mini review: Summer on Honeysuckle Ridge (Book #1: Highland Falls series) by Debbie Mason

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In just a few months Abby Everhart has gone from being a top LA media influencer to an unemployed divorcée living out of her car. So inheriting her great-aunt’s homestead comes at the perfect time. Abby heads to Highland Falls, North Carolina, to spruce up Honeysuckle Farm before putting it on the market for some much-needed cash. But instead of finding a charming getaway, she discovers a serious fixer-upper, complete with a leaky roof, overgrown yard, and a reclusive — albeit sexy — man living on the property.

Ex-Delta Force soldier Hunter MacKenzie has faced war and loss, but nothing has quite prepared him for an outgoing redhead who’s determined to turn his life upside down. Hunter doesn’t want to get involved with anyone, especially a city girl who plans to sell the only place he’s ever felt at home. But the sparks between them are undeniable. Spending time with Abby is easy. Convincing her to stay for good is another matter entirely.

Source: NetGalley and Forever Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I read this books weeks ago and somehow managed to forget to write a review ☹  With that said, when I sat down to write this, all happy feelings and thoughts about this book came flooding back to me.  This is a wonderful mix of a light and heavy read.  Abby is simply ridiculous in the best way possible and Hunter is grumpy and growly in the best way possible.  When the two butt heads early on, you can see instantly see their attraction to one another.  Through a series of well-intentioned mishaps, Abby and Hunter draw closer to one another and learn to understand and accept one another for who they are.  Some of the best moments in the book involve Hunter trying to figure out how to fix yet another mess Abby has created.  Her big heart and his grumpy nature make for some very funny, very serious, and very heartwarming encounters.  In all, I found this book to be a happy little read.

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review: The Malt in Our Stars (Book #3: Literary Pub Mystery series) by Sarah Fox

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Sadie is delighted to have booked famous romantic suspense novelist Linnea Bliss for an event at The Inkwell, her literary-themed pub, housed in a renovated grist mill. The author and her personal assistant Marcie are staying at Shady Creek Manor, a grand historical hotel that was once a private mansion and is rumored to still hold hidden treasure somewhere within its walls.

But the hotel’s storied past is nothing compared to its tragic present when Marcie plummets to her death from an open window on the third floor. After Sadie discovers signs of a struggle in the room, it’s clear that someone assisted the assistant out the window. But Marcie is new in town—who would have a motive to kill her?

In between pulling pints and naming literary-themed cocktails, Sadie takes it on herself to solve the case, wondering if the crime is connected to the vandalized vehicles of a film crew in town to do a feature on local brewer Grayson Blake, with whom Sadie shares a strong flirtation. Or could the poor woman’s defenestration have anything to do with the legendary treasure? As Shady Creek Manor prepares for a May Day masquerade ball, Sadie is determined to unmask the killer—but when she uncorks a whole lot of trouble, will she meet a bitter end?

Source: NetGalley and Kensington Rating: 3½/5 stars

Sadie couldn’t be any happier with her life!  The Inkwell is doing well, Sadie has settled into life in her adopted town, and she is surrounded by friends and family that she truly adores.  As if all that weren’t enough, The Inkwell is set to host its first live author event, and Sadie just can’t wait.  The author is none other than Linnea Bliss, famed suspense author and all-around good, kind soul.  Unfortunately, the success of the live event is completely tainted by the death of Linnea’s personal assistant, Marcie.

From the moment Marcie is found, Sadie knows there is something amiss.  It’s awfully hard to fall out of a window on one’s own and the room Marcie fell from is locked up tight.  The local cranky museum operator insists it is Marcie’s checkered past that has caught up with her, but both Linnea and Sadie can find nothing to support such a claim.  Adding to the drama of the murder is a string of vandalism that may or may not be an attempt to derail the murder investigation.  Finally, Sadie has heard through the grapevine that her beloved aunt may be seriously considering a marriage proposal and a move out of town.

Sadie used to be perfectly happy and content with her life.

