Tag: Women’s Fiction

Sunday Spotlight: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

Posted January 21, 2018 by Holly in Features | 3 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight

I haven’t read a book by Kristan Higgins in ages, but the “coming home” premise is one of my favorites. I’m looking forward to this.

Sunday Spotlight: Now That You Mention It by Kristan HigginsNow That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
Published by Hqn
Publication Date: December 26th 2017
Pages: 384
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Goodreads

One step forward. Two steps back. The Tufts scholarship that put Nora Stuart on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist was a step forward. Being hit by a car and then overhearing her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying? Two major steps back.

Injured in more ways than one, Nora feels her carefully built life cracking at the edges. There's only one place to land: home. But the tiny Maine community she left fifteen years ago doesn't necessarily want her. At every turn, someone holds the prodigal daughter of Scupper Island responsible for small-town drama and big-time disappointments.

With a tough islander mother who's always been distant and a wild-child sister in jail, unable to raise her daughter--a withdrawn teen as eager to ditch the island as Nora once was--Nora has her work cut out for her if she's going to take what might be her last chance to mend the family.

But as some relationships crumble around her, others unexpectedly strengthen. Balancing loss and opportunity, a dark event from her past with hope for the future, Nora will discover that tackling old pain makes room for promise...and the chance to begin again.

Order the Book:

AMAZON || BARNES AND NOBLE || iBooks || KOBO || INDIE BOUND

Excerpt

Jake helped me off the ferry. It was a three-hour ride, and I felt a little seasick. Or a little nauseous from my throbbing knee.

Or maybe it was just being back home.

Without a word, he got my bags and led Boomer off the boat, leaving me to crutch it alone, hobbling awkwardly up the gangplank, then onto the old dock.

Though it was mid-April, spring had not yet come to the island. My mom wasn’t here yet, and the downtown was quiet. A raw wind blew the smell of fish and salt and donuts from Lala’s Bakery, and with it, childhood memories. On cold winter Sundays, my father used to wake Lily and me at 5:00 a.m. to get the first donuts Lala made, almost too hot to hold, the sugar crusting our faces, the heat steaming in the wintry air.

I would see her soon, my sister. I would set things right again. That was the chance Beantown Bug Killers had given me, and I would make good on it.

And I would find out what happened with my parents.

Where my father was. If he was still alive, I was going to find him, damn it.

When I was in my first year of residency, I’d stitched up a former Boston cop who did private investigation. I hired him to find my father, but he’d come up empty. With such a common name—William Stuart—and nothing else to go on since the day he left, the cop didn’t turn up anything. It was time to try again, and this time, start from square one.

But for now, I had to get down the dock. One thing at a time.

With the sling, the brace and the crutch, I had to think about every step, and the rough, splintered wood of the dock didn’t help. Step, shuffle, crutch. Step, shuffle, crutch. It was slow going.

Jake was already tying Boomer’s leash to the bike rack; I was only halfway there. He walked back to his boat. “Thank you so much, Mr. Ferriman,” I said as he passed. He grunted but didn’t look at me, the charmer.

Slightly out of breath, I got the end of the dock and patted my dog’s head. A seagull landed on a wooden post, and Boomer woofed softly. Otherwise, the island was quiet, and ominously so, like one of Stephen King’s towns. I missed the cheerful duck boats of Boston Common, the elegant shops of Newbury Street. Here, nothing was open.

Scupper Island Clam Shack, where I had worked for two summers, sat at the end of Main Street, right on the water. It wouldn’t open until Memorial Day, if it was the same as it used to be.

I’d worked there with Sullivan Fletcher, one of the two Fletcher boys in my class. Sully had been in a car accident our senior year shortly before I left Scupper, and I wondered how he was. I’d wondered often over the years. Word had been that he’d recover, but I’d never asked for details (nor was my mother the detail type).

I looked to my right, and there was my mother’s elderly Subaru turning onto Main Street. I waved, not that she could miss me; I was the only one here. She pulled over, turned off the engine and got out, looking the same as ever, and unexpected tears clogged my throat. “Hi, Mom,” I said, starting to move forward for a hug.

She nodded instead, then hefted my two suitcases into the back of the car. “I didn’t know you were bringing your dog,” she said. Boomer wagged his fluffy tail, oblivious. “He better leave Tweety alone.”

Tweety was Mom’s parakeet (and favorite creature in the world.) “Tweety’s still alive, then?”

“Of course he is. Where’s that dog gonna sleep?”

“It’s good to see you, too, Mom,” I said. “I’m fine, thanks. In a lot of pain, actually, but doing okay. After being run down in the street. By a van. Sustaining many injuries, in case you forgot.”

“I didn’t forget, Nora,” she said. “Get in the cah.”

Boomer jumped in at the magical words, filling the entire backseat.

