Excerpt: Pursued (Dare to Risk Series) by Danielle Pays

Don’t mix business with pleasure. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself.
Ryan Thiel, known as Seattle’s most eligible bachelor instead of Seattle’s most powerful businessman, all because a local magazine changed its story direction after taking one look at him. He gets it, he’s hot. But he’s not happy. He has no interest in dating. Last time he tried, it ended in disaster. Then he meets Katie and all that changes.
Katie Capone is starting over after discovering her ex-boyfriend slept with her coworkers. Now at a new job, she won’t make the mistake of mixing business with personal ever again. Then she meets Ryan. 
Forced to work with Ryan, Katie struggles to keep their relationship professional. Hard to do with the steamy looks he keeps giving her. 
Ryan wants Katie and this time, he is willing to wait. But when his past comes back and threatens to hurt Katie, Ryan must decide between the woman he wants or exposing a past he has buried. 
Surrounded by danger, Katie must decide if she can trust Ryan or if she is being used again.
Pursued was selected as a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. This is a steamy, stand-alone, HEA romantic suspense romance.
Excerpt
“How’s this going to work?” she asked.

He surveyed the room. “I was thinking right here on this table.” He winked at her.

Her mouth fell open, then she shook her head. Then she laughed. “On the table? Really? Why does that sound like a line too? Does it work for you?” Her hand went up. “Wait, don’t answer that.”
Ryan smiled. “Lines don’t work with you. That’s another thing I really like about you.”
“Oh.” She licked her lips.

Focus, Thiel. What had she been talking about before he’d brought up having sex on a table? “You meant working together, didn’t you? You think that will be a problem?”

“Yes, don’t you?”

“Why Ms. Capone, are you saying it’s hard to concentrate around me?” He leaned down and kissed her neck and then slowly moved up toward her ear.

“Um. A little.” A small moan escaped her mouth. She stepped back. “We can’t do that.”
He stalked toward her. “We can’t?”
“Not if we want to get any work done. And you can’t look at me like that either.”

“Like what?”

“Like you want to throw me on this table.”
“Sorry, I can’t help that.”

She put more distance between them. “Ryan, I need us to just be friends.”

 

 

Danielle Pays writes steamy romance novels with a touch of suspense. When not trying to write her characters into some kind of trouble, she can be found guzzling coffee at her kids’ soccer games. Black coffee is a requirement as she lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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Review: The Book Charmer (Book #1: Dove Pond Series) by Karen Hawkins

42202000. sy475 The residents of Dove Pond, North Carolina, know three things: they have the finest bar-b-que this side of Atlanta, their Apple Festival is the best that ever was, and the town has phenomenal good luck whenever the Dove family has seven daughters. Fortunately, that time is now, because Dove Pond desperately needs a miracle.  The seventh daughter, Sarah Dove, believes in all things magical. Books have whispered their secrets to her since she was a child. Now the town librarian, she makes sure every book finds the reader who most needs it. But recently the books have been whispering something different—that change is about to come to Dove Pond. Sarah is soon convinced that the legendary Dove Pond good luck has arrived in the form of new resident, Grace Wheeler. 

After the tragic death of her sister, Grace has moved to Dove Pond with her grieving young niece and ailing foster mother hoping to retrench financially and emotionally before returning to her fast-paced city life. But she soon learns that life in a not-so-sleepy town isn’t as quiet as she’d hoped. Despite her best efforts to focus on her family, she can’t avoid the townspeople, especially her next-door neighbors, the quirky and talkative Sarah Dove and cynical veteran Travis Parker. Grace’s situation grows more complicated when she assumes her duties as town clerk and discovers that Dove Pond is on the verge of financial ruin. 

Already overburdened by her own cares, Grace tries to stay aloof from the town’s issues, but she’s never been good at resisting a challenge. With Sarah’s encouragement, and inspired by the wise words of a special book, Grace decides to save her new town. And in her quest, she discovers the rich comfort of being a part of a loving community, the tantalizing promise of new love, the deep strength that comes from having a true friend, and the heartfelt power of finding just the right book.

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Source: NetGalley and Gallery Books          Rating: 5/5 stars

“Love can’t cure a broken heart, but it can hold the two sides together while they heal.”

