Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Tour Review - - The Friendship List

The Friendship List
by Susan Mallery
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Reviewed by PJ

Two best friends jump-start their lives in a summer that will change them forever…

Single mom Ellen Fox couldn’t be more content—until she overhears her son saying he can’t go to his dream college because she needs him too much. If she wants him to live his best life, she has to convince him she’s living hers.

So Unity Leandre, her best friend since forever, creates a list of challenges to push Ellen out of her comfort zone. Unity will complete the list, too, but not because she needs to change. What’s wrong with a thirtysomething widow still sleeping in her late husband’s childhood bed?

The Friendship List begins as a way to make others believe they’re just fine. But somewhere between “wear three-inch heels” and “have sex with a gorgeous guy,” Ellen and Unity discover that life is meant to be lived with joy and abandon, in a story filled with humor, heartache and regrettable tattoos.

PJ's Thoughts:

Susan Mallery can sometimes be hit or miss for me but her newest novel, The Friendship List, is definitely a hit. The novel reads a lot like a coming-of-age story, even though best friends, Unity and Ellen, are 34 years old. You would think they would have a lot of life experience by this point but events in their teens had long-lasting effects on both women, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with the unexpected changes life sometimes throws at us. Mallery uses a deft hand to guide them through the peaks and potholes of one fateful summer when these two lifelong friends make the scary decision to step outside their comfort zones and tackle life head-on. 

I really loved these characters, not only Ellen and Unity, but the secondary characters surrounding them. They are fully-formed with the everyday hopes and challenges that accompany individuals in their unique situations. I appreciate that we see Ellen and her good friend, Keith not only as potential romantic partners but also as single parents (her with a teen son, and he with a teen daughter) with all the obstacles and awkwardness that entails. And young widow, Unity, is heartbreaking in her inability to move forward following her husband's death in combat. 

Mallery imbues each of these characters with depth and layers that make their humanity that much more powerful.  Their flaws are realistic, and their individual stories intriguing, pulling me into their lives and creating a bond between reader and character. From teens Cooper, Lissa, and Luka, to senior spitfire, Dagmar, to the men who may or may not be part of Ellen's and Unity's futures, happiness for each of them became important to me. Some parts of their stories are heart-wrenching, others are humorous, and still others are lessons necessary to move forward in life. All are required for these characters to open their hearts, accept joy, and live their lives to the fullest. 

While I would classify this book as women's fiction, with the growth arc of the two female main characters and their friendship at its core, it also carries a strong thread of romance. I was invested in the potential romantic relationships of both women and happy with the conclusion for each of the main characters. The epilogue (six years later) is a delicious cherry bonus on top of a wonderfully satisfying journey. I enthusiastically recommend adding The Friendship List to your summer reading list. 



SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women's lives—family, friendship and romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations," and readers seem to agree—forty million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.

Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She's passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two Ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as Mom.


Twitter: @susanmallery

Facebook: @susanmallery

Instagram: @susanmallery

Author website: https://www.susanmallery.com/



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Monday, August 3, 2020

Review - - The Hacker

The Hacker
by Nancy Herkness
The Consultants - Book 2
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Reviewed by PJ

Dawn Galioto is an expert in self-defense and the most in-demand personal trainer at her Jersey gym—a perfect position for a woman fighting her way out of a troubled past and the anxieties that come with it. Then, after complaints about baffling Wi-Fi glitches at the gym, Dawn calls in disarmingly hot, high-powered computer consultant Leland Rockwell. If she can trust anyone to fix her on-the-job problems, it’s Leland. As for healing her off-hours fears, time will tell.
The cybersecurity genius of KRG, Leland sees a lot to admire in Dawn. She’s strong, quick-witted, and sexy. And something of a puzzle—one Leland wants very much to solve. If only she’d let him. Every new reveal brings him intimately closer to Dawn, but there’s another, more dangerous riddle to decipher. After going undercover to solve her Wi-Fi problem, Leland’s found a dark workplace secret. As Dawn’s past threatens a burgeoning romance, the deepening mystery they’re discovering threatens their lives.

PJ's Thoughts:

I'm really enjoying this new series from Herkness that marries sensual contemporary romance with tightly-woven suspense. Dawn and Leland have smoking sexual chemistry, and I thoroughly enjoyed that part of their relationship, but I was even more invested in their emotional connection. Both bring some emotional baggage with them; Leland is still grieving the recent death of his mother and Dawn struggles with a traumatic event from her college days. I like how their deepening relationship gives each of them the courage to share their stories with one another. Dawn, especially, begins to finally heal and allow herself to be vulnerable. I was glad to watch that process take place slowly and not be an "insta-fix."  By the end of their journey, I was fully confident in their ability to have a strong, trusting, happy life together. 

