Mira Books Presents: Adele Parks' Lies Lies Lies

Lies Lies Lies
Author: Adele Parks
ISBN: 9780778360889
Publication Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher: MIRA BooksLIES LIES LIES (MIRA Trade Paperback; August 4, 2020; $17.99) centers on the story of Simon and Daisy Barnes. To the outside world, Simon and Daisy look like they have a perfect life. They have jobs they love, an angelic, talented daughter, a tight group of friends... and they have secrets too. Secrets that will find their way to the light, one way or the other.

Daisy and Simon spent almost a decade hoping for the child that fate cruelly seemed to keep from them. It wasn’t until, with their marriage nearly in shambles and Daisy driven to desperation, little Millie was born. Perfect in every way, healing the Barnes family into a happy unit of three. Ever indulgent Simon hopes for one more miracle, one more baby. But his doctor’s visit shatters the illusion of the family he holds so dear..

Please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from...
Lies Lies Lies
Adele Parks


May 1976
Simon was six years old when he first tasted beer.

He was bathed and ready for bed wearing soft pyjamas, even though it was light outside; still early. Other kids were in the street, playing on their bikes, kicking a football. He could hear them through the open window, although he couldn’t see them because the blinds were closed. His daddy didn’t like the evening light glaring on the TV screen, his mummy didn’t like the neighbours looking in; keeping the room dark was something they agreed on.
His mummy didn’t like a lot of things: wasted food, messy bedrooms, Daddy driving too fast, his sister throwing a tantrum in public. Mummy liked ‘having standards’. He didn’t know what that meant, exactly. There was a standard-bearer at Cubs; he was a big boy and got to wave the flag at the front of the parade, but his mummy didn’t have a flag, so it was unclear. What was clear was that she didn’t like him to be in the street after six o’clock. She thought it was common. He wasn’t sure what common was either, something to do with having fun. She bathed him straight after tea and made him put on pyjamas, so that he couldn’t sneak outside.
He didn’t know what his daddy didn’t like, just what he did like. His daddy was always thirsty and liked a drink. When he was thirsty he was grumpy and when he had a drink, he laughed a lot. His daddy was an accountant and like to count in lots of different ways: “a swift one’, “a cold one’, and ‘one more for the road’. Sometimes Simon though his daddy was lying when he said he was an accountant; most likely, he was a pirate or a wizard. He said to people, “Pick your poison’, which sounded like something pirates might say, and he liked to drink, “the hair of a dog’ in the morning at the weekends, which was definitely a spell. Simon asked his mummy about it once and she told him to stop being silly and never to say those silly things outside the house.
He had been playing with his Etch A Sketch, which was only two months old and was a birthday present. Having seen it advertised on TV, Simon had begged for it, but it was disappointing. Just two silly knobs making lines that went up and down, side to side. Limited. Boring. He was bored. The furniture in the room was organised so all of it was pointing at the TV which was blaring but not interesting. The news. His parents liked watching the news, but he didn’t. His father was nursing a can of the grown ups’ pop that Simon was never allowed. The pop that smelt like nothing else, fruity and dark and tempting.
“Can I have a sip?” he asked.
“Don’t be silly, Simon,” his mother interjected. “You’re far too young. Beer is for daddies.” He thought she said ‘daddies’, but she might have said ‘baddies’.
His father put the can to his lips, glared at his mother, cold. A look that said, “Shut up woman, this is man’s business.” His mother had blushed, looked away as though she couldn’t stand to watch, but she held her tongue. Perhaps she thought the bitterness wouldn’t be to his taste, that one sip would put him off. He didn’t like the taste. But he enjoyed the collusion. He didn’t know that word then, but he instinctively understood the thrill. He and his daddy drinking grown ups’ pop! His father had looked satisfied when he swallowed back the first mouthful, then pushed for a second. He looked almost proud. Simon tasted the aluminium can, the snappy biting bitter bubbles and it lit a fuse.
After that, in the mornings, Simon would sometimes get up early, before Mummy or Daddy or his little sister, and he’d dash around the house before school, tidying up. He’d open the curtains, empty the ashtrays, clear away the discarded cans. Invariably his mother went to bed before his father. Perhaps she didn’t want to have to watch him drink himself into a stupor every night, perhaps she hoped denying him an audience might take away some of the fun for him, some of the need. She never saw just how bad the place looked by the time his father staggered upstairs to bed. Simon knew it was important that she didn’t see that particular brand of chaos.
Occasionally there would be a small amount of beer left in one of the cans. Simon would slurp it back. He found he liked the flat, forbidden, taste just as much as the fizzy hit of fresh beer. He’d throw open a window, so the cigarette smoke and the secrets could drift away. When his mother came downstairs, she would smile at him and thank him for tidying up.
“You’re a good boy, Simon,” she’d say with some relief. And no idea.
When there weren’t dregs to be slugged, he sometimes opened a new can. Threw half of it down his throat before eating his breakfast. His father never kept count.
Some people say their favourite smell is freshly baked bread, others say coffee or a campfire. From a very young age, few scents could pop Simon’s nerve endings like the scent of beer.
The promise of it.

