Book Review: Best Beach Ever by Wendy Wax


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Title: Best Beach Ever

Author: Wendy Wax

Publisher: Berkley

On the shelves: May 2018

Format: Trade paperback

Genre: Women’s fiction/contemporary

Price: $16.00

Pages: 385

This is a great book. I don’t usually offer my opinion first, but I loved the characters and all their life challenges and was sorry that it ended.

I’m coming in late to the Ten Beach Road series simply because most of the books I read are introduced to me through publisher book review requests. Though I got this one in e-book form, I actually received it as a Mother’s Day gift.

Best Beach Ever opens with these inseparable friends trying to deal with difficult issues. It tackles being taken advantage of, torn between being a mother and a partner, motherhood vs. career, Hollywood craziness (which is actually the norm) and not giving up because happiness isn’t out of reach.

The women worked closely in bringing a manor back from the brink of ruin during a reality TV renovation. Their projects appear to be what empowered their friendship.

Nicole was a A-list matchmaker who met special agent, Joe Giraldi, when he was trying to catch her brother, Malcolm, who was involved in a 3 million-dollar Ponzi scheme. They married and now have twin daughters. Joe works hard to stop crime and is often on the road leaving Nicole alone to raise the girls. He’s hoping to convince her that she needs a nanny and he has the perfect one in mind. Other than being a mom, Nicole needs a challenge to feel content in life.

Madeline Singer is a friend, mother and grandmother. She’s also loved by a musician from the past whose career has been rekindled. She is the pillar of strength that supports not only her family’s lives, but her friends’ lives, as well.

Her daughter, Kyra, is a single mom forced into having her son act in a dark movie. Daniel, who is Dustin’s father, is a popular actor now trying to fill the role as a Hollywood director. Making it difficult is that Kyra and her son had to move out of their home because of financial strain and Dustin meets his father’s family and can’t understand why he’s not part of their lives.

Bitsy Baynard is a former heiress, now living in a one-bedroom cottage thanks to her money- stealing husband who ran off. She’s pretty much living with the fact that there’s nothing she can do to recover her money and divorce her husband until fate steps in.

Avery is an architect who loves a friend she’s known for years. His family problems pushed them apart now they have to decide if they can become a couple and trust once more.

I’ve wanted to read a Wendy Wax book for a while now. I already started collecting them from library book sales. What drew me into this book is the unique sisterhood. They watch out for each other, help get a friend over a mentally and physically exhausting experience, motive each other to pursue goals and relationships, provide a hug when desperately needed and they aren’t afraid to say what’s on their mind. I think Wax handles real issues well, presents women realistically and isn’t afraid to make them human. Would love to be invited to one of their sunset toasts.

Five sunset toasts

Denise Fleischer

July 15, 2018



created by Giraffarte creative



Title Summary for Poisoned Pages by Lorna Barrett


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Mystery bookstore owner Tricia Miles learns that nothing kills a good party like a murder in the latest entry in the New York Times bestselling Booktown Mysteries.

Tricia Miles, mystery bookstore owner and amateur sleuth, throws a housewarming cocktail party in her new apartment and has cooked all the food by herself–quite a feat for someone who previously couldn’t boil water. Then one of her guests is poisoned and dies. Tricia’s left to wonder if her cooking is to blame or if there’s something much more sinister at play. Either way, Tricia’s once again in hot water with her ex-lover, Chief Baker.

Meanwhile the charming town of Stoneham is being disrupted by a vandalism crime wave. It’s the hot topic in the race for Chamber of Commerce president which sees Tricia pitted against two bitter rivals. With all that’s going on can she find the killer before she’s the next item on the menu?

Bibliophile Appetizer Recipe: Crispy Tipsy Mini Mushroom Books



By Kate Carlisle, author of BURIED IN BOOKS



Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved books. I don’t mean just reading; I mean that I have loved books as objets d’art. When other kids were going to summer camp, I was taking bookbinding classes at the library.

So when I set out to write a traditional mystery series, it made perfect sense for me to tap into my passion for books. San Francisco Bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright solves murders that are linked to a rare book in her care, and each modern-day mystery echoes the themes of that rare book. It’s a puzzle within a mystery, as readers look for those echoed themes.

It makes plotting the Bibliophile Mysteries so much fun!

In Buried in Books, my latest Bibliophile Mystery, a library convention has come to town the week before Brooklyn’s wedding. (Inspired by the enthusiastic fangirl librarians at the American Library Association annual conference, which I attended a few years ago. Book nerds—my people!) I put those together—wedding, library convention—and decided to come up with some recipes for book-shaped appetizers. You’ll find printable versions of these recipes in the Secret Room at (Plus main dish and drink recipes in Buried in Books itself.) These would be the perfect appetizers to serve at book club!

mushrooms5This recipe takes some advance planning because it will take a while for the phyllo dough (aka fillo dough) to thaw.mushrooms1

Dice the mushroom finely and sauté in butter. Mushrooms get quite watery as they cook. You need to keep cooking them over medium-low heat until most of this moisture evaporates, about 15 minutes. Then add the garlic for about a minute, then add the wine and thyme. (At my house, it’s always wine time! Snork!!!) You’ll continue cooking until the mixture is dry, about 10 minutes longer.

