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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Spotlight: Suddenly That Summer by Lori Handeland

Author:  
Lori Handeland 
Publisher: Lori Handeland (March 29, 2023)
Paperback: 354 pages

1967
They called it the Summer of Love . . .

For small-town Wisconsin siblings Billy and Jay Johnson, it’s a summer of change, confusion, and self-discovery.

Billy enlists in the army and is soon on his way to Vietnam. The letters and sketches he sends home tell the story of the crack-shot soldier he has become. ‘Slayer’ is a sniper the Vietcong both fear and loathe, an enemy they will never stop hunting. But the more violence Billy sees, the more he kills, the farther he drifts from who he thought he was––or at least who he thought he wanted to be. He draws strength from the friends he makes on his journey and the camaraderie he finds. Billy begins to wonder if he is there for the mission or the men or if, maybe, his mission has become these men.
Jay expects to enjoy the summer with her three lifelong friends, but the Four Musketeers have grown up and grown apart leaving Jay adrift and alone. Then she meets Paul, the dazzling new boy from California, whose anti-war views make her question if things are as cut and dried as she’s been taught. Shouldn’t she be on the same side of this war as her brother, who believes just as strongly in the right of the conflict as the protestors believe in the wrong of it? Torn, Jay struggles to make sense of her lifelong beliefs versus the turning cultural tide when surprising support comes from the friends she thought she’d lost.

From the voice of New York Times bestselling author Lori Handeland, a heartfelt, coming-of-age story that brings back the feelings of innocence, fireworks and fireflies, warm summer sun on your skin––and the moment you realized everything was about to change.

About the author:

Lori Handeland is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author with more than 60 published works of fiction to her credit. Her novels, novellas, and short stories span genres from paranormal and urban fantasy to historical and contemporary romance and, most recently, women’s fiction. Just Once (Severn House, January 2019), which is under development by Catalyst Global Media as a feature film, is her women’s fiction debut. Just Once is a richly layered novel about two women who love the same man and how their journeys of loss, grief, sacrifice, and forgiveness intertwine.
 

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Tuesday, May 30thFrom the TBR Pile

 


Monday, May 29, 2023

Review: Wilderness Hunt by Lisa Phillips

Author: Lisa Phillips
Publisher: Love Inspired
Publication Date: December 2022

A search-and-rescue mission turns into a deadly wilderness escape

When a plane carrying a federal witness crashes in the Montana backwoods, Officer Kelly Wayne and her K-9, Nico, track it down—and discover Ethan Harrigan injured with amnesia. Now with the mafia on their trail, Kelly must protect the man she thinks ruined her career. But nothing’s as it seems, and trusting the wrong person could get them all killed.


Wilderness Hunt is the seventh book in the K-9 Search and rescue series.  in this one, Kelly and her dog Nico search for a downed plane and the federal witness that it was carrying.  Kelly knows the witness, but he has no memory of her.  For those of you who might not like amnesia in their books, It's not really part of the plot here, so don't worry.  Looks can be deceiving.

I enjoyed this one.  It was a very quick read because the action seemed to be non-stop. IT's a solid addition to the series.  Onca again, it works as a stand alone.  The romance was enjoyable.  Even though it was quick, it didn't have the feel of an insta-love romance.  I do recommend this one.
 


Sunday, May 28, 2023

Spotlight: Excerpt from The Revenge List by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Hannah Mary McKinnon
On Sale Date: May 23, 2023
9780778333463
Trade Paperback
$18.99 USD
368 pages

Following an epic run-in with a client who threatened to pull out of a contract at her father’s company if she doesn’t suffer some consequences, Frankie Morgan agrees to go to anger management. With the business struggling with cash-flow and her brother needing help with the medical bills for his sick daughter, she can’t risk harming the business further. But that doesn’t mean she’ll be happy about attending.

During the first session, the group is asked to spend some quiet time exploring their pasts and sitting with the emotions that generates, before making a start on a Forgiveness List—a list of people with whom they’re angry and might work on forgiving. She begrudgingly goes along with it and doesn’t worry too much when she forgets the list in an Uber on her way home. It shouldn’t matter—it was just a therapy exercise—except a few days later the first person on that list is injured in a freak accident. When the second person gets hurt, she hopes it’s coincidence. After the third is targeted, she knows it’s a pattern. And she’s in trouble. Because the next name on that list is…hers.


