Tag Archives: women’s fiction

Driving on the Left by Gail Ward Olmsted Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

As a young woman starts falling hard for a man she meets while on vacation with her mother in Ireland, and her mother must not only contend with helping her daughter but deciding how much to sacrifice for her own love in author Gail Ward Olmsted’s “Driving on the Left”.

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The Synopsis

A trip of a lifetime and a love that changes everything…

Becca Colby was not expecting to fall in love while vacationing in Ireland with her mother, yet she falls hard for sexy tour guide Sean Donovan. He’s everything she never knew she wanted, but a summer fling is a complication that she really doesn’t need right now. Becca’s got a life waiting for her back home, but Sean may be just too good to resist.

Her mom Jackie knows all too well how a seductive stranger can change the entire course of your life, so how can she advise her daughter to resist Sean’s charms? And besides, Jackie has a problem of her own. She needs to decide just how much she is willing to sacrifice for the man she loves.

Driving on the Left celebrates the unbreakable bond between mother and daughter: two women with only one week to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives as they travel through the beautiful Irish countryside.

The Review

What a whirlwind story! The author does an incredible job of writing a story that both newcomers and established readers alike will love, as the narrative focuses on Jackie 20 years after the author’s previous book, Jeep Tour, and brings Jackie’s daughter in as the dual protagonist of this tale. The imagery that comes with any book set in a beautiful travel location such as Ireland is incredibly vivid as the author takes readers through the sites and brings fresh emotions and a balanced tone of light-hearted bonding and passionate romance. 

It is the bond of a mother and daughter that really makes up the core of this story. Both protagonists, Jackie and Becca, are struggling with their own set of problems in their lives. The way the author balances out their own struggles with the relationship that keeps them together and allows Jackie to see herself in her daughter is the emotional lynchpin that keeps this narrative together. The way the author paints the similarities to the first book’s narrative, (i.e., Jackie’s experiences) and the differences with Becca’s journey make this story so engaging to read.

The Verdict

An emotional, bonding, and entertaining women’s fiction and romance novel, author Gail Ward Olmsted’s “Driving on the Left” is a must-read novel. The relatable cast of characters that make up the protagonist’s story and the emotional bond between mother and daughter and the highs and lows that come with that will have readers enthralled and relating heavily to the narrative. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.

For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at GailOlmsted.com.

Twitter https://www.twitter.com/gwolmsted

Facebook   www.facebook.com/gailolmstedauthor 

Email  gwolmsted@gmail.com

Amazon  www.amazon.com/author/gailolmsted

Goodreads   

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8158738.Gail_Ward_Olmsted

The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Three women discover they are sisters after their photojournalist father passes away, and they inherit the family vineyard in author JoAnn Ross’s “The Inheritance”. 

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The Synopsis

When conflict photographer Jackson Swann dies, he leaves behind a conflict of his own making when his three daughters, each born from a different mother and unknown to each other, discover that they’re now part owners of Maison de Madelaine, the family’s Oregon vineyard—a once famous business struggling to recover from a worldwide economic collapse.

After a successful career as a child TV star, a disastrous time as a teen pop star, and now a successful author, Tess is, for the first time in her life, suffering from a serious case of writer’s block and identity crisis.

Charlotte, brought up to be a proper Southern wife, has given up her own career goals to support her husband while having spent the past year struggling to conceive a child to create a more perfect marriage. On the worst day of her life, she discovers her beloved father has died, she has two sisters she’d never been told about, and her husband has fallen in love with another woman.

Natalie, daughter of Jack’s long-time mistress, has always known about both half-sisters. Still mourning the loss of her mother, the death of her father a year later is a devastating blow. And she can’t help feeling that both her sisters may resent her for being the daughter their father decided to keep.

As the sisters reluctantly gather at the family vineyard, they’re enchanted by the legacy they’ve inherited, and by their grandmother’s rich stories of life in WWII France and the love she found with a wounded American soldier who brought her to Oregon where they started Maison de Madelaine

The Review

A truly inviting and emotional read. The author has captured a captivating blend and balance of history and contemporary women’s fiction. The narrative delves into the history of WWII from the perspective of a WWII French Resistance Fighter, setting the backstory of not only the main character but the complex history of the person who was the catalyst for the protagonists to come together. 

Yet it was the emotional struggle of the three sisters that really sold this narrative. Having watched people close to me lose their parents in recent years and dealing with the fallout afterward amongst their siblings, this narrative did an amazing job of hitting the emotional core of that process while adding an extra element of personal turmoil as each sister not only dealt with their own strained relationship with their father but the discovery of their sisters as well. I always enjoy reading works that push the boundaries on what family truly means, and how the bonds we build with one another mean more than anything else. The added elements of romance and character buildup that each sister experienced made this a brilliant story to engage with.

The Verdict

A remarkable, thought-provoking, and emotional read, author JoAnn Ross’s “The Inheritance” is a must-read novel of 2021. The perfect amount of intrigue and history to balance out the romance and personal relationships each sister had to force themselves to build amongst each other made this such an engaging story to get lost in. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author JoAnn Ross has been published in twenty-seven countries. The author of over 100 novels, JoAnn lives with her husband and many rescue pets — who pretty much rule the house — in the Pacific Northwest.

Buy Links: 

BookShop.org

Harlequin 

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Books-A-Million

Powell’s 

Social Links:

Author Website

Facebook: @JoAnnRossbooks

Instagram: @JoAnnRossBooks

Goodreads

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Here is an Excerpt from The Inheritance

Prologue

Aberdeen, Oregon

Conflict photographer Jackson Swann had traveled to dark and deadly places in the world most people would never see. Nor want to. Along with dodging bullets and mortars, he’d survived a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, gotten shot mere inches from his heart in Niger and been stung by a death-stalker scorpion while embedded with the French Foreign Legion in Mali.

Some of those who’d worked with him over the decades had called him reckless. Rash. Dangerous. Over late-night beers or whatever else passed as liquor in whatever country they’d all swarmed to, other photographers and foreign journalists would argue about whether that bastard Jackson Swann had a death wish or merely considered himself invincible.

He did, after all, rush into high-octane situations no sane person would ever consider, and even when the shit hit the fan, somehow, he’d come out alive and be on the move again. Chasing the next war or crisis like a drug addict chased a high. The truth was that Jack had never believed himself to be im-mortal. Still, as he looked out over the peaceful view of rolling hills, the cherry trees wearing their spring profusion of pink blossoms, and acres of vineyards, he found it ironic that after having evaded the Grim Reaper so many times over so many decades, it was an aggressive and rapidly spreading lung cancer that was going to kill him.

Which was why he was here, sitting on the terraced patio of Chateau de Madeleine, the towering gray stone house that his father, Robert Swann, had built for his beloved war bride, Madeleine, to ease her homesickness. Oregon’s Willamette Valley was a beautiful place. But it was not Madeleine’s child-hood home in France’s Burgundy region where much of her family still lived.

