Review | Kirins: The Seer of Serone by James Priest

This is a novel, The Seer of Serone, by James Priest, telling of tiny magical beings dwelling the world over. They are kirins.

It is a quiet summer’s day in the domain of Yorl and Moger kirins, tree-dwellers in the central part of North America. Speckarin is magician to the Yorls, living on Rogalinon, a towering and majestic oak. His apartment is carved into one of its larger branches, his door opening onto the gathering platform.

But this story opens far from that idyllic setting, at Stonehenge, the hanging stones, the citadel of kirin magic. There Fairmean, a depraved magician, commits an act of pure and unadulterated vengeance, imperiling every kirin on Earth.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed the settings in this book, an Earth where magical being dwell among humans. The cast of characters are pretty across the board and varied. The different racies portrayed are well structured and come across in a very realistic way.

I would say that this book could be read by a number of age ranges, including some younger readers that were looking for a fun fantasy read that wasn’t too complicated in nature.

The pacing of this story was also really well done, never really getting to slow or things wrapping up too quickly. In all I think a lot of people looking for fantasy with a wide range of characters that is an easy read will really enjoy this one.

Happy reading!

Review | A Mystery at Lili Willa by Arathi Menon

Cousins Arj, Tam, and Mira are spending their summer vacation in Elathoor, a little village in Kerala when their family home, Lili Villa, is broken into and some jewelry is stolen. The Terrific Three set out to solve the mystery but soon discover that there is no shortage of suspects. Is it Pinching Kodavis or Dumdumchecchi, the milking lady? Is it the mean fisherwoman who starves the cat or the retired nurse who owns a luxury car? Or is it Mani with his upside-down Russian secret? Who could the thief possibly be?

In a throwback to unscheduled summer vacations, this cozy mystery will charm young readers with plenty of sibling sparring, some intrepid sleuthing, and an endless parade of mouth-watering snacks.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This middle grade mystery story was adorable! I really loved all the lush descriptions of the characters, locations, food and more. Each new character that gets introduced has a unique personality and story, which is endearing as the children investigate the mystery themselves.

The kids were the best part of the story (as they should be, but still) and had very believable actions, attitudes and lines of thought. Yes, they had arguments and disagreements, but they were realistic and suitable for their age.

The mystery itself was well thought out, and the secrets that different characters had led to wonderful scenes. Overall it was a really fun mystery filled with lots of vivid scenes and descriptions.

Happy reading!

TBR Card Challenge | January

Hey everyone! I know I’m a little late in posting this, but I wanted to get it up nonetheless. I did draw cards for January so I wanted to share them – here they are!

  • 2 of Clubs – Classic
  • 8 of Spades – Netgalley
  • Ace – over 500 pages
  • 6 of Clubs – Middle Grade
  • 3 of Clubs – Mom Pick
  • 10 of Clubs – Ghost Stories

This months picks both excited and upset me, but here we are. For classis I decided to pick up Beauty and the Beast (the original story) since it’s been a very long time since I read it. My Netgalley pick will be Wingbearer by Marjorie Liu (which spoiler, I have read – so watch for my review closer to release date).

For over 500 pages (this is where I whimpered) I picked Skyward and the middle grade I picked was Malamander.

My mom was excited to hear that mom pick came up since it hasn’t happened since the first month I started this challenge, so she picked Our Last Echoes. Finally for ghost stories I went with Haunted Theaters which I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while.

Happy reading!

Blitz | Silent Depths by Reily Garrett

Silent Depths
Reily Garrett
Publication date: December 31st 2021
Genres: Adult, Thriller

What price would you pay for freedom?

Callie’s mind holds the key to weapons of mass destruction, both nuclear and biological. As a child, she drew the attention of an obscure military branch who kidnapped and held her in the bowels of a Think Tank.

Following a daring escape, death and destruction dog her steps yet can’t diminish her determination in seeking justice.

Nate Crofton left his black-ops unit seeking a quieter existence as a private investigator. When an ex-teammate draws him into a web of tangled lies and betrayal, he can’t resist the young prodigy in need of protection.

Little does he know the blue-eyed enigma holds incredible secrets and can take care of herself, along with the team sworn to protect her.

Together, they rely on each other’s strengths to stay one step ahead of agents, both foreign and domestic, while navigating their growing attraction.

A must-read for fans of for fans of CM Sutter, Dale Mayer, Dean Koontz, LT Ryan, and Fiona Quinn.

Goodreads / Amazon / Bookbub

BOOK TRAILER:

EXCERPT:

A primal scream not heard since watching a teammate die at the hands of his enemy energized steps muffled by carpeted stairs.

Heavy scraping across the floor followed cessation of music from the clock radio. Glass shattered with something heavy thudding against the bedroom wall.

Nate wasn’t sure what to expect upon entering the space but didn’t anticipate seeing his king-size bed shoved into the wall. Enough power such that the headboard post went through the wallboard. A ceramic lamp lay shattered, its pieces strewn in linear fashion parallel to the baseboard. Bedding draped in tangles over the dresser, whose contents also lay scattered around the floor.

Knowing Callie had surpassed her breaking point didn’t explain how a slip of a woman could ram the heavy frame with such force. “Feeling better?”

With hands fisted at her side and crimson spreading across her face, she closed her eyes and hung her head.