Here is a sneak peek:

CHAPTER ONE

***

The sharp sound of a high-pitched scream filled the air. A noise so unrecognizable, at first I didn’t register it had come from deep within me, traveling up my throat in stealth mode before bursting from my mouth.

The remnants of the yell reverberated around the car, forcing their way into my ears and penetrating my skull, urging me to do something. Survival instincts kicked in, and I fumbled with the seatbelt, my other hand grasping for the door handle. The need for the relative safety that solid, stationary ground would bring was so intense it made my stomach heave. A loud click of the central locking system meant my captor had outsmarted me again, obliterating my immediate plan to throw myself from the moving vehicle.

When I looked out the windshield, I knew there was no time to find an alternate escape. The end of the road—the edge of the cliff—announced by signs and broken red-and-white-striped wooden barricades, had been far enough away seconds ago but now gleamed in the car’s headlights, a looming warning yards ahead. I couldn’t comprehend what was about to happen, couldn’t do anything as the vehicle kept going, splintering planks and racing out the other side with nothing but air below. I let out another scream, far louder than my first, the absolute terror exploding from my lungs.

For the briefest of moments, we were suspended, as if this was a magic trick or an elaborate roller coaster. Perhaps, if I were really lucky, this was all a dream. Except I already knew there were no smoke and mirrors, no swirling track leading us through loop-the-loops and to safety. It wasn’t a nightmare I’d wake from with bedsheets wrapped around my sweaty body. This was happening. It was all terrifyingly real.

As the car continued its trajectory, it tipped forward. The only thing to stop our momentum was whatever we were rushing toward, obscured by the cloudy night skies. Pushing my heels into the floor, I tried to flatten my shoulders against the seat. My hands scrambled for the ceiling to brace myself, but I flopped like a rag doll, my loosened seatbelt tearing into my shoulder.

They say your life flashes before you when you’re close to death. That didn’t happen to me. Instead, it was all my regrets. Choices I’d made. Not made. Things I’d said and done. Not said. Not done. It was far too late to make amends. There would be no opportunity to beg anyone for forgiveness. No possibility of offering some.

As the finality of the situation hit me full on, I turned my head. The features of the driver next to me were illuminated in a blueish glint from the dashboard lights. His face had set in a stony grimace; his jaw clenched so tight he had to have shattered teeth. But what frightened me the most were his eyes, filled with what could only be described as maniacal delight.

He’d said we were both going to die. As the car hurtled to the bottom of the cliff, I closed my eyes and accepted he was right.

***

Excerpted from The Revenge List by Hannah Mary McKinnon, Copyright © 2023 by Hannah McKinnon. Published by MIRA Books.



 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. She now lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons, and is delighted by her twenty-second commute. Connect with her on Facebook, on Twitter @HannahMMcKinnon, and on Instagram @HannahMaryMcKinnon. For more, visit her website, www.hannahmarymckinnon.com.

 
SOCIALS:
Website:                              www.HannahMaryMcKinnon.com 
Facebook:                           www.facebook.com/HannahMaryMcKinnon (@hannahmarymckinnon)
Instagram:                           www.instagram.com/HannahMaryMcKinnon/ (@hannahmarymckinnon)
Twitter:                                www.twitter.com/HannahMMcKinnon (@hannahmmckinnon)
Goodreads:                        www.goodreads.com/author/show/15144570.Hannah_Mary_McKinnon
BookBub:                             www.bookbub.com/authors/hannah-mary-mckinnon
LinkTree:                             https://linktr.ee/hannahmarymckinnon 
 

 


Friday, May 26, 2023

Review: Sleep No More by Jayne Ann Krentz

Author: Jayne Anne Krentz
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: January 2023

Seven months ago, Pallas Llewellyn, Talia March, and Amelia Rivers were strangers, until their fateful stay at the Lucent Springs Hotel. An earthquake and a fire partially destroyed the hotel, but the women have no memory of their time there. Now close friends, the three women co-host a podcast called the Lost Night Files, where they investigate cold cases and hope to connect with others who may have had a similar experience to theirs—an experience that has somehow enhanced the psychic abilities already present in each woman.

After receiving a tip for their podcast, Pallas travels to the small college town of Carnelian, California, to explore an abandoned asylum. Shaken by the dark energy she feels in the building, she is rushing out when she’s stopped by a dark figure—who turns out to be the women's mysterious tipster.