Holy WOW, y’all!!  The Book Charmer is my first Karen Hawkins book and it is absolutely and without doubt not going to be my last!  What a read this was and from beginning to end, I was all in, totally invested, and ugly crying by the end. 

Sarah Dove (and her family!) is special.  If you believe, Sarah and her six sisters each have special gifts which often allow them to enhance the lives of those around with.  Sarah’s gift allows her to hear the wishes of the books she tends as town librarian.  Though she may not always understand why, when Sarah is told by a book whom it needs to go to, Sarah complies.  While not everyone believes in Sarah’s gift, all have learned not to turn away one of her books.  One of the oldest books in Sarah’s library, a town history written by one of Sarah’s ancestors, has long believed and often loudly informed Sarah that she will be involved in securing the fate of her beloved hometown, Dove Pond.

Sarah has spent her life in service to her town and while she knows the town is struggling, she has no idea how badly until Grace Wheeler comes to town.  As the new town clerk, Grace Wheeler has no intention of staying in Dove Pond any longer than is strictly necessary.  The move to Dove Pond is a last-ditch effort to help ease Grace’s foster mother into the throws of Alzheimer’s, to settle her into a place she is long-familiar with.  Additionally, Grace has also taken over the care of her niece, Daisy, a precocious and sassy eight-year-old reeling from the recent loss of her absentee mother.  With the weight of the world on her shoulders, Grace is angry and tired and feels she has no room or energy for friends, let alone saving a small town. 

Grace has never experienced small town life and isn’t at all prepared for what she finds.  Sarah Dove is the nicest person on earth and is bound and determined to bring Grace into the fold.  Because her books have told her so, Sarah firmly believes Grace is the way to Dove Pond’s salvation and if she can’t get Grace on board then there’s no hope at all.  Sarah’s plan is simple, make Grace see the beauty of Dove Pond, the power and grace of her people, and convince her to stay forever.  Shouldn’t be hard, right?  What the eternally optimistic Sarah does not at all understand is the stubbornness and anger in Grace as a result of her situation and circumstances.  To convince Grace to help and stay is going to take a monumental effort on everyone’s part.

The effort to keep Grace comes in the form of annual Apple Festival.  As town clerk, Grace is the head of the planning committee and is expected to pull off a miracle on a shoestring budget.  As Grace begins her research she discovers how desperately in trouble Dove Pond is and after a few shenanigans involving other committee members, Grace decides to dig her heals in and help the small town come back to life.  As Sarah (and many others) had hoped, Grace not only becomes invested in the festival, but in the town and her citizens as well.  The road to success isn’t at all smooth and without obstacles, both personal and professional, but it is the single most rewarding road Grace has ever travelled.  In fact, as she is working hard to save a small town, Grace finds her own salvation.

The Bottom Line: If I didn’t have to adult and be responsible daily, this book would have been completed in a single sitting!  The Book Charmer is everything I love in contemporary fiction: small town setting, wonderful characters with bright and full personalities, a bit of the mystical, and the full range of the feels.  What’s more, this book is beautifully written and deals gently though honestly with difficult topics that so many in the real world face every day.  There is an overall feeling of love, friendship, acceptance, loss, and community in this book and it appealed to me on every level.  Finally, as I began this review and looked up the book on Goodreads, I discovered this is just the first in a series and I am beyond excited to know more about the Dove sisters, their special gifts, and life in Dove Pond.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Shoes on the Stairs by Jan Steele

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Claire Blackwell can’t find that damn white light. Thanks to a mishap at an intersection, she’s dead and stuck somewhere between Heaven and what seems like Hell as she is forced to watch her husband and children unravel without her. While she struggles to find answers for her limbo state, her family begins to see her, offering what she believes, is a gift of second chances.
As she navigates through this new, untouchable world and the challenges it creates, she is forced to face some sad and potentially dangerous truths. Determined, she works to mend her relationship with her family, but her stubborn teenage son refuses to acknowledge her, and when tensions escalate with his long-time bully, her inability to control the physical world around her leaves her fearing for her family’s safety. With her time running out, she must find a way to save them before the progress she has made is lost and she fades from this world forever.
Excerpt

Back in the kitchen, Brad stood at the counter, amused by something on his phone while he sipped his coffee.

