Review: Sugar Street (Book #1: Sugar Street Series) by M.J. Pullen

40182855In the idyllic Atlanta enclave of Sugar Mills, four women are struggling to keep their marriages alive in the hectic whirl of middle-class suburbia.

Adventurous Jess adores her sportswriter husband, but he’s more likely to fall asleep than respond to her creative attempts at seduction. Delia agreed to an open marriage when she had nothing to lose; but now that the reality of her choice has settled in, she feels a void no direct sales commission can fill. Infertility has left ex-tennis star Carras feeling powerless and frustrated. PTA president Maizy is desperate for acceptance in the Sugar Mills community, and with her health-conscious husband.

Enter Parker, a gorgeous young tennis pro moonlighting as a male escort. Could a little well-orchestrated jealousy cure the marital blues? Will a risky scheme put the spark back in their suburban marriages, or burn everything they’ve worked for to the ground?

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Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 4/5 stars

The ladies of Sugar Mills are no joke and when they set their minds towards a course of action, there isn’t going to be any stopping them.  Jess, Delia, Carras, and Maizy are a force to be reckoned with, especially when their collective backs are up against the wall and their happyish lives are being threatened.

In the beginning, the plan was simple.  All four women, involved in long-term, committed relationships were simply looking to reignite the flame of passion in their partners by inspiring just the tiniest bit of jealousy.  If their husbands could see another man interested in their wives, maybe the heat, the passion, the recklessness, the spontaneity of days long would past, would find their way back into the women’s lives.  None of the Sugar Mills women want to see their marriages come to an end, but each sure would like to have back a little of what made their relationships so damn hot so long ago.

With the help of a well-placed friend, Jess, Delia, Carras, and Maizy agree to split the fees for a short-term “relationship” with one very hot tennis pro.  Parker is young, strong, talented, tremendously hot, and fully aware of his place in the ladies’ lives.  Parker is to be friendly arm candy, to be conveniently in the same places as the women, and to be utterly attentive to their presence.  With his youth and good looks, and just a bit of luck, each woman’s respective husband will see Parker as competition and work to reclaim what is theirs; that is, work a bit harder to keep their wives’ attention. 

As the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions . . . .

As the days go by, each woman does, in fact have her time with Parker and he certainly lives up to his billing.  He has all the right words, knows just when and how to boost a woman’s ego, and is the perfect listener.  To a fault, Parker is the perfect companion!  Unfortunately, Parker is also in way over his head and though he puts up a great front, his own personal life is in a shambles, and is going to have serious consequences for the Sugar Mills ladies.  If the fantastic four can’t figure out how the plan went so badly, so quickly each is going to risk losing everything they set out to preserve and improve. 

The Bottom Line: WOW and welcome to Sugar Mills!!  Sugar Street isn’t so much a romantic comedy as it is the story of four women who are trying to make sense of lives and marriages that haven’t gone exactly as the fairly tales promised.  Jess, Delia, Carras, and Maizy may be friends (mostly!) and a group, but they are also individuals with cares, concerns, and secrets they just aren’t willing to share with the group.  On the surface, the goal of each woman is the same, to reignite the passion in their marriage.  However, there’s a great deal of depth beneath the surface and as the plot unfolds, the reader gets four individual stories and four individual sets of circumstances.  Through their struggles, each woman reveals more to the group about her personal situation, her circumstances, and her real reasons for contracting with Parker.  What no one expected is how events unfold, how each woman rises to the occasion, and how the group comes together to protect themselves and their lives.  Overall, no matter how misguided these women were in the beginning, they came together to help one another rather than throwing one another under the bus to protect their individual interests.  In general, I liked the group dynamic, but I liked the woman as individuals even more, especially in the end when each was forced to face the consequences of her actions.  I can’t say I loved this book, but I did like it quite a bit and found the premise and plot intriguing.  By the end of the read, many things were resolved, but not all and there is quite clearly going to be a return to Sugar Mills and the lives of these four terribly interesting women.  I can’t wait to see what these four get into next time around.

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Mini-Review: Second Chance At Two Love Lane (Book #3: Two Love Lane Series) by Kieran Kramer

34964883Sometimes love is waiting in the second act…

In her professional career, Ella Mancini plays matchmaker at Two Love Lane but, in her personal life, she takes the stage at the Dock Street Theatre. Now she has a chance at a new role in a Hollywood movie that happens to be filming in Charleston—one that features a big-name actress, Samantha Drake. Long ago, Ella passed up a major audition while awaiting a marriage proposal. Not only didn’t she get the role; she never got the ring, either. Instead, her boyfriend Hank went on to become a huge film star…leaving her, and all her dreams, behind.

But now Hank’s back in Charleston, cast as the male lead in the same movie Ella’s in. In spite of the dramatic tension off-screen, he and Ella try to stay cool onset. But when their old feelings start to heat up—at the same time leading-lady Samantha tries to play cupid—all bets are off. How can Hank convince Ella, after all this time, that she’s the one he really wants to be with in real life—and that some happy, rom-com endings really can come true?

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Source: NetGalley          My Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: In the interest of fairness and complete honesty, I purchased and read the first two books in this series prior to diving into this installment of the series.  Furthermore, I will be the first to admit, on occasion, I love a sappy, sweet, give me cavities and/or a diabetic coma kind of read, but I think this book (and series) are a bit over the top, even for me.  I have absolutely no complaints about the mechanics of this read as the author’s technical writing skills and editing are quite good.  What somewhat put me off this book (and the series) are the main characters and quite unrealistic plots.  Each story, including this one is a bit too far-fetched, even for fiction.  I’m willing to go a long way down a path with an author, but this path has too many improbabilities for me to feel this could be real.  With all that being said, I did find one bit of this book (and series) utterly and completely wonderful.  Ms. Thing!!!!   Even though Ms. Thing is a relatively minor character in the book (and series), she has a huge personality and an even greater impact.  As the matriarch of the group, Ms. Thing provides emotional support to the women and clients of Two Love Lane.  She also provides tea, homemade cookies, sage advice, loyalty, friendship, and genuine care and concern.  Upon reflection, I think I only read all three books because of Ms. Thing and her big, bright, beautiful personality.  If you’re a fan of the super-sappy, super-sweet reads then I’m going to recommend this series to you.  However, if you like a bit possibility and probability in your romantic fiction, I’m going to have to steer you in a quite different direction. 

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Review: Deadly Dram (Book #3: Whisky Business Mystery Series) by Melinda Mullet

Deadly Dram

Distillery owner Abigail Logan discovers that high spirits are no match for a cold-blooded killer as the Whisky Business Mystery series puts a fatal twist on stiff competition.

It’s been a year since globe-trotting photojournalist Abi Logan inherited Abbey Glen, a whisky distillery in the heart of the Scottish countryside. To her surprise, the village of Balfour already feels like home, and her new business partner, Grant MacEwan, continues to be too charming to resist. But Abi has a history of relationship disasters, so she struggles to avoid an ill-fated romance with Grant. Steering clear is hard enough on a day-to-day basis, but when the two head off to a whisky industry competition together, Abi panics. Five-star resort, four glorious days of nonstop whisky tasting, and a fatally attractive Scotsman—what could possibly go wrong?