“Sorry. I’ll find a way to pay for the damage.”

“Nonsense. A little mud, a piece of wallboard, and a few minutes time, it’ll be good as new. Can’t say it’s the first time there’s been a meltdown in this house. I’m sure it won’t be the last either.”

Nate shrugged as if it were a common occurrence. There was nothing common about the strength and time needed to demolish the room. Her position relative to the damage done didn’t add up any more than the timing to accomplish so much carnage. It was a mystery for another time.

“I didn’t peg you for a fan of western swing music.” The corners of his mouth tipped up.

“I can quote any number of studies showing the health benefits of music, from decreasing perceived pain, stress, and anxiety, to improved cognitive performance, decreasing insomnia…”

“Maybe we should leave it on?”

Author Bio:

Reily Garrett is a writer, mother, and companion to three long coat German shepherds. When not working with her dogs, she’s sitting at her desk with her fur kids by her side.

Author of chilling suspense and snarky romance, her stories span the distance of romantic thrillers, paranormal romance, and erotic romance. Regardless of genre, each book delves into a dark and twisted imagination yet is tempered with romance and a touch of humor.

Reviews by Kirkus Reviews, San Francisco Bay Review, and BestThrillers.com best describe her work:

“This could be James Patterson, Lee Child, and Tess Gerritsen rolled into one, but the dark, twisted methods used by the serial killer could surprise even those readers…” – San Francisco Bay Review

“…steamy, seductive police procedural…” – BestThrillers.com

“…well-researched thriller that remains romantically genuine throughout.” – Kirkus Review

Prior experience in the Military Police, private investigations, and as an ICU nurse gives her fiction a real-world flavor. Find Reily below.

Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Amazon / Bookbub


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Blitz | Love on the Run by Suzanne Rylee Ridolfi

Love on the Run
Suzanne Rylee Ridolfi
Publication date: January 11th 2022
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Romance

Lily Hart is the semi-famous host of Love Lily, a podcast dedicated to love and relationships. Her bubbly enthusiasm for all things romance has caught the eye of a few swanky sponsors who offer her the chance to host a Valentine’s Day mega event. Unfortunately, Lily’s own happily-ever-after has hit a rocky patch. She’s not sure if Henry, her longtime boyfriend, is even the one. When they decide to discuss things over dinner, Lily’s left questioning everything she knows about love. She panics and calls for a getaway car.

Blaze Steel thinks the notion of love is a mythical fable made up to ruin his life. Instead of relationships he pours his energy into the opening of his new bar the Steel Taproom. Until it’s up and running, however, Blaze is forced to continue his duties as an Uber driver. When a frantic Lily jumps into the backseat of his car, Blaze doesn’t know what hit him. All he knows is he hopes he never has to lay eyes on this woman again.

Fate has different plans for them, as their paths continue to cross. When Lily realizes she can’t show up to her own event dateless, Blaze reluctantly agrees. No feelings, just a plus one. How hard could it be? After all, they’re the last couple in the world who would ever fall in love.

*For fans of sweet romance, Debbie Macomber books, and all things Hallmark. There is no steam, sweet short read.

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT:

“It’s your counseling session, not mine. The dollars are adding up. Just let me know when you are ready to put me out of my misery and drop you off.”

“Well, that wasn’t very nice. I’m paying you handsomely so the least you could do is be nice.”

“I don’t do nice,” he says, gruffly.

I scrunch up my nose in an attempt to create an angry face at the grumpy driver. I inch my body forward to try to get a better look. It’s the first time I’ve actually looked at the man that I’ve spent the last few hours divulging my deepest insecurities to. The first thing I notice is the sandy colored hipster man-bun that sits on the back of his head. His chiseled jaw appears clenched. He does have a remarkable profile, with a nose sculpted to perfection. The five o’clock shadow hides just enough for intrigue. Beneath his thermal I see the shape of remarkably muscular biceps. The right sleeve is pushed up a bit, revealing tattoos covering his forearm. He is everything Henry is not. He can’t possibly digest the raw emotions of the situation. The front wheels hit an ice patch and the rear end swerves to the left. My body slams into the back of his seat. His muscular arms tug tight on the wheel to regain traction. In all my sobbing, I hadn’t paid much attention to the state of the roads or the crushing snowstorm barreling down on us.

My heart rises to my throat. It’s the first time that I have proof I still have a heart after my inexcusable actions. “I, I guess we could do a drive by first,” my voice struggles to eek out.

“Is that Kelly Drive?”

“Yes, that’s the address.”

And what does “drive by“ mean?” His eyes remain on the road. The car catches a slick slice of pavement, and we veer toward the curb.

The wheels struggle to gain traction on the icy pavement as my street comes into view. A wave of panic twists my stomach into a corset. “A drive by, I’m sure you did them a thousand times to see if a girl was home or had company etc. you know everyone does them.”

His blue eyes stretch under his raised eyebrows.

I continue, “I’ll lay down on the seat. You check if it’s safe to return.”

“What the hell does safe look like?” he barks.

“Tell me if Lola is in the window. If someone is home, she’s never in the window.”

“Who the hell is Lola?”

“She’s a white Shih tzu.” He shakes his head. I drop my body onto the seat. He pulls to a stop and the car continues to slide. “You can come up now. Your watch dog is still on duty. That will be $403.59.”