“Did you see this on Facebook?” He turned his phone screen in my direction.

“I haven’t been on Facebook in ages. Too busy for that time-suck.”

But truthfully, it wasn’t the time that kept me away as much as it was the lives of my “friends”, which always sounded monumentally better than my own, that stopped me from scrolling through the pages. The job promotions; the endless pictures of exotic vacations; the perfect children doing perfect things; the perfect, perfect lives everyone seemed to live. Everything and everyone were perfect on Facebook, and although deep down I knew no one lived the utopian life they portrayed on social media, the braggery still ate at me and left holes of inadequacy and unhappiness.

“Bridget Radcliff just published a novel. Isn’t she a friend of yours?”

“What?” I glanced at Brad’s phone. Bridget’s post made its way to his page from a friend of a friend of a friend in the small, claustrophobic world of fake-believe.

“Looks like it made it onto Amazon’s bestseller list.”

“Wow, fantabulous,” I said without an ounce of energy in my voice. “Another smut novel makes it onto the bestseller list. And if you must know, she’s an acquaintance, not a friend.”

I didn’t know if it was really a smut novel, but I assumed it was only because I couldn’t imagine Bridget writing anything else. But this, I admit, was one of my flaws. I assumed a lot about everything. I assumed I’d marry a prince and become a princess. I assumed I knew everything there was to know at fifteen. I assumed I’d want sex every day for the rest of my life and my marriage to Brad would be like living inside a rainbow every day. I assumed I wouldn’t miss my career when I stayed home to raise the kids. I assumed my children would be the best at everything because I assumed I would be the best mother there ever was. But now, even with all I knew about assumptions, about how they are idealistic dreams I refused to prove wrong, I still gave them weight in my life. Why would assuming Bridget wrote something scandalous be any different?

A little jealousy bounced within me. Even with Bridget being a divorced mother of two, she somehow found the time to write a best-selling novel. And that picture of her on Brad’s phone, all trim and sunshiny-beautiful holding her book, lit a fuse in me, or maybe it was already lit but had met the nitroglycerine.

In any case, I was ready to explode. I moved to the sink and gazed out the window, counting slowly to ten, fully aware of the emptiness growing within me. Each person’s success reminded me of my own career as a teacher I’d willingly given up for this.

About the Author

 photo photo 4_zpsa9yfmzld.jpgJan Steele grew up in the burbs of Chicago and after thirty-two years of shoveling snow, moved to Southern California with her husband and children. She has taught everything from Kindergarten through high school but found her passion for writing years later while living as an expat in Asia for four years. She’s a contributing author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Miracles and More (2018), shares a blog with her sister-in-law, and is an MFA student at UC Riverside. In addition to writing, she loves to travel, volunteer, watch college basketball and sunsets. She’s also passionate about shedding light on the lasting effects of bullying.
 

Review: Risky Biscuits (Book #2: A Sugar & Spice Mystery Series) by Mary Lee Ashford

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Sugar and Spice Cookbooks’ newest project is a fundraiser organized by the St. Ignatius Crack of Dawn Breakfast Club, famous for their all-you-can-eat biscuits and gravy events. But when a group member is found dead, Sugar and Spice’s priorities change from raising dough to figuring out who put murder on the menu. 

The return of former badboy Nick Marchant has stirred the town’s gossips too. Add a few grudges and some old-fashioned greed over a land deal into the mix, and it’s a recipe for mayhem. And when someone serves up a second helping of murder, Sugar and Spice need to sift the guilty from the blameless, or their next breakfast may be their last . . .

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Source: NetGalley and Lyrical Underground          Rating: 4½/5 stars

The girls are back with a new project, the prospect of several future projects, and another dead body or two 😊

Following the success of their first cookbook and crime solving foray, Sugar and Dixie are back in business with a small but significant project.  The morning breakfast group at the senior center is intent on refurbishing one of the building in the park and to raise funds, they intend to sell a cookbook full of nothing but yummy breakfast foods.  Trouble is, just as the project is getting off the ground, the senior charge is found dead, run over by her own car. 

With only one case behind them, Sugar and Dixie have no intention of becoming involved in this newest St. Ignatius crime.  Unfortunately, because of their involvement with the cookbook, they’re smack dab in the middle of the mess.  If the cookbook is going to move forward and be completed, Sugar and Dixie are going to have to do some poking and prodding.  Poking and prodding usually means discomfort, especially for the person responsible for the crime. 

