Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Review & Giveaway - - Make Me Yours, Cowboy

Make Me Yours, Cowboy
by Dylann Crush
Cowboys in Paradise - Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: June 27, 2023
Reviewed by PJ

Knox Shepler is a country superstar in his prime, but each release takes him further away from the classic country of his roots. His agent suggests a compromise: if Knox writes another pop-crossover album, he can cut a single playing the music he’s passionate about. Paparazzi make inspiration hard to find on the road, so Knox heads to Paradise Island, posing as a contractor to hide his true identity.

Claudia Alvarez went viral several years ago for all the wrong reasons. Since then, she’s been keeping a low profile by working at A Cowboy in Paradise. The bar’s finances aren’t what they used to be, so in order to save the only place she feels safe, Claudia proposes renovating the bungalows on the property to generate extra income.
When Knox and Claudia are forced to work together, he finds inspiration and she discovers it might be time to open her heart. But as the truth surfaces, Claudia must decide if she can face her fears for a chance at the love of a lifetime.

PJ's Thoughts:

This is the second book by Dylann Crush that I've read and I have to say, I am really enjoying this author's voice. She pulls me into her stories, gives me complex characters I can cheer for, long-standing friendships that warm my heart, and an island hideaway I would love to explore. 

I really liked Knox. He's a country superstar with deep, humble roots who is caught in the "pop country" machinery of his bottom-line recording company. He's lost control of his career and, more importantly, of his music. I wanted to hug him. Okay, I wanted to do more than hug him but that's what a good romance hero should make us want to do, right? I understood his need to hide his real identity as well as his reluctance to test a new relationship by coming clean. I don't like secrets but I'm a bit more willing to accept them when the character knows it's wrong and is working toward revealing all. I also loved how protective and supportive he was of Claudia and her dreams, how he put her first...once the fallout over those pesky secrets was handled. 

I was very curious about Claudia's reasons for keeping her identity - and history - a secret but, again, fully understood once it was revealed. Crush did a good job of slowly dropping clues along the way, keeping the full reveal for the appropriate moment without allowing that part of the storyline to become tedious. The emotional baggage carried by both of these characters was significant and relatable. I loved the relationship that bloomed between them, the fun they had exploring the island, and the friendship they formed that grounded the sizzling attraction and emotions that only got stronger the more time they spent together.  

This is book two of Dylann Crush's Cowboys in Paradise series but stands well on its own. However, the four friends - Justin, Emmeline, Knox, and Decker - are introduced in book one, Kiss Me Now, Cowboy (Justin's and Emmeline's friends-to-lovers story) (click to read my review) with their characters and journeys continuing to evolve in book two. For full enjoyment and understanding of their journeys, I recommend reading the books in order. 

Do you have any favorite book series tied together by a group of friends?

Are you a country music fan? Which country music star would you most enjoy hanging out with (romantically or otherwise) on a beautiful island?

Have you read any Dylann Crush books?

One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, June 29 will receive a print copy of Make Me Yours, Cowboy.

*U.S. only
*Must be 18


Monday, June 26, 2023

Review - - Much Ado About Nada

Much Ado About Nada
by Uzma Jalaluddin
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: June 13, 2023
Reviewed by Hellie


Nada Syed is stuck. On the cusp of thirty, she’s still living at home with her brothers and parents in the Golden Crescent neighbourhood of Toronto, resolutely ignoring her mother’s unsubtle pleas to get married already. While Nada has a good job as an engineer, it’s a far cry from realizing her start-up dreams for her tech baby, Ask Apa, the app that launched with a whimper instead of a bang because of a double-crossing business partner. Nothing in her life has turned out the way it was supposed to, and Nada feels like a failure. Something needs to change, but the past is holding on too tightly to let her move forward. 

Nada’s best friend Haleema is determined to pry her from her shell…and what better place than at the giant annual Muslim conference held downtown, where Nada can finally meet Haleema’s fiancĂ©, Zayn. And did Haleema mention Zayn’s brother Baz will be there? 

What Haleema doesn’t know is that Nada and Baz have a past—some of it good, some of it bad and all of it secret.  At the conference, that past all comes hurtling at Nada, bringing new complications and a moment of reckoning. Can Nada truly say goodbye to once was or should she hold tight to her dreams and find their new beginnings?


