One to Watch, Kate Stayman-London

(Thank you to the tagged publisher for the gifted copy)

This book was refreshing and unique. I absolutely loved the way it was told through a variety of narrators and mediums.

Bea felt so real to me and even though I’m not one to watch reality TV, One to Watch made me wish Main Squeeze was real.

If One to Watch isn’t on your TBR, you definitely need to add it.

Luster, Raven Leilani

Wow. The prose. The insane plot points. The punchy internal dialog. This book was perfection. I found this book to be both heartbreaking and a bit inspiring, which surprised me given the content. But I loved how unapologetic the main character was. She knew who she was and didn’t ever try to hide that.

You need this book in your life. That is all.

Hood Feminism, Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism challenged me. It forced me to shut up and listen and reconcile with feminism’s failings and my own.

I’ve always been hesitant to call myself an ally because I wasn’t sure that was a label I could slap on myself. It also felt self-serving. As if it was a banner to wear that said “look at me, I’m not like 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑚.” Mikki Kendall made me realize that I haven’t been a good ally and that I have so much more learning and work to do.

With each chapter and topic I realized how much of the conversations and realities BIPOC women face were topics that made me uncomfortable discussing. This challenged me to ask myself why. The answer? I haven’t done enough. I haven’t been a good ally or advocate. I haven’t listened enough.

White women who claim to be feminists need to read this book and really pay attention. White Feminism actively hurts BIPOC women, where consciously or not, it does. We cannot and will not achieve equality or equity until ALL women and ALL women’s issues are addressed openly and honestly.

After Everything Sneak Peek

Are you ready to meet Abby? Keep reading for a sneak peek into chapter one of After Everything!

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CHAPTER ONE

I touched the tip of my finger to the cool glass of the window and stared down at the busy street below. Drops of rain raced down the pane, chasing each other toward their final destination. As the heat from my finger transferred to the glass, the droplets diverted and created a new path, avoiding me altogether. Moments like this, I wished I were the rain.

“Abby,” my mother said and cleared her throat. “Are you listening to me?”

I nodded but didn’t speak. She, of course, couldn’t see this through the phone but I kept nodding anyway.

“How’s the ‘songwriting thing’ going?” If it were possible to hear air quotes, my mother would be the perfect person to narrate them.

“Great,” I replied. The lie slipped out far too easily. “Everything is great.”

Nothing was great, but I couldn’t tell her that. I couldn’t admit that my lack of planning combined with my impulsive decision to run away from my hometown, family, and husband had all been a mistake. She didn’t need to know the full extent of my failures. Otherwise, she’d never stop rubbing them in my face.

“You’ve always been a terrible liar,” she said with a snorted laugh. “How long do you intend to mope about your apartment? Have you done dishes this week? Last week? Do you have on clean underwear?”

Rolling my eyes, I bit back the sarcasm that bubbled inside my throat and said, “Yes, Mom, I’m wearing clean underwear. The apartment is clean. Everything is fine.”

Fine. The most loaded word in the English language. Fine wasn’t fine and neither was I.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me, Abigail Grace.” Never mind that she couldn’t see me. She knew me better than anyone. Just as I’d known she air quoted “songwritingthing,” she knew I was rolling my eyes as I said “fine.” I flinched at her tone and shook off the feeling it brought on. I wasn’t sixteen. She wasn’t in control anymore. My life was mine and mine alone to fuck up, and I was doing a mighty fine job of that all on my own. I didn’t need her meddling to make things worse. “Abby, are you there? I can’t hear you.”

“Sorry, it’s raining.” I yawned. 

“Let me guess,” she said with a small laugh. “You’re staring out the window and wondering which raindrop will win the race.”

“You know me well,” I said. Niles, my cat purred and rubbed against my bare legs. I reached down and scratched his head. He climbed into my lap and curled himself into a tiny ball of black and white fluff. “Listen, Mom, I know you’re worried or whatever, but I’m fine. I can take care of myself. This is just a small setback.”

“You were fired, Abby, I’d call that more than a setback.”

