I’m not going to lie when I read the description for this book I was super excited. Everything about it sounded appealing to me. And I’m sure it is as wonderful book. But I have just been in this awful funk lately and reading has not held much appeal to me. I tried to get into this book and I just couldn’t. I hate that I was not able to give it a fair chance. Hopefully once I get out of this funk I can give both books in this series the love and attention they deserve.
TO CATCH A DREAM
Author: Audrey Carlan
Publication Date: March 9, 2020
Publisher: HQN Books
Audrey Carlan is a #1 New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of over 40 novels, including the worldwide phenomenon Calendar Girl serial, and her books have been translated into more than 30 languages across the globe. Audrey lives in the California Valley with her two children and the love of her life.
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the worldwide phenomenon Calendar Girl series brings readers a poignant and honest look at life’s most complicated relationships.
When their mother passed away, Evie Ross and her sister were each given a stack of letters, one to be opened every year on their birthday; letters their free-spirited mother hoped would inspire and guide them through adulthood. But although Evie has made a successful career, her desire for the stability and security she never had from her parents has meant she’s never experienced the best life has to offer. But the discovery of more letters hidden in a safe-deposit box points to secrets her mother held close, and possibly a new way for Evie to think about her family, her heart and her dreams.
For about the last month I have been in a huge reading funk. I have started two different books and I get about 75-100 pages in and I hit a brick wall. I hate walking away from a book unfinished but that is what I have done with both of them. They were both Harlequin Romances so maybe I just need to take a little break from Harlequins. Usually I love a good Harlequin Romance. So this weekend I started a non-Harlequin and we will see how it goes.
We are roughly a month into the Christmas Movies so I thought I would share with you the ones I have liked so far.
🎄 Never Kiss A Man In A Christmas Sweater
🎄 Christmas With The Darlings
🎄 One Royal Holiday
Hallmark Movies and Mysteries:
🎄 The Christmas Doctor
🎄 Deliver by Christmas
🎄 The Christmas Ring
I am not completely sold on the Lifetime Movies but I did like The Yule Blog one.
On a side note: I love White Christmas but have not watched it yet this holiday season. But I have never seen Miracle on 34th Street or It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe 2020 will have to be the year. 😷
I am not a huge fan of Carrie Underwood’s but I have been listening to her new Christmas album some and I will admit she can belt out the hymns. On a side note nobody sings White Christmas like Bing Crosby. Guess you know my favorite Christmas song and album now.
⛄️ Current Car Read: Wrapped Up In Christmas Joy by: Janice Lynn
⛄️ Current Read: Temptation at Christmas by: Maureen Child
⛄️ On Deck Read: Christmas on Peach Tree Lane by: Jules Bennett
⛄️ Already Read: The Long-Awaited Christmas Wish by: Melissa Senate and Their Christmas Baby Contract by: Shannon Stacey
So I decided Christmas Reading Season started with the Christmas Movies and I have already finished my first one.
This is part of the Dawson Family Ranch series that I love. This series has been a bright spot in this crazy year of 2020. I’m just sad that I have to wait till early next year for the next one. But then again if I’m onto Christmas Reads I would of probably waited anyway.
The perfect read for those steamy summer nights. Sometimes the biggest risks in life are the ones that bring you all the happiness in the world. I was drawn into Rani and Arjun’s story from page one. The sparks were flying from their very first meeting.
MARRIAGE BY ARRANGEMENT by Sophia Singh Sasson – Title information, author bio, author links & sales links
When a business proposal turns very personal… Rule #1: Don’t fall for the client. Because he’ll rock your world…
Architect Rani Gupta will never let a man compromise her career or freedom again. Which is a problem now that her newest client is irresistible hotelier Arjun Singh—aka the sexiest bachelor in India. A little fling with this gorgeous man would be scandal enough. But a fake engagement might just be more trouble than they bargained for—especially if Arjun has a prior arrangement!
Sophia puts her childhood habit of daydreaming to good use by writing stories that will give you hope, make you laugh, cry and possibly snort tea from your nose. She was born in Mumbai, India, and has lived in the Canary Islands, Spain and Toronto, Canada. Currently she calls the madness of Washington, DC, home. She loves to read, travel to exotic locations, bake, scuba dive and watch Bollywood movies. Contact her through http://SophiaSasson.com.
