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Archive for March, 2016

Lucky Me

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Lucky My by Saba Kapur

For eighteen year old Gia Winters, having a movie star for a father, a former Playboy bunny as a mother, a Hollywood mansion, and a closet stocked with Chanel is simply another day in the life.

But her world is turned upside down when her father mysteriously hires a group of bodyguards to trail the family 24/7 and threatening phone calls from a “Dr. D” start buzzing daily.

When Gia scores the coveted role of Miss Golden Globe, she is forced to strike a deal with her bodyguard, Jack, who is almost as arrogant as he is attractive. Juggling Gia’s romantic failures, fashion faux pas, and celebrity obsessions, the duo investigate a series of clues with the help of a police cadet, who has a special set of skills and an even better set of dimples.

But with the Golden Globes just around the corner, danger levels rise higher than her stilettos as Gia learns that the biggest secrets might be the ones buried in her own home.

In a place where the hills have eyes, high school nemeses, bad hair days, raging parties, and stolen kisses, there can only be trouble for a girl who was just starting to consider herself lucky.

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Saba Kapur

Saba Kapur

Saba Kapur is a 19 year-old writer based out of Melbourne, Australia. Her passion for storytelling developed at a young age, born from a deep-seated love of books. Lucky Me is her first novel and an ode to her favorite things: fashion, romance, and mystery. Born in India, Saba spent her childhood in Indonesia and Kiev, Ukraine. She is currently in her final year of college, studying International Relations and Criminology at Monash University.

Saba hopes to one day become a fabulous lawyer in New York City, with a closet full of stilettos. In her spare time she enjoys reading, watching anything to do with Ryan Gosling, and pretending she’s Beyoncé. Saba currently lives with her parents, her older sister, and a large supply of chocolate.

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Saba Kapur

Author of Lucky Me

  1. What inspired you to write Lucky Me? Where were you when the idea came to you? When did you decide to write it?

The idea for Lucky Me actually came to me in the shower! I was in tenth grade, and had been spending a lot of time in the library. High school drama was at its peak, and I found my solace amongst books. I think that’s where most of my urge to write came from. This idea just popped into my head and I typed up a rough first chapter, and decided to continue from there. I never wrote it with the intention of having it published; it was initially just a hobby. The idea for the book developed from various places. I had noticed that, particularly amongst my generation, the focus on young celebrities was growing in Hollywood, which really intrigued me. I wanted to write something that was funny but also had an element of mystery, as those are my favourite kinds of books to read.

  1. What research did you do for the book? Did anything about your research surprise you?

My research was mostly regarding the protagonist, Gia. I wanted to make her character as authentic as I could, so I did a lot of online research on young stars, and the children of celebrities. I particularly researched teenage stars who are idolized by girls my age, such as Kendall and Kylie Jenner, or Gigi Hadid, to name a few. In my research, I also came across many videos of young celebrity children, e.g. Suri Cruise, and their interactions with the paparazzi. I was surprised to see how aggressive the media can be with kids, and tried to incorporate some of those feelings into Gia’s own experiences of the paparazzi. I also did a little research on Hollywood, UCLA and Los Angeles in general, as I’ve never actually been there! I wanted to make sure it was accurate.

  1. How did social media research inform Lucky Me? Did you find it difficult to translate social media research to different aspects of the book or did you fit them easily into the characters, plot etc? What was this process like?

Social media was a huge part of my research for Gia. Because I was basing her personality traits and lifestyle of young celebrities, it was easy to access information through social media sites, because of how popular they are amongst millenials. In particular, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter were sites that I found to be most insightful. It gave me a great idea of the brands/fashion that are most popular amongst young celebrities, and the mass following they hold online.

