Stone Heart by Susan Hamilton ISBN: 9781737353683 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9781737353690 (ebook) ASIN: B0B2K418QT (Kindle edition) Release Date: August 30, 2022 Publisher:Writing Bloc Genre: Fiction | Romance
Lauren Stone is no stranger to regret…
A singer in a successful band, she’s learned a hard lesson over the years: people don’t love her for who she really is. They love what she is and what she can do for them. The only person who ever truly loved her ended their relationship years ago, and it nearly destroyed her. But Lauren doesn’t have time to pine over lost love. If she doesn’t get her songwriting mojo back-and fast-The Kingmakers’ new album is going to be a colossal failure.
When Lauren returns home to New York for a recording session, a publicity stunt gone awry brings her face-to-face with her past and her biggest regret: Danny Padovano, the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart. The spark between them is still there but getting involved with Danny again is one step short of insanity. Lauren knows she’s playing with fire-things are a lot more complicated now than they were when Lauren and Danny were younger, and the stakes are much, much higher. Soon, everything Lauren’s worked so hard to achieve starts to unravel.
Can she come to terms with her regrets? Or will they finally destroy her?
Lauren Stone owned a big-ass, beachfront Spanish Colonial Revival in Santa Monica, California. With six bedrooms, five baths, and a pool that overlooked the sand, it was far too big for her, and when she bought it, people had clucked at her excess. Lauren, however, didn’t give a rat’s backside what they thought. She knew the adage was true: money couldn’t buy happiness. It could, however, buy some very awesome toys.
Years ago, she’d promised herself that if her band, The Kingmakers, ever made it big, she was buying herself a big house with a view of the ocean. And Lauren Stone kept her promises.
She was sitting in the spacious, airy sunroom, where an over‐stuffed sofa and several chairs formed a rough semi-circle around a long coffee table and faced the bank of windows—and the arched glass doors—that led out to the pool. Exposed, dark mahogany beams ran the length of the stucco ceiling. Two ceiling fans provided a soothing breeze. Aside from the ocean view, this room was one of the things that had sold her on this house.
She got out of the plush chair and leaned in the arched doorway that opened to her patio and pool. Taking a deep drink of beer, she contemplated the expanse of sand beyond the fence, stretching from the edge of her backyard to the cerulean water. She liked how the color changed depending on the day and the weather.
At the sound of footsteps, she looked back into the room. “Hey, Augie!”
“Hey!” Her cousin’s dimples deepened when he smiled. Lauren grew up with three sisters, and Augustus “Augie” Stone was the brother she never had. A year younger than her, he was The Kingmakers’ drummer.
“Connie let you in?” She’d let her housekeeper know she was expecting company.
“Yeah. Said you’d be out here.” Augie leaned his athletic, six-foot frame on the other side of the curved doorway.
Putting her beer bottle down, Lauren pulled her hair back and tugged the scrunchie off her wrist to capture it all in a messy ponytail. It would have been the same dark brown as Augie’s if she didn’t get it highlighted regularly, but they both shared a soft natural wave that ran in the Stone family. For Lauren that meant minimal time trying to curl it—for Augie it just meant some unruly cowlicks.
“C’mon. Too nice to be inside,” she said. “Let’s sit by the pool. There’s more beer in the cooler. I’ve got that new Elk Stone Amber I was telling you about.”
“Lead on, my captain!”
Sheltered by a large red umbrella, the teak table was surrounded by four chairs. A few feet away, two padded lounge chairs waited. Augie flopped down on one, Lauren in the other.
As soon as she got comfortable, her phone buzzed. She glanced at it and started to laugh.
“Just DJ being DJ.” Lauren snickered again.
“What is it, fifty-two poop emojis in a row?”
“Close. He threw in a few eggplants for good measure.” She tucked the phone into a shady spot under her chair, and they fell into an amiable silence. Lauren took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to let her anxiety exit with it.
“DJ’s worried about you, you know.”
“I’ve been through breakups before.” Lauren forced her voice to be light. She had been through breakups over the years, more than she cared to admit. And there were times she wondered if she was capable of a long-term relationship with anyone. Rob had been fun, but the charm hadn’t lasted. Her ex, however, hadn’t taken the breakup well.
“Well, if you want to—”
“—Talk? I don’t.” She took another drink of beer. “Needy, manipulative little bastard.” She thought about the salvo of nasty tweets Rob had flung at her like a monkey throwing its own excrement. It wasn’t like she’d expected him to be happy about being shown the door, but the juvenile level of his response had been astonishing.
“I thought you didn’t want to talk about it.”
“I don’t want to talk about him. I do want to talk about the new album.”
“The last one was good, not great. This one needs to be a home run.” Worry painted her voice and she hated it. She drummed her fingers on the armrest. “I’m not ready to fade into the sunset.”
“We’re not fading into anything,” Augie said. “Seriously, dude. You need to stop listening to the critics’ podcasts.”
Lauren chewed her lip. Augie wasn’t entirely wrong. The band had taken a well-earned break after the last tour, but it was time to get back to work. Restless, she got up and walked to the fence surrounding the pool. Leaning on it, she stared out toward the Pacific. Wispy clouds streaked the sky, slashes of rose and gold in the setting sun.
A squeak told her Augie had gotten out of his chair. He leaned on the rail next to her and gave her a gentle hip bump.
She shrugged. “Nothing.”
“Liar, liar, pants on fire.” He flashed her a grin, dimples appearing in his cheeks again.
“You’re a child,” she said with an affectionate laugh.
“Like that surprises you? But seriously, c’mon. You’ve got that pensive look. What gives?”
