Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Kitchen Front

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

Synopsis (from Amazon):  Two years into World War II, Britain is feeling her losses: The Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is holding a cooking contest—and the grand prize is a job as the program’s first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the competition would present a crucial chance to change their lives.

For a young widow, it’s a chance to pay off her husband’s debts and keep a roof over her children’s heads. For a kitchen maid, it’s a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For a lady of the manor, it’s a chance to escape her wealthy husband’s increasingly hostile behavior. And for a trained chef, it’s a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.

These four women are giving the competition their all—even if that sometimes means bending the rules. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together only serve to break it apart?

One (or more) Sentence Summary: LOVED IT! I would have to say this reminds me of the The Kitchen House but WWII times in England. 

Strong women coming together during wartime struggles. Not a fan of cooking type books and The Kitchen Front was so much more. During food rationing women had to get creative and modify recipes with the ingredients that were available. 

I loved the friendship and bonds that all came together during this book - both heartbreaking and heart warming. This would make an excellent movie. 

I read in several articles that The Kitchen Front was a top 20 book to read this summer. I decided to give it a try after all so many sources praised it. I was so happy I read it and the articles were right - A top 20 book to read this summer.  However, they missed one thing - it is a great book to read anytime.  

I wish I had put The Kitchen Front on "What's in Your Beach Bag?" post, but I had not heard anything about it at the time of the post.  I did give it an honorable mention in the end of the summer update. 

LOVED IT! I will have to go check out other Jennifer Ryan books! 

From Jennifer Ryan's Amazon page: Hello, I'm the author of National Bestseller The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, The Spies of Shilling Lane, and The Kitchen Front. Before I began writing, I was a nonfiction book editor with a passion for the Second World War. My warm and cheerful grandmother would tell stories about that era, both funny and fascinating, and the books are based on these. 

If you have read any of my books, do get in touch and tell me what you think. And please visit my website for free monthly giveaways.
My website:
Twitter: JenniferiRyan


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

End of Summer Update - What's in Your Beach Bag?

Update:  Below is a link to all my reviews for the books selected for beach bag! 

Some other books that were not on "in the beach bag" but were great reads this summer are:

Malibu Rising

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island (review to come)

Guncle (review to come)

The Kitchen Front (review to come)

One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot (review to come)

Hamnet (review to come)

The Midnight Library (review to come)

What's In Your Beach Bag This Summer?

With Summer 2021 officially kicked off, it is the perfect time to determine what books I will put in my beach bag!  

This is where I list 10 (sometimes more) books that I want to read over the summer.  I seem to get the reading done most years, but have lagged in getting all the reviews posted.  Maybe 2021 will be the year that all reviews are posted by Labor Day….

Books that made the previous lists:

    2019 - What's in Your Bag?

    2020 - What's in Your Bag?

Leave me a comment letting me know at least one of the books you plan on reading this summer.  I love book suggestions.

In no particular order:

1. Message in the Sand by Hannah McKinnon 

2. When Summer Was Ours by Roxanne Veletzos

3. Royally Tied by Melanie Summers

4. That Summer by Jennifer Weiner

5. The Text God by Whitney Dineen & Melanie Summers

6.The Shell Collector by Nancy Nailg

7. before i go by Riley Weston

8. The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

9. The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman

10. The Break-Up Book Club by Wendy Wax

Happy Summer Reading to you all!

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Royally Tied

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

Synopsis (from Amazon):  Don't miss the heartwarming, laugh-out-loud continuation of the Crazy Royal Love Romantic Comedy Series …After a whirlwind romance that has taken them all over the globe, rugged survival expert Will Banks and Princess Arabella of Avonia are getting ready to take a trip down the aisle.Planning the perfect wedding isn’t easy at the best of times, so when you include two families who couldn’t be more different, tensions are bound to run high. The last thing they need is a television producer determined to get every last sneer on film.With one hilarious disaster after another ruining their plans, Will and Arabella must figure out how to pull it all together in time to say ‘I do.’ Brimming with swoon-worthy romance, seriously funny shenanigans, and an unforgettable cast of characters, Melanie Summers is sure to make you laugh out loud and believe in love.

One (or more) Sentence Summary: Another hilarious book by Melanie Summers.  She never lets me down! This is the last book in the Crazy Royal Love Comedy Book series.  I am so sad, once again, to see one of her series come to an end. 

Princess Arabella and Will are preparing to walk down the aisle of the church, however, they agreed to have it all televised in order to get Will out of his contract. Super funny (especially when the two families meet and spend time together at Will's family resort (Paradise Bay - super funny series) and Will learning the royal protocol).  An absolutely must read and as always - laugh out loud scenes through out as I expect nothing else for Melanie. 

There is a 4th book coming out in the Paradise Bay series, so maybe (here's hoping) a 4th book will come out in Crazy Royal Love Comedy series!

Would I Read Other Books by the Author:  LOVE THEM!  Give me a Melanie Summers book any day.  I adore her books. See why I love her books: 

The Royal Treatment (Crown Jewels Romantic Comedy Book 1)
 The Royal Wedding (Crown Jewels Romantic Comedy Book 2)
The Royal Delivery (Crown Jewels Romantic Comedy Book 3)
The Honeymooner (A Paradise Bay Romantic Comedy Book 1)
Whisked Away (A Paradise Bay Romantic Comedy Book 2)
The Suite Life (A Paradise Bay Romantic Comedy Book 3)
The After Wife (stand alone - will make you cry too)
Royally Crushed (Crazy Royal Love Romantic Comedy Book 1)
Royally Wildly (Crazy Royal Love Romantic Comedy Book 2) can't believe I never posted the review. 

