Review: Cold Brew Corpse (Book #2: A Coffee Lover´s Mystery) by Tara Lush

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It’s a steamy September, and business is brisk at Perkatory, the hottest coffee shop in Devil’s Beach, FL. Much of the clientele pours in from Dante’s Inferno, the hot yoga studio next door. But the bright, sunny Gulf Coast days turn decidedly dark-roast when the body of the studio’s owner turns up in a nearby swamp.

Between running Perkatory and training Stanley, her golden Shih Tzu puppy, reporter-turned-barista Lana Lewis is too busy to go sleuthing. But when the editor of the local paper asks her to write about the murder, Lana’s dreams of getting back into journalism start to percolate.

Lana discovers that the yogi has a nefarious past and her share of mug shots, so grinding her way through the suspect list is a large task. She learns that the victim was fatally beaned by an SUV before she was dumped in the swamp. But was the killer one of her students? An envious yoga teacher? Or a local photographer who seems to know too much?

But no one tells Lana Lewis what to do. Hunting the caf-fiend who killed the yogi puts Lana and Chief Noah’s relationship–and Lana’s life–in very hot coffee.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  Yet again, I find myself not only on the fence with a book but having to fess up to a personal bias.  One of my least favorite character types is the “anything for a story” reporter and, unfortunately Lana fell well into that category in this read.  There were several moments in the story when even Lana questioned her motivations and actions especially with regards to Noah.  It is this aspect and this aspect alone that has caused me to drop my star rating to a 3; I reiterate, this is one of my least favorite character types.

If I ignore the above – and I will not! – my star rating would have gone up to at least a 4 if not a 4½.  When Lana is in coffee mode, she is all kinds of fun and her little shop, Perkatory is such a great vibe for the setting and the reader.  What’s more, I adore Noah, Stanley, Erica, and Lana’s tree-hugging hippy grandfather.  Finally, I enjoyed the plot of this book with the twists and turns and the drama among all the various characters/suspects. All the above leaves me at the ever-awful book crossroads.  I can’t see Lana’s obsession with her former career lessening any time soon, which means I will start each new book in the series with a strong bias.  On the other hand, there are so many other characters and qualities of this series that I do truly like.  I think my final decision on the series as a whole will be determined by the third book and how far Lana dives into the journalism side of her personality.

Coming December 7, 2021: Goodreads | Amazon | Hardcover

Review: Under the Cover of Murder (Book #6: Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery) by Lauren Elliott

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It promises to be Greyborne Harbor’s wedding of the year. The impending nuptials of Serena Chandler and Zach Ludlow will take place aboard his family’s luxurious super-yacht, currently moored in the harbor and the talk of the town. But on the day of the wedding, a man’s body washes up on the beach with no ID, only a torn page from a book in his pocket. As owner of Beyond the Page Books and Curios, bibliophile Addie is called in to identify the book, but she cannot.

The morning following the extravagant ceremony, a second body washes ashore and Addie has a sinking feeling that the two deaths are connected. While the guests are held on the yacht as the police investigate, at least Addie can peruse Zach’s father’s rare books library on board. A copy of Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, provides a clue that the killer may still be on the ship—but narrowing down the suspects without becoming the next victim may prove a truly Herculean task…

Source: NetGalley, Kensington, and Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  There’s not much more stressful than planning a wedding.  For Addie Greyborne’s best friend, the experience has been a full-on nightmare.  With a mother-in-law consumed with appearances and social standing, the wedding is nothing like the bride envisioned and everything she hoped to avoid.

With everyone aboard a luxury super yacht for the blessed event, Addie can’t believe the extravagance, the luxury, the expense, and the two dead bodies!  Knowing the killer has to be among the guests, the police literally trap everyone in attendance on the yacht and begin their investigation.  As always, dives right in with the blessing of the police.  Not only are Addie’s sleuthing skills put to the test in this caper, but also her knowledge of rare and expensive books.  With everyone in such close quarters, it’s easy to discover everyone’s dirty little secrets, but not so easy to see how those secrets have led to the deaths of two people.

What I found most intriguing about this read is the setting.  I didn’t think I would like the quarantine nature of this read, but Elliott cleverly placed everyone on a SUPER yacht so there is still plenty of room for Addie to run around.  Next up is the changing nature of relationships in this book.  One in particular is very intriguing and certainly leaves room for speculation (and drama!) in future books.  While nothing relationship-wise dramatically changed in this book, there is certainly enough here to warrant thinking about everyone’s future and how the characters will evolve as the series continues.  What’s more, Addie is getting better at sleuthing with every case and that certainly leaves room for more complex plotlines which I am not at all opposed to.  I feel a sort of real devotion to this series and hope I am not reading too much into the nuggets of information dropped/hinted at in this book.  I look forward to finding out if my intuition is correct.

