Tag: Contemporary Romance

Sunday Spotlight: Dinner on Primrose Hill by Jodi Thomas

Posted October 17, 2021 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 7 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: Dinner on Primrose Hill by Jodi ThomasDinner on Primrose Hill by Jodi Thomas
Series: Honey Creek #3
Publisher: Kensington, Zebra
Publication Date: October 26, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 336
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The delightful and touching new novel from the bestselling author of dozens of treasured romances. Return to the picturesque Texas town of Honey Creek—a place where friendship and warm welcomes can be relied on, and love always finds a way…

Benjamin Monroe is pretty sure how his life will play out. He’ll continue teaching chemistry in his small college, and spend his free time biking through the valley. Eventually, he’ll retire to putter around in his garden and greenhouse.
His colleague, Virginia Clark, is not one for routines. She’s chatty, spontaneous, and bubbly, and before Benjamin realizes what happened, she’s talked him into collaborating on a research project—studying the mating habits of college students. Virginia knows her desire to work with Benjamin is motivated by more than the potential prize money . . . and hopes he might not be quite as indifferent as he seems to be.

Ketch Kincaid, one of Benjamin’s star students, returned to college after serving in the army. He needs something to get his mind off his recent breakup and collecting research data might do it. And there’s another distraction on the horizon—a woman who looks like she, too, knows about heartache.

Soon enough, their project, “The Chemistry of Mating,” is gaining notoriety. Friends, neighbors . . . the whole town has become involved. But no matter what the data determines, one conclusion seems inescapable: love follows its own rules . . .

Excerpt

Dr. Benjamin Monroe folded his notes and placed them in the worn leather briefcase he’d carried since graduate school. His lecture room at Clifton College was empty now. Peaceful. He always liked the stillness after class. He’d done his job, and he took pride in that.

As he often did, he turned to the long, narrow windows behind his podium and looked out over his hometown. From the third floor he could see east all the way to the river and north to where the land rose in rolling hills. There was a balance here that calmed his soul. A wide valley that nestled three small towns, but his town, Clifton Bend, was the best because the college rested in its center.

Benjamin hadn’t missed a class in twelve years. At forty-two he always came on time and well prepared. Routine ruled his life. He liked working with his dad on their farm every weekend and loved biking through the valley on sunny afternoons. The exercise kept him lean and tanned, just as his work kept him sharp.

What he didn’t like was spring break. It interrupted his routine. A worthless holiday, but he’d help his father on their little farm and manage to keep busy.

“Dr. Monroe?” A nervous, high-pitched voice bombarded his thoughts. “May I speak to you about something? It’s important.”

A creature with auburn hair, glasses too big for her face, and huge blue eyes leaned around the door. Professor Virginia Clark.

He plowed his long fingers through his straight, mud-colored hair. If teachers were allowed a nemesis, Miss Clark, the biology instructor, would be his. As far as he was concerned, all they had in common was age.

Benjamin was tempted to say, “No, you can’t speak to me,” but that would be unprofessional.

To her credit, Miss Virginia Clark was bubbly on a down day. Her voice was too high, her manner of dress was in no way appropriate, and her legs were too short. On a good day she was exuberant and misguidedly thought they were not only colleagues but friends.

He’d always hated bubbly people; they made him nervous. But she taught two doors down in the biology lab and officed next to him. Some days he swore he could hear her laughing or running around her tiny workplace like a squirrel in a box.

Right now, she was charging toward his podium like Grant taking Richmond. Too late to say no or run, so all he could do was watch her approach.

Another observation—professors should never bounce.

Miss Clark bounced. She was a bit on the chubby side; a head shorter than he was, and the white lab coat did not conceal her curves. Her corkscrew hair seemed to be dancing to a hard rock beat, and her breasts . . . well never mind them. Unprofessional, he thought as he watched her coming down the steps row by row, breasts moving to their own beat.

“I need your help, Dr. Monroe.” She stopped one foot too close to him.

He fought the urge to step back.

“Of course, Miss Clark, I’m at your service,” he offered. Maybe she needed a ride or she was locked out of her office, again. He could make time to be kind. After all, they were colleagues.

“I’d be happy to help any way I can.”

“Good. I was afraid you’d say no. It’s a great opportunity and we can split the work and the money.”