She tried to equivocate. “Usual brooding creative-type personality issues.”
The noise—not quite a snort, but not a coughed “bullshit” either —that her cousin made told her he didn’t believe her. But he didn’t ask any more questions. They stood in silence, admiring the sun as it sank towards the horizon.
“I haven’t gotten as much writing done as I wanted,” Lauren said, tired of the quiet. She hoped that would satisfy Augie and he wouldn’t press for more. Truth be told, she was struggling with her songwriting, and the last thing she wanted to do was ‘fess up to that. “So? You’ll hit your stride. Don’t get hung up on it.”
“I guess.” She watched a bird soar and bank in the sky. It was too far away to tell what kind it was, but she admired its freewheeling flight.
“You know I’m right. And getting the chance to work with Fitz is going to be epic,” Augie said.
“I know! I’ve wanted him to produce one of our albums for a long time.” The mention of Fitz perked her up. Fitz McCallum was one of the most sought-after producers in the industry, and the band had jumped at the opportunity to work with him. He had a reputation for turning everything he worked on into gold—even better, platinum.
“I’m glad we’re going to New York for this,” Augie said. “Haven’t seen the seasons change in a long time.”
Lauren cocked an eyebrow. “Fifty bucks say the first chilly day, you’ll turn into a whiny little—”
“Don’t hate me because I’m sensitive.” Augie started to laugh. Lauren joined him, but the laugh faded to a sigh.
“You sure that’s all that’s bugging you?” he asked.
“Nothing’s bugging me.” Lauren shifted her weight away as if that would let her avoid the question. She put her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun—and so she didn’t have to make eye contact with Augie. Her thoughts churned. What if I’ve got no songs? What if the trades are right? What if I’ve lost my mojo? She felt the worry tighten around her chest, making it hard to take a breath.
She changed the subject; the last thing she wanted to do was keep talking about her writing.
“I’m not telling my mom I’m coming back to New York until I’m getting on the plane,” she said. She and Augie had grown up in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.
Augie turned toward her, a sly smile on his face. “And you want me to not call my mom.”
“If you do, your mom will call my mom and all hell will break loose if she hears through the grapevine that I’m back.” Lauren watched her cousin weigh his options.
“What’s in it for me?”
“You blackmailing me?”
“That’s an ugly word, but call it what you want, sistah.” Augie leaned one elbow on the fence and watched her with a self-satisfied smile. Lauren considered giving him a kick in the shin, the same way she had when they were six.
“I’ll owe you—big time. I love my family…” She left the rest of her thought unfinished.
“No quality time with Jackie?”
Lauren gave Augie another look. Jackie was her older sister, and they were about as different as two siblings could be—more fire and gasoline than oil and water. Her younger sisters, Carolyn and Stephanie, were a different story. They adored Lauren and Lauren adored them back.
“I love Jackie, but she makes me mental,” Lauren said. “I want our plans set, and I want to have a place to stay before they know I’m coming.”
“Deal,” Augie said. “When we’re home, I might look a few people up. Indulge in some good, old-fashioned reminiscing about our misspent youth.”
“You’re still in the middle of living your misspent youth. Couple of years it’s going to be your misspent middle age.”
“You first.” Augie never skipped an opportunity to remind Lauren that she was a year older than he was.
Out on the beach, people were wrapping up for the day, a stream of humanity leaving the white-gold sand for the asphalt and concrete of LA. A young man in bright red trunks, maybe twenty years old, walked toward the distant parking lot giving his girlfriend a piggyback ride. The wistful longing that bubbled up in Lauren’s heart caught her off-guard, bringing her back to a time when she was the one getting the piggyback.
Her heart stuttered.
She’d never been able to stop thinking about Danny Padovano, her ex from high school. She’d struggled with their breakup for years as she tried every conceivable trick to get over him, including a cocaine addiction that nearly ruined her. Finally, Lauren buried her broken heart so deep that it was easy for her to pretend those feelings didn’t exist. She’d had other lovers over the years, but none of them had ever made her forget Danny.
He was the one person who loved her for who she really was, not what she was.
Unlike Rob and all the other exes.
She could feel Augie staring at her.
“Maybe I’ll look Danny up while we’re home.”
“Pandora’s Box,” he said.
“It would be fine.” Lauren set her jaw, refusing to meet his eyes or acknowledge the warning in his voice. She didn’t want to argue, and she was well aware her cousin had never completely forgiven her ex for breaking her heart all those years ago.
They turned their attention to other topics related to the band’s temporary relocation to the East Coast to record. Augie said he’d spoken to Fitz briefly, and the producer would be waiting for Lauren to call him.
After about twenty minutes, Augie glanced at his watch. “I gotta bolt. You’ll call Fitz to confirm details?”
“I will,” she said. “Catch you later.”
He sauntered away, and Lauren went back to watching the final moments of the sun’s descent until it vanished, leaving the sky a blue-violet with the barest hint of maroon on the horizon. But the gorgeous color couldn’t keep her thoughts from straying to her writing difficulties and then to what Augie had said about looking up old friends. He’d stayed in touch with a few people over the years, but she hadn’t. Not really. She’d had plenty of friends growing up, but none of them shared her passion for music—her obsession, as they called it. And once The Kingmakers took off—well, Lauren didn’t have that much in common with them anymore.
After nearly twenty years, Danny was the only person she was interested in seeing. The tangled prick of anger and longing in her heart annoyed her. Their breakup had been devastating. And although it had been years since she’d seen him, she thought of him often. More often than she probably should. Her sisters occasionally shared news about what he was up to. When Carolyn told her several years ago that Danny had gotten married, Lauren pretended it didn’t bother her.