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Review: Still Life and Death (Book #3: Shepherd Sisters Mysteries) by Tracy Gardner

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Savanna Shepherd, a former art authenticator turned grade school art teacher, is delighted when her Uncle Max and Uncle Freddie move to Carson. Uncle Max takes a job at Libby’s Blooms, where Savanna teaches a still life painting class for adults. But one morning, Uncle Max finds a dead body in the rooftop greenhouse…and even worse, it looks like an inside job.

Savanna and her sisters—Skylar, a lawyer, and Sydney, the owner of a pet shop and grooming salon—dig in to find the real murderer. With their connections to the community and Savanna’s keen eye for details, they uncover longstanding resentments and horticultural clues. Meanwhile, Savanna’s dating local doctor Aidan Gallager, but she worries it’ll cause a scandal, since his daughter is in her class. As Savanna’s investigation leads her into thorny situations, the killer may be arranging another murder: her own.

Source: NetGalley and Hallmark Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  The Shepherd sisters are back and, once again, they are up to their butts in a mystery.  When the local florist is brutally murdered in her own shop, Sidney, Savanna, and Skyler jump into the investigation with all six of their curious feet.  Libby’s murder is beyond comprehension and of the three Shepherd sisters, Sydney is having the hardest time adjusting to the senseless loss of her friend.  As the sisters delve deeper into the mystery, they discovery a series of threats and accusations, attempted bribes and manipulation, all of which led to the death of a mostly innocent woman. 

I am still very much attached to this series and that has everything to do with the great levels of evolution in the characters.  All three of the Shepherd sisters have major life events in this read and that is all wrapped around the three intrepid women once again bringing closure to a family and their community through their incessant nosiness.  The way the girls go about their sleuthing is with each other’s safety and security in mind.  Their love of one another, their larger family, and their community is one of the reasons I enjoy this series so much.  At this stage, all three sisters have told their respective stories which means this series may be at an end.  If this is the end, I can truthfully say I am satisfied with the ending and wish the Shepherd girls nothing but the very best in their respective future. 

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Review: The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable

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In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.

Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.

Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…

Source: NetGalley and Graydon House Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I tend to pile up my book reviews and sit down for marathon writing sessions.  95% of the time, I have no difficulty recalling a story, its plot, and characters even with distance between finishing the book and writing the review.  That other 5% are the books I must really think about, re-read the synopsis, and think back to the actual reading of the book.  It is times like this when I know the star rating is going to be a bit lower because the book has clearly not stuck with me as the really good books tend to.  The Bookseller’s Secret is among the 5% and as I think back on the reading of this book, I distinctly remember struggling to get through it. 

I generally enjoy a past meets present book, but this one is quite lacking.  In the present, a struggling author and inquisitive young man are on the hunt for a missing manuscript from renowned author Nancy Mitford.  In the past, Nancy is not only working through her own author-ly struggles, but personal and financial struggles as well.  The lost manuscript is in fact written by Nancy, but it never sees the light of day.  My struggle with this book is how dull the past portion of this book really is.  While Nancy Mitford may have been a wonderfully interesting figure that excitement and interest is dulled completely in this book.  In truth, I wanted to like this book far more than I did and find I have a hard time recommending this read to others.

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Review: A Page Marked for Murder (Book #5: Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery) by Lauren Elliott

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January isn’t the season for the seaside, but the big Fire and Ice festival is keeping bookstore owner Addie busy. Amid the plans for a fireworks display and an ice-carving competition, she’s also dog sitting for a friend in the hospital. When Addie goes to her friend’s house to gather supplies, she notices an interesting item on the nightstand which belongs to her shop assistant, Paige: a very valuable copy of the beloved children’s book The Secret Garden.

But Addie’s blood runs cold when she finds something else: a dead body behind the bakery next door to her shop. Martha, the bakery owner, has no alibi–and has been seen in a heated argument with the victim. And the next thing Addie knows, that first edition has gone missing. Is there a connection between the body and the treasured tome? If there is, it’s up to Addie to find a killer with a motive as hidden as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous garden…

Source: NetGalley, Kensington, and Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  One of the hallmarks of good series (for me!) is being away from the series for a while and falling right back into the latest book like you never left!  Addie, her cozy little town, and her wonderful bookstore all fit the bill of a welcoming old friend and I was delighted to return to this series after time away. 