Melanie Summers currently resides in Edmonton, Canada, with her husband, three young children, and their goofy dog. When she's not writing romance novels, she loves reading, snuggling up on the couch with her family for movie night (which would not be complete without lots of popcorn and milkshakes), and long walks in the woods near her house. Melanie is a member of the Romance Writers of America, as well as the International Women's Writing Guild.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Text God: Text and You Shall Receive….

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

Synopsis (from Amazon):  Text and you shall receive...

Jen Flanders moved to New York to be an artist. This translates into walking dogs for money, practicing yoga for sanity, and hitting up her friends at a local bakery to supplement her diet. Rent is due and she's running out of cash. After begging the universe for a sign that help is on the way, her phone pings with an incoming text. GOD: You can do it; I believe in you!

Gabriel Oliver Daly agreed to mentor a friend's younger sister. Unbeknownst to him, after losing her phone, said sister uses her dog walker's phone to text him about a job offer. He responds enthusiastically. 

Jen can't believe GOD is actually texting her! But who is she to question the ways of the universe? On the first day of texting, GOD gets her a job that will keep her afloat. On the second and third days he offers even more help.

Gabriel starts to think his friend's sister might be too flighty to make it in the legal jungle of New York. Why exactly does she need a survival job? Wasn't she supposed to be interviewing for a position as a junior lawyer? And why is she texting him random (not to mention very personal) stuff all the time?

When they finally meet, Jen realizes GOD isn't a deity but a divinely handsome lawyer. A complete stranger has answered all her prayers. After all, God does move in mysterious ways.

One (or more) Sentence Summary:  I loved the first book in the series (they are all stand-alone) An Accidentally in Love Book Series, Text Me Tuesday, so I purposely allowed myself to read one chapter per day when reading The Text God. It was extremely hard to only read one chapter a day, but I had to make this book last a while.

It is no secret that Melanie Summers is one of my favorite authors. I also loved Whitney Dineen's The Creek Water Series. So imagine a six book series written by the two of them together… can I not ove it. 

Jen is absolutely hilarious-bills are due and she needs a job or to sell a painting when she asks for a sign. What she gets is a text message from GOD. Gabriel Oliver Daly is GOD, whose number is accidentally entered by a dog walking client of Jen into her phone. The text messages between Jen and GOD for weeks are just too funny. 

Gabe breaks it off with his finance and leaves his job. His family thinks he is having a breakdown. Jen and Gabe's world collides at The Salty Nut Tavern (owned by Mary and Joseph (Gabe's parents). When they both realize that Gabe is GOD and Jen is not his friend's sister - things get interesting. 

The Text God has a lot of humor through it, extremely funny characters and a great story line.  Another must read by Summers and Dineen. Now I get to start book 3 in the series, The Text Wars: May the Text be With You.

Whitney DineenUSA Today Bestselling author Whitney Dineen is a rock star in her own head. While delusional about her singing abilities, there’s been a plethora of validation that she’s a fairly decent author (AMAZING!!!). After winning many writing awards and selling nearly a kabillion books (math may not be her forte, either), she’s decided to let the voices in her head say whatever they want (sorry, Mom). She also won a fourth-place ribbon in a fifth-grade swim meet in backstroke. So, there’s that.

Melanie Summers: Currently resides in Edmonton, Canada, with her husband, three young children, and their goofy dog. When shes not writing romance novels, she loves reading, snuggling up on the couch with her family for movie night (which would not be complete without lots of popcorn and milkshakes), and long walks in the woods near her house. Melanie is a member of the Romance Writers of America, as well as the International Womens Writing Guild.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Divine Lola

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

Synopsis:  An enthralling biography about one of the most intriguing women of the Victorian age: the first self-invented international social celebrity.

Lola Montez was one of the most celebrated and notorious women of the nineteenth century. A raven-haired Andalusian who performed her scandalous “Spider Dance” in the greatest performance halls across Europe, she dazzled and beguiled all who met her with her astonishing beauty, sexuality, and shocking disregard for propriety. But Lola was an impostor, a self-invention. Born Eliza Gilbert, the beautiful Irish wild child escaped a stifling marriage and reimagined herself as Lola the Sevillian flamenco dancer and noblewoman, choosing a life of adventure, fame, sex, and scandal rather than submitting to the strictures of her era.

Lola cast her spell on the European aristocracy and the most famous intellectuals and artists of the time, including Alexandre Dumas, Franz Liszt, and George Sand, and became the obsession of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. She then set out for the New World, arriving in San Francisco at the height of the gold rush, where she lived like a pioneer and performed for rowdy miners before making her way to New York. There, her inevitable downfall was every bit as dramatic as her rise. Yet there was one final reinvention to come for the most defiant woman of the Victorian age―a woman known as a “savage beauty” who was idolized, romanticized, vilified, truly known by no one, and a century ahead of her time.

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

TLC Book Tours:  Make sure you check out what others are saying on the tour.