Ambrose Drake is certain he’s a witness to a murder, but without a body, everyone thinks he’s having delusions caused by extreme sleep deprivation. But Ambrose is positive something terrible happened at the Carnelian Sleep Institute the night he was there. Unable to find proof on his own, he approaches Pallas for help, only for her to realize that Ambrose, too, has a lost night that he can’t remember—one that may be connected to Pallas. Pallas and Ambrose conduct their investigation using the podcast as a cover, and while the townsfolk are eager to share what they know, it turns out there are others who are not so happy about their questions—and someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out.

Sleep No More is the first book in the Lost Night Files series.  It's a new series involving three women who had something mysterious happen to them one night in a hotel.  They have no memory the events.  They only know that they woke up with enhanced psychic powers. This first one focusses on Pallas and Ambrose.

While I thought the story was entertaining overall, I have to admit to being a bit underwhelmed.  Honestly, having read a lot of this author's books, I felt like there wasn't anything new here.  Some of the story felt like it was recycled from past books.  For instance, Ambrose's powers run so high that he can't sleep and he faces potential psychic burnout.  Pallas is his "cure" and can realign his energy to help him sleep well.  I feel like she has used that storyline before.  The romance was fine but also felt a little forced at the same time. It overall felt a little formulaic.  I'll probably keep reading the series because I want to know what happened in the hotel.  So I liked it enough for that.  It just didn't live up to my expectations.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Review: Dangerous Mountain Rescue by Christy Barritt

Author: Christy Barritt
Publisher: Love Inspired
Publication Date: February 2022

Finding a missing girl 
depends on a K-9 and his handler.

Erin Lansing will search every inch of the mountains to find her missing teen daughter—even with someone dead-set on stopping her. Teaming up with search-and-rescue K-9 handler Dillon Walker and his dog, Scout, is her only chance at living long enough to see her daughter again. But to save them all, can Dillon and Scout help Erin confront the dangerous truth about her past?


Dangerous Mountain Rescue is the 6th book in the K-9 Search and rescue series. This one is Erin and Dillon's story.  Erin is searching for her daughter who had gone missing in the mountains.  Erin is convinced She didn't run away and is still alive.  The police think she is responsible for her daughter's disappearance.  Dillon and his dog will do everything they can to get to the bottom of everything. 

 Yet again, this is another solid mystery with a sweet romance thrown in.  I felt like I was sitting on the edge of my seat while listening to the audiobook with this one.  The action  and danger was intense and constant.  It really was a wild ride.  The reveal was a total surprise.  As with the others, it works well as a stand alone . This is definitely one of my favorites of the series. and I do recommend it.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Spotlight: Hyphenated Relations by Danial Maunz

Author: Danial Maunz
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Publication Date: May 4, 2023

Sam Daly is leading a life of quiet isolation following the death of her husband, Mike. She is content to merely put in her eight hours at work each day before heading home to lose herself in a book, only to restart that cycle the following morning. But Sam’s self-imposed cocoon is threatened after her eccentric father-in-law Harold stumbles back into her world to announce that he is getting remarried to the mysterious Marcie Porter, who is burdened by her own complex family history.

The last thing Sam wants is to get involved with Harold’s new endeavor. But after getting wind that Marcie’s four children intend to sabotage the wedding, Sam is reluctantly drawn into a new family drama and all that comes with it, whether it be the development of unexpected alliances or butting heads with ruthless enemies. While navigating these landmines, Sam finds herself struggling to come to terms with the painful past she had been holding away at arm’s length for so long.

Through these trials and tribulations, Sam is also forced to confront the one question that she had sought to avoid since her husband’s passing-whether she is done with the notion of “family” after all.

About Daniel Maunz

When he is not writing, Daniel Maunz works as in-house counsel for a major insurance company. He currently lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York with his wife Lynne, their son Patrick, and their two cats: Admiral Meowy McWhiskers and Captain Cutie (or “Admiral” and “Captain” for short). His debut novel, Questions of Perspective, was published by Black Rose Writing in May 2020. Hyphenated Relations is his second novel.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Review: Someone is Always Watching by Kelley Armstrong

Author: Kelley Armstrong
Publisher: Tundra Books
Publication Date: April 2023

Blythe and her friends—Gabrielle, and brother and sister Tucker and Tanya—have always been a tight friend group, attending a local high school and falling in and out of love with each other. But an act of violence has caused a rift between Blythe and Tucker . . . and unexpected bursts of aggression and disturbing nightmares have started to become more frequent in their lives.

