Character Reviews, Romance

CHARACTER INTERVIEW: Second Chance Heart (Marie Lavender)

Second Chance Heart - final cover

Today I’m interviewing Dana Nelson, redhead heroine of Second Chance Heart, the new romance short story by award-winning, best-selling author Marie Lavender. Welcome, Dana. Let’s begin with the blurb, to give readers a chance to understand what’s going on.

(Readers, please note that I have not yet read the whole story, only the blurb and excerpt. However, I did research book reviews and an author interview from Google page one results to prepare for this, my first-ever character interview.)

BYH: So Dana, tell us a little about yourself. Like me, you’re a blue-eyed, freckled redhead. What do you do? Are you self- or other-employed? Home or office? How do you take your coffee? What car and devices are you traveling with? How much do you travel? Do you have any pets? If so, do they work with you? Do they travel with you at all? What’s your housekeeping style? How easy would it be to fit a partner into your present lifestyle?

DN:  Whoa…all right, I’ll tackle one question at a time. I specialize in criminal law, and work in Charlotte. However, I usually represent the victims of heinous acts, not the criminals. I work pro bono, if necessary, to get the job done. And I love coffee! Back on the farm, it was the only thing that kept me going, having to get up at the crack of dawn every day. I take it straight black with a hint of sugar. Since my time in the city, though, I have to admit, I’ve warmed up to the idea of cappucinos and frilly beverages like that. I travel now and then for my job. As an attorney, my job can take me into a lot of different places. I own a red Chevy Cruze, and I can’t leave town without my laptop and my iPhone. No, I don’t have any pets right now, but we had a lot of animals on the farm. I miss my mare, Serenity. I am a pretty organized person so my house is spotless. I guess having a romantic partner would work all right, though I’m not exactly looking for anything serious.

BLURB:

After a wild storm forces her to take shelter in a small town inn, Dana Nelson thinks that all she has to worry about is a brief stay before she heads back to the city. She gets far more than she bargained for…

The last thing she expects is to run into an old flame, and even worse, the man who broke her heart twelve years ago. She’s sure that the only thing remaining between them is a strong attraction for another.

She can’t be more wrong…

The more time she spends with Vince Reynolds, the more she begins to believe she can trust him again. But, can she put her faith in the one man who captivates her, body and soul, or are some wounds too deep to heal?

BYH: So you’re safely checked in and in comes your old flame, Vince Reynolds. Tell us about him, then and now. What are your likes and dislikes about him?

DN:  Vince is…complicated. And I don’t mean that he is just because he came from a rough background. He rose above all that, and turned into a great guy. He was always loyal, and a bit overprotective when we were kids. And still, he had these moments when he was incredibly impulsive. It was a dangerous combination for a girl with stars in her eyes, for sure. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into happily ever after. His dark eyes were the worst, though. They still are. I can’t close my eyes without seeing them in my dreams.

BYH: Your story is the same as my grandmother’s and many others: childhood friends become sweethearts, then the guy cheats and crushes her heart. What were your dreams back then? What did you do when those plans changed? How did you pick yourself up off the floor and move on? How long did that take?

DN:  I imagined myself as Vincent’s wife. Well, after we got involved romantically. Even though I had ambitions to study law, I thought that our careers would fit well, that we could create a life together. I was wrong about a lot of things. When he cheated, I was broken at first, but I wouldn’t let him destroy the rest of me. I ran from Hertford and never looked back. I tried to make a life for myself in Charlotte. I guess I’m still working on that…

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Let’s enjoy the most generous excerpt of this story that I’ve seen, courtesy of the author, Marie Lavender.

EXCERPT:

The rain seemed like it would never stop, pounding incessantly upon the roof, mocking her. The storm refused to let up. Dana Nelson cursed her circumstances. Just over five hours on her trip back home, she couldn’t see the road well in the onslaught of the rain and was forced to pull into Banner Elk Inn, an establishment off Highway 194. Many others had had the same idea.

It was supposed to be a simple business trip to Lexington. Instead, she was stranded there at the inn, which, according to the proprietor, was named after the town, sitting in the lounge with the last person she ever thought she’d see again. Her ex.

The silence was deafening as they measured one another, and then glanced away as if afraid to get caught. Dana clenched her jaw on the rise of anger. How dare he invade her trip like this? Everything had been fine until they’d stumbled into each other in the hallway. She had already settled in, and he’d just come in the door.

