Thursday, 12 May 2022

REVIEW - TELL ME AN ENDING BY JO HARKINS

  

Title: Tell Me An Ending
Author: Jo Harkins
Publisher: Random House UK, Cornerstone, Hutchinson Heinemann
Genre: General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Release Date: 12th May 2022


BLURB from Goodreads
Dystopian debut about a tech company that deletes unwanted memories, the consequences for those forced to contend with what they tried to forget, and the dissenting doctor who seeks to protect her patients from further harm.

What if you once had a painful memory removed? And what if you were offered the chance to get it back?

Tell Me an Ending follows four characters grappling with the question of what to remember—and what they hoped to forget forever.

Finn, an Irish architect living in the Arizona desert, begins to suspect his charming wife of having an affair.

Mei, a troubled grad school drop-out in Kuala Lumpur, wonders why she remembers a city she’s never visited.

William, a former police inspector in England, struggles with PTSD, the breakdown of his marriage, and his own secret family history.

Oscar, a handsome young man with almost no memories at all, travels the world in a constant state of fear.

Into these characters lives comes Noor, an emotionally closed-off psychologist at the memory removal clinic in London, who begins to suspect her glamorous boss Louise of serious wrongdoing.
 

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REVIEW
I have seen a couple different covers for this book, but my preferred one is the Hutchinson Heinneman hardback one. The front cover features what I would say is a blank white sheet with a figure at the centre of it, which fits with the whole ethic of “wiping the slate clean” or “fresh blank sheet of paper.” I love the by-line of “What if you didn’t have to live with your worst memories” which is the whole basis of the book really. There’s a large company called Nepenthe who offer a service that means you can have traumatic, or even just memories you don’t want removed. “Nepenthe” literally means “a potion used by the ancients to induce forgetfulness of pain or sorrow.” Would this book cover make me pick it up from a bookstore shelf? Honestly, I’m not sure, though upon reading the by-line I think I would want to read the blurb and that would be the thing that hooked me into wanting to read the book.

Initially all seems like it is going well for Nepenthe with the memory removals, then people begin to get what the media name “traces,” meaning they have flashbacks, or nightmares about the memories they have had removed. This becomes such a serious problem that when it is discovered the “removed” memories can be restored. Everyone that has had a removal is sent a letter explaining that they have a choice, to stay as they are with their memory “erased” or they can come back into the clinic and have the “re-installed.” These people who went have paid a large amount of money to have these memories taken away are now faced with the reality that perhaps those strange flashback, or just out of reach “half memories” and those weird nightmares they have been having may be connected to their memory they so desperately wanted removing. Now they are presented with a tough quandary, continue as they are or risk having their “unwanted memory” returned and have to deal with the consequences of that. There were two types of clients at the Nepenthe clinic, the day time ones that the clients were aware they’d had a procedure. The other type of client usually came to the clinic at night and along with their unwanted memory being removed so was the knowledge of having the procedure done. However, there is also another sub-section of clients, ones that one of the Nepenthe Doctors did memory removals on, sort of “on the side” as in they “didn’t go through the books.” Which is going to make contacting them incredibly difficult as they do not have official Nepenthe records, meaning if they moved home etc, their records would not be updated. This presents a very complex problem for the Doctor who needs to contact all such cases, explain to then they had a procedure done in “unusual” circumstances, and then given the choice, and appropriate counselling to make a decision and finally either given the procedure to reinstate the memory or not. All this has to happen without anyone else finding out and informing the bosses of Nepenthe.

Nepenthe has various clinics but the one the book concentrates on is Crowshill. Dr Noor Ali is one of the doctors working at that clinic and she lives in the area, whereas Dr Louise Nightingale has a higher position in the company and is based at the London HQ but regularly visits the Crowshill clinic. Memory removals are temporarily put on hold and the attention is on finding those who are being offered the procedure to give them back their memory. It’s whilst the process of contacting these parties that Noor becomes suspicious of her colleague Louise. Certain practices in the clinic records need two employees to access them. Noor has become so used to performing this task for Louise that she puts in her password and leaves Louise to do whatever she needs when the company expectations are that this system means two people should be looking over whatever is being done. It is only when Noor begins to become suspicious about what exactly Louise is up to. Noor does some of her own digging around and then finds herself in a dilemma. Should she tell her superiors what she has found out about what Louise is/has been up to. Or should she just stay quiet, but then, she has the worry of if what Louise has been doing is discovered by the bosses of Nepenthe and they look at the computer logs her own name will be seen to. Noor soon comes to the conclusion that she will be implicated either way. She isn’t the most confident person and worries about upsetting her friend. Whilst at the same time thinking maybe her friend is “using her” and will put the blame on her if found out, making her some sort of scapegoat, something she isn’t willing to be for anyone.