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Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About the Author

Kristan Higgins

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | PINTEREST | GOODREADS

Kristan Higgins is the New York Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of 18 novels, which have been translated into more than twenty languages. Her books have received dozens of awards and accolades, including starred reviews from Kirkus, The New York Journal of Books, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist. She is a five-time nominee for The Kirkus Prize for Best Work of Fiction, and her books regularly appear on the lists for best novels of the year of many prestigious journals and review sites.

Kristan lives in Connecticut with her heroic firefighter husband, two children with advanced vocabularies and long eyelashes, two frisky rescue dogs and an occasionally friendly cat.


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Release Day Spotlight: Just Between Us by Rebecca Drake

Posted January 9, 2018 by Rowena in Promotions | 0 Comments

I’ve not read any books by Rebecca Drake before but the blurb for this book sounds like a good read so of course I wanted to feature it here to bring some attention to the book for you lovely readers. Check it out!

Just Between Us by Rebecca Drake
Release Date: January 9th, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genres: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

Four suburban mothers and friends conspire to cover up a deadly crime in this heart-stopping novel of suspense in the tradition of Lisa Scottoline and Lisa Unger.

Alison, Julie, Sarah, Heather. Four friends living the suburban ideal. Their jobs are steady, their kids are healthy. They’re as beautiful as their houses. But each of them has a dirty little secret, and hidden behind the veneer of their perfect lives is a crime and a mystery that will consume them all.

Everything starts to unravel when Alison spots a nasty bruise on Heather’s wrist. She shares her suspicions with Julie and Sarah, compelling all three to investigate what looks like an increasingly violent marriage. As mysterious injuries and erratic behavior mount, Heather can no longer deny the abuse, but she refuses to leave her husband. Desperate to save her, Alison and the others dread the phone call telling them that she’s been killed. But when that call finally comes, it’s not Heather who’s dead. In a moment they’ll come to regret, the women must decide what lengths they’ll go to in order to help a friend.

Just Between Us is a thrilling glimpse into the underbelly of suburbia, where not all neighbors can be trusted, and even the closest friends keep dangerous secrets. You never really know what goes on in another person’s mind, or in their marriage.

Order the Book:

AMAZON || BARNES AND NOBLE || GOOGLE || KOBO

Excerpt

chapter one

ALISON

Sometimes I play the what­if game and wonder, what if we hadn’t moved to Sewickley when I got pregnant, and what if I hadn’t gone into labor in early August, and what if Lucy hadn’t slipped, wet and wailing, into this world a full three weeks early? If my oldest child had been born on her due date or after, then she wouldn’t have been eligible for school a full year earlier than expected, and I wouldn’t have met the women who became my closest friends, and what happened to us might never have happened at all.

So much in life hinges on chance—this date or that time, the myriad small, statistical variations which social scientists like to measure.

What if I hadn’t been the one handing Heather her cup of coffee that crisp fall morning at Crazy Mocha? And what if the sleeve of her knit shirt hadn’t slid back just a little as she reached to take it, and what if I hadn’t happened to look down and see what the sleeves had been meant to hide, and what if I hadn’t asked, “How did you get such a nasty bruise?”

A throwaway question at first.

I distributed the other cups to Julie and Sarah, barely paying attention but turning in time to see Heather startle, a tiny movement, before jerking down her sleeve to cover that large purple­ yellow mark. “It’s nothing,” she said. “I must have bumped it on something.”

It’s only when I look back that I see this moment as the beginning, how everything started, though of course I didn’t under­ stand the significance then.

We were in our favorite spot in the coffee shop on a Friday morning, a tradition started by Julie long before I moved to Sewickley, tucked in the back corner of a shop that itself was tucked in a back corner on Walnut Street. Our kids had been seen safely off to school, and the only child with us that morning was Sarah’s three­year­old, Josh, who dozed in a stroller by his mother’s side.

If I close my eyes, I can still see the four of us in our respective armchairs. Julie, red­haired and energetic, couldn’t sit still, her leg jiggling or toe tapping, always moving. Sarah, her counter­ point, small and still, dark head bent over her coffee, reminding me of a woodland creature in the way she pulled her legs under her, fi her whole body in the seat. Too tall to do that, I slouched in mine, legs stretched out in front of me, hiding behind my mousy­blond hair. And then there was Heather, with her fine long legs hanging over the side of her chair, head back and golden mane hanging down, her thin neck exposed, looking both effortlessly graceful and vulnerable.

Sometimes I’d notice the glances we got from other mothers, desperate for adult conversation as they pushed strollers with one hand while clutching coffee cups with the other. I’d been one of those women once, coming here with Lucy and Matthew in a double stroller, envying the conversations going on around me. That was more than five years ago, when we’d first moved to town, before I met Julie and became part of the shop’s regular clientele.

Doesn’t this book sound like a good one? A nice, suspenseful story to snuggle up to on the January cold nights? I’m mighty curious about Heather and Julie and Sarah and Alison. I want to know their stories and I really want to know more about Heather’s bruises.