“I wasn’t fired, I was let go. The agency downsized.” She was right, though, I’d been fired, but they were also in the midst of a downsizing after losing a big client. I might have survived the downsizing if I hadn’t shown up for the most important meeting of my life fifteen minutes late and with a hangover the size of my hometown—small, but invasive. My performance in that meeting is what lost us the big client. So, technically, we were both right. She knew me well enough to know I’d somehow managed to fuck up this golden opportunity. I’m nothing if not predictable.

“Have you told your—” she said, pausing to swallow her distaste before finishing her question. “Your father?”

“Do you really want to know?” I asked.

“Nope, I don’t.”

“Great, then I won’t have to lie.” I hadn’t called him, nor did I plan to. I’d missed our coffee date on Monday, being hungover and late and all. He’d called, but I’d never called him back. I wasn’t in the mood for a litany of “I told you so”s or “you just know how to let me down don’t you”s. The two things I’d recently learned that my father excelled at. Well, that and pretending he’d never had a wife or two daughters in Missouri.

“Maybe it’s time to tuck your tail between your legs and come home,” she said as if she were simply suggesting a small tweak. Her casual tone dug under my skin.

“And do what?” I asked without bothering to hide my annoyance.

“There are plenty of jobs here,” she said.

“I can’t come home, Mom, you know that.”

Mom sighed and then paused as if she were seriously debating her next sentence. As soon as she spoke it, I wished she thought harder and kept it to herself.

“You know he won’t wait forever, right?” she asked.

“I don’t want him to,” I said. As I said the words, the all-too-familiar tug of home pulled me away from the comfort of my cozy Nashville condo. I took a deep breath and said, “And what would I do for work? Ed at the radio station made it clear my old job wasn’t an option.”

“I’m sure there are marketing jobs here,” she said.

“In Wishing, Missouri? They don’t even know what marketing is.” Moving home wasn’t an option. I’d sell myself on Dickerson Pike before I moved back to Missouri. No, failure wasn’t an option. It didn’t matter that I was already halfway there.

“Or, I bet Rayna would let you come back and sing a few nights a week at Lace & Grit or bartend. She did you good when you got that hair up your ass to go to college.”

I bit my tongue. I’d sung at the tiny dive bar more times than I could even remember but I was fairly certain neither the town nor Rayna would welcome me back with open arms. Not after what I did to Jacob. Not after I left like I did. “Just, no,” I mumbled to myself.

“What was that?” she asked, her voice suddenly sounding a thousand miles away.

“Nothing, Mom.” I didn’t have the energy to defend myself or my move to Nashville anymore. I wasn’t coming home. Even if it meant groveling for more handouts from my father.

“Sorry, I’ve got to run. Your sister just pulled up with the twins,” Mom said. Her voice kicked up an octave. It always did that when Lindsey was around. My older sister was her pride and joy. I was her biggest disappointment.

“Give them hugs and snuggles from Auntie Abby.”

“Come home and give them out yourself.”

I sighed and said, “I love you, Mom. Talk soon?” She hung up without returning the sentiment.

I dropped the phone onto my lap and closed my eyes. The rain pelted the window. Each one hitting a new note and continuing the song no one asked it to sing. I laid my head against the window and waited for motivation to strike. I should be looking for a new job or heading out for a songwriter meet up or writing a song. Or anything other than moping around my overpriced condo in three-day-old pajamas. But I hadn’t touched my guitar in months, not once in the months since I’d left home. I’d moved to Music City and lost my will to write.

A knock at the door pulled me from my brief moment of reverie. Niles leapt from my lap and rushed to the door, eager to see what was on the other side. I’d gotten a cat because they were supposed to be chill and quiet. Somehow, I’d managed to adopt a lap cat that thinks he’s a dog. I slipped off the window seat and padded across the floor. Before I pulled it open, I swiped my hand through my mousy blonde hair. When was the last time I’d combed it? Monday? Had I even done it then?

“Abigail Rhodes?” a young man asked when I pulled the door open.

“Yes?”

