Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Prince on Paper (Reluctant Royals #3) by Alyssa Cole

* * * *

The Reluctant Royals series returns with a good girl searching for the life that’s not too big, and not too small, and the bad boy prince who might be just right for her…

Nya Jerami fled Thesolo for the glitz and glamour of NYC but discovered that her Prince Charming only exists in her virtual dating games. When Nya returns home for a royal wedding, she accidentally finds herself up close and personal—in bed—with the real-life celebrity prince who she loves to hate.

For Johan von Braustein, the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourg, acting as paparazzi bait is a ruse that protects his brother—the heir to the throne—and his own heart. When a royal referendum threatens his brother’s future, a fake engagement is the perfect way to keep the cameras on him.

Nya and Johan both have good reasons to avoid love, but as desires are laid bare behind palace doors, they must decide if their fake romance will lead to a happily-ever-after.

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

Naledi's cousin, Nya, returns to Thesolo to attend the social event of the year - Naledi and Thabiso's wedding! All eyes will be on the happy couple while simultaneously giving the evil side eye to Nya. Her family's considered scandalous after her father was found to have a hand in Naledi's parents' deaths many years ago. While he's been in prison, Nya set off for New York. She longed to get away from the gossip and the pitying looks, and hoped the anonymity in the big city would serve as a springboard for an epic adventure, something she'd never thought possible for herself. Only it didn't turn out the way she had hoped and she quickly realized that she wasn't suited to the crazy pace of life there. She didn't find that epic love she hoped for either so instead found solace in a gaming app where she could date a virtual version of her ultimate prince. And speaking of princes, she did come into contact with Johan a few times and none of their encounters were pleasant. Thabiso's best friend seemed to brush her off or look down at her. Little did Nya know that Johan was hiding his true feelings. Being protective of Thabiso, he had originally been suspicious of her role in what happened to Naledi and her family but then soon found her irresistible and charming. However, he had a ridiculous alter ego to maintain so he did all he could to keep her at arm's length. The royal wedding brings them together and in unexpected ways. Turns out that their new "friendship" could prove beneficial to Johan and his country if they pretend to be engaged. Since it also helps Nya with her own problems, she agrees. 

The set up is weird at first. For someone so reluctant to be in the spotlight, Nya seems all too willing to go along with a plan that will thrust her front and center. There are so many fake engagement stories so I wanted her to have convincing reasons to do this, and she does. One, she wants to show everyone who doubts her that she's not the weakling she's been made out to be and neither is she her father's puppet. Two, she does this simply to defy her father. Considering her upbringing at his hand and the strained relationship she has with him as an adult, she's certainly allowed to feel that way. Between the Nya and Joahn, I was more in tune to Nya's growth and how she was overcoming her insecurities. Johan was like a fortress holding tightly to all his thoughts and emotions while putting others ahead of him. I like the idea of his secret good side known to a select. The fake engagement of a playboy prince to an elegant, sweet woman would be the perfect way to distract the press and his people from the issues plaguing his monarchy. There is also a subplot: another potential royal crisis for Johan to manage which involves his younger half brother. I did think that was smoothed over rather quickly but there wasn't time to explore that to its full potential here. I wouldn't mind if Cole revisited that in the future. We'll just add that to my wishlist ;-)

The Reluctant Royals series is about revamping fairy tales and having them come true in a modern world. Amidst all the craziness and hardships, these characters have persevered and achieved their own happiness. Nya may have started out romanticizing about her Prince Charming, and Johan may have thought that he'd forever have to sacrifice his happiness to take care of others, but they both found each other and are setting the rules their way. Cole is such a brilliant writer whom I never want to miss and A Prince on Paper is a dreamy, delightful read to add to your list!

~ Bel

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4) by Lucy Parker

* * * *

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

If you've read any of my previous reviews on Lucy Parker's books, you'll know how much I love them. The Austen Playbook continues with Parker's trademark funnies and quick quips that have endeared me to her writing.

