29 March, 2017

#SpecialFeature :: An #Interview with Steven Manchester, #Author of Ashes

*** Special Feature - March 2017 ***

Quick Recap:
1st March - Guest Post: Being a Storyteller
8th March - Top 10 Behind-the Scene Facts about Ashes 
15th March - An Excerpt from Ashes
22nd March - Short Story "Lost"

Book Details:

Genre: Fiction
Published by: The Story Plant
Publication Date: February 21st 2017
Number of Pages: 260

Book Links:
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Goodreads


Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life – and death – has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other's company. It's either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he's left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.
At turns humorous, biting, poignant, and surprisingly tender, Ashes puts a new spin on family and dysfunction with a story that is at once fresh and timelessly universal.

An Interview with the Author:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
When I was young, my grandfather was an amazing storyteller. Although he never put pen to paper, I was awed by the power of words—to make people laugh or even cry. I knew then that I wanted to be a storyteller too.
I’d just returned home from Operation Desert Storm, and was working as a prison investigator in Massachusetts. Needless to say, there was great negativity in my life at that time. I decided to return to college to finish my degree in Criminal Justice. During one of the classes, the professor talked about police work but nothing else. I finally raised my hand and asked, “The criminal justice system is vast. What about the courts, probation, parole – corrections?” He smiled and told me to see him after class. I thought I’d done it! In his office, he explained, “There’s no written material out there on corrections or prisons, except from the slanted perspective of inmates.” He smiled again and dropped the bomb. “If you’re so smart,” he said, “why don’t you write it?” Nine months later, I dropped the first draft of 6-5; A Different Shade of Blue on his desk. From then on, I was hooked. I was a writer.

What inspires you to write?
My children. My family is the foundation on which I stand. I am constantly inspired—and grateful—by their support. 

What kind of research goes into your book?
I spend a lot of time working on character development. I also conduct as much research as I need to turn fiction into something even I could believe. One of the tricks to being successful is to write a story that you (as a writer) believes. Meticulous research—from real-life experiences to online searches—is the key to making that happen. 

What are you working on at the moment?
Three Shoeboxes (a novel): A successful advertising executive, blessed with a loving family, is brutally ambushed by P.T.S.D. Left to contend with ignorance, an insensitive justice system and the struggles of an invisible disease, his family is taken from him. Yet, in Three Shoeboxes, this father’s undying love may be just enough to make things right again.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story? 
As I’m nearly fifty years old, the conversations I used to share with my two brothers—Billy and Randy—have significantly changed. When we were young, we discussed career choices and romantic pursuits. As the years unfolded, the talks focused on raising children and juggling hectic schedules. Now, these conversations are peppered with reports of doctors’ appointments and where we stand with our retirement plans. The evolution of our conversations is as bittersweet as it is comical to me—and was the basis for Ashes.    
In Ashes, two brothers—estranged for fifteen years—are brought together under circumstances that neither can avoid. By trapping them in a car for several long days, I was able to play out some deep, dark emotions that quickly rise to the surface. The outcome proves to be biting and comical exchange that the reader can experience as if they’re sitting right there in the backseat with the box of ashes. Although there are several twists and turns along the way, the goal was to keep the journey real and relatable—proving that every family has its fair share of dysfunction, as well as unbreakable bonds.
I think readers will really enjoy the characters in this book, as they’re both real and relatable. The brothers carry the storyline and will make readers laugh, cringe and maybe even shed a tear.

Please share three interesting facts about the characters in your book.
They are real and relatable.
They were intentionally created as polar opposites.
They prove that the bonds we create as children—no matter how much distance or miscommunication separates us—are unbreakable.

If you could pick any famous author to review your book who would you pick and why?
Stephen King—he is a master at the craft and the greatest of our generation. 

Have you read any books that have inspired you to improve or change yourself in any way?  
Every book I read influences me as a writer—most in positive ways, other not so much. I am drawn to books that evoke emotion as much as thought. The most impactful read to me has been To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. To me, this is literary perfect (if there is such a thing)..

Name three things that you believe are important to character development?
I (as the writer) have to know them completely before I introduce them to the world.
Use all 5 senses when creating the character, but don’t over detail. I believe that if you give readers 80%, their imaginations will fill in the rest—and they’ll attach themselves.
In my opinion, character development is the most important task toward evoking emotion within any storyline.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so what helps you to get over it?
Honestly, I don’t believe in writer’s blocks—though I understand that they’re quite real when perceived as such. True story: I have a friend—let’s call him Jack. Anyway, he phoned me one night complaining that he was agonizing over a terrible writer’s block. “How does your story end?” I asked him and he went on to explain the ending in detail. “Good,” I said, “so write the ending and then all you have to do is fill in the middle.” He did just that. The lesson is this: Most books aren’t written from point A to point Z. If you get stuck at a certain crossroad, begin to write a passage from a different point in the book. This maintains momentum and confidence (if lost, the two causes of a perceived block). Again, I write novels like creating complicated word puzzles—only to put it all together in the end in order to paint the grandest picture I can. Do whatever works for you, but keep moving. The last thing you want is for a story to go cold on you. You could risk losing the passion, if you wait too long to finish it.

What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most?
Although I enjoy every stage in the writing process, I think I enjoy the final edit the most. It’s where all the pieces come together to reveal the entire picture.

Do you know the ending of your books before you finish writing them?
So far—every time.

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
Lou Aronica, my publisher and mentor, has taught me the value of creating a detailed storyboard before embarking on the write. It’s saved me so much time and wasted effort. 

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
Perseverance is the key to success, You have to believe in yourself and your work long before anyone else does. NEVER, EVER QUIT!

Anything else that you would like to share with your readers?
I’ve always believed that good writers make people think while great writers make their readers feel. I’ve always aimed for the heart. If my work does not connect me to other humans and move them emotionally (confirming that none of us is ever alone), then the time and effort to do the writing just isn’t worth my time.
After all I’ve experienced, I’m most comfortable writing heartfelt stories—which sometimes surprises even me. But without my readers’ support, none of this would be possible—and for that, I’m eternally grateful!

