Book Reviews, Comedy, Satire, Scifi

BOOK REVIEW: There Goes the Galaxy (Jenn Thorson)

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Douglas Addams fans rejoice! If you enjoy avant garde scifi satire, like Dr. Who, the original Star Wars movie, and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, you’ll tumble down the rabbit hole into author Jenn Thorson’s world of misadventures and misfits. Life As We Know It is in danger. Only everyman Bertram, a grad student kidnapped en route to his PhD by an alien Indiana Jones and now bouncing like a human pinball through the Greater Communicating Universe, can save us. Help!

EXCERPT:

Bertram came-to lying at the bottom of a ramp, and any embarrassment at having fainted was nicely smoothed by terror, as the ramp rattled to life and grinded its way back inside the spacecraft.

He leapt to his feet, fear of abandonment tossing aside his nausea, prickling limbs, worries about breathable atmosphere and any other more practical concerns. Being abducted by aliens was bad enough. But being abducted and then dumped off on a planet that wasn’t even yours? He found himself waving his arms at the craft, a lumpy, graceless ship that bore more resemblance to a brachiosaurus in need of a diet than Earthen concepts of alien transport. “Wait! Wait!” he shrieked. “Don’t go!”

He sprinted to the slowly retracting ramp, getting a foot up onto it, then another, before the ramp slipped out from under him, burying itself into several thousand tons of metal. Leaping to his feet, Bertram pounded on the ship’s hull with bruising fervor, before realizing that all had gone silent. No rumble of rockets. No whine of turbine.

Bertram stood. He paused.

“We don’t have big skulls you know,” a voice said from behind him. And Bertram Ludlow turned, squinting up in the burning sunlight to see his extra-terrestrial kidnapper. Under the blazing suns, the stranger’s short, untamed hair looked precisely as full of white light as his clothes didn’t. And in a single spidery hand, he clutched some sort of remote control.

Bertram’s knees wobbled. “Uh…?”

“Big skulls,” repeated the alien conversationally. “We don’t have them. And very few of us are actually green. That,” he continued, “should be made abundantly clear.” He dropped the gadget into a pocket at his thigh.

“My God,” Bertram breathed. Because now it was clear. Now he understood that this was never about alien abduction. It was never about stun rays and parallel evolution, worm-holes and other too-slim probabilities. It was about only one thing…

Bertram Ludlow had cracked under the pressure of getting his Ph.D. It had been known to happen. He’d just expected to pick up on some warning signs first.

“It’s what you Tryflings are always flapping on about, aren’t you?” persisted the figment of Bertram’s imagination, wiping his brow. He patted his pockets and, after one trial-and-error, withdrew a pair of sophisticated-looking binoculars. “Aliens: the hairless little slaggards with big heads and eyes, dialing home and giving everyone enemas? I mean, you people, you’ve got the universe just dripping with rampaging acid-spitters, half-breed progeny, and lizard babies, don’t you?”

He peered through the binoculars, scanning the vast empty horizon. “In my experience, only one species bears lizard babies. And you wouldn’t want to call them that. Unless you were up for one fragging huge fight… Ah! Hello—there we are!” The man tucked the binoculars back in a pocket and motioned. “Come on, then.”

“Why? Where?” Bertram shielded his eyes. The rust-colored landscape was bone-dry, exhaustively rocky straight to the horizon and completely devoid of life. It didn’t even have a smell. There were no wafting blossoms, or the territorial musk of skulking beats. If there were a smell at all, it was the scent of hot. The only sounds? The crunch of gravel underfoot.

But his abductor just pointed to an area every bit as flat and rocky as the rest, differing only by the long, mysterious shadow that fell beyond it.

And as they approached, Bertram glimpsed two figures—rather big-skulled, he thought—until closer inspection proved them to be their own distorted reflections in the wall of a tower.

The tower was rendered virtually invisible by mirrored glass. Its walls were built on an outward angle, reflecting the earth below. And its roof was angled to catch the sky. From a different position now, the structure was almost blinding.

A tower. Bertram had expected more from his subconscious than such blatant Freudianism. An age-old symbol, representing any of a variety of control issues, he supposed, though none sprung to mind for him personally. At twenty-eight, single, and with his own key to the psych lab, Bertram Ludlow had all the freedom necessary for academic excellence. He’d wrap up the thesis this semester, defend and then, barring some unforeseen setback—like, say, a severe psychotic breakdown—graduate to a prime research position in the university of his choice.