Benjamin raised an eyebrow. “What work?”

“My research paper entry for the Westwin Research Journal has been approved as one of five finalists. The winner’s findings will be published in the journal as well as winning the ten-thousand-dollar prize.” She smiled. “Just think, we’ll be famous. Last year’s subject was how aging relates to location. The winner was interviewed on the Today show.”

She was bouncing again. This time with excitement. “I might finally get to go to New York City. I’ve always dreamed of seeing plays and walking through Central Park. They say you can hear the heartbeat of the whole world in the streets of New York.”

Benjamin fell into her pipe dream for a second. “If I had money to blow, I’d go to Paris and see Marie Curie’s office and lab. I’ve read every book about her dedication, her work, her life. Imagine walking the streets she walked.”

He didn’t mention that he’d also find his mother, if she was still alive. She’d left him when he was four years old, saying she must paint in Paris for a few months, but she never came back.

He had only one question for her. Was the life she’d given him up for worth it?

Miss Clark frowned at him as if measuring his sanity. “Paris, really Benjamin, sometimes you surprise me.”

When he frowned at the use of his first name, she sighed, obviously reading his thoughts.

“Dr. Monroe,” she corrected. “We could split the research and the writing. I’ve already obtained the president’s approval for a small survey. All we have is a month to get this done, but we’ve got spring break to kick off our project with a bang.”

He nodded slowly, not willing to jump in, but willing to listen. “What is our topic of research?”

Blushing, she added, “Redefining sexual attractions in today’s world.”

Benjamin straightened slightly.

Miss Clark giggled. “We could call it, ‘The Chemistry of Mating.’”

He swallowed hard as she turned and bounced out of the room.

For a few moments, Benjamin forgot to breathe. Calamity had blown in on a tornado with red hair.

The only good news. Spring break wasn’t going to be boring.

Honey Creek

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: October 2021

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 Jodi Thomas

Author Photo

With millions of books in print, Jodi Thomas is both a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 50 novels and countless short story collections. Her stories travel through the past and present days of Texas and draw readers from around the world.

In July 2006, Jodi was the 11th writer to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. With five RITA’s to her credit, along with National Readers’ Choice Awards and Booksellers’ Best Awards, Thomas has proven her skill as a master storyteller.

Honored in 2002 as a Distinguished Alumni by Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, Thomas also served as Writer in Residence at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas.

When not working on a novel or inspiring students to pursue a writing career, Thomas enjoys traveling, renovating a historic home, and “checking on” two grown sons and four grandchildren.


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Review: Give Me a Reason by A.L. Jackson

Posted August 30, 2021 by Casee in Reviews | 2 Comments

Review: Give Me a Reason by A.L. JacksonReviewer: Casee
Give Me a Reason by A. L. Jackson
Narrator: Connor Crais, Desiree Ketchum
Series: Redemption Hills #1
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: August 31, 2021
Format: eARC
Source: Author
Point-of-View: Alternating First Person
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 418
Length: 11 hours and 57 minutes
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five-stars
Series Rating: five-stars


From NYT and USA Today bestselling author A.L. Jackson comes a single-dad, enemies-to-lovers stand-alone romance about a jaded club owner and his son’s teacher…

Eden Murphy came into my club looking to make some extra cash.A girl like her didn't belong in a place like this. She'd get ripped to shreds.Most likely by me.There's nothing but sweetness dripping from her sexy little body, and I'm the monster who's salivating to get a taste.
Trent Lawson is the last man I should want.Dark.Dangerous.So wickedly gorgeous he makes my knees weak. He's also an arrogant jerk who happens to be my new boss.
When I discover his adorable son is also in my kindergarten class, I know I have to keep my distance.
But neither of us can ignore the attraction that flames.One glance, and our hearts race. One touch, and we’re aching for what we can’t have. One night, and we’re falling fast.
Dragging her into my sordid world is wrong.It doesn’t matter. Eden Murphy is mine.

Opposites attract in the first installment of A.L. Jackson’s new Redemption Hills series. Trent Lawson has one reason in life. One reason that he does everything. His one reason is his son, Gage.

Eden Murphy is desperate. Desperate for money to save her father and save their school. She ends up at Absolution, a club whose owner doesn’t think she has what it takes. Never try to stop a determined woman, which is exactly what Eden is. She will do anything to save her family, small as it’s become. Her attraction to Trent is as immediate as it is unwanted.

