Book Showcase: THE WITCHES OF MOONSHYNE MANOR by Bianca Marais

THE WITCHES OF MOONSHYNE MANOR by Bianca Marais cover, blue background with title in yellow print above yellow cauldronThe Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais
ISBN: 9780778386995 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369722454 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488215506 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09VYH1XRQ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09SD4NCGB (Kindle edition)
Release Date: August 23, 2022
Publisher: MIRA Books
Genre: Fiction | Magical Realism | Feminism

A coven of modern-day witches. A magical heist-gone-wrong. A looming threat.

Five octogenarian witches gather as an angry mob threatens to demolish Moonshyne Manor. All eyes turn to the witch in charge, Queenie, who confesses they’ve fallen far behind on their mortgage payments. Still, there’s hope, since the imminent return of Ruby—one of the sisterhood who’s been gone for thirty-three years—will surely be their salvation.

But the mob is only the start of their troubles. One man is hellbent on avenging his family for the theft of a legacy he claims was rightfully his. In an act of desperation, Queenie makes a bargain with an evil far more powerful than anything they’ve ever faced. Then things take a turn for the worse when Ruby’s homecoming reveals a seemingly insurmountable obstacle instead of the solution to all their problems.

The witches are determined to save their home and themselves, but their aging powers are no match for increasingly malicious threats. Thankfully, they get a bit of help from Persephone, a feisty TikToker eager to smash the patriarchy. As the deadline to save the manor approaches, fractures among the sisterhood are revealed, and long-held secrets are exposed, culminating in a fiery confrontation with their enemies.

Funny, tender and uplifting, the novel explores the formidable power that can be discovered in aging, found family and unlikely friendships. Marais’ clever prose offers as much laughter as insight, delving deeply into feminism, identity and power dynamics while stirring up intrigue and drama through secrets, lies and sex. Heartbreaking and heart-mending, it will make you grateful for the amazing women in your life.

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Read an excerpt:

1

Saturday, October 23rd
Morning

Half an hour before the alarm will be sounded for the first time in decades—drawing four frantic old women and a geriatric crow from all corners of the sprawling manor—Ursula is awoken by insistent knocking, like giant knuckles rapping against glass. It’s an ominous sign, to be sure. The first of many.

Trying to rid herself of the sticky cobwebs of sleep, Ursula throws back the covers, groaning as her joints loudly voice their displeasure. She’s slept in the buff, as is her usual habit, and as she pads across the room, she’s more naked than the day she was born (being, as she is, one of those rare babies who came into the world fully encased in a caul).

Upon reaching the window, the cause of the ruckus is immediately obvious to Ursula; one of the Angel Oak’s sturdy branches is thumping against her third-floor window. Strong winds whip through the tree, making it shimmy and shake, giving the impression that it’s espousing the old adage to dance like no one’s watching, a quality that rather has to be admired in a tree. Either that, or it’s trembling uncontrollably with fear.

The forest, encroaching at the garden’s boundary, looks disquieted. It hangs its head low, bowing to a master who’s ordered it to bend the knee. As the charcoal sky churns, not a bird to be seen, the trees in the wood whisper incessantly. Whether they’re secrets or warnings, Ursula can’t tell, which only unsettles her further.

That infernal billboard that the city recently erected across from the manor property—with its aggressive gigantic lettering shouting, ‘Critchley Hackle Mega Complex Coming Soon!’—snaps in the wind, issuing small cracks of thunder. A storm is on its way, that much is clear. You don’t need to have Ivy’s particular powers to know as much.

Turning her back on the ominous view, Ursula heads for the calendar to mark off another mostly sleepless night. It seems impossible that after so many of them—night upon night, strung up after each other seemingly endlessly—only two remain until Ruby’s return, upon which Ursula will discover her fate.

Either Ruby knows or she doesn’t.

And if she does know, there’s the chance that she’ll want nothing more to do with Ursula. The thought makes her breath hitch, the accompanying stab of pain almost too much to bear. The best she can hope for under the circumstances is that Ruby will forgive her, releasing Ursula from the invisible prison her guilt has sentenced her to.

Too preoccupied with thoughts of Ruby to remember to don her robe, Ursula takes a seat at her mahogany escritoire. She lights a cone of mugwort and sweet laurel incense, watching as the tendril of smoke unfurls, inscribing itself upon the air. Inhaling the sweet scent, she picks up a purple silk pouch and unties it, spilling the contents onto her palm.

The tarot cards are all frayed around the edges, worn down from countless hours spent jostling through Ursula’s hands. Despite their shabbiness, they crackle with electricity, sparks flying as she shuffles them. After cutting the deck in three, Ursula begins laying the cards down, one after the other, on top of the heptagram she carved into the writing desk’s surface almost eighty years ago.

The first card, placed in the center, is The Tower. Unfortunate souls tumble from the top of a fortress that’s been struck by lightning, flames engulfing it. Ursula experiences a jolt of alarm at the sight of it for The Tower has to signify the manor; and anything threatening their home, threatens them all.

The second card, placed above the first at the one o’clock position, can only represent Tabitha. It’s the Ten of Swords, depicting a person lying face down with ten swords buried in their back. The last time Ursula saw the card, she’d made a mental note to make an appointment with her acupuncturist, but now, following so soon after The Tower, it makes her shift nervously.

The third, fourth and fifth cards, placed at the three o’clock, four-thirty and six o’clock positions, depict a person (who must be Queenie) struggling under too heavy a load; a heart pierced by swords (signifying Ursula); and a horned beast towering above a man and woman who are shackled together (obviously Jezebel). Ursula whimpers to see so many dreaded cards clustered together.

Moving faster now, she lays out the sixth, seventh and eighth cards at the seven-thirty, nine and eleven o’clock positions. Ursula gasps as she studies the man crying in his bed, nine swords hovering above him (which can only denote Ursula’s guilt as it pertains to Ruby); the armored skeleton on horseback (representing the town of Critchley Hackle); and the two bedraggled souls trudging barefoot through the snow (definitely Ivy). Taking in all eight sinister cards makes Ursula tremble much like the Angel Oak.

Based on the spread, Ursula absolutely should sound the alarm immediately, but she’s made mistakes in the past—lapses in judgment that resulted in terrible consequences—and so she wants to be a hundred percent certain first.

She shuffles the cards again, laying them down more deliberately this time, only to see the exact same shocking formation, the impending threat even more vivid than before. It couldn’t be any clearer if the Goddess herself had sent a homing pigeon with a memo bearing the message: Calamity is on its way! It’s knocking at the window, just waiting to be let in!

And yet, Ursula still doesn’t sound the alarm, because that’s what doubt does; it slips through the chinks in our defenses, eroding all sense of self until the only voice that should matter becomes the one that we don’t recognize anymore, the one we trust the least.

As a result of this estrangement from herself, Ursula has developed something of a compulsion, needing to triple check the signs before she calls attention to them, and so she stands and grabs her wand. She makes her way down the hallway past Ruby’s and Jezebel’s bedrooms at a bit of a clip before descending the west wing stairs.

It’s just before she reaches Ivy’s glass conservatory that Ursula breaks out into a panicked run.

Excerpt from The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais.
Copyright © 2022 by Bianca Marais.
Published by arrangement with MIRA Books
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Bianca Marais author photo by Brendan Fisher
Bianca Marais – credit Brendan Fisher

Bianca Marais cohosts the popular podcast The Sh*t No One Tells You About Writing, aimed at emerging writers. She was named the winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award for Creative Writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies in 2021. She is the author of two novels, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh, as well as the Audible Original The Prynne Viper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and fur babies.

 
Connect with the author via Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website

This excerpt is brought to you by MIRA Books

 

Book Showcase: LITTLE DIRT ROAD and JUICED by Ted Mulcahey

Join the O’Malleys, along with their ever-vigilant German Shepherd, Emma, on Whidbey Island as they take on criminals, embezzlers, drug lords, and murderers, putting themselves right in the center of all the danger. With the help of their friend, Bellevue Detective Bill Owens, will they come out on top?

LITTLE DIRT ROAD by Ted Mulcahey book coverLittle Dirt Road: Bad Men on Whidbey Island, The O’Malley Adventures – Book 3, by Ted Mulcahey
ISBN: 9781735493244 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781735493251 (eBook)
ASIN: B09QFLG6PR (Kindle edition)
Release Date: January 12, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Mystery | Cozy Mystery

The O’Malleys are doing what? How is it possible that dangerous complications arise from their simple vacation in wine country? With their recent move to South Whidbey Island, only the O’Malley’s would stumble upon drug smugglers, embezzlers, and murderers amongst the locals. The quirky, pastoral island, reachable by a less than speedy ferry from Mukilteo or the narrow, deteriorating Deception Pass bridge, is no match for the wicked men about to visit.

A notorious drug lord and a nondescript enforcer with freakish hell-raising skills invade the peaceful Pacific Northwest island—where not even the friendly locales and free-roaming long-eared rabbits can soften his homicidal heart.

Weeding through the facts and surprisingly connected characters with their trusted friend, Bellevue Detective Bill Owens, the narrative swirls from Mexico to Canada and throughout Puget Sound. It’s a heart-racing and outrageously offbeat adventure for two innocent people, proving once again that trouble will find the O’Malleys without the slightest amount of effort on their part.

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JUICED by Ted Mulcahey book coverJuiced: Bad Men on Whidbey Island, The O’Malley Adventures – Book 4, by Ted Mulcahey
ISBN: 9781735493268 (paperback)
ASIN: B09VJPNDCF (Kindle edition)
Release Date: March 13, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Mystery | Cozy Mystery

Juiced is a fun, thrilling adventure involving secret, breakthrough research

An invention that can save the planet?

Somehow, someway the O’Malleys have found themselves in the thick of things once again. On peaceful, bucolic Whidbey Island, they become entangled in a corporate plot to stifle a paradigm-shattering discovery, one that promises to upend conventional thinking, topple markets, and create an entirely new industry.

Kevin and Jenne, along with scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, find themselves pitted against a band of bumbling criminals who will stop at nothing to get what they want—including arson and murder.

It’s another rollicking adventure for the retired interior designers ably assisted by their favorite detective, the FBI, and Emma, their ever-vigilant German Shepherd Dog.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org

 

Read an excerpt:

ALERT: Mild Profanity

It was one of those dark, rainy afternoons in the Pacific Northwest. Four-thirty, and already the headlights were bouncing off the slick, shiny freeway.

I was on my way back to Whidbey Island. Playing golf in Seattle in late November was not for the faint of heart. Bundled up with rain gear, umbrella stuck on the push golf cart, wet khakis tucked into even wetter socks, we had slogged through eighteen holes of betting and swearing.

Usually, the Wednesday round was followed by more swearing, drinking wine, and playing gin rummy, but today was different. Today was Jenne’s birthday. It was the big one, double nickels. Well, sort of a big one.

Of course, she told me to stay, have fun and enjoy myself – no big deal. When you’ve been married more than once, you absolutely know for sure that birthdays are a big deal. Unless, that is, you don’t care if your sexual activities are curtailed for, say, a month or two.