There Goes the Galaxy grabbed me from the get-go, much in the same way Bertram was grabbed in his sock feet by Rollie. And unlike Bertram, who at one point is abandoned at an alien spaceport, author Jenn Thorson never released me, not even at the end of the book, when I was ready for the second course, the sequel The Purloined Number. The pacing is outstanding, with the two leads on the run and time running out, it’s mostly fast, but things like characters preparing in intriguing ways for the next scene still happen in the lulls, so there’s never a dull moment. Infopills between a few chapters give necessary background info in the style of Ben Bova, but more humorous..Plenty of celebrity references provide belly laughst in the course of this satire, much in the manner of Futurama and the Simpsons, only better! This book lasted me about a week, reading on breaks, at mealtimes and bedtime. I’ve now read it three times and probably will again. It’s action-packed fun, like a graphic novel, only it’s a word comic you can’t put down. For scifi lovers, it’s a gift that will never be forgotten!

Buy There Goes the Galaxy at Amazon.

DISCLOSURE: I bought my copy of this book on my own dime. I received no compensation whatsoever for this review. I just love the hell out of this book and I can’t shut up.

Belinda Y. Hughes is the author of Blues in the Night, Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 1 and 2 and Living Proof. Her next lesbian romance, a sequel to Blues in the Night featuring a disabled veteran U.S. Army nurse and a younger attorney, will be released Thursday, November 12, 2015, so watch this blog. Belinda enjoys classic rock and chocolate, candles and incense, bubble baths and beading.

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Book Reviews, Cozy Mystery

BOOK REVIEW: Killer Cupcakes (Leighann Dobbs)

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Lexy Baker’s muffin tops are truly scrumptious, but they’re landing her in trouble, and in love! She’s at the top of Detective Jack Perillo’s list, both as a murder suspect and potential girlfriend. Her passion for sexy designer stilettos isn’t helping either of them. Read on for a free excerpt from this first book in the Lexy Baker cozy mystery series by Leighann Dobbs.

EXCERPT

 

“How can I help yo…?” Lexy’s words were cut off, her mouth forming a surprised O when recognition dawned on her.  Standing on the other side of the case was Jack Perillo, her neighbor.  Somehow, he looked different.  It took her a minute to realize the difference was the official looking badge he was holding in front of her face.

 

“Oh…Hi.”  She said, her mind whirling.  Did he come just to visit her?  And what was flashing the badge all about?

 

“Hi, Lexy.”  Lexy saw a look of discomfort pass his face. He quickly added, “I’m a detective with the BRPD, and unfortunately, I need to ask you some questions.”

 

“Questions?” Lexy felt her face eyebrows knit together in confusion. “I don’t understand.  What’s this about? Did something happen to my grandmother?”  

 

“No, Mona is fine. It’s about your boyfriend Kevin.”

 

“Kevin?  He’s my ex-boyfriend. I haven’t seen him in almost two years.”  

 

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you he was found dead. Murdered.” 

 

The impact of the news hit Lexy like a ton of bricks.  Murdered? Kevin?  Even though they had broken up two years ago, and he had treated her badly, she still felt a pang of sympathy for him.  

 

“Murdered?  But what does that have to do with me?”  

 

“Well, that’s the thing,” Jack said, his face a mask of stone. “He was found face down in a box of your cupcake tops. They were poisoned”.

 

Lexy felt a jolt of shock, her head swam, her ankles starting to wobbled.  She grabbed the side of the display case to steady herself, wishing that just for once she had the good sense to wear shoes with a lower heel.

I love a good cozy mystery and this was a convenient quick read with a sweet theme, romance, a hot cop, gorgeous shoes, cute clue-finding dog and genuinely helpful grandma. Plus the decadent recipe at the end, which I hope to someday convert to a gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan recipe on my food blog, if that’s ok with Leighann.

Author Leighann Dobbs just updated the series with new cover art and Killer Cupcakes, the first in the Lexy Baker Cozy Mystery series, is currently FREE on Amazon Kindle!