Neither Trent nor Eden considered that they would see each other outside of the club. Eden didn’t anticipate that the highly sexy and arrogant Trent had a son that was going to be in her kindergarten class. Trent Lawson wasn’t someone that Eden expected in her life nor does she know exactly how to handle him.

This was a story about life and death; of love and loss. What I loved about Eden is that she still saw the good. Being betrayed by your own sibling would generally make someone cynical about life, but she wasn’t. She still had hope. I loved that about her. Her positivity was something that make me a little envious & this is fiction. Like, really? I also loved how she interacted with Gage.

Generally, books don’t stay with me when I finish them. There are too many books to read for me to think about what I’ve already read (which is why I don’t reread very much). This book has been with me for days. I can’t forget these characters. I can’t forget this story. I can’t forget the writing. I just can’t stop thinking about this book. How can I forget it with passages like this?

“Never thought in all my days that I’d be standing in front of a woman like you. A woman who is a treasure. So kind strangers can’t help but smile when she walks into a room, so gorgeous she still nearly drops me to my knees every time I see her. A woman who steals every single one of my breaths. The woman who stole my heart.”

If you’ve never tried A.L. Jackson, this book would be a great one to start with. If you have read her, this is a book you should read. This is the best book I’ve read all year and I can’t wait until the next installment.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.

Redemption Hills

five-stars


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Sunday Spotlight: Wildflower Season by Michelle Major

Posted May 23, 2021 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 1 Comment

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: Wildflower Season by Michelle MajorWildflower Season: A Novel by Michelle Major
Series: The Carolina Girls #1
Publisher: HQN
Publication Date: May 25, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 352
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"A dynamic start to a series with a refreshingly original premise." —Kirkus Reviews on The Magnolia Sisters

She always followed the path of least resistance…until it leads her to a small town where she can follow her dreams.

When Emma Cantrell’s marriage imploded, she learned a fast and painful lesson about trusting her heart. Then, on a visit to Magnolia, North Carolina, to see her brother, an elegant, if dilapidated, mansion for sale presents the opportunity to start over. Risking everything on her dream of opening the Wildflower Inn, Emma buys the house…just as the storm of the century hits, severely damaging the structure. But a chance meeting with Holly, a bride-to-be in desperate need of a new venue, gives her hope…and the name of a contractor who’ll work fast and cheap, allowing Emma to repair the inn in time to host the wedding and save her investment.

A furniture builder who hasn’t picked up a tool in the five years since his wife died, Cameron Mitchell has no intention of agreeing to help this beautiful—and, he’d guess, entitled—woman insisting that he fix her inn. Until he learns that Emma was sent by Holly, the little sister of his late wife. Grudgingly, Cameron agrees to do the work, with one condition: that he be left completely alone. But the more time they spend together, the more Emma touches a part of his heart he was sure died long ago, forcing him to try making peace with his past.

The Carolina Girls

Excerpt

Excerpted from Wildflower Season, by Michelle Major. Harlequin, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

She’d gone to the dock south of town as Holly instructed, only to be told Cam was at home today. The guys that gave her directions to his property appeared both curious and amused a woman was seeking him out. But they’d been nice enough to her face—polite in a down-home kind of way—even with the comments about Cam not having friends or entertaining ladies at his home.

Emma could see why as she approached the house. It wasn’t run-down per se, and the front yard was relatively tidy compared to the chaos on the way in. But there was something unapproachable about the cabin. A weighty emptiness hung in the already thick, sultry air.

If only one of the contractors she’d contacted earlier had returned her call. Maybe she should turn around and try them again. Or insist Holly come with her to talk to Camden.

“Can you read?”

She stopped in her tracks at the question that carried to her from the cabin’s front door, spoken in a deep, almost disbelieving tone.

“Yes, I can read.” She plastered a smile on her face and took another step forward. “Are you—”

“Then you need to turn right around, ma’am. Because the signs posted are pretty clear to someone claiming to be literate.”

“I’m not looking for trouble.” She lifted her sunglasses to the top of her head, held a hand over her eyes and squinted up at the porch, but all she could make out was the silhouette of a man in the door.