Phyllo dough is fragile. As you work with each sheet, cover the rest of the roll with plastic wrap and a slightly damp paper towel. On a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, place a single sheet of phyllo dough. Brush delicately with olive oil. (I used garlic-flavored olive oil.) Add another sheet on top, trying to line up the edges as best you can. Repeat until you have a stack of 5 sheets, each brushed with olive oil.

About an inch from each edge, carefully spoon a row of mushrooms down the length of the phyllo. You’re going to fold the edges toward the center to make two sets of books.



Cut the rows apart with kitchen shears, then cut each row into five books. This will give you 10 mini mushroom books from each stack of 5 sheets of phyllo dough. Bake at 350 until golden brown and crispy, 10-12 minutes. Makes 40.



Book Review – My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry


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Title: My Husband’s Wife

Author: Jane Corry

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

Date on the shelf: Jan. 31, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Setting: London, England

Read the e-book ARC version

Death is the first thing that you’re introduced to in Jane Corry’s thriller, “My Husband’s Wife.”  The reader is then transported fifteen years into the past to set the story in motion.

Having spent their honeymoon in Italy, it’s now time for Ed and Lily to begin married life. Ed is in advertising, but he wishes to be an artist. Lily had worked in employment law, assisting mostly women who have been fired. Now comes a greater challenge, that of criminal law. Her first client is Joe Thomas, who allegedly murdered his girlfriend by burning her in the bathtub. Talk about difficult, Thomas wants an appeal and everything points to his being guilty, but she’s got to prove the opposite in a court of law.

If that wasn’t a big enough challenge, an Italian neighbor needs someone responsible to watch her young daughter. Carla is a loner and bullied because of her looks, but there’s something dark about her. This is shown through her need to steal.  She shares her mother’s attention with “Larry.”

Following Lily throughout her life is the nightmare that happened to her brother, David, in the stables. There is guilt associated with that memory.

A single event, one of recognition, changes the lives of Carla and her mother. Without financial support they have no other choice, but to go back home to Italy.

Years later, lives have changed. More difficult for Lily and Ed, even though Lily has become a highly respected lawyer. For Carla, it’s a time of revenge.

My Husband’s Wife was difficult to read. I’m not one to like dark novels where you can’t find a single character to care about. That you hate the choices they make in life and how they treat people. That they are schemers and manipulators. But you know, that’s reality and I think it’s a lot more difficult creating characters that are disturbed and obsessed, than one’s you absolutely love and can relate to. This had to be written with multiple characters perspectives. How else would you understand where they are coming from?

Three paintings out of five

Denise Fleischer

June 30, 2018


Guest Blog Post – Jacqueline Church Simonds talks about getting back to writing



JCS Headshot 1

Many thanks to Denise for letting me post today.

Denise was kind enough to review my first book, Captain Mary, Buccaneer, (mumbly mumbly) years ago. I was very excited about the historical adventure novel, and the new direction I’d taken in my life. I had always wanted to write, but never really allowed myself to sit down and do it before penning that book.

And then life took another turn. As a result of my book and publishing company, I became a full-time traditional publisher (12 books), and then a publishing services provider (35 projects), and then a book distributor (42 titles at its height). But the book business changed, and I closed the publishing company and the distribution business (I am still a publishing consultant/book shepherd).

And then I got really sick.

As I recuperated, I realized that somehow, a lot of years had gone by since I wrote Captain Mary. I thought, “What do I want to do with my life?” And the answer came back pretty clearly to me—“I started out as a writer, I want to get back to doing that.”

So I wrote down a fairly simple King Arthur story from a woman’s perspective that had been banging around in my dreams for about 10 years. After I had it all down—an initial process that broke all my speed writing records and came out in just 6 weeks—I felt it might be improved by a Frame Tale. That’s a device that begins and ends (and sometimes appears in the middle of) the main story. So my—rather extensive—frame tale was about the heirs created by Anya and Merlin and King Arthur about to accomplish what had been set in motion 1,500 years before.

Then I had some friends read it. They all said they were really interested in the “future” story.

“Hmm,” I said. Then I split the manuscript in two, and got to work.

