B O O K R E V I E W : The Roughest Draft

Many thanks to Berkley Romance for a gifted copy of The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka out THIS Tuesday, January 25, 2022!

When Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen met at a writer’s retreat, they immediately felt a synergy they turned into a successful writing partnership. Three years ago, their book topped bestseller lists, was translated into multiple languages, and was courted for film rights. But, by the time they finished the book, they’d had a falling out so severe, they haven’t spoken since. Though many have speculated on the reasons behind their professional breakup, neither have ever revealed details.

Now, both are facing personal dilemmas that would be solved if they fulfilled their contract for one final manuscript. They agree to spend two months together writing in the same Florida beach house where they crafted their bestseller. Three years of hatred, though, isn’t easy to overcome, and if they don’t work out their relationship, they might not be able to achieve writing magic.

Authored by a husband-wife writing team, the book provides interesting insight into the process of co-writing and the demands following a literary success. It also asks how much writers can separate life and fiction—Nathan and Katrina have opposing opinions. The book also has a great cast of secondary and tertiary characters I’d have liked to have seen even more of: Harriet, a sarcastic writer who lives nearby; Jen, Nathan’s blunt agent; and Liz, the pair’s eclectic editor. Chris, Katrina’s cutthroat agent, is more one-dimensional, and I wish he’d had greater depth of characterization.

As Katrina and Nathan argue plot points, they confront their personal demons, and at times Katrina frustrated me with her long-standing and extreme self-sabotage which at times seemed to conflict with how she was described (confident, direct, flirtatious). Nathan explains, that book conclusions are “the culmination and subversion of everything preceding, the satisfaction of expectations and the joy of the unexpected.” I did feel this way by the end of the book!

The fabulous cover, I think deliberately evokes Emily Henry’s book. I think readers who like her books would enjoy The Roughest Draft as well as those who like frenemies to lovers!

B O O K R E V I E W : A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

At thirty-two, Dr. Chloe Davis has a successful private psychology practice and is planning her wedding to handsome and unflappable Daniel Briggs. Outwardly, she lives a charmed life, but she suffers from extreme anxiety, haunted by events of her childhood. When she was twelve, Chloe Davis’s father confessed to a series of violent crimes connected to missing teenage girls, and since then has been moldering in a Louisiana prison.

Just as Chloe should be focused on wedding flake and floral arrangements, a fifteen-year-old girl is reported missing from Baton Rouge. Chloe isn’t sure if she’s being paranoid in seeing parallels to her father’s misdeeds or if she’s being pulled into the orbit of yet another killer.

Suspicious of everyone close to her, even her fiancé, Chloe finds an unlikely ally in a New York Times reporter in town to write a retrospective about her father. Resolved she is the only one who can uncover the truth, she embarks on a dangerous mission to find a killer.

Not entirely reliable, Chloe’s narration shifts between the present and the summer of her father’s arrest. As she gets more embroiled in her search, she becomes increasingly distrustful which makes her isolated and reckless and makes for harrowing situations. But I particularly liked the flashbacks in which Chloe remembered the first missing girl, Lena, a few years older whom she idolized. Lena not only introduced her to womanhood but also challenged her instinct for obedience.

I also loved the writing style, one in which I delighted in the harmony, which I’d compare to Long Bright River, We Are all the Same in the Dark, Please See Us, or The Plot.

Thank you so much to Minotaur Books for sending me an advanced reading copy!


B O O K R E V I E W : The Tenderest of Strings

Thank you so much to Regal House Publishing and Over the River PR for including me on the book tour for The Tenderest of Strings by Steven Schwartz.

The Rosenfeld family has moved from Chicago to Welton, Colorado, where Reuben purchased the local paper. Although relocating was supposed to give them a new start, their elder son, Harry, a loner, comes home with injuries he won’t explain, younger son Jamie still suffers from the asthma that the dry Colorado air was to have alleviated, and Ardith, a stay-at-home mother, has become embroiled in an affair with the town’s doctor. Reuben, unaware of the affair, wonders at Ardith’s distance. Meanwhile, the fixer-upper they purchased remains in disrepair, so decrepit that it is mistaken for a haunted house attraction on Halloween.

