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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Review: Heartbeat by Sharon Sala

Author: Sharon Sala
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: February 2024

 Sean Pope already lost Amalie Lincoln once. This time, he will risk everything to never have to say goodbye to her again.

Amalie Lincoln moved to Jubilee, Kentucky, to start fresh, build her business, and heal the scars of her past. Little did she know she'd run into Sean Pope, a beloved childhood friend she hasn't seen in decades. But on the day she moves to town, a helicopter explodes under suspicious circumstances, wreaking havoc on the families of Pope Mountain.

As the Jubilee PD dives into their investigation of the incident, Sean and Amalie find comfort and a budding romance with each other. Life in Jubilee becomes exactly what Amalie hoped for. But as the investigators uncover the truth and the crooks behind the attack set Amalie in their sights, Sean must face the danger or risk losing Amalie forever.

Heartbeat is the third book in the Jubilee, Kentucky series.  This one is Sean and Amalie's story.  It's a second chance friends to lovers story. with a little bit of mystery thrown in.  Sean and Amalie were friends when they were little.  A chance move to Jubilee, puts them in each others path.

I liked this a lot more than the second book.  While there were a lot of perspectives, it didn't annoy me as much as in the second book.  At the heart of the story is a renewal of a friendship of two fated people that turns into a sweet love story.  Sean and Amalie were very sweet together.   There is a little bit of a paranormal twist here that makes their love story that much sweeter.  The msytery was good too and also came with an even sweet twist in the end.  I do recommend this one.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Review: Murder Road by Simone St. James

 Author: Simone St. James
Publisher:  Berkley
Publication Date: March 2024

July 1995. April and Eddie have taken a wrong turn. They’re looking for the small resort town where they plan to spend their honeymoon. When they spot what appears to be a lone hitchhiker along the deserted road, they stop to help. But not long after the hitchhiker gets into their car, they see the blood seeping from her jacket and a truck barreling down Atticus Line after them.

When the hitchhiker dies at the local hospital, April and Eddie find themselves in the crosshairs of the Coldlake Falls police. Unexplained murders have been happening along Atticus Line for years and the cops finally have two witnesses who easily become their only suspects. As April and Eddie start to dig into the history of the town and that horrible stretch of road to clear their names, they soon learn that there is something supernatural at work, something that could not only tear the town and its dark secrets apart, but take April and Eddie down with it all.

Murder Road is the latest paranormal mystery by Ms. St, James.  For the most part, I have enjoyed her books, so I was eager to read this one.  April and Eddie are headed to their honeymoon site when they get lost and come upon a figure wandering down the highway.  The woman has been stabbed.  After taking her to the ER, they become the prime suspects in her murder.  

I did ultimately enjoy this one.  The best part of the book was the main couple.  April and Eddie were just great characters.  Their relationship was fun and strong.  There wasn't really any angst between them as they went though their ordeal.  I really liked that aspect.  There is a ghost story here, but I found it confusing.  I didn't understand the motive behind the ghost. So that was disappointing.  The story is well paced and and had me hooked. There were also some surprises. I do recommend it.



Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Spotlight: Excerpt from The Book of 5 Mews by M.G. Rorai

 



Title: The Book of 5 Meows

Author: M.G. Rorai

Publication Date: February 8, 2024

Pages: 134

Genre: Cats/Pets 

Shhhh – don’t tell the humans. This is a cat’s guide to world domination; learn how to win hearts and get cheese with your kitty charm.

Meet Marble, a cat on a mission to rule the world with cuteness and get cheese. Marble is not your ordinary cat. She is a philosopher, a strategist, and a master of Catness. She knows the secrets to manipulate humans and get what she wants. Thus, Catness wisdom and insights are littered throughout this hilarious and insightful book, written mostly from a feline point of view (as the way it should be).

But Marble’s plan is not without challenges. She must win over a dog-loving human and keep up an endless supply of Colby-Jack cheese.

The Book of 5 Mews is a book for cat lovers, dog lovers, and anyone who enjoys a good laugh mixed in with a heartwarming story. It is a book that celebrates the bond between humans and animals, and the power of love and healing. It is a book that will make you rethink your relationship with your cat, and maybe even inspire you to join a quest for world domination. Not that you’d be welcome, unless you’re a feline.

Buy Links:

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | BooksAMillion | Apple | Smashwords | Everand

 Book Excerpt:


Introduction

I have spent many lives training in the Way of Catness; Humans might liken the Way to strategy. It is a gifted set of guidelines most felines stumble across during at least one of their nine lives—and, subsequently, become obsessed with mastering. Catness is water to the soul, yoga for the mind, and grooming for the world. 

Yet there will always be trials mixed with reward. Peaks and valleys merge to create the landscape—Catness is the pathway for past friends becoming feral; love becoming loss; treat bowls becoming empty. The Way of Catness is like a Cat’s mew: it can be the loveliest sound or the sharpest shriek, when needed.

There are different thoughts on Catness, but I live to no particular paw path; my prints are my own, defined by my experiences. True, I have taken some from other paths, as have most cats, though at the core each cat’s walk, their Catness, is defined by self, circumstances, and survival. But it can be shredded down to Five Mews: Paw, Slink, Roar, Tail, and Clarity. 

I will explain Catness in writing for the first time. 

Harper’s Commentary: Day 0

It’s hard starting over. New job, new town, new perspectives. So hard. Isolating. My plants are only so much company, and at the urging of text messages from family I decided to seek out volunteer work. 

My new career in technology blessed me with all the people drain I needed, so I went with the animal persuasion. I’m a dog person at heart. Grew up with mostly dogs and some cats but had more connection with the canines. Plus, the last feline I had contact with was my cousin’s girlfriend’s cat who pissed in the same corner all the time, despite having three litter boxes. 

So yeah, dogs were better. Cats okay. 

