Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + Excerpt

Review: The  Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + ExcerptThe Rehearsal Dinner (The Wedding From Hell #1) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.5
Pages: 63
Published by Gallery Books on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Don’t miss #1 New York Times bestselling author J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense Consumed (available in October 2018) takes us back to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed’s storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 1: The Rehearsal Dinner: It’s a classic recipe for disaster: Take one bridesmaid who thinks pink is the root of all evil, mix with a best man who’s hotter than a four-alarm fire, add in their explosive sexual attraction, a nightmare bridezilla, two cat fights, and an emergency call, and you have the wedding from hell.

Experience the sizzling start of Anne and Danny’s intense relationship. Is this the start of something good...or just an erotic one-night stand that rocks their world, but must never be repeated?

My Review:

Because this is a short teaser of a book, it’s going to be a short teaser of a review, too.

I got into this tour, and the prequel novellas, because my curiosity bump itched something fierce. I loved Black Dagger Brotherhood way back when, although I didn’t finish the series because they started to get a repetitive for me. But I enjoyed the hell out of the early books in the series.

Howsomever, I DNF’d The Bourbon Kings at about the halfway point. The only reason I didn’t throw it against the wall was that my iPad is WAY too expensive to throw at walls. But I was still tempted.

When I saw the info for The Wedding from Hell introductory novellas along with the blurb for the full-length Consumed, I decided to give this author another try.

And so far, I’m glad I did.

The Wedding from Hell, at least so far, combines some really terrific tropes. The romance, or at least the steamy and unresolved chemistry so far, is between two members of a small-town New England fire department. She’s the daughter of a local legend and the sister of a current commander. He’s the company man-whore. Or at least he used to be.

They work well together, seemingly able to sense what the other is thinking, and always managing to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.

But this assignment isn’t work. Not exactly.

A member of their company is getting married and he wants all of the “guys” from his station house to be his groomsmen. Including Anne Ashburn. That she’s not a guy pisses the bridezilla right off – not that that takes much. But Danny McGuire, the best man and Anne’s work-partner, knows that bridezilla should not be marrying one of his best friends. He won’t let Ann out of the wedding, because he needs the moral support.

And because he hasn’t been able to get Anne out of his head or his heart since the day she walked into the station. He’s got it really, really bad.

But no matter how much Anne is interested in him, she’s not interested in being another notch on his bedpost – especially once she figures out that bridezilla got there first.

Escape Rating B+: As a FREE teaser novella, this certainly does its job. I definitely feel teased, although I admit not nearly as teased as Ann and Danny are by each other.

I enjoy a good firefighter romance, I love to see the rake get reformed, and the wedding so far as produced oodles of cringeworthy scenes of epic bridezilla-dom, injecting just the right touch of sheer insanity into the story.

As short as this story is, we still get a good introduction to Anne and Danny and at least some of their crew. More than enough to want to find out just how long they manage to resist each other – and whether anyone else in the crew is running a betting pool on it.

I can wait to get to the next installment of The Wedding from Hell, The Reception.

Excerpt from The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner

Thursday, October 29
T minus 48 hours ’til blastoff
College Row, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Because women are not frickin’ groomsmen! That’s why she can’t be in the goddamn wedding!”
As Anne Ashburn walked in the back door of the shotgun apartment, that happy little explosion was not only what she’d expected all along, it also offered her the out she’d been praying for. And it was probably the one and only time she was ever going to agree with the bride.
Not about the role of females in bridal parties, but that Anne wasn’t going to be in the “goddamn wedding.”
Everyone standing in the kitchen turned and looked at her: Deandra Cox, the impending wearer of the white dress; Robert “Moose” Miller, her exhausted fiancé and Anne’s fellow crew member down at the 499 fi rehouse; and . . . Dannyboy Maguire.
Who was the only one she really noticed and, for that reason, the person she refused to look at.
Too bad Danny always made an impression. Like most firefighters, he was in great physical shape, his big body thickly muscled and ready to snap into motion in an instant. With his heavy arms linked over that chest and his long legs crossed at the boots, he was leaning back against the chipped countertop, his too-blue stare missing nothing. He was fresh from a shower, his glossy black hair wet, and Anne tried not to picture him naked under the spray, his tattooed torso arching as he rinsed the shampoo out of his—
She put her hands up to stop herself as much as the argument. “Look, I don’t want to cause any problems. I’m happy to step aside—”
“And now I have one too many bridesmaids.” The bride-to-be refocused on her intended. “My count is wrong. You wait until two days before the wedding to tell me this when you know I’m not going to like it, and now my count is off!”
As the groom focused on the linoleum floor, it was impossible not to picture a wax version of the couple on a multi-tiered cake: Deandra in skinny jeans and that tight cashmere sweater, her dark hair streaked blond, her body cocked forward like she was going to throat-punch the man she was going to marry; Moose in his New Brunswick Fire Department T-shirt, all broad-shouldered and bearded around the face, easing back like someone with the flu was about to sneeze in his face.
Ah, true love.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Moose muttered. “Anne’s a member of the four-nine-nine crew, and everyone else is with me.”
“She’s a girl.” Deandra pointed at Anne. “It throws off everything.”
“I really don’t want to cause any problems.” Anne put her hands up again. “So I’ll just be in the congregation. It’s perfectly fine—”
Deandra’s glare swung Anne’s way. “The count is still wrong. And my friends have already paid for their dresses. They were a hundred and twenty dollars apiece.”
And that’s my cue to go, Anne thought. Moose may have volunteered for this, but no one else had or needed to—
“I think women can be whatever they want.”
As Danny spoke up, everyone looked at him—including Anne, who suddenly felt shades of what Deandra was throwing out.
Don’t you dare, she mouthed at him behind the bride’s back.
Danny just shrugged like he’d thrown on a pantsuit and was channeling Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton all at once. “I mean, Deandra, you’re above all that sexism, aren’t you? No one’s going to tell you what’s right and wrong for your own wedding. You’re more secure than that.”
I am going to kill you, Anne vowed. “I think Deandra wants things done properly for her only wedding.”
Danny frowned in pseudo-confusion. “So you’re saying it’s okay to have a double standard for men and women? That’s a shocker given how you are at the station. I thought you believed in equality.”
“I do,” Anne snapped. “But this isn’t about equality.”
“You sure? I don’t know how you can support traditional gender roles when it comes to a wedding ceremony at the same time you defend the right for women to be firefighters, cops, and on the front lines in the military.”
“Spare me someone who’s never been in a dress having an opinion about women’s issues, okay?”
“I’m just pointing out that you don’t want women out of dresses.”
“It’s her wedding.” Anne jabbed a finger at Deandra. “She’s the bride. She gets to say what’s right and wrong for her, and she does not need some man telling her what to do.”
“Even if I’m defending the rights of women?”
“Until you grow a set of ovaries, you can shut the hell up about our rights!”
As Anne’s voice ricocheted around the kitchen, she realized that she’d marched right up to Danny—and that Deandra and Moose were watching the two of them in total stillness.
She cleared her throat and took a step back. “Anyway, Deandra’s made up her mind. And I support her decision.”
Deandra’s eyes narrowed on Danny, and something about the way the woman looked at him didn’t seem right.
“Actually,” the bride said, “maybe she should be in the wedding party.”
Anne prayed her expression stayed neutral. “Don’t compromise your vision on my account.”
“I won’t.” The woman stared at Danny. “Fine. Let’s put her in a tuxedo like the rest of the men. She can walk my sister down the aisle, just like a man should. Her shoulders are too big for a gown, anyway, and that way my count stays the way it should.”
Anne rolled her eyes. Let’s hear it for girl power.
“So it’s settled,” Deandra said with a tight smile. “You need a tux. Unless you already own one.”
For a moment, Anne waited for somebody to argue with the woman. Like Moose. But he was clearly done falling on swords over the wedding details, and Danny had just gotten what he wanted so he wasn’t going to say a damn thing.
And the truth was, after how many years of fighting fires with these men, they were her brothers in all but blood. Even though she thought Moose had lost his ever-loving mind marrying this beautiful but sour woman after knowing her for a matter of months, Anne was still going to stand up for the guy if he wanted her to—and he did. He’d asked her down at the stationhouse specifically.
“Where did you guys rent your suits?” Anne said to him.
“Tuxedoes,” Deandra corrected.
The groom blinked like he’d forgotten how to speak English. Then again, he’d been doing that a lot at the firehouse lately. “You’re actually going to wear one?”
“What the hell do I care?”
“Yes, she is wearing one,” Deandra cut in.
Danny spoke up. “I’ll go with you. I know where the place is.”