Family. Jack understood that to many, the American dream featured a cookie-cutter suburban house, a green lawn you had to mow every weekend, a white picket fence, happy, well-fed kids and a mutt who’d greet him with unrestrained canine glee whenever he returned home from work. It wasn’t a bad dream. But it wasn’t, and never would be, his dream.

How could it be with the survivor’s guilt that shadowed him like a tribe of moaning ghosts? Although he’d never been all that introspective, Jack realized that the moral dilemma he’d experienced every time he’d had to force himself to re-main emotionally removed from the bloody scenes of chaos and death he was viewing through the lens of his camera had left him too broken to feel, or even behave like a normal human being.

Ten years ago, after his strong, robust father died of a sudden heart attack while fly-fishing, Jack had inherited the winery with his mother, who’d professed no interest in the day-to-day running of the family business. After signing over control of the winery to him, and declaring the rambling house too large for one woman, Madeleine Swann had moved into the guesthouse next to the garden she’d begun her first year in Oregon. A garden that supplied the vegetables and herbs she used for cooking many of the French meals she’d grown up with.

His father’s death had left Jack in charge of two hundred and sixty acres of vineyards and twenty acres of orchards. Not wanting, nor able, to give up his wanderlust ways to settle down and become a farmer of grapes and cherries, Jack had hired Gideon Byrne, a recent widower with a five-year-old daughter, away from a Napa winery to serve as both manager and vintner.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call them?” Gideon, walking toward him, carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses, asked not for the first time over the past weeks.

“The only reason that Tess would want to see me would be to wave me off to hell.” In the same way he’d never softened the impact of his photos, Jack never minced words nor romanticized his life. There would be no dramatic scenes with his three daughters—all now grown women with lives of their own—hovering over his deathbed.

“Have you considered that she might want to have an opportunity to talk with you? If for no other reason to ask—”

“Why I deserted her before her second birthday and never looked back? I’m sure her mother’s told her own version of the story, and the truth is that the answers are too damn complicated and the time too long past for that discussion.” It was also too late for redemption.

Jack doubted his eldest daughter would give a damn even if he could’ve tried to explain. She’d have no way of knowing that he’d kept track of her all these years, blaming himself when she’d spiraled out of control so publicly during her late teens and early twenties. Perhaps, if she’d had a father who came home every night for dinner, she would have had a more normal, stable life than the Hollywood hurricane her mother had thrown her into before her third birthday.

Bygones, he reminded himself. Anything he might say to his firstborn would be too little, too late. Tess had no reason to travel to Oregon for his sake, but hopefully, once he was gone, curiosity would get the better of her. His girls should know each other. It was long past time.

“Charlotte, then,” Gideon pressed. “You and Blanche are still technically married.”

Technically being the operative word.” The decades-long separation from his Southern socialite wife had always suited them both just fine. According to their prenuptial agreement, Blanche would continue to live her privileged life in Charleston, without being saddled with a full-time live-in husband, who’d seldom be around at any rate. Divorce, she’d informed him, was not an option. And if she had discreet affairs from time to time, who would blame her? Certainly not him.

“That’s no reason not to give Charlotte an opportunity to say goodbye. How many times have you seen her since she went to college? Maybe twice a year?”

“You’re pushing again,” Jack shot back. Hell, you’d think a guy would be allowed to die in peace without Jiminy Cricket sitting on his shoulder. “Though of the three of them, Char-lotte will probably be the most hurt,” he allowed.

His middle daughter had always been a sweet girl, running into his arms, hair flying behind her like a bright gold flag to give her daddy some “sugar”—big wet kisses on those rare occasions he’d wind his way back to Charleston. Or drop by Savannah to take her out to dinner while she’d been attending The Savannah School of Art and Design.

“The girl doesn’t possess Blanche’s steel magnolia strength.”

Having grown up with a mother who could find fault in the smallest of things, Charlotte was a people pleaser, and that part of her personality would kick into high gear whenever he rolled into the city. “And, call me a coward, but I’d just as soon not be around when her pretty, delusional world comes crashing down around her.” He suspected there were those in his daughter’s rarified social circle who knew the secret that the Charleston PI he’d kept on retainer hadn’t had any trouble uncovering.

“How about Natalie?” Gideon continued to press. “She doesn’t have any reason to be pissed at you. But I’ll bet she will be if you die without a word of warning. Especially after losing her mother last year.”

“Which is exactly why I don’t want to put her through this.”

He’d met Josette Seurat, the ebony-haired, dark-eyed French Jamaican mother of his youngest daughter, when she’d been singing in a club in the spirited Oberkampf district of Paris’s eleventh arrondissement. He’d fallen instantly, and by the next morning Jack knew that not only was the woman he’d spent the night having hot sex with his first true love, she was also the only woman he’d ever love. Although they’d never married, they’d become a couple, while still allowing space for each other to maintain their own individual lives, for twenty-six years. And for all those years, despite temptation from beautiful women all over the globe, Jack had remained faithful. He’d never had a single doubt that Josette had, as well.

With Josette having been so full of life, her sudden death from a brain embolism had hit hard. Although Jack had im-mediately flown to Paris from Syria to attend the funeral at a church built during the reign of Napoleon III, he’d been too deep in his own grief, and suffering fatigue—which, rather than jet lag, as he’d assumed, had turned out to be cancer—to provide the emotional support and comfort his third daughter had deserved.

“Josette’s death is the main reason I’m not going to drag Natalie here to watch me die. And you might as well quit playing all the guilt cards because I’m as sure of my decision as I was yesterday. And the day before that. And every other time over the past weeks you’ve brought it up. Bad enough you coerced me into making those damn videos. Like I’m some documentary maker.”

To Jack’s mind, documentary filmmakers were storytellers who hadn’t bothered to learn to edit. How hard was it to spend anywhere from two to ten hours telling a story he could capture in one single, perfectly timed photograph?

“The total length of all three of them is only twenty minutes,” Gideon said equably.

There were times when Jack considered that the man had the patience of a saint. Which was probably necessary when you’d chosen to spend your life watching grapes grow, then waiting years before the wine you’d made from those grapes was ready to drink. Without Gideon Byrne to run this place, Jack probably would have sold it off to one of the neighboring vineyards years ago, with the caveat that his mother would be free to keep the guesthouse, along with the larger, showier one that carried her name. Had he done that he would have ended up regretting not having a thriving legacy to pass on to his daughters.

“The total time works out to less than ten minutes a daughter. Which doesn’t exactly come close to a Ken Burns series,” Gideon pointed out.

“I liked Burns’s baseball one,” Jack admitted reluctantly. “And the one on country music. But hell, it should’ve been good, given that he took eight years to make it.”

