Witches Get Stitches by Juliette Cross

Coming 20 July, 317 pages, £3.53

4 stars

I have been completely obsessed with this series since the first book Wolf Gone Wild. I don’t read many paranormal romances so I can’t find a comparison, but I absolutely love this dual New Orleans world. It’s somehow cosy and edgy at the same time.

The stories focus on vivacious witch sisters who work and live among humans, too-cool vampires, mysterious grims and uncontrollable werewolves. The author doesn’t bog you down with lore and complicated world building. Everything is revealed at a gentle pace and I know there are more strange things to come. Each book follows one witch as they try to fulfil their hopes and career while getting entangled with an annoyingly alluring supernatural. Wolf Gone Wild introduces werewolf drama; Don’t Drive And Hex (book 2) features an OP vampire-Bollywood sex symbol. I would recommend starting at the beginning of the series to understand all the tensions between the characters. 

This third installment follows Violet, a fierce no-nonsense tattoo artist meeting her match with Nico, a werewolf we met briefly in the first book. I loved the mysterious dynamic between the two which was revealed and explored fully in this book. Their relationship is explosive but there was a ‘fear-of-commitment’ angst that trailed a bit too long. In the backdrop is a continuing theme of prejudice and fear which ended with an exciting clash. Overall the story was both comforting and thrilling, and I can’t wait for more witchy antics!

A huge thank you to the amazing author who went out of her way to send me an advanced copy of this book. This series has soothed me through some troubling moments in our current times.

Full synopsis:

Get ready for a fun, flirty paranormal romance in the STAY A SPELL world:

  • Friends to lovers
  • Protective alpha werewolf
  • Snarky, potty-mouthed witch
  • Loads of pining
  • Low angst, high humor
  • Super steamy (and a magical supply closet)

Violet Savoie has a plan. A dream, rather. To open her own tattoo shop, which caters to supernaturals in need of permanent charms. As a powerful Seer, she has the potent magic to cast every kind of spell. Except the kind to give werewolves control over their beastly side. And her business partner Nico needs help in the worst kind of way.

Nico Cruz has a secret. A motive, rather. To subtly stalk and seduce Violet until she finally recognizes they are fated to be together. Ever since their heated encounter in Austin on New Year’s Eve two years earlier, he’s been dying to get his hands–and his tongue–back on her body. He knows a woman like Violet can’t be courted in the usual way. Luckily, Nico has no scruples about misbehaving to get what he wants.

But when his former pack roams into town, and an old friend is far too interested in Violet, his focus shifts to the threat venturing into his territory. Nico may come across as the quiet, broody one, but the intruders are about to regret stepping foot in New Orleans. And when Violet goes missing, no charm or spell can keep Nico’s wolf at bay.

From Best Friend to Fiancee by Ellie Darkins

Published 27 May, 144 pages, Mills & Boon True Love, £2.99

Synopsis:

She’s strictly off-limits…
Isn’t she?

Jannes is a professional yachtsman with a playboy reputation. The tabloids devote more columns to his romantic entanglements than his round-the-world races! But scandals spook sponsors, so Jannes makes a proposal of mutual convenience to his commitment-phobe best friend Lara: pose as his girlfriend for PR purposes only and he’ll help keep her chaotic family at bay. It’s perfect… Until the paparazzi leak photos of Lara with a diamond ring on her finger!

Review:

Everything felt effortless with this. Ellie Darkins firmly guides us through an adorable friends-to-lovers and fake relationship tale that made a soothing weekend read. There’s a tendency with lighter romance for MCs to be quite bland and the plotline too loose, but I immediately connected with Lara and Jannes. I felt like I knew them very well – not easy for a book under 200 pages!