Despite the malaise afflicting the Rosenfelds, inertia maintains their fragile bonds until they learn of a fatal hit and run accident the night of a raucous barbecue they attended. The death acts as a key unlocking secrets with repercussions for the entire family and the larger community.

I really enjoyed The Tenderest of Strings, at heart a family drama exploring the strength of love and possibly of forgiveness in the wake of trauma. The characters were extremely flawed but at the same time very likable, and I thought Schwartz did an excellent job developing distinct tones for the primary point of view characters. The young, rebellious teen Harry’s journey was particularly emotional to me.

Some comic relief comes from the paper, where reviews of local fast food restaurants are popular and the sole reporter has a column about the highly-exaggerated exploits of her toddler daughter.

If you like family dramas, books about small towns, or are looking for Jewish representation, add The Tenderest of Strings to your TBR. I also think fans of Richard Russo would enjoy the novel.

B O O K R E V I E W : The Siren of Sussex

Thanks to Berkley Publishing or including me on the book tour for The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Mathews which went on sale January 11 and for a gifted copy of the book.

In this historical romance, Evelyn Maltravers arrives in London for the season determined to find a wealthy husband. It is the only way she can ensure the future of her younger sisters and her beloved horse since her family lives only on a small inheritance of her Aunt Nora. Yet, with her penchant for blurting out honest opinions and looks that have been overshadowed by her older sister’s, Evelyn knows that she’ll be overlooked in the ballrooms. Instead, she has a plan to bewitch a potential suitor through her riding prowess. She just needs a phenomenal riding habit as part of her wardrobe—and she knows just the designer, the tailor who dressed the Pretty Horesbreakers.

Ahmad Malik, able to flatter every size and shape with his designs, has worked with beautiful women before but none have bewitched him like Evelyn. She, too, confesses her love, but with barriers of race and class, not to mention Evelyn’s need to provide for her family, a happy ending between them is impossible, unless they are willing to put aside their dreams and flout the expectations of polite society.

Evelyn’s spunk and determinedness won me over. She was resolved not to be boxed in by the rules of what “ladies” should do. I also found Ahmad completely swoony with such an interesting backstory.

Evelyn made friends with three other women participating in the season (all of whom will have their own books in the series, I believe). They gravitate towards each other because they are awkward and not popular among society men, but that’s what makes them so endearing, and I look forward to seeing more of them.

The book is also, of course, filled with references to 1860s fashion and history. I was particularly amused by the older adults’ fascination with spiritualism, including crystal balls, seances, and spirit advisors—based on real events, but it also touched on more serious issues such as colonialism.

Fans of Evie Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women will enjoy this!

Note: This has lots of sexual tension but is closed door!

Impeccably researched, brimming with passion and chemistry, and a loving tribute to Victorian fashion and horsemanship, The Siren of Sussex is a page-turning, powerful, and endearing love story about two people rising above the pressures of society to follow their hearts. A five-star fantastic read!—Syrie James, USA Today bestselling author

B O O K R E V I E W : The Bait

The second novella in the To Catch a Leopard triology, The Bait finds the lovers Ania and Jerome in Venice, Italy during the Venetian Carnival a year after the events in The Steal. Determined to trap the Leopard, they plan a daring heist to steal the famed Lemon Twist necklace from Julie Kimbell during her own ball.

Events, however, do not go as planned, and Jerome becomes the focus of the investigation. He realizes Ania may not have been completely honest and that revenge may be more important than her feelings towards him.

This is a quick-paced, classic heist story with a touch of romance. I loved the Venice setting and all the 1950s glamour! The writing style evokes the era, and I think it’s unevenly successful. There’s a scene at a glass factory on Murano island that I really enjoyed: when I was in graduate school, I worked at a bead store and I still sometimes make jewelry so I enjoyed the descriptions of the necklaces and other accessories.

A good choice for readers looking for a quick, fun, romantic heist.

Thanks to @mjroseauthor, @getredprbooks, and @letstalkbookspromo for including me on the tour and for an advanced reading copy of the book!