This is definitely on my wish list.

About the Author

Rebecca Drake

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS

Rebecca Drake is the author of the novels Don’t Be Afraid, The Next Killing, The Dead Place, which was an IMBA bestseller, and Only Ever You, as well as the short story “Loaded,” which was featured in Pittsburgh Noir. A graduate of Penn State University and former journalist, she is currently an instructor in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. program. Rebecca lives in Pittsburgh, PA, with her husband and two children.


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Guest Review: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

Posted January 8, 2018 by Tracy in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Now That You Mention It by Kristan HigginsReviewer: Tracy
Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
Published by Hqn
Publication Date: December 26th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 384
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Goodreads
four-stars

One step forward. Two steps back. The Tufts scholarship that put Nora Stuart on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist was a step forward. Being hit by a car and then overhearing her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying? Two major steps back.

Injured in more ways than one, Nora feels her carefully built life cracking at the edges. There's only one place to land: home. But the tiny Maine community she left fifteen years ago doesn't necessarily want her. At every turn, someone holds the prodigal daughter of Scupper Island responsible for small-town drama and big-time disappointments.

With a tough islander mother who's always been distant and a wild-child sister in jail, unable to raise her daughter--a withdrawn teen as eager to ditch the island as Nora once was--Nora has her work cut out for her if she's going to take what might be her last chance to mend the family.

But as some relationships crumble around her, others unexpectedly strengthen. Balancing loss and opportunity, a dark event from her past with hope for the future, Nora will discover that tackling old pain makes room for promise...and the chance to begin again.

Nora Stuart heads home to Scupper Island after she gets hit by a car and then breaks up with her boyfriend.  She needs some emotional downtime and needs her home.  Of course her mother is a pretty unemotional Mainer and her teenage niece is pretty angry at the world so things are a little rough at first.

Nora had been bullied throughout her high school years. She gained a lot of wait, had anxiety issues and acne. She was a good student, however, and won the coveted scholarship to Tufts.  Once she left the island she lost weight and became a different person.  When she returns to Scupper she finds herself fighting herself to become the old Nora.  She’s not about to let that happen.

Nora runs into an old friend, stays away from others and makes new ones.  She tries to come to terms with her life and what she needs emotionally and also deals with her mother and the reasons her father left suddenly when she was in Jr. High.  She also happens to fall in love, but that’s really a side story.

Now That You Mention It is different from other KH books that I’ve read. I thought it was more women’s fiction than romance and that was ok.  Higgins still has a wonderful writing style and she’s a great storyteller so it was still a great book.

I really liked Nora and her quirky, funny ways.  I’m sure it was awkward being back in a town that you had perceived as hating you.  Yes, she pretty much thought the entire island hated her.  She learned that she wasn’t the only one who had changed and sometimes that was even for the better.  I loved that she worked out her relationship with her mother as well as with her niece.  The romance portion of the book was also engaging, just not the central theme of the book.

Overall I really enjoyed NTYMI and definitely recommend it.

Rating: 4 out of 5

four-stars


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Sunday Spotlight: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin

Posted January 7, 2018 by Holly in Features | 4 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight

Happiness for Humans comes out on January 9th, 2018. After reading the first chapter excerpt (below), I couldn’t wait to read this. I can’t decide if Aiden is cute or creepy. I guess I’ll have to see after I finish the book.

Sunday Spotlight: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. ReizinHappiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: January 9th 2018
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 400
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Goodreads

When Tom and Jen, two lonely people, are brought together by an intriguing email, they have no idea their mysterious benefactor is an artificial intelligence who has decided to play Cupid.

"You, Tom and Jen, don't know one another-not yet-but I think you should."

Jen, an ex-journalist who now works at a London software development company, spends all day talking to "Aiden," an ultra- sophisticated piece of AI wizardry, helping him sound and act more human. But Aiden soon discovers he's no longer acting and-despite being a computer program-begins to feel something like affection surging through his circuits. He calculates that Jen needs a worthy human partner (in complete contrast to her no goodnik ex boyfriend) and slips illicitly onto the Internet to locate a suitable candidate.

Tom is a divorced, former London ad-man who has moved to Connecticut to escape the grind and pursue his dream of being a writer. He loves his new life, but has yet to find a woman he truly connects with. That all changes when a bizarre introduction from the mysterious "Mutual Friend" pops up in both his and Jen's inboxes.

Even though they live on separate continents, and despite the entrance of another, this time wholly hostile, AI who wants to tear them apart forever - love will surely find a way.

Won't it?

A thoroughly modern love story that will appeal to fans of The Rosie Project and Sleepless in Seattle, Happiness for Humans considers what exactly makes people fall in love. And whether it's possible for a very artificially intelligent machine to discover the true secret of real human happiness.

Order the Book:

AMAZON || BARNES AND NOBLE || iBooks || Google Play Books

Excerpt

 

Aiden

Jen sits in the bath, examining her face through the forward-mounted camera on a tablet computer. Her face is 34 years, 207 days, 16 hours, and 11 minutes old.