He chuckled, a rusty sound that reverberated through her like the vibration of a tuning fork. “Somehow I don’t believe you.”

The screen door squeaked open. Emma heard a booming bark and caught a streak of tan fur and then she was on her backside in the dirt with at least a hundred pounds of damp dog circling her in glee.

Emma liked dogs, all animals, really. She’d never actually owned one, but when she ran her family’s charitable foundation they’d funded various local shelters and animal rescue organizations.

The dog seemed overenthusiastic but not threatening. “Good boy,” she said, peering under his belly to confirm he was indeed a boy. She got to her feet as he ran back to the house with her sunglasses in his mouth.

Sunglasses that had cost her over three hundred dollars and that she couldn’t afford to replace on her current salary of less than nothing. She wasn’t about to explain that to the man who stared down at her from the top step.

Her breath hissed out like she’d just taken a blow to the stomach. Holly had failed to mention that her former brother-in-law was hot as all get-out, in a Paul Bunyan sort of way. Rugged had never been Emma’s type. Her ex-husband was handsome enough, polished and a little nerdy. But Cam Arlinghaus was every lumberjack fantasy Emma had never had come to life. He had dark, wavy hair and a shadow of stubble covering his angular jaw. It was nearly ninety degrees so there was no flannel to be seen, but he wore the low-slung cargo shorts and faded T-shirt like he was a cover model for a deep-sea fishing guide magazine.

“You ignored the No Trespassing and the Beware of Dog signs,” he said, his voice flat. “Those signs are there for a reason.”

She nodded, her flummoxed mind trying hard to put together a coherent thought in the face of all that strapping masculinity. It rolled off him in waves and felled Emma like a riptide. Turn around, her sense of self-preservation screamed. Run as fast as you can.

The Carolina Girls

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: May 2021

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 Michelle Major

Michelle Major author photo

Michelle Major is the Publishers Weekly best-selling, RITA award winning author of over thirty sexy and sweet contemporary romances. She loves second-chances love stories, smart heroines and strong heroes. A Midwesterner at heart, she’s made the Rocky Mountains her home for nearly half her life and is thrilled to share her books with readers. Connect with her at www.michellemajor.com.


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Sunday Spotlight: Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Posted May 10, 2021 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 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. 🙂

We had a system glitch and this didn’t post as scheduled yesterday. Let’s hear it for Sunday Spotlight on Monday!

Sunday Spotlight: Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlaneJust Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane
Publisher: Harper Collins, William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 416
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Eve, Justin, Susie, and Ed have been friends since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the four are as close as ever, Thursday night bar trivia is sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed. Maybe she should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed still thinks about it, too.

But then, in an instant, their lives are changed forever.

In the aftermath, Eve’s world is upended. As stunning secrets are revealed, she begins to wonder if she really knew her friends as well as she thought. And when someone from the past comes back into her life, Eve’s future veers in a surprising new direction...

They say every love story starts with a single moment. What if it was just last night?

Excerpt

Excerpted from the book JUST LAST NIGHT by Mhairi McFarlane. Copyright © 2021 by Mhairi McFarlane. From William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

 

Before

“We’re going to win tonight,” Ed says. “I can feel it. I can smell it. I could slice it like a frittata. The air is thick with the odor of our imminent victory. Breathe it in, my bitches.”

He pretends to scent the air.

“Are you sure that’s not Leonard?” Justin says. “He had chili con carne for tea. Got up on the counter and had his face in the saucepan before I could stop him, the fool. He’s been farting in spicy beef flavor ever since.”

“Maybe victory smells exactly like mince and kidney beans working its way through a very small dog’s digestive system,” I say, as Susie says: “BLURGH.”

“How would we know how it smells, after all? None of us have ever been successful,” I say, directing this at Ed.

“Speak for yourself. My GP said my hemorrhoids were the most prominent he’d seen in thirty years practicing medicine.”

I guffaw. (This is a standard joke format with Ed; I assume his bum is fine.)

I reflexively reach out to pet Leonard, who has his own chair, sitting atop Justin’s coat, protecting the upholstery.

Leonard is a “Chorkie”—a Chihuahua crossed with a Yorkshire Terrier. He has beady eyes peering out from under a comical fringe of gray-white hair, spiky in the middle like he’s had Paul Weller’s Mod cut, bat ears, and a lopsided little grin, full of toothpick teeth.