Hellie’s Heeds 

I love this book, and I love this author. I cannot stop talking about this book to people who catch me reading it; and even if they didn’t catch me, I will start talking about it and say, “You really need to read Uzma’s books. They are fantastic.” I have adored Ms. Jalaluddin’s books from the get-go: Ayesha at Last, the book that was inspired by Pride & Prejudice, and her sophomore hit, Hana Khan Carries On, that was gritty as well as funny, taking on the classic, You’ve Got Mail. This one takes on my favorite of the Austen books, Persuasion. Mainly because I totally relate to being hung up on The Guy even after you think every one of your chances have passed because you were dealing with family drama at the time or you were too scared…or just bad advice–and well, I love a good pining book. This was an excellent pining book 

But it was much more than a pining-yearning-longing book–and I mean, didn’t we all get tired of Wuthering Heights and that amount of pining and carrying on? Exactly. There needs to be a balance; and we are given a very relatable heroine who has been dealt a number of hard blows and now feels stuck in her life, unable to figure out where to go now. The heroine, Nada, is a good South Asian Muslim woman…and part of that is living with her parents as is expected of the cultural norms, even as she’s approaching thirty. And also putting up with her mother’s designs to set her up with any man with a pulse (so long as he’s Muslim) so she’ll finally get married and have kids. But Nada wants more for herself–a fact she also struggles with in a world where the men prefer the women to stay home and take care of the house but she wants to have something wholly her own. (This may sound a little 1950s flashback, but it’s not, because I read a lot of Amish romance–which has a similar struggle many times; and well, I used to be a Southern Baptist before all the therapy–so really, this is still a pretty modern issue. How does one balance one’s faith and societal norms with the longings in one’s heart?)  

In stalking–um, researching for more information about Ms. Jalaluddin, I saw her FAQ about why she became a writer. It was so she could see more representation of her lived experience as a South Asian Muslim woman in story form, something she did not have when she first started reading. Of course, we know reading stories is one of the best ways to develop empathy for other people, especially those not like us (or actually, who we THINK are not like us.) What I’ve discovered–and I imagine most people also have–is that other people are like us and were the whole time. I am curious about how other people live, especially those who live in other countries or cultures or faiths–these are all interesting to me. What I enjoyed most is how feminist this book felt, in how Nada was portrayed–and how this story showed the many ways one can be a feminist.  

Okay, enough about that–I’m sure you are more curious about the writing, the story, the characters. The writing was superb. You will not be surprised to note that our intrepid author is also an English Ed teacher. She is funny and sarcastic but also emotional and handles scenes with sensitivity. There was lots of smoldering tension for a couple who lives in a culture where unrelated men and women do not touch each other or even spend alone time together, and there was so much romantic sweetness and respect that can sometimes feel missing in more secular stories. I think of her heroes, Baz is my favorite. (Granted I might have said that about each of the heroes in the subsequent reviews…but yes, definitely it’s Baz.) He’s so serious and sweet, but also flirty and passionate. Nada is smart and loving–and I think easy to relate to as a woman who is trying to break free of some of the norms her parents have not outgrown (as is the problem with every parent-child generation, yes?) while still honoring her parents and her faith and herself. Oh, and the surprises she gave me at every turn! I would be like, “What is happening? I did not expect that! OMG, how is she ever going to tell her parents!?” like at the end of every other chapter. Or it’d be, “OMG, these two are never getting together. How can they overcome this? They can’t. They just can’t.” 

I read this book so fast–and I barely was able to put it down. I lingered over lunch with it; I stayed up hours past my bedtime reading it…once I started, it was just like a Netflix series that I pushed PLAY and didn’t stop until the story ended. (In fact, these books should totally be Netflix series…we have a precedent of Never Have I Ever and Bridgerton–this story could carry a series.) And once I finished, I logged on here to write up the review. I mean, the book may be called Much Ado About Nada–but this story is actually everything. Come for the belly laughs and family shenanigans, stay for the smoldering romance. Ms. Austen would be proud.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Family Emergency- - PJ


Hi All!

You may have noticed that I haven't been visible much this week. My brother suffered a medical emergency Monday and my sister-in-law and I have been pretty much living at the hospital since then. He's finally out of ICU and in a step down unit but not out of the woods. His neurologist is still recommending that a family member be with him around the clock. We're all taking shifts and that has thrown my regular schedule into turmoil.

I'll try to keep up with the blog schedule as best as I can but I may have to move some posts around. Also, I probably won't be responding to as many comments for a few weeks. 

If you follow me on Facebook (PJ Ausdenmore), I've been posting updates and also sharing my sister-in-law's updates. He has a long road to recovery ahead of him but the determination - and family support - to make it happen. We are seeing small improvements and have nothing but hope and positive energy for the path ahead. 