Excerpted from Lies Lies Lies by Adele Parks, Copyright © 2020 by Adele Parks. 
Published by MIRA Books

My Thoughts
Authoress Adele Parks Lies, Lies, Lies is a story that begins as a family drama. But evolves into so much more over time.
Possessed of an amazingly complex story-line.  What at first glance appears to be a story chronicling one family's battles with fertility issues and alcohol addiction.  Soon morphs and grows, turning in upon itself and becoming a labyrinth of secrets, doubts, abuse, fear, recriminations, and lies, lies, and more lies.
Fracturing souls, lives, and a family. And leaving a marriage and family already on the brink of collapse seemingly forever beyond repair.

All Simon and Daisy have ever wanted is a child.  Or in the case of Simon, children.  But Daisy's fibroids and Simon's nonexistent sperm count seem to have conspired to nix that dream.  In a way that even the miracle of IVF can't manage to fix.
Until the miracle that is Millie.
The blonde haired,  blue eyed, bundle of perfection that the two managed to conceive "the old fashioned way".
Or so they thought.

Flash forward six years.
Milly is all that the two proud parents could ever want.  And all seems perfect in Daisy and Simon's world.
It's true that Simon drinks a bit more than he should. And things with Daisy  have settled in to a bit of a routine.
But that happens with all couples, right?
They're happy aren't they?
Or at least they would be.
They had another baby.
At least that's what Simon believes, and is doing all he can to convince a reluctant Daisy of.
And its off to the fertility clinic for tests that prove the unthinkable.
And sends Simon on an alcohol driven downward spiral that is at once fascinating to see and horrific to watch.
A spiral at the end of which, we find that the one person we thought to be the problem.  Turns out to be merely the one destined to open the Pandora's box surrounding Milly.
Their sweetest dream come true.  Destined to live a nightmare crafted for her by her parents' inability to face, deal with, or tell the truth.  Both to themselves and to each other.
A nightmare that just may cost everyone everything.
Even their lives.

Simon, Simon, Simon.
Everything seems to begin with the lovable drunk gone terribly wrong.  But this is a man who at his core is having to deal with the fact that everything that he thought he knew about his world his daughter, and his wife, is simply not true.
And rather than face those issues head on.
He chooses to hide literally "in a bottle".  While his life implodes.
He is that character that you really want to hate.  But you just can't.

Daisy on the other hand...
So good, so kind, so long suffering, so vigilant.  Is the one person that one does come to hate over time.
Not for what she does.
She's got all the boxes ticked that every uber "doer" should.
-Clean up after drunkard husband.  Check.
-Be the perfect mother,  Check
-Be the wallflower best friend.  Check
-Lie about everything...hmmmmm.
Daisy's problem is not it seems.  Nor could it ever be that she does things.
Daisy's problem, dear reader, as well as the whole premise of this tragedy.
Resides firmly in the fact that Daisy's apparent victimhood and it's well appointed side of martyrdom work in concert to render her ineffectual on so many levels.  That in the end.  She becomes 'side-eye worthy" in the worst way.

In the interest of time and my already flagrant disregard for brevity. I will end the commentary here.
But please hear me when I say that Adele Parks' Lies Lies Lies is a family drama like no other.  Written to make you cringe, maybe cry, but most of all to consider what true intimacy, family bonds, and honesty really mean.  In a world where it has indeed become the norm and seemingly so much kinder to LIE.

*WTF Are You Reading? would like to thank Netgalley and Mira Books for providing the review copy on which this nonbiased and completely honest critique is based.


Adele Parks was born in Teesside, North-East England. Her first novel, Playing Away, was published in 2000 and since then she's had seventeen international bestsellers, translated into twenty-six languages, including I Invited Her In. She's been an Ambassador for The Reading Agency and a judge for the Costa. She's lived in Italy, Botswana and London, and is now settled in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, teenage son and cat.

Salt Of The Earth Meets... Not Of This Earth In Ways That Are Sure To Thrill In "Blood Of The Earth"

Title:  Blood Of The Earth
Series:  Soulwood #1
Author:  Faith Hunter
Length:  358 pages
Publisher:  Roc
Rating:  5 Stars

Set in the same world as the New York Times bestselling Jane Yellowrock novels, an all-new series starring Nell Ingram, who wields powers as old as the earth.

When Nell Ingram met skinwalker Jane Yellowrock, she was almost alone in the world, exiled by both choice and fear from the cult she was raised in, defending herself with the magic she drew from her deep connection to the forest that surrounds her.

Now, Jane has referred Nell to PsyLED, a Homeland Security agency policing paranormals, and agent Rick LaFleur has shown up at Nell’s doorstep. His appearance forces her out of her isolated life into an investigation that leads to the vampire Blood Master of Nashville.