“You’ve been served.” He shoved an envelope into my unsuspecting hand, and I stepped back, refusing to touch it. I knew what was inside that manila envelope, and I had no desire to accept it. Though, I’d been the one to ask for it in the first place, I wasn’t ready for the finality. “Look, you’ve been served whether you take it or not. If you take it, I can go about my day and you can go take a shower or brush your teeth.”

“Rude,” I said and took the envelope. He offered a weak smile and turned to go before I could slam the door in his face. “Fucking perfect.”

The envelope wasn’t big. It didn’t weigh much but it held so much more than just the papers that would officially end the best worst mistake of my life. No, mistake wasn’t the right word. A mistake implies it was a simple oops. Not fourteen years of saying yes when I meant to say no. Not packing up in the middle of the night and leaving without so much as a goodbye. Not the single-word lie I brought with me. Those weren’t simple mistakes. Those were conscious, calculated decisions, and for the most part, I accepted the consequences. Even if I didn’t like them.

Jacob. His name buzzed around my head like a fly I couldn’t swat. It hovered just out of reach, taunting and teasing me. I tossed the envelope on the counter and vowed to deal with it later. I’d sign the papers, I knew I would, I just needed a few more days to clear my head. It didn’t matter that I was the one who left. I was the one who initiated all of this; I just wasn’t ready to accept full responsibility or finality.

Niles worked his way in and out of the spot between my feet. He meowed and stared up at me. I bent down to pick him up and caught a whiff of myself. Ugh. The guy at the door wasn’t wrong. I needed a shower. Badly. I picked up my phone and glanced at the date. It was Thursday. I hadn’t bothered to look in a mirror or change my clothes since Monday. I’d only talked to my mother on the phone, no one else. I hadn’t even left my condo. I wasn’t even one-hundred percent sure the rest of the world even existed. I’d somehow managed to stay off social media; unless playing Words with Friends with random people counted as social media. (It didn’t.) I’d sulked for three full days. It was time to rejoin the world. Maybe I could finally check out the bar that was on the first floor of my condo building. Just one drink, I vowed. One.

I slipped out of my clothes, cringing at the smell that wafted off of them, and tossed them onto the bathroom floor. Stepping over them, I reached into the shower and turned the water as hot as it would go. I’d need to boil the last few days off of me if I wanted a chance at a fresh start. Or, at least, a fresh scent. The start could wait until after I called my dad with the news that I’d ruined the shot he so generously gave me.

I reached my hand into the shower and yanked it back out. Flames rushed over my skin. The temperature was near perfect. Jacob would have hated it. I shuddered at the second reminder of him. There wasn’t a trace of him inside this condo or in this town, but I still felt his presence. Inside my eyelids when I blinked. On my skin when the sun or rain kissed it. In between my fingers when I reached for a beer; the shape of the bottle reminding me of the feel of his hand in mine. He was nowhere but everywhere all at the same time.

I hated myself for thinking about him and romanticizing our brief marriage. A year ago, I’d never have considered that I might miss the doldrums of our routines. I also didn’t assume I’d be living in a condo that my dad owned in downtown Nashville. A year ago, Jacob and Wishing, Missouri, were all I knew. Our relationship had survived high school, college, and our mid-twenties, but it couldn’t survive our very different dreams. The dreams we’d once shared had shifted as we grew up and apart. His involved buns in the oven and mine involved guitars and lyrics. I’d once been convinced that they could live together and become a shared future. Jacob hadn’t seen it that way. His home was, and always would be, in Missouri. I used to think mine was too; then one day it wasn’t.

I’d always felt safe and content with him and in the hometown we shared. But contentment wasn’t what I thought it would be. Safety wasn’t love, and it certainly didn’t inspire any life-changing songs. That came from leaving your high school sweetheart and packing up everything you owned into the back of a decade-old Toyota Camry and making the 500-mile drive to the city of music and begging your estranged father for a place to live and selling your soul for a paycheck.

Better than living and dying in the same small town I was born in. Just like all the small-town girls who came before me. Better than admitting my life was headed exactly where it started. Nowhere.

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Beautiful Collision, Tori Alvarez

Y’all, I’m a sucker for books about real, flawed, and strong characters. Maybe that’s why I loved Toni and Beautiful Collision so much.

