ten-year marriage. Now, Bella wants no part of either one of them, and who can blame her? After what she’s been through, she is done with men!

 On an assignment to do makeup for a bridal party, Bella discovers the soon-to-be wife a “Bridezilla” in every way one can imagine. Her father brazenly passes out money to appease every little complaint, and when Bella finishes her job, everyone departs except the bride’s dog, Precious, and two little kids. “Father Bridezilla” throws cash at Bella to care for the pooch and two children until someone retrieves them. Fuming, Bella is not a baby or a canine sitter, so after the children are picked up, she takes Precious and leaves. Having witnessed the bride doesn’t give two flips for her, Bella decides to keep her. But, what can she do if they come looking for her? Well, a bright idea—she is a hairstylist, after all. The perfect solution is to dye the dog’s fur and rename her Cannoli, in keeping with the Italian tradition.

 Bella attends a local college affair offering make-up lessons to the incoming freshman. While there, she meets a young man named Sean Ryan, with whom she shares a table to sell their goods. Bella hopes to gain some business, while Sean sells kits to entice the upcoming students with study guides and recommendations on college life. Though Bella swears she’ll never get involved with another man, there is something about this guy she finds appealing. However, they both are on the rebound and everyone knows how it goes when it comes to getting back in the dating game.

 Sean is also against relationships, though they chat, and he offers Bella ideas on how to package her cosmetics and start a profitable business aside from working for her father. When she mentions this idea at the weekly family company meeting, she gets shot down by her siblings, which only upsets her more. Is everyone against her? She knows some of her kin are trying to get her over her anger at Craig and Sophia, but she’s the victim, so why should she let it go?

 Throughout this tale, Bella proposes suggestions and ideas about certain beauty products, which shows Ms. Cook has done some intensive homework. In addition to this, the reader is faced with the intricacies of a close-knit family including the joys and heartaches that come with them. From the eccentric patriarch to the quarreling “sisters”, to a possible love interest, the novel is an entertaining and humorous read.

The Call of the Wrens

Posted October 8, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Jenni L. Walsh
Harper Must
November 15, 2022

“A tale filled with strong emotion, hope, and determination, this highly thought-provoking story is entertaining.”


This novel encompasses two intense and exciting novels in one, though they tie together nicely. We first meet Marion Hoxton who in July 1940 lives in West Devon, England—if you want to call her present state living. She resides somewhat reclusively in a tiny cottage where she reminisces about the past. When her friend Sara comes knocking at her door, she tries to ignore her presence, but Sara is wise and knows Marion is home. She will not be deterred.

The two women had been close when they served as “Wrens” during World War I. Wrens is the term used for the female sector of the British Women’s Royal Navy Service.

Previously Marion led a lonely life, abandoned as a baby and tossed around from one orphanage to another. The only company she had was reading her beloved books. She did not socialize with the others and has become mute. Then at age 14, she is moved to St. Anne’s Home for Boys and Girls, which is her residence until she is 18.

The other youngsters tease her for not talking, but she takes it in stride and spends most of her time sitting in a corner reading or working as a typist. The only one who shows interest in her is a 13-year-old boy named Eddie Smith. Though her complete opposite—comical and magnetic—Eddie sees something in Marion and draws closer to her. He watches as she sits in solitude until he approaches her with questions—questions which he only receives a nod or a shake as answers. The two become inseparable and Marion begins to speak, but only to him.

Marion teaches Eddie to read so he, too, can discover the mysteries books provide. Sometimes they sneak off at night and roam the streets, though they know it’s dangerous. The war begins shortly after Marion arrives at the home, and sirens blast, but nothing deters the two from venturing out. One time they find an abandoned motorcycle they take back to the orphanage to hide. They decide to call it “Alley Cat” . . . shortened to Alli because they found it in an alley. They conceal it well and drive it on the nights they go out unbeknownst to anyone.

Then comes Marion’s 18th birthday and the time for her to leave St. Anne’s. But where will she go? She has no one and no place.

“But the time had come, and it was only Marion being spit out.

“Sister Florence’s gaze jumped to and from the pamphlet she held. ‘You’ve been schooled well, and it should be quite within your skill set to find work, domestic or otherwise until you marry. As it is, I’m told the war is requiring an endless number of men. There’s a shortage, so much so that women are being asked to volunteer.’ Sister Florence placed what she’d been holding on the desk. ‘I believe this may be an ideal opportunity for you after you leave here.’