Jack’s first Pulitzer had admittedly been a stroke of luck, being in the right place at the right time. More care had gone into achieving the perfect photos for other awards, but while he admired Burns’s work, he’d never have the patience to spend that much time on a project. His French mother had claimed he’d been born a pierre roulante—rolling stone—al-ways needing to be on the move. Which wasn’t conducive to family life, which is why both his first and second marriages had failed. Because he could never be the husband either of his very different wives had expected.

“Do you believe in life after death?” he asked.

Gideon took his time to answer, looking out over the vine-yards. “I like to think so. Having lost Becky too soon, it’d be nice to believe we’ll connect again, somewhere, somehow.” He shrugged. “On the other hand, there are days that I think this might be our only shot.”

“Josette came again last night.”

“You must have enjoyed that.”

“I always do.”

Excerpted from The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross, Copyright © 2021 by JoAnn Ross. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Jeep Tour by Gail Ward Olmsted Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A woman struggling after several setbacks in her life takes to the road, heading west in hopes of healing her broken heart and finding a new lease on life in author Gail Ward Olmsted’s “Jeep Tour”.

The Synopsis

Attention from a younger guy is definitely good for her ego. But can she find the life she seeks this far from home?

There’s not enough cappuccino in the world to fix Jackie Sullivan’s streak of disasters. Divorced and pushing forty, the final straw comes when she’s denied tenure and fired. With nothing else to lose, she heads west in search of a fresh start and a hot helping of hanky panky…

Settling in Sedona, she struggles to find her balance and to stop putting her foot in her mouth. And her hands are soon full when she hooks up with a buff blonde tour guide. But a call from her ex forces her to reconsider what she left behind…

Will Jackie discover a new lease on life among the red rocks and heal her heart?

Jeep Tour is a fresh and funny contemporary women’s fiction novel. If you like journeys of self-discovery, beautiful desert settings, and sexy second chances, then you’ll love Gail Ward Olmsted’s lighthearted tale.

Buy Jeep Tour for an unforgettable off-road fling today!

The Review

I absolutely loved the sense of realism that the author brought to this contemporary women’s fiction read. The author perfectly portrayed the relationships and struggles of the characters in a very real sense. Allowing the reader to focus on the character development rather than some overtly whirlwind romance with a steamy new man was a great direction to take the narrative, focusing instead on the protagonist’s push to grow and change herself through a new adventure and new life. 

The balance of emotional storytelling and character development was perfect in this narrative. The author also managed to craft a great sense of setting in this story, allowing the Arizona desert and sense of wilderness to become a character all on its own. The theme of growth and change in the face of adversity was perfectly layered within this narrative, allowing the novel’s story to shine brightly without hitting readers over the head with the theme. 

The Verdict

A heartfelt, engaging, and brilliant women’s fiction novel, author Gail Ward Olmsted’s “Jeep Tour” is a must-read novel for fans of the genre. Treasured for amazing characters that feel very realistic and seem to come off the page, the author tells a compelling story that will draw readers in immediately. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.

For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at GailOlmsted.com.

http://www.gailolmsted.com

A Season in Lights by Gregory Erich Phillips Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Two people who dream of glory through their musical and theatrical careers learn the sweetness of new love and the painstaking process of chasing one’s dreams in author Gregory Erich Philips novel “A Season in Lights”.

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The Synopsis

Passion, ambition and escape in the colorful artistic underworld off-Broadway, Cammie, a dancer in her mid-thirties, has just landed her first part in a show since coming to New York City. Yet the tug of familial obligation and the guilt of what she sacrificed to be there weigh down her dancing feet. 

Her lover, Tom, an older piano player, came to the city as a young man in the 1980s with a story eerily in tune with Cammie’s own. Through their triumphs and failures, both learn the fleeting nature of glory, the sweetness of new love, and how a dream come true isn’t cherished until it passes. The bright lights of the stage intoxicate, while degradation and despair lurk close behind the curtain. 

Their sagas are marred by two pandemics, AIDS in the 1980s and COVID-19 today, which ravaged the performing arts community, leaving a permanent scar on those who lived through them. The poignant intersection of their stories reveals a love affair unbound by time, reaching across decades through the notes of a piano’s remembered song. 

The Review

A truly emotional and heartfelt, character-driven narrative. The author has done a masterful job of blending the backstories and backdrops of both protagonists in this narrative, mirroring their experiences and personalities as they grow not only as individuals but as romantic interests as well. The need to protect and care for a sibling, the pursuit of their dreams, and facing health crisis on a global scale mark the familiar paths both characters walk in this narrative.

What really stood out to me was the novel’s connection to New York City. The novel expertly delves into the nooks and crannies of not only the city itself but the people who live within it, painting a very vivid image of the novel’s setting in our own minds. It got to be like the city itself came alive and become a character, which I have found to be an enduring trait of some of the best New York-led narratives. 

The Verdict

A masterful, driven, and engaging read, author Gregory Erich Philips’s “A Season in Lights” is a must-read novel. The breathtaking scenery described in the author’s brilliant writing and the emotional impact of both character’s stories and struggles really made the narrative come alive, drawing the reader in further and further into the narrative. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

From a prolific literary family, Gregory Erich Phillips tells aspirational stories through strong, relatable characters that transcend time and place. Living in Seattle, Washington, he is also an accomplished tango dancer and musician.

http://gregoryerichphillips.com/

https://www.bookbub.com/books/a-season-in-lights-by-gregory-erich-phillips

Year of the What? By Jennifer Lieberman Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman reeling from a romantic betrayal finds herself ditching her “good girl” lifestyle and instead going on an adventure of sexual discovery in author Jennifer Lieberman’s “Year of the What?”. 

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The Synopsis

Dana has only been with one man and hasn’t given herself a chance to explore her own curiosity. She feels ashamed of her desires, and keeps trying to squash them in order to be a ‘good girl’. Her roommate, Kelly, on the other hand, has none of Dana’s hang-ups.

Kelly is unabashedly promiscuous, with an off the charts IQ and a full ride to NYU. But Kelly can’t stand the monotony of school, so she drops out to become a dominatrix and pursue an alternative lifestyle where she makes ‘lawyer money’ working in a dungeon in Chelsea.

After months of searching in vain for Mr. Right, Kelly’s lust for life and insatiable quest for adventure finally rub off…Dana embarks on an outrageous adventure of sexual discovery where she finds her inner power and confidence, all while taking charge of her erotic exploration. Through her exploits Dana realizes she will never find what she is looking for, until she finds herself.

The Review

I absolutely loved this novel! This coming-of-age, adult-oriented women’s fiction novel pushes the envelope in the best way possible. The narrative explores the theme of female sexuality and allowing readers to glimpse a much-needed story that shows women being free to explore their own sexuality freely without judgment that often overtakes our society’s view on women and sex. 