Well, not this husband. No sir. I managed to make the 5:30 ferry. And also had the foresight to stop at Walgreens and select a lovely greeting card. From Hallmark. I figured the card with a heartfelt message, along with the bouquet purchased at the Star Store when I drove through Langley, would put me in Jenne’s good graces.

It should have been a wonderful evening.

But it wasn’t.

I made the right onto Little Dirt Road. About five hundred yards up the hill, on the unpaved surface, I turned on the crushed gravel driveway leading to our tidy, shingled home. We live on a bluff that normally overlooks Saratoga Passage. Tonight it was dark and rainy.

And there were no lights on in the house or on the grounds.

This seemed odd. I negotiated the six steps to the porch in the dark. Emma was inside, barking as only a German shepherd can, when anything, and I mean anything, is perceived as a threat.

“Easy girl, easy. It’s me.” She quieted only slightly until I opened the door—it was unlocked—and she calmed down. I flicked the lights on, rubbed behind her ears, and stupidly called out Jenne’s name. She’s not here, you dope. She wouldn’t be sitting in the dark. I walked to the kitchen counter. There was a note in her writing. “Went for a walk in case you get home early. Back around 4:30.” It was followed by a little heart and a smiley face.

What the fuck? It was 6:45. Still not accepting reality, I dialed her cell. The sounds of “The Irish Washerwoman,” her ringtone, came from the little nook with the fireplace, just off the kitchen.

This was strange. Even though she always thought she had forgotten her phone, she seldom did.

I stood there, searching my mind but coming up with nothing. Her car was in the courtyard, her phone in the house. Where the fuck is she?

We didn’t know that many people on the island. We knew our neighbors and a few others, but few were close friends. The only people Jenne was close to lived off-island. And they did not come up in this crappy weather.

One thing was certain, if she left around 3:30, she sure as hell wasn’t still on her walk.

I walked across the dark, grassy area separating us from our neighbors, Tim and Raye. I knocked on the door, perhaps a little too forcefully.

“Kevin. Hi, good to see you.” Tim was a gentle soul and a terrific neighbor, always there if you needed him, and highly considerate in every way.

“Hi, Tim. Have you seen Jenne? When I got home, the house was dark. She left a note saying she’d be back at 4:30. Do you know where she could be?”

“Geez, Kev, no, I don’t. I did see her a little before five. She was headed down the street. I thought it a bit odd because it was getting dark, but that was about it.”

“She was headed south?”

“Yes.”

“She always goes the other way on her walks and finishes by coming up the hill. She says it feels good to stretch out at the end of it.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m sure she was headed down. Is there anything I can do?”

“Thanks. Not yet. Let me think about it first.”

Tim’s face showed genuine concern. “You know we’re here if you need anything.”

“I do, Tim. Thanks.”

I went back home and stood in the kitchen. “Emma, what do you think? Where the hell is your mom?”

The ninety-pound black and tan animal looked directly at me and twisted her head to the left. “Ah, I wish you could talk, kiddo.”

If Tim saw Jenne go back down the hill, maybe she was going to one of the homes on Saratoga Road. For some reason. To someone’s house, she didn’t know. Sure.

“Emma. Let’s go. Get in the truck.” Before I went entirely off the deep end, I figured a drive around the area might be productive. Maybe Emma could be of some help. Maybe.

We drove slowly down the hill, past Tim and Raye’s house and past the Robinsons, who lived on the opposite corner. Most of the properties were well over an acre. As a result, there weren’t many homes nearby.

After turning right on Saratoga, where there was no traffic, thankfully, we crept as slowly as possible. I rolled down the rear windows in case Emma caught a scent.

We passed three homes. Emma acted as though this was a simple trip to the store. Maybe even treats if she behaved.

On the left was a huge vacant field where sheep occasionally grazed. Beyond that was a long, straight two-track that served as a driveway for a home hidden by tall firs and cedars.

During our walks, we’d always speculate as to who lived there. Occasionally we would see an island car chug and sputter down the drive. Island cars are beaters that nobody would ever take on the ferry. They frequently break down, and hell hath no fury greater than ferry patrons missing the boat because some yahoo couldn’t start their fucking car.

Excerpt from Juiced by Ted Mulcahey.
Copyright © 2022 by Ted Mulcahey.
Printed with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Ted Mulcahey author photo

Ted Mulcahey has lived throughout the US, for the past 35 years in the Pacific Northwest. He’s an Army vet, sales and marketing VP, entrepreneur, business owner, avid reader, one of nine children, a former caddie, and lover of dogs and golf. The last twenty-five years were spent in partnership with his wife Patte, the owners of a highly respected and published hospitality interior design firm in the Seattle Area. They’re now living on Whidbey Island and enjoying its rural bliss.

Ted writes about things he’s seen and places he’s been. He tries to incorporate the personality traits of people he’s known into his fictional characters, although none of them exist in reality. Many of the locations are real but the names have been changed.

Connect with the author via his website.

 

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Book Showcase: MURDER BACKSTAGE by Nupur Tustin

Murder Backstage: A Joseph Haydn Mystery
by Nupur Tustin

About Murder Backstage

Murder Backstage: A Joseph Haydn Mystery

When murder propels him backstage, Haydn is forced to confront a deadly killer. . .

When the Burgtheater’s impresario unexpectedly meets his maker, Joseph Haydn is relieved to learn no one expects him to look into the matter. The impresario was murdered—and the Salzburger believed to be the killer is already behind bars.

But the impresario’s untimely death is not without consequences. Haydn’s employer insists he take over the dead man’s duties. Handling the tedious technical details of putting on an opera is bad enough. Confronting the suspicious behavior backstage is even worse.

Is an innocent man being sent to the gallows? Haydn is plagued by the question when his brother Michael confirms his worst fears. The Salzburger arrested for the murder is none other than Leopold Mozart—father of the well-known child prodigy currently in Vienna.

Now, egged on by Michael—a close friend of the Mozarts—Haydn must prove Leopold innocent. Or risk his brother’s ire forever!

Historical Cozy Mystery
4th in Series
Setting – In Vienna’s Burgtheater in the eighteenth century.
Foiled Plots Press (July 6, 2022)
Print length ‏ : ‎ 348 pages
Print ISBN : 9798986399508
Digital ISBN : 9798986399515
Digital ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0B34548N5

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo eBook || NTUSTIN/SHOP: https://ntustin.com/product/murder-backstage

 

Praise for the Joseph Haydn Mysteries:

“Tustin orchestrates a concerto of intrigue and deception . . .”– Anna Lee Huber, Lady Darby Mysteries

“A standout in the genre of historical mysteries . . .”– Midwest Book Reviews

Read an excerpt:

Vienna, 1770. Joseph Haydn is in the city with his employer and his orchestra, invited by Empress Maria Theresa to perform his latest opera, Le pescatrici, in the Vienna’s Burgtheater. It is a great honor, spoiled now by the news of impresario Giuseppe Affligio’s death:

“What is the matter, brother?” Johann’s slight figure drew closer, his gray eyes wide with concern.

The music had stopped. The two singers, the entire orchestra, and his Konzertmeister, Luigi Tomasini, gazed upon Haydn expectantly.

“It is Affligio, I suppose,” Luigi guessed.

Haydn nodded, too overwhelmed to speak.

“He refuses to hire another soprano, does he not?” The Konzertmeister lowered his violin and bow and turned to face Haydn. “And rather than settle the dispute himself like a man, seeks like a coward to involve the Prince in the matter?”

It was a reasonable surmise. The impresario had been a source of constant trouble in the matter of singers. Three good sopranos were needed for the opera, but only two—one of them barely passable—had been made available to Haydn. As for the third, Affligio had been adamant that Haydn should content himself with a contralto.

“No, that is not the trouble,” Haydn corrected his Konzertmeister.

“Not Affligio, brother?” Johann looked confused. “I thought you indicated that it was.”

“It is Affligio,” Haydn said, passing the handkerchief over his brow again. “He seems to have chosen this precise moment to meet his Maker.”

Luigi’s jaw dropped open and even Johann—normally imperturbable—gaped at Haydn in stunned disbelief.

“You cannot mean the man is dead?” Johann’s eyes widened as Haydn nodded.

“Dead!” Fräulein Bologna gasped at the same time, her voice ascending to its highest range. “How can that be?”

Even Loretta Renier glanced up from the small mirror in which she had been admiring her features. The color, Haydn noticed, had fled from her cheeks.

“You must be mistaken, Herr Kapellmeister.” A small frown marked her forehead.

Haydn shook his head. “I wish that were the case. But I am afraid he is gone.”

“And His Serene Highness wishes you to examine the matter, no doubt,” Luigi said.

The crease in Loretta Renier’s smooth, white brow deepened.

“Why should His Serene Highness wish any such thing?” she demanded, looking, if anything, paler than before.

Her beautiful blue eyes moved sharply from Luigi’s handsome features to Haydn’s more homely, pockmarked face.

“If Herr Affligio has taken ill and unfortunately met his demise—”

“Nonsense!” Fräulein Bologna was quick to dismiss her colleague’s assumption. “How could the poor man have taken ill all of a sudden? He was in good spirits but two nights ago.”

“Perhaps he ingested something that disagreed with him, then,” Fräulein Renier persisted. “An unfortunate incident, a mischance. Why should anyone be expected to look into it? And why, of all people, should it be Herr Haydn?”

Luigi grinned. “Because Haydn is cursed with an unusual perspicacity when it comes to such matters. The Empress herself is aware of it. If Affligio’s killer is to be caught, then our Joseph is the man to do it.”

Loretta Renier’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Well, I don’t believe anyone killed Herr Affligio.” She drew her shoulders back and met Haydn’s gaze squarely.

“You’ll find we were all too dependent upon him to want him dead.”

The singer’s uncalled-for belligerence took Haydn aback. Loretta Renier could not have acted more put out if he had openly accused her of being a murderess.

Excerpt from Murder Backstage by Nupur Tustin.
Copyright © 2022 by Nupur Tustin.
Published by Foiled Plots Press.
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

A former journalist, Nupur Tustin misuses a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate mayhem in Joseph Haydn’s Austria and to paint intrigue in her Celine Skye Psychic Mysteries about a psychic who takes on the outrageous and still unsolved Gardner Museum theft! In addition to being a storyteller and avid mystery fan, Nupur is a wife and homeschooling Mom who’s recently become a Christian.

