Topics of Conversation, Miranda Popkey

I have a love for books that buck conventions and challenge the status quo. Topics of Conversation did this on several fronts.

The book is written in a stream of consciousness/journal-like style. The prose is almost lyrical in how it flows. I have a soft spot for that style of writing. I love being able to feel when the writer took a breath or lost their breath because what they had to say demanded they speak until there was no air left.

Topics of Conversation dives headfirst into some of the deepest and darkest truths of life as a woman. Everything from relationships to sex to work.

A bit of a warning, though, it’s a heavy read. I found myself angered at some of the topics discussed, but it’s real.

It was almost as if the author sliced open the heart and soul of a woman and bared it open for all of us to see, uncomfortable bits and all.

The Little Bookshop on the Seine, Rebecca Raisin

A cute romance set in the city of love. Though, I felt this book was more about Sarah’s growth as a person  than it was about her love life. I was rooting for her more than her relationship.

Thank you to Harlequin for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.



Keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from The Little Bookshop on the Seine!

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It’s The Holiday on the Champs-Élysées in a great big love letter to Paris, charming old bookstores and happily-ever-afters!

When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer—after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime—days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.

But her expectations cool faster than her café au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light—she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new coworkers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop—and her life—back in order…and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true.

Author Bio: Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris series and the Gingerbread Café trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines. You can follow Rebecca on Facebook, and at www.rebeccaraisin.com

CHAPTER ONE
October

With a heavy heart I placed the sign in the display window. 

All books 50% off. 

If things didn’t pick up soon, it would read Closing down sale. The thought alone was enough to make me shiver. The autumnal sky was awash with purples and smudges of orange, as I stepped outside to survey the display window from the sidewalk. 

Star-shaped leaves crunched underfoot. I forced a smile. A sale wouldn’t hurt, and maybe it’d take the bookshop figures from the red into the black—which I so desperately needed. My rent had been hiked up. The owner of the building, a sharp-featured, silver-tongued, forty-something man, had put the pressure on me lately—to pay more, to declutter the shop, claiming the haphazard stacks of books were a fire risk. The additional rent stretched the budget to breaking level. Something had to change.

The phone shrilled, and a grin split my face. It could only be Ridge at this time of the morning. Even after being together almost a year his name still provoked a giggle. It suited him though, the veritable man mountain he was. I’d since met his mom, a sweet, well-spoken lady, who claimed in dulcet tones, that she chose his name well before his famous namesake in The Bold and the Beautiful. In fact, she was adamant about it, and said the TV character Ridge was no match for her son. I had to agree. Sure, they both had chiseled movie star cheekbones, and an intense gaze that made many a woman swoon, but my guy was more than just the sum of his parts—I loved him for his mind, as much as his clichéd six-pack, and broody hotness. And even better, he loved me for me.

He was the hero in my own real-life love story, and due back from Canada the next day. It’d been weeks since I’d seen him, and I ached for him in a way that made me blush.

I dashed inside, and answered the phone, breathlessly. “The Bookshop on the Corner.”

“That’s the voice I know and love,” he said in his rich, husky tone. My heart fluttered, picturing him at the end of the line, his jet-black hair and flirty blue eyes. He simply had to flick me a look loaded with suggestion, and I’d be jelly-legged and lovestruck.

“What are you wearing?” he said.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I held back a laugh, eager to drag it out. So far our relationship had been more long-distance than anticipated, as he flew around the world reporting on location. The stints apart left an ache in my heart, a numbness to my days. Luckily I had my books, and a sweeping romance or two helped keep the loneliness at bay.

“Tell me or I’ll be forced to Skype you and see for myself.”

Glancing down at my outfit, I grimaced: black tights, a black pencil skirt, and a pilled blue knit sweater, all as old as the hills of Ashford. Not exactly the type of answer Ridge was waiting for, or the way I wanted him to picture me, after so many weeks apart. “Those stockings you like, and…”

His voice returned with a growl. “Those stockings? With the little suspenders?”

I sat back into the chair behind the counter, fussing with my bangs. “The very same.”

He groaned. “You’re killing me. Take a photo…”

“There’s no need. If you’re good, I’ll wear the red ones tomorrow night.” I grinned wickedly. Our reunions were always passionate affairs; he was a hands-on type of guy. Lucky for him, because it took a certain type of man to drag me from the pages of my books. When he was home we didn’t surface until one of us had to go to work. Loving Ridge had been a revelation, especially in the bedroom, where he took things achingly slow, drawing out every second. I flushed with desire for him.

