An interesting melodramatic setup is undermined by the characters’ disappointing and head-scratching choices.

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TO LOVE & BETRAY

When a wealthy African-American businessman is accused of trying to kill his troublemaking half brother, it throws his family off balance as they try to prove his innocence and save their company.

Evan Murdoch is thrown in jail on attempted murder charges even though it’s obvious his half brother, Dante Turner, is lying as to who tried to kill him. As Evan waits for bail, Dante tries to coerce Evan’s fiancee, Leila, into having sex with him by telling her he’ll drop the charges if she does. Thankfully Leila doesn’t go too far, realizing he just wants to hurt Evan. Meanwhile, Evan’s sister, Paulette, is concerned that her son may not be her husband’s, and their brother Terrence is engaged to C. J., a newspaper reporter. Evan’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Charisse, continues to vie for his attention. So when she has information that will likely exonerate him, it sends Leila into a jealous fit. Paulette finds the perfect nanny, and Terrence gets a surprise on his doorstep that may drive C. J. away. Talented author Ellis continues the soap-operatic lives of the Murdoch family (Lust & Loyalty, 2017, etc.) to mixed results. As Evan notes, “Unrest and upheaval were painful and consistent realities for the Murdochs. They couldn’t get away from it!” Except that the Murdoch characters, who are ostensibly good, intelligent people, do and say the exact wrong thing at every possible turn. And Dante, who’s a jerk but is supposed to at least be smart, evidently isn’t. Background checks? Communication? Fidelity? Not in the Murdoch repertoire. Kicking out your teen daughter who's dealing drugs? Not seeking treatment when you’re clearly hooked on oxy? Obviously not in Dante’s toolbox. Furthermore, much of the dramatic tension blows up and dissipates almost immediately, so it feels like we’re careening from strife to tumult without buildup or character growth.

An interesting melodramatic setup is undermined by the characters’ disappointing and head-scratching choices.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4967-0881-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dafina/Kensington

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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Anyone who believes in true love or is simply willing to accept it as the premise of a winding tale will find this debut an...

ONE DAY IN DECEMBER

True love flares between two people, but they find that circumstances always impede it.

On a winter day in London, Laurie spots Jack from her bus home and he sparks a feeling in her so deep that she spends the next year searching for him. Her roommate and best friend, Sarah, is the perfect wing-woman but ultimately—and unknowingly—ends the search by finding Jack and falling for him herself. Laurie’s hasty decision not to tell Sarah is the second painful missed opportunity (after not getting off the bus), but Sarah’s happiness is so important to Laurie that she dedicates ample energy into retraining her heart not to love Jack. Laurie is misguided, but her effort and loyalty spring from a true heart, and she considers her project mostly successful. Perhaps she would have total success, but the fact of the matter is that Jack feels the same deep connection to Laurie. His reasons for not acting on them are less admirable: He likes Sarah and she’s the total package; why would he give that up just because every time he and Laurie have enough time together (and just enough alcohol) they nearly fall into each other’s arms? Laurie finally begins to move on, creating a mostly satisfying life for herself, whereas Jack’s inability to be genuine tortures him and turns him into an ever bigger jerk. Patriarchy—it hurts men, too! There’s no question where the book is going, but the pacing is just right, the tone warm, and the characters sympathetic, even when making dumb decisions.

Anyone who believes in true love or is simply willing to accept it as the premise of a winding tale will find this debut an emotional, satisfying read.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-57468-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A bright, funny, hopeful tale of untangling family knots.

THE STAR-CROSSED SISTERS OF TUSCANY

For generations, the second-born daughters of the Fontana family have been cursed with loveless lives. Can Emilia and her cousin Lucy finally break the spell?

Enraged that her beautiful younger sister might have beguiled her boyfriend, Filomena Fontana cast the curse long ago. Since then, family lore has held that every second-born daughter is doomed. Two hundred years later, Emilia and her older sister, Daria, scoffed. That is, until 7-year-old Emilia had to make a family tree for her social studies class and noticed the inescapable truth: There were no marriages among the second daughters. Even her free-spirited cousin Lucy, herself a second daughter, can’t manage to keep a boyfriend past the fourth date. Now pushing 30 and still single, Emilia’s resigned to her fate of working in the family bakery and living in her tiny third-floor apartment in the family home in Bensonhurst, aka Brooklyn’s Little Italy. Her Nonna Rose rules the roost with an iron first, watching Emilia’s every move and even banning her from communicating with her mysterious Great Aunt Poppy, herself a second daughter and the only relative willing to talk about Emilia’s late mother. But when Poppy sends Emilia and Lucy an invitation for an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy—and promises that she can break the curse—how can Emilia refuse? Nonna might be furious, but the possibility of learning more about her own mother makes up Emilia’s mind for her. Once in Italy, Emilia and Lucy discover the truth about not only the curse, but also themselves, not to mention Poppy’s own secrets. Spielman (Sweet Forgiveness, 2015, etc.) deftly spins Emilia’s story, layering in the backstory of how Poppy and Rose immigrated to America, with Rose following her husband, Alfonso, but Poppy losing the love of her life. Or did she? Along the way, Spielman twists our fairy-tale expectations about love, curses, and happy endings.

A bright, funny, hopeful tale of untangling family knots.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0316-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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