Water droplets dotted his face and he was fairly soaked everywhere else. She remembered those eyes too well. Dark, mysterious eyes to drown in. And, of course, Vince Reynolds still had the muscled physique that would make any woman sigh with longing. He wasn’t just a jock. He had a hard intelligence to him, partly born of the street smarts he’d learned at his father’s side. The rest was from his schooling. But, she also remembered the pain, the heartache he’d left her with. The betrayal. Those feelings came rushing back along with her fury.

He frowned, and his face was hard, unrelenting. He appeared a little older, his dark hair a tad longer. His manner was also more arrogant, much harder than she remembered.

They both exclaimed in the same breath, “What the hell are you doing here?”

And since that moment, after the civilized explanations and after he’d checked in, they’d been sitting in silence. It was unbearable, awkward. If it weren’t for the storm, she would have demanded that he find other accommodations. As it was, all the extra rooms and cottages were taken due to a wedding planned for the upcoming weekend. Before, Vince would have agreed to leave, been considerate of her feelings. But, he was hardly that man anymore. He’d changed, or maybe circumstances had changed him. Besides, she didn’t want him out in that storm any more than she wanted to be. That didn’t mean she cared or anything.

Dana couldn’t care less how he’d fared over the years. She just wanted the moment over so she could go back to her life. She had better options waiting for her back home, including the proposal that Finn Alexander had sprung on her before she left. She had yet to give him an answer, but she knew he was a good man. His compassionate responses to her ideas were evidence of that, and any woman would have accepted his proposal. Her hesitance had nothing to do with the emotional hang-ups of the past. She was just surprised, that’s all. Next time would be different.

She began to wonder what she would’ve said if Vince had ever asked her to marry him. It probably hadn’t even crossed his mind. When she’d been serious about him, she’d found him with another girl. So that was the end. She had shut him out of her life until now, though she had occasionally wondered if he’d regretted his actions. It didn’t matter. She was so over him. Besides, he was like a different person now, definitely someone she wanted nothing to do with.

“I’m going to bed,” she stated with finality as she rose from her chair.

“Fine,” he replied.

She went upstairs to her room, still unsettled, plagued by those dark eyes of his. As she was still in her business suit from the trip, she undressed quickly and donned a pale pink knit nightgown, yanking it over her subtle curves. She glanced around the bedroom. She’d been given the Peach Room, painted in its namesake. It gave off a Victorian appearance with a walnut bed covered in a fine white spread, which was quite soft to the fingertips. Nearby sat an antique desk for writing letters. A Baroque, gilded mirror was nailed against one wall, and she caught the light dusting of freckles upon her nose and cheekbones in the reflection there.

She released a breath, shaking her head at the way her heart raced. It was infuriating that the man still affected her. She’d thought Vince was out of her life for good. She slashed a brush through her thick, shoulder-length mane of flame red curls, and told herself to relax, that the past couldn’t hurt her anymore.

A soft knock could be heard then and with a frown, she went to the door.

Vince stood on the other side. His wavy, dark brown hair was ruffled, as if he’d mussed it with his hands, a habit of his she remembered quite well.

He sighed, didn’t speak for a moment. “I’m…so goddamned sorry, Dana.” His dark eyes were strangely haunted. “I’m sorry.”

She tried to block his view of her nightgown. “For what?”

“You know what for.”

Dana froze, her heart skipping a sick beat. He was apologizing now? After all this time? “It doesn’t matter now,” she said in a hoarse tone.

“The hell it doesn’t. You don’t think I know you, Dana? I know what it looks like when you’re hurt. And that look you gave me downstairs nearly killed me. Those blue eyes of yours always did.” He rubbed at his chest absently, and she looked at the movement like his hand was a foreign object.

She doubted part of what he said, and wondered if he was trying to appear more considerate. Why couldn’t he stay mean? She could hate him easier. “Fine. You said your piece. Now go away.”

She began to shut the door, but he blocked it with his hand. Even as she gasped, he shouldered his way inside and kicked the door closed. He reached for her when she would have backed away, his lips blocking her protests. It was a mistake, a total mistake, she thought in a stunned instant. But, the lure of his mouth was too strong, and she sank into his kiss anyway, whimpering as his tongue swirled over hers. His dark flavor was too enticing. Her breath caught up in her throat, and her body began to burn, to come alive. She remembered the passion between them very well. If she was totally honest with herself, it had been missing with Finn.

