Wednesday, July 17, 2024

On Vacay!


I'll be on vacation for the next two weeks.

And yes, that graphic is representative of what I'll be doing 

(I'll tell you all about it when I return). 

Here's to cold beverages, smooth sailing, and exploring new places. 

Nancy will be here on Monday, July 29 with a review of 

Nalini Singh's Primal Mirror


I hope you all have a wonderful July filled with summer fun and

 great books. See you on the flip side!


Tuesday, July 16, 2024

ARC Review - - Viscount in Love

Viscount in Love
by Eloisa James
Accidental Brides - Book 1
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: July 23, 2024
Reviewed by Santa 

He wants a nanny, not a bride…

Suddenly guardian to twins, Viscount Dominic Kelbourne is luckily betrothed to a suitable lady—until she elopes. With no time to woo, Dominic decides to marry his fiancée’s unconventional sister. Torie isn’t perfect, but their kisses are so passionate that society thinks he’s actually chosen her.

She wants to marry for love…

Torie has never been able to make sense of words on a page, so she has turned her talents to art. She longs for a man who values her as she is… but marries for the sake of the twins. She doubts Dominic is capable of love, let alone respect, but as their heated debates turn into something more, Torie begins to imagine a life as a wife, not a nanny. 

But when the arrogant viscount finds that his viscountess has stolen his heart, he’ll have to give all he has to win her love.

Santa Says:

If you are looking for a slow burn, lust-to-love on second sight where the hero falls first - look no further than Eloisa James’ new series starter Viscount In Love. This five star read will fit perfectly into your summer beach reading tote bag.  

Dominic Kelbourne, Viscount Kelbourne, is in the market for a spouse. He has very specific requirements for his bride to be. She is to run his household, be agreeable and play hostess. At first glance, Leonora Sutton seems to fit the bill. Her drunkard of a father is of no concern to him. And her sister is quiet enough to not cause him any concern. Their two year engagement doesn’t bother him, as he always seems to have more important matters to address at Parliament. 

Leonora’s sister, Victoria (Torie) prefers staying in the background painting and visiting with friends. She is also very beautiful and  attracts some very ardent admirers but her reputation as a dullard eventually turns all suitors away. This label is repeated in front of others, specifically Kelbourne, by her own sister and father! Brutal. After all, they would say, how can someone who could not seem to read or write hope to run a household? 

Torie for all her faults is a kind and considerate person with strong convictions. She has a fantastic memory for any information told to her. It is how she learns new information, books, and stories.  Her compassion comes to the forefront when Kelbourne becomes guardian to his orphaned twin niece and nephew, Valentine and Florence. He embraces them immediately in a way their own parents never did. They immediately bond with Torie. Meanwhile, her sister would banish them back to the countryside.

Viscount Kelbourne is immediately faced with another dilemma when Leonora sneaks off to marry a much older man. The twins start to play cupid for a match between Torie and Dom. He sees the merit as he becomes more attracted to Torie. She stirs up a wealth of emotions in him from lustful thoughts to the sheer joy of everyday life. 

He proposes and Torie hesitantly accepts. However, the road to happiness does not run smoothly. They seem perfectly matched but she is not the docile perfect hostess he thought he wanted. But sometimes, what you thought you wanted pales in comparison with what you gain. 

There is quite a bit of angst in this book. The heat level is scorching, so make sure you have a fan handy. If you love a bit of groveling, you will also love this book. Dominic and Torie are products of some pretty harsh environments they grew up in. Dominic’s father was a cruel and harsh man. Torie suffered verbal abuse and some neglect because of her learning disabilities of both dyslexia and dyscalculia. They survive and thrive with the twins, finding a love that offers them the hope and home they never really had before. 

Monday, July 15, 2024

Review - - The Ghost of Loon Lake

The Ghost of Loon Lake
by Rachelle Paige Campbell
The Shores of Loon Lake - Book 1
Publisher: Harbor Lane Books, LLC
Release Date: July 16, 2024
Reviewed by PJ

Ten years ago, ASHLEY HALE left the Inn at Loon Lake, her family's business, frustrated by her father's apprenticeship that treated her more like a personal assistant than heir apparent. Her childhood best friend turned husband, CHRISTOPHER LEWIS, stayed behind, breaking her heart. After her father's sudden passing, Ashley discovers that he changed the terms of the will to include either her or her husband, whoever stays for thirty consecutive days following his death.