Author Bio:

Steven Manchester is the author of the #1 bestsellers Twelve Months, The Rockin’ Chair, Pressed Pennies, and Gooseberry Island as well as the novels Goodnight, Brian and The Changing Season. His work has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning, and BET’s Nightly News. Recently, three of Manchester’s short stories were selected “101 Best” for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Find Steven on his Website, on Twitter, & on Facebook!

Don't Miss Your Chance to WIN Ashes! 2 lucky winners will be chosen to receive eBooks of Ashes

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28 March, 2017

#BookReview :: With You I Dance by Aarti V. Raman

Meera Sagar had everything—the perfect job as a principal ballerina (for a prestigious New York ballet company) and a man who loved her as much as she loved him. But tragedy struck on the night before her biggest performance, forcing her to do the one thing she never wanted to do—come back home. To Mumbai.

Now, a year later, Meera is still trying to pick up the pieces, while
fending off marriage proposals from her well-meaning but
traditional Gujarati family, and figure life out all over again. By
starting a ballet school in Mumbai. But she has two problems. One, she doesn’t know anything about running a business. And two, she can’t dance. Not anymore.

Enter . . .
Abeer Goswami. Hotshot junior partner at a South Bombay law
firm and a man nursing a broken heart. When he meets Meera
again, the woman who left him, he tries his hardest to be her friend,to help her . . . and not let the past get in the way.

And then . . .
There is the sexy Zoya Sehgal. Meera’s only friend in the city and the woman Abeer is currently seeing. They say triangles have pointy edges, for a reason. 

Will Meera find a new dream in her ballet school? Can Abeer and Meera find their way back to each other again? And, most important, has Meera danced for the last time?

Meera born to a somewhat conservative family, had spread her wings early on. As a result, she was living her dream life as the Principal Dancer of a prestigious Ballet Company. But as fate would have it, she had to return to Mumbai following an onstage mishap. Starting her life anew with her parents trying to get her ‘settled’ is hard. But Meera has support in form of Zoya, a friend and Abeer, an old flame. Setting up a new dance school, fighting the attraction to Abeer and the complication of Abeer and Zoya dating has Meera on the edge. Can she find a semblance of balance in her life and will she ever dance again?

The Character of Meera is done really well. She is independent and headstrong. At the same time, she is also very vulnerable. The nuances of her character make her feel very real. Zoya’s character has been treated well too. I can see why Meera and Zoya are friends in the first place. There are some personality similarities there but, Zoya is an individual who knows her mind very well. As for Abeer, do guys like that really exist? He seems flawless and as such a little hard to believe in him.

The plot is straightforward and doesn’t have any twists lurking in the pages. The storyline, as a result, is very much predictable. What makes the book interesting to the reader is its narrative, the character of Meera and the love triangle. Well-written and well narrated, this book is a light and fun read.

Review Copy received from Fingerprint Publishing

27 March, 2017

#BookReview :: The Bogus Read by Divyamaan

In a galaxy far, far away from Earth there were two countries. India and Pakistan. Both countries somehow remained in a perennial state of conflict since their independence. After badly losing thrice to India, Pakistan has now come up with the ultimate conspiracy - attack the minds of the Indian masses and capture the nation. In a partially successful attempt, it captures some portion of India. The Indian Government, led by its highly patriotic PM, Narendar Mody and His Royal Highness, Arnub Gooswamy, takes charge of the situation and comes up with a master plan of defeating Pakistan, using some of India's most potent weapons - corruption, political-hooliganism and annoying celebrities. They are supported by five engineering students who, inspite of their otherwise mundane lives, get embroiled in the mess. They set themselves on a perilous journey only to discover how deep the whole conspiracy is and how dangerous are the brains behind it. Will they succeed in revealing the conspiracy to the Army? Will the lost territories be recaptured by India? To find out read 'The Bogus Read', an illogically-logical take on Indian politics, mainstream media, cinema and the television industry. 

The title and blurb of the book are very apt and well done. It covers what the ‘story’ of the book is about but leaves the interpretation of it to the readers. Five engineering students get embroiled in a mess that lead Pakistan into ‘capturing’ parts of India. With familiar names (with certain changes to their spellings) popping up regularly in the book, the author narrates a story that tells us about a conspiracy that go beyond the grasp of just five students. Will the familiar names be able to handle it? How far can five students or a gang of few celebrities go?

The book brings together the conflicting elements of our reality and complete absurdity very well. It is through the ludicrousness in the pages of the book that the reader is forced to look at their reality. Though situations are exaggerated and presented in a satirical manner, it is impossible to ignore the bottom line presented by the author. The silly and unpredictable plot of the book all along points to the current landscape of our nation (and arguably that of our neighbouring nation). All the situations, including our political conditions, captured in the book are very relevant. The main win for the book is the acumen and astuteness with which it has been presented. Narrated with simplicity, the story makes you laugh throughout. It is the narration style that is another big win for this book.

Whether you want a laugh or whether you want to read a thought provoking book or whether you want both – pick this book up and give it try.

Review Copy received from the Author

25 March, 2017

#BookReview :: King's Cage (Red Queen #3) by Victoria Aveyard

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother's web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare's heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down.

Goodreads I Amazon

After that twist in the end of book two, I had to pick up this book as soon as possible.

We see Mare in captivity and Maven’s obsession with her. They continue to play mind games with each other. On the other hand, the Reds and the New Bloods continue to train and strategize. Will Mare be able to free herself from the captivity? How will she do it while the silent stone all around her bears upon her? Will Maven ever realize what Mare keeps on trying to do with him? And what about Cal, the silver Prince who is on the run and living with a group of New Bloods?