But it did.
She chewed her bottom lip and wondered if going back to New York might be a mistake.
Susan K. Hamilton is an award-winning, multi-genre author whose books include Stone Heart, The Devil Inside, Shadow King, and Darkstar Rising. Her short stories have been featured in the ESCAPE, DECEPTION and FAMILY Anthologies from Writing Bloc, and her first Shadow King-based short story was included in the Passageways Anthology.
Horse-crazy since she was a little girl, she pretty much adores every furry creature on the planet (except spiders). She also loves comfy jeans, pizza, and great stand-up comedy, and wishes she had even an iota of musical talent because—deep down—she really wants to be a singer. Susan lives near Boston with her husband and spends her spare time with a lovely bay mare, affectionately known as “La Diosa.”
It’s time to celebrate love, all shades of love. August 20, 20221, is officially Bookstore Romance Day. This is the fourth year of celebrating romance in fiction. According to the website: “Bookstore Romance Day is a day designed to give independent bookstores an opportunity to celebrate Romance fiction—its books, readers, and writers—and to strengthen the relationships between bookstores and the Romance community.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m always up for grabbing a good romance book to read (okay, I’m always up for grabbing any good book to read). Contemporary romance, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, or historical romance, I’m always up for the HEA (happy ever after) or HFN (happy for now). Steamy romance or mild romance, it’s all good. If you’re not a romance reader, I hope my recommendations will help you become a Romancelandia convert.
No list is complete without my all-time favorite author, the incomparable, the Slayer of Words, the Queen…Beverly Jenkins! I’ve repeatedly recommended her books to you in the past and I sincerely hope you’ve taken my recommendations. Where do you start? I suggest beginning with her Blessings series (soon to be a television series [we hope]). This series, inspirational with hints of romance, begins with Bring On the Blessings, A Second Helping, Something Old, Something New, A Wish and a Prayer, Heart of Gold, For Your Love, Stepping to a New Day, Chasing Down a Dream, Second Time Sweeter, and On the Corner of Hope and Main. If you enjoy historical romance, then I encourage you to grab copies of Ms. B’s Indigo and Vivid, especially the 25th-anniversary editions. You definitely don’t want to miss out on her “Women Who Dare” series: Rebel, Wild Rain, and the soon-to-be-released, To Catch a Raven.
If you haven’t read anything by Lyssa Kay Adams, now is a good time to start. The Bromance series features men learning how to be better husbands or significant others by reading romance novels. This is one series you’ll want to read in order, so start with book one, The Bromance Book Club, then on to Undercover Bromance, followed by One Crazy Stupid Bromance, and Isn’t It Bromantic?. Make sure you add A Very Merry Bromance to your list for reading later this year.
Another favorite is Jasmine Guillory and her Wedding Date series. This series includes The Wedding Date, The Proposal (one of my favorites), The Wedding Party, Royal Holiday (another favorite because the main female character is named Vivian!), Party of Two, and While We Were Dating (a new favorite). New additions to Ms. Guillory’s list of works include By The Book, released earlier this year, and Drunk On Love scheduled to be released next month.
I can’t say enough good things about Ayesha at Last and Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin. These are fantastic stories that feature Muslims as the lead characters and have just as much drama and comedy as seen in other romance reads. Come on people, read diversely! Again, I’m not just saying that because I’m a Black Muslim woman from Appalachia or a Muslim Affrilachian, I’m saying that as a Book Diva!
Bookstore Romance Day is also providing a host of virtual events, please click here to learn more. Registration may no longer be available for some events, but you can always watch any missed events on YouTube.
Let’s celebrate romantic love in all its forms, as well as support our beloved romance authors and indie bookstores. Love is Love! I hope you’ll be able to spend some time at your favorite indie bookstore today and treat yourself to a romance book or two.
I’m super excited and pleased to announce that there are two indie bookstores in West Virginia participating in Bookstore Romance Day this year. I’ll be heading to Booktenders in Barboursville, West Virginia to grab some books. Who knows, I might also buy a few from WordPlay in Wardensville, West Virginia as well.
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.
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.
THEN November 2001
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.
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.
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.
Tasha, 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.
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…
Beating Heart Baby by Lio Min ISBN: 9781250819093 (hardcover) ISBN: 9781250819109 (eBook) ISBN: 9781250855732 (Digital audiobook) ASIN: B09GH2276G (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B09H5HS5R9 (Kindle edition) Publisher:Flatiron Books Release Date: July 26, 2022 Genre: Fiction | Young Adult | Romance | LGTBQ
Lio Min’s Beating Heart Baby is an “achingly romantic” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) love letter to internet friendships, anime, and indie rock
When artistic and sensitive Santi arrives at his new high school, everyone in the wildly talented marching band welcomes him with open arms. Everyone except for the prickly, proud musical prodigy Suwa, who doesn’t think Santi has what it takes to be in the band.
But Santi and Suwa share painful pasts, and when they open up to each other, a tentative friendship begins. And soon, that friendship turns into something more. . .
Will their fresh start rip at the seams as Suwa seeks out a solo spotlight, and both boys come to terms with what it’ll take, and what they’ll have to let go, to realize their dreams?