Author Links

Website: https://ntustin.com Get Two Complimentary Mystery Anthologies and two 50% Off Coupons When You Sign Up!
Blog: https://ntustin.com/blog
GoodReads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61229641-murder-backstage
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/books/murder-backstage-a-joseph-haydn-mystery-joseph-haydn-mystery-series-book-4-by-nupur-tustin
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/ntustinauthor

 

TOUR PARTICIPANTS

August 3 – The Book Diva’s Reads – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 3 – Ascroft, eh? – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
August 4 – #BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog – SPOTLIGHT
August 4 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
August 5 – FUONLYKNEW – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 5 – Eskimo Princess Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
August 6 – Reading Is My SuperPower – REVIEW
August 6 – Sapphyria’s Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
August 7 – I’m All About Books – SPOTLIGHT
August 8 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 8 – eBook Addicts – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 9 – Cozy Up With Kathy – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 9 – Books Blog – SPOTLIGHT
August 10 – Christa Reads and Writes – SPOTLIGHT
August 10 – Nellie’s Book Nook – REVIEW
August 11 – Christy’s Cozy Corners – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
August 11 – Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW
August 12 – Maureen’s Musings – SPOTLIGHT
August 12 – Baroness’ Book Trove – SPOTLIGHT

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Book Showcase: LONG PAST SUMMER by Noué Kirwan

LONG PAST SUMMER by Noue Kirwan book coverLong Past Summer by Noué Kirwan
ISBN: 9781335448828 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369720719 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488214479 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09NB2KLFH (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09LHVZ6HN (Kindle edition)
Release Date: August 2, 2022
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Women’s Fiction | Multicultural & Interracial Romance

With the Southern charm of Sweet Home Alabama and the emotional complexity of In Five Years, Long Past Summer is a sparkling second-chance romance from debut author Noué Kirwan, written from the author’s own perspective in the Black community.

“Kirwan’s excellent debut brings charm, complexity, and plenty of heat…This mature, steamy romance will have readers swooning.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Noué Kirwan’s exquisitely-written debut left me breathless.”—Farrah Rochon, USA Today bestselling author of The Dating Playbook

Long Past Summer is powerful.”—Naima Simone, USA Today bestselling author

It’s hard to move on from a broken heart—and harder to move on from a broken friendship.

Mikaela Marchand is living the polished life she always planned for: a successful New York lawyer, with a promotion in her sights and a devoted boyfriend by her side. She’s come a long way from the meek teen she was growing up in small town Georgia, but the memory of her adolescence isn’t far—in fact, it’s splashed across a massive billboard in Times Square. An old photograph of Mikaela and her former best friend, Julie, has landed on the cover of a high-profile fashion magazine advertised all over the city. And when Julie files a lawsuit, Mikaela is caught in the middle as defense lawyer for the magazine.

Not only will she have to face Julie for the first time in years, Mikaela’s forced to work closely with the photographer in question: the former love of her life—and Julie’s ex-husband—Cameron Murphy. Mikaela needs to win the case to get her promotion—and as a junior partner, she has no margin for error. But unresolved feelings still exist between Cam and Mikaela, and jealousy always made Julie play dirty…

With flashbacks to summers of first loves and fragile friendships, Long Past Summer looks at the delicate and powerful thread that binds and breaks friends and flames.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Powell’s

Read an excerpt:

one

NOW

Mikaela took a deep, cleansing breath and rolled her shoulders back.

Breathe, she chided herself. She hadn’t even darkened the doorstep yet; a heart attack in advance of that seemed premature.

One of the doors to the gallery stood open in invitation, but it was the frigid air escaping from inside that was actually more enticing. It was unseasonably hot. A freak heat wave had made it a blazing, makeup-melting, fire-hydrant-opening, egg-sizzling-out-on-the-sidewalk day in New York City, in only early May. Still, Mikaela wouldn’t reward herself with the tempting relief offered inside. Instead, she just stood on the bottom step for yet another moment, lingering as the various city dwellers went about their business. Another typical Saturday afternoon along a cobblestoned street in Soho.

Despite its swank location, this art gallery was more nondescript than any of the other storefronts that lined the street, rather anonymously tucked in between several ultra-high-end fashion boutiques. Its entrance, an open doorway like an ominous black hole, sat among a sea of gleaming white and vibrantly colored doors. In the single large plate-glass window hung a poster advertising a photographer’s retrospective and the gallery’s address. Adorning the poster was a small reproduction of a picture that even now bedeviled Mikaela from no less than a magazine cover, a thirty-foot sign in Times Square and numerous subway station advertisements across the City. But now, looking at the size of the relatively unremarkable gallery, she guessed most of the exhibit’s undoubtedly extravagant budget must have gone to the rent on this place and the marketing for that poster alone.

The gallery itself was lo-fi, unassuming and minuscule, judging from her spot well outside of it. Mikaela pushed her sunglasses up off her face and peered through the dim doorway, head angling this way and that like an owl. Her feet remained rooted in place, fear-induced moisture popping out on her brow and nose, sweating through her carefully applied war paint. The problem was the sun made it hard to make out what further surprises might lie in wait for her on the other side of the door.

“It’s okay,” a voice said, startling Mikaela from behind.

Mikaela spun around. A young woman with a bright smile and a nearly white-blonde ponytail stood on the sidewalk below. She squinted without the benefit of her sunglasses, which hung neatly tucked in between her breasts on her floral ditsy-print sundress. One open blue eye appraised Mikaela, top to bottom.

“We’re open. They’re just putting the final finishing touches on everything but it’s all in there.” She took a step up onto the old wooden stairs then paused, waiting to see if Mikaela would choose to enter.

Rather, Mikaela stepped aside to let her pass with two large iced coffees in her hands.

Indecision still gnawed at her nerves.

“Is the photographer in?” Mikaela gave a courteous smile as the young woman continued past.

“Yup, should be. This is for him.” She raised one of the coffee cups. “He tries to come in for at least a couple of hours every day—he’ll probably be coming in more often leading up to the opening.”

Mikaela nodded as they changed places, backing down the steps as the young woman ascended. They continued to regard each other: the young woman with mild curiosity, Mikaela with acute wariness.

The young woman paused again at the top, just in the threshold. “Do you want me to get him?” She turned to the photo in the window then back to Mikaela. The beginnings of a smile curving the corners of her mouth. “Or tell him you stopped by? Miss…?”

For a split second, Mikaela saw the omnipresent photo in the window the way any stranger might.

Two girls on a swimmer’s platform on a summer day.

“Oh no, that’s not necessary.” Mikaela stood on the cobblestones again, heart thumping, resolve faltering. Not only the full glare of the sun but also her own discomfort burned her up, urging her retreat. She shielded her face with a palm, partially from shame, and hurried down the street.

She was half a long block away the first time she heard her name. She hadn’t heard his voice in over fifteen years, but she recognized it, quickening her steps.

“Mikaela!” he bellowed again over the ambient noises of the street.

It was still distant but closer.

Mikaela hazarded a quick glance over her shoulder. A figure made his way toward her, dodging pedestrians as he moved. Mikaela stepped into the street, raising her arm, waving her hand.

A passing yellow cab pulled over. She yanked open the door.

“Please drive,” she commanded. “I’ll tell you where to go in a second. Just pull off, okay?”

The cabbie eyed her through the rearview mirror then glanced farther down the street before understanding her hurry and doing as she requested.

A full minute later, he spoke, turning off the small bumpy street and merging into traffic on the smoother avenue. “Where to, miss?”

“Downtown Brooklyn, please.” Mikaela sighed. She swallowed through the lump forming in her throat trying to sort why his voice had upset her.

She had always imagined she would instinctively know if Cameron was in her city. Or that maybe they could walk past each other, simply another two strangers in a city of eight million. But today proved, for her, that wasn’t possible.

He is Cameron Murphy and I am Mikaela Marchand and as long as we remain who we are, that will always be a patently ridiculous idea.

Mikaela pressed the button lowering the window nearest her, sinking into her seat. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath of the thick, pungent city air that blew into her face as her cab sped down the windy expressway along Manhattan’s East River.

two

THEN
November 2001

“Here.”

A female sheriff’s deputy handed Mikaela a moist towelette. Mikaela took it and wiped the black ink off her fingers.

“We’ve called your parents, who said they’d be here soon, but we haven’t finished processing you yet.” The deputy raised an arm and waved over an extremely tall young man in a dress shirt and khakis. “As soon as we’re done with this, someone’ll take you to stand in front of the judge and then your folks can spring you.”

Mikaela nodded, meticulously removing every drop of ink from her fingertips.

“Stay here. Cam’ll finish up with you,” she instructed gruffly before switching places with the young man and walking away.

Mikaela and the photographer stood staring at one another for a moment before he leaned forward and whispered, “Judge came in special to arraign y’all. Your parents must be pretty important, huh?”

“Not mine, hers.” Mikaela nodded down the hall in the direction of her best friend, Julie. Julie leaned against the high-top intake counter chatting with the desk sergeant and another deputy. “Her daddy’s a judge too, but Georgia Supreme.”

“Oh, so a real muckety-muck then?” He reached into a tub on a nearby desk and handed her several more wipes.

“I suppose.” Mikaela eyed the stack of wet wipes in her hands.

The young man mimed wiping his own face in a circular motion.

“I gotta take your mug shot,” he explained.

“You? Aren’t you a little young to be a deputy?”

“I’m not… A deputy, I mean. Just takin’ the pictures. Grade two, office support. But I can’t photograph purple-faced perps.”

“Oh.” Mikaela obediently scrubbed at her face, yet every towelette came back with more purple paint. After the fifth one, she stopped.

“Can I please just wash my face in the bathroom?”

The photographer shrugged and directed her down the hall.

Inside the restroom, Mikaela made for the sink and the large mirror above it. She had a hard time, right then, remembering why she had been so obsessed with this “senior prank” for so many years. Although Mikaela could admit, up until she’d had breakfast that morning, she’d still been so excited. Even as she and Julie applied their purple-and-gold face paint, and Mikaela’s little sister, Vanessa, affixed two glittery wigs of opposing colors onto their heads, they’d all giggled with an almost frothy enthusiasm.

“Trust me—no one will ever forget this!” Julie had promised, pulling Mikaela up the vaguely damp football tunnel to the thundering beat of the Harmon Spartans’ fight song—and also Mikaela’s heart.

“Yeah, ’cause we’ll be laughingstocks.”

“We’ll be legends!”

Arm in arm, they’d marched toward the light as the shaggy foil tips of the itchy wig tickled Mikaela’s face.

And as usually happened, Mikaela could feel Julie’s seemingly limitless enthusiasm for high jinks begin to permeate the layers of her own innate reserve.

But now, standing under the harsh fluorescents of the police station bathroom, Mikaela just ripped off the moronic gold tinsel wig and ruffled her short brown hair trapped beneath it. It sprung wild, thick and curly from her scalp, freed from the loose plaits she’d had it in earlier. She took a deep breath and regarded herself, still covered in purple greasepaint. Was it worth it?

She knew that was going to be her father’s first question for her and she didn’t have an answer. Julie had been right—no one in this town would ever look at her the same again. Especially not after the two consecutive cartwheels and back handsprings she’d done on the fifty-yard line while school security chased Julie around the end zone during halftime at their high school’s final football game of the season. At the time, more than half of the stands roared in appreciation. Mikaela stifled a little smirk remembering it.

Of course, that was probably because most of the Tri-County area now knew her better than her own gynecologist did.

But the truth was, for those two hundred and eleven seconds, it had been utterly wonderful. Mikaela let loose and was completely herself, joyful and free and brimming with the most intense hopefulness and excitement about what lay ahead after graduation. Not only for herself but every single young person there. In fact, it had been three and half of the finest minutes of her life.

