4 Aug 2020

I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner


I Am Here Now
Barbara Bottner
Published by: Macmillan
Publication date: August 4th 2020
Genres: Coming of Age, Young Adult

Set in the 1960s, Barbara Bottner’s I Am Here Now is a beautiful novel in verse about one artist’s coming of age. It’s a heartbreaking, powerful and inspiring depiction of what it’s like to shatter your life—and piece it all back together.

You can’t trust Life to give you decent parents, or beautiful eyes, a fine French accent or an outstanding flair for fashion. No, Life does what it wants. It’s sneaky as a thief.

Maisie’s first day of High school should be exciting, but all she wants is to escape.

Her world is lonely and chaotic, with an abusive mother and a father who’s rarely there to help.

So when Maisie, who finds refuge in her art, meets the spirited Rachel and her mother, a painter, she catches a glimpse of a very different world—one full of life, creativity, and love—and latches on.

But as she discovers her strengths through Rachel’s family, Maisie, increasingly desperate, finds herself risking new friendships, and the very future she’s searching for.

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EXCERPT:

THE CITY

The tiny fire escape is our private spot.

My dad says he’s sorry he’s gone so often.

Do I remember when I was six

and he took me into the city?

I wore a red coat, red shoes,

and perfect white leather gloves

embroidered with tiny blue buds.

I recall watching the road into New York:

billboards, telephone lines, bridges,

muddy sky.

The parking garage man said,

“So you’re the boss man’s little lady

I’ve heard so much about?”

The elevator man, Jimmy,

knew my name!

My dad’s corner office had the most windows,

the biggest desk, too.

My father bragged, “Your daddy runs this joint!”

From his window, as it got dark,

we could see Manhattan laid out in front of us

like a glittering tablecloth.

How could I not remember?

It was a perfect day,

until he turned the key in our front door.

Mother was waiting.

We were in for it.

A breeze pushes the fumes against my face.

He snuffs out a butt, then lights another,

says, “Look, kid, smoking’s a dirty habit.

I’m going to quit soon.”

“Teach me to smoke!” I say.

His eyebrows meet above his nose,

and as the tip of the cigarette burns,

it sends smoke into the clear night

like a signal.

Maybe, across the Harlem River

someone will see it,

realize we are signaling: Help!

“Let me try it, please? I want to be like you!”

“No, you don’t! Not now, not ever.”

“But, Dad, at least I should know

what I’ll be missing for the rest of my life.”

He smiles so wide, I can see his molars.

“Well, you’ll never know about the future,”

he says, ominously.

I grab his arm.

“Tell me the truth.

Are you thinking of leaving?”

“Leaving what?”

“Dad!”

“What?”

“Us! Please! Please don’t leave!

You can’t. I mean it!

She hates me.”

“Calm down, Maisie,” he says.

My voice crackles.

“I’m just telling you, if you go,

she’ll put me in the ground.”

He ruffles my hair

as if I am being amusing.

I want to scream.

“You think I’m a rotten kid, too?”

“You’re a great kid, Maisie.”

“I’m trying to reform, Dad.”

“Maisie, honey,

I like you exactly the way you are:

spirited, smart, your own person.”

“Being my own person

is treacherous,” I say.

He turns to me.

“Are you working me over?” he asks.

I know not to answer.

“Okay, you poor kid, one puff.

I’ll give you one shot at it

but you have to do exactly what I say.

You have to learn how to inhale, okay?”

I do have to learn how to inhale.

How to breathe,

as if I belong here on the earth.

I look at his face,

think how I’m glad that he breaks the rules.

He says we’re alike.

That must be why I’m the way I am,

as my grandma likes to say,

always flirting with disaster,

as if disaster were my middle name.

“When you smoke,

you take in the deepest breath

as if you have to last underwater

without air.

Then, you keep it in

as long as you possibly can.”

“But you don’t do that, Dad.”

“I’ve been smoking a long time, kid.

Ready?” he says, and lights a fresh one.

I sit up tall under the stars,

put my feet on the bench,

straighten my back

so I can always remember

this moment, me and my dad,

on the same wavelength.

Me, trying to figure out

if he wants to protect me

while he’s teaching me to smoke.

How about telling me about school?”

He sighs, offers the cigarette.

“It has its moments,” I say,

and close my lips around the tobacco,

inhale really, really deeply.

I am about to show him the bruises

I still have on my arm,

but then the smoke curls in my chest,

which immediately wants to explode.

“Hold it in,” he commands.

“Don’t let it out.”

Finally my mouth opens

because I’m coughing and gasping.

It feels like some kind of torture.

The taste is nasty.

“It’s awful!” I cough.

“It tastes horrible, feels horrible.”

I’m practically crying.

“So disgusting! How could you?!”

My dad laughs.

“Well, now you never have to do it again!”

I dash inside, refuse to speak to him

for the rest of the night.