Poking around into this new murder has Dixie and Sugar digging up secrets at least two local families would much rather stay buried!  From an illegitimate birth to a set of twins with clear and present issues, the murder of one little lady has stirred up a hornet’s nest of trouble.  With each new revelation, Dixie and Sugar discover some people/families will go to any lengths necessary to preserve the status quo.  To Dixie and Sugar’s dismay they dig deep enough, accidentally discover just enough, and ask just enough questions to trigger a second death.  With a load of guilt and great sense of responsibility, the ladies work harder than ever to uncover the truth behind all the awful. 

The Bottom Line:  In case y’all didn’t know, I LOVE breakfast foods which makes this the perfect book for me 😊 Dixie and Sugar are a bit more experienced with the crime solving and because they were involved by default have a vested interest in solving the crime.  What I liked most about this installment of the series, beyond the food, of course, is the subtle little ways the author is setting up story lines for future installments of the series.  For example, Sugar is interviewing with another group for a future cookbook project, Max the photographer is more committed than ever to staying in town, Sugar’s neighbor is pesky as ever and not going anywhere, and Dixie’s love life is slowly making a comeback following the death of her husband.  All of these bits and pieces play out as the girls work on their current project and solve yet another crime.  All is blended together seamlessly to create yet another totally yummy cozy mystery.

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Review: Game of Scones (Book #1: A Sugar & Spice Mystery Series) by Mary Lee Ashford

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After losing her job as food editor at a glossy magazine, Rosetta Sugarbaker Calloway—aka “Sugar” to friends—isn’t sweet on accepting defeat and crawling back to her gossipy southern hometown. So when she has an opportunity to launch a community cookbook business with blue-ribbon baker Dixie Spicer in peaceful St. Ignatius, Iowa, she jumps at the chance to start over from scratch . . .   

But as Sugar assembles recipes for the local centennial celebration, it’s not long before she’s up to her oven mitts in explosive threats, too-hot-to-handle scandals, and a dead body belonging to the moody matriarch of the town’s first family. With suspicions running wild, Sugar and Spice must solve the murder before someone innocent takes the heat—and the real culprit gathers enough ingredients to strike again . . .

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Source: Purchase          Rating: 4/5 stars

Though Sugar Calloway never expected to be starting over at her age, she is doing just that and loving her new life in small town Iowa.  St. Ignatius is a wonderfully tight-knit community with loads of charm and personality.  With her best-friend, Dixie Spicer, Sugar has launched a small publishing house focused on cookbooks, community and otherwise.  With a large project already in the works, Sugar and Dixie are hoping for a smooth, successful project for their first time out of the gate.

And the universe laughs . . . . .

With the enormous good in small towns also come the bad in small towns: nosy neighbors, long-standing rivalries, and contrary personalities.  Every one of those personality types seem to be involved in Sugar and Dixie’s project and the latest explosion involves two ladies with a decades-long and well-known hatred of one another and their respective scone recipes.  The cookbook only has room for one and each of the ladies is certain her recipe is the one that needs to be included if the cookbook is to be at all successful.  Though everyone involved with the project is certain this argument is just the latest in the ladies’ very long feud and will blow over in no time, the group, as it turns out, is wrong, dead wrong.  Within days, one of the ladies is found dead and the other is to blame.  Poison by scone is no way to go and the murder weapon seems to point clearly to one culprit, Dixie’s beloved aunt who just happens to have skipped town. 

Though Sugar and Dixie have no experience solving crimes, Sugar found the body and Dixie’s aunt is accused so they’re going to do their best to suss out the real culprit and clear Dixie’s aunt’s name.  Everyone knows the murder cannot have really been over a scone recipe which leaves Sugar and Dixie with a load of questions.  Primary on their list of questions, who hated the old bird enough to kill her?  The answer to that question turns out to be quite a few people as the old lady was known for her surly attitude and sharp tongue.  What’s more, her husband seems to have been stepping out on her which brings up even more questions.  Suddenly, Sugar and Dixie have more suspects than they know what to do with and very little time to solve the mystery.

