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…




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 

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.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

March Mini Musings

Crime Scene Conspiracy:  This is the first in the Crime Scene Cleaners series.  For me, it was OK.  I was kind of rolling my eyes at how many things happen to the characters in this book.  It was a bit unrealistic. The romance was cute though.  So that is a win. 

Tracking Stolen Treasures
:  This is the 10th book in the K-9 Search and Rescue series.  I wasn't even aware that it was continuing. I feel like book # 9 wrapped up the series nicely.  This is one contains a new set of characters and works well as a stand alone.  I thought it was enjoyable.  I liked the msytery and the romance.  I would recommend.

Christmas Presents
:  This was a quick msytery.  I thought it was much better than the last book I read by this author (Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six).  It kept me guessing and I sped through the audiobook.  I loved one of the twists in the end.  It's best to go into the book not knowing a lot.  I highly recommend.

Alaskan Wilderness Rescue
:  The 11th book in the K-9 Search and Rescue series also works well as a stand alone.  I enjoyed the action and the mystery.  The romance was sweet as usual.  This is a quick read, I do recommend.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Spotlight: Excerpt from MRS. LOWE-PORTER by Jo Salas

Author: Jo Salas
Publisher: JackLeg Press
Publication Date: February 2024
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Buy Links:


A fascinating reimagining of the overlooked, complicated life of Thomas Mann's translator, Helen Lowe-Porter

The literary giant Thomas Mann balked at a female translator, but he might well owe his standing in the Western canon to a little-known American woman, Helen Lowe-Porter. Based closely on historical source material, Jo Salas's novel Mrs. Lowe-Porter sympathetically reveals a brilliant woman's struggle to be appreciated as a translator and find her voice in a male-dominated culture. Married to the charming classicist Elias Lowe, whom she met and fell in love with while in Munich, the story weaves one woman's journey as her husband Elias's career soars and her translation work earns Mann the Nobel Prize. The novel celebrates Helen Lowe-Porter as she learns to risk stepping out from the long shadow of the dominating men of her life to become a person of letters in her own right.

Check out this excerpt:

Meeting Elias


She found him waiting in front of the massive entrance to the Alte Pinakothek with its arched windows repeating themselves endlessly on each side. Helen knew him immediately, though they’d never met—an American informality, a concentration of energy, in contrast to the leisurely burghers of Munich and their wives in their decorous Sunday clothes.

Elias Loew evidently recognized her as well and bounded toward her, hands outstretched.

“The clever Miss Porter!” he said, smiling broadly. His handshake was warm and forthright. “Your sister spoke so much of you.” He seemed very young, like a boy dressed up as a professor in shabby black and wire-rimmed glasses.

“Well...clever!” she responded clumsily. “I believe you’re the clever one.”

From her sister Elizabeth’s letters Helen had imagined a taller man. Elizabeth had described Elias’s air of confidence, his brown eyes, his black wavy hair, his formidable intelligence. Helen had looked forward to meeting this interesting person once Elizabeth had come home and it was finally her own turn to sail to Europe.

Helen followed Elias into the museum’s cool interior with its marble floors and high ceilings, their carved detail lost in the dimness. A young child’s shrill voice echoed in the vast space before he was hushed by his parents. People clustered in front of paintings in heavy gilt frames, gazing contemplatively or conferring in whispers. I’m in Munich, she thought, in Europe. To learn everything about everything. Since she had stepped off the

ship in Hamburg she had felt her senses opening wide; even her skin felt translucent and porous.

“Come!” Elias said over his shoulder, striding into one of the galleries. He led her to one masterpiece after another—she recognized the names but not the paintings. Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Vermeer. In a trance she followed Elias’s short black-clad figure, the murmuring voices washing over her, the paintings rising up like the pages of art books leaping into life, enormous and vivid, the paint thick and glistening as though the painter had just left the room, brushes in hand. She would give this experience to Ruth, the heroine of the novel she was writing: the provincial American artist face to face with the Old Masters. Her little notebook was tucked into her purse as always but she was too self-conscious in the presence of her new acquaintance to reach for it.

Elias stopped in front of a painting of a naked young woman holding a fur around her body, happy enough, judging from her mischievous gaze, to display her round breasts.