The balance of character development and humor is what really sells this novel’s story. The protagonist, Dana, is not only someone that a lot of readers can identify with, but her bond with her more free and sexual friend Kelly and the various men and women she meets throughout her sexual journey really felt both funny and relatable. The panic and fear that comes from not having had any sexual exploration before are felt early on in this novel, and the openness for which Dana frees herself to explore more really felt like a triumph that overcame the sexual judgment so many have placed on our society.

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The Verdict

A masterful, sensual, and humorously entertaining read, author Jennifer Lieberman’s “Year of the What?”, is a must-read novel of 2021! The character growth and humor really draw the reader in, and the overall theme of female sexuality and freedom really made this story feel both relevant and innovative in the face of a history of male sexual oppression. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Jennifer Lieberman is from Maple, Ontario, Canada and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from York University in Toronto. Jennifer has appeared in over thirty stage productions in Toronto, New York City, Los Angeles, Europe and Australia; including her Award-Winning Solo Show Year of the Slut, which was adapted into to novel “Year of the What?” In addition to her performance career she has penned a number of screen and stage plays including the wacky web-series “Dumpwater Divas” and the short films “Leash” and “Details” which both screened at the Festival De Cannes’ Court Métrage among other international film festivals. Other books by Jennifer include “Make Your Own Break: How To Master Your Virtual Meeting in Seven Simple Steps” and “Make Your Own Break: How To Record & Publish Your Audiobook In Seven Simple Steps.”

http://www.jenniferliebermanactor.com/

https://www.instagram.com/yearofthewhatnovel/

https://www.bookbub.com/books/year-of-the-what-by-jennifer-lieberman

The Granddaughter Project by Shaheen Chishti Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Three very different women use their voices to improve the society they find themselves in, hoping to change things for the better for their granddaughters in author Shaheen Chishti’s “The Granddaughter Project”.

The Synopsis

A deeply emotional and raw story, “The Granddaughter Project” is the shared experience of three, very different women, who collectively use their voices, wanting to improve societal attitudes for their granddaughters. The men around these women put them into desperate situations: young and alone, they fought to overcome their experiences. 

Helga is a holocaust survivor, who grew up as the cherub of her family until the Anschluss of Austria. Separated from her family in Auschwitz, she survived the

horrors alone and tried to begin a new life in Israel. In complete contrast, Kamla was born as a poor peasant girl and grew up during the Bengali Famine. With an alcoholic father, who abuses her mother, the family find themselves homeless and hungry. She survives and finds work in a women’s shelter, eventually marrying Rajeev, who abandons her and their young daughter. Lynette leaves the Caribbean shores with her mother Pam, arriving in 1950s London. Living in appalling conditions, the pair struggle to make ends meet and contend with constant discrimination. When her mother dies,

Lynette is left alone and at the mercy of the people around her. During the Notting Hill riots, she is beaten and left for dead but she still survives.

These warrior women tell their stories for the first time to their granddaughters, hoping that they can succeed where they failed and that they feel empowered, inspired and supported to do what is best for themselves.

The Review

Such a lovely and heartfelt story of strong women overcoming great obstacles to give their children a better life, this is the perfect balance of women’s fiction and family drama. The characters were the perfect balance of strength and vulnerability, highlighting the individual struggles they overcame and showing the incredible spirit of these women that perfectly captures the feminine driven narrative.

What really helped showcase this women’s fiction novel was the back and forth between character growth and culture that was incorporated into the narrative. From the very first page the author blends modern day protagonist Maya into the life of her late grandmother, from life struggling to survive in her village to her connection to the goddess Durga, and as the story progresses the narrative seems to take on aspects of the historical fiction and mythology genres as well, making the story feel well rounded.

The Verdict

Majestic, emotional, and heartfelt in its delivery, author Shaheen Chishti’s “The Granddaughter Project” is a must read novel. Full of heart and powerful family storytelling, the author showcases an overall theme of love and strength that encompasses the strong female characters that drive this narrative forward. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Shaheen Chishti is an Indian-British author, world peace advocate and thought leader. Shaheen is a member of the London Literary Society and Muslim-Jewish Forum in London. He is also the founder of the Jewish Islamic International Peace Society. Shaheen’s writings – fiction and non-fiction – primarily focus on the upliftment of women and the emancipation of Muslim women in particular. He believes that the “empowerment of women is at the root of Muslin teaching”. An ardent believer in the Sufi philosophy of “Love towards all, malice towards none”, Shaheen endeavours to promote the message of peace and solidarity of the Chishti Order of Sufism. Shaheen was born into the Syed Chishti family in India which traces its ancestry directly to Hazrat Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Holy Prophet.

http://shaheenchishti.in/

https://www.amazon.com/Granddaughter-Project-Shaheen-Chishti/dp/1608882381

https://twitter.com/chishtishaheen?s=21

The Summer of No Attachments (The Summer Friends #2) by Lori Foster Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Two women looking for an uncomplicated break from relationships find themselves faced with the possibility of real love when they come across two brothers and an angry child during the summer in author Lori Foster’s “The Summer of No Attachments”, the second book in THE SUMMER FRIENDS series. 

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The Synopsis

From New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Lori Foster comes the heartwarming story of two best friends who cross paths with a pair of new-in-town brothers with one angry little boy in tow. A standalone story of second chances at life and love, with found family and rescued animals, perfect for fans of Jill Shalvis, Sarah Morgan, and Lori Wilde.

Summer flings with no strings mean nobody gets hurt.

At least, that was the plan…

After putting the brakes on her dead-end relationship, local veterinarian Ivey Anders is ready to soak up this summer on her own terms. The way she sees it, no dating means no disappointment. Why complicate life with anything long-term? But when she meets Corbin Meyer—and his troubled young son, Justin—Ivey’s no-strings strategy threatens to unravel before she can put it into practice.

Trust doesn’t come easy for Ivey’s best friend, Hope Mage, a veterinary-clinic assistant who’s affected by an incident that’s colored every relationship she’s had. Though Hope’s happy for Ivey, she can’t quite open her own heart to the possibility of love. Not just yet… Maybe not ever. Soon, however, she’s faced with a dilemma—Corbin’s older brother, Lang. He’s charming, he’s kind…and he may just be the reason Hope needs to finally tear down her walls.

And as the sweet summer months unspool, the two friends discover love won’t give up on them so easily.

The Review

A heartwarming and emotional story that balances the friendship and bond of women’s fiction with the heart of romance narratives, author Lori Foster has crafted a beautiful story set within an established series that still manages to act as a standalone story that readers both old and new will enjoy. The pacing does a great job of getting into the character’s personalities and interactions while slowly building the rising relationships between the women and the men they meet over the summer. 

The character arcs were fantastic to see unfold here. The strength and humor that Ivey brings as a protagonist are great to witness, while the overall development of Hope as a character after her heartbreaking past was inspiring and hopeful, two qualities that make for a great romance story. 