Like so many others, Addie doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it certainly knows where to find her.  In the short time she’s lived in town, Addie has solved several crimes and the locals now know they can count her to dive into any mischief.  Chief among those residents is Addie’s work neighbor, Martha, the surly baker who would make a good suspect for nearly any crime committed within city limits.  Getting Martha off the hook isn’t going to be easy when the victim is known jerk hellbent on hurting Martha’s daughter and granddaughter.  I still love all the twists and turns in this series and how every book has a bookish twist.  Addie is one of my all-time favorite cozy mystery characters and I don’t ever seem to get enough of her sleuthing, her delightful town, or her circle of friends who always seem to step up when Addie needs them most.  The real sense of community is one of the things I love most about this series and that shines through once again in this book.  There are even a few little bits at the end that has me wondering about future plotlines and character development.  All very good signs for the continuation of this series.

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Review: The Bookshop at Peony Harbor (An Aster Island Novel) by Rosie Summers

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Eloise Paisley needs cash, and she needs it fast. Thanks to an unexpected divorce, Eloise is low on funds, and if she doesn’t figure out a way to make ends meet—soon—she’ll lose the beachfront cottage that’s been in her family for over three generations.

Then one morning, out of the blue, Eloise receives a mysterious letter from her grandmother who has been gone for over twenty years. Inside the envelope is the deed to a rundown bookshop on Main Street—a gift for Eloise. Is she up to the task of breathing life into the almost-derelict building, or will she have to sell the beloved property so she can afford to stay on the island near her children?

Fortunately, Eloise isn’t alone in her decision. She’s got three grown children on her side, though each has problems of their own.

Jack, the eldest, is running his own company. Despite his success, he finds that something in his life is missing. Next is Lilah, a mother of two young children whose husband has been spending unexplained late nights at the office, and she’s determined to find out why. The youngest, Angelica, is a free spirit traveling the world for her career. But when she encounters an old flame at home, is it enough to draw her back?

Come visit the Paisley family on Aster Island and follow their journey as they explore new love and second chances, as they travel far and return home, and as they throw their hearts and souls into making a dream come true.

Source: NetGalley, Summer Reads, and Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  It will be a cold day in Hell before I bypass a book set in a bookstore 😊 The Bookshop at Peony Harbor is a special sort of place given the fact it comes to Eloise from her long-deceased grandmother at just the right moment in Eloise’s life.  With her three grown children home to help her navigate this great surprise in her life, Eloise decides to make a go of the bookshop.  Eloise has her hands full with the remodel and renovations of the bookshop, but her hands aren’t so full that she can’t see the troubles of each of her children.  As the family comes together to help Eloise, each child must also make some hard decisions about their own lives.  I truly enjoyed this first in a series book and see so much potential for the series.  With the bookshop and the small family cottage as a backdrop for the continuation of the series I am looking forward to moving forward.  Thankfully, I stumbled upon this book at a time when there are already at least two more book available.  YAY for me and my love sweet stories in idyllic settings and family sagas.

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Review: Aunt Ivy’s Cottage (Book #2: Dune Island Series) by Kristin Harper

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All Zoey’s happiest childhood memories are of her great-aunt Ivy’s rickety cottage on Dune Island, being spoiled with cranberry ice cream and watching the tides change from the rooftop. Now, heartbroken from a recent breakup, Zoey can see her elderly aunt’s spark is fading, and decides to move to the island so they can care for each other.

When she arrives to find her cousin, Mark, sitting at the solid oak kitchen table, she knows why Aunt Ivy hasn’t been herself. Because Mark—next in line to inherit the house—is pushing Ivy to move into a nursing home.

With the cousins clashing over what’s best for Ivy, Zoey is surprised when the local carpenter who’s working on Ivy’s cottage takes her side. As he offers Zoey comfort, the two grow close. Together, they make a discovery in the attic that links the family to the mysterious and reclusive local lighthouse keeper, and throws doubt on Mark’s claim…

Now Zoey has a heartbreaking choice to make. The discovery could keep Ivy in the house she’s loved her whole life… but can Zoey trust that the carpenter really has Ivy’s best interests at heart? And will dredging up an old secret destroy the peace and happiness of Ivy’s final years—and tear this family apart for good?