We've been overwhelmed by the prayers and good wishes from friends near and far. Any prayers or good thoughts sent our way by you, my blog friends, would be deeply appreciated. 

I have all of the recent giveaway packages ready to go but haven't been able to get to the Post Office yet. I will mail them out as soon as I can. 

Thank you for your patience and understanding.


Thursday, June 22, 2023

Review - - Treasure Coast Homecoming

Treasure Coast Homecoming
by Leigh Duncan
Emerald Bay - Book 1
Publisher: Gardenia Street Publishing
Release Date: June 22, 2023
Reviewed by PJ

She has one final wish before she puts a For Sale sign in front of the only home she’s ever known, but can her family make her dream come true?

Margaret Dane Clayton has spent her entire life at the Dane Crown Inn, the beautiful resort located in the quiet beachside town of Emerald Bay. But the inn once hailed as the “gem of Florida’s Treasure Coast” is showing its age, much like its fiercely independent owner. Margaret swears she’ll keep the doors of the inn open forever … until an accident forces her to accept the fact that she can no longer cater to guests on her own. After reaching the most difficult decision of her life, Margaret asks her daughter and nieces to grant her one final wish before she places the property on the market. But will these five women put their busy lives on hold to grant it?

One by one, each of the cousins arrives in Emerald Bay with armloads of excuses and far too much baggage. But when the town’s grumpy—yet oh, so handsome—mayor threatens to close the inn for good, the women agree to give the resort the overhaul it desperately needs. Working with a bank account that’s far too small and facing one crisis after another, Margaret’s daughter and her nieces race to fulfill her final wish. Only one question remains: Can this fractured family set aside their differences long enough to restore the inn … and rebuild the closeness they once treasured?

The Emerald Bay Series

After a lifetime of running the finest inn in Emerald Bay, Margaret Clayton has to make a decision … sell the Dane Crown Inn to a stranger or put her hopes for the future in her family’s hands. For most people, the choice would be simple. But nothing about her family is simple … especially not with her daughter and four nieces whose help Margaret needs now more than ever.

The five cousins know the inn as well as Margaret does. As young girls and teenagers, they spent every summer keeping the cottages and suites spotless, and enjoying the gorgeous beach as a tight knit family. Thirty years later, though, these five women have complicated, important, distant, and utterly packed lives. The last thing any of them can do is drop everything and save the inn. But, when it comes to family, the last thing is sometimes the 
only thing.

As the once-close cousins come together on the glorious shores of Florida’s Treasure Coast, they learn that some things never change, but others can never be the same. And the only thing that matters is family which, like the Dane Crown Inn, is forever.

PJ's Thoughts:

Treasure Coast Homecoming launches Leigh Duncan's newest women's fiction series: Emerald Bay. After devouring the books in Duncan's Sugar Sand Beach series, I'm ready to meet a new cast of characters and lose myself in another series of heart-tugging beachside stories.

This first book introduces the main characters and sets up the plotline for the series of books. Each character is given face-time with the reader, giving us the opportunity to learn a bit about them, their role in the extended family, where they are in their lives, and what personal challenges they're facing. By the end of the book, I was already invested in each of them and eager to discover where the upcoming journey will take them.

Duncan excels at creating complex family (or family of the heart) units, bringing them together, and taking them on a journey of growth (both individually and as a group) that filled with humor, emotional depth, and plenty of heart. She's equally adept at creating a sense of place, as she has done with Emerald Bay and, specifically, the Dane Crown Inn. I'm excited to watch the evolution of the Inn alongside that of the family. 

Books two and three of this series, Treasure Coast Promise and Treasure Coast Christmas, will be published in August and October respectively. I've already marked my calendar. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Review & Giveaway - - Bookshop Cinderella

Bookshop Cinderella
by Laura Lee Guhrke
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: June 20, 2023
Reviewed by PJ

Evie Harlow runs a quaint little bookshop in London, which is the biggest adventure an unmarried woman with no prospects could hope for. Until Maximillian Shaw, Duke of Westbourne, saunters into her shop with a proposition: to win a bet with his friends, he’ll turn her into the diamond of the season. The duke might be devilishly attractive, but Evie has no intention of accepting his ludicrous offer. When disaster strikes her shop, however, she’s left with little choice but to let herself be whisked into his high-society world.

Always happy to help a lady in distress, Max thinks he’s saving Evie from her dull spinster’s life. He’ll help her find a husband and congratulate himself on a job well done. But as shy Evie becomes the shining star he always knew she could be, she somehow steals his heart. And when her reputation is threatened, can Max convince her to choose a glittering, aristocratic life with him over the cozy comfort of her bookshop?