There was no frustrating slow burn as well, without giving away too much, I’d say there was a controlled hesitation which was intense at the right moments. Of course, we have our classic tropes, especially only-one-bed and my favourite – the wise, all-knowing grandma. The MCs had their inner demons, but they had a confidence about them, especially with Lara. It wasn’t too tortuous and drawn out, and I felt assured she would be able to conquer them.
This story reminded me just how fun and easy love can be – a delightful quick read.

The author was kind enough to reach out to me – thank you so much for my copy.

You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry

Published by Viking, Penguin, 365 pages, 99p (kindle)

Synopsis:

TWO FRIENDS

TEN SUMMER TRIPS

THEIR LAST CHANCE TO FALL IN LOVE

12 SUMMERS AGO: Poppy and Alex meet. They hate each other, and are pretty confident they’ll never speak again.

11 SUMMERS AGO: They’re forced to share a ride home from college and by the end of it a friendship is formed. And a pact: every year, one vacation together.

10 SUMMERS AGO: Alex discovers his fear of flying on the way to Vancouver.

Poppy holds his hand the whole way.

7 SUMMERS AGO: They get far too drunk and narrowly avoid getting matching tattoos in New Orleans.

2 SUMMERS AGO: It all goes wrong.

THIS SUMMER: Poppy asks Alex to join her on one last trip. A trip that will determine the rest of their lives.

Review:

4 Stars

Ever since Beach Read, Emily Henry is a hot, blinking light on my radar for writing the most exciting rom com. Like her previous book, don’t be fooled by the light-hearted, sugary cover – this is a deep friends-to-lovers story with sharp lines. The characters are intense, one-of-kind and reassuringly real and messy. From start to finish, I was laughing at the quips and frowning at the complexity of the relationships described.

I love opposites-attract and this book does it so well. Poppy is adorably loud while Alex is reserved and self-conscious. When they get together it’s both comforting and hilarious. I’m not a fan of the friends-to-lovers trope as it can be quite frustrating and the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ question lingers into a slow burn. To be honest, this book did have some long moments and I was glad that I listened to it as an audiobook. It was more relaxing to listen to some of the awkward moments. The narration was also energetic, sophisticated and avoided being too embarrassing when it came to the more romantic parts (which can be a problem when there’s one narrator doing male and female voices!).


Most of all You And Me… stood out to me as a truly deep exploration of relationships; what people mean to each other and how we need them at particular moments of our lives. It stayed with me and I can’t wait for the next book.

Blog Tour: The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jeffereries

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Published by Penguin Viking, 23 July 2020, 368 pages, £2.99

I’ve been an avid fan of Dinah Jefferies since The Tea Planter’s Wife; always entranced by her divine descriptions of far-flung places, historical detail and quietly powerful heroines. It’s always the highlight of my year when a new Dinah Jefferies novel is announced. My favourite is The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, which is set in colonial-era Vietnam. This latest venture has an experimental approach and is set in Italy during the Second World War.

The novel has everything to love about Jefferies’ writing; the stunning scene-setting that makes you feel the warm Mediterranean breeze on the nape of your neck. It’s about two fascinating and very different women who fight for their freedom and the men they love: elegant and refined Contessa Sofia, and confident and daring Maxine, an Italian-American spy. Like all Jefferies’ leading ladies, they have admirable courage and learn about their identity through place. It’s also brimming with emotion; comforting joy, age-old love, passion, heart-ache, striking pain and unrestrained desire. You’ll easily marvel at the sheer beauty of the Tuscan landscape contrasted with the horrors of the German occupation.  

Unfortunately, I didn’t find this as strong as her previous work. I was missing the exciting build-up of a central love story from the old formula, as well as the unassuming nature of the heroine. Sofia and Maxine are different from Jefferies’ previous characters and I found it tricky to connect with them, especially as the focus was split between them. Some passages were also quite long and slow at times, causing the momentum to slip and feel scattered. Even though this wasn’t for me this time, I appreciate the author’s attempt to try new concepts, the gorgeous writing and careful research.