There were so many questions at the beginning of this book and they are all answered in this instalment. It was fantastic to see Mare and Maven play their game of cat and mouse. And the level of mind games that go on in this series is just mind-blowing. Mare really grew as a character in this book. After being lied to by different people and her mind games with Maven, it would have been easy for her to lose herself completely. Yet she doesn’t and continuously fights back for what she believes. And Evangeline never stops to amaze me. Maven is a truly interesting character – one who I wanted to hate but couldn’t really hate because of his background and his reality.

The plot moves at a steady pace after the first few chapters. There’s a lot happening in the book to keep the readers engrossed. There are couple of twists that I did not anticipate happening. Overall, this is probably the best book in the series and that is saying something since books one and two were pretty interesting themselves.

Check out my reviews of:

24 March, 2017

#GuestPost :: Cookie Recipe from Kate Hardy, #Author of A Spoonful of Sugar

Tyler Carter is a healthy-eating gym owner who doesn’t bake. When his employees enter him into a bake-off contest to raise money for Harry’s House, an after school space for kids commemorating local first responder Harry Monroe, he needs to learn–fast!

Shy special needs teacher Stacey Allman loves to bake and often dreams of sharing her confections with her uber fit, gorgeous neighbor. So when Tyler sets off his smoke alarm and explains his dilemma, she can’t resist the temptation of playing pastry chef tutor. He offers boxing lessons in exchange. More time together? Yes please,

But when Tyler’s ex comes back to Marietta asking for his help, will it derail Stacey and Tyler’s chance at love, or will it make them see that they’re the perfect fit?

Goodreads * Amazon

Cookie Recipe

I had such fun working on the Bachelor Bake Off Books.

I love baking, so this was right up my street. Actually, the cookies in my book are the recipe I use if we're having a family party, or my teens are having a get-together with their friends at our house (and there are always requests for them). My son used the recipe on his first day at uni as a kind of icebreaker to meet his new flatmates. So it's a good one :) 

Plus I got to write with a bunch of really lovely authors, and it's such fun bouncing ideas with each other and planning exactly how the event that happens across all our books will work.)

When I was planning mine, I knew that I wanted my hero to be completely hopeless in the kitchen. (That smoke alarm? My husband set ours off by burning toast, the very first day we moved here. knew that damp dish towel would end up in a book...) And I wanted to bring in one of my other favourite elements - the gym. My trainer wrote me a new program just before she went on maternity leave, and my absolute favourite set revolves around boxing. So I couldn't resist borrowing that. (Tyler is kinder than my trainer. You do not want to know about boxing sit-ups.)

Add a shy heroine, a difficult ex and a spoonful of sugar... And I hope you enjoy the story I came up with :)

2 sticks (8 oz) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz) white sugar
1 cup (8 oz) brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups (about 18 oz) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 packets choc chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Cream butter and sugars until uniform. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Add flour and baking powder; beat until smooth. Add choc chips.
3. For best results, refrigerate the lot for 1-2 hours.
4. Dollop lumps of dough onto a baking tray lined with foil, leaving 2 inches between.
5. Bake for 10-12 mins, or until golden, and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Kate Hardy is an award-winning author of more than 70 books for Harlequin Mills & Boon. Her novel 'Breakfast at Giovanni's' won the RNA Romance Prize in 2008 and 'Bound by a Baby' won the RNA RoNA Rose in 2014; she's been shortlisted five more times for the award, as well as for two Romantic Times awards.

She lives in Norwich in the east of England with her husband, two children, a springer spaniel called Archie, and too many books to count. She's a bit of a nerd who loves cinema, live music, the theatre, history and cooking (which is why she has to go to the gym five times a week), and adores anything Italian. She loves doing research, particularly if it's hands-on and means experimenting with cooking (on her website, most of her books have a recipe connected to them). Reviewers say that her books are full of warmth, heart and charm - and also that you'll learn something new and interesting from them!

Kate also writes bestselling local history books under the name of Pamela Brooks. 

23 March, 2017

#BookReview :: A Way Back Into Love by Veronica Thatcher

Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes, uncertain. People, irrational. But love… Well, that makes complicates everything complicated. When you are caught in a tangled web of secrets, lies, and complex affairs, someone is bound to get burned.
Emily Stevens is a spunky, spirited college girl whose life is turned upside-down when she realizes she's in love with her best friend of fifteen years, Derek Thorpe. As Emily prepares to confess her feelings to Derek, something happens one night which changes her life forever. Five years later, Emily finds herself in Boston, alone and heartbroken. Will she ever be able to forget the past? And what will she find when she returns home... to the man she left behind?

Book Links:
Goodreads * Paperback * eBook

Emily and Derek have been best friends since their school days. They both clearly feel an attraction towards each other but are scared to open up in case it jeopardizes their friendship. On an unfortunate night, Emily and Derek’s relationship takes a new turn and Emily leaves town to pursue her higher education. When she returns after five long years, her feelings for Derek are still there. Does she stand a chance or have things between them broken far beyond repair.

As a person who does not believe in love at first sight and not a fan of modern day insta-love, this book feeds to my belief system quite a bit. I really believe that you need to really know a person in order to be able to love them truly and deeply. And who knows you better than your long term best friend? Emily and Derek share a bond that has been built of trust and friendship over the years and as such it is easy to believe in their love and in them. There were certain points in the story when I literally wanted to nudge them to drop their inhibitions and come clear.  The author has put quite an effort into building the characters to their full strengths and weaknesses. 

The plot is pretty predictable but it the author attention to narrating her story that keeps a reader hooked to the pages. The different relationships in the book also manage to keep your interest. What I would have loved to see more of in the book is depth to some of the side characters. The support system that the protagonists have can often help a reader to connect to the protagonists even more and that was lacking in the book. Overall, as a debut novel, this is a job well done. I hope to see the author, her characters and depth of the plots only grow with her books.