The suspense portion of the book slowly builds until hitting a crescendo near the final chapters. While the bad guys are pretty obvious throughout much of the book, it's still fun to watch how everything plays out. 

Another facet of this book - and the entire series, really - that I especially enjoy is the tight bond of friendship among business partners Derek (The Money Man), Leland (The Hacker), and Tully as well as the close female friendship among Alice (The Money Man), Dawn (The Hacker), and Natalie. Herkness brings them all to life on the page, so much so that reading The Hacker was like a visit with old friends that has me already eagerly anticipating the next book in the series. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Coming Attractions

We launch the lazy, hazy, crazy days of August on Saturday, August 1 with Nancy's review of Strong From the Heart. This twisty thriller is the 11th book in Jon Land's Caitlin Strong series but Nancy says it stands well on its own.


Monday, August 3 brings PJ's review of The Hacker by Nancy Herkness. This second book in The Consultants series offers up a fast-paced, page-turning tale of love, danger, and the dark web.

Don't miss PJ's review of The Friendship List by Susan Mallery on Tuesday, August 4. This new women's fiction novel by Mallery tells the story of two best friends and the summer that changes them forever when they (as the cover blurb says), "discover that life is meant to be lived with joy and abandon, in a story filled with humor, heartache and regrettable tattoos.  

Wednesday, August 5 brings PJ's review of one of the most talked-about books of the summer: You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria. This swoon-worthy, romantic comedy is brimming with passion, humor, authentic Latinx characters, and a whole lot of heart. Plus, a fabulous cover that should definitely be sold as a poster.


On Thursday, August 6PJ will share her thoughts about No Offense, the newest addition to Meg Cabot's Little Bridge Island series. Cabot has filled her tiny island in the Florida Keys with plenty of humor, heart, and quirky characters.  

Don't miss PJ's review of The Ultimate Betrayal by Kat Martin on Monday, August 10. This edge-of-your-set romantic suspense story is the third book in Martin's Maximum Security series but stands well on its own. 

Tuesday, August 11 brings PJ's review of Waiting on a Cowboy by Jennifer Ryan. With a tie-in to Tough Talking Cowboy (Drake McGrath's story), the final book in Ryan's Wild Rose Ranch series, Waiting on a Cowboy launches Ryan's McGrath series which will tell the stories of Drake's siblings. 

Join PJ on Monday, August 17 for a Q&A with Valerie Bowman as they talk about Bowman's new The Footmen's Club trilogy. Three books released in consecutive months, three gentlemen posing as servants find the loves of their lives in humorous and heartfelt historical romances. 

Susanna Craig joins PJ for a Q&A on Tuesday, August 18, plus, PJ shares her thoughts about Craig's newest book, Who's That Earl. This charming historical romance launches Craig's new Love and Let Spy series where military men find new life and forever love with the assistance of a most unlikely matchmaker. 

Wednesday, August 19 brings PJ's tour review of Here to Stay by Adriana Herrera. This multi-cultural, interracial romance, with a layered story and complex characters who stole my heart, is heartwarming, humorous, full of heat, and checked every one of my happy reader boxes. 

Nancy will be here on Thursday, August 20 to share her thoughts about Hidden by Laura Griffin. This thriller launches Griffin's new The Texas Murder Files series.

You Lucky Dog, a new romantic comedy by Julia London will be the subject of PJ's review on Friday, August 21. Expect laughter and love of both the human and canine variety. 

Stop by Monday, August 24 to read PJ's review of Brazen in Blue by Rachael Miles. This fifth book in Miles' The Muses' Salon series features a spinster on the verge of a marriage of convenience and a Home Office agent who needs her unique skills to solve a case. He's also the man who once broke her heart and who she's never forgotten. Hooked yet? I am! 

Sabrina Jeffries continues her Duke Dynasty series with book three: Who Wants to Marry a Duke. Stop by Tuesday, August 25 to read what PJ has to say about this new historical romance featuring a charming, rakish hero and a bookish, chemist heroine with an unfortunate encounter in their past who must now work together to solve a murderous mystery. Will they also create a little personal chemistry along the way?

Wednesday, August 26 brings PJ's review of Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews. This is the second book in Catalina's trilogy, the second trilogy set within Andrews' magical Hidden Legacy world. PJ has already read the advance review copy twice and will probably read it at least once more before the book's August 25th release. That's how addictive, and brilliantly written, this series is. 

On Thursday, August 27, we round out the month with PJ's review of The Quiet Girl, a twisty domestic drama/psychological thriller by S.F. Kosa. PJ has not read this author before but loves a twisty thriller so she's excited to dive into this one. 