Many thanks to the Viking team for my copy!

xxx

Blog Tour: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Published by Penguin, 20th August 2020, 368 pages, 99p (kindle)

Don’t be fooled by the bright ‘n’ breezy cover design and the catchy title. This is a ‘women’s fiction’-romance crossover with an edge. What do I mean by that? Emily Henry manages to balance cosy and light with razor-sharp flirting, intense love scenes and dark tones, making it much more than a jolly ‘romcom’. It’s a fiery force to be reckoned with and will be more sizzling than this year’s impending heatwave.

The plot is a hate-to-love one (my favourite) with a binding pact. Bestselling romance writer January, suffering from a family upheaval and loss, moves into her father’s old beach house to escape the universe and come to terms with the heavy secrets the house symbolises. As it turns out, her next-door neighbour happens to be Gus – THE Gus from college – arrogant acclaimed writer of ‘serious’ award-winning fiction. The Gus who represents everything she despises whilst also being incredibly handsome and doesn’t seem to remember her. They’re forced to bump into each other in the adorable small town, with charming indie book store and quirky secondaries included. As sparks are fired (or more like delicious daggers), they realise that they’re both stuck with writer’s block and dare the other to write their genre by the end of the summer. Gus will write romance and January will do Hemmingway rip-offs.

I read this during the pre-lockdown commute, once upon a time. I remember that the dialogue was so fast-paced and witty, it flew out of my kindle to prod my sleepy face awake against the pale morning sun. I can guarantee it really is ‘laugh-out’ hilarious. What I love the most are the original jokes that amplify refreshing dialogue. Many authors play it safe for romantic conversations, but Emily Henry seems to have taken the time and care to experiment with new topics. I felt that the pacing did slow down significantly towards the end, especially after the characters have cooled off. As a result, the revelations about her family’s past may have arrived too late.

In essence, it sets the bar for summer romances this year.

Many thanks to Georgia at Penguin for my copy.

xxx

Image from Penguin

Blog Tour: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

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Published by Penguin Viking, 30 January 2020, 431 pages, 0.99p (kindle)

A few pages in and I already felt like weeping. With her debut One Day in December (2018), Josie Silver proved to be the go-to author for a story radiating with conflicting emotions and the question mark of life. She explores the latter with more depth and a supernatural twist in her latest book, pushing for a bit more tears than fuzzy romance.

The Two Lives… is about the eponymous heroine’s struggle to deal with the loss of her fiancé Freddie, especially because whenever she falls asleep, she meets him. But this is not just a typical dream, it is a pinch-me, alternative world, where Lydia continues her life with Freddie as if he had never died. Reminiscent of the TV drama ‘Awake’ (2012), but without the psychological creepiness, it conveys the tension of what the heart wants and what it needs. Josie blends light comedy, bouts of pain and mystery, as the reader is intrigued by what the strange ‘Asleep’ world represents and its connection to the real world. Underneath the surface is a developing love story that emerges when Lydia gradually gains control of both her lives.

As someone who, fortunately, has not experienced grief of this level, the themes explored did not affect me as it might do another reader. I would like to say that Josie never strays into unbearable intensity, but has a style that is comforting. Her pacing glides smoothly, weaving in and out of every characters’ exclamation, pause and full stop. A true (and addictive) delight to read during my winter commute.

Many thanks to Georgia at Viking for my copy xxx

Blog Tour: The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies

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Published by Penguin Viking Books, 21 March 2019, £3.50

Another true gem from Dinah Jefferies! Packed with gorgeous detail, mystery, humour, and romance. Any season, any day, any time- a new Dinah Jefferies book will whisk you away into an exotic vintage dream. After a few pages of The Missing Sister, you will be strolling down dynamic streets of 1930s Burma feeling the humidity and getting peckish for the local food.

