Last month was all about mysteries and suspense here at The Biblio Blonde! While those are perennial favorites and I’ll be reading plenty more, I took a little detour into Women’s Fiction last week. And what a lovely journey it was!
A friend of mine posted a quote on social media today that is an old favorite of mine:
The best kind of friendships are fierce lady friendships, where you aggressively believe in each other, defend each other, and think the other deserves the world.
I love these words! The timing was perfect, because I think it perfectly describes the book I’m about to share with you!
One Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two women who, on the surface, couldn’t be more different. Here’s a description:
To celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Grace has planned the surprise of a lifetime for her husband—a romantic getaway to Paris. But she never expected he’d have a surprise of his own: he wants a divorce. Reeling from the shock but refusing to be broken, a devastated Grace makes the bold decision to go to Paris alone.
Audrey, a young woman from London, has left behind a heartache of her own when she arrives in Paris. A job in a bookshop is her ticket to freedom, but with no money and no knowledge of the French language, suddenly a summer spent wandering the cobbled streets alone seems much more likely… until she meets Grace, and everything changes.
Grace can’t believe how daring Audrey is. Audrey can’t believe how cautious newly single Grace is. Living in neighboring apartments above the bookshop, this unlikely pair offer each other just what they’ve both been missing. They came to Paris to find themselves, but finding this unbreakable friendship might be the best thing that’s ever happened to them…
Grace and Audrey come from different countries, different backgrounds, and different generations. But a chance encounter on the street in Paris brings them together, and changes the course of the summer for both of them.
I really enjoyed this novel! The story itself was terrific, but what really made this a good read for me were the characters. The author did a magnificent job of building a background for each woman and bringing each to the point where they find one another. The bond that develops between Grace and Audrey is magical, and proves that family is where you find it.
As a forty-something woman who has been married over twenty years, I found Grace in particular rather relatable: her insecurities, her routines, her impending empty nest. Now, I don’t know if I would have made the same decisions she did… at many moments, I found myself wondering: is that would I would have done? Sometimes, the answer was no.
Audrey, too, was well written and interesting. And I enjoyed the development of both women, and seeing how things changed for them over the course of the book. And Mimi? Grace’s elderly grandmother was absolutely charming… and she was keeping some secrets of her own!
This story was, in a word, delightful. It’s a beautifully written tale of broken hearts, fresh beginnings, and fierce female friendship. I love finding new authors to enjoy, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Morgan’s work.
Five fierce stars for this one… I highly recommend One Summer in Paris for a heartwarming, lovely read!
Hi, bookish friends! As I may have mentioned, I’ve been reading more mysteries, suspense, and thrillers. I love a good “who-dun-it” story, and I enjoy the insights it brings us into the characters. So today I wanted to share a new Book Notes on my latest read!
I recently finished The Winter Sister by Megan Collins. This debut novel centers on the sudden death of a teen girl, and the fallout that lingers for her family and loved ones years later. Here’s a description:
Sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s sister Persephone never came home. Out too late with the boyfriend she was forbidden to see, Persephone was missing for three days before her body was found—and years later, her murder remains unsolved.
In the present day, Sylvie returns home to care for her estranged mother, Annie, as she undergoes treatment for cancer. Prone to unexplained “Dark Days” even before Persephone’s death, Annie’s once-close bond with Sylvie dissolved in the weeks after their loss, making for an uncomfortable reunion all these years later. Worse, Persephone’s former boyfriend, Ben, is now a nurse at the cancer center where Annie is being treated. Sylvie’s always believed Ben was responsible for the murder—but she carries her own guilt about that night, guilt that traps her in the past while the world goes on around her.
As she navigates the complicated relationship with her mother, Sylvie begins to uncover the secrets that fill their house—and what really happened the night Persephone died. As it turns out, the truth will set you free, once you can bear to look at it.
The Winter Sister is a mesmerizing portrayal of the complex bond between sisters, between mothers and daughters alike, and forces us to ask ourselves—how well do we know the people we love most?
This book is chock full of family drama, secrets, and regrets. It begins with the fateful night during the sisters’ teen years when Persephone goes missing. A few days later, her body is discovered.