“I’m done with you, Dad!”

He laughs!

Later he knocks on my door,

takes my hand.

“Between you and me,

if anything ever happened—

not that it will—in the leaving department,

wherever I’d go,

you’d be coming with me, kid.

I promise.”

I throw my arms around him.

Later I will drift off wondering

how much warning he’d give me.

And what about my brother?

Author Bio:

Barbara Bottner has written about 50 books for children of all ages. In May, her first YA novel in free verse, I Am Here Now is coming out from Macmillan (Imprint) She's written a NY Times Bestseller, as well as staffed prime time sit-com, sold screenplays, published essays and short stories in both national and literary magazines and reviewed children's books for both the NY and LA Sunday Book Review. Many of her works have been multiply translated and animated, and adapted for short plays. When she was an animator, she won "Best Film For TV" from the Annecy International Animation Festival. When very young, she briefly appeared on stage and in Europe with La Mama Plexus and in television movies. She teaches writing for children privately but won The Distinguished University Teaching Award from The New School For Social Research. Her papers are collected in the Arne Nixon Center for Children's Literature at Fresno State.

Former students include: Lane Smith, Robin Preiss Glaser, Peggy Rathmann, Bruce Degen, Barney Saltsburg and Antoinette Portis.

She feels blessed to have a passion that seems to stick with her no matter how the larger world goes out of control.

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3 Aug 2020

August Fog by A.L Goulden


August Fog
A.L. Goulden
(August Fog, #1)
Publication date: August 1st 2020
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Monica Waters has 31 days to choose between the love of her life or her soulmate. Juggling an unglamorous Hollywood career and a clumsy injury with an endless cocktail of antidepressants and dull daily routines, Monica moves through her thirties in a fog, avoiding the pain of her damaged marriage, broken body, and fragile mind.

Until he comes along.

When emerging artist Quinn Matthews moves next door, just coping with the downward spiral of life is no longer feasible. Their powerful connection ignites a relationship that will tip the boundaries of their perfectly balanced lives, sparking a mutual obsession and life-altering affair.

Monica tosses her prescriptions, striving to be free of their control, but with each passing summer day, dangerous secrets seep into their quiet suburban life, inching toward disaster. Sometimes the truth is hidden for a reason.

“This is a contemporary tale of a woman’s struggle to navigate love and mental illness, while defining where and how she will land on her own feet.” –Independent Reader

“A raw and honest look at the ugly secrets behind a flawed marriage and the stigmas of depression.”

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT:

They meet

Fusion can happen when two objects reach an extreme heat. When the blood boils, the same can be said of hearts. The connection can excite and ache and torment, yet the demise of will goes unnoticed when the thrill renders an addictive high. Monica Waters once loved getting high, both literally and figuratively, but outgrew the juvenile practice of artistic inspiration. She had responsibilities now, like a mortgage and an admirable career… and a husband.

Antidepressants helped too.

When Los Angeles soared past eighty-five degrees in April the unsettling promise of perpetual summer ignited tension across freeways. Monica shielded anxiety with music and a fun car. Bob Marley had eased an hour-long commute, also known as Thursday, delivering her to the sanctuary of home until she slammed the brakes.

A yellow Nissan blocked the driveway with no owner in sight. Her best friend owned the same vehicle but not with New York plates so she glared next door. Sharing a driveway with Rebecca’s bohemian flophouse had reached its limit.

Monica wedged her BMW into an ivy-covered carport at an awkward angle and pried herself out, trying not to scratch her paint against the fence. She mumbled a few obscenities when she couldn’t get leverage to slam the door but squeezed past the filthy SUV, smoothing her long chestnut hair. The tall Japanese-style gate that led to her bonsai garden greeted with Zen and wafts of jasmine.

That’s when she saw him.

On the wooden staircase that wound up to Rebecca’s converted attic was a man that shifted everything into slow motion. A man, that for a second at least, she would follow anywhere. Her reaction defied rational explanation. The guy wearing jeans and t-shirt carried a box but even his muscular build was common in this town. Still, he had a gentle force of gravity tugging like a current.

The back of his shaved head lacked noticeable character, but his climb was hypnotic. She stopped breathing while her heart pounded at an alarming speed. A beautiful tattoo engulfed his entire right arm with gnarled branches and scattered leaves of an old tree. It rooted around the box and swayed like a breeze as he moved.

When the gate slipped from her fingers, the slam jolted her from the daze and he turned. She inspected her purse and fumbled with her keys even when he paused near the top of the stairs, waiting for attention. She rushed to her back door but couldn’t resist the draw of his stare.

His eyes were crystal blue and pensive under a low-slung heavy brow. He stood confident like carved hardwood left unpolished with ample lips, a strong jaw, and a rugged nose, but didn’t come off as arrogant or boring. Her stomach twisted at his asymmetrical smile.

He was beautiful.

