Wildchilds by Eugenia Melian

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“That’s the business, Iris.  It’s a ruthless industry.  People’s love lasts but one season.”

In a novel that is fiction meets memoir, Eugenia Melian (who has worked in the industry as model, agent, producer, and music supervisor in Milan, Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles) tells the story of former top model in Paris, Iris, who has to make the choice to extract herself from her greatest love, Gus and the industry itself. We meet her present day living in La Arboleda on a ranch in Northern California, a far cry from the thrills and noise of the city. Single motherhood has fit her well, raising Lou all on her own after tragedy, a teen girl who looks and carries herself as gracefully as Iris, her life feels full enough. Maybe she doesn’t quite fit in with all the moms walking around in their yoga pants, but this is the calm her soul thrives on. The past eleven years, this has been paradise, peaceful, quiet until shocking news comes screaming that Gus, the father Lou has never met, the famous art and fashion photographer Iris once was muse and lover of, has died! She hadn’t even known he was sick!

Long ago, escaping that life, that admittedly was thrilling, fulfilling for a while she never imagined normal wouldn’t be so easy to attain. Loss after loss followed, and here now Lou blames her mother for ‘never marrying my father’, blames the man who never bothered to know his girl so how is she expected to feel anything, she doesn’t know him!, Worse still, how is she to come to terms with knowing she will never know her father Gus now? Isn’t fury a normal reaction? In fact, Lou badgers her, wanting to know why she won’t go back into modeling, who is dumb enough to give up fame, money, admiration of men, Paris, New York?  Iris is too scared to reveal the real reasons, the dark side of that high life. Settles instead telling her there are dangers in modeling. Making matters worse, Gus has left his photographic estate to Lou, and Iris is the executor. Being forced back into the chaos of Gus isn’t what she wants, memories of her childhood with her successful, often distant French mother consuming her as much as the abuses of her past, when she was so young and beautiful, a hot star on the rise. The drugs, the parties, the transgressions, but too there are memories of the intense bond, the passion between she and Gus. It had been amazing, for a time, where their love seemed ‘invincible’ until it soured, things moved too fast, she had to jump off that wild ride to survive, afraid of becoming something shameful.

Gus spent his entire life running away, towards something that was never enough, that took him further from Iris and Lou. But he was there in the beginning, for the rise of Iris as much a big part of her fall. Fellow models weren’t living with the easy luck, the shine that Iris was, the stark reality being girls disappeared, people took advantage, beauty wasn’t a deterrent to brutality, to the gritty streets. Beauty doesn’t keep you safe, in fact it seems to cry out for defilement. Money can be poisonous too. Power often leads to bottomless appetites, where better to feast than in the glamour and glitter of the modeling world?  Young girls and boys eager as a puppy to be something, someone, willing to do anything, and if not… so much the better.

Now a dangerous enemy has Iris in their sights. In order to give Lou everything Gus intended, the only real thing she will ever have of her father, Iris has to meet his conditions and retrieve the missing collection in Paris. If that’s not bad enough, she is being threatened with photos by a tabloid, a shameful past that haunts her. No longer the ingénue, it could well be that she has been underestimated, and it is time to confront the past, and strike back. No more can she allow anyone to take power away from her, not when she has her own beloved daughter to protect! It is through her love of Lou that she finds immeasurable strength to stop being a victim!

With the headlines of today, it’s not so shocking (isn’t that sad) that people abuse the young, knowing people will do anything for fame and those who won’t can be forced, manipulated by any means and those in power always have means, be sure of that. Iris was a natural, really good at what she did, loved it but couldn’t, wouldn’t accept the underbelly and more often than not that is the choice. Her own mother’s career, betrayals she stomached, sacrifices she made even hurting her own family, all the fair weather friends is ‘just the way the business goes’, life’s a jungle and it often comes to nothing, in the end. People (men and women) don’t talk about the things that happen to them in such industries, those in control know how to blackmail, you shut your mouth and take it if you hope to remain on top, or you leave quietly if you want to survive at all.

The images may be beautiful, but the reality isn’t a dream for most.

Publication Date: Out Tomorrow September 20, 2018

Fashion Sphinx Books

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Time for Bed, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez, Seng Soun Ratanavanh (Illustrations)

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“Miyuki, it’s time for bed.”