That is until sheriff’s deputies tackled her to the ground and dragged her off the field in handcuffs. Now, Mikaela stood in the mirror wearing only an extra-large Spartans T-shirt, her pink Keds, the remnants of particularly noxious paint on her face and a slightly lopsided Afro. She was a mess.

“Pull it together,” Mikaela said to the grotesque, mocking face in the mirror.

She pressed the dispenser until there was a mound of soap in her palm. Then, using paper towels to scrub, she washed most of the face paint off in three cycles. Her face was tender from the effort by the time she emerged from the ladies’ room.

“I was just about to come in there lookin’ for you,” the young man said as she stepped out. He stood in front of the door, facing it like a sentry.

“Sorry, it was a lot of paint.”

“Yeah, no kidding. I had no idea what you looked like under all that stuff.” He guided her back toward the intake area.

She glared up at him with lingering suspicion. “And what, were you taking bets?”

Mikaela had always been sensitive about her looks. A month from eighteen, she was still knobby kneed and gangly, with barely a B-cup. The only sizable things on her remained her hips and an ass that kept her from being one long, unbroken straight line from the back of her head to the back of her heels.

“Takin’ bets on what? That you weren’t a Purple People Eater?” He chuckled. “No, I just wondered. Step over there.” He pointed to a plain wall notched with height markings, in front of which stood a camera tripod. “Take this.” He handed her a placard to hold.

“I didn’t know you guys really did this.” She examined the slate with her name, the date and booking ID on it.

“We do.”

Mikaela was not this person. Not a person who got arrested. She was not prepared to forever be identified as one.

“You misspelled my name. Tell me, is it like a parking ticket? You mess it up, and I get to go free?”

“I wish.” He smirked. “You’re funny. What’s misspelled?” He walked up to her looking over her shoulder for the error.

Mikaela could tell what soap he liked to use and the fact that he’d brushed his teeth or eaten something cinnamony recently. She considered that as his eyes met hers briefly. This close, there were flecks of green in the blue of his irises.

“Um, it—it’s actually k with an a before e in my first name. M-i-k-a-e-l-a.”

“Well, Mikaela with a k-a-e, I’m Cameron.” He underlined a small name tag on his crisp white shirt with a flourish of his hand before reaching for the placard.

Their fingers brushed as he took it from her, whisking it back to the booking desk as she stood waiting. She chewed on her nails, staring for a moment at the bulletin board on the far wall. A collection of real-life FBI wanted posters lined it. She paid particular attention to the mug shots and shook her head at the realization that she was about to have one of those too.

A wolf whistle pulled Mikaela’s attention to Julie, standing down the hall. She laughed, galloping around the hall on an imaginary horse until one of the officers made her stop.

Cameron came back from around the desk to hand Mikaela the placard.

“Let’s try that again,” he said.

Julie made a face, mouthing the words “He’s hot” and fanning herself while his back was turned.

Mikaela attempted to hold in a snicker. Cameron looked over his shoulder but saw nothing. “What?” He smiled, trying to read her expression.

Mikaela’s stomach tensed, the kaleidoscope of butterflies that resided in there all suddenly banking hard left as his eyes searched her face for a clue. She shook her head, looking down for somewhere to put her eyes. Her fingers ran over the placard’s velvety felt board and sharp white plastic letters.

“Are you ready?” Cameron asked.

“Seems the real question is—” she cocked her head “—are you?” The second the words were out of her mouth she wondered where they’d come from.

His eyes widened and he chuckled again.

Embarrassed, Mikaela nodded, averting her eyes and stepping back to the wall.

Excerpt from Long Past Summer by Noué Kirwan.
Copyright © 2022 by Noué Kirwan.
Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Noué Kirwan, photo credit DAmbroseBoyd.com

Noué Kirwan is a Bronx, NY native, raised between there and the Bay Area of Northern California. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she currently, and for many years, has lived in Harlem, New York. When she’s not consuming copious amounts of media—binging TV shows, devouring movies, hoarding comic books, and inhaling romance novels—she’s writing herself, dreaming up lives for formidable women and the men who love them.

Connect with the author via: Goodreads | Instagram | Pinterest | TikTok | Twitter | Website

This showcase and excerpt is brought to you courtesy of Harlequin Books

Book Showcase: TASHA – The Glam Ones Book #1 by L.R. Starr

TASHA: THE GLAM ONES by L.R. Starr book coverTasha, The Glam Ones Book #1, by L.R. Starr
ASIN: B09KV534YZ (Kindle edition)
Release Date: November 13, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Romantic Suspense

It’s a dangerous business being this rich, this hot, this badass, but someone’s gotta tow the line. The Glam Ones, when they play, they play. When they’re bad, they’re murderously bad.

Meet Tasha. The one with the confident swagger in her stride and a tiger tattoo resting on her back. She’s the bold and sassy fashion designer born from well-to-do parents, yearning to pave her own way in the fashion streets of Ferdale.

She’s part of a tight-knit crew of thirteen, but now they’re down to twelve. Rory’s dead. Someone in the group knows about the death of one of her best friends. They ain’t talking and the police haven’t found the killer.

She’s a got a show that’s gonna blow the world away, but first, she’s gotta fight for her place and there’s a man who wants to help her get there. With all the entanglements, it won’t be easy to get to her cloaked heart.

Amidst competition, backlash, deception, and a killer on the loose, can she rise? Will the Japanese investment banker Mitsuo win her heart in time?

Read on and come along for the ride to find out who Rory’s killer is… be aware this is a cliffhanger series. Just a little bit.

Pre-Order Braden The Glam Ones Book #2, available July 29th, 2022!

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Amazon Kindle

Read an excerpt:

Striding with purpose through the ebb and flow of downtown traffic amongst the mid-morning workers, I observed the drab Ferdale crowd. Not so much color, a duller sea of charcoal black, solemn greys, flashes of white only now and then. A bloom of vibrancy glimpsed in my peripheral, somehow finding its way through the corporate dress code of soullessness.

My mind roamed elsewhere, however, my cheeks flaming from my lunchtime Sake intake. My gaze fixed straight ahead, prevented me from seeing the beautiful ebony woman, breaking the mold in her parade of rebellious fashion intermingled with the dull uniform of Ferdale.

Our untimely collision caused folders and books to flop from her hands. I tried to save them before descending to the asphalt but was unsuccessful.
I bent down to her as people adjusted to the fallout, maneuvering around us. My forehead creased with interest as I saw what I was helping her collect were sketched fashion designs. Stunning and intricate patterns on A4 pages requiring my immediate attention.

Inhaling her sweetness of coconut and peaches, reminded me of a secluded beach somewhere, which would have been significantly better than the high-rise office cage I stared out of every day.

How is it possible to have such a sweet fragrance diffusing from your pores? My eyes pondered. As I lifted my head, I stared into a set of tigerish brown eyes, evoking a chemical reaction of lust screaming through the length of my body. Her rich, brown skin was sleek, her hair bold as the large fro crowning her head.

My response to all this magic in front of me was a stunted smile. I didn’t realize I would be on the receiving end of such beauty.

“Hi. I’m sorry.” I spurted out the sentence in a knee-jerk way. I lowered my head in a perfunctory bow. Her response was a funny squinty one as she shuffled her designs back into a piled order. Picking one up for a closer look, I rose with her. It made my day. “Tasha McCrae Designs,” I said aloud. The design of a sketched lady in a structured cut blazer and tailored pants opened my eyes wide in surprise. “This is a serendipitous meeting if ever there was one.” She had no idea what I was talking about at this stage, but I knew.

Hastily, she snatched her designs from my hands while I continued my drawn-out assessment of her. She placed a hand on her hip, her tight lips sparking my mouth to water with lusty desire.

“Why is that? Do I know you or something?”

Chuckling nervously, I extended my hand, thinking it was the best thing to do as she patted the side of her afro. I didn’t have one word to describe her, as I was busy studying her cute button nose. There was beauty in her palpable strength that all fused together as a vibrant symphony.

I had the sudden urge to tie her up in Japanese knots. Kinbaku is what we called it, gentle holds, and an exquisite art that had long stopped being practiced. Or perhaps it still was performed behind closed doors. I wanted to put her in positions of…

Excerpt from Tasha: The Glam Ones by L.R. Starr.
Copyright © 2021 by L.R. Starr. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

L.R. Starr is a lover of mysteries, witty dialogue, suspense, romance, and fantasy. If you like to travel through your books strap in for the ride, she’ll take you across the country.

When she’s not writing she’s usually exploring, and coming up with yet another devious plot or pursuing her other love which is painting and drawing. Enjoy the bedlam friends!

Connect with the author via  Amazon Author Page | BookBub | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter | YouTube

 

Book Showcase: I LET YOU FALL by Sara Downing

I LET YOU FALL by Sara Downing book coverI Let You Fall by Sara Downing
ISBN: 9781631611858 (paperback)
ASIN: B09YYW65T5 (Kindle edition)
Release Date: June 20, 2022
Publisher: Quilla Books
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Romantic Drama

A contemporary tale of tragedy, selflessness, love, and renewal.

On a summer night in London, art teacher Eve Chapman finds herself in a hospital emergency room. She watches surgeons desperately operate on a young woman with a terrible head injury. But when the bandages are removed, Eve is horrified to find her own body on the operating table.

Trapped in a coma, Eve struggles to cope with the fact that no matter how hard she tries, her family and friends cannot see or hear her. But then she meets Luca Diaz, a handsome and comatose lawyer who can see her. He takes Eve under his wing and teaches her how to use her new abilities to help the living.

As the weeks pass, Eve struggles to find a way back to her body and to Nathan, the man she loves. But the more time she spends with Luca, the more she wonders if her old life is worth going back to at all.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org

Read an excerpt:

Eve and Nathan had drunk a lot of wine the night before the accident—way too much for a school night—and then she’d slept badly, as she often did after a boozy evening. When her alarm went off and she’d hit the snooze button a second time, she finally dragged herself out of bed.

As she stood under the shower, even the warm cascade couldn’t blast away the strange sensation she had woken up with. She couldn’t remember having any dreams, but she woke up unnerved, as though she’d had one which had felt a little too real.

Taking a towel from the rail, she’d rubbed at her hair, dressing and returning quickly to the bathroom to put on her makeup. As she picked up her mascara wand and widened her eyes in the mirror, a sudden movement in the corner of the room caught her attention. The wand slipped and stabbed her in the eye.

‘Damn,’ she said, putting one hand over her eye, which began to leak black tears in protest.

She spun round to see what it was, but other than her own reflection, she was alone in the bathroom. Shrugging, she turned back to the mirror and grabbed a wipe to remove the smudges from her cheek. Her eye was so sore that she couldn’t possibly reapply it now.

Deciding to take the mascara with her for later, she reached to put it into her back pocket. As she did, she felt something brush her arm. It was the most delicate of touches, but it made the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. She rubbed her arm furiously, believing it to be some kind of winged insect that must have come in through the open bathroom window. Eve didn’t much care for small, fluttery things, particularly moths. She couldn’t bear the rustling of tiny wings and the panic these creatures endured when they knew they were trapped. She reached for the catch and snapped the window quickly shut.

‘Eve, don’t go.’