Buy Killer Cupcakes at Amazon

Belinda Y. Hughes is a book reviewer, blogger and author of Blues in the Night, Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2 and Living Proof. Her vegan jewelry designs are available on Etsy. She is currently working on the lesbian romance sequel to Blues in the Night.

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Book Reviews, Mystery

BOOK REVIEW: Tess’s Tale (Donna Joy Usher)

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How does mafia wife Tess explain her decades-long disappearance – to her daughter, her ex-husband and her cop boyfriend? How does she choose between two men fighting to the death over her? This is the story of a blues club singer and the gorgeous construction worker who never wanted to run the Vegas mob.

When she showed up on Madame Liss’ doorstep, Tess was the victim of an abused alcoholic mother and her abuser, the Las Vegas Mafia King’s money man, Lou the Brain. Little did she know at the time that her mother’s voice held the power of life and death – and prosperity. Or that she was good with gore – and a gun.

When Harry first laid eyes on Tess, her hair was perfect, except for one stray strand that refused to stay in place as she passed his site. Then he saw her walk into the club. So he walked into the club – a few hours later with his father and associates, including Tess’ twin sister. Then two million dollars went missing and over the next few weeks – and years – everything hit the fan – whenever the Big H and Tess weren’t making mad, passionate, true love.

Tess’s Tale is a departure from Usher’s earlier book, the Seven Steps to Closure. Seven Steps was more of a rom com. Tess’s Tale has more of a 40’s detective noir feel to it, despite seeming to be set between the 1990s and 2000-teens, which actually, I quite enjoy. In addition, as an American, it’s rather an interesting experience to read a casino heist novel set in Las Vegas but written in Australian English. Almost like reading along on the left side of the road. After a bit you become accustomed to it and it’s more of a laugh that balances the nature of the noir. While many details are accurate, the author explains her few liberties in the preface.

The story takes off and rolls along rather well as Tess goes back in time to explain herself to all concerned. It turns out she’s far more adventurous than her young adult daughter thinks her to be. For me, it’s as decadent as a chocolate fudge sundae with extra cherries on top.

Excerpt

Harry had promised me a night alone. Just him and me. Like it used to be before Tweedledee and Tweedledum came along. Mickey and Riley were almost impossible to get rid of.

I said goodbye to Liss, who was getting ready for a night out with Thor. Being the only night the club was shut, Monday nights were sacred. A warm breeze blew over my skin as I walked back home, but the sun was close enough to the horizon that I wasn’t covered in sweat.

Normally when I walk, I’m in my own little world. Thoughts of Harry or singing keep me so occupied that a comet could land and I might not even notice. But today I kept an eye out for Tristan Penn. I wasn’t ready for an encounter with him yet. My self-assurance still hadn’t recovered from the last one.

I turned the last corner warily, poking my head around to check the street was clear. If I hadn’t, I may not have noticed the strange men coming out of Harry’s and my house.

I’d had a lot of men in and out of my house over the last couple of weeks, but I knew these were strange because they carried three, limp bodies. Harry, Mickey and Riley.

A white van was parked out the front of the terrace, its door already open. They threw the bodies in the back and while four of them scrambled in after them, one slammed the door shut and jumped in the front passenger seat, and the other climbed into the driver’s side and started the engine.

The few minutes it had taken them to kidnap my husband had been the longest of my life. My heart banged around in my chest like a ping-pong ball as cold sweat broke out over my body.

Please let them be alive. Please let them be alive.

Sadly, all I had to cling to was the knowledge that Giuseppe would want to torture them before he killed them. I had to hold onto the very small hope I could rescue them before he got to that part.

As soon as the van left the curb I rushed up the road, running as soon as I was sure they wouldn’t notice me. I dug around in my handbag hoping I had put the spare set of car keys in there that morning with the house keys attached.

My hands closed around them and I shoved them into the driver’s side door and wrenched it open. The van was slowing for the corner at the end of the street as I started the car. It turned left as I roared away from the curb.

Six of them. There were six of them. I was pretty sure it had been Giuseppe who’d climbed into the driver’s side.

Fear, panic, nausea – I pushed them all away as I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles.

Six of them.

I stayed far enough back that they wouldn’t notice me tailing them. The growing shadows from the setting sun helped. We drove for what seemed like forever but I’m sure was not that long.

Please let Harry be alive. Please.