The book follows the individuals being given this choice and the struggles coming to a decision about what to do. One such person, William, a policeman, only discovers he has had a memory removed when he is wanting something else removed. He needs special permission as he is a Policeman and it is illegal for them to undergo the procedure if the memory is anything to do with a criminal case. Life is already hard for William at the moment, his wife Annetta has moved out of their family home with their two children, Fiona and Milo and is living at her childhood home under the pretext of helping her mother for a while. When William reveals the fact, he had previously had a memory removed his wife thinks it’s a simple decision and, in her opinion, there is only one choice, he should have it back.

The book follows just four patients, William, Finn, Oscar, and Mei, but when you are reading it feels like so many more. You really don’t realise how having a specific memory removed could have a domino effect on the rest of your life and those around you too. There are so many different threads within the book from those that work at Nepenthe, those who sit outside the futuristic clinic protesting against it every day, and of course those who pay to use the clinic. You may think I have revealed a lot about the book in this review but truly I have only touched the surface of the book and it’s contents.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing reading the book were that I found the book a really interesting read and had really looked forward to reading more each evening. I regularly ended up pondering the book during the day, putting myself in the different positions of the characters.

Summing up, this book is a little slower paced than ones I usually read, but I’ll be totally honest when I say I ended up really enjoying the change of pace and the more in-depth mysterious plot. Along with the suspense of would the secrets of two of the doctors at the clinic be revealed and if they were, what would happen to them. In the end I really couldn’t have guessed at the final ending! I found the different clients memories people had removed or were considering removing and their reasons for wanting them removed very interesting. Reading about them was like “people watching” but much deeper. Also, these same people were then suddenly, out of the blue, being faced with the reality of perhaps not all the memory has been successfully removed, or perhaps too much memory has been removed. And finally, they had to face the dilemma of whether to have the memory "returned" or not. This book is certainly thought provoking, even after you have finished reading it all.


 

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

WISHLIST WEDNESDAY - JUST LIKE MOTHER BY ANNE HELTZER

  

Title: Just Like Mother
Author: Anne Heltzel
Publisher: Macmillan Tor/Forge
Genre: General Fiction, Horror, Mystery & Thrillers
Release Date: 17th May 2022

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A girl would be such a blessing...

The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything—and everyone—at a safe distance.

When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry—baby fever comes with the territory.

The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come… 

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Tuesday, 10 May 2022

REVIEW - YOU'LL FORGET THIS EVER HAPPENED BY LAURA L ENGEL

  

Title: You'll Forget This Ever Happened
Author: Laura L. Engel
Publisher: She Writes Press
Genre: Biographies, Memoir
Release Date: 10th May 2022

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Told with heart and grit, honesty and wisdom, You'll Forget This Ever Happened is the poignant story not only of Laura Engel, but of thousands of young women in the 1960s who were made to relinquish their newborns simply because there was no ring on their finger. Family secrets and the lifelong damage those secrets caused carries us along unexpected paths in this triumphant story of redemption and forgiveness. 

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REVIEW
I would say it’s normally the book cover that attracts my attention first but it was the title of “You’ll forget this ever happened” that immediately tugged at my heart. I then looked closer at the book cover which has a baby cot card as its centre. Then my attention was drawn to the byline, “Secrets, Shame and Adoption in the 1960’s”.