About the Author:
Veronica Thatcher is an exciting new contemporary romance author. Ever since she was very young, she’s dreamed of becoming a doctor when she grew up. While still forging ahead with that, majoring in pre-med in college, she unwittingly stumbled upon a new dream—becoming a published author. Some may call her an introvert or a wallflower, but she has always found she could express herself better in written, rather than spoken, words. However, never in her wildest dreams had she envisioned she would pursue writing as a prospective career, not just a hobby. Her love for writing goes hand-in-hand with her love for a good romance novel—whether it be a feel-good, sweet romance or a dark, suspenseful one. When she’s not studying, reading, or writing, she is usually found blasting her favourite songs, sometimes singing and dancing along to them.  She dabbles in a number of activities, including painting, karate, singing and dancing. She is a huge chocoholic – probably the biggest – and she is an ice-cream junkie too. She considers herself technologically handicapped forever and has no shame in admitting that. She also deems chocolates her boyfriend, Patrick Dempsey the love of her life, and Friends her life!
Her first book, A Way Back Into Love, is slated for release in February 2017, and she hopes readers will enjoy it as much as she enjoyed writing it. You can reach Veronica through Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Wattpad and Gmail.

Contact the Author:

FB Page * FB Profile * Twitter * Wattpad

22 March, 2017

#SpecialFeature :: Read a #ShortStory "Lost" - a short story in the world of Ashes

*** Special Feature - March 2017 ***

Book Details:

Genre: Fiction
Published by: The Story Plant
Publication Date: February 21st 2017
Number of Pages: 260

Book Links:
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Goodreads


Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life – and death – has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other's company. It's either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he's left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.
At turns humorous, biting, poignant, and surprisingly tender, Ashes puts a new spin on family and dysfunction with a story that is at once fresh and timelessly universal.

(a short story in the world of Ashes)

The rain smothered the windshield—sheet after pounding sheet—and it didn’t look like it was going to ease up any time soon. A country western song played on the radio, just loud enough for Tom to feel his ears threatening to bleed. He looked at Jason, his giant brother hulking behind the SUV’s steering wheel, and couldn’t decide if there was more scar tissue on the ogre’s knuckles or his furrowed brow. Jason had been in Corrections for twenty eight years, time enough to lose any sense of idealism he’d once had and add more than a few extra pounds to his mid-section. Once an animal, Tom thought, stifling a yawn, always an animal. Pop sure trained him well. The impromptu cross-country trip still felt surreal to Tom. The sooner we get to Seattle and spread the old man’s ashes, he thought, the sooner I can return to my life. But for reasons he preferred to ignore, the truth of it didn’t make him feel any better. He looked back at Jason and sighed. Being at this point in his life—where time was much too precious to spend with anyone but someone he cared about—his brother was just more unwanted baggage. Whether I’m here or there, he thought, I can’t win either way.

Although Jason was clearly struggling to read the road signs in the monsoon, it didn’t stop him from babbling on and sharing another of his twisted memories. “When I first started staying over at Josie’s place,” he said, “I didn’t know her parrot could talk.” He shook his head. “One night, about two in the morning, I got up to take a leak. As I passed the bird’s cage, I heard something whisper, ‘What are you doin’?’”

In spite of his foul mood, Tom chuckled aloud.

“I must have jumped a friggin’ mile,” Jason said, grabbing for his chest. “And it took a few seconds before I realized it was the parrot talking.” He shook his head. “With my heart pounding out of my chest, I leaned into the cage and screamed, ‘What am I doin’? What the hell are you doin’?’”

“Did the bird answer?” Tom asked.

“He didn’t make another peep,” Jason said, shrugging. “After changing my shorts, I hurried back to bed.” Grinning wide, Jason shook his head again. “I’m still having nightmares over that one.”

“You’re really sick, do you know that?” Tom said above the nauseating country music yodeling in the background.

Jason nodded. “My relationship with Josie didn’t last long, anyway.”

Although a wise voice in his head begged him not to ask, Tom couldn’t help himself. “And why’s that?”

Jason’s grin erupted into a full blown smile. “Josie had a bad habit of applying the Heimlich maneuver on folks who weren’t choking.” He nodded. “Trust me, if you want to make someone shit themselves, just sneak up behind them while they have a mouthful of food and start squeezing for no reason.” He began making a mock choking sound. “It ain’t pretty,” he added, laughing at his own sick humor.

Fighting off a pair of heavy eyelids, Tom shook his head before glancing toward the back seat where their father’s ashes sat in a plain, walnut box. You’re the reason Jason’s so screwed up, he told his deceased father in his head; he then gave the subject a little more thought and cringed. You’re the reason we’re both screwed up.

Jason and Tom’s father, Stuart Prendergast, had been a bastard in every sense of the word. And by all accounts, he’d been that way since childhood when his game of choice was playing the neighborhood undertaker. Whether or not he’d intentionally killed any of his clients was always a bit hazy from the stories, but once their hearts stopped pumping he was happy to give them a proper burial in the expanding graveyard he’d established. By the time he’d grown into a man—and the role of father—Stu had submerged himself into a pool of alcohol where he prided himself on being able to swim with the best of them. The only thing heavier than his drinking habit was his hands, which he often used on his terrified sons.

In the hypnotizing rain, Tom stared out the side window, watching the world whip by in one massive smudge. It didn’t take long before his head grew heavy, wedging itself between the passenger head rest and the window jam. “How long have you been divorced now?”

“Not long enough,” Jason quickly replied; he was serious.

“So the process wasn’t so bad, then?” he asked, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.

Jason sighed heavily. “If I’m being honest, it sucked something awful. If it had been just me and the old lady, it would have been as easy as getting a rotten tooth pulled.” He looked at Tom and smirked. “One quick yank and a few days of pain, and it’s all over.” His eyes drifted off for a moment, and his face turned sorrowful—in a way Tom had not witnessed in years. “I’ll never forget the morning Miranda confronted me about the break-up. ‘Why are you and Mom splitting up?’ she asked. ‘You guys haven’t even been fighting.’ She sounded like a six-year-old again, confused by the whole nightmare. I can still remember how she…” Jason stopped, while his Adam’s apple bounced from the emotion that had obviously ambushed him. He peered out the driver’s side window, lingering in the awkward silence for a few extended moments. “‘And that's the point,’ I told her. ‘Your mother and I haven't fought in years.’” He swallowed hard. “I can still picture the pain in her eyes when I let her know it had been years since her mother and I cared enough to waste our breath.”