Through this storyline we are introduced to an older sister who flaunted the rules; her boyfriend who had acted suspiciously; a neglectful and distant, but grieving, mother; and Sylvie, the younger sister who had a big secret of her own.
We then move forward to Sylvie as an adult, when her aunt (who had stepped in and cared for her after the tragedy) calls Sylvie home to help care for her cancer-stricken mother. When Sylvie returns to her hometown and her childhood house, it brings back all the pain and turmoil of Persephone’s tragedy. As she encounters figures from her past (including Ben, her sister’s former boyfriend who was suspected but never charged in her death), she starts asking questions and seeing other sides of the story… leading to answers she never saw coming.
Sylvie is not an unreliable narrator… we’re made privy to her thoughts and secrets early on in the story. The happenings are revealed to us as she learns them. There are many things, we discover, that she didn’t know as a teenager and that were not as they seemed.
I found this to be an incredible debut novel. As I’ve mentioned, I’m just getting back into suspense and thrillers, and I really enjoyed this one that I discovered through #Bookstagram and the Book of the Month club. Collins weaves a tale that keeps you wanting to find answers, and features characters that are complex and flawed.
I always enjoy reading other reviews of the titles that I feature… it’s interesting to see all the different opinions. Most of the reviews of this were really positive, and for good reason. Among just a few readers who rated the book lower, it seemed to be for two reasons.
First, it seems there have been a lot of domestic suspense novels coming out recently, and some reviewers felt that sub-genre and the “adult comes home to reckon with her past and discovers secrets” storyline had been overdone. I can’t speak to that because I haven’t read a lot of them, but even so… it’s a good storyline, and Collins has written it very well.
The other thing some reviewers have expressed is that the mother is very unlikable. I do agree with that assessment. However, for me it worked within the storyline. It’s a subplot of its own to learn why the mother is so detached, why her girls were treated so differently, and what caused her dark days. That doesn’t mean I related to the mother at all… in fact, I was incredulous at some of her thoughts, feelings, and actions.
This family was dark and dysfunctional. The novel is a compelling portrait of how family secrets cause unseen ripple effects through generations.
I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a reveal at the heart of the plot that shifts the narrative. Early in the novel, I wondered about this particular piece of information, but then thought, no, that’s probably not where it’s going. Readers, that’s where it went! Once that piece fell into place, the rest of the story clicked for me. I’ve deliberately not spoken of most of the characters in the novel… I will say that, as in any good thriller, the people at the heart of the story are often not as they first appear.
This novel gets four and a half stars from me, and I will definitely add Megan Collins’ future releases to my list. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good domestic suspense, or appreciates a study in complex family (especially mother-daughter) relationships.
What do you think, friends? Do you love a good suspense or thriller? Will you be adding this one to your list? If you’ve already read this, come let me know what you thought. Enjoy your week… happy reading!!
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I just finished a book that gave me equal parts horror and delight. It was entertaining, twisted and more than a little outrageous.
It felt like an absolute train wreck you couldn’t stop, and I savored every bit of it. I’m not sure what that says about me as a person. While I ponder that… keep reading to hear more about the book!
The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton is a suspense novel centered around Juliette. At least, that’s her name right now. She’s changed it, you see, because she has a plan. A big one, that will make life just perfect again. Here’s the situation:
Juliette loves Nate.
She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline, so she can keep a closer eye on him.
They are meant to be.
The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back.
She is the perfect girlfriend. And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.
True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…
Juliette is totally the focus of this book and narrates the events. We are inside her head to hear her feelings, justifications, and train of thought for all of her stalking and obsession. And she’s one amazing character. I felt like she was really well written. Nuttier than a fruitcake? Sure… but also deep and complex.
The reader is taken on a rather wild ride through Juliette’s strategy to win back Nate and finally have the perfect life. As things are tied together and we see the depths of her planning and scheming, we get glimpses of her past and how it influences her present actions.
I’ve seen a few negative reviews of this one that say the character and her actions are too unbelievable. Well… sure. Juliette has gone WAAAAY beyond extreme. That’s kind of the point, though, and that’s what makes it so outrageously delicious!