PJ's Thoughts:

I enjoy a good makeover story but I'm not much of a fan of makeovers that are the result of a bet or heroes who don't see the qualities of a heroine until after the change. Thankfully, Laura Lee Guhrke's Bookshop Cinderella takes a different path that hit all the right makeover bet notes for me. 

I love that Max saw the important qualities in Evie from the start and only took the bet to show young entitled men how wrong they were. I appreciated that he was upfront with her about the bet and gave her the choice whether or not to participate, making them fully informed partners in the quest.

Evie is the kind of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" heroine I love reading about and Guhrke does well. It was so much fun to watch her grow in social confidence as the makeover process progressed without ever losing the qualities that made her special and unique. Even more fun was watching Max, a man who after having his heart destroyed by a cross-class marriage and being determined to only marry within his class the next time, finds himself falling for Evie. 

If you're looking for a fresh, fun, Victorian romance with sparkling banter, endearing characters, and a hard-won happily ever after, give Bookshop Cinderella a try. I happily recommend it.

Have you read Laura Lee Guhrke?

Do you enjoy cross-class romance?

Do you have a favorite bookshop you enjoy visiting?

One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, June 22 will receive a print copy of Bookshop Cinderella

*U.S. only
*Must be 18

Thank you to Forever Romance for the giveaway. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Tour Review - - Remember Me

Remember Me
by Mary Balogh
A Ravenswood Novel - Book 2 
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: June 20, 2023
Reviewed by Hellie

Philippa, elder daughter of the Earl of Stratton, grew up eagerly anticipating a glittering debut and a brilliant marriage. Then her brother caught their father out in a clandestine affair and denounced him publicly. The whole family was disgraced, and Philippa’s hopes grew dim, then were fully shattered when she overheard the dashing, handsome Marquess of Roath viciously insult her upon learning of her father’s identity. Only years later does Philippa find the courage to go to London at last to meet the ton. She is an instant success and enjoys a close friendship with the granddaughter of a duke. Only one man can spoil everything for her, but surely he will not be in London this year.

The Duke of Wilby is nearing death and has tasked his grandson and heir, Lucas Arden, Marquess of Roath, with marrying and producing a son before it is too late. Lucas, who usually shuns London, goes there early in the Season in the hope of finding an eligible bride before his grandparents come and find one for him. He is instantly attracted to his sister’s new friend, until that young lady asks a simple question: “Remember me?” And suddenly he does remember her, as well as the reason why the daughter of the Earl of Stratton is the one woman he can never marry—even if his heart tells him she is the only woman he wants.

Unfortunately for Philippa and Lucas, the autocratic duke and his duchess have other ideas and believe them to be perfect for each other. They will simply not take no for an answer. Telling Philippa the full truth is the hardest thing Lucas has ever faced, and the discovery of it will change them both before they discover the healing power of love.

Hellie’s Heeds

I remember when Janga would review Mary Balogh’s books; she was always so thoughtful and compelling in her recommendations. I think that’s what happened with Mary Balogh, who had been an expert Regency writer for years before I read any of her books. It took a couple promptings from Janga before I read the Slightly series. (I know, I know.) Then Mary Balogh became an auto-read and auto-buy author for me in rapid succession. When PJ offered up a list of books–of which this one was amongst the treasures–I didn’t even bother to read the blurb. I just shouted, “Me! Pick me!” and I was sent it. Once I got it in my hot little hands, I read the blurb and felt a jolt of unease. You see, Dear Reader, I am a petty-pantied grudgeholder of the Vendetta Guild–and suddenly I was holding a book in which I knew the couple would end up together, but the premise was he had something so hurtful in her vicinity, she put off coming out for her Season for years. This is where I confess: there are boys from when I was a teenager (some three decades ago) I still haven’t forgiven for the things they’ve said. Granted, clearly, I’m never ending up with any of them but forgive them? She must be joking. There is something about the deep cutting things said in our youth that sting forever. 

Oh, but it’s just like Pride & Prejudice, you’ll say! And I did say that too at first, but Darcy’s hurtful remarks upon glancing upon a small country party was nothing to what our hero says in ear-shot of our heroine, who is beautiful, kind, intelligent, and in every way, lovely. I hurt for our heroine and I seethed with her as she encounters him again as she finally debuts for her Season. I nearly tossed the book away when the hero even said a few remarks, suggesting that he didn’t quite remember what he had said (almost gaslighting her for her hurt reaction), though inwardly he does remember. Meanwhile, we meet the hero’s grandfather, who is everything you’d want in a dukely grandfather, and his adoring wife, who we also love at first sight…and then you’re like, “Oh, but what a lovely family. So terrible she’d have to marry him to have them as family.” 