The night before the award presentations, with foreign and domestic whisky makers at one anothers’ throats, two judges are found dead under mysterious circumstances. What started with three dream-come-true nominations for Abby Glen’s whisky soon turns into a nightmare for Abi. With a killer on the loose, she must call on her investigative skills to stop another murder—before she gets taken out of the running herself.

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

For much of her adult life, Abi Logan made her way in the world as a photojournalist.  She travelled to some of the world’s most dangerous (and compelling) places, risking her life to capture photos that change the way humanity views, well, humanity.  As it happens, the most dangerous place she’s been is the whisky distillery she inherited just shy of a year ago.

With nearly a year in the Scottish countryside, two deaths, and a small herd of adopted sheep behind her, Abi is hoping for a little peace and quiet, for a run of good luck rather than bad.  As fate would have it, that good luck comes in the form of several nominations for Abbey Glen’s beautifully crafted whisky and a four day stay in luxury accommodations while the competition is held, and the winners voted on.   The cherry on top?  Abi gets to spend the four days with her deliciously sexy partner, Grant, and her above average naughty dog 😊 With nothing but good feelings and high hopes, Abi and her furry beast set off for the competition.

Of course, as the last yearish has proven, Abi can’t seem to get away from drama and death!  Within 24 hours of her appearance at the lodge, Abi’s delightful dog, Liam gets her kicked out of the all too serious hunting session (why kill it when you can chase and retrieve it?), she becomes involved (as a listener only) in a heated debate about the inclusion or exclusion of foreign brands of whisky into a purely Scottish competition, and a guy is murdered.  Oh, and the next night, another guy is murdered.  Can’t a girl go a full year without someone being murdered in and around her presence??? 

As the bodies continue to fall and the threat level rises, Abi finds herself, once again caught up in the investigation.  Though she isn’t an official part of the investigation, even the intrepid and exhausted Detective Inspector Michaelson must admit, Abi has a keen sense of people and knows how to solve a puzzle.  Michaelson isn’t stupid and knows an asset when he sees one!  With some poking, prodding, and flat out conspiring, Abi begins to put the pieces together and what she finds is a troubling past, broken hearts, egos that have been trod upon, and wrong doing that has never met with proper justice.  The puzzle is large, the pieces are varied and wonky, and if Abi can’t work it all out, someone close to her is going to lose their life. In fact, three someone’s close to Abi are in danger and time is of the essence. 

The Bottom Line:  From start to finish I was invested in this book and the outcome.  Abi has had a year to become familiar with the whisky business, but this crazy competition has alerted her to how much she still has to learn, and the darker side of distilling prejudice.  Yeah, that’s a thing!  True to form, Abi dives right into the investigation and doesn’t let up until she puts all the pieces of the puzzle together.  Along the way, Abi and her feisty little dog Liam (seriously, he has some great moments!) encounter anger, resentment, friendship, curiosity, loyalty, and pure confusion.  There’s a killer in her midst and as Abi evolves as an investigator, she also evolves as a person/character.  As always, I loved having the cast and crew from the previous books appear in this book and evolve right along with Abi and Liam.  Finally, as with the first two books, the reader will receive a crash course in whisky, distilling, and the industry as a whole.  While this information may sound dry and dull, it isn’t at all and it fits nicely into the story and is accessible to even the most whisky ignorant of readers, such as myself 😊 I’m ready for the next round, bartender!

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

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cover_The Witch of Willow Hall_Hester Fox_Graydon House Books_Oct 2 2018Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

Excerpt from The Witch of Willow Hall:

Gingerly, I get up, my legs full of pins and needles from sit­ting on the floor so long. Just like the night of the woman in the garden, I can’t stay in the library knowing that someone might be there. I must go and look for myself.

Even with the sun coming through the windows, illumi­nating the wood floors and catching the light of the crystal lamps, I feel as if I’m making my way through a dark, murky passage. My feet are heavy, as if they know something that my mind does not.

The door to the dining room is closed. It beckons me, yet repels me, exuding a sense of silent occupation. My ears buzz. A singsong chorus of whispers grows as I approach.

Are you ready?

I am here.

You attract them.

Are you ready?

Prepare for what lies ahead.

Prepare.

Prepare.

They mount and mount into a dizzying jumble of sound and I run the rest of the way to the door, my heart in my chest, my eyes squeezed shut. Grasping the knob, I fling open the door. The voices die away.

I knew it would be there. But it doesn’t stop me from gasp­ing as every part of me curls back in on itself in horror. My blood turns to ice.

Seated at the table is a woman, or what used to be a woman. She sits as if she has every right to be there, as if she has always been there. A veil covers her face, but it is gauzy and thread­bare, and I can see the contours of the features beneath. Her dress is old, black as night yet opalescent as the moon through a cobweb. Paralyzed with fear, I watch as it moves about her of its own accord, a soft undulation as if she were underwater. And though I can see her as clear as day, the veiled woman in our dining room, there’s a translucence to her, and the pan­oramic wallpaper is just visible behind her. She is like nothing and no one I have ever seen before, and yet she is familiar, as if I have always known her.

“Come, child.” Her voice comes from everywhere and no­where, and when her words are finished, I have the unnerving feeling that they weren’t spoken aloud at all, but came from within my head.

She beckons me with a knobby finger, more bone than flesh.

I can’t drag my gaze away from her face, the sunken holes where there ought to be eyes, the lipless mouth, all teeth and blackness. The cold pie that I just enjoyed churns in my stom­ach and threatens to come up. She beckons me again, and I imagine those long, terrible fingers closing around my neck and choking the life out of me. I imagine them raking me across the face until ribbons of skin flutter from my skull. I stand my ground, unwilling to deliver myself up to her. She is the stuff of my novels, a grotesque horror that titillates on the page, but sends terror into my heart when in the same room as me.

She gives something like a grunt, and as if able to read my thoughts, says, “One hundred and thirty years of death is not gentle on a body. Come, do not gawk.” I dare not disobey her, so I force my leaden feet to move a few steps closer.

The smell of decay and death fills the room, sickly sweet and putrid at the same time. My stomach clenches at the memo­ries the odor brings back of Emeline in her coffin. My throat is tight, my mouth cotton, but somehow I’m able to gasp out, “W-who are you?”

She makes a noise, something between a snort and a laugh, a scraping, rattling sound, though it’s devoid of humor. “Do you not know your own forebear?”

The blackness of her dress curls around her like a snake, but she sits as motionless as if she were carved of stone. Her still­ness is suffocating, it dares the house to be silent, and punishes the sunlight for filtering in through the window.

Warily, I come to a halt at the edge of the dining room table. I don’t know what she’s talking about. “Forebear?”

“Have you not looked upon me since you were a babe? Do you not recognize in me what flows through you?”