The strange happenings culminate in a shocking event at school: Gabrielle is found covered in blood in front of their deceased principal, with no memory of what happened.

Cracks in their friendship, as well as in their own memories, start appearing, threatening to expose long-forgotten secrets which could change the group’s lives forever. How can Blythe and her friends trust each other when they can’t even trust their own memories?

Someone is Always Watching is a YA mystery involving Blythe and her classmates.  Strange things have been having at their elite private school.  Gabrielle thinks they are being watched, but by whom? Blythe has been having memory issues, but the adults tell her everything is fine.  What is really going on?

I thought this was a fairly solid mystery.  I really had no idea what the reveal would be ahead of time.  I enjoyed discovering everything along with Blythe and her friends.  I spent most of the book wondering if they were reliable narrators or not.  The story really makes you think about the power of the mind and memories.  The teen characters weren't annoying.  Honestly, the adults were the annoying ones in this book.  I would recommend this one.  It's worth a read.




Sunday, May 21, 2023

Review: Following the Trail by Lynette Eason

Author: Lynette Eason
Publisher: Love Inspired (Harlequin)
Publication Date: January 2022
 
Tracking leads in her sister’s disappearance 
could make a K-9 handler the next victim.

Lacey Jefferson’s search for her missing sister quickly turns into a murder investigation—thrusting Lacey and her search-and-rescue K-9, Scarlett, into a killer’s sights. Now teaming up with her ex-boyfriend, Sheriff Creed Payne, is the only way to discover the murderer’s identity. But can they survive long enough to dig up the truth?

Following the Trail is the 5th book in the K-9 Search and rescue series.  Once again this works fine as a stand alone book. So you can jump right in without reading the first 4 books.  I like to read these romantic suspense from this publisher because they are fairly quick reads with good mysteries and sweet romances.

This one follows Lacey and her rescue dog Scarlet.   Scarlet is one of my favorite dogs in this series so far.  Lacey is searching for her missing sister only to be pulled into a harrowing murder mystery .  One that she must solve with the help of her ex-boyfriend, Creed.  The msytery was really good.  I was hooked from the beginning and was kept guessing.  More than that, though I loved the second chance romance between Lacey and Creed.  It ended up being really sweet once they were honest and worked through their past issues. I highly recommend this one.


Saturday, May 20, 2023

Review: Manhattan Cult Story by Spencer Schneider

Author: Spencer Schneider
Publisher: Arcade
Publication Date: July 2022

They took an oath of absolute secrecy and lived in a covert world in plain sight.

“It didn’t look like a cult. I was relieved. Nobody was in black robes chanting. No kids running around in rags with faraway gazes. Just a bunch of young professionals––hedge funders, doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers––in a secret loft in Tribeca. They looked, I realized, a lot like me,” says Spencer Schneider. “I had no way to possibly know they were brainwashed––hollowed out souls––under the clutches of a leader every bit as twisted and commanding as Jim Jones.”

When Schneider was a twenty-nine-year-old Manhattan corporate lawyer, an acquaintance invited him to a secret meeting of an “esoteric school for inner development,” known to its students simply as “School.” Suspicious yet curious, he went. At first he found support, community, and meaning among other highly educated New Yorkers. But soon, he found himself trapped in one of the nation’s most secretive and abusive cults. In the name of personal development, hundreds endured decades of sexual and physical abuse, forced labor, arranged marriages, swindled savings and inheritances, and systematic terrorizing. Some of them broke the law. All for their charismatic and demented leader Sharon Gans, a washed-up actress who claimed to be on a spiritual par with Buddha.

This is Schneider’s story of how he got entangled in School, why he stayed, and how––impossibly––he got out after twenty-three years. It’s a cautionary tale about the power of group psychology and how anyone can be radicalized. It’s also a story of surviving traumatic abuse and ultimately finding a path to healing.

As with a lot of people, I am very interested in reading about cults.  They just fascinate me as I have never understood how anyone could end up in a cult.  Manhattan Cult Story is the story of a skeptic lawyer who did in fact get sucked into a cult.  One that I think is still active today.