As usual, Sadie doesn’t intend to get involved in the investigations, but she can’t seem to help herself.  Her community is small and when something like a murder occurs, it impacts the entire town.  Poking around into the investigation isn’t exactly safe, but the vandalism and the murder are too close to home to ignore.  Though she hasn’t known Linnea long, she likes the author and wants to see her achieve some level of peace where the death of her assistant is concerned.  The more Sadie digs, the more she realizes the complexity of her town, its history, and the history of some of its residents.  Not all secrets need to be unearthed and if Sadie keeps poking around, she’s going to find herself the target of a proven killer. The

Bottom Line:  I think this book may be the speed bump in the series.  I had an awfully hard time getting connected to this read and the story.  I think the hardest part for me lay in the plot and its rather cliché nature.  A suspense author caught up in a murder just feels far too overused and cliché for my liking and that kept me from really buying into this read.  With that said, I am still very fond of this series, the characters, and the setting and won’t be giving up on this series any time soon.  Sadie and the Inkwell are just too quirky and fun to let go at this stage and because of a minor speed bump.

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MINi-Review: Chili Cauldron Curse (Book #0.5: Kitchen Witch Mysteries Series) by Lynn Cahoon

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When Mia Malone’s grandmother asks her to take a week away from her restaurant job and come to Magic Springs, Idaho, she’s happy to oblige. Like Mia, Grans has witchcraft running through her veins, and life with her is never boring. Plus, the cause is a good one—helping Grans get the local food bank up and running again. But there’s an unappetizing surprise in store. While Mia is knee-deep in boxes of donated produce, she encounters the body of Dorian Alexander.

Dorian was a warlock, leader of the local coven. He was also her Grans’ new beau. There’s no potion that’ll make this trouble disappear. But if Mia wants to keep her Grans—now a prime suspect—from serving a spell in prison, she’ll have to unearth the real killer fast. . . .

Source: NetGalley and Kensington Books Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  Generally speaking, I liked this book, but it is a bit of a wobbly start to a new series.  First in a series books are always hard as there is so much information, characters, backstory, plot, etc. that must be introduced.  Unfortunately, the novella format of this book didn’t allow for enough time or space to really develop much of anything and the book just stops rather abruptly.  While this makes it sound like I didn’t like the book at all, that is not the case.  There is just enough in this book to make me want to come back for more.  Mia and her grandmother are solid characters, the idea of an actual practicing coven makes me happy, and the help of familiars is always a bonus.  Lynn Cahoon is an accomplished author, and I can’t see the next book in the series being anything other than thoroughly interesting, packed with details, and fully developed.  I’m hanging on for round two!

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Review: The Saturday Morning Park Run by Jules Wake

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This is the story of two women.
One old, one young.
One looking for new adventures. One looking for a purpose.
Both needing a friend.

And this is how, along with two little girls in need of a family, a gorgeous stranger, and a scruffy dog, they bring the whole community together every Saturday morning for love, laughter and a little bit of running…(well, power walking).

Some people come into your life when you need them the most.

Source: NetGalley and One More Chapter Rating: 5/5 stars

If you’ve been with me for a considerable amount of time, you know how I feel about characters.  The good ones really drive a book for me, the good ones can also make a lesser quality plot better.  However, when a book has both a good plot and good characters, you have writing magic and that’s what I feel like I got with Jules Wake’s The Saturday Morning Park Run.

Claire: In the beginning – well, that sounds very Biblical – Claire is a driven to succeed career woman who won’t let anything, even a little anxiety stop her upwardly mobile movement.  As it happens the anxiety is more than a little, and in the blink of eye, she’s placed on medical leave until her anxiety and blood pressure come back under control.  With a month of nothing to do, Claire begins her leave in a total funk.