Tour schedule:

Wednesday, September 1st: Books, Cooks, Looks – excerpt

Friday, September 3rd: Seaside Book Nook – excerpt

Sunday, September 5th: The Cozy Book Blog – excerpt

Monday, September 6th: @babygotbooks4life

Wednesday, September 8th: Literary Quicksand

Friday, September 10th: Nurse Bookie and @nurse_bookie

Monday, September 13th: @Bibliotica

Wednesday, September 15th: @aimeedarsreads

Thursday, September 16th: @msanniecathryn

Friday, September 17th: Maryann Writes

Monday, September 20th: @chez_colline

Wednesday, September 22nd: @as_seen_in_life

Thursday, September 23rd: @thebookishalix

Friday, September 24th: @jenniaahava

Monday, September 27th: Eliot’s Eats

Wednesday, September 29th:

Thursday, September 30th: @rickys_radical_reads

Friday, October 1st: @amanda.the.bookish

Monday, October 4th: Reading is My Remedy

Excerpt: Calcutta's lush green foliage, the blinding sun, the violent storms, the brightly colored birds, the delicious fruit, the music, the ritual dances-everything-sparked Lola's curiosity. The penetrating aromas of spices, incense, and earth would remain with her forever. The slen-der Indian women wrapped in saris, with their arms covered in silver bangles, looked like princesses from a fairy tale.

            From time to time, with Denali, she would go to the "black city," a tangle of narrow, dusty streets where the Europeans never ventured. There, the natives lived in a tumult that Lola found invigorating. She wasn't afraid of anything-not the snake charmers or the fakirs or the thick-bearded holy men who smeared their naked bodies with ash. But her biggest adventure happened on the day she accompanied her ayah to the temple dedicated to Kali, the patron goddess of Calcutta. Inside, barely lit by the dim light of the oil lamps, a striking statue of the god-dess sat atop the altar, all in black marble except for the eyes and tongue, which were painted gold and blood red. At one time, Kali's devout wor-shipers had made human sacrifices to her, but now they offered only the blood of chickens and black goats. Legends of the powerful goddesses Kali and Durga, protectors of the truth and destroyers of evil, kindled the little girl's imagination and transported her to a magical world.

            Twice a week she would bathe at twilight in the Hooghly River, even though her mother had forbidden it out of fear she might be bitten by a snake. As Lola grew older, she became more and more beautiful-and more and more reckless. She almost always went barefoot, she climbed trees, she chewed betel nuts until her mouth was stained bright red, and she played with the native children on streets littered with cow patties. She never forgot those sweltering afternoons when it was too hot to go outside and she would lie under a gauzy mosquito net, drifting off to the rhythmic whisper of the punkah, a cloth ceiling fan that a native boy would move by pulling on a rope in exchange for a few pence a day.

            Less than a year after Edward's death, his widow agreed to marry Lieutenant Patrick Craigie. The officer had been posted to Dhaka, in central Bangladesh, where the pair were married on August 16, 1824, in a small civil ceremony. The city was a wealthy, bustling trading cen­ter for British India on the banks of the Buriganga River. Though it offered more comforts than Dinapore, summers were unbearably hot. And since it was at sea level, enormous monsoon floods would wipe out entire villages. After the wedding, Eliza and her daughter moved into a pretty bungalow near the military headquarters. Europeans con­sidered Dhaka less civilized than vibrant Calcutta, but the house was large, with a lovely garden, and they had a dozen servants. In the center of the city were several well-stocked shops, a public park, a bank, a steepled church, a small school, and a club where officers gathered to have a whiskey and read weeks-old issues of the Times. Lola now had a stepfather, whom she always remembered fondly. Though he referred to her as "Mrs. Craigie's daughter," he was affectionate and invested in her well-being. Unfortunately, his military obligations forced him to spend long periods away from home.

            When Lola turned five, her stepfather made a decision that brought her happy, lazy days in India to an end. Convinced that the child needed more discipline, one afternoon he suggested to his wife that they send her to Scotland to live with his elderly father. The conventional wisdom was that English children raised in India would become wayward sheep, and Lola was showing no signs of being an exception.

            "It will be good for her," he said firmly. "India isn't her home and the education is inadequate."

            "I suppose you're right," Eliza admitted, "but I'm worried about how she'll take it. She seems so happy here."

            "She's too young to understand that we're doing it for her own good," Lieutenant Craigie said. "She'll be in the care of my family in Montrose. It's a quiet town where everybody knows one another."

            Upon learning that she would be sent back to the British Isles in less than a month, Lola shut herself in her room and wept. She never forgave her mother, convinced that Eliza wanted to rid herself of her daughter's burdensome presence once and for all. In the winter of 1826, Patrick Craigie was named deputy assistant adjutant-general of the regiment in Meerut, northeast of Delhi. At the same time, his former commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Innes, decided to retire to England with his family. It was a happy coincidence, and the Inneses agreed to escort Lola to London; from there, the girl would continue on to Montrose.

            It was the last Christmas she spent with her family in India, and Lola remembered it as the saddest she had ever experienced. As December drew to a close, she said goodbye and boarded the Malcolm, carrying her little suitcase. From the deck, hidden among the throng of passengers waving their handkerchiefs in the air, she watched the gangway be pulled back and the huge sails unfurl. She felt expelled from paradise, headed for an unfamiliar place where she didn't know a soul. She was leaving behind a childhood full of magical memories and her loving Denali, whom she would always carry in her heart.