“One of my favorites,” whispered Elias. “What do you think?” He stood with his arms folded, contemplating the painting.

Helen stepped closer to peer at it. She found it embarrassing but did not want to say so. “Her arms seem unusually long, don’t they?”

Elias laughed. “Rubens wasn't the greatest of draftsmen, it’s true.” He talked about the painting’s unashamed sensuality: the breasts pushed up by the woman’s arms, the suggestiveness of the fur against her belly. “I suspect that fur was on the floor the minute Rubens put down his brush.”

She braced herself a bit, as though his frankness held some danger for her, knowing at the same time that the idea of danger was absurd. This is what I want, she reminded herself, this kind of bold conversation. I want to speak this language. I want to get fluent in it. Why should I not enjoy imagining this young woman in the studio and the man looking at her?

But she couldn’t yet find a response to Elias’s comment. “Beauty is very important to me,” he said. He turned and

looked at Helen appraisingly, to her acute discomfort.

Helen returned to her pension flushed and stirred by the encounter, by the roomfuls of brilliant paintings, by the novel sense of being plunged into a world she had imagined and yearned for all her life. I won’t hear from Elias Loew again, she told herself. I’m not sophisticated enough for him, nor beautiful enough. Then reprimanded herself: I am not here to become acquainted with young men.

But the next day there was a note: “Dear Miss Porter, won’t you join me for a walk? I would love to show you Munich.” They met under the Rathaus glockenspiel, this time falling easily into conversation as though they were already old friends. After the bells had finished their recital and the bright-painted figures paused to rest, Elias took her arm and guided her around the Old Town, pointing out landmarks in his quick way. When they parted it seemed natural to plan to meet again soon.

“There’s a concert on Friday,” he said. “Mahler and Wagner.

Shall we go?”

In the warm darkness Helen sat beside Elias, washed in the lush harmonies, transported by the woodwinds’ melodies. Mahler himself conducted, his dark hair flying.

They met often after that, drinking coffee together between her language classes and the lectures that he was already giving at the university though still a student himself.

“You sprechen very well,” Elias said, after listening to Helen slip comfortably into German with his friend Willi, who’d appeared unexpectedly at their table by the lake in the Englischer Garten. “Could you help me with a translation that I’m working on? If you can stand it––a paleographic paper, dry as old bones.” He’d been told, he confided to her, that as soon as he had his doctorate he would be offered teaching posts at more than one

university. “I’ve had my eye on Oxford ever since I can remember,” he said. “Can you imagine? From the shtetl to the dreaming spires!”

Helen was curious about his origins, which he rarely referred to. “What was it like—the shtetl?” she asked. She knew no one else from that world and had never said the word aloud before.

“I don’t remember much,” he said. “You can ask me about growing up in New York.” So she did, and he told her about being befriended by the children’s librarian at the settlement house when he was still new to America. “An extraordinary woman, Hal, and she took a great interest in me. It’s thanks to Miss Evans that I’m here. Miss Evans and the people she introduced me to.” He looked at her earnestly. “I don’t want to sound boastful. But they recognized something in me, different from other boys.”

Helen believed him. It was easy to imagine Elias as a bright, charming, immigrant child, eager to be taught, inspiring pride and optimism in his idealistic benefactors.

He looked out at the lake beyond the café terrace where they were sitting. Yellowing willow branches trailed in the water. A family of ducks paddled by, the mother circling back to herd a wayward duckling who was heading for shore. “I’ve been extremely fortunate, always,” he said.

Elias wore a blue scarf wrapped around his neck, a fetching contrast with his brown eyes, Helen thought. In spite of herself she had indulged in a flicker of a romantic dream before they met. Perhaps after all she was not too old to find a soulmate, and this Elias Loew...But the fantasy receded quickly once she was in Munich and observed Elias’s appetite for curvaceous “Blondkopfen” as he liked to say.

He touched her hand on the table for a second. “What about you, Hal? What is your dream? Love and marriage, like your sister?”

Helen winced inwardly at the nickname he’d endowed her with. “I won’t marry, Elias,” she said, wishing she’d never

mentioned the young man who’d briefly courted her during her last year of college. “I told you. I’m going to write. And you?” she went on, wanting to poke him a little in return. “Are you going to sweep some lovely Bavarian lady off her feet?” She was pleased with herself for producing this worldly banter.

