Safe House, Jo Jakeman

Thank you to Berkley for the gifted copy.

Y’all … I could NOT put this book down. I was intrigued from page one and felt so conflicted. I didn’t know who to trust. And let’s just say that I did NOT see that ending coming.

From the Publisher:

She’s paid the price for giving her ex a false alibi, and now she’s moved to a seaside village to escape her past–but more than her lie follows her there in this chilling and twisty psychological thriller from the author of the acclaimed The Exes’ Revenge.

One day, a woman turns up in a remote coastal village. She’s bought a crumbling, long-vacant cottage and calls herself Charlie Miller. Charlie keeps to herself, reluctant to integrate with the locals. If they ever find out who she really is, and what she’s done, she’ll lose what little she has left.

Charlie served two years in prison for providing a false alibi for a murderer. It was the mistake of a woman in love, a woman who couldn’t believe her boyfriend was guilty–or lying to her. All she desperately wants now is a fresh start.

As Charlie slowly lets down her guard and becomes friendly with her neighbors, she can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching her, someone who knows what she did. When one of her new friends suddenly disappears, Charlie’s worst fears are confirmed. She must confront her past head-on, but as she knows all too well, everything is far more dangerous than how it appears.

The Sunday Potluck Club, Melissa Storm

Thank you to the Kensington Books for the gifted copy. Out 3/31/20.

The Sunday Potluck Club solid sweet romance! I loved the groups of four friends and the way they all interacted with and supported each other.

I really related to Amy and the way she felt compelled to be the helper and peacemaker, but I also loved how her character grew and learned to stand up for herself.

Can’t wait to read the next one!

Women Are The Future

Today is International Women’s Day, and I’ve struggled to find the words to adequately convey what I’m thinking today. I am a woman and a mother of a strong, independent little girl who will grow up to be a formidable and fierce woman.

The world she’s being raise in will call her bossy or rude or a bitch when she stands her ground and demands that her voice be heard.

Boys and men will tell her to smile more and think she owes them something.

Bosses will underestimate her. Teachers will pass over her. Co-workers will y’all over and dismiss her.

All because she’s a woman. But the loss is theirs because I can already see the forces colliding inside her. Strength. Sense of self. Power. Leadership. Creativity. Dominance.

My daughter, like every girl I know, is far more than a cute face with a pretty dress and a bow. She’s more than a daughter. More than a sister. More than any label anyone slaps on her.

Women are the life force of this planet. They’re the calm before, during, and after the storms.

Women and girls are the future, and it will take each and every one of us to ensure that all of our voices are heard.

Dominicana, Angie Cruz

I’m not sure I have the words to adequately review this book.

I was enthralled with Ana’s voice and her story. When we meet her, Ana is just fifteen. Her entire life is dedicated to her family and she sacrifices everything for them. Her strength and determination amid everything she’d been dealt was inspiring.

The voice and writing style were unique and it helped pull me deeper into Ana’s narrative and world.

3.3.20 – InstaShortie – The Storm

An eerie silence fell over the pitch-black room. I clutched his tiny, warm body to my chest. The tiny gasps of his uneven breaths did little to soothe the anxiety rising inside of me. I strained my ears in a feeble attempt to dig through the silence in search of the familiar sounds of rain, wind, and thunder. Those were the sounds I needed to hear. Instead, the roaring stillness embraced us.

The absence of sound meant one thing. Well, at least on nights like these. Nights when the starry night sky gave way to clouds dark and blank and filled to the brim with angry droplets of rain and electricity. Nights when the wind howled so loud the sirens didn’t bother to blare. Or, if they did, they were muted by the elements.

I rested my cheek atop his head and brushed my skin back and forth over the tiny baby hairs that only I could see. To the world, my little blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy was as bald as a polished stone, but to me, he had a head full of hair as pale as his father’s. The same shade I spent hundreds of dollars perfecting. Those tiny, invisible hairs brought the solace I’d been seeking. Each one caressed my face and calmed me in a way I’d never have imagined possible. Three months ago, he hadn’t existed outside of me. A year ago, he didn’t exist at all. Now, his entire life rested on my shoulders and in my arms. His sustenance swelled inside my breast, aching for him to wake and relieve the pressure.

But he didn’t stir. He was blissfully unaware of the storm raging outside his home or the one raging silently inside it. The very man that had given him the blonde hair that brought me a simple kind of joy was the one behind the internal storm. His anger and disappointment whirled inside these four-walls until the rage became too much for concrete and brick to hold. The nights it bubbled over, much like this night, I retreated with our son into the darkness of his nursery. When the words and the fists battled to see which could be the cruelest and inflict the most damage, I let the walls and doors shield and hide us from the wrath. Inside this room we were safe. He wouldn’t dare enter the sacred space that housed his son. Even if that one tiny heartbeat had sealed his father’s fate and life-sentence. His arms and legs shackled in their place beside me. He’d wrongly assumed I’d held the key. As though I’d had any control over his decision to intrude into my life. After all, it had been him who’d shown up night after night until I acquiesced to his desires. It has also been him who’d provided the assurance that the very child I was holding was an impossibility.