Flushed, she returned a tight grin and nod before barreling into her laundry room. “Who’s the guy next door?” she asked, dropping her stuff on the counter next to the deep sink.

Alex, still sweaty from work, gave her a quick kiss, which was followed by the smacks of a powerful dog tail to her thigh. Her husband’s own shaved head and brawny build still resembled an action hero but his gray eyes lacked the dangerous edge that once made him magnetic.

“You mean the Kelly Slater look-alike?” He laughed. “Rebecca’s renting out the upstairs to some artist. She says he’s bi-coastal… whatever that means. Pretty sure he’s gay.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Did you see what he drives?”

She cocked her head. “So.”

“So? That’s what Robin drives.” He flashed his hands.

“That might be the dumbest thing ever said. Did he look at you too long or something?” “Hey, I’ve got no problem if he’s gay. He can look all he wants. I’m just saying.” Alex flexed his arms and inspected himself.

“Just because Rebecca’s a lesbian doesn’t mean everyone she’s around is gay.” Monica reached to pet their rambunctious Lab Pointer mix, Lacey. “I just hate that she and Julie split. I miss her.”

“Me too. I wish she won the house but Rebecca could afford it.”

“Then why’s she renting out rooms?” Her words had that petulant tone she hated with an unwarranted volume.

“I don’t know,” he said, flicking the counter. “It’s not like we have control over our neighbors.” He shuffled towards the bathroom, stripping for his shower along the way. She watched, remembering when that used to send her running after him, but now he hopped around in his socks and underwear looking more child-like than sexy.

In her ballerina flats, Monica was two inches shy of six feet and two years shy of forty. Her curvy size fourteen worked in Hollywood, the land of size zeros. Sometimes she resented being a giant next to tiny, beautiful people because it equated invisibility, but she faked smiles in the back of every crew photo despite the obscurity of an editing career.

She bent to give Lacey attention and propped the back door open while Mr. Bi-coastal moved from his vehicle to the yard. The redwood fence obscured his face but a childhood crush on Yul Brynner embedded an allure to a nice shaved head. Staring like a lech though erased dignity, so she mustered the nerve to make an introduction.

She stepped outside but an eruption of vicious barking made her yelp. Two enormous Rottweilers flanked the middle landing on the staircase, flinging drool over the fence. Lacey ducked behind Monica in fear.

“No. No barking!” Mr. Bi-coastal bounded up the stairs. “I’m so sorry,” he said, setting another box down. “I promise I’ll keep them quiet. They’re friendly, I swear.” He drew an X over his heart like a seven-year-old but his intense expression was all grown-ass-man.

“It’s alright.” She swallowed hard. “My husband had lovable Rotts growing up.” Spitting out her marital status made her fidget but his shoulders relaxed. “My name’s Monica.”

“I’m Quinn.” He leaned against the railing that hovered above as if to shake her hand. “Did you guys just drive across the country?”
“Yeah.” He squatted to pet them and she noticed his left arm didn’t have visible tattoos.

“This is Sadie and Max. Once they know you, they’ll stop barking.”
She moved closer, pretending to care about this new pet relationship despite growls with

each step. “They’re just protective of you.” “Lucky me.”

She tried not to stare at the unicorn but artists wore gangly and pale with pride, escaping food and sun for months. This man nurtured his body.

“Beautiful dogs.”

Alex stood behind her, wet from the shower in just basketball shorts, but the lack of a Q-tip or something equally inappropriate was boggling.

Quinn straightened. “I was just telling your wife they’re friendly.”

Alex climbed the fence to engage their slobbery faces up-close and flaunt an arm tattoo of a Rott named Bosco. Monica was new to living with dogs but presumed they couldn’t recognize the image of devotion in permanent ink. This king-of-the-castle act was for Quinn.

“Nice tat,” he said, squatting for a closer look.

An immediate tit-for-tat and subtle competition developed between them but Monica found herself comparing odd qualities while they bonded over dogs. The pitch of their voices aligned and laughter became punctuation. Their attributes mimicked one another but Alex’s head was larger while Quinn ate leaner and worked out. They could pass as brothers but something about Quinn upset her.

He was too close.

The two historical homes sat less than seven feet apart, thanks to the lack of building restrictions in the 1920s. That proximity, which had sparked numerous noise complaints, didn’t seem to bother Alex now, tickling those beefy dog faces.

“Rebecca said you’re only here part-time.” Alex stepped off the fence and crossed his arms.

“I’m just starting to show my work here.” He hesitated as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to share more. “My agent thought it was wise, so I’ll be back and forth a lot.”

She hated the two adorable little creases that formed next to his eyes when he smiled. They were marks of experience. Marks of a life lived.

“We should let you get settled,” Alex said, motioning towards the box still sitting on the landing.

Quinn nodded. “It was nice meeting you guys.”

