A gripping, ultimately endearing supernatural tale about an odd girl and an even odder garden.

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WHEN EMILY WENT MISSING

MY HAUNTED GARDEN BOOK 1

From the My Haunted Garden series , Vol. 1

A young woman experiences supernatural horticulture in small-town Texas.

Weems’ novel starts off on a normal enough, albeit sordid, note: In the town of Foxglove, Texas, young Ruth Gonzalez’s mother, referred to only as “Mom,” begins a secret affair with her former high school boyfriend, Dale Roberts (Ruth: “His name still tastes like vomit in my mouth whenever I speak it”), while Ruth’s father is out of town. What followed has become known as “the Incident.” Overcome with remorse, Mom broke off her affair with Dale. But Dale returned to their house later, drunk, and shot her to death, severely injuring Ruth with an errant gunshot through her head. (“Numerous bridges of my brain were either damaged or wholly disconnected, but instant death was not a result,” she deadpans. “I called that a win.”) In the wake of the Incident, Ruth’s life changes dramatically. In addition to the fact that her brain “did some rewiring,” her long-haul trucker father decides to get a local job so they can spend more time together. One priority is to leave their murder-haunted house. They take the groundskeeper’s property at the local cemetery, a house once occupied by an eccentric character named Eddie who compulsively knew everything about every U.S. president and claimed that the overgrown garden behind the property was peculiarly resistant to mowing or pruning. The novel is narrated from Ruth’s first-person perspective, and by this point, she’s already revealed to readers that she often hears Eddie’s president-obsessed thoughts in her head and that one of her best friends “is a dead woman named Lilith.” So, it’s no surprise when she immediately begins to feel a strange communication with the overgrown wild garden behind her new house.

Weems balances the mixture of small-town ways and supernatural happenings with an easy, seasoned confidence. The key to this success is his decision to tell the story from the immediate viewpoint of Ruth herself—and to invest her with a quirky, dark, sharply observant personality more reminiscent of a Flannery O’Connor character than of Harper Lee’s Scout. This decision allows Weems to flex his comic talents even in the grimmest moments of the plot. At one particularly dark moment at the book’s climax, for instance, Ruth spots a procession of fire ants floating together across the surface of a body of water and thinks they look “like a bunch of drunk college kids floating the Guadalupe.” The twin forces impinging on Ruth’s post-shooting life—the brainless, gossiping cruelty of her classmates (one more than others, the Emily of the book’s title) and Ruth’s own burgeoning supernatural experiences—lead her to commune not only with dead people, but also with the mysterious garden itself: “You can sleep here. Sleep in the dirt with us,” that garden voice tells her. “It’s peaceful here….You can rest while we’ll watch over you.” The narrative moves ahead at its own distinctly idiosyncratic pace, with Ruth digressing at pretty much any point she pleases. The result is entirely winning, a story that manages to be simultaneously dark and heartwarming.

A gripping, ultimately endearing supernatural tale about an odd girl and an even odder garden.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2021

ISBN: 979-8-70-818729-1

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.

THE BOARDWALK BOOKSHOP

Three woman who join together to rent a large space along the beach in Los Angeles for their stores—a gift shop, a bakery, and a bookstore—become fast friends as they each experience the highs, and lows, of love.

Bree is a friendly but standoffish bookstore owner who keeps everyone she knows at arm’s length, from guys she meets in bars to her friends. Mikki is a settled-in-her-routines divorced mother of two, happily a mom, gift-shop owner, and co-parent with her ex-husband, Perry. And Ashley is a young, very-much-in-love bakery owner specializing in muffins who devotes herself to giving back to the community through a nonprofit that helps community members develop skills and find jobs. When the women meet drooling over a boardwalk storefront that none of them can afford on her own, a plan is hatched to divide the space in three, and a friendship—and business partnership—is born. An impromptu celebration on the beach at sunset with champagne becomes a weekly touchpoint to their lives as they learn more about each other and themselves. Their friendship blossoms as they help each other, offering support, hard truths, and loving backup. Author Mallery has created a delightful story of friendship between three women that also offers a variety of love stories as they fall in love, make mistakes, and figure out how to be the best—albeit still flawed—versions of themselves. The men are similarly flawed and human. While the story comes down clearly on the side of all-encompassing love, Mallery has struck a careful balance: There is just enough sex to be spicy, just enough swearing to be naughty, and just enough heartbreak to avoid being cloying.

A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-778-38608-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A unique story of transcendent love.

LAYLA

An aimless young musician meets the girl of his dreams only to have his newfound happiness threatened by several inexplicable—and possibly supernatural—events.

The story opens as Leeds Gabriel meets with a detective while his girlfriend, Layla, is restrained in a room one flight above them. Through the interview, readers learn that Leeds was wasting both his time and his musical talent playing backup for a small-town wedding troupe called Garrett’s Band when he spied Layla dancing her heart out to their mediocre music at a wedding. When Leeds approaches Layla, their connection is both instant and intense. A blissful courtship follows, but then Leeds makes the mistake of posting a picture of himself with Layla on social media. A former girlfriend–turned-stalker wastes no time in finding and attacking Layla. Layla spends months recovering in a hospital, and it seems the girl Leeds fell for might be forever changed. Gone is her special spark, her quirkiness, and the connection that had entranced Leeds months before. In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, he brings Layla back to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. When they get there, though, Leeds meets Willow, another guest, and finds himself drawn to her in spite of himself. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Willow will either be the key to saving Leeds’ relationship with Layla or the catalyst that finally extinguishes the last shreds of their epic romance. Told entirely from Leeds’ point of view, the author’s first foray into paranormal romance does not disappoint. Peppered with elements of mystery, psychological thriller, and contemporary romance, the novel explores questions about how quickly true love can develop, as well as the conflicts that can imperil even the strongest connections. Despite a limited cast of characters and very few setting changes, the narrative manages to remain both fast-paced and engaging. The conclusion leaves a few too many loose ends, but the chemistry between the characters and unexpected twists throughout make for a satisfying read.

A unique story of transcendent love.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0017-8

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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