“You’re mine,” he muttered hoarsely against her mouth. “I should never have forgotten that.”

Caught between his body and the wall, she could hear the remorse in his tone, but her mind just seemed to stop working. None of it seemed to matter as he kissed the hell out of her. His heat was familiar, so welcome close to her body, and she curled up to it. His arms encircled her and there was a sense of safety, not danger. When his mouth moved over her throat, her eyes closed automatically. After a few moments, her thoughts began to coalesce into something a bit more logical. “This is wrong,” she whispered.

He grunted. “It feels right to me.”

“I won’t be your toy,” she complained, “or a way to pass the time on your vacation.”

“I don’t recall saying that at all.”

It took a moment to find the words. “Vince, I’m the one who’s not free this time.”

He lifted his head at last, his dark brown eyes searching hers. He released her, but rested his hands upon the wall on either side of her. His scent, a mixture of fresh rain and musk, teased at her senses. “Are you implying I wasn’t free when I was with you?”

She hadn’t considered that. “No, but it would make a lot more sense.”

His soft curse was hardly a surprise. She remembered that, too. “I made a terrible mistake, Dana. I know that now just as I knew it as soon as it happened.” He sighed. “The truth is you terrified me.”

“How?” she whispered, hating that she suddenly cared to know the details.

“Things were going well. We had outlined quite a future together, and I…I panicked. I wasn’t ready to get that serious.”

It took her a moment to reply as her emotions went careening into strange territory. She’d be a complete idiot to believe anything he said. “Oh.”

“I’m not explaining my actions away. What I did was inexcusable and I should have talked to you about my misgivings. It still happened. I am sorry, more than you can ever imagine, but it is in the past.” His eyes never left hers and she began to tremble. “Now, you said you aren’t free? You have a man at home?”

She nodded. “I do.” But, a small part of her wondered if Finn had only proposed to her because she claimed she didn’t want to move in with someone without it being serious. Would he have done that? She wasn’t sure. He didn’t seem like the kind of man to be so impulsive.

A flicker of pain crossed Vincent’s face. “Are you happy, Dana?” She hesitated for a moment longer than necessary and it must have shown because he smiled. “That’s rather telling, isn’t it?”

“It’s none of your business,” she snapped, raising her chin. “Don’t be a bastard. Do you want me to be miserable for the rest of my life? Would that assuage your guilt?”

He shook his head. “No, that’s not what I meant. You don’t understand, Dana. Whatever we went through, I do want you to be happy, to find what you’re looking for. If it’s not him, then you need to face it. If it isn’t me, that’s fine too.”

She didn’t like that he was interfering. “So, what was that kiss about?” she managed.

Vince lifted a shoulder. “I was testing myself.”

She cocked her head. “Testing me too, I’d guess.”

He didn’t seem to deny it as the seconds ticked past, the soft click of the nearby clock a mild annoyance.

She sighed. “Look, Vincent, I imagine there will always be a spark between us. But, I can’t exactly overlook what happened.”

He nodded. “I never expected you to.”

“Good, because I’m not sure I can ever forgive you. You broke my heart.” Dana’s voice cracked and tears pressed against the backs of her eyes. She hadn’t realized he still had the power to hurt her. Like he said, that was fairly telling. But, you didn’t exactly get over your first love, she reasoned. Or maybe she should have.

“I deserve that. I really do.” He eased back, and then swept a hand through his hair. She watched as he dug in his pocket, brought out a wallet and unearthed a crisp, white business card. He handed it over to her. “Look, my life is different now. Whether you believe me or not, I’m not that idiot who would throw everything away anymore. I still care about you, Dana, and I always will, though I know you probably think I’m lying. I’m not. Why would I need to? We’ve always had honesty between us. Christ, I still remember you in pigtails at eleven years old.”

He sighed. “Now, I’m leaving in the morning, but if you ever want to talk, I’m here. I’m not asking to get back together with you; that’s far too much to demand of you. I know I hurt you and I deserve any punishment you see fit. But, I am asking you to consider me being your friend. You look like you could use one right now.” He caressed her cheek with a fingertip. “Take care of yourself, kid. Goodnight.”