To claim her rightful legacy and her only chance at a happy future, Ashley sneaks into the lighthouse behind the Inn with the intention of scaring her estranged husband off the premises by pretending to be a ghost. Unfortunately for Ashley, Christopher knows she's back. He's spent the last decade running the business and hating himself for not following her. Her father forbade him from telling her the truth of the Inn's financial circumstances. In an act of love, he saved the resort and has been supporting her with an allowance ever since.

When Ashley accidentally sets the lighthouse on fire, she runs into Christopher's arms. He hopes her return means a relationship resolution and a chance to show how much work is involved in managing the property, hoping she will gladly hand over the reins. However, Ashley isn't giving up, and Christopher doesn't want her to leave. Convinced the Inn's lighthouse is haunted, she starts an investigation. Together, they uncover one mystery after another. Will they discover the secret to a happy future and a second chance at love?

PJ's Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about this one. Parts of the story were enjoyable while others left me frustrated. I guess the bottom line is, I just wanted more. This is a husband and wife who have been separated without contact for ten years which presents a good opportunity for hashing out emotions on the road to a possible reconciliation. Good potential that had its moments but didn't quite live up to my expectations. 

I'm not a huge fan of secrets, especially when in this case those secrets were kept - and continue to be kept - for the other person's "own good." Ashley and Christopher grew up together, fell in love, married, and are still married, though estranged. This is not an age-gap romance yet he's still treating her like a child, just as her father did. Yes, some of the things she's done have been immature but maybe if the men in her life had been upfront and open with her instead of withholding facts and opportunities from her, her life would have taken a different course. As it is, both main characters need to do some growing up - and they do - but, for me, it took way too long to accomplish. Others may feel differently. By the end of the book I did feel better about them as a couple but I'm also hopeful that we'll continue to see their relationship grow and solidify in the rest of the series. And yes, I do plan to give the next book in the series a go. There are locals introduced in this book who have me intrigued. 

While the romance part of the book wasn't all I had hoped for, the mystery was well crafted, keeping me guessing with unexpected twists and on the edge of my seat with some suspense-filled moments. 

In the end, I'd give The Ghost of Loon Lake 3.5 stars. It didn't keep me up reading late into the night but it piqued my interest in Loon Lake and her citizens enough to return for the next book in the series. 

Winner - - Caridad Pineiro


The randomly chosen winner

of Caridad Pineiro's giveaway is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


Friday, July 12, 2024

Coastal Magic 2025 Featured Author Spotlight & Giveaway - - Caridad Pineiro


Welcome to The Romance Dish's first Featured Author Spotlight for the 2025 Coastal Magic Convention. Coastal Magic (CMCon25) is a fun-filled, weekend reader/author event held in Daytona Beach, FL each February. The 2025 event is February 20-23 and registration is now open. Each month from now through January, 2025 l will be spotlighting one Featured Author who will be attending next year's event. First up is Caridad Pineiro. Caridad is joining us today to talk about her South Beach Security K-9 Division series for Harlequin Intrigue and her newest book, Escape the Everglades. I just finished reading it and - whoa - what a heart-tugging, action-packed ride. I couldn't put it down. 

Please give Caridad a warm Romance Dish welcome!

I’m so excited to be visiting with you all on The Romance Dish! It’s such an exciting year for me since besides having the brand new South Beach Security K-9  Division spinoff series beginning in May, we’re also waiting for our first grandbaby in the next week or so! All joyous new releases! Read on to find out about these new releases and how to enter a giveaway for a $10 gift card and an e-copy of BISCAYNE BAY BREACH.