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The Verdict

A perfect summer read that blends love and hope into an engaging narrative, author Lori Foster’s “The Summer of No Attachments” is the perfect summer novel for fans of women’s fiction and romance novels. The powerful story of not only budding romance but of true friendship in the face of adversity in both women’s lives made this such a captivating story, so if you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Since first publishing in January 1996, Lori Foster has become a New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author. She lives in Central Ohio where coffee helps her keep up with her cats and grandkids between writing books. For more about Lori, visit her website at http://www.lorifoster.com, like her on Facebook or find her on Twitter, @lorilfoster.

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Here is an Excerpt From “The Summer of Not Attachments”

Chapter One

Ivey Anders shoved back a wayward curl and gently secured the dog against her body so it couldn’t move while her tech, Hope Mage, carefully clipped away the twisted wire. The poor thing, a stray by the looks of it, had gotten itself tangled pretty tightly and one hind leg was in bad shape. Ivey wanted to get it to the clinic where she could properly assess the damage.

Mud caked the fur, making it difficult to find any other injuries just yet, but there was one astounding fact Ivey couldn’t ignore.

Behind her, the homeowner groused that the dog had likely been stealing eggs from his chicken coop.

Voice calm, temper mostly in check, Ivey said, “You didn’t hesitate to call me, did you, Marty?” It was well-known that Marty was not a fan of dogs, or cats for that matter, and mostly considered them a nuisance. However, they’d come to an agreement some time ago. Marty, who owned a fair amount of wooded acreage, was supposed to call her if a stray showed up, and she, as the local vet, would take care of the “problem” for him.

Laura, his wife, was quick to say, “I called.” Defiant to Marty, she added, “Soon as I heard the poor thing, in fact.”

Which didn’t mean much. The animal might have been there for hours. Possibly more than a day, though Ivey couldn’t bear the thought of that.

“She’s pregnant, you know.” Refusing to take her eyes off the dog and unwilling to raise her voice since it might frighten the animal more, Ivey said, “If she took an egg, it would have been from starvation—and you already know I would have compensated you for it.”

Affronted, Marty grumbled, “I wasn’t worried about one egg, just don’t want to lose my chickens.” He cleared his throat. “If it helps any, I was out here this morning and she wasn’t caught then. Afternoon I watered my garden, and that’s why there’s so much mud. So I doubt she was hung up there more than a few hours.”

The fist around Ivey’s heart loosened just a little. “That helps tremendously, Marty. Thank you.”

More times than she could count, Ivey had taken on problems with stray animals who needed special love and care. It didn’t matter that she’d been working as a veterinarian for years now, seeing all manner of hurt, neglected or just plain ill animals. She still loved them all, and when one hurt, she hurt with it.

“No thanks necessary,” Marty complained, his tone gruff with insult. “Not like I’d let an animal suffer.”

Ivey had a feeling their definitions of suffer varied a bit, but she realized this mattered to him, and she was too grateful to quibble so she just nodded.

Almost got it,” Hope murmured, and with one last clip, the wire loosened. “There.” Fingers gentle, she disentangled the dog’s leg, exposing a painful wound.

Ivey murmured to the small animal all the while, cooing softly, petting and holding her secure. The second she was able to sit back on the muddy ground, she pulled the dog into her lap. With her face close to the top of the dog’s head, she whispered, “There now, that’s better, isn’t it? We’ll get you all fixed up, I promise.”

“Here.” Slipping off her zip-up hoodie, Hope offered it to Ivey to wrap around the dog. “Do you want me to get the carrier?”

Busy swaddling the dog, careful not to jar her, Ivey shook her head. “She doesn’t weigh more than ten or eleven pounds. I’ll carry her to the truck and we’ll see how it goes.” Feeling mud seep into the seat of her pants, she realized she couldn’t get up without letting go of the dog. Lifting a brow at Hope, she said, “A little help?”

“Oh sure.” Hope caught her under one elbow, and Laura hurried forward to take the other, giving her the leverage she needed.

Marty stepped back to avoid getting muddy.

Carefully, the two women got Ivey on her feet. The thick mud was heavy on the seat of her pants, dragging on her stretch jeans that had loosened throughout the day. At least her rubber boots wouldn’t be ruined. Since they treated all sorts of animals, including those on farms, she and Hope each kept a pair at the clinic.

“Let’s go.” Plodding forward, Ivey led the way to the truck. Halfway there, the dog started panting. Concerned, she hastened her step, not at all worried about getting mud on the truck seats. “No need for the crate. Just get us back to the clinic.”

Picking up on her angst, Hope ran around to the driver’s side and got the truck on the road in record time. “Everything okay?”

“Not really, no. Something’s wrong.”

“What should I do?”

Poor Hope. A sick cat had kept them an hour past closing, and then Marty had called… “I’m sorry.” Ivey barely took her gaze off the stressed dog. “Do you think you could assist me at the clinic?”

“Of course I will! You don’t even have to ask.” Frowning, Hope muttered, “Did you think I’d drop you off with a dog in distress? Tell you good luck?” She snorted. “Have I ever done that?”

She and Hope were close enough that Ivey knew she’d inadvertently insulted her. “No, you haven’t. But it’s Friday night after a very long day.”

“It’s Friday night for you, too, you know.”

“What a sad situation for us both.” Despite her worries, Ivey chuckled. “Most women would have plans, and yet we never do.”

“You have Geoff.”

Ivey made a face. “Lot of good that does me.” Likely Geoff was settled on the couch already, watching sports or playing a video game. The excitement had left their relationship a long time ago, so she doubted he’d even notice her absence.

For her part, Hope never dated. That bothered Ivey a lot, but she loved Hope enough that she would never pry.

Smiling at her friend, Ivey said, “I’m glad I won’t have to do this alone.”

“Not ever,” Hope vowed. “Even if by some miracle I ever do have something worthwhile lined up for the weekend, I’d still be here for you, okay?”

Her friendship with Hope meant so much more than any other relationship Ivey had, including her lackluster romance with Geoff. “Smartest thing I ever did was hire you.”

“I’m so glad you did,” Hope whispered. “Otherwise we might not have become friends, then where would I be?”

“Let’s just agree that we’re better off together.” Though Ivey was ten years older than Hope, they’d still hit it off from the start, meshing together as if they’d been lifelong friends. Where Ivey was take-charge and sometimes a little too outspoken, Hope was an intent listener with an enormous heart.

Ivey often wanted to challenge the world, and Hope, sadly, wanted to hide from it.

Or more accurate, she wanted to hide from any interested men.

Hope had an affinity with animals, plus a gentle but sure touch. She was never squeamish, but she exuded sympathy. Ivey valued her. The clients loved her. And the animals trusted her.