“A luminous homage to music, art, and the power of found family. . . This achingly romantic novel features racially diverse and variously queer characters, each of whom is given ample space to develop. Min’s personal-feeling prose epitomizes the current age, in which lifelong bonds are forged through computer screens and group chats, emphasizing connection in its myriad forms.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A lyrical, rhythmic, and promising debut, this queer romance is a hit.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“You love having your heart simultaneously inflated to gargantuan proportions and then also shredded into the tiniest bits, don’t you? Of course, you do, and Min’s debut is the best kind of devastating.” —BuzzFeed (Best Book of July)
“A beautiful story about finding family, messy first loves, and the power of music. Beating Heart Baby will break your heart in the best way.” —Emiko Jean, author of Tokyo Ever After
“You know that feeling, when you hear your favorite song for the first time? Lio Min has captured it in electrifying prose. Beating Heart Baby reached deep inside me and healed wounds I always assumed I’d be carrying forever.” —Adib Khorram, author of Darius the Great Is Not Okay
“Beating Heart Baby combines an anime-addled queer coming-of-age with a luxurious, sensual love story. You won’t know whether to swoon or seethe with jealousy that you weren’t this cool in high school.” —Meredith Russo, author of If I Was Your Girl
“An altogether wildly moving story of finding yourself while chasing down dreams, Beating Heart Baby reads like the best kind of love song and leaves you wanting to hit repeat, with chapter after chapter positively humming in your head. And the beating heart of this beautiful novel? A story of love and forgiveness like no other.” —Eric Smith, author of Don’t Read the Comments
“Beating Heart Baby creates the eclectic, stylish world of every teen weirdo’s dreams. Readers will connect to the struggle and yearning of young queer love while finding warmth and acceptance within its diverse and compassionate cast.” —Jen Wang, author of The Prince and the Dressmaker
Meet The Author
Lio Min has listened to, played and performed, and written about music for most of their life. Their debut novel Beating Heart Baby is about boys, bands, and Los Angeles. They’ve profiled and interviewed acts including Japanese Breakfast, Rina Sawayama, MUNA, Caroline Polachek, Christine and the Queens, Raveena, Tei Shi, Speedy Ortiz, and Mitski.
The Life We Almost Had by Amelia Henley ISBN: 9781538754818 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9781538754825 (eBook) ASIN: B09HQMQ7LN (Kindle edition) Publisher:Read Forever Release Date: June 14, 2022 Genre: Fiction | Romance
From the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author comes an emotional romance that is “beautifully written and plotted” (Candis).
This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.
Anna wasn’t looking for love when Adam swept her off her feet, but there was no denying their connection, and she believed they would be together forever.
Years later, cracks have appeared in their relationship. Anna is questioning whether their love can really be eternal when a cruel twist of fate delivers a crushing blow, and Anna and Adam are completely lost to one another. Now, Anna needs Adam more than ever, but the way back to him has life-changing consequences.
Is a second chance at first love really worth the sacrifice? Anna needs to decide, and time is running out…
Amelia Henley is a hopeless romantic who has a penchant for exploring the intricacies of relationships through writing heart-breaking, high-concept love stories.
Amelia also writes psychological thrillers under her real name, Louise Jensen. As Louise Jensen, she has sold over a million copies of her global number one bestsellers. Her stories have been translated into twenty-five languages and optioned for TV as well as featuring on the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers list. Louise’s books have been nominated for multiple awards.
Blame It On The Brontës by Annie Sereno ISBN: 9781538721438 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9781538722688 (ebook) ISBN: 9781549191176 (digital audiobook) ASIN: B09S54DLS2 (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B09FJM7F6S (Kindle edition) Publisher:Forever Release Date: May 3, 2022 Genre: Fiction | Romance | Romantic Comedy
She’s going to write her own happy ending.
English professor Athena Murphy is an authority on the novels of the Brontë sisters. But as they say in academia, publish or perish. To save her job, Athena decides to write a biography of C.L. Garland, the author heating up bestseller lists with spicy retellings of classic literature. Tracking down the reclusive writer and uncovering her secret identity, though, means Athena must return to her small midwestern hometown where Garland—and her ex-boyfriend, Thorne Kent—live.
Seeing Thorne again reminds Athena that real life never lives up to fiction. He was the Heathcliff to her Catherine, the Mr. Rochester to her Jane. Not only did their college breakup shatter that illusion, but they also broke each other’s hearts again a second time. Now she has to see him nearly every…single…day.
The only solution is to find C.L. Garland as quickly as possible, write the book, and get the heck out of town. As her deadline looms and the list of potential C.L. Garlands dwindles, Athena and Thorne bicker and banter their way back to friendship. Could it really be true that the third time’s a charm?
Athena and Thorne have a love story only a Brontë could write, and the chance for their own happily-ever-after, but first, they’ll need to forgive the mistakes of the past.
“A delightful third-chance romance with Brontë brooding and rom-com banter. You’ll be rooting for Thena and Thorne!” —Jenny Holiday, USA Today bestselling author
“In Sereno’s charming, contemporary romance debut, the love of literature takes center stage… [English professor Athena Murphy] runs into her former lover, Thorne Kent, who owns the town’s main hangout, the As You Like It Café, where our frenemy protagonists trade Amy Sherman-Palladino-like barbs to the delight of the gossip-loving patrons. Sereno is a gifted writer and readers will watch for her next book.” —Booklist
“A swoon-worthy hero in a story that’s everything a rom com should be—smart, sexy, funny, and charming to boot!” —Carolyn Brown, New York Times bestselling author
“Delivers plenty of tongue-in-cheek literary witticism and small-town heart… The novel’s heart lies in its quirky, memorable characters. Readers will find themselves laughing through the familiar tropes.” —Publishers Weekly
“Sereno’s novel is witty and entertaining, and fans of the Brontë sisters will undoubtedly appreciate the fun she has nodding to their books.” —Kirkus
Meet The Author
Annie Sereno holds a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania as well as master’s degrees in library science and British and American literature. Among other libraries, she was privileged to serve Harvard University and The National Geographic Society. When she’s not expressing her imagination with pen and paintbrush, Annie gardens, swims, and haunts art museums. In possession of a well-worn passport and memories of all the places she’s called home, she shares her life with her husband and two sons. Mildly (okay, seriously) obsessed with birds, Celtic music, and all things Australian, she believes there is no such thing as a former librarian, no time to read, or too many shoes. She currently lives with her family in New Jersey.