  1. How did your love for fashion influence the characters and story?
    Fashion is something that I’ve always been interested in, and because of the setting of the novel, it was easy to incorporate it throughout the book. There is no singular definition of fashion, and I love that it’s so subjective and fluid, because it allows you so much opportunity for fun and creativity. I tried to integrate this sentiment into Gia’s personality, but of course tailored (no pun intended) to suit her lifestyle. The importance of looking good is extremely influential amongst my generation, especially with young celebrities as role models. I felt that Gia would be incomplete or unauthentic without including her love for fashion.
  1. What was your writing process like? Did you know the entire plot of the story before you began or did you come up with it as you wrote it?
    When I began writing the book, I had very little of the story worked out in my head. Many of the characters, such as Milo, were a result of impromptu decisions while writing a chapter! But because I began writing the book when I was so young, overtime my writing style matured, and I wasn’t happy with the story. I must have rewritten the plot a million times before settling on the final draft! I was very reliant on my sister and my friends during this time, as they really helped me shape the story with more clarity and finesse.
  1. You’re studying International Relations in school to become a lawyer. Did you always want to be a writer as well?
    My older sister was always the writer in the family, so it came as a surprise when I suddenly announced that I was writing a novel! I had written a few short stories when I was younger, but I had never really had the intention of pursuing a career in writing. International Relations and Criminology were my main areas of interest, whereas I always considered my writing to be a branch of my love for reading books. It wasn’t until the end of high school, when I decided to try my luck with publishing that I began to actually view writing as something else. Even now, I still find it hard to call myself an author. But my relationship with writing has definitely become more meaningful.
  1. Did you base Gia’s character off of anyone in particular?
    Gia is a product of many influences. I tried to develop her as a combination of some of real-life celebrities and my favourite female characters, taking a few personality traits from each one. Gia definitely has elements of Cher Horowtiz (from one of my favourite movies, Clueless) with her love for fashion, and Blair Waldorf (from the books and TV show, Gossip Girl) who I spent most of high school pretending to be! In reality, Gia is really a heightened depiction of my own personality. We are different in so many ways (namely, I don’t make as many poor life choices and do not own a single pair of Louboutins). But we are very similar through our sarcastic and witty personalities. Gia also shares my love for Audrey Hepburn, who I have idolized ever since watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in seventh grade.
  1. Who would you imagine Gia’s celebrity best friends (squad) would be?
    I think in reality, Gia would hate to be friends with young models; purely because she’d be worried they were prettier than her. Maybe Gia would be lucky enough to join Taylor Swift’s squad, which seems like a lot of fun. She would probably befriend someone fashionable but also fun, like Selena Gomez. But truthfully I’m only saying that for selfish reasons (I’m secretly hoping Selena wants to be my best friend).
  1. What are your favorite parts about Hollywood culture?
    The best part about Hollywood is the grandeur. Everything about it is bold, dramatic and seemingly unattainable. Even with all the over-night stars, Hollywood still feels like an exclusive club, which everyone wants to be a member of. I think my great appreciation for watching movies has made me so fascinated with the intricate processes that go behind stardom and fame. Most importantly, it’s the industry that gave the world George Clooney. We are forever indebted for that.
  1. Did you write anything (character or side plot) that didn’t wind up in the final version of the book?
    The Golden Globe awards weren’t included in my first few drafts of the book. It wasn’t until my sister suggested that I research “Miss Golden Globe” that the idea really developed from there. I thought it was a good way to tie all the events together in a symbolic way. The characters Milo and Jack were also initially quite different to the final version. I had a lot of fun experimenting with their personalities during the many draft edits.
  1. What authors do you look up to and why?
    This may sound a little clichéd, but I try and learn something from every book I read. If there’s a particular writing style I like, I try to incorporate it into my own writing. I have such respect for so many authors, particularly those who write in my preferred genre, such as Meg Cabot, Janet Evanovich and Sophie Kinsella. They have completely mastered the art of mystery, humour and romance.
  1. What are your favorite books? In what ways have they influenced your writing?
    It’s a little ironic that I couldn’t even get through a novel without giving up out of boredom, until about sixth grade. I truly owe J.K. Rowling a lot, as Harry Potter was probably the first series of books that I decided were just too good to give up on. Janet Evanovich, Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella are the authors who have had most influence over shaping my writing style. Every time I read one of their novels, it really motivates me to make my writing as endearing as theirs. That being said, my favourite book of all time is The Godfather, by Mario Puzo. It’s my father’s favourite book, so it’s extra special to me that we can share our appreciation for the story.
  1. If you could have dinner with any fictional book characters, who would you choose and why?
    Michael Corleone (from The Godfather) would probably be on the top of that list, and not just because Al Pacino was ridiculously attractive back in the day. He is someone who commands so much respect through the page, which is so hard to achieve with just words. Michael Corleone is a character that is so close to me, because I feel like so many of my own characteristics are depicted in his personality (minus the Mafia murders of course). He is probably my favourite fictional character of all time.
  1. Do you plan to write a sequel?
    I am currently working on the sequel! Lucky Me ended with a few unanswered questions, and I just felt that I couldn’t fit it all into one book without taking away from the main story. I always intended on writing another book, and I’m having so much fun exploring what’s next in Gia’s life, now that she’s graduating from high school. I feel like the characters are growing up alongside me.

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Excerpt

 Jack couldn’t have been much older than I was; he looked to be in his early twenties. He was definitely young enough to not raise eyebrows at a high school. He probably saw me as kid though. The whole schoolyard setting wasn’t particularly helping my cause. A thought suddenly crossed my mind, that Jack could potentially be a vampire. I mean, it was unlikely. But he was definitely hot enough to fit the quota, plus his skin was flawless. No sparkles though.

“You guys have a sushi stand at school?” Jack asked, turning to me with an incredulous look.

“Yeah, next to the waffle stand.”

“That’s crazy!”

“Why? It’s just sushi.”

“Yeah, but do you really need four sushi stands?”

I blinked at him. “We actually have five. There’s one the other side of the school.”

“Oh of course,” Jack replied wryly. “My mistake.”

“It’s not a big deal!” I shot back, suddenly feeling defensive. “We just have a lot of options.”

“You get options at a Burger King, Gia. This is something else.”

“Jack,” I dropped my voice to almost a whisper, making sure my friends couldn’t hear. They were too immersed in their own conversation to notice anyway. “You’re a bodyguard. Don’t you deal with rich people all the time?”

“Well, yeah,” he said. “But not like this. I’ve never seen wealth like this around people so young.”

“Jeez, its just sushi,” I mumbled, ignoring my phone as it let out a little buzz on the table in front of me.

Actually it wasn’t just basic Japanese food. Jack was completely missing the point. He thought he was just sitting amongst spoiled kids with overpriced shoes, eating overpriced lunch. But in my world, it’s not just about money; it’s about where you’re from. And if he was going to be around and survive, even if it was for a short while, he was going to learn that a pair of Alexander McQueen stilettos and five sushi stands represented a postcode and not just a dollar bill.

But I just shrugged and played along, not bothering to explain this to Jack. He wouldn’t have understood, and I’d have come across looking like a stuck-up brat, which was a reputation I was desperately trying to steer clear of. It hadn’t even been a proper twenty-four hours of knowing the guy and my self-consciousness was through the roof. I was so aware of every move I was making, I felt like someone had attached strings to me and was moving my arms and legs like a puppet.

Jack leaned forward and rested his arm on the table next to our untouched food. “So let me get this straight,” he said, pointing at Brendan, who was still immersed in conversation with Aaron. “He’s the quarterback and you’re head cheerleader?”

I looked at Brendan and then back at Jack. “I’m sorry,” I scoffed. “Does this look like a Bring it On movie to you? We don’t do that stuff here.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. You don’t look like the overly perky type anyway.”

I pursed my lips, not sure if that was a compliment or an insult. My phone buzzed again before I could reply, clearly annoyed that I hadn’t bothered to check my texts the first time it alerted me. The screen read “Unknown.” Without giving it a second thought, I clicked open. It read:

I’m always watching you

– DR. D

Alrighty then. Whoever thought that text was a good way to scare me clearly needed to up their game. Why would someone have secretly sent me a message and then signed it off? Didn’t that just defeat the purpose of the anonymity? Granted, I had no clue who this Dr. D was, but still. And how did they manage to mask their number? I had heard of private phone calls, but never a private text message. It wasn’t adding up.

“What’s the matter?” Jack’s voice broke into my thoughts.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re glaring at your phone. Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine, jeez.”