I’m propelled to an upright position. “You can’t be serious?”

“Dead serious. You hijacked my entire night. And I charge double in bad weather.”

Tears well up from deep inside, even though I was sure there were none left. “I, I’m sorry, you’re right. I messed up this whole night.” My fingers ruffle through my purse scrambling for money. I find a five in the zip front of the interior. A ten-dollar bill in my wallet and two crumpled dollar bills under my glass case.

“Oh, for God’s sake, just get out,” he barks.

“Take this. It’s all I have right now. If you come back tomorrow, I promise I’ll pay you the rest.”

“Lady, you couldn’t pay me enough to come back tomorrow.”

“Thank you, what did you say your name is?”

“I didn’t.”

I open the door and step out; ice engulfs my heel. One foot begins to slide to the left and the other heads right. Clinging mercilessly to the door handle, I struggle to get traction. My legs begin to delve into a straddle. He appears over me. He’s much taller than I expected. With one hand he scoops me up and props me onto my feet, then slams the door and heads to his side of the car.

My eyes meet his, I smile at his chivalry. With a half-crooked smile I say, “The weather is horrendous. Text me to let me know you got home okay.”

“Not gonna happen,” he says before jumping in the car, slamming his door, and driving away.

Author Bio:

Rylee is a hopeless romantic. She loves a cozy fireplace, a furry blanket and a romantic book. She strives to bring lovable characters to life.This has resulted in the creation of some of the most awkwardly charming heroines that are guaranteed to steal your heart. She’s a believer in happily ever after and is mildly addicted to fabulous shoes. She loves writing about her favorite things- Christmas, fashion, family, and the ability to go for your dream, no matter how grand. When not writing you can find her spending time with her husband and three children at their home in New Jersey.

Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram


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Blitz | Check Yes, No, or Maybe by Stormie Skyes

Check Yes, No, or Maybe
Stormie Skyes
Publication date: January 12th 2022
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Crappy job. Yes.

Take back an annoying ex. Definitely no.

Hit on the sexy new firm partner looking him over…maybe?

For Aaron Cambrian, life is lived by checklists. No matter how promising, everything – jobs, potential partners, cars, drinks, food, etc – needed to meet all his criteria or he walks away.

Everything changes one night at the cocktail bar when his best friend challenges Aaron to abandon his list and ask the first hot guy who catches his interest if he can buy him a drink.

Thanks to his old nemesis alcohol, Aaron takes the dare! The next thing he knows, he finds himself in the condo of an absolute stranger! It was supposed to be one drink. One accidental kiss… Good thing he’d never see the guy again.

Wrong! When the sexy new partner at Kimball & Marks law firm turns out to be the hot stranger, Aaron is faced with a life-changing decision: keep the checklist or lose the hottest, most frustrating man who ever stole his heart.

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT:

Elliot beamed victoriously. “Get that sexy little ass up, go find yourself a guy, and ask him to buy you a drink.” He scooted close, throwing an arm over my shoulders. “And that delectable thing,” I followed the manicured, freshly painted fingernail to a man at the opposite end of the bar, “has had his eyes on you all night.”

I didn’t remember the exact details, but I did remember the guy’s good looks. Maybe some hipster glasses and sideswept dirty-blonde hair? Who cared? My liquid courage had my ass getting up and strutting to Mr. Sexy Thing. His eyes followed each move I made, inflating my ego the closer I got.

Heat hit my cheeks, cock standing at attention when he took a drink, staring over his glasses’ frame. Those eyes were wild. Hungry. And I was the lucky fucker getting devoured by them.

Damn, he really is watching. I nearly stopped and returned to my seat. Through the haze, I remembered thinking I’d never been looked at like that. Should I really be doing this? I glanced at Declan who’d found me and glared like he was daring me to keep going. Confidence renewed, I picked up the pace.

“Hey there,” I said, leaning a hip against the bar.

Mr. Mystery raised his eyes to meet mine. “And hello to you, too.” Even through the fogginess, I recalled the timbre of his voice.

Holy shit, and I thought Declan had a hot tone. Compared to this guy, Declan … well, didn’t compare. This guy blew my ex’s sophistication and cockiness away with only one sentence!

Before I lost my nerve, I asked, “So, you come here often?” Did I really just say that! “I mean…” Oh, come on, he only said hello! Get a fucking grip!

“I know what you meant,” he said with a laugh. “No, I’m just visiting.” With the grace of a wildcat, he turned his attention back to his drink, tongue teasing the liquid on his lower lip. “Why? Do you come here often?”

“What? No. I mean…” My heart pounded in my ears. I wasn’t sure if it was his mocking or the sexy way he looked me over, but the confidence I’d built up slowly deteriorated. I was in “quit with the small talk and fuck me” mode in two seconds. How had he turned everything around with only a few words? “If you aren’t from here … where … are you, um…”

God, what is wrong with me?

“Miami,” he replied. “Why don’t you join me? Perhaps allow me to buy you a drink to calm your nerves?”

I did what Elliot dared me to, but I wasn’t ready to let Mr. Hipster Frames charm me out of my jeans.

