Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

Surfing with the Bishop: A Funny Business Novel by Jeff Costello Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A man must find it within himself to save the company he’s poured his life into after his boss and mentor passes away, and his children begin the process of selling off the business in author Jeff Costello’s “Surfing with the Bishop: A Funny Business Novel”.

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The Synopsis

“A hilariously fun read loaded with relatable characters and laugh-out-loud moments that’s so damn entertaining, you’ll wish you worked with these people. Buckle up for a white-knuckle ride that will remind you of the best companies you’ve ever worked for and the worst.”

Tim Shiner, Entrepreneur and author of 50 Things They Didn’t Teach You in School!

Business owners die, heirs sell, and companies disappear. It happens all the time. But, when Grayson Quinn’s mentor Big Bill passes away – and his daughters quickly decide to sell off their father’s legacy – the burden of saving the company and the livelihood of so many others falls to Grayson.

To succeed, he must accomplish the seemingly impossible. It will take all of Grayson’s ingenuity to overcome insanely bad marketing, negotiate without money, and outwit obnoxious competitors who want to buy the company and steal his business, not necessarily in that order.

Hidden motives drive critical decisions, as Grayson is caught in the middle with little understanding of anyone’s true intentions. Business as usual is his directive to anyone who will listen, but there’s nothing usual about the final days of Martlet Visionary Products.

The Review

The author did a marvelous job of creating a unique reading experience that focuses on high-stakes business operations while also crafting memorable characters that readers will feel invested in. The amount of detail the author poured into the characters was amazing to see, as the business world felt alive and vibrant in the author’s novel, as did the businessmen and women who brought this company to life. The way the author infused humor and wit into the character’s interactions within this office setting and the issues protagonist Grayson faced were well-rounded and entertaining to see unfold.

Yet it was the tone and world-building the author did that really made this novel come alive. It is such a unique story as it really hones in onto the business theme and had detailed accounts of how the business side of things ran, elevating the characters and their own struggles as the story went on. Layering this into a story of loss and overcoming insurmountable odds, along with the theme of legacy, made this story really shine brightly.

The Verdict

A memorable, original, and highly creative read, author Jeff Costello’s “Surfing with the Bishop” is a must-read contemporary fiction novel. The funny interactions between the characters within this business world and the layered world and character growth the author introduced will definitely have readers enthralled, making this a brilliant feat of storytelling. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Jeff Costello served as a senior sales executive for 30-plus years, driving billions of dollars of revenue from emerging technology markets. He’s led worldwide sales teams that supported partners in over 100 different countries and participated in numerous company acquisitions. Having entertained customers for decades, he’s often boasted that he has, “fed more people than Mother Teresa, or at the very least, served better wine.” Jeff lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with his wife, Trina, and their dogs, Bentley and Bo. 

Author website

https://jeffreybcostello.com/

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Hardcover https://www.amazon.com/dp/1737501902

Kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09BT7C9YP

The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Three friends from their youths must reunite when their fourth friend dying of cancer summons them to the summer camp they spent their youth in, and must find the dreams they left behind as they face the challenges of their own lives in author Viola Shipman’s “The Clover Girls”. 

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The Synopsis 

As comforting and familiar as a favorite sweater, Viola Shipman’s novels never fail to deliver a heartfelt story of friendship and familty, encapsulating summer memories in every page. Fans of Dorthea Benton Frank and Nancy Thayer will love this new story about three childhood friends approaching middle age, determined to rediscover the dreams that made them special as campers in 1985.

Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where they called themselves The Clover Girls (after their cabin name). The years following that magical summer pulled them in very different directions and, now approaching middle age, the women are facing new challenges: the inevitable physical changes that come with aging, feeling invisible to society, disinterested husbands, surley teens, and losing their sense of self.

Then, Elizabeth, Veronica and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily – she has cancer and, knowing it’s terminal, reaches out to the girls who were her best friends once upon a time and implores them to reunite at Camp Birchwood to scatter her ashes. When the three meet at the property for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, another letter from Emily awaits, explaining that she has purchased the abandoned camp, and now it belongs to them – at Emily’s urging, they must spend a week together remembering the dreams they’d put aside, and find a way to become the women they always swore they’d grow up to be. Through flashbacks to their youthful summer, we see the four friends then and now, rebuilding their lives, flipping a middle finger to society’s disdain for aging women, and with a renewed purpose to find themselves again.

The Review

Such an incredible and emotional story, author Viola Shipman has crafted a truly beautiful and heartbreaking story of lost friendship, loss, and regaining that which has been lost in our lives. The multiple POV of these characters really brings a sense of wholeness and driven narratives to their story. 

So often in life friends drift away, becoming busy with their growing lives and diverging paths that take them away from one another. Yet less often is the events that bring us back together again. This narrative does a fantastic job of exploring the uncharted path towards unification with the people who made us feel like ourselves again.

The setting and imagery of the narrative felt alive and become a character all on their own. I love the flashbacks and letters from the early days of the Clover Girls that really captured the essence of the 80’s style era that part of the narrative took place in, and the pacing really helped with the friend’s journey to not only find themselves but to find the friendship that brought them so much happiness and joy.

The Verdict

A mesmerizing, emotionally driven, and engaging read, author Viola Shipman’s The Clover Girls is the perfect summer read for those who love women’s fiction and tales of friendship and the bonds we share with others. The author takes the readers on such an emotional journey and showcases how the painful reality of loss can sometimes bring and heal those who have been lost to each other back together again. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

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About the Author

Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for PeopleCoastal LivingGood Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.

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An Excerpt From The Clover Girls

SUMMER 2021

VERONICA

Grocery List

Milk (Oat, coconut, soy)

Fizzy water (cherry, lime, watermelon, mixed berry)

Chips (lentil, quinoa, kale, beet)

Cereal (Kashi, steel-cut oats, NO GMOs! VERY IMPORTANT!)

Whatever happened to one kind of milk from a cow, one kind of water from a faucet and one kind of chip from a potato?

My teenage children are seated on opposite ends of the massive, modern, original Milo Baughman circular sofa that David and I ordered for our new midcentury house in Los Angeles. Ashley and Tyler are juggling drinks while pecking at their cells, and it takes every fiber of my soul not to come unglued. This is the most expensive piece of furniture I have ever purchased in my life. More expensive even than my first two years of college tuition plus my first car, a red Reliant K-car that would stall at stoplights.

I still don’t know what the K stood for, I think. Krappy?

That was a time, long ago, when that type of negative thought would never have entered my mind, when the K would have stood only for Konfident, Kool or Kick-Ass. But that was a different world, another time, another life and place.

Another me.

Another V.

I steady my pen at the top of a pad of paper emblazoned with the logo of my husband’s architectural firm, David Berzini & Associates.

Los Angeles is the latest stop for us. My family has hopscotched the world more than a military brat as David’s architectural career has exploded. He is now one of the world’s preeminent architects. David studied under and worked with some of the most famous midcentury modern architects—Albert Frey, William Krisel, Donald Wexler—and has now taken over their mantles, especially as the appreciation for and popularity of midcentury modern architecture has grown. Now he is working on a stunning new public library in LA that will be his legacy.

I glance up from my pad. A selection of magazines—Architectural Digest, Vogue, W—are artfully strewn across a brutalist coffee table. The beautiful models stare back at me.

That was my legacy.

“Mom, can I get something to eat?” 

This is now my legacy.

I glance at my children. Everything old has come back en vogue. Ashley is wearing the same sort of high-waisted jeans that I once wore and modeled in the ’80s, and Tyler’s hair—razored high by a barber and slicked back into a big black pompadour—looks a lot like a style I sported for a Robert Palmer video when every woman wanted to look like a Nagel woman.

Yes, everything has made a comeback.

Except me.

I look at my list.

And carbs.