Honestly? Although I was horrified at many of the things she did, I felt some admiration for Juliette. She was DEDICATED, and her level of commitment to her goal was quite impressive.
Really, there were only two things I didn’t just love about the book. First, I lost track of all the flights and trips to various locales. I understand that was part of the story but it seemed like there were so many described that I lost track. The second was actually the ending. Not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that… it seemed a little abrupt and anticlimactic… I felt like it was missing something. But we can all use our imagination to decide what happens next, and the rest of the story and the incredible main character more than made up for it.
My friend Rae read this at the same time, so we compared notes. We were of one mind at being strangely in awe of Juliette’s dedication! Here’s a quote from her review:
“This book was crazy in the very best of ways! The whole book was a trip, and I loved following Juliette’s life as she masterminds her way into Nate’s life. At times Juliette’s actions were cringeworthy, but mostly, I was impressed by her complete and total commitment to her plan.”
This is Karen Hamilton’s first novel and I will definitely pick up her future books. I found The Perfect Girlfriend to be compelling, entertaining, and just wild! Four and a half stars to this debut… if you’re looking for a suspense novel with an incredibly twisted love story, give this one a try! Happy reading!
If you’ve been hanging out here for a while, you may recall that I’m a big cozy mystery fan. There’s just something about the way a charming setting, quirky characters, and a puzzle to be solved all come together for a very entertaining story!
I’ve recently read the first several books in a new series, the Magical Bookshop Mysteries by Amanda Flower. Today I want to share a bit about the series as a whole, but focus on the third and latest installment, Murders and Metaphors! After the review, keep reading for a special treat to learn more about this great author!
(I’ll have to give a few things away about Violet and the other characters that we learn in the first two books… but I’ll try to keep it to a minimum!)
The Magical Bookshop Mystery series features Violet Waverly, a graduate student who, in the first book, is called back to her hometown of Cascade Springs, New York by her grandmother. While Violet had been avoiding this quaint little town after a terrible incident in her past, she’s drawn back in by a colorful cast of characters: Grandma Daisy; members of a writing group (including a handsome police chief!); the mayor of their little town, who also happens to be her high school sweetheart; and a crow, a cat, and a bookstore.
Did I include the crow, cat, and bookstore in a list of characters? Why yes, I did. Because they *really* are characters in every sense of the word! Faulkner the crow showed up at the bookshop one day and never left… which doesn’t seem that unusual, until the bird starts hurling literary quotes. Emerson, a tuxedo cat, is an escape artist who sometimes seems to know Violet better than she knows herself.
And the bookshop? Well, it turns out Charming Books, where “the book chooses you” as the slogan goes, has a mind of its own. Not only does the perfect book often pop out of the shelves and into an unsuspecting customer’s hands, but the shop leaves copies of books around for Violet, and even opens to certain pages she needs to read. You see, Violet has become the shop’s caretaker, a role passed down over the years through a long line of Waverly women. But you’ll want to pick up the books (start with Crime and Poetry) to discover how all this came to be!
Now that we’ve established some background, let’s move on to Murders and Metaphors!
In this story, it’s January, and the festivities of ice wine season are in full swing in Cascade Springs. A big festival is taking place at Morton Vineyards (owned by the family of Nathan Morton, that mayor/ex boyfriend), but based on Violet’s history with the whole Morton clan, she wants nothing to do with it. Grandma Daisy, of course, has other plans, and lets Violet know that she’s committed BOTH of them to host a book signing at the festival for celebrity wine expert Belinda Perkins. (Thanks, Grandma!)
Belinda isn’t the most pleasant guest, and it turns out she has some history with Cascade Springs: she grew up there, and Lacey, a friend of Violet’s, is one of her sisters. After a big falling out many years in the past, Lacey turns up at the festival to try to make amends. It doesn’t go well, and Belinda storms off… only for Violet to later find her dead among the grape vines on the property.