“Marion read the pamphlet’s bold-typed words: JOIN THE WRENS AND FREE A MAN FOR THE FLEET.

Women’s Royal Naval Service? she thought, reading the thinner line at the very top. In the foreground a woman stands proudly in a cap, jacket, tie, and skirt, saluting. A battleship floats in the background.

“‘They call themselves the Wrens,’ Sister Florence offered. ‘I wrote the director, and she told me it’s a new women’s branch of the Royal Navy. They enlist women to fulfill the non-fighting tasks. Typist. Cooks. Stewards, Typists,’ she repeated. ‘Like you.”

And with this, Marion’s fate is sealed. She does not want to leave the home, and she especially does not want to be apart from Eddie, but she has no choice. Training is tough, but she has a position and makes new friends who are like sisters. Assigned as a typist at first, she feels smothered sitting behind a desk, and soon she is thrilled when given the job as a motorcycle dispatch rider. She works with her roommate and friend Sara. They train carrier pigeons while Marion transports them to the front lines to pass information back and forth.

As the war escalates and Marion is faced with many ups and downs—happiness and surprises as well as pain and heartaches.

In alternating chapters, Evelyn Fairchild comes into the picture. It is 1936 and at age 21, she is the only child of wealthy parents and living in Weybridge. Born with the disability of a club foot, she endures many operations over the years, yet she is still being smothered by her mother who does not want to let her out of her sight.

When Evelyn takes driving lessons, she finds it stimulating, giving her a sense of independence. With this newfound freedom, Evelyn discovers The Brooklands, a motor-racing track, and she is captivated by it. Against her mother’s wishes, she becomes an accomplished driver and going by the moniker Dare-D-Evelyn, she wins several times.

Unfortunately, Evelyn soon learns the track will be turned into a plant to produce aircraft due to the conflict with Germany and the possible start of another war. More young men are being conscripted into fighting, and more planes need to be built. Evelyn is upset about no longer being able to race, but she is more worried about her childhood friend, Percy Harrington. Though he is a physician, she wonders if he will be exempt from going into battle. Percy is the only pal she’s ever had what with being so sheltered. He is also the man her parents have chosen for her to wed.

Evelyn does not want to marry. She wants to race cars, be independent and her own person, and to especially get out of the suffocating clutches of her mother. Soon she realizes a way to escape is to join the Wrens. This causes dissension between her mother and her, but she needs to make the break. Stationed in London her training is vigorous training, and she prays she can endure it with her handicap.

Evelyn’s commanding officer happens to be none other than Marion. She is intimidated by Marion because she feels she is constantly watching her, but what is worse, she allocates the easiest assignments to Evelyn. Does she think because of her disability she is not able to do her job? Even though the training is tough, Evelyn passes proving she can handle the duties. But there is something puzzling about Wren Marion. Why does she seem to pay more attention to Evelyn?

Though the two different women presented in diverse time periods are somewhat conflicting, as the story evolves, the objective for this unusual approach is described and fully explained. A tale filled with strong emotion, hope, and determination, this highly thought-provoking story is entertaining. It is clearly evident Ms. Walsh has spent indeterminable hours researching and putting together a well-written and memorable story about past events to make them truly authentic as well as informative.

The Christmas Spirit

Posted September 27, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Debbie Macomber
Ballantine Books

October 18, 2022

Eight-year-old Lance and his six-year-old sister Lily are visiting their nana, who treasures their company. When she asks if they want to make cookies, they tell her they want her to tell them a tale, one Lance states without kissing, though Lily says she likes romance.

When Lily asks if she can start by saying “Once upon a time . . .” Lance says he wants a real story. So, they want to use, “In the beginning . . .”

As their nana starts, “‘In the beginning there were two rough-and-tough friends named—’”

The children choose the names of the characters: Peter and Hank. And so, the tale begins . . .

It is funny how a lot of people think the grass is always greener on the other side. Such is the case with Peter Armstrong and Hank Colfax. Though best friends, the two couldn’t be any different. Peter is the pastor of a growing church and spends the majority of his time preaching, meeting with parishioners or board members, and engaging in other pertinent duties. Hank owns a very popular tavern named The Last Call and does not have any time for himself. He’s either waiting on customers, ordering supplies, or cleaning his business—all of which is tiring.

When the two single men meet at a local eatery for lunch, Hank mentions how he assumes Peter has it easy—he believes he only has to prepare a sermon and work one day. Wait till he realizes a minister’s job can be exhausting, yet Peter thinks running a bar can’t be too difficult either. So, what happens? They decide to switch jobs for a week, so they can see exactly how hard the other one works.