Nell has a team—and a mission. But to find the Master’s kidnapped vassal, Nell and the PsyLED team will be forced to go deep into the heart of the very cult Nell fears, infiltrating the cult and a humans-only terrorist group before time runs out…

                       EXCERPT:  Off the Grid

By Faith Hunter

This story takes place just before Broken Soul. In it, you’ll meet Nell, who will be getting her own series! The first book, BLOOD OF THE EARTH will be published in August 2016.

Excerpt Part 8/2 SHORT Slippery Words

Beast reached up and grabbed a root, swinging me out over the cliff. “Holy crap,” I grunted. The ground was way, way down there. I let her have us. Jumping down cliffs was a Puma concolor thing. The steeper and more impossible, the better. I was just glad my chicken and dumplings had digested. I didn’t want to lose that delicious meal when I landed, broke my legs, and threw up all over the place. But Beast wasn’t planning on any of that.

A tiny rock stuck out about twenty-five feet down. She pushed off with my free hand, accelerating the momentum of our swing, and let go of the root. I/we landed with the left toes of my boot on the rock and pushed off. The rock gave way, tumbling straight down to the vamp who had baited Eli. He caught the rock just as I/we landed in a crouch at his feet, perfectly balanced on my/our toes and fingertips.

I looked up and growled at the vamp. He took a quick step back, dropping the rock. I/we hacked in challenge. He stabilized his balance and nodded slightly at me/us, one of the regal nods that old vamps, especially old royalty who had been turned, used to acknowledge one another, or sometimes gave to someone they thought their equal. I had a feeling that someday this vamp and I might tussle and I’d hurt him. Just enough to let him know he shouldn’t have dissed the Enforcer of the MOC of New Orleans. Not even if he was a prince of vamps. Maybe he’d bleed a bit. But for now we had a vamp to rescue. And a bunch of kids too.

I gave him a regal nod back and pressed the button on my mic, a signal that would be relayed to Alex, who, unbeknownst to the vamps, would be calling the local LEOs (currently at a standoff on the blockaded road) in on an emergency raid, up through the secret entrance at the Philemon family farm. No way was I rescuing a suckhead and leaving women and children in the hands of cultists who would consider marrying off a twelve-year-old girl. And who had a “punishment house” for disobedient women and girls. No way.

Electric lights lit the compound grounds. The buildings were all painted a blinding white that threw back the security lights and created darker shadows. Path borders were neatly marked with rounded river rocks. The smells of many people and many dogs were strong on the night air. I oriented myself and waited. Four of our vamps had orders to neutralize the dogs and guards on the grounds, and then take down the armed guards keeping out the LEOs. There would be no killed humans to give the LEOs reason to charge vamps with a crime; instead the orders were to deliver a heavy-handed thump on the head to make the humans and canines woozy and then more zip strips to keep both dogs and humans out of the way. A little duct tape to keep them quiet, if needed. But no DBs—dead bodies. None.

The vamps, like my Beast, could spot the dogs by smell alone. More important, we could smell the humans. And vamp blood. It hung thick on the air. The vampires vamped-out and slid into the shadows.

I heard thumps and a growl close by, mostly hidden by raucous music from a building on the far side of the compound. It sounded like a bluegrass bland, with banjos and guitars and drums. Playing a rollicking . . . hymn. “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” men’s voices rolling into the night along with the scent of sweat and testosterone. They were in the church, and they smelled and sounded as though they were celebrating. Maybe they were. They had the state of Tennessee’s finest stymied at the front gate.

Following our plan, Chessy and another human and the vampire prince tore off, chasing the smell of Heyda’s blood. A third human followed, covering them from the rear with a nasty-looking fully automatic weapon that bore a strong resemblance to an M4A1 carbine, a semiautomatic rifle that fired a 5.56-millimeter NATO round. U.S. military issue. It would chew up anything it hit. Instant hamburger. I so didn’t want it to be used. If a human died on this raid, Leo and Ming would do all they could to protect the vamps, but the humans could possibly be hung out to dry—which meant that I might spend a long time in jail.

Once the guards were taken care of, Eli took the humans and vamps with the most recent military, boots-on-the-ground experience, and divided them into two groups. Eli’s group vanished into the shadows of the ammo building while the other group stood guard. When exploding ammo was no longer a threat, Eli would make sure there was no footage of tonight’s raid for the cops to find. Eli was good.

The rest of us—those with little or no military experience—headed for the nursery. The door was locked from the inside, but the two vamps with me took the door down. It wasn’t quiet, but it wasn’t as loud as I might have expected either. Vamp reflexes were so fast that when they busted in the door, they caught it before it hit the wall behind. Between that and the loud music, no one heard us except an older woman who was reading the Bible by the light of a flashlight just inside the door. She looked up with her mouth in an O of surprise. The vamp nearest grabbed the human up by the scruff of the neck and set her down gently beside me. While I secured the human and shoved a sock into her mouth to keep her quiet, the vamp disabled an alarm button under the desk by the most simple and efficient method. She broke it with her fist. I liked her style.