He looks, as Ed says: “Like an enterprising cartoon rat doing some kind of stealthy cosplay as a canine. We’ve been infiltrated by a rodent master criminal.”

Leonard, an omnivorous eater and troublesomely impromptu urinator, is one of the loves of my life. (The rest of them are around, and also sometimes under, this table.)

“You say we’re going to win this quiz every week, Ed,” Susie says, worrying at a coaster, shredding it into a pile of soft cardboard shards. “And we are always fucked by the same five determined men in Lands’ End packable anoraks.”

“Describing my best holiday in Wales, there,” Justin says. Justin is a self-proclaimed “tiresome show-off and performative middle child” and one of the funniest men you’ll ever meet, but you absolutely do not go to him for good taste.

The quizmaster’s voice booms out, cutting through conversation, like the Voice of God:

“Question TEN. Who is Michael Owuo? Who is, Michael Owuo?

The usual seconds of post-question hush fall.

“Is he . . . the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East?” Ed whispers, faux-earnestly.

“Seriously?” Susie says.

“No,” I say, rolling my eyes, and Ed taps the pen on his lips and winks at me.

“You three do know who he is, right?” Justin says, doing a double take. “UGH. So we are the millennial cast of Last of the Summer Wine.”

“Did he play the villain in the last Bond?” I ask, and Ed says: “YES! ‘Doctor Pardon.’ What was his gimmick again?”

“He had bejeweled ear gauges,” I say. “And a walker, with tinsel wound ’round it.”

Ed laughs. I love the way he laughs: it starts in his shoulders.

“OK, who is joking, and who isn’t?” Susie says. “I mean obviously, they are,” she grimaces at myself and Ed. “Do you genuinely know who he is, Justin?”

“He’s Stormzy,” Justin hisses. “God, you can tell you lot are thirty-four.”

“You’re thirty-four, Justin,” Susie says.

“There’s thirty-four and then there’s, like, ‘Who are the Stormzys?’ thirty-four,” Justin says, pulling an “old geezer” rubbery face.

“A ‘stormzy,’ you say,” Ed says, in a creaky High Court judge voice. “Whatever a Stormzy is,” and writes “Mr. Storm Zee” on the paper.

Ed has really nice hands; I’m a sucker for nice hands. He cycles a lot and can mend things, and I am now mature enough to appreciate practical skills like that.

Susie takes the pen from Ed, scribbles his words out, and writes Stormzy correctly.

“Don’t your pupils keep you up to date with this stuff?” I ask Ed. “Hip to the jive, daddio?”

“It’s my job to teach them Dickens, not theirs to teach me grime.”

Ed is head of English at a nice county school. You know how they say some people look like police? Ed looks like a teacher—a film or television, glossy young teacher—with his unthreatening, handsome solidity, strawberry-blond, close-cropped hair. In a crisis in a situation full of strangers, Ed’s would be the kind, reliable face you’d hope to see. He’d be the guy offering his necktie as a makeshift tourniquet.

Part of the pleasure of this weekly pub appointment to lose the pub quiz, I think, is it brings out and defines all the roles in our foursome. Ed and I clowning around together, Justin refereeing, with his caustic wit, Susie playing exasperated mother.

Sometimes I stop participating in the conversation and just hum happily inside myself, enjoying our togetherness, reveling in the way we all broadcast on the same frequency. I watch us from the outside.

. . . didn’t she marry the singer from the Mumfords? I’d rather be a Sister Wife. (Susie)

. . . this cherry Stolichnaya that Hester brought back from duty-free, it’s amazing, tastes like baby medicine. Or so babies tell me. (Ed)

. . . he was a right grumpy carrot top. I said to him, do you know why gingerism is the last acceptable prejudice? Because it’s acceptable. (Justin, of course)

“Shhhhh,” I say, as I can see the quizmaster adjusting his readers, as he squints at a piece of paper.

“Question ELEVEN. The word ‘CHRONOPHAGE’ is an Ancient Greek word for what is now an idiomatic expression in English. But what does it mean? Clue: your mobile phone may do this. That does not mean you can check your phones, hahaha!”

The quizmaster blows air out of his nostrils in a windy gust, directly into the bulb, and you can hear his spit.