Peter chuckles at the thought of telling his sister Grace Ann of their plot for he knows the staid and stodgy woman and Hank are like oil and vinegar. Ever since the man Grace Ann believed she would marry wed someone else, she has withdrawn and become a curmudgeon. Peter surmises it will be hilarious when she finds out Hank will be working with her for the week. He can just picture the sparks flying.

“Grace Ann Armstrong glanced up from the typewriter when her brother returned from his lunch with Hank Colfax. Personally, she couldn’t understand what it was about the tavern owner that appealed to Peter. Hank was the one who first shortened her brother’s name to Pete, and soon all his friends followed, much to her consternation. As far as she could tell, the two men had nothing in common, nothing that should bond their friendship, other than the fact that years ago they’d once played on the same football team and ran cross-country together.

“Bottom line—Grace Ann didn’t trust Hank.”

As the two take on the other’s jobs, they realize each position has its own responsibilities, heartaches, and frustrations. At first, Peter feels like a fish out of water, especially when one of the regulars harasses him about not knowing how to pour beer.

“‘Tilt the glass,’ the grisly, bearded man sitting on the other side of the bar snapped at Pete. ‘Look at all the foam that’s collecting. Do you even know what you’re doing?’”

Then six motorcyclists, a group who goes by the name Hell’s Outlaws come into the tavern and badger him more. When he mentions Hank and he are swapping jobs for a week, they tease him, but when Pete discloses his real profession, they drop their nasty demeanor and show him some respect.

Hank happily settles down ready to watch a football game, when Grace Ann comes pounding on his door. She is there to remind him he needs to pick up a trailer to cart a mule they will be using for the live Christmas nativity scene at the church. So much for a relaxing night in front of the TV with a beer.

Grace Ann also does not like Hank for he always calls her Gracie, but she soon starts to notice the man she dislikes in a new light. He proves to be more than helpful, though she still is wary of his flirting ways, not knowing he is determined to break the wall she has built around herself.

Christmas is approaching, and plans are made to have a party at The Last Call where everyone is invited—even those Grace Ann considers unacceptable. She and the members of the Ladies’ Missionary Society from the church prepare the food, and Grace Ann wonders how will they all mix together. Will this be a successful event? In addition, Peter invites the regulars at Hank’s establishment to the holiday service. Can those considered outcasts or overly pious manage to put aside their differences and enjoy each other’s company?

For those who like to reminisce about being snuggled up next to Nana on a cold winter’s day while she relates tales from the past, this novel will take one back to those times. Nanas can tell the best stories ever. With almost all of Debbie Macomber’s novels, the reader is not only given a captivating story, but also a lesson in life.

A Match Made at Christmas

Posted September 25, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Patricia Davids

HQN

October 4, 2022

10-1335453474

Breast cancer survivor Sophie Eicher needs a new start. When her aunt Rose Yoder, who knows what she’s been through, suggests she relocate to Harts Haven, Kansas, to take the job as the school teacher, she decides to go.

“Everyone in their small Ohio community knew Sophie Eicher was a walking dead woman. Breast cancer had killed her mother and her grandmother. The pitying looks, the way people chose their words so carefully around her, had been stifling. It had been like living in a coffin waiting for the funeral to begin . . .”

Her younger sister Joanna goes with her, not because their widowed father is now remarried, which she uses as an excuse to Sophie, having her think she is in the way of his new family, but because she wants to be with her big sister and take care of her after her medical scare.

Sophie who is supposedly cured from her disease refuses to accept that fact. When her mother and grandmother perished from the same illness, Sophie believes she will not live long. Joanna tries to make her see she can have a full life, and she hopes with this move Sophie will realize she does have a future.

Sophie loves children and mourns the thought she will never have any or a family. With her now taking on the job as an Amish school teacher and knowing teachers are not allowed to be married, it doesn’t matter for she has no intention of ever getting married.

Rose, known to be a match-marker as well as a busybody, is thrilled when the sisters arrive. She has big plans to is fix up both Sophie and Joanna with available bachelors.

One of the men Rose is hoping to match up is Karl Graber. Karl’s beloved wife passed away, leaving him with two young daughters. Knowing Rose well, he warns her not to meddle in his affairs, insisting he will never marry again for his deceased wife was the love of his life. But Rose worries about his girls whom she believes are being neglected while he wallows in his grief.