Wispy Paws seemed like a good fit…


About the Author

M.G. Rorai enjoys hanging with her cats and annoying her husband.

Author Links  Website | Facebook | Instagram

 

Sponsored By:

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Review: Everyone is Watching by Heather Gudenkauf

Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Publisher: Park Row
Publication Date: March 2024

The Best Friend. The Confidant. The Senator. The Boyfriend. The Executive.

Five contestants have been chosen to compete for ten million dollars on the game show One Lucky Winner. The catch? None of them knows what (or who) to expect, and it will be live streamed all over the world. Completely secluded in an estate in Northern California, with strict instructions not to leave the property and zero contact with the outside world, the competitors start to feel a little too isolated.

When long-kept secrets begin to rise to the surface, the contestants realize this is no longer just a reality show—someone is out for blood. And the game can’t end until the world knows who the contestants really are…

In Everyone is Watching, Five people are invited to an estate to take part in a reality game show.  The winner will walk away with 1 million dollars.  Very quickly, the contestants realize things are not what they seem.  All five of the have secrets.  The question is, who will make it out alive?

I really wanted to love this one.  It's right up my alley.  However, it ended up just being OK for me.  My main issue with the story was the characters.  They were all so unlikable.  When things start to go off the rails, I genuinely wasn't sure who I would root for.  I need to be able to connect with someone, but I just didn't.  There was one scene that did have me on the edge of my seat.  The lake scene gave me chills.  It's not a bad book.  There were a few surprises, but not enough to make me love this one.  I think it's fine, just not a favorite.  


Friday, April 5, 2024

Review & Excerpt from Scars on My Heart by S.L. Sterling

 

 
Title: Scars on my Heart
Series: Willow Valley
Author: S.L. Sterling
Tropes: Single Dad, Single Mom, Friends to Lovers, small town romance, second chance at love, only one bed scene
Cover Design: Thunderstruck Cover Design
Release Date: March 28, 2024
Goodreads: https://geni.us/ScarsonmyHeartGR
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/books/scars-on-my-heart-willow-valley-book-5-by-s-l-sterling
 
Blurb:
Willow Valley had become like home to me and my two boys, Dylan and Noah. Everyone knew everyone in this small town, and they helped us heal from our devastating loss.
 
Once I knew my kids would be okay, I started looking for work. Bluebird Books hired me almost right away. I was to run the new kids program that Trinity was starting. That was where I met Zach and his daughter, Grace.
 
Zach was the new owner of the Willow Valley Inn. He’d come in to return a book his daughter had borrowed from the program. We exchanged pleasantries and that was when the computer had gone down. Zach lost his patience, and that was when our pleasant conversation turned sour. I wasn’t worried about it because I figured I’d never see him again.
 
I was wrong. It turns out in a small town, everyone sees everyone almost daily, if not twice a day. At the grocery store, the gas station, the elementary school and as luck would have it, the bookstore. Soon, our conversations turn pleasant again, and without even trying, I find myself drawn to him. Then he asks me out on a date.
 
Despite my reservations, I decided to take a chance on love again. But just when things start to look up, Zach’s ex-wife suddenly reappears, causing chaos in his life once more. Which somehow causes chaos in mine when my children begin acting out.
 
Leaning on one another for support, we navigate obstacles that life throws at us. As time passes I begin to wonder if another chance at love will bring us closer together or make each one of us run the other way?
 
Buy Links:
Universal: https://geni.us/ScarsonmyHeartWV5
Amazon: https://amzn.to/49NeD1y
Apple Books: https://apple.co/49KaBHc
B&N: https://bit.ly/49EY9Ze
Kobo: https://bit.ly/3v6Minu
Smashwords: https://bit.ly/49Dk2YI
Google Play: https://bit.ly/49WxiY4


My Thoughts:
 
In Scars on My Heart, widow Iris has moved back to the town she grew up in with her two boys to start a new life.  Divorced single dad, Zach has moved to Willow Valley with his daughter and mother to open a bed and breakfast.  Both are deeply scarred form their experiences, but a chance meeting has them forming a friendship that turns into a romance.  This is the fifth book in a series, however, it worked very well as a stand alone.  I flew through this book.  I really enjoyed watching Iris and Zach fall for each other.  Both of them had suffered a big loss and I was rooting for them to heal and find joy with each other.  I thought the kids in the book were a great addition and not annoying.  Their struggles with the couple dating came across as very realistic.  I seem to be having really good luck with romance this year.  I am happy to add this book to that list!

Excerpt:
“Oh my god!” I screamed, grabbing for a towel that hung on the towel rack and quickly covering myself. It was too late, though. I knew he’d seen me, just like I saw him, as he quickly grabbed for the shower curtain that I’d ripped away from covering him.
We both stood there, looking at one another, our faces red, each one of us mortified in the moment. It was then I turned around, ripping my eyes from him.
“I thought you were downstairs. God, Zach, I’m so embarrassed. I’m so…” I took off from the bathroom, feeling like I could die. Panicking, I raced around the room, grabbing clothes from my suitcase as my heart raced until I felt faint.
I dropped my clothes to the floor and sat down on the bed, breathing hard, trying to erase what I’d just seen. I heard the bathroom door open and then felt the end of the bed dip down and a warm hand on my bare shoulder.
“Zach, please, this is just all too much,” I said, my vision blurring as I looked out the window.
“Hey. It’s alright. Look, I’m going to take a step back here, and I’d like you to do the same. Look at me.”
I could barely turn my head, but I did, and when I met his eyes, I didn’t see someone who was embarrassed. Instead, he looked at me with the same look he’d given me ever since we met.
“We are two adults. We are sharing a room. I know you didn’t think I was in there. Hell, I didn’t think you were back up here or were coming up anytime soon. So how about we both just forget what happened and try to have a good evening.”
I swallowed hard. I still felt like I wanted to die, and here he was trying hard to ignore the fact that we’d seen one another in our birthday suits.
“Zach, I can’t.”
“You can. I know you can. Now I’m going to get dressed and leave you so you can get ready for dinner. I’ll meet you in the lobby.”
He didn’t say another word. Instead, he did as he said he was going to.
Once he was gone, I reached for my cell phone. I needed help, and the only one I could think of was my sister.
 