I found this book fascinating because it's a first person account of  slowly being drawn into a cult.  Spencer seems like a normal lawyer and someone who wouldn't fall for all of the tricks these leaders pull to hook people.  In fact, he often asked himself if he was getting involved in a cult.  Only to reassure himself he was not...until it was too late.  This was a wild ride and it is unfortunate that he didn't get out a lot sooner.  Sharon Gans was a sociopath and clearly not right in the head. I do wish that he had gone into her' background a little more and maybe talked a little more about what went on with other people.  But overall, this was an enthralling account and one I do recommend.



Friday, May 19, 2023

Spotlight: Excerpt from Mickey Chambers Shakes It Up by Charish Reid

 


Author: Charish Reid
ISBN: 9781335453556
Publication Date: June 6, 2023
Publisher: Canary Street Press
18.99 US | 23.99 CAN

For readers of Talia Hibbert, a witty, contemporary love story with high emotional stakes and a multicultural cast, about a widowed bar owner who, upon returning to college at 42, inadvertently hires the woman who turns out to be the adjunct instructor of his online writing class to help tend bar at his failing establishment; for fans who love grumpy vs. sunshine.

Mickey Chambers is a 33-year-old adjunct instructor with a sunny disposition despite her chronic illness and dwindling bank account. When she finds out a local bar is hiring in a hurry, she throws her hat in the ring. Has she ever worked at a bar? Nope! But there are a lot of things Mickey hasn’t done before and after years of her youth spent ill, she is willing to try anything once. Especially if it helps her cover her medical costs for the summer.
Diego Acosta, a 42-year-old bar owner, needs help in a hurry. Since his wife, LucĂ­a, died five years ago, he’s been running The Saloon by himself. But with only a skeleton crew and the pressures of returning to college, Diego fears he might be running his late wife’s bar into the ground. Between rowdy college students, one final English class, and an upcoming music festival, Diego accidentally hires his writing instructor in a panic to keep the bar afloat.
When Mickey brings her cheerful attitude to The Saloon, Diego balks at the changes: new cute cocktails, karaoke nights, and her pretty smile. It’s been so long since he’s had feelings for another woman, he wonders if a relationship with her is even possible. Mickey is trying to avoid a messy entanglement, but she’s ready to embrace everything life has to offer, including the grumpy Diego
Excerpt:

Plink, plink, plink…

Mickey Chambers’ heart stuttered as she held her breath. Each prescription pill she dropped into different days of the week was an ominous warning of finite resources. When she got to Saturday and found a nearly empty bottle of her thyroid medication, she had to do quick math in her head. To refill her prescriptions, she’d have to visit Dr. Curtis and get bloodwork done.

Another expense…

She’d been counting pills for most of her adult life. But at thirty-three, it was getting hard to pay for them. At her kitchen counter, Mickey carefully spilled the remainder of her medication on to a place mat and slowly separated them. Two weeks.

She quickly started on the mood stabilizer next, counting with the same slowness, and making note of how few were left in the bottle. Three weeks. Any gaps in medication could be bad news for her hormone levels, knocking her flat on her ass.

This was going to be a hellish summer if Mickey couldn’t fund the medication for her hyperthyroidism. Her teaching load had always been somewhat precarious, but this was the first time she worried. Hargrove University’s English Department had always made room for her, but they had also hired more adjuncts like her. Other part-time instructors who needed to grab up as many classes to cover their bills.

She gathered her medications and placed them back on the top of her refrigerator before checking her cell phone again. She was expecting a call from the department chair today with confirmation of her summer schedule. So far, Mickey only had one online class.

Because she’d taught a few distance-learning courses before, Mickey had a slew of class plans ready to be taught online. She’d need to update a few PowerPoint presentations from last year, but she counted on her Food Studies and Culture course to be easy to navigate. Now, if Lara could just give her a heads-up on a Comp 101 or an American Lit, she’d have extra syllabi for those as well.

But alas, no missed calls.

Mickey sighed as she tucked her phone in her skirt pocket. No point in waiting around her apartment when she needed to be at her parents’ home for Sunday dinner. This was the first dinner she’d shown up to since a hectic finals week and logging grades, so she missed them. She grabbed her purse and locked up before running into the Columbus, Georgia, heat. Even in late May, she felt the blast of the outdoor furnace that frizzed her curls and made her under-boobs sweat. She blew out another frustrated sigh. The heat was an annoyance for any average Georgian, but for someone with her condition, these summers were hell.