However, Rose informs Karl he is not on her list of eligible husbands for Sophie, which causes him to wonder why. He doesn’t know about Sophie’s illness, so could that be the reason why Rose crosses him off? Does Rose think Sophie is going to die soon?

When Sophie realizes what Rose is up to, she adamantly but nicely warns her to mind her own business. Sophie’s only wish is to have Joanna marry and have a family of her own before she (Sophie) dies—something she firmly believes will happen.

Sophie soon realizes her aunt is up to something when she recommends they rent the small house on Karl’s property. Sophie decides this could be a reason to push Joanna toward Karl, even though he is much older.

Karl and Sophie clash at first, but before long, Karl finds himself drawn to the lovely young woman, especially seeing how well she connects with his daughters, Clara and Rachel. Clara acts aloof toward Sophie in the beginning, but Rachel is a child anyone can love. As they grow closer to Sophie, they ask if she will become their new mother, scaring Sophie tremendously.

Meanwhile, as the holidays approach, the townspeople are worried about the annual Christmas show the children perform every year. Sophie is stressed because there are only a few weeks left to prepare, and the parents are putting pressure on her. This is a big event for everyone in town, so what shall she do? Surprisingly, Karl helps her with props for the performance that his daughter helped put together. While he and Sophie are thrown closer together, Sophie soon begins to fall in love with the widower. How can this happen? She won’t set her sights on him or anyone, knowing she may not have long to live, yet imagine her surprise when he states his interest in her.

A Match Made in Heaven, book 2 in The Matchmakers of Harts Haven, deals with the uncertainty of life and having faith in God to trust in His ways.

Snowed in for Christmas

Posted September 19, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Sarah Morgan
HQN
September 20, 2022
10-1335630945

Lucy Clarke loves the marketing job where she has been working for six years. After giving her all to her previous employer where all she got was negativity and brash comments, she is hired by Arnie, whom she now considers her savior. Now it looks like their London company is in trouble after losing two big accounts, and Lucy fears they may soon be closing. Lucy is determined not to let that happen and to find new clients.

It’s right before Christmas and the employees are discussing possibilities to keep them viable. They hear the owner of Miller Active is scouting new agencies. Ross Miller now uses the Fitzwilliam Company—an agency trying to lure Lucy to work for them—so Lucy decides to pitch Ross before anyone else and save Arnie’s company.

Ross is launching a new product, but Arnie forgets what it is called:

“Lucy’s gaze slid to the box on the table. ‘The Fingersnug, Arnie.’

“‘Fingersnug. Right.’ Arnie dragged his hand through his hair, leaving it standing upright. It was one of his many endearing habits. ‘The person who advised them on the product name should rethink his job, but that’s not our problem. Our problem is how to make it the must-have product for Christmas, despite the name and the lack of time to build a heavyweight campaign. And we’re going to do that with social media. It’s instant. It’s impactful. Shows people looking warm and cozy. Has anyone tried the damn thing? Lucy, as you were the last one in through the door and you always forget to wear gloves, you can take one for the team and thank me later.’

“Lucy dutifully slipped her hand inside the Fingersnug and activated it.

“They all watch her expectantly.

“Arnie spread his hands. ‘Anything? Are you feeling a warm glow? Is this life-changing?’

“She felt depressed and a little sick, but neither of those things had anything to do with the Fingersnug. ‘I think it takes a minute to warm up, Arnie.’

“Ted looked puzzled. ‘It’s basically a glove.’

“‘Maybe—’ Arnie planted his hands on the table and leaned forward ‘—but running shoes are running shoes until we persuade the public that this particular pair will change their lives. There are a few original products out there, only original campaigns.’

“The comment was so Arnie. He was a relentless optimist.’ . . .

” . . . ‘It’s warming up,’ she [Lucy] said. ‘This may even cure my frostbite.’ . . .

” . . . ‘Children can use it, and it comes in different sizes.’ Lucy felt her fingers grow steadily warmer. ‘This might be the first time in my life I’ve had warm hands. It might be my new favorite thing.'”

Knowing next to nothing about sportswear, Lucy wants this campaign, then when Arnie falls ill and needs time off, she vows to get this account to thank him for all he has done for her so they can all keep their jobs.

Lucy learns Ross’ offices will be closed for the holidays, so she travels to Scotland and, because she cannot reach him by phone, she will propose her advertising scheme at his home in person. What does she have to lose? Maybe she’ll get the door slammed in her face, but so what? Lucy will otherwise be alone on Christmas, and she looks at this as an adventure. After losing the beloved grandmother who raised her since her parents’ deaths and is now gone, she only has an empty flat to look forward to. That’s no fun for the holidays.