Spotlight + Excerpt: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Spotlight + Excerpt: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + GiveawayWhen We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by HQN Books on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.

Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.

But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.

As I’ve said before, I don’t normally do posts without a review, whether they are spotlight or excerpt posts or whatever. But I’m always happy to make an exception for one of Susan Mallery’s books because I always love them. And because I’m always going to review the book sooner or later – in this case, sooner, as I’m part of the review tour, scheduled for mid-July. So while we all wait to sink our reading teeth into this story when it comes out on July 10, here’s a bit of a teaser to whet our appetites…

Excerpt from When We Found Home by Susan Mallery

Blowing ten grand on a five-year-old’s birthday party was beyond the definition of insane, Callie Smith thought as she positioned the car-shaped cookie cutter over the sandwich and pressed down as evenly as she could. When she carefully peeled away the excess bread, she was left with a perfect car-shaped PB&J sandwich—sans crust, of course.

The menu for the event was fairly simple, and all based on the Disney movie Cars. Small cups contained carrot, celery and cucumber sticks—aka dipsticks. Two kinds of organic punch along with organic apple juice were at the refueling station. The catering firm’s famous mac and cheese had been remade with pasta in the shape of wheels, and there were car-inspired mini hot dogs ready to go. Callie had already put half a cherry tomato and slice of cucumber to simulate wheels onto one hundred toothpicks, ready to be shoved into place when the mini hot dogs were heated and put in the buns.

The cake was an incredible work of art—a stylized twelve-inch-high modified layer cake shaped to look like a mountain with a road circling up to the top where a small car sat, along with a banner reading Happy Birthday Jonathan.

The previous afternoon Callie had filled the loot bags with Cars-related toys, and had carefully rolled all twenty-five Pit Crew T-shirts with the names facing up. Yes, each boy would get a personalized T-shirt to wear for the party and then take home with him.

Janice, her boss and the owner of the catering company, hurried into the kitchen. “I already have a knot in my stomach. The rest of the staff has a pool going on how long it takes the first kid to throw up, but I’m hoping we can get through this one without any disasters. How are you doing?”

Callie pointed to the tray with the PB&J sandwiches. “All ready. I’ll cover them with plastic wrap to keep them fresh. The hot dog wheels are done. Just have someone stick them on before putting in the hot dogs. Veggies are finished, the cake is in place and I’ve put out the loot bags. Oh, and the T-shirts are by the front door to be handed out as the guests arrive. Just so you know, there are three Brandons.”

Janice groaned. “Of course there are.” She looked around their client’s massive kitchen. “You’ve done it again, Callie. You took this idea and ran with it. I would still be trying to figure out how to pull it all together.”

Callie did her best to offer a sincere smile—one without a hint of bitterness. What was going to happen next wasn’t Janice’s fault. Instead, the blame lay squarely on Callie’s shoulders. She could whine and stomp her feet all she wanted. She could point to her ex-boyfriend, but in the end, the decision had been hers and so were the consequences.

Rather than make Janice say it, Callie untied her apron. “I need to get going. The first guests will be arriving and I shouldn’t be here.”

Janice’s mouth twisted as guilt flashed in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I just can’t risk it.”

Callie nodded. “Do you want me back at the shop to help with cleanup later?”

“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? We have to prep for the Gilman wedding Tuesday morning. I’ll see you then.”

Callie nodded, doing her best not to calculate how much she would have made if she’d been able to stay and work the party. Being an hourly employee meant every penny mattered, but there was no way. She got that…sort of.

“Have fun today.”

Janice gave a strangled laugh. “With twenty-five little boys? I don’t think so.”

Callie got her backpack from the utility room closet, then walked out the back door. She dug out her phone, opened her Uber app and requested a car.

Normally she would just take the bus back home but this part of River Oaks didn’t have a whole lot of public transportation—especially not on a Sunday morning. So she would splurge.

Ten minutes later she was in the silver Ford Focus and heading for her more modest neighborhood. It wasn’t close to work, but it was inexpensive and safe—two priorities for her.

She had the Uber driver drop her off at the H-E-B grocery store so she could get a few things. Only what she could carry home and consume in the next couple of days. The room she rented came with kitchen privileges, but Callie preferred to use the small refrigerator and microwave she kept in her room. She’d learned that storing anything in the main kitchen was a risky proposition. House rules were clear—don’t take food belonging to someone else. Unfortunately enforcement was haphazard and Callie didn’t want to chance someone taking her food.

She heated soup—the dented can had been 50 percent off!—then got out a four-month-old copy of Vogue that she’d fished out of a recycling bin to read while she ate. Janice only took day jobs on Sundays and the caterer was closed on Monday, giving Callie almost thirty-four hours off. At ten on Monday night she would start her other job, cleaning offices in the financial district.

She finished her lunch, then loaded her biggest tote with clothes, sheets and towels before heading to the local Laundromat. The afternoon had warmed up and gotten more humid—fairly typical for Houston in early spring, or any time of year.

The temperature inside the Laundromat had to be in the upper nineties. The crowded, noisy space was filled with families completing chores before the grind of the new week began again.

Callie found two free washers together, loaded her belongings and inserted a ridiculous number of quarters. She was lucky—she had to take care of only herself. Her bed was a twin, so the sheets were small. She could get away with two loads every two weeks, but how did people with kids make ends meet when it was three dollars to wash a load of clothes?

 

Author Info:

Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of books about the relationships that define women’s lives—romance, friendship, family. With compassion and humor, Susan keenly observes how people think and feel, in stories that take readers on an emotional journey. Sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, and always uplifting, Susan’s books have spent more than 200 weeks on the USA Today bestsellers list, thanks to her ever growing legions of fans.

Critics, too, have heaped praise on “the new queen of romantic fiction.” (Walmart) Booklist says, “Romance novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor, and superb storytelling,” and RT Book Reviews puts her “in a class by herself!”

Although Susan majored in Accounting, she never worked as an accountant because she was published straight out of college with two books the same month, January of 1992. Sixteen prolific years and seventy-four books later, she hit the New York Times bestsellers list for the first time with Accidentally Yours in 2008. She made many appearances in the Top 10 before (finally) hitting #1 in 2015 with Thrill Me, the twentieth book in her most popular series, the Fool’s Gold romances, and the fourth of five books released that year.

