Monday, December 27, 2021

The Good Son

   ~ I received no compensation and opinions are 100% my own or my family. ~


From one of America’s most beloved storytellers, #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard, comes the gripping novel of a mother who must help her son after he is convicted of a devastating crime. Perfect for book clubs and fans of Mary Beth Keane and Jodi Picoult—this novel asks the question, how well does any mother know her child?

For Thea, understanding how her sweet son Stefan could be responsible for a heinous crime is unfathomable. Stefan was only 17 when he went to prison for the negligent homicide of girlfriend, college freshman Belinda McCormack—a crime he was too strung out on drugs even to remember. Released at 21, he is seen as a symbol of white privilege and differential justice by his local community, and Belinda’s mother, Jill McCormack, who also happens to be Thea’s neighbor, organizes protests against dating violence in her daughter's memory.

Stefan is sincere in his desire to start over and make amends, and Thea is committed to helping him.  But each of their attempts seems to hit a roadblock, both emotionally and psychologically, from the ever-present pressure of local protestors, the media, and even their own family.

But when the attacks on them turn more sinister, Thea suspects that there is more to the backlash than community outrage. She will risk her life to find out what forces are at work to destroy her son and her family…and discover what those who are threatening them are trying to hide.

This is a story in which everything known to be true is turned inside out and love is the only constant that remains.


Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard

ISBN: 9780778311799

Publication Date: January 18, 2022

Publisher: MIRA Books

#1 New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard has written nine previous novels for adults; six young adult novels; four children’s books; a memoir, Mother Less Child; and a collection of essays, The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship. Her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the inaugural selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, and  later adapted for a feature film. Mitchard is a frequent lecturer and a professor of fiction and creative nonfiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband and their nine children.



I was picking my son up at the prison gates when I spotted the mother of the girl he had murdered.

Two independent clauses, ten words each, joined by an adverb, made up entirely of words that would once have been unimaginable to think, much less say.

She pulled in—not next to me, but four spaces over—in the half circle of fifteen-minute spots directly in front of the main building. It was not where Stefan would walk out. That would be over at the gatehouse. She got out of her car, and for a moment I thought she would come toward me. I wanted to talk to her, to offer something, to reach out and hold her, for we had not even been able to attend Belinda’s funeral. But what would I say? What would she? This was an unwonted crease in an already unaccustomed day. I slid deep into my down coat, and wished I could lock the car doors, although I feared that the sound would crack the predawn darkness like a rifle shot. All that Jill McCormack did, however, was shove her hands into the pockets of her jacket and lean against the back bumper of her car. She wore the heavy maroon leather varsity jacket that her daughter Belinda, captain of the high school cheer team in senior year, had given to her, to Stefan, and to me, with our names embroidered in gold on the back, just like hers.

I hadn’t seen Jill McCormack up close for years, though she lived literally around the corner. Once, I used to stop there to sit on her porch, but now I avoided even driving past the place.

Jill seemed smaller, diminished, the tumult of ash-blond hair I remembered cropped short and seemingly mostly white, though I knew she was young when Belinda was born, and now couldn’t be much past forty. Yet, even just to stand in the watery, slow-rising light in front of a prison, she was tossed together fashionably, in gold-colored jeans and boots, with a black turtleneck, a look I would have had to plan for days. She looked right at my car, but gave no sign that she recognized it, though she’d been in it dozens of times years ago. Once she had even changed her clothes in my car. I remember how I stood outside it holding a blanket up over the windows as she peeled off a soaking-wet, floor-length, jonquil-yellow crystal-beaded evening gown that must, at that point, have weighed about thirty pounds, then slipped into a clean football warm-up kit. After she changed, we linked arms with my husband and we all went to a ball.

But I would not think of that now.

I had spent years assiduously not thinking of any of that.

A friendship, like a crime, is not one thing, or even two people. It’s two people and their shared environs and their histories, their common memories, their words, their weaknesses and fears, their virtues and vanities, and sometimes their shame.