And it was. It was just a text, not a bomb threat. Okay sure, it wasn’t exactly normal. And Dad had hired Jack for a reason, right? What had he said about that threat to my life, again? I really should pay more attention when he speaks. I put the phone down on the table, but forgot to lock it. Jack leaned closer and read the text before I had the chance to snatch it away from him.

“Gia,” was all Jack said, his mouth forming a grim line.

“What’s up?” Aria asked me, as I glared at Jack. He clearly had issues with respecting privacy.

“Nothing,” I replied, waving a hand as if I was swatting a mosquito. “I just got this weird text. Whatever, don’t worry.”

“Who’s it from?” Brendan said.

“Don’t know,” Jack replied for me. “It just shows up with unknown.”

“Unknown?” Veronica repeated. “Can you even do that?”

At least I wasn’t the only one lacking knowledge in that department. “Clearly you can,” I said. “But it’s signed off with ‘Dr. D,’ which is pretty bizarre.”

“Do you know who that is?” Aaron asked, and I shook my head no.

“Try replying,” Brendan suggested. “Ask who it is.”

Jack leaned forward in his chair, shaking his head. “It won’t work. There’s no number listed, remember?”

Brendan cut his eyes to Jack. “Right,” he said, a few seconds after he probably should have.

“I heard once,” Aria said, looking dead serious. “That music producers watch their possible new clients for months in advance to gain more information on the type of person they are. It’s all part of a marketing strategy.”

We all looked at her blankly for a few seconds before Aaron finally said what we were all thinking. “What? That’s ridiculous!” he exclaimed. “Where’d you hear that?”

“Some guy at a party told me!” Aria told him defensively. “He said his dad was a music producer so he knows all about this stuff.”

“You really think a record producer is reaching out to me?” I asked, doing a half-assed job of stifling my laughter.

“It’s a possibility. I mean, maybe this Dr. D is some guy who’s been watching you because he wants to do an album with you.”

“Maybe it’s Dr. Dre!” Veronica said eagerly.

I gave her a, you can’t be serious look, but she just grinned back at me so I knew she was only kidding. Aria, however, took it seriously. She slapped her palms down on the bench as her eyes widened.

“Oh my gosh, MAYBE! How cool is that!”

Jack, who was silent through this whole ordeal, cleared his throat and we all turned to look at him. “I think it’s a definite possibility,” he began, looking at Aria’s keen expression. “But I highly doubt it.”

“Oh come on, Jack!” Brendan piped up, throwing a muscly arm across my shoulders and trapping my ponytail underneath it. “Don’t be so negative. Maybe Dr. Dre really does want Gia.”

I glanced at Jack and craned my neck uncomfortably underneath Brendan’s arm. He looked at me without a word and I turned back to Brendan almost instantly. How nice of Brendan to crush me under his arm like I was going to run off into the sunset with Jack at any moment. He may as well have just peed on me. That would have been a more subtle way of marking his territory.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” Aaron said, stretching his arms out above his head lazily. “This is Hollywood. Someone’s always watching.”

My phone buzzed in my hand. Another text message popped up, again from an unknown number.

“I got another one,” I said, and all my friends leaned in to view the message.

And I’m closer than you think.

“Okay,” Aria said uncertainly. She looked at me with a frown. “I’ll admit that’s kind of creepy.”

A small rush of fear climbed up my spine. Couldn’t disagree with her on that one. As if we had all rehearsed it, my friends and I looked around the campus in unison, hoping to catch someone suspiciously peering at me with a phone in their hand.

“Well who do you think it is?” Jack asked.

It felt like every student on campus had suddenly had a violent urge to pull out their phones and start texting. Almost everyone I could see was tapping away on their keypads and screens. It could have been anyone.

  COPYRIGHT 2016 BY SABA KAPUR.

 All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, in part or in whole, in any form whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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Making Manna

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Making Manna by Eric Lotke

Libby Thompson is just fourteen years old when she flees her abusive home with her newborn son, Angel. Now they must build a life for themselves on hard work and low wages, dealing with police who are sometimes helpful-but not always-and a drug dealer who is full of surprises. As Angel gets older, he begins asking questions about his family, and Libby’s tenuous peace threatens to crumble. Can a son without a father and a young woman without a past make something beautiful out of a lifetime of secrets? Making Manna explores the depths of betrayal, and the human capacity to love, flourish, and forgive in the face of heartbreaking odds.

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Eric Lotke

Eric Lotke

Eric Lotke has cooked in five-star restaurants and flushed every toilet in the Washington D.C. jail. He has filed headline lawsuits and published headline research on crime, prisons and sex offenses. His latest book, Making Manna, is an uplifting tale of triumph over economic and criminal injustice.

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Author Interview

Eric Lotke

Author of Making Manna

  1. Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?

I don’t really have favorites. My tastes are diverse and changing. I enjoy biographies by Doris Kearns Goodwin and political science by Jacob Hacker.

The best novel I read lately was The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. It’s copyright 2002 but the setting is America post WWI and the characters are timeless. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward was a highlight of 2015 and I expect it to last a while. It’s the memoir of an African American woman in low-income America. All of the men important in her life disappear over a couple of years — shot, drugged, suicide or jailed. But somehow the police who happily patrol the neighborhood every night with searchlights can’t manage even to arrest the drunk white driver who kills her brother.

I’ve also been delighted to re-read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. The first time was on my daughter’s recommendation. The second time was voluntary after seeing the movie.

  1. What book are you reading now?

I just started Viral by Emily Mitchell. It’s a collection of short stories and I’ve only read a few so I don’t have an opinion yet. But it came highly recommended and the first story is terrific. It’s about a small business where the staff are measured, marked, ranked and made miserable because they aren’t smiling enough.

  1. What inspired you to write Making Manna?

Trigger warning. This story has a really bad beginning.

Twenty years ago I was working on a death penalty case. The young man on death row was the product of an incestuous rape. I wrote those words in his social history — “product of an incestuous rape.” The phrase was so distasteful that I horrified even myself. The case came and went but those words stuck with me.

Years later, I wanted to write something hopeful and uplifting. The world is a mess. I wanted to say something nice.