Freddie was first mentioned in one of the earlier books where she was a younger cast member in the play. Now here she is, still young but older and a veritable veteran in the business. But the shine of the stage that she's always loved has kind of lost its sheen lately. While she's been successful and done well for herself, she hasn't felt passionate about some of her more recent work. Her inner thoughts are confirmed by none other that her adversary, famous London stage critic, James Ford-Griff, or just Griff, who has been maligning her performances. No matter. She's dealt with critics all her life and she knows how to handle herself. But once she and Griff have to share a workspace, all bets are off. 

I think I've mentioned this before but the thing I love about these books is how Parker always pitches her heroines against the heroes. Be the guys prickly or condescending, the women always step up. Freddie employs humour and sarcasm in every conversation with Griff. She playfully uses his critiques of her against him, teasing him constantly about how incorrectly he had her sized up. As for Griff, there's no begrudgingly falling for the girl. He just does and acknowledges how his bluntness about some of her performances, though true and she even agrees with him on some of them, doesn't come near to the kind of phenomenon that Freddie is in reality. She injects energy and vitality into his strictly ordered world, and her truthful perspective brings invaluable insight to him. When Freddie joins Griff in his research about a theatre legend they have in common, what they find could mean rewriting history for both their families and possibly change the budding romance between them.

I admire the women that Lucy Parker writes about so much so that I wish I could automatically absorb some of their self-assuredness and quick thinking. I swear that I'm always in an uplifted mood when I'm done reading these books. I can't recommend the London Celebrities series enough to people who simply want good humour and good feels. The Austen Playbook should be your next read!

~ Bel

Friday, April 12, 2019

Fumbled (Playbook #2) by Alexa Martin

* * * *

A second chance doesn't guarantee a touchdown in this new contemporary romance from the author of Intercepted.

Single-mother Poppy Patterson moved across the country when she was sixteen and pregnant to find a new normal. After years of hard work, she's built a life she loves. It may include a job at a nightclub, weekend soccer games, and more stretch marks than she anticipated, but it's all hers, and nobody can take that away. Well, except for one person.

TK Moore, the starting wide receiver for the Denver Mustangs, dreamt his entire life about being in the NFL. His world is football, parties, and women. Maybe at one point he thought his future would play out with his high school sweetheart by his side, but Poppy is long gone and he's moved on.  

When Poppy and TK cross paths in the most unlikely of places, emotions they've suppressed for years come rushing back. But with all the secrets they never told each other lying between them, they'll need more than a dating playbook to help them navigate their relationship.

Source: advance e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Who can resist a second chance romance? Certainly not me. Poppy gets the shock of her life when she unexpectedly sees TK, her very former high school boyfriend, at her place of work. She's successfully maintained a low key existence with just herself and her son and then suddenly her past crashes into her. TK can't believe that the girl he was in love with in high school and who disappeared without a notice is now standing in front of him. It's almost surreal. The crazy thing is that they've been living in the same city for a few years now and have never run into each other. It's amazing that Poppy has managed not to freak out about that since TK is one of the most popular athletes in Denver. Now that TK knows that she's okay, he's not willing to lose her again and slowly begins to insinuate himself into her life.

This is going to be so awkward for Poppy when she finally confesses to him the real reason why she left without a word years ago. Psst...he's her baby daddy. It's not a huge secret in the story. Poppy is completely aware that she owes TK the truth so it's a matter of when and ... you can imagine how that goes. Shock. Disbelief. TK feels betrayed at first but then comes around. The rest of the story is about him and Poppy getting reacquainted with each other, getting to know his son, and settling into some kind of a routine as an instant family of three. There's a lot of baggage to unpack between them from what pushed Poppy to leave, to boundaries for TK as a sudden dad, to her unease over the risks of TK's livelihood. The last one becoming more critical as she and her son get closer to him.