Alice:  Alice is Claire’s sister and polar opposite in every way imaginable.  Just as Claire begins her medical leave, her sister foists her two small daughters on Claire and expects her to keep them for a week while she trots off to the mountains to a yoga retreat.  Though Claire loves her nieces, she feels completely unfit to care for them for an extensive amount of time.  Unfortunately, Alice cares nothing for anyone else’s feelings and before she can vehemently object, Claire has two scared little girls staying with her.

Ashwin:  Ashwin is, in the beginning, much like Claire.  He is upwardly mobile and has no intention of altering his trajectory.  Unfortunately, his company has other plans and they do not include Ash.  Out of job and totally embarrassed by his situation, Ash retreats to his home and becomes something of a grumpy recluse.

Hilda:  If every there were a fictional character I could wish into existence, Hilda would be that character!  From start to finish, Hilda is really the character running the whole show.  Her enthusiasm for life, her sneaky ability to manipulate others into doing her bidding, and her clear and sure focus is such a wonderfully delightful mix. 

With Claire and Ash’s respective worlds in utter chaos, they need focus and a goal, and that is where the utterly delightful Hilda comes into play.  By chance, both Claire and Ash meet Hilda in the park and within days, she has them back to being physically active and dancing to her music.  The tune Hilda is playing comes in the form of a Saturday Morning Park run, a way to bring the community together, promote health and fitness, and encourage overall support and camaraderie.  The deeper Claire and Ash get into the planning, the more important the event becomes to each of them.  What’s more, each finally begins to see that there is something far greater in and to life than a non-stop work schedule and an upwardly mobile trajectory. 

The Bottom Line:  Far and away, the best character in this book and glue that binds everyone together is the indomitable Hilda.  Hilda is kind, generous, wise, and loving, and with her guidance, Claire, Ash and the girls all realize that family is often more than just a blood tie.  There is such a wonderful sense of community and spirit of friendship in this book that really resonates.  While reading I found I was particularly drawn to the age discrepancies between all the characters; this really is a multi-generation read and it works every so well with the characters and the plot.  In all, an excellent and spirited read that kept me turning pages from the very beginning.

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Review: Dead-End Detective (Book #1: Piper and Porter Mystery Series) by Amanda Flower

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Darby Piper is in shock. Samantha Porter—her mentor and business partner at Two Girls Detective Agency—has died in a car crash, and it doesn’t look like an accident. In fact, evidence is pointing toward Darby.

Darby had expected to inherit Samantha’s half of the agency, but Samantha had recently changed the will to leave it to Tate Porter, her nephew, who returns to town.

Tate is no P.I. He’s a veteran, a world traveler, and something of a mystery himself. But as he helps Darby delve into secret histories and real estate development plans, he does seem to have a knack for the job. Will the agency have a future…even if Darby can prove her innocence in time?

Source: NetGalley and Hallmark Publishing Rating: 3/5 stars

Darby Porter has her life in order.  She lives where she works, she enjoys her work as a private detective, and she has even resigned herself to the fact, she is her elderly neighbor’s go-to girl for retrieving her scaredy cat from the tallest tree in the yard.  OK, maybe that last bit isn’t exactly what Darby saw for her life, but she’s happy with her life and the people (and felines) in it.

For ten years, Darby and her best friend have run their own small detective agency.  Though they aren’t cracking the huge cases or tracking down killers, they do alright with their workload and clientele.  Though the women don’t often go looking for trouble, sometimes, it finds them.  Unfortunately, the biggest trouble that has ever come knocking comes calling in the form of the death of Darby’s partner.  Reeling from the loss of her partner and best-friend, Darby can’t imagine anything worse coming her way.  Worse does come in the form of her innocence being questioned, the loss of her inheritance, and the reappearance of her partner’s nephew.  Coincidentally, the nephew is now Darby’s new boss.