Because of their very public scene, Lacey becomes a suspect. To help her friend, Violet is once again on the case, and this time, Charming Books points her to Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women. Violet has to figure out who killed Belinda, and how the March sisters can help her find the answers.
This series has quickly become a favorite of mine. The concept of a book store infused with magic and its own quirky “essence” is just delightful, and I really enjoy the charm and coziness of the town. Violet is a great character with a well developed backstory… the way her history is woven in with the present day village is really interesting.
And Grandma Daisy? She’s a hoot. After reading this series, the Stephanie Plum books, and the Braxton Campus mysteries, I’ve decided that all books are greatly enhanced by a quirky grandmother!
I didn’t see the reveal of the killer coming in this one, though it provided a satisfying conclusion to the mystery. With each book in this series, I appreciate that the case is wrapped up and there are no huge cliffhangers, but that there also remain unanswered questions about situations in Violet’s life, allowing threads to be carried from book to book. Some series can easily be read as standalone mysteries… enough plot points are woven through this series that I would recommend starting with the first book and reading in order. But trust me, you’ll want to do that so you don’t miss anything!
Murders and Metaphors earns five fabulous stars from me… I can’t wait to read more in this series!
Here are all three books in the series so far… add these to your list:
In addition to posting this review, I reached out to the author of this series, Amanda Flower, to see if she had time to answer a few questions for her readers… fortunately, she did! Amanda is a USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning mystery author! Let’s see what she has to say about the Magical Bookshop series and her other writing.
It sounds like you started writing at an early age! When did you decide to write a novel?
I decided that I wanted to be a writer when I was eleven-years-old and read a story I’d written in my class and they laughed. I knew then I wanted to write stories to make people smile and laugh. From the beginning, I wanted to write mystery novels. They were my favorite works to read from a young age too.
What is something you’d like us to know about Violet, the main character in this series?
Violet is complicated. She actually had a very sad past. She lost two people that she loved when she was a teenager, but despite tragedy in her own life, she hasn’t lost her sense of humor or her drive to make something of herself. I think it’s easier for her to step into the role of sleuth because she know what it’s like to lose someone and she wants to help others because of that.
Each of your Magical Bookshop mysteries has a well-known published work the bookstore uses to give Violet clues. How did you choose these for each story, and what are some other titles that you think would be fun to use in a future installment?
The first writer I chose for the clues in CRIME AND POETRY was Emily Dickinson because I love her work, and after that it made sense to choose contemporaries to Dickinson, so I ended up doing 19th century American authors. So far I have used the work of Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Louisa May Alcott, and Walt Whitman.
In the first Magical Bookshop mystery, Violet inherits a small tuxedo cat named Emerson. I’ve seen pictures of your kitties on social media… tell us about your babies!
Aww! Thank you! I am definitely a cat lover. I have two tuxedos myself, so it was a natural fit to make Emerson one too. Emerson is based on my traditional black and white tuxie, Mr. Tumnus, AKA Tummy. My second tuxie is a gray and white and his name is Reepicheep, AKA Cheeps. They are my feline editors. You can follow them on Instagram.
Several of your other series are set in or around Amish communities. How did you become interested in Amish culture and how did you learn about it?
Now, I write fulltime, but I worked for as a librarian for fifteen years. My first librarian job was in Ohio’s Amish country, so I was around and interacted with the Amish every day. It gave me a unique experience that is perfect for writing.
Can you give us any hints about what’s next for Violet, Grandma Daisy, and Charming Books? Or tell us about any other series you’re currently writing?
The next book featuring these characters is called SPOKE AND WORD. Grandma Daisy plans a bike race in the village of Cascade Springs, but one of the riders dies during the race! Violet is on the case again to help her grandmother, and the shop uses the poetry of Walt Whitman to solve the crime. The book will release late 2019.
In additional to this series, I’m writing many more in the Amish Candy Shop Mysteries. They next book in that series is CRIMINALLY COCOA, a novella, and TOXIC TOFFEE will be the next novel released in July.
Many thanks to Amanda for sharing more insight into her books… I’ve read at least three of her series, and have really enjoyed each one. If you’re a cozy mystery fan, you need to put some (or all!) of them on your list!