Toni and Garret’s story had so many layers and emotions. Yes, there were times I wanted to reach through the pages and give Toni a good talking to, but that was Lola’s and Alex’s job, not mine.

If you’re looking for a raw, honest, real, and slightly angsty romance to dive into this weekend, this is definitely the book for you.

Paris Never Leaves You, Ellen Feldmen

Paris Never Leaves You is up next on my TBR! Have you read it yet? Keep reading for a sneak peek into the first chapter!

“Masterful. Magnificent. A passionate story of survival and a real page turner. This story will stay with me for a long time.” —Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Cilka’s Journey

Living through World War II working in a Paris bookstore with her young daughter, Vivi, and fighting for her life, Charlotte is no victim, she is a survivor. But can she survive the next chapter of her life?

Alternating between wartime Paris and 1950s New York publishing, Ellen Feldman’s Paris Never Leaves You is an extraordinary story of resilience, love, and impossible choices, exploring how survival never comes without a cost.

The war is over, but the past is never past.

About the Author:
ELLEN FELDMAN, a 2009 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of Terrible VirtueThe UnwittingNext to LoveScottsboro (shortlisted for the Orange Prize), The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank (translated into nine languages), and Lucy. Her novel Terrible Virtue was optioned by Black Bicycle for a feature film.

Exclusive Excerpt!!

One

New York, 1954

Charlotte spotted the letter as soon as she stepped into her office. There was no reason it should have caught her eye. The desk was littered with papers and envelopes. Stacks of manuscripts and books filled the shelves of the small cubicle and spilled over onto the two chairs. Certainly the airmail envelope didn’t make it stand out. Most of the books she published were American editions of European works, and a good deal of her mail arrived in those tissue-thin blue envelopes. The only explanation for its attracting her attention was that she’d already gone through her morning mail and the afternoon delivery hadn’t yet arrived. Perhaps the letter had gone to another editor by mistake, and he or she had left it on Charlotte’s

desk while she was upstairs in the art department. Or perhaps the mailroom had overlooked it in the morning sorting.

Gibbon & Field was a prestigious publishing house, but a certain loucheness lurked behind the scenes. That was the fault of Horace Field, the publisher. He was too forgiving, or perhaps only cannily manipulative. She’d had her earliest inkling of the trait the first Christmas after she’d come to work at the house. Leaving the office one evening at the same time, she and Horace had entered the elevator together to find a young man from the production depart- ment struggling to balance two or three oversize art books and several of a more conventional trim size. When he saw Horace, he colored an unhappy Christmas red.

“I see you’ve taken our ads to heart, Seth,” Horace said. “‘There’s a book for everyone on your Christmas list.’”

The young man turned a deeper red and shot out of the elevator as soon as the doors opened. That was un- usual. The staff usually deferred to Horace getting on and off elevators, and everywhere else.

“Are you going to take the books out of his salary?” she’d asked as they’d followed him across the lobby.

“Not on your life.”

“It would teach him a lesson.”

“The only lesson I want to teach him, Charlie, is to work his tail off for the greater glory of G&F.”

Paris Never Leaves You 

“And you think encouraging him to walk out the door with an armful of purloined books will do that?”

“I think the next time he asks for a raise and doesn’t get it, he’ll remember all the books he’s filched and feel guilty, or at least compensated. Same with the expense accounts the editors and travelers turn in. They think they’re stealing me blind, but a guilty conscience breeds contrition. Maybe even loyalty. They feel they owe the house something in return. That’s why I worry about you. Those expense accounts you file are a travesty. If the other editors get wind of them, they’ll never forgive you for spoiling the game.”

Horace’s philosophy permeated the entire publishing house from the grand larceny of the production depart- ment, run by a man rumored to have ties to the Mafia, to the petty pilfering and general slacking off of the mail- room. That must be why the letter had been delivered late. And the timing was the only reason she noticed it. It had nothing to do with a sixth sense, in which she defi- nitely did not believe.