The looks on the faces of our hiking anorak nemeses suggest they’re considerably more confident about this than they were about Mr. Stormzy.

“Chrono means time . . . ,” Ed whispers. “Chronograph watches.”

“Chronological.” Susie nods. “In order of timing.”

“Phage,” I say. “Hmmm. Coprophagic is eating poo. Fairly sure the copro’s poo, so the phagic must be eating.”

“Eve!” Susie barks, with a potato chip halfway into her mouth. “How do you even know that?”

“I’ve lived a full life.”

“I’ve been around for most of it so I know that isn’t true. A quarter full, at best.”

“. . . Eating time?” Justin hisses. “It must mean eating time. Your phone does that. Boom. Write it down.”

Ed obliges.

We come to The Gladstone every Thursday. I would say without fail, but we are thirty-somethings with lives and jobs and other friends and—some of us—partners, so there are some fails. But we’re here more often than not.

“Question TWELVE, before we take a short break. What do Marcus Garvey, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, and Alice Cooper have in common? I’ll give you a clue. It involves a mistake.”

We stare blankly at each other. Packable Anoraks are frantic-whispering instead of writing or looking sneaky-smug, which means they’re not sure either.

“Is it choice of first wife? As in they’ve all had more than one?” Ed says.

“We don’t call people we divorce mistakes now,” Susie says.

“My mum does,” I say.

“Remember when our religion teacher said, ‘People are too quick to divorce nowadays,’ and you said, ‘I think they’re too slow,’ and you got a detention for it?” Susie says and I guffaw.

“Ah, there she is,” Ed says, as the door slaps open and his girlfriend, Hester, appears, her nose wrinkling in distaste at the slight stench of “armpit.”

My heart sinks a notch, but I ignore that it has done this and paste on a strong, welcoming smile.

To be fair, The Gladdy does have a bit of an aroma sometimes, what with the sticky floor, but that’s part of its charm. It’s a dartboard-and-devoted-regulars pub.

I love it, year-round, with its scrappy concrete beer garden with flower planters on the fire escape. I think they are supposed to simulate “verdant urban oasis” in a yard full of lager and smokers. But it’s at its best in autumn and winter. Frosted-leaf mulch and dark skies with bright stars on the other side of the steamed-up panes. Serious hygge to be had, on this side of the window.

Well, mostly.

Hester moved to Nottingham for Ed, a fact she likes to relitigate about once a month.

She looks like a colorized picture has walked into a black and white, kitchen sink realism film: skin the color of ripe peaches and shimmering champagne-blond hair. She’s like a human Bellini.

Her balled fists are thrust in her coat pockets, a Barbour with a fawn cord collar, as if she’s smashed into a saloon in a Western and going to draw two guns.

It’s not that I don’t like Hester . . .

“Are you all drunk by now, then?” she says, bullishly. She glances at me. “Eve looks drunk.”

Oh, why do I bother. It’s absolutely that I don’t like Hester.

 

“And once again for the cheap seats! What do Marcus Garvey, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, and Alice Cooper have in common? It involves a mistake. A mistake. An error. OK, back soon.”

“Hemingway was in a plane crash, were any of the others?” I whisper.

“Bit of a stretch to call a plane crash ‘a mistake’ though?” Ed whispers back and I shrug, nodding in concession.

“And Rudyard Kipling’s a bit too yesteryear for planes, isn’t he?” Justin says. “Not exactly doing his Instagram Story with a Prosecco claw holding a flute aloft in the airport bar.”

He mimes trying to photograph his pint glass, and Susie snorts.

“They were wrongly given awards that had to be taken back,” Hester says, dragging her coat off her shoulders. “Where’s the pen?”

Justin makes a skeptical face and Ed tries to look persuadably neutral as he hands it over. His sense of humor doesn’t evaporate, exactly, around Hester, but he goes more no absolutely of course I didn’t mean that formal.

Hester’s late joining tonight as she’s been out with friends at a tapas restaurant, and understandably, given the number of babies that the rest of the circle have between them, they wind things up by nine p.m. Hester only joins us at The Gladdy quiz intermittently, anyway. “Sometimes it gets wearying, with all your in-jokes,” she says. Even though she’s known us all for so long as Ed’s girlfriend, I am not sure how there’s an “in” she’s outside of.