Excerpt, MARRIAGE BY ARRANGEMENT by Sophia Singh Sasson
“Are you okay?” Rani asked.
The changing stage lights threw seductive shadows across her face, and he felt himself gazing into her dark eyes. He’d always thought she was beautiful but tonight she looked spectacular. He knew she wasn’t wearing a designer dress, and if he had to guess, she probably hadn’t spent all day at the beauty salon getting her hair and makeup done. Yet she looked more stunning than any woman he’d ever met. Those heels that she clearly hated showed off her long, shapely legs and the way her hair framed her face made him want to weave his fingers into it. She was looking at him with such intensity, it seemed she could see into his soul.
“Just family drama,” he said, surprising himself. He pulled his hand away from hers before he was tempted to take things further. Last night when he’d said good-bye in the car, he’d felt such an urgent need to kiss her that he’d almost canceled their plans tonight. He prided himself on always being in control.
He took a sip of the neat whiskey he’d ordered, hop-ing the raw burn down his throat would bring him back to his senses and shake loose an idea on how to deal with his family.
“Tell me about it.” Rani leaned in close to him, and he caught a whiff of her vanilla scent.
Where do I start? With Divya or Hema? Hema was a not a problem to solve. She was an obligation he had to come to terms with. “My sister Divya has been offered a job in Jaipur and wants to take it, but that’s not done in our family.”
He shifted in his chair.
“What I mean is, what is your parents’ specific concern beyond the fact that it’s not the tradition? The parampara?”
He looked at her in surprise. She gets it.
“I think they fear that if she’s financially independent, she won’t follow the house rules.” Even as he said the words, he realized how horrible it sounded. “You have to understand that my parents are doing what they think is best for her.”
“They’re trying to control her.”
“They are trying to protect her.”
“I don’t think we’ll agree on that point. So what do you plan to do?”
“I’m thinking of secretly increasing her allowance. That way she can buy what she wants without having to ask my parents’ permission. That’s how this whole job thing started. She wanted to buy a car for herself and they questioned her spending.”
Rani shook her head. “You’re not understanding her.” He frowned. While he wanted Rani’s perspective, she didn’t know Divya. Arjun talked to Divya almost every day. How could Rani be so confident in saying he didn’t understand his sister?
“Divya doesn’t want to work just to buy things. She wants to work to have a sense of purpose, of independence. To do something meaningful with her life. I don’t think you can appreciate what it’s like for an intelligent person to sit at home all day with nothing to do. It’s maddening.”
“She has lots of things to do. There is staff to man-age, social events to plan, charity work. My mother is always complaining about how busy she is.”
“But those aren’t things that satisfy a young, educated woman who doesn’t want to be a socialite. She wants do something that is uniquely hers, and have control over some aspect of her life.”
It seems you’re speaking from personal experience.” She nodded. “My ex-husband’s family didn’t have your kind of wealth but they were comfortable. My in-laws asked me to quit my job, which I foolishly did. My days were filled with shopping and social events that I couldn’t care less about. I’m guessing your sister lives a similar life. Working is not about the money, it’s about independence. Of the many things I lost during my marriage, the one I lament the most is my career. I was almost at the point of making senior architect at RKS when I left. After the divorce, I had to start at the bottom of the junior level because I’d been out of the game so long. Divya doesn’t want to become obsolete.”
Arjun spread his hands. “So what do you suggest I do? My mother will not agree to let her get a job. I’ve already tried to convince her and she is firm on this point.”
“What is Divya qualified to do?”
“She studied law.”
Rani chewed her lip, and he found himself staring at her. “Your business is big enough that you surely need lawyers.”
He nodded. “Of course. I have a couple in every city that we have a hotel.”
“So hire her for your legal team in the Jaipur office.” “Jaipur is an hour away from our home.”
“Do you do the commute?”
He rubbed his neck. It could work. “We have a trusted driver who could take her every day.”
It was a nice idea. His brother, Sameer, had no interest in working for the family business, and Arjun could use a trusted person to take on some of the responsibilities of the company while he was in Vegas. He was tired of having to wake up in the middle of the night to get on the phone with someone in India.
“It’s a potential solution. Thank you, Rani.”