The man’s voice was crystal clear, as though it had come from inside the room. She spun round, dropping her mascara, which rolled away beneath the vanity unit.

‘Nathan?’ she called, as she knelt down and grappled on the floor for the tube. Hearing footsteps in the bedroom, she pulled herself up and followed in, one eye still closed. ‘Did you say something, love?’

The bedroom was empty. Eve jolted to a halt.

‘Nathan?’ she called again, louder this time.

‘Yep, down here,’ came the voice from the kitchen. ‘What’s up?’

‘Oh, nothing,’ she called. ‘It’s fine. Must be Buster up to his usual tricks.’

A shiver ran down Eve’s spine as she examined her eye in the bedroom mirror, grimacing when she saw how red it still was. Choosing some earrings from her jewellery box, she wandered across to the bedroom window as she fixed them into place. Buster was sitting on the fence of her tiny garden, one back foot in the air, his toes pointed like a furry ballet dancer while he carried out his morning ablutions.

‘You daft cat,’ she said. ‘One of these days you’ll fall off that fence.’

As Eve reached for the window catch to pull it closed, a long white feather, as light as gossamer, fluttered to the floor and landed beside her foot. Buster had recently become quite the hunter; she often found stray feathers around the house. But this one was different, far more exquisite. She picked it up and turned it over in the palm of her hand before throwing it into the bin and heading downstairs.

Eve pulled out a chair and sat down beside Nathan, pushing his pile of papers to one side.

‘You OK?’ he asked.

‘Yeah,’ said Eve, frowning. ‘Bad night’s sleep.’

While Nathan crossed his legs and swiped onto the next news article on his iPad, she drank a gulp of the coffee he had poured for her. She thought better of mentioning the voice she had heard and the strange feeling that overcame her in the bathroom. It was probably nothing. She must have still been half-asleep.

‘More coffee?’ said Nathan, returning to the news.

‘No, I’m fine thanks. I’d better get going,’ she said, putting her mug into the dishwasher and planting a kiss on Nathan’s lips. He seemed to be making no move to pack up his papers and follow suit. ‘You coming? I can wait a minute or two if you want to walk to the Tube with me?’

‘No, I’m not quite ready yet,’ he said. ‘Just need to read this lot for later. I’ll be another half-hour or so.’

‘Oh,’ said Eve flatly.

‘Sorry, love, I should have said earlier.’ He pushed back his chair to look up at her. ‘Your eye looks a bit sore.’

‘Yeah, I nearly poked it out with my mascara just now. Looks awful, doesn’t it?’

‘You look beautiful to me,’ said Nathan, putting his arm around her waist and pulling her close. ‘You always do. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine by tonight. You excited?’

‘I can’t wait.’

‘It’s going to be great. And you’ll look gorgeous in that new dress. But hey, don’t go getting on the Tube in it. Book a cab. I can put it on expenses. Now go, or you’ll be late for school.’

He slapped her on the bottom as she left the kitchen, and she let out a little squeal.

‘Bye, then,’ Eve called as she opened the front door, half hoping he would change his mind and come with her.

‘Love you,’ he called back.

And then she heard the voice again.

‘Eve, don’t go,’ it said, quite clearly. A sudden chill made her spine tingle. She sensed someone’s closeness, an intrusion on her personal space, but again she was completely alone.

‘What did you say?’ she called out, all the while knowing the voice hadn’t come from Nathan. By now he was wholly engrossed in his meeting notes.

‘I said I love you, babe,’,’ he replied.

‘Love you, too,’ said Eve.. ‘See you later.’

Just as unexpectedly as it had arrived, the strange feeling was gone, and Eve closed the front door behind her. Her shoes clicked on the cobbled path to the little garden gate, which squeaked in protest as she opened it. But no more voices spoke to her.

Eve was still a bit flustered as she walked to the Tube station, hurrying even though she was only a few minutes later than normal. She could feel the sun’s early heat prickling her bare arms.

In all the confusion she had forgotten to make her lunch, so she popped into a café beside the station and ordered a sandwich and her usual skinny latte with an extra shot, regretting having turned down Nathan’s earlier offer of a top-up. Sipping it on the way into the station she felt herself beginning to regain some of her normal calm.

It was just your imagination, she said to herself again as she waited on the platform.

The train pulled in and Eve hopped on. She sat down, putting her laptop bag on her knees. Rummaging inside, she realised she had left her Kindle on the kitchen counter. Now with nothing to read, she glanced up at the advertising boards over the heads of the passengers across from her. As she did, she caught the eye of the man sitting opposite her and he smiled—a rare event in London, so she smiled back, tucking her hair behind one ear.

Eve could tell that the man was trying not to be caught staring at her, though he wasn’t doing a very good job. She didn’t really mind; it was flattering, and he was far from unpleasant to look at, with blond hair which was slightly too long and piercing blue eyes. She was surprised to find herself a little disappointed when the carriage doors opened at the next stop and standing passengers blocked her view.

When the crowds parted again a few moments later, he was nowhere to be found.

Excerpt from I Let You Fall by Sara Downing.
Copyright © 2022 by Claudia Gray. Published by Quilla Books, A Division of TCK Publishing. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author Sara Downing headshot photo

Sara Downing is the author of the popular Head Over Heels contemporary romance series, plus a further romance, Stage Fright, and a historical novel, Urban Venus.

In 2016, Sara published The Lost Boy, her first foray into the world of the supernatural. Her latest novel, I Let You Fall, was released on June 20, 2022.

Sara lives in rural Worcestershire with her husband, three almost grown-up children, a Labrador, and a cat. Before children she was a Chartered Accountant, but always knew her dream career lay elsewhere. She started writing in 2009 and hasn’t since yearned to return to the world of accountancy.

Connect with the author via: Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

Book Showcase: BOTTLED LIGHTNING by L.M. Weeks

BOTTLED LIGHTNING by LM Weeks book coverBottled Lightning by L. M. Weeks
ISBN: 9798985588019 (paperback)
ISBN: 9798985588002 (hardcover)
ASIN: B09ZWQT54Y (Kindle edition)
Publisher: South Fork Publishers
Release Date: June 14, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Thriller

AN INTRIGUING CLIENT. A PASSIONATE ATTORNEY. A DEADLY GAME.

Top global technology lawyer Tornait “Torn” Sagara knows he shouldn’t get involved with his beautiful client, Saya Brooks, whose revolutionary lightning-on-demand invention will solve climate change and render all other energy sources obsolete. But their shared connection as hafu (half Japanese, half American) draws them irresistibly together.

Saya’s technology could save the world, but what’s good for the planet is bad news for those who profit from the status quo. Now, someone wants to stop Saya from commercializing her invention and will go to any lengths—even murder—to do so. When Torn takes Saya for a spin on his motorcycle, they are viciously attacked. That death-defying battle on a crowded Tokyo expressway is only the start of Torn’s wild ride.

As the violence escalates, Torn discovers that everything he values—his reputation, his family, and even his life—is on the line. Racing from the boardrooms of Tokyo to the wilds of Russia in a desperate search for the truth, Torn is forced to face his own flaws and discover what really matters most.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Amazon | Amazon Kindle | BookDepository.com

Read an Excerpt:

Chapter One
Savior
救世主

Saya startled Torn when she tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Wow, that’s quite the bike. It looks like something Batman would drive.”

He was surprised again when he turned around, but this time by her piercing green eyes, which he never grew tired of seeing. Sometimes he wondered whether they were real or contacts, but he’d never seen her eyes any other color. She had let her dark hair down and wore a navy-blue leather jacket, dark blue jeans and black boots with relatively flat heels.

He tried not to stare at her. She was a client, after all. And not just any client, but perhaps the most intriguing client he’d ever had. “That’s quite a departure from what you were wearing a few minutes ago,” he said, his voice echoing slightly in the underground parking garage.

She looked at him for a moment, trying to decide again whether his mixed-race features were more Japanese or Western. “Is it appropriate for motorcycle riding?”

“It’ll work, and the boots with flat heels are a great idea. All motorcyclists, at least the men, dread women dragging their high heels across the seat when they mount the bike.”

“Did you say mount?”

He grinned. “Sorry, I mean when they get on their steed. Is that better?” He was struggling to avoid being too jocular with his beautiful client.

“I get the point. Don’t worry, my high heels are in this bag with the rest of my clothes for the dinner.”

“What about your potential investors? Shouldn’t you be schmoozing with them in the car?”

She cocked her head and smiled. “The technology does all the schmoozing necessary, don’t you think? It’s like showing someone lightning in a bottle.”

“Well, I was impressed with the demonstration even though I’ve seen it before,” he said with genuine enthusiasm. He thought for a moment and added, “I like the imagery of selling little bottles of lightning at combini,” convenience stores.

Saya added, “Besides, I told them I needed a few minutes to discuss an IP matter with my lawyer before I meet them at the hotel. So…” She paused playfully. “Do I get a ride or not?”

“Sure, but how did you know I’d have an extra helmet?”

Still smiling, she said, “Oh, Torn, I know you’re prepared for every eventuality.”

He smiled. “But the ride’s not that interesting. It’s mostly straight expressway.”

“Not a problem. Just go fast! It’s a beautiful bike and I want to see what it can do.” Saya ran her index finger along one of the hard rubber fins protruding from chrome sheaths attached to the side of the fairing. “Hey, what’re these for?”

“Those protect the rider, engine, and fairing if the bike gets dropped.”

“They’re cool. They make the bike look even more aerodynamic, but please don’t drop it.”

Torn swelled with pride about his BMW K 1200 LT. Nothing pumped up a biker, particularly someone who took his riding as seriously as he did, more than compliments about his ride.

“Here’s your helmet.” He took her bag and placed it in the top case where he kept the extra full-face helmet.

After closing his face covering and securing his chin strap, Torn helped Saya with hers. “By the way, we’ve gotta exit the expressway when we get into the city because tandem riding’s illegal past Hatsudai.”

She could hear Torn’s low voice through the helmet’s speakers located near her ears. It made her feel like an astronaut.

“That’s strange. Why’s that?” she asked through the mic in her helmet.

“Short story long, Japan banned tandem motorcycle riding on expressways for decades, starting in the seventies, because motorcycle bosozoku used to attack cars on the expressway with chains back in the sixties and early seventies.”

“What’re bosozoku?”

He looked at her through his helmet visor. “You’ve really lived a sheltered life, haven’t you? They are car and motorcycle gangs. Anyway, when the ban was finally lifted for most expressways in Japan, it was maintained for central Tokyo, ostensibly for safety reasons. Those crowded, narrow and winding expressways in the city center were deemed too dangerous for tandem riding. I think it’s because of the number of deadly motorcycle accidents from late night racing on the Circuit. But it’s not as if the narrow local streets choked with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and pedestrians are any safer.”

She watched him get on the bike. “Well, it seems silly to me. They should crack down on the illegal racing, not riding with a passenger.”

“You’re preaching to the choir. Are you ready?”

“Yes!”

Torn put the retractable passenger foot pegs down and explained how to get on.