This book is about and written by Laura Engel at 17 years old and is the eldest and only daughter of Billy and Ann. Laura has two younger brothers, Tommy and Michael whom she cares for regularly. Laura’s grandmother lives nearby and Laura visits her every day. Ann, Laura’s mum is a bit strange in that she will suddenly take herself off to bed and refuse to interact with her family. It’s lucky for Ann & Billy’s children that their grandmother is nearby enough to help out, though Ann hates this fact. Laura has been seeing/dating Clay for a while, and in an effort to keep him from dumping her she sleeps with him. However, when she realises she is pregnant, Clay wants nothing to do with the baby or her anymore. In fact, he actually accuses her of sleeping with someone else, trying to say the baby is not his. Laura does kind of go into denial and tries to hide the fact she is pregnant. This hiding the pregnancy doesn’t last long and she soon finds herself grounded and told to make sure she isn’t seen. Billy contacts Clay who insists he will not marry Laura despite pressure from Billy. As Clay has enlisted in the army, Billy even attempts to get the army to put pressure on him to coerce him in to marrying Laura. It soon becomes apparent that Clay, his family and the army are more than happy to ignore the fact Laura is pregnant with Clay’s baby. The “problem” and possible solutions are left to Laura and her family. Laura thinks of all sorts of scenarios, maybe she could have her baby, then her mum could bring up the baby. Laura knows her mum loves babies and remembers her as always happy when her brothers were babies. So Laura is shocked when her parents take her out on a drive to a place the church has suggested to her grandmother for unwed mothers. The home is in a rather rough part of New Orleans, so much so when the car pulls up, Ann refuses to get out of the car and it is Billy that takes Laura up to the door and inside. They are taken inside by Miss Felton who immediately starts reciting the information about the home for unwed mothers. Though Miss Felton refers to the home as an “institute of mercy” and goes on saying it is also a child rearing institution, and an adoption agency. Miss Felton sings the praises of the home saying the staff are Christian, and there are more than 20 Doctors and interns that provide their services as well as a graduate nurse on duty all the time. Miss Felton also heavily emphasises having an excellent success rate rehabilitating the girls. Laura zones out, she has come to the conclusion she is going to be stuck here until the baby is born anyway. Miss Felton turns her attention to Laura telling her she is doing such a good thing, giving her child a chance of a better life in a good home and parents. It’s then Laura realises she isn’t just at this place to hide whilst she has her baby, and then return home with her baby. Laura is initially stunned that everyone expects her to give away her baby and plans on changing their minds.

Laura enjoys working in the nursery at night with the nurse employed by the home. Laura makes friends with some of the girls and avoids the ones she doesn’t care to associate with.

Laura slips into a routine, just as the other girls do. Sadly, when the time comes Laura has to sign her baby away and she is expected to return home with the cover story of staying with her other grandmother for a while. The baby is not to be mentioned. Laura does manage to sneak back inside the home and the nursery to see her baby one last time and its during this visit that she steals the name label from the cot of her treasured son. This card is the thing she looks at every birthday, Christmas, family event. It’s her one link to her first child. Despite other relationships she never ever forgets her son.

I don’t want to go into anymore detail about the book as I want you all to buy it, or borrow it from the library and read it for yourselves. The book is written as if Laura is sat telling you her story, how events unfolded, her relationship with her parents, before, during and after the birth of her son, their first grandchild. I really liked the description of her “mama whose only nod to makeup Revlon’s bright red Queen of Diamonds lipstick” and the other description referencing Laura imagining her baby as her “tiny tears doll.” In this book you feel like you are on the journey with Laura, experiencing her confusion, disbelief, shock and horror of her boyfriend refusing to marry her, being sent to an unwed mother’s home and having to sign her baby away. Then her sadness, depression and constant pining for her missing child. We also learn about events from the perspective of her son, and that of his adoptive parents. The book is a huge wave of ever-changing emotions and you really do feel like reaching into the book to hug Laura. How times have changed, now young women get to keep their babies and have support to bring them up. In Laura’s era she really didn’t have a choice, or she would have done what one of the other girls in the home did and keep her baby. This other girl had a boyfriend who wanted her and her baby though. Unfortunately, Laura does not have that support. Even when she returns home, life doesn’t really improve for her. Nor does it improve with her marriage, and the children she goes on to have. She loves her children but none of them can replace that place in her heart for her first-born son.

This book certainly makes you wonder how many others are living with this type of heartbreak. I have read other books on the subject, particularly ones where the young mothers are horrifically mistreated. Though I guess you could say, Laura didn’t go through the harshest treatment, she still had her rights removed and was told what she had to do rather than there being support for her to do what she really wanted to do which was to raise her son.

Summing up, this is a heart-breaking but amazing true story of a resilient brave woman!


