A Review of SLIPPER by Hester Velman

A Review of SLIPPER by Hester Velmans.jpg

Thanks to NetGalley and Van Horton Books for the ARC.

SLIPPER by Hester Velman (published April 17, 2018 by Van Horton Books) is the retelling of Cinderella. And, trust me, it is nothing like the Disney version. This Cinderella suffers a lot more than a torn dress and dirty fingernails thanks to all of that cleaning she had to do. This Cinderella survives rape, a witch hunt, war, and massacres. Life teaches her some very hard lessons – yet it takes her a long time to learn anything from them. And, in the end, the glass slipper doesn’t even fit!

Lucinda (AKA Cinderella) is a penniless orphan growing up in the mid to late-1600s. Because her aristocratic family believes her to be a bastard, Lucinda is not treated very well. At best, she is ignored by her family. At worst, she is forced to work as a servant in the family’s sprawling countryside mansion. Lucinda’s only friend is her godmother/family cook Bessie Goose (who, in this story, becomes the inspiration for Mother Goose), and the other household servants who spoil her.

I somewhat enjoyed SLIPPER in the beginning, but then, around halfway through, I decided that I didn’t like the novel. By the end, I was on the fence about it. It is an interesting story, but, as Lucinda got older, I found that I couldn’t stand her. Lucinda is a very imaginative child, and she has herself convinced that her daydreams will one day become reality. That her Prince Charming will one day come rescue her from her miserable life. I didn’t think that Bessie Goose was the most likeable of characters either. Instead of giving Lucinda some lessons in life and common sense, she instead allows the girl to remain ignorant. After being raped by her uncle, Lucinda throws herself at a captain in the English army who is betrothed to her cousin, believing that this man in her knight in shining armor. Leaving her home in the English countryside, Lucinda follows the captain to France where he is a captain in the army. Lucinda and Bessie join the baggage train, and Lucinda becomes the captain’s mistress. Lucinda begins to see the captain for what he really is, but she continues to cling to her dream that he’s her Prince Charming. She also develops an unhealthy interest in the whores who are also part of the baggage train. At this point, it’s too late for Bessie to give the teenage Lucinda any life lessons because Lucinda isn’t about to listen to anything that anyone has to say. When Lucinda finally realizes that the captain is never going to marry her, she turns to physician John Prynce. Upon learning that Prynce is responsible for both of her parents’ deaths, she flees the baggage train and makes her way to Holland. After a brief marriage to a boorish painter, Lucinda moves to Paris where, as a female artist, she is treated as a novelty and flattered by men who wish to make her their mistress. She also meets Charles Perrault, the man who will take her life story and use it to create the Cinderella fairy tale. He also uses Bessie’s stories (passed on to him through Lucinda since Bessie is now dead thanks to Lucinda’s recklessness) and turns them into the Mother Goose tales. It’s in Paris that Lucinda finally begins to open her eyes and realize that her daydreams are what got her into this mess. She then returns to England to see if she can work things out with Prynce.

While SLIPPER was an interesting and well plotted novel, it just wasn’t for me. I just didn’t like Lucinda at all. Most of the time I was irritated with her – as well as Bessie – for her naivety and recklessness. I spent the majority if the novel wanting to reach through the pages to smack Lucinda upside the head for her foolishness. Yes, life has dealt Lucinda a lot of crap, but she brings a good portion of it onto herself. The rest of the female characters are wicked – filling the roles of wicked step-mother and step-sisters even though they are Lucinda’s aunts and cousins. The male characters leave a lot more to be desired. I didn’t want a stereotypical Prince Charming, but it would have been nice to have a male character that was at least remotely likeable.

For me, the most interesting part of the novel was learning about the origins of some of the classic fairy tales.  I also enjoyed that there were historical figures woven into the storyline. That helped add to the historic backdrop of the time period.

If you’re a diehard fan of Disney’s Cinderella, this novel probably won’t be for you. If you’re open to adaptations of the fairy tale, give SLIPPER a try.

Interview with Sharon Wray, author of EVERY DEEP DESIRE



How, after all these years, could she still be so susceptible to him? Because he’d once been her husband. The one man she’d loved beyond reason. Forever and always. She tilted her head, and the brush became a demand. The demand became an ache. And the ache became a need so great she threw her arms around his neck. Her world tilted, his arms tightened, and his lips explored hers as if he’d never kissed anyone else ever. The air around them vibrated, matching the motion of the kiss.

He broke away, leaving her a disoriented mess.

“Juliet.” The word rolled like a wave break. Forward, then retreating. His body heaved, and he ran his hands over his prison-shorn hair. “I’m sorry.”

Those words stung more than his rejection. He was sorry. Hadn’t he said so in his letter eight years ago? “You should leave.” She glanced at her clock. “It’s almost three a.m. We both need to sleep.”

And she needed to be alone. Because when he touched her, she melted. When he whispered, she caved. And when he kissed her, she begged for more. It’d always been like that. All he had to do was walk into a room, and she wanted him. When he looked at her, like she was the only woman he’d ever need, she dreamed of lying beneath him, his heavy body possessing hers. Her reaction to him was sad, pathetic, and wrong. She wasn’t sure who she hated more: him or herself for her reaction to him.

Without warning, he swung her up and laid her on the bed. “I’m asking you to help me fix what I’ve ruined. Then your life can go on as it was.”

Her eyes drifted closed. The nightmare’s adrenaline rush left as swiftly as it came in, leaving her depleted. She heard the words, but his face blinked in and out of time and space. The bed sagged, and she scooted over so he could adjust his body. Then, just before sleep hit, she reached to feel his warmth.

No, she wasn’t happy he’d been released from prison. She wasn’t happy he’d come home. She wasn’t happy he’d kissed her and she’d kissed him back. But she didn’t want to be alone. And that was going to be a problem.


Sharon is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes novels of suspense, adventure, and love. A wife, mother of twins, caretaker of Donut the One-Eyed Family Dog, she’s addicted to snapping photos and eating Oreos. She’s repped by Deidre Knight and Kristy Hunter at The Knight Agency.



Sharon Wray’s debut novel, EVERY DEEP DESIRE, was published on March 6, 2018 by Sourcebooks. It is a romantic suspense novel, and it is the first in the Deadly Force Series. Since the publication of EVERY DEEP DESIRE, I have interviewed Sharon about her novel and her writing process.  

Question- Please describe what the book is about:

Sharon Wray: Rafe Montfort was a decorated Green Beret, the best of the best, until a disastrous mission and an unforgivable betrayal destroyed his life. Now, this deadly soldier has returned to the sultry Georgia swamps to reunite with his brothers and take back all he lost. But his wife, Juliet, must never know the truth behind what he’s done or the dangerous secret that threatens to take him from her forever.

Q- Where did you get the idea?

SW: I was working on another book and writing in my journal and I ended up writing a scene about a man who’d been unexpectedly released from Leavenworth prison and had come home to find his wife. At the time, I had no idea what the story was about or who Rafe’s wife really was. But I did know it would be a retelling (in the most general sense of the word) of Romeo and Juliet as well as a redemption of the tragedy.

Q- What’s the story behind the title?

SW: My publisher picked the title because all of mine were terrible. But I think it’s perfect for the story and the genre.

Q- No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

SW: When Rafe returns home, Juliet learns that her husband had joined a secret, current-day private army known as The Fianna who date back to pagan Ireland, during the early Roman invasions in the first century A.D. Irish myths say that the brutal Fianna army was the reason Rome never conquered Ireland.

Q- Tell us about your favorite character:

SW: My heroine Juliet Capel. Her life was torn apart by Rafe’s abandonment and just as she’s put her life back together, he returns. Except now, she’s unable to rely on or trust others which is exactly what she needs to do to save herself and those she loves.

Q- If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

SW: I’d spend the day with Nate Walker, an ex-Green Beret, secondary character and hero of book 2 (still untitled), and we’d explore the Cemetery of Lost Children on the Isle of Hope (a fictional sea island off the coast of Savannah, GA, owned by Juliet Capel). I’d love to see this cemetery that’s the source of the mysteries in Every Deep Desire and Book 2. And I’d love to get Nate to tell me more about himself and how he and his men ended up in Savannah instead of having to learn it all by writing and rewriting drafts of his story.

Q- Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

SW: They are all imaginary. Although I wish they were real.

Q- How long did you take to write this book?

SW: I drafted and redrafted this book for a few years, off and on, as I wrote other things. Then I rewrote the beginning and my agent sold this book on proposal in July 2016. Since then I’ve been writing, revising, editing, and proofing this book while writing book 2 in the series.

Q-What kind of research did you do for this book?

SW: Tons. This series is about a group of ex-Green Berets trying to figure out who set up their unit and had them dishonorably discharged. But the brilliant man behind their disgrace is obsessed with history’s greatest mysteries. Each book revolves around an obscure historical fact or event that will eventually tie in to why these soldiers’ lives were destroyed. Despite the research, I fictionalize many things for the sake of the story.

Q- What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

SW: A lot. I removed a bunch of scenes from a secondary character’s point of view. I also removed a complete secondary story line.

Q- Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SW: Both. I do a brief outline of turning points, major scenes, etc. before I start drafting. Then I revise the outline before revising.

Q- What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

SW: Revising. Because I love the wordsmithing part more than the story discovery part.

Q- What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

SW: Drafting. I’m not sure why, but figuring out the initial story details is always the most stressful part for me.

Q- Can you share your writing routine?

SW: My preference is to write every day in the morning through early afternoon. Then late in the afternoon until dinner. I usually write at home at my tiny desk in my kitchen. But sometimes I go to a coffee shop or bookstore to write.

Q- Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

SW: Yes, and it’s always during the drafting phase. I overcome it by sitting down and writing anyway. I’m on deadline with three books. I can’t afford the time that writer’s block steals from me.

Q- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

SW: Not to worry so much and that everything will work out at the right time.

Q- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

SW: LOL. Too many to count.

Q- Do you have any writing quirks?

SW: Every time I sit down to write, I have a pattern of checking email and a few websites before I write. Then I do the same thing when I’m about to take a break. I don’t do anything with the email or websites, just scan the headlines to make sure the kids don’t need me and we haven’t been overrun by zombies. I get so deeply involved in my stories while I write that the neighborhood would be overrun before I noticed. LOL.

Q- Tell us about yourself.

SW: I’m a librarian and was also a wedding gown designer. And I have a one-eyed rescue dog that the kids named Donut.

Q- How did you get into writing?

SW: I’d had twins and had to give up my wedding gown designing gig (as well as turn my sewing room into a nursery). Then the library I was working in closed. I needed a creative outlet that let me stay home with the kids. It was through the Artist’s Way that I realized my love for books, reading and journaling might translate into writing novels.

Q- What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

SW: I love to spend time with my family and friends, and I love to travel. During the summer, I enjoy gardening even though I’m terrible at it.

Q- Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

SW: I love blogging and journaling. Although I really need to find some more physically active ways to relax.

Q- Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

SW: I once lived in South Korea and worked for the American Red Cross.

Q- Which book influenced you the most?

SW: JANE EYRE. I read it when I was 14, in one sitting, and I was a changed person by the time I finished.

Q- What are you working on right now?