Tiny fingers grasped at the neck of my nightshirt. The unexpected touch startled me, pulling my mind back into my body. He tugged as he sensed the time for his nightly feeding had long passed. I stepped back and leaned against the wall and let my body slide down it. I landed softly on the carpet. The tiny thud my body made barely penetrated the air. He curled against me and positioned himself.

How long had we been holed up in this closet? Five minutes? An hour? I couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. The silence of the storm hung over us as the clouds hooked and rooked into the unmistakable, angry shape I’d been raised to fear.

A gust of wind rattled the window in the nursery. I pulled him tighter to my chest and leaned over him; protecting him as I always did. And, always would.

A second, third and fourth gust shook the entire house. I closed my eyes and pulled my son closer. We were already connected but still, I pulled him tighter. If I could have, I’d have pulled him back inside me and tucked him into my womb where I knew he’d always be safe. There, he’d forever remain innocent and unharmed. The angry voice of his father would be muffled into a low murmur by the layers of muscle, fat, tissue, and skin that stood between him and the outside world.

“Shh,” I shushed him over the rumbling sounds of the storm as it grunted and moaned as it pulled debris and air into a rotating cyclone. My heart raced inside my chest as the pounding inside my ears competed with the loudness of the storm. Both sounds were deafening. Yet, he seemed unbothered as he suckled and clung to me. Every ounce of him trusted in me. He knew without a shred of doubt that inside my arms he was secure.

With my eyes squeezed tight, I couldn’t see the walls crumble or the roof lift but I felt it all the same. Raindrops dripped onto my bare legs. I shivered against the chill of the midnight air. He stirred and squirmed away from me. His body tensed for a moment. When he didn’t move, my eyes flew open and I pressed my hand against his back, searching for the telltale sign of breath. When his back pressed against my hand, I sighed with relief but kept my hand firmly in place. I didn’t dare move until I counted six full breaths. I glanced down at him and our eyes met. I lifted him closer to my face so he could see me better through the newborn haze. His lips pursed for a second, then curved into a tiny smile.

I didn’t bother to survey the missing walls or debris. There was nothing left here for us. Sirens blared and neighbors shouted, their voices carried by the gentle breeze the storm left in its wake. As I stood, I braced myself against the two walls that remained; the one behind us and the one beside us. The house—it had never been a home—lay in ruins around us.

“Are you safe?” a worried voice asked. A hand grabbed my shoulder from behind. I jumped forward and pulled myself free. “Is your husband home?”

I nodded toward what had once been our bedroom at the back of the house. “He wouldn’t get out of bed.” My voice trembled and betrayed the calm lie I clung to.

When I’d heard the sirens that his snoring threatened to drown out, I didn’t bother waking or alerting him. I’d been certain it was just another false alarm. Or, maybe I’d known the truth and let the storm do what his temper had always threatened to do.

Someone draped a blanket over my shoulders and led me away from the chaos. With my gaze fixed on my son’s curious face, I didn’t look back.

2.20.20 – InstaShortie – One Decision | One Mistake

One mistake. That’s all it was. An error in judgment. A simple yes when I should’ve said no. It wasn’t more complicated than that. There was nothing nefarious in the decision. I didn’t even think about it, I simply said, “Yes.”

At the time, it wasn’t a difficult decision. My answer was my answer and there was nothing left to consider.

Yes.

That single word answer would come to define everything that came after it. I’d thought it was a one-word sentence. There was an assumed noun—I. An action and a period. The end. But it wasn’t the end. It was the beginning, even I didn’t realize it at the time.

When I look back on that day and the question that led to my answer, I never wonder if I’d change my mind if I could. There was no doubt now that the right answer—according to anyone else—was no, but I can’t say with any level of certainty that I’d do it any differently given the chance. Yes was my answer then, and even knowing what I do now, it is still the answer I’d give. Because to me, it wasn’t a mistake. I didn’t regret my yes that day or the ones I’d uttered since.

I sucked in a deep breath and tried to steady myself. After more than a year, I shouldn’t feel this nervous, but my palms were sweaty and my legs shook. I ran my hand over my hair to smooth the tiny baby hairs that had recently sprouted and then tucked the platinum blonde strands behind my ears. With my shoulders pulled upright and straight, I took a step forward and rang the bell. I waited until the ringing stopped before I exhaled. Then, I closed my blue eyes and opened my ears, listening for the familiar footsteps. They came right on schedule, just as they always did. I forced my lips to curve upward and bit the inside of my cheek in anticipation.