“I…” But then it comes to me. The lace collar, though tat­tered and black as her dress, is unmistakable around her neck. “You’re the woman in the painting. Mother’s ancestor.”

The inclination of her head is small, barely perceptible.

Copyright© 2018 Hester Fox

Praise for The Witch of Willow Hall:

“Fox’s spins a satisfying debut yarn that includes witchcraft, tragedy, and love, set in 1821 New England… The inclusion of gothic elements adds a visceral feel that fans of historical fiction with a dash of the supernatural will enjoy.” –Publishers Weekly

“Hester Fox’s THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL offers a fascinating location, a great plot with history and twists, and characters that live and breathe. I love the novel, and will be looking forward to all new works by this talented author!” —Heather Graham, New York Times bestselling author

“Beautifully written, skillfully plotted, and filled with quiet terror, readers will devour this absorbing, Gothic tale of romance and suspense. Perfect for fans of Simone St James and Kate Morton.” — Anna Lee Huber, the national bestselling author of the historical Lady Darby Mysteries

“Beautifully written, with an intriguing plot full of suspense and mystery, The Witch of Willow Hall will cast a spell over every reader.” — Lisa Hall, author of Tell Me No Lies and Between You and Me

 “I was entranced by this intriguing and spellbinding novel with its messages of love and loyalty and being true to who you really are. I hope Hester Fox goes on to write many more such novels–I for one will be buying them.” — Kathleen McGurl, author of The Girl from Ballymor

“With its sense of creeping menace and chilling undertones, this compelling story had me gripped from the first page. The vividly drawn characters cast their spell so convincingly, I couldn’t stop reading until I discovered what happened to them. A wonderful debut novel.”–Linda Finlay, author of The Flower Seller

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About the author and where to find her:

Author photo_Hester Fox_credit Stephanie Patalano PhotographyHester Fox has a background in the museum field as a collections maintenance technician. This job has taken her from historic houses to fine art museums, where she has cleaned and cared for collections that range from paintings by old masters to ancient artifacts to early American furniture. She is a keen painter and has a Master’s in historical archaeology, as well as a background in medieval studies and art history. Hester lives outside of Boston with her husband and their two cats.

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SWEEPSTAKES

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Spotlight and Sweepstakes: The Seeker (Irin Chronicles) by Elizabeth Hunter

 

The Seeker, an all-new standalone Contemporary Fantasy Romance in Elizabeth Hunter’s Irin Chronicles is NOW LIVE!

 

He’s a scribe looking for answers. If only a cagey—and frustratingly attractive—singer will let him help.

Summoned to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Rhys of Glast, Irin archivist and scribe of Istanbul, must convince a legendary Irina singer to trust him. His success could shift the balance of power all over the Irin world and give singers an important key to their past.

Meera didn’t call for Rhys’s help and she doesn’t need it. The scribe’s mission is to bring more martial magic into the Irin world while Meera has been looking for a path toward peace. She’s convinced that some other motive is at work, and his stubborn arrogance doesn’t pass for charm in her hallowed opinion.

Discovering ancient Irina magic should be something both scholars can agree on, but can these two rivals find any common ground? Neither Rhys nor Meera can ignore the simmering heat between them, but will attraction overcome the caution that has shaped both their lives?

THE SEEKER is the seventh book in the Irin Chronicles, a romantic contemporary fantasy series by Elizabeth Hunter, USA Today bestselling author of the Elemental Mysteries.

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SWEEPSTAKES

About Elizabeth Hunter

ELIZABETH HUNTER is a USA Today bestselling contemporary fantasy, romance, and paranormal mystery author. She is a graduate of the University of Houston Honors College and a former English teacher. She once substitute taught a kindergarten class, but decided that middle school was far less frightening. She’s the author of the Elemental Mysteries, the Irin Chronicles, and the Cambio Springs Mysteries.

Sign up for Elizabeth Hunter’s newsletter today and receive a free short story, “Too Many Cooks,” in your inbox. Newsletter subscribers receive monthly updates with exclusive short stories, bonus scenes, and contests. Subscribers also receive an alert when new books are released.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Waiting for You (Indigo Trilogy) by Kate McBrien

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Waiting-For-You-EbookDo you believe love can transcend time?

It’s only been a week, but Justin is miserable waiting for Lucy to contact him. He’s back in London for Indigo’s concert series and needs to get his head in the game, but his heart is back in America.

Stuck hiding out at her parents’ house in Los Angeles, Lucy is consumed with doubt and regret about her decision to stay behind.

When the Varangian Cross is sold to a private buyer in London, Lucy jumps at the chance to deliver the cross to the new owner and maybe reconnect with Justin.

Lucy arrives in London in time for another roadblock to their relationship: a serious allegation has been made against Justin, and the paparazzi are in overdrive, forcing Justin under cover just to make it through the concert series.

Finally reunited, their passion is renewed. But their nightmares have returned and are feeling more like memories than dreams. It’s time to find out the truth behind their connection.

Waiting for You is the second book of a contemporary romance trilogy.

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Excerpt from Waiting for You (Indigo Trilogy):

“Okay, once more from the top.” John counted off before playing the introduction to a new song.

Justin counted the beats in his head and looked up from his guitar. They were rehearsing in the legendary Abbey Road Studios. It was a spacious studio with honey-colored hardwood floors set in a herringbone pattern, with upholstered walls covered in reds and golds.

After a few bars of the acoustic guitar and piano, Justin sang a song he wrote for Lucy. Inspired by a dream he had after leaving California, it was the most romantic song he had ever written.

He lost himself in the music while playing his guitar and singing. He and Lucy watched a sunset turn into a deep indigo night sky as he shared his feelings for her. He had this dream the day after he left California and it had shaken him to his core. But unlike his earlier dreams of violence and the need to protect her from harm, this dream was more realistic than any of the others.

Justin closed his eyes, focusing on the lyrics about holding Lucy in his arms. His dreams had always been highly realistic, but this recent dream was more like a memory. It stimulated all his senses. He could not only feel Lucy in his arms, he heard the sound of male voices singing in the background and the sounds of a city below, as if they were on top of a building somewhere. The air was warm and full of exotic scents that he couldn’t identify. He shuddered as this familiarity washed over him. It was impossible. He had never shared a night like that with Lucy. As the song ended, he was exhausted and miserable.

“That was marvelous,” Graham said from the recording booth. “Let’s wrap it up for tonight. I’m feeling generous, so let me take everyone to the pub.” It was no surprise Graham was in a great mood tonight. He didn’t like the scandal that surrounded Justin, but he was delighted with the publicity that created renewed interest in Indigo. Tickets for the three concerts had sold out, and Indigo’s back catalog was selling well.

“Excellent.” John stood up from the piano and closed the fallboard over the keys. “I’m completely knackered. I could use a pint or two.”

Justin remained on his stool, pulling the guitar strap from around his shoulder.

“Are you all right?” John asked, gathering up his sheet music and placing it in a carrier bag.