“Night,” she murmured, blinking in confusion as he left the room. She softly shut the door behind him, then locked it for good measure. Kid. He’d always called her ‘kid’ when they were younger because she was two years his junior, and it was a running joke between them. That he’d remembered that fact perplexed her. But then, they’d had a long history together. Twenty years would do that, though. They were friends as children first before they’d begun to explore the growing attraction between them. They’d played together on the wide open spaces of her family’s Hertford farm in North Carolina. She still recalled swinging on the tire strapped to the tree, which her Daddy had rigged up, and Vince pushing the swing for her. She often reminisced about those innocent days, when they’d explore the woods and creeks together nearby, and walked close to the river on the edge of town. Because she remembered so much, it wasn’t likely he’d forget everything about her either.

She’d tried to put it all behind her. She’d moved away, dated other men, even found Finn. Yet, how could one simple kiss bring it all to the surface again? It had been twelve years since she’d seen him last. The betrayal went deep, though. He’d betrayed more than her trust; he’d done more than hurt her as a lover. He’d killed their connection, their friendship as well. She wondered if he realized that too.

Dana imagined she would never know, and she shouldn’t even worry about it. She grasped his card, about to crumble it and toss it in the nearby trash can. Then a weird urge made her sweep her thumb across the white cardstock and inspect the gold lettering. He was a financial consultant now. Funny, she’d always imagined him at a job more exciting in the end, though he was always good with numbers. Perhaps he had changed, even matured in a way. It didn’t matter in any case. She was just going to move on. Still, something compelled her to slip the card into her purse.

As she went to bed a half hour later, her night was restless. Flashbacks from the past danced on the edge of her consciousness and namely, she remembered the passion she’d had for Vince. Since then, no one had managed to tap into it or bring her to life in bed. She had thought it was about emotional hang-ups, but what if there were just a few people in the world capable of being that kind of fit for her? Even more terrifying, what if only one man would do the trick? One man she really shouldn’t be thinking about. With a groan, she knew she needed to forget Vince…

BYH: Ah, so now there’s an offer on the table from a guy named Finn. That complicates things. How long have you and Finn been an item? You’re concerned that his proposal is more about moving in together and less about love. How do you figure that?

DN:  I guess I thought Finn understood that I wasn’t looking for anything serious. I’m loyal to Finn, of course. We enjoy each other and talk a lot. But, beyond that, I don’t know that I’m ready for anything else. He didn’t really pop the question until after I refused to move in with him. That’s what made me wonder.

BYH: Now you find yourself back in Vince’s arms after twelve years. How does it compare to before? There’s a whole lot of pain in the past. How are you dealing with that? How’s forgiveness looking? Is he truly worthy? What’s he doing to earn it?

DN:  I think we both have a lot of work through. I don’t know that I’m ready to trust him yet. A few stolen kisses here and there can’t spell out a future. There has to be more than that. I think I need to figure things out on my own first. I know, in some ways, I do want to trust him again, but I can’t go through that heartbreak again. I was convinced Vincent was my soul mate. Now? I don’t know if a soul mate even exists.

BYH: What does the future look like from where you’re sitting now?

DN:  Uncertain, for sure. I think that’s why I’ve spent so much time away from home. But, I think I’ll figure it out eventually.

BYH: Tell us about your relationship with your author, Marie Lavender. How did you meet? How exactly do you work together? How do you and her three cats get along? What do you do while she takes a break? Describe a work session with her from your perspective. What do you like/dislike about her writing space(s)?

DN:  Marie has been toying with the opening of my story for years. It was only this year when she decided to posit the idea of regret and forgiveness, and if a happy ending was even possible with that kind of premise. I met Marie a long time ago, but this year I guess I finally let her know the deep, dark secrets of my life. It has been a professional relationship that works fairly well. I love her cats! But, then I love all animals. Well…truthfully, her cat Emma has quite an ego so we don’t always get along. LOL. I go to my job while Marie is not writing. And when we reconvene for coffee, or tea in her case, she is like a reporter, asking questions even I don’t feel comfortable answering. As for her writing spaces, some are very nice. But, her desk? Eek! She is messy! However, her method of organization seems to work for her, so who am I to judge?

BYH: How do you feel about the length of your story?

DN:  I think it works for me. The thing is, most readers know that stories don’t end with books. They continue on in a reader’s imagination, and that’s what Marie was going for.

BYH: Who would you cast as yourself and Vince on the big screen?

DN:  I’m not sure, but Marie has her own ideas. She’s thinking Deborah Ann Woll for me, and Taylor Kinney for Vince. I guess that could work. The man certainly has that ruggedly handsome look, and that grin which makes a woman forget what she’s thinking. Vincent always did that to me.