In the days following Samantha’s death, Darby finds herself looking ever more guilty, at least in the eyes of the police.  Every new clue that surfaces seemingly points straight to Darby and she’s running out of time to solve the crime.  Frustrating her efforts at every turn is the nephew, Tate Porter, a man who has spent the better part of his adult life wandering the world and shouldering little in the way of responsibility.  Tate insists on being involved in the investigation into his aunt’s death and pestering Darby in the process.  While investigating Samantha’s death, Darby . . . and Tate, also tie up some other mysterious loose ends around town.  To Darby’s great displeasure, Tate seems to have a knack for investigating and some of his ideas aren’t half bad. 

The Bottom Line:  I generally liked this book, but feel it needs another book or two to really find its feet as a series.  There’s a great deal going on in this book and I’m not sure it all got dealt with satisfactorily in the end.  With that said, Amanda Flower writes another series I simply adore (Magical Bookshop series), and I know there is a great deal of untapped potential in this current series.  Darby and Tate are both interesting characters, the small town is just right for a load of quirkiness, and the townspeople, especially the little elderly lady, are ripe for entertainment.  I’m interested to see how this series develops and sincerely hope it lives up to its potential.

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Mini-Review: The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant

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New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

2019
When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

Source: NetGalley and Avon Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  In the time between reading this book and writing the review, I forgot nearly everything about this book which tells me everything I need to know.  When I looked up the book on Goodreads, the details of the story came back, but so did the feeling of neither loving nor disliking this book.  This is a fairly typical past meets present story with Amber being the researcher in 2019 looking into the life and death of Eleanor, a 16th century woman who once roamed the halls of Amber’s beloved family home.  Researching Eleanor’s story helps Amber to overcome her own tremendous loss and heal from the pain generated by the loss.  Though she never intended to, Amber also brings peace to the spirit of Eleanor who has waited through the generations for just the right woman to come along and uncover her story.   Though I am a true fan of past meets present books, there isn’t anything here that really stands out for me, nothing that would allow me to highly recommend this read.  With that said, it is a decent read and if you’re looking for something to fill your time, this may be for you.

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Mini-Review: Solving Sophronia (Book #1: The Blue Orchid Society Series) by Jennifer Moore

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Lady Sophronia Bremerton is a far cry from the typical debutante, but she’s the toast of London’s upper class for one simple reason: she’s a society columnist for the London Illustrated News, and the gentry loves seeing their exploits printed in the gossip pages. But Sophie has bigger plans – she aspires to be an investigative reporter. When a stuffy ballroom at yet another Season proves to be nothing more than the usual rumor mill, Sophie seeks respite in the library alongside four other young women who, for their own reasons, are also looking for escape. As the conversation turns to their secret ambitions, the women form a sisterhood and a bold plan: they will make their dreams a reality, no matter the obstacles. Thus begins the Blue Orchid Society.

Hearing of a murder in a London rookery, Sophie seizes the opportunity to prove her skills. Detective Jonathan Graham doesn’t believe a civilian, a noblewoman at that, should be anywhere near a murder investigation, but Sophie insists on helping bring the killer to justice. Her investigative prowess doesn’t go unnoticed by the police, especially Jonathan, who can’t decide whether this intrepid reporter is a thorn in his side or the woman of his dreams. But as the case grows more complicated and dangerous, their very lives – and their hearts – may be at risk.

Source: NetGalley and Covenant Communications Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I have always been a fan of stories that feature a woman well ahead of her time and place.  As if in answer to my very own heart’s desire, Solving Sophronia delivers just such a read.  Lady Sophronia is far more intelligent than most of society gives her credit for.  Though she is currently a gossip columnist, Sophronia has plans to break into the hard news division.  Lady Sophronia’s chance comes when she begins a serious investigation into a local murder.  Though she shouldn’t be poking around in police business, she has some help from the dashing Detective Jonathan Graham.  What’s more, Sophronia has the unconditional support of her fellow Blue Orchid Society members, a group of young women, who, like Sophronia are well ahead of most of their peers and certainly ahead of their time and place.  With that kind of support, Sophronia simply can’t fail.  I found this book to be entertaining as well as interesting.  I see a bright future for this series.

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Review: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

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When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbors and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?