Susan lives in Seattle with her husband, two ragdoll cats, and a tattletale toy poodle. Her heart for animals has led Susan to become an active supporter of the Seattle Humane Society. Animals play a big role in her books, as well, as she believes they’re an integral component to a happy life.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Susan is giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters Like Us by Susan MallerySisters Like Us (Mischief Bay, #4) by Susan Mallery
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Mischief Bay #4
Pages: 432
Published by Mira Books on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery will be available Feb 20, 2018. Preorder your copy today!

The grass is always greener on your sister’s side of the fence…

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can’t afford and a teenage daughter who’s pulling away. With her fledgeling virtual-assistant business, she’s scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper’s fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn’t prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn’t inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey’s husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she’s already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

I don’t normally do spotlight posts, but I was happy to make an exception in this case because I love Susan Mallery’s books, and I’m also part of the review tour for Sisters Like Us later this month. So I will be reviewing this book in a couple of weeks, and I’m very much looking forward to it! So, while we all wait to sink our reading teeth into this story, here’s a bit of a teaser…

Excerpt from Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

She finished sprinkling on a layer of grated cheese, then glanced at the clock. It was nearly three. She figured she could risk leaving the lasagna out on the counter until she popped it in the oven at four-fifteen. She’d made the bread days ago and had defrosted a loaf already. The garlic spread was done and the salad was in the refrigerator. She only had to pour on dressing and that was good to go. There was still the table to set. She returned her attention to Lucas.

“Are you bringing someone?”

One corner of his mouth turned up. “Persimmon.”

Harper wiped her hands on a towel. “You have got to be kidding. That’s her real name?”

“It’s on her driver’s license.”

“Which you saw because you check their ID before you date them?”

“I like to be sure.”

“That they’re not underage or that they’re not too old?”

“Sometimes both.”

“I get the biology,” she said, studying him across the kitchen island. “The young, healthy female should produce the best offspring. But we’re not living in caves anymore. You drive a Mercedes. If you’ve evolved enough to handle freeway driving, why can’t you date someone remotely close to your own age? I’m not suggesting an old lady, but maybe a woman in her thirties.” She walked to the pantry and got the small box of cookies she’d set aside for him.

“Never mind,” she told him as she handed him the decorated box. “You don’t have an answer and I have no right to question your personal life. I just work for you.”

“And give me cookies.” He studied the ribbon and appliques. “It’s beautiful, but I would have been happy with plastic wrap.”

“That’s not how we do things around here.”

“Which is part of your problem.”

“I know that. Unfortunately, knowing and doing something about it are two different things. Go wash your hands, then you can help me set the table.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He did as she requested, then met her in the formal dining room. Harper remembered when she and Terence had been looking for a house in the area. They’d passed on several because the dining room wasn’t big enough. When he’d pointed out their family wasn’t that large, she’d reminded him that she had a huge table, a giant hutch and massive buffet to find room for. He’d grumbled about her having too many dishes—every now and then she thought maybe he was right. After the divorce she’d sold two full sets and still had more stock than the average department store.

Her basic set of dishes were white, allowing her to use them as a base for any holiday or event. Now she studied her tablecloths and napkins, then thought about the bunny fest that would be tomorrow’s table.

“Becca likes pink,” Lucas offered. “Isn’t pink a spring color?”

“It is, and that would work. Thanks.”

She pulled out a pale rose tablecloth with matching napkins. She would use gold as the accent color, along with a little dark green. The dinner would be attended by Bunny, Becca, Lucas, fruit date, Kit and Stacey, and Harper, so seven.

She handed Lucas the tablecloth before digging out seven dark green place mats. The rest was easy: seven gold chargers, seven sets of gold flatware, her favorite crystal glasses, white plates. She had a collection of salad plates in different patterns, including eight that were edged in gold. She would make custom napkin rings by dressing up plain ones with clusters of silk flowers. She had three hurricane lamps with gold bases.

She left him to put the linens on the table, then hurried into her craft room to double-check supplies. Honestly, she should have planned her table a couple of days ago, in case she needed to go to the craft store. Now she was going to have to wing it.

She plugged in her glue gun, then dug through a large bag of silk flower pieces and found several tiny pink blossoms, along with some greens. She had glass beads, of course, and plenty of ribbon. Ten minutes later, she had secured the last of the flowers to the clear plastic napkin rings she bought in bulk. She picked up bags of colored glass beads and the ribbon, then turned and nearly ran into Lucas.

“What are you doing?” he asked, sounding more amused than concerned.

“Decorating the table. Can you get those hurricane lamps, please?”

“There’s something wrong with you,” he told her as he picked up the lamps and followed her back into the dining room. “Your crafts don’t make you a penny, yet you have that huge room for them. At the same time, you cram your office into that tiny bedroom in back.”

“Sometimes I have to use my craft room for work,” she said, trying not to sound defensive. “When I work for my party planner, I do.”

“Yeah, sell it somewhere else. Harper, no one’s going to take you seriously until you take yourself seriously.”

Author Info:

Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of books about the relationships that define women’s lives—romance, friendship, family. With compassion and humor, Susan keenly observes how people think and feel, in stories that take readers on an emotional journey. Sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, and always uplifting, Susan’s books have spent more than 200 weeks on the USA Today bestsellers list, thanks to her ever growing legions of fans.

Critics, too, have heaped praise on “the new queen of romantic fiction.” (Walmart) Booklist says, “Romance novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor, and superb storytelling,” and RT Book Reviews puts her “in a class by herself!”

Although Susan majored in Accounting, she never worked as an accountant because she was published straight out of college with two books the same month, January of 1992. Sixteen prolific years and seventy-four books later, she hit the New York Times bestsellers list for the first time with Accidentally Yours in 2008. She made many appearances in the Top 10 before (finally) hitting #1 in 2015 with Thrill Me, the twentieth book in her most popular series, the Fool’s Gold romances, and the fourth of five books released that year.

Susan lives in Seattle with her husband, two ragdoll cats, and a tattletale toy poodle. Her heart for animals has led Susan to become an active supporter of the Seattle Humane Society. Animals play a big role in her books, as well, as she believes they’re an integral component to a happy life.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more excerpts and features.

Sneak Peek at Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Sneak Peek at Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery + GiveawaySecrets of the Tulip Sisters: A Captivating Story about Sisters, Secrets and Second Chances by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Pages: 416
Published by Harlequin Books on July 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A wonderful story full of romance, forgiveness and the unavoidable ties that bind, SECRETS OF THE TULIP SISTERS is Susan Mallery at her very best.
The relationship of sisters Kelly and Olivia Van Gilder has been, well… complicated ever since their mother left them as teens, though it's the secrets they have been keeping from each other as adults that have unwittingly widened the chasm. But one thing they do share is the not-so-secret torch they carry for the Martin brothers.
In the small enclave of New Holland, Washington, Griffith and Ryan Martin were demigods. While Griffith was the object of Kelly's high school crush and witness to her mortal teenage humiliation, Ryan was for Olivia the boy who got away-something she's never forgiven Kelly for-and the only person since her mother who appreciated her wild streak.
Now, ten years later, both brothers are newly returned to town. Believing they're destined to be together, Olivia's determined to get Ryan back, until she discovers that she's not the only one keeping secrets…and that perhaps he's not the handsome prince she remembered. And even though Griffith has grown up to be more irresistible than ever, Kelly's impulse is to avoid him and the painful memory he represents, despite his resolve to right the wrong he caused her long ago-and her desire to let him.