Together, we checked on the children, hoping they were all safe and asleep and that there were no more adults who might give a warning. Unfortunately two of the children had been beaten recently. Their scents told us they were bruised and had cried themselves to sleep. The scents also told us who had done the beating—the nurse. Her knuckles still showed the damage. The vamp who had disabled the alarm made sure that she didn’t get a chance to wash her hands and maybe rinse away trace evidence. She knocked the nurse out with a swift and well-delivered left jab. “Nice,” I said.

“Yeah. Bet she’d be tasty.”

“I bet she would,” I said mildly.

The vamp studied her face, and I had to wonder if the human nurse would get a visit one night from a vampire vigilante. Satisfied that the kids were bruised but okay, and that the older woman was the only guard, I left the nursery in the care of our humans and took my two vamps to raid the punishment house. The men were still singing, and anger had begun to heat my blood.

The punishment house was a small, nondescript building of white siding, post-and-beam construction, with thick walls. No windows. It looked like a nicely kept storage building. But I could smell the pain and fear inside it. So could the vamps. The female vamp who had busted the alarm had attached herself to me, and she took down this door the same way she had the nursery door—a swift kick—though this door took three kicks, and they weren’t quiet. When the door splintered open, we were met with the business end of a shotgun. Which my personal vamp took away in a move that was faster than I could follow in the shadows. It was a single, fluid move of kick, grab the barrel, whip up the gunstock to hit the guard in the jaw, and catch both guard and gun before they hit the floor. It was pretty. It was the last pretty thing I saw in the punishment house. There were four beds in a single room, a bathroom running along the back wall. No privacy curtains. Two women were shackled on the beds, and by the time I found light, they were crying and whimpering.

The vamp looked at them and cursed under her breath. Still moving fast, she broke the wrist cuffs with her bare hands and gathered the women up in the sheets and blankets from the beds. Drawing on her vamp strength, she pulled them close to her on the edge of one bed, murmuring endearments as she gave off a vamp compulsion, the energies cold and icy on my skin. I almost told her to stop, until I realized she was exuding calm, a gentle relaxing vibe that encouraged the women to accept help. I had never seen vamp compulsion powers being used for something good, not like this, and my respect for the vamp went up another notch. She needed a nickname, something better than “the female vamp with a great left fist.”

I stood to the side, weapon ready, watching the darkness outside and the vamp inside, until the women prisoners were sleepy and content, their heads lolling on the vamp’s shoulders. Gently she laid them down and stood, looking up at me, her hands patting the women into deeper sleep. Softly she said, “I recognize them. This is why Heyda let herself be taken. These are her grandchildren, Berta and Wilhelmina. Berta is in her twenties. Willie is in her forties. They’ve been . . . abused.”

I knew what she meant. I had known by the smells from the moment the door had slammed open and all the scents hit my nose. They had been beaten by several people while secured to the beds and unable to defend themselves. They had then been taught a different kind of lesson by a man. I didn’t realize the extent of my own anger—mine and Beast’s—until I spoke to the two vamps under my command. My voice was a deeper register than my normal human voice. “I smell the stink of sexual predators who hide behind religion. What say we find the man in charge?”

“His blood will be yummy,” the woman said. And she vamped-out. Fast.

“Not to kill,” I amended, to the vamp, who I’d nicknamed Yummy. “But let’s scare the bejesus outta him.”

“He won’t have any Jesus in him,” Yummy said around her fangs, “but scared blood is the best kind.”

For once I didn’t disagree.  

My Thoughts
Let me begin this review by first admittiing that I am sadly very late to the Soulwood/Jane Yellowrock party.  I only just discovered this book and its corresponding series due to having received the fifth book in said series from NetGalley.
Thank you so much to Berkley Publishing for the neurosis that has hence ensued.

Nell, her relationship to Soulwood, and her history with the Clouds Of God church, stand as more than enough reasons for readers seeking a wonderful read to run out and grab the first book in Faith Hunter's Soulwood series.
But but when you add in the were-cats, human trafficking plot twists, Warren Jeff's like cult practices, and the formation of a new unit in the Psychometry Law Enforcement Division of Homeland Security.
Unit 18, to be exact.
Tailor-made to handle those not quite human things that go bump in the night.
Those things in this case being a rogue pack of newly made Welsh gwyllgi. A type of were-hound. With similarities to the Dire Wolf. With very suspect ties to both the God's Cloud church and missing girls.
And Nell, by extension.
What you have is a very very enjoyable read. That is very easy to pick up, and oh so hard to put down.
Nell's "salt of the earth" disposition. Coupled with the story of her struggle for freedom from the tyranny and abuses of the religion into which she was born. And her journey of self acceptance and autonomy. Because of and due to her "gifts".
And the "found families" that result. Will warm readers hearts. While still managing to provide nonstop thrills, chills, and WTF moments.

About Faith
 Faith Hunter's Junkyard Cats novella series is brand new, with book one available only in Audible at this time.

Faith's Jane Yellowrock series is a dark urban fantasy. Jane is a full blooded Cherokee skinwalker and hunter of rogue-vampires in a world of weres, witches, vampires, and other supernats.