“Damn,” Tom muttered involuntarily.

“I know,” Jason muttered, “but Miranda still couldn’t understand how the marriage was coming to an end after everything our family had been through.” Jason took a deep breath. “That’s when I told her it had been a loveless marriage for as long as I could remember.”

Tom grunted his disapproval again.

Jason’s head whipped sideways, his eyes turning to threatening slits.

Oh shit, Tom thought, his backside puckering like it did when they were kids—just before his brother beat him down.

Instead of striking out, Jason slowly nodded his head. “It definitely wasn’t one of my finest moments. To this day, it’s still the dumbest thing I’ve ever told my kid.” He paused. “It was the absolute truth, but I still shouldn’t have said it,” he muttered, now talking to himself.

Tom nodded. I imagine you’ve said a lot of dumb things to your kid, he thought, knowing he’d lose teeth if those words left his lips.

“As much as I wish I could have spared Miranda the pain, I just couldn’t stay with her mother. The toxic relationship was killing all of us.” He took a deep breath again and exhaled. “I was suffocating, you know?” He nodded. “I think we all were back then.”

“Fighting apathy can be exhausting,” Tom said, drawing a sideways glance from his brother, prompting him to quickly change the subject. “I wish I’d been a better dad,” he blurted, immediately scolding himself for sharing something so intimate with his long-estranged brother. That was stupid, he thought. Why am I even talking to this donkey?

“And how’s that?” Jason asked, leaning in toward the windshield to read the next blurred road sign.

Tom shrugged, careful to take better care with his words. “I don’t know,” he said. “Even though my kids live under the same roof, I’ve spent years taking them for granted.” He shrugged. “I was always too damn busy chasing down money and success, you know?”

Jason shook his head. “That’s what fathers do, right?”

It wasn’t the sarcastic reply Tom had expected, and he was taken aback, leaving him suddenly speechless.

“Though I’m not surprised,” Jason said. “You’ve always been completely self-absorbed.”

Now there’s the asshole I know, Tom thought. “You don’t even know me!” he barked.

Jason laughed. “Relax, lollipop. I’m just playing with you.”

“Whatever,” Tom said, ready to surrender to the sleep that was trying to claim him. I guess it serves me right for even trying to have a normal conversation with the Neanderthal.

“I was just playing,” Jason repeated. “Success is a good thing.”

“Yeah,” Tom said, closing his eyes, “as long as it doesn’t cast a shadow so wide that our children are left in the darkness.”

“Oh, I don’t think either one of us has to worry about that.”

Tom opened both his eyes and his mouth, but nothing came out, surprising himself.

“I knew you’d agree,” Jason said, chuckling again.

He’s still as crude as he is honest, Tom thought, nestling his head back into the window jam where his unrelenting mind began to ponder their current stations in life. He and Jason were now middle-aged, taking longer—much longer—to get anything done. But what I lack in energy and enthusiasm, he told himself, leaving out his brother, I make up with experience and wisdom.

“You know, at this point in life, we should be doing what we want,” Jason said, letting Tom know he was contemplating the same thing. “We’ve raised our kids…”

“…And we’re on the back-end of our careers,” Tom interjected.

“So we should be able to eat anything we want,” Jason added, grinning.

“What?” Tom snickered, peering out from his cozy corner. “That’s the last thing you need to be doing, tubby. With your weight, you’ll be lucky if you don’t join Pop in…”

“A few years ago,” Jason interrupted in his booming voice, “people started asking me, ‘Are you putting on weight?’ I’d tell them, ‘No. Actually, I just lost forty pounds.’ ‘Wow, you look great!’ they said.”

“You don’t take anything serious, do you?” Tom asked.

“Actually, I do,” Jason countered. “Just last month, at the prison, I filled a specimen cup with apple juice, labeled it, and placed it into the urinalysis testing fridge. When I finally spotted a few younger officers standing close by, I opened the fridge and started guzzling the juice. ‘God, that’s twangy,’ I told them. ‘I definitely need more fluids.’” Jason started laughing.

“Nope, nothing’s serious to you,” Tom said, struggling not to laugh along with him.

“It’s how I’ve stayed alive and sane all these years,” Jason answered, any hint of humor erased from his face.

Tom nodded. The second part’s debatable, he thought, but I get it. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be locked in there every day with all those rapists and murderers.

For a while, besides the rain, only the God-awful country music filled the cab of the SUV until Jason showed some mercy and shut off the radio. As the rain drummed off the SUV, creating a soothing rhythm, Tom stared out the passenger window and noticed that a speeding train was running parallel to them. I can’t remember the last time I rode on a train, he thought, focused on the long line of passenger cars. “Are you happy with life?” he suddenly asked aloud; it was no more than a thought that had slipped off his tongue, surprising him as much as his brother. Stupid, he scolded himself again.

“Happy with life?” Jason repeated in a tone that dripped with cynicism. “Who the hell is happy with life at our age?”

Stop talking, Tom told himself. Just stop!

“I suppose when we were kids,” Jason said, “there were times when I…”

But Jason’s voice had turned muffled and distant, sounding just like their father’s—minus the man’s threatening tone. Tom felt like he was a young boy again, listening to the deep voice of a man talking in the other room. He tried to nod in response to something Jason had said, but his head wouldn’t budge. Two deep breaths later, his mind was removed from reality—set free to roam the unrestricted dream world he preferred to dwell in.
After one final bite of dry toast, a black Lincoln Continental waited patiently just outside the marble foyer. Tom donned his coat and hat and darted for the open door. Once inside the car, a wave of heat hit his face, removing all of winter’s discomforts.

Shamus Donovan, his friendly driver, looked over the front seat. “Where to?” he asked.

“How about FAO Schwarz, for starters? I’m in the mood to buy some toys.”