When she got on Forest Street, she tapped out a quick message to her mother, letting Rita Chambers know she was on the way. Mickey made a quick loop around Lakebottom Park, admiring the people who could stand jogging in the bright sun and catching a glimpse of her favorite brick-red bungalow on the corner of Cherokee Avenue.

She loved how it stood out from the surrounding houses with its delicate white trim and shutters and large wraparound porch. A couple years back, two rocking chairs used to sit near the door, now only one remained. The owner also seemed to neglect the spread of kudzu vine clawing its way up the west side of the house. Mickey noticed the changes and it made her sad.

Her mind quickly went back to the road toward her parents’ home. Through the shaded boulevard of dogwood trees, Hargrove students were already walking to the downtown area, ready to tear it up. She drove past them carefully, trying her best not to hit the pregame wobblers.

When she reached her parents’ house, she parked her car in the driveway behind her brother’s Beemer and walked past the pecan saplings piled up in the yard. Mickey’s father must have been amid a landscaping project. Her mother would object to Virgil Sr. lifting more than necessary, but she’d let her parents argue about that.

She checked her phone once more and found no new messages.

Mickey closed her eyes, trained a smile on her face, and readied herself for dinner with her family. As she stepped through the threshold of her childhood home, she called out, “I’m here, let the festivities begin!”

Her little brother, Junior, was the first to reply. “Girl, ain’t nobody waiting on you.”

Mickey laughed as she hung her purse in the yellow foyer her father had painted earlier in the year. Judging by the smells coming from the kitchen, she wouldn’t have waited on her either. She found her family eating dinner in the bright and airy living room, using the collapsible TV trays while her mother’s lovely dining room remained untouched.

“Baby, fix a plate and join us.” Her mother pointed her fork toward the kitchen.

“Thanks, Mama.”

“Michelle, when’s the last time you had that car looked at?” her father asked apropos of nothing.

Mickey bit back her grin. “Last time I was here.”

Virgil Sr. shook his head as he scraped at his plate. “Lemme change that oil before you leave. How them tires lookin’?”

It didn’t matter how she answered, her father would just examine the entire Honda Civic before she left the house. Even after a week of working for Columbus Public Works, he still needed to come home and tinker around with something. “I’ll let you have a look,” Mickey said on her way to the kitchen.

If it was hot outside, Rita’s kitchen was an inferno. Her mother’s cast-iron skillet had put in the work that day, producing fried chicken, fried pork chops and corn bread. Side dishes covered the counter like a small buffet line, with a roll of aluminum foil and Styrofoam plates sitting on the end, serving as to-go plates for Mickey and Junior.

A bottle of Ardbeg scotch sat near the refrigerator with a yellow sticky note pressed to the glass. If there was one thing she could count on her brother for, it was a free bottle of booze. No doubt, an end-of-the-semester gift. She smiled as she picked it up and inspected the label. She and Junior tried to get together as often as possible to try different spirits and share their opinions, but lately they’d grown too busy. He with his start-up in Atlanta and her constantly grading papers. As expensive as it was, his little reminder of simpler times touched her.

While she fixed her plate, Mickey listened to her parents give a familiar rundown of the Columbus, Georgia, happenings for Junior, who now lived in Atlanta.

“You remember Celestine on the West Side,” Rita said. “Henry Richard’s sister.”

“Uhh…”

“Taught at the dance school back in the nineties. Volunteered at the soup kitchen?”

“Mama, I can’t remember,” Junior said.

“Well, she passed a couple weeks back,” their mother went on. “I went to the visitation and saw her granddaughter, Layla. I didn’t know it, but she took over the dance school recently. You remember Layla? Real pretty girl…”

“Maybe?”

“Henry still working at Wilson’s Paper?” their father interjected.

“Sure is,” Rita said. “Coming up on twenty years. Oughta be retiring soon.”

When Mickey returned to the living room, she sat next to her brother on the sibling-designated couch, facing her parents, who sat in their own cushy recliners. On the television, an action movie played with the volume set low.

“Anyway,” Rita said, “you oughta let me introduce you to Layla. She’s such a professional little lady teaching those kids and I heard she was single…”

Junior made a noncommittal noise before stuffing his mouth with fried pork chop.

Rita switched gears and turned her focus on her other child. “Michelle, my favorite teacher! Are you feeling good? Have you taken your medications?”

“This morning, Mama,” Mickey said, trying to keep her smile up. Every time her mother laid eyes on her, she asked the same questions.

“Do you have enough for the month?”