This month’s release in the SBS K-9 Division series is ESCAPE THE EVERGLADES which features some very interesting heroes. Carlos Ruiz is a marine who’s now a single dad because of his wife’s tragic death. Carlos is an environmentalist who also runs a tour business in the Florida Everglades. The heroines, K-9 Agent Natalie Rodriguez and Missy, a Labrador Retriever, are both Army veterans suffering from PTSD after being injured while on deployment. It was a labor of love to bring Carlos, his son Luke, Natalie, and Missy together to help them heal from the wounds in their lives.

In ESCAPE THE EVERGLADES, Carlos and Luke are out in search of a Florida panther they are tracking when they run across alligator egg poachers. They have to flee the area when the poachers fire on them but manage to save the eggs by bringing in game wardens to assist. But that prompts a series of attacks at Carlos’s home and business and he calls in South Beach Security to help.

What follows is an action-packed and emotional story as Natalie and Missy protect Carlos and Luke and as both father and son begin to love again after the loss in their lives. That love and the beauty of the Everglades will help Natalie and Missy heal from the wounds of war.

One of the fun things about writing all the stories in the SBS K-9 series was picking the dogs for each story based on their special skills.

In the first book, SABOTAGE OPERATION, the SBS K-9 agent is needed for protection so the K-9 heroine is a Belgian Malinois.

Since Labrador Retrievers are great in watery situations and search and rescue, Missy was perfect for ESCAPE THE EVERGLADES!

In KILLER IN THE KENNEL (November 2024), the K-9 heroine is a bloodhound since the story involves searches for missing women and cadavers.

Finally, DANGER IN DADE (Christmas 2025) a pit bull is the top dog since she’s needed for protection.

You may be asking yourself what’s next since I’m happy to say I’ll be doing another 4 book spinoff which will also have some puppers in the stories. Would you believe a corgi is the K-9?

Thanks so much for visiting with me. For a chance to win a $10 gift card and an e-copy of BISCAYNE BAY BREACH, #3 in the earlier South Beach Security Series, let me know if you love stories with dogs!

Okay, readers, tell us if you love stories with dogs in them. And if you have dogs in your real life, feel free to tell us about them too!

One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, July 14 will receive Caridad's giveaway of a $10 gift card and an e-copy of BISCAYNE BAY BREACH. 

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Review - - The Inn on Amelia Island

The Inn on Amelia Island
by Hope Holloway
Seven Sisters - Book 7
Publisher: Hope Holloway
Release Date: July 12, 2024
Reviewed by PJ

After coming together following their father’s stroke, the Wingate women have found second-chance romance, faced trials and tribulations, and built wonderful lives on Amelia Island. Their father is fully recovered and healthy, their businesses are flourishing, and the whole family is bursting with love and laughter.

But as they fill Wingate House with wedding plans and celebrations, not everything is smooth sailing down the Amelia River. One final crisis threatens this unshakeable family, and it will test everyone and everything they hold dear.

Before the sun sets on their saga, the sisters must join forces and hearts one last time to earn a truly heartwarming happily ever after.

PJ's Thoughts:

Hope. Heart. Humor. Family. Faith. Love. 

Hope Holloway concludes her heart-tugging Seven Sisters series with another book that kept me reading long into the night. These characters have all found a place in my heart. I simply could not stop reading until I was certain each member of the Wingate family was happy, healthy, and safe. And, in The Inn on Amelia Island, those facts are not a certainty for most of the book. Holloway really had me on pins and needles with this one. 

I don't want to go into specifics because each reader who has become invested in this family should have the pleasure of watching events unfold as they read the book. So, I'll just say this. Unexpected people - and obstacles - find their way into the lives of several members of the Wingate family but as we've learned throughout the series, when someone in this family is threatened, everyone - and I do mean everyone - circles the wagons. I love seeing these characters, these couples, this family as a whole come together, strengthening their bonds, their love, their faith as they confront the many faces of adversity. I will not soon forget them.

If you enjoy family sagas that elicit laughter, tug at your heartstrings, and immerse you in the trials and celebrations of one very special family, I highly recommend Hope Holloway's Seven Sisters series. I also strongly suggest reading the books in this series in order (listed below). I'm already anticipating what Holloway will bring readers next while secure in the knowledge that I know I'll be seeing Amelia Island and the seven Wingate sisters again. These books are too good not to revisit when I need a little laughter and reading comfort. 