Time to take back over. I sat and leaned on my forearms, gingerly letting my knee brush his in an “I’m open for business” manner. “Sure, but only if you play a game with me. Win and you can buy me a drink.”

“And if I lose?” he replied, clearly enjoying the challenge.

I shrugged a shoulder. “Then I walk.”

“Hmm.” A devious smile curved his lips. “Sounds good.” The glasses came off. I watched him close them, set them down, and turn to face me. Thick lashes and dark green bedroom eyes pierced through the Scotch-induced amnesia. “But, how about we up the ante? How about if I win, I buy you a drink and get you to come home with me?”

A gasp escaped me, piercing my lust-addled brain. It was like he read my mind—or maybe my actions, I wasn’t sure at that point—though I was too nervous to ask him for the last part. “O-okay. If you lose?”

The devious smirk widened. “I let you use me to make whoever is sitting at that table,” he gestured his head and eyes to my ex, “incredibly jealous, and you can walk. Deal?”

Is he for real? He knows what I am up to and doesn’t care? I can’t put this guy in any category on my checklist so far.

Every alarm, red flag, and warning sign went off in my brain. The last thing I remembered was telling him he had a deal.


Author Bio:

A multi-published author of mystery, both Urban and Paranormal, Stormie returned to her love of romantic comedy and contemporary romance. If you love spicy, humorous, and near-erotica stories featuring sexy male protagonists and the men who love them, then look no further. Stormie’s paranormal mystery won quarterfinalist in Screencraft’s novel to screen contest and is a competing finalist in Chanticleer’s International book awards. When Stormie isn’t busy dishing out a new, hot romance, she’s busy blogging her love of books and helping writers become authors.

Website / Newsletter / Facebook / Instagram


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Review | The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters

Packed with superheroes, supervillains, and epic showdowns between good and evil, The Unforgettable Logan Foster from debut author Shawn Peter shows that sometimes being a hero is just about being yourself.

Logan Foster has pretty much given up on the idea of ever being adopted. It could have something to with his awkward manner, his photographic memory, or his affection for reciting curious facts, but whatever the cause, Logan and his “PP’s” (prospective parents) have never clicked.

Then everything changes when Gil and Margie arrive. Although they aren’t exactly perfect themselves–Gil has the punniest sense of humor and Margie’s cooking would have anyone running for the hills–they genuinely seem to care.

But it doesn’t take Logan long to notice some very odd things about them. They are out at all hours, they never seem to eat, and there’s a part of the house that is protected by some pretty elaborate security.

No matter what Logan could have imagined, nothing prepared him for the truth: His PP’s are actually superheroes, and they’re being hunted down by dastardly forces. Logan’s found himself caught in the middle in a massive battle and the very fate of the world may hang in the balance. Will Logan be able to find a way to save the day and his new family?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was a joy to read. As soon as it started I loved the writing style and Logan as a character. The way it is written means that the book moves along really quickly and there’s action pretty much from the get go. Logan is a unique character, being neurodivergent and always speaking his mind no matter what. His voice throughout the book is refreshing and immediately endears him to the reader.

The story itself is full of hijinks and action, full of humor and adventure. It definitely reads like a superhero movie or comic and constantly keeps you on your toes. I think it’s perfect for its target audience and think this will be a great series for young readers not only looking for adventure and laughs, but also looking to perhaps see themselves in someone like Logan.

Shawn Peters has spent more than two decades writing professionally for television and advertising. Married and a father of two kids, Shawn is by his own description a suburban-dad trope-fest. He enjoys coaching his kid’s teams, playing old-dude softball, and comparing IPAs with other dads. In his spare time, Shawn makes ultra-nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns on Twitter under the handle @DnDadJokes. 

Social Links | Author Website | Twitter

The Unforgettable Logan Foster is out January 18th, If you want to know more about the author and read a Q&A with him, check the blog on release day!

Happy reading!

Cover Reveal | The Holiday Plan by Emma Lynden

The Holiday Plan
Emma Lynden
Publication date: January 10th 2022
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

“This book is guaranteed to leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling that will carry you well beyond the holiday and into the next one.”

USA Today Bestselling Author, Jenny Hale

From one of the freshest new voices in clean and wholesome romantic fiction, The Holiday Plan is the perfect escape for fans of Courtney Walsh, Annie Rains, and Debbie Mason.

Native New Yorker and author Verona Scott is battling heartbreak, both personally and professionally. Coming off a disastrous split with her ex, she’s struggling for inspiration to write her next book. And she’s lost without her favorite Aunt Theoni’s wisdom and guidance.

Hoping for a fresh start and to avoid the holiday completely, she’s planned a Valentine’s detox: a luxurious trip alone to the historic Courtington Castle hotel, near the adorably quaint town of Camelot Creek, tucked into a picturesque valley in the Adirondacks.

But escaping the heart-shaped balloons and red roses isn’t as easy as she thought.

This won’t be the restful retreat she’d imagined. Instead, she’s just walked into one of the biggest matchmaking events of the year. Not to mention, the incredibly attractive single dad and dating coach Troy Turner is heading the whole thing up, and he’s on a mission to include Verona in the festivities.

Troy is in the midst of a professional crisis of his own. After a bit of unfounded bad press, the very last thing he needs is a guest to cast doubt in the minds of his attendees.