“Yeah,” Justin muttered, rubbing his eyes.

Indigo’s other band members, Colin, Mike, and Liam, were gathered in the recording booth listening to the playback. Justin could just make out the song’s melody as it came through the slightly open door.

John frowned. “You looked like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Copyright© 2018 Kate McBrien

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About the author and where to find her:

Kate McBrien_squareKate has an MA in art history from San José State University and has taught art history at a local college. For many years, she has worked as a dental hygienist, courageously offering encouragement to her non-flossing patients.

She has always enjoyed writing but became more serious after being encouraged by a friend to participate in National Novel Writing Month. She began writing historical fiction but soon realized that the romance was taking over the history.

Kate is a Bay Area native who lives near the beach with her husband and Lola, their spoiled Labrador Retriever. When not writing, she enjoys cooking, music, movies, reading, and fangirling over Jamie Dornan.

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SWEEPSTAKES

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Spotlight and Excerpt: The Arrows of the Heart by Jeffe Kennedy

arrows_smallA STRANGER’S FAITH

As the Twelve Kingdoms and their allies are drawn toward war, a princess cast aside must discover a purpose she never dreamed of…

Karyn af Hardie behaved like a proper Dasnarian wife. She acquiesced, she accepted, she submitted. Until her husband gave her a choice: their loveless, unconsummated royal marriage—or her freedom. Karyn chose freedom. But with nowhere to run except into the arms of Dasnaria’s enemies, she wonders if she’s made a mistake. She wants love, security, a family. She can’t imagine finding any of it among the mercurial Tala.   

Worst of all is Zyr. The uninhibited shapeshifter is everywhere she looks. He’s magnetic, relentless, teasing and tempting as if she’s free to take her pleasure where she wishes. As if there isn’t a war rising before them, against a vile and demanding force far stronger than they. But with Karyn’s loyalty far from certain, Zyr offers her only chance to aid the defense—a dangerous gambit to seek out a land not seen in centuries, using clues no one can decipher. Together, they’ll have every opportunity to fail—and one chance to steal something truly precious…

Excerpt from The Arrows of the Heart:

As soon as the sky lightened with the promise of dawn, I dressed and went out.

Better than staring at the empty foreign sky outside the unglazed windows, waiting until it was time to meet the Hawks for training. I’d walk down to the market stalls and get breakfast and hot floral tea, then sit and watch the sea, try to pretend I fit in. That way I could at least be around other people.

Walking out of the little apartment they’d assigned to me in the cliff city of Annfwn, capital of the Tala homeland, I took a deep breath, hoping it looked like I only admired the view, instead of needing a moment to steady myself. It was a spectacular one, to be sure. Only a broad path separated my front door from a stone balustrade and then a sheer drop to the beach below. The gentle, tropically warm sea lay in shadow still, with the sun yet to break over the mountain behind me. Farther out, though, the sun’s rays hit the water, turning it an astonishing shade of aqua.

If I had to be stranded in a foreign land, forever exiled from my family and the future that had once shone so bright, at least I’d ended up in a pretty place. Until they kicked me out for being at best useless and at worst an enemy.

For the moment, however, I had coin—actual money, for the first time in my life—and I could buy some food to assuage my empty belly. One aching hole in myself that could be easily filled.

Resolutely straightening my spine—after all, I’d been the fourth highest ranked woman in the Dasnarian Empire, until I threw it all away—I turned my feet downhill, walking on the public path down the cliff face to the market level.

I hadn’t gotten more than one level down when I came around a bend and saw the child. Like all Tala, she had long, dark hair, hers in elaborate ringlets. She perched, weeping piteously, and squatting on low wall that bordered the road—with a sheer drop beneath. My heart skipped into a panicked beat. The Tala were casual about such things, but I couldn’t understand how. I wanted to seize her and sweep her off the ledge, then lecture her furiously.

Though I’d be speaking in Common Tongue, which I understood reasonably well now from my friend Jepp’s thorough—and occasionally pointed—tutelage on board the Hákyrling. The warrior woman hadn’t taught me any of the liquid Tala language. The Tala didn’t seem to have rules for me to cite, regardless.

Still, I’d never forgive myself if the child fell and I’d done nothing. Moving swiftly, I put my hands on her shoulders. “Careful,” I said in Common Tongue. Or rather, started to say.

Beneath my touch, the girl vanished, a pretty songbird exploding to wing in her place. I shrieked in reflexive shock, clasping my hands over my mouth. The bird returned to circle my head, then became the little girl again. If she were a Dasnarian child, I’d guess her to be about eight, as I had several nieces that age. The Tala didn’t age the same as normal people, though, so I couldn’t be sure. She stared at me owlishly, eyes a light shade of blue, and she said something in her language.

I held up my palms in ignorance. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“I speak Common Tongue,” she said, with a better accent than mine. “You scared me.”

You scared me,” I said sternly. “It’s not safe to be…” I trailed off, realizing that a child who could become a bird at a moment’s notice would hardly be vulnerable to a fall. What a fool I was, in this strange place where nothing made sense. “I heard you weeping,” I finished instead. “Are you all right?”

Her smooth face crumpled, tears welling up again and magnifying the pretty blue. “My aunt is dead, and my mother is sad all the time.”

Oh. How terrible. “I’m so sorry,” I said, wanting to cuddle her. I didn’t know the customs for dealing with children here, though.

“Why are you sorry?” She asked, cocking her head, much as the bright-eyed bird would’ve done. “It was the Deyrr sleeper-spies. She was out swimming as a fish and an undead shark ate her.”

I wondered how they knew what happened to the aunt, if she’d been eaten, not that I’d be so rude as to ask. The magically animated corpses that the Tala called sleeper spies didn’t eat, so probably the thing had just chewed her up. Did the Tala revert to human form after death? A daunting thought. I shuddered. “I’m sorry. That sounds very hard.”

“You shouldn’t be sorry. I know you didn’t kill her. And even though you’re Dasnarian, you’re not them.” She said it with such scorn and disgust that she sounded very nearly adult.

I didn’t know what to say. The practitioners of Deyrr came from Dasnaria, but no right-thinking people had anything to do with the cult and their black magic. Still, I felt some responsibility, that such a dark thing had come from my homeland to hers. Not that I could affect anything in this ongoing war. I was only a woman, not a warrior. I was also a refugee and dependent on their tolerance. How to explain that to an eight-year-old girl?

“You seem to know a lot about the war,” I ventured. No girl child in Dasnaria would know so much.

“I have a very good teacher,” she explained. “Zyr teaches us about shapeshifting, and we’ve been practicing how to fight the sleeper spies. I jump on them from above and make them confused by flying around their heads really fast. I can only be a songbird, so I’m not much other use in a fight.” She made a face, clearly disappointed with that.

Privately I thought Zyr shouldn’t be teaching the girls to fight anyway—and who knew the flirtatious, changeable man who plagued me at every turn was a teacher? “That’s more than I can do,” I said.