Welcome to the  Virtual Pre-Order Tour for Susan Mallery’s upcoming book, Secrets of the Tulip Sisters. I loved her Daughters of the Bride last year, so I was thrilled when not one but two tours were available for Sisters of the Tulip Sisters. This pre-order tour includes an exclusive excerpt, and just in time for Mother’s Day, the opportunity for one lucky U.S. entrant to win a beautifult bouquet, of tulips of course, to be delivered to your own home or to a person of your choosing as a very special gift.

There is also a review tour for Secrets of the Tulip Sisters coming in July. Based on this teaser chapter, I can’t wait to read this book!

Chapter Three

Leo Meierotto, the forty-something site supervisor, stuck his head in Griffith’s office. “Boss, you’ve got company.” Leo’s normally serious expression changed to one of amusement. “Kelly Murphy is here.”

Because Leo was local and in a town the size of Tulpen Crossing, everyone knew everyone.

“Thanks.”

“Think she wants to buy a tiny home?”

Considering she lived in a house her family had owned for five generations, “Doubtful.”

He had a feeling she was here to tell him to back off. Maybe she’d shown up to serve him with a restraining order. Or did that have to be delivered by someone official? He wasn’t sure. Avoiding interactions that required him to get on the wrong side of law enforcement had always been a goal.

He told himself whatever happened, he would deal, then walked out into the showroom of the larger warehouse. Kelly stood by a cross section of a display tiny home, studying the layout.

He took a second to enjoy looking at her. She was about five-five, fit with narrow hips and straight shoulders. A farmer by birth and profession, Kelly dressed for her job. Jeans, work boots and a long sleeved T-shirt. It might be early June, but in the Pacific Northwest, that frequently meant showers. Today was gray with an expected high of sixty-five. Not exactly beach weather.

Kelly’s wavy hair fell just past her shoulders. She wore it pulled back in a simple ponytail. She didn’t wear makeup or bother with a manicure. She was completely no-frills. He supposed that was one of the things he liked about her. There wasn’t any artifice. No pretense. With Kelly you wouldn’t find out that she was one thing on the surface and something completely different underneath. At least that was what he hoped.

“Hey, Kelly.”

She turned. He saw something flash through her eyes. Discomfort? Nerves? Determination? Was she here to tell him to back off? He couldn’t blame her. He’d been too enthused about his plan when he should have been more subtle. She was going to tell him to leave her alone.

Not willing to lose without a fight, he decided he needed a distraction and how convenient they were standing right next to one.

“You’ve never been to my office before,” he went on. “Why is that?”

“I don’t know. You’ve been back about a year. I guess I should have been by.” She turned toward the tiny homes. “You build these?”

“I do. Have you seen one before?”

“Only on TV.”

He grinned. “Gotta love the free advertising.” He gestured to the model next to the cross section. “Micro housing is defined as being less than five hundred square feet. They serve different purposes for different people. In sub-Saharan Africa, micro housing provides sturdy, relatively inexpensive shelter that can be tailored to the needs of the community.” He pointed to the roof. “For example, we can install solar panels, giving the owners access to electricity. In urban settings, modified homes can be an alternative to expensive apartments. They can also offer shelter to the homeless. For everyone else, they fill a need. You can get a single-story house for an in-law or a guest cottage with a loft. You can take it on the road, even live off the grid, if you want.”

She studied him intently as he spoke, as if absorbing every word. “I like living on the grid, but that’s just me.”

“I’m with you on that. Creature comforts are good. Come on. I’ll show you where we build them.”

He led her around the divider and into the back of the warehouse where the actual construction was done. Nearly half a dozen guys swarmed over the homes. Griffith saw that Ryan was leaning against a workbench, talking rather than working. No surprise there. He ignored the surge of frustration and turned his attention to Kelly.

“Clients can pick from plans we have on hand or create their own. If it’s the latter, I work with them to make sure the structure will be sound. A house that’s going to stay in one place has different requirements from one that will be towed.”

She nodded slowly. “You’d have to make sure it was balanced on the trailer. Plus it can’t be too high. Bridges and overpasses would be a problem. Maybe weight, as well.”

“Exactly. A lot of people think they want a tiny home but when they actually see what it looks like, they’re surprised at the size.”

“Or lack of size?” She smiled. “I can’t imagine living in five hundred square feet.”

“Or less. It takes compromise and creative thinking.”

“Plus not a lot of stuff.”

They walked back to the show area. She went through a completed tiny house waiting to be picked up.

“I can’t believe you fit in a washer-dryer unit,” she called from inside.

“Clothes get dirty.”

“But still. It’s a washer-dryer.” She stepped back into the showroom. “It’s nice that you have this setup for your clients. They get to see rather than just imagine.”

He nodded as he looked around. There were photos of completed projects on the wall, along with the cross section. He had a small selection of samples for roofing, siding and hard surfaces. All the basics.

“What?” she asked.

“It’s okay,” he admitted. “I want to make it better, but I don’t know how to do the finishing touches.” He could design the hell out of three hundred square feet, but when it came to things like paint and throw pillows, he was as lost as the average guy in a housewares department.

“I wish I could help, but I can’t.” She flashed him a smile. “I’m totally hopeless at that kind of thing, too. Now if you want to know the Pantone color of the year, that I can do.”

“The what?”

“The color of the year. Every year the design world picks colors that are expected to be popular. You know, for clothes and decorating.”

“Why would you know that?”

“Um, Griffith, I grow tulips for a living. If I don’t get the colors right, nobody wants them at their wedding or on their coffee tables.”

“Oh, right. I didn’t think of that.” He frowned. “Don’t you have to order bulbs before you plant them? What if you get the colors wrong?”

“Then I’m screwed and we lose the farm. Which is why I pay attention to things like the Pantone colors of the year. It’s not so much that people won’t buy yellow tulips regardless of what’s popular, it’s that I’ll lose sales by not having the right colors available when my customers want them. I like being their go-to vendor when they need something.”

He’d known she cared about her business, but he hadn’t thought of her as competitive. Better and better.

“Do you focus on having the right colors in the field flowers as well as those you grow indoors?”

She studied him for a second, as if surprised by the question.

“They’re different,” she admitted. “What we have for the annual tulip festival are more focused on popular colors as well as types of tulips. I use the greenhouses for wedding seasons as well as for the more exotics. It’s easier to control the process when you don’t have to deal with Mother Nature.”

“I hear she can be a real bitch.”

Kelly laughed. “If there’s a spring hailstorm, I won’t disagree. Ten minutes of hail can ruin an entire crop.”

He winced. “That sucks.”

“Tell me about it.”

They smiled at each other. He had a feeling she’d forgotten about why she’d come to see him, which was how he wanted things.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Susan is giving away a beatiful bouquet of tulips to one lucky entrant at each stop on this tour.

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TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Target Engaged by M.L. Buchman + Giveaway

Review: Target Engaged by M.L. Buchman + GiveawayTarget Engaged (Delta Force, #1) Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance, romantic suspense
Series: Delta Force #1
Pages: 384
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on December 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kyle Reeves was trained by his father to do one thing: be the very best. So he isn't daunted by the Delta Force selection process—the toughest military training on earth—or when the very best woman falls into his arms.
Carla Anderson buried her heart in Arlington when she lost her mother and brother to combat. She wants nothing more than to give her all in the line of duty until she too is laid down beside them, and Delta training might just be the challenge she's looking for. Little did she know, the true challenge was coming in the shape of a sexy, alpha-male military operative.
Surviving brutal training is just the beginning of the merciless path to Delta, but it's also the dawn of the hottest passion Kyle and Carla have ever known…

My Review:

As I was reading this book, the U.S. Secretary of Defense announced on December 3, 2015 that starting in early 2016 all U.S. combat military positions will be open to women, including the Rangers, the SEALs, SOAR and Delta. So, while this book is certainly fiction, it looked forward at something that could happen in the near future.