“As you wish, sir.”

While Shamus Donovan parked at the base of a giant teddy bear and exited the car, Tom spent the time admiring the even burn on his Cuban cigar. It was a gift from a colleague, the smoothest tobacco he’d ever tasted.

“We’re not open until ten,” the store’s self-appointed lawman bellowed to Shamus just outside the car, “and I don’t care which rich cat is sitting behind that tinted glass.”

Tom lowered the fogged window and smiled at the angry little man, who evidently expected a different reaction and was taken aback by the sincere gesture. Just as Shamus threw up his hands, Tom stepped out of the car. “Would it be a problem if I spoke to your manager, sir?” Tom asked, killing him with holiday kindness.

Another seemingly angry soul approached. “I’m the manager. What’s the problem here?” His voice was colder than the December wind.

“There’s no problem,” Tom claimed before glancing down at his Rolex, “I know we’ve arrived a bit early and that you’re not open for another forty minutes, but I was hoping you could help me.”

“And how might I do that?” the manager asked, his teeth chattering in the frigid air. Tom was obviously not the first person to ask him for a favor.

Tom grabbed his cell phone, punched in several numbers, and lifted his index finger for the irritated man to be patient. There was a brief pause. Tom grinned kindly at the man before speaking to the person he telephoned, talking loud enough for everyone to hear. “Rick, it’s Tom. I need you to get in touch with The Salvation Army and the Marine Corps Recruiting station. Have each of them bring the biggest truck they own and report to the front of FAO Schwarz within the hour. Also, I want Channel Twelve and someone from the Times to cover the story. Have them here twenty minutes after the trucks arrive.” There was another pause, enough time for Tom’s grin to widen. “Yes, Rick, the manager has been kind enough to open early for us. He wants to ensure that every orphaned child in this city believes in Santa Claus this year.” After one last pause, Tom concluded, “That’s correct. I don’t want my name mentioned. Mister…” Tom placed his hand over the phone and looked up at the store manager. “I’m sorry,” he said, “what did you say your name was?”

“Fiore,” the shivering man replied. “Faust Fiore.” His eyes were as big as flying saucers, his mouth half hung in shock.

“Mr. Faust Fiore is the kind soul who deserves all the recognition, Rick,” Tom concluded. “Be sure he gets it.” He ended the call with a smile.

“I suppose we could make an exception this one time,” Mr. Fiore squeaked.

It was nearly noon when Tom wrapped up his shopping frenzy. Hundreds of Barbie dolls and an equal amount of superhero action figures made their way toward the register. He purchased every stuffed animal, yoyo, and sled in the store. Pyramids of board games, sporting goods, and baby dolls were stacked inside one of the dozen shopping carriages being pushed in the giddy man’s wake. In record time, Tom had personally selected a mountain of toys. Each time he threw something that beeped, whistled, or cried into a carriage, he felt the spirit of giving illuminate his soul. It’s already the best Christmas I can remember, he thought, feeling his face glow.

Sharing the same truth, Shamus Donovan giggled like a young schoolboy from the first aisle to the last.

Tom threw the gifts onto his platinum card while Shamus shuffled out the door to pull the car around back. As Tom tiptoed out the back, the first rolling camera made its way through the store’s front door. Turning back, he couldn’t help but smile. Faust Fiore was being swarmed upon by a pack of hungry media. “He can have it,” Tom whispered, ducking into the limo—to where Shamus was still giggling.

“Where to?” the Irish chauffer managed through his glee.

“I don’t know about you, Shamus, but all that shopping’s made me hungry.” There was a thoughtful pause. “I think we should get some lunch. How does the Four Oaks sound?”

Shamus pointed the car west, his face confused over the lunch invitation. After a few awkward seconds, he nodded and grumbled something incoherent.

The limo pulled into the front of the Four Oaks. Tom had belonged to the private club for years. Though he disliked most of the arrogant and pompous asses that frequented the place, its creative chef grilled the best swordfish he’d ever tasted. And no one’s going to deny me that, he’d decided long ago.

Tom jumped out of the back and nearly watched Shamus’s face go white when he opened the driver’s side door. “Why don’t we valet the car today?” he suggested.

Shamus couldn’t speak. He merely slid out of the seat, threw the keys to the valet attendant, and followed his boss into the dark mysterious den.

In the foyer, a paunch, middle-aged man quickly approached, smoking a cigar half the size of his face. “Tom, we’ve missed you at the Racquetball Club of late,” he snorted, awaiting a reply that never came. “The offer still stands, old boy—double or nothing?”

“I’ve been busy, Charles. Why don’t we just call the wager at even?”

The man strutted away with a smile that engulfed his bloated face.

Tom turned to Shamus. “It was like taking candy from a baby, anyway,” he whispered. “Chubby Charles doesn’t have an athletic bone in his body, but for as long as I can remember he’s been hell-bent to beat me at…”

“Your regular table, Mr. Prendergast?” the maître d’ interrupted. His face showed blatant signs of disapproval, each sign directed toward Shamus.

“The regular,” Tom countered. “And since it’s Christmas, why don’t you spoil us by sending over a bottle of Dom.”

The man nodded robotically, shot another bad look at Shamus, and scurried off.

Tom Prendergast and Shamus Donovan finished their swordfish, the bottle of bubbly, two warm brandies, and a pair of fine cigars. Shamus looked like he’d finally discovered heaven while Tom sat amazed by how little he’d known about his kind chauffer prior to their lunch. Life really does get in the way of the important things, Tom thought, vowing to never let it happen again.

“Well, hello, Tom Prendergast. Isn’t it fancy meeting you here?” purred a woman so beautiful that even her soft, shapely body couldn’t distract from her angelic face. Without being offered, she took a seat. She smelled like gingerbread.

Tom grinned wide. Shamus swallowed hard. “Hello, Tricia,” Tom started. “It has been some time, hasn’t it, my sweet?” Tom had a way with the ladies, even those who appeared unapproachable. If his looks couldn’t reel them in, then his charm blew them ten feet out of the water. This petite goddess was no different. She was nearly drooling. “I hear you’re still modeling that beautiful face for the world,” he said with a wink.