“Yes, all Dasnarians are mossbacks,” she replied with authority. “Zyr said. But you can shoot a bow really well, he said, too. You’re Karyn and a nice person. You won’t hurt us. I’m Thalia,” she added, almost as an afterthought.

I curtseyed, lowering my gaze. Zyr had talked about me? How…disconcerting. “It’s a privilege to make your acquaintance, Thalia.”

She laughed. “You’re funny.”

It just figured that a Tala child would find good manners laughable.

http://www.jeffekennedy.com/the-arrows-of-the-heart/

About the author and where to find her:

JeffeKennedy2Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award.

Her award-winning fantasy romance trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms hit the shelves starting in May 2014. Book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose received a Top Pick Gold and was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014. The third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books followed in this world, beginning the spin-off series The Uncharted Realms. Book one in that series, The Pages of the Mind, has also been nominated for the RT Reviewer’s Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2016 and won RWA’s 2017 RITA® Award. The second book, The Edge of the Blade, released December 27, 2016, and is a PRISM finalist, along with The Pages of the Mind. The next in the series, The Shift of the Tide, will be out in August, 2017. A high fantasy trilogy taking place in The Twelve Kingdoms world is forthcoming from Rebel Base books in 2018.

She also introduced a new fantasy romance series, Sorcerous Moons, which includes Lonen’s War, Oria’s Gambit, The Tides of Bàra, and The Forests of Dru. She’s begun releasing a new contemporary erotic romance series, Missed Connections, which started with Last Dance and continues in With a Prince.

In 2019, St. Martins Press will release the first book, The Orchid Throne, in a new fantasy romance series, The Forgotten Empires.

Her other works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion; an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera; and the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, which includes Going Under, Under His Touch and Under Contract.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

Cover Reveal: Seasons of Sorcery by Jeffe Kennedy, Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, and Jennifer Estep

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Coming November 13, 2018:  Amazon | B&N | Kobo

About the author and where to find her:

JeffeKennedy2Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award.

Her award-winning fantasy romance trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms hit the shelves starting in May 2014. Book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose received a Top Pick Gold and was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014. The third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books followed in this world, beginning the spin-off series The Uncharted Realms. Book one in that series, The Pages of the Mind, has also been nominated for the RT Reviewer’s Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2016 and won RWA’s 2017 RITA® Award. The second book, The Edge of the Blade, released December 27, 2016, and is a PRISM finalist, along with The Pages of the Mind. The next in the series, The Shift of the Tide, will be out in August, 2017. A high fantasy trilogy taking place in The Twelve Kingdoms world is forthcoming from Rebel Base books in 2018.

She also introduced a new fantasy romance series, Sorcerous Moons, which includes Lonen’s War, Oria’s Gambit, The Tides of Bàra, and The Forests of Dru. She’s begun releasing a new contemporary erotic romance series, Missed Connections, which started with Last Dance and continues in With a Prince.

In 2019, St. Martins Press will release the first book, The Orchid Throne, in a new fantasy romance series, The Forgotten Empires.

Her other works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion; an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera; and the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, which includes Going Under, Under His Touch and Under Contract.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

Spotlight and Sweepstakes: Shine by Chandra Sparks Splond

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Summer can’t come fast enough for seventeen-year-old tomboy Nia Mitchell who is dealing with the fallout of making her most embarrassing mistake ever, all for love. Desperate to put junior year behind her, Nia reluctantly accepts what seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, but is it? As she gets drawn into her new life, Nia fears she’s about to make another huge mistake, this time with the world watching. When her past comes back to haunt her, Nia wonders if it’s possible to turn her biggest mistake into her biggest blessing. Can life teach her that even when you mess up, sometimes the best thing to do is take a deep breath, paste on your biggest smile and find the strength to shine?

Excerpt from Shine:

THE PINGING OF MY PHONE nearly jolted me from my chair as I sat hunched over the computer pretending to watch YouTube videos of this new skating move I wanted to learn. I was hoping it would take my mind off everything that had happened the last few days.

I glanced at the phone and released a breath, glad it wasn’t another text from Fallon Hargrove or one of her funky friends.

“Hey, girl,” I said to my best friend Patrina Mitchum, hitting pause on the computer as I propped up my phone for our video chat.

“Hey,” she said. “What are you doing?” Before I could even respond, she leaned into the screen, peered at me closely then frowned. “Have you been crying?”

“I was watching YouTube,” I said defensively.

“Um-huh,” she said. “Seriously, Nia, what’s going on with you? You’ve been acting weird for almost a week.”

As much as I wanted to tell Trina what was going on, I couldn’t. Even though I didn’t think she would judge me, what I’d done was just too embarrassing.

“I’ve got a lot on my mind,” I said, pushing up my glasses.

“Like what?”

I glanced at my skateboard as my mind raced, trying to think of a reason. “I’m just worried about this job.”

I had been hired to teach skateboarding at Railroad Park—the first black girl to ever land one of the coveted positions.

“You’re still excited about it, right?” she asked. She peered at me again, like she was still trying to figure out what was going.

“Yeah, but—”

“But nothing,” she said. “How many other people do you know who are getting paid to skate?”

I hadn’t thought of it like that, but she was right. I had vowed to become the best female skater Birmingham had ever seen. When I was done, everyone was going to know my name. I laughed at the irony of the thought that everyone might already know my name. I took a deep breath, trying to tell myself things weren’t as bad as I thought as a text notification flashed across my phone, making me jump again.

“You want to take a break?” Trina asked, squinting at me again. “I’m about to head to the mall, and I was calling to see if you wanted to go.”

I frowned, really not in the mood. It would be my luck to run into Fallon or some of her funky-acting friends from school or maybe worse, my boyfriend Brandon Jackson who still hadn’t responded to any of my messages. I was better off just keeping it at the house.

“I promise we won’t be gone long,” Trina begged, looking at me with perfectly made-up puppy dog eyes.

I sighed, knowing she wasn’t going to stop talking until I agreed to go. “Which mall are you going to?” I asked, not that it really mattered.

“Brookwood,” she said.

I twisted my lips. “You know I can’t afford to be up in there. Even their sale stuff is expensive.”

“Nia Yvonne Mitchell,” she said, calling my whole government name like she was somebody’s momma. “What’s wrong with you? You can’t hang with your girl for a few hours while I apply for jobs?”

Trina and I were like peanut butter and grape jelly, although she wouldn’t like the fact that I was using food analogies to describe us. My skin color made me the peanut butter, and Trina’s dark color made her the grape jelly. I was a total tomboy, and she was a girly girl, but we balanced each other. Where you saw one, you saw the other. On the outside, we looked totally different, but our hearts were the same. We were definitely sisters from different misters. I’d heard someone say that once, and for us, it was true.