Light on her feet, Saya mounted the bike successfully the first try without scraping the seat or kicking the top case behind her or Torn in front. She was surprised at how stable and comfortable the large well-padded seat and backrest felt. She grabbed handles built into the side cases because she felt like she should hold on to something even though she didn’t need them for balance.

Torn checked his phone one last time and saw that Mayumi had called and Kiwako had texted. He stored it in the small compartment in front of his seat and exited the garage onto a street lined with cherry trees.

On their right flowed a mountain stream strewn with moss-covered boulders. The bike’s windshield and Torn’s body protected her from the wind, but she could still smell the cherry blossoms. They glided along the winding road past rice farms and orchards. The entire scene was bathed in gold from the setting sun. She could not believe how completely secure she felt. It was not a feeling that would last.

“Shall I turn on some music?” He almost didn’t suggest it because he knew he should focus on driving given that he had a passenger, a client no less.

Despite the noise of the engine and the rushing wind, she could hear Torn’s relaxed unrushed voice clearly through the speakers in her helmet. “Definitely.”

Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis poured from the speakers in their helmets, two speakers imbedded in the fairing in front, and two on the sides of the passenger backrest. Saya felt the subtle vibration of the outside speakers on the sides of her backrest.

Torn selected his music based on whether it worked with the acoustics of the bike. Some music was more bike-appropriate than others. One of his favorite things about listening to music on this bike was that the volume automatically increased as the bike accelerated, to compensate for the louder engine noise.

As Torn accelerated the bike out of a turn, Saya’s excitement changed to euphoria. She released the handles and wrapped her arms around Torn’s broad chest.

Once on the expressway, Torn accelerated to ninety kilometers an hour as they drove down the on-ramp to merge into Tokyo-bound traffic.

“Go faster!”

Giving in to the fun, he laughed. “No need to yell. I can hear you just fine!” He throttled up to 120 and seamlessly moved from the left lane through the middle lane to the outside passing lane.

“Can you go faster?”

He accelerated to 140, taking advantage of any openings in the three lanes to pass slower traffic in the other lanes.

Saya found the frequent weaving in and out of traffic exhilarating—like a motorcycle in the movie Tron—and didn’t want Torn to slow down. She giggled. “Can you go faster?”

He turned off the music, raised the adjustable windshield to its maximum height and accelerated to 180. The aerodynamically shaped fairing and the bike’s weight kept the rubber side down. Even this speed didn’t feel too fast, because of the bike’s stability and the wind protection provided by the windshield. However, the louder engine and much faster rate at which they passed the guardrail posts were proof of their significantly greater speed.

“Oh my God,” she squealed as she wrapped her arms more tightly around Torn and put her helmeted head on his shoulder.

Torn smiled. It was intoxicating when the bike had the desired effect of lowering a woman’s inhibitions. “No need for the death grip.”

“Oh, sorry.” She tried to comply, but she liked holding onto him tightly.

Torn sensed her interest in him was more than just as her lawyer. For the first time in his career, his resolve never to become romantically involved with a client began to waver.

Traffic reappeared as they got closer to Hachioji.

“Don’t slow down!”

Ignoring her, he throttled down, knowing there were tollbooths ahead. He weaved in and out of the cars, again using all three lanes to keep progressing faster than the flow of traffic until they had reached the toll plaza.

Just enough traffic remained after the tollbooths to make things fun. He pulled into the left-hand lane and toggled to Imagine Dragons. Demon played from the bike’s speakers. Saya squeezed her arms more tightly around Torn’s waist and closed her eyes. “This is more fun than I ever dreamed.”

Torn felt warm all over.

A few minutes later a big black Mercedes pulled up behind them, its front bumper almost touching the bike’s license plate. Torn sped up but the car continued to tailgate.

Saya, eyes closed and lost in the music, didn’t notice the car right behind her.
Then it sped up, passing them closely on the left. Torn swerved into the middle lane to avoid a collision. He turned off the music, causing Saya to open her eyes. The Mercedes pulled in front of them and slowed down, forcing Torn to decelerate and swerve back into the left lane. It had no rear license plate, rare and illegal in Japan.

“What’s that guy doing?”

“I don’t know.”

The big Mercedes changed lanes, slowing down in the middle lane until it was parallel with them. The tinted passenger window opened. Before Torn could react, a man stuck a gun out of the window and fired. The bullet passed through the soft padding under Saya, exiting the other side of her seat.

With well-practiced fluidity, Torn squeezed the left handle bar lever to open the clutch and shifted down to fourth gear with his left foot, then throttled up with his right hand while releasing the clutch lever with his left hand. The Beemer raced away from the Mercedes. He shifted back up to fifth gear as the RPMs shot up.

“Oh my God!”

“Are you hit?” he asked as calmly as he could while breaking into a cold sweat.

“I don’t think so.”

Things were moving in slow motion for Torn. He thought, No one has a gun in Japan except yaks. All at once he was relieved neither one of them had been hit, scared shitless about being chased by yakuza types, and pissed off at the damage to his motorcycle.

The big car again appeared next to them in the center lane.

Torn slammed on the brakes with his right hand and foot, letting the Mercedes fly by. He shifted down two gears to third and throttled up, accelerating to 120 so fast he almost popped a wheelie. He flew by the driver’s side of the car, the high RPMs making the bike’s engine scream. Shifting up to fourth gear, he rocketed to 160.

The powerful car caught him quickly. He sped up to 180 but the big Mercedes stayed on them. They approached more traffic, forcing both vehicles to slow down. As they reached the Mitaka Highway Bus Turnout, the three lanes of traffic became two, creating a traffic jam.

Salvation.

Torn threaded between the two lanes of stalled traffic. Their pursuer briefly flanked them on the left shoulder until being thwarted by a soundproofing wall built to protect the surrounding homes from expressway noise.

They were safe, but only for a moment. He heard a motorcycle engine being revved until the ugly sound was deafening. It was the sound of a bike with its muffler illegally removed. At the same time he saw the blinding light of a single high beam behind him and heard loud death metal music. His heart sank.

“Motherfucking Yankee,” he muttered, momentarily forgetting his mic was still on.

“What’s a Yankee?”

“The scourge of the roadways. Over-the-hill punk motorcycle gang members who belonged to bosozoku gangs in their teens and early twenties.”

He doubted this was a coincidence. He wasn’t even sure if it was a real Yankee. He had encountered them many times, and while always obnoxiously loud, they’d never hassled him before.

The Yankee motorcycle veered left onto the narrow shoulder and flanked them, barely squeaking by between cars in the left lane and the five-meter-high soundproofing wall.

Torn saw that the hot-pink bike indeed had the Yankee trademark Norton Commando-like fairing with the headlight recessed into a bubble in the fairing’s front and a heavily padded extra-long sissy bar attached to the back of the unoccupied passenger seat. The rider wore a silver Nazi helmet and black mask. Torn saw what looked like a long PVC pipe attached to the side of the bike.

Another screamingly loud bike with its high beam on appeared immediately behind them, revving its engine. It pulled into the right lane and flanked him on the narrow shoulder between the cars and the center guardrail separating the two lanes of inbound traffic from the two lanes of outbound traffic.

Torn accelerated to get ahead of them, then swerved slightly to the right and left in front of cars in each lane. As expected, the cars moved towards the outside of their lanes, leaving no room for the pursuing bikes to proceed between the cars in the left lane and the wall on the left and the cars in the right lane and the central guardrail on the right. Still, this slowed the Yankees down for only a moment and they soon caught up to Torn and Saya yet again.

With the Yankees continuing to flank them on both sides, they approached the Eifukucho Exit, a connector between the Chuo Expressway coming into the city center from the west and the inner-city Metropolitan Expressway.

“Why didn’t you exit?” she screamed.

The fear in her voice made Torn’s heart beat even faster. He took a deep breath and responded, without emotion, “They would catch us at the first light. They’re smaller and more maneuverable.”

The matter-of-fact nature of his response worked. She lowered her voice. “We could find a cop.”

“Not before those guys would be on us. And don’t squeeze so tightly. I can barely breathe. Try to squeeze the bike with your knees and move with the bike. Don’t fight it.”

Saya loosened her death hug.

On the other side of the Eifukucho Tollbooth, traffic thinned for a moment as more cars exited. But traffic would soon increase again, and it would be difficult to lane split with the big BMW because the lanes were narrower on the much older inner city expressway than on the newer feeder expressways entering the city.

The Yankee bikes pulled up next to them. The driver on the left pulled from a sheath a long lead pipe with a chain and spiked ball.

“Is that a mace on the end? He has a mace!” she screamed.

It’s actually a flail, he thought to himself, but this was no time to be a stickler for ancient weapon accuracy. “Yes, I see it. No need to shout. I have speakers next to my ears too.” He regretted correcting her almost before the words had left his mouth.

Torn decided to go on the offensive with his much larger bike, which was surprisingly nimble for its size. He swerved the BMW at the biker wielding the homemade weapon.

“Are you crazy?! What’re you doing?!”

His move had the desired effect. The smaller bike swerved away. Torn accelerated like a rocket, pulling away from both Yankee bikes, but he soon heard them gaining on him. He could not outrun them in the afternoon traffic. They again pulled up on either side of him with their ridiculous—but lethal— weapons in hand. Torn slammed on both the hand and foot brakes so hard he thought he might pop a back wheelie, but the Beemer only skidded slightly before the antilock brakes did their job. The Yankee bikes flew by, then quickly slowed down.

Now Torn needed to pass them. He aimed for the left side of the bike on his left. He calculated that, because the biker held the threatening pipe in his right hand, placing himself and Saya on the left would make it difficult for the assailant to swing at them across his own chest.

Torn forced his way between the Yankee and the wall. Despite the maneuver, Torn had underestimated the biker’s resolve and dexterity; he was able to swing at them across his body and shatter the BMW’s windshield, spraying safety glass on Torn and grazing his right arm. Torn grimaced when the flail’s spikes tore through his jacket and into his right triceps, while his body shielded Saya from harm.

Torn knew he couldn’t avoid them much longer. The Yankees would get them sooner rather than later.

“I’m going to crash into them. Watch your legs,” he warned.

“Can’t you outrun them?!” her voice now a high-pitched scream.

The other biker approached on their left, swinging his flail with his right hand. Torn shifted down and countersteered the left handle bar hard, instantly flicking the BMW left into the other bike. The Yankee tried to avoid the big bike but it was too late. The motorcycles collided with a hard fiberglass-on-metal crunching sound. The smaller bike, already headed towards the soundproofing wall as the driver tried to avoid Torn’s bike, slammed into the wall with a loud crash followed by the clanging of metal scattering across the road. The rider bounced off the wall and cartwheeled across the expressway at an angle before hitting the center guardrail. The BMW’s fairing and front left fin had protected Torn and Saya as it hit the other bike, leaving them unhurt.

One to go.

Traffic increased again as rush-hour cars merged onto the expressway from the local roads.

“Look at that sign. Aren’t we supposed to get off?!”

Torn saw the sign showing a bright red circle-backslash symbol over two figures on a motorcycle. He saw another sign directing tandem riders to exit at Hatsudai.

“Driving tandem may save us if we stay on.”

“I feel much better now,” she said, totally deadpan.