BYH: Any final thoughts?

DN: Read the book and see for yourself! No, I’m kidding, but I’m sure you’ll find out more in the story…;)

Thank you for joining us to chat with Dana Nelson, heroine of Second Chance Heart, the new romance short story by award-winning, best-selling author Marie Lavender. Thank you for stopping by and sharing with us, Dana. And thanks also to author Marie Lavender for the incredibly generous excerpt.

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Purchase Links

 

Amazon Universal link:  http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01593TDO6

Smashwords:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/576453

Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/second-chance-heart-marie-lavender/1122651302

Kobo:  https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/second-chance-heart

 

Book trailer:  https://youtu.be/UKYOeFqw5lQ

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Author Bio

 

Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 21 other books. Nominated in the TRR Readers’ Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.

 

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for over twenty years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 22 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love Series, The Magick Series and The Blood at First Sight Series.

 

A list of her books and pen names are as follows:

 

Marie Lavender: Upon Your Return; Magick & Moonlight; Upon Your Honor; Second Nature; “Lovers Like Us” (featured poem from the book anthology, Poets & Writers in Action); A Little Magick; Second Chance Heart

 

Erica Sutherhome: Hard to Get; Memories; A Hint of Scandal; Without You; Strange Heat; Terror in the Night;Haunted; Pursuit; Perfect Game; A Touch of Dawn; Ransom; Leather and Lace

 

Kathryn Layne: A Misplaced Life

 

Heather Crouse: Express Café and Other Ramblings; Ramblings, Musings and Other Things; Soulful Ramblings and Other Worldly Things

 

Author Links

 

http://marielavender.com/

http://iloveromanceblog.wordpress.com/

http://marielavenderbooks.blogspot.com/

http://marielavender.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/marie.lavender.58

https://www.facebook.com/MarieAnnLavender

https://twitter.com/marielavender1

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MarieLavender/posts

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/marie-lavender/27/187/10a

http://amazon.com/author/marielavender

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6938764.Marie_Lavender

http://authorsdb.com/authors-directory/1578-marie-lavender

http://www.pw.org/content/marie_lavender

http://manicreaders.com/marielavender/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJu8HjRVYCFOqcIoX6ZxdqQ/videos

 

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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: Ithaka Rising (LJ Cohen)

Need diverse scifi books for diverse readers? Look no further than the YA novel Ithaka Rising by award-winning and best-selling author LJ Cohen. Featuring a feisty lesbian heroine, a multicultural cast spanning three generations and a search and rescue mission involving a handicapped pre-teen, a wounded woman warrior with a prosthetic limb and a crone coding goddess, Ithaka Rising delivers diversity in spades.

Who Should Read This?

I would very highly recommend Ithaka Rising to librarians, teachers and parents wanting to motivate student interest, particularly girls and minorities, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects, occupations of the future and leadership roles. Today’s veterans, especially wounded warriors, who love scifi and space will also enjoy this adventurous read. LGBT teens and adults will appreciate the relationship issues and community situations. Aspiring writers looking for great literature to learn from should grab this book with both hands. For adults and teens, it’s an exciting space opera flavored with Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who and M*A*S*H!

Racially Diverse Characters

Ithaka Rising is Book Two in Cohen’s Halcyone Space series, which began with DERELICT. The series follows the misadventures of a core group of four to five pre-teen through young adult human main characters, including a Hispanic-Asian lesbian couple, two black brothers and a Caucasian guy. No aliens, yet, but I’m waiting.

Star Wars Similarities and Departures

The space exploration series is primarily set aboard the battle fatigued freighter Halcyone and her asteroid-bound base, Daedalus, which is the Siberia of the Commonwealth government. Halcyone is similar to the Millennium Falcon in that repairs are constantly ongoing, nobody else would want her for anything but scrap recycling and her renegade captain has a determined spirit and often finds herself in complex challenges, surrounded by players of varying loyalties, danger, a shoestring budget and a ticking clock, much like Han Solo. The big difference in Halcyone and the Millennium Falcon is her fusion of artificial intelligence, emotion and music, aided and abetted by First Mate Barre. Barre lives, breathes, thinks and communicates in music. He is genuinely gifted, but unappreciated by his career military physician parents, although respected by his younger brother, Jem the resourceful coding genius. Jem exceeds Halcyone Captain Ro Maldonado’s coding talents by light years, which is saying something. Dr. Adiana May makes her entrance in Ithaka Rising as the Obi Wan Kenobi of coding. Her Jedis are, of course, Ro, Barre and Jem.