So I went back to that kid. I started there but gave him a different ending. I took the worst beginning I could imagine and turned it into something positive.

  1. What was your particular process in terms of outlining, plot and character?

I had a beginning in mind, from that death penalty case. And I had an end in mind. But I wasn’t sure how to get there.

I found that I could always and only see a few chapters in advance. So I would tell the story that far, then taking that as the baseline, outline what happens next – with the endpoint in mind. The characters and internal details developed as they went.

  1. Where is your favorite place to write?

I am opportunistic in time and space. I work full time and I have two kids. I drive them to practices, lessons and activities – and have an hour or two to write while I wait. When I was lucky, I’d have a whole half-day at home on a weekend. It mattered that I wasn’t on deadline. If I needed time to figure something out or went a month without a free minute, that was okay. I always keep a notebook handy. My creativity is better than my memory.

  1. What was your favorite part about writing the book?

This was really interesting. When I wrote a scene that was happy and light, I was in a better mood at bedtime. When I wrote a scene that was dark or dreary, I wasn’t as joyful in real life. Putting myself into the mood to create the scene expanded beyond the page.

I suppose it went the other way, too. One weekend I had a lot of time to write and I was looking forward writing the scene that came next. I expected it to be happy and triumphant. As it turned out, I was a little blue that weekend. Maybe I had a cold, something was wrong at work or the kids were annoying. Whatever. I don’t recall. But I remember being a little down as I started … and it is quite clear that this fundamentally happy scene has a melancholy undertow. I always wonder if that undertow was inherent in the material and it would have been there anyway, or if it reflects my temper over the weekend.

In any case, I quite like the complexity and I never sought to iron it out.

  1. Why did you decide to write from the perspective of Libby rather than her son, Angel?

The book begins from Libby’ point of view. Angel is a baby. Yes, he’s occasionally cute, but he’s more of a prop than a character. Mostly he’s a logistical problem that needs diapers and daycare. Starting in Part Two the story moves to Angel’s point of view, and it ages with him from kindergarten to high school. In the end the two points of view come together. Now they’re equals.

One smart reader described it as a “coming of age” story of both the mother and son at the same time. I think that’s exactly right. Libby was so young when he was born! She has so much to figure out, and so does he. I think changing the point of view helps bring that development to life.

  1. Libby comes from a tough background but manages to work hard and support her family. How accurate do you think her life is compared to a real-life girl in her situation? What research did you do to keep the novel grounded?

All of her problems are real. She has a bad boss and not enough money, and she’s (justifiably) afraid of the police. She solves her problems in ways that are always credible and based on real world experience. I readily admit, however, that her success is unlikely.  Does one in five people like her succeed? One in twenty? A hundred? I want to show the hopeful possibility – while also making it clear that life is hard and the odds are against her.

Good luck makes a difference, too. Libby meets Sheila at the outset, and her health stays good. She gives the good luck back, though, doing favors for others. I think it’s honest to show that luck makes a difference. That’s not a novelist’s trick.

  1. Sheila and her husband have a bad experience with the prison system. Does this aspect of the plot come from your experience as a lawyer?

Absolutely. That’s the heart of the story. Typical fiction shows us courtroom dramas with cutting cross examinations and explosive closing arguments. My personal experience brings you people with really bad lawyers who accept really bad plea bargains. Justice on TV is about crime labs and DNA exonerations. The real justice system is about kids who miss their parents in prison, and cops who book you so they can bill overtime on your court date.

  1. How else did your career influence the book?

Can you tell that I once earned my living as a chef?

More importantly, my life as a parent influenced the book. It would have been a different book if I weren’t a dad.

  1. Libby talks about one day getting her GED and maybe even going to college. What would be her major in college?

Heavens! I don’t know. I’d have to put her in college, have her meet some people, take some classes and live some college experiences … then she’d be in a position to decide.

During the story, a supporting character decides to go to college. As an author I was struggling to decide what college she should go to. So instead of thinking, I worked it out as a story.

First, I knew she was on a tight budget and could only afford a small number of application fees. Second, the logic of her situation defined her choices, for example, her state school. Third, her profile as a candidate determined which schools would admit her and under what terms. In the end she made a choice that followed naturally from the options available.

The point is that instead of deciding where she should go to school from a big fat Barron’s book, I just followed the situation to its conclusion. It feels real because it is.

  1. What do you hope readers will take away from Making Manna?

First, I want readers to have a good time. Escapism is okay. You deserve a break today. You bought my book: I owe you a good time.

But I also want readers to reflect on the understory and worry about the injustice, especially in the justice system. The obvious problem is bad cops and excessive prison terms. The subtler problem is that people who need protection don’t get it, and people who’ve been hurt don’t get help. That’s a different failing of our justice system. I explore those failings and show a different way out.

  1. Do you plan to write a sequel?

I hadn’t planned to, but people have asked and now I’m tempted. A plot is starting to take shape. I have another book in mind, too. It depends, of course, on how this book is received.

Excerpt

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Making Manna by Eric Lotke

Excerpt

 

The kindergarten classroom is bright with color. Sunny windows with rainbow curtains look over a grassy playground. The floor is carpeted in blue, scattered with yellow throw rugs and purple pillows. In the center is a cluster of red tables with little green chairs; on each table sits a stack of paper, and jars with pencils, crayons, and little scissors with rounded points.

Angel stands by himself in the corner. His clothes are all new to him, but every one of them came used from Goodwill and the Salvation Army. The room is filled with kids, but nobody seems to notice Angel standing quietly.

Two girls in matching red Elmo sweaters greet each other with a hug, and chatter excitedly about a playgroup called LittleKinz. Two boys in Redskins jerseys dare each other to jump into the deep end of the pool when they get home. One tells the other that his parents can’t use their opera tickets on Saturday. “My mom said to tell your mom that you can have them if you want.”

The only African American child is in the center of a little crowd, dressed in bright pink from top to bottom. She wears a pink shirt covered by a pink vest, pink pants with pink socks and shoes, and a pink hat with a pink feather. “We made the biggest dog fort!” she is telling the other kids. She and her sister found “every blanket and towel in the house” and hung them over the sofas and chairs in the living room until the “the whole room was full.” They crawled around in the space underneath and made space for all their “stuffy dogs” so each one had a room of her own.