 



 

Saturday, 7 May 2022

REVIEW - HOTEL MAGNIFIQUE BY EMILY J TAYLOR

  

Title: Hotel Magnifique
Author: Emily J. Taylor
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Genre: Teens & YA
Release Date: 5th May 2022

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A deliciously decadent, enchanting YA fantasy about the disturbing secrets lurking in the legendary Hotel Magnifique - perfect for fans of Caraval and The Night Circus.

The legendary Hotel Magnifique is like no other: a magical world of golden ceilings, enchanting soirées and fountains flowing with champagne. It changes location every night, stopping in each place only once a decade. When the Magnifique comes to her hometown, seventeen-year-old Jani hatches a plan to secure jobs there for herself and her younger sister, longing to escape their dreary life.

Luck is on their side, and with a stroke of luminous ink on paper the sisters are swept into a life of adventure and opulence. But Jani soon begins to notice sinister spots in the hotel's decadent façade. Who is the shadowy maître who runs the hotel? And can the girls discover the true price paid by those who reside there - before it's too late?
 

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PURCHASE LINKS
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REVIEW
I fell in love with this book cover as soon as I saw it! The gold font of the title, the peacock feathers, the key on the chain, the moon by the little hotel also depicted on the cover, it all
Sets the atmosphere for the book, majestic, mysterious and most likely marvellous!
These items and the colours on the colours used on the cover all suggest opulence and luxury, which certainly apply to the Hotel Magnifique. All the items on the cover are relevant within the book and story too. I think this cover is one of those you don’t necessarily notice everything on it at once, but every time you look it feels like it reveals more. The cover certainly does its job very well as it made me take notice of the book, and its going to look amazing on a bookstore shelf!

The two central characters in the book are teenage sisters Janine & Zosa Lafayette who live in the Bezier residence in Durc. When their mother died, Janine had decided to travel to Durc with the last of their money in the hope that her younger sister Zosa would become a singer, and she could get a job, unfortunately things didn’t go to plan. The only thing the girls have is an old necklace belonging their mother which Jani wears all the time. Jani has been working in a factory to pay for them to stay at Beziers. When Janine sees an advert for staff vacancies at the Hotel Magnifique she comes up with a new plan. Zosa can audition to become a singer in the hotel and she will apply for whatever other job is available be it cleaning or cooking she doesn’t care as long as they are together.

Durc is buzzing with the news that the Hotel Magnifique will be visiting. Those with money rush to buy tickets, those without money hang about outside hoping to be chosen as one of the lucky ones given a free ticket into the Hotel. The Hotel has an almost magnetic type of pull for people, everyone seems to find it irresistible, even if they don’t get to go inside, people hang around just for a look at it. Hotel Magnifique is literally a house of dreams and magic. With rampant rumours about what goes on inside and things like the pillows being the softest ever made as they are stuffed with spun clouds. Guests sip on liquid gold in champagnes flutes for breakfast. The fancy doormen are all Princes and each night the hotel crosses the world over 3 times! When the hotel appears in Durc it is squished between two existing buildings and it looks rather run down on the outside.

Zosa sings and is immediately given a contract to sign and told to report back to the hotel before midnight. At midnight every night the Hotel Magnifique disappears from its current location and appears at the next place it will visit. Usually, hotel guests stay for around 2 weeks though some stay much longer. When Bel a man from Hotel Magnifique arrives at the Bezier residence to collect Zosa, he meets strong resistance from the sisters, as Jani insists that she is given a job, any job, she will do anything as long as she can stay with her sister and they have never been apart from each other since Zosa was born. Without giving too many secrets away, Jani is hastily given a contract to sign, as everyone needs to sign contract to enter the hotel, even the guests sign one!

It soon becomes apparent to Jani that all is not magical, opulent and amazing inside the hotel. It may well seem like that for guests, but the staff see a very different side to the hotel and its Maitre and head Suminaire, Alastair. Jani starts work with some other new young girls and women under the supervision of Beatrice as a maid. Zosa is staying in a different part of the hotel and the two girls do not see each other as they wish too. When Jani asks one too many questions and ends up being somewhere she shouldn’t be she is cruelly demoted by Alastair and sent to work in the kitchens. Sadly, Jani sees the true awful side to Alastair and learns not everything is as it seems at the Hotel Magnifique. Unfortunately for Alastair, Jani is not prepared to stay quiet, or give up on seeing her sister.