Will Troy change Verona’s mind about the most romantic day of the year? Just when sparks begin to fly, an unexpected visitor checks into the castle, stirring up the past. No matter what, for Verona, Valentine’s Day is the day where everything changes.

A heartwarming, sweet romance that will whisk you away to a magical winter wonderland, and have you reaching for the hot cocoa and box of chocolates long after the holidays.

Goodreads / Amazon


Author Bio:

Debut author of heartwarming, romantic fiction, head over heels for happily-ever-afters.

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Blog Tour | The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan | Excerpt

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s suspenseful new mass market original about a college senior’s podcast that delves into an unsolved campus murder of a sorority girl three years earlier, as individual callers explode every fact previously thought to be true.

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found two weeks later, and the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the Medical Examiner’s, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle, he just isn’t sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace’s last hours. He asks listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer, former US Marshal Regan Merritt, to come on and share her expertise.

New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace’s secret life…a much darker picture than Lucas imagined—and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own dark secret. The pressure is to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast – before the killer silences him forever.

Buy Links | Bookshop.org | Indie Bound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon |
Books A Million | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Google PlayApple books

I’m thrilled to be able to include an excerpt in today’s post from this book. Enjoy!

One

Three Years Ago

Friday, April 10

 Candace Swain forced a smile as she walked out of her dorm room.

Smiling was the last thing she wanted to do, but Candace had an image to uphold.

She was going to be late for the Sigma Rho Spring Fling—the last big party before the end-of-year crunch. Studying for finals, capstones and senior projects, stress and more stress, and—for some of them—graduation.

The mild April weather was perfect for an outdoor gathering. Candace had led the sorority’s social-events committee with setup, and they’d included heat lamps along the perimeter. The Mountain View dorm—which housed all campus sororities, each with their own wing—was on the northeast corner of campus, adjacent to the football field. The Spring Fling was held on the large lawn that framed the north entrance, where they had the most room. It was open to all students for a five-dollar admission, and was one of the biggest moneymakers for the sorority, more than charities. Candace had fought for—and won—giving the profits to a rescue mission that helped people get back on their feet. She volunteered weekly for Sunrise Center, and it had changed how she viewed herself and her future. She now planned to be a nurse in the inner city, working for a clinic or public hospital, where people deserved quality health care, even if they were struggling. She even considered specializing in drug and alcohol issues, which were unfortunately prevalent among the homeless community.

She used to think of her volunteerism as penance for her failings. She wasn’t religious but had had enough preaching from her devout grandmother to have absorbed things like guilt, penance, sacrifice. Now, she looked forward to Tuesdays when she gave six hours of her time to those who were far worse off than she. It reminded her to be grateful for what she had, that things could be worse.

Candace exited through the north doors and stood at the top of the short flight of stairs that led to the main lawn. Though still early in the evening, the party was already hopping. Music played from all corners of the yard, the din of voices and laughter mingling with a popular song. In the dusk, the towering mountains to the north were etched in fading light. She breathed deeply. She loved everything about Flagstaff. The green mountains filled with pine and juniper. The crisp, fresh air. The sense of community and belonging felt so natural here, something she’d never had growing up in Colorado Springs. With graduation on the horizon, she had been feeling a sense of loss, knowing she was going to miss this special place.

She wasn’t close to her parents, who divorced right before she started high school and still fought as much as they did when they were married. She desperately missed her younger sister, Chrissy, a freshman at the University of South Carolina. She’d wanted Chrissy to come here for college, but Chrissy was a champion swimmer and had received a full scholarship to study practically a world away. Candace had no plans to return to Colorado Springs, but she didn’t know if she wanted to follow her sister to the East Coast or head down to Phoenix where they had some of the best job opportunities for what she wanted to do.

Vicky Ryan, a first year student who had aspirations of leadership, ran up to her.

“That weirdo is back,” Vicky said quietly. “Near the west steps. Just loitering there, freaking people out. Should I call campus police?”

Candace frowned. The man Vicky was referring to was Joseph, and he wasn’t really a weirdo. He was an alcoholic, and mostly homeless, who sometimes wandered onto campus and wouldn’t accept the help he had been repeatedly offered. He wasn’t violent, just confused, and sometimes got lost in his own head, largely from how alcohol had messed with his mind and body. But his problems understandably made her sorority sisters uncomfortable. He’d twice been caught urinating against the wall outside their dorm; both times, he’d been cited by campus police. He wasn’t supposed to be on campus at all anymore, and Candace knew they’d arrest him if he was caught.

“I’ll take care of it,” Candace said and made her way around the edge of the party.

She found Joseph on the narrow grassy knoll that separated the football field from the dorms. A small group of students approached her, but one in their group turned toward the grass, likely to confront Joseph.

Candace walked faster, caught up with the student, and smiled brightly. “I got this.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll handle him.”

“I said I will take care of this. I know him. But thank you anyway.”

Mr. Macho didn’t want to walk away, yet Candace stood firm. She didn’t want anyone to harass Joseph, and she knew he would listen to her. While he wasn’t violent, he could be belligerent, and being confronted by a jerk wanting to impress his girlfriend was a surefire way to trigger Joseph and have him dig in his heels. It would only lead to an arrest, and that wasn’t going to help him in the long run.