 
Author Bio:
S.L. Sterling was born and raised in southern Ontario. She now lives in Northern Ontario Canada and is married to her best friend and soul mate and their two dogs.
 
An avid reader all her life, S.L. Sterling dreamt of becoming an author. She decided to give writing a try after one of her favorite authors launched a course on how to write your novel. This course gave her the push she needed to put pen to paper and her debut novel "It Was Always You" was born.
 
When S.L. Sterling isn't writing or plotting her next novel she can be found curled up with a cup of coffee, blanket and the newest romance novel from one of her favorite authors on her e-reader. Her favorite authors include Kendall Ryan, Vi Keeland, Penelope Ward, Lauren Blakely, Alessandra Torre and Willow Winters.
 
In her spare time, she enjoys camping, hiking, sunny destinations, spending quality time with family and friends and of course reading. 
 
Social Media Links
Goodreads: http://bit.ly/SLSterlingGoodreads
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hearomance/
Instagram: http://bit.ly/SLSterlingInstagram
Bookbub: http://bit.ly/SLSterlingBB
Sterlings Silver Sapphires: http://bit.ly/SterlingsSapphires
Amazon: http://bit.ly/SLSterling
Newsletter: https://view.flodesk.com/pages/64d6991578891ef5c9a2f474

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Review: From the Flames by Tori Wilde

Author: Tori Wilde
Publication Date: April 2024

Is that the girl with the fire in her eyes and the scars to match? Damn, Thora Hansen just walked back into my life, and Fairhaven's small-town air suddenly feels electrifying.

Camp Resilience buzzes with Healing Hearts kids, a testament to Thora's legacy—a legacy born from flames we both escaped decades ago, a rift that tore us apart.

Never imagined she'd re-enter my orbit, yet here she is, igniting Fairhaven with a spark I thought was lost.

Memories of our youthful bond, that innocent claim she had on my heart, surge back with a vengeance, undeniable, magnetic.

Last night, entwined in passion, confirmed it's mutual.

But today?

She's retreating, walls up, leaving me grappling in the wake of her sudden cold front.

It's not her family's disdain—she's brushed that off before.

Something's shifted, and I'm racing against the camp's ticking clock to uncover it.

We're on borrowed time, and I'm not about to let history repeat its cruel separation.

From the Flames is a kind of second chance romance.  I say, "kind of" because Thora and Marco were friends in elementary school.  So while they were young, there was still a strong connection.  Despite a tragedy that tore them apart, Thora is now back in Marco's life.  This story takes place in the world of the first book, Lines Worth Crossing.  I really enjoyed this one.  I loved Thora and Marco together.  Their attraction was strong and really enhanced by their childhood relationship.  I loved Thora's twin brother.  I enjoyed revisiting Marco's family.   There isn't too much angst, it's more about really healing old wounds and looking forward to the future.  I definitely recommend this one.


Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Spotlight: Excerpt from The Guest House by Bonnie Traymore

THE GUEST HOUSE

by Bonnie Traymore

April 1-5, 2024 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The Guest House by Bonnie Traymore

He holds out his business card, and she plucks it from his fingers without touching them. “Hope to see you around, Allie Dawson,” he says. That was over a month ago. It seemed too good to be true, but Allie told herself to ignore the nagging feeling in her gut. That was her first mistake.

When she saw Laura Foster’s email welcoming her into a cohort of grant recipients, Allie literally jumped for joy. She was headed to Silicon Valley with a chance to bring her innovative product to market. She’s deaf with a cochlear implant, and she’s developed a screen that can clip onto eyeglasses and caption speech in real time.

But she had no idea how tight the rental market would be, or how cutthroat the competition is for everything from housing to venture capital. So, after a futile search to find a short-term apartment she could afford, she rented a guest house from a chummy real estate agent who approached her at a coffee shop.

But it’s clear now that she should have trusted her instincts. Because there’s something off about her landlord. And his moody wife. And the cryptic Hungarian guy renting his master suite.

Are they after her technology? She knows what it feels like to see her life flash before her eyes, and she doesn't need that kind of stress right now.

So why is she still living there?

And has she already seen too much?

Innovation, greed, and danger collide in The Guest House, Silicon Valley Series Book 2, a stand-alone sequel to the best-selling hit page-turner The Stepfamily.

 

Praise for The Guest House:

"This twisty, spine-tingling thriller will have you hooked to the very last page."
~ Leslie Lutz, Award-winning author of Fractured Tide

"The Guest House grabs you by the throat from the very first page and never lets go."
~ R.G. Belsky, author of the award-winning Clare Carlson series

"The suspense was at an all time high and I devoured this book in a few hours. The twists were twisting in this one! I was invested and very entertained while reading this. Traymore did a great job weaving a tale that was gripping while also educating me on the D/deaf or hard of hearing community"
~ NetGalley/Amazon

"This was a quick and easy read for me. As a reader who loves a psychological thriller it’s sometimes easy to see through the plots, but this story had me guessing for the most part until the end. Just the right level of spooky for me without the blood and gore that some authors choose to use. Would definitely recommend."
~ NetGalley/Amazon

"With its blend of suspense, mystery, and compelling characters, "The Guest House" offers a thrilling reading experience that will keep readers guessing and turning pages late into the night. Traymore's exploration of complex themes and her inclusion of diverse characters, including those from the D/deaf community, adds depth and richness to the narrative, making this a must-read for fans of psychological thrillers and suspenseful fiction alike."
~ Amazon

Book Details:

Genre: Psychological Thriller
Published by: Pathways Publishing
Publication Date: March 1, 2024
Number of Pages: 300
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

One thing I’ve realized over the years is that not everyone has what it takes to go the distance when the time comes. If you want something done right, you need to be prepared to do it yourself. I’m committed to reaching my goals, whatever the costs.