Finally they turned up a side street and into the back of a building. It looked like a warehouse.

I drove past the entrance and around the corner and then jumped out of the car. I wished I’d had time to get the gun. I wished I’d had time to ring for help. But who would I have rung?

Liss and Thor? I would never forgive myself if something happened to them.

But, six men!

I walked back past the end of the driveway, risking a quick glance as I went. Riley was halfway out of the van, struggling ineffectively at the men holding onto his shoulders and feet. Neither of them saw me.

I waited another minute and then walked back in the other direction. The lane was empty.

Before the logical part of my brain could register what my feet were doing, I darted up behind the van. A quick peep inside showed me it was empty. Any moment now they were going to start torturing them. Chopping off fingers and toes. Working their way around the bodies till there were no more small bits to cut off. Then things would get really serious.

I wouldn’t let them steal my husband away from me. Not like that. Piece by piece. Scream by scream.

The back door of the warehouse was closed but there was a small window to the left of it. I poked my head up until I could see over the window sill. The back room was empty except for one man.

I let out a small gasp as I ducked back down. An anxious couple of seconds passed before I was certain he hadn’t heard me. I’m sure he was meant to be guarding the back door, but from what I’d seen, he was more interested in what was happening in the next room.

It was going to start any moment. I had to hurry.

Buy Tess’s Tale at Amazon.

 Read my review of Donna Joy Usher’s earlier book,

The Seven Steps to Closure.

About the Reviewer 

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana author of Blues in the NightLiving Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. She is eager to write in a variety of genres. Follow Belinda on AmazonGoodreads and Twitter.

DISCLOSURE

I received an advance review copy (ARC) of this book for the purpose of writing this review. Opinions are my own.

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Book Reviews, Murder Mystery, Mystery, Romance

BOOK REVIEW: Not Without Risk (Sarah Grimm)

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Not Without Risk by Sarah Grimm is an edgy suspense thriller and sizzling romance. Featuring classic cars, police procedure and the outrageous twists and turns of the devious criminal mind, the chemistry between a sexy single detective and his prime suspect brings it all together. If you love cops, murder mystery and romance, you’ll be proud to own this book and read it again and again.

Paige had been a good Boston girl, obeying her parents right up until she balked at law school. Instead, she became a photographer and fell in love with a cop. Just days before the high-end client appointment that will set her career soaring, Paige gets a mysterious call that turns her world upside down – again. Not just because the caller ends up dead, not just because her own life turns out to be in danger from an elusive, game-playing madman, but also because the investigating detective is the cop of her dreams and she doesn’t date cops anymore after her fiance’s death.

Justin was the job. For thirteen years, he’d busted butt and stayed focused to earn his shield and make it home alive every night. Only to lose focus after a tough day on the job and not make it home. Six months later, his first case on his first day back turns out to be his undoing. Not just because he came back too soon and is still wracked with pain that’s exacerbated by job stress, not just because time is running out to solve the case and he can’t do it after reading through the file thirty times, but because his prime suspect is a devastating Boston beauty well versed in investigation tactics who could take his career and his life down with her.

Not Without Risk is the third book by Sarah Grimm that I’ve read and I can hardly wait for more. It’s evident from the start that Grimm has done her homework on police procedurals, classic cars and criminal behavior. And she weaves it all together so beautifully with her distinctive style, letting the romantic tension build between the MCs while the detectives and suspect/victim investigate in the aftermath of the worst kind of murder – a fallen fellow officer. If you bleed blue, get this book and tell all your friends, male and female. It’d be a great gift for anyone on the force and romance lovers alike. Enjoy the free excerpt.

Excerpt

“Sergeant Simmons, I don’t know if Justin has mentioned anything to you about my break-in last night?”

“He did and call me Allan.”

His attention appeared hung up on her face. Suddenly self-conscious, the urge to hide behind her sunglasses flared to life. She’d done her best to camouflage her bruising under a few layers of makeup. Had believed she’d done a credible job. His distraction made her wonder if she shouldn’t have just left it alone.

“Okay. Well, Allan, last night there seemed to be some question about whether or not someone had been in my home. This morning, I received proof.”

“What kind of proof?” Justin ran his hand through his hair and then shoved it into his front pocket in a move she was beginning to understand indicated his level of tension.