Jill was not my closest friend. Some craven times, I blessed myself with that—at least I was spared that. There had always been Julie, since fifth grade my heart, my sharer. But Jill was my good friend. We had been soccer moms together, and walking buddies, although Jill’s swift, balanced walk was my jog. I once kept Belinda at my house while Jill went to the bedside of her beloved father who’d suffered a stroke, just as she kept Stefan at her house with Belinda when they were seven and both had chicken pox, which somehow neither I nor my husband, Jep, ever caught. And on the hot night of that fundraising ball for the zoo, so long ago, she had saved Stefan’s life.

Since Jill was a widow when we first met, recently arrived in the Midwest from her native North Carolina, I was always talking her into coming to events with Jep and me, introducing her to single guys who immediately turned out to be hopeless. That hot evening, along with the babysitter, the two kids raced toward the new pool, wildly decorated with flashing green lights, vines and temporary waterfalls for a “night jungle swim.” Suddenly, the sitter screamed. When Jill was growing up, she had been state champion in the 200-meter backstroke before her devout parents implored her to switch to the more modest sport of golf, and Belinda, at five, was already a proficient swimmer. My Stefan, on the other hand, sank to the bottom like a rock and never came up. Jill didn’t stop to ask questions. Kicking off her gold sandals, in she went, an elegant flat race dive that barely creased the surface; seconds later she hauled up a gasping Stefan. Stefan owed his life to her as surely as Belinda owed her death to Stefan.

In seconds, life reverses.

Jill and I once talked every week. It even seemed we once might have been machatunim, as they say in Yiddish, parents joined by the marriage of their son and daughter. Now, the circumstances under which we might ever exchange a single word seemed as distant as the bony hood of moon above us in the melting darkness.

What did she want here now? Would she leave once Stefan came through the gates? In fact, she left before that. She got back into her car, and, looking straight ahead, drove off.

I watched until her car was out of sight.

Just after dawn, a guard walked Stefan to the edge of the enclosure. I looked up at the razor wire. Then, opening the window slightly, I heard the guard say, “Do good, kid. I hope I never see you again.” Stefan stepped out, and then put his palm up to a sky that had just begun to spit snow. He was twenty, and he had served two years, nine months and three days of a five-year sentence, one year of which the judge had suspended, noting Stefan’s unblemished record. Still, it seemed like a week; it seemed like my entire life; it seemed like a length of time too paltry for the monstrous thing he had done. I could not help but reckon it this way: For each of the sixty or seventy years Belinda would have had left to live, Stefan spent only a week behind bars, not even a season. No matter how much he despaired, he could always see the end. Was I grateful? Was I ashamed? I was both. Yet relief rippled through me like the sweet breeze that stirs the curtains on a summer night.

I got out and walked over to my son. I reached up and put my hand on his head. I said, “My kid.”

Stefan placed his huge warm palm on the top of my head. “My mom,” he said. It was an old ritual, a thing I would not have dared to do in the prison visiting room. My eyes stung with curated tears. Then I glanced around me, furtively. Was I still permitted such tender old deeds? This new universe was not showing its hand. “I can stand here as long as I want,” he said, shivering in wonderment. Then he said, “Where’s Dad?”

“He told you about it. He had to see that kid in Louisville one more time,” I told him reluctantly. “The running back with the very protective grandmother. He couldn’t get out of it. But he cut it short and he’ll be home when we get back, if he beats the weather out of Kentucky this morning, that is.” Jep was in only his second season as football coach at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, a Division II team with significant chops and national esteem. We didn’t really think he would get the job, given our troubles, but the athletic director had watched Jep’s career and believed deeply in his integrity. Now he was never at rest: His postseason recruiting trips webbed the country. Yet it was also true that while Stefan’s father longed equally for his son to be free, if Jep had been able to summon the words to tell the people who mattered that he wanted to skip this trip altogether, he would have. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to say it’s a big day, our son’s getting out of prison.