“Absolutely.” She cringed at her valley-girl tone and bizarre wave given to dogs with inherently sad eyes. She beelined for their bedroom hoping to erase that weird encounter from memory.

Author Bio:

Author of the “most realistic, often hilarious, and wonderfully romantic” (Rosie Malezer, international best- selling author) Chasing Swells returns with another emotionally charged and complicated love story about a Hollywood editor struggling with depression who meets her soulmate while she's married to her high-school sweetheart. This unique trilogy takes you through one woman's mid-life crisis as she stumbles and falls apart before realizing she's the only one who can put her pieces back together.

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1 Aug 2020

The Pain they Feel by Lynda Throsby


The Pain they Feel
Lynda Throsby
(The Pain Series, #1)
Publication date: August 12th 2020
Genres: Adult, Psychological, Romance, Thriller

Blaine has never stopped thinking about her. All those years ago when he saved her life, they had a connection. He didn’t know as a ten-year-old what that was, but those blue eyes of hers have helped him throughout his life, coming to mind during his darkest moments. He only hoped he would one day see her again.

He knew he wasn’t normal, whatever normal was. Though he didn’t physically feel pain, he suffered years of abuse with his mama telling him he was a freak. This made him think about pain to the point of obsession.

Needing to understand the pain they feel.

Primrose has never stopped thinking about the boy with the greenest eyes and the messiest black hair. Her knight in shining armor, the boy who saved her life when she was young.

She’d suffered two major losses in her life before she was eight years old. Living with a sister who hated her and made her life hell, the only solace she found was when she was sketching and painting the boy with the greenest eyes.

She knew they had a connection but didn’t understand it. She hoped she would one day see him again.

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Author Bio:

Lynda lives in Cheshire in the UK. She runs a successful financial business with her husband.
As a young teenager Lynda used to read horror books with a love for everything Stephen King and James Herbert. She has always wanted to write and even wrote horror stories at age 13/14. A little later she started reading Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper and has always had a love of books. This then exploded with Twilight and Fifty Shades as it did with most people, oh, and the introduction of E-Readers.
In her spare time, she has a season ticket for Manchester City Football Club and goes to all the home games. Loves going to concerts and the theatre. She goes to the cinema at least once a week. Then when the weather is nice you can see her gliding down the road on her Harley Davidson 1200T motorbike.
Travelling is also high on the agenda and her dream is to visit every state in the USA.
She would love to hear from you.

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Trust by Aphra Wilson Book Blitz


Trust
Aphra Wilson
Publication date: August 1st 2020
Genres: Crime, Young Adult

Anna spends her life longing to escape her home town.
After her latest plan goes wrong, she’s forced to navigate a world of danger, drugs and violence alone.
She must make enough money to pay a debt and get her ticket out of there.
She has a week to do it. No big deal, right?
Her simple plan becomes complicated as she quickly accumulates trouble. A violent drug dealer, a Police Detective with a hunch, and an unwelcome admirer with something to offer are among the many hurdles Anna encounters.
As she faces up to her own past and the growing danger she’s in, she learns what the people around her are capable of.

Everyone wants something, but how far will they go to get it?

A story of friendship and sacrifice in the face of adversity.

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EXCERPT:

As the car slowed at the bottom of Clarie’s street, Anna reached for the door handle before it stopped. Shaun spotted her motion and popped the locks down from his side.

“Woah now. What’s the hurry?” The car stopped, and he turned to face her.

“Thanks for the lift, much appreciated. I better go though.” She flashed a fake smile to cover the fear taking over her face. He reached over to her knee and squeezed her with his huge hand.

“You could try and show me your appreciation.” His hand moved a little further up onto her thigh. Anna’s heart rate doubled, a bead of sweat collected on her top lip. How the hell did she end up in this position?

“Sorry, thanks a lot, I mean. I’m just in a hurry now, that’s all.”

He leaned further over. His mouth was closing in on her face, his hand sliding further up her inner thigh. She pulled back, her face turned away from his. His breath whistled through his nose. A scream was bubbling up inside her, but it couldn’t escape. Her breath was held, she closed her eyes tightly as if the darkness could save her. Her jaws clamped shut, and her lips sealed painfully tight. Her fists clenched around the seat belt as if it offered any safety. His hand moved, off her leg, it brushed over her breasts. Anna braced every muscle anticipating his next move.

Then click. He pulled the lock up from the door beside her shoulder. The heat and weight of his presence lifted as she opened her eyes, and he reclined into the driving position.

He was smiling, more than smiling, he was smoldering. He was drunk on her fear, his cheeks were burgundy, and he breathed through open lips. Still tense, she remained in the same position, her eyes wide now, taking in this horrible scene. He dragged his hand across his chest and down over his huge round gut.

“Any time you want a lift, you know where I am.”