Midsummer Wife CoverMy new book, just put out by Strange Fictions Press, is The Midsummer Wife, Book 1 of The Heirs to Camelot. After a nuclear attack on London that heralds The Time Foretold, Ava Cerdwin, the anxiety-ridden high priestess in charge of fulfilling a 1,500-year-old prophesy, must assist the heirs of King Arthur and Merlin in healing the devastated country. The descendants of Britain’s great men of legend have kept the myths and relics for 61 generations, but no one is quite clear on what they must do next. Nothing goes as planned: Ava falls for the wrong heir, the panic attacks are getting worse, the complex obligations of reincarnation are straining old relationships, and Morgaine and her henchwomen are trying to kill them. Somehow, some way, Ava has to make the Healing happen, or Britain is finished. The Midsummer Wife is an Urban Fantasy that combines Arthurian lore, love, and a race to a breathtaking finish.

Writing a character who has an anxiety disorder caused me to have several anxiety attacks of my own—which I have experienced since I was 5 or 6. But it felt very true to me. Ava is doing the best she can, despite agoraphobia and panic attacks. And that’s how it is for those of us who have anxiety. We do the best we can, one day at a time.

This is a fairly different take on the traditional King Arthur. I have long believed in reincarnation and been interested in other religions—including what is called New Age or paganism, which is a major feature of the book. As I was writing it, I realized that a Goddess would likely create a hero to save Britain who more reflected the diverse place that country has become. And so the man-who-would-be-king is of British-Zimbabwean heritage. All these elements add an interesting dynamic to the book.

And because of the way the book ends, well, there HAD to be 2 more books!

We’ll be releasing the prequel, called The Healer of Camelot, in August. The next two books in the series —The Solstice Bride and Mistress of the Rose Moon—will come out in 2019.

I’m very excited about this series, and I hope readers enjoy it!

About Jacqueline Church Simonds

Jacqueline Church Simonds is an author and publishing consultant. Her first published book was Captain Mary, Buccaneer, a historical adventure novel loosely based on the real pirate women Ann Bonney and Mary Reade.

Simonds has done the usual authorly wanderings in life: she was a lady’s companion, a sound and lights roadie for a small Southern rock band, a bartender and waitress, and managed an antiques shop. She’s sold everything from computers to 1950s pulp magazines to towels and baby clothes. The one constant in her life is a love of words, books and writing. She sold some short stories and poetry early, but didn’t pursue it until later in life.

She has had a life-long love of King Arthur and was always drawn to novels about that great hero. Finally, she sat down and wrote stories from her own point of view.

She lives in Reno, Nevada with her husband and beagle.



Now in paperback: A Panicked Premonition by Victoria Laurie & Book Review of Little Big Love by Katy Regan


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A Panicked Premonition

By Victoria Laurie

Part of the Psychic Eye Mystery, now in paperback, 368 pages



In Victoria Laurie’s latest Psychic Eye Mystery, Abby Cooper has one rule to follow: don’t panic!

Professional psychic and FBI consultant Abby Cooper is about to face a murder scene that will put all her powers to the test. Her husband, Dutch, has a side business providing security and building panic rooms for wealthy clients. One morning, one of Dutch’s partners, Dave, goes missing…

Then two of Dutch’s clients are found brutally murdered inside their brand-new panic room, and most of the evidence points to Dave as the killer. With the authorities racing to find and arrest him, Abby’s got to use all her intuitive prowess to get to Dave first, discover the real killer, and save her husband’s business. This is one case where Abby is positive there’s far more to this mystery


Book Review – Little Big Love

Author: Katy Regan

Publisher: Berkley

Format: hardcover

Date on the shelves: 6/12/2018

Setting: England, 2015

Pages: 258

Price: $26.00

It seems the most difficult thing at this point in Zac’s life is learning the truth about why his father ran off.  He can’t seem to get answers from his mother and grandparents so he writes his father a letter. He might only be ten years old, but he’s determined to bring his parents together so his mother doesn’t have to be depressed, or drink, or date men she knows she will never love.

Zach drafts a “Find his Dad” mission and with the assistance of his best friend, Teagan, they create a plan of action. If gathering clues about his father isn’t hard enough, he has to deal with the constant bullying of his peers. They literally cause mental anguish because of his weight and no one can seem to stop them.

At the center of his father’s disappearance is the hidden truth which has nearly destroyed his family’s ability to continue on.

Little Big Love is about loss, unresolved issues, guilt, loneliness, lost direction and unfaltering hope.

This book is part of a current trend where multiple characters reveal their thoughts, emotions and life challenges.  It takes a skilled writer to pull it off throughout the entire length of the book. I think the author dug down to the heartache, regret, anger, hiding nothing so you could better understand why they felt like they did. I didn’t think it possible, because I’m adult, but I mostly cared more about Zac then his mother or grandparents. Maybe because I’m a mother or because of the bullying. Either way, you’ll do more than care about Zac, you’ll come to love and respect him.

Five factblasters out of five

Denise Fleischer

June 27, 2018

Guest Blog Post – Woman Writer Finds Her Voice — And It’s a Bark


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Debra Finerman Photo credit: ©studio Traktir

By  Debra Finerman

Author of You Lucky Dog

 Harvard Summer Workshop. Advanced Novel Writing Class. Professor Haviaras raises his bushy eyebrows and surveys his classroom of future authors with a withering stare. He says in his Greek accent, “The most important thing to do before beginning your first novel? To find your voice.”