Source: NetGalley and Quercus Rating: 4½/5 stars

Since the death of beloved sister, Leena Cotton hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders.  To avoid dealing with the loss of her sister and her anger towards her mother, Leena has thrown herself into work.  But grief is a sneaky little monkey and at the moment Leena least expects it, her grief overwhelms her and causes her to blow a huge presentation at work.  While Leena is certain she is going to be sacked, her boss is sympathetic and allows Leena a two-month sabbatical.

What does a workaholic avoiding real issues of grief do for two months?  Of course, she switches homes with her 79-year-old grandmother.

For two months, Leena will live in her grandmother’s sleepy little country village and her grandmother, a sprightly and delightful Eileen will move into Leena’s London flat with her roommates.  For Eileen, the move to London is an adventure of a lifetime, a chance to do all the wild and crazy things she gave up when she married her worthless husband so many years ago.  For Leena, the time away is meant to help her heal, to let go of her anger, and to finally truly grieve the loss of her sister.  Oh, and she also has to maintain her grandmother’s active and full schedule as a member of the community. 

Leena’s first days and weeks in her grandmother’s home aren’t exactly easy.  She’s used to a frenetic pace, but life in the country is far from frenetic.  In fact, life in the country often starts a bit later in the day than in the city and generally a load of gossip and planning.  Oh yes, at the top of Leena’s to-do list is organizing the annual May Day celebration with a group of senior citizens who are, in turns, wonderful, cranky, mean, happily clueless, and generally hard of hearing. 

Meanwhile, back in London, Eileen is settling in nicely to her new home and thoroughly enjoying her time with her significantly younger flatmates.  Eileen spends her days wandering the city and her nights engaging in a youthful fling with a handsome gentleman and helping her young flatmates navigate their lives.  Though she misses her home and her friends, Eileen’s time in the city is proving to be exactly what she needed and what she was missing in her life.  What’s more, for the first time in many, many years Eileen feels as if she is making a real difference in the lives of others.

Once the training wheels come off and Leena understands the lay of the land, she dives right into her obligations and forges ahead at top speed.  With her skill set and tenacity, Leena begins to pull together one of the most impressive celebrations the village has ever seen.  Additionally, through her committee work, Leena has really gotten to know the villagers and in her own way has discovered both big and little ways to help improve their individual lives and situations. 

The Bottom Line:  I quite enjoyed this new twist on an old trope.  I found both Leena and Eileen to be wonderfully endearing characters who were both looking to heal in their own way.  By switching places and lives, both Eileen and Leena enjoyed a new perspective on life, love, and learning.  Each woman had significant ups and downs during their respective adventures, but the highs and lows were the places they found the most important lessons.  I found this book to be both entertaining and refreshing with all the feels from two very different age perspectives.  In truth, I found the best part of this book to be the view from the seniors; all that life and experience mixed with some truly hilarious moments made this an excellent read for me.

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Mini-Review: The Rebellious Rancher (Book #3: The Millers of Morgan Valley Series) by Kate Pearce

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After his father decides to leave the ranch to his older brother, usually calm, steadfast Ben Miller struggles to deal with his resentment. When he’s invited to develop a trail riding experience on the Morgans’ dude ranch, Ben jumps at the chance. Soon he’s assigned a mysterious client, an actress whose family secretly wants her removed from influences in LA. Ben’s determined to teach her to fend for herself. But he quickly discovers she’s more than a pampered pretty face . . .

Silver Meadow believes she’s preparing for a serious dramatic role—one that will free her from her controlling parents. She’s certainly not going to be controlled by Ben, especially when he takes her out in the middle of nowhere to learn how to survive. Yet gradually, far from her cell phone, Silver begins to open up to him about her life—and finds they have more in common than they thought. Soon a romance blossoms—but can a jet-setting movie star and a homebody cowboy find the best of both worlds?