Source: NetGalley and Bookouture Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: Aunt Ivy’s Cottage is an emotional roller coaster of a ride that traces the love, lives, loyalties, and betrayals of a family as one generation is coming to an end.  Aunt Ivy has spent her life in her home on Dune Island and until recently, she was quite happy to be there.  With the death of her beloved friend/sister-in-law, Aunt Ivy now faces her final years alone, rattling around in a home that now seems way too big and full of memories and shadows. 

With nothing but her aunt’s best interests at heart, Zoey has returned to Dune Island to care for her aunt.  Not realizing the mess she has stumbled into, Zoey finds herself fighting her cousin for her aunt’s health and happiness, caring for her somewhat troubled niece, and fighting her feelings for the local contractor.  As Zoey tries to navigate the complexities of her own life, she also unravels the complexities of her Aunt Ivy’s life.  Zoey uncovers lies and secrets, love and loyalties that have stood the test of time. 

While I generally like the story, I didn’t care for two of the main characters.  I know Zoey’s heart is in right place, however, she comes across as seriously naïve and more than a bit whiny and her cousin is scheming rat bastard with nothing but his own self-interest in mind.  I found it difficult to feel much of anything for these two as they vied for control of Aunt Ivy and her possessions.  The only real character I had any great affection or feeling for was Aunt Ivy.  Ivy brought humor, compassion, and love to the story and made it likeable. 

I found, throughout the book, lots of places were the story slowed to a snail’s pace, lots of Zoey’s whining was repetitive, and the ending was less than satisfyingly.  The last chapters of the book definitely picked up the pace, but the ending fell flat.  In the end, I’m on the fence with this read; I disliked some primary characters, but I did like the actual story and the addition of the past crashing into the present.

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Review: The Bohemians by Jasmin Darznik

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In 1918, Dorothea Lange leaves the East Coast for California, where a disaster kick-starts a new life. Her friendship with Caroline Lee, a vivacious, straight-talking woman with a complicated past, gives her entrée into Monkey Block, an artists’ colony and the bohemian heart of San Francisco. Dazzled by Caroline and her friends, Dorothea is catapulted into a heady new world of freedom, art, and politics. She also finds herself unexpectedly–and unwisely–falling in love with Maynard Dixon, a brilliant but troubled painter. Dorothea and Caroline eventually create a flourishing portrait studio, but a devastating betrayal pushes their friendship to the breaking point and alters the course of their lives.

The Bohemians captures San Francisco in the glittering and gritty 1920s, with cameos from such legendary figures as Mabel Dodge, Frida Kahlo, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence . At the same time, it is eerily resonant with contemporary themes, as anti-immigration sentiment, corrupt politicians, and the Spanish flu bring tumult to the city–and as the gift of friendship and the possibility of self-invention persist against the ferocious pull of history.

Source: NetGalley, Ballantine Books, and Purchase Rating: 2½/5 stars

The Bottom Line: I have been an Art Historian for the better part of two decades and while I often enjoy historical fiction related to art and artist, from time to time, I come across a read that just doesn’t sit well for or with me.  Unfortunately, The Bohemians is one such book.  Dorothea Lange is, without doubt, one of the most celebrated photographers in American history, but much of her history is largely ignored in this book and I found that very difficult to reconcile.  For example, throughout this book the long hours Lange spent in the darkroom are repeatedly mentioned yet nothing is mentioned about her, at best, rudimentary darkroom abilities.  In fact, unless she simply could not afford it, Lange often paid other photographers – including Ansel Adams – to complete her darkroom work for her.  Lange’s genius lay behind the camera where she most certainly sought to convey the humanity and character of her subjects; for her hired hands, she left detailed instructions about the effect she wanted in the final print.  Furthermore, Lange was also known to spend time with her subjects and talk with them if at all possible.  Lange often used the words of her subjects as the captions for her photos and openly criticized other well-known photographers (Margaret Bourke-White) for not doing something similar in their own work.  Though this was touched on in this read, it wasn’t emphasized to the extent it really needed to be. While I certainly appreciate what the author is trying to convey with this book, the license taken is just a bit too much for someone such as myself who has spent two decades studying the likes of Dorothea Lange.  The things left out of this book are just as critical to understanding Lange’s later development as an artist as what is mentioned.  In the end, this book just isn’t a good representation of a woman who becomes an icon of early photography.

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Review: Ruby Red Herring (Book #1: An Avery Ayers Antique Mystery) by Tracy Gardner

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After their parents’ deaths, Avery Ayers and her teenaged sister, Tilly, take over the family business, Antiquities & Artifacts Appraised. Life in Lilac Grove is filled with jewels, tapestries, paintings…and the antics of eccentric Aunt Midge. But their world is rocked when they learn that the theft of a priceless ruby may be connected to their parents’ demise.