Jefferies is already established as one of my favourite writers, her addictive stories are always flowing beautifully as the far-flung settings she visits. The Missing Sister is the most mysterious addition to her repertoire. It is about a young English woman called Belle, who takes up a job as a singer for a hotel in Burma. Her father had just passed away and she has no connections left at home. She recently found a newspaper clipping that stated how her parents were living in Rangoon when their baby daughter disappeared; a daughter that they had before her and that she never knew about. She decides to go to Burma, still under British colonial rule, to see if there are any remnants of her parent’s history and her past.

Racial politics and mental health are the two main compelling themes, especially the treatment of women suffering from mental health problems. Ignorance is recognised as the biggest enemy. Interwoven with Belle’s new adventure are segments of her mother’s life from a few decades earlier. These chapters are written in the first person, which compared to Belle’s third person POV are a little jarring, but certainly, thicken the plot. I love how Belle begins to connect threads of mystery and how friendly characters she meets along the way appear disturbingly suspicious. Moving melancholia and heart-fluttering moments punctuate continuously- and what a wonderful ending!

Many thanks to Georgia Taylor at Penguin for my review copy

xxx

Blog Tour: Only a Breath Apart

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Published 22 Jan, Tor Teen, 359 pages, £8.27

Katie McGarry brings another tale full of grit and heart. All her books have a raw, face-your-demons edge, but Only a Breath Apart takes a slightly darker path. It is filled with the ache of haunting memories, domestic abuse and the shadow of murder. At the centre is the significance of land and human bonds.

We start with Jesse, who is grieving the death of his beloved grandma. He has been brought up to believe that his family is cursed. Nothing but melancholia and disaster has befallen each family member, especially his mother. When he discovers that, in order to inherit his land, he must win the approval of an old childhood friend, he feels certain that he is doomed. His past has come to bite back. On the other end is Scarlett, imprisoned by her dominating father and bursting to come out of the icy shell she has formed to protect herself. When she runs into Jesse, the boy who used to be everything to her, she can feel that her control is going to crack for better or worse. Read an excerpt below and in my last post.

McGarry has long been one of my favourite YA writers. Her work has found a way to make my soul feel both ravaged and warmed (Walk the Edge I still listen on audiobook on loop). As described, Only a Breath Apart, is darker but not as forlorn as I may have outlined in the plot. It carries a strong hopeful tone with fierce characters that fight for the next sunrise. Jesse and Scarlett claw tooth and nail for their independence, whilst trying to figure out the depth of their attraction to each other (McGarry scores again with another dynamic couple). Scarlett’s situation, in particular, exposes the sinister extent of domestic instability and its manipulation of security and control. I love the supernatural theme that carries throughout, circling around anxieties about the future, the afterlife and the role of destinies. Some parts of the story lingered a little too long on the over-riding message about land and relationships. Overall, it will sweep you into McGarry’s world of rural dust-bitten America and teen love.

Thank you Tor Teen for my copy! xxx

*EXCERPT*

~SCARLETT~

“I thought you said you were meeting Camila.”

I jump at the sound of Dad’s voice and spin in his direction. “I am.”

Dad studies me, and I hide my hands behind my back to conceal the slight quiver that could announce my guilt. When I left him, he was in good spirits, but his moods can quickly shift. There are two patched up holes in my bedroom that can testify to this. Dad replaced the drywall, covered it with fresh paint, but the perfection can’t take away the memory of the way my heart pounded through my chest as he drove his fist through the wall.

He inclines his head toward the booth of balloon animals. “Camila appears to be working.”

“She’s getting off soon,” I say too fast as I bite back the need to ask why he didn’t go home like he said he was.

“Why did you leave us if she’s still working? You said Camila would be done by five-thirty.”

My mouth dries out, and the tremble in my hands travels to the rest of my body, but I force out a cleansing breath. Show no fear. Don’t give him any reason to doubt a thing I say. “She was supposed to be off by now, but her parents asked her to work a few more minutes.”

“If Camila isn’t getting off until later, you should have told me,” There’s a subtle sharpness to his tone that causes hurricane warnings in my brain. “I was showing you a great deal of trust by letting you find Camila on your own.”