Anna took a sharp breath to bring herself back into her body, she grabbed the door handle and scrambled out onto the pavement. She slammed the door, swung her bag onto her shoulder and walked away without looking back. The car started, engine revving, calling for attention, but she wouldn’t turn around. It was moving slowly, just behind her, then sped up to the corner, he turned at the end of the road, back towards her, she was almost at Clarie’s, he slowed to a funeral pace. His window open, his shapeless arm resting on the frame as he passed, shouting;

“Remember, I’ve enough money to solve all your problems, just waiting for you to say the word.”

Author Bio:

Aphra Wilson is a mother of three, a tattoo artist by day and a writer in the middle of the night.

She lives in Scotland with her husband and children, and enjoys reading and writing women's fiction. Her work is influenced by her passion for strong female characters, finding strength in adversity and finding comedy in hard situations.

You can get in touch with her here, www.aphrawilson.com

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31 Jul 2020

Queen of Fate by Annie Anderson


Queen of Fate & Fire
Annie Anderson
(Rogue Ethereal #6)
Publication date: July 28th 2020
Genres: Adult, Urban Fantasy

A crown I don’t want. A bargain I can’t take back. A life I refuse to sacrifice.

After four hundred years on my own, one would think I’d be able to walk away and never look back. I’d done it a thousand times before with nary an inkling of guilt. But with my brand new predicament, there is no way I can turn down the offered bargain—not if I want everyone I love to stay alive.

Now, all I have to do is trek through the very realm I nearly died to keep sealed. Sure. Because there’s no way that could go wrong.

Unseelie Court, here I come.

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT:

They say the first year of marriage was the hardest. If the blade to my new husband’s throat was any indication, they—whoever they were—would be right.

But this wasn’t my husband—not really.

Sure, this was Alistair’s body, and sure, he was probably hidden somewhere, crouched low in the recesses of his own mind, but the man looking through Alistair’s eyes, and wearing Alistair’s skin was not my husband. He was some kind of dark Fae, and he’d taken over.

“What have you done with him? Where is he?” I’d meant it to come out as commanding, but I didn’t quite hit the mark. I was a frantic mess at best, and the monster wearing my husband’s skin knew it.

This was what I got for coming to Faerie. Literally every single person with any lick of sense said demons could get possessed here. They said it was too risky. They said Alistair was in danger by following me to this place.

Did I listen?

Of course not. I smiled, nodded, and did whatever the fuck I wanted to anyway, and look where we were. Look at what happened to the man I loved.

I should have known something was off the moment I saw Alistair fall in the gorge. We’d been trying to keep the Unseelie Fae back. We were trying to stop Verena and whatever cracked plot she was trying to carry out. I’d thought we’d succeeded. Peering into the strikingly blue eyes of Alistair’s hijacked face, I’d say we missed one.

I saw the lie cross his face before he opened his mouth. No. Not today, buddy.

“Think very carefully about what you say next.”I could practically feel my molars cracking from how hard I was clenching my jaw, and if my blade happened to nick his neck, well, it was just a sign that I meant business.

And yeah, this was far too close to home for me. Not just that it was Alistair—not that it was the man I loved being used in such a fashion. No, this was Maria all over again. This was everything I’d buried bubbling up to the surface.

And if Alistair’s face wavered a little due to some unshed tears, well, I’d say I’d earned them.

Not-Alistair took that moment to pounce, bringing the sword from his scabbard up and knocking my blade away from his neck.

I scrambled back a step, before our swords clashed—or rather my athame went from dagger-sized to short-sword sized after I pressed the rune on the handle, and I attacked. My fencing skills were weak at best, but no-rules swordplay? Aidan had once said I was a natural.

Still, this guy was parrying every single strike like he was humoring me rather than fighting for his life.

“I am not your enemy,” Not-Alistair’s mouth said, but his voice was no longer my husband’s. It had a burr of something else I couldn’t place. A smokiness that had never been there before—not even when he’d been phased.

“Really? You got a funny way of showing it.” My frustration bubbled up inside my chest as I slashed and parried. I couldn’t say why I didn’t want to use the power that roiled beneath my skin, but I didn’t.

I could kill him.

I could hurt him.

But I didn’t want to.

Author Bio:

Annie Anderson is a military wife and United States Air Force veteran. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she is a southern girl at heart, but has lived all over the US and abroad. As soon as the military stops moving her family around, she'll settle on a state, but for now she enjoys being a nomad with her husband, two daughters, an old man of a dog, and a young pup that makes life... interesting.

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30 Jul 2020

I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch


I Kissed Alice
Anna Birch
Published by: Macmillan
Publication date: July 28th 2020
Genres: LGBTQ+, Romance, Young Adult

For fans of Leah on the Offbeat and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, Anna Birch’s I Kissed Alice is a romantic comedy about enemies, lovers, and everything in between.

Rhodes and Iliana couldn’t be more different, but that’s not why they hate each other.