My kids, like my husband, have never met a Pop-Tart, a box of Cap’n Crunch, a Jeno’s Pizza Roll or a Ding Dong. My entire family resembles long-limbed ponies, ready to race. I grew up when the foundation of a food pyramid was a Twinkie.

I again put pen to paper, and in my own secret code I write the letter L above the first letter of my husband’s name. If someone happened to glance at the paper, they would simply think I had been doodling. But I know what “LD” means, and it will remind me once I get to the store.

Little Debbies.

You know, I actually hide these around our new home, which isn’t easy since the entire space is so sleek and minimal, and hiding space is at a premium. It took a lot of effort, but I, too, used to be as sleek and minimal as this house, as angular and arresting as its architecture. Anything out of place in our butterfly-roofed home located in the Bird Streets high above Sunset Strip—where the streets are named after orioles and nightingales, and Hollywood stars reside—is conspicuous. 

Even now, on yet another perfect day in LA, where the sunshine makes everything look lazily beautiful and dipped in glitter, I can see a layer of dust on the terrazzo floors. Although a maid comes twice a week, the dust, smog and ash from nonstop fires in LA—carried by hot, dry Santa Ana winds—coat everything. And David notices everything.

Swiffers, I write on the pad, before outlining “LD” with my pen.

David hates that I have gained weight. He is embarrassed I have gained weight.

Or is just my imagination? Am I the one who is embarrassed by who I’ve become?

David never says anything to me, but he attends more and more galas alone, saying I need to watch the kids even though they no longer need a babysitter and that it’s better for their stability if one parent is with them. But I know the truth.

What did he expect would happen to my body after two children and endless moves? What did he expect would happen after losing my career, identity and self-esteem? It’s so ironic, because I’m not angry at him or my life. I’m just…

“Why don’t you just put all of that in the notes on your phone?”

“Or just ask the refrigerator to remember?”

“Yeah, Mom,” my kids say at the same time.

I look over at them. They have my beauty and David’s drive. Ash and Ty lift their eyes from their phones just long enough to roll their eyes at me, in that way that teens do, the way teens always have, in that there-couldn’t-be-a-more-lame-uncool-human-in-the-world-than-you-Mom way. And it’s always followed by “the sigh.”

“I like to do it this way,” I say. 

“NO ONE writes anything anymore,” Ashley says.

“NO ONE, Mom!” Tyler echoes.

“Cursive is dead, Mom,” Ashley says. “Get with the times.”

I stare at my children. They are often the sweetest kids in the world, but every so often their evil twins emerge, the ones with forked tongues and acerbic words.

Did they get that from me? Or their father? Or is it just the way kids are today?

The sun shifts, and the reflection of water from the pool dances on the white walls, making it look as if we are living in an aquarium. I glance down the long hallway where the pool is reflecting, the place David has allowed me to have my only “clutter”: a corridor of old photos, a room of heirlooms.

My life flashes before me: our family in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York at the holidays, eating colorful French macarons at a café in Paris, lying out on Barcelona’s beaches, and fishing with my parents at their summer cottage on Lake Michigan. And then, in the ultimate juxtaposition, there is an old photo of me, teenage me, in a bikini at Lake Birchwood hanging directly next to an old Sports Illustrated cover of me. In it, I am posing by the ocean where I met David. I am crouched on the beach like a tiger ready to pounce. That was my signature pose, you know, the one I invented that all the other models stole, the Tiger Pose.

I was one of the one-name girls back then: Madonna, Iman, Cher, V. All I needed was a single letter to identify myself. Now V has Vanished. I have one name.

“Mom!”

“Lunch. Please!”

My eyes wander back to our pool. I would be mortified to wear a bikini today. I am not what most people would deem overweight. But I have a paunch, my thighs are jellied and my chin is starting to have a best friend. It was that photo in all of the gossip magazines a year or so ago that did it to me. Paparazzi shot me downing an ice cream cone while putting gas in my car. I had shuttled the kids around all day in 110-degree heat, and I was wearing a billowy caftan. I looked bigger than my SUV. And the headlines:

Voluminous!

V has Vanished Inside This Woman!

If you saw me in person, you’d likely say I’m a narcissist or being way too hard on myself, but it’s as hard to hide fifteen pounds in LA as it is to hide an extra throw pillow in this house. I get Botox and fillers and do all the things I can to maintain my looks, but I am terrified to go to the gym here. I am mortified to look for a dress in a city where a size two is considered obese. The gossip rags are just waiting for me to move.

My eyes wander back to the photos.

I no longer have an identity.

I no longer have friends.

“Earth to Mom? Can you make me some lunch?” Tyler looks at me. “Then I need to go to Justin’s.”

“And you have to drive me to Lily’s at four, remember?”

I shudder. A two-mile drive in LA takes two hours.

“Mom?”

Ashley looks at me.

There is a way that your children and husband look at you—or rather don’t look at you at a certain point in your life—not to mention kids in the street, young women shopping, men in restaurants, David’s colleagues, happy families in the grocery. 

They look through you. Like you’re a window.

It’s as if women over forty were never young, smart, fashionable, cool…were never like them, never had hopes, dreams and acres of life ahead of them.

What is with American society today?

Why, when women reach a “certain age,” do we become ghosts? Strike that. That’s not an accurate analogy: that would imply that we actually invoke a mood, a scare, a feeling of some sort. That we have a personality. I could once hold up a bag of potato chips, eat one, lick my fingers and sell a million bags of junk food for a company. Now I’m not even memorable enough to be a ghost. This model has become a prop. A piece of furniture. Not like the stylish one my kids are stretched out on, but the reliable, sturdy, ever-present, department store kind, devoid of any depth or substance, one without feeling, attractiveness or sexuality. I am just here. Like the air. Necessary to survive, but something no one sees or notices.

I used to be noticed. I used to be seen. Desired. Admired. Wanted.

I was the ringleader of friends, the one who called the shots. Now, I am Uber driver, Shipt delivery, human Roomba and in-home Grubhub, products I once would have sold rather than used.

I take a deep breath and note a few more grocery items on my antiquated written list and stand to make my kids lunch.

They are teen health nuts, already obsessed with every bite they consume. Does it have GMOs? What is the protein-to-carb differential?

Did I do this to them? I don’t think so.

Even as a model, I ate pizza, but that’s back in the day when a curve was sexy and a bikini needed to be filled out. I pull out some spicy tuna sushi rolls I picked up at Gelson’s and arrange them on a platter. I wash and chop some berries and place them in a bowl. I watch my kids fill their plates. Ashley is a cheerleader and wannabe actress, and Tyler is a skateboarding, creative techy applying to UCLA to study film and directing. Ashley wants to go to Northwestern to major in drama. They will both be going to specialty camps later this summer, Ashley for cheerleading and acting, Tyler for filmmaking and to boost his SAT scores. My eyes drift back to my photo wall, and I smile. They will not, however, spend their days simply having fun, singing camp songs, engaging in color wars, shooting archery, splashing in a cold lake, roasting marshmallows and making friends. A kid’s life today, especially here in LA, is a competition, and the competition starts early.

There is a rustling noise outside, and Ashley tosses her plate onto the sofa and rushes to the door. In LA, even the postal workers are hot, literally and figuratively, and our mailman looks like Zac Efron. She returns a few seconds later, fanning herself dramatically with the mail.

“You’re going to be a great actress,” I say with a laugh. Ashley starts to toss the mail onto the counter, but I stop her. “Leave the mail in the organizer for your dad.”

Yes, even the mail has its own home in our home.

“Hey, you got a letter,” she says.

“Who writes letters anymore?” Tyler asks.

“Old people,” Ashley says. The two laugh.