SW: Book 2 (still untitled) in the Deadly Force Series. This book is about Nate Walker, the secondary hero in EVERY DEEP DESIRE.

Q- What’s your favorite writing advice?

SW: Don’t ever give up on your dreams. It took me over 12 years to sell and almost 14 years to see my book in print. And it was worth the effort and time and patience.

Q- The book you’re currently reading.

SW: Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Q- Are you a daytime or a nighttime writer?

SW: I prefer writing in the morning and late afternoon but when I’m on deadline I’m at my desk 24/7.

Q- Are you more productive during certain seasons of the year?

SW: I’m a winter writer. For some reason the cold, bleak Virginia weather suits my writing habit. I always do my best work in the winter.


Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sharon-Wray/e/B074JBP8FH/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/every-deep-desire-sharon-wray/1126633208?ean=9781492655602#/

Website: www.sharonwray.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sharon-Wray-Author-644867762246756/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sharonbwray

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

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/sharonbwray/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5368413-sharon

Review of TEXAS TWO-STEP by Michael Pool

A Review of Texas Two-Step by Michael Pool.jpg

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

TEXAS TWO-STEP by Michael Pool (published April 2, 2018 by Down Out Books) is a wild romp involving criminals, lawmen (some are good, and some are crooked), and a whole lot of marijuana. Cooper and Davis are looking to sell one more load of some of Colorado's finest marijuana before they go straight. When their usual contact gets picked up in a raid, they turn to their old and unreliable friend Sancho. Sancho knows just who to sell the marijuana to -- ex-football player Bobby Burrell. Bobby 's uncle Troy is the head of the East Texas Mafia located in Teller County. Troy is also one scary maniac. Cooper, Davis, Sancho, and Bobby have a good plan in place, but it all goes haywire when Uncle Troy gets involved and decides that they're going to screw over Cooper and Davis so that they can get the marijuana and keep their money. Oh, and there's a Texas Ranger named Russ Kirkpatrick sniffing around. Kirkpatrick was tasked with taking Sancho down after Sancho was indirectly involved with the suicide of a Texas State Senator's grandson.

I found TEXAS TWO-STEP to be a fun read. At times it reminded me of Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey. The main characters - while not always the most likeable of people - were engaging, realistic, and a tad bit crazy. The point of view switches almost every chapter between Cooper, Bobby, and Kirkpatrick. With the various points of view, the reader gets a well-rounded idea of everything that is going on. The descriptions were very vivid, and Pool brought East Texas to life on the page. Overall, it was an enjoyable read.

A Review of BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY by Amanda Skenandore

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

I have read a lot of great books so far in 2018 (according to my Goodreads Reading Challenge I’m up to 36 books so far this year), and I can honestly say that BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY by Amanda Skenandore is the best one I’ve read so far. Skenandore’s debut novel, which will be published by Kensington on April 24, 2018, is a compelling and heartbreaking historical fiction set in the 1880s and early 1900s. The novel alternates between the main character’s past as the only white child attending the Stover Indian School in Wisconsin, and her present as the wife of a lawyer in Philadelphia in 1906.

In 1906, Alma Blanchard Stewart is living a quiet life with her husband in Philadelphia. One morning, while reading the newspaper, she learns that a Native American man was arrested in Wisconsin for killing one of the Indian agents on the reservation. Alma knows the man who was arrested – he was her childhood friend from the Stover Indian School. Convinced that her friend has been wrongly accused, she and her reluctant husband travel to Wisconsin with the intention to uncover the truth and help set Asku Muskrat free. Alma’s mission forces her to confront her past, and leads her to realize that the assimilation of Native American’s into white culture left the children of the Stover Indian School damaged and destroyed as they were never accepted by white people and they were estranged from their families on the reservations. Alma also learns that life on the reservation is not how she imagined it would be.

As a child, Alma’s father moved her and her mother from Philadelphia to La Crosse, Wisconsin in the early 1880s so that he could open up the Stover Indian School. At the time, people believed that the only way for the Native Americans to survive was to assimilate them into white culture. To do that, numerous Indian Schools were opened throughout the country to educate Native American children. The children were taken from their families on the reservations and then moved to the Indian Schools where they were forced to adapt to white society. Through Alma’s perspective, Skenandore shows what it was like for the Native American children. Upon arrival at the school, they are stripped of their native clothing and belongings. Their hair is shorn, they are given Christian names, and they are forbidden from speaking in their native languages. They are robbed of the identity. Alma’s father, as well as the other white people who work at the school, believe that what they are doing is the right thing. Even though Alma is a child, she questions what they are going to the native children. As Alma grows up alongside the native children, she learns their customs and their languages. But it is when she falls in love with one of the native boys and asks for permission to marry him that Alma realizes that she is the only one at the Stover Indian School who sees the Native Americans as her equals.

I was absolutely blown away by BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY. The story is very compelling, and I love how Alma’s present plays out alongside her past. As the only white child attending the Stover Indian School, Alma is stuck in a difficult situation. She is supposed to be an example for the native children, but she also wants to be their friend. She becomes caught up in the gray area – she is a white woman who knows about and embraces not only the Native American people but their culture as well.  The reader witnesses how Alma’s grows and reshapes her opinions as she learns more about the Native Americans and their plight. The story is also a heartbreaking one not only for Alma, but for all of the Native American children who were forced to attend the Stover Indian School. This is a novel about losing one’s native identity while trying to establish a place in a world that is not yet receptive to people who are not white.

Review of A TASTE OF TEXAS MYSTERY SERIES by Rebecca Adler

The novels in the A Taste of Texas Mystery series by Rebecca Adler are delightful and fun cozies. The main character is Josie Callahan – a thirty-something ex-newspaper reporter turned waitress. Prior to the opening of the first novel (HERE TODAY, GONE TAMALE), Josie has recently fled Austin after her fiancé broke up with her and she lost her job as a newspaper reporter. She’s back in Broken Boot, Texas – a small town in West Texas near the Chihuahuan Desert. Josie originally moved to Broken Boot when she was a teenager. Her parents had just died, and she went to live with her aunt and uncle in Broken Boot.

As of 2018, there are three novels in the A Taste of Texas Mystery series: Here today, gone tamale (2015), THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE GUACAMOLE (2016), and CINCO DE MURDER (2018). Each of the novels place in Broken Boot, and all of them are focused around a festival or celebration that brings an influx of tourists to the small town in West Texas. In the first novel, Josie is basically just a Nosy Nellie sticking her nose into the sheriff department’s investigation because she wants to prove that the person that the sheriff arrested is not the killer. In the second and third novels, Josie is covering the crime beat for the Broken Boot Bugle, and, while that does make her an actual investigator, it does give her a reason to dig deeper into the investigations.

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HERE TODAY, GONE TAMALE (2015) is the first in the A Taste of Texas Mystery Series by Rebecca Adler. Josie Callahan has been back in Broken Boot for about three months, and she’s in the process of getting over her ex-fiancé and putting her life back together after losing her job as a newspaper reporter in Austin. Josie is currently working as a waitress at her aunt’s restaurant, the Milagro. She is also helping prepare for the Wild Wild West Festival that is about to take place in Broken Boot. Aunt Linda hosts a tamale-making party at the Milagro for the movers-and-shakers of Broken Boot prior to the festival. Tensions are high, arguments ensue, and someone winds up getting murdered. It’s Josie who stumbles upon the body of Dixie Honeycutt behind the Milagro. Dixie was a local jewelry designer. The (sometimes) unpleasant woman also didn’t have many friends around Broken Boot. Josie had planned to leave it up to the local sheriff’s department to investigate the murder and find the person who strangled Dixie with one of her own necklaces. But when one of the Milagro busboys is arrested and charged with Dixie’s murder, Josie’s reporter instincts kick in and she begins to investigate on her own. And when the killer begins to threaten Josie’s long-haired Chihuahua, all bets are off.

I found HERE TODAY, GONE TAMALE to be a very enjoyable read. Josie is a very likeable character, as are her family and friends. The small town of Broken Boot comes to life in the descriptions. The mystery of who killed Dixie was very engaging. A lot of people had a reason to kill Dixie, and Adler kept me guessing on the killer up till the end.


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Amateur sleuth Josie Callahan is back in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE GUACAMOLE. Broken Boot has once again opened their arms to welcome an influx of tourists to town for the annual Homestead Days celebration. Josie’s Uncle Eddie has booked the Jeff Clark Band to perform at his Two Boots dancehall every night of the festivities. Josie and her best friend, Patti Perez, are at the dancehall to see Jeff Clark perform during the first of his performances. Patti and Jeff go way back – they dated years ago – and Patti is looking forward to catching up with her old flame. But Patti doesn’t want to catch up with Jeff in the same way that he wants to catch up. Realizing that Jeff hasn’t changed over the years and that he’s still a tomcat, Patti leaves Jeff at her house and then goes to spend the night at her store. The next morning, Josie heads over to Patti’s house to interview Jeff for the Broken Boot Bugle. That’s when Josie finds Jeff face down in a bowl a guacamole. His head had been bashed in with Patti’s guitar. Patti immediately jumps to the top of the sheriff department’s suspect list. Patti had means, motive, and opportunity. And Jeff was murdered in her house. Josie knows that Patti is innocent, and it’s up to her to prove it.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE GUACAMOLE is a solid follow up to HERE TODAY, GONE TAMALE. Jeff Clark makes a great victim – he’s a sleazy, smooth-talking horndog. He’s both loved and hated by his band members. Most of the band members, and the other people who are part of the tour, had a reason to kill him. And the fact that the band and their agent want to move on and replace Jeff within days of his murder shows that he’s not going to be missed by certain people. Having Patti arrested for the murder gives Josie even more of a reason to stick her nose into the investigation. If no one else is going to bother looking for another suspect, it’s up to her to find the killer and free Patti.


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Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.

There’s another fiesta in Broken Boot, and you know what that means…waitress and part-time crime reporter Josie Callahan is about to discover another dead body in her small West Texas town of Broken Boot. As this is the third novel in the A Taste of Texas Mystery series, and the third murder that takes place during some sort of festival or celebration, the initial plot of the series is getting a little predictable and stale. But don’t worry, Josie will solve the case and help Detective Lightfoot apprehend the killer before the celebration officially ends.

In CINCO DE MURDER (2018), Josie’s Uncle Eddie’s reputation – and his seat on the city council – hangs on the success of Broken Boot's First Annual Charity Chili Cook-off. The night before the festivities, the contestants gather at the Milagro for dinner and a reminder of the rules for the chili-cook off. Tempers are quick to flare when one of the contestants – a man with the laughable moniker of Lucky Straw – reminds everyone that he has won the most chili cook-offs out of all of them. Lucky is an abrasive man and it appears that he only has one friend. That’s probably because he cost many of the other contestants their jobs when they all worked for the local electric company. Lucky also has a nasty habit of stealing other men’s girlfriends. It’s no surprise when Josie stumbles over his dead body the next morning while she is double checking everyone’s set ups at the site of the cook-off. Between patrolling for cheaters and catering to the judges, Josie finds time to check out the crime scene, interview suspects, and confer with Detective Lightfoot about the case. Josie seems to be the only one who knows how Lucky was killed – which is actually in a bizarre way that kept things interesting. Josie is also the first person to figure out who the killer is – though she does it totally by accident when he takes her as a hostage and locks her into his van that can only be unlocked from the outside by using a key. It also takes Josie way too long to finally break a window to escape the van so that she can go after the man who killed Lucky and has now kidnapped her dog.