Excerpt

Ro had no idea how long it had been since her confrontation with Barre when her micro buzzed, pulling her out of her latest battle with Halcyone’s jump drive programming.

Shit. She had never called Nomi. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.

Blinking through layers of virtual windows, each running a custom diagnostic, it took her a few minutes to locate the small device. By the time she snatched it from where it lay on the main nav console, the call had ended, leaving a high-priority message scrolling across the screen.

The call had been from Commander Mendez. She wasn’t sure if she should be relieved or upset that it hadn’t been Nomi.

Ro had known this was coming. There was only so long she could lean on the station’s resources before Mendez’s gratitude expired. Sighing, she pushed away her guilt before sending a reply. Mendez first. And then try to fix things with Nomi. Her father would have ignored the call and the messages—both the explicit one and the implicit one behind it. Maybe she wasn’t entirely like him after all.

Shift change turned the corridors and the nexus into a traffic jam. Or at least the equivalent on Daedalus. The outpost station had few enough staff that even Ro was able to put names to all the faces she passed on her way to command. What surprised her was how many of them looked at her, smiling and nodding. It was unsettling.

Lieutenant Commander Emma Gutierrez stood at attention at Mendez’s office, her uniform crisp, her sidearm gleaming in its holster, her expression neutral. Older than Mendez by at least a decade, Gutierrez had the look of a lifer and the scars that marked her as having seen hard combat, probably in the war that had downed Halcyone. Part of her left arm and hand had been reconstructed—old battle tech that Gutierrez had never bothered to replace with more natural-looking prosthetics. But there was nothing wrong with how they functioned.

“The commander asked to see me?”

Gutierrez nodded and the door opened. Ro stepped through, feeling the intensity of the lieutenant commander’s gaze, like the laser sight of a gun on her back. The last time Ro had been in this office, Mendez had given her Halcyone.

“Ms. Maldonado. Please sit down.” Mendez came around the front of her desk and waved Ro toward a small table and two chairs in an alcove at the rear of her office.

She studied the commander, wondering what kind of meeting this was to be. So far, it didn’t seem like any kind of hearing or disciplinary action. Then again, Ro was not technically under Mendez’s command. The commander sat and Ro followed her lead. The woman had always seemed stern and distant, but Ro saw the lines of fatigue at the corner of her eyes and the deep furrows across her brow, legacy of the mess that led to an ongoing Commonwealth investigation into her father, the smuggled weapons, and the war they were meant to spark.

The door opened again and Gutierrez entered, carrying a tray with two steaming coffees. Ro frowned, but watched as the old soldier easily set down a cup next to each of them with her bio-electronic hand, not spilling a drop.

“That will be all,” Mendez said. Gutierrez nodded, turned crisply, and left.

Ro waited until the commander picked up her cup before taking a sip of the coffee. It was the real deal—a smooth, dark roast, imported from the Hub at great expense. And served black, just the way she liked it.

“There’s been no word on your father.”

He was out there—Ro had no doubt about that. Alain Maldonado was too smart and too vindictive to be dead. She knew she needed to find him before he came for her.

“There was enough evidence just based on dereliction of duty to strip him of his rank in the engineering guild and his Commonwealth citizenship.”

It was far less than he deserved after what he had done to Micah, what he had threatened to do to her and Barre. Ro focused on the welcome burn of the coffee as she swallowed.

Mendez put down her cup. “They also confiscated his assets.”

Unfortunately, Ro had also expected that. She finished the coffee and carefully placed her cup on the small table, waiting for Mendez’s third and final blow. A freighter without jump capability was space junk. Sure, she could live aboard Halcyone. The water recycling worked, as did the air scrubbers. The ship had enough aduronium to fuel the interstitial engines for a thousand years, or until the base metals disintegrated back into star stuff. But being forced to drift through the sector where Daedalus Station orbited felt like slow suicide.

“As little as Halcyone draws from the station, there is a cost.”

Ro kept her gaze steady, but she couldn’t help the heat that rose to her cheeks. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been expecting this. That’s what drove her to work nearly through all three shifts during the past long weeks, irritating and alienating both Nomi and Barre in the process.

And for nothing. The ship was likely irretrievably broken. And there was a good chance her relationships were, too.