The crowd became louder as the warm-up act wrapped up and introduced Russell Peters. Rani started laughing at one of the jokes. Arjun hadn’t heard it. All he could focus on was the way her mouth crinkled, and the happy sound of her giggles and laughter. He’d been with a fair number of women in the last several years; all of them had been socialites who clearly understood that he wasn’t looking for an emotional attachment. His relationships were always physical. None of them had made him want to connect emotionally like this.
“Am I really more amusing than the comedian?” Rani turned to him, grinning.
He smiled sheepishly. “You certainly are more beautiful.”
Her eyes widened and her mouth opened slightly. He took a breath to keep from leaning over and kissing her irresistible lips. As if reading his mind, she suddenly snapped her head back towards the stage. He took a long slug from his glass of whiskey.
So what if we work together? The project would be over in less than six months and he’d be returning to India to a lifetime of obligation. If she was attracted to him too, what was wrong with a brief affair? He knew how to be discreet; he would protect Rani, and make sure there would be no fallout for her at RKS. After all, what happened in Vegas could stay in Vegas.
I have been a fan of Rochelle Alers for a few years now so for me this was a must read. Not only did the story appeal to me but so did the author. This was a fun read. I really enjoyed the characters and the storyline. The main character, Zoey, is the kind of character you find yourself rooting for to find a happily ever after. A great summertime read.
A WINNING SEASON by Rochelle Alers – Title information, author bio, author links & sales links
Sliding home…for a lifetime. The girl next door…or a grand slam love?
Baseball ace Sutton Reed’s returned home triumphant after years in the majors. When he moves next door to a troubled young man, he’s determined to help—for the boy’s sake and for the boy’s gorgeous older sister, Zoey Allen. After sacrificing everything to keep her family together, Zoey has no time for romance…even with a hometown hero. But will this unlikely combo be the home run love story they all deserve?
Author bio: Hailed by readers and booksellers alike as one of today’s most popular African-American authors of women’s fiction, Ms. Alers is a regular on bestsellers list, and has been a recipient of numerous awards, including the Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing and a Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. Visit her Web site http://www.rochellealers.com
Sutton gave Zoey her mug, noticing her hand had trembled slightly when their fingers touched. “Are you all right?”
“I’m good,” she said.
He wanted to believe Zoey was all right but the rigidness in her body said otherwise. He stood and moved to a nearby chair. “I’m sorry if I invaded your personal space.”
She lowered her eyes, staring into the contents of her mug. “It’s okay.”
Sutton drank his coffee, staring at Zoey over the rim. He was perceptive enough to know she had been completely at ease with him the day before, but this morning her body language said otherwise, and he wondered what he’d said or done to make her uneasy.
Suddenly it occurred to Sutton that he may have made a faux pas when he had referred to Zoey as pretty lady, especially when he did not know whether she was involved with someone. “I’m sorry, Zoey.”
She halted putting the mug to her mouth. “For what?”
“For making you uncomfortable because I called you pretty lady. Hell, I don’t even know if you’re involved with someone.”
Zoey swallowed a mouthful of coffee. The corners of her eyes crinkled when she smiled. “I really have to give it to you, Sutton Reed.”
A slight frown marred his natural good looks. “What are you talking about?”
“You did not make me uncomfortable, and if you wanted to know if I’m involved with someone, then all you had to do was ask.”
A hint of a smile replaced his frown. “Are you?” The seconds ticked as she met his eyes. “No. And I can’t afford to because of a promise I made to Kyle and Harper when they were little boys. I told them it would be just the three of us until they were old enough to take care of themselves.”
Sutton set his mug on a side table. “I can under-stand you that promise when they were boys, but I doubt if Harper would hold it against you if you decided to start dating.”
“Right now, Harper has no say in how I live my life.”
“Is he giving you a problem?”
Zoey went completely still. “Why would you ask me that?”
“I was sitting out on the porch when he came home last night. Someone had dropped him off and I noticed he was a little unsteady on his feet.”
If Sutton saw Harper coming home obviously under the influence, then Zoey wondered how many of her other neighbors had also witnessed it. Zoey did not want or need people gossiping about the Allen boy drinking or possibly drugging. She had managed to raise Kyle to adulthood without an incident, but life was testing her because Harper had decided he wasn’t going to make it that easy for her.
“I don’t know you and you don’t know me, Sut-ton, and there’s no way I’m going to dump on you about my problems.”