If I could achieve them without spilling any blood, of course, that would be my preference. I have killed before though, and I’ll do it again if that’s what it takes to succeed.

But only if I have no choice. That’s what separates me from the crazies. I get no pleasure out of harming people. In fact, it leaves me feeling very empty. But I won’t stop until I get what I need. And I’ll eliminate anyone who stands in my way.

 

ONE

Allie

I’m half awake when I feel a thud reverberate through my apartment and shake the bed. I spring up, and my heart is immediately in my throat.

Is this what an earthquake feels like?

Grabbing my phone, I check to see if there’s an alert. It’s 3:17 in the morning, and there’s nothing of concern on my phone, but maybe it takes a while to get the word out. I’m new to California, so I have no idea what an earthquake feels like or if anyone even bats an eye at something like this.

I hold still for a few minutes, and I don’t feel any more shaking. I reach for my speech processor on the nightstand. I’m deaf, and without my cochlear implant I hear nothing. Now I’m concerned there might be an intruder or some other threat lurking outside my door.

The small guest house I rent sits behind a stately, expensive home, and the owners have been away for the last week. There’s a boarder who rents a suite inside the main house. I thought he was still around, although it’s hard to tell with him. The guy’s kind of a ghost, and I don’t normally run into him much.

Once my speech processor is in place, I notice some kind of intermittent scraping noise outside. A tingling sensation crawls up my scalp. They have a dog, and she’s not barking. But then I haven’t heard her at all this week, come to think of it. Maybe they took her with them?

I peek out the window, poised to call 9-1-1 if someone is burglarizing the house, and I spot my landlord—at least I think it’s my landlord—dragging a large duffel bag across the lawn. It seems heavy, and he’s straining to move it. He whips his head around towards me, and I quickly duck down and out of sight.

Did he see me?

My heart starts to race.

I hear a voice call out. “Hurry up,” it says.

A woman’s voice?

I’m terrified of the dark, so I keep the bathroom light on when I sleep. I’m hoping it’s not bright enough for him to see inside my place. I lift the curtain just a hair and look out again. His back is to me, so hopefully he didn’t notice me.

What the hell is he doing?

I thought they were away until tomorrow. Did they come home early and I didn’t hear them? But this is strange. And this living arrangement made me uneasy from the start. Maybe I need to look for another place, although the thought of that puts my stomach in knots. It’s a nice unit at a decent price, and the rental market is extremely tight here. Perhaps he has a good explanation for what he’s doing, although I can’t imagine what it could be.

I double-check the dead bolt on the door, turn off the bathroom light, and get back into bed. I’m not taking my speech processor off though, so I probably won’t be able to get back to sleep; I’m used to total silence. I grab my phone, hold it under my comforter, and start thumbing through apartment listings as I wait for the sun to rise.

 

One month earlier

TWO

Allie

I rush into Starbucks to grab a pick-me-up before I embark on my next round of apartment viewings. It’s packed in here, and I need to use the bathroom. Badly. I’ve never been to this Starbucks before. Rancho Shopping Center, according to my app.

“I’ve got a to-go order,” I say to the barista. “Is there a restroom in here?”

“Over there,” she says, pointing towards the other side of the café. “Past the pickup area.”

I’m also hungry and hot. But I’m on a tight schedule, so although I’d like to chill for a while, I need to keep going. I locate the restroom and, thankfully, there’s no line. When I come out, I rush up to the counter to look for my drink order. I pick up a few cups that could be mine and examine them, but my latte’s not ready yet. I let out a long sigh and glance at my watch.

A frazzled worker glares at me but quickly softens her look. I offer her an apologetic smile, not wanting to stress her out any further. I’m surprised she heard me over the whir of the blenders and the milling of the coffee grinder. They’re very backed up and seem hopelessly understaffed. I worked my way through college at jobs like that, so I know exactly how she feels. And if I can’t get my idea off the ground before my funding dries up, I might be right there behind that counter with her.

But I can’t be late for my next appointment, so if my order doesn’t come up soon, I’ll need to leave without it. I’ve just finished a two-week boot camp along with the other women in my cohort, a requirement of the organization that gave me the funding for my start-up venture. I’ve also been looking at apartments on this visit, and I’m starting to think I might have to give up and go back to Milwaukee, at least for now, which is not an ideal option.

The man standing to my right says something, but I don’t catch it. I can’t hear anything out of my right ear, and the background noise is making it harder. And I remind myself that this is exactly why I’m here, trying to bring my concept to market.

I turn to face him so I can read his lips. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you.”

“New in town?” he asks.

“Yes. Is it that obvious?”

“You went to the wrong side of the store for your pickup,” he says, “and you’re holding a rental car key.”

His wandering eyes look out from a kind, almost jovial face. I glance down at the key in my hand, wondering if I should be more discreet. I don’t need to advertise the fact that I’m a single woman traveling alone.

“You’re very observant,” I say.

“Not always,” he replies.

I hope he’s not hitting on me. He’s nearly twice my age if I had to guess. There are a lot of rich guys around here who can probably get women half their age to go out with them. He’s dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt, sporting a Patek Philippe on his wrist—and not an entry-level one. Money’s a compensating factor for some women, but not for me. Not for that big of an age gap. Then I notice a wedding ring and relax a little. Perhaps he’s just being friendly.

“Looking for a place to live?” he asks.

“Um, yes.”

“I’m in real estate,” he says.

“Oh.” I nod.

That explains it.

Now I’m going to get the sales pitch. I should tell him to move on and not waste his time. I’m not planning to buy. But I realize he’s just doing his job. Maybe I can learn something from him. Networking in person isn’t my strong suit, and I need to get better at it.