While I found CINCO DE MURDER to have an intriguing storyline, I felt like the story jumped around at times and wasn’t always cohesive. Secondary storylines that may or may not have had anything to do with the murder seemed to peter out without any conclusion. (Was Dani the mother or the aunt of the three children that were with her? And did she make it back to the hotel or did she pass out drunk along the way? And did the two B&Es at the local stores have anything at all to do with the murder, or were they just to help Josie figure out clues from the crime scene? And what the heck happened to that poor woman’s laptop charger???) There also seemed to be way too much going on during the two-and-a-half days in which the story took place – aside from the chili cook-off and the investigation, there is also the daily restaurant work that takes place as well as a parade, two B&Es that Josie helps Detective Lightfoot check out, and a fireworks show. The main characters remained consistent with the first two novels – though Detective Lightfoot is much more receptive to Josie’s amateur investigation than he ever was before. It’s good to see them working together. I also enjoyed the way in which the bad guy murdered Lucky even though I didn’t quit understand exactly how it was possible to kill someone in that way.

Review of FICTION CAN BE MURDER by Becky Clark, first in the Mystery Writer's Mystery Series

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC.

FICTION CAN BE MURDER is the first novel in the Mystery Writer’s Mystery Series by Becky Clark. The novel is Clark’s first, and it will be released by Midnight Ink on April 8, 2018.

Charlemagne “Charlee” Russo has made a career out of killing people in her mystery novels. Now she finds herself in the midst of a real life murder investigation. After Charlee’s agent, Melinda, is murdered in the exact same way that Charlee kills off her victim in her current work in progress, Charlee jumps to the top of the Denver police’s suspect list. Charlee knows that she didn’t kill Melinda – despite the fact that Charlee didn’t always like her agent. Because the killer must have read Charlee’s manuscript, the detectives’ are able to come up with a short suspect list. Unfortunately, all of the suspects are Charlee’s friends – the people in her writing club, her beta readers, and her boyfriend. Charlee doesn’t want to suspect any of these people of murder, but she knows that she’s going to have to look into all of their alibis if she’s going to clear her name and rebuild her reputation. Charlee becomes even more determined to find the killer when the detectives arrest one of the other suspects. Charlee knows that this person didn’t kill Melinda. It’s just a matter of proving it before the killer catches up with her.

FICTION CAN BE MURDER is such an intriguing cozy mystery. As a mystery writer, I felt like I could really connect with Charlee’s character. I know what it’s like to put time, brain power, and research into murdering people on paper. It’s unfathomable to think that someone would take my fictional murder and then act it out in real life. Especially if that person is doing it to frame me and ruin my life. Having a set number of suspects based on who read Charlee’s manuscript also gave the reader a good chance to play along and try to figure out the killer before the big reveal. You don’t have to worry about a new suspect popping up a page or two before the main character figures out who the killer is. I also enjoyed the secondary mystery of what happened to Charlee’s father. I’m looking forward to the next novel in the Mystery Writer’s Mystery Series.

Interview with Clarissa Goenawan, author of RAINBIRDS



When the car had stopped at the traffic junction, a soft light had fallen onto her pale skin, highlighting her delicate features. My hand was on hers, but she didn’t say a word, nor did she look at me. She didn’t even flinch. Her body was there, but her mind wasn’t.
That night, the two of us were lonely, isolated under Tokyo’s dazzling lights.


"Luminous, sinister, and page-turning all at once. I loved it." 
—Kate Hamer, internationally bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral 

"A beautiful mystery setup with a complex, magical love story." 
—Eka Kurniawan, award-winning author of Beauty Is a Wound and Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash


Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her debut novel, RAINBIRDS, is the winner of the 2015 Bath Novel Award. Her short stories have won several awards and been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. She loves rainy days, pretty books, and hot green tea.



RAINBIRDS, Clarissa Goenawan’s debut novel, was released on March 6, 2018 by Soho Press. Since the release of RAIBIRDS, I’ve been able to interview Clarissa about her novel and her writing process.

Question- Please describe what the book is about.

Clarissa Goenawan: RAINBIRDS is a story of a young man who is trying to come to terms with his older sister’s death by finding out the truth behind her murder, but in doing so, he ends up confronting his own dark secret.

Q- Where did you get the idea?

CG: One afternoon, I was just wondering, “What if someone I cared about suddenly passed away, and then, I realized too late that I never actually got to know them?” At first, I wanted to write a short story about a young man who had just lost his older brother, which later on, morphed to an older sister. And then, I realized there were so many things I wanted to explore in their relationship, and that this story has to be a novel.

Q- What’s the story behind the title?

CG: I came up with it! There was actually a really funny story behind it, which you can read at the end of my guest post for Bath Novel Award, “Five Ways to Find The Perfect Title for Your Novel.”
Link: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/2017/07/26/five-ways-to-find-the-perfect-title-for-your-novel/

Q- No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

CG: RAINBIRDS is part of a series of interrelated novels. So do keep a lookout at the side characters, because they might be the main characters for the next book.

Q- Tell us about your favorite character.

CG: Rio Nakajima, also known as ‘Seven Stars.’ She’s a seventeen-year-old girl who is bright and bold, unafraid to voice her opinion and relentlessly goes after what she wants. She doesn’t care about conforming to public’s expectation, and I really admire her for that.

Q- If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

CG: There is this young girl who celebrated my main character’s seventeenth birthday in the most bizarre way. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but let’s just say I wish to be part of the party (though that can possibly make me the third wheel… hmmm…)

Q- Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?

CG: Most of them came from my imagination, but a few were very loosely based on people I knew in real life. For example, Honda, Ren’s colleague, was inspired by my ex-colleague and lunch buddy who used to drive—yes, you guessed it—a black Honda sedan. All the characters’ personal stories are, of course, fictional.

Q- How long did you take to write this book?

CG: Almost five years, which at a point of time, does feel ‘forever’ to me. But, in term of traditional publishing, it’s still relatively fast.
The breakdown:
First draft – 1.5 months
Editing – 1.5 years
Submission to agents - about half a year
Submission to publishers - about half a year
From signing of contract to publication date - about two years

Q- What kind of research did you do for this book?

CG: I grew up reading copious amounts of manga (Japanese comic books), and I learnt Japanese language since high school, so that gave me a good starting point. I also consulted a huge number of books, essays, and articles, and asked some friends who’re familiar with Japan to be my beta readers.

 Q- What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

CG: A lot of things that don’t really matter, including a scene of Honda teaching Ren the best way to enjoy xiaolongbao, a type of Chinese steamed bun.

Q- Are you a plotter or a pantser?

CG: I tried to plot, but that didn’t work. I normally have a sense of beginning, somewhat of an ending (though, most of the time, it changes), but nothing inbetween.

Q- What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

CG: The first draft! I’m always pleasantly surprised by the unexpected places my characters lead me to.

Q- What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

CG: The last few edits are the hardest for me. By then, I have grown too familiar with my work. It’s hard to discern the trees from the forest.

Q- Can you share your writing routine?

CG: I do my writing after I drop my kids at school, and until it’s time to pick them up. That gives me about a five hour solid time block. Most of my writing is done on random benches around my kids’ school.

Q- Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

CG: Some people are going to hate me for saying this, but I don’t believe in writer’s block.

Q- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

CG: Be patient. Be very, very patent, because publishing moves in a different time from the rest of the world. It’s so sloooowwwww. There is a lot of waiting, and I’m not good with waiting—but I’m learning!

Q- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

CG: RAINBIRDS, my debut novel, is the first novel I ever wrote. I know this is not a common scenario in traditional publishing, and I’ve been so lucky

Q- Do you have any writing quirks?

CG: I like to write on a big table.

Q- Tell us about yourself.

CG: I was born and raised in Surabaya, a city in East Java and also the second most populated city in Indonesia. In my mid-teens, I migrated to Singapore, which I now call home. I live with my husband, three beautiful daughters, and a broken-coated Jack Russell named ‘Hunter.’

Q- How did you get into writing?

CG: It was my childhood dream J I’d loved reading ever since I was a kid and dreamt that one day, I would publish my own book. But I only started to seriously pursuing the profession after I quit my banking job at age twenty-four (probably not the most conventional thing to do, but I never regretted it.)

Q- What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

CG: My guilty pleasure: I read a lot of manga (Japanese comic books.) I also spend a lot of time reading online articles and on Twitter—probably too much for my own good.

Q- Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

CG: Yes, I write short stories, though not as often as I used to do when I’d just started out writing. I realized I prefer to work on novels, though short stories are great for variety.

Q- Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

CG: I used to be a bookseller. I was in charge of marketing children’s books for a regional book distribution company, which include everything from baby boardbooks to YA novels. I spontaneously talked about countless books—most of them I’d only read the short synopsis because there were so many— to the media every month, but when it comes to pitching my own book, I’m always struggling. Always.

Q- Which book influenced you the most?

CG: Stephen King’s ON WRITING, which I highly recommend to all aspiring writers. It’s full of gold—awesome writing advice, great editing tips, and a realistic portrayal of a writer’s life. Worth re-reading every year.

Q- What are you working on right now?

CG: I’m currently editing my second and third novels, both of them literary mysteries. And just like RAINBIRDS, they’re set in Japan.

Q- What’s your favorite writing advice?

 CG: If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. – Stephen King.

Review of WHO SHE IS by Diane Byington

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Wow. I was just blown away by WHO SHE IS by Diane Byington. WHO SHE IS is Byington’s debut novel, and it will be released on March 20, 2018, by Red Adept Publishing, LLC.

WHO SHE IS stars Faye Smith, a teenage girl growing up in the late 1960s. In the fall of 1967, Faye and her parents move to Valencia, Florida, to work in the orange groves as tenant farmers. Frequent moves and poverty is the life that Faye is used to. But that doesn’t mean that she’s happy with it. Faye dreams of something more for her adult life – something that takes her away from her parents and their goal to keep her with them. At her new school, Faye befriends a girl named Frankie. Together, the two girls begin training to run the Boston Marathon in the spring. In the late 1960s, women are not allowed to officially register for the Boston Marathon (this won’t happen until 1972), but that doesn’t stop Faye and Frankie from striving to break barriers and prove that women are just as capable of running as men. It seems almost laughable to me that just twenty years before I was born, it was believed that women shouldn’t run because it could cause their female organs to fall out. Faye’s parents believe running is a useless hobby, and they push for Faye to give it up. Faye agrees to quit the track team after she makes the national news for being the first female in Florida to run in a track meet against boys. But Faye refuses to give up long-distance running because it is one thing that makes her happy. And it’s possible that she could get a college scholarship by running in the Boston Marathon.

While the novel follows Faye’s training and the issues that her running causes her family – her parents believe that all of this running will trigger her epilepsy and cause her to have a seizure – it also focuses on Faye’s search to discover who she really is. It quickly becomes clear that things aren’t quite right in the Smith family. There is something going on that extends beyond the typical family squabbles. Faye begins to have memories of another life with different parents. As she digs into her past, Faye realizes she might not be safe with the Smiths. After running away to run in the Boston Marathon, Faye learns that the Smiths are not her parents and that she was kidnapped as a child.