The Bottom Line: There are two things that really stick out for me in this first in a series book: 1) the wonderful descriptions and variety of foods being used in the community cookbook and 2) the fact that both Dixie and Sugar have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to solving crime.  Between the two, there is a wonderful mix of vast experience and zero experience and I found that be a lovely combination.  Sugar and Dixie are completely likeable characters who have nothing but kind spirits and good intentions.  When you add to the likeable characters a fine small town setting, an interesting cozy mystery plot, and loads of yummy food, you have a recipe for success!

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Review: Don’t Give Me Butterflies (Book #3: The Holloway Girls Series) by Tara Sheets

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As the Queen of Impulsive Decisions, Kat Davenport has found herself without a job or a place to live. So settling on Pine Cove Island isn’t the sanest choice–meaning it’s perfect. Like the mysterious Holloway cousins, Kat has her own unique gift. In her case, it’s a knack for communicating with animals. Which makes getting hired at the local animal shelter feel like kismet. Especially when she finds a room to rent at a nearby lavender farm–complete with a sweet landlord and her brawny grandson–a guy who happens to give Kat an all-too-familiar flutter in her stomach…

Jordan Prescott isn’t back in Pine Cove to find romance. He’s here to sell the family farm, a fact that bewilders Kat. A former foster kid, she can’t understand why he’d give up his childhood home. So when the big-hearted beauty starts bringing home strays from the shelter, Jordan is suddenly her adversary. Until their fiery disagreements turn into fiery kisses…

Now Kat is falling for a man who will likely make her homeless yet again. Unless she learns how to lend her considerable powers to taming the beast lurking inside this prince…

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Source: NetGalley, Zebra, and Purchase          Rating: 5/5 stars

 

“I’ve never done this,” she mused.

“Had s’mores and beer with a donkey in the middle of the night?  Me neither.”

Jordan Prescott couldn’t imagine a place a he wants to be less than Pine Cove.  If it weren’t for his beloved grandmother, Jordan would have never returned to his hometown and the memories that have haunted him for the bulk of his life.  Jordan’s time in Pine Cove is going to be as short as is humanly possible and once he leaves, there will never be a reason to return. 

Jordan’s goal is to get his family’s failing lavender farm into shape, cleaned up, and on the market in as little time as possible.  Though he more than has the money to have the work done from afar, Jordan knows coming home and dealing with the issues in person will also help him deal with his own demons.  In addition, seeing his grandmother and getting her settled is an added bonus.  Finding the woman he’s always wanted and falling in love, not on the agenda.  Finding a woman with an unusual connection to animals and magic who has no interest in ever leaving Pine Cove, absolutely not on the agenda. 

Kat Davenport has never had a true home.  As a foster child with an unusual gift for communicating with animals, finding a forever home was never in the cards for Kat.  On impulse, Kat recently decided to stay in Pine Cove in the hopes of turning over a new leaf and finally finding a place for herself in the world.  Her first order of business is finding a new job and a place to live: the job is covered by the local pet rescue facility and the place to live is covered by Jordan Prescott and his garage apartment.  Though her relationship with Jordan isn’t stellar, Kat needs a place to live and the farm is quite ideal.  Add to the perfection of the site the space for rescue animals and Kat feels she’s found her version of heaven.  With the help of Jordan’s enthusiastic grandmother, Kat is able to give a home to a three-legged dog, a pregnant kitty, a hyperactive goat, and set of cocooned butterflies.  While Kat, her animals, and Jordan’s grandmother are thrilled with the arrangement, Jordan is less so and takes every opportunity to remind Kat of the temporary nature of their arrangement. 

As so often happens in Pine Cove and especially with the Holloway’s, there is magic afoot and acting on all the players.  Kat finds a most unexpected connection to the Holloways, her job and living arrangement provides her with a very real way to help the animals she so easily communicates with, and Jordan, under the crusty, sexy exterior proves to be quite a wonderful surprise.  For Jordan, the magic isn’t quite as real as it is for Kat, but it is certainly working on him.  The time spent on the farm causes Jordan to not only deal with his issues related to his parents, but to reevaluate his own life, wants, and desires.  Jordan is stubborn and it isn’t until he has lost everything that he pulls his head out and admits the truth of his heart. 