“But, Grandfather, I must water my vegetables.” “All right,

Miyuki,” Grandfather sighed.

“Water your vegetables, and then it’s time for bed.”

Miyuki may well be creating a Canopy for the Queen but she is the Queen of Stalling. This beautifully illustrated children’s bedtime book is a French import with Japanese culture as its theme. Having lived in Japan, it’s imagery is a reminder of the years my family and I spent there. Miyuki is one of my favorite names too. There is such a gentle tenderness, a patience in her grandfather and this illustration in particular moves me.

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(Image copyright Seng Soun Ratanavanh, 2018, text copyright Roxane Marie Galliez, 2018. Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.)

My daughter used to stuff her little feet into shoes just like the one that becomes Miyuki’s bed in the above photo, long after she outgrew her favorite pair. The mushroom, the details in all of the illustrations are perfection. I miss fun, sweet illustrated children’s books.

Like most children when it’s time to wind down, Miyuki’s imagination is running wild, her energy is contagious and lucky for her, Grandfather is more than willing to go along on her journey, accomplishing her many tasks. His soft sighs are the only tell that he is worn out. It really isn’t time for bed, no way, not yet.

The carp streamers (windsocks) known as Koinobori, that she sits upon in one of the illustrations dominate the towns during Children’s Day in May. I remember the beautiful colors the first time we saw them, isn’t it lovely, a day to celebrate children? This book is a nod to nature and it’s elements too. Lily pads, dragonflies, frogs, snails for travel, tiny birds, ants hard at work… its perfect imagery for a little one’s mind before entering dreamland. Growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s children’s books had the best illustrations, I am so happy to see such artistry dedicated to the young today.

I am going to find a copy in French too for my grown children, it’s very sweet!

Out today!

Princeton Architectural Press

Days of the Dead by Kersten Hamilton

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Papi held me tight and told me Mamá’s depression was a sickness. We aren’t ashamed when people die of cancer or pneumonia. We can talk about it and cry. He said mamá had been too sick to understand how much her leaving would hurt us.

It’s been a while since I’ve read children’s books, as my son and daughter are adults now, but sometimes I see books that grab my attention. In Days of the Dead, Glorieta Espinosa is trying her best to move on from her mother’s suicide even accepting her father’s marriage to a white Texan woman, Alice. That doesn’t mean she has to accept Alice’s nightmare of a daughter, Lilith. Since she’s stormed into her life, she’s done nothing but rip off her friends and spread her cruelty. Angus, her new step-brother isn’t so bad, even if he sometimes thinks he is a truck. When she isn’t dodging Lilith’s twisted games, Glorieta is devising plans to convince her Tía Diosonita (the town patron) to allow her mother’s ashes to be buried with the rest of her family.

Tía Diosonita is a strict Catholic, she refuses to see the souls of her ancestors, their people, be stained with a suicide in their midst even if she loved Glorieta’s mother as her own. Glorieta doesn’t have a chance to see her mother’s spirit during los Días de los Muertos if she is kept out of the cemetery. Her mother will have no company in the afterlife, no chance to reunite when it’s Glorieta’s time to die. Tía Diosonita won’t even talk about her mother! Could there be things she doesn’t know, shame her own Tía carries with her about what happened to her mother?

How can she convince her Tía of anything when poisonous hatred is collecting in her own heart, soul? She wants nothing more than to see her tormentor, step-sister Lilith get her just deserts! After an incident with immigration officers she is traumatized, then raging but she must keep her word as an Espinosa to never reveal Lilith’s true nature, having struck a deal. That all changes when Glorieta goes above her Tía Diosonita, which feels like an unforgivable betrayal, a sin! Accident or not, it’s caused a crack in her family, one she isn’t sure she can ever mend. She feels cast out, as doomed as those in Fool’s Field, where the dead were too sinful in life to sleep (be buried) in consecrated ground.

This is when Glorieta will be tested, and discover if she is weak or strong.

This was a wonderful story about love, compassion, tradition and immigration. It would be perfect for 6 grade and up.