“Your sarcasm’s not helping,” he replied without emotion.

She hugged him tighter.

They passed Hatsudai on the right. Torn could see the remaining Yankee gaining on them in his sideview mirrors. When they reached the Shinjuku on-ramp, traffic slowed to a crawl as more cars merged onto the two narrow curved expressway lanes. The moment of truth.

He maneuvered the bike to the centerline.

“You can’t be serious! There’s not enough room!”

“Who needs mirrors? Keep your legs in tight.”

He sped up. The right mirror was the first to go, then the left, followed by angry honking from the cars his mirrors hit as he threaded the needle between the narrow lanes. The bike remained upright because the big mirrors were designed to pop off on impact.

Torn saw the Yankee’s high beam in the side-view mirrors of the cars between which he drove, and heard the bike’s screaming engine.

“He’s right behind us!”

No shit, thought Torn.

Traffic thinned out right before the Yoyogi Rest Area. Torn accelerated. Please be there.

As he passed the on-ramp from the Yoyogi Rest Area, he heard a siren.
Yes! And there’s our savior.

The patrol car pulled up next to them.

“What’s he doing?” Torn asked, his eyes trained on the road.

“He’s waving you over!”

Then they heard the loud speaker command. “You there, on the blue motorcycle. Safely pull over at the next exit.”

Torn exited at Gaienmae. He stopped at the bottom of the off-ramp and told Saya to get off.

The police car pulled up behind them, lights flashing.

Torn stood while straddling the bike as he pressed a button to lower the electric center stand. The bike lifted slightly as the electric motor whined and then dropped back down when the center stand locked into place. He dismounted and removed his helmet.

The Yankee bike followed them off the expressway and passed by. Torn couldn’t see the driver’s face, his head covered by a helmet and his face with a bandana. There was no license plate.

Torn wished he had a gun. He made eye contact and flipped the guy off as he passed.

Turning to Saya, “Are you alright?”

She was shooting the Yankee with her phone as he drove by.

“Yes.”

“Great idea. Please AirDrop those to my phone.”

Saya hugged Torn as hard as she could, burying her head into his chest for what felt like an eternity. She was shaking.

He wondered if he was shaking too.

Saya looked up and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re amazing, and here I thought you were just a lawyer.” She kissed him again, but this time on the lips.

Torn didn’t know what to say. His heart pounded, his pulse raced, and his arm started to ache. His skin felt clammy and he felt sick to his stomach. “Don’t barf now,” he told himself.

Two uniformed police officers, one visibly much younger than his partner, approached.

Releasing Saya, Torn turned and said emphatically to the police officers, “That guy on the Yankee bike tried to kill us!”

The young officer, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, stopped for a moment and then said, a bit shakily, “You’re under arrest.”

Excerpt from Bottled Lightning by L.M. Weeks.
Copyright © 2022 by L.M. Weeks
All Rights Reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Author LM Weeks headshot photo

L. M. (“Mark”) Weeks is uniquely qualified to write this international legal thriller. Like Torn, (the protagonist in Bottled Lightning) Mark was born in Alaska and for many years has practiced law in Tokyo, representing technology companies from all over the world in connection with their fundraising, intellectual property matters, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and related disputes. For more than10 years, Mark was the Managing Partner of the Tokyo office of the global law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. He speaks, reads, and writes fluent Japanese, was an International Rotary Club scholar to Japan during high school, and graduated from International Christian University, a Japanese liberal arts college. Mark attended Fordham University School of Law in New York City, where he practiced law for almost sixteen years before relocating to Orrick’s Tokyo office in 2004. During his formative years in Japan, Mark earned a black belt in aikido. Also like Torn, he is an avid motorcyclist, and his adult son is biracial and bilingual and lives in Tokyo. In addition to riding motorcycles and writing, Mark’s other passion is saltwater fly fishing.

Connect with the Author:  Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website
This excerpt brought to you by PR By The Book

Book Showcase: BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner

BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner book coverBloomsbury Girls by Natalie M. Jenner
ISBN: 9781250276698 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250276704 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250852328 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09CNDV5GJ (Kindle edition)
ASIN: B09ZVJFBDN (Audible audiobook)
Release Date: May 17, 2022
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction

Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world in Bloomsbury Girls.

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare bookstore that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiancé was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances—most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time—Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others—these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.

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Watch the Trailer

A Message from Natalie Jenner

Dear readers,

I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved. But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team). Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it.

Warmest regards,
Natalie

Read an excerpt:

The Tyrant was Alec McDonough, a bachelor in his early thirties who ran the New Books, Fiction & Art Department on the ground floor of Bloomsbury Books. He had read literature and fine art at the University of Bristol and been planning on a career in something big—Vivien accused him of wanting to run a small colony—when the war had intervened. Following his honourable discharge in 1945, Alec had joined the shop on the exact same day as Vivien. “By an hour ahead. Like a dominant twin,” she would quip whenever Alec was rewarded with anything first.

From the start Alec and Vivien were rivals, and not just for increasing control of the fiction floor. Every editor that wandered in, every literary guest speaker, was a chance for them to have access to the powers that be in the publishing industry. As two secretly aspiring writers, they had each come to London and taken the position at Bloomsbury Books for this reason. But they were also both savvy enough to know that the men in charge—from the rigid Mr. Dutton and then-head-of-fiction Graham Kingsley, to the restless Frank Allen and crusty Master Mariner Scott—were whom they first needed to please. Alec had a clear and distinct advantage when it came to that. Between the tales of wartime service, shared grammar schools, and past cricket-match victories, Vivien grew quickly dismayed at her own possibility for promotion.

Sure enough, within weeks Alec had quickly entrenched himself with both the long-standing general manager, Herbert Dutton, and his right-hand man, Frank Allen. By 1948, upon the retirement of Graham Kingsley, Alec had ascended to the post of head of fiction, and within the year had added new books and art to his oversight—an achievement which Vivien still referred to as the Annexation.

She had been first to call him the Tyrant; he called her nothing at all. Vivien’s issues with Alec ranged from the titles they stocked on the shelves, to his preference for booking events exclusively with male authors who had served in war. With her own degree in literature from Durham (Cambridge, her dream university, still refusing in 1941 to graduate women), Vivien had rigorously informed views on the types of books the fiction department should carry. Not surprisingly, Alec disputed these views.

“But he doesn’t even read women,” Vivien would bemoan to Grace, who would nod back in sympathy while trying to remember her grocery list before the bus journey home. “I mean, what—one Jane Austen on the shelves? No Katherine Mansfield. No Porter. I mean, I read that Salinger story in The New Yorker he keeps going on about: shell-shocked soldiers and children all over the place, and I don’t see what’s so masculine about that.”

Unlike Vivien, Grace did not have much time for personal reading, an irony her husband often pointed out. But Grace did not work at the shop for the books. She worked there because the bus journey into Bloomsbury took only twenty minutes, she could drop the children off at school on the way, and she could take the shop newspapers home at the end of the day. Grace had been the one to suggest that they also carry import magazines, in particular The New Yorker. Being so close to the British Museum and the theatre district, Bloomsbury Books received its share of wealthy American tourists. Grace was convinced that such touches from home would increase their time spent browsing, along with jazz music on the wireless by the front cash, one of many ideas that Mr. Dutton was still managing to resist.

Vivien and Alec had manned the ground floor of the shop together for over four years, circling each other within the front cash counter like wary lions inside a very small coliseum. The square, enclosed counter had been placed in the centre of the fiction department in an effort to contain an old electrical outlet box protruding from the floor. Mr. Dutton could not look at this eyesore without seeing a customer lawsuit for damages caused by accidental tripping. Upon his promotion to general manager in the 1930s, Dutton had immediately ordained that the front cash area be relocated and built around the box.

This configuration had turned out to be of great benefit to the staff. One could always spot a customer coming from any direction, prepare the appropriate response to expressions ranging from confused to hostile, and even catch the surreptitious slip of an unpurchased book into a handbag. Other bookshops had taken note of Bloomsbury Books’ ground-floor design and started refurbishing their own. The entire neighbourhood was, in this way, full of spies. Grace and Vivien were not the only two bookstore employees out and about, checking on other stores’ window displays. London was starting to boom again, after five long years of postwar rationing and recovery, and new bookshops were popping up all over. Bloomsbury was home to the British Museum, the University of London, and many famous authors past and present, including the prewar circle of Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey. This made the district a particularly ideal location for readers, authors, and customers alike.

And so, it was here, on a lightly snowing day on the second of January, 1950, that a young Evie Stone arrived, Mr. Allen’s trading card in one pocket, and a one-way train ticket to London in the other.

Excerpt from The Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner.
Copyright © 2022 by Natalie Jenner. Published by St. Martin’s Press, New York. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author Natalie Jenner Headshot

Natalie Jenner is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website to learn more.

Connect with the author via: Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

This excerpt and tour brought to you by AustenProse

Book Showcase: A DISTURBING NATURE by Brian Lebeau

A DISTURBING NATURE by Brian Lebeau book coverA Disturbing Nature by Brian Lebeau
ISBN: 9781953865496 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781953865502 (ebook)
ASIN: B09VYK2NKD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Books Fluent
Release Date: May 10, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Mystery | Suspense

When FBI Chief Investigator Francis Palmer and Maurice Lumen’s paths collide, a dozen young women are already dead—bodies strewn in the woods across southern New England. Crippled by the loss of their families and haunted by mistakes, they wrestle with skeletons and ghosts neither understands. Who is destined to pay for the sins of their fathers, and who will pay for their own?

Under a celebrity veneer, the Beast in Palmer simmers. Called back from an investigation that’s gone dry in Seattle to his field office in Boston, he’s assigned to a case closer to home. Without closure and carrying the scars of every predator he’s hunted down, Palmer’s thrust into a new killer’s destructive path and forced to confront his own demons.

On the surface, Mo Lumen seems an unlikely suspect. Abandoned by the Great Society and sheltered from the countercultural revolution, he’s forced to leave Virginia under the shadow of secrets and accusations. Emerging in Rhode Island, burdened with childlike innocence, reminders of the past threaten to resurrect old carcasses.

Once she arrives, however, it becomes clear the boy’s death was no accident. Someone dangerous lurks within these glittering halls. Someone harboring a disturbing obsession with portrait magic.

A psychological thriller set in the summer of 1975, A Disturbing Nature explores the concept of two deaths, blurring the line between man and monster.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org

Read an Excerpt:

Palmer pushes his apartment door open with the key still in the knob. Six months of stale, pent-up air swarms the hallway and infests his nostrils, a bitter greeting following a prolonged absence. Suitcase wheels echo off bare walls and his two daughters smile at him from their easel-backed five-by-sevens as he shuts the door with his foot and heads to the shower.

Water drips from his hair and collects around his feet, the sting of leaving Seattle’s acid rain mixing with the anguish of returning to Boston’s polluted harbor. He wipes the walls and squeegees the glass, clearing the mist, but leaving the grime. Staring into the mirror as he shaves, Palmer sees The Monster. Still in his head. Still on the loose.