Not dressed warmly enough for Northern Scotland, Lucy arrives to frigid temperatures. Exhausted and starving, she stops in a café in town for coffee and while indulging, she chats with some local women asking for directions to the Miller’s Lodge. They suggest she leave immediately for it is starting to snow, and their property is in the mountains with roads to there treacherous in a storm. As she drives, Lucy’s nerves escalate while maneuvering the twists and turns of the tiny road. Anxious as she is, she only wants to drop off her proposal and get back to London.

She is surprised upon reaching the gorgeous property; not only is it spectacular—so much so, that Lucy fanaticizes about living there—but it also is freezing and as the snow gets heavier, she thinks about making it back home.

An elderly woman answers the door and appears shocked to see her. When she states her name as Lucy, the woman gets excited and drags her inside. Overwhelmed by the grandeur of the home, decorated to the nines for Christmas, what draws Lucy in is the warmth of a fire in the hearth and the scent of something baking.

The older woman says she is Nanna Jean, and she settles Lucy on the couch, offering a hot cup of tea. The rest of the family enters the living room, and Nanna Jean introduces Lucy to Glenda, Ross’s mom; Alice, Ross’s eldest sister with her boyfriend, Nico; and Clemmie, the youngest. Upon hearing Lucy’s name, they all get enthusiastic making Lucy wonder what the fuss is all about. Ross hasn’t arrived yet, but they say he will be happy to see her. Why, Lucy thinks? How did he know she was coming?

It seems Alice and Clemmie made up a fake girlfriend for Ross to keep Glenda and Nanna Jean from prying into Alice’s affairs. Though Nico proposed, Alice is uncertain about getting married, and the more her mother and grandmother press her, the more upset she is. So the sisters’ plan is—what is better than letting them think Ross has a new love interest? He actually doesn’t but isn’t it hilarious the moniker they picked happened to be Lucy?

Appalled when she finds out about their subterfuge, Lucy wonders what Ross will think when he hears his girlfriend is there. Embarrassed, Lucy wants to get out of there before making a fool of herself, but as she leaves, she slips on the ice and breaks her ankle. Alice and Ross take her to the hospital where she’s instructed not to stand for several days. Now between her injury and the “storm of the season,” it looks like she will be staying there indefinitely.

Meanwhile, as Alice ponders a commitment with Nico her tension escalates. Then, when Clemmie drops a bombshell of an announcement, things within become more strained.

With everyone present and Lucy thrust into the midst of their family drama, secrets are divulged, and hopes are shared, yet the bond within them becomes stronger, and they accept Lucy as one of them. So, she thinks, there’s nothing like being stranded in a mountain home during the holidays. With the scent of shortbread baking, pine from the Christmas tree, a fire in the hearth, and the love of this family, what could be more perfect? But Lucy is an outsider. . . .

So what will Alice decide? Will she marry Nico or continue devoting her life to her medical practice? What does Clemmie want so badly? And will she attain her goal? Finally, can Lucy save face with Ross and the family and get the contract with him to keep Arnie’s company afloat?

This lighthearted and easy-to-read novel is filled with many different personalities and emotions that all blend well given their devotion to each other. Nanna Jean with her meddling and offhand comments adds humor to the narrative, yet it is evident there is love within, coupled with the warmth and acceptance they show toward Lucy. But the question is . . . will Ross accept her proposal?

Road to Christmas

Posted September 13, 2022 by nancycl
Categories: Uncategorized

Sheila Roberts
MIRA
September 20, 2022
10-0778386562

What happens when a marriage of 29 years is on the rocks? Michelle and Max Turnbull, parents to three wonderful daughters, have been happy for the first 25 years they’ve been together. But, when Max thinks they should try for another baby, and hopefully, a boy, Michelle is concerned. Being the mom of grown women, she knows her age is a detriment, but she loves Max, so she agrees. Thrilled when she learns she is pregnant her heart is broken when she miscarries. Grief and anger set in, and Michelle builds a wall around herself, blaming Max for suggesting another child, and she is devastated about losing it.

Now, four years later, they barely speak and are talking divorce. When the family gathers for Thanksgiving at Michelle and Max’s Washington home, they put on a good front, not wanting anyone to know their troubles. Their older daughters, Audrey and Shyla, detect animosity between them but don’t know what to do. And, Max’s parents also notice things aren’t right. 