Available Now

Skyhorse Publishing

 

Unsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

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“I’m out of the habit. I’ve been trying not to want. Just, you know, as an endeavor, like quitting smoking.”

Willa Knox is living the life that many people are today, hitting middle age and caring for ailing parents, or in-laws, housing their adult children with grandkids in tow, wondering where all their money went, losing jobs despite years of dedication and loyalty. In Willa’s case, she is the designated ‘crises handler’ and it worked fine for years, with her mother to help rally behind her but now she is gone. Iano has been the free spirit in the marriage, after more than 30 years she can’t just expect his romantic, fun side to suddenly turn serious, despite being overwhelmed by everything that seems to have gone wrong. It is time, however, for her make everyone face the reality of the crumbling innards of their lives and the home in Vineland, New Jersey she’s inherited from her aunt. There is nothing romantic about this money pit. She cannot do this without everyone pitching in.

Her plan to relay the bad news is met with even more, her son Zeke is on the phone with sad news of his own, now the family must make room for him and his infant son. He is devastated by the new reality of his life, a shocking turn for the worse, Willa cannot let him be swallowed up by it all. Feeling herself like a worn out mother, she spends her nights and days trying to help her grandson, Aldus get on some sleep schedule while giving her son the space he needs. On the verge of tears herself, was it really this hard mothering a wailing infant when she was a young mother,  her advanced age proves motherhood is exhausting now. It’s becoming a full house not to mention a ranting Greek, her elderly father-in-law on oxygen, declining but still ticking, loudly! He’s actually pretty funny as a character, but some of us know all too well in reality such people are a right pain in the arse! Her daughter Tig, also lives at home at twenty-six and couldn’t be any different from her brother. Always free-spirited, Tig surprised Willa by returning home out of the blue one day. This after a year of no news, and there isn’t even time to ask what happened between her and the man she was with because more rotten luck hits Willa between the eyes.  On the tide of her feisty daughter’s return came the news of the college’s closure where Iano worked, and with it the house they were living in.

Iano isn’t making enough to hold her family or home up. The bills have become a paper mountain, one that the measly pay can’t hope to conquer. Her freelance work is more embarrassment than help. For once, Tig has a job while her more successful brother Zeke doesn’t, which she can’t help but point out, but Zeke does have a plan. Of course the two are political opposites too, so insert fiery conversations within the family, when good old Iano isn’t throwing in his knowledge and old grandpa’s inflammatory views. They are beginning to feel the burn of their decline, problems with insurance, not enough money to keep their heads above water, something has to change. They have done everything right in life, and look how that is turning out!

If Willa can get help restoring her home then things could look brighter, because they certainly can’t afford the numerous repairs.  But first, she has to find out if there is any truth that one Mary Treat, a well-known scientist in her own right and Darwin’s friend and advocate, ever lived in her home. This could be of interest to the Historical  Preservation Society, and be of great support in getting the help they need!

Who she discovers instead is Thatcher Greenwood, a scientist and teacher whom ruffled the feathers of Landis and his community for trying to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution. Naturally this is in direct conflict with their belief  in God, and their own leader Landis whom they follow blindly, despite any sort of evidence that exposes said beliefs as false. I think you could insert a president’s name if you’re so inclined, at least I imagine the author does. It is the early days of marriage too between Thatcher and his wife Rose but despite her evident beauty and charms, it is Treat who is like-minded, whose peculiar behavior (counting ants, studying nature) Rose sees as a ridiculous, unwifely spectacle and Thatcher finds enigmatic. A friendship grows between them. His morality comes in direct conflict with his marriage and their future (dependant on Landis) when something shocking occurs and he has to decide whether to tell the truth or lie to keep Rose’s social dreams a reality.

Going between different time periods, both share the same house, that is crumbling. Both Thatcher and Willa are falling apart as well. What are people themselves if not houses, innards and all? Both are at the mercy of the political winds of their time.

I am a fan of Kingsolver’s earlier novels, and while this is different from my favorites, it has its strengths. She always writes beautifully, so I find myself highlighting passages, but I am not sure everyone will relate to this one. For one thing, many people are tired of conflict in political views, we just can’t escape it, not in our homes nor in our books. It’s evident here, in both time periods: family, the state of healthcare, youth, age, racism, greed, science vs religion, nature, environmental destruction, the changing state of marriage… well… It’s obvious characters remain bull-headed in their beliefs despite evidence to the contrary, which seems to be speaking in a round about way as to how people are now.