WHO SHE IS is a wonderful novel. I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to know the answer to who Faye really is. Faye is a strong and determined female character, as is her best friend, Frankie. The fact that they are only sixteen years old and are training to run in the Boston Marathon despite the fact that women aren’t allowed to register for it is amazing. Having grown up playing in various female sports leagues, it’s hard for me to imagine that not too long before I was born, females were discourage and banned from playing sports. I was inspired by Faye’s and Frankie’s determination. I was also captivated by Faye’s search into what happened to her when she was a child. The mystery of whether the Smiths are her real parents was fascinating. It added an extra element to the novel. Since the novel takes place in the south in the late 1960s, Byington was able to touch on several topics that were relevant during that time period. Not only does Byington address women’s rights, she also touches on Civil Rights (the man training Faye and Frankie is an African American black male) as well as the Vietnam War.

I would suggest WHO SHE IS to anyone who is interested in women’s rights and women in sports.

Review of THE UNINVITED CORPSE by Debra Sennefelder


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

In THE UNINVITED CORPSE by Debra Sennefelder (first in the Food Blogger Mystery series), Hope Early has recently left New York City in the dust following an ugly divorce, an embarrassing appearance on a reality baking show, and her failed career as a magazine editor. After returning to her small hometown of Jefferson, Connecticut, Hope starts her life over as a blogger focusing on food and DIY projects. Hope also (literally) stumbles upon two dead bodies...The first is an unpopular real estate agent who was murdered after showing up uninvited at a spring garden tour at Hope's friend's house. Hope's sister, Claire, jumps to the top of the local detective's suspect list because Claire worked with the victim and had a history of not getting along with her. The second victim is Hope's very own assistant. She was murdered in her home mere minutes after calling Hope to tell her that she was pretty sure she had figured out who had killed the first victim. Because Hope knew both victims - and because her sister is the only suspect that the police seem to be focused on - Hope throws herself into conducting her own investigation into the murders. Hope's life is soon in danger, and someone (most likely the murderer) is now out to kill her. The police - including the Chief of Police, who is Hope's long-time friend - keep warning her to stay away from their investigation and stop trying to solve it on her own. Even if it places her in danger, Hope refuses to stop until she finds the killer and clears her sister.

THE UNINVITED CORPSE will be published by Kensington on March 27, 2018. It is a fun and intriguing cozy mystery novel. Sennefelder kept me guessing up until the end on the identity of the killer. Hope Early is a well-developed, captivating, and likeable amateur sleuth. Hope also had some very witty lines that had me laughing - especially when she said "I'm going to find the killer, prove my sister is innocent, and then I think I'll make a pan of brownies." Hope's baking, home projects, and budding romantic feelings for a certain someone perfectly balance out her investigation into the two murders. The other characters are also interesting as well. I particularly enjoyed former mystery writer Jane and local reporter Drew. I also felt that the small town of Jefferson was very well described. The small town drama and squabbles was very true-to-life. I'm looking forward to the next novel in the Food Blogger Mystery series.

Review of HUMMUS AND HOMICIDE by TIna Kashian


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Lucy Berberian makes her debut in HUMMUS AND HOMICIDE, the first in the Kebab Kitchen Mystery series by Tina Kashian. The novel is Kashian's first, and it was published February 27, 2018 by Kensington Publishing Corporation.

After being passed up for partner, Lucy Berberian quits her job as a patent attorney in Philadelphia and moves back to her hometown of Ocean Crest - a (fictional) small town on the Jersey Shore located near Cape May. Lucy's parents', sister, and friends are thrilled to have her home for an extended period of time. Within hours of arriving home, Lucy is sucked back into working for parents at their Mediterranean restaurant and she has a public argument with the new health inspector. When the health inspector is found dead of an apparent cyanide poisoning behind Kebab Kitchen, business plummets and Lucy jumps to the top of Detective Clemmon's suspect list. In an effort to save herself - and Kebab Kitchen - Lucy teams up with her best friend, Kathy, to find the killer.

I found HUMMUS AND HOMICIDE to be a very fun mystery novel. The characters - especially Lucy, Kathy, and Emma - were all interesting, engaging characters. All major and minor characters were well developed. The murder victim was unlikeable, and there were multiple suspects. The killer came as a surprise. Kashian also brought the Jersey Shore to life in her description. I've been to the Ocean City/Cape May area multiple times on vacation, and Kashian reminded me of all of the sights and smells. I thoroughly enjoyed HUMMUS AND HOMICIDE, and I'm looking forward to the next novel in the Kebab Kitchen Mystery series.

Interview with Joanne Serling, author of GOOD NEIGHBORS

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If you’re a parent and recently moved to the suburbs, then you are most likely friends with a whole lot people you don’t know well and may don’t even like that much. Usually, these compromises don’t really matter. But what if one of your “friends” suddenly started acting odd? What if you thought he or she were subtly abusing their child? What would you do? Good Neighbors forces readers to question the casual yet crucial friendships that are at the heart of modern parenting and life.


“Joanne Serling’s ice-pick of a debut novel, Good Neighbors, centers of a group of four young suburban families….It doesn’t take long for [a] note of foreboding to play out in Serling’s minimal but web-taut story structure….Good Neighbors is first-rate suburbs-fiction….It’s a steely writing performance, the kind that will leave readers watchful for another novel from this author.”
Steve Donoghue, Open Letter Review

“In Serling’s suspenseful debut, four privileged families in an upscale Boston suburb do their best to maintain the fiction that their lives are perfect…. Serling succeeds at dialing up a sense of dread: Nicole is far from a reliable narrator, and with all the other characters keeping their secrets close to their chests, much is left unrevealed. While many novels have tackled the subject of suburban secrets and unease, this one excels in particular at exploring the bonds among families.”
Publishers Weekly


Joanne Serling’s fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in New Ohio Review and North American Review. She is a graduate of Cornell University and studied and taught fiction at The Writers Studio in New York City. She lives outside of New York with her husband and children and is at work on her second book.

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Joanne Serling’s debut novel, GOOD NEIGHBORS, was published February 6, 2018 by Twelve. Since the release of her novel, I have interviewed Joanne about her novel and her writing process.

Question - Please describe what the book is about.

Joanne Serling: In an idyllic MA suburb, four young families quickly form a neighborhood clique, their friendships based on little more than the ages of their children and a shared sense of camaraderie. When one of the members of the group adopt a little girl from Russia, the group’s loyalty and morality is soon called into question. Are the Edwards unkind to their new daughter? Or is she a difficult child with hidden destructive tendencies?

As the seams of the group friendship slowly unravel, neighbor Nicole Westerhof finds herself drawn further into the life of the adopted girl, forcing Nicole to re-examine the deceptive nature of her own family ties, and her complicity in the events unfolding around her.

Q - Share a teaser from your book.

JS: A troubled foreign adoption sends shock waves through a neighborhood clique, forcing friends to reevaluate their parenting, their friendships and their own morality.

Q- Where did you get the idea?

JS: I originally wanted to write a short story about resilience and parenting. I was interested in exploring the ways in which children can survive all kinds of difficult circumstances and still grow up to be relatively stable and mature. But as I got further into the material, I found that I was as interested in the idea of community as I was in parenting in particular. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that I grew up with a single mom in a tight knit community in which we relied on our neighbors for just about everything. The book centers around a foreign adoption which was a bit of a literary device. I knew that Nicole, the main character, considered herself to be an outsider and I wanted her attraction to the little girl to be based on what she saw as a similar life condition.

Q- What’s the story behind the title?

JS: My insightful agent Duvall Osteen at Aragi came up with the title. I am horrible at titles and originally called the book, “Notes on How to Behave with an Adopted Child,” and later, “What We Thought We Knew.” The latter became the title of the prologue.

Q- No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

JS: The narrator, Nicole Westerhof, is a studious observer of human nature, but her hyper analytical mind jumps from thing to think with no rhyme or reason. She’s likely to notice someone’s unusually perfect teeth at the same time that she’s worrying about whether her neighbor is mistreating her adopted daughter. The staccato rhythm of the sentences is meant to reveal Nicole’s state of mind.

Q- Tell us about your favorite character.

JS: I couldn’t possibly write in the voice of Nicole Westerhof for so many years if I didn’t have a certain love and connection to her. She is a guarded yet vulnerable mother who is always watching, observing, and wondering if she’s “doing it right.” She’s far from perfect, but she has a big heart, and wants to do better, which is my favorite kind of character.

Q- How long did you take to write this book?

JS: The first draft of this book came quickly--about two years. After searching fruitlessly for an agent and receiving some valuable feedback, I decided to add Nicole’s backstory to the novel and worked on the book for another nine months before sending out a finished draft. Finding an agent was the toughest part of this process. I spent another nine months searching tirelessly for an agent. I got lots of good reads from very reputable agents who praised the writing, but nobody wanted to take it on. I kept hearing how hard it was to sell a debut. Finally, Duvall Osteen at Aragi fell in love with the story and sold the novel fairly quickly after that.

Q- What kind of research did you do for this book?

JS: I read a lot about international adoption and steeped myself in the stories of adoptive parents. Some extol the pleasures of adoption, while other share the very real and sometimes insurmountable problems their children face. I wanted the book to be balanced, and to sow the doubt in the readers’ mind about the nature of the problems next door. Ultimately this is a book about community and imperfect parenting, and at the end of the day, I don’t think there are necessarily “right” answers, just more honest relationships.

Q- What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

JS: Nothing significant

Q- Are you a plotter or a pantser?

JS: I’m a little bit of both. I had a feel for the story I wanted to tell—troubled girl, well meaning neighbor—but I didn’t know exactly what direction it was going to take in until I got started. After about ninety pages, I realized I needed more direction so I got out a big white legal pad and wrote down some ideas for both scenes and a chronology that might get me to a satisfying ending. Most of those scenes evolved or were replaced with new ones, but it was a way to get me to think about the story in a linear way.

Q- What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

JS: Finding the voice of the narrator and how she sees the world is like divine communion. The best writing days are when you surprise yourself by what you write and yet feel that it came from a deep, undiscovered place inside of you.

Q- What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

JS: Probably the hardest part for me is tying loose ends together. If you see Nicole scratches herself early in the book, then it better mean something or lead to something important later in the book. Life is random but the world of the novel needs to make sense. Learning this and practicing this was the hardest part for me.

Q- Can you share your writing routine?

JS: When I’m actively working a project, I work on it every morning after I go to the gym. I find that being physically active before writing enables me to come to the page fresh and unafraid. On the days when I skip working out, I am often restless and self-conscious. I always stop writing by 2 or 3pm to pick up my kids and begin the business of running my life.

Q- Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

JS: I have definitely suffered from writer’s block and believe it’s usually tied to a fear or anxiety that I’m not yet ready to face. I don’t believe you can trick yourself out of writer’s block any more than you can trick yourself out of your fears. I try to be patient with myself knowing that eventually the thing I’m afraid of will surface and I’ll be able to deal with it rationally. Fortunately, my drive to write is always bigger than my fear of: (fill in the blank) failure, someone getting angry at me, or any of the other things that crop up when you’re a writer. I’ve come to understand that it’s part of the process, or at least my process.