“Mike Tabernaky,” he says.

“Allie Dawson,” I reply.

“Is it just yourself, or do you have a family?”

“Just me.” Saying that out loud makes me feel vulnerable all of a sudden.

“Well, it just so happens we have a guest house behind our home that’s become available. It’s nearby, in Cupertino. Just over the border from Los Altos. Perfect for a single person.”

Generally, I’m a trusting person, but this seems a bit too good to be true. My mind flashes to the shower scene in Psycho.

“That’s great, thanks. But I think I may have found something.”

He nods as he chews on his lower lip.

“Allie? Your order’s ready,” the barista calls out.

“Well, that’s me,” I say. “I need to run. Nice to meet you, Mike.” I offer him a fluttery wave and flash my best Midwestern-girl smile. If I end up living in this neighborhood, I’ll probably see him again, so I don’t want to seem rude or unappreciative. Plus, he might know some venture capitalists he can introduce me to.

“Here. Take my card. In case it doesn’t work out.” He reaches out to me with his business card perched between his thumb and forefinger. I pluck the card from his fingers without touching them.

“Thanks,” I say.

“You’re welcome, Allie Dawson. Hope to see you around.”

I head outside and mentally prepare myself for another round of apartment viewings, trying to lower my expectations. The market’s supposedly softening for renters, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. And without a steady stream of income, I’ve been having a hard time qualifying for a place to rent. I gave up my stable job as a luxury branding specialist to pursue this opportunity. At the moment, I’m hoping that wasn’t the biggest mistake of my life.

It’s a competitive market, and I’m sure there are a ton of prospective renters who seem more desirable, with longer track records in the area. That’s why I’m a little overdressed for the occasion, in my red cap-sleeved Tory Burch dress paired with strappy black sandals. I want to make a good impression and try to appear a bit more mature than my twenty-nine years.

When I open the door to my rental, a white Kia Soul, the heat inside the car hits me and nearly knocks me off my feet. It’s late August, so hopefully it will cool down soon. They say it doesn’t get this hot here too often—just my luck. I see heat waves radiating off the black vinyl interior. I run around to the other side and open the door to air it out a little. I don’t want to show up sweaty and disheveled. Then I shut the passenger door, head back over to the driver’s side, and hop in.

The seat is warm but, thankfully, not burning hot. I sit down, strap myself in, and realize that I still have the business card in my hand. I tuck it into my wallet, start the car, crank the a/c, and pull up the address on my app. Then I take one last look in the rearview mirror, apply some lipstick, and fluff my hair. I make a mental note to find a hairdresser. My dirty blonde roots are showing, and I’m badly in need of a trim. Still, I’m presentable enough.

The dark circles under my eyes are gone because the loud people renting the front half of my Airbnb left yesterday morning, and I finally got a good night’s sleep. I’m not used to sleeping with my speech processor on, so any noise at all bothers me. I felt vulnerable sleeping without it in an unfamiliar place though, so it seemed safer to sacrifice deep sleep. Last night was better, and the extra hit of caffeine is starting to kick in.

I can do this.

***

Today’s apartment search was even worse than the previous ones, probably because it’s Saturday and everyone’s available. I had four appointments, and each rental had a steady stream of prospective tenants, including the unit that was totally unacceptable to me with no air conditioning, smelly, dog-pee-soaked carpets, and communal laundry.

Even the cramped one-bedroom suite I’m sitting in right now is better than that one, but I can’t afford this Airbnb for much longer, even if I could stand sharing part of a house with a revolving door of random travelers. I’m burning too much cash and energy on this trip, and although I filled out applications at the other three apartments, I’m not holding my breath.

Now I’m taking some time to regroup. I decide I’ll reach out to the organization that helped me with my pre-seed funding and see if they can give me some suggestions. I reach into my wallet to grab the executive director’s business card. But I come across the card I got from Mike Tabernaky, the real estate agent I met at Starbucks, with the guest house. I pull that out instead. He’s a luxury property specialist and the principal broker at the firm. Maybe he does have a pipeline of wealthy venture capitalists he can introduce me to. At the very least, I should try to connect with him on social media.

But why would he be giving his card out to people at Starbucks when the rental market is this hot? Perhaps he doesn’t want to deal with a parade of random strangers at his home? Or maybe he wants a single person, but he can’t say that in the advertising because of antidiscrimination laws. I do a search and find his website. It’s a small firm with two other agents and a few upscale listings on the site.

I tell myself that if I’m going to be a successful entrepreneur, I need to take some risks. If an opportunity like this dropped in my lap, maybe it’s fate. Part of the success story I’ll tell one day about how I was ready to give up when I found a place to live from a random guy I met at Starbucks who introduced me to so-and-so…and then it all fell into place.

Am I this desperate?

Yes, but I’m also not stupid. I’ll make an appointment to see the unit, and I’ll have my brother on the phone with me when I go see it, just in case.

It’ll be fine.

I pull out my phone, take a deep breath, and punch in Mike’s number. I’m a little surprised when it goes to voicemail and a little relieved. It would be more concerning if he was sitting around waiting for my call. Perhaps it’s rented already and I missed my shot. The thought of that makes me want it more.

I open up my email and start drafting a message to Mina Rao, Executive Director at Start-Her, the accelerator that’s sponsoring me, hoping that something comes through before I have to hang it up and head back east rather than burn through the money they gave me before I even get started.

 

THREE

Laura

It’s Monday morning and I’m in my home office when Mina calls. The ringtone wakes my sleeping three-month-old, and Kai starts wailing. I could kick myself for not remembering to silence my phone. I pick up the call, put it on speaker, and reach for him.

“This can wait, Laura,” Mina says to me as Kai continues his fussing.