Three women have already passed Army Ranger training, so that day may be much sooner than anyone thought just a few years ago.

Back to the present day, and the book…

bring on the dusk by ml buchmanTarget Engaged is the first book in the author’s Delta Force series, which is spin-off of his awesome Night Stalkers series. Colonel Michael Gibson of Delta Force was the hero of Bring on the Dusk (reviewed here) in the Night Stalkers series, and he serves as the main bridge between the two units. Not that there aren’t occasional appearances by other members of the Night Stalkers, but Gibson is the most obvious link.

He’s the one who makes the final judgment on whether these candidates for “the Unit” actually pass one of their more important final exams, even if that exam is only partially concealed within an interview. They are all training for Delta, they are supposed to see the wheel within the wheel within the wheel.

In this first book in the series, we’re introduced to a small group of Delta candidates who become a tight-knit force within their class. Although the focus is on Carla Anderson, who plans to be the first woman to make Delta, and Kyle Reeves, the natural leader of their contingent, the other guys come in for enough pages to make them interesting possible leads for future books in the series.

This is a story with two threads to one. One is the training of Delta. For those out there who love books where the hero or heroine goes through intensive training, there’s a lot here to love. All the members of “the Unit” are in training from the moment they arrive at the ass-end of Ft. Bragg until the day the survivors graduate – or flunk out at the last hurdle. Just over 100 start, only seven finish, and only five survive their final training. By survive I don’t mean some die, although many of the ones that fail the test wish they had. But out of the original cadre, only five go the distance. A few are sent back to their units with recommendations that they come back after either some additional training, or just after they heal their injuries, but most just fail.

Carla starts out as the only woman in the Delta recruiting class, and she’s the first woman to finish. The story is very real when it talks about how she makes it – not just that she goes through the exact same grueling training as the men, having to succeed or fail under the exact same standards, but they way that she also has to handle being the only woman, and the way that she has learned to cope with being one of the few women in what is still a man’s world.

But when they graduate, and the group is ready to set out on their first mission, Carla finally gives in to the steaming attraction that she feels for fellow Delta operator Kyle Reeves, and it is here that she breaks pattern. From this point on in the story we have some kick-ass military romance, as Carla and Kyle explore what they can be to each other, as well as how they and their relationship fit into the team that Kyle has built and Delta has honed.

When their first missions put them each in danger of losing their lives, they both have to face what it means to be in love with someone who risks their life every single day, and who you might have to deliberately send in harm’s way for the greater good.

Escape Rating B+: I loved both halves of this story – the training half and the mission half, but they are completely different.

During the entire training component, both Kyle and Carla are extremely aware of the heat they generate together, and they do absolutely nothing about it. A relationship between them while they are in the initial training/weeding out process will send them both back to their previous units, and probably scuttle Carla’s entire career. Also any relationship would be a distraction that they have neither the time, the energy or the privacy for until the initial phase of training is over.

Also, it’s not just that neither of them has much experience at real relationships, but that Carla specifically has no plans to ever be in a real relationship. A lot of the later tension between Carla and Kyle is that she had no plans to ever love anyone again, and is completely unwilling to admit that she loves Kyle and isn’t ready to go on without him.

One of the things I found slightly jarring about this story is that I couldn’t realistically see how a woman who is portrayed the way that Carla is would fall into a relationship with someone in her unit. While it isn’t against regulations – they are both the same rank and not officially in a reporting relationship – there is always a danger that the woman in any such relationship will be considered less capable simply because of the relationship. And if it fails, she’s the one who will lose rank or status, not him.

On that other hand, once I let go of my disbelief, the missions they went on were page-turning gut twisters from beginning to end. They go after bad guys who really need to be brought down, and they finish them off with style. Their second mission had me on the edge of my seat, and I loved watching them figure out how to save themselves and each other with not much more than grit, determination and a little help from some friends in the CIA and Mossad.