“Miss Shepherd.” The young man greeted me with a smile.

“Hey, Eddie,” I said and kept my voice neutral despite the increasing tempo of my heartbeat.

“Come in. Mr. Thompson is waiting.”

“Is Mrs. Thompson in?” I asked.

“Rosaline is in New York this week.” His voice held the same sense of relief I felt. Rosie, as Mr. Thompson called her, was rarely home. I’d only met her once and I wasn’t keen on the idea of a second meeting. Eddie stepped aside and waved me into the house. I thanked him and removed my coat. He took it and left me alone in the foyer,

I took in the massive space and marveled at the elegant emptiness that filled it. I’d seen it exactly 65 times since I’d given my one-word answer—every Tuesday for the past 16 months—and it still amazed me. I didn’t belong here in this house. My name shouldn’t be on the lips of a butler who took my $15 thrift store coat, and he certainly had no business calling me “Miss Shepard.” No one else did, not the friends or family I had left. They just called me “Illy.” like Lily without the “L.”

I smoothed my hands over my baby blue cashmere sweater and tugged it down over my belly. The expensive sweater was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Thompson. Though, I doubt Rosaline knew it had been given to me. She’d likely approved the gift with a flick of the wrist and an eye roll, dismissing her husband. She didn’t much care for me but I suppose most women aren’t too eager to pick out gifts for their husband’s mistresses. Then again, I doubt many wives handpicked the woman their husband was going to have an affair with. My mother certainly hadn’t. Neither had I, but I hadn’t been given the opportunity. Perhaps my first marriage would’ve lasted if I had.

“Ilona?” His voice called down the stairs. “Is that you?”

I took a step forward and flinched at the clomp of my shoe. I bent down and slipped it off. The mansion the Thompson’s occupied was larger than the apartment complex I lived in. Their expensive artwork and oversized furniture filled the space but the house was void of much else. Every tiny sound carried.

With my shoes tucked under my arm, I followed his voice and climbed the stairs. As I made my way toward the top, I let my body relax. I started with my eyes. Blinking them slowly, I pushed the tension aside. He’d see it immediately if I didn’t. Then, he’d spend our hours together fretting over me.

Once my face relaxed, I rolled my shoulders, and then my arms. I swayed my hips back and forth to loosen them as well. By the time I reached the top, I was a different woman. I was confident and casual. I was sure of myself and my decisions.

I turned to my right and let my gaze fall onto the door that never opened. That room belonged to Rosaline. It was the one room in the house I’d never been inside, but it was the room that held my curiosity. I was forbidden to enter it or to ask questions. I was to pretend she didn’t exist. On the surface, that was an easy task. There were no photos of the lady of the house in her husband’s living quarters. He didn’t wear a wedding band, and there wasn’t evidence of a woman’s touch anywhere in the house.

It’s cold stone exterior and high ceilings were the opposite of inviting. The first time I’d come here, it felt like an overpriced prison. Rosaline had walked through the structure at a brisk pace and pointed out each room. Every space had a purpose to her but to me, it seemed as if it all existed to convince the world it was worthy of its inhabitants. Rosaline and Derrick Thompson existed to prove that same point.

When I first met Rosaline, I was struck by her power first. Her beauty, though astonishing, was the last thing I noticed. She commanded attention with every word and movement. Nothing was without intention. She spoke slowly and chose her words with care. She didn’t take a step without first evaluating every one of her options. I was nothing like her. Rosaline would never leap headfirst into a decision as big as the one she’d asked me to make.

My gaze lingered on the door for a moment longer than usual. A moment too long. The door I should have been standing in front of opening. Click-click. The sound of the doorknob turning danced down the hallway, bouncing off the pristine white walls. I turned on my heels and moved away from Rosaline’s forbidden door and smiled.

“Derrick,” I said and clicked my tongue against my teeth. He opened his arms and wiggled his fingers, inviting me in for our typical greeting. The forced smile melted from my lips and was replaced by the genuine one I reserved for him.

“Ilona,” he whispered into my ear. His lips lingered on the last syllable, dragging it out as if he were savoring the sound as I was. He said my name with an elegance I’d never heard or imagined possible. His chest pushed into mine as he inhaled deeply. “I’ve missed you.”

“I missed you, too.” Though I didn’t want to, I pulled back from him. “Shall we?” I nodded towards the open door of his bedroom.

“Are you—” he paused and placed one hand on my waist, “Is this okay?”

I dropped my head, not wanting to see the concern and sympathy in his eyes. I couldn’t bear the weight of his sadness or pity. I swallowed back the tears I’d been fighting for two months.