It will depress younger people, but Willa’s struggles are all too familiar to many of us. There are periods, if you live long enough, where life just keeps dumping on you. It’s magnified if the ‘climate’ of our times is pitting brother against brother, or…er… sister against sister… Doing things right aren’t a guarantee, because we are entitled to nothing, friends. So try to breathe, even if your house is caving in, what else can you do anyway? Really there aren’t any ‘right’ solutions even in this novel. It did feel like I was sitting down and listening to someone who hates the current state of things, her political leanings, which I am not always adverse to, it’s what writers do, share their views, but sometimes you want to escape and right now everyone is shouting over each other already. In all honesty you cannot really tune out, because everyone is already carrying on about it all, on tv, in our homes, on the street, at the store, in waiting rooms, between bathroom stalls, you get it…  Well written but I can’t deny that I am tired hearing the same thing over and over. I already know what everyone is so angry about, every aspect, I don’t live under a rock. But if you feel “Unsheltered” and in a daze about where this thing you call life is rolling, open this book and commiserate with Willa.

I enjoyed reading about naturalist Mary Treat though, what fun a book about her alone would be!

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

Harper

 

When Your Eyes Close by Tanya Farrelly

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The images shift between his life and the unknown.

Nick Drake has always had a taste for alcohol, but now he is so far gone that if he can’t get it under control, the doctors will refuse to put him on a transplant list and this is do or die! With a divorce behind him, life has had its difficulties, and with AA failing to help maybe hypnosis is the key. As he closes his eyes during a session, his life is swallowed by memories of someone else. Soon the visions playing in his head turn into to a blood filled nightmare about another man and his family, a man who may well have been a murderer. Surely this is some confabulation in his mind, this can’t be real! But what if it is? What if these are someone else’s memories, or his own from another life? They feel as real to him as his own.

Michelle is Nick’s girlfriend, she has known something is terribly wrong, that he was keeping things from her, but she never could have imagined the wild truth. There is another woman, but one that may have been Nick’s child, when he was someone else, in another time. This person is real, Caitlin is a solid, living breathing reality, not just some fantasy he conjured while under hypnosis. She will find a way to help dig into Caitlin’s life, because if Nick’s ‘memories’ under hypnosis are make believe, how come the people in them existed, the child now fully grown, a violinist, very much alive and real. Getting to know Caitlin seems all too easy at first, even if at times a wall comes up, or things don’t pan out, she refuses to give up, she’ll do anything to help Nick pull through because if he has a chance to get better, Caitlin is the key.

Caitlin’s husband disappeared a year ago, she has received a call from man saying only that he is still alive and not to try to find him. She has built a life for herself, despite the mystery surrounding David’s disappearance. Stranger still are the odd messages on social media. Her friend Andy has been an oak through the long days of not knowing what happened to David, but can she really trust him? Is he just trying to take David’s place? Now there is a strange new couple, Michelle and Nick in her life and some things about them seem a little too coincidental. She likes Michelle, wants to trust in her new friend, surely they couldn’t have nefarious plans, they couldn’t be the ones sending her messages, though they happened at the same time as she bumped into  Nick for the first time, which he claims not to remember, says didn’t happen. Caitlin is schooled in controlling her emotions since her traumatic childhood, and doesn’t trust anyone nor take what they say at face value. As Michelle tries to ease into Caitlin’s life, to help Nick get answers, Caitlin isn’t so honest and forthcoming and is fishing for her own clues about Nick and Michelle.

With Nick wanting nothing more than to make right by Catilin this time around, they begin to dig into her husband David’s disapparance, never imagining it could endanger Caitlin, that maybe she has her own secrets. Reaching into Caitlin’s childhood past, Michelle finds an aunt who knows more than she ever told about Caitlin’s youth.  Then there were David’s secrets before he vanished, that begs more questions. What Caitlin remembers and confides to her new ‘friend’ Michelle doesn’t quite add up to what they know for fact, nor the memories haunting Nick’s mind. It could be a defense mechanism, but what if there is more?