“Oh,” Elias said, winking, “I already have. More than one, actually. The frolicking Fräuleins of München.” He shaped an exaggerated hourglass figure with his hands, his eyes dancing. Again he seemed like a boy, not an almost-professor.

He leaned forward and squeezed both her hands. “See, that’s what I like so much about you, Hal. I can say anything to you, as though you were another lad.”

He’d already told her how much he relished her mind—like a man’s mind, he said. She knew he meant it as a compliment to her intelligence and was flattered.

Helen had not yet told Elias about the novel that she worked on each morning before classes began. Being far away from home had unleashed imagination and momentum, instead of the opposite, as she’d feared.

“Traveling will most certainly make you a better writer,” Aunt Charlotte had assured her when Helen visited her in Boston to say goodbye. “It will bring great richness to your work. But”—poking Helen’s shoulder for emphasis—“only if you absolutely insist on writing every day while you’re away. Otherwise your novel will retreat into the shadows and may never emerge again.”

Charlotte’s unkempt living room was the headquarters of the poetry magazine she and her partner had founded and still edited, bringing European writers to American readers, sometimes in Helen’s translations. Piles of copies rose from the floor like stalagmites. A solemn portrait of Shakespeare oversaw all operations.

Now, dear girl, I want you to write to me every Friday describing to me what you are seeing, what you are doing, whom you are meeting, and how the writing is coming along. And let the German soak into your skin. I’m counting on more translation from you.”

In the heady whirl of European life Helen was grateful for Aunt Charlotte’s demand. The assignment sharpened her eyes and ears and her pen. She barely mentioned Elias in her letters, knowing that hinting at his place in the foreground of her Munich experience would trigger a suspicious interrogation. Charlotte, alone among her relatives, did not smile on friendships with eligible young men.

“Companionship, by all means, my dear,” she’d once said, wrapping her arm around her partner—Helen’s namesake––who shared her home and every facet of her life. “Marriage and children, I’m sorry, no. Unless of course you’re not really serious about your writing, which would be a waste of ability, not to mention education. Anything is within your grasp, Helen. All you have to do is decide.”

In her Munich pension, fresh from her dreaming self, Helen summoned the spirit of her heroine Ruth, an ambitious young artist of twenty-five who intends to make her mark on the new century with her art. Ruth has studied with a master––his only female student––but she’s left his cautious brushstrokes far behind. Ruth paints muscular women with strong teeth and splayed toes: modern paintings, not entirely realistic. She herself has a dazzling smile, a flexible and powerful body, a confident stride. Her auburn hair flows down her back in a loose braid, sometimes crowned by a floppy green velvet cap. She attracts young men in spite of her scorn of womanly wiles. The men tell her that she would grace their parlors, their bedrooms. They tell her, believing that they are flattering her, that her artistic talents will be an asset as a wife and a mother. But Ruth despises the

domestic arts: flower arranging, choosing tasteful silks for a new dress, gestating and doting on beautiful children who will pose wide-eyed in their frothy christening gowns. Her own parents have accepted with reluctance that their wild girl will not marry. Ruth’s younger sister Nellie is to be married in four months.

Ruth loves and admires her but she shudders to imagine stepping through that weighty matrimonial door and pulling it shut behind her. Slam! Ruth is determined to say nothing to Nellie about her revulsion. Let Nellie thrive in wifehood, or make her own disappointed discoveries, at which point Ruth will give her every support.

Ruth will encounter troubles of a different kind in the future, her creator thinks. A problem with alcohol. A crushing and scandalous love affair that tests her resilience to the limit. Perhaps a child out of wedlock, forcing a terrible choice. How the story will end is unknown.

The daily revelations of life in an unfamiliar city jostled Helen’s mind. New ideas and insights flew out like birds flushed from cover. Helen found herself suddenly sure of the next steps in Ruth’s life. Her heroine would spend a year, two years, in Europe, and meet people who were nothing like the inhabitants of her provincial hometown or her women’s college. On the threshold of the Old World, so new to her, Ruth would discover a different scope of existence. She would haunt the museums. Her own painting would transform. She would move further away from realism, immersing herself in pure color and design, striving to close the tantalizing gap between the visions in her mind’s eye and the images on her canvas. As any artist does, thought Helen. As I do myself, only with words instead of paint. That maddening gulf between what I want to say and what I am able to say.