Now, it seemed important to hurry Stefan to the car, to get out of there before this new universe recanted. We had a long drive back from Black Creek, where the ironically named Belle Colline Correctional Facility squatted not far from the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Black Creek. Stefan’s terrible journey had taken him from college to prison, a distance of just two miles as the crow flies. I felt like the guard: I never wanted to see the place again. I had no time to think about Jill or anything else except the weather. We’d hoped that the early-daylight release would keep protestors away from the prison gates, and that seemed to have worked: Prisoners usually didn’t walk out until just before midday. There was not a single reporter here, which surprised me as Jill was tireless in keeping her daughter Belinda’s death a national story, a symbol for young women in abusive relationships. Many of the half dozen or so stalwarts who still picketed in front of our house nearly every day were local college and high-school girls, passionate about Jill’s work. As Stefan’s release grew near, their numbers rose, even as the outdoor temperatures fell. A few news organizations put in appearances again lately as well. I knew they would be on alert today and was hoping we could beat some of the attention by getting back home early. In the meantime, a snowstorm was in the forecast: I never minded driving in snow, but the air smelled of water running over iron ore—a smell that always portended worse weather.


Excerpted from The Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Copyright © 2022 by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Stranger in the Lifeboat

  ~ I received no compensation and opinions are 100% my own or my family. ~

Synopsis (from Amazon):  What would happen if we called on God for help and God actually appeared? In Mitch Albom’s profound new novel of hope and faith, a group of shipwrecked passengers pull a strange man from the sea. He claims to be “the Lord.” And he says he can only save them if they all believe in him.

Adrift in a raft after a deadly ship explosion, ten people struggle for survival at sea. Three days pass. Short on water, food, and hope, they spot a man floating in the waves. They pull him in.

“Thank the Lord we found you,” a passenger says.

“I am the Lord,” the man whispers.

So begins Mitch Albom’s most beguiling and inspiring novel yet.

Albom has written of heaven in the celebrated number one best sellers The Five People You Meet in Heaven and The First Phone Call from Heaven. Now, for the first time in his fiction, he ponders what we would do if, after crying out for divine help, God actually appeared before us? What might the Lord look, sound, and act like?

In The Stranger in the Lifeboat, Albom keeps us guessing until the end: Is this strange and quiet man really who he claims to be? What actually happened to cause the explosion? Are the survivors already in heaven, or are they in hell?

The story is narrated by Benji, one of the passengers, who recounts the events in a notebook that is later discovered — a year later — when the empty life raft washes up on the island of Montserrat.

It falls to the island’s chief inspector, Jarty LeFleur, a man battling his own demons, to solve the mystery of what really happened. 

A fast-paced, compelling novel that makes you ponder your deepest beliefs, The Stranger in the Lifeboat suggests that answers to our prayers may be found where we least expect them.

One (or more) Sentence Summary:  I LOVE Mitch Albom's books.  Unlike most people, Tuesdays with Morrie is NOT my favorite book. I have enjoyed all his books, but my favorite is The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto.  The Stranger in the Lifeboat is challenging my favorite Mitch Album book. 

The Stranger in the Lifeboat is just an amazing story an such an unusual novel. It really made me think about what I would do in a similar situation.  So what can I say....a mind blowing read. Regardless of your faith, this book will have you asking yourself questions as you try to figure out the twists of the book. 

One bit of advice - start this book when you have time to read because you will not be able to put it down.  AMAZING, AMAZING book!  Need a last minute gift (even for yourself), purchase The Stranger in the Lifeboat and the person receiving it will be so thankful for the wonderful read! 

Back in the 2000's when authors traveled around to promote their books, I attended several book signings of Mitch's and was always impressed with interactions with his fans. 