The group walked off, grumbling; Candace ignored them. She approached Joseph cautiously, so as not to startle him. “Joseph, it’s Candace,” she said. “Remember me? From Sunrise Center?”

He turned slowly at the sound of her voice. A tall man, nearly six foot four, he could intimidate people. But he was also skinny and hunched over from years of walking the streets and looking down, rummaging through garbage, with his hangdog face, ragged salt-and-pepper beard, and watery blue eyes. He was the kind of guy her grandmother would have called a bum—dressed in multiple layers of dirty, mismatched clothes, and smelling of dirt and stale beer. He looked about sixty, but she knew that he was only in his early forties. She’d heard he’d been living along Route 66 for the better part of ten years. The people who ran Sunrise Center didn’t know much about his personal life, only that when he was sober (which was rare), he would talk about home being east, at the “end of the line.” But no one knew if that meant Chicago or any of the stops in between.

Candace wanted to know more about his story, how he came to be in these circumstances, why he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—accept help. Many of the homeless who came to Sunrise for shelter or food would talk to her freely. But not Joseph. When she’d pried once, he disappeared for a while, so she stopped asking. She would rather him be safe than riding the rails, which was dangerous.

“Candace,” he said slowly after several moments.

“You can’t be here, Joseph. The campus police told you that. Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t say anything or acknowledge that he understood what she said.

“Would you like me to take you over to Sunrise Center? You can get a hot meal there, maybe a cot for the night.”

Again, silence. He turned away from her but didn’t leave.

She really didn’t want to call campus police, but if she didn’t do something, someone else would.

“Is there a reason you are here?” she asked.

“Leave me alone,” he said.

“I will, but you have to leave. Otherwise someone is going to call the police.” If they haven’t already.

He abruptly turned toward her, staggered on the slope of the lawn. His sudden movement startled her; she stepped back.

“No cops!” he shouted.

“You have to leave, Joseph,” she said, emphatic. Her heart pounded in her chest, not so much from fear but uncertainty. “Please go.”

Again, he turned abruptly, this time staggering down the short slope toward the stadium fence. She held her breath, watching him. He almost ran into the fence, put his arms out to stop himself, then just stood there. A minute later, he shuffled along the field perimeter, shoulders hunched, without looking back.

She breathed easier, relieved that he was heading off campus. She would talk to the director of Sunrise on Tuesday, when she went in to volunteer. Joseph couldn’t keep coming here, but she didn’t really want to call the authorities on him. He needed help, not more trouble, and definitely not incarceration.

Candace was about to return to the party when she heard someone call her name. She turned and saw one of her former tutoring students, Lucas Vega, running toward her. She didn’t want to talk to Lucas tonight. How many times did she have to tell him to leave her alone?

She stopped anyway and waited.

“Candace,” he said, catching his breath. “Thanks.”

“What do you want?” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry,” she said bluntly.

“I didn’t mean to upset you the other day. I am sorry about that.”

She blinked. He sounded so sincere. And truth be told, something he’d said to her a few days earlier made her think long and hard about herself, her life, and the time she’d spent as a student at Northern Arizona University.

A lie for a good reason is still a lie.

Lucas and his wide-eyed, good-natured innocence, his innocuous questions had her feeling guilty for no reason. He had picked up on that. And pushed.

No reason? Ha. Plenty of reasons. All these doubts and worries she’d been having this semester, the sleepless nights, all came from something she’d done as a freshman that she now had good reason to regret. But what could she do about it? What would come of the truth now?

Maybe there was no good reason to lie.

“All right,” she said. “Thank you.” It was easier to forgive Lucas than to hold on to this anger. None of what happened was Lucas’s fault.

“So will you tutor me again, for finals?”

“No. Afraid not.” She could forgive him for prying, but she really needed first to forgive herself. And she didn’t know if she could do that with Lucas around, reminding her of her failures and mistakes. He didn’t even know what she’d done, but seeing him now was like reliving the past, and her chest tightened. “I’m sorry, but I have too much studying of my own, too many tests. And I’m not working at the writing lab anymore.”

Because of you.

Was that even fair? Was it because of Lucas…or because of her own guilt?

He was disappointed, but that wasn’t her problem.

“Okay, I understand,” he said.

“Besides, you’re smart. You’ll be fine.”

He shrugged. “Thanks.”

“Uh, you want to come to the party?” She gestured over her shoulder. They could hear the music from where they stood. “I’ll get you a pass. Won’t even cost you the five bucks.”

He shook his head. “I’m fine. I’m not really one for parties. But thanks anyway.”

He turned to leave.

“Lucas,” she said. He looked at her over his shoulder. “I’m really sorry.”

Then she left him there, waiting for something she couldn’t give him.

It took Candace several minutes before she could work up the courage to return to the party. An idea she’d been thinking about for the last few months was now fully developed, as if something inside clicked after her brief conversation with Lucas. Everything shifted into place, and she knew what she needed to do; it was the only thing she could do.

No one was going to like her decision.

When she realized she no longer cared what anyone thought, a burden lifted from her heart. She was certain then that she was doing the right thing.

Everyone at the party was asking for Candace, and Vicky had become worried when her friend and mentor hadn’t returned after thirty minutes. She sought out Taylor James, the Sigma Rho president, and told her about the homeless guy. “I don’t know where Candace is,” she said. “I should have just called campus police.”