“Are you sure?” Susie says.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Hester says. Qualifying: “. . . Well, have you got anything better?”

“Sure, sure—or four-Proseccos-deep-and-we-haven’t-got-anything-better-yet, sure?” Susie persists, smiling in a “Wicked Queen with a red apple” sort of way.

She dares with Hester in ways I absolutely do not dare. Susie dares with most people. Most people don’t dare back.

Susie has long, thick blond-brown hair she wears in a horse-mane-length ponytail, or loose and bunched up into a scarf like she’s Streisand in a seventies film. She has a full mouth with an emphatic pout to her top lip, which looks as if it’s being pulled upward by her tilted nose, which I think is a thing called “retroussé.”

“What award did Marcus Garvey get?” Justin says.

“Rear of the Year?” I say, and Ed hoots. Hester’s fuming, I know.

“OK, ignore me then!” Hester says. “Pardon me for trying to participate, guys.”

“No, no! It’s good! I think you’re right,” Ed says, hastily. “None of us have anything better. Write it down.”

I always respect Ed for leaping chivalrously to Hester’s defense, while wishing it was for someone who better deserved it. Hester scribbles while Justin, Susie, and I try not to meet each other’s eyes.

“More drinks I think, what’s everyone having?” Justin says and gets up to go to the bar.

I go to the loo and, after I flush, I see I have a text from Susie. (Not a WhatsApp, because it would risk appearing in full on a lock screen. Canny.)

When I open it, I see it’s been sent to myself and Justin. I know how they’re triangulating the signal, next door—Justin nonchalantly studying his handset while waiting to be served, Susie slightly angled away from the couple, feigning picking up her messages.

 

Susie: WHY IS SHE SUCH A BOSSY ARSEHOLE THOUGH

Justin: She can get away with anything due to the fabulous breasts, darling

Susie: I have great tits and you don’t see it affecting my personality. That answer is SO OBVIOUSLY WRONG. And why is Ed such a wimp about it. Oh yes write that bollocks down, my precious little poison dumpling. ARGH

Justin: Again, boobs

Eve: The poisoned dumplings

Susie: I swear she knows it’s the wrong answer and is doing it to fuck with us

 

I lean against the pleasantly chilly wall in the loo and type, grinning.

Having been in stone-cold love with Hester’s other half for the best part of two decades means I never know how much of my dislike is plain old envy. Susie and Justin continually—and inadvertently, because they absolutely don’t know—reassure me I’d have disliked her anyway. I often play Nice Cop in regards to Hester, to further throw everyone off the scent.

 

Eve: You wait, she’ll be right and that’ll show us

Susie: She’s not right, she doesn’t even know who Marcus Garvey was, you could see that when Justin challenged her

Justin: She probably thinks he won Best Video 2007 at the Grammys

Susie: Lol. And I’d just point out that Eve’s suggestion got shot down and she didn’t get the hump

Eve: Does this say anything bad about my breasts

Susie: Only that they’re not a carbon offsetting scheme for being a horror

Justin: Sigh. Let us get drunk.

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: May 2021

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 Mhairi McFarlane

Author headshot

Mhairi was born in Falkirk, Scotland in 1976. She went to school in Nottingham, studied English Literature at Manchester University and then returned to Nottingham to delight its citizens with her journalism. After roles as trainee reporter, reporter, feature writer and columnist, she realised she’d climbed to the very top of the mountain at the Nottingham Post and at age 31 decided to write a novel. Some very skint years followed, during which she thought she might’ve made a huge mistake.

Her debut novel, the romantic comedy You Had Me At Hello, was an instant hit upon being published in December 2012. It’s since become HarperCollins’ best selling ebook to date, has been translated into 16 languages and is being developed as a major feature film, with Mhairi writing the screenplay. The follow up, Here’s Looking At You, was published in December 2013 and made the Sunday Times Bestseller list.

Mhairi’s first hardback title for HarperFiction, It’s Not Me, It’s You, is published on November 6th 2014.

She’s currently working on her fourth novel, adapting You Had Me At Hello for screen and developing a comedy-drama script for television.


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Sunday Spotlight: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Suntano

Posted May 2, 2021 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 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. 🙂

The cover of this book caught my attention, and the blurb sealed it for me. I can’t wait to read this. DIAL A FOR AUNTIES by Jesse Q Suntano sounds amazing and hilarious.