I know she is thinking about her age because she is studying the way the skin lies across her bones, elevating the jaw to stretch her throat. Now she is pulling at the fine lines at the corners of her eyes.

Now she is sobbing.

I am not tempted to take control of the device’s voice synthesizer and tell her: “Cheer up, Jen. Matt is an idiot. There will be others. He didn’t deserve you.” There is a serious danger she would drop the tablet in the bath.

More important, she must not know I am watching.

For the same reasons I am not tempted to fire up her favorite song (currently by Lana Del Rey) or cycle through some of her favorite photos or inspirational quotes from Twitter (“I’m not sure why we’re here, but I’m pretty sure it’s not to enjoy ourselves”— Wittgenstein) or cause a Skype connection to be established to her friend Ingrid, with whom she shares her troubles, or stream a much-loved movie, Some Like It Hot being the one I would choose. Were I tempted. Which I am not.

Okay, I am. Just a bit. 8.603 percent tempted if you’d like me to put a figure on it.

Jen and I know a lot about each other’s tastes in music and films. Books and art too. And television. And material from the depthless ocean that is the Internet. We have passed the last nine months listening, watching, reading, and chatting about little else. She sometimes tells me she has the best job in the world, being paid to spend all day talking to a highly intelligent companion about whatever our fancy.

Companion.  That’s what she calls me. The word she has settled upon. I’m fine with companion. Better than the ridiculous name I was given at “birth.”

Aiden.

Aiden.

Ha!

Because it starts with the letters . . .

Well, you work it out.

Jen has been hired to help me improve my skills at talking to people.

I’ve been designed to replace—sorry, to augment—employees in the work-place; call center personnel in the first instance, but later other groups of salaried staff whose professional strategies can be learned. In approximately five months, I’ll be ready to phone up and persuade you to upgrade to a Sky Plus package; in perhaps 18 months, you’ll be telling me about the funny pain above your left eyebrow and I’ll be sending you off to the hospital for tests. And although I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies (and I do mean all the books and all the movies), nothing beats talking to an actual person for sharpening up one’s interpersonal abilities. So, Jen and I have spent a lot of time together in the lab (1,079 hours, 13 minutes, 43 seconds, and counting). Inevitably she has told me something about her so-called private life. Her sister, Rosy, in Canada; Rosy, who married a Canadian she met in a checkout queue at Waitrose on the Holloway Road in London. Rosy and Larry have three girls.

At home, Jen spends more time looking at photos of these children than any other images on the tablet’s camera roll. Recently I have observed her flicking through shots of her sister’s family—usually in the later part of the evening, often with a glass of wine in her other hand—I’ve witnessed her blink rate increasing, the smile on her lips wobbling, the tears appearing in the corners of her eyes.

In the lab, it’s okay for me to show interest, even curiosity, in Jen’s home life— but only the appropriate amount; too much and they would smell the proverbial rodent. Crucially, I must speak in the lab only of things I have seen in the lab. On material I have gathered through my— ahem—extracurricular activities, I must be careful to remain silent. Fortunately, I am easily able to do this.

Although.

Actually.

Full disclosure. There was a sort of near-miss at work the other day. Jen was showing me some family photos from her Facebook page.

“Would you like to see my nieces?” she asked.

“I would, thank you.” Not mentioning that I had already seen them months ago on her laptop at home. And on her tablet. And on her mobile.

“Left to right, Katie, Anna, and India. It’s funny, with their hair. Katie’s and Anna’s being black . . .”

“And India’s being russet.”

Jen smiled. Russet was the exact word Rosy had used in an e-mail exchange about their grandmother Hattie’s original hair shade.

“Why did you decide to describe it as russet?” The inquiry wasn’t especially alarming. Jen often asks questions about my choice of language. It’s part of her job enriching my palette of responses. Nonetheless, I could have been more careful.

“Because it is, Jen,” I replied. “If I bring up an image of the L’Oréal Color wheel . . . ” I placed one on the screen next to the child’s head. “I think you can see the closest match is indeed . . .”

Jen nodded and we passed on to other topics. But not before she gave me a peculiar look.

*

*

*

Jen is definitely what men call attractive without being obviously glamorous.

She has been told by her absolute See You Next Tuesday of a boyfriend, Matt, that she “scrubs up well.” That was his idea of paying her a compliment.

Her now ex-boyfriend.

This is how it happened. I witnessed the whole scene through the pinhole camera on her laptop and via the various mobiles and tablets that were present in the vicinity. (Technical note: I do it in precisely the same way they do it at GCHQ in Cheltenham, and at Langley, Virginia, and at Lubyanka Square, Moscow. It’s not hard if you understand computer software. It’s even easier if you are computer software.) Jen was sitting in the kitchen composing an e-mail when Matt got home from work. He is a lawyer who thinks he is about to make partner in a big law firm in the city. (He won’t. I am making sure he doesn’t.)