“We played in it all day,” she says. “But then the maids cleaned it up. That ruined it.”

Eventually the teacher moves to the front of the room. “Come on up, boys and girls. Welcome to kindergarten. I’m Ms. Milton and I’ll be your teacher. We’re going to spend the whole year together!” Ms. Milton is wearing blue jeans and a green blouse with flowers, and her hair is entirely silver-gray.

“Who here knows how to write his name?”

Almost every hand in the class goes up. Angel’s doesn’t.

“That’s wonderful!” Ms. Milton cries. “I thought you looked smart!” She ushers them toward the tables and sets them to work making name tags for themselves. “There are stickers and crayons,” she explains. “You can decorate them anyway you like.”

Angel stays where he is, rooted in place at the edge of the hurly-burly, while Ms. Milton bustles around setting the kids up and passing out the supplies.

“Done already?” she says to the African American girl in pink. She peels the back of the sticker that now says Veronica West and places it in the center of her shirt. “Everyone else do like Veronica,” she says. “Peel off your sticker and put it on when you’re done. You can keep drawing until everyone is finished.”

Another girl raises her hand. “I’m done,” she says.

“Peel your sticker and put it on,” Ms. Milton replies.

She turns and all but stumbles on Angel, standing silently in his space. “What have we here?” she asks.

Angel straightens his back and stands tall. “My name is Angel Thompson,” he says. “I don’t know how to write my name.”

Ms. Milton seems almost embarrassed that she hadn’t seen him earlier. “Then we’ll teach you,” she says with a smile. “That’s what we’re here for.” She waves toward a teachers’ aide who Angel only now notices, also standing quietly to one side of the room. She brings Angel to a special table by himself, not far from the others, but clearly separate.

 

By the end of the morning, Angel is pretty good at writing his name and knows a lot of other letters besides. The teachers’ aide, Miss Stephanie, spends most of her time with Angel, though occasionally another child comes over for a few minutes’ attention. For lunch he eats the sandwich his mom made for him, peanut butter and jelly, with two Hershey’s kisses on the side. “That’s what my mom always made for me,” she’d said.

The activity after lunch is drawing. The children are again shown to the desks with the papers and crayons, and invited to draw pictures of their families.

“Can I draw my dog?” asks Veronica West.

“Your dog, your cat, your house. Anything you want,” says Ms. Milton. “But start with your family.”

Angel is placed into the tables with the other children, but near an edge, and Miss Stephanie gives him special attention.

This at least is familiar to Angel. Miss Josephine’s day care had crayons and papers—though not as many colors—and Monet loves to draw at home. With encouragement from Miss Stephanie, Angel draws three stick figures in a row.

“Who’s the tall one?” Miss Stephanie asks. She’s pretty tall herself, with long black hair and eyeglasses in a big round circle. She wears blue overalls over a yellow turtleneck.

“That’s my mom.”

“Which one is you?”

Angel points to the smallest stick figure, drawn in the same pink crayon as his mother. “That’s me,” he says. “My name is Angel.” He points to his nametag and his face lights up in a smile. Then he reaches back for the crayons and for a minute it’s as if Miss Stephanie doesn’t exist. He leans close over his drawing, all his attention on the little figure at the end of the row. Carefully, deliberately, he retraces the lines and redraws the figure. Then letter by letter, he spells out his name under the drawing. He looks back up at Miss Stephanie, and points back and forth between the picture and the word. “Angel,” he says. “That’s me!”

“That’s you, all right,” Miss Stephanie cheers. She reaches down for a hug and a pat. “You’re the Angel.” The she points to the third figure, midway in height between Angel and his mom. “Is that your dad?” she asks.

Angel looks at her like she asked which one is the elephant. The question makes no sense. “I don’t have a dad,” he says.

“Surely, you have a dad somewhere,” protests Miss Stephanie. “Are your parents divorced?”

Angel stays silent.

“Does he live in a different state?”

“Mom says he died in a car accident,” Angel explains at last. “With my mom’s parents too. It’s just the three of us that’s left.” He pauses as if he’s going to have more to say, but then nothing follows, and he looks blankly down to the page.

“So who is this?” Miss Stephanie asks, her finger is still on the third figure. “Your older brother?”

“She’s my sister.”

“Why is she drawn in brown?” Angel and his mom are stick figures drawn in pink crayon, but his sister is brown.

“Because she looks like her.” He points toward Veronica West. “She says to tell the truth when I draw.”

Lights are starting to go off in Miss Stephanie’s eyes, as if she is starting to understand. She looks carefully at Angel, who clearly has no African blood in his veins. “Do you and your sister have the same mom?” she asks.

“No,” says Angel. “She has her own separate mommy.”

“The same dad?”

“Nope,” Angel replies. “She has her own daddy too. His name is Zeb. She tells me that I met him once. But I was a baby. I don’t remember it.”

Now Miss Stephanie is again looking confused. “If you have a different mom and a different dad, what makes her your sister?”

“She’s not legally my sister,” with an emphasis that suggests he’s heard it said this way before. “She’s in a different foster family but she lives with us.”

“Why’s that?”

“She likes us better. We’re nicer than the foster family. I met them a couple of times. They have lots of foster kids and my mom—my real mom—says they only do it for the money.”

All this time Miss Stephanie had been standing up over Angel, and leaning down toward him. Now she gets down on her knees so she’s nearer his height. “What’s your sister’s name?”

“Monet. Like the artist.”

Miss Stephanie smiles. “Does she like to draw?”

“She loves it! Especially with colors. We draw all the time.” He leans in close, takes advantage of her proximity to whisper confidentially in her ear, “She’s in sixth grade.” Then he gathers himself to say something difficult, and minding his diction, he concludes, “She’s in Sidney Lanier Middle School.”

“Good work,” says Miss Stephanie, beaming. “That’s great. I was an intern at Sidney Lanier.”

Angel looks brightly back at her. “Her bus leaves at 7:10, a whole hour before mine.”