Mitch Albom is an internationally renowned author, screenwriter, playwright, nationally syndicated columnist, broadcaster and musician. He is the author of six consecutive number one New York Times bestsellers--including Tuesdays with Morrie and his books have collectively sold more than thirty-five million copies in forty-five languages. Four of his books have been made into Emmy Award-winning and critically-acclaimed television movies. He has founded eight charities in Detroit and Haiti, where he operates an orphanage. He lives with his wife, Janine, in Michigan. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Sleigh Bells Ring

  ~ I received no compensation and opinions are 100% my own or my family. ~


None of the Sheridan family members has visited the gorgeous Angel's View Ranch in the entire thirty months Annie McCade has been the caretaker of the property, and she has no reason to believe this holiday season will be any different. After all, why would they visit? Annie knows Wallace Sheridan, the family patriarch who hired her, loved it here but no one else in the family did. They couldn't face their dark memories of the place. Annie certainly understands their pain--when, as a child, she lived on the ranch, she saw a young and frantic Tate Sheridan come galloping out of the mountains,, looking for help for his severely injured father, who would later die from massive injuries. Since then,with the exception of Wallace, the whole remaining family couldn't get away fast enough.

And actually, Annie is grateful to have the place to herself--her ne'er-do-well brother got himself thrown in jail over the holidays, and she took temporary custody of her little niece and nephew for Christmas. Until Tate shows up and she unexpectedly hits him square in the face with a snowball! She worries that she is about to get fired, but Tate, after confronting the ghosts of his past, realizes he wants Annie to stay. His big family and their entourage are arriving the next day, and he can't manage them--and the big, echoing ranch house--without her.

So Tate has a brilliant idea. He tells her she and the kids can stay, through the holidays at least--if she agrees to pretend to be his long-lost love, to keep his busybody matchmaking grandmother off his back.

Annie is at first outraged by the suggestions and then intrigued. How hard could it be to pretend she and Tate have fallen for each other? He's gorgeous, after all--and some part of her heart had never forgotten their long-ago friendship. The trick, she realizes, will be convincing her heart during the magical holiday season that it's only make believe.


Author: RaeAnne Thayne

ISBN: 9781335522443

Publication Date: October 26, 2021

Publisher: HQN Books


Barnes & Noble




RaeAnne Thayne is the #1 Publishers Weekly, New York Times, and USA TODAY bestselling author of more than sixty books. Her books have been described as "poignant and sweet," with "beautiful, honest storytelling that goes straight to the heart." She finds inspiration from the beautiful northern Utah mountains, where she lives with her family.

Excerpt: 1


Backed into a corner and taking fire from multiple fronts, Annelise McCade launched missiles as fast as she could manage against her enemies. She was outnumbered. They had teamed up to attack her with agile cunning and skill.

At least it was a nice day for battle. The snow the night before hadn’t been particularly substantial but it had still left everything white and sparkly and the massive ranch house behind her was solid and comforting in the December afternoon sunlight. 

A projectile hit her square in the face, an icy splat against her skin that had her gasping. 

At her instinctive reaction, giggles rang out across the snowy expanse. She barely took time to wipe the cold muck off her cheek. “No fair, aiming for the face,” she called back. “That’s against the rules.”

“It was an accident,” her six-year-old nephew, Henry, admitted. “I didn’t mean to hit your face.” 

“You’ll pay for that one.” She scooped up several more balls as fast as she could manage and hurled them across the battlefield at Henry and his twin sister, Alice. 

“Do you give up?” she called. 


Henry followed up his defiance by throwing a snowball back at her. His aim wasn’t exactly accurate—hence her still-dripping face—but it still hit her shoulder and made her wince. 

“Never!” his twin sister, Alice, cried out. She had some difficulty pronouncing her Rs, so her declaration sounded like “Nevoh.” 

Alice threw with such force the effort almost made her spin around like a discus thrower in the Olympics. 

It was so good to hear them laughing. In the week since they had come to live with her temporarily, Annie had witnessed very little of this childish glee. 

Not for the first time, she cursed her brother and the temper he had inherited from their father and grandfather. If not for that temper, compounded by the heavy drinking that had taken over his life since his wife’s death a year ago, Wes would be here with the twins right now, throwing snowballs in the cold sunshine. 

Grief for all that these children had lost was like a tiny shard of ice permanently lodged against her heart. But at least they could put their pain aside for a few moments to have fun outside on a snowy December day. 