There was a muffled voice and the low buzz of phones ringing. Ridge mumbled to someone before saying, “About tomorrow…” He petered out, regret in each syllable.

I closed my eyes. “You’re not coming, are you?” I tried not to sigh, but it spilled out regardless. The lure of a bigger, better story was too much for him to resist, and lately the gaps between our visits grew wider. I understood his work was important, but I wanted him all to myself. A permanent fixture in the small town I lived in.

He tutted. “I’m sorry, baby. There’s a story breaking in

Indonesia, and I have to go. It’ll only be for a week or two, and then I’ll take some time off.”

Outside, leaves fluttered slowly from the oak tree, swaying softly, until they fell to the ground. I wasn’t the nagging girlfriend sort—times like this though, I was tempted to be. Ridge had said the very same thing the last three times he’d canceled a visit. But invariably someone would call and ask Ridge to head to the next location; any time off would be cut short.

“I understand,” I said, trying to keep my voice bright. Sometimes I felt like I played a never-ending waiting game. Would it always be like this? “Just so you know, I have a very hot date this afternoon.”

He gasped. “You better be talking about a fictional date.” His tone was playful, but underneath there was a touch of jealousy to it. Maybe it was just as hard on him, being apart.

“One very hot book boyfriend…though not as delectable as my real boyfriend—but a stand-in, until he returns.”

“Well, he better not keep you up half the night, or he’ll have me to answer to,” he faux threatened, and then said more seriously, “Things will slow down, Sarah. I want to be with you so much my soul hurts. But right now, while I’m freelance, I have to take whatever comes my way.”

“I know. I just feel a bit lost sometimes. Like someone’s hit pause, and I’m frozen on the spot.” I bit my lip, trying to work out how to explain it. “It’s not just missing you—I do understand about your job—it’s…everything. The bookshop sales dwindling, the rent jacked up, everyone going on about their business, while I’m still the same old Sarah.”

I’d been at this very crossroad when I’d met Ridge, and he’d swept me off my feet, like the ultimate romance hero. For a while that had been enough. After all, wasn’t love always the answer? Romance aside, life was a little stagnant, and I knew it was because of my fear of change. It wasn’t so

much that I had to step from behind the covers of my books, rather plunge, perhaps. Take life by the scruff of the neck and shake it. But how?

“You’ve had a rough few weeks. That’s all. I’ll be back soon, and I’m sure there’s something I can do to make you forget everything…”

My belly flip-flopped at the thought. He would make me forget everything that was outside that bedroom door, but then he’d leave and it would all tumble back.

What exactly was I searching for? My friends were getting married and having babies. Buying houses and redecorating. Starting businesses. My life had stalled. I was an introvert, happiest hiding in the shadows of my shop, reading romances to laze the day away, between serving the odd customer or two—yet, it wasn’t enough. In small-town Connecticut, there wasn’t a lot to do. And life here—calm, peaceful—was fine, but that’s just it, fine wasn’t enough anymore. I had this fear that life was passing me by because I was too timid to take the reins.

It was too hazy a notion of what I was trying to say, even to me. Instead of lumping Ridge with it, I changed tack. “I hope you know, you’re not leaving the house when you get home. Phones will be switched to silent, computers forgotten, and the only time we’re leaving the comfort of bed is when I need sustenance.” A good romp around the bedroom would suffice until I could pinpoint what it was that I wanted.

“How about I sort out the sustenance?” he said, his voice heavy with desire. “And then we’ll never have to leave.”

“Promises, promises,” I said, my breath hitching. I hoped this flash of longing would never wane, the sweet torture of anticipation.

“I have to go, baby. I’ll call you tonight if it’s not too late once I’m in.”

“Definitely call tonight! Otherwise, I can’t guarantee the book boyfriend won’t steal your girlfriend. He’s pretty hot, I’ll have you know.”

“Why am I jealous of a fictional character?” He laughed, a low, sexy sound. “OK, tonight. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

He hung up, leaving me dazed, and a touch lonely knowing that I wouldn’t see him the next day as planned.