This was the point where I thought, “There must be a STORY for why he said what he said, and I must know it now” and, Dear Reader, forgive me, I skipped ahead to find out. I did not find out. What I found out instead was basically The End and epilogue which made me go, “What!?” and become more upset. How was this a happy ending? I mean, technically it was a happy ending, but The End still made me want to put the book aside in a huff. So my first heed is this: Do NOT under any circumstance skip ahead to make sure the epilogue ends right. Do not. 

I went back to reading…and Ms. Balogh expertly guided her reader to a gradual liking of the hero. And a hundred pages or so later, I happily learned why the hero had said what he said, though by then I had had my suspicions. By the end, where once again I read the end and the epilogue, when I was supposed to, I thought, “Oh, that was sweet. I understand now.” I also enjoyed some tidbits about Waterloo, including how little people knew (oh, if they’d only had the internet) and the constant anxiety for loved ones waiting for their soldiers to come home safe. I made a list of all the side characters in which I wanted additional Balogh books about, and while this series is listed as 1 of 3 books in the series, that is far too few for those I need books about. I can only hope Ms. Balogh is able to keep up with my wish list. 

I do not think any of Ms. Balogh’s ardent fans will be disappointed with this latest installment; however, as well crafted as this story was and vivid the characters, I think perhaps there are a few other Balogh books ahead of it on my keeper shelf (Wulfric perhaps?), but I’m more eager for the next book that will come out in early 2024–oh, yes, Ms. Balogh is definitely keeping up with my wish list! It is always a delight to read stories crafted in the hands of a master.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Winner - - The Sweetheart List


The randomly chosen winner 

of a print copy of

The Sweetheart List by Jill Shalvis is:

Patricia B


Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Winner - - Saving Grace


The randomly chosen winner 

of a copy of 

Saving Grace by Julie Garwood is:



Please send your full name, mailing address, and 

choice of print or Kindle copy to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Winner - - Esme Cahill Fails Spectacularly


The randomly chosen winner of

a print copy of Esme Cahill Fails Spectacularly is:

Kathleen Bylsma


Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Winner - - Second Chance at the Orchard Inn


The randomly chosen winner of

a print copy of

Second Chance at the Orchard Inn is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Last Chance Winners


The giveaways listed below have not been claimed. 

This is the last call for the winners 

to email their full name and mailing address to

 theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com.

If these giveaways are not claimed 

by 11:00 PM, June 18, new winners will be drawn.


(a package of books)


(Marrying Off Morgan McBride)

Friday, June 16, 2023

Review - Magic In His Kiss

Magic In His Kiss
by Anabelle Bryant
Vauxhall Voices - Book 2
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
Release Date: June 13, 2023
Reviewed by PJ

Vauxhall Gardens may be London’s ideal attraction with its diverse population, unusual entertainment and illicit pleasure walks, but for Sofia Gallo, it’s also a safe haven.

Leaving Italy with her brothers, she escaped the threat of scandal and the longer she performs as a tumbler, the more Vauxhall feels like home. Especially when she meets Noah Wright, a handsome bachelor seeking work as a magician. Yet predicting the future is far from a magician’s illusion and when Sofia’s past collides with her present, she discovers forbidden love is more dangerous than she ever dared to imagine.

PJ's Thoughts:

I'm really enjoying the "backstage" look at the lives and loves of Vauxhall performers presented in this series, as well as the pleasures and perils to be found there. Bryant has assembled an intriguing cast of characters that keep things lively along an often rocky road to romance. 

Sofia Gallo is an Italian acrobat who was hustled off to London by her overprotective brothers in the wake of a scandal after being duped by a man she loved, and she thought loved her. It's been five years and she's ready to take another chance on romance but only with an honest man. She's had it with men who lie to her. She's also ready to leave the siblings' act and pursue her real passion: fashion. But that's something only she knows. Sofia is so easy to cheer for. I loved her enthusiasm for fashion and her determination to fulfill her dream but also her love for and loyalty to her brothers. It created relatable emotional conflict within her character that was fun to watch play out. I also enjoyed watching her take charge of the romantic side of her life. This was a woman who had been deceived by her innocence and was now at an age where she knew what she wanted and had the self-confidence to go after it. And what she wanted was Noah. 