That advice helped me polish my first manuscript, the one I had brought to the workshop. A few months later, Mademoiselle Victorine was acquired by Random House. It was even translated into many foreign languages I can’t speak.

I began writing my latest novel You Lucky Dog, pub date June 6, by recalling the dictum, “Find your voice.” I felt the voice should be in the first person. I mean, first dog.

you-lucky-dog_cov_lgI got the idea for this book a few years ago when a good friend lamented that she wished she could find a man who loves her as much her dog does. “He’s always happy to see me. When I come home from work, he rushes to greet me at the door. And he senses when I have the blues. He lays his head on my lap and looks up at me with those soulful eyes. It’s unconditional love. Why can’t I find a guy who loves me like that?”

I said to myself, “What if…”. A few years ago, best selling author Mary Higgins Clark addressed a conference of the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). She told us her best ideas are born with, “What if…” In fact, she told us all good stories start with, “What if…”

So, what if… a young man dies and his soul transfers into his wife’s dog’s body? And he continues his life as a cute little Westie.

The voice was very clear to me. He’s a good-looking, Ivy League educated young hedge fund manager, rather self-satisfied but entirely likeable. He has all the material trappings he could hope for, in love with his smart, adorable wife. The guy and the dog experience a terrible car crash together. The proverbial white light surrounds him in the car as he’s dying. His DNA is unraveling and reforming. His soul is transferring into the dog’s body. He awakes in the (animal) hospital to find he has the brain and speech of his former self, but in a little dog’s body.

In my own experience, I always wanted a dog as long as I can remember. Growing up, I’d beg my mom for a dog and she’d always say, “We’ll see…” Finally it dawned on me that “We’ll see meant no.”

As an adult, I eventually got my first dog. You Lucky Dog’s dedication page says, “To Frosty.”  He was a Westie who seemed to have a slightly snarky, witty personality. If he could talk, he would sound like Jake in my book.

There exists such a strong emotional bond between people and their dogs. After all, dogs and humans have evolved side by side for millennia. In fact, doing a bit of research, I learned that National Geographic reported on researchers who have found we even share a percentage of our genome with dogs. The spark was born for my book. “Love me, love my dog,” literally, is a pretty good premise for a novel.

is a humorous romance about two total strangers, Emma and Jake, who meet in a park thanks to her dog, coincidentally also named Jake. Emma’s a romantic who believes that true love never dies while Jake’s a little cynical about love, like many young men. They marry and share their life in a leafy suburb of L.A. with the dog that brought them together.

Jake learns that true love does transcend death when he’s in a fatal car accident holding Emma’s dog close to his chest. His physical body dies but his soul transfers into the dog who survives. His brain and personality haven’t changed and he has the capacity to speak. The couple continue their life together with many hilarious incidents.

It’s a humorous novel, but I wanted to explore three rather profound ideas. First, the question of our identity.  Who are we is a question that has fascinated writers for a pretty long time. Are we our material bodies or is that just a habitation for our souls?

Secondly, the notion that true love never dies. It seems evident that surely love survives death. Not just death of a romantic partner. The love for a parent, sibling, friend or a pet continues in our hearts long after they’re gone from our human experience.

Thirdly, that life is actually pretty whacky.

I hope readers of my book smile as they turn the pages and feel satisfied at the conclusion. Speaking of the conclusion, there’s even a surprise ending!


Debra Finerman is an American writer who lives part-time in Paris. She is the author of three novels. YOU LUCKY DOG her latest book, is a humorous novel for dog lovers and human lovers.

SHADOW WAR, her second book, is a WWII novel inspired by plaques seen on walls throughout Paris dedicated to the brave Resistance Fighters who died on the spot, shot by Nazi patrols. During research for this book, she traveled to the Imperial War Museum, London and Resistance Museums in France. She met former members of Resistance groups. Espionage is familiar to her as her uncle was a CIA agent. Her first novel MADEMOISELLE VICTORINE, published by Random House Three Rivers Press, has been translated into six languages worldwide. Debra is a former journalist for Capital StyleThe Hollywood Reporter monthly magazine, Beverly Hills Today and Beverly Hills Magazine. Her articles about France are published in the online magazine, My French Life.

A graduate of UCLA, she earned her academic degree in Art History and Connoisseurship at Christie’s, New York. For more information, visit





Guest Blog Post – Peg Might Not Have A Green Thumb But She Learned About Farming In Michigan Writing The Series


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There is a certain irony in the fact that I am writing the Farmer’s Daughter series which takes place on Love Blossom Farm in the fictional Michigan town of Lovett.  I didn’t grow up on a farm and my gardening skills can best be described as “limited.”