I take a seat at the original Saarinen tulip table and study the envelope. There is no return address. I feel the envelope. It’s bulky. I open it and begin to read a handwritten letter: 

Dear V:

How are you? I’m sorry it’s been a while since we’ve talked. You’ve been busy, I’ve been busy. Remember when we were just a bunk away? We could lean our heads over the side and share our darkest secrets. Those were the good ol’ days, weren’t they? When we were innocent. When we were as tight as the clover that grew together in the patch that wound to the lake.

How long has it been since you talked to Rach and Liz? Over 30 years? I guess that first four-leaf clover I found wasn’t so lucky after all, was it? Oh, you and Rach have had such success, but are you happy, V? Deep down? Achingly happy? I don’t believe in my heart that you are. I don’t think Rach and Liz are either. How do I know? Friend’s intuition.

I used to hate myself for telling everyone what happened our last summer together. It was like dominoes falling after that, one secret after the next revealed, the facade of our friendship ripped apart, just like tearing the fourth leaf off that clover I still have pressed in my scrapbook. But I hate secrets. They only tear us apart. Keep us from becoming who we need to become. The dark keeps things from growing. The light is what creates the clover.

Out the cabin door went all of our luck, and then—leaf by leaf—our faith in each other, followed by any hope we might have had in our friendship and, finally, any love that remained was replaced by hatred, then a dull ache, and then nothing at all. That’s the worst thing, isn’t it, V? To feel nothing at all?

Much of my life has been filled with regret, and that’s just an awful way to live. I’m trying to make amends for that before it’s too late. I’m trying to be the friend I should have been. I was once the glue that held us all together. Then I was scissors that tore us all apart. Aren’t friends supposed to be there for one another, no matter what? You weren’t just beautiful, V, you were confident, so funny and full of life. More than anything, you radiated light, like the lake at sunset. And that’s how I will always remember you.

I’ve sent similar letters to Rach and Liz. I stayed in touch with Liz…and Rach…well, you know Rach. For some reason, you all forgave me, but not each other. I guess because I was just an innocent bystander to all the hurt. My only remaining hope is that you will all forgive one another at some point, because you changed my life and you changed each other’s lives. And I know that you all need one another now more than ever. We found each other for a reason. We need to find each other again.

Let me get to the point, dear V. Just picture me leaning my head over the bunk and telling you my deepest secret.

By the time you receive this, I’ll be dead…

My hand begins to shake, which releases the contents still remaining in the envelope. A pressed four-leaf clover and a few old Polaroid pictures scatter onto the tabletop. Without warning, I groan.

“Are you okay, Mom?” Tyler asks without looking back.

“Who’s that from?” Ashley asks, still staring at her phone.

“A friend,” I manage to mumble.

“Cool,” Ashley says. “You need friends. You don’t have any except for that one girl from camp.” She stops. “Emily, right?”

The photos lying on the marble tabletop are of the four of us at camp, laughing, singing, holding hands. We are so, so young, and I wonder what happened to the girls we used to be. I stare at a photo of Em and me lying under a camp blanket in the same bunk. That’s when I realize the photo is sitting on top of something. I move the picture and smile. 

A friendship pin stares at me, E-V-E-R shining in a sea of green beads.

I look up, and water is reflecting through the clerestory windows of our home, and suddenly every one of those little openings is like a scrapbook to my life, and I can see it flash—at camp and after—in front of me in bursts of light.

Why did I betray my friends?

Why did I give up my identity so easily?

Why am I richer than I ever dreamed and yet feel so empty and lost?

Oh, Em.

I blink, my eyes blur, and that’s when I realize it’s not the pool reflecting in the windows, it’s my own tears. I’m crying. And I cannot stop.

Suddenly, I stand, throw open the patio doors and jump into the pool, screaming as I sink. I look up, and my children are yelling.

“Mom! Are you okay?”

I wave at them, and their bodies relax.

“I’m fine,” I lie when I come to the surface. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

They look at each other and shrug, before heading back inside.

At least, I think, they finally see me.

I take a deep breath and go down once more. Underwater, I can hear my heart drum loudly in my ears. It’s drumming in such perfect rhythm that I know immediately the tune my soul is playing. I can hear it as if it were just yesterday.

Boom, didi, boom, boom… Booooom.

Excerpted from The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman, Copyright © 2021 by Viola Shipman. Published by Graydon House Books.

The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Three women struggling in their lives take the opportunity of a lifetime by heading off on a road trip like no other in author Sarah Morgan’s “The Summer Seekers”. 

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The Synopsis

Get swept into a summer of sunshine, soul-searching and shameless matchmaking with this delightfully bighearted road-trip adventure by USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan!

Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves—what she needs—is adventure.

Liza is drowning in the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.

Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.

When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She’s not the world’s best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And traveling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?

As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it’s never too late to start over…

The Review

This was a terrific and engaging women’s fiction story. The use of three protagonists, each from a different generation with their own worries and stress, really added much more engagement and emotional struggle to the story. The characters just jumped off the page, adding some personal relation to me as I recently had my grandmother pass a couple of years ago, and the years leading up to that did add some worry and stress to our lives as she was very dear to our hearts, so the worry and stress Liza is feeling is something that I can easily relate to.

However, it is the bond and connection these women share amongst themselves as well as the emotional journey of finding themselves and who they really are, that make this novel shine so brightly. The blend of adventure and heartbreak as the story progresses really draws the reader in, and the adventure along Route 66 really added an extra level of imagery as the trip is so iconic and dreamed of by so many.

The Verdict

An expertly crafted, eventful, and entertaining yet emotionally driven narrative, author Sarah Morgan’s “The Summer Seekers” is a must-read novel for the summer. A beautiful story that draws on the strengths and well-rounded personalities of these strong protagonists, this novel promises to draw readers in from the start and speaks to a wide array of readers as a whole. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

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About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy, contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. Described as “a magician with words” by RT Book Reviews, she has sold more than eleven million copies of her books. She was nominated three years in succession for the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times: once in 2012 for Doukakis’s Apprentice, in 2013 for A Night of No Return and in 2017 for Miracle on 5th Avenue. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their Top Pick slot. As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London, England, with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing, she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.

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An Excerpt From The Summer Seekers

1

Kathleen

It was the cup of milk that saved her. That and the salty bacon she’d fried for her supper many hours earlier, which had left her mouth dry.

If she hadn’t been thirsty—if she’d still been upstairs, sleeping on the ridiculously expensive mattress that had been her eightieth birthday gift to herself—she wouldn’t have been alerted to danger.

As it was, she’d been standing in front of the fridge, the milk carton in one hand and the cup in the other, when she’d heard a loud thump. The noise was out of place here in the leafy darkness of the English countryside, where the only sounds should have been the hoot of an owl and the occasional bleat of a sheep.

She put the glass down and turned her head, trying to locate the sound. The back door. Had she forgotten to lock it again?

The moon sent a ghostly gleam across the kitchen and she was grateful she hadn’t felt the need to turn the light on. That gave her some advantage, surely?

She put the milk back and closed the fridge door quietly, sure now that she was not alone in the house.

Moments earlier she’d been asleep. Not deeply asleep—that rarely happened these days—but drifting along on a tide of dreams. If someone had told her younger self that she’d still be dreaming and enjoying her adventures when she was eighty she would have been less afraid of aging. And it was impossible to forget that she was aging.

People said she was wonderful for her age, but most of the time she didn’t feel wonderful. The answers to her beloved crosswords floated just out of range. Names and faces refused to align at the right moment. She struggled to remember what she’d done the day before, although if she took herself back twenty years or more her mind was clear. And then there were the physical changes—her eyesight and hearing were still good, thankfully, but her joints hurt and her bones ached. Bending to feed the cat was a challenge. Climbing the stairs required more effort than she would have liked and was always undertaken with one hand on the rail just in case.

She’d never been the sort to live in a just in case sort of way.