In the end, Target Engaged reminded me a bit of The Night is Mine (reviewed here), the first book in the Night Stalkers series. Night reads more than a bit like Stargate fanfiction, and Target Engaged has the undercover agent vibe of some NCIS fanfic. I love them all.

~~~~~~ EXCERPT ~~~~~~

If you have been appropriately intrigued by my review, Sourcebooks has a treat for you. The first six chapters of Target Engaged are available as a free sampler. To get started with Delta Force, just click on the link at the end:

Dear Reader,
Welcome to my newest series: the first women of Delta Force. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun this was to write.
Most of us know little more about Delta Force than the Chuck Norris movies (which leave a lot to be desired) or perhaps we only know the name. In researching my Night Stalkers series, I kept running into these guys. They are the elite of Special Operations Forces. They are at a level of SEAL Team 6, and most would argue they were even beyond that. They are the ghost and shadow warriors who helped take down drug lord Pablo Escobar, capture Noriega, were undoubtedly behind the locating of Saddam Hussein, and are the main reason that Al-Qaeda abruptly stopped being a topic in the Iraq War when over three thousand of their leaders were swept off the board.
Yet the Pentagon states that they don’t exist. Fascinating.
And while they often work with undercover female operatives, no woman has yet managed to kick in the front door on one of the most arduous selection programs in the military.
I decided to change that.
Carla Anderson stepped forward to take the challenge. She is a not a woman out to prove she can match any man, she’s out to prove that she can beat them at their own game. And that was the first thing that I loved about writing this series.
In the Night Stalkers, the women were strong, excellent, and determined.
To be a Delta Force woman, Carla had to add enough attitude and drive to plow through all obstacles which just made her so much fun. Nothing was off the table when it came to her attitude or her actions.
And that was the second thing I came to love about this series launcher, Target Engaged. Being Delta Force, they really do operate outside so many bounds. They are sent to do the tasks that no one else can. To that I added the additional challenge that Robert Ludlum gave to Jason Bourne (though I’m quoting the movie): “I don’t send you to kill. I send you to be invisible. I send you because you don’t exist.” I’m pretty convinced that this is part of Delta’s mission.
It is occasionally said by retired Delta Force operators (as the on-duty ones never speak): “If we’d been sent in to take down bin Laden, you still wouldn’t know how it was done.” To bring that to life gave me a permission as a writer to run my characters into hard and strange places and be just a little gonzo doing it.
But writing is a give and take, and I can’t begin to tell you how much the characters I created shaped my telling of this story. I like to think that they had as much fun as I did bringing this story to life.
I hope that you enjoy the reading even half as much as I enjoyed the writing!
M.L. Buchman (the Oregon Coast, November 2015)

Get to know the Carla, and the entire Delta Force team by reading the first SIX chapters of TARGET ENGAGED for free! Just click here to download them! To get you started, we’ve included the first few pages below:

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The treats never end with any of M.L. Buchman’s books. Sourcebooks is giving away an M.L. Buchman book bundle to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Spotlight/Excerpt: Scandal Takes the Stage by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Spotlight/Excerpt: Scandal Takes the Stage by Eva Leigh + GiveawayScandal Takes the Stage (The Wicked Quills of London, #2) by Eva Leigh
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Wicked Quills of London #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on October 27th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Eva Leigh’s smart and sexy Wicked Quills of London series continues, with a playwright and a Viscount . . . together they may create a scandal worthy of the stage, but can their love last after the final curtain falls?
Successful playwright Maggie Delamere has no interest in the flirtations of noblemen like Cameron, Viscount Marwood. She once paid dearly for a moment of weakness . . . and vows to rebuff the wildly persistent—and irritatingly handsome—scoundrel at every turn. But when pressure to deliver a new play hampers her creativity, an invitation to use his country estate as a writer’s retreat is too tempting to resist...
For years, Cam has admired Maggie’s brilliant work, and he can’t pass up the opportunity to discover if the beautiful, mysterious playwright is as passionate and clever as the words that flow from her quill. He’s never offered a lady his bed without being in it, but if it means loosening Maggie’s pen—and her inhibitions—he’ll do exactly that.
But soon Cam’s plans for seduction become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake society believes him to be . . . and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.

Tasty Excerpt Banner

 

Both Ashford and his wife were elegantly attired for a night out. Lady Ashford, in particular, glowed in blue. Though she was a countess, she prided herself on being a working woman. Yet Cam felt certain that the substantial sapphires around her neck and hanging from her earlobes were placating gestures to her husband. Ashford tried to spoil her at every turn.
The couple stood unfashionably close. Ashford had his hand on the small of his wife’s back.

After kissing Lady Ashford’s gloved knuckles and giving his old friend’s hand a shake, Cam said wryly, “I’m older than I thought, since I’m certain that my eyes are failing. This can’t be Lord and Lady Ashford actually leaving their home. Joining those of us who haven’t found wedded bliss.”

“It’s not our fault that the female population of London considers you an irredeemable rogue,” Ashford said.

His wife smiled warmly. “To women, his reputation acts as a lure, not a deterrent.”

“And yet they’ll find themselves sorely disappointed,” Cam noted, clasping his hands behind his back. “Because this piece of beefsteak is not for sale at Smithfield market.”
Ashford shook his head. “Don’t tell your father. He comes to me almost once a fortnight, despairing of you ever finding a wife.”
Cam rolled his eyes. His father was also Ashford’s godfather, and ever since his friend had married, the efforts to see Cam settled and applying himself to the business of getting an heir had redoubled.

“So much labor,” Cam said with mock sorrow, “and for so little an outcome.”

“You are determined to remain a dedicated bachelor, then?” Lady Ashford pressed, ever the journalist. She used her matching blue fan to cool herself against the oppressive heat in the theater.
“I have a younger brother,” Cam noted. “He has three qualities in his favor that I do not.” Holding up his hand, he enumerated each aspect on his fingers. “One: he has already taken a bride of suitable lineage and fortune. Two: they have produced a child. And third: he has no compunction about assuming the role of Marquess of Allam should anything happen to me.”

Shrugging, Cam said, “There are no obstacles to me continuing to live my life as I so desire it. Free of entanglements.” Free of disappointment.

His parents had a remarkably happy marriage. Whilethey didn’t show affection in public the way the Ashfords did, at home, it was another matter. His mother and father were devoted to each other, brushing hands, exchanging looks, even—God help him—sequestering themselves in the middle of the day in the bedchamber.

It hadn’t been a love match, but it had become one, and Cam knew things like that occurred rarely. What had happened with a seasoned rake like Ashford was the exception, about as common as finding a pearl in an apple.

The only place where love happened consistently was on the stage. It wasn’t meant for the real world. Not meant for him. He’d only find disenchantment if he tried for what couldn’t be.
Which is why he always kept his amorous encounters temporary.

Enter to Win a
Print Copy of FOREVER YOUR EARL
and a $25.00 eGift Card to choice Book Seller

 

FOREVER YOUR EARL
The Wicked Quills of London Book One
Eva Leigh
Released Sept 29th, 2015
Avon Books
Eleanor
Hawke loves a good scandal. And readers of her successful gossip rag live for
the exploits of her favorite subject: Daniel Balfour, the notorious Earl of
Ashford. So when the earl himself marches into her office one day and invites
her to experience his illicit pursuits firsthand, Eleanor is stunned. Gambling
hells, phaeton races, masquerades…What more could a scandal writer want than a
secret look into the life of this devilishly handsome rake?
Daniel
has secrets and if The Hawk’s Eye gets wind of them, a man’s life could be at
stake. And what better way to distract a gossip than by feeding her the scandal
she desperately craves? But Daniel never expected the sharp mind and biting wit
of the beautiful writer, and their desire for each other threatens even his
best laid plans.
But
when Eleanor learns the truth of his deception, Daniel will do anything to
prove a romance between a commoner and an earl could really last forever.
 
BUY NOW

 

SCANDAL TAKES THE STAGE
The Wicked Quills of London Book Two
Eva Leigh
Releasing Oct 27th, 2015
Avon Books

 

 
Successful playwright Maggie Delamere
has no interest in the flirtations of noblemen like Cameron, Viscount Marwood.
She once paid dearly for a moment of weakness… and vows to rebuff the wildly
persistent-and irritatingly handsome-scoundrel at every turn. But when pressure
to deliver a new play hampers her creativity, an invitation to use his country
estate as a writer’s retreat is too tempting to resist…
For years, Cam has admired Maggie’s
brilliant work and he can’t pass up the opportunity to discover if the
beautiful, mysterious playwright is as passionate and clever as the words that
flow from her quill. He’s never offered a lady his bed without being in it, but
if it means loosening Maggie’s pen-and her inhibitions-he’ll do exactly that.
But soon Cam’s plans for seduction
become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake
society believes him to be… and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.
BUY NOW

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

EVA LEIGH is the pen name of a RITA®
Award-nominated romance author who writes novels chock-full of smart women and
sexy men. She enjoys baking, Tweeting about boots, and listening to music from
the ‘80s. Eva and her husband live in Central California.
 
 

Excerpt + Giveaway A Match for Marcus Cynster by Stephanie Laurens

11-02-Reading-Reality---A-Match-for-Marcus-Cynster-Blog-Tour-Ad-600-x-600

If I haven’t whetted your appetite for A Match for Marcus Cynster with today’s sneak peak review of the book, this excerpt should do the trick. Reading Reality is the second stop on Stephanie’s tour. The first excerpt, which sets the stage for the story, is at From the TBR Pile. For future stops (and more tantalizing excerpts) check out the link to the full tour schedule at TLC Book Tours.

Excerpt #2:

After leaving Oswald tethered with the other horses a little way away, Niniver joined her clansmen in the fold to the south of the narrow ledge on which Nolan was pacing.
Bradshaw, Phelps, Canning, and Forrester greeted her politely. Phelps and Bradshaw had brought their sons. After exchanging quiet hellos and nodding to Sean and the young groom he’d brought with him, she joined the others in studying Nolan.

Continue reading “Excerpt + Giveaway A Match for Marcus Cynster by Stephanie Laurens”

Q&A with Authors Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

shadow ritual by eric giacometti and jacque ravenneShadow Ritual (reviewed today here) is one of those books that just reached out and grabbed me. It wouldn’t let go, or I couldn’t, until I turned the last page a few brief hours later. I was absorbed and enthralled.

The history and mystery that fuels this story is one that most of us don’t know well. The Freemasons and the history of the Masonic Order is shrouded in mysteries and secrets for those of us on the outside. In this Q&A, the authors tell a bit about how they chose as their protagonists a police detective who is a Mason and a security officer who is beyond derisive of those practices, as well as a glimpse of how much truth in wrapped in their absorbing piece of fiction.

Just to whet your appetite for this book, an excerpt is included at the end. This is one of those book tours where I wish that there was a giveaway attached. However, the publisher is doing a book tour at the same time as this one, and it does have a giveaway. Check here for details.

And now, on to the questions…

1. How did the two of you come together to write SHADOW RITUAL?
Many things led us into this adventure. First of all, Jacques is a Freemason, and Eric had investigated scandals linked to freemasonry. We had two different visions of this brotherhood. Second, Eric had already written a mystery and his French publisher was encouraging him to write another one. Thirdly, we had known each other since our teenage years together spent in Toulouse, in the south of France, when we shared a passion for esoteric mysteries and secret societies. At the time, while others were flirting, we were exploring Cathar castles and Templar outposts, certain we would find some lost treasure, perhaps even the Holy Grail. We always kept a bit of that feeling of wonder. All of this came together with the idea of a Freemason inspector. Two other inspirations fed Shadow Ritual: the little known story of Freemason persecutions in Nazi-occupied France, and the true story of French Freemason archives stolen by the Nazis in 1940, recovered by the Soviets in 1945 and only returned to France in 2000. What secret did they hold?

2. How does the fact that Jacques is a Freemason and Eric is a Profane affect the portrayal of the relationships between your characters?
It gives us a more balanced view of freemasonry: one that is not too indulgent and not too full of fantasy.

3. What was the inspiration for the characters Antoine Marcas and Jade Zewinski?
Antoine embodies an upright Freemason who believes in his ideals, but is aware that the brotherhood is not perfect. He is always doubting, and that is his strength. Jade is hostile to freemasonry and challenges Marcas, by asking him all the questions the Profane have about this secret society.

4. The Inspector Marcas series is an international phenomenon! Has the success of the series changed your life?
The success of the series has allowed us the freedom to write and earn a living from it, which is a real luxury.

5. How did you decide to write a series with a freemason as the protagonist?
We though thrillers are an excellent way for readers to discover the world of freemasonry. Then, we were doubly lucky: at the time, nobody in France had had the idea of creating a positive Freemason protagonist, and Dan Brown published his Da Vinci Code a year before we brought out the first Antoine Marcas mystery in French. We were the first French authors to benefit from the Dan Brown effect.

6. SHADOW RITUAL deals with actual Freemason history and the potential implications of a breach; has SHADOW RITUAL ruffled some feathers?
At first, Jacques’s brothers were a little thrown off. But over time, freemasons have become fervent supporters of Inspector Marcas. The rituals and meetings described in the books are genuine, and readers can understand a little bit more about the brotherhood.

7. How much research do you have to do, which are the most difficult types of scenes to research, and have you ever had to go to extreme or unusual lengths to research a scene?
We spend a lot of time in libraries, often in Freemason libraries, which have many rare books. We also meet with scholars. This is a fascinating part of the work, but it’s important not to get lost in the research or to recount too much of what we found in books. The hard part is building a plot and adjusting the mechanism to work like clockwork.

8. What are you reading now?
The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a fascinating book about the unforeseeable events that change the destinies of nations.

9. Who or what has influenced your style of writing?
Jacques’s influences are very literary, as he was a French professor and a Paul Valery scholar. Eric’s are more thrillers (both books and movies).

10. What’s up next for you, Eric?
I’m heading to New York for Thrillerfest in July. I can’t wait to meet other thriller writers. And next year, there will be another Antoine Marcas thriller in English, one with surprising Freemason information about the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower.

11. What’s up next for you, Jacques?
Las Vegas in August to celebrate my son’s twenty-first birthday, and shared impatience with Eric for the next Marcas adventure.

Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

1945
BERLIN

The bombings had redoubled at dawn, and the ground trembled. The man’s razor slipped a second time. Blood dribbled down his stubbly cheek. He clenched his jaw, grabbed a damp towel, and dabbed the cut.
Designed to last a thousand years, the bunker’s foundations were showing signs of weakness.
He looked in the cracked mirror above the sink and barely recognized his face. The last six months of combat had left their mark, including two scars across his forehead, souvenirs of a skirmish with the Red Army in Pomerania. He would celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday in a week, but the mirror reflected someone a good ten years older.
The officer slipped on a shirt and his black jacket and shot a half smile at the portrait of the Führer, a mandatory fixture in all the rooms of the Third Reich Chancellery’s air-raid shelter. He put on his black helmet, adjusted it, and buttoned his collar, fingering the two silver runes shaped like S’s on the right.
His uniform had such power. When he wore it, he soaked up the fear and respect in the eyes of passersby. He reveled in the gazes that oozed submission. Even children too young to understand the meaning of his black uniform pulled away when he tried to be friendly. It reactivated some primitive fear. He liked that. Intensely. Without his beloved leader’s national socialism, he would have been a nobody, just like the others, leading a mediocre life in an ambitionless society. But fate had catapulted him to the inner circle of the SS.
Now, however, the tide was turning. Judeo-Masonic forces were triumphing again. The Bolsheviks were scampering, ready to take over like a swarm of rats. They would spare nothing. Of course, he hadn’t either. He’d left no prisoners on the Eastern Front.
“Pity is all the weak can be proud of,” Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler liked to tell his subordinates. That same man had given him—a Frenchman—the Iron Cross for his acts of bravery.
Another tremor shook the concrete walls. Gray dust fell from the ceiling. That explosion was close, maybe just above the bunker in what remained of the chancellery gardens.
Obersturmbannführer François Le Guermand brushed the dust from his lapels and examined himself again. Berlin would fall. They had known this since June, when the Allies invaded Normandy. But what a year it had been. A “heroic and brutal” dream, to borrow the words of José-Maria de Heredia, the Cuban-born French poet Le Guermand loved.
A dream for some and a nightmare for others.

It began after he’d joined the SS Sturmbrigade Frankreich and then the Charlemagne Division, swearing allegiance to Adolf Hitler. This came two years after he’d marched off with the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism. Marshal Pétain’s spinelessness had disgusted him, and he had set his sights on the Waffen SS units that were taking foreign volunteers.
He had fought bravely, and one day a general invited him to dinner that changed his life. Anti-Christian comments filled the conversation. The guests praised old Nordic religious beliefs and championed racist doctrines. Le Guermand listened with fascination as they related the strange and cruel stories of the clever god Odin, the dragon slayer Siegfried, and mythic Thule, the ancestral homeland of supermen, the real masters of the human race.
Le Guermand was seated next to the general’s liaison, a major from Munich who explained how SS officers with pure Germanic blood had received intensive historical and spiritual training. “The Aryan race has waged battle with degenerate barbarians for centuries,” he said.