The suburb where I grew up is much more built up now but back then there was actually a very small farm about two miles away where they grew corn and sold it at a roadside stand. The highlight of the summer was those first ears of fresh Jersey corn.

My grandparents had a fair amount of property behind their house and grew lots of vegetables (tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes!), fruits and herbs.  The air around their house always smelled of basil and now when I smell the herb I’m immediately transported back to their home.  My grandfather even grew grapes for the wine he made himself.

Sadly the green thumb wasn’t passed to me.  I had good luck with tomatoes one year and the next year…not so much.  I think I harvested three tomatoes from two plants. I did manage some herbs and my small lavender “starter” plant actually grew into a bush.

And mint!  Note to self: next time plant mint in a container not in the ground!  I had enough mint to make mint juleps for the entire county! And lemon balm, too.  But I must say our yard smelled heavenly when the breeze blew over my herb garden!

So a lot of research went into this series—I spent a fair amount of time looking up growing seasons and what might be planted/growing/reaped in which month in the Mitten State.  I learned about canning, storing root vegetables for the winter and even cheese making.

It was tons of fun, and I hope you’ll have as much fun reading “Bought the Farm!”


Peg Cochran is the national bestselling author of No Farm, No Foul; the Cranberry Cove Mysteries; and the Gourmet De-Lite Mysteries.

Blog Tour – Little Big Love by Katy Regan


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Katy Regan



New York

An imprint of Penguin Random House

LLC 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2018 by Katy Regan
Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY is a registered trademark and the B colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Regan, Katy, author.
Title: Little big love / Katy Regan.
Other titles: Little big man
Description: First edition. | New York : Berkley, 2018.
Identifers: LCCN 2017040884 (print) | LCCN 2017034468 (ebook) |
ISBN 9780451490346 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780451490360 (Ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Mothers and sons—Fiction. | Family secrets—Fiction. | Fathers—Fiction. | Domestic fiction. | GSAFD: Love stories.
Classi cation: LCC PR6118.E583 L58 2018 (ebook) | LCC PR6118.E583 (print) | DDC 823/.92—dc23
LC record available at

First Edition: June 2018

Printed in the United States of America

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Jacket design and illustration by Allison Colpoys

Title page art: watercolor waves © Shizayats/Shutterstock

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


For Yoshi Sato,
who will always be in my thoughts

New Year’s Eve 2015

Dear Liam
(maybe one day I will call you Dad but not yet),

This is your son, Zac. I am writing this letter to give you an opportunity. I know you did a runner just before I was born and weren’t interested in being my dad, but how could you decide if we’d never met? I didn’t know I wanted to be Teagan’s friend until she moved onto the same estate as me. Luckily she was nice, but she could have been really annoying.

I don’t want to be offensive  but I have been really angry with you since the day my mum and me went on the promenade train in Cleethorpes when I was three and my mum told me you existed. I don’t know why you didn’t want to see me or even phone me if I was your child. You have never even sent me a birthday card. (In case you don’t know, my birthday is May 25th.) What kind of dad doesn’t send their kid a birthday card?

So I am giving you the opportunity to come to my party when I’m eleven. It’s five months away so lots of time to organize it. If you have any more children, you could bring them, as long as they like Toby Carvery because that’s where I’m going.

BE WARNED: my mum is really mad with you and my nan says you make her sick, but I am willing to give you a chance.

My grandad says, “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” and I agree. For example, I never used to like mushrooms, but now I would have them on my death row dinner. I think if you met me you’d change your mind too.


Please write back.

From Zac


P.S. Just so you know, you can only get two slices of meat at Toby Carvery, but you can have as many vegetables and Yorkshire puddings as you want.




Fact: there are only three animals in the

world that have a blue tongue: a chow chow dog,

a blue-tongued lizard, and a black bear.

So I’d already written to my dad on New Year’s Eve, but deciding to look for him only started, really, the night of my mum’s Date from Hell. She kicked everything off that spring; she made everything start happening that would change our lives for the better and make them brilliant. She says it was me that did it, but it wasn’t, it was her. (Even though she was drunk, it was still her.) That’s the only good thing about wine, I suppose. It can sometimes help you to tell the truth.

Grimsby, early February 2016

Sam Bale’s dad was walking across our estate in the snow. It was just him with his big furry hood up. He could have been trekking across the North Pole.

“How many points would you give him, then?” I said.

“What, Sam’s dad?” said Teagan. “None. No way. He’s been in prison for fighting people, he has.”

“He’s rich, though,” I said.