Noah is a man with secrets. Pretending to be a somewhat adequate magician looking for work at Vauxhall, he's actually the heir to an earldom bent on revenge for his sister's death. He's handsome, charming, noble, and hiding his real identity from the woman he's slowly falling for. I enjoyed watching Noah's evolution over the course of this story. I'm not big on secrets but I did understand his reasons and appreciated the fact that he came clean with Sofia when he did. And I loved him for the choices he made when it became clear he would have to either step out of her life or fight for their love. 

Magic In His Kiss is an enjoyable cross-class romance with steamy chemistry, surprise twists, and a bit of suspense. The characters are intriguing, their situations relatable, and their happily ever after satisfyingly hard won. While this is the second book of a series, and some characters appear in both books, this one stands well on its own. Readers could definitely begin with Magic In His Kiss and not miss a beat. However, I also recommend book one, Love on the Line (read my review here).

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Tour Review - - Famous in a Small Town

Famous in a Small Town
by Viola Shipman
Publisher: Graydon House
Release Date: June 13, 2023
Reviewed by PJ

For most of her eighty years, Mary Jackson has endured the steady invasion of tourists, influencers and real estate developers who have discovered the lakeside charm of Good Hart, Michigan, waiting patiently for the arrival of a stranger she’s believed since childhood would one day carry on her legacy—the Very Cherry General Store. Like generations of Jackson women before her, Cherry Mary, as she’s known locally, runs the community hub—part post office, bakery and sandwich shop—and had almost given up hope that the mysterious prediction she’d been told as a girl would come true and the store would have to pass to…a man.

Becky Thatcher came to Good Hart with her ride-or-die BFF to forget that she’s just turned forty with nothing to show for it. Ending up at the general store with Mary is admittedly not the beach vacation she expected, but the more the feisty octogenarian talks about destiny, the stronger Becky’s memories of her own childhood holidays become, and the strange visions over the lake she was never sure were real. As she works under Mary’s wing for the summer and finds she fits into this quirky community of locals, she starts to believe that destiny could be real, and that it might have something very special in mind for Becky…

PJ's Thoughts:

I'm late to the party when it comes to Viola Shipman books. I've only read two - so far - but you best believe I'll be working my way through the back list soon. These books are special. In addition to heart-tugging stories, they are also love letters to my native state of Michigan. If you've ever visited Northern Michigan, Shipman's descriptions in this book will tease your memories to the surface: the lure of a crystal clear Great Lake, the mystical light at dawn and dusk, the dance of leaves on mighty trees, and the faint sound of long-ago drums whispering on a gentle breeze. If you have yet to discover the beauty and legends of this area, this book will have you wanting to correct that. 

While the background of this book sets the stage for the story, it's the characters who bring it to life. Shipman has infused each of them with relatable fears, hopes, and dreams, bringing them to such vivid life that I'm firmly convinced they're actually living their best lives in Good Hope. I love that all of these characters have some miles on them. They've reached ages where they know they need to make life changes in order to move forward, to escape the (false) comfort of the ruts they've been living in and claim the happiness that's eluded them. I love the mystical element of the story that unites Mary and Becky; the connection between generations of women that supports, teaches, and stretches but never breaks. And I love that even Mary, who is sure she knows how the story will end, can be surprised by the twists coming her way. 

This is a book about friendship, family, forgiveness, starting over, finding love, and discovering your destiny. It's filled with quirky characters, unexpected romance, humor, heart, and strong women with the will to claim that destiny. It's also filled with cherries, the lifeblood of this region of Michigan, and the many delicious things you can make with them. Some of my favorite scenes in this book were in the kitchen, with Mary teaching Becky how to bake the many cherry delights sold at the General Store. It took me straight back to my grandmother's kitchen, the recipes she shared as she taught me how to bake, sharing love, and life lessons, along the way. 

I loved every perfectly placed word of this story and am already eager to read it again. It touched my heart, made me laugh, made me cry, and left me eager to return to page one and experience it all over again. It also left me aching to visit the quirky, scenic, fruit-filled small towns of Northern Michigan again; to climb the sandy dunes, play in the cool, clear water of Lake Michigan, walk among the fluttering trees, and open my soul to the faint, distant drums of the past.  


Excerpt from
Famous in a Small Town


August 1958

“Good News from Good Hart!”

by Shirley Ann Potter

It was the spit heard ’round the world!