Her daughter, Liza, wanted her to wear an alarm. One of those medical alert systems, with a button you could press in an emergency, but Kathleen refused. In her youth she’d traveled the world, before it was remotely fashionable to do so. She’d sacrificed safety for adventure without a second thought. Most days now she felt like a different person.

Losing friends didn’t help. One by one they fell by the wayside, taking with them shared memories of the past. A small part of her vanished with each loss. It had taken decades for her to understand that loneliness wasn’t a lack of people in your life, but a lack of people who knew and understood you.

She fought fiercely to retain some version of her old self—which was why she’d resisted Liza’s pleas that she remove the rug from the living room floor, stop using a step ladder to retrieve books from the highest shelves and leave a light on at night. Each compromise was another layer shaved from her independence, and losing her independence was her biggest fear.

Kathleen had always been the rebel in the family, and she was still the rebel—although she wasn’t sure that rebels were supposed to have shaking hands and a pounding heart.

She heard the sound of heavy footsteps. Someone was searching the house. For what, exactly? What treasures did they hope to find? And why weren’t they trying to at least disguise their presence?

Having resolutely ignored all suggestions that she might be vulnerable, she was now forced to acknowledge the possibility. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so stubborn. How long would it have taken from pressing the alert button to the cavalry arriving?

In reality, the cavalry was Finn Cool, who lived three fields away. Finn was a musician, and he’d bought the property precisely because there were no immediate neighbors. His antics caused mutterings in the village. He had rowdy parties late into the night, attended by glamorous people from London who terrorized the locals by driving their flashy sports cars too fast down the narrow lanes. Someone had started a petition in the post office to ban the parties. There had been talk of drugs, and half-naked women, and it had all sounded like so much fun that Kathleen had been tempted to invite herself over. Rather that than a dull women’s group, where you were expected to bake and knit and swap recipes for banana bread.

Finn would be of no use to her in this moment of crisis. In all probability he’d either be in his studio, wearing headphones, or he’d be drunk. Either way, he wasn’t going to hear a cry for help.

Calling the police would mean walking through the kitchen and across the hall to the living room, where the phone was kept and she didn’t want to reveal her presence. Her family had bought her a mobile phone, but it was still in its box, unused. Her adventurous spirit didn’t extend to technology. She didn’t like the idea of a nameless faceless person tracking her every move.

There was another thump, louder this time, and Kathleen pressed her hand to her chest. She could feel the rapid pounding of her heart. At least it was still working. She should probably be grateful for that.

When she’d complained about wanting a little more adventure, this wasn’t what she’d had in mind. What could she do? She had no button to press, no phone with which to call for help, so she was going to have to handle this herself.

She could already hear Liza’s voice in her head: Mum, I warned you!

If she survived, she’d never hear the last of it.

Fear was replaced by anger. Because of this intruder she’d be branded Old and Vulnerable and forced to spend the rest of her days in a single room with minders who would cut up her food, speak in overly loud voices and help her to the bathroom. Life as she knew it would be over.

That was not going to happen.

She’d rather die at the hands of an intruder. At least her obituary would be interesting.

Better still, she would stay alive and prove herself capable of independent living.

She glanced quickly around the kitchen for a suitable weapon and spied the heavy black skillet she’d used to fry the bacon earlier.

She lifted it silently, gripping the handle tightly as she walked to the door that led from the kitchen to the hall. The tiles were cool under her feet—which, fortunately, were bare. No sound. Nothing to give her away. She had the advantage.

She could do this. Hadn’t she once fought off a mugger in the backstreets of Paris? True, she’d been a great deal younger then, but this time she had the advantage of surprise.

How many of them were there?

More than one would give her trouble.

Was it a professional job? Surely no professional would be this loud and clumsy. If it was kids hoping to steal her TV, they were in for a disappointment. Her grandchildren had been trying to persuade her to buy a “smart” TV, but why would she need such a thing? She was perfectly happy with the IQ of her current machine, thank you very much. Technology already made her feel foolish most of the time. She didn’t need it to be any smarter than it already was.

Perhaps they wouldn’t come into the kitchen. She could stay hidden away until they’d taken what they wanted and left.

They’d never know she was here.

They’d—

A floorboard squeaked close by. There wasn’t a crack or a creak in this house that she didn’t know. Someone was right outside the door.

Her knees turned liquid.

Oh Kathleen, Kathleen.

She closed both hands tightly round the handle of the skillet.

Why hadn’t she gone to self-defense classes instead of senior yoga? What use was the downward dog when what you needed was a guard dog?

A shadow moved into the room, and without allowing herself to think about what she was about to do she lifted the skillet and brought it down hard, the force of the blow driven by the weight of the object as much as her own strength. There was a thud and a vibration as it connected with his head.

“I’m so sorry—I mean—” Why was she apologizing? Ridiculous!

The man threw up an arm as he fell, a reflex action, and the movement sent the skillet back into Kathleen’s own head. Pain almost blinded her and she prepared herself to end her days right here, thus giving her daughter the opportunity to be right, when there was a loud thump and the man crumpled to the floor. There was a crack as his head hit the tiles.

Kathleen froze. Was that it, or was he suddenly going to spring to his feet and murder her?

No. Against all odds, she was still standing while her prowler lay inert at her feet. The smell of alcohol rose, and Kathleen wrinkled her nose.

Drunk.

Her heart was racing so fast she was worried that any moment now it might trip over itself and give up.

She held tightly to the skillet.

Did he have an accomplice?

She held her breath, braced for someone else to come racing through the door to investigate the noise, but there was only silence.

Gingerly she stepped toward the door and poked her head into the hall. It was empty.

It seemed the man had been alone.

Finally she risked a look at him.

He was lying still at her feet, big, bulky and dressed all in black. The mud on the edges of his trousers suggested he’d come across the fields at the back of the house. She couldn’t make out his features because he’d landed face-first, but blood oozed from a wound on his head and darkened her kitchen floor.

Feeling a little dizzy, Kathleen pressed her hand to her throbbing head.

What now? Was one supposed to administer first aid when one was the cause of the injury? Was that helpful or hypocritical? Or was he past first aid and every other type of aid?

She nudged his body with her bare foot, but there was no movement.

Had she killed him?

The enormity of it shook her.

If he was dead, then she was a murderer.

When Liza had expressed a desire to see her mother safely housed somewhere she could easily visit, presumably she hadn’t been thinking of prison.

Who was he? Did he have family? What had been his intention when he’d forcibly entered her home? Kathleen put the skillet down and forced her shaky limbs to carry her to the living room. Something tickled her cheek. Blood. Hers.

She picked up the phone and for the first time in her life dialed the emergency services.

Underneath the panic and the shock there was something that felt a lot like pride. It was a relief to discover she wasn’t as weak and defenseless as everyone seemed to think.

When a woman answered, Kathleen spoke clearly and without hesitation.

“There’s a body in my kitchen,” she said. “I assume you’ll want to come and remove it.” 

Excerpted from The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan. Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Morgan. Published by HQN Books.

Here I Stand (Beneath the Clouds Book 2) by Jessica Leed Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A beautiful story of finding one’s place in the world, overcoming overwhelming odds and discovering yourself all take center stage in author Jessica Leed’s “Here I Stand”. 

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The Synopsis

A compelling tale about redemption, unlikely relationships and an unforeseen event that will stir your emotions and have you reflecting on what is most important in life.

Healing from the past is difficult. Especially when it has a way of following you everywhere you go.

New beginnings are often faced with challenges. But not in the way Sienna Henderson could have ever anticipated when she comes face to face with an unexpected truth that will change her life forever.

The Review

A fantastic sequel to her first novel, author Jessica Leed has crafted yet another brilliant novel that is both emotional and gripping all at once. Sienna is a complex and memorable protagonist who takes the readers on a journey through some of life’s toughest moments. 