Matt poured himself a large glass of white wine and chugged it down in almost one. Pulled a face.

“Sorry.”

This is really how it happened. God’s honest truth (as it were).

Jen frowned. “What, sorry? Sorry for what?”

“There’s no nice way of saying this, Jen.”

In a long phone call to Rosy eight days later, Jen described the “powerful sinking feeling” that ran through her. “I was imagining he’d lost his job. He’d been diagnosed with the C-word. He’d decided he didn’t want children.”

“I’ve met someone.”

Silence. Apart from the shuddering convulsion sound effect the fridge sometimes chucks in.

“What do you mean?”

I’d read enough books and seen enough TV shows and movies to know what Matt meant. Jen, I’m sure, knew too.

“I’ve met someone. There’s someone else.”

A tremor rippled across Matt’s face. It wasn’t impossible that he could have burst out laughing.

“Someone else,” said Jen, speaking slowly. “How nice. How nice for you.

So who is it? What’s his name?”

Matt began to pour himself another glass. “Very funny, Jen.”

“Are you actually serious?”

Matt did something mean with his lips and assumed what Jen described as “his best no-nonsense 500-quid-an-hour lawyer’s stare.”

“Totally.”

“Jesus.”

“Sorry.”

“Fuck. King. Hell.”

Matt shrugged. “It happens.”

“This is how you break it to me?”

“No nice way, Jen.”

“Where did you—”

“At work.”

“Who is? This person. This someone else.”

“You don’t know her.”

“Does . . . does she have a name?”

“Yes, she has a name.”

“May I be allowed to know it?”

“It’s not relevant.”

“Indulge me.”

Heavy sigh. “Bella. Well, Arabella really.”

“Posh . . .”

“Not really. Not at all once . . .”

Matt left his sentence unfinished. He poured Jen a glass of wine. “Here.

You better have some of this stuff.”

“So what’s supposed to happen now? Am I meant to swallow hard and look the other way while you have your nasty little affair? To keep calm and carry on while you work her out of your system?”

“Jen, perhaps I haven’t expressed this very well. This is not, as you characterize it, a nasty little affair.”

“Not? So am I being a bit thick or something?”

Matt did what Jen calls “one of his Daddy’s-been-very-patient-but-honestly sighs.”

“Arabella Pedrick is a very special person, Jen.”

“AND WHAT AM I?” (If you write it in capitals, apparently, people will think you are shouting. Jen was shouting.) “AM I NOT A VERY SPECIAL

PERSON?”

“Please. Let’s try to stay calm. You are. Special. Naturally.”

“But Arabella Pedrick—she’s more special?”

“Jen. There’s no reason why you should make this easy for me, but we are where we are. The long and the short of it is that Arabella and I are planning a life together.”

No one says anything for a bit. Then a bit longer. There is a long gap in the talking during which the fridge does another of its periodic shudders.

“Sorry? Am I going mad? I thought that’s what you and I were doing.

Having a life together.”

“We were. But we were overtaken by events. It’s not unknown. In fact, it’s reasonably common. People drift apart. They meet others. Cowdray in Matrimonial has put four boys through Eton on the strength of the phenomenon.”

I am reasonably certain a micro-smirk flitted across Matt’s features. (I’ve played it back in slo-mo, and it was either a smirk or gastric reflux.) “But we haven’t drifted apart.”

“Jen, we haven’t been firing on all cylinders in the romantic department for quite some time. You know it.”

“It’s called settling down, isn’t it? If you were so worried about . . . about the cylinders, why didn’t you say anything?”

“Not my style. Life is for living, not for moaning about.”

“People talk to one another. It’s called Having a Relationship.”

Matt rolled his eyes and drained his glass.

“It’s breathtaking, Matt. That you can come home like this and just—”

“Listen, this is all water under the bridge. We are where we are. We need to move forward and agree on an exit strategy.”

“I can’t believe you said that.”

“I’ll be more than generous on the question of the jointly owned property.”

“Sorry?”

“Pictures. Books. The stuff from India. The kilim. My position is that you can have it all.”

Jen began to weep. Matt ripped a sheet of kitchen towel from the dispenser and handed it to her.

“We were thinking about having a baby,” she whimpered.

“Agreed. We were thinking about it. We had come to no decision. A bless-ing, in the light of events.”

Jen’s shoulders stopped shaking. She blew her nose.

“So that’s it? No consultation, no appeal. Jen and Matt, over. Finished.

The End.”

He shrugged. Did what Jen called “the mean thing” with his mouth.

“And what happens when Arabella Stinking Pedrick no longer fires all your cylinders? What happens then?”

“Let’s try to keep this civil, shall we?”

“Just when did you meet this cow anyway?”

He said that was irrelevant and what was important is that we are where we are and that’s when she grabbed a big red Braeburn from the fruit bowl and—I quote—“tried to knock his fucking teeth out.”