The Soulwood series is a dark-urban fantasy / paranormal police procedural /para-thriller series featuring Nell Nicholson Ingram, an earth magic user and Special gent of PsyLED.

Her Rogue Mage novels—Bloodring, Seraphs, Host, and the RPG Rogue Mage—feature Thorn St. Croix, a stone mage in a post-apocalyptic alternate reality.

Faith writes full-time, tries to keep house, and is a workaholic. She gave up cooking for lent one year and the oven hasn’t been turned on since. Okay – that’s a joke. She does still make cold cereal and sandwiches. Occasionally, she remembers to turn on Roomba (that she named Duma$$ because it fell down the stairs once.)

Faith researches in great detail, and tries most everything her characters do. Research led to her life’s passions – jewelry making, orchids, bones, travel, white-water kayaking, and writing.

Jewelry-making was the occupation of two of her characters: Thorn St. Croix, the Rogue Mage, and the main character of BloodStone, written by her pen name, Gwen Hunter. She fell in love with the art form. Faith makes, wears, and sometimes gives away her jewelry as promo items to fans and as prizes in contests. See her FaceBook Fan Page at http://www.facebook.com/official.fait... for pics. She works with stones, pearls, crystal, and glass, wire wrapping larger, undrilled, focal stones. Labradorite, Amazonite, apatite, aquamarine, and prehnite are her favorite stones.

Faith loves orchids. Her favorite time of year is when several are blooming. Pictures can be seen at her FaceBook page. And yes, she collects bones and skulls. Many of her orchid pics are juxtaposed with bones and skulls —a fox, cat, dog, cow skull, goat, and deer skull, (that is, unfortunately, falling apart) and the jawbone of an ass. She just received a boar skull, and the skull of a mountain lion (legally purchased from a US tannery) killed in the wild.

She and her husband RV, traveling to whitewater rivers all over the Southeast.

And that leads Faith to kayaking – her very favorite sport. Faith discovered whitewater paddling when she was researching her (Gwen Hunter) mystery book, Rapid Descent. She took a lesson and—after a bout of panic attacks from fear of drowning—discovered she loved the sport.

Faith is one of the founders and a participant at the now defunct and archived www.MagicalWords.net, an online writing forum geared to helping writers. And she is a voracious reader.

Under other pen names, notably, Gwen Hunter, she writes action adventure, mysteries, and thrillers. As Gwen, she is a winner of the WH Smith Literary Award for Fresh Talent in 1995 in the UK, and won a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award in 2008. As Faith, her books have been on the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists, been nominated for various awards and won an Audie Award with Khristine Hvam, among other awards. Under all her pen names, she has more than 40 books, anthologies, and complications in print in 30 countries.

For more, including a list of her books, see www.faithhunter.net , www.gwenhunter.com , and www.magicalwords.net. To keep up with her daily, join her fan pages at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/official.fait

Buy The Book Here

Harlequin Romance Presents: Susan Mallery's The Friendship List

The Friendship List : A Novel 

Susan Mallery

On Sale Date: August 4, 2020

9781335136961, 1335136967


$26.99 USD, $33.50 CAD

Fiction / Romance / Contemporary 

384 pages

Already a worldwide success in mass market and trade paperback formats, Susan Mallery’s newest hardcover is an emotional, witty, and heartfelt story about two best friends who are determined to help one another shake things up and live life to the fullest...only to discover that possibilities are everywhere--especially in the most unexpected of places.

Ellen and Unity have been best friends basically since birth, but they couldn’t be more different. Unity married her childhood sweetheart just after high school and became an Army wife, moving from base to base…until her husband's shocking death in the line of duty leaves her a widow. Grief-stricken, it’s time for Unity to come back home to Ellen—the only person she can trust to help her rebuild her life. But Ellen has troubles of her own. Boys never seemed to notice Ellen…until one got her pregnant in high school and disappeared. Her son is now 17 and she’s wondering what to do with herself now that he’s heading off to college and he's literally her entire world.

But now that Ellen and Unity are reunited, they’re done with their stale lives. It’s time to shake things up and start living again, knowing that they'll always have one another to lean on. So they create a list of challenges they have to accomplish--everything from getting a tattoo to skydiving to staying out all night. And whoever completes the most challenges is the winner. But with new adventures and love just around the corner, there’s no such thing as losing…


Please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from...

The Friendship List


Susan Mallery

Chapter One

“I should have married money,” Ellen Fox said glumly. “That would have solved all my problems.”

Unity Leandre, her best friend, practically since birth, raised her eyebrows. “Because that was an option so many times and you kept saying no?”

“It could have been. Maybe. If I’d ever, you know, met a rich guy I liked and wanted to marry.”

“Wouldn’t having him want to marry you be an equally important part of the equation?”

Ellen groaned. “This is not a good time for logic. This is a good time for sympathy. Or giving me a winning lottery ticket. We’ve been friends for years and you’ve never once given me a winning lottery ticket.”