She sat behind the desk and picked up the envelope. Her name and the G&F address were written, not typed. The handwriting wasn’t familiar. There was no return ad- dress on the upper left-hand corner. She turned it over. As soon as she saw the name, she realized why she hadn’t recognized the handwriting. When had they put anything

in writing? No, that wasn’t true. He’d  written her once,  a year or so after the end of the war. The letter had taken months to wind its way through the Drancy records and the various agencies to reach her in New York. She’d taken solace in that. He didn’t know where she was, and he was still in Germany. She’d never answered that letter. The return address on this one was Bogotá, Colombia. So he’d got out after all. She was glad. She was also relieved. South America was still a long distance away.

What troubled her was not where he was but that now he knew where she was. She’d thought she’d been so careful. Neither her address nor her telephone num- ber was listed in the book. The people who had tried to help her settle into her new life—social workers and do- gooders from various refugee organizations; her colleagues here and at other publishing houses; Horace Field’s wife, Hannah—had found the omission foolish and antisocial. “How do you expect to make a life for yourself in a new country,” Hannah had asked, “if no one can find you?” Charlotte hadn’t argued with her. She’d merely gone on paying the small fee to be unlisted. Gradually Hannah and everyone else had stopped asking and chalked it up to what she’d been through. No one, including Hannah, knew what that was, but that didn’t stop them from spec- ulating.

She wasn’t much easier to find in the office, though

Paris Never Leaves You 

apparently he’d managed. Her name didn’t  appear  in the list of editors that ran down the left-hand side of the company stationery. Most publishing houses didn’t list editors on the stationery but that was another of Horace Field’s peculiar indulgences. A year after she’d come to work at G&F, he’d asked if she wanted to be included.

“Think of it as a sop,” he’d said.

“A sop?” She spoke four languages, could read two others, and had taken her degree at the Sorbonne in English literature, but in those days she was still having trouble with some American slang.

“Compensation for the slave wages we pay you.”

“At least you didn’t suggest I make up the difference by stealing books,” she’d said, and added that she didn’t want her name on the stationery but thanked him all the same. Nonetheless, despite her absence in the phone book and on the company stationery, her name did occasion- ally turn up in acknowledgments in the books she worked on. And my gratitude to Charlotte Foret for steering my ves- sel safely through the turbulent waters of American publish- ing. My thanks to Charlotte Foret, who first saw that a book about the Dutch Golden Age written by a Dutchman would appeal to American audiences. The question was how he’d managed to get his hands on a US edition in Europe, or now South America. The various consulates had libraries to spread the American gospel among the local populations, but the books she published rarely spread the American gospel. Nonetheless, he must have found one. Or else he’d tracked her down through a refugee agency. Once in America, she’d distanced herself from the émigré or immigrant or refugee—choose your term—groups, but she’d had to file the usual papers and obtain the necessary documents to get here. She was traceable.

From Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman. Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

He Started It, Samantha Downing

(Thank you to the publisher for the gifted copy)

This book sucked me in and pulled me along for the ride, but damn that ending … I don’t know. I just don’t know, guys.

I should have seen the ending coming. It left me feeling the same way My Lovely Wife did. I won’t say anything more than that.

Anyway, this was a solid domestic suspense. It was compelling and unique. But. UGH.

What’s Left of Me, Kristen Granata

I know I don’t give star ratings anymore but if I did, What’s Left of Me would get all of them. Every last f-ing star.

This book is raw, honest, emotional, and filled with hope. Kristen’s writing is so beautiful and perfect as she guides the reader through the story.

Did I cry? Yup. Did I laugh? Yup … be honest Kristen, you’re totally Josie. Fierce, loyal, protective. A potty mouth that would make a sailor need a dictionary.

If this book isn’t on your TBR, go buy it now. I read it in one night because I could not put it down.

Oh, and look, my nails match Kristen’s cover too!

How We Fight For Our Lives, Saeed Jones

Raw. Honest. Real. Those are the words I’d use to describe Saeed’s memoir.

As a gay Black man raised in Texas, Saeed details his self-discovery and the struggles he and his single mother faced. And, he doesn’t hold back.

In addition to being a powerful story, Saeed’s writing had a melodic flow that pulled me in and held me captive.