Q- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

JS: Don’t take every piece of writing advice as the gospel. Listen, read, consider what others say, but evaluate what resonates with you and discard the rest. I spent much too much time worrying that I wasn’t working hard enough at writing when in fact, I was sometimes working too hard, putting too much pressure on myself when I should have been learning my own process. For me, writing three or four hours a day is usually just the right amount of time for me to be productive and still have some juice left for the rest of my life. Realizing that the rest of my life was important was key for me to continue to be creative.

Q- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

JS: I have three half-finished novels in my writing chest. The first was a story about two sisters, one who impersonates the other and discovers her own identity in the process. It was a fun story to write, but I didn’t have enough craft to pull it off. The second was written from the point of view of a Dominican immigrant girl and is a coming-of-age novel. The girl’s mother is a domestic in New Jersey and the girl lives with her abusive father in Connecticut. I loved the story, but felt self conscious about writing in the voice of a girl from another social class and culture. I didn’t think I was pulling it off well. After that I wrote a novel about a woman who falls in love with a man at a Marina Abromovich exhibit of naked people at MOMA in NYC. She doesn’t really fall in love, it’s more like lust, but figuring out how to get my character to realize that began to feel like a chore so I set it aside. I may go back to it at some point, but I have a feeling I may have lost my passion for that particular tale. 

Q- Do you have any writing quirks?

JS: Not really.

Q- Tell us about yourself.

JS: I started writing after leaving my corporate job at American Express. I spent about 8 years in an ongoing writing program and then set up a supportive writing group with some of my fellow alumni. We meet in NYC every 8 weeks to discuss work. It’s an incredibly gratifying and stimulating group of poets and fiction writers. I also worked as an Editor of a local lifestyle magazine while I was writing Good Neighbors. That job was a lot of fun and took the pressure off of writing. Now I’m offering my services to rising juniors who need help writing their college essays. I love the kids and shouldn’t say this, but I would probably do it for free. Helping students find their voice and tell their unique story is incredibly gratifying.

Q- How did you get into writing?

JS: I always wanted to write fiction but was too afraid to even take a creative writing class in college. Instead, I went into women’s magazines and later worked in public relations. When I had kids and we were in a position for me to quit my job, my husband encouraged me to go try my hand at writing. Shortly after my second son was born, I enrolled in classes at The Writers Studio in NYC and just fell in love with everything about it.

Q- What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

JS: Like so many writers, I’m a huge reader. I read in bed, on the train, in line at the grocery store, in my car waiting for carpools. Besides reading, I love to be on the water, either swimming or boating. I also practice yoga pretty regularly, and generally prefer to be outdoors when I can—whether its skiing, walking in the woods or playing tennis (badly) with friends.

Q- Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

JS: I started my career as a women’s magazine editor and still contribute features to local magazines. I also published my first essay for Romper in February and have a few more essays I’m working on at the moment.

Q- Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

JS: I lived and worked as an English teacher in Seville, Spain for a year after graduating college. I was horrible at learning Spanish in a classroom but was determined to overcome this deficit, which I gradually did, making friends with locals and having a great year working abroad. I speak Spanish proficiently now and love Spanish culture.

Q- Which book influenced you the most?

JS: Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell had a huge influence on me as a writer. It’s an indelible portrait of a housewife navigating the changing American landscape between the first and second world wars. Besides loving the depth and simplicity of the writing, I was amazed when I read it by the similarities between the domestic world of Mrs. Bridge and modern American motherhood. I knew I wanted to write something similar. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Kate Walbert’s Our Kind, however. Her wonderful stories about a certain generation of upper middle class women, told in the first-person plural, were like a gateway drug for me. For many years and many drafts, I used a similar narrative style to help tell the story of Good Neighbors. Eventually, I switched the narrative to first person and relegated the large “we” narrator to the prologue and epilogue, but Walbert’s book was a huge inspiration.

Q- What are you working on right now?

JS: I am taking copious notes on a couple of different subjects, one of which is my own and my friends’ reactions to the #metoo movement. I grew up in a time when male attention was not just courted, but pretty much forced upon you, by men as well as ny well-meaning women, including mothers. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the material yet, but it’s definitely something that intrigues me.

Q- What’s your favorite writing advice?

JS: Write from a feeling, not an idea. If you can’t get in touch with a feeling, try using imagery derived from your senses. This advice, and much more, came from a terrific book about writing by Robert Olen Butler called, From Where You Dream.

Q- The book you’re currently reading

JS: I’m currently reading Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee, about two sisters, one of whom struggles with a serious mental illness. The book is about the immigrant experience, love, family responsibility and so much more. Lee is a really gifted writer and storyteller and I am feeling inspired to write just reading her prose. I am also mid-way through a book of essays by and about women called The Bitch is Back. These personal essays cover everything from marriage to divorce, sex, ambition, plastic surgery, poverty, abuse, and so much more. I find myself thinking about the stories over and over again.

Q-What’s your idea of a perfect day?

JS: My perfect day takes place in summer, which I adore, and includes a lake and most certainly a boat. One of the first things my husband and I did when we settled in the suburbs was seek out the local lakes and explore. My husband grew up in rural New Jersey on a lake and I grew up near the Finger Lakes so that’s the kind of geography we gravitate toward. We now own a small motor boat on Lake Hopatcong and frequently spend a lazy summer afternoon reading books on the water, listening to music, and occasionally jumping overboard to swim.


Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Good-Neighbors-Novel-Joanne-Serling/dp/1455541915/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519319303&sr=8-1&keywords=joanne+serling

Website: www.joanneserling.com

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

Twitter: @joanneserling

Instagram: joanneserling

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35173522-good-neighbors?from_search=true#other_reviews

Interview with Negeen Papehn, author of FORBIDDEN BY FAITH

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“I want you back.”

I hadn’t let myself hope he would say that to me tonight. I thought if he didn’t, the disappointment would be unbearable. I realized that hearing him say he wanted us, and knowing that it was impossible, was more than disappointing. It was utterly devastating.


 “Much more than a love story… FORBIDDEN BY FAITH is full of twists and turns as two lovers navigate their way through one of history’s oldest cultural divides.”

“A little 50 Shades… A little Romeo & Juliet… FORBIDDEN BY FAITH is sure to keep you turning the page. Although after some of the pages, you may need to take a cigarette break (even if you don’t smoke!).”




Negeen Papehn was born and raised in southern California, where she currently lives with her husband and two boys. She wasn’t always a writer. A graduate of USC dental school, Negeen spends half of her week with patients and the other half in front of her laptop. In the little time she finds in between, she loves to play with her kids, go wine tasting with her friends, throw parties, and relax with her family. FORBIDDEN BY FAITH is her debut novel.


Negeen Papehn’s debut New Adult Contemporary Romance novel. FORBIDDEN BY FAITH, was published on February 20, 2018 by Owl City Press. It is the first novel in the Forbidden Love Series. Since the debut of the novel, I have interviewed Negeen about the novel and her writing process.

Question:  Please describe what the book is about.

Negeen Papehn: Sara knows her life would be easier if she married a Muslim man, but when has love ever been easy?

Raised by her immigrant Iranian Muslim parents, she’s been taught that a good daughter makes decisions based on her family’s approval, and she’s spent most of her life doing just that. Then one night, she meets Maziar, and her world is turned upside down. She feels an instant electricity between them, and it seems like fate when he tells her he’s also Iranian. Just as her mind begins to soar with the possibilities, he shatters her hopes when he tells her he’s Jewish.

Despite the centuries of unrest behind them, Sara and Maziar embark on a forbidden love affair, attempting to navigate through the cultural and religious prejudices that beat them down and attempt to tear them apart.

Deep within the trenches of her battle, Sara finds herself more empowered and careless than ever before. Angry at and disappointed by the people she’s idolized all her life, she’s determined to forge her own path. But choosing who to be could mean creating a life that’s no longer acceptable to those around her.

Sara feels herself growing into an independent and confident woman, but will it be worth the ultimate cost: her family?

Q- Where did you get the idea?

NP: The premise of FORBIDDEN BY FAITH with the clashing religions comes from my own relationship. My husband is Jewish and I’m Muslim. People think this story is the story of us, but it’s not. We’re lucky to have the families that we do. We didn’t have to go to war over a love that was ours, but a fight that spanned centuries behind us. It could have been our story though. So instead, I wrote the story for Maziar and Sara. This is their love story, not mine.

Q- What’s the story behind the title?

NP: I came up with the title, but that was after my editor thought we should change it. It was originally called UNBOUND but that didn’t seem as intriguing. After a lot of brainstorming with my CPs, my editor and I decided on FORBIDDEN BY FAITH.

Q- No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

NP: There’s a steamy love triangle that unfolds. Everyone chooses a team by the time they’re done J

Q- Tell us about your favorite character.

NP: My favorite character is Bita. She’s my male MC’s sister. I think her evolution throughout the book is pretty spectacular. She starts off being the person you love to hate, but as the story progresses and she’s faced with losing her brother, she begins to question her decisions, and ultimately chooses to change. By the end, you’re rooting for her.

Q- If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

NP: Hmmm… I think I’d spend the day with Ben. He’s a bit dreamy and I have a tiny crush on him, LOL. Maybe we’d go to a baseball game. He’s a big fan. Or maybe we’d do karaoke. That’s a pretty fun scene in my book.

Q- Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

NP: A little bit of both. No character is based on one single person, but more of a combination of characteristics of people in my life, past and present. And some of it just comes from my imagination.

Q- How long did you take to write this book?

NP: It took me a year to write it and then another year to have it picked up. By the time my book is published, it’ll be close to three years.

Q- What kind of research did you do for this book?

NP: I had to do research on the religions. I’m not very religious so I wanted to make sure I had the details correct. I also researched various aspects of the Iranian culture. Other than that, there wasn’t too much else. My book is based in Los Angeles, so I’m familiar with the location.  

Q- What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

NP: I did a complete rewrite before I sent it in to agents/editors. I restructured the timeframe of the love triangle and changed the details. There was about ten chapters that were cut and redone. Once my editor did a sweep, we took out a few chapters that didn’t seem necessary.

Q- Are you a plotter or a pantser?

NP: I’m a total pantser! Sometimes, I think it’s my downfall. I would love to be a plotter, and I try, but my story always has a mind of its own. I end up backed in corners that I have to find ways out of, which slows down the writing process. In the end, though, I come up with a storyline I hadn’t anticipated, which is exciting. 

Q- What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

NP: My favorite part of the writing process is when my manuscript is ready for the first round of beta readers. I love sharing my work with people. Hearing their reactions and listening to their responses is my drug of choice. And it doesn’t have to just be praise. I welcome their constructive criticism as well. Makes the story better, and makes me a better writer.

Q- What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

NP: The most challenging part for me is the beginning. The actual process of brainstorming and coming up with a premise for the next story, one that’s interesting, different, and deeper than just the surface. I’m so passionate about writing; it’s a dream for me. But I’m always afraid I won’t be able to come up with the next idea, and it will all come to a tragic end. I almost paralyze myself with fear. It causes me to get major writer’s block.

Q- Can you share your writing routine?