Poppy was utterly enjoyable. Despite all her struggles, she has a sunny disposition though she does let the sarcasm drip quite often. She's carved out a comfortable and content life that suits her just fine. She's also resilient and it shows. TK might be a giant on the football field but off of it he's more subdued. He doesn't have an ego or an overtly macho thing going on. He's obviously still in love with Poppy and wants to convince her to give them another chance. I simply liked the two of them together. Admittedly, their reunion does have a few hiccups but it's still seems smooth overall, perhaps a little too smoothly for anyone skeptical. But Poppy is most certainly not about drama so the progression of their relationship made sense to me. I question the angelicness of the kid. Maybe it's an odd thing to remark on and don't get me wrong, sweet, angelic kids exist but it cracks me up that whether it's on tv or in books, single parents almost always seem to have amazing non-back talking, rule-following kids. Yes, I'm a mom of three and that's where I get skeptical. LOL.

The first book in the Playbook series, Intercepted was loads of fun and Fumbled is just as enjoyable and satisfying. I appreciate the interracial romance though that's not even addressed as a "thing" in the story. And talk about things working out in the end -- if ever a heroine deserved to have everything, it's our girl Poppy here.

~ Bel

The Takeover Effect (The Singh Family #1) by Nisha Sharma

* * * *

Hemdeep Singh knows exactly what he wants. With his intelligence and determination, he has what it takes to build his own legacy away from Bharat, Inc. and the empire his father created. But when his brother calls him home, Hem puts his dreams on hold once again to help save the company he walked away from. That’s when he encounters the devastating Mina Kohli in the Bharat boardroom, and he realizes he’s in for more than he had bargained.

Mina will do whatever it takes to regain control of her mother’s law firm, even if it means agreeing to an arranged marriage. Her newest case assignment is to assist Bharat in the midst of a potential takeover. It could be the key to finally achieving her goal while preventing her marriage to a man she doesn’t love—as long as her explosive attraction to Hem doesn’t get in the way.

As Mina and Hem work to save Bharat, they not only uncover secrets that could threaten the existence of the company, but they also learn that in a winner-takes-all game, love always comes out on top.

Source: advance e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Super hot cover. Sexy title. The Takeover Effect pits two accomplished and driven individuals, Hemdeep and Mina, against each other in a sensitive situation that could have reverberating consequences for both of them, and ultimately, their family legacies. Both have a lot riding on the outcome of a planned takeover but neither of them could have predicted how quickly they'd both slide into each other's subconscious and consume their every waking thought. 

Sharma gives Hem and Mina backstories rich in family history and immense pride in the Indian culture instilled in them. They're both people of principle who occasionally find themselves at odds with the needs of family hierarchy. Mina has strived to be the dutiful and hard-driven daughter she thought her deceased mother would be proud of. Her end goal has always been to gain back control of the firm that her mother built,which her unscrupulous uncles took over later. Hem opted for some distance from his parents so he could have a personal life free of their interference before coming back to the family fold to help lead them through this takeover. Family is the backbone of this story and Mina and Hem have to find a way to honour theirs and also define their own path.

I liked The Takeover Effect as it moved along briskly and if you're a fan of insta-love, Hem and Mina falling for each other upon sight will make you happy. I was hesitant about Hem though because I'm not keen on pushy guys who insist on pursuing the women who have repeatedly voiced their need for boundaries, and yet the guys continually ignore those requests. I felt uncomfortable whenever he did that. I guess Mina is just as culpable when it comes to making questionable decisions but I get where her head is at. She's pretty much been used as a pawn by her manipulative uncles and her growing suspicions about them and what they did to her mother adds more stress upon her shoulders. The romance is just one aspect of their relationship. My uneasiness aside, Hem is a good guy, whose faith and devotion to family keeps him centered. He and Mina make an exciting power team when they combine forces to uncover the conspiracy threatening Hem's company. That's when I most enjoyed their special dynamic. 

If you're wanting a quick read, interesting characters (Hem's brothers and cousin are fantastic personalities), many mentions of mouthwatering foods (a foodie's dream), and a HEA that'll make you want to high five everyone in the room, The Takeover Effect will satisfy your craving. And now, I'll sit and "patiently" wait for the next book. 

~ Bel

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

When We Left Cuba Release Day Blast & Giveaway

Book Summary

In 1960s Florida, a young Cuban exile will risk her life--and heart--to take back her country in this exhilarating historical novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.