Sutton angled his head, giving her a long stare. “You’ve lived in the Falls all your life and you should know that folks here always look out for one another. Those who have more than they need always share with those who don’t have enough. And it’s not al-ways about money.”
Zoey knew he was right. The people in the town had been more than generous when tragedy struck her family. Even now some folks still asked if she needed anything. She nodded. “You’re right. I give thanks every day that I live here and not somewhere else, because without the help of Preston McAvoy, the chamber of commerce and the worshippers at the church, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.”
The local law firm had handled her legal prob-lems; local contractors had volunteered their services to make certain the house was free of violations; a company selling and installing gas heaters set up an installment plan for her to pay off the cost of the unit over three years.
“So once Harper graduates you plan to stay here?” Sutton asked.
Zoey smiled. “Where would I go?”
He shrugged broad shoulders under his tee. “I don’t know. Maybe you’d prefer someplace that has a little more excitement.”
She took another sip of the delicious brew. Sutton had made the coffee exactly how she liked it. “The Falls has enough excitement for the four thousand-plus folks who live here. Someone had submitted a proposal to the town council to open a club and it was unanimously voted down. What we don’t need is a club with people getting drunk and acting like fools. The town council in Mineral Springs has closed two clubs in the past four years because of fights and rowdiness.”
“The Springs has almost twice our population, so there’s bound to be a few more incidents than we have here.”
“Speaking of excitement, why did you decide to move back here after spending half your life in Hot-lanta?” Zoey had asked the question that had plagued her since hearing word that Sutton Reed was moving back to Wickham Falls.
Sutton closed his eyes for several seconds. “I never really got used to living in a big city. The crowds and noise didn’t upset me whenever I was at the stadium, but once the game was over all I wanted was some-place quiet where I could decompress.”
“Whenever you were interviewed you seemed so confident, so in control of yourself.”
“That was all an act, Zoey. I’d learned early on to switch it on for the cameras and microphones. There was one Sutton for the sports reporters and another Sutton when he was home behind closed doors.”
From the moment I first read the description for this book it sounded like a good read. I’m not going to lie there were a few times it got to be a little much for me and I thought about walking away from it. But I didn’t. Overall Julia and Rocco’s story was fun and interesting. This was defiantly a first of its kind book for me. But don’t let my struggles keep you from reading it. It’s always good to broaden your horizons (even in reading) and this book sure did that for me for sure.
Carina Press Blog Tour Program: Here to Stay by Adriana Herrera
Title and Author Details
Title: Here to Stay
Author: Adriana Herrera
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Imprint: Carina Press
On-Sale: August 25, 2020
Format: Ebook (Trade Paperback & Audiobook formats also available!)
Ebook ISBN: 9780369700926
Ebook Price: $3.99 USD
Book Description: “Hot, heartwarming, and hilarious…This is a knockout.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
Award-winning, highly-acclaimed author Adriana Herrera delivers the sexy, modern enemies-to-lovers romance you’ve been waiting for.
Starting over is more about who you’re with than where you live…
Julia del Mar Ortiz is not having the best year.
She moved to Dallas with her boyfriend, who ended up ditching her and running back to New York after only a few weeks. Left with a massive—by NYC standards, anyway—apartment and a car lease in the scorching Texas heat, Julia is struggling…except that’s not completely true. Running the charitable foundation of one of the most iconic high fashion department stores in the world is serious #lifegoals.
It’s more than enough to make her want to stick it out down South.
The only monkey wrench in Julia’s plans is the blue-eyed, smart-mouthed consultant the store hired to take them public. Fellow New Yorker Rocco Quinn’s first order of business? Putting Julia’s job on the chopping block.
When Julia is tasked with making sure Rocco sees how valuable the programs she runs are, she’s caught between a rock and a very hard set of abs. Because Rocco Quinn is almost impossible to hate—and even harder to resist.
Adriana was born and raised in the Caribbean, but for the last fifteen years has let her job (and her spouse) take her all over the world. She loves writing stories about people who look and sound like her people, getting unapologetic happy endings.
