Today I am very excited to be part of the blog tour for Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner by Helen Cox. I reviewed the first book in the series on Wednesday on the blog, check that out here. And today I have a very exciting exclusive extract for you all. The extract is from a really pivotal part of the book, but I'll say no more. Scroll down for more of my thoughts on the second book in this series!
To my left, Jimmy cleared his throat and the sound sent a guilty chill through me. I turned to see that my friends had been watching the whole display, Jimmy included. Mona had her arms crossed while Esther had a vague smile on her face and one eyebrow raised. Bernie and Jack were pretending to start a conversation about baseball, perhaps to make out like they hadn’t been watching like everyone else, I don’t know. But there was no mistaking the fact that Jimmy had seen it all. He was looking all hot in the face. Way hotter than the stuttering old heater Bernie used in the winter months could ever hope to make him. The skin crinkled around his eyes and his forehead was locked in a tight frown. There was a sort of sting to his eyes that made my stomach churn.
Looking back at Nick I said, ‘I’ll… I’ll see you when I get back, alright?’
‘Sure. I understand you can’t make any promises right now. We’ll talk when you get back.’
‘Alright,’ I said, turning back to Jimmy. ‘You ready?’
‘Am I ready?’ he said, looking down at the lino. ‘We could’ve been out of here a lot sooner if it was down to me.’ He picked up my suitcase and, without so much as a wave to anyone, stalked out of the door.
‘Oh boy, this is going to be a fun trip,’ I said, winking at Esther and Mona, and they both chuckled.
‘Bye, Bonnie.’ Jack smiled, stood from his seat at the counter and gave me a firm hug. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow and soon this will all be over, alright?’
‘Thanks, Jack,’ I said, wishing I could believe that everything would be alright, just like he said. I pulled back from his embrace, squeezing his arms as I did so. Then there was just time to give Nick one last nod and blow a kiss to Bernie before I waved to everyone and left, following after Jimmy.
Our rental car was parked just around the corner from the diner.
As I approached it, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. It was a Peugeot 405 in silver.
I stared at it and put my hands on my hips. ‘Really? You’re going to make a woman from Detroit take what is possibly her last car ride for twenty years in a French vehicle? Haven’t you ever heard of “buy American”?’
Jimmy, leaning against the other side of the car with his hands flat on the roof, glared at me. ‘I ain’t buying, I’m renting. Now stop being so argumentative and get in the car. I made us a mixtape for the journey.’
‘You made me a mixtape?’ I said, knowing this would rile him up even further. Well, if he was going to be so snippy all the time, what was the point in treading on eggshells?
‘Us. I made us a mixtape.’
‘Really. What’s the first track?’ I asked, raising an eyebrow.
Jimmy went to open his mouth and then thought better of it. ‘You’ll find out soon enough, just get in.’
Knowing better than to wind him up any further, even if it was a lot of fun, I climbed into the car and Jimmy started the ignition.
Jimmy headed south on Clinton while I studied every brick and hydrant and hotdog vendor we passed. Winter still had the city in its icy grip but I rolled down the window anyway so I could breathe in the peculiar incense that could only be found in New York City: a blend of freshly baked bagels and stagnant sewers. I watched men with dogs chat up thin women out for mid-morning runs, and made a silent promise to a blind man playing the banjo on the corner of Broome Street that no matter how long it took, I’d come back to New York, someday. And when I did, I’d probably stay.
A few minutes later, a sign flew up overhead for the Garden State Parkway and a switch flicked in my head. My shoulders tensed and I felt real thirsty all of a sudden.
I was on my way back to Atlantic City.
Back to the sickly scent of saltwater taffy. Back to the revving and grunting of the Jitney vans that shuttled tourists between the hotels and the slot machines. And back to that strip of glitzy casinos that lit up at night with a hellish orange glow.
My stomach tightened. I knew right then I’d go nuts if I spent the whole two-hour journey to Atlantic City thinking about all the memories waiting for me there. Not to mention the people. The people that, if I had it my way, I’d never see again.
‘Jimmy, can we listen to the tape now please?’
‘No,’ Jimmy scowled. ‘I don’t want to, it was a stupid idea.’
‘Jimmy, come on, stop being a jerk and just let me play the tape. You know I love music. If I go to prison I’m not going to hear much music.’ I thought back to when Karen and I used to beg Dad for stuff on long car journeys as kids, back when he’d take us out for Sunday drives in his 1969 Dodge Charger. He was always in a good mood when he was driving that car, and almost always caved into our requests. I made my voice as similar to the one I’d used back then as possible. ‘Please?’
‘Fine,’ Jimmy said, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. He sighed, fumbled in his jeans pocked and chucked the tape at me while changing lanes.
Ignoring his attitude, I opened the cassette case and pushed the tape into the deck. There was a brief crackling sound and then the music began. I tried not to let my eyes widen as the opening chords to ‘Take My Breath Away’ by Berlin played out. Surely one of the most romantic songs ever written? Well, at least in the last decade. And then I tried not to think about Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis making out in that scene from Top Gun, or me and Jimmy making out, right now. I looked across at Jimmy, who was pretending to check his rear-view mirror in a bid to avoid my eyes.
If he’d really made this mixtape for us, surely he would’ve just picked out standard road-trip tunes. Like ‘On the Road Again’ or something. It couldn’t be a coincidence that he’d started off with something this romantic, could it?
Staring at him, I said, ‘I love this song.’
He looked at me out of the corner of his eye again. ‘I love it too,’ he said. The corners of his mouth were definitely slanting upwards. And something about that, something I couldn’t explain and didn’t want to analyse, made me smile.
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Review: I really enjoyed this sequel! I loved the fact that I got to revisit the characters from the first novel in this series. If anything, this second novel made me appreciate the characters from the starlight diner even more, I got to see how they tick and learnt a lot more about Bernie in this novel than I did the first novel which was great. We got to see a lot more of Esther in this novel too, and I loved the kind of motherly figure that she took on for Bonnie! It was lovely to catch up with Jack and Jimmy and Walt as well. Jimmy really comes into his own in this instalment and I really warmed to him!
Although I've spoken a lot about the deeper appreciation you get for the characters because this is the second book in the series, this book also works well on its own. I know this because I accidentally started reading this book before I read the first book in the series and I was totally caught up in the story even though I hadn't met all of the characters before, so if you like what you've read in the extract above, you can definitely read this on its own! The other reason you can read this book as a standalone is because this book centres around a new character, Bonnie, who we don't even meet until the very very end of book one....
I really liked Bonnie because she is so fiercely independent. I really liked that fact that she had got herself to New York and spent xmas alone there. I also really like her ability to read people, just like Jimmy! She really comes into her own in this book, in a way that we can tell she hasn't before coming across the characters she meets in the diner! This book is set partly in Atlantic City too because it is somewhere I've been close to but never visited! There's also a whole bit about Lucy the Elephant, who resides at the seafront in Margate. I loved learning about her in the book and went on to read up about her online, I'll be visiting her next time I'm in New Jersey, that's for sure!
Overall, this was a really strong sequel. Like the first book in the series, this was a romantic comedy with a dark edge and there is a court case in this book that brings in all the great aspects of a crime novel too. You would definitely enjoy this book if you like your rom coms a little meatier and whether or not you've read the first in the series, you'll be able to pick up with this great group of characters and love them just as much as I did!