            Lieutenant Colonel Innes and his wife didn't have an easy time wrangling the willful, disobedient girl for the more than four endless months. It was a particularly difficult and hazardous journey from the moment they weighed anchor. The Malcolmstopped for provisions in Madras and then crossed the Indian Ocean, rocked by violent storms. Water and food were rationed, and the torrential downpours made life on board even more trying. By the time the ship passed the Cape of Good Hope, two soldiers returning home on leave had died, and a third died a month before they reached their destination. Luckily, they were able to restock their provisions at the port of Saint Helena, and the rest of the voyage was somewhat calmer.

            Though Mrs. Innes was kind and patient with her, Lola was miser­able. She spent most of the journey huddled behind the curtain that covered her bunk, refusing to talk to anybody. As the ship approached England's shores, she was gripped by a powerful sense of anguish and unease. On May 19, 1827, the Malcolm berthed in Blackwall, east of the Tower of London, and the luggage was unloaded in an intense downpour. On the docks, Lola said a chilly goodbye to the Inneses and left with one of her stepfather's relatives who had come to take her to Scotland.

            After vibrant Calcutta, Montrose seemed as cold, damp, and gray as a cemetery. It was located between Dundee and Aberdeen on the banks of an estuary that formed an inlet and protected it from the North Sea's powerful storms. Wealthy merchants had built a few luxurious mansions on its main street, but the rest of the buildings were drab and charmless. Her step-grandfather, also named Patrick Craigie, had been provost of the town for a quarter century and was now enjoying his retirement. He and his wife, Mary, had nine children, the youngest just seven years older than Lola.

            In a sleepy town like Montrose, a little girl arriving from the East Indies caused a sensation. Her unusual manner of dressing, her com­portment, and the familiar way she addressed strangers provoked all sorts of commentary.

            Contrary to her expectations, Lola's step-grandparents were kind to her. But the household's old governess tried unsuccessfully to reform the mutinous child. Lola relished being the center of attention and let her imagination run wild. She loved to recount how a rich maharajah in Jaipur had tried to pay her father a fortune in gold to allow her to marry the maharajah's son. The people of Montrose remembered her as a mischievous, lively girl who amused herself during Sunday mass by sticking flowers in the wigs of elderly gentlemen sitting in the next pew. Lola spent the next four years in the green, misty landscapes of the Scottish countryside. She learned to ride horses and galloped through the broad fields near her step-grandfather's farm every day. Though

she wrote her stepfather several letters begging him to let her return to India, he ignored her pleas.

            When Lola turned ten, her stepfather's older sister, Catherine Rae, and her husband, William, moved to Durham, England, where they opened a girls' boarding school in Monkwearmouth. Lola's step-grandfather decided that the girl should go with them.

            "Sweetheart," he said tenderly, "you're nearly a woman now. You can't stay here. You know that we love you and you're part of this fam­ily, but at boarding school you'll learn good manners and be with other girls your age."

            "Grandfather, I've been moving around my entire life," Lola said, downcast. "I've never had female friends, and all I want is to go back to India to be with my parents. I miss them so much."

            "But that's not an option now. Your parents want what's best for you, and you have to be strong. It's already been decided, darling, don't make things more difficult."

            Even at that young age, Lola was already well acquainted with lone­liness and alienation. She'd been forced to abandon her native Ireland, her first home in Dinapore, and the house in Calcutta where she'd been happy; she'd watched her father die, been separated from her beloved Denali, and now was going to be deprived of her step-grandparents' love. But all she could do was pack her bags again.

            Lola was at the boarding school in Monkwearmouth only a year, but her presence didn't go unnoticed. Her drawing teacher, Mr. Grant, remembered her as rebellious, eccentric, and very stubborn:


Eliza Gilbert . . . was at that time a very elegant and beautiful child . . . 

[her charm] only lessened by . . . indomitable self-will . . . Her complexion 

was orientally dark, but transparently clear; her eyes were of deep blue, 

and, as I distinctly remember, of excessive beauty . . . [A]ltogether, it was 

impossible to look at her for many minutes without feeling convinced that 

she was made up of very wayward and troublesome elements.


            In late 183o Lola's stepfather had been promoted to captain, which enabled him to enroll the girl in a more prestigious school recom­mended by his division mate, Major-General Sir Jasper Nicolls. The distinguished officer was planning to return to England on a two-year leave, and Craigie asked him to look after Lola until classes started. In mid-September 1832, Lola and Mrs. Rae made a long trip by horse-drawn carriage from Durham to Reading, west of London. The general, a rigid man who was used to giving orders and seeing them carried out, lived there with his wife and their eight daughters. From the start, he was convinced that the wild child would never come to anything good. Lola stayed with the Nicollses for a few weeks and enjoyed a level of comfort and luxury she'd never experienced before. Then she was sent to Bath, where she would continue her studies.