The Beach House on Amelia Island (book 1)
The Café on Amelia Island (book 2)
The Bookstore on Amelia Island (book 3)
The Florist on Amelia Island (book 4)
The Chocolate Shop on Amelia Island (book 5)
The Dressmaker on Amelia Island (book 6)
The Inn on Amelia Island (book 7)

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Review - - One Star Romance

One-Star Romance
by Laura Hankin
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: June 18, 2024
Reviewed by Hellie

Natalie and Rob couldn’t have less in common. Nat’s a messy artist, and Rob’s a rigid academic. The only thing they share is their devotion to their respective best friends—who just got engaged. Still, unexpected chemistry has Natalie cautiously optimistic about being maid of honor to Rob’s best man.

Until, minutes before the ceremony, Nat learns that Rob wrote a one-star review of her new novel, which has them both reeling: Nat from imposter syndrome, and Rob over the reason he needed to write it. 

When the reception ends, these two opposites hope they’ll never meet again. But, as they slip from their twenties into their thirties, they’re forced together whenever their fast-track best friends celebrate another milestone. Through housewarmings and christenings, life-changing triumphs and failures, Natalie and Rob grapple with their own choices—and how your harshest critic can become your perfectly imperfect match. 

After all, even the truest love stories sometimes need a bit of rewriting.

Hellie’s Heeds: 

I wasn’t sure how to rate this book. On the basis of a “romantic-COMEDY”--I wouldn’t put this in that category. But honestly I’m so confused by the rom-com category nowadays. I suppose if this book were set next to Bridget Jones’ Diary–which was more painful to read than laugh-out-loud funny, perhaps this fits the category. But I thought Bridget Jones fit the category because in essence, the story-line was a bit fluffy. The stakes were lower–the most Bridget had to lose in most of the episodes was her dignity, of which she had very little. But this story–oh, so many stakes. I decided to rank the book by how I felt at the end–as just a story, neither particularly romantic or comedic, and decided it was worth 5 stars because this book made me FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS. I admit, I hated feeling most of them.  

If a book could be a soulmate, this was my soulmate. I could identify with Natalie hard–the artist writer girl who spends the whole of her 20s flailing around, failing left, right, and center, making incredibly bad decisions and/or not dealing with her issues (mainly because she doesn’t make enough money to get the therapist she so desperately needs.) I shared scenes from the book and tried to explain the heroine to my husband–he hated her. *LOL* And I admit the first third of the book, I didn’t like her a lot either (even if the heroine was me in fiction form.) The hero, Rob, was much more likable, but he had his quirks. There was a point in the book where Rob meets a lovely woman who you think he’ll marry–and you think he should because Natalie is definitely not emotionally mature or available to date him–and for reasons I can only think of as “Hermione-Ron Wish Fulfillment”, they don’t end up together and Rob and Natalie finally work it out…but it felt like a stretch at some points. 

Where this book shines though is Angus. Angus the unlikely hero. I could write odes to Angus, the bumbling goofy guy who somehow ended up marrying way out of his league, but ultimately proves he is more than worthy of her and she is worthy of him. The places I laughed the hardest…and cried the hardest featured him. May we all be worthy of our own Angus one day. (I’m glad to say I found mine.)  

The “romance” between Natalie and Rob is a distant third…or dead-last compared to the relationship between Natalie and Gabby. From the first page, Natalie would be content to keep the Clubhouse girls only. Gabby is her best friend–and she can’t imagine anyone or anything coming between them. But then there was Angus. It was like being stabbed through the heart because Natalie’s insecurities and hurt that her friend had replaced her with “some guy” was something I could relate to. (My husband could not relate to it, but my husband has always been too old for friends, I think. Or maybe it’s a girl thing.) Reading this book healed a lot of hurts I still had; and in a romance sort of way, there is a happily ever after for all involved. No animals or beloved characters were killed in the writing of this book.  