That’s really all I want to reveal abut the plot of the book. The plot goes off in quite a few directions, the stories of the different members of staff and how they came to be working in the Hotel Magnifique. Then there’s the intricacies of how the hotel works the way it does and why. You also learn about how Hotel Magnifique came to be and its revealed how Alastair became known as the most powerful Suminaire, as well as the histories of the other Suminaire/magic wielders.

I found I liked quite a lot of the characters in the book, though my favourite character has to be Bel, the dark brooding young man always in the background, watching and ready to rescue Jani is she needs it. A wielder of magic himself, perhaps the strongest one in the hotel has a special job every night at midnight. Bel has seen both sides of Hotel Magnifique and soon finds himself becomes attached to the persistent sister of the new singer Zosa. He knew the hotel was a dark place and tried to dissuade Jani from coming with Zosa but Jani refused to listen. I also have to mention Beatrice, and her backstory. She really did become a friend to Jani despite the risks to herself. I loved the “ending” that the author gave Beatrice, it was perfect. Another character that doesn’t really feature in the book much is the Minette Bezier who rents the girls a room in her establishment. Minette was once a lucky receiver of a ticket for a stay in the Hotel Magnifique and has told the girls how magical the place is and how handsome the Maitre is and how he didn’t seem to have aged since the first time she ever saw him when she was a young girl to the time she actually stayed in the hotel. Minette is a sort of mother figure to those that stay in her home somewhat under her care. I thoroughly enjoyed being initially skeptical about the grand Maitre of Hotel Magnifique, Alastair, then as time went on and the hotel history was revealed and secrets unfurled, he made a perfect bad guy. The author does present the reasons for Alastair being so obsessed, single minded and set that no one will get in his way of his vision of becoming the ultimate Suminaire and master of all he surveys.

I felt an initial pull to the book primarily the cover, then read the blurb and knew I had to read the book. I adored Jani and Zosa, always sticking together, looking out for each other. Jani is the more practical older sister, the responsible one who has been working in a factory so Zosa didn’t have to. Zosa kind of has her head in the clouds. As the younger sister she seems more carefree. Instantly carried away by being able to sing in the hotel and signing the contract before Jani can even ask if there is a job for herself. Though the two sisters end up separated inside the hotel Jani is determined to look out for her sister and does the best she can.

I felt really immersed in the book, I hated having to put it down to sleep! Unusually I even sat and read some of it in the day time, which I can’t normally do. I’m more of a curl up and read in bed reader. There were lots of clues as to what may happen and I enjoyed guessing the “talents” of the different characters. I loved wondering what was going to happen next to Jani as well as what was going to happen next within the hotel too. Hotel Magnifique has happiness, and “pretty” magic but it also has a darker, twisted, sinister rather awful and shocking side too, and I loved it all! From the authors descriptions I could visualise the people, places, and surroundings. I think this book would make a brilliant movie or Tv adaptation, so long as they stick as close as possible to the actual book.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing the book were Wow, the book lives up to one of the words in the title, it really is Magnifique!! I felt totally entranced from the first word to the last, amazing.

Summing up, you really need to read this one. I haven’t read either of the books it has been compared with, Caraval or The Night Circus though I do have both books on my kindle/book-shelf. The book I have read that it made me think of was Daughter Of The Burning City by Amanda Foody, which I also highly recommend reading. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for what is coming next from this author.
 



 

Thursday, 5 May 2022

BLOG TOUR - THE DACHSHUND WEARS PRADA BY STEFANIE LONDON

  

Title: The Dachshund Wears Prada
Author: Stefanie London
Publisher: HQN Books
Release Date: 3rd May 2022

BLURB supplied by Harlequin Trade Publishing
How do you start over when the biggest mistake of your life has more than one million views?

Forget diamonds; the internet is forever. Social media consultant Isla Thompson learned that lesson the hard way when she went viral for all the wrong reasons. A month later, Isla is still having nightmares about the moment she ruined a young starlet’s career and made herself the most unemployable influencer in Manhattan. But she doesn’t have the luxury of hiding away until she’s no longer “Instagram Poison.” Not when her fourteen-year-old sister, Dani, needs Isla to keep a roof over their heads. So she takes the first job she can get: caring for Camilla, a glossy-maned, foul-tempered hellhound.