I tried to shake the image of Ridge from my mind. If anyone walked in, they’d see the warm blush of my cheeks, and know exactly what I was thinking. Damn the man for being so attractive, and so effortlessly sexy.

Shortly, the sleepy town of Ashford would wake under the gauzy light of October skies. Signs would be flipped to open, stoops swept, locals would amble down the road. Some would step into the bookshop and out of the cold, and spend their morning with hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot tea, and reading in any one of the cozy nooks around the labyrinth-like shop.

I loved having a place for customers to languish. Comfort was key, and if you had a good book and a hot drink, what else could you possibly need to make your day any brighter? Throw rugs and cushions were littered around seating areas. Coats would be swiftly hung on hooks, a chair found, knitted blankets pulled across knees, and their next hour or two spent, in the most relaxing of ways.

I wandered around the shop, feather duster in hand, tickling the covers, waking them from slumber. I’m sure as soon as my back was turned, the books wiggled and winked at one another, as if they were eager for the day to begin, for fingers of hazy sunlight to filter through and land on them like spotlights, as if saying, here’s the book for you.

Imagine if I had to close up for good, like so many other shops had in recent times? It pained me to think people were missing out on the real-life bookshop experience. Wasn’t it much better when you could step into a dimly lit space, and eke your way around searching for the right novel? You could run a fingertip along the spines, smell that glorious old book scent, flick them open, and unbend a dog-eared page. Read someone else’s notes in the margin, or a highlighted passage, and see why that sentence or metaphor had dazzled the previous owner.

Secondhand books had so much life in them. They’d lived, sometimes in many homes, or maybe just one. They’d been on airplanes, traveled to sunny beaches, or crowded into a backpack and taken high up a mountain where the air thinned.

Some had been held aloft tepid rose-scented baths, and thickened and warped with moisture. Others had childlike scrawls on the acknowledgment page, little fingers looking for a blank space to leave their mark. Then there were the pristine novels, ones that had been read carefully, bookmarks used, almost like their owner barely pried the pages open so loath were they to damage their treasure.

I loved them all.

Excerpted from The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin. Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Raisin. Published by HQN Books.

All The Ways We Said Goodbye

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the gifted copy of All The Ways We Said Goodbye.

I believe I’ve developed an addiction to these dual timeline historical fiction masterpieces from Beatriz Williams. All The Ways We Said Goodbye sucked me in from the very first page and kept me captivated. Babs to Daisy to Aurelie were all three dynamic, formidable, and flawed women that made me fall in love with their stories and lives.

All The Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Kate White, and Lauren Willig is available on January 14, 2020.

From the Publisher: The New York Times bestselling authors of The Glass Ocean and The Forgotten Room return with a glorious historical adventure that moves from the dark days of two World Wars to the turbulent years of the 1960s, in which three women with bruised hearts find refuge at Paris’ legendary Ritz hotel.

The heiress . . .
The Resistance fighter . . . 
The widow . . .
Three women whose fates are joined by one splendid hotel

France, 1914. As war breaks out, Aurelie becomes trapped on the wrong side of the front with her father, Comte Sigismund de Courcelles. When the Germans move into their family’s ancestral estate, using it as their headquarters, Aurelie discovers she knows the German Major’s aide de camp, Maximilian Von Sternburg. She and the dashing young officer first met during Aurelie’s debutante days in Paris. Despite their conflicting loyalties, Aurelie and Max’s friendship soon deepens into love, but betrayal will shatter them both, driving Aurelie back to Paris and the Ritz— the home of her estranged American heiress mother, with unexpected consequences.

France, 1942. Raised by her indomitable, free-spirited American grandmother in the glamorous Hotel Ritz, Marguerite “Daisy” Villon remains in Paris with her daughter and husband, a Nazi collaborator, after France falls to Hitler. At first reluctant to put herself and her family at risk to assist her grandmother’s Resistance efforts, Daisy agrees to act as a courier for a skilled English forger known only as Legrand, who creates identity papers for Resistance members and Jewish refugees. But as Daisy is drawn ever deeper into Legrand’s underground network, committing increasingly audacious acts of resistance for the sake of the country—and the man—she holds dear, she uncovers a devastating secret . . . one that will force her to commit the ultimate betrayal, and to confront at last the shocking circumstances of her own family history.