            Her new boarding school was a prestigious and very expensive insti­tution located on Camden Place (now Camden Crescent), a large, half-moon-shaped terrace of Georgian-style residences that included some of the city's most coveted mansions. The elegant academy occupied a two-story building with a neoclassical stone facade decorated with slender Corinthian columns. All the students-fifteen girls between the ages of ten and eighteen-came from wealthy families with good reputations. The rigorous curriculum included the customary feminine disciplines, such as dancing, needlepoint, drawing, singing, and piano, but they also learned French and Latin. The girls were allowed to speak English only on Sundays, and anyone who broke this rule had to pay a fine from her pocket money. Although Bath was an elegant resort city popular in British high society for its thermal waters, Lola was not able to enjoy its lively atmosphere. The rules at the Aldridge Academy were very harsh, and students were allowed to go out only very rarely and under strict supervision.

            Still, Lola looked back on her years in Bath as a happy time during which she shared secrets and pranks with her first female friends. The education she received was fairly comprehensive for a girl of that era. Aldridge's young women were trained not only to be good wives and diligent housekeepers but also to cultivate their minds and spirits. Lola lived there for five years. She would never again spend so long in one place.

            Though Sir Jasper Nicolls admired Captain Craigie and considered him one of his finest officers, he didn't care much for his wife. After eighteen months with Lola in his care, Eliza hadn't displayed the slight-est interest in her daughter's education. The officer wrote in his diary on February 14, 1834:


At last we have heard from Mrs. Craigie, who was I supposed constrained 

to answer our numerous letters tho' she heard from us 6 times before this 

effect was produced-I felt great surprise-not a little vexed-and in some degree 

repented of having so easily undertaken an unpleasant and apparently thankless 

task. I likened her to a tortoise who buries her eggs lightly in the sand, and 

leaves them to sun, and to chance.


            In the autumn of 1836, when Lola was almost sixteen, Eliza wrote a brief letter announcing that she was coming to Bath so they could return to India together. Her mother's impending arrival filled Lola with dread. She barely remembered Eliza's face and had conflicting emotions about her absent mother.

            Mrs. Craigie left Calcutta for England on the steamship Orient. She hadn't seen her daughter in more than ten years. By now she was the wife of a very important man in the East India Company, a captain respected and admired by his superiors, who would soon be promoted to major. Unlike during her first voyage to India as a young roman-tic, Eliza was traveling as a grande dame, with copious luggage and a

first-class cabin. Her husband had given her a substantial sum in case of unexpected obstacles.

            Aboard the Orient, Eliza met Thomas James, a lieutenant working for the East India Company who was returning to his native Ireland on sick leave. Twenty-nine years old-two years her junior-he was a slim man with blue eyes and brown hair. Romantic dalliances were very common on these protracted voyages, and the handsome officer soon began wooing her. Thomas was a member of the Protestant landed gentry in County Wexford, but he did not enjoy a noble title or great wealth. During the five-month journey, Eliza flirted with him openly despite the other passengers' stern looks. One day she told him the reason for her trip.

            "My daughter is at boarding school in Bath, and I am headed there to fetch her. I will be staying until her classes end. Maybe you could visit us there-I am sure that the city's thermal waters would be most beneficial, and we could have a lovely time."

            "I can't make you any promises, my dear, however much I would love to see you again and meet your daughter."

            The morning that Eliza strode through the foyer at the Aldridge Academy, she felt her heart pounding. For days she had been imagining how the reunion would go. She'd last seen Lola when the little girl was just five years old, and now she'd become a woman. The encounter was a disastrous one. The girl eagerly embraced her mother, who gave her a chilly kiss on the forehead. Lola was almost as tall as she, and more beautiful than she'd expected.

            "My dear child!" Eliza exclaimed, looking her up and down. "You are so profoundly changed that I scarcely recognize you. That hairstyle is most unbecoming."

            "Welcome, Mother," Lola replied.

            "Come along, grab your suitcase and say goodbye to your friends. We must do some catching up-it's been such a long time, hasn't it? You have so many things to tell me."

            Lola had no idea how to react. Despite all the time that had passed, the elegant, handsome woman was utterly unchanged and seemed inca­pable of expressing any emotion. After a brief conversation with Lola's teachers, the two women left the school. Mrs. Craigie had rented some well-appointed rooms for them in Camden Place so she could spend time alone with her daughter while Lola was finishing her school year.

            Eliza tried to be friendly, and in the afternoons the two would go shopping in the city's famous clothing stores. Lola was surprised by her mother's sudden generosity; no expense was spared in buying her dresses, corsets, silk stockings, shawls, boots, and even a flattering riding outfit that Lola loved. They also strolled together through the botanical gardens on the banks of the River Avon and visited the Roman baths. For a moment tensions seemed to wane between the two, and Lola was grateful for her mother's attentions and the gifts she showered on her. But Eliza found her daughter's radiant beauty irritating; it reminded her of herself in her youth. At thirty-two she was still a beautiful woman, but India's climate had taken its toll. She could not deny that her little girl had become a stunning woman who inspired admiration wher­ever she went. She was slender, with a slight, well-proportioned build, and she had magnificent blue eyes framed by long, thick eyelashes and voluptuous red lips. But her most striking feature was her long, curly black hair. She could have passed for Romany or Andalusian. Eliza would have liked to have had a demurer daughter, but Lola had been a troublemaker since early childhood. One day, after a heated argument, Eliza asked her to sit down next to her.

            "I know you hate me because you have felt abandoned, but I did it all for you. Now I want you to listen to me-I have something very important to tell you."