Beautiful. Daring. Deadly. 

The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost. 

As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart.

Book Links

Amazon     I     Barnes & Noble     I     iBooks     I     IndieBound     I      Kobo 

** Read Bel's review here! **

Learn more about When We Left Cuba including downloading the book club guide and more at: http://www.chanelcleeton.com/when-we-left-cuba

Praise for When We Left Cuba

A thrilling story about love, loss, and what we will do to go home again. Utterly un-put-down-able.

A beautiful and utterly transporting novel.
Publisher’s Weekly

Bold, unconventional Beatriz makes a heroine for the ages…A thrilling, thought-provoking read!
—Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network

A gorgeously atmospheric homage to a country and a past that vibrates with emotion on every page.  Historic events, espionage, and a Kennedy-esque romance make this novel a rich read, but the addition of a formidable heroine truly makes it unputdownable.  This is not just historical fiction, but also an unrequited love story for a country and a way of life, as well as a journey of self-discovery for a woman torn between love and the two countries she calls home.
—Karen White, New York Times bestselling author

Cleeton once again delivers a masterful tale of political intrigue tinged with personal heartbreak. Her ferocity and fearlessness can be found on every page, and Beatriz’s story—one of vengeance, betrayal, and bravery—astonishes and thrills.
—Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Masterpiece

Atmospheric and evocative, When We Left Cuba captivates with its compelling portrayals of the glamorous Cuban exile community and powerful forbidden love set against the dangerous intrigue of the Cold War. Unforgettable and unputdownable!
—Laura Kamoie, New York Times bestselling coauthor of My Dear Hamilton

By turns a captivating historical novel, a sweeping love story, and a daring tale of espionage—I absolutely adored this gem of a novel.
—Jillian Cantor, author of The Lost Letter and In Another Time

Oozing with atmosphere and intrigue, When We Left Cuba is an evocative, powerful and beautifully written historical novel which had me completely captivated from the first page to the last. Take a bow, Chanel Cleeton!
—Hazel Gaynor, New York Times bestselling author of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter

With a sure hand for historical detail, an impeccable eye for setting, and a heroine who grasps hold of your heart and never lets go, Chanel Cleeton has created another dazzlingly atmospheric and absorbing story of Cuba and its exiles. A beautiful and profoundly affecting novel from a writer whose work belongs on the shelves of every lover of historical fiction.
—Jennifer Robson, USA Today bestselling author of The Gown

Powerful, emotional and oh so real. One woman's fight to reclaim her own country, against all odds and no matter what the cost is intertwined with the real history of our lifetime and creates an unforgettable story.
—Rhys Bowen, New York Times and #1 Kindle bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and the Royal Spyness mysteries.

Scintillating…. An intriguing dive into the turbulent Cuban-American history of the 1960s, and the unorthodox choices made by a strong historical woman.
—Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room

Rich in historic detail, When We Left Cuba has it all—the excitement of a page-turning thriller, the sizzle of a steamy romance and the elegant prose of a master storyteller.
—RenĂ©e Rosen, author of Park Avenue Summer

Cleeton draws you into the glamour, intrigue, and uncertainty of the Cuban exile community just after Castro's coup through a heroine who could give Mata Hari a run for her money…. You'll be rooting for Beatriz to change the course of history—and find her own hard-won happily ever after.
—Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author of The English Wife

With a richly imagined setting and a heroine worth rooting for from the start, When We Left Cuba is thrilling and romantic, and timely to boot.
—Michelle Gable, New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Met Jack

A compelling unputdownable story of love—for a man, for a country, for a past ripped away, and a future’s tenuous promise. When We Left Cuba swept me away.
—Shelley Noble, New York Times bestselling author of Lighthouse Beach.