“Yes,” I said. I shivered as he ran the back of his hand over my cheek. He cupped my chin and tilted my head up toward his. His eyes brimmed with his own selfish tears. Unlike me, he hadn’t bothered hiding them. They’d flowed freely and without guilt. I hated him for it but those tears were what had made me fall in love with him.

He took my hand and led me into his bedroom. The door slammed shut behind us, sealing us in his sanctuary. This was the only room in the house that made me feel welcome. The dark gray walls and plush carpeting pulled me into their embrace and rocked me gently in their arms. In this room, Derrick wasn’t Mr. Rosaline Thompson, he was just Derrick. His touch was thoughtful, and his kisses were bountiful. In here it was just us.

In here my answer would always be yes.

Derrick sat on the edge of the bed and pulled me in front of him. I stood between his legs and waited for his tears to stop. He slid one hand under my sweater and rested it on my belly. The chill in his skin stung against the warmth of mine. I shivered as his fingers traced tiny circles and hearts into my flesh. He splayed his fingers across my flat stomach and closed his eyes.

I watched the memories move across his face. Each twitch of his lips and flicker of his eyelids a moment we couldn’t get back.

“Derrick,” I said, caressing his name as it rolled over my tongue, “I’m ready.”

He blinked his eyes open. “Just one more minute. I’m trying to remember the curve of her.”

The lump I’d swallowed back earlier, rose up my throat. I breathed in through my nose and held my breath as I counted from one to ten and back down. It took three full breaths to shut away the emotion I refused to feel. I wasn’t paid to feel. Feelings were what had gotten us in trouble in the first place.

I placed my hand over his and intertwined my fingers with his, breaking his connection with my skin. I pushed his hands higher until they rested on my breast, to remind him why we were here. The sound of his groan filled the room, and he lay back on the bed.

“Will you stay with me tonight?” he asked. He knew I couldn’t answer that question. It was the one yes I couldn’t give.

“Don’t worry about tonight,” I replied. I brushed a strand of his chestnut hair from his eyes and lowered myself onto him. I tried to focus solely on Derrick and push aside all thoughts of Rosaline. In this room, she didn’t exist. Those had been her parting words to me after I’d agreed to her plan. My one and only job was to keep Derrick happy and smiling. He was the one I’d said yes to, not her.

“I love you, Ilona,” he whispered into my hair as it spilled around him. I let those four words linger in my ears before shutting them out and retreating back into myself. If Rosaline heard him say those words to me, I’d be right back where I’d been when she found me, and I had no intention of ever going back.

Getting Back to Me

For the past year, I’ve been attempting to balance working motherhood, marriage, reading, launching a Bookstagram, and writing and querying.

I wrote four full manuscripts. I read 120 books. I lost my patience, my temper, and at times, my mind. I stopped taking care of myself. My hair? Hot mess. My makeup? Huh, what’s that? My nails? Anxiety chewed a hole through my hands.

Nothing was or is balanced. The scales will never be perfect and that’s okay. What isn’t okay is that I completely let my health and self-care slip into the void.

I’m proud of the writing I did and the progress I made (12 manuscript requests and counting, let’s not talk about the rejections that piled up as well). I’m not to my goal yet, but I am closer.

I absolutely love the Bookstagram community I’ve joined. I’ve made some amazing friends there too—writing partners, confidants, mom friends—and it’s been a joy to be a part of.

I’m not planning on changing any of this, but I do need to get back to doing the things I loved doing before. My first step? Getting my platinum hair back. I missed it. A lot. Then, back to doing my makeup and having fun with it. Because for me, it is about the fun of it and not whatever society deems as important or beauty or whatever. It’s for me.

Been There, Married That, Gigi Levangie

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the gifted copy.

I didn’t love it or hate it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hollywood gossip and drama as much as any white Suburban mom but this one bordered on the ridiculous. The writing was fun, but over the top at times. So, that’s it. That’s all I’ve got for this one.

When We Were Brave, Suzanne Kelman

Despite a slow start, I found When We Were Brave the be captivating. Normally, I adore dual timelines, but the present-day story felt too forced and it pulled me out of the story.

I was more interested and invested in Vivi’s story than I was in Sophie’s, and felt those parts were more of a distraction. I’d have preferred to have the story set solely with Vivi and her journey in WWII.

It was an interesting twist to have the story be about uncovering the truth about someone who’d been assumed to be a traitor. 

The Girl With The Louding Voice, Abi Daré

Have you ever read a book that both broke and revived your heart? The Girl With the Louding Voice was both heartbreaking and inspiring.

I absolutely loved Adunni and reading this book in her voice made it that much more real. Her words and sentences became more confident as she learned and grew, her voice louder and stronger with each page.

The Girl with the Louding Voice is definitely one of my top books of 2020.