The trouble starts when the Museum of Antiquities hires Avery to appraise a rare, resplendent ruby. It bears a striking similarity to a stone in the museum’s bejeweled dragon’s-head medallion. One of the dragon’s ruby eyes was stolen long ago–replaced with a fake. Now, Avery’s colleagues–pompous Sir Robert Lane and fatherly Micah Abbott–suspect they may have the missing gem. But facets of the case remain cloudy. Detective Art Smith is snooping around. Another body turns up. And Avery finds mysterious notes that, impossibly, seem to be written by her father.


Accompanied by her Afghan hound, Avery enlists Art’s help in cutting the list of suspects who might have polished off her parents and swiped the jewel. Was it art collector Oliver Renell? Curator Nate Brennan? Actor Tyler Chadwick? Or was the theft an inside job, perpetrated by someone all too close to Avery? If she can’t find the culprit, Lilac Grove may be the setting for Avery’s own death.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: Yet again, I must admit to struggling with a read I truly expected to blaze through.  It took me days to finish this book and I think it had to do with the wonkiness of the plot.  There is a lot going on in this book, between the project Avery and her partners are working on to the suspicions surrounding the deaths of Avery’s parents.  While the two stories are actually intertwined, I found the blending of the two to be somewhat clunky and awkward.  I also found the pacing of the first two-thirds of the book to be somewhat slow and it wasn’t until the last third that the pace picked up and I was able to move more easily towards the end.  Though I struggled with this book, I like author (another series I follow!) and the cast of characters in this book.  I have faith the second book will overcome some of the clunkiness of this read and I will more thoroughly enjoy the succeeding books in this series.  I am not yet ready to kick this series to the curb and will dive into the second book as it becomes available.

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Review: The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

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Thea Mottram is having a bad month. Her husband of nearly twenty years has just left her for one of her friends, and she is let go from her office job–on Valentine’s Day, of all days. Bewildered and completely lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But when she learns that a distant great uncle in Scotland has passed away, leaving her his home and a hefty antique book collection, she decides to leave Sussex for a few weeks. Escaping to a small coastal town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what she needs.

Almost instantly, Thea becomes enamored with the quaint cottage, comforted by its cozy rooms and shaggy, tulip-covered lawn. The locals in nearby Baldochrie are just as warm, quirky, and inviting. The only person she can’t seem to win over is bookshop owner Edward Maltravers, to whom she hopes to sell her uncle’s antique novel collection. His gruff attitude–fueled by an infamous, long-standing feud with his brother, a local lord–tests Thea’s patience. But bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting, leading Thea to develop feelings she hasn’t felt in a long time. As she follows a thrilling yet terrifying impulse to stay in Scotland indefinitely, Thea realizes that her new life may quickly become just as complicated as the one she was running from.

Source: NetGalley and Ballantine Books Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line: Thea Mottram is one of my favorite character types – the woman wronged, the woman whose life has been turned upside down but refuses to succumb to the wight of it all.  Rather than wallow in self-pity, Thea makes for a small coastal town intent on setting things right with her late relative’s estate and simply taking a few weeks to reset and determine the trajectory of her life from this point forward.

As a few weeks turns into a few months, Thea finds she not only likes the small town and her cozy cottage, but she also likes her otherwise grumpy and irascible boss at the local bookstore.  The bookstore is something of a safe haven for Thea and she learns the business, she learns how to improve the business and that brings a great sense of accomplishment.  Even her surly boss is impressed by her endeavors and encourages Thea to soldier on.  To literally everyone’s surprise, Thea and her boss not only get along but seem to genuinely like one another and that sets tongues a wagging about town.  Yet again, I find myself on the opposite end of the star rating spectrum with this book.  I enjoyed this read.  Between Edward’s sordid past, Thea’s recent life-altering experiences, and the locals, the setting for this particular story is just perfect.  Small towns always breed a bit of crazy and I find myself drawn to this setting again and again.  The Bookshop of Second Chances is exactly what it bills itself to be and for more than one character a second chance is exactly what is given.  Make no mistake, this isn’t a straight line from sad and awful to HEA, but a bit of winding road with plenty of bumps and potholes along the way.  The bumps and potholes make the second chances and the eventual HEA totally worth it and makes this book a solid stand alone read.

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