The complex and interweaving storylines really did create an enriching narrative that instantly drew readers in, from the protagonist’s journey not only to let go of her past and the people in it, but to open herself up to new possibilities, but also the supporting characters who had an impact on Sienna and vice versa. The author has a way of writing that really paints a clear image in the reader’s minds, and each moment in the protagonist’s journey really tugged at the heartstrings as readers visualized the novel’s plot unfolding. 

The Verdict

Evenly paced, well-written, and keeping the reader emotionally invested, author Jessica Leed’s “Here I Stand” is a must-read contemporary women’s fiction read of 2020. Engaging, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at once, readers won’t be able to get enough of Sienna’s journey and the author’s amazing ability to draw the reader into the narrative wholeheartedly. If you haven’t yet been sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Jessica is a school teacher, former fitness professional and dancer. She is originally from Bendigo, Victoria.

NINE YEARS and HERE I STAND form the two-part series BENEATH THE CLOUDS.

Connect with Jess:

Name: Jessica Leed

Email address: jess@jessleed.com

Website: jessleed.com

Facebook: facebook.com/jessicaleedauthor

Instagram: @jessicaleedauthor

Hate Crush (Filthy Rich #2) by Angelina M. Lopez Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A decade after he broke her heart, a young Princess must put herself on the line once more in order to save her kingdom by working with the rockstar she fell in love with in author Angelina M. Lopez’s “Hate Crush”, the second in the Filthy Rich series.

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The Synopsis

A fake relationship could help Princesa Sofia save her kingdom. Only problem: She’ll have to fake it with the man who broke her heart.

Ten years ago, wild child Princesa Sofia Maria Isabel de Esperanza y Santos fell in fast crazy love with heartbreaker Aish Salinger during one California harvest season. Now, all grown up and with the future of her kingdom on her shoulders, she hates him as passionately as she once loved him.

Even if her body hasn’t gotten the hate memo.

Faking a relationship with the now-famous rock star for the press and public will ensure the success of her new winery and prosperity of her kingdom. All she has to do is grit her teeth and bear his tattooed presence in her village and winery—her home—for a month.

Trying to recover from his own scandal, fallen superstar Aish Salinger jumps at the chance to be near Sofia again. Leaving her was the biggest mistake he’s ever made, and he’s waited ten years to win her back.

He never counted on finding a woman who despised him so much she didn’t want to be anywhere near him.

A war of wills breaks out as the princess and rock star battle to control their fake relationship. She wants to dictate every action to keep him away from her. He wants to be as close as he can be. She’s already lost so much because of Aish—e won’t be the reason her people lose even more.

But he also won’t make her break her life’s most important vow: To never fall in love again.

Read Filthy Rich Book One, Lush Money, available now from Carina Press!

The Review

A fantastic read! The author does an amazing job of creating a narrative for readers new to the series and fans of the first novel as well. The characters are well-rounded as they are filled with rich history not only between one another but by themselves as well, making their story shine even brighter. 

The story does a great job of bringing readers fully into the romance aspect of the narrative, making the tension and pain of their history together that much more engaging as a reader. However the inclusion of mystery and intrigue surrounding aspects of their shared past make this a good little mystery as well, giving an added layer of connectivity to the characters overall. 

The Verdict

A truly wonderful and engaging read, author Angelina M. Lopez and her novel “Hate Crush” is an evenly paced, heart-pounding read that readers will not be able to put down. A wonderful and rich cast of characters and entertaining story make this a must-read contemporary romance, so be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hate-Crush-Filthy-Angelina-Lopez/dp/1335459502

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hate-crush-angelina-m-lopez/1135551929

iTunes: https://books.apple.com/us/book/hate-crush/id1491603901

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/hate-crush

Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Angelina_M_Lopez_Hate_Crush?id=hDTEDwAAQBAJ

About Angelina M. Lopez

Angelina M. Lopez wrote “arthur” when her kindergarten teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. In the years since she learned to spell the word correctly, she’s been a journalist for an acclaimed city newspaper, a freelance magazine writer, and a content marketer for small businesses. Finally, she found her way back to “author.”

Angelina writes sexy, contemporary stories about strong women and the confident men lucky enough to fall in love with them. The fact that her parents own a vineyard in California’s Russian River Valley might imply a certain hedonism about her; it’s not true. She’s a wife and a mom who lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. She makes to-do lists with perfectly drawn check boxes. She checks them with glee.

You can find more about her at her website, AngelinaMLopez.com.

Connect with Angelina M. Lopez

Website: http://www.angelinamlopez.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AngelinaMLopezDC/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AngelinaMLo

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/angelinamlo/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19213274.Angelina_M_Lopez


And now, an excerpt of Hate Crush (Filthy Rich #2) by Angelina M. Lopez…


Aish pulled the bud out of his ear and straightened, never taking his eyes off her as he held it out. When she took the bud from him, she let her fingers linger. His fingertips were warm and that tiny touch sent a frisson down her arm.

She unwrapped the headphones from around her neck and stuffed them into her back pocket. But she didn’t move back.

“I’m a musician,” he said, voice low.

“I know.”

A corner of his mouth went up. “What else do you know?”

That he made every millimeter of her skin buzz. That he smelled like boy and sweat and ocean salt. She hated the nose-clogging scent of cologne. There was nothing fake about the way this boy smelled.

She pulled her long braid over her shoulder and tugged on it. “You’re from LA, your father designs clothes, your mother is a famous fitness instructor. Y…you’re very good at surfing, singing, partying, working harder on less sleep than everyone else and…oh, , ménage à trois.”

Shock, mortification, and humor created a palette across his expressive face. “Who said I’m good at threesomes?”

Sofia ran a hand down her braid and shrugged, all Spanish cool. “No sé. I keep my nose to myself. It’s everyone else who talks.”

When he grinned this time, he looked like he might lean down and taste her. “And what does everyone say about you?”

Sofia worked to maintain her smile. She wanted to be no one to nobody. She wanted to have nothing said about her. But even if she’d lived a cloistered life in a high tower, her story would be marred with her parents’ dramas and affairs and fights, ugly public episodes that stripped Sofia of dignity without her involvement. And Princesa Sofia hadn’t lived a cloistered life. Maintaining her dignity hadn’t been high on her list when she’d mooned the crowd from atop a Semana Santa float in Cádiz or when she’d waved drunkenly to the paparazzi from a movie star’s hotel balcony when she was supposed to be presented to the Queen of England. She’d been neither drunk nor sleeping with the star. But her humiliated mother had abandoned the duke’s bedroom she’d been occupying to drag Sofia back to the Monte.

She didn’t want to think about her scandalous past. She didn’t want to think about the demands of her future. All Sofia wanted right now was to be a dirty, half-naked girl wrapped around a beautiful boy in a wine tank.

“I know some stuff about you,” Aish said quietly.

Sofia focused on the air in front of his face and ran her hand down her braid.

“Your name’s Sofia. That’s…really fucking pretty.” He hadn’t said Princess Sofia. He hadn’t said Sofia de

Esperanza y Santos. Just Sofia. And he thought it was pretty. She focused again on his eyes.

“You’ve got a great accent.” The air between them felt like it was warming up. “You like grunt work, which is so hot it kinda hurts.”

Nothing about her royal status. Nothing about her reputation. He’d just arrived; perhaps none of the interns had told him about the princess in their midst. Perhaps his uncle had just said, “Make sure the new intern hasn’t passed out. Her name is Sofia.”

“You’re not wearing a bra.” Her mouth opened at that, surprised, as his eyed gripped shut. “I noticed and if you noticed I noticed, I’m sorry ’cause I don’t want you to think I’m a total fucking creeper and scare you away…”

“I don’t think you’re a creeper,” she said, reaching to brush her fingers over his clenched fist. Her breasts were so small she seldom wore a bra. But this boy acted like they were an irresistible temptation.