Source: NetGalley and Zebra Books Rating: 3½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I am going to admit from the beginning, a load of my dislike for this book comes from the name of the female character.  I simply had a difficult time taking a character named Silver Meadow seriously.  Putting that aside, I rather enjoyed Ben and his difficult situation.  Ben Miller isn’t at all certain of his place in the world and if he doesn’t figure it out soon, he’s going to be both jobless and homeless.  When the opportunity to take on an extended trail ride job arises, Ben sees it as an opportunity to not only enjoy a bit of nature but take stock of his life and hopefully figure out a plan for the future.  Ben’s story, though entangled with Silver’s is the best part of this book and I liked reading about his evolution and his eventual life plan.  Ben works out a load of issues in a single read and though it’s complicated and often heartbreaking, it has to be done.  I liked Ben’s part of the story immensely, but Silver’s was harder to enjoy which left me at a lower star rating than I generally assign to this series and author.

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Review: The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane

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Grace never thought she’d have to return home to Floral Street. Having spent most of her life building a successful career in London, she’s done everything she possibly can to avoid the flower stall that’s been in her family for generations. But when tragedy hits, she’s got no choice. It’s time to face the demons of the past and support her family.

Faith has returned home after years travelling the world. The baby of the family, she always struggled to find her place. She thought that her life would be different after a trip across the globe, but as she settles back into life in her childhood room she has to come to terms with the fact her life isn’t quite what she expected. And she has no way of getting out of the rut she finds herself in.

Faith and Grace have never seen eye-to-eye, always clashing, never forgiving. But they might just find a way to understand one another, to fight their way through their grief and come out stronger. By opening up, they’ll discover they aren’t so different at all. And family will always be there for you.

Source: NetGalley Rating: 4/5 stars

Grace has spent the better part of her adult life avoiding her parents’ home.  After a terrible experience as a teenager, Grace has distanced herself from her parents because she can’t trust herself not to out her father and devastate her mother. 

Though Grace largely refuses to see her parents, she does still have a close relationship with one of her two sisters.  The two confide most everything to one another and have become tremendous friends since their younger years at home.  Grace considers her sister her best friend so when she is tragically killed, Grace finds herself at a total loss.  She has to go home, she has to deal with her youngest sister, Faith, and she has to see her father.  To make matters far worse, Grace’s long-time boyfriend has no understanding or sympathy for her situation and can’t fathom why she is grieving or living with her parents, if only temporarily.

Grace’s time at home is beyond stressful.  Her father is gruff and grumpy as always, her mother is a total wreck, and her younger sister is home and back up to her old antics.  To help keep things settled, Grace agrees to man the family flower stall at the local market.  Her father has run the market all his life and while he expected Grace to take his place, she has made a name for herself with a much larger London flower company.  When Grace makes her way back to the flower stall, she is stunned to see how far into disrepair the market has become.  Most of her childhood friends have moved away or retired, the full press of shoppers is no more, and the few stalls that remain do a quiet business at best. 

As the family rushes toward the funeral and burial of their beloved member, Grace has to face some harsh realities.  Her father’s flower stall is failing, her mother is not going to recover from her loss anytime soon, and her younger sister may not be as big a brat as Grace has long suspected she is.  In fact, as the days wear on, Grace learns a great deal about her baby sister, including the inner strength she has and her ability to maneuver around the family dynamics like a pro.  As if the family drama weren’t enough, Grace is also faced with the very real prospect of her long-term relationship coming to an end.  Navigating life is hard and Grace has some serious decisions to make if she is going to survive it all and eventually be happy again.

The Bottom Line:  This is such a roller coaster of a read and sure enjoyed the ride.  One of my favorite things to see in a book is the evolution of a good character.  Grace is a good character and her evolution through tremendous grief is so wonderful to see.  Grace goes from a harried young woman who used to love her job and used to love her boyfriend, to a young woman who changes everything about her life including her job, her relationship with her family, and her boyfriend.  With each change, Grace comes a bit more out of her shell and begins to shine like her late sister always knew she could.  In all, an emotional read with a proper and rather lovely happily ever after.

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