It annoys me that my subordinate is second-guessing my decision to pick up the call, and I fight the urge to snap at her. She means well, but Mina’s not the only person in my life insinuating that I should take more time off. It’s wearing on my frazzled nerves. It’s not the baby or my career that’s making me stressed. It’s the horrible image that haunts my dreams. The one I can’t tell anyone about. But that’s not Mina’s fault, so I take a deep breath and let it go.

“No. He’ll settle down. Hang on a minute.”

“Take your time.”

I lift my shirt, place him on my breast, and grab a pen.

“Okay. What’s up?” I ask.

Mina runs through a slew of information in record time. She’s my executive director. We met at a now-defunct start-up that folded a little over a year ago. I’ve since founded an accelerator for female entrepreneurs, and my first class of ten awardees has received an initial round of funding. The timing is less than ideal with a newborn, but I’m not letting motherhood stop me. There are some promising ideas on the table, ones that could really make a difference in the world.

One woman developed a prototype of a blood-testing machine that could be a game changer in health care, if she can bring it to market. Another is working on a clip-on screen that would allow eyeglass wearers to read captions of conversations in real time. Now is not the time to step back.

“What happened to Allie Dawson? Did she find a place yet?” I ask.

Allie Dawson is working on the caption device, and her project excites me because it serves an unmet need in the market, it won’t get bogged down in a ton of regulatory red tape, and it’s not overly capital-intensive to produce.

“Not yet, but she has a lead on a unit in Cupertino. She’s got an appointment this afternoon, and she’s a little wary of going by herself, so I offered to go with her,” Mina says.

“Why?”

“It’s a guest house. Of some real estate broker guy who approached her at Starbucks.”

Mina gives me the rundown. It sounds fine to me, but I can see how a single woman might be a little uncomfortable renting a place from a stranger who befriended her at a coffee shop, although that’s what real estate professionals tend to do. It’s nice that Mina offered to go with her.

“Give me his name and I’ll check him out,” I say.

We go over the rest of the items on my list and sign off. I’m more tired than usual this morning and not only because of Kai. I had the nightmare again. It took hours for me to fall back to sleep, only to be woken again an hour later by my baby’s cries.

I can’t go on like this. I search my inbox for the therapist I contacted a few weeks back, to finally schedule an intake appointment. But a call comes in from a venture capitalist I’ve been courting, and then Kai needs to be changed, so it goes on the back burner once again.

***

My husband, Peter, enters my home office, and I glance at the clock. It’s after six already. The hours flew by, and I still haven’t reached out to the therapist.

“How was your day?” He places his hands on my shoulders and kisses the top of my head. Then he scoops up Kai and cradles him in his arms.

“Fine. And yours?”

“Always a ten.”

My husband’s been on cloud nine since I told him about our unplanned pregnancy. I must admit, I’d been looking forward to an empty nest after over a decade of raising my stepchildren. It took me a while to get used to the idea of starting all over. But I’m enjoying motherhood far more than I’d anticipated.

It doesn’t hurt that we came into some substantial money around the same time we found out about the baby, from stock gains at Peter’s biotech company, which brought a cancer drug to market. There are no financial pressures bearing down on us anymore. Not like there were before. But I’m not about to back down on my career, partly because I love what I’m doing, but also because slowing down might give me too much time to think about the craziness of last year.

Four attempts on my life.

The threat is gone, but not the anxiety. I sometimes wonder if Peter’s as jubilant as he seems. How can he be, after everything that’s happened? But his happiness seems genuine, and I’m even a little envious of his ability to move on and forget about it.

“I have some more work to finish up. Can you take him for a bit?”

“Just try and stop me.”

“Thanks.”

He starts walking out the door, and I go back to my inbox to search for the therapist’s email. Then he interrupts me again.

“Laura?”

“Yes?”

“Why don’t you try and move the nanny to full-time?”

Ugh. We’ve talked this to death, and I’m so sick of repeating myself.

“I can manage for now. I don’t want someone here all the time, hovering over me. I told you.”

“You like her?”

“I do.”

“Then just get her here full-time. You can lock yourself in your office, and she can sit and wait around until you need her. It’s better than losing a good nanny. What if someone else offers her full-time?”

“Peter. Enough!” I throw up my hands. “I need to focus right now. If you want to help me, then please, give me some space. This isn’t helping.” He thinks I’m on edge because the baby and my career are too much for me. But that’s not the reason.

His eyes widen, and then he lowers them in defeat. It’s obvious my words stung. His expression is somber as he turns from me and walks out the door.

“Close the door, please,” I say, in a softer tone. Then I rest my heavy head in my hands and take a deep breath. I remind myself that he means well, even if he is annoying me.

I know I’m being short with him, and that’s another thing to put on my list for the therapist. How to get over the resentment I feel towards my husband. I pull up the therapist’s email, click on her scheduler, and secure an appointment for next week. Next, I locate the web page of Mike Tabernaky, luxury real estate broker. At first glance, he seems legitimate. But it does give me pause that someone like him is renting out his guest house. The market’s pretty hot right now, and he has some high-end listings on his page. It seems a little desperate.

I check his broker credentials on the state website, and he’s in good standing. No formal complaints. No red flags. There’s nothing in the criminal or civil databases either, aside from a few speeding tickets. Maybe he has kids in college, or perhaps he’s just the kind of guy who likes to maximize his property value. We live in an expensive area, and people do rent their guest houses. I tell myself it’s fine and mentally cross it off my list.

There’s more to do, as always, but none of it is urgent. It’s dinnertime, so I close my laptop and head out to join my family, vowing to be more congenial to Peter. But I’m not telling him about the therapist. He doesn’t know what’s bothering me, and it needs to stay that way for now.