After a week of ferrying Camilla from playdates to pet psychics, Isla starts to suspect that the dachshund’s bark is worse than her bite—just like her owner, Theo Garrison. Isla has spent her career working to make people likeable and here’s Theo—happy to hide behind his reputation as a brutish recluse. But Theo isn’t a brute—he’s sweet and funny, and Isla should not see him as anything but the man who signs her pay cheques. Because loving Theo would mean retreating to his world of secluded luxury, and Isla needs to show Dani that no matter the risk, dreams are always worth chasing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stefanie London is a USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance. Her books have been called "genuinely entertaining and memorable" by Booklist, and her writing praised as "elegant, descriptive and delectable" by RT Magazine. Originally from Australia, she now lives in Toronto with her very own hero and is doing her best to travel the world. She frequently indulges her passions for lipstick, good coffee, books and anything zombie related.

 
EXCERPT

three

Isla trudged along the hallway toward her apartment, high heels swinging from her finger. Usually she wouldn’t dare go barefoot on public carpet—especially not in a building of questionable standards, like this one. But after walking six blocks to get home in the pretty, stiletto-heeled death traps, her feet had officially given up the ghost.

Besides, foot hygiene was the least of her problems. With another rejected job application—this one coming through before she’d even made it home from the interview—she had bigger things to worry about.

Isla unlocked her front door and stepped inside, her lips quirking at the familiar sight. Her little sister, Dani, was standing next to the wall, one hand resting on a makeshift barre crafted from a shower curtain rod and some wall brackets they’d found at the dollar store. She was dressed in a plain black leotard and a pair of pink ballet tights with a hole in the knee. Her battered pointe shoes were frayed around the toes, though the ribbons were glossy and new, stitched on with the utmost care.

Classical music blared from the stereo and Isla hit the pause button. “What have I said about disturbing the neighbors?”

Dani paused mid-plié. “If you’re going to do it, do it properly.”

“That’s not what I said.” She shot her sister a look, trying to ignore how her leotard was digging into her shoulders. It was clearly a size too small because the damn girl was growing like a weed. At fourteen, she’d already surpassed Isla in height.

“Oh, that’s right.” Dani grinned. “You said that about schoolwork. But, to be fair, ballet is even more important than schoolwork, so…”

“We’ll agree on that when you can pay the bills with pliés.” Isla hung her keys on the hook by the door and dumped her purse onto the kitchen counter.

“Working on it.” Dani continued warming up, her pointe shoes knocking against the floorboards. “How was your day?”

Ugh. You mean, how were the three dozen rejection letters and this last interview, which was clearly only for curiosity’s sake because the recruiter straight up laughed the second I left the interview room?

“It was…fine,” she said, without much commitment.

In reality, it was anything but fine. What had her old boss called her? Oh, that’s right: Instagram poison.

“You told me once that saying something is ‘fine’ is no better than saying it’s ‘purple pineapples.’” Dani dropped down from her relevé and frowned. “What happened?”

What hadn’t happened?

Isla pulled a bottle of wine out of the fridge and poured her-self a glass. She’d been rationing it, since the only stuff that was left after this was a box wine of unknown origin. “Amanda lost her contract with that makeup company and her movie is flopping. She sent me an angry email today.”

“Whatever happened to all publicity is good publicity?”

“It’s a myth. Turns out some things are career killers.” Isla took a gulp of the wine. “And now I’m that woman who filmed a Disney princess vomiting all over herself.”

After the live video had been splashed across the internet and featured on network television, Isla had swiftly been fired from her job as a senior social media consultant with the Gate-way Agency. All her freelance clients had dropped her like a hot potato, too. Now, anyone who searched Isla’s name got page after page of the same thing: vomit girl and the person who was too dumb to stop recording.

Hence the growing pile of rejected job applications.

“I take it the interview didn’t go well?”

Isla cringed at the concern in her sister’s voice. Most fourteen-year-olds were worrying about frivolous things, like which shade of lip gloss was the most on trend or how to craft the perfect TikTok dance routine. Hell, she would argue that’s the stuff they should be worrying about. Not whether they were going to have a roof over their heads.

“No, it didn’t,” Isla admitted. “But honestly, I’m not sure I would have wanted to work there anyway.”

It was a total lie.

Isla was ready to take anything at this point. It was humiliating to be begging for jobs she could have done ten years ago with her eyes closed, only to be rejected because the recruiters had found someone “with more experience.” Umm, what? In other words, she’d been officially blacklisted from the social media industry.