“She’s only running a few minutes late. Her parents are watching me so I’m okay.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I glance over and my heart lifts when I notice Camila’s mom watching us. Her stare gives credibility to every falsehood rolling off my tongue. She’s not watching because she thinks I need a babysitter, but probably because she’s mentioned to Camila that she’s perplexed by my father’s strict rules.

I touch the crystals on the table as if I’m interested in them. It’s difficult to act normal as Dad looks at Camila’s mom then studies me. Please believe me, please believe me. Please.

I’m so stupid. I should have never left Dad early. I should have never lied. But I did. Dad was having fun at the fair, Mom was having fun and my sister, Isabelle, was having fun. They were all laughing and smiling. They’ve forgiven him, and I haven’t. I can’t, not again, and this is one of the many ways life is no longer simple.

I want to peek at him in an attempt to understand my fate, but I don’t. Eye contact doesn’t help when he’s angry. It only makes it worse.

Being in public won’t soothe his temper. He’ll just be more discreet. Like last year when Dad had arrived early to pick me up at a football game and saw me heading to the bathroom by myself. After I had returned to my friends, he called me away with a smile on his face. He had placed a seemingly loving arm around my shoulder, but his fingers dug into my arm as he severely whispered in my ear how I was irresponsible and that it was time to go home.

Dad didn’t cause a scene at the game. The yelling started the moment we were alone in his car and continued until he left me in my room. I stayed on my bed for hours, curled up in a ball and sobbing.

My throat swells as I think of how this will play out. Will it be like Christmas? Will he throw a lamp and force Mom to clean it up as I watch? Or will it be like this past spring and he’ll flip the kitchen table, breaking all the dishes that had been placed there for dinner?

Dad steps closer to me, and I’m filled with dread. “Next time, in a situation like this, you return to me and have Camila text you when she’s done working. I don’t like the idea of you being alone.”

All I want is to be alone, for my thoughts and actions to belong only to me. But he’s not angry, he’s believing me, and I release a breath I had unknowingly held and take the small win.

 

Would you dare to defy destiny? Are our destinies written in stone? Do we become nothing more than the self-fulfilling prophesies of other people’s opinions? Or can we dare to become who we believe we were born to be?

“A gorgeous, heartfelt journey of redemption and love” (Wendy Higgins), ONLY A BREATH APART is a young adult contemporary novel from critically acclaimed Katie McGarry. “Haunting, authentic, and ultimately hopeful” (Tammara Webber), order your copy of ONLY A BREATH APART now!

 

About ONLY A BREATH APART:

They say your destiny is carved in stone. But some destinies are meant to be broken.

The only curse Jesse Lachlin believes in is his grandmother’s will: in order to inherit his family farm he must win the approval of his childhood best friend, the girl he froze out his freshman year.

A fortuneteller tells Scarlett she’s psychic, but what is real is Scarlett’s father’s controlling attitude and the dark secrets at home. She may be able to escape, but only if she can rely on the one boy who broke her heart.

Each midnight meeting pushes Jesse and Scarlett to confront their secrets and their feelings, but as love blooms, the curse rears its ugly head…

 

Amazon | Kobo | Google Play

B-A-M | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books

 

 


Gritty and real, Only a Breath Apart is a story of hope conjured from pain, strength drawn from innocence, and love earned from self-respect. Beautiful, poignant, and fierce.”
―Kristen Simmons, critically acclaimed author of the Article 5 series


 

Add it to your Goodreads today!

 

 

 

Katie McGarry Bio:

Katie is the author of the PUSHING THE LIMITS series, THUNDER ROAD series, SAY YOU’LL REMEMBER ME, and the upcoming YA novel, ONLY A BREATH APART. Her novels have received starred reviews, critical acclaim and have won multiple awards including being a multiple Goodreads Choice Award Finalist for YA Fiction, multiple RT Magazine’s Reviewer’s Choice Award Finalist for Best YA Fiction, including a win in the category, and she was a 2013 YALSA Top Ten Teen Pick.