“How do you know?”
“He’s got a bath that’s a Jacuzzi—and he’s got a gold car. Imagine how much that would cost. A gold car!”
Me and Teagan were high up, leaning out of her bedroom window playing the dad game. Teagan’s my best friend. She lives on our estate but in one of the high blocks on the seventh floor, where you can see the whole of Grimsby, even to the sea. We live in a boring old maisonette with only two floors, but it’s nicer than Teagan’s inside because my mum can work, whereas Teagan’s mum’s got this disease where she’s tired all the time, so if you weigh everything up, it comes out equal.
I was round at hers for a sleepover because my mum was on a date. I don’t usually go round to people’s houses for sleepovers on a school night, but then, my mum doesn’t usually go on dates. This was her first in a year and a half. Before that, she was going out with Jason, but they split up because there was no chemistry.
The dad game is something me and Teagan made up after Teagan’s dad left her mum—and Teagan, and her sister, Tia—for Gayle from Ladbrokes. Since then, she hasn’t seen her dad much. Teagan’s dead angry with her dad and thinks she’ll have to get a new one eventually. My dad did a runner just before I was born, but Mum’s always said we had a lucky escape because he was a waste of space. So I’d like to get a proper dad too someday, and me and Teagan thought it would be good to work out what sort of dad would be best.

Our game’s called Top Trumps for Dads. It’s just like normal Top Trumps, except we give scores based on how good a dad we think someone would be: how kind, strict, or funny they are; if they’re rich and could take us on adventures; if they’d be able to stick up for us in a fight—and not a fight like Sam Bale’s dad’s been in, but a proper one, where you’re fighting for something worth it, not just for the sake of it.

Teagan writes down scores for the dads in our special file. So far, Jacob Wilmore’s dad scores the highest. He’s got a six-pack and a Porsche and he’s just a really nice man. He used to play football professionally and now he sometimes coaches the under-elevens. I wish I was good at football, just so I could see him more. We’ve finished doing all the dads at school now, though, so we’re scoring others we know, like Sam Bale’s.

“He might be rich, Zac, but he’s still been in prison,” said Teagan. “ There’s no point having a dad in prison all the time; you’d never get to see him.”

“Yeah, and when you went to visit him, you wouldn’t be able to touch him and you’d have to be careful because he might be in with all the murderers.”

“And he’d have to wear an orange suit,” said Teagan. “I’ve seen it on Coronation Street.”

As well as living on the Harlequin Estate with me, Teagan’s at the same school as me but in a different class, so on Mondays and Thursdays, when I’m not at Nan and Grandad’s, we sometimes play together after tea. We like playing “the Olympics,” where Teagan does her gymnastics on the bars (three metal bars, basically, all of different heights, in the middle of our estate) and I do the commentary like on the Olympics. This is Teagan O’Brien on the bars, for the United Kingdom! When it’s cold or rainy, though, we like stopping in and leaning out of Teagan’s bedroom window and looking at all of Grimsby like we own it. Our estate is at the edge of the town near the sea (it’s not actually the sea, it’s the Humber estuary, but it goes into the North Sea). But don’t go thinking there’s a beach like there is at Cleethorpes—it’s not like that. If you look at where the sea meets the town in Grimsby, from high up here in Teagan’s flat, you can just see loads of cranes and boat masts, with the Dock Tower in the middle, poking out like a red rocket. The line where the water meets the town goes in and out where all the different trawlers have their parking spots. Our town is a shing port. It used to be the greatest fishing port in the world back when my great-grandad was a fisherman, in the glory days. But then there were the Cod Wars, where Iceland and our country rowed about who was allowed to fish where, and that ruined everything basically.

“Hey, if you squint your eyes and look at all the snow,” I said, closing one eye, the way Mr. Singh from Costcutter does when you go in there and he pretends to be asleep, “you could be in Canada.”

“Jacob Wilmore’s been to Canada. He told me it was boring,” said Teagan.

“I bet it’s not. I bet it’s amazing.” The snow was amazing here too, if you looked closely. It wasn’t white; it was loads of different colors. That’s because it’s actually frozen droplets of water reflecting the light. I told Teagan this. “It’s the same for polar bears,” I said. “Their fur’s not white either, it’s transparent; it just reflects the light so it looks all dazzling. Underneath, their skin is black and under that are eleven centimeters of fat.”

“No way. Eleven centimeters?”

“Well, you’d need eleven centimeters of fat if you lived in the Arctic.”

“It’s like living in the Arctic in this house,” said Teagan. “And where’s my eleven centimeters?”

She leaned farther out of the window. She makes me nervous when she does that, because she’s so light, she could flutter away like a crisp packet. Teagan might be the smallest in our year but she’s not scared of anything, ever. I’m scared most of the time. Sometimes it feels like our bodies have been swapped around.

I leaned a little bit farther out too. The cold was lovely, it crept right through your clothes, and the moon was orange, with this sad, kind face.

“I wonder what my mum’s doing now,” I said.

“Why, where is she?” asked Teagan, flicking her hair round. Teagan’s hair is her best feature, like mine is my eyes. It’s chocolate colored and wavy.

“On a date,” I said.

“What, with a man?”