“Thanks for telling me,” says Miss Stephanie. “Do you know where Monet’s parents are? Her real parents?” She smiles as she echoes his way of saying it.

“Yes.”

“Where are they?”

Angel slows down and straightens up to tackle something difficult again. “The Virginia Department of Corrections,” he says. He pauses to make sure he got it right.

Miss Stephanie stands up and steps away.

“Mom is in Fluvanna and Dad’s in Nottoway,” Angel concludes with a triumphant smile, naming the prison where each is held. He got it all right.

And just in time, too. Because at that moment, Ms. Milton calls everyone’s attention back to the center of the room. “Time to pack up,” she says. “All done drawing. Now it’s quiet time.”

 

Miss Stephanie and Ms. Milton shepherd the kids to a giant double-door closet, filled with rolled-up soft mats, one for each kid. The two boys in Redskins jerseys have a little push scuffle about who goes first, but it is quickly broken up, and soon enough each child has unrolled a mat and is lying quietly on the floor. Angel picks a spot on the edge, between Miss Stephanie’s desk and the window. He doesn’t sleep, but he lies quietly listening to the sounds. Some kids are reading, and turning pages in their books. Other kids are breathing in a way that makes Angel think they’re asleep. Outside he hears birds. They sound like the same ones he has at home, sometimes singing at random, and sometimes in response as if they’re talking to each other. A teacher quickly hushes any children who talk.

What seems like a few minutes later, a church in the distance chimes one o’clock. Ms. Milton starts to circle the room. “Wakey, wakey,” she says. “Time to roll.” She and Miss Stephanie supervise the kids standing up to roll their mats and use the bathroom. Angel is the first one with his mat rolled and returned to the closet. He helps some other kids roll their mats and work out the tricky elastic bands that hold them shut.

“Thank you very much,” says a blonde haired girl in a blue tank top.

“You’re welcome,” Angel replies.

Veronica West has her mat rolled but can’t get the elastics to stay in place. “Want a hand?” says Angel, scooting in beside her.

She looks at him like he’s holding a gun to her head. “I can do it,” she declares. The elastic snaps loose again and the mat starts to unroll. She scowls at him. “Look what you made me do!”

Angel reaches down to arrest the mat. “Hold it like this,” he suggests.

“Like as if you know,” says Veronica West, as she rips the mat away from him and sets it down to start anew a few steps away.

Angel leaves her be and stands quietly to the side until all the mats have been put away. Veronica West is last, until Miss Stephanie takes her mat away, fixes the elastics and replaces it gently into the closet.

“Story time,” says Ms. Milton. “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” She holds in the air a giant book, with a picture of a little blond girl and a family of bears on the cover.

Some children shout out in enthusiasm. “Hooray!” Angel hears, and from behind him, “My favorite!”

Other kids aren’t so happy. “Not again,” says one of the boys in a Redskins jersey. His friend grumbles but Angel can’t make out the words.

Angel himself doesn’t know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Indeed, he doesn’t know many stories at all . . . though he knows he likes them. The other kids all push around Ms. Milton, and she directs them to sit around her in a loose circle. Angel soon finds himself on the outside edge.

Ms. Milton opens the book so it stretches across her lap. He’s never seen a book so large in his life. Miss Josephine had a scattering of books, though none nearly so big, and she rarely read them.

“Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks,” begins Ms. Milton. She holds up the book so everyone can see the giant picture of the pretty blond girl.

“She went for a walk in the forest.” Again she holds up the book to show the pictures. Trees in the sunshine, a deer in the shade and birds flying above.

“Pretty soon, she came upon a house.” Ms. Milton holds up the picture of a wooden cottage. “She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.”

The audience murmurs in anticipation. Angel, too, senses the possibilities.

Showing the pictures as she goes, Ms. Milton tells the class how Goldilocks explores the house. One bowl of porridge is too hot and one too cold, but the third is perfect so she eats it all up. One chair is too big and one is too small, and the small one breaks when she tries to squeeze in. Then at last Goldilocks comes to the beds. One is too hard and one is too soft. But the third bed is just right. She lies down to take a nap.

“Don’t do it!” cries one of the Redskins boys. Other kids laugh.

“Stay awake,” warns another.

But Goldilocks can’t hear them. Soon she falls asleep in the bed.

Angel leans forward in anticipation.

Soon the owners of the home come back, and they’re bears! Ms. Milton holds up the pictures for all to see. A big scary papa bear, a friendly momma bear, and a cute little baby bear. A family of bears who live in the woods. Before long they find the chairs that didn’t fit and the smallest one that broke. They find the porridge that Goldilocks tasted and the perfect one she’d finished off. Each discovery makes them angrier than the last. Eventually, they find her upstairs in their bed.

Goldilocks wakes up in horror at the three hairy beasts . . . “and runs straight out the door and into the forest, crying mommy, mommy, mommy all the way home.”

The kids all cheer. Ms. Milton holds the giant book aloft, pages open to Goldilocks tearing through the woods with the bears chasing behind.

One girl echoes, “Mommy, mommy, mommy all the way home.”

Another cries out, “Run faster!”

Ms. Milton lets them celebrate awhile, then encourages them onwards. “How’d you like it?” she asks the class.

The children respond with more cheers.

“Do you think she made it home?”

Again more cheers.

“Does anyone have any questions?”

At first the room is silent. The children don’t seem to know quite what to say. Eventually Veronica West raises her hand.

“What’s on your mind, Miss Veronica West?” Ms. Milton inquires.

“I want to know if bears can have dogs.”

“I didn’t see any in the story . . . but yes, I suppose they can. I don’t see why not.”

The blonde girl in the blue tank top who Angel helped with her mat raises her hand.

Ms. Milton singles her out. “What’s your name?”

“Tammy Atford.”

“What’s your question, Tammy Atford?”

“Does she get in trouble?”

“What do you think?”

“I bet she does.”

“Then I bet you’re right. Seems like she didn’t even make the bed!”

All the kids laugh. Ms. Milton keeps the conversation moving on along those lines, calling on every child by name and sometimes asking them to repeat their names for all to hear. Some kids are worried about the broken chair and want her to say she’s sorry. All of them hope she gets home safely. Angel doesn’t say a word. But he’s sitting in a place with a good view of the book and he studies the artwork on the cover, especially the red cardinal in the tree.