Briskly, she unzipped her laptop case. Without glancing at them, she passed the photos she’d printed just that morning to Justin. His steady stream of expletives, spoken under his breath, brought the tiny hairs on her arms to attention.

“Where’d you get these, Paige?”

“When I checked my e-mail this morning, I found them.”

Justin fell silent, a muscle flexing in his jaw as he flipped through the photographs one by one, studying each one individually before passing them to Allan.

“Look at the way the body’s positioned,” Allan said as he studied the first picture.

“Body?” Paige couldn’t stop the shiver that passed through her. “That’s not just any body.”

“It’s you,” Justin growled.

“Yes. You have to stop this guy.” The irony of this latest threat hadn’t escaped her. The fact that this man had used photographs against her—a photographer. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

“The message is clear,” Allan began, taking the remaining photos from Justin and shuffling through them. “He took the time to manipulate her, but left her unharmed.”

“Is it? I’m not certain I’m getting it. If he wants me dead why—” Shock slammed through her system as his words registered. “Wait a minute. What do you mean by manipulated?”

“Did you eat or drink anything out of the ordinary last night?”

“No. No, of course not. Why?”

The expression that settled onto Justin’s face had Paige stepping back. Tension pulsed off of him in waves. His hand fisted against his thigh.

“Why?”

Allan looked up from the photographs in his hands. “These pictures are similar—”

“Frighteningly similar.”

“Yes,” Allan agreed. “To the shots we have from the St. John homicide.”

“Leroy.” Nausea rolled in her stomach as she saw him again, stomach down, sheet tangled around his legs.

It hadn’t registered. Not when she opened her email and discovered them, or later as she’d developed them. She hadn’t realized just what about those photographs froze her heart with fear. The thought that someone had been in her home, standing over her bed for God knew how long before she came awake was terrifying enough. But now…

The images shifted in and out of focus—images of her, deep asleep, face buried into her pillow, sheet riding low on her hips. Shock snapped across her nerve endings.

“N-no.” Her gaze swung between the two men. “The similarities don’t mean anything.” They couldn’t mean anything. This put a whole new spin on things. One she couldn’t accept. “I did not sleep through some…” What was the word she wanted? “Person positioning me like the body of one of his victims. That’s just how I sleep.”

Justin and Allan’s swift exchange of looks spoke as loudly as their silence.

“I’ve always been a stomach sleeper. The rest is just coincidence.”

“I believe this goes a step beyond coincidence.”

Buy Not Without Risk at Amazon.

Read my reviews and excerpts of Sarah Grimm‘s

Black Phoenix rock star romance series:

After Midnight and Midnight Heat.

About the Reviewer 

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana author of Blues in the NightLiving Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. Belinda is eager to write in a variety of genres. Follow Belinda on AmazonGoodreads and Twitter.

Disclosure: I am a member of Sarah Grimm’s Street Team. I paid for my copy of this book out of my own pocket. Opinions are my own.

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Book Reviews, Football, Romance, Sports

BOOK REVIEW: To Win Her Love (Mackenzie Crowne)

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If you love football, chocolate chip cookies and Meg Ryan movies, you’ll adore To Win Her Love by Mackenzie Crowne. I never thought I’d like a sports romance novel, but this one stole my heart with its absolutely magnificent storytelling. Crowne’s three generations of characters play the games of professional football and love from every angle with exceptional skills and strategy. Are the X’s and O’s players on a board or kisses and hugs? Which team will you root for?

For twelve years, sports blogger Gracie Gable has been denying herself her heart’s deepest desire, a family of her own. Now it’s been handed to her on a silver platter, along with a farm and the sexy football star of her fantasies – and the chance to finally meet her father. But can she play a dead man’s crazy game to win or lose it all?

One day Manhattan Marauders’ Outlaw Tight End Jake Malone is endangering his career in a war of words with the Gridiron Girl and her minions. The next, he’s forced into a custody battle with the tall, leggy blonde for two little girls he never even knew existed. Can he keep his head in the game and save his career while sharing a roof with a violet-eyed temptress with her own playbook?

This is the first book of Mackenzie Crowne’s that I’ve read. Her writing style stands out as unique, inspiring and easy to read. If you’re thinking of trying your hand at romance writing, this book is a fine example to learn from. If you read to relax, escape or get in the mood, To Win Her Love will warmly embrace you, exercise your heart and leave you refreshed, energized and happy. I say get it – along with some chocolate chip cookies and Kleenex.