Unfortunately, they were still five minutes away from the clinic when the dog went into labor. “This is definitely happening,” Ivey said, doing what she could to make the animal comfortable.

Leaning closer to the steering wheel, Hope drove a little faster. “Be there soon.”

They’d barely gotten in the door when her water broke. Hope ran ahead to prepare an area, moving with practiced ease as she opened an already cleaned kennel and set up a whelping box, then filled it with bedding material. The box had three tall sides to contain the coming puppies, and one low side for the mother to step out for food and water.

Knowing Hope had it in hand, Ivey began cleaning the dog as quickly and efficiently as possible. She managed a cursory job, removing the worst of the mud, when Hope rejoined her. “We’re all set.”

“With luck we’ll have enough time to clean and wrap her leg before she gives birth.” Usually that happened within two hours after the animal’s water breaking, so they didn’t have a minute to spare.

A day that had already been long just turned entirely endless.

Excerpted from The Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster, Copyright © 2021 by Lori Foster. Published by HQN Books. 

The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A woman on the verge of losing the only family she’s known and facing a shocking new reality takes a gamble and pursues her own legacy in author Susan Mallery’s “The Vineyard at Painted Moon”.

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The Synopsis

MacKenzie Dienes’s life isn’t perfect, but it’s as close as she could ever hope to get. Her marriage to Rhys, her best friend’s brother, is more friendship than true love. But passion is highly overrated, right? And she loves her job as the winemaker at Bel Apres, her in-laws’ vineyard. So what if it’s a family business and, even after decades of marriage and incredible professional success, she’s still barred from the family business meetings? It’s all enough…until one last night spent together leads to an incredibly honest—and painful—conversation. Rhys suggests that they divorce. They haven’t had a marriage in a long time and, while he wants her to keep her job at Bel Apres, he doesn’t think they should be married any longer. Shocked, MacKenzie reels at the prospect of losing the only family she’s ever really known…even though she knows deep in her heart that Rhys is right.

But when MacKenzie discovers she’s pregnant, walking away to begin a new life isn’t so easy. She never could have anticipated the changes it would bring to the relationships she cherishes most: her relationship with Barbara, her mother-in-law and partner at Bel Apres, Stephanie, her sister-in-law and best friend, and Bel Apres, the company she’s worked so hard to put on the map.

MacKenzie has always dreamed of creating a vineyard of her own, a chance to leave a legacy for her unborn child. So when the opportunity arises, she jumps at it and builds the Vineyard at Painted Moon. But following her dreams will come at a high price—one that MacKenzie isn’t so sure she’s willing to pay…

The Review

The author has done it again, crafting a brilliant contemporary women’s fiction that delves into the emotional core of facing divorce, testing the bonds between not only friends but adopted family, and the oftentimes painful yet worthwhile effort that takes us towards the legacy and career we always dream of. The amazing family dynamics between MacKenzie and her husband’s family are incredible to see, and the drama of her own pursuits mixed with the ties she has to this family really elevates the tension in the character’s arcs. 

However, what really was amazing to see was the author’s attention to detail. The research and deep dive into the study of viticulture was a great addition to the depth of the protagonist and really showcased how well-rounded the narrative felt throughout. Add this with the incredible imagery the author incorporates into the narrative and readers will not be able to put this book down.

The Verdict

A brilliant, captivating, and entertaining read, author Susan Mallery’s “The Vineyard at Painted Moon” is a must-read contemporary women’s fiction read. Full of emotional storytelling and engaging character arcs that readers won’t be able to get enough of, this is a fantastic story. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copies today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives―family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages. Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Three friends from their youths must reunite when their fourth friend dying of cancer summons them to the summer camp they spent their youth in, and must find the dreams they left behind as they face the challenges of their own lives in author Viola Shipman’s “The Clover Girls”. 

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The Synopsis 

As comforting and familiar as a favorite sweater, Viola Shipman’s novels never fail to deliver a heartfelt story of friendship and familty, encapsulating summer memories in every page. Fans of Dorthea Benton Frank and Nancy Thayer will love this new story about three childhood friends approaching middle age, determined to rediscover the dreams that made them special as campers in 1985.

Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where they called themselves The Clover Girls (after their cabin name). The years following that magical summer pulled them in very different directions and, now approaching middle age, the women are facing new challenges: the inevitable physical changes that come with aging, feeling invisible to society, disinterested husbands, surley teens, and losing their sense of self.

Then, Elizabeth, Veronica and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily – she has cancer and, knowing it’s terminal, reaches out to the girls who were her best friends once upon a time and implores them to reunite at Camp Birchwood to scatter her ashes. When the three meet at the property for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, another letter from Emily awaits, explaining that she has purchased the abandoned camp, and now it belongs to them – at Emily’s urging, they must spend a week together remembering the dreams they’d put aside, and find a way to become the women they always swore they’d grow up to be. Through flashbacks to their youthful summer, we see the four friends then and now, rebuilding their lives, flipping a middle finger to society’s disdain for aging women, and with a renewed purpose to find themselves again.

The Review

Such an incredible and emotional story, author Viola Shipman has crafted a truly beautiful and heartbreaking story of lost friendship, loss, and regaining that which has been lost in our lives. The multiple POV of these characters really brings a sense of wholeness and driven narratives to their story. 

So often in life friends drift away, becoming busy with their growing lives and diverging paths that take them away from one another. Yet less often is the events that bring us back together again. This narrative does a fantastic job of exploring the uncharted path towards unification with the people who made us feel like ourselves again.

The setting and imagery of the narrative felt alive and become a character all on their own. I love the flashbacks and letters from the early days of the Clover Girls that really captured the essence of the 80’s style era that part of the narrative took place in, and the pacing really helped with the friend’s journey to not only find themselves but to find the friendship that brought them so much happiness and joy.

The Verdict

A mesmerizing, emotionally driven, and engaging read, author Viola Shipman’s The Clover Girls is the perfect summer read for those who love women’s fiction and tales of friendship and the bonds we share with others. The author takes the readers on such an emotional journey and showcases how the painful reality of loss can sometimes bring and heal those who have been lost to each other back together again. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

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About the Author

Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for PeopleCoastal LivingGood Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.

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An Excerpt From The Clover Girls

SUMMER 2021

VERONICA

Grocery List

Milk (Oat, coconut, soy)

Fizzy water (cherry, lime, watermelon, mixed berry)

Chips (lentil, quinoa, kale, beet)

Cereal (Kashi, steel-cut oats, NO GMOs! VERY IMPORTANT!)

Whatever happened to one kind of milk from a cow, one kind of water from a faucet and one kind of chip from a potato?

My teenage children are seated on opposite ends of the massive, modern, original Milo Baughman circular sofa that David and I ordered for our new midcentury house in Los Angeles. Ashley and Tyler are juggling drinks while pecking at their cells, and it takes every fiber of my soul not to come unglued. This is the most expensive piece of furniture I have ever purchased in my life. More expensive even than my first two years of college tuition plus my first car, a red Reliant K-car that would stall at stoplights.