            "I don't hate you, Mother," the young woman stammered, "but many years have passed and you never even answered my letters. How could I not feel abandoned? I was only a girl when you sent me away."

            "Forget about the past now and listen: you are of marrying age, you are beautiful and well educated . . . and there is an important man in India who would like to meet you. He has seen your portrait and fallen in love. It is a good match, believe me."

            Suddenly everything became clear to Lola. Eliza had come from so far away only because she had arranged for her to marry a rich, distin­guished gentleman. The prospect was the adjutant-general of Bengal, Sir James Lumley, an elderly widower. The general, who had two bachelor sons near Lola's age, was Captain Patrick Craigie's commanding offi­cer. Upon hearing her mother's proposal, Lola lashed out. She couldn't believe Eliza would try to marry her off to a man fifty years her senior whom she'd never met and did not love. Now she understood why her mother had given her all those beautiful gowns.

            After that, the relationship between the two became unsustainable. Lola tried to spend as little time as possible with her mother, a sophisti­cated, superficial, irresponsible woman for whom she felt no affection.

            That's how matters stood when Lieutenant James unexpectedly arrived to visit Mrs. Craigie that hot summer of 1837. Lola, who'd had little contact with the opposite sex, thought him old-though he was only thirty-but also pleasant, courteous, and very protective of her mother. She was most struck by his handsome smile and "gleaming white teeth," a rarity at the time. From the start, Thomas was drawn to the innocent freshness of the schoolgirl, whose grace and charm eclipsed her mother's. Gradually he worked to gain Lola's trust and would walk with her from her rooms on Camden Place to the Aldridge Academy. In her stepfather's absence and without anyone to whom she could pour out her heart, Lola befriended the stranger, and he became her confi­dant. One day, in distress, she described her mother's plan to marry her off to an elderly stranger. Thomas, who had lost all interest in Eliza and was smitten instead with her daughter, began to reflect on his future. He would soon need to return to Calcutta to rejoin his regiment, and doing so with a beautiful young wife on his arm suited him very well. Out of the blue, he made an unexpected proposition.


Excerpted from Divine Lola by Cristina Morató with permission from the publisher, Amazon Crossing. Text copyright © 2017 by Cristina Morató. Translation copyright © 2021 by Andrea Rosenberg. All rights reserved.


Born in Barcelona in 1961, Cristina Morató is a journalist, reporter, and author dedicated to writing about the lives of great women innovators and explorers that history has overlooked. Her research, tracing the footsteps of these remarkable women, has led her to travel to more than forty countries and has resulted in eight biographies: Viajeras intrépidas y aventureras (Intrepid and Adventurous Women Travelers); Las Reinas de África (African Queens); Las Damas de Oriente (Ladies of the East); Cautiva en Arabia (Arabian Captive); Divas rebeldes (Rebel Divas); Reinas malditas (Tragic Queens); Diosas de Hollywood (Hollywood Goddesses); and Divina Lola (Divine Lola), Cristina’s first to be translated into English. She is a founding member and the current vice president of the Spanish Geographical Society and belongs to the Royal Geographic Society of London. For more information visit

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Where I Left Her

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


From the author of WHEN I WAS YOU comes a spine-tingling new thriller about a mother's worst nightmare come true, when she goes to pick up her daughter from a sleepover, and she's nowhere to be found.

Whitney had some misgivings when she dropped her increasingly moody teenage daughter off for a sleepover last night. She's never met the friend's parents, and usually she'd go in, but Amelia clearly wasn't going to let something so humiliating happen, so instead she waved to her daughter before pulling away from the cute little house with the rosebushes in front.

But when she goes back to get her, an elderly couple answers the door--Amelia and her friend are nowhere to be found, and this couple swears she's at the wrong house. As Whitney searches for Amelia, she uncovers a trail of secrets and lies her daughter has told her--from Finsta accounts to rumors of a secret relationship. Does she really even know this girl she's raised, and can she find her before it's too late?


Author: Amber Garza

ISBN: 9780778332060

Publication Date: August 24, 2021

Publisher: MIRA Books

Buy Links:


Barnes & Noble




Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they're real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California.

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @ambermg1

Instagram: @AmberGarzaAuthor

Facebook: @AmberGarzaAuthor




FRIDAY, 5:00 P.M.


WHITNEY WANTED TO get rid of her daughter.

How awful is that?

Not forever, of course, but for the night. She was weary of the sixteen-year-old attitude. The rolling of eyes, stomping of feet, the judging glances and biting remarks.

That’s why she wasn’t paying as much attention as she should’ve been when dropping Amelia off at Lauren’s. Her mind was back in their apartment, her butt planted on the couch, bare feet propped on the table, a pint of ice cream in her lap.

“The destination is on your right.” She turned the steering wheel, following the instructions given by the disembodied voice of the GPS in her daughter’s phone. Amelia held it up, giving the illusion that her palm was talking. The house in front of them was nondescript. A tract home, painted tan with beige trim, a cream door, two large windows overlooking the narrow front walkway. The only thing that set it apart from the others was the row of rosebushes lining the left perimeter of the yard, scarlet red petals and thorny, jagged stems.

Whitney pulled her car over, tires hugging the curb.

Amelia hopped out the minute her mother’s foot pressed down on the brakes, as if she was desperate to be free of her.

“You sure this is her house?” Whitney asked.