Aish opened his eyes. “Are you for real?”

Sofia smiled up at him, feeling helpless and foolish and floating.

“I mean, am I having some weird acid flashback?” His urgency seemed to express that it was a real possibility.

“Wouldn’t I be having one, too?” she asked. “And I’ve never done acid.”

“No, no.” He was a lit fuse aimed in her direction. “This could be my own personal hallucination. Because, what the fuck. My uncle tells me to go check on the new intern and inside a tank is a kick-ass, bare-skinned fairy girl listening to elf music. I feel like I’m tripping. Am I?”

With amazement beaming from her, Sofia shook her head.

He reacted like she’d punched him. “Fuck. Your smile. Can I kiss you?”

Copyright © 2020 by Angelina M. Lopez

Music From Another World by Robin Talley Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Two young penpals discover a far deeper connection than either realized during a time of the fight for social change in author Robin Talley’s “Music From Another World.”

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The Synopsis

It’s summer 1977 and closeted lesbian Tammy Larson can’t be herself anywhere. Not at her strict Christian high school, not at her conservative Orange County church and certainly not at home, where her ultrareligious aunt relentlessly organizes antigay political campaigns. Tammy’s only outlet is writing secret letters in her diary to gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk…until she’s matched with a real-life pen pal who changes everything.

Sharon Hawkins bonds with Tammy over punk music and carefully shared secrets, and soon their letters become the one place she can be honest. The rest of her life in San Francisco is full of lies. The kind she tells for others—like helping her gay brother hide the truth from their mom—and the kind she tells herself. But as antigay fervor in America reaches a frightening new pitch, Sharon and Tammy must rely on their long-distance friendship to discover their deeply personal truths, what they’ll stand for…and who they’ll rise against.

A master of award-winning queer historical fiction, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley once again brings to life with heart and vivid detail an emotionally captivating story about the lives of two teen girls living in an age when just being yourself was an incredible act of bravery.

The Review

This book is unique in that it speaks of the fight for equality for the LGBT community in the ’70s, yet can easily speak to the struggles facing that very same community today. The battle against hatred and violence not only from the outside world but the people who are supposed to love you most is felt strongly throughout this novel from both protagonists and those in their lives. 

Novels need to have an emotional component to a tale such as this, to keep the readers invested and to showcase the very real struggles facing the LGBT community, and the author does a fantastic job of creating a setting and characters that do just that. The conflicted feelings of identity, love, and friendship during this era that demonized anyone who didn’t fit into a specific box really drove the narrative forward, crafting a unique story that really speaks to the heart. 

The Verdict

An emotional evenly paced read with an impactful cast of characters, author Robin Talley’s “Music From Another World” is a stellar read that captures a gripping era of social change and the fight it took to get there. The brutal struggle of being surrounded by religious-based hatred towards an entire group and fighting to understand themselves, the protagonists bring readers on a whirlwind journey that many can get behind. If you haven’t yet, grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Robin Talley studied literature and communications at American University. She lives in Washington, DC, with her wife, but visits both Boston and New York regularly despite her moral opposition to Massachusetts winters and Times Square. Her first book was 2014’s Lies We Tell Ourselves. Visit her online at robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.

Social Links:

Author website: https://robintalley.com/

Facebook: @robintalleywrites

Twitter: @robin_talley.

Instagram: @robin_talley.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6469490.Robin_Talley

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Music-Another-World-Robin-Talley/dp/1335146776

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/music-from-another-world-robin-talley/1131130958#/

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335146779

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Music-from-Another-World/Robin-Talley/9781335146779?id=7833509719461

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/music-from-another-world/id1458725405

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Robin_Talley_Music_from_Another_World?id=yEy7DwAAQBAJ

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Excerpt

Excerpted from Music from Another World by Robin Talley. © 2020 by Robin Talley, used with permission by Inkyard Press.

Tuesday, June 7, 1977

Dear Harvey,

I hope it’s okay for me to call you Harvey. In school, when they taught us to write letters, they said adults should always be addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” but from what I’ve read in the newspaper, you don’t seem much like the adults I know. I’d feel wrong calling you “Mr. Milk.”

Besides, it’s not as if I’m ever going to send you this letter. I’ve never kept a diary before, but things have been getting harder lately, and tonight might be the hardest night of all. I need someone I can talk to. Even if you can’t answer back.

Plus, I told Aunt Mandy I couldn’t join the prayer circle because I had too much homework. Tomorrow’s the last day of school, so I don’t have any homework, but she doesn’t know that. If I keep writing in this notebook, maybe she’ll think homework is really what I’m doing.

I guess I could write to my new “pen pal” instead. That might count as homework. It would be closer than writing a fake letter to a famous San Francisco homosexual, anyway, but I can’t handle the thought of writing to some stranger right now.

Technically you’re a stranger, too, Harvey, but you don’t feel like one. That’s why I wanted to write to you, instead of “Dear Diary” or something.

It’s ironic, though, that my pen pal lives in San Francisco, too. I wonder if she’s ever met you. How big is the city, anyway? I read a magazine article that said gay people could hold hands walking down the street there, and no one minds. Is that true?

Ugh. The prayer circle’s starting over. Brett and Carolyn are leading the Lord’s Prayer again. It’s probably the only prayer they know.

We’ve been cooped up in the church basement for five hours now—my whole family, plus the youth group, plus a bunch of the other Protect Our Children volunteers. Along with Aunt Mandy and Uncle Russell, of course. The results from Miami should come in any minute.

You probably already know this—wait, who am I kidding? Of course you know, Harvey—but there was a vote today in Florida. They were voting on homosexuality, so our church, New Way Baptist, was heavily involved, even though we’re on the opposite side of the country. Everyone in our youth group was required to volunteer. I worked in the office Aunt Mandy and Uncle Russell set up in their den, answering phones and putting together mailings and counting donations to the New Way Protect Our Children Fund. We had bake sales and car washes to raise money to send to Anita Bryant, too.

You know all about Anita Bryant, obviously. You’re probably just as scared of her as I am. Although, come to think of it, whenever I see you in the newspaper, you look the opposite of afraid. In pictures, you’re always smiling.

Don’t you get anxious, having everyone know? I’m terrified all the time, and no one even knows about me yet. I hope they never find out. 

Maybe I should pray for that. Ha.

Okay, the Lord’s Prayer is over and now Uncle Russell’s making everyone silently call on God to save the good Christians of Florida from sin. I hope I can keep writing without getting in trouble.

Ugh, look at them all, showing off how devout they are. The only two people in this room who aren’t clasping their hands in front of them and moving their lips dramatically are me and Aunt Mandy, but that’s because I’m a grievous sinner—obviously—and Aunt Mandy keeps peeking out from her shut eyes at the phone next to her.

I’m not sure how much you can concentrate on God when you’re solely focused on being ready to snatch up the receiver the second it starts to shake. Maybe she’ll grab it so hard, it’ll crush to a pulp in her fist like one of Anita Bryant’s fucking Florida oranges.

I wonder what you’re doing tonight, Harvey. Probably waiting by your phone, too. Only you’re in San Francisco, and if you’re praying, you’re praying for the opposite of what Aunt Mandy and everyone else in our church basement is praying for.

It seems pointless to pray now, though. The votes have already been cast, so we’re just waiting to hear the results. There’s a reporter from my aunt and uncle’s favorite radio station in L.A. sitting at the back of the room, ready to interview Uncle Russell once we know what happened. Even though we basically already do.

My mom showed up at church tonight with a box of balloons from the supermarket, but Aunt Mandy wouldn’t let anyone touch them until the announcement, so at the moment the box is sitting in the closet under a stack of old communion trays. The second that phone starts to ring, though, 

I just bet Aunt Mandy’s going to haul out that box and make us all start blowing up those crappy balloons.