Excerpt

Like pure, walking sin, Jake Malone closed the distance in a deceptively lazy saunter. Gracie Gable fought the nearly overwhelming urge to take off running. Clenching her jaw, she lifted her chin. Without knowing her true identity, the various press publications flooding her blog’s inbox with requests for interviews had been stymied in their attempts to track her down physically. How the hell had Jake?

And oh, God, why now?

A horrified groan rumbled deep in her chest. Having no idea what was in Pete’s will, she couldn’t afford to do anything to jeopardize her guardianship of the girls—like going toe-to-toe with the Manhattan Marauders’ Outlaw Tight End right here on her brother-in-law’s front lawn. She shot a worried glance down the historic farmhouse’s long driveway, relieved to find it empty. With a little luck, Pete’s attorney would be delayed long enough for her to deal with the famous all-pro’s justified, but still overblown ego. She’d promise him anything—apologize profusely for insulting his integrity, offer him a bribe, whatever would get rid of him before Anthony Spinoza arrived.

Six foot five, with a fallen angel’s face and the body of a god, Jake continued to approach. Gravel crunched beneath the heels of his boots, marking his long-legged swagger, as his thigh muscles flexed and stretched under faded blue jeans. A worn and battered leather bomber jacket rode his yard-wide shoulders. His trademark black Stetson and snakeskin boots completed the image of the Outlaw who held his own against opposing defensive lines and cast him in countless feminine fantasies. Hers included. She’d enjoyed more than her share of secret imaginings concerning the Marauders’ number one tight end.

Though his nasty insults during their disastrous exchange on her blog the other day should’ve dealt a death blow to her foolish infatuation, the two-dimensional image she’d admired on her TV screen couldn’t have prepared her for the flesh and bone temptation that was Jake Malone. Dismay crowded panic as every double X chromosome in her body quivered with giddy, XXX delight.

The X girls danced with anticipation, and the erratic thump of her heart increased with every fall of his size fifteen feet. Down, girls. He may look like every woman’s deepest sexual fantasy, but those boots are more likely to stomp us into the ground than end up under our bed.

 

Buy links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Win-Her-Love-Players-ebook/dp/B00PEOIZ4K/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/to-win-her-love-mackenzie-crowne/1120723911?ean=9781616507374

ITunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/to-win-her-love/id959374205?mt=11

 

About the Reviewer 

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana author of Blues in the NightLiving Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. Belinda is eager to write in a variety of genres. Follow Belinda on AmazonGoodreads and Twitter.

DISCLOSURE: I am a member of Mackenzie Crowne’s Street Team. I received an advance review copy (ARC) of To Win Her Love for the purpose of doing this review. Opinions are my own.

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Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Black Phoenix One: After Midnight (Sarah Grimm)

A rock star on break from his comeback demo walks into a Long Island bar and sparks the heart of a beautiful piano virtuoso in exile from the music business. Black Phoenix #1: After Midnight by national bestselling author Sarah Grimm is edgy rock star romance done right.

What 40-something front man Noah Clark needs right now is to focus on knocking out his band’s demo on deadline to win a record company contract. What he especially doesn’t need is distractions, particularly not in the form of an exotic young bar owner who’s friendlier to his bandmate than him – and literally untouchable, even by her own father. But Noah keeps going back, even though he doesn’t drink anymore. When an intoxicated customer goes rogue, Noah is at last allowed into Isabeau’s world, for better or worse – and there’s plenty of both.

This is the first of Sarah Grimm’s books that I’ve read. It’s also the first in her Black Phoenix romance series, based on the eponymous rock band. The twenty chapters took me about 24 hours to complete, mostly spent on the edge of my seat. The plot is a fast-flowing river of steamy romance with thrilling murder mystery undercurrents. International, interracial and May-December brushes paint the character descriptions, as well as their professional talents, wisdom and conflicts. Settings flow from Long Island and New York City to London and California and back again. I very much enjoyed this story of true love and adventure and look forward to the next book in the Black Phoenix series.

EXCERPT

Isabeau Montgomery sat in the dimly lit bar and shook like an amateur before her first recital. Her gaze, blurred by the sudden threat of tears, settled on the keys before her. Her stomach cramped painfully, yet the need was too great to ignore.