Unity picked up her coffee and smiled. “True, but I did give you my pony rides when we celebrated our eighth birthdays.”

A point she would have to concede, Ellen thought. With their birthdays so close together, they’d often had shared parties. The summer they’d turned eight, Unity’s mom had arranged for pony rides at a nearby farm. Unity had enjoyed herself, but Ellen had fallen in love with scruffy Mr. Peepers, the crabby old pony who carried them around the paddock. At Ellen’s declaration of affection for the pony, Unity had handed over the rest of her ride tickets, content to watch Ellen on Mr. Peepers’s wide back.

“You were wonderful about the pony rides,” Ellen said earnestly, “And I love that you were so generous. But right now I really need a small fortune. Nothing overwhelming. Just a tasteful million or so. In return, I’ll give back the rides on Mr. Peepers.”

Unity reached across the kitchen table and touched Ellen’s arm. “He really wants to go to UCLA?”

Ellen nodded, afraid if she spoke, she would whimper. After sucking in a breath, she managed to say, “He does. Even with a partial scholarship, the price is going to kill me.” She braced herself for the ugly reality. “Out-of-state costs, including room and board, are about sixty-four thousand dollars.” Ellen felt her heart skip a beat and not out of excitement. “A year. A year! I don’t even bring home that much after taxes. Who has that kind of money? It might as well be a million dollars.”

Unity nodded. “Okay, now marrying money makes sense.”

“I don’t have a lot of options.” Ellen pressed her hand to her chest and told herself she wasn’t having a heart attack. “You know I’d do anything for Coop and I’ll figure this out, but those numbers are terrifying. I have to start buying lottery scratchers and get a second job.” She looked at Unity. “How much do you think they make at Starbucks? I could work nights.”

Unity, five inches taller, with long straight blond hair, grabbed her hands. “Last month it was University of Oklahoma and the month before that, he wanted to go to Notre Dame. Cooper has changed his mind a dozen times. Wait until you go look at colleges this summer and he figures out what he really wants, then see who offers the best financial aid before you panic.” Her mouth curved up in a smile. “No offense, Ellen, but I’ve tasted your coffee. You shouldn’t be working anywhere near a Starbucks.”

“Very funny.” Ellen squeezed her hands. “You’re right. He’s barely seventeen. He won’t be a senior until September. I have time. And I’m saving money every month.”

It was how she’d been raised, she thought. To be practical, to take responsibility. If only her parents had thought to mention marrying for money.

“After our road trip, he may decide he wants to go to the University of Washington after all, and that would solve all my problems.”

Not just the money ones, but the loneliness ones, she thought wistfully. Because after eighteen years of them being a team, her nearly grown-up baby boy was going to leave her.

“Stop,” Unity said. “You’re getting sad. I can see it.”

“I hate that you know me so well.”

“No, you don’t.”

Ellen sighed. “No, I don’t, but you’re annoying.”

“You’re more annoying.”

They smiled at each other.

Unity stood, all five feet ten of her, and stretched. “I have to get going. You have young minds to mold and I have a backed-up kitchen sink to deal with, followed by a gate repair and something with a vacuum. The message wasn’t clear.” She looked at Ellen. “You going to be okay?”

Ellen nodded. “I’m fine. You’re right. Coop will change his mind fifteen more times. I’ll wait until it’s a sure thing, then have my breakdown.”

“See. You always have a plan.”

They walked to the front door. Ellen’s mind slid back to the ridiculous cost of college.

“Any of those old people you help have money?” she asked. “For the right price, I could be a trophy wife.”

Unity shook her head. “You’re thirty-four. The average resident of Silver Pines is in his seventies.”

“Marrying money would still solve all my problems.”

Unity hugged her, hanging on tight for an extra second. “You’re a freak.”

“I’m a momma bear with a cub.”

“Your cub is six foot three. It’s time to stop worrying.”

“That will never happen.”

“Which is why I love you. Talk later.”

Ellen smiled. “Have a good one. Avoid spiders.”


When Unity had driven away, Ellen returned to the kitchen where she quickly loaded the dishwasher, then packed her lunch. Cooper had left before six. He was doing some end-of-school-year fitness challenge. Something about running and Ellen wasn’t sure what. To be honest, when he went on about his workouts, it was really hard not to tune him out. Especially when she had things like tuition to worry about.

“Not anymore today,” she said out loud. She would worry again in the morning. Unity was right—Cooper was going to keep changing his mind. Their road trip to look at colleges was only a few weeks away. After that they would narrow the list and he would start to apply. Only then would she know the final number and have to figure out how to pay for it.

Until then she had plenty to keep her busy. She was giving pop quizzes in both fourth and sixth periods and she wanted to update her year-end tests for her two algebra classes. She needed to buy groceries and put gas in the car and go by the library to get all her summer reading on the reserve list.

As she finished her morning routine and drove to the high school where she taught, Ellen thought about Cooper and the college issue. While she was afraid she couldn’t afford the tuition, she had to admit it was a great problem to have. Seventeen years ago, she’d been a terrified teenager, about to be a single mom, with nothing between her and living on the streets except incredibly disappointed and angry parents who had been determined to make her see the error of her ways.