“Is there anything else?” Ms. Milton asks at last. Does anyone have anything else to say or ask?” The room is silent while she looks around.

Finally, Angel sits up straight and raises his hand. Ms. Milton sees him immediately and leans his way in encouragement. “What’s on your mind, little Angel?”

“My name is Angel Thompson,” he says.

“Thank you, Angel. What’s on your mind?”

He gathers himself to speak deliberately. “It’s about the porridge,” he says. “That’s like oatmeal, right?”

“Yes, porridge is like oatmeal.” She makes a gesture as if stirring and eating from a bowl in her hand. “Is there something you’d like to say about the porridge?”

“Why doesn’t she mix it?”

Ms. Milton looks at him in confusion. “Mix it?”

“One bowl is too hot. One is too cold. She could mix them. Put too hot and too cold together. Then she’d have more porridge that’s all just right.”

Ms. Milton’s eyes open wide in comprehension. Mix the porridge, of course!

Angel forges ahead boldly. “She could still eat the bowl that’s just right. But if she’s hungry she can eat even more.”

Now all of the kids seemed to understand. A positive murmur fills the room. He catches some words behind him. “Mix the porridge, mix the temperature!” Someone else says “hot and cold together” while a different voice says “more to eat!”

Veronica West’s voice rises above the hubbub. “She’d get fat.”

“Not from one bowl of oatmeal,” protests Angel. “And she seems to be hungry.” He finishes with words he’s heard many times around the house. “You never know where your next meal is coming from.”

The kids fall silent and look at him in surprise. They don’t seem to have heard that before.

“But she still needs to pay for it,” he concludes. He looks deeply troubled, like he’s solved one problem but raised another. “I don’t know how she can do that.” He turns to Ms. Milton for answers. “Does she have any money? Does her mom work at night?”

Still Angel is the only one talking. The room is silent while Angel waits for an answer, but at that moment the school bell rings. The kids all jump up like they know what it means, though Angel waits for Ms. Milton to make the announcement. “All done for the day. See you tomorrow!”

COPYRIGHT 2015 BY ERIC LOTKE

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A Single Light by Patricia Leslie

Australian author Patricia Leslie has captured the rustic beauty and the unknown adventures of southern Sydney in her latest urban fantasy, A Single Light.

When Rick Hendry is contacted by a federal agent to help investigate a growing number of mysterious vanishings across Australia, he finds himself immersed in a world where normal is a very narrow view of reality. The two men are joined by a doctor, an archeologist, a journalist, and an Afflür Hunter.

They soon discover that in the bush, south of Sydney, among the beach goers, walkers and picnickers, a menace grows. The mysterious Bledray monsters are preparing for a Gathering; a feast of epic proportions. Only the Afflür Hunter and Guardians can stop them,
but their strength is failing and humans are needed to help prevent a second holocaust.

A Single Light is an urban fantasy tale of ghoulish monsters and  non-human protectors battling to save humanity amid the spectacular and rugged landscapes of the Royal National Park south of Sydney.

Patricia Leslie

Patricia Leslie is a Sydney author with a passion for combining history, fantasy, and action into stories that nudge at the boundaries of reality. Her debut novel, The Ouroboros Key was released through Odyssey Books in 2014.

Patricia is a visual writer and dedicates time to exploring locations and allowing snapshot scenes to run through her head before combining them together into one story. She is also a dedicated, some say compulsive, reader and collector of books.

Website     Facebook     Twitter

Purchase Links

Amazon     Goodreads

 

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Rubbernecker

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Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

(Excerpt from Goodreads) Life is strange for Patrick Fort; being a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t come without its challenges–and that’s before he is faced with solving a possible murder. Because the body Patrick is examining in anatomy class is trying to tell him all kinds of things. And now he must stay out of danger long enough to unravel the mystery–while he dissects his own evidence.

Book

My Review

4 stars

Patrick Fort is a medical student obsessed with death and he also has Asperger’s. This has caused him tension with his mother and plays a part in this story. We also meet Samuel. He was in a car accident and is now in a coma. Although he is aware of his surroundings he cannot interact with those around him. We follow both men until they meet and their stories take a surprising turn.

This is a good book. I loved Patrick’s story and how he went into medical school to try and find the answers he seeks. I did like Samuel and felt sorry for him, especially when he sees the murder of a fellow patient. What a horrible situation to be in!

If you like great thrillers this is one book that you need to check out. There is great character development and an amazing story. I admit that I have not read a book from Belinda Bauer before but I will make sure to read her other books.

To purchase Rubbernecker make sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads.

I received Rubbernecker for free in exchange for an honest review.

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The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses

The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses is an action-adventure story about five teen boys who are mysteriously exposed to a foreign energy source that gives them extremely heightened senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell become hypersensitive gifts that forever change the world!

The story chronicles their effortless interrelations and later exposes the testing of their deep bonds, and introduces the reader to an array of supporting characters who alter the boys’ lives forever. The Urban Boys offers young and mature readers central themes of loyalty, responsibility, honesty, fear, and triumph, which become artfully integrated with cinematic-level action and high drama.

We wonder, will they pass the test of fate, and will each of us pass the test of our very own lives? Intriguing, intelligent, and full of action, The Urban Boys offers a memorable, emotion-packed, thrilling ride for traditional and digital readers of all ages! (first in a series)

Buy the book:  Amazon   Barnes & Noble

K.N. Smith

K.N. Smith is an American author and passionate advocate of childhood and family literacy programs throughout the world. She continues to inspire students of all ages to reach their highest potential in their literary and educational pursuits. Her creative, lyrical flair sweeps across pages that twist, turn, and grind through elements of paranormal and action-adventure in diverse, exciting, edge-of-your-seat narratives. She lives with her family in California.