Just the Two of Us by Jo Wilde ISBN: 9781538755068 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9781538755051 (ebook) ISBN: 9781549110719 (digital audiobook) ASIN: B09W4JQ3PN (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B08HLNLZWD (Kindle edition) Publisher:Forever Books Release Date: April 12, 2022 Genre: Fiction | Romance
A couple on the brink of divorce after 35 years of marriage gets a second chance to rediscover their love now that a pandemic lockdown has forced them to spend more time together.
Julie and Michael Marshall have stayed together through thick and thin, through better and worse — and, for the last few years, it has mostly been worse. As their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary approaches, Julie realizes something: she doesn’t want to pretend anymore.
Divorce papers at the ready, she’s just about to have The Talk with Michael when everything changes. Lockdown begins and Julie and Michael face the greatest terror they can imagine: uninterrupted time with each other. But, when stripped of all distraction and forced to meet eyes across the dinner table, could it be that Julie and Michael might find a way back to where they first began?
This emotional second-chance tale promises both tears and smiles.—Publishers Weekly
“Exactly the sort of witty, insightful and heart-warming book for these solitary times.”—Culture Fly
“A hilarious and uplifting story about what happens after ‘happy ever after’.”—Chat Magazine
“A brilliantly warm story for our times.”—People’s Friend
“This book transcends the story of the recent pandemic to become the heartbreaking story of two warm, lovely people who have forgotten how to communicate . . . A gentle, touching story that’s very pertinent to our times.”—NFOP Magazine
Meet The Author
Jo Wilde wanted to be an author from the moment she could pick up a pen and was writing boarding-school novels by the age of nine. She studied English literature at Cambridge University, but made the early mistake of thinking she ought to get a ‘proper job’, rather than write, and went into Factory Planning — a career that gave her some wonderful experiences, amazing friends and even a husband, but didn’t offer much creative scope. When Jo had children she began writing in the brief gaps provided by sleeps, playschools and obliging grandparents, and she published short stories and serials in all the women’s magazines. Jo has now published a range of fiction novels, including historical novels as Joanna Courtney and contemporary fiction as Anna Stuart.
Good day, my bookish peeps. My apologies for the tardiness in posting the fourth and final addition to my “Best Reads of 2021” list, but I’ve had to deal with a series of severe migraine episodes over the past few weeks. The only good thing about the delay in writing this post was that I had a chance to fine-tune this section of my “best of” list, the romance reads. (Even though I had the time to fine-tune the list, I wound up not adding or deleting any of my original choices, so I guess they were the best choices after all.) Although I enjoy reading from a wide variety of genres, especially mystery, suspense, and thrillers, I’m also a huge romance fiction fan.
The first title on this romance best of list is the final book in the Brown Sisters trilogy by Talia Hibbert, Act Your Age, Eve Brown. If you haven’t read the previous two books in this series, Get A Life, Chloe Brown and Take A Hint, Dani Brown, then you’ll want to add those to your list as well. These stories feature flawed, but realistic characters that are trying their best to cope in a world that doesn’t often make room for differently-sized, neurodiverse/neurodivergent, or differently-abled people. What more can I say other than these are great diverse romance reads.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown, The Brown Sisters #3, by Talia Hibbert ISBN: 9780062941275 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9780062941282 (ebook) ISBN: 9780062941299 (digital audiobook) ISBN: 9781799971085 (audiobook on CD) ASIN: B089WJ184B (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B089SYX5F5 (Kindle edition) Publisher: Avon Romance Release Date: March 9, 2021 Genre: Fiction | Romance | Interracial Romance
In USA Today bestselling author Talia Hibbert’s newest rom-com, the flightiest Brown sister crashes into the life of an uptight B&B owner and has him falling hard—literally.
Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong—so she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It’s time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she’s not entirely sure how.
Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry—and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.
Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help . Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore—and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior.
My next romance recommendation is the first book in a new series by award-winning romance author Sandra Kitt. Winner Takes All kicks off the Millionaires Club series. This is nice, tender, and sometimes emotional diverse romance from an author that has written quite a number of tender, emotional romances.
Winner Takes All, The Millionaires Club #1, by Sandra Kitt ISBN: 9781728214887 (paperback) ISBN: 9781728214894 (ebook) ISBN: 9781662081477 (digital audiobook) ISBN: 9781662081828 (audiobook on CD) ASIN: B08SR9CXWF (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B08DHGVN2L (Kindle edition) Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca Release Date: April 6, 2021 Genre: Fiction | Romance | Interracial Romance
“Great story-telling of the most romantic kind.”—Brenda Jackson, New York Times bestselling author
“A warm-hearted story and a clever plot reflecting current issues with sensitivity, warmth, and wisdom.”—Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Jean Travis has the job of announcing the latest lottery winner on TV and is stunned to find that Patrick Bennett, her teenage crush, is the top mega winner. They haven’t seen each other in years, and Patrick is thrilled to renew their acquaintance. Jean, not so much. After all, a lot has changed since they used to study together and Jean worked so hard to hide her feelings. Now that he’s won so much money, Patrick faces a whole new world of demands from family, friends, coworkers, strangers. The only person he knows for sure he can trust, is Jean…
“Romantic, tender, emotional, and compelling.”—RaeAnne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author
When you’re a person of color and a religious minority (at least in this country), it is often incredibly difficult to find books that have characters that look like you and practice your faith. Thankfully, there are a growing number of authors of color and books that reflect a variety of religious beliefs, including Islam. YAY! I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin and knew that I’d be purchasing all future books by this author. I immediately grabbed a digital copy of Hana Khan Carries On when it was released and was fortunate enough to add a print copy of this book to my home library later.
Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin ISBN: 9780593336366 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9780593336373 (ebook) ISBN: 9780593410431 (digital audiobook) ASIN: B08KWKPPGL (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B08JKN98K9 (Kindle edition) Publisher: Berkley Release Date: April 13, 2021 Genre: Fiction | Romance| Women’s Fiction
From the author of Ayesha at Last comes a sparkling new rom-com for fans of “You’ve Got Mail.”
Hana Khan’s family-run halal restaurant is on its last legs. So when a flashy competitor gets ready to open nearby, bringing their inevitable closure even closer, she turns to her anonymously-hosted podcast, and her lively and long-lasting relationship with one of her listeners, for advice.
But a hate-motivated attack on their neighbourhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana’s growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival business. Who might not be a complete stranger after all…
A charmingly refreshing and modern love story, Uzma Jalaluddin’s tale is humorously warm and filled with gorgeous characters you won’t be able to forget. Now in development for film with Mindy Kaling and Amazon Studios.
Another author on my “just buy it” list is Jasmine Guillory. I love her characters, the romance, the romantic-struggle, and the humor. Ms. Guillory’s 2021 release, While We Were Dating featured a plus-size woman of color as the love interest. YAAS! This book was the sixth addition to “The Wedding Date” series. If you enjoy well-written romance with lots of intelligent characters and humor, then I suggest you binge-read this entire series (if you haven’t already).
While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory ISBN: 9780593100844 (hardcover) ISBN: 9780593100851 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9780593100868 (ebook) ISBN: 9780593409800 (digital audiobook) ASIN: B08LQYMB1F (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B08L5WF4YM (Kindle edition) Publisher: Berkley Release Date: July 13, 2021 Genre: Fiction | Romance | Multicultural Romance
Two people realize that it’s no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.
Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he’s trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it’s hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she’s also down to earth and considerate, and he can’t help flirting a little…
Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she’s booked her next movie. However, she didn’t expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?
But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they’ve barely shared with those closest to them.
When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna’s life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?
I’ve recently realized that I read a large number of books that are part of a series. If I’m grabbed by the first title in a series, it’s a sure bet that I’ll be reading all of the new books in that series. Although I’m not a big sports fan, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the “Bromance Book Club” series. Come on folks, a romance series featuring male characters that read romance books to help with their relationships, what’s not to love?! Book four in this series, Isn’t It Bromantic? is slightly different from the first three because the male character is actually writing a romance rather than reading one to help with his love interest.
Isn’t It Bromantic?, Bromance Book Club #4, by Lyssa Kay Adams ISBN: 9780593332771 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9780062964595 (ebook) ISBN: 9780593332788 (digital audiobook) ASIN: B08MMJVQ81 (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B08JKP2G5S (Kindle edition) Publisher: Berkley Release Date: August 3, 2021 Genre: Fiction | Romance | Sports Romance
With his passion for romance novels, it was only a matter of time before Vlad took up the pen to write a novel the Bromance Book Club would swoon over.
Elena Konnikova has lived her entire adult life in the shadows. As the daughter of a Russian journalist who mysteriously disappeared after speaking out against government corruption, she escaped danger the only way she knew how. She agreed to marry her childhood friend, Vladimir, and move to the United States, where he is a professional hockey player in Nashville.
Vlad, aka The Russian, thought he could be content with his marriage of convenience. But after four years, it’s become too difficult to continue in a one-sided relationship. He joined the Bromance Book Club to learn how to make his wife love him, but all he’s learned is that he deserves more. He’s ready to create his own sweeping romance—both on and off the page.
The Bros are unwilling to let Vlad forgo true love—and this time they’re not operating solo. They join forces with Vlad’s senior citizen neighbors, a group of meddling widows who call themselves The Loners. Just when things finally look promising, the danger from Elena’s past life intrudes, and the book club will face their first-ever life-or-death grand gesture as they race to a happy ever after.
I was honored to get the opportunity to see this author at a regional book festival last year. I was incredibly blessed that my youngest brother took the time to get my copy of The Dating Playbook signed while I was attending another author presentation. (My brother also drove me to North Carolina so I could attend this event. We spent a lovely day at the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors and I didn’t have to do the drive down or back to West Virginia. In-person events with authors. Got books signed. Had a fantastic day trip without driving. Win-Win-WIN!) I had read the first book in this series, The Boyfriend Project with my online book group, Mocha Girls Read and was hooked. And yes, I own the digital and print copy of this book.
The Dating Playbook, The Boyfriend Project #2, by Farrah Rochon ISBN: 9781538716670 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9781538716663 (ebook) ISBN: 9781549135941 (digital audiobook) ASIN: B09B38J4WF (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B08PV5JRHM (Kindle edition) Publication date: August 17, 2021 Publisher: Forever Genre: Fiction | Romance
When a personal trainer agrees to fake date her client, all rules are out the window in this “fun, heartfelt, and totally relatable” romantic comedy (Abby Jimenez, NYT bestselling author of Life’s Too Short).