She read over the last ten pages that she’d written, struck by their sureness and flow—pleased to have gone a little further

than she’d thought toward bridging that impossible gulf. But it was probably an illusion, a self-serving illusion, which would dissipate next time she looked at it. She could ask Elias to read a chapter. Or not. The idea of his piercing eye on her work attracted and scared her.

Excerpted from MRS. LOWE-PORTER by Jo Salas, © 2024 by Jo Salas, used with permission from JackLeg Press.


Jo Salas is a New Zealand-born writer of fiction (DANCING WITH DIANA, Codhill Press) and nonfiction. Winner of the Pen & Brush prose contest and nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she is a co-founder, performer, and chronicler of Playback Theatre. She lives in upstate New York.

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Monday, March 25, 2024

Spotlight: Excerpt from Maya's Laws of Love by Alina Khawaja


Alina Khawaja
On Sale Date: March 26, 2024
Trade Paperback
$17.99 USD
320 pages

Maya Mirza’s unlucky-in-love past seems to be turning around when she ends up in an arranged marriage to the on-paper perfect man. But as she heads to her wedding in Pakistan, she finally meets the man of her dreams—and what could be more unlucky than that?
Murphy’s Law is simple: anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and no one knows that better than Maya Mirza.
Maya Mirza has always been unlucky in love. When she was in grade one, one of the mean girls told her crush that she liked him and he loudly proclaimed he hated her because she had cooties. When she was in grade six, she wrote her new crush an anonymous love letter, only to realize later she signed her name without realizing it. In grade twelve, she gathered the courage to ask out her crush, only to hurl all over him. Bottom line—romance sucks.
However, it seems like Maya’s luck may finally be turning up when she secures a marriage proposal from Imtiaz Porter. Imtiaz has everything—good family, great job, charming personality; everything, except Maya’s heart. But that’s okay. Love can grow after marriage, right?
Just when Maya thinks she’s finally broken her curse, it all comes crashing down when she gets on a plane to go to Pakistan for her wedding and ends up sitting next to Sarfaraz, a cynical divorce lawyer who clashes with her at every possible turn. When an unexpected storm interrupts her travel plans, Maya finds herself briefly stranded in Switzerland, and despite their initial misstep, she and Sarfaraz agree to stick together until they reach Pakistan.
Over the several days they travel together, disaster after disaster happens, from their bus crashing to having to travel on foot to getting mugged. However, the more time they spend together, the more Maya realizes she and Sarfaraz may have more in common than she thought. But of course, this is when she realizes her unlucky in love curse will always be with her—because how unlucky is it that she may have finally met the man of her dreams while on her way to her own wedding?
Enjoy this sneak peek:


Maya’s Law #1:

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

“Dr. Khan, you know how desi families are when it comes to weddings.” I lift my head from the back of the loveseat I’m lounging on. “Everything is an emergency. I feel like I spent all my breaks during the school year planning for this wedding. Once this whole fanfare is over, I’ll be able to focus on me for a change.”

My therapist’s office is very Zen, which I suppose all therapist’s offices should be. Three pale blue walls, with the last wall behind her desk being white. The desk, which she rarely sits behind during sessions, is long and gray. There’s some clutter: stray pens, a file stuffed with papers, a coffee cup that’s half-empty and looks like it’s been sitting there for a while. Hanging on the white wall are three white canvases with gorgeous Arabic calligraphy in shades of cerulean and gold. The only thing that seems out of place is the bright orange loveseat; it’s such a strange color for an office scheme, but according to my therapist, Dr. Zaara Khan, it was a gift from her uncle who leases the place, so she couldn’t refuse it. I hated the color when I first started coming here, but it’s grown on me so much I would defend it to anyone.

“Well, you know how much I love it when you take ‘me time,’” Dr. Khan says. She pushes her dark brown hair over her shoulder, and the fading sunlight streaming in through the window gives it a golden glow. “You need to be more aggressive about it.”

“Dr. Khan, I’m the daughter of a Pakistani,” I say, disbelief underlining my words. “I was raised to be a people pleaser.”