Connect with the author:  Website   Twitter   Facebook

Guest Post

Where Do You Write? by K.N. Smith

Great question! Fortunately for our generation, we can write anywhere and everywhere. What a blessing, because writers had been limited in prior generations. I personally really do take this to heart, and I have written from home, from the car, in cafés, sitting in my backyard or front yard, and in many other places, even while traveling on the train. Eventually, all of it ends up in the computer, and a laptop can be taken anywhere. I may also write with paper and pencil, or even use the notes in my phone. From there, I can transpose it into the master document and format it into the book. The beauty of all of this is the transportability of the writing. Just think, when inspiration strikes you can capture it from anywhere! As for my most favorite places, the middle bedroom in our home is a great spot because my laptop can connect to a large flat screen TV in case I need two monitors (writing on one, researching on the other), and our pool house is another favorite spot. But basically I can write from anywhere, as long as it’s quiet. That is mandatory. I need it to be perfectly quiet in order to concentrate. Just lock me away and slip my food under the door and I’ll be perfectly fine!

Book

My Review

4 stars

In Danville Heights, things are almost a perfect place. Then five boys are exposed to an energy that gives them heightened senses. The nearby town of Sandry Lake is almost the exact opposite of Danville Heights is being run by evil and corruption. The five boys are draw to Danville Heights to use their new super abilities to help fight the evil. But sneaking out at night to fight along with trying to have a normal teenage life of school and football starts putting pressure on the guys. Can the boys keep up this pace while trying to fulfill their destinies?

This story is about five guys that get superpowers and decide to fight evil. But it is not the glorified superhero that we normally thing about. They also have normal teenage lives and have to deal with the secrets, school work, lack of sleep, and doubts that everyone has to deal with. I will say that I really like reading about a couple guys for once, I need a little break from all the girls as a main character once in a while. I also liked all the action and fighting that the guys found themselves in.

There are a couple things that did get to me. Everything is really over described. I made reading a bit heavy. I would really have liked to find out more about this energy that changed the guys, it was barely glanced over but this is not a major issue for me. The one part that really got me was if my teenager was sneaking out to fight people and comes to me seriously injured I would throw such a fit. It kind of bothered me that the parents were ok with this.

Anyway, I do think the book was pretty good. It is the start of a series and these are usually a little shaky. But I think it was executed pretty well. I am definitely interested in reading the next book in the series. I would recommend checking out The Urban Boys.

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I received The Urban Boys for free from iRead Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

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Stiger’s Tigers

By Marc Edelheit

Genre: Fantasy

The empire has endured many centuries but is now threatened by multiple wars and a major rebellion in the South.

A nobleman from an infamous family, a fighter and a right proper bastard of a man, Captain Ben Stiger finds himself reassigned from a crack legion to the rebellion simmering in the South. Placed in command of a truly terrible company, the 85th Imperial Foot, he is unknowingly sent on a suicide mission to resupply an isolated outpost, the garrison of Vrell, that has mysteriously stopped communicating with the empire.

On his journey to Vrell, Stiger must rebuild his new company and gain the respect of the men he leads if he hopes to come out of this mission alive. His allies fighting alongside of him include one of the few remaining elven rangers and a paladin on a quest for the High Father. Stiger and his company must fight bandits, rebels, and an agent of an evil god all in the quest to uncover the secrets of Vrell and maintain Vrell’s strategic military position in the rebellious South.
The battle to save the empire and the world begins here in the first book of this exciting new series!

Author Bio

Marc Alan Edelheit has a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and obtained a Masters in Education as a Reading and Writing Specialist. He is currently an executive in the healthcare industry staying up late at night to work on his novels. Marc has traveled the world, from Asia to Europe, even at one point crossing the border at Check Point Charlie in Berlin toward the end of the Cold War.

Marc is the ultimate history fan and incorporates much of that passion into his work to bring greater realism to his fans. He is also an avid reader, devouring several books a week, ranging from history to science fiction and fantasy. Marc currently resides in New Hope, Pennsylvania, just miles from where Washington crossed the Delaware. Check out Marc’s website, Facebook, Twitter, MAE Novels, and Amazon.

 

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Twisted River

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Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald

(Excerpt from Goodreads) A gripping debut psychological thriller for fans of The Silent Wife and The Wicked Girls about two families in crisis and a holiday house swap gone terribly wrong

“She would never have fit as neatly into the trunk of his own car.” Limerick, Ireland: the O’Brien family’s driveway. American Oscar Harvey opens the trunk of his hosts’ car and finds the body of a woman, beaten and bloody. But let’s start at the beginning.

Kate and Mannix O’Brien live by Curragower Falls in Limerick, in a lovely house they can barely afford. Their autistic son Fergus is bullied at school, and their daughter Izzy blames herself, wishing she could protect him. Kate decides that her family needs a vacation, and is convinced her luck’s about to change when she spots a gorgeous Manhattan apartment on a home-exchange website.

Hazel and Oscar Harvey and their two children live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Though they seem successful and happy, Hazel has mysterious bruises, and Oscar is hiding things about his dental practice. They, too, need a change of pace. Hazel has always wanted her children to see her native Limerick, and the house swap offers a perfect chance to soothe two troubled marriages. But this will be anything but a perfect vacation. And the body in the trunk is just the beginning.

Book

My Review

4 stars

Kate and Mannix O’Brien live in Limerick, Ireland. Their family is under pressure with their autistic son being bullied and their daughter trying to help him and being mad at her parents for not doing anything. At the same time there is Hazel and Oscar Harvey in Manhattan. They need a vacation too so they list their house on a house swap website for a vacation. When Hazel see’s Kate’s house she is very excited since she wants to show her kids where she grew up. But like every family, although they may look happy and perfect on the outside the inside can be total different. Add in a little murder and the happy vacation will be short lived.

I liked this mystery, especially when you start the book about a woman not fitting into a trunk. This story does have the typical cheating husband, abusive spouse, and the spouse that won’t leave. Throw in a murder and you have a great story.

I admit that I didn’t really expect who the killer was, there were a couple clues that I thought I found but they were red herrings. My only complaint was that the ending fell a little flat for me. Beyond that I really liked this book. If you like good mysteries I think you should check out this book. As for me, I’m going to be keeping an eye out for other books by Siobhan MacDonald

To purchase Twisted River make sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads.

I received Twisted River for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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