It feels twelve hours later than it is. Palmer closes the curtains to shield himself from the unforgiving midday sun, turns on the television to drown out the vehicular fist thrusts and extended fingers of Boston traffic, and props up a pillow to receive his aching head. Nothing worth watching, he shuffles to bed and stares at the phone on the nightstand. He knows he can’t call; she’ll be at work and the girls will be with their friends. He reaches for the receiver, grabbing a cigarette instead. Sitting at the edge and lighting, he takes an extended drag before resting his head in his palms.

The contrived tension of a soap opera playing in the living room and the heated burbles of Mr. Coffee working in the kitchen serve as background noise to Palmer’s rambling thoughts. Why did Osmond have to go on vacation now? Why would he fly home on a Monday? One more day isn’t so bad, he assures himself, but it’s been over a month since Osmond and Ross left Seattle. They’ve talked on the phone once since then, but Osmond didn’t mention anything about a vacation at the time. This is the longest stretch they haven’t worked together in eighteen years, all the way back to when Osmond was hospitalized.

Palmer knows Osmond kept him safe when the nightmares started. He protected Palmer when The Beast tried to take over, succeeding almost every time Palmer sought to explore the darker path. He shared the responsibility with Marilyn for bringing Palmer back to the respectable world of white-collar family man. Palmer walked the edge and Osmond held his hand.

Again, Palmer looks at the phone. This time he knows there’s no point; Osmond’s on a flight back from Antigua. Palmer pulls himself from the edge of the bed and staggers to the bathroom. Dumping several Valium down his throat, he checks the red clouds forming on the outside edges of his eyes and yawns. Are Ted’s eyes bloodshot, too? Juggling law school and nighttime activities? How many more young girls?

Palmer scoops the excess foam from a can of shaving cream on the counter, smearing it across the mirror. He sees the lines in his forehead and the creases in his neck, nothing in between. This time, Ted’s eyes do not stare back. Palmer knows he must have closure and take down monsters like Ted before they get to his daughters. And he needs a new investigation to purge his mind of The Monster’s depravity.

He walks back to bed, his eyelids almost closed, and crawls under the covers. He imagines Osmond poolside, sharing a rum punch with his wife. Marilyn and the girls are swimming in the pool while he lounges under an umbrella with a scotch mist and a crossword puzzle. And he’s himself again, until the Valium wears off. And the demons return.

Excerpt from A Disturbing Nature by Brian Lebeau.
Copyright © 2022 by Brian Lebeau
Published by arrangement with Books Fluent

 

Meet The Author

Author Brian Lebeau

One month after The Beatles arrived, with much fanfare, in America, Brian Lebeau was born, unceremoniously, in Fall River, Massachusetts, home of the infamous Lizzie Borden. After being awarded an “A” in high school English once and denied a career in music for “lack of talent” repeatedly, he taught economics at several colleges and universities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island before moving to Fauquier County, Virginia, to work as a defense contractor for two decades. In the psychological thriller A Disturbing Nature, Mr. Lebeau merges three key interests: a keen fascination with everything World War II, a morbid curiosity surrounding the motivations and mayhem of notorious serial killers, and a lifelong obsession with the Red Sox. A Disturbing Nature is Mr. Lebeau’s first book.

Connect with the Author:  Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Website
This excerpt brought to you by Books Forward PR

Book Showcase: THE MURDER OF MR. WICKHAM by Claudia Gray

THE MURDER OF MR. WICKHAM by Claudia GrayThe Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray
ISBN: 9780593313817 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780593313824 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593592342 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09JMN3MQQ (Kindle edition)
ASIN: B09L5DFNFZ (Audible audiobook)
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Publisher: Vintage Books
Genre: Historical Fiction | Historical Mystery | Cozy Mystery | Austenesque

A summer house party turns into a thrilling whodunit when Jane Austen’s Mr. Wickham—one of literature’s most notorious villains—meets a sudden and suspicious end in this brilliantly imagined mystery featuring Austen’s leading literary characters.

The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a party at their country estate, bringing together distant relatives and new acquaintances—characters beloved by Jane Austen fans. Definitely not invited is Mr. Wickham, whose latest financial scheme has netted him an even broader array of enemies. As tempers flare and secrets are revealed, it’s clear that everyone would be happier if Mr. Wickham got his comeuppance. Yet they’re all shocked when Wickham turns up murdered—except, of course, for the killer hidden in their midst.

Nearly everyone at the house party is a suspect, so it falls to the party’s two youngest guests to solve the mystery: Juliet Tilney, the smart and resourceful daughter of Catherine and Henry, eager for adventure beyond Northanger Abbey; and Jonathan Darcy, the Darcys’ eldest son, whose adherence to propriety makes his father seem almost relaxed. In this tantalizing fusion of Austen and Christie, from New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray, the unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N Nook Book | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | eBooks.com | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook

Advance Praise

“Had Jane Austen sat down to write a country house murder mystery, this is exactly the book she would have written. Devotees of Austen’s timeless novels will get the greatest possible pleasure from this wonderful book. Immense fun and beautifully observed. Delicious!” —Alexander McCall Smith

“What a splendid conceit! . . . Gray provides plenty of backstory and enough depth to her characters that even those who mix up their Pride and Prejudice with their Sense and Sensibility will delight in the Agatha Christie–style mystery. . . . There’s so much fun to be had in this reimagined Austen world—and the mystery is so strong—that one can only hope, dear reader, that more books will follow.” —Ilene Cooper, Booklist (starred review)

“[An] enchanting mystery. . . . Gray perfectly captures the personalities of Austen’s beloved characters. This is a real treat for Austenites.” Publishers Weekly

“Who would NOT want to read a book in which one of literature’s most notorious rakes meets his final demise? . . . A delightful Agatha Christie meets Jane Austen romp.” —Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Read an excerpt:

 

Chapter Two

 

Three times now, Fitzwilliam Darcy had believed himself permanently rid of the odious presence of George Wickham. Three times, he’d been wrong. The division eight months ago had seemed as though it had to be final, but no. Fate could be pernicious.

“Ah,” Wickham said, strolling forward. “I see my timing is inopportune. In the city, you see, the fashion is for later dinners.”

Knightley stood, pale and drawn. He looked as though he loathed Wickham as much as Darcy did. “You would not have been invited at any hour.”

Wickham’s smile widened. Somehow, in the heart of a confrontation, the man managed to seem even more at ease. “If I waited for an invitation to receive that which is mine in right of law—yes, Mr. Knightley, I imagine my wait would be very long.”

Knightley’s lips pressed together. Emma’s face had flushed with ill-repressed anger. Nor were they the only persons agitated at the table: Wentworth’s expression was dark, and his wife had tensed, as though she expected to have to fly from her chair to hold him back. Worst of all was dear Elizabeth, frozen like ice in her seat; her fingers were wrapped tightly around the hilt of her dinner knife. Jonathan’s distrust of his uncle clearly warred with his concern for his mother.

As for the Brandons, the Bertrams, and the young Miss Tilney: they each appeared deeply confused by the sudden, severe deviation from common civility. Therefore, none of them had ever met George Wickham before. Darcy envied them the privilege.

A loud clap of thunder rumbled through the air, the house, the ground itself. In the next instant, raindrops began to pelt the windows and ground, striking the windowpanes until they rattled.

Darcy could’ve cursed aloud. To judge by the hoofbeats he’d heard outside earlier, Wickham had arrived on horseback rather than by carriage, and not even the most odious company would be thrown out in such weather. Particularly in such hilly country as this corner of Surrey—to attempt to ride in a severe thunderstorm risked the health and nerves of one’s horse, and even one’s life.

Wickham raised an eyebrow, as aware as anyone of the etiquette that imprisoned his hosts. “It seems I shall be staying for a while.”

*

“I fear we cannot accommodate you at the table, Mr. Wickham.” Mrs. Knightley pushed her chair back as abruptly as an ill-mannered child. Jonathan would’ve been scolded for less, as a boy. She said, “Allow me to get you settled, and the servants will bring something up to you for dinner.” With that she strode out of the room. After a moment, Wickham inclined his head to the table—an ironical half bow—then followed her.

Had she done the right thing? The normal rules could not apply to such a situation as this. Jonathan would’ve resolved to ask his parents later had they not appeared so stricken. No, he would be left to interpret this for himself.

A silence followed, empty of words and yet suffocatingly heavy. Finally, Knightley cleared his throat. “My dear guests, I must beg your pardon. The gentleman who has arrived is . . . no friend to this household. Yet there are matters between us that must be resolved.”

“He seemed insolent in the extreme,” said Mrs. Brandon, astonishingly forthright. “What a disagreeable person.”

In any other circumstances, Jonathan might’ve found such a pronouncement rude; tonight, people seemed freed to speak their thoughts—and to the whole table, at that. Understandable, perhaps, but in his opinion it set a dangerous precedent.

“George Wickham is indeed disagreeable,” Knightley agreed, “however skilled he is at pretending otherwise.”

Brandon spoke for the first time at dinner. “Did you say—Mr. George Wickham?”

Knightley nodded. “A former army officer, who now fancies himself an arranger of investments. Bah! Investments that work to his own gain and everyone else’s loss.”

“Certainly to ours,” Wentworth said, his voice hollow.

Jonathan saw Mrs. Wentworth wince.

But she rallied swiftly, turning to Darcy and asking very civilly, “How are you acquainted with Mr. Wickham, sir?”

“We grew up together in Derbyshire,” Darcy said. Brandon’s fork clattered against the dinner plate. Jonathan wondered—How could anyone continue eating at such a time? “He was the son of my late father’s steward. As adults, our ways parted for many years.”

To his surprise, it was Mother who spoke next. “Then Mr. Wickham married my sister Lydia.”

And Lydia and George Wickham had had a daughter.

For a moment, Jonathan remembered Susannah so vividly that she might’ve been sitting at his side, giggling as she so often did, dark curls framing her round, smiling face. To him, she had been more sister than cousin. To his parents, Susannah had been more daughter than niece. He knew himself and his brothers to be dearly loved, but he knew also that for many years his mother and father had longed for a little girl that never came.

Then, eight years ago, Susannah had been born—the belated first and only child of his aunt and uncle. Neither Aunt Lydia nor Uncle George had possessed much interest in the daily tedium of child-rearing; as soon as Susannah had left her wet nurse, she had been packed off to Pemberley for lengthy visits. Indeed, Susannah had spent far more of her short life in his home than she ever had with her parents. This suited everyone: Mother and Father, who doted on the child; Jonathan and his brothers, who were old enough to find her odd little ways amusing rather than irritating; Aunt Lydia and Uncle George, who showed no evidence of ever missing their daughter; and Susannah herself, who wept piteously before each of her journeys home and always ran back into Pemberley as fast as her small legs would bear her.

She would never run through the doors again.

Excerpt from The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray.
Copyright © 2022 by Claudia Gray. Published by Vintage Books, A Division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of Amy Vincent. She is the writer of multiple young adult novels, including the Evernight series, the Firebird trilogy, and the Constellation trilogy. In addition, she’s written several Star Wars novels, such as Lost Stars and Bloodline. She makes her home in New Orleans with her husband Paul and assorted small dogs.

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