If you are wanting a romance that primarily focuses on the hero and heroine–this is not really the book. Sure 99% of the scenes are either in the hero or heroine’s POV, but the story itself revolves around Gabby and Natalie, or Angus and Gabby, most of the time. It’s how I fell so in love with Angus actually–the real hero.  

If you are wanting a comedy, aside from the fabulous wedding scene, prepare instead to bawl a lot. (Or if you didn’t have a bestie who gave you abandonment issues and you think your girlfriends should automatically understand that they’re just friends while a husband is family, well, you may want to set the book on fire in several spots–I’m not sure you’ll ever like Natalie.)  

But if you want to read about Angus, a hero for the ages, I think you’ll agree he’s definitely worth all the stars. I’m not sure if I want to thank Laura Hankin for this story–or yell at her, “How dare you!” while sobbing into some tissues. I’ll have to check out her other books–I have a feeling they’re all of the complicated variety.


Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Tour Review - - Until Next Summer

Until Next Summer
by Ali Brady
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: July 9, 2024
Reviewed by PJ

Growing up, Jessie and Hillary lived for summer, when they’d be reunited at Camp Chickawah. The best friends vowed to become counselors together someday, but they drifted apart after Hillary broke her promise and only Jessie stuck to their plan, working her way up to become the camp director. 

When Jessie learns that the camp will be sold, she decides to plan one last hurrah, inviting past campers—including Hillary—to a nostalgic “adult summer camp” before closing for good. Jessie and Hillary rebuild their friendship as they relive the best time of their lives—only now there are adult beverages, skinny dipping, and romantic entanglements. Straitlaced Hillary agrees to a “no strings attached” summer fling with the camp chef, while outgoing Jessie is drawn to a moody, reclusive writer who’s rented a cabin to work on his novel.

The friends soon realize this doesn’t have to be the last summer. They’ll team up and work together, just like the old days. But if they can’t save their beloved camp, will they be able to take the happiness of this summer away with them?

PJ's Thoughts:

Whether you were a camp kid growing up or not, Until Next Summer is a fun read that brings all the nostalgia of those fun, adventurous, awkward years to an adult reunion of former camp friends who lost touch years ago.  

Even though the fictional Camp Chickawah differs from my own Camp Shawadassee where I happily spent two weeks every summer (no boys at our camp), Brady brought those idyllic days back to life for me through her characters, the lake, the woods, and all the fun events that we loved as kids and that I, along with her characters, would be on board to experience again as an adult. Maybe with accommodations a bit more comfy. I loved experiencing everything along with former best friends, Jessie and Hillary, and the others who gather to give their beloved camp a rousing send-off...and maybe a second chance. Actually, there are multiple second chances - at restoring friendships, exploring new career paths, and discovering love and romance in unlikely corners. 

Brady has infused this story with plenty of layers that enriched my enjoyment. There's found family, romance, grief, healing, friendship, self-discovery, finding that special place where you are your authentic self, and learning that home really is where your heart is, wherever that may be. It made me laugh, brought forth tears, and left me with a smile in my soul and an inescapable craving for s'mores. 


Monday, July 8, 2024

Review & Giveaway - - The Secret Keeper of Main Street

The Secret Keeper of Main Street
by Trisha R. Thomas
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: June 4, 2024
Reviewed by PJ

1954: In the quaint town of Mendol, Oklahoma, Bailey Dowery is a Black dressmaker for the wives and daughters of local oil barons. She earns a good living fitting designer gowns and creating custom wedding dresses for the town’s elite. But beyond her needle and thread lies a deeper talent, one passed down from her mother: the gift of insight. With just a fleeting touch or brush against the skin, Bailey has sudden flashes of intuition— witnessing the other person’s hopes, dreams, and nightmares, as well glimpses of their past and future. To protect herself, she wears gloves to keep from grazing the skin of her clients as she pins them into their gowns.

Brides have whispered that Bailey can see if their true love is faithful, or if their marriage will be a success. Her aunt Charlene has always warned her, “It’s safer to stay out of White folks’ business.” But Bailey will reluctantly provide a reading during a fitting, as long as the bride promises to be discreet.