Are some things better left alone? If Nick wasn’t meant to act on these memories, why is he having them at all? Someone has secrets, what began in blood could very well end in it.

Told in shifting perspectives, it’s easy to know that nothing is simple. It has a supernatural bend with Nick channeling a murderer that may have been him, in another life. But it’s also a psychological thriller with damaged characters, the past definitely catches up with people here. It is a story with a decent twist, though it crawled in places. I would have enjoyed it more if I was only in one character’s head, being in all three underwhelmed me because I never felt close enough to anyone but the very idea is enough to sell the story. It is a unique twist on what could have been a bittersweet story of past life, which we’ve read before, here we have a fresh, sinister spin on things.

Available Now!

HarperCollins UK

HarperImpulse

 

 

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish: A Novel by Katya Apekina

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Yes, mom dragged me with her to every terrible place.I needed to get as far from her as I could. She was consuming me. That day she tried to hang herself from the rafter in the kitchen, I’d been lying on the bedroom floor. My mind was a radio tuned to her station and her misery paralyzed me.

In this gorgeous debut, sisters 16-year-old Edie and 14-year-old Mae’s lives are upended when their mother Marianne is admitted to St. Vincent’s (mental hospital) to ‘rest’ after an attempted suicide. The girls are forced to live with their estranged father Dennis (a literary success) in New York, a man who thinks he can just pick up in the middle of the story and become beloved ‘daddy’. Edie wants to go back to their old life in Louisiana, to her boyfriend, her school committees, her mother. It’s no surprise she was the one who found her mother hanging that day as she has been the one taking care of Marianne for years, through her stony silences and strange episodes. Edie doesn’t trust Dennis, feels it’s a betrayal to even be living with him when their mother needs them so badly. Mae felt swallowed up by Marianne, fearful she is too much like her damaged mother. Mae doesn’t have romantized thoughts about her mother’s illness, it has always scared her. Now that she is free of her, able to finally be herself, she doesn’t want her mother back. With Dennis’ eyes watching their every move, which irritates Edie feeling like they are just ‘new material’, Mae feels being the center of his world is intoxicating. Edie is loyal to Marianne, Mae has shifted alliances to Dennis’ side. So begins the unraveling of the sister’s bond.

It’s meant to be temporary, but time stretches and Marianne isn’t getting better, Mae is under Dennis spell but Edie won’t let herself fall, despite her desire for the comfort it would bring. It’s too late for her, where was he all this time anyway? Busy with his women, not one thought for his ‘beautiful, beautiful girls’ who now have his rapt attention. Are they just a story brewing for him, serving as inspiration as their once  beautiful, fragile mother was in her youth? There is a story there, Marianne as muse, was she the abuser, or the abused?

The reader is witness to the blossoming of forbidden love between Dennis and Marianne, the civil rights movement, and dangerous obsession. With insight from Rose, Dennis’ sister, we are forced to wonder who is to blame for the fractured family. Fatherly love takes a dangerous turn as Mae never wants to go back to that life with her mother, never again wants to be suffocated by her mother’s madness. Yet the further she tries to step away from Marianne, into a new self, the more she becomes her.

Edith is too angry, too perceptive to put her faith in Dennis. In fact, she is downright disgusted with his writing, with his seduction of her young mother so long ago. There is  a line spoken by another character in the novel that expresses the emotional storms within, “It’s hard sometimes, ” she said, “to know where you end and others begin.” You can feel the ground shaking before it opens, know you are being led somewhere you hoped they would never go. Much like the photographs Mae takes, it’s an eerie exposure of the wildly different beliefs we have about our shared experiences. Both sisters are in denial about their mother and father. If Mae hitches her wagon to her father with fat dreams and madness, Edie holds just as much false optimism for her mother’s recovery. Like a needy kitten, love gets twisted for Mae and there is a point of no return. Edie runs to destruction as much as Mae does, they just take different paths to reach the end. There is no mistake that Marianne has been a destructive influence on Mae, who looks so much like her but Dennis… Dennis is a catalyst.