When she’s not dreaming up love stories, planning logistically complex vacations with her family or hunting for discount Broadway tickets, she’s a trauma therapist in New York City, working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Her Dreamers series has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and has been featured in The TODAY Show on NBC, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Library Journal and The Washington Post. Her debut, American Dreamer, was selected as one of Booklist’s ‘Best Romance Debuts of 2019’, and one of the ‘Top 10 Romances of 2019’ by Entertainment Weekly. Her third novel, American Love Story, was one of the winners in the first annual Ripped Bodice Award for Excellence in Romantic Fiction. Adriana is an outspoken advocate for diversity in romance and has written for Remezclaand Bustle about Own Voices in the genre. She’s one of the co-creators of the Queer Romance PoC Collective. Represented by Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary.
Wow! Is all I can say about this book. Again another book that I would not normally pick up on my own. But this may be the best book I have read so far in 2020. Really left an impression.
Hope (the main character) is in need of a safe place and some love. Peg, Hope’s Aunt, has let the past rule her life and she too is in need of some love. Tink, Hope’s daughter needs extra love and to get her childhood back. Three generations of woman and one cherry season maybe just what is needed to move forward from the past and find love and happiness.
This book was the perfect mix of seriousness and entertainment. For me it was a real eye opener. I may have to try a few more books by the author. Great find if 2020.
THE BITTER AND SWEET OF CHERRY SEASON
Author: Molly Fader
Publication Date: June 6, 2020
Publisher: Graydon House Books
Molly Fader is the author of The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets. She is also the award-winning author of more than forty romance novels under the pennames Molly O’Keefe and M. O’Keefe. She grew up outside of Chicago and now lives in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter, @mollyokwrites.
For fans of Robyn Carr, commercial women’s fiction about three generations of women who come together at the family orchard to face secrets from the past and learn to believe in the power of hope and forgiveness.
In cherry season, anything is possible…
Everything Hope knows about the Orchard House is from her late-mother’s stories. So when she arrives at the Northern Michigan family estate late one night with a terrible secret and her ten-year-old daughter in tow, she’s not sure if she’ll be welcomed or turned away with a shotgun by the aunt she has never met.
Hope’s aunt, Peg, has lived in the Orchard House all her life, though the property has seen better days. She agrees to take Hope in if, in exchange, Hope helps with the cherry harvest—not exactly Hope’s specialty, but she’s out of options. As Hope works the orchard alongside her aunt, daughter, and a kind man she finds increasingly difficult to ignore, a new life begins to blossom. But the mistakes of the past are never far behind, and soon the women will find themselves fighting harder than ever for their family roots and for each other.
Hope had never seen a dark so dark. It had heft and dimension, like she was driving right into an abyss. She thought about waking up Tink in the back to show her, but the girl had finally fallen asleep and she needed the rest.
And Hope needed a break.
Who knew traveling with a completely silent, angry and traumatized ten-year-old could be so exhausting?
Hope’s phone had died when she got off the highway about twenty minutes ago. In those last few minutes of battery she hadtried to memorize the directions:
Left on Murray Street.
Slight right onto County Road 72.
Your destination is five miles on the right.
But County Road 72 wasn’t well marked and now she feared she was lost. Well, for sure she was lost; in the grand scheme of things she was totally off the map.
But she was clinging to the one ratty thread of hope she had left in her hand.
And then just as that tiny bit of thread started to slip out of her fingers, from the murk emerged a blue sign.
County Road 72.
The road took a long arcing right into the dark, and she unrolled her window, trying to keep herself awake. Adrenaline and gas station coffee could only do so much against two sleepless nights.
Her yawn was so wide it split her lip. Again. Copper-tasting blood pooled in her mouth.
“Shit,” she breathed and pressed the last of the napkins against her mouth. She was even out of napkins.
In the back, Tink woke up. Hope heard the change in her breathing. The sudden gasp like she was waking up from a nightmare.
Or into one. Hard to say.
“Hey,” Hope said, looking over her shoulder into the shadows of the back seat. Her daughter’s pale face like a moon slid into the space between the driver and passenger seats. “We’re almost there.” Hope sounded like they were about to drive up to the gates of Disney World.
Tink rubbed her eyes.
“Did you see the stars?” Hope’s voice climbed into that range she’d recently developed. Dementedly cheerful. Stepford Mom on helium. She winced at the sound of it. That wasn’t her. It wasn’t how she talked to Tink. And yet she couldn’t tune her voice back to normal. “There are so many of them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars.”