Through hard work and determination, she’d managed to pull herself together—raise Cooper, go to college, get a good job, buy a duplex and save money for her kid’s education. Yay her.

But it sure would have been a lot easier if she’d simply married someone with money.


“How is it possible to get a C- in Spanish?” Coach Keith Kinne asked, not bothering to keep his voice down. “Half the population in town speaks Spanish. Hell, your sister’s husband is Hispanic.” He glared at the strapping football player standing in front of him. “Luka, you’re an idiot.”

Luka hung his head. “Yes, Coach.”

“Don’t ‘yes, Coach’ me. You knew this was happening—you’ve known for weeks. And did you ask for help? Did you tell me?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith thought about strangling the kid but he wasn’t sure he could physically wrap his hands around the teen’s thick neck. He swore silently, knowing they were where they were and now he had to fix things—like he always did with his students.

“You know the rules,” he pointed out. “To play on any varsity team you have to get a C+ or better in every class. Did you think the rules didn’t apply to you?”

Luka, nearly six-five and two hundred and fifty pounds, slumped even more. “I thought I was doing okay.”

“Really? So you’d been getting better grades on your tests?”

“Not exactly.” He raised his head, his expression miserable. “I thought I could pull up my grade at the last minute.”

“How did that plan work out?”

“No bueno.”

Keith glared at him. “You think this is funny?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith shook his head. “You know there’s not a Spanish summer school class. That means we’re going to have to find an alternative.”

Despite his dark skin, Luka went pale. “Coach, don’t send me away.”

“No one gets sent away.” Sometimes athletes went to other districts that had a different summer curriculum. They stayed with families and focused on their studies.

“I need to stay with my family. My mom understands me.”

“It would be better for all of us if she understood Spanish.” Keith glared at the kid. “I’ll arrange for an online class. You’ll get a tutor. You will report to me twice a week, bringing me updates until you pass the class.” He sharpened his gaze. “With an A.”

Luka took a step back. “Coach, no! An A? I can’t.”

“Not with that attitude.”

“But, Coach.”

“You knew the rules and you broke them. You could have come to me for help early on. You know I’m always here for any of my students, but did you think about that or did you decide you were fine on your own?”

“I decided I was fine on my own,” Luka mumbled.

“Exactly. And deciding on your own is not how teams work. You go it alone and you fail.”

Tears filled Luka’s eyes. “Yes, Coach.”

Keith pointed to the door. Luka shuffled out. Keith sank into his chair. He’d been hard on the kid, but he needed to get the message across. Grades mattered. He was willing to help whenever he could, but he had to be told what was going on. He had a feeling Luka thought because he was a star athlete he was going to get special treatment. Maybe somewhere else, but not here. Forcing Luka to get an A sent a message to everyone who wanted to play varsity sports.

He’d barely turned to his computer when one of the freshman boys stuck his head in the office. “Coach Kinne! Coach Kinne! There’s a girl crying in the weight room.”

Keith silently groaned as he got up and jogged to the weight room, hoping he was about to deal with something simple like a broken arm or a concussion. He knew what to do for those kinds of things. Anything that was more emotional, honest to God, terrified him.

He walked into the weight room and found a group of guys huddled together. A petite, dark-haired girl he didn’t know sat on a bench at the far end, her hands covering her face, her sobs audible in the uneasy silence.

He looked at the guys. “She hurt?”

They shifted their weight and shook their heads. Damn. So it wasn’t physical. Why didn’t things ever go his way?

“Any of you responsible for whatever it is?” he asked.

More shaken heads with a couple of guys ducking out.

Keith pointed to the door so the rest of them left, then returned his attention to the crying girl. She was small and looked young. Maybe fifteen. Not one of his daughter’s friends or a school athlete—he knew all of them.

He approached the teen, trying to look friendly rather than menacing, then sat on a nearby bench.

“Hey,” he said softly. “I’m Coach Kinne.”

She sniffed. Her eyes were red, her skin pale. “I know who you are.”

“What’s going on?” Don’t be pregnant, don’t be pregnant, he chanted silently.

More tears spilled over. “I’m pregnant. The father is Dylan, only he says he’s not, and I can’t tell my m-mom because she’ll be so mad and he said he l-loved me.”

And just like that Keith watched his Monday fall directly into the crapper.


Keith left work exactly at three fifteen. He would be returning to his office to finish up paperwork, supervise a couple of workouts and review final grades for athletes hovering on the edge of academic problems. But first, he had pressing personal business.

He drove the two short miles to his house, walked inside and headed directly for his seventeen-year-old daughter’s room.

Lissa looked up from her laptop when he entered, her smile fading as she figured out he was in a mood. Despite the attitude, she was a beauty. Long dark hair, big brown eyes. Dammit all to hell—why couldn’t he have an ugly daughter who no guy would look at twice?