“Candace says he’s harmless,” Taylor said, frowning. “Sometimes she’s so naive. I’ll go look for her.”

“Thanks. The party is great by the way. Everyone seems to be having fun. How does it compare to previous years?” This was the first party Vicky had helped put together for the sorority, so she was eager to know how well she’d done.

“As good or better,” Taylor said with a wide smile.

Vicky tried not to gloat as she practically floated over to her friends chatting near one of the heat lamps. It wasn’t cold, but the warmth of the heat lamp and the glow from the string lights added terrific ambience to the place.

“Oh my God, Vicky, this is a blast,” her roommate, Nicole Bergamo, said. Nicole was a half-Black, half-Italian math major who could have easily been a model she was so tall and stunning. “Everyone is talking about how great it is.”

Vicky smiled, talked for a bit, then moved around, being social, doing all the things that she’d seen Sigma Rho board members do. Hundreds of people were dancing, talking, mingling, eating, drinking, playing games. Mostly, they were having fun, which was the whole purpose. When the new Sigma Rho advisor, Rachel Wagner, told her it was the best Sigma Rho party she’d been to ever, Vicky thought she’d never come down from cloud nine.

“I agree,” said the gorgeous woman who was with Rachel. “I’m Kimberly Foster, by the way,” she introduced herself. “I’m a sorority alum, and I’m so happy I came up this weekend. You’ve done a fantastic job. Rachel said you’re part of the social-events committee. Isn’t Candace leading the committee? I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Yes, she’s around,” Vicky said. “This is all her vision. We just implemented it.”

“I love Candace. Oh! I see her over there.”

Vicky looked to where Kimberly was gesturing. Candace was talking in a small group.

“I’m going to catch up with her,” Kimberly said. “Nice to meet you, Vicky.”

The two women walked away, and Vicky continued her rounds. She was having a blast as her worries that the party might flop were replaced with pride and satisfaction over its success.

Hours later it was midnight, and per city ordinance—because their dorm bordered a public street—they had to cut off the music. That put a damper on things, but it was fine with Vicky—she was exhausted after working all day prepping and all night making sure everything was running smoothly. She was a little miffed that Candace was hardly there: Vicky had only caught a glimpse of her twice. But whatever, she’d seemed preoccupied, and that would have been a party downer.

Vicky ran into the dorm to get extra trash bags—they had to clean up tonight so wild animals wouldn’t get into the garbage and create a bigger mess in the morning. She came back out and heard voices arguing near where the DJ had been set up. He’d already packed up and left. She couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. It seemed like a quiet, intense exchange between Taylor and Candace though Rachel and her guest Kimberly were there, too. Everyone, especially Taylor, seemed angry.

About sixty people were still milling around, mostly Sigma Rho sisters helping with the cleanup. Nicole came up to Vicky and said, “What are Candace and Taylor fighting about?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” Nicole said. “I heard Taylor call Candace a selfish bitch.”

“Ouch. Well, Rachel is there. She’ll mediate.”

But Rachel looked angry as well; it seemed that Candace was on one side, and the other three women were yelling at her.

“You’re wrong!” Candace screamed, and Vicky jumped. She glanced at Nicole, who looked perplexed as well. Vicky handed her a garbage bag, and they both started picking up trash. She didn’t want anyone to think she was eavesdropping.

But she was. As she inched closer to the group, she heard Kimberly say, “Let’s talk about this tomorrow, okay? When everyone has had a good night’s sleep and we can all think more clearly.”

“I am thinking clearly,” Candace said. “I’m done. Just…done.”

She left, walked right past Vicky without even seeing her. There were tears in Candace’s eyes, and Vicky didn’t know if she was angry or upset, but probably both. Vicky thought about going after her to make sure she was okay, then felt a hand on her shoulder.

She jumped, then laughed nervously when she saw Rachel. Taylor and Kim had walked away in the other direction.

“Sorry. You startled me.”

“I’m sorry you had to witness that,” Rachel said.

“I didn’t, really. Just saw that Taylor and Candace were arguing about something. I didn’t want to intrude.”

“It’s going to be fine. Just a little disagreement that Candace took personally.”

“About the party?” Vicky asked, her insecurities rising that she’d messed up something.

“Oh, no, the party was perfect. Don’t worry about that.”

Relieved, she said, “Maybe I should go talk to Candace.”

“No, let her be. I’ve known her since she was a freshman and took my Intro to Bio class. She has a big heart, and sometimes you can’t help everyone.”

Now Vicky understood, or thought she did. Taylor had been the most vocal about the creepy homeless guy hanging around the dorms, and she’d been the one who’d called campus police last time, after Candace said not to.

“Let me help,” Rachel said and took a garbage bag from Vicky’s stash.

Rachel chatted with Vicky, who felt lucky to be able to spend so much one-on-one time with her sorority advisor. Rachel was so smart, an associate professor at just thirty-two, an alum of the University of Arizona Sigma Rho chapter. Plus she had such interesting stories to share. By the time they were done with the cleanup—it didn’t take long with so many people working together—Vicky had forgotten all about the argument between Candace and Taylor.

It was the last time anyone saw Candace alive.

Excerpted from The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan, Copyright © 2021 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books.

ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets. The Sorority Murder is the first of a new mass market series.

Social Links | Author website | Facebook: @AllisonBrennan | Twitter: @Allison_Brennan |
Instagram: @abwrites | Goodreads

Happy reading!

Blitz | Sidetracked by Lauren Alsten

Sidetracked
Lauren Alsten
Published by: Changeling Press
Publication date: December 31st 2021
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Contemporary, Romance

Librarian Allison Callahan, aka “Encyclopedia Allie,” has always loved her steadfast and dependable best friend Dane. She’s just never admitted it to anyone, including herself. But Dane keeps trying to kiss her, and it’s changing their relationship status from friend-zone to danger-zone. Sure, Allie wants more, but what if Dane finds out she likes her hanky panky with a side of spanky?

He’ll freak, that’s what. So she rebuffs his advances, tries to shake things up… and unbeknownst to him, discovers one of his best-kept secrets.

Meanwhile, Dane is so frustrated he fantasizes about taking Allie over his lap. A good spanking would serve her right for refusing to acknowledge what they both already know: they’re perfect for each other. But he’s so busy trying to make partner at his law firm, he doesn’t notice something’s a bit off about his bestie.

Between the shock of the secret she never knew and her lukewarm launching of the library’s virtual book club, Allie’s ready to let loose. At her and Dane’s high school reunion, it’s clear they’re ready to take the next step, but after a red-hot night of lust and love, will the next morning’s Walk of Shame ruin everything?

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EXCERPT:

My track record with men in general is sketchy, and with Dane specifically, it’s abysmal. One visit to his frat house at Harvard proved we weren’t meant to be. My teenage crush on Criss Angel came in handy, because nobody suspected I faked throwing back four shots. Only the fifth one was real, and I gagged. Malört is evil. I started acting tipsy, figuring it was now or never. I sat next to Dane, tried to French kiss him, and when that didn’t work, went for broke, pitching face-first into his crotch. Told him I wanted to lick his Danesicle. Disgusted, he picked me up and put me to bed — alone. I left him a note in the wee hours (claiming Malört Memory of the prior night’s events) and slunk back home to die a private death of mortification.

I used to think I was a prude, but after that, I knew Dane is the most sexually conservative person I’ve ever met. Even the word sex makes him cough and sputter. Tara’s extremely open, I’m more the “keep it under wraps,” type, and Dane — well, even his current bedroom furniture is prudish and perfunctory. Square, plain. Mission-style. As in “missionary.”

For now, I drag my mind out of the gutter and prop myself up with a pillow. Watching him sort and pack soothes me, his biceps flexing under the weight of heavy law books he’s dumping into random boxes. The sight of his corded forearms, the biceps hiding inside his tight Henley, the curve of his muscular thighs filling out his jeans. All these things turn me on, but tonight my heart races because I really need to sell Dane on the reunion thing. I don’t want to play the loner librarian, especially if Thomas shows. Overthinking is my specialty, so I swallow the lump of reticence to cue up my rehearsed Reunion Ruse. By the looks of it, I’m not the only one about to take a chance.

Dane is going to try to kiss me again. He always angles for a peck, usually on the cheek, and he’s predictable as ever: his face gets this dopey, hopeful expression, followed by the twitch of his left eyelid. It’s kind of cute, considering.

Mr. Twitchy would freak if he knew how sexually conservative I’m not. To him, I’m still Encyclopedia Allie, strait-laced, straight-A and headed straight for 2.25 kids in a white picket fence suburbia. Dane would never look at me the same again knowing I have less-than-vanilla preferences, and while I don’t think spanking is that strange, he would. People who color outside the lines, like my sister, make him uncomfortable. If he knew my preferences, he’d run. And if he did? I’d die.

So Dane trying to kiss me? Not going to happen. I love him too much as a friend. To him, I’m a nice, vanilla girl, and I want to stay that way, even if it means one day seeing him with someone else.

I still fantasize about him taking me over his lap and whipping my ass to a cherry red, though. I just keep that freaky little fantasy to myself.

Dane grabs two handfuls of books from one box and dumps them into another. He’s trying not to make his machinations obvious, but I know he’s just waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He’s always so damn polite. But as organized and fastidious as the man is, he doesn’t know jack about weight distribution.

“You should split your legal library into smaller boxes so they’re not as heavy.”

Dane snickers, lifting the large box laden with neatly stacked statute books inside. The box bottoms out before he hits the hallway. At this rate, the movers won’t have much to move come Sunday, because it will still all be in piles on the floor.

“Don’t even say it.”

I ignore him. “I told you so.”

With his hands on his hips, Dane acts like he’s mad. His steel-blue eyes narrow. It’s a ruse. He does hate to admit he’s wrong, but instead of grouching, he pauses. Wrings his hands, approaches the bed slowly. I meet his gaze, and his eye starts its preemptive twitch. Here we go.

Author Bio:

When she’s not obsessing over her latest characters and dreaming up meet-cutes for future books, Lauren Alsten loves photographing wildlife while hiking under a warm sun and bright blue skies. Her writing journey began with A-list movie star fan fiction, but these days she prefers penning humorous tales of emotional upheaval served with a side of snark. She currently lives with two ungrateful cats who never lift a paw to help around the house.

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