 

 

 

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Tumbler | Instagram

 

*EXCERPT REVEAL* Only a Breath Apart by Katie McGarry

I am delighted to reveal an excerpt of Only a Breath Apart by Katie McGarry as part of the blog tour for her new novel, out on the 22nd January.

Would you dare to defy destiny? Are our destinies written in stone? Do we become nothing more than the self-fulfilling prophesies of other people’s opinions? Or can we dare to become who we believe we were born to be?

“A gorgeous, heartfelt journey of redemption and love” (Wendy Higgins), ONLY A BREATH APART is a young adult contemporary novel from critically acclaimed Katie McGarry. “Haunting, authentic, and ultimately hopeful” (Tammara Webber), ONLY A BREATH APART will be available on all retailers on January 22, 2019!

About ONLY A BREATH APART:

Jesse dreams of working the land that’s been in his family forever. But he’s cursed to lose everything he loves most.

Scarlett is desperate to escape her “charmed” life. But leaving a small town is easier said than done.

Despite their history of heartbreak, when Jesse sees a way they can work together to each get what they want, Scarlett can’t say no.Each midnight meeting between Jesse and Scarlett will push them to confront their secrets and their feelings for each other.

Amazon | Kobo | Google Play | B-A-M | Barnes & Noble | iBooks


Gritty and real, Only a Breath Apart is a story of hope conjured from pain, strength drawn from innocence, and love earned from self-respect. Beautiful, poignant, and fierce.”

―Kristen Simmons, critically acclaimed author of the Article 5 series


Add it to your Goodreads today!

Excerpt:

SCARLETT

I’m defying my parents by attending a funeral. Reckless and adventurous teenage behavior, I know. Most seventeen-year-olds lie to their parents so they can go on a date with a forbidden boy or attend a party where there will be questionable behavior. Me? I’m outright lying to my dad, and it’s because Jesse Lachlin’s grandmother died.

The entire way here I’ve questioned my sanity, but I don’t know how I’d live with myself if I stayed home. Jesse Lachlin used to be my childhood best friend. We were inseparable. We had the type of friendship people strive to have, and then, a few years ago, he cut me so deeply that I still bleed. But ten-year-old me would have never abandoned a hurting Jesse. So today I’m not only honoring the memory of Jesse’s grandmother, but also the memory of our dead friendship.

On my way to the funeral, the high grass of the field swats at my legs, but I don’t mind the sting. I love walking barefoot in grass, I love the smell of the earth and I love that brief feeling of freedom open spaces can provide.

It’s the dog days of August. The type of hot that starts when the sun rises and makes you sweat through your clothes within minutes. While my skin and palms are on fire, the pads of my feet are cool against the dirt. The heat is unwelcome, but the sky is deep blue and the sun is bright, and for that, I can be grateful.

Walking out of the field, I stop short of crossing the one-lane road to slip on the flats that dangle from my fingertips. My mother would be mortified if she knew I was entering a church in a cotton daisy-print sundress. It’s not one of the dresses with stiff fabric and impossible back zippers she would have picked for me at an overpriced department store. It’s the type that’s machine-washable and breathable. The type of dress Jesse’s grandmother would have given her stamp of approval.

I can practically hear my mother heavily sigh and mumble my name, Scarlett, as if it were her personal, private curse word. Mom believes there’s a certain way to dress and behave, and I’m breaking all sorts of her rules today. Watch out, world. I’m officially rebellious.

I smile to myself because I’m the opposite of rebellious. For the last few years, I’ve followed every rule. I’m the teacher’s pet and the girl with straight A’s. I’m the poster child of perfection, and have earned every snarky ice princess comment Jesse’s friends whisper about me in the school hallways because he and I no longer speak.