Our town is still atwitter over the news that the daughter of Mr. Peter Jackson was crowned the 35th Annual Cherry Pit Spittin’ Champion of Leelanau and Emmet County last Saturday. Fifteen-year-old Mary Jackson, an Emmet County high-school sophomore, was not only the first woman—uh, girl—to win the contest, but her stone flew a Guinness Book of World Records–breaking distance of ninety-three feet six-and-a-half inches, shattering the previous record set by “Too Tall” Fred Jones in 1898 at the state’s very first Cherry Championship right here in Good Hart.

News of her accomplishment has flown farther than her cherry pit, with reporters from as far away as New York and London anointing our town sprite with the moniker “Cherry Mary.”

I caught up with Mary at the Very Cherry General Store—our beloved post office/grocery store/sandwich- 

and-soda-shop run by Mary’s mother and grandmother—to see how she managed such a Herculean feat.

“My mom taught me to whistle when I was a kid (“A kid!” Don’t you just love that, readers?), and I had to be loud enough for her to hear me when she was down at the lake. I think that made my lips strong,” Mary says. “And I started eating sunflower seeds when I was fishing on the boat with my grandma. She taught me how to spit them without having the wind blow them back in the boat.”

Mary says she practiced for the contest by standing in the middle of M-119—the road that houses our beautiful Tunnel of Trees—and spitting stones into the wind when a storm was brewing on Lake Michigan.

“I knew if I could make it a far piece into the wind, I could do it when it was still.”

While her grandmother was “over the moon” for Mary’s feat, saying, “It’s about time,” Mr. Jackson says of his daughter’s accomplishment, “It’s certainly unusual for a girl, but Mary isn’t your average girl. Maybe all this got it out of her system, so to speak. I hope so for her sake.”

The plucky teenager seems nonplussed by the attention, despite seeing her face all over northern Michigan in the papers and the T-shirts featuring her face—cheeks puffed, stone leaving her mouth—and the words Cherry Mary in bright red over the image.

“A girl can do anything a man can,” Mary says in between retrieving mail, spreading mayonnaise on a tomato sandwich and twirling a cherry around in her mouth, before perfectly depositing the stone in a trash can across the room. “You just gotta believe you can. That’s the hard part. Harder than spitting any old pit.”

Mary seems ready to conquer the world, readers. Cheers, Cherry Mary! Our hometown heroine!



June 2023

“Okay, Benjie, would you like it if Ashley did this to you?”

He scrunches up his face to stave off tears and shakes his head. “No.”

“Well, it’s not a nice thing to do.”

I study Ashley’s hair, then take her face in my hands. “It’s going to be okay. Trust me?”

The little girl nods her head. I give her a hug.

I walk over to my desk and open the bottom drawer . There is a large jar of creamy peanut butter sitting next to a bag of mini Snickers. The peanut butter is for emergencies like this: removing gum from a little girls’ hair. The Snickers are for me after I’m finished with this life lesson.

“Well, I’m just glad neither of you are allergic to peanuts,” I say. “Allows me to do this.”

I cover the gum stuck in the back of Ashley’s pretty, long, blond hair and then look at her.

“I promise this works,” I say. “I’ve performed a lot of gum surgery.”

She nods. Her eyes are red from crying, her cheeks blotchy.

“Why did you do this, Benjie?” I ask the little boy seated in the chair before my desk. 

He ducks his head sheepishly, his brown bangs falling into his eyes, and murmurs something into his chest.

“I didn’t catch that,” I say. “What did you say? Remember it’s okay to express your emotions.”

He looks at me, freckles twitching on his cheeks. “I can’t say,” he whispers.

“Yes, you can,” I say. “Don’t make this any worse than it already is.”

Benjie glances toward the door to ensure that it is closed. “Tyler Evans told me to do it or he’d punch me on the way home.”

Being a grade-school administrator is akin to being a detective: you have to work the perp to get the truth. Eventually—no matter the age—they break, especially when a verdict on punishment is waiting in the balance.

It’s the last day of school. Benjie does not want his summer to be ruined.

I lean down and slide the gum out of Ashley’s hair. I go to my sink, dampen a cloth and put some dish soap on it, return and clean the rest of the peanut butter off her locks. I move to a tall filing cabinet and retrieve a clean brush. The filing cabinet is filled with bags of sealed brushes and combs, toothbrushes and EpiPens, certificates and old laptops. I run the brush through her hair. I hold up a mirror for her to see the back of her head.

“See, good as new.”

“What do you say to Ashley, Benjie?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Do you accept his apology?”

Ashley shakes her head no. “You ruined the last day of school. You’re a big ol’ meanie.”

“Ashley,” I say, my tone sweet but authoritarian.