Before, Le Guermand would have mocked the words as the wild imaginings of indoctrinated minds, but in the candlelight, the magical stories were a powerful venom, a burning drug that flowed into his blood, slowly reaching his brain and cutting it off from reason. Le Guermand was caught in the maelstrom of a titanic combat against the Stalinist hordes, and at that moment, he understood the real reason he had joined this final battle between Germany and the rest of the world. He grasped the meaning of his life.
On that winter solstice in 1944, in a meadow lit up by torches, he was initiated into the rites of the Black Order. As he faced a makeshift altar covered with a dark gray sheet embroidered with two moon-colored runes, he heard the deep voices of soldiers chanting all around him: “Halgadom, Halgadom, Halgadom.”
“It’s an ancestral Germanic invocation that means ‘sacred cathedral,’” the major told him. “But it’s nothing like a Christian cathedral. Think of it as a mystical grail.” The major laughed. “In a Christian context, it’s like a celestial Jerusalem.”
An hour later, the torches were extinguished. As darkness swallowed the men in ceremonial uniforms, Le Guermand emerged a transformed man. His existence would never be the same. What would it matter if he died? Death was nothing but a passage to a more glorious world. François Le Guermand had joined his fate with that of this community. It was cursed by the rest of humanity, but he would receive sublime teachings promising new life, even if Germany lost the war.
The Red Army continued to advance. Le Guermand’s division took a battering. Then, on a cold and wet morning in February 1945, when he was supposed to be leading a counterattack in East Prussia, Le Guermand received orders to report to the Führer’s headquarters in Berlin. There was no explanation.
He bid good-bye to his division, only to learn later that his fellow soldiers, exhausted and underequipped, had been decimated that very day by the Second Shock Army’s T-34 tanks.
The Führer had saved his life.
On his way to Berlin, Le Guermand passed countless German refugees fleeing the Russians. The radio broadcast Dr. Goebbels’s propaganda: Soviet barbarians were pillaging houses and raping women. It made no mention of the atrocities committed by the Reich when they had marched victoriously on Russia.
The lines of frightened runaways went on for miles.
How ironic. In June 1940, his family had pulled a cart along a road in Compiègne, France, fleeing the arriving Germans. Now he was a German soldier, and he was retreating. From the backseat of his SS car, he contemplated the dead German women and children lying on both sides of the road, some in an advanced stage of decomposition. Many had had their clothing and shoes stolen. This de- pressing spectacle was nothing compared with what he would find when he arrived in the capital of the dying Third Reich.
Past the northern suburb of Wedding, he gazed at the burned and crumbling buildings, the victims of incessant Allied bombings. He had known Berlin when it was so arrogant and proud to be the new Rome. Now he gawked at the masses of silent inhabitants trudging through the ruins.
Flags bearing swastikas hung over what remained of the rooftops. His car came to a stop at an intersection on Wilhelmstrasse to let a convoy of Panzer Tiger tanks and a detachment of foot soldiers pass. Le Guermand watched as a man spit at the troops. Before, such behavior would have led to an arrest and a beating. On this day, the man just went on his way.
A banderole remained intact on the side of an intact building—an insurance company—that hadn’t been destroyed. “We will vanquish or we will die,” its large gothic letters read.
Arriving at the chancellery guard post, he found the bodies of two men hanging from streetlights. They hadn’t been as lucky as the man who had spit at the troops. The dead men were wearing placards: “I betrayed my Führer.” Probably deserters caught by the Gestapo and immediately executed, Le Guermand thought. Examples. No Germans could escape their destiny. The bodies, their faces nearly black from asphyxiation, swayed in the wind.
To his surprise, there was no officer to meet him at the bunker, but instead, an insignificant civilian. His thread- bare jacket bore the insignia of the Nazi Party. The man told him that he and the other officers of his rank would be assigned to a special detachment under the direct orders of Reichsleiter Martin Bormann. His mission would be explained in due time.
The man led him to a tiny room. Other officers, all detached from three SS divisions—Wiking, Totenkopf, and Hohenstaufen—had received the same orders and were lodged in nearby rooms.
Two days after they arrived, Martin Bormann, secretary of the Nazi Party and one of the few dignitaries to still be in Adolf Hitler’s good graces, called the Frenchman and his comrades together. With a cold, self-confident gaze on his bloated face, he looked at the fifteen men gathered in what remained of a chancellery meeting room. Then Hitler’s dauphin spoke in a strangely shrill voice.
“Gentlemen, the Russians will be here in a few months. It is possible that we will lose the war, even though the Führer still believes in victory and has put his faith in new weapons even more destructive than our long-range V-2 rockets.”
Bormann let his eyes drift over the group before continuing his monologue.
“We need to think about future generations and remain committed to final victory. Your superior officers chose you for your courage and loyalty to the Reich. I speak especially for our European friends from Sweden, Belgium, France, and Holland who have conducted themselves as true Germans. During the few weeks we have left, you will be trained to survive and perpetuate the work of Adolf Hitler. Our guide has decided to stay to the end, even if he must give his life, but you will leave in due time to ensure that his sacrifice is not in vain.”
Le Guermand looked around. The other officers were murmuring and shifting in their chairs. Bormann continued.
“Each of you will receive orders that are vital for our work to continue. You are not alone. Other groups such as yours are being formed throughout German territory. Your training will begin at eight tomorrow morning and will last for several weeks. Good luck to all of you.”
During the two months that followed, they were taught to live an entirely clandestine life. François Le Guermand admired the organization that persevered, despite the impending apocalypse. He felt detached from his French roots, from that nation of whiners that had prostrated itself at the feet of Charles de Gaulle and the Americans.
Le Guermand was cloistered in underground rooms and went days without seeing sunlight. A rodent’s life. There was no rest between the lectures and coursework. Soldiers and civilians introduced him to a vast network that was especially active in South America, as well as Spain and Switzerland.
They were trained in covert bank transfers and identity management. Money didn’t seem to be a concern. Each member of the group had a duty: to go to his assigned country and blend with the population under a new identity. Then wait—ready to act.
By mid-April, the Soviets were just six miles from Berlin. Three hundred French survivors of the Charlemagne Division were guarding the bunker. That was when the liaison officer from Munich arrived. Bormann deferred to the major, as though he were a superior officer. Le Guermand ate a quick lunch with the major, who called Hitler an evil madman and then held out a black card embossed with a white capital T.
“This card marks your membership to an ancient Aryan secret society, the Thule-Gesellschaft,” the major explained. “It has existed since long before the birth of Nazism. You have been chosen for your courage and devotion. If you survive the war, other members of the Thule will contact you with new orders.”

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
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Jacques Ravenne is a literary scholar
who has also written a biography of the Marquis de Sade
and edited his letters.
He loves to explore the hidden side of major historical events.

Eric Giacometti was an investigative reporter
for a major French newspaper.
He has covered a number of high-profile scandals
and has done exhaustive research in the area of freemasonry.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Anne Trager loves France so much she has lived there for 27 years and just can’t seem to leave. What keeps her there is a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. In 2011, she woke up one morning and said, “I just can’t stand it anymore. There are way too many good books being written in France not reaching a broader audience.” That’s when she founded Le French Book to translate some of those books into English. The company’s motto is “If we love it, we translate it,” and Anne loves crime fiction, mysteries and detective novels.
***
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Excerpt and Giveaway: High Moon by Jennifer Harlow

I’m not quite finished with this book, so my review will be posted later. I really enjoyed the first book in Jennifer’s other series set in this same universe; What’s a Witch to Do, so this looks like fun. Please enjoy this excerpt from High Moon by Jennifer Harlow to see if you agree.

high moon by jennifer harlow

Chapter One- Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

Watching the man you love suck face with a gorgeous woman is not the best way to start a birthday. Welcome to my world.

He sits at a back booth, lips and every other body part pressed against that succubus, appearing to love every second and caress, the rat bastard. And how can he not be? The evil slut queen of doom has everything I don’t. Long, straight hay-colored hair, big blue eyes, big breasts, long lean legs, tight body all encased in a skintight black dress clinging to her perfect curves that only a plastic surgeon could ever recreate on me. I’ve envied women like her all my life, and now that succubus has my future husband in her enticing clutches. Literally. An actual succubus is clutching his soft brown hair and kissing him as if her life depended on it. Which I guess it does—as she feeds off sexual energy to live—but still. Does he have to frigging enjoy the whole experience so much?

Continue reading “Excerpt and Giveaway: High Moon by Jennifer Harlow”