She had been sick the day of the interviews for Kids and Jobs—a summer work program for youth in the city of Birmingham, Alabama—so she hadn’t been able to land one of the positions. Lucky for her, she could apply for regular jobs since she was seventeen like me. We had both agreed working was better than being home. Not only would we get paychecks, but working had the added benefit of getting us out of the house. If I were home, Momma would have a list of chores ready to greet me every morning when I woke up. I glanced over at the one she had stuck to the mirror before she went to study for finals, making a mental note to make sure everything was done before she got in that evening. Even though technically Momma and I lived with my grandparents since we stayed in an apartment above their garage in West End, Momma insisted we not impose on them, which meant we typically did our own cleaning and sometimes cooking.

“So are you coming?” Trina asked, breaking into my thoughts.

“Yeah,” I said, “but you knew that before you called.” Trina always supported me, and I wanted to be there for her too. “I need to get Momma a gift anyway.”

Momma was graduating from Cumberland School of Law the following week. I still had no clue what to get her, but I was hoping inspiration would strike.

“Cool,” Trina said. “I’ll treat you to lunch, and we can go to Great American Cookies for dessert. If we have time, bring your skateboard, and we can even go to the park.”

“I’m in,” I said, shutting down the computer at the mention of the word park. Maybe Brandon would be there and we could finally talk. “Why didn’t you say that when you first called?”

“Because I like messing with you,” she teased. “I know how much you hate going to the mall.”

“You also know how much I love skating—and food,” I said. “Give me ten minutes.”

Momma had started joking that it was a good thing I loved skating because as much as I liked to eat, I should be as big as a house. Instead, all the food seemed to go to my feet. At five-ten, I towered over Trina and most of the girls at Grover, wore a size ten shoe, and was thinner than a dollar bill as my granddaddy Big G liked to say.

By the time Trina and I made it to the mall, it felt like the temperature had gone up another thirty degrees. The weather in Birmingham had been crazy for the last few months, so since the highs were only in the forties the day before, I had thrown on my favorite red zip-up hoodie over a white t-shirt with Skater in graffiti letters across the front, a pair of ripped-up jeans and my black Converse.

Bad decision.

Sweat had already soaked through my t-shirt on the walk from the underground parking deck to Sky Cosmetics, a new store that had just opened.

While Trina filled out job applications, I roamed the mall for about thirty minutes before I realized I had to pee. On the way to the bathroom, I spotted another new store called Salzburg’s that had little trinkets on display and decided to stop in, thinking maybe I could get one as a graduation gift for Momma.

“Hi,” I said as I walked into the store.

The saleswoman glanced up, but she didn’t say a word, so I thought she hadn’t heard me. I shrugged and headed over to a clearance table.

“May I help you?” the woman asked as I picked up a snow globe, glanced at the price underneath and frowned at the fifty-dollar price tag.

“Just looking,” I said, glancing up at her as I replaced the globe.

She turned up her nose and gazed at me from the tips of my worn sneakers to my glasses and chipped tooth, which had happened a few weeks ago at the skate park. I turned my back to her and rolled my eyes. Another thing I hated about Brookwood was the way some of the people looked at you like they were better than you or something. I picked up a statue and quickly put it down when I realized it was seventy-five dollars.

I knew being in the store was a waste of my time, so I turned toward the exit, only to find the woman still glaring at me as she stood a few feet away.

“May I use your restroom?” I asked, thinking maybe I could get something out of my visit.

“It’s for paying customers only,” she said, crossing her arms and turning up her nose.

I held up the statue. “I’m going to buy this as soon as I come out,” I said, knowing that wasn’t going to happen. The way she was watching me though had me real curious to see how she was going to respond.

She gave this chirpy laugh that matched her bird-looking appearance and sniffed. “We both know you can’t afford anything in here,” she said. “Please leave.”

I just stood there, not sure I had heard her correctly.

“Don’t make me call the cops,” she threatened.

“But I haven’t done anything,” I said.

“You haven’t done anything—yet. You people get on my nerves. I don’t know why you’re allowed in here.”

I stood there in shock for a second, telling myself she really wasn’t serious, but when she headed for the phone, I knew she was, and I hightailed it to the exit. I was not trying to be placed in handcuffs or go viral on the internet.

The thought made me pause for a second when I realized thanks to Brandon and Fallon, I might already be all over social media.

I went to the bathroom near the food court then headed to Books-A-Million, hoping Trina would eventually come in there looking for me since I had left my phone at home and couldn’t text her.

I flipped through the latest People magazine, stopping when I caught a brief glimpse of the finest guy I had ever seen. I just stared, realizing it had to be his eyes that drew me in.

“Hello, Matthew Cook,” I said when I saw the headline that revealed who he was. I guess I had spoken out loud based on the way the woman standing next to me was giving me the side eye.

I skimmed the article, seeing what other information there was about Matthew Cook. There wasn’t much, other than he was eighteen and from a small southern town. I made a mental note to Google him later and to set my DVR for his show King Penn, a modern version of that old show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I couldn’t help but gaze at Matthew Cook’s Hershey brown skin, espresso eyes and sexy smile. I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like he might have a dimple.

I tucked the magazine under my arm and flipped through a few more until Trina showed up about twenty minutes later with a Sky Cosmetics bag in her hand.

“Now how did I know you’d be here?” she asked. “I tried texting you.”

I shrugged. “I left my phone at home.” I pulled the magazine from under my arm. “Look at this,” I said, flipping back to the article and pointing at the picture of Matthew Cook.

She glanced at him and nodded, which wasn’t the reaction I was expecting.

“You don’t think he’s fine?” I asked, frowning.

“He’s alright,” she said, shrugging.

I cut my eyes at her. “Are we looking at the same person?” I asked, tapping on the picture.

She shrugged and turned her attention to Allure magazine, so I changed the subject. “How did things go? I thought you were job hunting,” I said, nodding at her bag.

She grinned. “There’s always time to shop. I decided to treat myself since I got a job at Great American Cookies—Sky Cosmetics wasn’t hiring. The cookie company manager said he liked how professional I was. When he saw on my résumé that I went to Grover, he told me he graduated from there a few years ago and interviewed me on the spot.”

“If he graduated from Grover, why is he working at Great American Cookies?” I asked. It was pretty common knowledge that for the most part only the top students got accepted at Grover, and most went on to graduate from really great colleges.

“He’s in grad school at UAB,” she explained.

I nodded and put the magazine back after casting one last glance at Matthew Cook. “Congrats,” I said, turning to give her a hug. “After I get my first check, we’ll have to celebrate. My treat.”

“Sounds good to me,” Trina said, “but I’ve got you until then.”

As we waited in line at Chick-fil-A, I told Trina about my experience at Salzburg’s. She just shook her head. As we placed our orders and she pulled out her wallet. Part of me felt bad for letting her pay, even though I knew she didn’t mind. It was another way we were different. Trina got an allowance, and I didn’t ask Momma for money unless I really needed it. With Momma attending law school and only working part time, things were kind of tight. Momma was an only child and got pregnant with me when she was fifteen. Since my grandparents helped her so much with me while she finished high school and college, Momma tried not to ask them for anything. Now that she was finishing law school, I was hoping things were going to get better for us financially soon—and that I could get my tooth fixed. Momma still had to pass the bar exam after graduation and was planning on taking it in July.