NP: I don’t actually have a routine other than writing in between everything. On my days off I try to carve out a few hours to write, if errands and my children allow it. The days I work, I write in between patients and during my lunch breaks. Weekends are usually up in the air. Any free time I can find, even if it’s twenty minutes, I write. I just pick up where I left off and keep going any chance I get!

The location I write in isn’t always the same. Sometimes I’m at my desk in the spare room, sometimes at the dining room table, and sometimes I escape to the local coffee shop. Just depends on what works for the moment. But, regardless of where I’m sitting, my headphones are on and always blaring in my ears.

Q- Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

NP: Yes! It’s miserable. I just walk away. I leave the writing behind for a week, give my mind a break by binge watching shows.

Q- If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?

NP: “Hang in there. Even when you feel like you’ve lost sight of who you used to be, don’t worry, you’ll find her again. And when you do, amazing things will happen.”  

Q- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

NP: I have one full unpublished manuscript that I need to start submitting soon, titled What Will Be, and I’m halfway through the second book in the Forbidden Love series.

Q- Do you have any writing quirks?

NP: Yes. I’m picky about location. I don’t need to write in the same spot each time, but the space needs to have the right energy. I have to feel the creativity flowing, otherwise I’m too distracted. And I must have a good playlist going. It needs to compliment the scene I’m in, otherwise it throws me off. So sad scenes get a ballad, hot scenes need a steamy 90s R&B song, and so on. J

Q- Tell us about yourself.

NP: I’m a mom and a wife. I have two boys, they’re 8 and 10. They’re spectacular little human beings and keep me super busy.  They are in the “arguing phase” of their relationship right now, so it’s lovely. I’m a dentist by day. I know, not a glamorous job, nor is it even close to writing, but I dig it. I get to interact with a lot of people, and I’m definitely a social butterfly so it works for me. Oh! And I love wine, LOL.

Q- How did you get into writing?

NP: Growing up, I sang and wrote music and poetry. But then adult life took over and I lost that creativity. A few years ago, I started getting desperate for an outlet; it felt like I was suffocating without it. A friend suggested I write a book after I told her an elaborate recollection of a situation that had transpired.

Two weeks later, I thought, what the hell, and sat in front of my laptop. The rest is history.

Q- What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

NP: I love spending time with my family, reading, hanging out with friends, wine tasting, going on vacations. I’m pretty easy and low key. I’m a social butterfly for sure, but prefer it in casual, intimate settings.

Q- Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

NP: I used to write poetry and music but I haven’t done that in ages.

Q- Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

NP: I can sing. I won a national contest for a song I wrote and recorded with my band in high school. And I was prom queen.

Q- Which book influenced you the most?

NP: ME BEFORE YOU, by Jojo Moyes. I was depressed for a week after I finished that book! I loved the reality of it. Just because her MCs fell in love, the path of Will’s decisions didn’t change. That’s how real life goes. When I started writing, I wanted to implement the raw, messy truths of life into my own work as well. And I wanted my readers to believe it, completely involved and invested in my characters, long after they turned the last page.

Q- What are you working on right now?

NP: I’m currently working on the second novel of the Forbidden Love series. I’m very type A, so sadly, I can’t work on more than one project at a time.

Q- What’s your favorite writing advice?

NP: “No matter what happens, you’ve already won. This has become so much more than you ever imagined. Remember that. Hold onto that. You can’t fail.” My boss is one of my biggest supporters and he said that to me when I was in full panic mode over the publishing process.

Q- The book you’re currently reading?

NP: I’m currently reading The Finish Line by Leslie Scott. It’s her debut novel and it’s fabulous.

Q- Of the books you’ve read, which one changed you the most?

NP: KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini. I can’t really explain how this book changed me, but I just know that it did. It opened my eyes to the horror that so many in this world face, and reminded me of how privileged I am to have been born and raised in the States. Things could have been so different if my parents hadn’t come to America so many years ago. This books tragic beauty and heartbreaking devastation has stayed with me from the moment I read it.


Website: www.negeenpapehn.com

Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/NegeenPapehn

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

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

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17379780.Negeen_Papehn

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Google: http://smarturl.it/FLove1Google 





A review of A DYING NOTE by Ann Parker - the sixth novel in the Silver Rush series


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of the novel.

Inez Stannert returns in A DYING NOTE, the sixth novel in the Silver Rush series by Ann Parker. The novel will be published April 3rd, 2018 by Poisoned Pen Press. For those of you who are unlike me and haven’t read the five previous novels in the Silver Rush series, those novels are: SILVER LIES (2006), IRON TIES (2006), LEADEN SKIES (2009), MERCURY’S RISE (2011), and WHAT GOLD BUYS (2016). If you haven’t read any of these novels, I highly suggest that you do as they are all wonderful novels. The Silver Rush series are historical mysteries set in the 1880s.

A DYING NOTE is quite different from the previous novels in the Silver Rush series. Yes, Inez Stannert is still the main character. And, yes, she finds herself in another situation where she needs to sort out a mystery and find a killer. What is different is that Inez and her young ward, Antonia Gizzi, have left the sometimes-wild mining town of Leadville, Colorado, where she was co-owner of the Silver Queen Saloon and had a stake in an upscale brothel. Unlike all of the other Silver Rush novels that take place in Colorado (four in Leadville and one in Manitou Springs), A DYING NOTE takes place in the more subdued, and much larger city of San Francisco, California. It is now 1881 – a full year has passed since the end of WHAT GOLD BUYS – and Inez and Antonia have relocated to San Francisco to restart their lives. Inez has to be careful to hide her past or else her job at the music store – and her new life as well as Antonia’s – could be placed into jeopardy. Inez can’t imagine that her employer would be overly receptive to the fact that she is a divorced woman who has killed a couple people (never in cold blood) and has a somewhat unsavory history. Inez’s employer is Nico Donato, a famous violinist in San Francisco. Turns out that he also has some unsavory incidents in his past.

While different from the previous novels in the Silver Rush series, A DYING NOTE was just as enjoyable. Getting to see Inez in a situation that is quite different from her life in the rough-and-tumble Leadville was interesting. Though, I do have to admit, I did miss Leadville and her cast of various and unique characters. Not to worry though, two of the more notorious citizens of Leadville show up in San Francisco. Florence Sweet – better known as Frisco Flo back in Leadville – is the madam of the upscale brothel that Inez is part-owner of. Frisco Flo was brought to San Francisco by Harry Gallagher. Harry is one of the richest men in Leadville and owns many of the silver mines in the area. He is also one of Inez’s past lovers. Harry and Flo, along with private detective W.R. de Bruijn, came in San Francisco to find Harry’s son who fled Leadville on the eve of his arranged marriage. Inez is swept up in the search for Robert Gallagher – mainly because Harry threatens to reveal her past. Inez manages to find Robert; unfortunately she finds him in the morgue. Inez. Frisco Flo, and de Bruijn work together to find out what happened to Robert and track down his killer. Antonia also gets involved in the investigation, and it is her participation that really adds something to the novel. Antonia is such an engaging and likeable character.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed A DYING NOTE. It was very well-written and plotted out. Ann Parker really brought San Francisco of the early 1880s to life. The characters – old and new – were all fully developed and interesting. I’m already looking forward to the next novel in the Silver Rush series.

An interview with Melissa A. Volker, author of A FRACTURED LAND



The bats ducked and dived over the acacia trees and under the eaves around the farmhouse as the dusk settled in. Rebecca was serving lamb curry to the guests up at the house. She could manage on her own, since it was only Carter and a British couple. If they were busy, Lexi would have relinquished the night off and taken it another time, but she was quite sure that Carter had enough of her for one day.

She curled up on the porch sofa, enjoying the soft light of the gloaming. She was warm from her shower and the throw blanket she brought with her kept off the evening chill. She saw him leave the veranda after dinner and the lights flick on in his room.

“Am I becoming a stalker?” she asked Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell was a farm cat who had recently adopted her, and had a particularly theatrical style of prancing about when she wasn’t languishing on inappropriate surfaces.

Lexi closed her eyes and covered them with her hand to stop looking across at Carter’s window, but all she saw were visions of the day. A blur of him striding ahead of her in the scrubland, his slim hips in his faded jeans, and the stretch of his T-shirt across his shoulders as he bent to remove and replace probes.

Then she remembered his stern, angry face and his sparse, but cutting conversation replayed in her head.

She opened her eyes again in time to see a bat swoop down. She pulled the blanket over her head. Everyone knows bats don’t fly into your hair, but she stayed there for a while, just in case.

“Go get them, Joni Mitchell,” she said, poking the shape of the cat through the fabric.


- “Fabulous romantic suspense. [The author’s] great sense of humor and passion for the environment shine through in this eco-thriller. I really enjoyed it.” - Pamela Power author of Delilah Now Trending, Things Unseen and Ms Conception.



Melissa A. Volker lives in Cape Town with her husband and two daughters. When she is not writing, she is surfing her stand up paddle board in the cold, sharky waters of False Bay.


Prior to the release of A Fractured Land on April 1, 2018 by Literary Wanderlust, I had the opportunity to interview Melissa Volker about her debut novel and her writing process.

Question - Please describe what the book is about.

MV - Lexi Taylor returns to her small South African home town to patch up a broken heart and rescue her rocky finances. Texan geologist, Carter O’Brien ignites the town’s hostility with an exploratory fracking license and a short temper. Lexi decides to risk village ire and help him out. But when his fracking survey turns up a hidden crime, being close to him puts her in danger. Then she discovers that, while his career is at stake if he fails to complete the geological survey, he stands to gain much more than he initially revealed, if he succeeds. 

While Carter and Lexi are hunted by someone desperate to stop the survey, she must figure out, if she survives, whether she has a future with this dark and complex man who has the power to destroy everything she holds dear.

Q - Where did you get the idea?

MV - I grew up near the Karoo and am interested in writing about environmental issues, like fracking, in a way that creates awareness through entertainment.

Q - What’s the story behind the title?

MV - I thought of it because Fracking not only fractures the literal earth, but also divides people. South Africa is historically a fractured land, and although it is united now, in way, it also is not. I wish it was not a fractured land but it is.

Q - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

MV - The main character, Lexi, has a cat named after a singer.

Q - Tell us about your favorite character.

MV - My favorite character is Carter O’Brien, the Texan Geologist. He is a strong character with an abrasive exterior, but a good heart.

Q - If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

MV - I would go to Austin to hear Carter and Lexi perform in their future band.

Q - Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

MV - Nope. They all come from my imagination.

Q- How long did you take to write this book?

MV - I started it in 2014 while querying another manuscript.  It lay around for a bit but I finished it during Nanowrimo 2015. After a few rounds of professional editing and then rewriting some sections on the advice of a beta reader, I got a publishing contract in October 2016.

Q - What kind of research did you do for this book?

MV - I did a lot of research on fracking. For example, how it works, how it would effect the Karoo, what type of rock is involved, how the real life anti fracking movements operated, how it effects employment rates in the rurals and where fracking occurs in the USA. I also researched the Austin music scene quite a bit and I had to Google Earth tour a few places for geographical accuracy.

Q - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

MV - I removed a whole lot of the beginning, as advised by a beta reader, so the story got going faster. The publisher removed my last chapter so the story ends stronger.

Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?

MV - I am a light plotter, but a lot of the story grows while I write, so the plotting is a skeleton, really.

Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

MV - Editing. I love to edit, polish and improve.

Q - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

MV - Getting new work down. I have to really concentrate and it is hard work.

Q - Can you share your writing routine?

MV - I work from home as a beauty and massage therapist, so I book gaps in the day or days off for writing.

Q - Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

MV - I don’t believe in writer’s block. You just have to keep clocking your card at the desk.  It’s like hiking. Each step will take you closer to the top of the mountain, even if it is weak shuffle.

Q - If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

MV - My younger self was a reader more than a writer. I would tell her to keep reading, and read widely.

Q - How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

MV - I have one unpublished manuscript and ten thousand words of a new project.

Q - Do you have any writing quirks?

MV - I need a mug of tea and a rusk to get going when I write. (A rusk is a traditional South African snack that is like a huge biscotti. It’s so hard you can’t really bite into it unless you dip it in a hot beverage.)

Q - Tell us about yourself.

MV - I am a wife (of a surfer, who does Cross Fit and reads a lot) I am the mother of his children (who also love water and reading) and the slave of a presumptuous cat (who does not love water but likes it when I read on my bed.) My day job is beauty therapy.

Q - How did you get into writing?

MV - I read for years, and then I took an online writing class.

Q - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

MV - I surf a 9 foot stand up paddle board. The beach is ten minutes away and I love the feeling of my hair blowing back when I ride a wave.

Q - Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

MV - I write surf articles for websites and magazines.  I blog about surfing and writing. And I have a work blog about beauty topics.

Q - Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

MV - I play a mean game of garden croquet.

Q - Which book influenced you the most?

MV - Alexandra Fuller, Bill Bryson, Stephen King and Nicholas Sparks are writers who’s style and methods of writing I admire and try to apply to my own. But I am more influenced by the collective mental fingerprint of all the books I have read.

Q - What are you working on right now?

MV - I am working on a love story that includes sharks and surfing. An anti-Jaws book. I want to bring the sharks back from the dark place Peter Benchley’s writing put them.

Q - What’s your favorite writing advice?

MV - Sit down and write. It doesn’t matter if it is bad just spew it out. You can fix it later. But you can’t fix nothing.

Q – What book are you currently reading?

MV - Yesterday by Felicia Yap. I’m not into dystopian fiction normally, but I am giving it a go. It’s strangely compelling.


If you’re interested in learning more about Melissa Volker, check out the following links.

Website: https://missmelissawrites.com/

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

Twitter:  @MissyAnnV

Instagram: @sweeeeet_melissa

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/9538242-melissa-volker


Review of WITH LOVE IN SIGHT by Christina Britton


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC.

WITH LOVE IN SIGHT is Christina Britton’s debut historical romance novel. It is the first book in the Twice Shy series, and RWA's 2017 Golden Heart Winner.

Imogen Duncan is 26 years old, and her London Season is long past. With no hope (or desire) of getting married, Imogen is prepared to live with her parents for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, her mother is overbearing and almost always disappointed in her oldest daughter. The woman won’t even let Imogen wear her spectacles in public because she is afraid that it will bring the family to ruin.

Caleb Masters, the Marquess of Willbridge, has spent the past ten years blaming himself for his younger brother’s death. This guilt has driven a wedge between him and his remaining family members. It has also led him to a life of debauchery with widowed women whom he believes will numb his pain for at least a short time.

Imogen and Caleb run into each other at a London ball. Imogen is there because her younger sister is having her Season, and she is there to support Mariah. Their other sister is locked in a loveless marriage that has broken her spirit. Imogen has vowed to make sure that Mariah does not end up in the same situation. Imogen and Caleb quickly strike up an unconventional friendship. Imogen sees Caleb as a guide to adventure – something she desperately wishes to have before settling into to the life of a spinster. Imogen brings peace into Caleb’s life – a feeling that he has longed for ever since his brother died. Friendship turns to passion, but Imogen repeatedly refuses Caleb’s offer of marriage because she refuses to marry a man who does not love her.

WITH LOVE IN SIGHT is a delightful Regency Romance. Imogen is the shy, awkward ugly duckling at the beginning of the novel. By the end, she has blossomed as she finds her backbone and realizes that she is a lot braver than she ever realized. Caleb is the brooding hero living a superficial, self-indulgent life of misery. Imogen’s friendship transforms his life, though he is a little too dense to realize that he is in love with her and she with him until it is almost too late. The secondary characters added to the novel – especially Caleb’s sister Emily. I appreciated Britton took the main characters away from the balls and rigid formality of the London Season, and instead has the second part of the novel taking place in a less formal, more intimate setting. Taking the Imogen and Caleb to his country’s manor house – the scene of his brother’s untimely, unfortunate death – allows for less conventionalism. It also brings Caleb’s family firmly into the story as they play a major role in Caleb’s unhappiness and eventual salvation.

Review of FORBIDDEN BY FAITH by Negeen Papehn

Fobbiden DIGITAL blue-pink.jpg

Sara and Maziar are both Persian, and their parents and ancestors are from Iran.

The problem is that Sara’s family is Muslim, and Maziar’s family is Jewish. If you know anything about the centuries of unrest in the Middle East, you know that the differences in religion is a huge deal. Turns out that it is also a pretty big deal between Persians living in California.

Sara and Maziar, neither of whom are overly religious, are determined to make their relationship work. Maziar is confident than everything will be okay. Sara is more practical, and she has her doubts. But that doesn’t stop her from pursuing the relationship. The problems in their relationship is caused by their family members. Sara’s family is mostly accepting of Maziar, though they are not pleased with their only daughter’s relationship. Maziar’s family is dead set against the relationship, and they succeed in breaking the two of up for a matter of years. Even after Sara and Maziar are brought back together, his family won’t accept it. But, during their second chance at love, Sara and Maziar are determined to let no one and nothing come between them.

FORBIDDEN BY FAITH, Negeen Papehn’s debut novel, is a very interesting contemporary romance novel. Instead of playing out over a matter of days, weeks, or months like a lot of romance novels, FORBIDDEN BY FAITH plays out over years. It also isn’t rushed or (sometimes) unbelievable, the relationship between Sara and Maziar is an authentic, true-to-life romance. And the novel isn’t just about the romance between Sara and Maziar, it’s also about their relationships between their family and friends. It’s about their lives – from school, to work, to just day-to-day life.

The story is told entirely from Sara’s perspective. The reader is taken along on a journey of ups and downs as they follow Sara for multiple years. The novel begins on the night that Sara meets Maziar when she is a 24 year old graduate student. The novel ends a few years later – after Sara is done with school and embarking on the next stage of her life. Sara is a very likeable character – though she does seem to cry a lot. The reader will feel her struggles as she fights for her relationship with Maziar. The reader will also feel for Sara as she finds her independence and begins to break from the expectations placed upon her by her family. Her parents expect Sara to be a good Persian daughter by following their dictates. Until she meets Maziar, she has based nearly all of her life decisions on what her parents would approve of. Dating a Jewish man (even if he is also Persian) is definitely not something that her parents would approve of. Dating a Caucasian Christian during the years where Sara and Maziar are broken up upsets them even more. Sara wants her parents’ approval, but she also wants to live her life as she wants to. Watching her grow and assert her independence and dreams for her life are captivating. The readers will definitely find themselves cheering for Sara during her journey.

I thoroughly enjoyed FORBIDDEN BY FAITH. The romance between Sara and Maziar was realistic and, at times, heartbreaking. As is her relationship with her parents, brother, and friends. All of the various relationships fills the pages of the novel and help shape Sara as a person. The novel is very well written, and the characters are all fully developed. I can’t wait to see what is next from Negeen Papehn!

Review of THE DEVILISH DUKE by Maddison Michaels


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

When a romance novel (or really any novel) opens with a Victorian-era, bluestocking, just about old enough to be considered a spinster female protagonist falling out of a tree because she climbed it to spy on the man of her dreams propose to another woman…well, you know you’ve got one interesting, captivating, and convention breaking main character. And then, a few chapters later, an Earl and a Duke exchange in fisticuffs in said female protagonist’s sitting room while battling over her affections…you definitely know you’re in for a fun, romantic ride.

THE DEVILISH DUKE is Maddison Michaels’ debut historical romance novel. The novel is set in Victorian Era England. The novel was published by Entangled Publishing on February 26, 2018.

Lady Sophie Wolcott has no desire to every get married. After watching her mother get heartbroken time and time again thanks to her philandering father, Sophie has no desire to make the same mistake. Sophie, who is nearing the age where she will be considered a spinster, is quite content working at the orphanage for poor children that her mother had originally started. Until the Devil Duke, Devlin Markham, inserts herself into her life and proposes marriage and a business deal.

Devlin Markham, the Duke of Huntington, has earned his reputation as the Devil Duke. Though the rumors about him are a bit more scandalous than the truth. Devlin also has no desire to get married but when Queen Victoria all but forces him to get married so she will back one of his business ventures, he pursues Lady Wolcott. First, Devlin wins the deed to Sophie’s orphanage, and then he offers to give her the deed if she will marry him. If Sophie doesn’t marry him, Devlin threatens to turn the orphans out into the street and then knock the orphanage down. After making her own deal, Sophie agrees to marry Devlin.  

They also both agree not to fall in love with each other… Good luck with that…

Added to Sophie’s and Devlin’s budding romance is a murder mystery. After one of the former orphans is killed while working as a maid for another noble family, Sophie is determined to find out what happened to her. Then two other servants from the same household are also murdered. Delvin finds himself caught up in Sophie’s quest to uncover the killer, and, in the process, uncovers something from his past that has haunted him for years. The added aspect of the murder mystery plays out nicely alongside the romance. Both of the storylines make this novel a page-turner. And, I have to admit, the identity of the bad guy kept me guessing up until the very end when it was revealed.

THE DEVILISH DUKE is an enchanting romance novel. Sophie and Devlin are both likeable characters. The readers will find themselves cheering for the couple in the early stages of their unconventional courtship. They’re both so determined not to fall in love, and watching it happen is both fun and frustrating. I kept wanting to yell at Sophie and Devlin to open their eyes and realize what is going on. Overall, THE DEVILISH DUKE is a fantastic novel. It’s well written, the characters are fascinating, and Michaels brings Victorian Era England to life.

Interview with Kimmery Martin, author of THE QUEEN OF HEARTS

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Excerpt from The Queen of Hearts

He turned to face me. The dying sun caught him full in the face, suffusing his skin with glowing pinks and golds and transforming his hair into a soft halo. Even though his eyes were brown, they were very clear in the sunlight; I thought I could see right through them. The background noise of dogs yelping and trees rustling and the rhythmic feet of the joggers faded into stillness around us. We sat, hushed, in our pool of dimming molten light. He knows, I thought.