Shyla and Audrey discuss their parents hoping their marriage isn’t over:

“Audrey shook her head. ‘The way they kept dodging the subject, I don’t know. I hope not. Twenty-nine years together down the drain.’

Audrey considers: “Except the last five of those had not been happy. Her parents had always seemed so strong, but losing that baby had undone them. Instead of growing closer, they’d fallen apart. They were a great inspiration for staying single.”

Twenty-seven-year-old Audrey lives in Los Angeles, having moved there to be with her boyfriend Dennis, the man she thought was “the one.” But after giving up everything to be near him, he dumps her, stating she drives him nuts because she is always spewing facts. Can she help that she is intelligent? What is it about guys who don’t like smart women? So now, even though she is enjoying the holiday, she is brooding wondering if she’ll ever find Mr. Right!

At 24, Shyla is lucky to have found someone she truly cares for and who feels the same about her. She has a job she loves in San Francisco designing costumes for the stage and shares an apartment with Milton, the guy she hopes will be presenting her with a ring soon.

Grandparents Warren and Hazel Turnbull who live in Oregon are spry senior citizens, though Milton has been having heart problems, which has them all worried. Yet he is stubborn and determines not to let anything bother him.

As they gather for the holiday feast, Max and Michelle put on a good show, trying to convey nothing is wrong, though Hazel and the girls sense the opposite. Another thing dampening the mood is the youngest daughter, Julia, who is not with them. Married and the mother of six-month-old Caroline, they reside in Iowa, and they didn’t want to make the long trip to Washington while the baby is so young. They manage to Zoom to see each other and chat, and during their conversation, Julia invites everyone to her home for Christmas.

Warren is all for it, but Hazel is worried about his health. Audrey and Shyla think it’s a great idea and of course, Max, who loves his daughters is overjoyed about the trip. Michelle cannot stand the thought of spending long hours in a car alone with Max, especially in the winter when they have to travel over the treacherous pass and may become stranded. But she’ll be damned if everyone else goes, and she stays at home.

Michelle, distraught over the imminent breakup considers:

“What Michelle wanted she couldn’t seem to reach. She wanted the happy marriage she’d enjoyed when the girls were small, but she couldn’t get over the wall. In spite of the occasional moments of truce when it looked like maybe they were going to be okay, in spite of stubbornly continuing to live in the same house, the wall kept getting higher.”

Shyla and Audrey drive together to Iowa and though Max wants his parents to ride with them, Warren is stubborn and wants to be alone with Hazel. Could he also be concerned about his son and daughter-in-law and hope with them being alone on the long ride they can work things out?

Michelle and Max begin their journey with a stony silence between them. As snow is falling, an eighteen-wheeler suddenly loses traction and almost careens into them. Max manages to swerve to avoid being hit, and his thoughts turn to his life with Michelle, hoping they can put the pieces back together and regain what they once had.

Meanwhile, Skyler and Audrey stop in Reno for some fun. But when their tire goes flat on a desert road, they wonder what to do since neither knows how to change a tire. As a truck drives up Skyler flags him down. He introduces himself as Russel Livingston and changes the tire for them. When Skyler notices him looking at Audrey she mentions this as they drive to town looking to find a hotel. Though she admits the guy is gorgeous, Audrey brushes it off seeing the sign on his truck that states he’s in construction. Audrey is a snob and only into white-collar guys. But what has that gotten her in the past? Only heartache.

They find there is no lodging available, and they run into Russel getting gas. When he learns of their plight, he offers them to spend the night at his folk’s ranch. Assuring them his parents are there, they decide to take up his offer. Vera and Tom Livingston welcome them with open arms and make them feel right at home. Matchmaker Shyla also thinks this gives Audrey and Russel a chance to become better acquainted.

Warren and Hazel stop for the night at a hotel, and she is annoyed because he forgot his heart medicine. She insists he contact his doctor to call in a prescription, but Warren believes he’ll be fine. Unfortunately, the next day, the snow picks up along their drive and when a deer jumps in front of the car, it frightens them both, causing Warren’s a-fib to act up. Hazel drives him to the nearest hospital where he is treated, and before long, they can be on their way.

As they all experience mishaps on their trip to Iowa, they arrive safely with stories to tell. The most unspoken consideration is the plight of Michelle and Max and what lies ahead in their future. Will they find their way back to the love they once shared?

Though written as a Christmas tale, the suspense, apprehension, and guilt contained in this narrative make for an interesting read any time of the year; however, the escapades of the travelers and the joining together of the family during Christmas add to the sentiment of the holiday.