There are only six cars in the parking lot of the white church, and that makes me frown. I thought more people would have wanted to attend. Jesse’s mud-covered pickup is there, and so is an unnaturally clean black Mercedes that belongs to his uncle. This ought to be interesting. Jesse and his uncle have a mutual hate for each other that runs deeper than any root of any tree.

Movement to my right and I slowly turn my head. Shivers run down my spine at the sight of Glory Gardner. Even though I’m seventeen and too old for ghost stories, I still can’t shake the ones regarding this woman. Girls would whisper over lunch boxes that Glory was a witch. As I grew older, I understood that witch meant con artist. She claims she can read palms, tarot cards and “sees” spirits from beyond the dead. All for a glorious fee.

She’s a beautiful woman—long dirty blond hair that’s untamed, even in a bun, and she has an eclectic taste in clothing. Today she wears a white peasant shirt and a flowing skirt made of material that shimmers in the sun.

Glory watches me like I watch her, with morbid curiosity. I knew her as a child, back when Jesse and I ran wild in the fields near her home, but we haven’t talked in years.

She stands under the shade of a towering weeping willow. There are lots of those trees around here. Mom says it’s because there is too much water in the ground. I say it’s because the people in this town have cried too many tears. Mom doesn’t like my answer.I tilt my head toward the church, an unspoken question if Glory will be joining me. She shakes her head no. I’m not shocked. According to rumors, Glory will go up in flames if she enters the house of God. But who knows? Maybe I will, too.

The church is one of those picturesque, historical, one-room school buildings squeezed between a cornfield on one side and a hay field on the other. A huge steeple with a bell attempts to reach the heavens, but like anything created by a human, it falls tragically short.

The foreboding wooden door makes no noise as I open it, and I’m able to slip in without a huge, squeaking announcement. Orange light filters in through the dark stained glass windows, and its struggling beams reveal millions of dancing particles of dust.

On the altar, there’s no casket, but there is an urn. My heart dips—Suzanne is dead. I used to wish she were my grandmother, and many times, she treated me as if I belonged to her. Suzanne was the epitome of love, and the world feels colder now that she’s gone.

Choosing a spot in the back, I drop into a pew, and as I scan the church my stomach churns. How is it possible that this place is so barren?

Besides the Funeral Brigade, or the FB, as I like to refer to them, there aren’t many people here. The FB are the older group of woman who attend every funeral in our small town even if they didn’t know the person. Attending funerals isn’t my idea of fun, but who am I to judge?

The FB sit directly behind the one person the town believes to be the lone sane member of the Lachlin family, probably because he isn’t blood related—Jesse’s uncle.

On the left side of the church is Jesse. Only Jesse. And that causes a painful pang in my chest. Where are his stinking friends? The anarchists in training who follow Jesse wherever he goes? Where is the rest of the town? Yes, Suzanne was polarizing, but still, where is any respect?Quietly, so I don’t draw attention to myself, I slip from the right set of pews to the left. Someone should be on Jesse’s side, and it’s sad it has to be me.

A door at the front of the church opens, and the pastor walks out from the addition the church build on as a small office ten years ago. I would have thought any pastor assigned to this place would be as ancient as this church. Sort of like an Indiana Jones Knights Templar scenario where he lives forever as long as he stays inside. But no, he’s the youngest pastor from the main, newer church in town. His name is Pastor Hughes, and he’s a thirty-something black man with a fit build who is just cute enough that he should be starring in a movie.

The pastor looks up, and he flinches as if startled. I peek over my shoulder then sigh. Clearly, he’s surprised to see me. Flipping fantastic.

His reaction, and the fact he won’t stop staring, causes every person to turn their heads. Lovely. I’ve had dreams like this where I enter a room and become the center of attention. Only in my dreams it’s at school, it’s my classmates and I’m naked, but still, this is disconcerting.