“It pays the bills for now,” she kidded, “at least until you marry me and make me an honest woman.” Her smile could have melted the silver butter dish.

Tom stood, grabbed her hand, and kissed it softly. He then glanced over at Shamus and winked. “Ms. Tricia Quintal, I’d like you to meet an old friend.” There was a strange pause. “Mr. Shamus Donovan.”

Clearly taken aback, Shamus nodded slightly.

Tricia smiled. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Donovan,” she crooned, but quickly gave her undivided attention back to Tom. “So, what do you say?” she teased.

Tom smiled. “Tragically enough, I don’t think my schedule would permit a wedding right now, but I’ll give you a call sometime in the near future, okay?”

She stood, smiled brilliantly, and walked away. Her eyes, however, never left his gaze until the foyer swallowed her whole.

“Women,” Tom chuckled. “The greatest test of a man’s will…”

Shamus ran the cloth napkin across his mouth and, to Tom’s surprise, said, “Then you are a very strong man indeed, Mr. Prendergast.” With a chuckle, he…

Tom awoke. It took a few strange moments to register any sense of reality. Like a chapped desert, his mouth felt completely dry, letting him know he’d been snoring—maybe even struggling to take in air from his mouth while he slept. He opened and closed his lips a few times to try to generate some moisture—nothing. Happy with life? he repeated in his head. Maybe when I sleep, but that’s about it. Trying to wipe the cobwebs from his mind, he thought about that for a moment. It's pretty sad when I can only find happiness in my dreams, he decided, where my true aspirations can only be fulfilled. Having recently turned fifty, most of the sand in his hour glass had already sifted through his fingers, and he was struggling to reconcile it.

“Welcome back to the real world,” Jason said. “And you really need to go see a doctor about your snoring. Do you use one of those CPAP machines at home?”

Tom tried to shake his head, but his neck was all knotted up from being wedged in the window. Instead, he moaned, still trying to locate a few drops of saliva somewhere in his mouth.

“Carmen must really enjoy that at night.”

Who gives a shit! Tom thought. Whatever Carmen enjoys, it sure as hell isn’t with me. He yawned wide before looking over his shoulder at his father’s wooden box. My life’s more than half over and this is where I’m at? he thought. Unreal…

Returning completely to the present, Tom realized the rain had finally stopped, leaving behind a sky so blue it looked like he could fish in it. He also discovered that Jason was eager to pick up the conversation where they’d left off.

“So why all that talk about divorce earlier?” he asked.

Tom half-shrugged. “No reason,” he quickly answered, concealing his emotion behind another long yawn.


“Listen,” Tom said, wiping the sleep from his eyes, “if I needed to talk about my marriage, you’d be the last person in the world I’d confide in.”

Jason smirked. “So, you’re not ready to talk, then,” he said sarcastically. “I’m here when you’re ready.”

Old, jagged feelings shot to the surface, increasing Tom’s blood pressure. “What I need is for you to make a pit stop somewhere so I can use the bathroom,” he said, looking out the window. “Where are we, anyway?”

Jason held his smirk, fighting off his laughter.

“What?” Tom asked, hardly amused. “We’re lost, aren’t we?”

“Chill out, sleeping beauty. I might have taken a wrong turn a ways back, but no big deal.”

“How in the hell…”

“Chill out,” Jason repeated, only this time he wasn’t asking. “It was raining something vicious,” he said before pointing to the GPS stuck to the center of the windshield, “and sometimes Google Maps can be wrong so…”

“If you were using my map,” Tom said, unfolding the giant paper square onto the dashboard, “then we wouldn’t be lost.”

Jason looked at him and shook his head. “As long as we’re together,” he said sarcastically, “then we can never be lost.”

Tom looked at him in disbelief. “You think this is funny?” he asked, feeling his blood throbbing in his ears.

“I do,” Jason said, “I really do.”

As the bickering ensued, Jason drove onto the shoulder of the road and whipped the SUV into a U-turn. At the lip of the asphalt, the SUV hopped back onto the road. Tom looked back just in time to see his father’s box of ashes bounce once and then twice until falling onto the back floor. He leaned over the front seat to ensure the lid was still closed and that none of the contents had spilled out. The old man’s fine, he decided and, with a single shrug, he turned back around, leaving his father on the back floor.

“Next bathroom I see, we’ll stop,” Jason promised.

“Gee, thanks,” Tom said, the needle on his annoyance meter tacking in the red.

“We need gas, anyway,” Jason said, “and I’m out of snacks.”

“Of course you are. And lottery tickets too, I’m guessing,” Tom said sarcastically.

Jason peered at his brother and grinned. “Listen, you have your retirement plan, and I have mine.”

Tom drew in a deep breath and held it for a few counts. It’ll be a miracle if I survive this trip, he thought. Between my simpleton brother and a box of ashes that hardly deserves this effort, it’ll be a friggin’ miracle.

“Oh, good!” Jason blurted, breaking Tom’s train of thought. “A gas station.” He steered the SUV into the lot and parked beside the pumps. “It looks like we’re not lost anymore, Tommy.”

Sure, Tom thought while the rising bile in his throat triggered a slow burn. We’re exactly where we should be. He felt ready to vomit.

Author Bio:

Steven Manchester is the author of the #1 bestsellers Twelve Months, The Rockin’ Chair, Pressed Pennies, and Gooseberry Island as well as the novels Goodnight, Brian and The Changing Season. His work has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning, and BET’s Nightly News. Recently, three of Manchester’s short stories were selected “101 Best” for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Find Steven on his Website, on Twitter, & on Facebook!

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21 March, 2017

#BookReview :: Angels in Our Lives (The Pearl Makers 0.5) by Melissa Storm

The animals in our lives are often just angels in disguise.