“No, a chimpanzee,” I said and Teagan laughed. She’s got this mad, crazy laugh; you can’t help joining in. I hadn’t said anything to Teagan because I didn’t want to jinx it, but I was really worried about my mum’s date. I wanted it to go well so badly that I’d prayed on Factblaster before I came out. Grandad always gets me a present just from him at Christmas, and last Christmas it was Factblaster. Every fact you’ve ever wanted to know, answered!, it says on the front. It’s totally awesome. I think it’s got lucky powers. I love my facts like I love my cooking. Out of my class, I’m probably second best at facts after Jacob, who knows literally everything, but that’s because his dad works on the rigs so can afford to take him all over.

My mum’s date was with a man called Dom. He knows my aunty Laura (she’s not my real aunty; she’s my mum’s best friend— I just call her aunty) and he’s got a sports car. My mum really needs a boyfriend. She loves me to bits, but we need a man in the house and, also, I liked it better when she was going out with Jason. I kind of miss him. Maybe I even loved him.

Teagan sighed. “Rather her than me,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, rather your mum than me going on a date. I’m not going on any dates when I’m older. I’m not going to have a husband or even a boyfriend.”

“Why not?” I said.

“’Cause men are stupid idiots, that’s why. You won’t be, obviously. But that’s because you’re different.”

I wondered what she meant by different. People don’t like different, in my experience. They don’t like fat, or really thin; they don’t like people who are poor. But then, they don’t like too rich either, or big noses, ADHD, smelliness, sticky-out ears, funny teeth, glasses, people with one arm, weird names, or weird parents. They don’t like anyone who stands out, basically. I don’t think any of these things matter—it’s the person inside that counts. But not everyone thinks like that, do they? That’s just not real life.

The windows in the flats across the way were glowing orange. The way they were lit up, it made the flats look so cozy and I thought, that’s how Teagan’s flat must look from there too, but also how it was a trick, because you couldn’t see how scruffy her bedroom was on the inside, you couldn’t see the black damp in the corners, like you can’t see the black skin underneath a polar bear’s fur. You couldn’t see there was no dad there or that her mum was in bed because she’d got the tired disease. You can’t see the truth just by looking on the surface. That’s something else I’d worked out.

I was thinking about all this when, all of a sudden, Teagan took a huge lungful of air. “Bogeys!” she shouted, so loud I bet it hurt her throat. I just saw Sam Bale’s dad look up before she tugged at my arm and yanked me down and then we were sitting with our backs against the wall, cracking up for ages. I laugh loads when I’m with Teagan; it makes me forget the bad stuff.

“Do you want some sweets?” she said, suddenly sliding onto her belly and under her bed. Teagan’s so little you could slide her anywhere. You could hide her like Anne Frank if you had to. She wriggled under her bed and brought out a plastic orange bucket. It was full of sweets from Halloween. “Have what you want.”


“Yeah, ’course.”

I couldn’t believe she’d saved them. Halloween had been four months ago!

I chose a mini Mars Bar, a Drumstick lolly, and a Maoam.

“Is that all?” she said. She couldn’t talk properly due to the humongous gobstopper in her mouth. “You can have more. Go on, take more.”

Teagan’s the only person my age in the world I can eat in front of without going red. She’s the only person my age I can talk to about food too—about what I baked with my nan or what recipe I made up. She’s the only person my age who knows I want to be a chef like my uncle Jamie too. She never looks at me funny. Not like that. Not like most people look at me. When she talks to me, she just looks in my eyes. Sometimes I wonder if she’s even noticed.

We sat on the bed. It was quiet except for the rustling of our sweet wrappers and the room was full of the moon, making Teagan’s tongue look blue from the gobstopper. Then suddenly, there was shouting.

“Why?” a lady was going. “Why? Why? Why?” Teagan looked at me and we burst out laughing. “Wanker!” the woman shouted and we cracked up even more. We couldn’t get to the window fast enough to see what was going on, which was that there were two people, a man and a woman, having an actual scrap in the snow! The man was skidding around trying to duck from the lady, who was hitting him over the head with her handbag. She was shouting but crying at the same time. She had blondish/brownish hair the same style as my mum’s and she was wearing a turquoise coat.

I recognized that coat.

“Oh. My. God,” Teagan said slowly. She wasn’t laughing anymore and neither was I. “Isn’t that your . . . ?”

I can tell you now, no ten-year-old kid wants to see their mum having a scrap in the snow, whacking someone over the head with her handbag. It makes the mum look mental and it’s not very lady- like. But that was exactly what was happening. I watched as my mum stomped off back home in the snow, and then I sat on Teagan’s bed for a bit, deciding what to do. I went home in the end. Teagan understood because she knows what it’s like to be worried about your mum.

The back door was open when I got there, so I just walked in. Mum was frying sausages in the kitchen. She’d got changed into her PJs, but she still had her makeup on, plus the dangly earrings she’d bought from Matalan especially for the date. I wished she hadn’t bothered.