When it comes to personal training, Taylor Powell kicks serious butt. Unfortunately, her bills are piling up, rent is due, and the money situation is dire. Taylor needs more than the support of her new best friends, Samiah and London. She needs a miracle.
And Jamar Dixon might just be it. The oh-so-fine former footballer wants back into the NFL, and he wants Taylor to train him. There’s just one catch—no one can know what they’re doing. But when they’re accidentally outed as a couple, Taylor’s game plan is turned completely upside down. Is Jamar just playing to win . . . or is he playing for keeps?
I actually had this next author’s first book, Ties That Tether on my TBR list for awhile. I don’t know why I grabbed her latest The Sweetest Remedy to read first, but I did. No, this book isn’t part of a series, but I do heartily recommend you grab both books if you enjoy reading multicultural romance or want to start reading multicultural romance. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author in the future.
The Sweetest Remedy by Jane Igharo ISBN: 9780593101964 (trade paperback) ISBN: 9780593101971 (ebook) ISBN: 9780593456484 (digital audiobook) ASIN: B08SMNJPT5 (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B08R5LW2H3 (Kindle edition) Publication date: September 28, 2021 Publisher: Berkley Genre: Fiction | Romance
When a woman travels to Nigeria to attend the funeral of the father she never knew, she meets her extravagant family for the first time, a new and inspiring love interest, and discovers parts of herself she didn’t know were missing, from Jane Igharo, the acclaimed author of Ties That Tether.
Hannah Bailey has never known her father, the Nigerian entrepreneur who had a brief relationship with her white mother. Because of this, Hannah has always felt uncertain about part of her identity. When her father dies, she’s invited to Nigeria for the funeral. Though she wants to hate the man who abandoned her, she’s curious about who he was and where he was from. Searching for answers, Hannah boards a plane to Lagos, Nigeria.
In Banana Island, one of Nigeria’s most affluent areas, Hannah meets the Jolades, her late father’s prestigious family—some who accept her and some who think she doesn’t belong. The days leading up to the funeral are chaotic, but Hannah is soon shaped by secrets that unfold, a culture she never thought she would understand or appreciate, and a man who steals her heart and helps her to see herself in a new light.
I have this rather annoying (or at least it’s annoying to me) habit of adding books to my TBR list and then promptly forgetting about them until they pop back up on my reading radar. This next title is one such book, Seven Days in June. As someone that has been dealing with migraine for 40+ years, any book featuring a person dealing with migraine should have been one of the first I grabbed to read (the main female character has severe migraine attacks and the portrayal was all-too familiar). Sadly, I didn’t end up reading this book until mid-December and I had even obtained a signed copy of this book earlier this year in North Carolina. If this one is on your TBR list, I suggest you read it sooner rather than later!
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams ISBN: 9781538719107 (hardcover) ISBN: 9781538719114 (ebook) ISBN: 9781549104855 (digital audiobook) ASIN: B094471J1S (Audible audiobook) ASIN: B08KQ3KS5Y (Kindle edition) Publication date: June 1, 2021 Publisher: Grand Central Publishing Genre: Fiction | Romance
Brooklynite Eva Mercy is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer, who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning literary author who, to everyone’s surprise, shows up in New York.
When Shane and Eva meet unexpectedly at a literary event, sparks fly, raising not only their past buried traumas, but the eyebrows of New York’s Black literati. What no one knows is that twenty years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. They may be pretending that everything is fine now, but they can’t deny their chemistry – or the fact that they’ve been secretly writing to each other in their books ever since.
Over the next seven days in the middle of a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect, but Eva’s not sure how she can trust the man who broke her heart, and she needs to get him out of New York so that her life can return to normal. But before Shane disappears again, there are a few questions she needs answered…
With its keen observations of Black life and the condition of modern motherhood, as well as the consequences of motherless-ness, Seven Days in June is by turns humorous, warm and deeply sensual.
This next title is part of a series, “Modern Mail Order Brides” by Olivia Gaines. I’ve read all of thirteen of the titles, enjoyed some much more than others although I’ve enjoyed them all. Sunflowers and Honey had me staying up late reading, choking on my tea and triggering an asthma attack from laughing so hard, and smiling until the last page. Although this title released in October, I’ve already read it a number of times and enjoy it a little more with each re-reading.
Sunflowers and Honey, Modern Mail Order Brides #13, by Olivia Gaines ISBN: 9798488630000 (paperback) ASIN: B098LZBGLJ (Kindle edition) Publication date: October 12, 2021 Publisher: Davonshire House Publishing Genre: Fiction | Romance
Symphony Willis wasn’t about to let her big sister have all the fun. Placing a call to Melody, she asked what everyone wanted to know, “where did you meet Lakota?”
Following the directions sent via text, Symphony walked into the offices of Perfect Match to start a journey that opened not only a lot of doors, but her heart to understanding what it truly means to be family.
Saddle up as we head West to a family farm in Oklahoma that specializes in Sunflowers and Honey.
My final romance recommendation is a novella by the one and only, Beverly Jenkins. (Told you, I read everything this Queen writes!) Ms. Bev released this novella a few months ago and I’ve already read it multiple times. Yes, it was just that good. Romance, interesting characters, books, intrigue, books, romance, and books!
A librarian’s quiet life becomes a page-turner of adventure, romance, and murder in a thrilling novella by USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins.
For Jasmine Ware, curating books for an exclusive clientele is her passion. Until an old friend, a dealer of rare books, goes missing and his partner is murdered. Linked to an artifact smuggled out of the ancient library at Timbuktu, the mystery draws Jasmine deeper into a plot that could cost her her life.