Tink ducked her head to look out the windshield and then turned to cock her head at an angle so she could look out the passenger windows.
They’d gone to an exhibit about the constellations at the Science Center a year ago and Tink still talked about it. Pointing up at Sirius like she’d discovered it herself.
“Aren’t those the pieties?” Hope got the name wrong on purpose, hoping for a snotty-toned correction from her miniature astronomer. Or at least a throat-clearing scoff.
“Sooner or later you’re going to talk to me,” she said. “You’re going to open that mouth and all the words you haven’t said all day are gonna come pouring out.”
“Do you want to ask me questions about where we’re going?” They were, after all, heading deep into Northern Michigan to a place she and Tink had never been, and Hope had never told her about until today.
Tink rubbed her eyes again.
“Or maybe what happened…tonight?” Her gaze bounced between Tink and the road.
When you’re older, you’ll understand. When you’re a mom, you’ll understand. She wanted to say that to her daughter, but she herself barely understood any of what had happened the last two days.
Hope tried a different angle. “I’m telling you, Tink. I know you and you can’t keep this up much longer. I’ll bet you ten bucks you say something to me in five…four…three…two…” She pulled in a breath that tasted like tears and blood.
Please, honey. Please.
“One.” She sighed. “Fine. You win.”
Her beat-up hatchback bounced over the uneven asphaltand Tink crawled from the backseat into the front, her elbow digging into Hope’s shoulder, her flip-flopped foot kicking her in the thigh.
The degree of parenting it would take to stop Tink from doing that, or to discuss the potential dangers and legality of it,was completely beyond her. She was beyond pick your battles, into some new kind of wild west motherhood. Pretend there were no battles.
They drove another five minutes until finally, ahead, there was a golden halo of light over the trees along the side of the road, and Hope slowed down. A gravel driveway snaked through the darkness and she took it on faith that it had been five miles.
“This is it.”
Please let this be it.
The driveway opened up and there was a yellow-brick, two-story house.
The Orchard House. That was what Mom called it in the few stories she’d told about growing up here. Actually, the words she used were The Goddamn Orchard House.
It was a grand old-fashioned place with second-story windows like empty eyes staring down at them. White gingerbread nestled up in the corners of the roof, and there was a big wide porch with requisite rocking chairs.
Seriously, it was so charming, it could have been fake.
The car rolled to a stop and Hope put it in park. Her maniacal new voice failed her, and she just sat there. Silent.
Suddenly the front door opened and a dog – a big one, with big teeth – came bounding out. Cujo stopped at the top of the steps and started barking. Behind the dog came a woman in a blue robe carrying a shotgun.
Tink made a high panicked sound in her voice, climbing up in her seat.
Hope’s impulse was to turn the car around and get out of there. The problem was there was nowhere to turn around to. They had no place left to go.
“It’s okay, honey,” Hope lied. She went as far as to put her hand over Tink’s bony knee, the knob of it fitting her palm like a baseball. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
More desperate than brave, Hope popped open the door. The dog’s bark, unmuffled by steel and glass, was honest-to-god blood curdling. “Hi!” she yelled, trying to be both cheerful and loud enough to be heard over the barking.
“Get your hands up,” the woman on the porch shouted.
Hope shoved her hands up through the crack between the door and the car and did a kind of jazz hands with her fingers.
“What do you want?” the woman asked.
“Are you Peg—”
“I can’t hear you.”
She stood up, her head reaching up over the door. “Are you Peg?”
“Never mind, me. Who the hell are you?” She pointed the business end of the gun toward them.
Hope quickly side-stepped away from the car door, and Tink reached across the driver’s seat and slammed it shut.
The heavy thud of the engaged lock was unmistakeable.
“You don’t know me—”
“My name is Hope,” she said.
The gun lowered and the woman’s face changed. From anger to something more careful. “Hope?”
“Yeah. I’m Denise’s girl. I’m…well, you’re my aunt?”
It took me a while to get into this book but once I did I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next. (Personal Note: I think it was just me and not the book that was the hold up.). This book was a nice breath of fresh air during all things COVID.
The backdrop of this book is College Graduation weekend. And how a blended family copes with everyone coming together for the twin graduates. This book I’m sure is a great example of what a college graduation is like for a blended family (but personally I have no experience with that).