To say more, would ruin the novel. I loved it, Apekina writes beautifully about a very ugly subject.The title alone, isn’t it the best, had me itching to read it. I can’t wait for her next novel, writing about family dysfunction isn’t easy, and taboo subjects if done poorly can repulse readers but it all added up here. I don’t think Marianne is alone in her wounded bird fragility, she got some help toward self-destruction in the form of Dennis and that’s all I have to say about that. Yes, read it! I still have the taste of ash in my mouth.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Two Dollar Radio

 

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo

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It was in early summer of my eighteenth year that my destiny arrived, and despite my fancy for premonitions he took me quite by surprise.

This is the story of Katrina Van Tassel, who falls in love with the Sleepy Hollow’s new school master Ichabod Crane. Katrina is delighted when she learns of Mr. Crane’s love for music, and that her father has engaged his services of singing lessons, for her. So begins a love affair that can only lead to doom and gloom with a legendary headless horseman running amok.

Then there is Brom Van Brunt (oh how I love these old names)  nicknamed ‘Brom Bones’ for his large frame,  the town’s beloved favored son,  and bully (when he isn’t leaving sighing women in his wake) who is sure Katrina is his destiny. They are all hung up on their destiny here! Brom is adamant Katrina will be his, has known this since childhood as they were once a tight trio including her best friend Charlotte (of strange gifts). They spent their youth inventing their own mischief until he turned sour, cruel to Charlotte for something she did (which is his fault, really). Now he seems to spend most of his time sniffing around Katrina and informing her that she will ‘come around’ to loving him, to being his wife. It’s only a matter of time, and a lot of harassment. He may have been her first kiss, but she’ll be damned if he’s her last.

Even the most progressive parents weren’t likely to welcome a terrible match for their child. Her father certainly isn’t going to support his daughter’s love for someone like Ichabod, well read and musical talents aside, wealth speaks louder than character when it comes to your precious, privileged child. Is Brom so awful? I mean, really Katrina, the whole town loves him, he is popular and handsome, full of brawn and… well he looks good on paper and that’s what mattered then. Alliances aren’t often made between the pillars of society and the penniless, better the promise of Brom or someone of his ilk. Maybe Charlotte can use her ‘magical talents’, reading tarot cards to see if there is even a slim chance of happiness and a future as Mrs. Crane. Charlotte does seem to have her uses.

Charlotte spends much of the novel giving warnings, or herbs to solve other inconveniences for Katrina. She has ‘feelings’, some of us may just call this intuition, others a wild imagination, depends on who you ask. Katrina isn’t immune to visions herself, in her nightmares of the headless horseman she keeps seeing ominous warnings but he isn’t real!!!! Something is brewing, but is her love for Ichabod truly doomed? Not even the terror of a legend can keep the lusty lovers out of the woods, and each other’s arms.

Circumstances push her to conform to society and it’s demands when Ichabod seems to have disappeared on All Hallows Eve, life becomes its own special hell. Will she ever be reunited with her lover? Or will she have to go to extreme measures to keep herself, and maybe someone else, safe?

It does have a pinch of feminism with Katrina, whose spirit won’t be tamed, who wants to love where she will and thwarts society, maybe even has to resort to manipulations here and there. Herbs as a safeguard against unwanted pregnancy isn’t something new, though it was forbidden (such witchery), even when she is reduced to accepting the turn her life takes, she still tries to hold some sway over her own destiny. My only beef was, I expected more terror beyond the occasional nightmare. Though to be fair, human beings are ugly enough themselves without a headless horseman lurking about and they don’t fail to be so here. I wished for more magic and spells, I mean love can be a spell I suppose or a curse. No? With Spellbook is in the title, I admit I was holding out for witches and spells, all sorts of spooky but I have high demands.

It was fun to visit Spooky Hollow again but came off more as a romance. More seduction than nightmare. Charlotte’s reputation is dangerously ruined by Brom early on, no one takes kindly to any whispers of evil, dangerous accusations, couldn’t the novel have backed up these threats with more than her seeing into the future? Too bad she couldn’t conjure some spell against Brom, but take heart, he seems hellbent on defeating himself half the time.  If you like romance with an old spooky legend thrown in, this will be perfect for you. Just in time for pumpkin patches, and headless men, out in October.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

St. Martin’s Press

St. Griffin