***

Excerpt from The Guest House by Bonnie Traymore. Copyright 2024 by Bonnie Traymore. Reproduced with permission from Bonnie Traymore. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Bonnie Traymore

Bonnie Traymore is the award-winning, Amazon best selling author of page-turner mystery/thrillers that hit close to home. Her books feature strong but relatable female protagonists. The plots explore difficult topics such as jealousy, infidelity, murder, and the impact of psychological disorders, but she also includes bits of romance and humor to lighten the mood from time to time. She's an active status member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America.

Catch Up With Bonnie Traymore:
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Sunday, March 31, 2024

Review: The Watchers by A.M. Shine

Author: A.M. Shine
Publisher: Head of Zeus 
Publication Date: October 2021

This forest isn't charted on any map. Every car breaks down at its treeline. Mina's is no different. Left stranded, she is forced into the dark woodland only to find a woman shouting, urging Mina to run to a concrete bunker. As the door slams behind her, the building is besieged by screams.

Mina finds herself in a room with a wall of glass, and an electric light that activates at nightfall, when the Watchers come above ground. These creatures emerge to observe their captive humans—and terrible things happen to anyone who doesn't reach the bunker in time.

Afraid and trapped among strangers, Mina is desperate for answers. Who are the Watchers? Why are these creatures keeping them imprisoned? And, most importantly, how can she escape?

The only reason I read this book is the upcoming Netflix movie version.  The story takes place in a mysterious forest. Mina's car breaks down and instead of walking down the road to find help, she heads into the woods.  She stumbles on a structure with 3 other people trapped in it.  I was really looking forward to reading this one. The premise sounded creepy and had the potential to be a great horror story.  Sadly, it didn't live up to my expectations

There were definitely times that the story was creepy. It did make me not want to walk through the woods at night ever.  The river scene was well done and there was also a few bloody horror scenes.  But the rest of the book was just boring.  I didn't care for any of the characters. I didn't like all of the perspectives. It might have worked better through just Mina's recounting.  And there were plot holes that I just couldn't ignore. Unfortunately, if I was to list them it would spoil somethings in the book. The ending was very unsatisfying and I have so many questions.  If the movie is anything like the book, I think I'll skip it.

 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Spotlight: Excerpt from Everyone is Watching by Heather Gudenkauf

 


Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Published: March 26th, 2024
Publisher: Park Row
Book Length: 320 Pages
Genre: Thriller
Buy the book: Amazon
 
The Best Friend. The Confidant. The Senator. The Boyfriend. The Executive.
 
Five contestants have been chosen to compete for ten million dollars on the game show One Lucky Winner. The catch? None of them knows what (or who) to expect, and it will be live streamed all over the world. Completely secluded in an estate in Northern California, with strict instructions not to leave the property and zero contact with the outside world, the competitors start to feel a little too isolated.

When long-kept secrets begin to rise to the surface, the contestants realize this is no longer just a reality show—someone is out for blood. And the game can’t end until the world knows who the contestants really are…


Excerpt:

 

One

The Best Friend

Maire Hennessy squinted against the bright October sun as she drove down the quiet Iowa county road. The fields were filled with the stubbled remains of the fall harvest and stripped bare by heavy-billed grackles and beady-eyed blackbirds eating their fill before the cold weather set in. It made her a little sad. Winter would be coming soon, unrelenting and unforgiving.

That morning, she had packed up her girls and Kryngle, their four-year-old Shetland sheepdog, to drop them off at her former mother-in-law’s home. Maire, who hadn’t traveled more than a hundred miles away from Calico since she abruptly dropped out of college over twenty years earlier, was embarking on an adventure that could change the course of their lives forever. Ten-year-old Dani kicked the back of Maire’s seat in time to the throbbing beat coming from her older sister Keely’s ear­buds. Keely, a twelve-year-old carbon copy of Maire, had the hood of her sweatshirt pulled up over her head, her red curls springing out around her sullen face, as she silently pretended to read her book.

Maire tapped her fingers nervously against the steering wheel. “You’re going to be just fine,” she said, turning onto the highway that would take her children to her ex-mother-in-law’s home. Shar was a decent enough person. Except for the fact that she smoked like a chimney and gave birth to a shit of a son, Maire knew she would take good care of the girls while she was away.

“I don’t want to go,” Dani murmured. “I like my own bed. Grandma’s house feels weird.”

Both Dani and Keely dreaded the two weeks that they were going to stay with their grandmother, a bland, unexcitable woman with steel gray hair and stooped shoulders. There would be no movie nights, no special outings, no grand adventures, but they would be well-cared for, safe. And that’s all that Maire wanted.

“I thought you liked Grandma Hennessy,” Maire said. “You’ll make cookies and she’s going to teach you both how to crochet. You’ll have a great time.”

“Why are you going to be gone for so long?” Dani asked, staring at Maire through the rearview mirror, her eyes filled with hurt. A wet cough rumbled through her chest and she buried her mouth in her elbow.

That familiar cloud of worry that materialized every time Dani had a coughing fit settled over Maire.

“It’s only for two weeks and it’s not that I don’t want to see you,” she said. “You know that. I would be with you every single day if I could. It’s kind of a work thing and I can’t pass up the opportunity.”

“You work from home,” Keely said, briefly pulling out an earbud.

Maire didn’t mind lying to Shar but lying to her children was different. She had the chance of a lifetime and in a way, it was work related. Money was involved. Lots of it.

“It’s like a contest,” Maire explained. “And if I win, well, that would be nice. And even if I don’t, a lot of people will learn about my Calico Rose jewelry and might want to sell it.”

“Like Claire’s in the mall?” Dani asked.

“Yes, Claire’s, Target, who knows?” The lies slid so easily off her tongue now. Dani’s kicks to the back of Maire’s seat slowed as she mulled this over.

“I’m sorry,” Maire said. “I know it’s hard.” Her voice broke on the last word. Hard wasn’t anywhere close to how things had been for the last year. Terrifying, humiliating, devastating, soul-crushing were more like it.