Electric and fierce. Beatriz Perez’s romance with a handsome, important senator will sweep you away, but it’s her profound loyalty to Cuba and her formidable determination to be her own woman despite life-and-death odds that will really hold you in thrall.
—Kerri Maher, author of The Kennedy Debutante

 In a tale as tempestuous as Cuba itself, When We Left Cuba is the revolutionary story of one woman’s bold courage and her many sacrifices for her beloved country. An absolutely spectacular read!
—Stephanie Marie Thornton, author of American Princess

Beatriz Perez’s brand of vintage-Havana glamour dazzles with equal parts intrigue, rebellion, and romance to make for an unforgettable story.
Elise Hooper, author of The Other Alcott 

About Chanel Cleeton

Chanel Cleeton is the USA Today bestselling author of Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick Next Year in Havana. Originally from Florida, Chanel grew up on stories of her family's exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor's degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master's degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She loves to travel and has lived in the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. 

Author Links

Website     I     Facebook     I     FacebookReader Group     I     Instagram   

Twitter     I     Goodreads     I     Newsletter 

Celebrate this release day blast by entering this giveaway to win a $50 Barnes & Noble Gift Card, Lilly Pulitzer/Swell water bottle, Besame cosmetics vintage-inspired lipstick, palm tree notepad and pen set, signed When We Left Cuba recipe cards, and signed When We Left Cuba bookmarks. The giveaway runs from April 8th-14th. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 8, 2019

When We Left Cuba Blog Tour

* * * * *

In 1960s Florida, a young Cuban exile will risk her life--and heart--to take back her country in this exhilarating historical novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.

Beautiful. Daring. Deadly. 

The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.

As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart...

Source: advance e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I fell in love with Next Year In Havana telling anyone and everyone that they had to read it. At the end of it was a little snippet from Beatriz's perspective that kind of dropped a bombshell on readers. Waiting for an entire year to get the whole story was not easy but  it was so worth it!

Where Next Year In Havana played on nostalgia, When We Left Cuba is all about malcontent followed by action. Beatriz was never satisfied being a socialite and behaving like a proper lady - much to her mother's chagrin - in the hopes of capturing a husband. It wasn't what she enjoyed doing in Cuba either and it certainly is not something she likes doing in America even if means securing her status here. Her end goal has always been to go back home. America is a temporary stop. Most of her passion and hatred for Castro is fueled by her twin brother's murder at the hands of the man who controls her beloved country. She has deigned to take on her brother's mantel and work with rebels who seek to depose Castro. It's a dangerous road to go down on but Beatriz has never been a rule follower and signs on to work covertly with the CIA. She's not going to sit idly by while her country suffers. In a case of bad timing, Beatriz has attracted the attention of a young US senator, Nicholas "Nick" Preston whose star is on the rise. Only he's spoken for but it doesn't stop those longing gazes and brief stolen moments they steal for themselves.

There's a recurring theme throughout the novel (other than Castro must go) and it's Beatriz's determination to not be defined by the men in her life. She adamantly refuses to be controlled by anyone and demands to be seen as an equal capable of making her own decisions and taking on danger should she choose to do so. There's also a relative amount of suspense considering the espionage and political climate of the era, and she finds herself in the midst of some incredibly sensitive or volatile situations. Her affair with Nick provides a counterbalance to all the plotting she gets embroiled in. Their contrasting perspectives on Cuba and the American government's involvement are the constant background to their own drama. 

At some point Beatriz's fierce declarations of revenge against Castro become repetitive but it's also understandable. Her body is in Palm Beach but her heart is in Cuba so she's never felt truly at home in America. She feels displaced and helpless, so her anger is what she can hold on to to give her purpose. Granted, she and her family are financially in far better shape than many of their countryman who escaped. I think she comes to realize it as time wears on and she sees how in some ways she was insulated from what a lot of Cubans faced. 

Cleeton's writing evokes the glamourous and tense atmosphere of that era. She had me envisioning the vibrant settings and sounds, and more than that, she gave me a history lesson. What I knew of the Cold War was solely from history class and honestly, I don't remember much of it. What she's done here is personalize these events, seeing them through the eyes of those displaced by the revolution. I remember from Next Year in Havana the mention of a sense of heavy guilt for leaving and also for not staying to fight. Cleeton made these challenges personal and reminded me of the people who were affected, whose lives were uprooted and who had to lay down new roots uncertain of what the future would hold, uncertain of whether to call America home or hold out hope that they would go home. 