Mickey nodded, trying not to worry about the number of pills she counted out earlier. “I get my refills on time.”

“Is that Obamacare still working for you?” her father asked. “‘Cause Roy said he’s paying an arm and leg over these prescriptions.”

Mickey eked out a strained smile. “It’s fine, Daddy. The ACA plan I’m on is okay.”

“Are you teaching this summer?” Junior asked, steering the conversation away from Mickey’s health.

She gave him a grateful look. Since she was first diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, her parents had dropped everything in their lives to make sure she was well taken care of. Now, at the age of thirty-three, they hadn’t quite stopped. “I am,” she said, quickly changing gears. “I’m still at Hargrove, in the English Department.”

“They had a hell of a busted pipe by that athletic center,” her father said. “I told Roy, they gonna have to dig up some of that parking lot that goes to Seaver Avenue.”

Her mother ignored her husband, who routinely rambled about construction. “Are you going to be busy this summer? How many classes will you have? Will you have to be on your feet in the classroom, or can you teach from home?”

Mickey followed her brother’s example and shoveled mashed potatoes in her mouth to avoid her mother’s interrogation. She hoped it would give her time to figure out a good enough lie about her unstable unemployment. She nodded. “Mmm-hmm.”

Her parents understood that she taught at a university. They bragged on her to everyone they knew, from the cashier at Winn Dixie to Monique at the salon. What they didn’t quite grasp was what nontenured track looked like at a place like Hargrove University.

While associate professors could use their summers for scholarship and traveling to conferences, adjuncts scrambled to find all the classes they could to make ends meet. Mickey loved teaching and her students…but she had the sneaking suspicion that her love for the job was being used against her by the university machine. She wasn’t making nearly enough money for the work she kept doing—the grim evidence hit her every time she paid her bills.

She swallowed the lump of mashed potatoes. “I’ll be fine,” she lied. As soon as her phone vibrated in her pocket, Mickey would know for certain. “Sorry, I gotta take this.”

She quickly excused herself from the living room and took her call in the kitchen.

Her boss started off on the wrong foot immediately. “Hey, Michelle…” she said in a contrite voice.

Mickey’s heart dropped. “Hey, Lara.”

“I’m sorry,” Lara said. “I had hopes for English 200, but there weren’t enough students for the Registrar’s Office to sign off on it. And then I only had 101 left, and I know you just taught it…”

“No, no, I get it,” Mickey said. “Matt needs a class too.”

“I tried to split the leftover classes as fair as I could,” Lara said. Her boss sounded so close to tears that Mickey had no choice but to let her off the hook. The availability of classes wasn’t necessarily her fault. She couldn’t help the fact that the administration had tightened up on summer course offerings.

“So, I’ve got the Comp 102,” she said with an upbeat voice.

“You do! Luckily, it’s the condensed early summer version; just four weeks. And you’d really be doing us a favor.” Doing them a favor made Mickey sound heroic instead of an underpaid professional who didn’t receive health-care benefits.

“Of course, no worries. Listen, Lara, I gotta let you go,” Mickey said.

“I get it,” Lara said. “Michelle, I’m so sorry. You’ll be okay?”

Even though she didn’t feel like coddling Lara’s feelings, she still lied, “I’ll be fine.”

“Okay. We’ll talk later?”

“Of course,” Mickey said brightly.

By the time she hung up, her mind was already on the next problem. What did the money situation look like for the next two and a half months? A quick calculation of savings told her she could handle rent—that always came first. Then came medication. Her savings account would take a hit, but it could cover those necessary pills. She had a roof over her head, but food and utilities were a different story.

“Was that work?”

She jumped at the sound of Junior’s voice behind her. Mickey could lie to her boss and her parents, but her brother would always be a tough sell. He may be five years younger than she, but he’d had to grow up fast when she was at her sickest. “It was,” she sighed.

“Are you going to need help this summer?” he asked.

He didn’t mean any harm, but it stung to be so far behind her brother, who graduated school on time, who found a career at an appropriate time. Meanwhile, Mickey’s constant absences due to illness meant flunking out of high school. She didn’t catch up to her peers until a proper treatment plan was put in place. Getting her GED, earning a bachelor’s and finally a master’s degree, in literature, gained her employment…just not a steady career in her thirties. “Please don’t tell mom and dad,” she whispered, glancing toward the living room. “They still see me as a sick teenager: reminding me to take my meds, offering me money they don’t have.”