Six-year-old Emily needs a miracle if she’s ever to walk again. Luckily, her protector angel refuses to leave her side. In fact, she comes to Emily as a golden retriever puppy named Lulu, so that she may stay close by as the little girl struggles through recovery.

Emily and Lulu quickly become inseparable, accomplishing together what everyone believed impossible. As the years pass, Emily grows into a strong young woman while Lulu simply grows old.

Will Emily lose her angel?

This special tale of friendship is sure to bring comfort and peace to anyone who has ever mourned the loss of a beloved pet.

I recently had the chance to listen to the audiobook version of the story. It is amazing.

Emily is a sweet six year old kid who loses the use of her legs and doctors say that it would take a miracle to get her walking again. Luckily for Emily she has her guardian angel looking after her tirelessly and she enters Emily’s life in form of a golden retriever dog. Once Lulu is officially a part of the family, Emily can be a carefree child again. But slowly the miracle does happen but as time passes by, Lulu grows old and the inevitable separation grows closer by the day.

I am a dog lover to the core and often love them more than some people even. So hearing an audiobook that involves a do absolutely made my day. I am not sure if I actually believe in guardian angels, but I do believe in a dog’s unconditional love and the comfort they bring into their household. They can really work miracles and I have seen it happen more than once. So needless to say, this book touched my heart in all the right ways. The author’s narrative brought the story to life and I really loved her narrative style in this one.

In short this is a short novella that will take about an hour to read at the maximum and is very touching. MUST READ!

20 March, 2017

#BookReview :: Dangerous Games by Danielle Steel

Danielle Steel tears down the walls of power at the heart of the White House in the thrilling Dangerous Games.

Television correspondent Alix Phillips dodges bullets and breaks rules to bring the most important news to the world. With her daughter in college, and working alongside cameraman Ben Chapman, an ex-Navy Seal, Alix exhilarates in the risks and whirlwind pace of her work. But her latest assignment puts her at the center of an explosive story that will reshape many lives, including her own: investigating damning allegations involving the vice president of the United States, Tony Clark.

Alix starts with a nationally revered woman who may be the key to exposing frightening secrets. Olympia Foster is the fragile, reclusive widow of America's most admired senator, who had been destined for the presidency before an assassin's bullet felled him. Since then, Olympia has found emotional support in Clark, who once wanted her as his wife and now stands as her protector and confidant. When Alix begins to dig deeper, federal agents pick up the trail. Then the threats begin.

As the stakes rise in this dangerous game, Alix needs Ben's help as never before. Soon they realize they are grappling with an adversary far more sinister than they had imagined . . .

I read a Danielle Steel book after a gap of maybe about a year and it was like discovering the author’s works all over again.

Alix Phillips is a reporter with a passion for her job. She gets into dangerous situations in search of truth and then reporting it back. With Ben by her side, she launches an investigation looking into the life of one of the most powerful and influential person in the country. At first it seems like she is the only person who believes that this man has something bad to hide. But the deeper she digs in, the more dirt she uncovers. With threatening letters being sent to her, will Alix be able to complete what she started? Or will she give in?

I loved the narrative and the backdrop of the book. Set in a couple of different places, the book provides a kind of diversity. Along with that, I did enjoy the character of the protagonist. A strong woman who is passionate about what she does and takes on challenges. There are couple more character who the readers might find interesting as well. There’s an element of misfortune and heartbreak in the book though the author’s usual flair for heart-tugging emotions were missing. While the element kind of worked in getting me invested in the book, it wasn’t that hard hitting. The plot though was pretty straightforward and the surprise element was missing.

Overall, I think that this is not one of the author’s best. There were certain plot elements that seemed sudden, but the basic ingredients that we look for in Danielle Steel book were all there in smaller doses.

 Review Copy received from Pan Macmillan India

19 March, 2017

#BookReview :: All That Glitters by Liza Treviño

Alexandria Moreno—clever, sexy, ambitious and, at times, self-destructive. She blazes a path from Texas to Los Angeles at the dawn of the 1980s to make her dreams of becoming an A-list Hollywood film director come true. She and her best friend arrive in Los Angeles with little more than hope and the determination to make it big. Alex, a beauty as dark and mysterious as her scarred heart, stands at the bottom of the Hollywood mountain looking up, fighting for her chance to climb to the top. Will her quest to live fast and take no prisoners on her way to success destroy her in the end?

All That Glitters is a women’s fiction Jackie Collins-type saga that introduces a strong, driven Latina heroine at the center of a rags-to-riches story spanning a decade of action. Along the way, Alexandria walks the fine line separating ambition and self-destruction, and discovers that some sacrifices will cost her everything.

I was excited to read this book because for us outsiders, the real life of a Hollywood star seems like glamourous and scandalous at the same time. What would it be like in fiction?

“All That Glitters” is the story of Alexandria ‘Alex’ Moreno who arrives at Los Angeles with the big American dream of becoming a top Director in Hollywood. But life in Hollywood isn’t easy and Alex finds that out pretty quick. As the title suggests, she gets entangled in a life of Sex, Drugs, and glamorous lifestyles. But will she be able to fight her battles to emerge on top? Or will she be just another casualty of the complexities of the business?

With Alex, what catches your attention first is the fact that she has big dreams; and she has the zeal to follow it through even in the toughest of times. Her path isn’t easy but she shows strength of character for most part of the book. But there are times when she makes you wonder if she is finally broken or just doing what she needs to do in order to reach her goals. The other characters in the book do not really shine much and it maybe intentional on the author’s part in order to make Alex stand out more. They are just there as people who Alex meets on her way, but it feels like that they are all in the shadows while Alex is standing in the spotlight. The plot of the book is as promised in the blurb. It doesn’t disappoint, but neither does it surprise the readers. The author’s narrative though works provocatively throughout the book and is perhaps one of the best attributes of the book. The language and narrative welcomes its readers to a comfortable world.

Overall, it was quite entertaining though I would have liked the book better if it had a few more strong characters in order to pitch Alex against and compare their strengths in order to prove how strong a character she really is.