She might not be the perfect temporary guardian but it had been a good idea to make them come outside after homework for a little exercise and fresh air. 

She was doing her best, though she was wholly aware that she was only treading water. 

For now, this moment, she decided she would focus on gratitude. The children were healthy, they all had a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs and their father should be back home with them in less than a month. 

Things could be much, much worse. 

“Time out,” Henry gasped out during a lull in the pitched battle. “We gotta make more snowballs.” 

“Deal. Five-minute break, starting now.” 

Annie pulled her glove off long enough to set the timer on her smartwatch, then ducked behind the large landscape boulder she was using as cover and scooped up several snowballs to add to her stash. 

The sun would be going down in another hour and already the temperature had cooled several degrees. The air smelled like impending snow, though she knew only a dusting was forecast, at least until the following weekend. 

She didn’t worry. Holly Creek, Wyoming, about an hour south of Jackson Hole in the beautiful Star Valley, almost always had a white Christmas. 

Annie’s phone timer went off just as she finished a perfectly formed snowball. “Okay. Time’s up,” she called. Without standing up, she launched a snowball to where she knew the twins would be. 

An instant later, she heard a deep grunt that definitely did not sound like Henry or Alice. 

Annie winced. Levi Moran, the ranch manager, or his grizzled old ranch hand, Bill Shaw, must have wandered across the battlefield in the middle of a ceasefire without knowing he was about to get blasted. 

“Sorry,” she called, rising to her feet. “I didn’t mean to do that.” 

She saw a male figure approach, wearing sunglasses. The sun reflecting off the new snow was hitting his face and she couldn’t instantly identify him. 

“No doubt,” he said, wiping snow off his face with his sleeve. She frowned. This was definitely not Levi or Bill. 

He stepped closer and Annie felt as if an entire avalanche of snow had just crumbled away from the mountain and buried her. 

She knew this man, though it had been nearly two decades since Annie had seen him in person. 

It couldn’t be anyone else. 

Dark hair, lean, gorgeous features. Beneath those sunglasses, she knew she would find blue eyes the color of Bear Lake in summertime. 

The unsuspecting man she had just pummeled with a completely unprovoked snowball attack had to be Tate Sheridan. 

Her de facto boss. 

The twins had fallen uncharacteristically silent, wary of a tall, unsmiling stranger. Henry, she saw, had moved closer to his twin sister and slipped his hand in hers. 

Annie’s mind whirled trying to make sense of what she was seeing. 

Tate Sheridan. Here. After all this time. 

She shouldn’t be completely shocked, she supposed. It was his family’s house, after all. For many years when her father was the ranch manager, the Sheridans had trekked here annually from the Bay Area several times a year for the Christmas season, as well as most summers. 

His younger sister had been her very best friend in the world, until tragedy and pain and life circumstances had separated them. 

She had wondered when she agreed to take the job if she would see Tate again. She hadn’t truly expected to. She had worked here for nearly a year and he hadn’t once come to his grandfather’s Wyoming vacation ranch. 

How humiliating, that he would show up when she was in the middle of a snowball fight with her niece and nephew— who had no business being there in the first place! 

“What are you doing here?” she burst out, then winced. She wanted to drag the words back. It was his family’s property. He had every right to be there.

“I might ask the same of you. Along with a few more obvious questions, I suppose. Who are you and why are you having a snowball fight in the middle of my property?” 

“You don’t know who I am?” 

Of course he wouldn’t, she realized. And while she thought of him often, especially over the past year while living at Angel’s View once more, he probably had not given her a moment’s thought. 

“Should I?” 

It was stupid to feel a little hurt. “

Annelise McCade. My dad was Scott McCade.” 

He lifted his sunglasses, giving her an intense look. A moment later, she saw recognition flood his features. 

“Little Annie McCade. Wow. You’re still here, after all this time?” 

She frowned. He didn’t have to make it sound like she was a lump of mold growing in the back of the refrigerator. She had lived a full life in the nearly two decades since she had seen Tate in person. 