“So did you find anything for your mom?” Trina asked, already knowing the answer since I didn’t have any bags.

I shook my head. I had gotten so caught up in what had happened at Salzburg’s and reading about Matthew Cook that I had forgotten about Momma’s gift. “You want to go to Walmart?” I asked, figuring I could at least get a card.

“Okay,” Trina said. “As soon as you tell me what’s really going on.” She stared at me, and I sighed, knowing she wasn’t going to budge until I told her.

“Brandon texted to wish me a happy birthday last week…”

At the mention of Brandon’s name, Trina frowned. It was no secret that she couldn’t stand him. She didn’t understand why I liked him. For the most part, she kept her thoughts to herself though.

I paused, not sure how to tell her.

“He asked me to send him a picture…”

Her frown deepened. “What kind of picture?”

I hesitated, not believing what I was about to admit. “Of me, with no clothes on.”

“And you did it?” She said the words so loud the women at the table next to us looked over at us curiously. “Sorry.”

My peanut butter–colored cheeks turned as red as my sweatshirt, which I had taken off and tied around my waist.

I took a sip of my lemonade in response.

“Nia,” she said. “You didn’t.”

My eyes filled with tears again as the memory of the last few days came flooding back. “He sent the picture out, and apparently Fallon got it. I’ve been getting all of these crazy texts…”

I shuddered, thinking of some of the things that had been said to me.

“Fallon and her friends cornered me in the bathroom the other day… Let’s just say it wasn’t a nice conversation.”

Trina narrowed her eyes. “Are you okay?” She scanned me as I nodded, and when she was satisfied I hadn’t been harmed physically, she went in. “She gets on my nerves. What is her deal?” she asked, not really wanting an answer.

Fallon, Trina and I had been friends—best friends actually—since sixth grade. We would have sleepovers, and we pretty much did everything together. That all changed freshman year at Grover. Fallon just stopped hanging with us. No explanation or anything. Suddenly whenever Trina and I walked by Fallon and her new friends, I was called the tomboy and Trina was the freak. Last week was the first time Fallon had said anything to me in years, all because of a picture I didn’t even send to her. It just didn’t make any sense.

“So why didn’t you tell me?” Trina asked as we dumped our trash.

“I was embarrassed,” I admitted. “I know you don’t like Brandon—”

“He’s a jerk,” she said. “He doesn’t deserve you.”

“He just has a hard time expressing his feelings,” I explained.

“Why are you defending him?” she asked, frowning.

“I’m not,” I said, but my words sounded weak, even to my own ears.

“Have you talked to him since you sent him the picture?”

“No,” I admitted.

Trina just stared at me.

“What?” I finally snapped.

“I’m sorry you’re going through this,” she said.

I don’t know what I expected her to say, but that wasn’t it. Tears filled my eyes, and she led me over to a private corridor where I finally let the tears flow.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I feel so stupid. He’s been asking me to send the picture for months, and I finally just got tired of him asking. I figured if I sent it, he would be happy and stop bugging me. Now I haven’t heard from him, and Fallon and her friends and who knows who else knows about it. Do you know how embarrassing this is?”

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “What can I do to help?”

“Just have my back,” I said. “I don’t want to, but if things get any worse, I may have to fight.”

bit.ly/Shine_ebook

About the author:

Image and video hosting by TinyPicChandra Sparks Splond is a blogger, editor, speaker and award-winning author. Her young adult novel Make It Work was named Alabama’s Great Read 2017, Spin It Like That was chosen as a Popular Paperback for Young Adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), and The Pledge was a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. Black Pearls Magazine honored Splond as a Legends & Leaders for 2017 for her blog, Book of Splond (formerly known as Magic City Momma).

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Quick Fall (Book #2: Tracy Brothers Series) by Michelle Dayton

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QuickFall_500pixJustin Tracy, the perennial life of the party, is used to being teased by his friends about his success with the ladies.  Not that he’ll ever get serious with one.  Why should he?  His life is absolutely perfect the way it is. But at his brother’s bachelor party, a drunken bet about his womanizing skill gets a little out of control. Before he knows it, his friends have invited his new tenant – a woman he’s never even met – to go to his brother’s wedding with him.

Single mom Maddy Trainor has just moved back to Chicago, ready to reclaim her life and conquer the city.  Maddy’s determined to get her new business off the ground and build a happy home for her son, Teddy.   She didn’t expect a gorgeous landlord, but ogling Justin Tracy is definitely a bonus to her new apartment.

Justin intends to apologize to Maddy for the out-of-the-blue wedding invitation and get gone, but his new neighbor turns out to be funny, whip-smart, and sexy as hell.  Why not take her to the wedding for real?  Just as friends, of course.  To Maddy, the wedding – one night of champagne and dancing with a self-admitted Peter Pan – sounds like amazing no-strings fun.  But the sparks that blaze between the two of them can’t be contained to one night.  And two people who think they have life figured out are about to realize they know nothing about love …

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Excerpt from Quick Fall (Book #2: Tracy Brothers Series):

Ding!

                Justin caught her hand and pulled her out of the elevator before the doors even had a chance to fully open. “I’m all the way at the end of the hall.”

He was walking too fast for her sore feet; she tripped in her heels. “Wait. Slow down. My feet. Blisters.”

                He assessed the complicated gold sandals. “How long does it take to get those off?”

                Given the tiny buckle on the ankle strap … with the way her hands were shaking… She sighed. “Two minutes.”

                He grinned, mischief sparking in his eyes. “That’s two minutes too long.” Without another word, he lunged forward and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold.

                Maddy shrieked. She’d never been picked up literally by a man before. Upside down, she felt both ridiculous and ridiculously feminine. Uncontrolled laugher—her noisy, high-pitched kind—bubbled out of her mouth. She wouldn’t have thought she could move from unspeakable arousal to hysterical laughter in the space of five seconds, but apparently that’s what Justin did to her.

 “Almost there,” he called.

                Another thirty seconds and he carefully set her down. She clung to his shoulders until she stopped quivering. Eyes sparkling, Justin inserted the key card into the lock. “After you.”

“Oh,” she breathed. The room was so pretty. Dark wood furniture, a crisp, white duvet on the bed, and an incredible view of Michigan Avenue.

                “The hotel sent up a bottle of champagne as a thank you,” Justin said. “Can I pour you a glass?”

                “Please.” She’d stopped drinking at the wedding once the dancing had started. Since that was more than three hours ago, she was stone-cold sober now. And since the laughter had subsided and the fact that she was in a hotel room with a man was sinking in, a glass of liquid courage would be very welcome indeed.

                Although … she wasn’t nervous, actually. There was nothing to be nervous about. She was a grown woman whose child was perfectly safe. For once, her legs were shaved and her bikini area was waxed. She was with a no-strings-attached man, but one who was genuinely kind and committed to his family. Someone funny. Someone trustworthy.