France, 1964. For Barbara “Babs” Langford, her husband, Kit, was the love of her life. Yet their marriage was haunted by a mysterious woman known only as La Fleur. On Kit’s death, American lawyer Andrew “Drew” Bowdoin appears at her door. Hired to find a Resistance fighter turned traitor known as “La Fleur,” the investigation has led to Kit Langford. Curious to know more about the enigmatic La Fleur, Babs joins Drew in his search, a journey of discovery that that takes them to Paris and the Ritz—and to unexpected places of the heart. . . .

Well Met, Jen DeLuca

I’d read mixed reviews on Well Met before I picked it up, but after following Jen DeLuca on Twitter for a few months, I knew I had to read it.

And, I was not disappointed.

Well Met is a smart, well-written rom-com with a unique setting and deliciously flawed characters. I mean, y’all, a pirate and a wench? Enemies to lovers? A Ren Faire? Yes. Please.

My only disappointment was that I cannot actually go to this Ren Faire.

Kicking off 2020 With Edits

This week, I’m reading working on editing my manuscript that I plan to start querying in a few weeks. This is (hopefully) the last rounds of edits and revisions.

It’s been a slow few months for my writing, with several false starts and unfinished works.

I’m hoping once I start getting this book out into the querying world, I’ll be able to start focusing on a new project. I have a few ideas I’m tossing around, one or two that I really want to write. So, we’ll see where this goes.

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

I’ve been meaning to read this book for over a year now. It took me a bit to get to it, but I’m glad I finally did.

The rich storytelling of Pachinko grabbed me from the first pages and I found it impossible to put down. From Sunja and her parents to her children and their children and friends, each character had a heartbreaking life filled with love and loss.

The overarching theme of belonging and having a home where you’re loved and accepted for who you are is universal, but Pachinko explored this theme with depth and reality.

This multigenerational story is one that will stay with me for a while.

This Is Not How It Ends, Rochelle Weinstein

I chose This is Not How it Ends for my December Amazon First Reads choice. And boy am I glad I did.

The first chapter of This Is Not How It Ends took my breath away and I’m still trying to catch it. I could not turn the pages fast enough. Charlotte, Phillip, Ben, and Jimmy all completely stole my attention and heart. I wanted to crawl inside their lives and watch them pull the pieces together (isn’t that what reading is all about?).

I managed to hold it together until I read the author’s acknowledgments, then all the emotion is held in throughout the book spilled out.

I know this is only my second book of 2020, but there is a good chance it will remain one of my favorites.

The Summer Wives, Beatriz Williams

I think Beatriz Williams might be my favorite historical fiction author. The way she weaves together dual timelines and multigenerational stories leaves me breathless and captivated. The Summer Wives was a beautiful story of love and never giving up on those that have stolen our hearts.

Decade in Review

I don’t even know where to start this. Ten years ago, I was a different person. I was 28 and on the verge of graduating college. I worked in a men’s clothing store and had dreams of working in politics. I’d also written my first novel (may it forever rest in peace in a box under my bed).

I was single and was convinced I would always be. And, I had no clue what the next day would hold, much less the next decade.

Ten years later, I’ve now written almost ten books. I’m married and a mom. I finished my undergrad and went on to get my MBA. I have a career (in retail, but using those overpriced pieces of paper). I’ve self-published three novels, and I’m currently submitting my work and querying agents.

Those are all of the tangible changes. The biggest changes are the ones you can’t see. I’m finally working towards finding comfort in my own skin. I’m finding my words and my voice. But, most importantly, I’ve laid out a clear vision for the person, wife, mother, and author I want to be. I’ve accepted that perfection is neither obtainable nor an option—and, I don’t want it.

In the last decade, I’ve become the person I never knew I wanted to be, but I still have a lot of growing and learning left to do. Cheers to the next 10 years.

PS 2020 in an election year. So, make sure you’re registered! And, of course, VOTE.

Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano

I knew this book would wreck me emotionally. I knew it, and yet it still surprised me.

From Edward being the sole survivor to leaning the stores of a few of the passengers to Lacey’s and John’s marriage struggles, Dear Edward hit me in all the feels.

The book flows in a unique timeline, with every other chapter alternating between the flight and Edward’s life after the flight. At times it was difficult to learn about the characters knowing their fate, but it made the ending that much sweeter.

I expected a few more tears, but all in all, this was an excellent emotional read.