I still don’t know what the K stood for, I think. Krappy?

That was a time, long ago, when that type of negative thought would never have entered my mind, when the K would have stood only for Konfident, Kool or Kick-Ass. But that was a different world, another time, another life and place.

Another me.

Another V.

I steady my pen at the top of a pad of paper emblazoned with the logo of my husband’s architectural firm, David Berzini & Associates.

Los Angeles is the latest stop for us. My family has hopscotched the world more than a military brat as David’s architectural career has exploded. He is now one of the world’s preeminent architects. David studied under and worked with some of the most famous midcentury modern architects—Albert Frey, William Krisel, Donald Wexler—and has now taken over their mantles, especially as the appreciation for and popularity of midcentury modern architecture has grown. Now he is working on a stunning new public library in LA that will be his legacy.

I glance up from my pad. A selection of magazines—Architectural Digest, Vogue, W—are artfully strewn across a brutalist coffee table. The beautiful models stare back at me.

That was my legacy.

“Mom, can I get something to eat?” 

This is now my legacy.

I glance at my children. Everything old has come back en vogue. Ashley is wearing the same sort of high-waisted jeans that I once wore and modeled in the ’80s, and Tyler’s hair—razored high by a barber and slicked back into a big black pompadour—looks a lot like a style I sported for a Robert Palmer video when every woman wanted to look like a Nagel woman.

Yes, everything has made a comeback.

Except me.

I look at my list.

And carbs.

My kids, like my husband, have never met a Pop-Tart, a box of Cap’n Crunch, a Jeno’s Pizza Roll or a Ding Dong. My entire family resembles long-limbed ponies, ready to race. I grew up when the foundation of a food pyramid was a Twinkie.

I again put pen to paper, and in my own secret code I write the letter L above the first letter of my husband’s name. If someone happened to glance at the paper, they would simply think I had been doodling. But I know what “LD” means, and it will remind me once I get to the store.

Little Debbies.

You know, I actually hide these around our new home, which isn’t easy since the entire space is so sleek and minimal, and hiding space is at a premium. It took a lot of effort, but I, too, used to be as sleek and minimal as this house, as angular and arresting as its architecture. Anything out of place in our butterfly-roofed home located in the Bird Streets high above Sunset Strip—where the streets are named after orioles and nightingales, and Hollywood stars reside—is conspicuous. 

Even now, on yet another perfect day in LA, where the sunshine makes everything look lazily beautiful and dipped in glitter, I can see a layer of dust on the terrazzo floors. Although a maid comes twice a week, the dust, smog and ash from nonstop fires in LA—carried by hot, dry Santa Ana winds—coat everything. And David notices everything.

Swiffers, I write on the pad, before outlining “LD” with my pen.

David hates that I have gained weight. He is embarrassed I have gained weight.

Or is just my imagination? Am I the one who is embarrassed by who I’ve become?

David never says anything to me, but he attends more and more galas alone, saying I need to watch the kids even though they no longer need a babysitter and that it’s better for their stability if one parent is with them. But I know the truth.

What did he expect would happen to my body after two children and endless moves? What did he expect would happen after losing my career, identity and self-esteem? It’s so ironic, because I’m not angry at him or my life. I’m just…

“Why don’t you just put all of that in the notes on your phone?”

“Or just ask the refrigerator to remember?”

“Yeah, Mom,” my kids say at the same time.

I look over at them. They have my beauty and David’s drive. Ash and Ty lift their eyes from their phones just long enough to roll their eyes at me, in that way that teens do, the way teens always have, in that there-couldn’t-be-a-more-lame-uncool-human-in-the-world-than-you-Mom way. And it’s always followed by “the sigh.”

“I like to do it this way,” I say. 

“NO ONE writes anything anymore,” Ashley says.

“NO ONE, Mom!” Tyler echoes.

“Cursive is dead, Mom,” Ashley says. “Get with the times.”

I stare at my children. They are often the sweetest kids in the world, but every so often their evil twins emerge, the ones with forked tongues and acerbic words.

Did they get that from me? Or their father? Or is it just the way kids are today?

The sun shifts, and the reflection of water from the pool dances on the white walls, making it look as if we are living in an aquarium. I glance down the long hallway where the pool is reflecting, the place David has allowed me to have my only “clutter”: a corridor of old photos, a room of heirlooms.

My life flashes before me: our family in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York at the holidays, eating colorful French macarons at a café in Paris, lying out on Barcelona’s beaches, and fishing with my parents at their summer cottage on Lake Michigan. And then, in the ultimate juxtaposition, there is an old photo of me, teenage me, in a bikini at Lake Birchwood hanging directly next to an old Sports Illustrated cover of me. In it, I am posing by the ocean where I met David. I am crouched on the beach like a tiger ready to pounce. That was my signature pose, you know, the one I invented that all the other models stole, the Tiger Pose.

I was one of the one-name girls back then: Madonna, Iman, Cher, V. All I needed was a single letter to identify myself. Now V has Vanished. I have one name.

“Mom!”

“Lunch. Please!”

My eyes wander back to our pool. I would be mortified to wear a bikini today. I am not what most people would deem overweight. But I have a paunch, my thighs are jellied and my chin is starting to have a best friend. It was that photo in all of the gossip magazines a year or so ago that did it to me. Paparazzi shot me downing an ice cream cone while putting gas in my car. I had shuttled the kids around all day in 110-degree heat, and I was wearing a billowy caftan. I looked bigger than my SUV. And the headlines:

Voluminous!

V has Vanished Inside This Woman!

If you saw me in person, you’d likely say I’m a narcissist or being way too hard on myself, but it’s as hard to hide fifteen pounds in LA as it is to hide an extra throw pillow in this house. I get Botox and fillers and do all the things I can to maintain my looks, but I am terrified to go to the gym here. I am mortified to look for a dress in a city where a size two is considered obese. The gossip rags are just waiting for me to move.

My eyes wander back to the photos.

I no longer have an identity.

I no longer have friends.

“Earth to Mom? Can you make me some lunch?” Tyler looks at me. “Then I need to go to Justin’s.”

“And you have to drive me to Lily’s at four, remember?”

I shudder. A two-mile drive in LA takes two hours.

“Mom?”

Ashley looks at me.

There is a way that your children and husband look at you—or rather don’t look at you at a certain point in your life—not to mention kids in the street, young women shopping, men in restaurants, David’s colleagues, happy families in the grocery. 

They look through you. Like you’re a window.

It’s as if women over forty were never young, smart, fashionable, cool…were never like them, never had hopes, dreams and acres of life ahead of them.

What is with American society today?