I wonder if you’ve heard of my aunt. She wants you to. She knows exactly who you are, of course—you’re her enemy.

Which makes me your enemy, too, I guess. I’m not eighteen, and it’s not as if I could’ve voted in an election in Miami even if I were, but I’ve still spent the past two months folding up comic books about the destruction of Sodom to mail out to churches in Florida.

I’m a soldier for Christ. That’s what Aunt Mandy calls me, anyway. And since I do everything she says, she must be right.

Writing to you instead of praying with the others is the closest I’ve ever come to rebelling. That’s how much of a coward I am, Harvey.

I wish I had the nerve to tell my aunt to go shove it. That’s what I’d really pray for—the nerve, I mean. If I thought prayer ever helped anything.

Shit, the phone’s ringing. More later.

Tammy

Burn Zone (Hotshots #1) by Annabeth Albert

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Desire and danger lurk as a seasoned fire rescue crew member Linc finds the younger brother of his late best friend Jacob joining the crew, stirring up old feelings despite a promise never to pursue anything that he made to Jacob’s brother years earlier in author Annabeth Albert’s “Burn Zone”. 

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The Synopsis

Danger lurks everywhere for Central Oregon’s fire crews, but the biggest risk of all might be losing their hearts…

Smoke jumper Lincoln Reid is speechless to see Jacob Hartman among his squad’s new recruits. Linc had promised his late best friend he’d stay away from his little brother. And yet here Jacob is…and almost instantly, the same temptation Linc has always felt around him is causing way too many problems.

Jacob gets everyone’s concerns, but he’s waited years for his shot at joining the elite smoke jumping team, hoping to honor his brother’s memory. He’s ready to tackle any challenge Linc throws his way, and senses the chemistry between them—chemistry Linc insists on ignoring—is still alive and kicking. This time, Jacob’s determined to get what he wants.

Close quarters and high stakes make it difficult for Linc to keep his resolve, never mind do so while also making sure the rookie’s safe. But the closer they get, the more Linc’s plan to leave at the end of the season risks him breaking another promise: the one his heart wants to make to Jacob.

The Review

This is definitely an emotional, steamy, and engaging read for those who like passionate LGBTQ romance reads with a hint of action, drama, and intensity. The character development and ongoing struggle of the characters felt relatable. 

From Linc’s growing desire and a mixture of guilt combining with his own identity within the fire rescue crew community he had been engaged with for years to Jacob’s desire to honor his brother’s legacy and finally earn the respect of his family and the people his brother and Linc had worked with for years, the struggles of these two’s lives when combined with the intense romance brewing between them made for a compelling read. 

The Verdict

A gripping evenly paced read, author Annabeth Albert’s “Burn Zone”, the first in the Hotshots series, is a must-read for any fans of the LGBTQ romance/contemporary genre. A fantastic setting and heart-pounding look into the world of fire rescue crews, the story of these two men, and the journey they go on together is something readers will not be able to put down. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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Buy Links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Burn-Zone-Hotshots-Book-1-ebook/dp/B07YCQ7VQW

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/burn-zone-annabeth-albert/1133792901

iTunes: https://books.apple.com/us/book/burn-zone/id1481346634

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/burn-zone-2

Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Annabeth_Albert_Burn_Zone?id=3eWxDwAAQBAJ

About Annabeth Albert

Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter.  In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children.

Connect with Annabeth Albert

Website: http://annabethalbert.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnnabethAlbert 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annabethalbert 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/annabeth_albert/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6477494.Annabeth_Albert 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Annabeth-Albert/e/B00LYFFAZK 

Author Q&A

BURN ZONE is the first book in the Hotshots series. What three words best describe BURN ZONE?

Danger, heat, and loyalty! All three words apply on multiple levels here! 

What is Linc’s most surprising quality?

His tenderness. Linc’s deep and abiding loyalty is what people notice first with him, but it’s his private tenderness with Jacob that surprised (and delighted!!!) me the most with him. 

What quality do you love most about Jacob?

Jacob is fearless and tenacious. He knows what he wants and he goes for it, full tilt, whether that thing is his older brother’s best friend, Linc, or smoke jumping.  

BURN ZONE is full of amazing tropes: age difference, grumpy & the sunshine one, older brother’s best friend, rookie/experienced expert, and hurt/comfort. Which trope was the most fun to write for Linc and Jacob’s story?

I knew going into this that this was going to be a deeper examination of best friend’s little brother trope.  I did best friend’s brother with At Attention (Out of Uniform, book #2), but the stakes were lower than they are here as far as the familial relationship. I wanted the characters to have to really grapple with some big feelings. And those feelings give rise to some of my favorite hurt/comfort scenes that I’ve done. All the tropes play together to make this one of my favorite books I’ve done—I loved watching my initial idea of angsty brother’s best friend evolve and grow with the other tropes. 

What would you like readers to take away from reading Linc and Jacob’s story?

Sometimes the heart knows what it wants and won’t stop until it gets its way. Linc and Jacob are meant to be, even in face of opposition and adversity. Their relationship is ill-advised—they work together, Linc’s his mentor, and he’s Jacob’s older brother’s best friend. On paper, they are terrible for each other, but in actuality, they are perfect for each other, the missing half to the other’s heart. They’ve been in love, in a way, for years and years, and all that longing pays off in explosive chemistry. I think what I want readers to take away from this story is “Trust your heart. The rest will follow.” If you trust in your heart, then all the obstacles can be tackled, one by one. 

Who was your favorite secondary character to write in BURN ZONE?

Garrick! He gets book 2, HIGH HEAT, coming to you in July from me and Carina Press! I can’t WAIT for you to meet Garrick and Rain! 

Where did the inspiration for the Hotshots series come from?

I wanted to do a Central Oregon series, and after spending time in the region on family trips, I was fascinated by how much of the summer season is dominated by wildfire risk. After writing Rough Terrain (Out of Uniform, book #7), I really, really wanted to do more parachute-loving characters, and what’s better than one hero who likes to jump out of planes? Two! And a whole team of them! I wanted to return to the team feeling from Out of Uniform with a close-knit fire community in a part of the country that I truly love. 

Writing about smoke jumpers in Oregon must have resulted in some interesting research for the Hotshots series. What’s the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve learned so far? 

So much amazing research! One thing that I loved finding out about was how smoke jumpers repair a lot of their own gear. They are responsible for repairing and maintaining their equipment and a lot of time that means sewing and other highly dexterous tasks that you might not associate with rough-and-ready firefighters. 

BURN ZONE and the Hotshots series returns to the ‘band of brothers’ feel readers loved in your Out of Uniform Series. What do you love about writing the ‘band of brothers’ feel into your books? 

I love loyal groups bound by more than just friendship or family. I love people brought together by a shared passion for serving their community. I love putting them in the sort of life-and-death situations that our real life frontline heroes face. Loyalty to each other goes far beyond a job. It’s a calling, and sometimes it results in sacrifices. I like to honor that hard work and sacrifice in my books and pay tribute to these heroic vocations. It’s inspiring and also fascinating, examining the community created by people brought together to serve the greater good. 

HIGH HEAT, the second Hotshots book comes out this summer. What can readers expect from Garrick’s story?

I loved every single thing about writing BURN ZONE, but Garrick was one of my favorite parts. He’s a foil for both Linc and Jacob, and he’s the sort of freewheeling, easy spirit that absolutely embodies the smoke jumping community. But what happens when that job, that community is threatened by an injury beyond your control? Garrick’s book was a chance for me to delve deep into what happens when life doesn’t go according to plan. But it’s also a tremendously fun book. There’s a dog in need of a home, a kinky new younger neighbor, a hot tub, and shenanigans aplenty as Garrick and his co-hero Rain, discover what truly makes a home. With the whole series, you can expect fire drama in the background and lots of adrenaline pumping, but also deep, meaningful feelings and warm, squishy endings.  