Rhodes, a gifted artist, has always excelled at Alabama’s Conservatory of the Arts (until she’s hit with a secret bout of creator’s block), while Iliana, a transfer student, tries to outshine everyone with her intense, competitive work ethic. Since only one of them can get the coveted Capstone scholarship, the competition between them is fierce.

They both escape the pressure on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a webcomic. And despite being worst enemies in real life, their anonymous online identities I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to like each other… a lot. When the truth comes out, will they destroy each other’s future?

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EXCERPT:

Iliana

It was the end of our junior year when everything between Rhodes and me came to be as it is now.

It was May, and we were at a pop-up installation on the edge of campus. Clouds of heavy, weed-scented smoke hung up around the light fixtures of an old gas station with bars on the windows, and rain was falling in through a spot where the roof had caved, leaving puddles on the dirty tiled floor.

Behind each ancient cooler door was an installation: women with tape over their mouths. Women with their hands bound. Women dressed like schoolgirls, and dressed like moms, and dressed like frumpy old ladies with curlers in their hair. There was a gas station attendant behind the dilapidated old counter, a girl barely older than us with shiny red lip gloss and breasts begging to escape from a Play- boy Bunny costume. Word around campus was that participants had to be eighteen so they could sign the liability waiver provided by the lead artist.

Men wandered from one cooler to the next, shopping quietly, selecting someone to take with them along with six-packs of beer and packs of beef jerky.

Rhodes and I had become friends, sort of.

We weren’t talk-on-the-phone friends, or even text-on-occasion friends.

But Sarah had been my best friend since the third grade, and Sar- ah and Rhodes had become completely symbiotic during their first and second years as roommates at the Conservatory. It had taken weeks of begging for Sarah to even suggest to Rhodes that I come along—no matter what I did, Rhodes thought my work was “pedestrian.”

She didn’t think I’d understand the show—called Quickies at the Kwickee Mart, clever them—or that the art installation would speak to me the way it spoke to her and Sarah.

But by some force of nature, I had been the one to win a scholar- ship at the Savannah College of Art and Design only a week before. My art wasn’t an existential crisis played out with paint and canvas, and it didn’t make any grand political statements, but it was going to pay for my college—and apparently it meant I was allowed to play with the big girls now. Only two days later, Rhodes invited me along herself.

A week after that, we stood side by side, stoned out of our minds and attempting to make sense of the little theater that played out in front of us. Some of the girls in the cases were seniors at the Conservatory, and I knew about half of the people standing around us from campus as well. The rest were unimaginably sophisticated, worldly looking artist types—people with ink-stained hands and tattoos that crept up from under the collars of their shirts and onto their necks.

If my perception hadn’t been completely altered, I would have thought to be a little embarrassed by my own clothing choices. I felt so metal sneaking out in my tattered-on-purpose Slipknot T-shirt and my tattered-on-purpose acid-washed shorts and my tattered-on-pur- pose pink-and-white-striped tights.

“It’s, like, feminism—” Rhodes said.

Her brows were knit together; her cogs were turning.

She didn’t understand. I didn’t want to tell her otherwise, to ruin the night like I always do. It wasn’t enough to say it was about “like, feminism.” Anything can be about feminism, because in everything there’s an imbalance of power. There will always be one person in the room that has more privilege than the rest, and that person is almost always an Ingram.

It didn’t surprise me that Rhodes didn’t understand then, and it doesn’t now—she doesn’t really know what it means to be a little further down the food chain than everyone else. I’m not much further down than she is—I’m just as white, Christian-adjacent, abled, and straight-passing as she is—but I’m aware of it.

“Yeah, just, you know—” Sarah’s pupils were blown out. She held on to me for dear life, the way Rhodes’s barely-younger brother and then-dance-track student, Griffin, clung to Rhodes’s arm. Sarah liked Griffin then—she was infatuated, really. I think she thought he’d be an easy segue into being a fixture in Rhodes’s life forever.

She thought wrong.

“The motherfucking patriarchy,” said Griffin.

The motherfucking patriarchy. As if that phrase in and of itself wasn’t the purpose of the installation, the fact that women are continuously victims of sexual violence in Western culture, so much so that it has permeated our patterns of speaking and even the way we curse.

Rhodes sighed, and nodded appreciatively. Sarah sighed, and nodded appreciatively. Griffin sighed, and nodded appreciatively.

This is art, they communicated, with stoops in their shoulders and ennui-burdened frowns. This is life.

This is suffering.

Pot only ever makes me more philosophical. Everyone around me was melting into puddles, and I was practically writing ninety-nine theses on third-wave feminism on the back of a fifteen-year-old Kwickee Mart napkin that had been stuck to the bottom of my boot.

Author Bio:

Anna Birch is the author of I Kissed Alice. She was born 'n' raised in a rural area on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama. She traded thick forests and dirt roads for the heart of the city, where she lives now with her husband, three children, and dog. She loves knitting, brie, and hanging out with her family.