Dr. Khan winces, but she can’t contradict me. Her understanding of how Pakistani Muslim families work is exactly why I picked her over the other therapists my family doctor recommended. Dr. Khan knows what our culture is like, so she knows not to recommend certain things, and she also knows how to navigate situations when I barge into her office frantic about whatever my mom did this week to push my buttons. She straightens up. “And how are you feeling about the wedding?”

I bite my lip. “I’m excited.”

She flashes me a look of disapproval. “Maya, every time I ask you how you feel about your wedding—or about the details of your relationship—you brush it off.” She taps her pen against her notebook. “Now, as your therapist, I can’t push you to talk about it before you’re ready to, but we’ve been seeing each other for three months now, and nothing.”

“That’s because there’s nothing really to tell,” I insist. I sit up straighter in my seat. “Imtiaz and I met at university. We were in the same sociology class because we both needed a social science credit, and we were friendly to each other for the whole semester. But we weren’t great friends or anything; we sat next to each other and occasionally texted to ask for notes. He went on to med school, I went to teacher’s college, and then two years later when I wanted to teach abroad in South Korea, Ammi wouldn’t let me unless I got engaged first. And by a wild coincidence, Imtiaz was the first suitor my mom found. We remembered each other from school, and we remembered getting along well enough, so we went for it. It’s not exactly a fairy-tale romance, but it’s good enough for me.”

“And why isn’t it a fairy-tale romance?” Dr. Khan wonders, setting her chin on top of her fist. “By your own admission, you and Imtiaz met at a time in your lives when you were trying to figure out who you were as people and then went in two different directions, and then he ends up being the first rishta your mom finds for you.” She tilts her head. “Doesn’t that sound like fate to you?”

I squirm in place. “I guess,” I allow. “That doesn’t matter now anyway. Imtiaz is great. He’s kind, funny, and he’s going to be a surgeon, so job security.”

“I’m sure the security must make you feel really good,” Dr. Khan says. “I know how committed you are to having a plan for everything.”

“Of course.” I square my chin. “When you’re cursed like me, you have to think of every disaster scenario first.”

Dr. Khan’s sigh fills the office. “Maya, what did we talk about?”

I bite the inside of my cheek, but at her incessant stare, I give in. “It’s not the power of the curse, it’s the power you give the curse,” I recite.

Dr. Khan grins. “Exactly. You can think your bad-luck curse is real, but it all depends on how much you allow it to control you.”

I barely refrain from an eye roll. At least Dr. Khan didn’t try to dissuade me from my personal affirmation that I was cursed. My older sister, Hibba, thinks it’s all in my head, but I’ve grown up with the worst luck anyone could ever have.

Especially when it comes to romance. I’m twenty-eight, and I’ve never been in a real relationship. Okay, that’s also because dating is technically haram in Islam, so any time I even tried thinking about a boyfriend when I was a teen, Ammi would shut me down. Then, somehow, she was confused when I entered my twenties and couldn’t make conversation with boys.

“That’s what I have my laws for,” I remind Dr. Khan.

My laws—which all started with Murphy’s Law, the idea that anything that can go wrong will go wrong—are the only things that kept me sane while growing up. When I was a kid, it was mostly a joke; it was the only way I could make sense of all the bad stuff that happened to me. But eventually as I got older and bad things kept happening—especially in my love life—they were all I had.

“Why don’t we change the subject?” she suggests in a polite tone. “Tell me about Imtiaz. He must be excited to see you.”

“He only left a few days ago,” I start. “I’ll see him in a couple of days. My flight leaves on Sunday, so I’ll be in Pakistan by Monday.”

My therapist quirks a brow. “And are you ready to get married?”

I wrinkle my nose. “Of course I am. I wouldn’t be getting married if I weren’t. I thought that was obvious.”

“I’m being serious, Maya,” Dr. Khan says with a deep frown. “In the few months we’ve been together, you’ve rarely mentioned Imtiaz. You only talk about him when I bring him up. Don’t you wonder why that is?”

“It’s because I’m happy and comfortable about that area of my life,” I respond. “Why shouldn’t I be? If I had a problem with it, I’d talk about it.”

“And you don’t have a problem with it?”

“No!” I swallow back my frustration. “After spending my whole life wanting love but thinking I’m cursed to be alone forever, I found this great guy who, for some reason, wants to be with me.”