Sunday Spotlight: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q SuntanoDial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: April 27, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 320
Add It: Goodreads
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A hilariously quirky novel that is equal parts murder mystery, rom-com, and a celebration of mothers and daughters as well as a deep dive into Chinese-Indonesian culture, by debut author Jesse Q. Sutanto.

1 (accidental) murder2 thousand wedding guests3 (maybe) cursed generations4 meddling Asian aunties to the rescue!

When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body.

Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is accidentally shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working, at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for their family wedding business—“Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream cake flowers.

But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?
Story Locale: Southern California

Excerpt

Excerpt from DIAL A FOR AUNTIES by Jesse Q. Sutanto

I open the car door, heart thundering. “Ma, you scared me!”

She frowns at me. “What is it, Meddy? What’s wrong?”

I wasn’t planning on telling her anything. Of course I wasn’t— the last person I want to tell is Ma. She wouldn’t know what to do, or say, or—

“Ma, I killed him.” Tears spring into my eyes when I hear myself say those words out loud. I killed him. How many more times would I have to say that?

“Kill him? Kill what? Aduh, Meddy, how many times must I tell you, don’t drink so much. You see, now you’re not making any sense.”

“I killed him, Ma. Jake. The guy you set me up with!” And now, finally, I let the tears flow, because saying his name is awful. It’s not just some body in my trunk; it’s a body who used to be a someone.

Ma stops her nattering mid-sentence. Her mouth claps shut, and she stares at me for a while. When she next speaks, it’s in halting English. “This is like what you and Selena like to say? You kids always saying, ‘Wah, you killing it!’ Like that, ya?”

“No!” I cry. “I mean I literally killed him, Ma!” Not knowing what else to do, I take out my car key and hit a button. The trunk pops open with a click that might as well be a gunshot inside our small garage. All noise is suddenly amplified; I can hear my own heartbeat, and Ma’s sharp intake of breath.

“Meddy,” she whispers, “this is joke, right? You just joking with me?”

“No, Ma, this isn’t a joke.”

A strangled laugh from Ma; then she shakes her head. “You kids, ya, you always think you are so funny.” She wags a finger at me and strides to the back of the car, still shaking her head. “My daughter, such a joker, so—AIYA wo de tian ah!” She stumbles back, hands covering her mouth.

I wince.

“Meddy,” she hisses. “Meddy! This is not funny.” She looks back and forth between me and the trunk. “Are those fake legs? What you call it—man-ee-kween?”

I shake my head, fresh tears springing to my eyes. “No, Ma, it’s not a mannequin. It’s really Jake, I swear.”

She utters a noise that’s somewhere between a howl and a whimper, then takes a moment to steel herself before peering closer into the trunk. She whimpers again when she sees the rest of the body. I imagine what she’s seeing from her vantage point. First the shoes—brown loafers, no socks—then the legs, the torso, and then the hoodie covering his face.

“Why you cover the face?” she says. “Something horrible happen to it, is it?” She shudders. “Is there something sticking out of the eye? Aiya, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.” She flaps, grimacing. “Is it broken glass in his eye?”

“No, Ma. There’s nothing sticking out of his eye. I just thought it would be, I don’t know, more respectful.”

“Oh.” She nods. “Yes, you right, more respectful.” She pats me on the cheek. “I raise you so well.”

Hysteria rises from deep in my stomach and I have to swallow it. Trust Ma to take pride in my etiquette when I’ve just shown her my date, whom I’ve killed, in the trunk of my car.

“I did just kill a person, so I don’t know that you can say you’ve raised me well.”

“Oh, he must deserve it.”

I bite my lip to keep from bursting into tears again. I’m so grateful that I don’t have to explain myself to her.

From DIAL A FOR AUNTIES published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Jesse Q. Sutanto.

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: May 2021

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 Jesse Q. Sutanto

Jesse Q Sutanto is the author of Dial A for Aunties, The Obsession, and Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from Oxford University, though she hasn't found a way of saying that without sounding obnoxious. The film rights to her women’s fiction, Dial A for Aunties, was bought by Netflix in a competitive bidding war. The novel will be out in April 2021. Jesse lives in Indonesia with her husband, her two daughters, and her ridiculously large extended family, many of whom live just down the road.


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