“I appreciate all you’ve done for me, Commander Mendez.” Ro was shocked at how steady her voice was. “I understand. Thank you for your time.” She pushed her chair from the table and stood to leave.

“Sit down.” Mendez’s command filled the room.

Ro sat, the heat spreading out from her cheeks to her whole face.

“You need resources. I need an engineer.”

“Sir?”

“Until this mess with your father is straightened out and Commonwealth Command decides to fill my staffing request, I am short one chief engineer. You have the skills to do the job and a ship that won’t fly.”

“You’re offering me a job?”

“Such as it is. My budget is stretched thin. When they claimed your father’s resources, they also froze his salary. I can manage to continue your intern’s stipend, along with supplies for Halcyone in return for a part-time commitment.”

“But I’m not military.”

“Consider yourself an outside contractor.”

“Oh.”

“I’ve taken the liberty of pushing a standard agreement to your micro. Am I correct in assuming you’d prefer to stay aboard your ship, rather than return to your previously assigned quarters?”

Ro nodded. One of the first things she had done on her return to Daedalus was to salvage anything of value from the small living space she had shared with her father. At least the Commonwealth didn’t get the contents of his workroom. Though if they knew she’d taken his notes and his spare memory cube, they would come knocking. It was encrypted and locked, but Ro knew her father as well as anyone and given enough time, she was going to crack it. And then she was going to go after him.

To find her father, she needed a ship with a jump drive. To fix the ship, she needed to step into her father’s old job. Mendez had assured her she was not her father. She hoped the commander was right. But now she would have even less time to work on Halcyone and to try to repair her damaged relationships.

“Welcome aboard, Acting Chief Engineer Maldonado.”

Ro jerked, unable to quell the involuntary response of looking for him over her shoulder.

Mendez studied her carefully. “You are not to blame for your father’s crimes. And you will not be judged by his actions, but by your own.”

The coffee soured in her stomach. “Thank you, sir.”

Conclusion

What thrills me most about Ithaka Rising is the character diversity on so many levels: age, ethnicity, disability, military (active duty, veteran, wounded warriors), survivalism and sexuality. I especially enjoyed the steamy lesbian shower scene. Of course, what is character diversity without a great story? Ithaka Rising is chock-full of edgy, page-turning, plot-twisting action balanced with humor, compassion and democracy. There’s even Greek poetry, a New Louisiana and gumbo!

Special Note: Ithaka Rising author LJ Cohen is committed to diversity, literacy and reader access. She has donated a signed set of her books to the Ferguson Library.

Grab your copy of Ithaka Rising at Amazon.

Read my Author Interview with LJ Cohen on DERELICT.

About the Reviewer 

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana lesbian author of Blues in the Night, Living Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2. Her poetry has been published in the Odessa Review, New Day Publications and Long Story Short. 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 Amazon, Goodreads and Twitter.

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Cover Art, New Releases, Romance, Writing Process

UKLGBTChat Knocked Me Up!

BLUES IN THE NIGHT COVER B

How does a single lesbian become impregnated without a sperm donor, sperm bank or Divine Intervention? All it takes is one Twitter chat: #UKLGBTChat. For me, it was the May 31, 2015 episode, which focused on books. That and I was fertile and took no precautions.

CONCEPTION

That fateful evening, I happened into #UKLGBTChat when it had just begun trending. When I learned the topic and heard some of the convo, I felt like I was among kindred spirits bearing compatible DNA: LGBT readers, reviewers and authors who wanted more LGBT in their gay and mainstream books. They shared reading lists for different countries, stating that US authors were doing fairly well at writing diverse books, including LGBT characters of various ages and abilities and genres beyond coming out stories, such as scifi. UK authors still needed to work at it. I forgot to mention my friend LJ Cohen did very nicely at LGBT and racial diversity in composing her YA space opera, DERELICT. But it was when I heard participants say they wanted to see more age and situation diversity, as well as disabilities in their LGBT characters that I felt that first spark of life.

GESTATION

Once the chat was over much too quickly, like many copulations, my book pregnancy – set in my hometown of Lake Charles, LA – sucked up my attention, time and energy. Ordinary daily tasks, like housecleaning, greenskeeping and grocery shopping, suddenly became secondary to the importance of nurturing this new life inside me. I even had difficulty sleeping and suffered from indigestion, from my baby demanding to be written. There was also a lot of loneliness as a hormonal single pregnant mom. Sex scenes, need I say more?