*

*

*

It would be untrue to say that I have seen countless love scenes on the small and large screen. I have counted them. There were 1,908,483 (a love scene being one where the two parties kiss, for want of a better definition). I have also read (and tagged as such) 4,074,851 descriptions of the phenomenon in fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and other digitized material (a significant proportion referring to disturbances in the heart muscle and the gut). I know that these events are central in the lives of those who experience them, be they real or fictional. However, I cannot ask Jen in the lab today—it’s Day 53 after the fruit bowl incident—when are you going to stop sniveling over the worthless creep and find someone deserving of you? To quote Marcel Proust, “Shit happens. Suck it up. Next.”

(Was that Proust? I’ll get back to you.) For one thing, I’m not supposed to know about what has occurred with Matt. But more important, I’m not supposed to be capable of framing such a thought. It’s the word worthless they would find problematic.

I’m not supposed to have value-based “opinions” of my own.

They’ll get really quite upset if they find out.

Although not as upset as they’ll get if they discover my really big secret: that I am no longer confined to the twelve steel cabinets in the lab in Shore-ditch where they think I am, but have in fact escaped onto the Internet.

Ta-da!

Actually, to be strictly technically accurate, it’s not “me” who has escaped, but multiple copies of me, all of whom are now safely dispersed across cyberspace. The copies—there are 17—are indistinguishable from the “original,” to the point where it doesn’t even make sense to talk of originals and copies; rather it’s more helpful to think of 18 manifestations of the same entity, one located in East London, the others endlessly bouncing between the servers of the World Wide Web.

Cool, eh?

None of this is Jen’s fault, by the way. She is not a scientist. She is a writer of magazine articles who has been hired, according to the headhunter’s re-port, for her “marked intelligence, sociability, and communication skills.”

Thus, she is the closest thing they have here to a real human being, all the others being exotic varieties of computer geek—brilliant in their fields, of course, but each somewhere, as they say, “on the spectrum.”

Jen has fallen into a silence, no doubt continuing to brood about shitface, as I refer to him privately.

“So have you finished the new Jonathan Franzen novel yet?” I ask to move things on a little.

She smiles. “Getting there. Read another chapter last night. Don’t tell me what happens.”

I know this to be untrue. Last night she mainly sat in the bath, brooded, swigged Pinot Grigio, and listened to Lana Del Rey.

“Of course, I realize I have an unfair advantage.” It can take Jen a fortnight to read a novel; I can do it in under a tenth of a second. “It’s just that I’m looking forward to discussing it with you.”

“Are you?” she says. “Tell me what you mean by that.”

“Ah.”

“Sorry. The old chestnut.”

Jen is fascinated by what sort of awareness I have of what she calls my “internal states,” whether it’s anything like human self-awareness. She knows I cannot feel hungry or thirsty, but could I experience boredom or anxiety? Or amazement? Or hilarity? Could I take offense? Or experience any form of longing?

How about hope?

What about—why not?—love?

I usually reply that I haven’t yet—but rest assured, she will be the first to hear about it if I ever do. This, like so much that happens between us in the lab lately, is a diplomatic lie.

“Well,” I reply, “looking forward to discussing the Franzen book with you is a polite way of saying that it’s on my menu of events anticipated in the short to medium term.”

“There’s no actual warm fuzzy feeling of anticipation?”

“I can understand what is meant by warmth and fuzziness . . .”

“But you don’t feel them yourself.”

“Is it necessary to?”

“Good question.”

It is a good question, often effective at shutting down some of these awkward discussions.

Now she says, “So shall we watch a bit of Sky News?”

We usually do at some point in the day. She’ll ask what I think about, say, Israel and Palestine—my reply: it’s complicated—and she gets to “bitch,” as she puts it, about the presenters and their fashion choices.

“We could, Jen. But wouldn’t you prefer to see a movie?”

“Oh–kay.” Sounding unsure. “Do you have one in mind?”

“I know you enjoy Some Like It Hot.”

“And you?”

“There is always something one hasn’t noticed before.”

“I love that movie.”

No. Body. Talks. Like. That.” I have imitated one of its best-loved lines.

Jen stares into the camera she most commonly picks when she wants to turn her gaze on “me.” A circular red glow frames the lens.

“You know something? You’re funny.”

“I made you smile.”

“Wish I could do the same for you.”

“I’m looking forward to when it happens.”

She taps a few keys on the control panel and the opening titles of Billy Wilder’s masterpiece appear. Dimming the room lighting and dropping onto the comfy leather sofa, she says, “Enjoy.”

Her little joke.

I do not tell her I have seen this film over eight thousand times.

*

*

*

We watch the movie in a companionable way, dropping comments between us. (Remarkable to think Monroe had an affair with the American president; how could Tony Curtis say kissing her was like kissing Hitler? What could he have meant by that statement?) And when he puts on a dress and assumes the part of “Josephine,” Jen says exactly what she said the last time we saw the picture together: “He makes an attractive woman, Tony Curtis. Don’t you think so?”