“Why is it for some reason?” Dr. Khan questions. “Usually, that reason is because he loves you. Does Imtiaz not love you?”

“He…does,” I say, though I don’t know how true that statement is. He’s said it to me, but sometimes it feels like it’s more out of obligation than anything, or else it feels platonic. “Plus, love isn’t always necessary in brown marriages. My mom always told me she fell in love after she got married.” I set my jaw. “Not that it did her any favors when Dad left.”

“Your dad may have left, but from what you’ve told me, it seems like she managed just fine raising two daughters,” Dr. Khan points out.

A smile graces my face. “Oh, yeah, she did a great job. My mom worked two jobs to keep the lights on and keep us fed. And even despite working all the time, she still found time to come to school events and spend time with Hibba Baji and me. She had to put providing for us first, yes, but she also prioritized being present in our lives. It must’ve really worried her to think that I was going to end up alone as I got older and had no success in finding a husband.”

Dr. Khan tilts her head. “And what’s so wrong with being alone?”

I snort. “You’re kidding me, right?”

When she stares at me in an I’m-not-kidding way, I gnash my teeth. “Dr. Khan, in the desi community, if you don’t get married, there’s something wrong with you.”

“What could possibly be wrong with someone not wanting to be married?” she asks.

“It reflects badly on you and your parents. My mom already doesn’t have the greatest track record in our community thanks to the whole spousal-abandonment thing. Do you know the kind of rumors people spread about her?” Heat rushes to my face. “That my mom was a cheater, that she was so annoying she drove him away, that there was something wrong with her for a man to have left her alone with two young daughters.”

I clench my hands into fists, my nails biting into the soft skin of my palm. “All of that aside, I just don’t want to be alone.” I sink back into the cushiony couch. “As much as I hate when she’s right, Hibba Baji mentioned once that Ammi isn’t going to be around forever, and I can’t stick to my sister’s side. She has her own family, and I want one, too, someday. And I don’t want to do it alone.”

Dr. Khan clicks her pen. “I think before you start worrying about other people loving you, you should consider loving yourself.”

“What do you mean?” I ask. “I love myself.”

She gives me a dubious look. “When’s the last time you did something for yourself?”

“I gave my mom a head massage yesterday.”

“And how was that something for you?”

“It meant I had a couple hours of quiet while she napped on the couch.”

I expect Dr. Khan to be upset with me because I am very obviously dodging her question, so I’m surprised to see her curl her lips inward while her breath hitches, like she’s trying hard to keep a laugh in. After a beat, she’s back to being professional. “Don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing. Be serious, please.”

I set my jaw. “I’m doing absolutely fine. I’m going to Pakistan in a couple of days. I’m having a destination wedding. I’m getting married. I’m the happiest I could ever be.”

Dr. Khan leans back in her seat. “Who are you trying to convince? Me or you?”

I open my mouth, but no sound comes out. Just as a stutter bursts from my throat, the timer on Dr. Khan’s phone goes off, signaling the end of our session. Dr. Khan sighs, but she presses Stop on the alarm.

I get to my feet before she can speak. “I’ll book another appointment when I get back from Pakistan.” I don’t make eye contact as I gather my things. “But I’ll be so wrapped up in postmarital joy that I don’t know when I’ll be able to see you again.” 

“That’s fine,” she assures me. “I hope all goes well with the wedding.”

“Thanks,” I mumble in her direction. I grab my purse and head for the exit.

Dr. Khan’s voice stops me at the door. “But remember this, Maya,” she says. I steel myself, then look over at her.

She offers me a kind look, her fingers laced together. “No one is incapable of love, but we all have the ability to sabotage our own happiness, even if we don’t realize it.”

Excerpted from Maya’s Laws of Love by Alina Khawaja, Copyright © 2024 by Alina Khawaja. Published by MIRA Books.

Alina Khawaja is an author from Ontario, Canada, with a never-ending love-hate relationship with the snow. She is a graduate from the University of Toronto, where she majored in English and double minored in History and Creative Writing, and is now pursuing a Master’s degree in the Literacy of Modernity at Ryerson University. Alina can be found studying, writing, or bingeing k-dramas when she is not sleeping.
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