~ Bel

Enter the fabulous giveaway here! You could win a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card, a Lilly Putlizer Swell water bottle, palm tree notepad and matching pen, Besame Cosmetics vintage-inspired lipstick, signed WHEN WE LEFT CUBA bookmarks & signed Cuban recipe cards!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Her Best Friend's Secret by Anna Mansell

* * * * *

She deserves the truth. But it will ruin her life. What would you do? 

Emily was meant to be the girl who escaped their small Cornish town. She was going to be the success story. But it didn’t work out the way she’d dreamed it would. And now she’s back home. With a secret that’s even bigger than her failure. 

Emily thinks she can just hide away. But then she runs in to Lolly, her one-time best friend from school, who spontaneously suggests a small reunion with their once close-knit group of friends. Jess and Amanda still live nearby, though none of the four women have spoken in years now. 

But after so much time, everyone’s lives have changed. Nothing is as easy as it was in their schooldays. And everyone’s got secrets. One of which is big enough to ruin not just the fragile friendships, but one woman’s whole life… 

Full of truths about friendship, marriage, and the relationships that define us, Her Best Friend’s Secret is a powerful, relatable and emotionally gripping novel for fans of Jojo Moyes, Diane Chamberlain, and The Silent Wife.

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

Emily, Lolly, Amanda and Jess were the best of friends back in the day having shared some memorable and significant moments with each other. When Emily abruptly moved away it put an end to that. The group's dynamic seemed to change overnight and the remaining three began to grow apart as well. 

They're all in their forties now and at different points in their lives. Emily went on to enjoy acting success in America, Lolly became a physical therapist and is married with kids, Amanda who works two jobs is divorced and semi-estranged from her daughter, and Jess has forged a successful career in advertising and continues to enjoy her singleton life. Emily running in to Lolly on her return home is the catalyst that brings the four friends together again. Interestingly, all four are apprehensive about meeting up. After all these years, what could they possibly have in common anymore? However, they all come around when they recall the fondness they had for one another and that maybe they could do with some girl time. 

This was my favourite aspect of the novel - their reunion! As soon as they were in the same room it was like all that time and distance didn't matter. Getting reacquainted is a bit awkward at first but that bond they built as teenagers is as strong as ever. Behind the smiles they're all dealing with the demands of life and personal situations that feel too big to take on without the support of the girls. As troubling as their own problems are, one of them holds a big secret that could crush the other friend. Which brings me to the most standout part of the story: each of these women are strong in their own unique way. When they find the other in trouble, they come to each other's aid without hesitation or judgment. I loved that Mansell allowed Emily, Lolly, Amanda and Jess to embrace themselves as they are. I'd say out of all the characters I was most surprised by how much I liked Amanda. I think in my younger days I would've judged her the hardest, and this is the advantage of being older and wiser, I guess, because I'm learning to abide by the motto of to each her own. Don't get me wrong, I liked all of them but Amanda astonished me because she owns every decision she has ever made about her life and owes no one apologies for how she's finding happiness. I was rather fascinated by her. 

I'd previously read Mansell's How to Mend a Broken Heart and admired how she captured her characters' emotions in it. She's done the same thing with Her Best Friend's Secret. It takes a few chapters to set up the pieces but it's thoroughly delightful once it gets underway, even though I knew that Mansell would crush me shortly. And she did. It didn't lessen the blow even when I suspected what was about to come. I was so invested in this story, in these four women, in their friendship. I'm happy to say that Mansell does give each of them their well-deserved and fitting HEA. Female friendships are a tricky thing to write. It's hard to find heroines who feel well-rounded and don't succumb to one stereotype or another. Women are complex and when an author can capture that with sincerity and allow them their strengths and flaws, and celebrate their uniqueness, I'm all for it!

~ Bel

*Please see labels below for content warning and/or potential triggers.