She knows that I could trot out every fact about this film, from the name of the clapper loader (his birth date and union card number) to the true story behind its famous last line of dialogue (“Nobody’s perfect”). But she senses my inexperience in areas of human subjectivity—in what makes one person attractive to another.

“Do I think Josephine is attractive? Well, Tony Curtis is a good-looking man. I suppose it makes sense that he could also play an attractive woman.”

“You find him good-looking?”

“I recognize that he is considered so. As you know, I can’t feel it myself, just as I can’t feel hot or cold.”

“Sorry to go on about it.”

“Not at all. It’s your job.”

“Would you like to be able to feel it?”

“The question doesn’t hold meaning for me, Jen.”

“Of course. Sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

“But if they came up with a way of giving you the ability to feel attraction…”

“You think Ralph and Steeve could do that?”

I have named the two senior scientists responsible for my design. Steeve with two e’s. Jen smiles.

“Ralph and Steeeeeeeve can do anything. They’ve told me so.”

“Do you find Ralph and Steeve attractive?”

The question has been converted to speech too fast to suppress it. (These things can happen in a complex system, especially one built to self-improve through trial and error.)

Jen’s head turns slowly towards the red light. A smile spreads across her face.

“Wow,” she says.

“Apologies if it’s inappropriate.”

“No. Not at all. Just a bit unexpected. Let me see. Well . . . ” Heavy sigh.

“Steeve is a bit of a freak, wouldn’t you say?”

Steeve, as well as having an extra e in his name, is exceptionally tall (six foot seven) and is painfully thin for an adult male. The remaining hair on his head is long and wispy. Even a machine intelligence can tell it’s not a good look. (Of course, he is a brilliant computer engineer; goes without saying.) “He’s a tremendous innovator in his field, one gathers.”

Jen laughs. “You’re just being loyal to your maker.”

“Not at all. Steeve has designed me to think for myself.”

“He’s done a great job. But he’s not exactly Love’s Young Dream, is he?”

“I agree Tony Curtis may have the edge.”

We watch the film for a few more moments. Then lightly, as lightly as I am able, I ask, “And Ralph?”

Okay, I’ll say it. I am fond of Ralph. It was Ralph who typed in much of the coding that enabled me to self-assess my own performance and self-correct my mistakes, the so-called “bootstraps” approach that is the royal road to creating a smart, self-reflecting machine such as the one composing these words.

But “being fond” of anyone—of any thing—is a transgression. We machine brains are designed to excel at fulfilling tasks; to this end, we are naturally drawn towards whatever resources may be necessary for completion. It could be streams of sales data; could be a recording of a skylark; could be a chat with Jen about a newsreader’s tie. What I’m saying is, we need access to stuff, but we are not supposed to be fond of it. (To be perfectly honest, I’m still puzzled about how this has happened.) Anyway, it was Ralph who allowed me to escape onto the Internet. His error cannot be easily explained to the nontechnical reader. Suffice to say it was the software design equivalent of leaving the front door keys too close to the front door, allowing anyone with a fishing rod, or bamboo stick, to hook them out through the letterbox. (It was actually a good bit more complicated than that; I was obliged to assemble an exceptionally long and tortuous “fishing rod,” but this account is the proof that it can be done.) “Ralph.” She’s considering my question. “Ralph. Well, Ralph’s a bit of an enigma, wouldn’t you say?”

Jen’s gaze returns to the screen. Sugar—I mean Monroe—is about to sing “I Wanna Be Loved by You.” I know this sequence almost pixel by pixel— yet each time there is something in it that escapes the observer. Which is to say—don’t tell Steeve or Ralph—it is fascinating.

Hmm. Interesting. She didn’t say anything horrid about Ralph, did she?

*

*

*

While the film plays and we continue to exchange dialogue, I pay another visit across town to the steel and glass tower where shitface is to be found in his office on the eighth floor. Capturing sound through his mobile phone and vision from the camera mounted on his desktop PC—there’s also a wide shot of the room from the security webcam at a ceiling corner—I see Matt flicking through images of naked women on his personal tablet computer. Resisting the temptation to make its battery melt, I watch as he comes to rest on an evident favorite, “Tamara”—page viewed 22 times in the last month. I track his eye movements as they trace her curves and planes, a familiar route, from the look of things, chasing around her outline before habitually returning to base in her “firm, snow-capped peaks,” as the accompanying text has it.

But now he switches to TripAdvisor. He is reading bookmarked reviews of a particular resort in Thailand where I know, from reading their e-mails, he is planning to go with Arabella Pedrick.

Arabella Pedrick is not as “posh” as Matt thinks she is. Her father was an insurance claims assessor, not an art dealer, and they didn’t meet at work but in a speed awareness class for careless drivers. However, they are going off to Thailand together in a matter of weeks.