With ability as natural to her as the color of her skin, she began to play. The waterfall of music filled the air, washed over her, completed her in a way nothing or no one else ever had. Against the razor sharp sting of memories, she fought…

She was young, vibrant, and born with a raw talent rarely seen. Classical, jazz, or rock and roll, she played it all. Loved all the genres—loved to create. All that mattered was her joy, her love for the instrument beneath her fingers and the music she was so skilled at creating.

For a good ninety seconds, joy returned, the rush of adrenaline and, conversely, the sense of belonging. In those seconds, time slowed, the lines between the past and the present blurred, and she was a child again. There was no longer pressure to be something she couldn’t be, no fear of what her future would hold.

And with the innocence of youth, no idea that everything she held dear could be lost in the blink of an eye.

The song built to a crescendo then quickly faded as pain, her old friend, returned with enough force to quash her joy. Her stomach roiled. Her breath caught.

Tears gathered in her eyes, and she dashed them away. Isabeau ran her hands up and over her face, pushing her long mass of ebony hair away from her forehead. She struggled to pull herself back together. Her fingers were chilled, cooler than normal, yet perspiration pooled at the small of her back. She closed her eyes, took a deep, slow breath.

“I didn’t expect that old thing to be in tune.”

Sweet Jesus.

She jumped at the deep baritone voice, slamming her knees into the piano. The key cover abruptly closed, and she startled again. Heart racing, she rose and faced the double doors she’d obviously forgotten to lock.

She swept her gaze around the bar’s dim interior until she spotted a dark, male frame. “The bar is closed.”

Her tone was sharp, curt, and left no room for argument. Under different circumstances, she wouldn’t inflict such rudeness on a customer, but he intruded on her privacy, her pain. Her emotions were too close to the surface for niceties.

His voice rang with a clipped British accent and the tone of someone unaccustomed to being questioned. “I was here earlier.”

She remembered the voice and didn’t need him to step out of the shadows to recognize him, which he did anyway. She’d served him a few hours ago—dark lager, no glass—and shared with him a smile as powerful as it was sexy. “We were open earlier. Now, we’re closed.”

His eyebrow shot up. His mouth shaped itself into an ironic curve. “So you have said.”

“Then perhaps you should leave.” Hands unsteady, she bussed the table closest to her and carried the glasses to the bar. His words stopped her cold.

“You’re very talented. How long have you played the piano?”

No, no, no. This wasn’t happening. She closed her eyes on a wave of emotion, doing her best to will him away. But even then she knew. The man at her back was not going away.

She focused her gaze on his reflection in the mirror that ran the length of the bar. He was tall and lean, with eyes that shone with intelligence, even in the dim light. His hair was a mix of medium and dark blonde, worn long enough it fell across his forehead, nearly into his eyes, and brushed the collar of his shirt. Dark stubble shadowed his jaw.

The fine hairs on her arm stood on end as he crossed to her. She edged to the side and turned to face him. “I don’t play.”

“Of course you do. You were playing when I entered.”

“You’re mistaken.” She countered his step forward with one in retreat, ensuring that she remained out of arm’s reach.

With a frown, he stopped. “You have nothing to fear from me.”

It never occurred to her to fear for her safety, even though the bar was empty but for the two of them, the lights dimmed in deference to the late hour.

“Let me start again by introducing myself.”

“I know who you are.”

“You do?”

Of course she did. He was the person who brought back her desire to create, whose presence in the room made something inside her sing out. He was the reason she’d been driven to play tonight, after years of resistance. The reason the siren song continued to play in her head, louder than ever before. “Yes, I do.”

“And I frighten you?”

“Of course not.”

“Then why do you tremble? You’ve gone pale and look as if you’re ready to bolt.”

She dodged his hand when he reached out as if to touch her. Her breathing grew shallow. She waited for him to comment. Instead, he casually tucked his hands into the back pockets of his jeans and rocked back on his heels.

His gaze moved around the room before settling on the piano. “What is the name of the song you were playing?”

The walls were closing in on her. Her body trembled so violently she was surprised her teeth didn’t chatter. “I don’t play,” she reminded him acridly.