Why, when women reach a “certain age,” do we become ghosts? Strike that. That’s not an accurate analogy: that would imply that we actually invoke a mood, a scare, a feeling of some sort. That we have a personality. I could once hold up a bag of potato chips, eat one, lick my fingers and sell a million bags of junk food for a company. Now I’m not even memorable enough to be a ghost. This model has become a prop. A piece of furniture. Not like the stylish one my kids are stretched out on, but the reliable, sturdy, ever-present, department store kind, devoid of any depth or substance, one without feeling, attractiveness or sexuality. I am just here. Like the air. Necessary to survive, but something no one sees or notices.

I used to be noticed. I used to be seen. Desired. Admired. Wanted.

I was the ringleader of friends, the one who called the shots. Now, I am Uber driver, Shipt delivery, human Roomba and in-home Grubhub, products I once would have sold rather than used.

I take a deep breath and note a few more grocery items on my antiquated written list and stand to make my kids lunch.

They are teen health nuts, already obsessed with every bite they consume. Does it have GMOs? What is the protein-to-carb differential?

Did I do this to them? I don’t think so.

Even as a model, I ate pizza, but that’s back in the day when a curve was sexy and a bikini needed to be filled out. I pull out some spicy tuna sushi rolls I picked up at Gelson’s and arrange them on a platter. I wash and chop some berries and place them in a bowl. I watch my kids fill their plates. Ashley is a cheerleader and wannabe actress, and Tyler is a skateboarding, creative techy applying to UCLA to study film and directing. Ashley wants to go to Northwestern to major in drama. They will both be going to specialty camps later this summer, Ashley for cheerleading and acting, Tyler for filmmaking and to boost his SAT scores. My eyes drift back to my photo wall, and I smile. They will not, however, spend their days simply having fun, singing camp songs, engaging in color wars, shooting archery, splashing in a cold lake, roasting marshmallows and making friends. A kid’s life today, especially here in LA, is a competition, and the competition starts early.

There is a rustling noise outside, and Ashley tosses her plate onto the sofa and rushes to the door. In LA, even the postal workers are hot, literally and figuratively, and our mailman looks like Zac Efron. She returns a few seconds later, fanning herself dramatically with the mail.

“You’re going to be a great actress,” I say with a laugh. Ashley starts to toss the mail onto the counter, but I stop her. “Leave the mail in the organizer for your dad.”

Yes, even the mail has its own home in our home.

“Hey, you got a letter,” she says.

“Who writes letters anymore?” Tyler asks.

“Old people,” Ashley says. The two laugh.

I take a seat at the original Saarinen tulip table and study the envelope. There is no return address. I feel the envelope. It’s bulky. I open it and begin to read a handwritten letter: 

Dear V:

How are you? I’m sorry it’s been a while since we’ve talked. You’ve been busy, I’ve been busy. Remember when we were just a bunk away? We could lean our heads over the side and share our darkest secrets. Those were the good ol’ days, weren’t they? When we were innocent. When we were as tight as the clover that grew together in the patch that wound to the lake.

How long has it been since you talked to Rach and Liz? Over 30 years? I guess that first four-leaf clover I found wasn’t so lucky after all, was it? Oh, you and Rach have had such success, but are you happy, V? Deep down? Achingly happy? I don’t believe in my heart that you are. I don’t think Rach and Liz are either. How do I know? Friend’s intuition.

I used to hate myself for telling everyone what happened our last summer together. It was like dominoes falling after that, one secret after the next revealed, the facade of our friendship ripped apart, just like tearing the fourth leaf off that clover I still have pressed in my scrapbook. But I hate secrets. They only tear us apart. Keep us from becoming who we need to become. The dark keeps things from growing. The light is what creates the clover.

Out the cabin door went all of our luck, and then—leaf by leaf—our faith in each other, followed by any hope we might have had in our friendship and, finally, any love that remained was replaced by hatred, then a dull ache, and then nothing at all. That’s the worst thing, isn’t it, V? To feel nothing at all?

Much of my life has been filled with regret, and that’s just an awful way to live. I’m trying to make amends for that before it’s too late. I’m trying to be the friend I should have been. I was once the glue that held us all together. Then I was scissors that tore us all apart. Aren’t friends supposed to be there for one another, no matter what? You weren’t just beautiful, V, you were confident, so funny and full of life. More than anything, you radiated light, like the lake at sunset. And that’s how I will always remember you.

I’ve sent similar letters to Rach and Liz. I stayed in touch with Liz…and Rach…well, you know Rach. For some reason, you all forgave me, but not each other. I guess because I was just an innocent bystander to all the hurt. My only remaining hope is that you will all forgive one another at some point, because you changed my life and you changed each other’s lives. And I know that you all need one another now more than ever. We found each other for a reason. We need to find each other again.

Let me get to the point, dear V. Just picture me leaning my head over the bunk and telling you my deepest secret.

By the time you receive this, I’ll be dead…

My hand begins to shake, which releases the contents still remaining in the envelope. A pressed four-leaf clover and a few old Polaroid pictures scatter onto the tabletop. Without warning, I groan.

“Are you okay, Mom?” Tyler asks without looking back.

“Who’s that from?” Ashley asks, still staring at her phone.

“A friend,” I manage to mumble.

“Cool,” Ashley says. “You need friends. You don’t have any except for that one girl from camp.” She stops. “Emily, right?”

The photos lying on the marble tabletop are of the four of us at camp, laughing, singing, holding hands. We are so, so young, and I wonder what happened to the girls we used to be. I stare at a photo of Em and me lying under a camp blanket in the same bunk. That’s when I realize the photo is sitting on top of something. I move the picture and smile. 

A friendship pin stares at me, E-V-E-R shining in a sea of green beads.

I look up, and water is reflecting through the clerestory windows of our home, and suddenly every one of those little openings is like a scrapbook to my life, and I can see it flash—at camp and after—in front of me in bursts of light.

Why did I betray my friends?

Why did I give up my identity so easily?

Why am I richer than I ever dreamed and yet feel so empty and lost?

Oh, Em.

I blink, my eyes blur, and that’s when I realize it’s not the pool reflecting in the windows, it’s my own tears. I’m crying. And I cannot stop.

Suddenly, I stand, throw open the patio doors and jump into the pool, screaming as I sink. I look up, and my children are yelling.

“Mom! Are you okay?”

I wave at them, and their bodies relax.

“I’m fine,” I lie when I come to the surface. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

They look at each other and shrug, before heading back inside.

At least, I think, they finally see me.

I take a deep breath and go down once more. Underwater, I can hear my heart drum loudly in my ears. It’s drumming in such perfect rhythm that I know immediately the tune my soul is playing. I can hear it as if it were just yesterday.

Boom, didi, boom, boom… Booooom.

Excerpted from The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman, Copyright © 2021 by Viola Shipman. Published by Graydon House Books.