Remember, No Matter What; Chin Up, Tits Out by Miranda Oh Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman in love undergoes a life changing journey in author Miranda Oh’s “Remember, No Matter What; Chin Up, Tits Out”.

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The Synopsis

18 year old Hadley has led a charmed life, always knowing exactly what she wanted from it. She’d had her life distinctly mapped out in her head for as long as she remembered, but a chance meeting sends her into a tailspin…albeit a sensationally delicious one.

As she travels halfway across the world to fight for what’s hers, she stumbles time after time. It’s a journey of love, tears and learning; as she fights and attempts to overcome multiple hurdles standing in her way. 

The Review

This short and fast-paced read was engaging and dynamic from the very beginning. The author creates a unique coming of age story about a young woman who has a chance encounter that leads to a love story filled with ups and downs. The character dynamics and growth of the protagonist keep the readers entertained throughout the entire tale. 

While there is some crude language that would make this book more suitable to adults, this only enhances the character development of the protagonist overall. However, the only criticism I would have is in regard to the immigration process and the race relations of South Africa the author touches on. 

While the author does a good job of delving into this touchy subject in the background of the overall story, I would have liked to see a more rounded exploration of the subject from both points of view, to show there is a complex situation in South Africa and no one side is 100 percent right or wrong. However, this is just a minor thing that I personally would have liked to see play out in the larger narrative. 

The Verdict

A fast-paced and whirlwind coming of age story, author Miranda Oh knocks it out of the park with “Remember, No Matter What; Chin Up, Tit’s Out”. The story is unique and showcases the author’s unique tone and voice for storytelling, making this a must-read. Be sure to grab your copy today! 

Rating: 8/10

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About the Author

Author Miranda Oh Is your typical girl: She loves the sunset, loves long walks on the beach, world travels, and When not playing the corporate part she can be found sipping wine and spending all her hard-earned money on shoes.

Among her friends and family, Miranda Oh is known to be the storyteller of the group, always recapping crazy life stories and situations. Her personal experiences, emotions and fantasies are the inspiration for most of her books, so there is a little bit of her in every story.

“Remember, No Matter What: Chin Up, Tits Out” is the first of many novels you’ll be seeing from Miranda Oh.

Miranda’s work is sincere and heartfelt, sure to keep you up at night in more ways than one.

Make sure to click “Follow” on Miranda’s author page to follow her new releases.

Happy Reading!

XO

Best Books Of 2019

Hello everyone! This is Author Anthony Avina, and today I am here to share with you all the top reads of 2019 on my website. I’ve reviewed over 160 books this year, and as we close out not only 2019 but the decade, I thought it appropriate as we head into 2020 to look back on 2019 and see what were the top books of the year. So without further adieu, here are my top picks of 2019! 


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Best YA Romance: Again, but Better by Christine Riccio 

A beautiful story from emerging author Christine Riccio about the choices we make in life, and what we would do if we could go back and change things. A story of following your dreams, living the life you want and finding love, and how hard a person is willing to fight to hold onto that dream and that love. 


Best YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy: Nexus (The Androma Sage #2) by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

This exciting concluding chapter to the Androma Saga duology was a whirlwind sci-fi adventure in the YA genre. Authors Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg did a wonderful job closing this story out, creating a universe under the forced rule of a pair of siblings that seek control, but as a young outlaw turned hero seeks to save her makeshift family and stop this threat, the siblings find they are more pawns than true rulers in this quest, and an even greater threat is set to emerge on the galaxy. A must read sci-fi adventure! 


Best Fantasy: The Second Life of Eddie Coyne by Louis K Lowy

A brilliant fantasy driven narrative from author Louis K Lowy, which showcases the downfall of a father and husband and the journey he takes to find the true meaning of life and a life well lived. Finding what matters most in life and holding onto it as the protagonist struggles to find their way back home again, this is a fantastic read for 2019. 


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Best Mystery/Crime: A Shattered Lens: A Detective Preach Everson Novel by Layton Green

If you are looking for a great murder/mystery series to sink your teeth into, then the Detective Preach Everson series is for you. Author Layton Green’s second novel is a masterpiece of the genre, expertly crafting a murder mystery that pushes the protagonist to their limit both professionally and personally. This book serves as both the perfect continuation of the series and a great book for newcomers to enjoy as well.


Best Comic Book/Graphic Novel: Spider-Geddon by Christos Gage

While there were many great comic books in 2019, and many that I still need to read, out of all the comics I read that were published this year, my all time favorite had to be Spider-Geddon. A great sequel to the epic Spider-Verse storyline, the return of the Inheritors and the imminent threat they pose to the Spider-heroes of the Marvel Multiverse make this a thrilling read. Spider-Man is an essential hero to the larger Marvel Universe, and the comic book industry as a whole, and so exploring not only his story but the story of several other spider heroes in the multiverse is always a thrill. Add the terrifying and powerful threat of the Inheritors to the mix, and this storyline makes for a wonderful read. 


Best Contemporary Romance/Fiction: If Only by Melanie Murphy 

One of my all time favorite reads of 2019, Melanie Murphy’s debut fiction novel was a brilliant novel. The characters were engaging, the fantasy element of seeing various lives if the protagonist had made different choices was a great addition to the plot and yet it didn’t overpower the overall theme and romance of the story whatsoever. Its a story many people our age can identify with and the author’s voice and tone in the novel is entertaining, engaging and refreshing to read, making this a must read of 2019. 


Best Dystopian Thriller: A Single Light (The Line Between #2) by Tosca Lee

A great ending to another brilliant duology, author Tosca Lee has created a wonderful dystopian thriller that showcases the continued struggle for survival in the face of a massive breakout. Months after surviving the events of book one, the protagonists must fight for survival in a crumbling society, and as secrets threaten to tear them apart, they must find that which makes life worth living in the face of great danger once more. A must read novel of 2019!


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Best Science Fiction: Hybrid by Rebecca Henry

My all time favorite sci-fi read of 2019, my good friend author Rebecca Henry has created a fantastic story that delves into the best aspects of the sci-fi genre. Secret government operations, powerful aliens who have influenced society, time and space travel and so much more. It’s a sci-fi fans dream read and I highly recommend reading my full review to get a sense of this amazing novel. 


Best YA Historical Fiction: The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

If you are a fan of History’s Vikings or the legends of Norse Mythology mixed with historical settings then you will absolutely love Adrienne Young’s “The Girl The Sea Gave Back”. The novel is a sequel of sorts to “Sky in the Deep”, and expertly crafts a story of a young girl considered an outcast her entire life and burdened by knowledge of fate, and a young man striving to make a better life for his people years after the end of a decades long war. Its a great way of continuing the story of the original novel while focusing on new characters and a new period of time in this wonderful world the author has created. 


Best Mystery Crime Thriller: The Sixth Wicked Child (4MK Thriller #3) by J.D. Barker

The exciting final chapter in one of the best crime thrillers of the decade, author J.D. Barker’s “The Sixth Wicked Child” is the brilliant concluding story in the 4MK Trilogy. The shocking game of cat and mouse between the protagonist and 4MK is taken to new heights in this novel, as readers are forced to examine whether or not the series protagonist is the hero they’ve been led to believe, or will he turn out to be the villain all along? A twisted tale that pushes everyone to their limit, this was a phenomenal read and one of the top books of 2019 for me personally.


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Best Nonfiction: Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley by Carol Es

Last but certainly not least is author Carol Es’s book “Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley”. A heartbreaking and emotional journey, this non-fiction read was one of the best of 2019, and took readers through the author’s life as well as through the harrowing journey of being caught in the midst of a cult. It’s a gritty and realistic novel that will catch the reader off guard at times, but is well worth the read. Highly recommend!