“How come?” Dani walked over to the kitchen, her arms swinging gracefully by her sides. Her dark hair was in a neat bun on top of her head, tied with a piece of leftover ribbon from her pointe shoes. “Were they not very nice?”

“Not really.”

Dani came up to Isla and put an arm around her, stooping so she could lean her head against her big sister’s shoulder. Some days it felt like it was them against the world. Given they didn’t actually know where their mother was these days—and they hadn’t seen either one of their dads in God only knew how long—they really did have to stick together.

Isla remembered the day it all happened—the eve of her twentieth birthday. Their mother had announced she was eloping overseas with a boyfriend she’d known less than a month, and they hadn’t seen her since. Apparently motherhood was a temporary commitment, in her eyes. That left Isla responsible for the well-being of another human, and more terrified of the future than she’d ever been.

Six years later, Isla had built a life for them both. She’d fostered and financed her half sister’s dreams, built up her own dream career and done it all while hiding how often the numbers weren’t in their favor. But the older Dani got, the more keenly she observed what was going on.

“Maybe you can ask the ballet school for our money back,” Dani suggested quietly.

Her spot had been secured for the summer intensive ballet camp months ago, before Isla’s job situation had fallen apart.

“I know it was really expensive,” she added.

Isla felt tears prick the backs of her eyes, but she refused to let her sister see even a sliver of her emotion. It was her job to be a pillar. To be the strong one. To be the positive mother figure neither of them ever had.

“Dani, I would sell my right kidney if it meant you could go to ballet camp.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.”

Isla snorted and wrapped her sister into a big hug. Like al-ways, she smelled of oversweet vanilla perfume and mango-scented shampoo. She would do anything for this kid. Anything to make sure Dani grew up knowing that dreams were worth chasing, and that family came first no matter what.

“And how do you know so much about black market organ sales?” Isla raised a brow and Dani laughed.

CSI.”

“Ah, of course.” She laughed. But when Dani pulled back, Isla noticed her sister’s characteristically carefree attitude was hidden under the worry swimming in her blue eyes. Isla hated seeing that. “Why don’t we go to Central Park, huh? We’ll take your phone and I can get a few shots of you for your Instagram account.”

“Really?” Dani’s eyes lit up.

“Sure. Just let me get changed.”

“I promise not to make you take a hundred photos this time.” Dani grinned and did a little pirouette in the kitchen. “Not even half that!”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Isla shot over her shoulder as she headed into her bedroom. “Trust me, I know where you get those perfectionistic tendencies.”

The second Isla closed her bedroom door behind her, she slumped against it and deflated like a balloon the day after a birthday party. Outside, the city roared with life. Sirens and horns, music blaring from the open window of another apartment, the shrieking laughter of people enjoying the early evening. She gazed out of the window, her eyes catching on the usual things that faced their cozy (read: cramped) place. There was a glimmer of light as the sun reflected off glass panes, and the zigzag of a fire escape from the building opposite them. The same three apartments always had their blinds wide open—either inviting voyeurism or not caring enough to prevent it.

Sometimes she wondered about their lives. Had they been stuck and struggling at some point like her? Had they lost faith in themselves and the world?

After she got fired, Isla had assumed it would all blow over if she kept a low profile and didn’t make matters worse. But then Amanda’s movie tanked and all her sponsorships fell through, and people stopped taking Isla’s calls. Even when she’d tried to laugh the whole thing off as a “Miley Cyrus exercise” her contacts had frozen harder than an Upper East Sider’s Botoxed face.

New York could be like that—when you were successful it felt as though the sun was made of gold. And when you fell from grace, you hit the concrete so hard you shattered every bone in your body.

How much longer was she going to be able to keep faking that everything would be fine? Rent was due next week and the final payment for Dani’s elite ballet camp had come out of her account a few days ago. Isla’s eyes had watered at the amount. But Dani had worked so hard, practicing every day and pushing herself to the limit to beat out the rich kids with their prestigious coaches and private lessons and their lifetimes of opportunity.

How could Isla pull the rug out from under Dani like that? What kind of lesson would that be teaching her?

“You’ll figure this out,” she said to herself. “Someone will hire you.”

After all, she had to make it work. Because letting her sister down was not an option.

Excerpted from The Dachshund Wears Prada by Stefanie London, Copyright © 2022 by Stefanie Little. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.