Amelia shrugged, glancing down at her phone and then back up. “This is the address she gave me.” Her tone was impatient, irritated. That’s how she’d been lately. Distant and moody. Everything her mom said and did annoyed her.

Originally, she’d planned to walk Amelia up to the front door and meet Lauren’s mom. But on the way over here, Amelia had begged her not to do that, pointing out that she was no longer a little girl.

As much as Whitney hated to admit it, she could see her point. Amelia was sixteen. As soon as she finished her driver’s training and passed her test, she’d be driving on her own and then Whitney wouldn’t even have the option of dropping her off at her friend’s. It was time she learned to let go, loosen the death grip a little.

Instead of following her daughter, Whitney stayed inside the car, watching through the smudged glass of the passenger-side window. Amelia’s dark hair swished down her spine as she sped to the front door. When she reached it, she readjusted the blue overnight bag that was secured on her shoulder while lifting her other hand to knock.

Lauren appeared in the doorway, flashing a smile at Amelia. She wore a pink headband that made her look much younger than seventeen. Amelia peered over her shoulder before stepping forward, her lips curling at the corners as she threw her mom another wave. It was the largest grin Whitney had gotten in days, and she welcomed it, grabbed hold of it and then gave it back.

After watching them both disappear inside, Whitney pulled away from the curb. Without even looking in the rearview mirror, she sped toward her night of freedom, dreaming of a couch to herself and a movie Amelia couldn’t make fun of.

SATURDAY, 10:00 A.M.


Whitney had been up for hours, and still hadn’t heard from Amelia. Last night was restful. Quiet. Peaceful. All the things Whitney had wanted it to be. Much needed. But this morning she was suffering from a serious case of mom guilt. She missed her daughter. Was anxious for her to come home, attitude and all. Unlocking her phone, she shot her a quick text: Ready for me to pick you up?

Even after several minutes, no response came. Not that she was shocked. When Amelia had friends over, they stayed up all night giggling and talking. No matter how many times Whitney would remind them to keep it down, within minutes their muffled voices would return, drifting through the adjoining bedroom wall. Most likely, she’d done the same at Lauren’s and they were both still asleep.

The house smelled like Saturday morning—coffee, creamer, maple syrup.

French toast had been a weekend tradition for years. When Amelia was little, she’d wake up early and bound into her mom’s bedroom, eager for breakfast. But lately it seemed Whitney ate alone more often than not. Even when Amelia was home, there was no guarantee she’d join her. Amelia lived in her room, earbuds perpetually plugged in her ears, as if she’d grown another extremity. Still, Whitney couldn’t bring herself to stop the tradition altogether. The French toast would get eaten, even if it took a couple of days. Whitney didn’t mind leftovers, anyway. Not that she had many this morning. She’d gone for an extra-long jog and had been ravenous.

After cleaning up the kitchen, Whitney went back into her phone and clicked on the Snapchat app. Amelia may have been quiet around the house lately, but she had no problem sharing her life with the rest of the world. Whitney expected to be greeted by smiling selfies of her and Lauren, maybe some photos of the food they were eating, proof to all the other teenagers on social media that they were having a blast on their Friday night together. But nothing had been posted on her story in the last twenty-four hours.

With slick fingertips, Whitney closed out of Snapchat and checked Instagram. Nothing there either. A chill brushed over her neck, causing the hairs to stand on end. She shook the feeling away with an abrupt jerk of her head. Whitney had always been like this. Anxious. A worrier, especially when it came to Amelia. Perpetually thinking the worst. Amelia hated it. So had her ex-husband. It was one of the many things they fought about. And it was probably one of many reasons why Dan had ended up marrying that sunny, smiling, high-pitched preschool teacher. If Whitney had to take a guess, she’d say there were no skeletons in Miss Karen’s closet. No past indiscretions she was afraid of coming to light. No monsters from her past lurking around the corner.

No secret buried inside, so deep the roots had become invisible.

When Dan married Karen, Whitney remembered thinking how he had succeeded in finding someone completely opposite from her, just like he said he would. It didn’t take him long either. He’d met Karen less than a year after they’d split up. He and Karen were friends for a while, and then dated for several years before marrying.

That was how he always defended it.

We were friends first.

We took it slow.

But that was never the point. He should have made Amelia his priority. Whitney hadn’t dated at all while Amelia was growing up—she’d only started within the last couple of years. Once Amelia hit high school and started having a life of her own, Whitney figured it was time she did too.

Leaning against the counter, she stared out the kitchen window. There wasn’t a view. The window overlooked the apartment across the way. A man stood in his kitchen, his back to Whitney as he drank coffee. His build vaguely reminded Whitney of Jay, and it made her smile.

Going into her last text thread with him, she typed, I miss you.

Then she bit her lip. Too forward? Too soon?

They’d been dating for a couple of months, and he’d only been on an overnight business trip. He was returning later today. She didn’t want to come on too strong.

Backspace. Delete. She tried again: Hope your trip was good.

Too formal?

Whitney paused, thinking.

Why am I making this so hard?

She really liked Jay. That was the problem. He was the first guy in a long time she felt hopeful about. Usually by month two of dating someone, the red flags popped up and her interest waned. That hadn’t happened yet with Jay.

Turns out, she didn’t need to stress over what to text. Jay beat her to it.