Blurbs about The Queen of Hearts

"Martin’s debut novel, about pediatric cardiologist Zadie Anson and trauma surgeon Emma Colley, is a medical drama executed with just the right balance of intensity, plot twists, tragedy, and humor...A remarkably absorbing read.” --Booklist
"Whip-smart and full of heart, Martin expertly weaves the threads of friendship, love and betrayal into a story that crackles with humor and compassion. A brilliant debut."—Lisa Duffy, author of The Salt House

"In The Queen of Hearts, Kimmery Martin deftly weaves a tale of friendship and betrayal, family and lost love, the choices that define us and the secrets that keep us. Brimming with wit, intelligence, humor, and warmth, this dazzling debut teaches us about the heart’s surprising resilience. Kimmery Martin is a new voice to watch."—Sarah Domet, author of The Guineveres

Kimmery Martin’s Biography

Kimmery Martin is a physician, book reviewer, author interviewer, travel blogger, obsessive reader, and general all-around literary nerd who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and three children. The Queen of Hearts is her first novel.


Interview with Kimmery Martin

The Queen of Hearts was published by Penguin Random House on February 13, 2018. Since the publication of her debut novel, I was able to interview Kimmery about her novel and her writing process.

Question: Please describe what the book is about.

Kimmery Martin - Two physicians--a trauma surgeon and a cardiologist--navigate marriage, motherhood, and a series of professional errors even as a long-buried secret from medical school threatens their friendship. Think of it as a fusion of Big Little Lies and Grey’s Anatomy.

Q- Where did you get the idea?

KM - I’ve always been a tremendous book nerd. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I harbored a secret desire to model myself after the human beings I most admire—writers—and one day I just sat down and started. It’s a common trope that debut authors should write what they know, and there’s a good reason for that: for most people, mastering the technicalities of good fiction alongside a massive amount of background research would be too time-consuming and difficult. I know about being a doctor and I know about being a mother and I know about being a friend. Having characters who embody those qualities seemed natural.

Q- What’s the story behind the title?

KM - The original title was Trauma Queen. (One of my protagonists is a trauma surgeon; the other is a cardiologist.) However, I guess the publishers weren’t in favor of having the word ‘trauma’ in the title. I’m ghastly at thinking of titles, so we went through about a thousand before settling on The Queen of Hearts, which actually necessitated a change of specialty for the character who is now a cardiologist. But the title inspired the absolutely fantastic cover art: there’s a vintage anatomical drawing of a heart—recognizable to pretty much every physician—covered by gorgeous flowers.

Q - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

KM - Because of copyright restrictions, I couldn’t use certain song lyrics I wanted for a scene where Zadie, one of the mothers in the story, gets embarrassed by the music she inadvertently blasts during her kids’ carpool pickup. Therefore I wrote two original rap songs and attributed them to fictitious bands: Herbal Life’s Bitch Ain’t Sharing, and Down With The Man’s Sippin’ Sizzurp. (An ode to weed and a noxious cough-syrup-based party cocktail called Purple Drank, respectively. Note: I am not endorsing drugs here. This is humor.) They were totally badass but my editor pared them down to two lines, probably because she’s sane and I’m not. Here’s an excerpt.

--Gotta roll, gotta bounce

but first she say let’s burn an ounce

O hey, the bitch aint sharin

O hey, the bitch aint sharin

--yeah, 4 big blunts for my j-town playaz

some purple drank Im’ma savor

sippin’ sizzurp, she like ‘hold up’

I say whoa m—f—er as she throw up--

Yeah, okay, so maybe I don’t have a future as a rap lyricist.

Q - Tell us about your favourite character.

KM - That’s easy: Delaney, the three year-old daughter of one of the main characters. She’s an impish little squirt. I can state with confidence that I nailed it on this one, because I had my own real-life three year-old simultaneously wreaking havoc and melting my heart as I was writing it.

Q - If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

KM - Great question! While it’s tempting to say I’d hook up with Dr. X (c’mon, there has to be one scorching surgeon in a book about doctors, right?) I actually think I’d settle on a day spent in the late nineties with the whole gang of med school friends. We’d do exactly what we did in real life: work for thirty hours or more, stagger home near death, sleep a few hours and then go out like total idiots.

Q - Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?

KM - I was inspired by a transformative friendship with a group of girlfriends from medical school; we had an intense camaraderie and a love for one another that endures to this day. I had a vague idea that it might be interesting to base a book on a similar group of friends. Then I decided to transpose scenes from my characters’ lives in their early twenties with their present-day lives as wives, mothers, and practicing physicians. While I used the settings from my own life to inform the background of the novel, the events and personalities in the book are wholly fictional. All the drama in the plot—betrayals, professional errors, tragedy—bubbled up in my imagination as the characters became more developed.

Q - How long did you take to write this book?

KM - It took five years to write the book, edit it, acquire an agent, sell to a publisher, revise it, market it, and get it published.

Q - What kind of research did you do for this book?

KM - Almost none. My specialty is different than that of the two main doctor characters in the book, so I asked a number of cardiologists and trauma surgeons to review the medical scenes for me.

Q - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

KM - About 60,000 words, the original ending, and an entire plot line.

Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?

KM - 100% pantser. Not that I recommend that.

Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

KM - I love sentence structure: nothing gives me as much satisfaction as writing a sentence that’s funny or beautiful or stirring.

Q - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

KM - Plotting. Being a pantser means an immense amount of revision.

Q - Can you share your writing routine?

KM - If I’m lucky enough to be home, I write in the mornings when my kids are at school. By afternoon, my brain is fried.

Q - Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

KM - With my debut novel I really didn’t, because I didn’t know enough to get stuck. I wrote whatever and whenever I felt like, without any worry about deadlines or plot holes or story arcs. But if I wasn’t feeling particularly creative, I’d open one of my favorite books at random and read until my fingers itched to get going.

Q - If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

KM - You will get an agent! Hang in there!

Q - Do you have any writing quirks?

KM - I’m not sure. I think I do have a recognizable voice and I worry about repeating myself without realizing I’m doing it.

Q - Tell us about yourself.

KM - I’m a lapsed ER doctor married to an orthopedic surgeon with three feisty children and an obstinate Westie.

Q - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

KM - Hike, eat, travel, and read. And I also like interior design and travel photography, which means I spend a lot of time on Instagram.

Q - Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

KM - I do. I have a book review blog where I interview authors and recommends good reads. I also dabble in travel writing: recently I’ve posted articles on my experiences in Italy, Costa Rica, Iceland and Toronto. Finally, I’m participating for a year as a weekly blogger for The Debutante Ball, a website devoted to writing topics featuring five female debut writers.

Q - Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

KM - I’m obsessed with the vast societal changes that will occur as a result of upcoming technological advances…I cannot understand why we’re not all focused on this.

Q - What are you working on right now?

KM - I’m working on a second novel about one of the secondary characters in The Queen of Hearts, and I also have a half-finished biotech thriller that I’m longing to get back to.

Q - What’s your favorite writing advice?

KM - Read. A lot.

Q - The book you’re currently reading

KM - Artemis by Andy Weir.

Links to Kimmery Martin

If you’re interested in buying THE QUEEN OF HEARTS or learning more about Kimmery Martin, check out the following links.

Barnes & Noble - https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/queen-of-hearts-c-martin/1005382804?ean=9780399585050

Website: www.kimmerymartin.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kimmery.books/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kimmerym

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kimmerymartin/?hl=en

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/kimmerym/boards/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16855179.Kimmery_Martin

Review of WRAPPED IN THE STARS by Elena Mikalsen


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

WRAPPED IN THE STARS is Elena Mikalsen's debut romance/historical romance novel. It was published on February 19, 2018, by Wild Rose Press.

What immediately stood out to me in WRAPPED IN THE STARS was that it's two romance novels in one. The novel follows two female characters, switching back-and-forth between their perspectives. Maya is a resident at a hospital in New York, but due to an unfortunate circumstance, she has taken a sabbatical from her residency and left the United States. In Scotland, Maya purchases an antique ring. After she has the ring, she begins to have dreams and visions about the ring's original owner - a female physician named Rebecca who lived in Switzerland in the early 1900s. In an attempt to learn more about the ring and Rebecca, Maya travels first to Paris and then to Switzerland. Along the way, she meets a man named David. As a romance blooms between Maya and David, they learn that they both have a surprising connection to Rebecca's ring. As Maya searches for answers about the ring, Rebecca's romance with a Jewish student from the Ukraine plays out in the years surrounding World War 1.

Both Maya's and Rebecca's love stories are heartwarming and captivating. And their personal lives and struggles will keep the reader turning the page. You will be cheering for both characters to find love. WRAPPED IN THE STARS is a wonderful romance novel, delivering not one but two romances! All of the characters are intriguing, and the landscapes/time periods are brought to life in the descriptions. And the mystery surrounding the ring adds an extra element to the story that I thought was fascinating.

Review of THIS I KNOW by Eldonna Edwards


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

THIS I KNOW, Eldonna Edwards’ debut novel, will be published by Kensington Books/John Scognamiglio Book on April 24, 2018. It is a coming of age novel about an extraordinary teenage girl named Grace Carter. The novel is set in the late 1960s, early 1970s in a small town in Michigan.

On the outside, Grace appears to be like all of the other little girls in her small town. She lives with her parents, and is the middle child of five daughters. On the inside, Grace is very different not only from her sisters, but from just about everyone else. Grace has a very special ability that she calls The Knowing. This intuition allows her to read other people’s thoughts (but only if they allow it) and see things that others cannot. It also allows her to speak with Isaac, her twin brother who died at birth. Grace believes that The Knowing is a gift from God. Her family is aware of her ability, but they are not accepting. Her sisters mock her, and her father repeatedly tries to convince her that this is the work of the Devil and that she must stop using her ability. The only family member who really accepts Grace’s ability is her Aunt Pearl. Pearl urges Grace to continue to use her gift regardless of who accepts it and who doesn’t. Unfortunately, only a few of the people in the small town accept Grace – coming to her only when they want something. Throughout the novel, Grace battles with herself (and her family) over whether she should ignore or gift or if she should use her gift to help people.

THIS I KNOW is a very interesting novel. Grace is a likeable protagonist, and it’s interesting to watch her grow and mature throughout the novel. She is a kind and caring girl, and it’s sad that so few accept her and her special ability. That being said, Grace lives in a small town where just about everyone is deeply religious. Grace’s father is an Evangelical preacher, and she spends a lot of time in the church. Unfortunately for Grace, her father has never bonded with her in the way that he has bonded with his other children. Henry Carter blames Grace for not being a boy, and also for her living while her twin, Isaac, died at birth. In my opinion, Henry Carter is a despicable, unredeemable character. Rarely have I hated a character as much as him. And he sure doesn’t practice what he preaches. Henry is judgmental and unaccepting not only of his daughter, but of just about anyone who doesn’t belong to his church. Henry is so unaccepting of Grace’s gift that punishes her, frequently accuses her of practicing witchcraft, tells her she mocking God by using her intuition, and then forces Grace to suffer through an exorcism in a scene that almost made me stop reading the novel. Perhaps because I’ve known people like Henry, and been friends with people who grew up in households similar to Grace’s, that played a role in shaping my thoroughly negative opinion of him.

Overall, I did enjoy THIS I KNOW. It’s a well written novel with intriguing characters. Throughout the novel, I was cheering for Grace. I wanted her to overcome all of her doubts and the people who refused to accept her gift. I wanted Grace to continue using The Knowing to help her family and the other people in her small town. Aside from my dislike of Henry Carter, I felt that some of the storylines just petered out without any real resolution.