Justin handed her a glass of champagne and finished removing his bow tie.

                Someone unbelievably gorgeous. Someone who wanted her badly, if his hungry expression was anything to go by.

She set her champagne glass on the nightstand and slowly turned. “Unzip me?”

Copyright © 2018 Michelle Dayton

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About the author and where to find her:

Michelle_0074There are only three things Michelle Dayton loves more than sexy and suspenseful novels: her family, the city of Chicago, and Mr. Darcy. Michelle dreams of a year of world travel – as long as the trip would include weeks and weeks of beach time. As a bourbon lover and unabashed wine snob, Michelle thinks heaven is discussing a good book over an adult beverage.

  Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | BookBub

SWEEPSTAKES

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Mini-Review: The Love Letter by Rachel Hauck

Love LetterWith the colonies at war and his country divided, Hamilton Lightfoot must choose sides: Fight for the British Crown or for the Independence of America. But after witnessing the death of his family at the hands of redcoats, he fears he’ll fight for revenge instead of honor. On the verge of a great battle, he pens a letter to Esther, the woman he loves.  Esther Longfellow is in love with Hamilton, but her father is a loyalist, living in upcountry South Carolina and working for a wealthy British lord. When the Revolutionary War comes to her doorstep she is forced to choose between devotion to her father and her love for Hamilton.  Chloe Daschle is the daughter of Hollywood royalty—a great director and an Oscar-winning actress. Yet her career has taken an unexpected turn: She’s the queen of death scenes. Trying to break out, she accepts a supporting role in a revolutionary war film. But she longs for the perfect role and the perfect real-life romance. Does happily ever after only exist in the movies?  After a life-changing tragedy, MIT graduate Jesse Gates decides to leave his life behind and move to LA to try his hand at acting and screenwriting. When he finds a page from one of his ancestor’s letters, he becomes consumed with the love he finds there. Determined to help his grandfather find happiness at the end of his life, Jesse writes and sells a screenplay based on the events surrounding the lost love of previous generations.  When Jesse meets the woman he has cast to play Esther Longfellow—his grandfather’s one true love—the stories of all four collide across time and space. The love letter from the past might have more power to affect the future than any of them could have imagined.

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  While I generally love a book where the past meets the present, I had a hard time with that concept in this book.  What I found difficult to deal with is the fact that Esther and Hamilton’s story is so compelling it can easily stand on its own as a proper historical fiction.  While I liked, Chloe and Jesse well enough, I don’t feel like their contemporary journey added at all to the overall read. I often found myself rushing through the Chloe and Jesse chapters, so I could get back to the Esther and Hamilton chapters.  Between the Revolutionary War setting, the emotional conflict, and the inevitable parting of ways, I found Esther and Hamilton to be absolutely fascinating.  What’s more, the ending!!  I am a huge fan of a good epilogue and the last several chapters really served as a wonderfully extended epilogue.  Finding out the fate of Esther of Hamilton, how their lives unfolded was so very, very satisfying.  As always, Hauck’s writing style is smooth and easy, punctuated with dialogue that is pointed, precise, and interesting.  Hauck’s characters (in this case only Esther and Hamilton!) are so big, they overtake every other aspect of the read, and that is one of my favorite things about reading.  Without doubt, Rachel Hauck is stuck with me as I am quickly becoming addicted to her brand of historical fiction.

P.S.  I also got the audiobook from my local library and found it to be a disservice to the story.  At the halfway point, I gave up on the audiobook and went back to the physical read which was significantly better!

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Review: One Wedding, Two Brides (Book #1: Fairy Tale Bride Series) by Heidi Betts

2 BridesJilted bride Monica Blair can’t believe it when she wakes up next to a blue-eyed, smooth-talking cowboy in the middle of nowhere and with a ring on her finger. It had sounded like a great plan at the time. Get married, get revenge, and get her money back. So why is she cleaning out stables and trying to keep her hands off the hot cowboy helping her?

Ryder Nash would have bet his best Stetson that you’d never see him walk down the aisle. But when the city girl with pink-streaked hair and a frog tattoo hatches a plan to expose the conman who married his sister, no idea is too crazy. And even though Monica might be the worst rancher’s wife he’s ever seen, he can’t stop thinking about the wedding night they never had.

What was supposed to be a temporary marriage for revenge is starting to feel a little too real…

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monica Blair is having none of her shady ex-fiancé getting a happily ever after!  After all her planning, buying, arranging, and being totally stoked about her future with her fiancé, Monica is ready for a little retribution.  For Monica Blair, a generally spirited yet not crazy photographer, her form of retribution is to have her own happily ever after, RIGHT NOW!

With a bit too much alcohol, one smoking hot wedding dress, and a half-cocked plan, Monica shows up at her ex’s wedding reception and makes a complete and utter fool of herself.  To be sure, Monica’s show was quite the sight, but all it earns her is a trip out of the reception hall over the shoulder of seriously hot cowboy.  It is during that moment, while trying not to puke when the rest of her crazy plan make its presences known.  Why not marry the hot cowboy and make her ex crazy jealous?

Ryder Nash has 99 problems and a crazy, drunk woman is absolutely one of them!  What’s more, the crazy lady has an insane plan to get married, make her ex crazy, and pay Nash a ton of money for his involvement.  With a financially failing ranch, too many overdue notices to count, and a dream that is fading faster by the day, Nash sees the crazy lady’s plan as relatively insane and hard to explain to his family and friends, but an opportunity to save his ranch and all the animals he cares for.  Sometimes, a little bit of crazy is exactly what a cowboy needs in his life.

Once the alcohol and the intensity of the moment has passed, both Monica and Nash wake up to the reality of their shared situation.  Once she’s sober, Monica drops a bombshell on Nash: not only doesn’t she have the money she promised him, but the money has been stolen by her devious ex, the same guy now married to Nash’s sister.  Between the two of them, yet another crazy plan is hatched to retrieve Monica’s money, expose her ex for the rat bastard he is, and then part ways.  As far as plans go, it isn’t the craziest of the TWO they’ve had, but it does come with risks.  With nothing more to do than see the crazy through to the very end, Monica and Nash pack their bags and prepare to crash a honeymoon!

The Bottom Line: One Wedding, Two Brides is a cute, light read that kept me engaged, but didn’t overwhelm me with the awesome.  This is one of those books where you just accept the wild, the crazy, the totally implausible IS the premise and go with it or DNF it.  I chose to go with it, in large part because I liked Monica and Nash and the interactions between them.  Clearly, their situation isn’t normal, but they muddle through it with a great deal of stubbornness, sarcasm, wit, and humor.  In essence, this book is the epitome of fake it until you make it and that is exactly what Nash and Monica do.  While I can’t say this is an amazing read, it is a cute, mostly satisfying read that will appeal to a great number of romance readers.  I wouldn’t move this one up to the top of your TBR, but I would keep it on the list and save it for a rainy day.

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