“Hi, Dad,” she said, sounding wary. “What’s up?”

“Spot check.”

She rolled her eyes. “Seriously? There is something wrong with you. I heard what happened at school today. I’m not dumb enough to date a guy like Dylan who would tell a tree stump he loved it if it would have sex with him. I’m not sleeping with anyone and I’m not pregnant. I told you—I’m not ready to have sex, as in I’m still a virgin. You’re obsessed. Would you feel better if I wore a chastity belt?”

“Yes, but you won’t. I’ve asked.”

“Da-ad. Why are you like this? Pregnancy isn’t the worst thing that could happen. I could be sick and dying. Wouldn’t that be terrible?”

“You can’t win this argument with logic. I’m irrational. I accept that. But I’m also the parent, so you have to deal with me being irrational.”

He pointed to her bathroom. She sighed the long-suffering sigh of those cursed with impossible fathers and got up. He followed her to the doorway and watched as she pulled the small plastic container out of the bathroom drawer and opened it.

Relief eased the tension in his body. Pills were missing. The right number of pills.

“You are a nightmare father,” his daughter said, shoving the pills back in the drawer. “I can’t wait until I’m eighteen and I can get the shot instead of having to take birth control pills. Then you’ll only bug me every few months.”

“I can’t wait, either.”

“It’s not like I even have a boyfriend.”

“You could be talking to someone online.”

Her annoyance faded as she smiled at him. “Dad, only one of us in this house does the online dating thing and it’s not me.”

“I don’t online date.”

“Fine. You pick up women online, then go off and have sex with them for the weekend. It’s gross. You should fall in love with someone you’re not embarrassed to bring home to meet me.”

“I’m not embarrassed. I just don’t want complications.”

“But you do want to have sex. It’s yucky.”

“Then why are we talking about it?” He pulled her close and hugged her, then kissed the top of her head. “Sorry, Lissa. I can’t help worrying about you.”

She looked up at him. “Dad, I’m taking my pills every day, not that it matters because I’m not having sex. I’m not. I’ve barely kissed a guy. Having you as my father makes it really difficult to date. Guys don’t want to mess with you and risk being beat up.”


She smiled even as she hit him in the arm. “You’re repressing my emotional growth.”

“Just don’t get pregnant.”

“You need to find a more positive message. How about ‘be your best self?’”

“That, too. Gotta go.”

“I’m having dinner with Jessie tonight. Remember?”

“No problem. Be home by ten.”

He got back in his truck but before starting the engine, he quickly texted Ellen. I need a couple of beers and a friendly ear. You around tonight?

The response came quickly. Only if you bring fried chicken. I have beer and ice cream.

You’re on. See you at six.

Excerpted from The Friendship List by Susan Mallery, Copyright © 2020 by Susan Mallery, Inc.. Published by HQN.

My Thoughts

Unity and Ellen have been friends forever.  
Always together...
Thick and thin, rain, shine, and now hiding.

Unity doing her best to make herself the youngest member of the Silver Pines retirement community.
First, by partaking in a large number of the community activities.
Then by making herself an indispensable fixture through her hometown handyman service.  Staffed by and servicing the senior community.
All the while, making a habit of being as nondescript as possible.  And silently grieving the death of her husband and high school sweetheart, Stuart.

Ellen is a teacher, a single mom, a great person and friend.  
She, like unity, has a very select group of friends, and loves her job, nondescript clothes, and has built a life around her son.
And she, like her friend, thinks that her life is fine, fulfilled, and happy.
At least, that is until she stumbles into a conversation between her now teenage son and a friend.
During which he discloses that he will not be going on the upcoming college out of state college tour to California.  Because he has decided NOT to go to school out of state because he has to "be there for his mother"  Because he "is her whole life."

Unity is receiving a bit of a push out of he nest of her own.  As she has been declared at 34 to be "too young, tall, and fit to be a member of the senior pickleball team.  
And has been made an unaware datee and a well intentioned by ill-fated blind date with her senior bestie's great-nephew, Thaddeus. 

Something has got to be done.
And it appears that Ellen, spurred into action by her son's heartfelt words. Has come up with a plan to prove to herself and the world that she, and Unity by extension. Can and will have a life. Or are perfectly willing to die trying.
By way of their "Friendship List".
A bucket list of sorts that the two women challenge themselves to complete.  While we the readers come along for the ride.

The Friendship List is a very sweet and poignant glimpse into what starting over can mean.  When major shifts in the dynamic of one's life occur.
In the case of Ellen.  The shift from single parent to that of single empty nester.  
And in the case of Unity.  The shift from happily married military wife, sans child. To childless young widow.
And the lengths, both long and short, comical and painful that one sometimes must go to.  In order to find their way back to self, life, love, and the possibilities of forever.
*Special thanks to Harlequin and Netgalley for providing the review copy on which my non-biased critique is based. 

SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women's lives—family, friendship and romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations," and readers seem to agree—forty million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.

Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She's passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two Ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as Mom.


Twitter: @susanmallery

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