She desperately needed to put some space between them. However, so far he’d countered every move she made. He moved again, stepped close enough she could make out the intense green of his eyes. It was difficult to hold her ground and not flinch as he took his time studying her features, his gaze lingering on her eyes.

She was not a beautiful woman. Taken separately, her features held the potential for beauty, but together, with her mix of cultures, she had a face like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces didn’t fit together. Her cheeks were too sharp, her lips too large, and her eyes, pale enough they all but disappeared beneath the dark tones of her father’s heritage. Neither blue nor gray, her eyes brought her the most displeasure. Most people spoke of her eyes as “peculiar” and “haunted.”

Isabeau couldn’t handle such a reference from him. “What do you want from me?” she inquired before he could comment.

“That’s a good question,” he replied, more to himself than in answer to her. “How about your name?”

The way he looked at her made it very, very hard for her to look away. “Isabeau.”

“Isabeau.” His voice brushed across her senses like a lover’s caress. His hand settled upon her arm. His very large, very warm hand.

She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Trapped by the contrast of his pale skin against her darker, golden tones, her mind blanked. He dwarfed her, which at five foot three wasn’t all that difficult to do. Her heart raced. His scent snaked into her lungs with each breath she took.

The scent of him broke her from the spell and filled in the gaps. She shifted away from his touch, understanding what brought him back after closing. She’d found it, tossed carelessly into the corner of a booth—his black leather jacket. Soft as butter, it held his scent. Subtle, masculine, and just enough to stir her blood as she’d carried the garment into the kitchen for safekeeping.

Where, with no one to witness the act, she’d pressed her nose to the lapel and inhaled him.

Her cheeks grew warm. She shot him a look from under her lashes. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

She felt his eyes on her as she returned from the kitchen, and crossed to stand before him, his coat in hand. Felt them still as, without asking how she’d figured out what he needed, he removed the garment from her grasp and slid his arms into it. Finally, she lifted her gaze to his.

“I like your place, Isabeau.” His tone hinted he liked more than her place. And even though everything inside her screamed to get him out of there, it was impossible not to get a little bit lost. He was so inherently sexual that any woman would have to be blind not to be affected by his virile good looks and confidence. “Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”

She watched him go, pressing her fingers against her pounding temples. As the door shut behind him, the pain eased, the noise in her skull dropped to a more tolerable level. Five minutes passed before she dared draw a deep breath for fear his scent lingered. She didn’t need further reminders of his visit. The music that pulsed through her system was reminder enough.

He thought he would see her again, but she knew he wouldn’t. Not because the chances of him returning were too slender, or even because a man like him could never truly be interested in a woman like her.

Because she’d been waiting thirteen years for someone to truly see her.

So far, no one had.

BUY & FOLLOW LINKS

Buy After Midnight at Amazon (psst! It’s FREE on Kindle today, Thurs., 5.14.15)

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DISCLAIMER: I am a member of Sarah Grimm’s street team. Opinions are my own.

Belinda Y. Hughes is the author of Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2 and Living Proof. She recently submitted a paranormal scifi short story to HDWP Books for consideration in their New Myths Theme-Thology. Her current projects include LGBT erotica and poetry. Belinda enjoys beading, reading, writing, cooking and hiking in the woods with her old dog.

Follow Belinda on Facebook and Twitter.

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Blog Talk Radio, Free Books, Giveaways, Guest Posts, New Releases, Paranormal, Podcasts, Thriller, Zombies

Halloween with the Zombie Queen, C.M. Wright

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‪#‎Halloween‬ with the Zombie Queen, @CMWzombie, author of the Zombie Basics and Zombie Overload series. Tonight at 10P EST on Belinda’s Book Chats at ‪#‎BlogTalkRadio‬. ‪#‎zombies‬ #paranormal Guest call-in: (516) 595-8071.

NOTE: When you call in, please turn down the volume on your computer. Thanks. 🙂

UPDATE: Book or Tweet Giveaways during the podcast: #authorservices #books #beauty #health #WAHM

Must call in to be eligible for giveaways.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/belindahughes2/2014/11/01/halloween-with-the-zombie-queen–cm-wright

UPDATE: Completed show audio recording:

 Listen to my new episode Halloween with the Zombie Queen – C.M. Wright at http://tobtr.com/s/7060449. #BlogTalkRadio

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