Now Elsa Grimes, daughter of one of the richest oil men in Oklahoma, has come to the Regal Gown as the least joyful bride Bailey has ever seen. Elsa’s big society wedding is imminent and her gown is gorgeous, but what Bailey’s intuition uncovers when she touches Elsa’s hand horrifies her. Against her better judgment, she’s determined to help Elsa in whatever way she can. But when the son of a prominent family turns up dead on the eve of Elsa’s wedding, and the bride-to-be is arrested for his murder, Bailey is suddenly at the center of a firestorm that threatens to overtake her and everyone she loves.

PJ's Thoughts:

This was a good story set in a different era from what I typically read. It's 1950's Oklahoma (which I still have trouble thinking of as "historical") where there's a clear divide between rich and poor, black and white, the town elite and those who serve them. And then there's Bailey Dowery, a Black dressmaker who finds herself somewhere in between. An employee of a white business owner, Bailey is in demand for her fashion skills as well as her psychic skills while clearly not someone who would be welcomed into any of the white women's homes. And yet she finds herself in an alliance, a friendship of sorts, with the white daughter of one of the most powerful families in town, a relationship that won't go down easy for either side. Add in a murder, secret relationships, betrayals, complex family dynamics, and Bailey's "second sight" and this story turns into a compelling drama that kept me flipping pages right up until the end. 

Thomas explores multiple themes in this book that weave in and out of the storylines, connecting unexpected characters as events unfold and secrets are revealed. She isn't hesitant to shine a spotlight on the racial divides that existed, impacting the lives of more than a few of the characters. She touches on the complications and heartache of social restrictions placed on certain characters, particularly women, and of the inability to live an authentic life. She also explores the many layers of relationships - family, romantic, friendship - which bring another level of emotion and understanding to the lives of these characters and enough unexpected twists to keep readers wondering how it will all turn out in the end. I enjoyed it and will be seeking out more of Ms. Thomas's books. 

Content Warning: murder, sexual assault

Have you read any books set in the 1950's? Do you enjoy stories set in that era?

Have you read any books written by Trisha R. Thomas?

One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, July 9 will receive a hard cover copy of The Secret Keeper of Main Street

*U.S. only

*Must be 18

Friday, July 5, 2024

Winner - - Big in Sweden


The randomly chosen winner

of a print copy of

Big in Sweden by Sally Franson is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Winner - - July Coming Attractions


The randomly chosen winner

of a hard cover copy of

People in Glass Houses by 

Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Review - - Treasure Coast Revival

Treasure Coast Revival
by Leigh Duncan
Emerald Bay - Book 4
Publisher: Gardenia Street Publishing
Release Date: June 28, 2024
Reviewed by PJ

of the Dane Crown Inn is nearly complete, but will Belle, Kim, Diane and the others be successful in rebuilding their own lives?

After a heartwarming Christmas, excitement builds as the Dane Crown Inn comes alive with the promise of a bright future. In one of the cottages, workmen beat out a steady tap-tap-tap as they replace the roof. Inside the inn, floor sanders buzz as a skilled crew works to restore the aged hardwood floors to their former glory. But it’s not just the inn that’s undergoing a transformation. Amidst all this progress, budding romances deepen, and the women of the family forge new futures.

With Jen's help, Kim takes a leap of faith and launches her catering business, which brings a touch of culinary magic to the heart of Emerald Bay. Meanwhile, Amy and her new business partner set their sights on expanding Sweet Cakes. Belle, in her search for a new direction and purpose, discovers that the path to happiness can be found right where you least expect it. Kim’s daughter Natalie confesses the mess she’s made of her own life and searches for a solution, while Diane ponders a reunion. And Aunt Margaret questions her decision to sell the only home she’s ever known.

As the Dane Crown Inn comes back to life, the women of Emerald Bay find that sometimes, in the midst of change, the most precious treasures are the bonds that hold a family together.