The Bottom Line: There is so much to love about this book and I just going to call it right here and now, this is the best book in the series.  Kat isn’t just delightful, she’s a load of wonderful and her affinity with animals makes her so very special.  I devoured every interaction between Kat and her animals and reread several passages just to take it all in again.  Jordan is one of my favorite character types, the tall, broody, sexy man who thinks he knows it all until he encounters what it is he truly needs to have and know it all.  My favorite example of this in this book is undoubtedly Jordan’s responses throughout the book to Clementine and her babies.  I also quite enjoyed the interaction with the Holloway house!  The house is in fine form in this book and it becomes a very real part of the story and bringing Kat into the fold.  In all, this is a wonderfully imaginative feel-good read that had me hooked from page one; seriously, I read this thing in a single sitting 😊  If this is, as I suspect, the end of this series, then Don’t Give Me Butterflies is the perfect end to a fantastic series that has really brought me a great deal of pleasure.

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Review: Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (Book #1: At the Cupcake Café Series) by Jenny Colgan

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe (A Novel with Recipes Book 0) by [Colgan, Jenny]

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Issy Randall can bake. No, more than that – Issy can create stunning, mouth-wateringly divine cakes. After a childhood spent in her beloved Grampa Joe’s bakery she has undoubtedly inherited his talent. So when she’s made redundant from her safe but dull City job, Issy decides to seize the moment and open up her own cafe.

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Source: NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group     Rating: 4/5 stars

Issy Randall has a crappy job and an even crappier “boyfriend.”  When both are lost on the same day, Issy can see no way forward that doesn’t involve yet another crappy, unfulfilling job and loneliness.  The only thing that brings her any joy is the time she spends in the kitchen backing cupcakes from recipes she learned at her beloved grandfather’s side.  What it amounts to for Issy is two choices: 1) continue as she has and be, at best, unhappy, or 2) make a huge change that will be challenging but will make her happy. 

Armed with her grandfather’s recipes and a can-do attitude, Issy decides to make a huge change in her life and rents a small space in her neighborhood with the intention of opening a cupcake café.  The only aspect of this crazy plan Issy is sure about is her cupcakes which take delectable to a whole new level.  Issy is calm, cool, and collected in the kitchen and doesn’t doubt the neighborhood will love her sweet treats. All she has to do is learn how to open and run a business and bring customers into a site that has historically been an utter failure.  No pressure!

In short order, Issy finds herself a banking/business advisor, Austin and hires a down on her luck single mom, Pearl who is a force of nature.  Between Issy, Pearl, Austin, and the construction crew, the Cupcake Café gets a face lift, a swift and thorough cleaning, and is ready for business.  With high hopes and glass cases full of delights, Issy is ready for the crowds to descend upon her.  Unfortunately, as most new business owners quickly discover, unless you’ve done a ton of advertising (Issy has not), there will be no crowds in the early day ☹  It takes word of mouth, a quality product, and, as it turns out, a bus accident for Issy’s labor of love to get off the ground and see success. 

Issy is thrilled with her success but finds that with success comes sacrifices.  Her love life is a mess thanks to the crappier “boyfriend,” her best friend is slipping away thanks to lack of time spent together, and Issy’s beloved grandfather is quickly fading leaving her precious little time to be with him.  As events begin to spiral out of control, Issy begins to understand that she must find a balance between her work and personal life or one day she is going to look up and find she is right back where she started and not at all happy.

The Bottom Line: In real life, I greatly admire people who are able to recognize both their strengths and their weaknesses; what’s more I like it when those same people play to their strengths and know who to ask to help them with their weaknesses.  I got a whole lot of that kind of like out of Issy in this book!  Despite some setbacks and some really poor decisions, Issy is determined to make her dream happen and she surrounds herself (mostly!) with people who can help her realize her dream.  Pearl helps Issy find her strength and her voice, Austin and his scary accountant help Issy keep her business on track, financially speaking, and Caroline, in her own acerbic way helps Issy break into a segment of the population she wouldn’t normally have access to.  In return, Issy helps both women with the various issues in their own lives; ultimately, everyone involved learns valuable lessons about love, friendship, kindness, and loyalty.  Take all of this and combine it with some truly scrumptious descriptions of cupcakes and Meet Me at the Cupcake Café is a pretty perfect read.

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