For me it’s almost 15 years since my college graduation so this book took me back a little. With graduations taking a new look this year because of COVID it was nice to have this book as a reminder of what they used to look like. I say this a lot but it is true a lot, this was a book I would not normally have picked up on my own but I am so glad I read it.
Wendy Francis is a former book editor and the author of three novels: The Summer Sail, The Summer of Good Intentions, and Three Good Things. Her essays have appeared in Good Housekeeping, The Washington Post, Yahoo Parenting, The Huffington Post, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now lives outside of Boston with her husband and son.
The drama is hot and the drinks are flying in Wendy Francis’s witty, warm, and quirky family drama, BEST BEHAVIOR (Graydon House; May 5, 2020; $17.99 USD). Heartfelt and relatable, Francis cleverly portrays the nuances of a less-than-perfect but more-than-loving blended family in all its messy glory.
Meredith Parker and her husband Joel have been dreading the weekend of their twins’ college graduation. Not only does it mean that Dawn and Cody are flying out of Meredith’s nest to live in Chicago and North Dakota, but it also means Meredith will have to deal with her insufferable ex-husband, Roger, his pompous parents and his new wife Lily, so young she could be the twins’ sister! But Meredith is willing to be the Jackie O. of college graduations. She can handle that for three days, can’t she?
Meanwhile, Dawn, who has spent a lifetime cleaning up after her ‘golden boy’ brother, discovers a mess even she may not be able to get Cody out of. He’s been acting weird last the few weeks of school; picking up smoking, breaking up with his girlfriend, but this… this is definitely a problem. She needs to figure out what’s going on with her twin before he really ruins his life.
On Thursday morning, the temperature outside is seventy-one degrees and climbing while Meredith Parker considers which of a thousand recommended places she would like to visit before she dies. Not that she’s anticipating dying anytime soon, but she needs a distraction. She figures she has already seen at least a handful—Yosemite (breathtaking, as advertised), Niagara Falls (overrated in her opinion ‒ and cold), and San Francisco (lovely, with a charming hippie vibe). It’s the exotic locales that have eluded her over the past forty-six years, places like Tahiti or Rome or the Swiss Alps. Although, come to think of it, Meredith doesn’t really care for skiing, so she can probably cross the Alps right off her list. But Rome would be nice—all that history and pasta—and wine! A cheap fare must be available on one of those best-deal websites, if she searches long enough. Yes, she’s fairly certain she can persuade her husband, Joel, that Rome should be their first-ever international destination, the new green pin on their Where Have You Been? map that hangs on the wall in the den. That is, of course, once the kids have settled into their new homes.
And with the thought of her children’s imminent departure, Meredith’s throat tightens. What’s the use? she thinks. No number of mental hijinks will make her forget the real purpose of today’s trip. She, Joel, and her mother, Carol, are tracing the familiar route up from New Haven to Boston, as they have dozens of times before, the trees beyond the window zipping by in a curtain of emerald green.
But this weekend will be different.
Because this weekend marks the twins’ college graduation, an event that seemed impossibly far away only a few years ago, even a few months ago. Tomorrow her babies, the ones she used to cradle in each arm, will accept their hard-earned diplomas and officially step out into the great wide beyond, otherwise known as Adult Life.
Last night, when she’d gone to her neighborhood book club, the room had been abuzz with excitement over the upcoming weekend. “You must be bursting with pride!” her friend Lauren exclaimed. “I can’t believe that Cody and Dawn are already graduating. It’s so exciting.” And Meredith had nodded, as if she, too, were in a state of shock over this improbable fact.
It’s true that she couldn’t be prouder of the twins, but the moment is bittersweet. Soon, Cody will be off to Bismarck, North Dakota, to teach high school history, and Dawn is headed to Chicago to work at an advertising firm. Her kids will be so far away, they might as well be moving to Bangkok. Even though she knows it’s irrational, Meredith is racked by the feeling that after this summer she might never see her children again.
Admittedly, she is at a corner, or more specifically, at a crossroads in her life. Images of a two-year-old, chubby Cody racing into her arms or of a young Dawn asking for “one more good-night tuck-in” swim through her mind. She can still feel those small arms wrapped tightly around her, the love so palpable she used to think her heart would leap from her chest to theirs. How is it possible that her babies are graduating from college this weekend?