She had moved away to California with her mother, struggling through the painful transition of being a new girl in a new school. She had graduated from college and found success in her chosen field. She had even been planning marriage a year ago, to a man she hardly even thought about anymore. 

“Not really still here as much as here again. I’ve been away for a long time but returned a year ago. Wallace…your grandfather hired me to be the caretaker of Angel’s View.” 

She saw pain darken his expression momentarily, a pain she certainly shared. Even after two months, she still expected her phone to ring and Wallace Sheridan to be on the other end of the line, calling for an update on the ranch he loved. 

The rest of the world had lost a compelling business figure with a brilliant mind and a keen insight into human nature. 

Annie had lost a friend. 

“I’m sorry for your loss,” she said softly. 

“Thank you.” His voice was gruff and he looked away, his gaze landing on the twins, who were watching their interaction with unusual solemnity. 

“Are these yours?” He gestured to the children and Annie was aware of a complex mix of emotions, both protectiveness and guilt. 

The children shouldn’t be here. She had never asked permission from anyone in the Sheridan family to have the twins move into the caretaker’s apartment with her. 

She deeply regretted the omission now. While it was a feeble defense, she hadn’t really known whom to ask. No one in the Sheridan organization seemed to be paying the slightest attention to any of the goings-on at a horse ranch in western Wyoming that represented only a small portion of the vast family empire. 

Annie knew she was in the wrong here. No matter what uproar might have been happening during Wallace’s illness and subsequent death, she should have applied to someone for permission to bring the twins to live with her here. 

Instead, she had simply assumed it shouldn’t be a problem since it was only a temporary situation and the children would be back with their father after the first of the year with no one in the family knowing they had been here at all. 

“Not mine. They are my niece and nephew. Wes’s children.” 

Tate and Wes were similar in age, she remembered, and had been friends once upon a time, just as Annelise had been close to Tate’s younger sister Brianna. The McCades lived on the ranch year-round while the Sheridan children only visited a few times a year, but somehow they had all managed to have a warm, close bond and could always pick up where they left off when the Sheridans came back to the ranch. 

She could only hope Tate would remember that bond and forgive her for overstepping and bringing the children here. 

“Henry and Alice are staying with me for a few weeks because of a…family situation.” 

“Our mommy died last year and our daddy is in the slammer,” Henry announced. 

Annie winced, not quite sure where he had picked up that particular term. Not from her, certainly. She wouldn’t have used those words so bluntly but couldn’t deny they were accurate. 

Tate looked nonplussed at the information. “Is that right?” 

“It’s only temporary,” she told him quickly. “Wes had a little run-in with the law and was sentenced to serve thirty days in the county jail. The children are staying with me in the caretaker’s apartment through the holidays. I hope that’s okay.” 

Tate didn’t seem to know how to respond. She had the impression it was very much not okay with him. 

“We can talk about it later.” 

Annie frowned, anxiety and nerves sending icy fingers down her spine. She didn’t like the sound of that. 

What would she do if he told her she had to find somewhere else for the children to spend Christmas? She would have to quit. She didn’t want do that as she enjoyed working here. But what other choice would she have? 

“Why don’t we, um, go inside,” she suggested. “We can talk more there.” 

“We won, right?” Alice pressed. “We hit you like six times and you only hit us twice each.” 

Her priority right now wasn’t really deciding who won a snowball fight. But then, she was not six years old. “You absolutely won.” 

“Yay! That means we each get two cookies instead of only one!” 

Annie had always planned to give them two cookies each, anyway. She was a sucker for these two. The twins knew this and took full advantage. 

“Kids, why don’t you go change out of your snow stuff and hang out in your room for a few moments,” she said when they were inside the mudroom. “I’ll be there soon to get your cookies.” 

The twins looked reluctant but they went straight to her apartment through her own private entrance, leaving her alone with Tate. 

Excerpted from Sleigh Bells Ring by RaeAnne Thayne. Copyright © 2021 by RaeAnne Thayne LLC. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.