Bobby had never been much of a husband or father, but his health insurance had been a lifeline for Dani. When he lost his job at a local grain elevator and then took off with the nine­teen-year-old waitress from the Sunshine Café, gone was the health insurance and any hope of child support. When the first $3,000 notice for Dani’s nebulizer treatments came in, Maire ran to the bathroom and vomited. It was impossible. Too much.

Between the implosion of her marriage, the impact it had on the kids, her bank account that was dangerously low, the unpaid medical bills, the jewelry she made for her Etsy shop, and the search for a job that provided decent health insurance, Maire was exhausted.

Things couldn’t go on this way. “It will get better,” she promised.

Maire glanced over at Keely and caught her accusatory glare. Out of all of them, the divorce hit Keely the hardest. Despite his drawbacks, Keely was a daddy’s girl, and she was suffering in his absence.

The worry never ended. At the top of the list was Dani’s health. Her cystic fibrosis was stable for the moment, but she was fragile. Her last infection required a two-week hospital stay, a PICC line with multiple antibiotic infusions, therapies, and nebulizer treatments. It was so much that Maire had to put together a binder for Shar filled with in-depth directions for Dani’s care, and she hoped she wasn’t making a huge mistake by leaving. A lung infection that may be mild for most children could be deadly for Dani. And poor Keely. Quiet, shy Keely was getting lost in the shuffle, becoming more removed, iso­lated from them. Another thing to worry about.

A month ago, when she got the email about the show, she al­most deleted it. Maire had been online, scanning articles about the newest cystic fibrosis research, when she heard the ping. Grateful for an excuse to tear her eyes away from the words like Fibrinogen-like 2 proteins and cryogenic electron microscopy, she tapped the email icon on her phone.

CONGRATULATIONS—YOU’VE BEEN NOMINATED, the subject line called out to her. She scanned the rest of the email. Trip of a lifetime, groundbreaking new reality show, $10 million. Scam, Maire thought and went back to reading about clinical trials and RNA therapy. But an hour later, she was still thinking about the $10 million. She opened the email again to read it more closely.

Congratulations, you’ve been nominated to take part in the groundbreaking new reality competition show One Lucky Win­ner! Set in the heart of wine country, you, along with the other contestants, will battle for $10 million through a series of chal­lenges that will test you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Competitors will spend fourteen days at the exclusive Diletta Resort and Spa in beautiful Napa Valley. When not competing, spend your time in your lavishly appointed private cottage, swim­ming laps in the 130-foot pool, or head to the spa for our one-of-a-kind vinotherapy-based treatments—massages, wraps, and scrubs made from grapes grown in the La Bella Luce vineyard. As a special treat, each contestant will receive a case of Bella Luce’s world-famous cabernet sauvignon with an exclusively de­signed label just for you!

Maire snorted. It had to be a joke. A rip-off. She closed the email, even sent it to her trash folder, but an hour later, she pulled it up again. Ten million dollars. Maire was one month away from not being able to pay the mortgage on the house, from not being able to make the car payment, from not being able to put money in the kids’ school lunch accounts, from not being able to pay for one dose of Dani’s medication.

She should probably should just sell the house, take the loss, start over, but this was her home, the kids’ home. There was no way she was giving it up without a fight. She didn’t need anywhere near $10 million to save the house, but that is what it was worth to her, and that kind of money would change her life, all their lives.

Who would have nominated her? And how did that actu­ally work? Hey, I know of someone who could use $10 million. The entire thing had to be fake. The email was signed by someone named Fern Espa, whose title read Production Assistant, One Lucky Winner.

Anyone could send an email. Maire trashed the message again.

Then, over the next three days, the car started leaking oil, Kryngle ate a sock and had to have emergency surgery, and Da­ni’s hospital bill came in. Her credit cards were maxed out and she’d given up on any help from her ex. Maire needed money, fast. Burying her humiliation, she called her parents and asked for a loan. It wasn’t nearly enough.

Maire hung up and went to the garage, sitting in her leaky car so that the kids wouldn’t hear her crying.

Maybe this was the email she was waiting for. The sign she needed to finally take control of her life. Maire wasn’t a fool though. She did her due diligence. While sitting in the wait­ing room at the vet’s office, she looked up One Lucky Winner and found a website and an IMDB entry—both short on de­tails—but it clearly was a real show. She searched for the name Fern Espa and found a LinkedIn entry that looked legit. And the Diletta Resort looked amazing.

And now, under the guise of a work trip, here she was, drop­ping her kids off at her mother-in-law’s house for two weeks, hopping on a plane to Napa to take part in some Survivor-type reality show for the off chance she might win $10 million. It was ridiculous, over the top, maybe even irresponsible, but it ignited a spark of hope that she hadn’t felt in a long time.

“You’ll be okay,” Maire said to the kids as she turned onto the cracked concrete of Shar’s street. Shar was waiting for them, standing on her rickety front porch, a cigarette dangling from her knobby fingers. With hail-pocked, dirty white aluminum siding and a crabgrass-choked yard in need of mowing, the home her ex-husband grew up in was grim and depressing. But her mother-in-law was a sweet woman who loved her grand­children. Maire scanned the street. Every house was in the same state of disarray and neglect. A jolt of fear shot through her. If she didn’t turn things around, they would end up living in a place like this, or worse.

Jesus, Maire thought. I’m making a huge mistake. She fought the urge to drive right on by. Instead, she gave the girls her bravest smile. “It’s okay. We’re all going to be okay.”

Ten million dollars would make everything okay.

 

Excerpted from Everyone Is Watching by Heather Gudenkauf. Copyright © 2024 by Heather Gudenkauf. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.



About the author:
Photo Credit:
Kate Cousins 
Photography

Heather Gudenkauf is the critically acclaimed author of several novels, including the New York Times bestsellers The Weight of Silence and The Overnight Guest. She lives in Iowa with her husband and children.