With Lauren’s comment, Meredith had cast her gaze around the book group (who, truth be told, rarely ever discussed the book at hand) and realized with a start that the difference between her own life and that of her friends’ suddenly stretched before her like a giant yawning chasm: Meredith was about to say goodbye to her kids once and for all, while her neighbors still had years of child-raising ahead of them.
Lauren had offered her an affectionate pat on the shoulder, as if she could read Meredith’s thoughts, and handed over a generous pour of chardonnay, which Meredith accepted gratefully. Maybe, she allowed herself to consider, Lauren was right. Maybe the graduation weekend would be exciting, as pleasing as a perfectly folded fitted sheet. Tuck this person into that corner, that person over there, smooth it, smooth it, and everyone would get along swimmingly.
Given her patched-together, hybrid family, though, Meredith sincerely doubts it. Her ex-husband, Roger, will be bringing Lily, his new wife of six months. And as fine as Meredith is with the idea of Roger’s remarrying after all these years, his new marriage somehow feels forced, as if he has just purchased a new set of golf clubs that he’s eager to show off to the rest of the family.
“I know. It’s crazy, right?” Meredith had managed to get out after swallowing her wine. “The twins are officially all grown up.”
Lauren, a corporate attorney, has two young girls, six and eight, whom Meredith adores and dreams of kidnapping one day (she tells herself it wouldn’t really be kidnapping, though, since they’re all neighbors, and obviously she would do Lauren the courtesy of asking before moving the girls into her own home.). As it is, she helps out with the girls whenever she can, usually after school when Lauren works late and Meredith is already back from her shift in the NICU. The girls have her pegged for a softy and know full well that she will buy them ice cream, bake chocolate chip cookies on a whim, and watch every terrible mermaid movie that’s available for streaming. They call her “Auntie,” which makes her heart swell and break simultaneously.
Some days she wishes she and Joel had tried for their own children way back when, even though the timing was off—they didn’t meet till Meredith was in her late thirties—and there would have been a considerable age gap, more than a decade, between a new baby and the twins. But at least she would still hear young voices in the house, would have someone to ferry to ballet practice or help with a book report. As exhausting as it could be some days (that Taj Mahal built out of marshmallows for fifth grade nearly killed her), she misses the maternal responsibilities she was once counted on for, feels the lack like an unfamiliar brittleness settling into her bones.
Theoretically, she understands that the twins flew the coop four years ago when they left for college. But that was different. The kids continued to call every Sunday night, and she and Joel could drop by on the odd weekend. Luckily, both children had decided on the same college in Boston, making spur-of-the-moment visits ridiculously convenient. But traveling so far away for jobs where she might see them only once or twice a year for Thanksgiving and Christmas? She honestly doesn’t know how—or if—she can handle it.
Thankfully, no matter what faults she and her ex-husband, Roger, might have had as a couple, their kids have turned out all right—better than all right—and Meredith lets herself relax slightly with this thought now. Dawn, hands down her most difficult child during the teenage years, has blossomed into a bright young woman. Gone are the days when Meredith’s every comment would prompt an eye roll from her daughter. And despite an unfortunate hiccup with the Administrative Board last year, Dawn has managed to pull off graduating with honors. Meanwhile, Cody (Meredith’s lips part into a smile when she imagines him striding across the stage in his gown) is graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Not only that, but he set the school record for all-time rushing yards this fall, leading his football team to their best season in fifteen years. Cody has become a rock star on his small New England campus, and as his mother, Meredith can’t help but feel a bit smug. After all, she was the one who whipped up protein shake after protein shake and lugged him to hundreds of high school practices. She was the one who allowed her lovely den to be transformed into a weight room filled with smelly sneakers and barbells for four years.
If she knows one thing deep in her bones, it’s that she is a good mom, one who has raised hardworking, resilient children. She imagines holding her breath as they parade across Bolton’s commencement stage, much as she did when they took their first ungainly steps across the kitchen floor, Cody wheeling ahead in wide, determined strides and Dawn following a few paces behind, her tongue twisted into a tight coil of determination. Meredith is enormously proud of them, and, quite honestly, of herself. She didn’t abandon her kids like Roger did, when he’d seen fit to put his penis where it didn’t belong. But that was nearly ten years ago, water under the bridge—more of a tepid stream wandering through her mind these days than a charging river.