(OK, I will add that neither of my main characters is pregnant – yet. Who knows what will happen in future books?)

When I sat down to make out a grocery list, characters, settings, situations and plotlines sprouted on the pages, like ultrasounds. As I began writing from my notes, the story flourished. Each day its features grew more defined. Being a romance fan and a member of several award-winning authors’ street teams, it was no surprise to me that my book baby was a love child, too. What might surprise some is her complexion and full genre identity: lesbian interracial romance, yet another request from that prophetic episode of #UKLGBTChat.

LABOR & DELIVERY

As babies tend to do, mine decided when it wanted to be born, regardless of recommendations against premature birth. Thankfully, I had assembled my own street team, beginning with those same award-winning authors – now my midwives – to support me through the perilous labor and delivery process. Mackenzie Crowne administered tips on opening paragraphs as the pains began. Mac, Melanie James, Sarah Grimm,  Vonnie Davis, Marie Lavender, Devika Fernando, AJ Nuest, Dyane Forde, Alison Bliss and Betty Olsen were my Lamaze coaches as the cover art, in the form of a guitar pic by Sarah Bromage, began to crown and had to be turned.

As I shared with her about #UKLGBTChat, Marie introduced me to LGBT authors Dianne and Young. It was rather odd to meet new people in the delivery room, but these are two writers you don’t want to pass up, so I was immensely grateful.

S.A. Hunt, D.W. Metz, Paul Bucalo, Air Force historian Shawn Bohannon, and Bronx Pride’s Peter C. Equality Frank gowned up and gave their feedback and encouragement near the final push.

Alas, she got hung up in the birth canal and I had to stop pushing for a bit for Catherine Ryan Howard to coach me through ebook formatting for Amazon, et al. That was sheer torture!!! Thanks to her, I at last held my beautiful new book baby, Blues in the Night, safely in my arms.

So, to all the above and the members of #UKLGBTChat: Host Faye, Nichola, Jess, Marion, Antonia, Julianne, Liz, Vanessa, Debbie, Nina, Queer YA, Sophie, David, Kam, Michelle, L.D., Keren, Chouett, Sara, the Paisley Piranhas and George, a heartfelt and resounding THANK YOU!!! for knocking me up and seeing me and my book baby through this incredible pregnancy! Let me know when you’re ready to get together again. My next book baby’s already a twinkle in my eye. 😉

P.S. As I was writing the wedding proposal scene, set in New Orleans, I wondered how much longer it would take for same-sex marriage to become legal in Louisiana. At last, after Blues in the Night was born in the wee hours of June 15, 2015, eleven days later, the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages MUST be recognized throughout the country! #LoveWins

 

EXCERPT

Nita Nunez was going to hell. As she and Jo basically had sex in front of the whole church, Nita wondered if it was good for Jo, too. As they joined the band of seasoned bluesmen in performing “Learned How to Lean” for the morning worship service, Nita and Jo were getting into it, acting out the song by angling themselves against each other, sparks flying as their heads and shoulders brushed. “What a fellowship, what a joy divine,” thought Nita as their eyes rested in one another a few beats too long before returning to the congregation.

It was all she could do to keep from plucking the neck of her top and fanning herself as they finished the verse, Jo’s body rocking, her face squinching up as she unleashed her power gospel voice. Certainly everybody could see Nita’s nostrils flaring as she wondered if the handsome black woman in the Sunday go to meeting dress and pumps beside her was gay or not. “I found out if I trust Him, He will provide.” Nita sure hoped so, her mind racing as she tried to figure out how to ask Jo about her sexual preferences over Sunday dinner in the fellowship hall, surrounded by people Nita still barely knew.

That “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian” t-shirt would come in real handy right about now, she thought…

BUY Blues in the Night at Amazon:

US: http://www.amazon.com/BLUES-NIGHT-Belinda-Hughes-ebook/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

DE: http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

FR: http://www.amazon.fr/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

ES: https://www.amazon.es/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

IT: http://www.amazon.it/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

NL: http://www.amazon.nl/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

JP: http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

BR: https://www.amazon.com.br/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

MX: https://www.amazon.com.mx/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

AU: http://www.amazon.com.au/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

IN: http://www.amazon.in/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

ABOUT the Author

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana lesbian author of the lesbian interracial romance Blues in the Night, Living Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2, a lacto ovo vegetarian cookbook. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. Belinda is eager to write more LGBT books in a variety of genres.

FOLLOW Belinda at: 

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