That's what's on tap here at The Romance Dish during the month of August. As always, click the link in the right sidebar for any updates to the schedule throughout the month.

What are you looking forward to this month? 

Any vacations, staycations or special events on the horizon? (virtual or otherwise)

Any upcoming books on your must-read list?

Yes, I'm still cleaning and have more books to re-home so...

Three people who post a comment before 11:00 PM, August 3 will each receive a package of books. 

*Must be 18 or older
*U.S. addresses only

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Review - - Strong From the Heart

Strong From the Heart
By Jon Land
Caitlin Strong - Book 11
Publisher: Tor/Forge
Release Date: July 28, 2020
Reviewed by Nancy

Strong delivers the same twisty plot, action, and character growth that have become hallmarks of the series. Land has a knack for crafting stories that play on issues of the time, such as the dangers of new 5G technology or, in this book, the opioid epidemic.

What keeps me reading the series, however, is not the great plotting but the characters. I picked up the first book, Strong Enough to Die, because I was intrigued by the title first and then by the blurb. In that book, Caitlin is a former ranger still struggling to come to terms with the end of her career. Her marriage isn’t in great shape, either. Her husband is back from the Middle East with amnesia, and things weren’t good between them when he left. As though she didn’t have enough trouble, former mob enforcer and ex-soldier Cort Wesley Masters has just been released from prison and is looking for Caitlin. He has committed more than enough criminal acts to justify far more time than he served, but he did not commit the crime for which she arrested him. He wants a word with her about that.

Cort Wesley finds Caitlin in the middle of a potentially lethal problem. The situation goes downhill from there, but they come out of it as reluctant allies. While that may seem highly improbable, Land has a knack for pulling off the enemies-to-allies-to-more trope. He has also written a series about a Shin Bet (the Israeli equivalent of the FBI) agent and a Palestinian-American detective. He finds commonality between disparate characters that makes their dynamic work.

Caitlin’s relationship with Cort Wesley develops slowly and must take into account his two sons by a deceased former lover. Through the series, Caitlin and Cort Wesley work to define and solidify their relationship as they and his sons gradually forge a family. By Strong From the Heart, the family bond is firmly established, but they face problems common to families everywhere. They must deal with those while confronting the larger threat of the main plot. If you don’t like series with continuing characters, this may not be for you. If you do, however, you may find this process as appealing as I do.

Ongoing supporting characters include Caitlin’s Texas Rangers captain and other rangers, the ghost of Cort Wesley’s deceased cellmate, and a former Venezuelan secret police operative who set out to kill Caitlin and instead, in part because he’s prone to self-examination and philosophy, has become part of her team.

Strong From the Heart opens with a mailman wandering the Texas desert, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. Agents from ICE intercept him. Tracing his straight-line path backward, they discover a small town where everyone is dead. They cordon off the area and assemble personnel to investigate. Caitlin Strong is the Texas Rangers’ liaison to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), so her captain sends her to join the investigation.

While Caitlin searches for the cause of this catastrophe, the opioid crisis hits home. One of Cort Wesley’s sons overdoses on Oxycontin and nearly dies. This sets Cort Wesley on a mission to shut off the drug supply that nearly killed his son. 

Both Cort Wesley and Caitlin are up against powerful figures whose wealth insulates them from consequences. They live in the shadows and intend to rule from there. The pills they’re making and selling will generate even more wealth, and the sudden death of an entire town spurs them to think on a bigger scale by weaponizing a deadly product. 

As the two investigations gradually become one, they turn up the heat on those responsible, who retaliate. After a confrontation with Caitlin, the pill pushers’ enforcer decides to take revenge in a very personal way. My one problem with the book, a small one, was that I wasn’t entirely sure the resolution of this situation was believable. I can’t say more without spoiling it.

Caitlin’s half sister, Nola Delgado, steps in to help Caitlin and Cort Wesley. The role she plays in the story and her connection to Caitlin, who didn’t know she existed until after their father’s death, is an interesting one. Where Caitlin goes for her gun only when she has no alternative, Nola revels in killing. In fact, she’s a professional assassin. Land uses her as a mirror for what Caitlin might otherwise have been and a warning of what Caitlin doesn’t want to become. At the same time, they struggle to determine how much of a relationship and how much similarity shared blood creates.

Also woven through the story, as usual, is a case handled by one of Caitlin’s Texas Ranger ancestors. This one involves Pancho Villa and Texas history and ties into the present case in a surprising way.

Obviously, this is a thriller, not a romance. But it’s a thriller with family woven through it. There’s also explosive action and a twisty plot.

Strong From the Heart stands alone but reading the earlier books, as with many thriller series, provides layers and shading to the characters. 

Highly recommended. 5 stars