Eventually, the FB and Jesse’s uncle return their attention to the front, but Jesse doesn’t. He rests his arm on the back of the pew, and it’s hard to ignore that he’s made me his sole focus, but I do my best to act as if I don’t notice.

To help, I concentrate on what my mom taught me as a child—to make sure the skirt of my dress is tucked appropriately so that my thighs don’t show. I then fold my hands in my lap and straighten to a book-on-head posture. I can be the ice princess people claim me to be.

Five pews separate me and Jesse, and it’s not nearly enough. My cheeks burn under his continued inspection. Jesse has done this a handful of times since our freshman year. Glance at me as if I’m someone worth looking at, someone worth laughing with a little too loud and smiling with a little too much. Then he remembers who I am and snaps his gaze to someone else.

But he’s not looking away now.

 

Katie McGarry Bio:
Katie McGarry was a teenager during the age of grunge and boy bands and remembers those years as the best and worst of her life. She is a lover of music, happy endings, reality television, and is a secret University of Kentucky basketball fan.

Katie is the author of full length YA novels, PUSHING THE LIMITS, DARE YOU TO, CRASH INTO YOU, TAKE ME ON, BREAKING THE RULES, and NOWHERE BUT HERE and the e-novellas, CROSSING THE LINE and RED AT NIGHT. Her debut YA novel, PUSHING THE LIMITS was a 2012 Goodreads Choice Finalist for YA Fiction, a RT Magazine’s 2012 Reviewer’s Choice Awards Nominee for Young Adult Contemporary Novel, a double Rita Finalist, and a 2013 YALSA Top Ten Teen Pick. DARE YOU TO was also a Goodreads Choice Finalist for YA Fiction and won RT Magazine’s Reviewer’s Choice Best Book Award for Young Adult Contemporary fiction in 2013.

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The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (Audio experience)

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July 2018, 336 pages, Corvus, £2.48 (ex Amazon Whispersync)

Scrolling through twitter, I read about an author who is gathering praised for diversifying romance. Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient is a love story with an autistic heroine and Vietnamese American hero. It engages sharply with issues about disability and social norms without compromising on heat and drama. Always grumbling about how there is a lack of representation and people of colour in romance, I don’t make as much effort as I should to seek out alternative stories. Hoang proves that our much loved formula-genre is ever more enhanced with voices that are usually excluded.

I’m not sure why romance is dominated by the white boy meets girl scenario, the answer lies somewhere uncomfortable and complicated. The stigma that the romance genre carries, in general, makes it hard for those within the industry to criticise it at all. But I’m glad there are authors shaking things up while keeping what we love best: lurve.

Hoang was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, previously known as Asberger’s Syndrome. The creation of her heroine, Stella Lane, was modeled close to her personal journey with autism. Stella is a successful economist, but struggles with social situations especially reading social cues and is very sensitive to sensory disturbances, such as loud noise. This makes dating a nightmare. Feeling great pressure from her parents to find a husband she decides to be practical and hires an escort to teach her how to be the perfect girlfriend. Enter Michael, a very good looking guy down on his luck and facing bankruptcy. He has resorted to escorting to make ends meet. When he meets Stella, he realises that she is no ordinary client. What she is proposing sounds ridiculous and dangerous, but he finds himself tempted just to spend more time with her. This is where the reader gets hooked into their unique dynamic.

The teacher-student-contract plot does of course crop up all the time, and it’s one of my favourites (Educating Caroline by Patricia Cabot). However, Hoang introduces a new spin to this reverse ‘Pretty Woman’ story, by dealing with ideas of cultural differences, social expectations and class. Nothing too heavy.

I listened to this on audiobook- my first time listening to romance. Quite an experience! Mostly exciting, but I do not recommend tuning in when you are in crowded places. Sometimes the dialogue felt very slow moving at times, but I’m not sure whether that was from the narrator or writing. Overall, this is a wonderful read that paves a promising future for the industry.

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