Boarding the plane now. Will call you when I’m back, he texted.

Sounds good, she responded.

It was 10:30. There were a million things on the agenda today and waiting around for Amelia wasn’t one of them.

After hitting the grocery store and Target, Whitney swung by Lauren’s, using the memory of how they’d gotten there yesterday as her guide. It was a little tricky, since she hadn’t paid enough attention to Amelia’s directions yesterday, but after a few minutes of circling the neighborhood, she came upon a familiar street and turned on it. A couple of houses in, she recognized the rosebushes.

It had been well over an hour since she’d sent the last text to Amelia. Although there hadn’t been any response yet, Whitney was sure she was up by now. Probably hoping to buy more time with her friend.

Whitney had gotten Amelia a bag of gummy worms. She pulled it out of one of the grocery bags. It crinkled as she set it on the passenger seat. Amelia probably wouldn’t even eat them. Certainly, they didn’t fit within the parameters of her latest diet, but, still, Whitney couldn’t resist. Whitney’s habit of picking up treats at the store had started back when Amelia was a toddler, when she’d surprised her with a bag of cookies one afternoon when picking her up from preschool. Whitney would never forget how wide Amelia’s eyes got, how broad her smile became as she clutched the little bag. A lot of things may have changed between them over the past few years, but Whitney didn’t want that to be one of them.

After getting out of the car, she slipped the key ring around her finger and walked up the front walkway, flip-flops slapping on the pavement. It was a warm, spring day. Kids played outside a few houses down. A lawnmower kicked on. A couple rode their bikes past, bright neon helmets bouncing up and down like beach balls bobbing in the waves. Amelia used to love to ride bikes. For a while, it had been a weekend tradition. Whitney couldn’t remember the last time they’d hit the trails together, but she made a note to ask her about it. Most likely her answer would be a big resounding no, coupled with the same cringey, horrified look she had whenever Whitney suggested they hang out. Still, it was worth a shot. Sometimes Amelia surprised her with a yes, reminding Whitney of the girl she used to be before the teenage monster took over.

When Whitney reached the door, she lifted her hand to knock the same way she’d watched Amelia do the day before. A minute passed and no one answered. That funny feeling returned, but she shoved it down, feeling silly.

She knocked again, this time so hard it stung her knuckles. The girls were probably listening to music or something. Or maybe they were in the backyard. It was a nice day. Ears perked, she listened for the sound of her daughter’s voice or of music playing inside. Hearing neither of those, she frowned.

Finally, Whitney caught the hint of footsteps inside.

The door creaked open, an older woman peering out, eyebrows raised. She looked to be in her late sixties, maybe early seventies.

Whitney was taken aback. She’d never met Lauren’s mom, but there was no way this was her. Maybe Lauren’s grandparents lived with them. Recently, Whitney had watched a news report about how the cost of living had gone up, causing multigenerational homes to become a growing trend. And Lauren had mentioned that her parents were divorced. Whitney knew firsthand how financially taxing it was to raise a child alone.

“Hi, I’m Whitney. Amelia’s mom.” Smiling, Whitney jutted out her hand.

But the elderly woman just stared at it, not saying a word. She glanced over her shoulder where a man around her same age stood. He furrowed his brows and stepped forward. Whitney’s body tensed.

Maybe she’s got dementia or Alzheimer’s or something. Whitney caught the old man’s eyes. “Hi, I’m Amelia’s mom. She spent the night here.”

“Nope. Not here.” Shaking his head, he came closer. “You must have the wrong house. They all kinda look the same in this neighborhood.”

Whitney glanced around. Hadn’t she thought the same thing yesterday? She must’ve turned down the wrong street or something.

Face warming, she backed away from the door. “I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”

“No bother at all,” the man said, and the woman offered a kind smile.

Whitney turned on her heels and made her way back to the car. She turned on the ignition and pulled away from the curb. The couple had already disappeared inside. Whitney drove to the main street and turned right. When she came up on another street, she turned onto it. The man was right. There were lots of houses that looked like theirs. She pulled up in front of one, scanning the yard.

Nope. No roses.

That’s what had set the other house apart. The one she dropped Amelia off at.

She moved farther down the street, carefully looking to the right and to the left, searching for a one-story house, roses lining the perimeter. Coming up empty, she swung the car around. Maybe her mistake had been turning right at the main street.

Backtracking, this time Whitney turned left.

This street was almost identical to the other two she’d just been down. Same tract homes. Manicured lawns. Shuttered windows. A sea of tan paint and beige trim. The odd red door or colorful lawn art. But, again, no roses. At least, not in the correct spot.

Turning onto another street, she finally found it. The simple house. The roses lining the side.

After parking in front, she leaped out and hurried to the front door. It was answered after only a couple of knocks.

She gasped, taking in the elderly man standing in the doorway. The same one she’d just spoken to a few moments ago.

Oh, my God.

She’d ended up right back where she’d started. As she backed away from the door, apologizing profusely, she took in the shuttered windows, the manicured lawn, the roses lining the perimeter of the yard. Peering back at her car, she envisioned Amelia in the front seat holding her phone, the voice of the GPS speaking in her palm.

There was almost no doubt in Whitney’s mind—this was where she’d left her.

Excerpted from Where I Left Her by Amber Garza, Copyright © 2021 by Amber Garza. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.