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For the Win by Raine Thomas


For the Win
Raine Thomas
Publication date: July 25th 2020
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Determination.

It’s what gets Jasmine Li out of bed every morning. She’s determined to overcome the injury that has derailed her career in ballet, the only love she’s ever known. She can’t afford to allow a baseball player to distract her, no matter how hot and persistent he might be.

Commitment.

Will Campbell defines the word. It’s what makes him a successful pitcher and it’s helping him learn how to be a single dad to a little girl with plenty of trust issues. Just his luck, the one person his daughter—and his heart—finally respond to is a stubborn, sexy ballerina with plans that don’t involve relationships or children.

But Will didn’t become the best closer in the majors by giving up. He knows what he wants and what his daughter needs, and he’s going to get it. Jasmine Li has met her match…and he’s playing for the win.

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EXCERPT:

The strains of some kind of classical music reached Will before he entered the room. He didn’t immediately see Katie and Jasmine. When he reached the chair he’d pulled down for himself, he saw them standing at the barre, facing the mirror.

He was pretty sure his eyes nearly plopped out of his head.

Jasmine was performing a standing split. Her long legs, now covered in tights rather than the baggy pants, made one straight vertical line. Her right hand grasped the barre while her left hand grasped her calf in the air, leaving her torso curved in an elegant arch.

“So that’s the second position stretch,” Jasmine said, lowering her leg. “But as I said, that will come later. Our barre work will be much more basic to start.”

She spotted him as he dropped down into his chair. He did his best to close his gaping mouth.

“All done?” she asked.

“Yep.”

Thank God she didn’t ask him anything else. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to find his voice again.

Jesus. She was magnificent.

There was no doubt Jasmine was a beautiful woman. She had dark, lustrous hair, a flawless porcelain complexion, high cheekbones, and almond-shaped brown eyes that hinted at Asian heritage somewhere in the mix. She was lithe and slender, her every movement a study in grace and precision.

And she had fucking killer legs.

Sure, she was beautiful. But now…good lord. Those tights and that leotard showed him just what her baggy clothes had been hiding. Combined with the refinement of her movements, it had his body responding in a completely unexpected way.

Which was crazy, he told himself, since her poise and control were the two traits he had initially disliked about her the most.

Life could sure be ironic.

He shook off his reaction and returned his focus to the lesson, doing his best to look only at Katie. He pulled out his phone and used his camera, both to take pictures and capture some video. His dad was going to want to see them later.

The lesson went over the hour by nearly twenty minutes. Will hadn’t even registered how much time had passed. Having the opportunity to watch his daughter learn something that made her happy had the time passing in a blink.

“I know going through the moves and positions is repetitive,” Jasmine said as she and Katie sat to change their shoes. “But these are building blocks to learning routines.”

Katie nodded sagely. It had Will’s lips twitching in amusement, especially when he observed how she was mimicking Jasmine’s posture and mannerisms.

“It seems you enjoyed yourself, huh, kiddo?” he said, walking over to her and giving her bun a gentle tug.

She smiled and nodded.

“Would you like to do this again?” Jasmine asked her.

Another nod, this one more vigorous.

Jasmine also smiled. The genuineness of it made her attractive on a whole other level. It revealed to him that she wasn’t just polished, poised, and aloof. There was passion inside her just waiting to be ignited.

Five minutes later, he locked Giuseppe’s doors and walked with Jasmine to the back of the Jeep so he could load the barre for her. She reached past him to toss her gym bag into the back and he caught her scent, something lightly floral and utterly feminine that once again made his libido take notice. And when she reached up, untwisted her hair tie, and released her glorious dark hair so it spilled down between her shoulder blades, there was even a moment where he forgot how to breathe.

“Call or text me when you’re ready to schedule another lesson,” she said as she closed the Jeep’s rear hatch.

“Sure,” he managed. Then, remembering he hadn’t paid her, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He handed her the hundred dollars plus an extra twenty for the additional time she’d given them. “Thanks again for doing this.”

“It was my pleasure.”

He and Katie waved her off and then climbed into his truck to head home. As he started the engine and backed out of the parking spot, he took a moment to reflect on how the lesson had gone.

He had started it with serious reservations about working with Jasmine because he hadn’t thought she would be invested in Katie, and he quite frankly hadn’t liked her very much. Now here he was ninety minutes later, having serious reservations about working with her for the exact opposite reasons.

He wasn’t at all sure what to do about that. When he’d come up with this idea, he’d had some expectation that he’d have to help protect Katie’s heart from being broken if this didn’t work out.

What the hell was he going to do to protect his own?