PJ's Thoughts:

This fourth book in Leigh Duncan's Emerald Bay series brings all the heart, humor, and family dynamics I've come to love in this series. This author weaves together the stories of the members of this multi-generation family in a way that draws me into into their lives, challenges, and relationships. By this point in the series, I feel as if I know them. They feel like friends. I've become invested in their professional success and personal happiness. Some of the women are at a personal crossroads, others at professional ones, some are starting over, some weighing the pros and cons of second chances, and one is dealing with a crisis of faith. And, of course, in the background for all of them is the beloved family matriarch and the family inn they've poured so much of themselves into. Will a sale be necessary? Or will they find a way to keep it in the family? And what about those romantic relationships? I'm eager to discover all of the answers as this heart-tugging series continues.

This is a series where I strongly recommend reading the books in order. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Review & Giveaway - - Big in Sweden

Big in Sweden
by Sally Franson
Publisher: Mariner Books
Release Date: July 2, 2024
Reviewed by PJ

Paulie Johansson has never put much stock in the idea of family: she has her long-term boyfriend Declan and beloved best friend Jemma, and that’s more than enough for her. Yet one night on a lark, she lets Jemma convince her to audition for Sverige och Mig, a show on Swedish television where Swedish-Americans compete to win the ultimate prize: a reunion with their Swedish relatives. Much to her shock, her drunken submission video wins her a spot on the show, and against Declan’s advice Paulie decides to go for it.

Armed with her Polaroid camera, a beat-up copy of Pippi Longstocking, and an unquenchable sense of possibility, Paulie hops on a plane to Sweden and launches into the contest with seven other Americans, all under the watchful eye of a camera crew. At first, Paulie is certain that she and her competitors have nothing in common besides their passports and views their bloodthirsty ambitions with suspicion. Yet amid the increasingly absurd challenges—rowing from Denmark to Sweden in the freezing rain, battling through obstacle courses, competing in a pickled herring eating contest—Paulie finds herself rethinking her snap judgments about her fellow countrymen, while her growing attachment to her Swedish roots increases her resolve to win the competition herself.

Grappling with long-held notions of family, friendship, and love—not to mention her feelings for the distractingly handsome Swedish cameraman who’s been assigned to follow her around—Paulie starts to reconsider her past and rethink what she wants for the future. A fish-out-of-water tale filled with warmth, optimism, and wit, Big in Sweden is at its heart a love story: love for family, friends, country, and—most importantly—oneself. 

PJ's Thoughts:

This was an interesting book. From the cover, I was expecting a rom-com but this is more of a women's fiction, coming-of-age story, though with a heroine in her thirties. That's not to say there isn't humor; there is plenty to generate laughter and some great one-liners but also a fair amount of soul searching and emotional depth. It was meatier than I expected it to be.
There's a fairly large cast of characters and at times I did get confused about who was who and which back story applied to which contestant on the show. I had to go back and forth a few times to figure it out. Paulie's character is pretty well fleshed out over the course of the book with a significant amount of self-growth after a rocky journey. She's a fish out of water so some ups and down are to be expected but she's also at loose ends in life. I enjoyed not only watching her evolve but also realizing my feelings about her had evolved as well. I didn't like her all that much at the beginning but that slowly began to change as she changed. And I also enjoyed her interactions with the other contestants. I was surprised by the relationships that formed - and with whom - as well as the challenges other characters faced. And I love the found family. That part of the book made my heart so happy. 
My favorite part of the book is the travel around Sweden during the filming of the reality show. The author does a great job of creating a sense of place as well as capturing the personality of Swedes in general. Many of the locales depicted in the book are places I've visited and it was fun to revisit them through her words and characters. For those readers who have not visited Sweden, this book just may make you book that trip. 

*Note: I feel I should warn readers that Paulie's character is very blunt and outspoken about her negative feelings relating to politics and social issues in the U.S. so if that's not your cup of tea, you may want to give this book a pass or just take a pass on those pages.

Have you ever visited Sweden?
Do you watch any reality shows on TV? Which ones?
Would you ever audition to be on one?
One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, July 4 will receive a print advance reader copy of Big in Sweden.
*U.S. Only
*Must be 18