“Zac! Jesus . . . Bloody hell . . .” She jumped out of her skin when she saw me. It might have been funny, but it wasn’t, if you know what I mean. “Why aren’t you at Teagan’s?” she said, wiping under her eyes with her fingers. Her eyes weren’t looking at me straight and she had black tears down her cheeks.

“She felt sick,” I said. Lying makes me nervous, but I didn’t have a choice. She asked me for a cuddle and I gave her one. She smelled really strong of the pub.

“What’s wrong?” I asked as she hugged me, really tight. It hurt a bit, but I didn’t want to say. “What happened on the date—it went wrong, didn’t it?”

But she ignored me. She just started putting the sausages on the slices of bread she had on the side. They had big clumps of butter on and even bigger holes. “Do you want one of these, darlin’? Mummy’s special sausage sandwich?”

Her voice was funny—I didn’t like it—and she wasn’t cutting the sandwich all neat like she normally does; she was making a mess.

“Why’re you acting strange?”

“Strange? I’m not acting strange,” she said, but she was walking toward the cupboard to get some plates out and even her walk was weird. The way she was talking. I hated it. All of it.

“Are you drunk?” I said. “Because I don’t like it. Just act normal, Mum. You’re freaking me out.”

She reached up to get the plates, but when she turned around and looked at me, I saw that she was crying again, horrible crying with all her face crumpled up. “How can I be normal, Zac, when I’m not?” she said, doing this horrible sob, so big that a little snot bubble came out of her nose. “When I’m this disgusting fat pig? This big fat mess of a person? I’m not surprised Dom didn’t want to kiss me or that your dad never—” That was when a plate slid out of the cupboard and smashed first on her head, then all over the floor, and then Mum was shouting and crying and I was too, and I was trying to pick up the pieces of the plate as well as hugging her at the same time and I just wanted this whole stupid date, this whole night, never to have happened.

I DIDN’T WANT Mum to be on her own, so I got into her bed and we ate our sausage sandwiches—Mum was dropping ketchup everywhere because she was still drunk, you could tell.

Afterward, I lay on her boobs. I love doing that ’cause they’re so soft, like pillows. I even have names for them. One’s Larry (he’s a bit bigger) and one’s Gary. Nobody but my mum and me know.

“What am I going to do, Zac?” Mum said suddenly. Her voice was all funny like she had a bad cold, because she’d been crying so much. “I’m never going to get myself a man like this, am I? Never going to get you a dad. And then you’ll leave me and marry a gorgeous girl, because you deserve a gorgeous girl, and I’ll just be a lonely old woman with cats.”

“But you wouldn’t be lonely if you had cats, would you?” I said. “Plus, you can get really friendly cats. And anyway, I’m not moving out—ever. Even if I do get married, I always want to live with you.”

Mum laughed. “You won’t always feel like that,” she said, kissing my head. “I promise you.”

“Anyway, you will meet someone. Nan says Liam ruined all your confidence but you’ll get it back when you get a new boyfriend. You’re dead pretty. I think you are.”

That was when Mum said the thing that made me glad this night had happened after all. “But that’s the problem, Zac.” She was stroking my hair; it felt dead relaxing. “I only ever loved Liam. I don’t think I even want a boyfriend if it’s not him.”

My heart was going boom. I didn’t dare speak in case she stopped talking.

“I loved him and he loved me—so much. He did, I know he did. And I just can’t imagine finding that again.”

She was quiet for a bit then, and I thought she’d fallen asleep. Then she did a big sigh.

“Bastard,” she said.




Now in paperback: A Just Clause By Lorna Barrett, A Booktown Mystery


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A Just Clause


A Just Clause 

By Lorna Barrett

A Booktown Mystery



June 5, 2018

292 pages


Just when things are getting back to normal in Booktown, Tricia and Angelica have their lives turned upside down by a shocking visitor from their past in this latest entry in Lorna Barrett’s New York Times bestselling series. 

Tricia Miles, mystery bookstore owner and amateur sleuth, is in for a surprise when her ne’er-do-well father, John, comes to town—and promptly becomes a prime suspect in the murder of a woman with her own scandalous past. Even Tricia’s faith in the old man is shaken when the Stoneham police break the news that her father is a known con man who has done jail time.

But what about bestselling thriller author Steven Richardson? Is it a coincidence that he arrived for a book signing just before the crime or that the victim was found with a signed copy of his latest bestseller?

From merlot to murder, Tricia is determined to clear the family name before another body shows up and ruins Stoneham’s first—and highly anticipated—wine and jazz festival.


Lorna Barrett is the New York Times bestselling author of the Booktown Mysteries, including Poisoned Pages, A Just Clause, Title Wave, A Fatal Chapter, and Book Clubbed. She lives in Rochester, New York.

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