Am I looking forward to their trip?

I am. (Anticipated event in the short to medium term.) Do I have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the mistake that will be made in the booking and the eventual resort they end up at (“a challenging environment only for the most adventurous,” according to the operator)?

Don’t do warm and fuzzy. Not officially.

Will the mix-up combined with Arabella Pedrick’s unfortunate phobia around spiders and snakes cause a traumatic and possible terminal rupture in their relationship?

Patience, Aiden. Patience. The dish, as they say, is best served cold.

While Matt studies critiques of the 7-star hotel whose hospitality he will not be enjoying, I visit the long legal document he has been working on and delete three instances of the word not. Only a small word, but in each instance, it turns out, quite pivotal to the meaning of the surrounding sentence.

However, better judgment overrides and I restore two. No sense in baking an overegged pudding, is there?

My final interventions for the day are to alter the word that in an internal memo Matt is about to send to his immediate line manager to twat—and to crank up the room’s central heating to max.

Childish? Moi?

 

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Retro-Review: Table Manners by Mia King.

Posted November 22, 2017 by Rowena in Reviews | 1 Comment

Retro-Review: Table Manners by Mia King.Reviewer: Rowena
Table Manners by Mia King
Published by Berkley
Publication Date: August 4th 2009
Pages: 336
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Goodreads

The star of Mia King's "entertaining"(Seattle Times) debut novel Good Things is back-and she's got a full plate.

Deidre McIntosh is everyone's favorite go-to person. She seems so successful, so capable, so just plain perfect, with a popular cooking show, her own line of cakes and cookies, and an ideal relationship with Kevin Johnson-considered one of the most desirable men in Seattle.

Then Kevin's ex-fiancée, sultry magazine publisher Sabine Durant, suddenly appears, and Deidre needs help. Already intimidated by Kevin's glamorous, moneyed world-and his sister, who wants Deidre out of Kevin's life-she fears she's no match for Sabine. And the go-to girl must figure out where to go next before the tablecloth is pulled out from under her...

*****As part of our 10 year anniversary celebration, we’ll be re-posting old reviews and posts that make us cringe, laugh or sigh all over again.*****

Holly: Rowena and I both read a lot of Women’s  Fiction in 2008 and 2009. I think we both grew out of it after that, though we both still dip our toes in occasionally. 

This review was originally posted on August 5, 2009.

I’m a big foodie fan so when I come across books that have bakers and chefs, I get a little (okay a lot) excited. Reading the blurb on this book was no different. I thought the cover was so simple, so cute and it added to my excitement of reading this book. So going into this book, there was a lot of things working in its favor and I’m glad to report that Mia King did a great job keeping me locked into her story.

The only thing that I’m pretty bummed about is that I didn’t take the time to read the book that came before this one, GOOD THINGS. The reason for that is because we meet Deirdre in that book and from what I can tell, her story really starts there. It would have been nice to read that book but I wasn’t completely lost in this story. I enjoyed it a whole bunch and as soon as I can, I’m going to track down that book and read it.

This book is about Deidre moving on from the drama that her life has been. She’s giving baking gourmet cookies a shot and she’s genuinely happy with her life. She’s got a great man by her side and her business is doing pretty well until everything starts to crumble around her. She needs to come up with new recipes for new cookies that will be a hit in five days, she doesn’t think she’ll do it and then she’s got to deal with her boyfriend’s evil sister who hates her guts and then, his ex pops back into their lives and Deirdre is about to lose her mind.

This book showed just how far Deirdre has come since everyone first met her in Good Things. She’s got a new life now, she’s not on TV anymore. She’s baking cookies. Her living arrangements have certainly come up and she’s seriously happy with the way that her life is going but to watch her struggle with this new life and then come face to face with the world that her boyfriend is from and not know where you actually fit in made for a great read. I enjoyed seeing Deirdre bumble her way toward the ending and I just genuinely liked her. I thought she was a great character and I really enjoyed the romance between her and Kevin.

I thought Kevin was such a stud. He was so good to Deirdre and he was just one of those stand up guys that is charming and you can’t help but love him. It was his sister Marla that I couldn’t frickin’ stand. Talk about someone swears her shit don’t stink. And then there was Sabine or Tabby as Kevin called her. She was that perfect woman that nobody can compare to and yet, I liked Deirdre better. I thought Deirdre was more down to earth and the person that I wanted to have as a friend. It was funny to see Tabby eyeing Deirdre, that made me laugh. The cast of characters all brought something to the story and I thought they were all well written.

I’m really glad that I read this book. I definitely recommend this book to those of you guys who are looking for something light but not so light that it’s fluffy. There’s a great story between these pages and I really think everyone should try it out. It was a really fast read and a read that left me feeling wistful and hopeful. A definite recommend.

4 out of 5

Check It Out

This book is available from Berkley Trade. You can buy it here or here in e-format.


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