“I accept your apology,” she says.

“You’re free to go,” I say to her.

“But you’re still a big ol’ poop head,” she says, racing out of my office, bubblegum-free hair bouncing.

I actually have to clench my hands very hard to stifle a laugh.

Big ol’ poop head.

How many times a day would I—would any adult—like to scream that at someone?

“Are you telling my parents?” Benjie asks.

“I have to,” I say, “but I’ll tell them why you did it, and then I’ll have a talk with Tyler.”


“I have to do that, too,” I explain. “And I’ll talk to his parents as well.”

He looks at me, his chin quivering.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy here for bullying,” I say. “Trust me, Tyler won’t do it again. You have to stand up to bullies. You have to show them the right way to do things. Otherwise, they never change.”

In addition to being a detective, an assistant principal is also akin to being the vice-president of the United States. Everyone knows your name, everyone knows you’ve achieved some level of status, but nobody really understands what the hell you do all day.

“I promise it will be okay,” I say. “Just promise me you won’t do it again. You’re a nice boy, Benjie. That’s a wonderful thing. Always remember that.”

“I promise.” He looks at me. “Can I go now?”

“One more thing. You know you aren’t supposed to bring gum to school.”

“I know. But one of the moms was handing it out before school.”

Mrs. Yates, I instantly know. She wants to be the cool mom. She’s Room Mom for 2A, and, Mrs. Trimbley, the Room Mom for 2B, told me that competing with her this year was like being a contestant in Squid Game.

Benjie continues. “It’s Bubble Yum. My favorite. My mom won’t let me have it because it’s bad for my teeth.”

Benjie opens his mouth and smiles. He resembles a jack-o’-lantern. He’s missing teeth here and there, willy-nilly, black holes where baby teeth once lived and adult teeth will soon reside.

Too late, I want to say to Benjie, but he won’t get my humor. Only my best friend, Q, understands it, and my grandparents who made me this way.

I think of how much I loved chewing gum as a kid.

“Do you have any more?”

“Am I going to get in trouble again?”

“No,” I say with a laugh.

He reaches into the pocket of his little jeans and hands me a piece of grape Bubble Yum.

My favorite.

“Do you know what my teacher used to say when I’d sneak gum into class?”

“You snuck gum into class?”

He stares at me with more admiration than if Albert Pujols from the St. Louis Cardinals suddenly appeared with an autographed baseball.

“I did,” I say. “It was about the only bad thing I ever did. My teacher used to hold out her hand in front of my desk and ask, ‘Did you bring enough gum to share with the whole class?’”

“Did you?” Benjie asks, wild-eyed.

“No,” I say. “That was the whole point. She wanted to embarrass me. And it always worked. Teachers just liked to say that.”

I take the gum from Benjie. “This is just between us, okay?”

He giggles and nods.

I pop the gum into my mouth. It’s even more insanely sweet and sugary and tastes even better than I remember. My taste buds explode. I chew, Benjie watching me with grand amusement, and then—looking out my window to make sure the coast is clear—blow a big bubble. A massive bubble, in fact. It expands until it’s the size of a small balloon. Benjie continues to watch me in silence as a child today might do today trying to figure out how to use a rotary phone. After a few moments, the flavor subsides.

“Want to learn a trick?” I ask.


“If you ever get caught chewing gum, don’t stick it in a nice girl’s hair or swallow it. Learn to do this.” I narrow my lips as if I’m going to whistle, puff my cheeks and spit my gum into the air as if Michael Jordan were draining a game-winning three-pointer as time expired. The purple gum arcs into the air and deposits directly into a trash can next to a low-slung sofa ten feet across my office.

Benjie pumps his fist and lifts his hand to high-five me.

“Where did you learn to do that?” he asks.

“Sunday school,” I wink. “My grandma taught me.”

Excerpted from Famous in a Small Town. Copyright © 2023 by Viola Shipman. Published by Graydon House, an imprint of HarperCollins.

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VIOLA SHIPMAN is the pen name for internationally bestselling LGBTQIA author Wade Rouse. Wade is the author of fifteen books, which have been translated into 21 languages and sold over a million copies around the world. Wade chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, as a pen name to honor the working poor Ozarks seamstress whose sacrifices changed his family’s life and whose memory inspires his fiction. 

Wade’s books have been selected multiple times as Must-Reads by NBC’s Today Show, Michigan Notable Books of the Year and Indie Next Picks. He lives in Michigan and California, and hosts Wine & Words with Wade, A Literary Happy Hour, every Thursday.