Author Bio:

Raine Thomas is the award-winning author of bestselling Young Adult and New Adult fiction. Known for character-driven stories that inspire the imagination, Raine has signed with multiple award-winning producer Chase Chenowith of Back Fence Productions to bring her popular Daughters of Saraqael trilogy to the big screen. She's a proud indie author who is living the dream. When she isn't writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida's beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

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29 Jul 2020

The Hallow Gods by A.J Vrana


The Hollow Gods
A.J. Vrana
(The Chaos Cycle Series, #1)
Published by: Parliament House
Publication date: July 28th 2020
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Magical Realism, New Adult

Isolated in the forests of Western Canada, Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret. For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods with the help of wolves, and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: every now and again, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.

When Kai wakes up next to the body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience. Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim and finds herself caught between a supernatural kidnapping and a senseless murder. And after the death of a young patient, crestfallen oncologist Mason embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.

Yet a maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears, and unite to confront a centuries old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat?

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EXCERPT:

When Miya returned from the dream, her eyes were already open, but she was unable to move—paralyzed even though she was wide awake. Her heart crashed against her ribs, and her breath caught in her throat, every tendon and muscle taut with desperation. She couldn’t open her mouth, scream, or even gasp for air. All she could do was look right in front of her.

The phantom woman from the dream hovered directly above her, her face inches away as she mirrored Miya’s prostrate form. Miya could see the mask clearly now—a hard, bone shell, shaped like a raven’s beak. It extended down her face in a sharp V, past her lips and over the edge of her chin. The mask was decorated with gleaming black and purple that swirled together like oil and water, slick against the smooth, flawless ivory. Her lips—quirked at the edges—descended towards Miya’s.

Miya squeezed her eyes shut, trying to kick and thrash—whatever she could do to get away. Her skin crawled with spiders, invisible parasites burrowing their way inside her until she was unable to fight the fear any longer. Miya implored the spectre, bargaining with the only thing she felt the woman might want.

I’ll go back to the dream, Miya told her. I’ll follow you—wherever you want. I swear. Please, just let me go.

Air rushed down Miya’s throat with such force that her lungs burned when she finally managed to gasp. Her eyes shot open, beads of sweat trickling down her face as she tore over every inch of her room. The apparition was no longer there.

Miya’s hand twitched as she flexed her fingers, testing her ability to move. She breathed in again, this time slower, willing herself to stop shaking but with little success. She’s no longer here, Miya repeated. Her mind was racing, her senses screaming, but she had, somehow, regained control.

Miya sat up, remembering what it was like to be inside her own body. She had the distinct sense of having gone somewhere she shouldn’t have—somewhere she risked never coming back from. A bizarre thought to have about a nightmare, but Miya knew in her bones that this was more than a dream. She’d looked into Medusa’s eyes and barely evaded turning to stone.

For a brief moment, the fog lifted, and she remembered the events of her first dream—the one that came before last night’s. Not only that, her knowledge of the fable had returned. In a frantic tumble, Miya threw herself at the bedside table and reached for her journal. She couldn’t afford to forget again; she had to write it down. She needed to know what came next. But the second the tip of her pen connected with the paper, Miya had no idea what to write. She stared down at the lines, her mind as blank as the page in front of her.

The dreams and the fable were gone.


Author Bio:

A. J. Vrana is a Serbian-Canadian academic and writer currently residing in Toronto, Canada with her two rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter. Her doctoral research focuses on the supernatural in modern Japanese and former-Yugoslavian literature and its relationship to violence. When not toiling away at caffeine-fueled, scholarly pursuits, she enjoys jewelry-making, cupcakes, and concocting dark tales to unleash upon the world.

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Wicked Devil by Daniella Romero Cover Reveal


Wicked Devil
Daniela Romero
Publication date: August 24th 2020
Genres: Romance, Sports, YA, NA

Roman Valdez is the Devil.
He sneers at me.
He hates me.
He wants to hurt me.

Let him try.

He thinks he’s untouchable. The self-appointed Devil of Sun Valley High.
But I’ve already lost everything and everyone I care about.
It’s me he should be afraid of. Not the other way around.
Because I have nothing left to lose, and he can’t break what’s already broken.

At least, that’s what I thought.

But when the Devil begins picking up the pieces, I realize while he might not break me. He can absolutely shatter me, heart and soul.
And I just might let him.

Wicked Devil is a stand-alone, high school romance with enemies to lovers/bullying themes. It deals with sensitive subjects some may find triggering and is recommended for mature readers 17+

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Author Bio:

Daniela Romero is a Snarky AF, Latinx Author, who happens to also be a Mom of 3. Born and raised in sunny California, she now makes her home in the Pacific Northwest and is happy to enjoy all four seasons even if the snow can sometimes be a bit much. She hates cheese--of all kinds--and yes that means she orders cheeseless pizza. Daniela is an ENTJ all the way which means she loves to talk (a lot) and is probably as extroverted as they come so feel free to shoot her a message, send a raven, throw up smoke signals. Whatever it may be. She love's chatting with readers so feel free to stalk her.

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