Air force veteran and private security ace Torr Noble is accustomed to adrenaline-pumping stakes. He never expected a private librarian would be so intriguing, but Jasmine is full of surprises. As the connection between them burns hot, a powerful old enemy raises his head. Torr and Jasmine must work together to find the missing dealer.
Will the search be the start of a happily ever after or a disastrous THE END?
Of course there were plenty of other titles that I read and enjoyed in 2021. The few mentioned on this “best of” list are the ones that truly stood out. Once again, I have to say “THANK YOU” to all of the wonderful authors, publishing companies, publicists, book tour companies, and libraries that afforded me so many fantastic reads over the course of 2021. I hope y’all had some wonderful reads last year and I hope we all have just as many great reads on our 2022 list come the end of the year.
Good day, book divas and divos. I spent about a year “thinking” about blogging about books before I took the first step and just started. This might seem like a small thing, but for an introvert like me it was huge. Sometimes, we just have to take that first step and everything else will seem to fall into place. I’m incredibly pleased to welcome today’s guest to the blog as her books routinely get added to my TBR list. Please help me welcome DiAnn Mills, author of the recently released Trace of Doubt. Ms. Mills will be discussing taking a leap of faith and following your dreams. I hope you’ll be like Ms. Mills and follow your dream, and while you’re making arrangements to do so, perhaps you’ll add Trace of Doubt to your TBR list. Thank you, Ms. Mills for stopping by and sharing with us today.
Never Too Late
In 1996, my husband said to me, “Stop telling me someday you’re going to write a book. Do it now. Quit your job. I give you one year to get anything published.” My youngest son was a senior in high school. Was I too old to begin a new career writing fiction? I’d felt the urge to write for the previous five years, but I was afraid to get started. Afraid of failure. Afraid I was too old to begin a new career.
I wanted to write. Could taste the thrill of publication. “I believe in you,” my husband said.
I accepted the challenge and devised a plan to work smart and effectively. I looked at my writing goals like a full-time job. If I were to reach the ultimate of publication, I’d have to soar to the top of the craft. My day was organized into writing, studying how-to books, reading in my genre, digesting blog posts, and exploring which conferences would teach me the most and provide exposure to agents, editors, and other writers. I started a writer’s critique group that met for over ten years.
During the first year, I wrote devotions, articles, a short story, and a historical novel. Sure, I had a rejections and publications, but I never went back to my old job. In 1998, my first novel released. Oh, the excitement of tearing into the box of author copies. The cover … the book’s name … my name. A dream come true.
That was 87 books ago. But don’t think it’s been easy. Every novel is a little tougher to write. The characterization must be deeper. The plot’s twists and turns unexpected. The setting more intense. The dialogue and emotion like a sword fight. For me, writing five nonfiction books were like clawing my way up a cliff.
I believed my calling and purpose in life is to write and teach serious writers what I’ve learned and continue to learn about the craft, social media, marketing, branding, and reaching out to readers.
Techniques and tools of the craft weren’t immediately drop-shipped into my brain. I experienced lots of deletes and rewrites. Still do! Writing is about hard work and sacrifices.
The older we get; the more wisdom is packed into our heads. Now may be the time to organize your life and make a plan to march forward. Let others know you have a special interest and ask for support.
Coretta Scott King said, “I learned that when you are willing to make sacrifices for a great cause, you will never be alone.”
What is holding you back from reaching your goals? Be courageous and toss off those shackles. Now is the time to pursue your dreams.
Trace of Doubt
by DiAnn Mills
September 1-30, 2021 Tour
Bestselling and award-winning author DiAnn Mills delivers a heart-stopping story of dark secrets, desperate enemies, and dangerous lies.
Fifteen years ago, Shelby Pearce confessed to murdering her brother-in-law and was sent to prison. Now she’s out on parole and looking for a fresh start in the small town of Valleysburg, Texas. But starting over won’t be easy for an ex-con.
FBI Special Agent Denton McClure was a rookie fresh out of Quantico when he was first assigned the Pearce case. He’s always believed Shelby embezzled five hundred thousand dollars from her brother-in-law’s account. So he’s going undercover to befriend Shelby, track down the missing money, and finally crack this case.
But as Denton gets closer to Shelby, he begins to have a trace of doubt about her guilt. Someone has Shelby in their crosshairs. It’s up to Denton to stop them before they silence Shelby—and the truth—forever.
Praise for Trace of Doubt:
“Well-researched… with some surprising twists along the way. In Trace of Doubt, Mills weaves together a tale of faith, intrigue, and suspense that her fans are sure to enjoy.” – STEVEN JAMES, award-winning author of SYNAPSE and EVERY WICKED MAN
“Trace of Doubt is a suspense reader’s best friend. From page one until the end, the action is intense and the story line keeps you guessing.” – EVA MARIE EVERSON, bestselling author of FIVE BRIDES and DUST
“DiAnn Mills serves up a perfect blend of action, grit, and heart… Trace of Doubt takes romantic suspense to a whole new level.” – JAMES R. HANNIBAL, award-winning author of THE PARIS BETRAYAL
“Filled with high stakes, high emotion, and high intrigue.” – JLYNN H. BLACKBURN, award-winning author of UNKNOWN THREAT and ONE FINAL BREATH
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. DiAnn believes every breath of life is someone’s story, so why not capture those moments and create a thrilling adventure?
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a former director of Blue Ridge Christian Writers, and a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She shares her passion for helping other writers be successful by teaching writing workshops around the country.
DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.
DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed:
This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for DiAnn Mills. There will be 2 winners who will each receive one gift card. Winners may select either Amazon or Barnes & Noble. (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway runs September 1 through October 3, 2021. Void where prohibited.