“You need to come work with me and James,” her brother suggested as he rubbed his beard. His dark brown eyes focused on the stove behind him and narrowed. She could tell his computer-programmer mind whirred with a plan. “If you lived in Atlanta, I could help you get set up with a little apartment nearby. We could finally start the whiskey podcast…”

“You know I’d love to do the podcast,” Mickey said with a chuckle. “But I don’t want to move to Atlanta and I don’t want to work for my little brother doing—what are you doing?”

Junior rolled his eyes. “Coding the MedPlus app. We’re still trying to find a decent marketing manager… You could be it?”

Mickey grabbed her brother by the hand and dragged him to the kitchen patio door. “Let’s talk about this outside,” she sighed, hoping her parents weren’t listening. In the backyard, she finally felt relief from the stifling heat of the house.

“How long are you going to keep working for that school?” Junior asked, facing the setting sun. The vibrant red shined on his deep brown skin as he squinted his dark eyes against the light. He took his coloring and height from their father, while Mickey’s pecan-brown skin and short, chubby stature mimicked their mother.

She didn’t know the answer to that. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll teach until I find something else I’m good at.” Sometimes she woke up in a cold sweat, wondering why she’d chosen literature and composition as areas to study. The job market was rough for even those who had doctorates. What had felt like a comfortable job was quickly becoming an albatross around her neck. Anytime she tried to think about another vocation, her heart pounded and her brain froze. “I know I’m really good at organizing and planning, but those skills feel too vague to become a…career.”

“Well, you’re good with people—always friendly and helpful. I wish I knew how you stay so damn cheerful,” he said with a chuckle. “A bunch of spoiled-ass freshmen in English class would drive me up a fuckin’ wall.”

“Oh, it’s not them,” Mickey sighed. “When I step foot in the classroom, they respect me, they listen. Hell, they don’t even realize I’m a part-time lecturer. My students think I’m a scholar like everyone else.”

She certainly didn’t feel that way when she left the classroom. Since she didn’t attend department meetings, many of the tenure-track professors barely knew her name.

“Can I be honest with you?”

Her brother nodded.

Mickey blew out a sigh. “Teaching was accidental. After the bachelor’s degree, I didn’t know what to do with literature studies, so I continued and got a master’s degree. The first job I got was teaching English and I just stuck with it. I like doing it, but without a doctorate degree, being an adjunct is a permanent internship. It’s an aspiration job that will never become a career for me.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “It’s a hamster wheel masquerading as a noble pursuit.”

Quiet blanketed the back patio as Mickey fought to keep her shit together. That was the first time she’d spoken the truth to another person.

“Got it. So, you’re spinning your wheels at Hargrove.” Junior said in a serious voice.

Mickey kept her eyes on the horizon ahead of them. Anything to avoid her brother’s piercing stare. “I’ll need to make some real changes come fall.”

“For real though, if things don’t work out in Columbus, you can stay with me. I know MedPlus is still young, but James has a couple investors lined up. You’re a writer. I could get you in on the ground floor.”

Mickey nodded. “I hear you, and I’ll keep it in my back pocket.”

While Junior’s job offer was a lovely gesture, she was reluctant to accept it. Her family had done too much as it was to help her. Her parents had given up their time, getting the runaround from heath professionals. And then their money to send her to doctors and specialists. Junior even helped her with her college applications and her move to Athens for her master’s program. Living with her brother, while working for him, seemed like taking a step backward.

The patio door slid open. Their father stuck his head out and looked between the two of them. “It’s too hot out here for Michelle to be standing around,” he said with a frown. “Y’all come in here and get a cold drink.”

Mickey shot her brother a look that said, See?

Junior smirked as he shook his head. “Coming, Pop.” As she followed her brother back inside the house, she hoped that she could continue pretending things were fine. She adjusted her face, forcing the smile that people were accustomed to, and tried to forget about the ever-present money worries. Positive attitude, Mickey. She wouldn’t get anywhere feeling sorry for herself.

 

Excerpted from Mickey Chambers Shakes It Up by Charish Reid. Copyright © 2023 by Charish Reid. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.




Author Bio: 

Charish Reid is a fan of sexy books and disaster films. When she's not grading papers or prepping lessons for college freshmen, she enjoys writing romances that celebrate quirky Black women who deserve HEAs. Charish currently lives in Sweden.