Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Loving Summer by Kailin Gow

Title: Loving Summer
Series: Loving Summer #1
Author: Kailin Gow
Genre: NA Contemporary Romance
Release Date: April 17, 2017

***Soon to be a Film***

Love hits you when you least expect it, grabs you, sucks you in whole, and twists you around until you could hardly breathe. Love hurts like a sucker punch, that's both glorious and beautiful. Falling for Summer was like that for me, every time. - Nat Donovan
The Donovan Brothers
Two brothers as gorgeous as they are dangerous.
Nat Donovan, the older more responsible brother with the passion of a starving man. Knows what he wants, but knows he can't have it without giving up everything.
Drew Donovan, the really bad boy, the black sheep, the one who has a devil-may-care attitude, wants what he wants, but knows he would have to go through the ones he loves to have it.
Nat and Drew Donovan has known Summer Jones since they were kids. She had always been the girl next door who was best friends with their little sister Rachel and was cool enough to play with the guys. Now Summer is all grown up, gorgeous, and scorchingly sexy without even knowing it. Responsible older brother Nat, who had always tried to keep their friendship platonic, now can't stop thinking of her and wanting more. Carefree Drew, who had always had a crush on Summer, but knew Summer's heart was already taken, can only fall further for her. But no one had anticipated what would happen between the time the Donovan brothers fell for her and now. No one knew how hard they would fall.

My Review

This is the first book I’ve read by this author and don’t get me wrong she did a wonderful job but there’s some things wrong. First off, the writing doesn’t flow together very well. The characters are simple-minded. The wording and grammar is horrible. I had to go back and re- read sentences and change wording in my head to make it flow correctly. I didn’t like the huge love triangle where Summer was bouncing from three different guys.  However, I did like the overall story that Gow was trying to tell and I will be continuing to read the rest of the series to see who Summer ends up with. Lastly, I think Gow did a wonderful job with the overall story.


5 out of 5 Stars - Loving Summer touched on issues like divorce, illness, and self-respect. Gow was able to guide her characters through tough situations without making it too heavy for the first book in the Loving Summer Series. It's very possible that you'll be reduced to tears while reading the passion in the characters' words, actions, and motivations. There isn't anything cookie-cutter or simple about Loving Summer. - Lovey Dovey Books
5 out of 5 Stars - This is hands down one of my favorite books that I've bought for my kindle, EVER." - McKayla
5 out of 5 Stars - Finally a college age/young adult contemporary romance where the girl is strong, has a choice with her love and life, but still captures the vulnerability and femininity of a woman who can attract all kinds of guys, including the hot alpha guys in Loving Summer and all Kailin Gow fiction books. With balance and sensitivity, Kailin Gow writes women characters appropriate for today's modern contemporary world. - J. Hoover, University of Southern California
In the pool Drew laughs. “Grilling meat isn’t much of a culinary skill.”

He hauls himself out of the water; his muscles flat and well defined. I spend so much time training for volleyball these days that it’s easy to tell myself I’m just taking an interest in another fitness fanatic, but he does look gorgeous. Not as gorgeous as Nat, maybe, because there isn’t that history with us, but still pretty hot. His presence is hard to ignore, and I find myself taking him in from head to toe. 

He throws on his shoes. “If Nat’s showing off his ‘culinary skills’ I’d better go too.”

“Like that?” his brother says. “You’re wet, bro.”

Drew looks across to me and shrugs, those muscles of his moving in complicated ways. “You mind or do I need to change?”

I stare at him, then remember to answer. “A t-shirt would be good.”

“You don’t mind about the boxers?” Drew asks, and he moves a little closer to me. Is he trying to tease me? His boxers are wet, dripping, and cling to him like a second skin. My mouth nearly drops open. I can feel myself getting ready to blush, but I’m ready with an answer. “I didn’t notice them. I’m more interested in the water you’re planning on dripping on the rugs while you go through the house.”

Drew grabs a towel, and while he’s busy drying off, Nat takes my hand. “Come on,” he says. “We should get going, or there won’t be time to cook.”

“Hold on,” Drew insists, rushing inside. He comes out in just over a minute wearing jeans and another white t-shirt. Maybe he didn’t dry himself that well, but the t-shirt clings to his muscles.

“That was quick,” I say.

“With all those one night stands of his,” Nat explains, “he had to learn to dress fast. He has to get out of there before a girl can think he might actually care.”

I look at Drew and he shrugs again. “They know what they’re getting into,” he says. “Why complicate things with emotional stuff?”

“You’re a pig, you know that?” Rachel calls out from the pool.

“You want to join us, Rachel?” I ask.

She shakes her head, getting out of the pool and heading for a lounge chair near it. “I’m fine here. It’s going to be good having some time away from these two.”

“Then we should go,” Nat says. His hand is still in mine, and it’s so gentle and warm there. Compared to his brother, he’s a total gentleman.

The three of us drive over to the nearest Trader Joe’s and Nat starts picking out food for the grill: corn-fed beef, scallops, fish. He seems to know what he’s looking for, and pretty soon, he’s filled most of a cart with it. By the time he’s done that, Drew has been around the store and comes back with a cart of his own, filled with soda, chips, hot dogs, hot sauce and more, exactly the kind of junk food he said they were going to get.

“Glad you remembered,” Nat said.

“Like I’d forget the hot sauce.”

While they’re doing that, I become aware of two things. The first is just how well the brothers still get along. It seems three years haven’t changed that. The second is that there are two girls around my age, maybe a little older, checking them out. I can’t blame them, but they’re pretty obvious about it, just watching them and talking in low voices to one another. One, a dark haired girl whose tight clothes do a lot to emphasize the curves she has, even comes over and pushes what looks like a slip of paper into Drew’s hand. They both walk off then, giggling.

“What just happened?” I ask.

Nat shakes his head with a smile. “Just the Drew effect. I’ll be back in a second. I just need one more ingredient.”

He heads off, leaving me with Drew. I look at him. “The Drew effect? Seriously?”

“I get it most places,” he says, starting to grin but then stopping himself. “Honestly, it can get pretty annoying.”

“Oh, poor Drew,” I say. Like pretty girls giving him their number is really a problem.

“I mean it,” Drew says. “Think about it. If I was a pretty girl, and guys were constantly coming up to me harassing me, judging me just by my body, that would be a problem. But because I’m a guy, that’s somehow okay?”

“So, girls just want your body?” I ask, as innocently as I can. After all, I’ve stared at him.

“Ever since I got in shape and made the football team…it’s been non-stop.”

“Why can’t you stop it?” I look around, hoping to catch sight of the girls and tell them to leave Drew alone, but they’re long gone.

Drew shakes his head. “It’s just what guys do. A girl throws herself at you, you go with it.”

“Nat doesn’t,” I point out.

“No, Nat doesn’t,” Drew agrees. “He never takes a chance. Never does anything. He wouldn’t know a good thing if it were standing in front of him.”

I’m suddenly, hotly, angry. Drew can’t talk about Nat like that. “Nat might not have your body, Drew, but he’s considerate, kind… he wouldn’t do anything to hurt a girl.”

I can feel tears starting to form in my eyes. Why? Why should they?

Drew takes in a slow breath. “Look, I’m just trying to be honest, Summer. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a girl around me who only wants to be friends. Except Rachel, every girl my age is suddenly a prospect.”

“Well I’m not,” I say sharply. “I’m not the kind of girl who could sleep with a guy without it meaning something, the way it works for you, so I guess you have one girl who’ll never be anything else. Besides…”

I glance over at where Nat is still hunting for his missing ingredient, his height making him easy to spot.

“You’re still into Nat,” Drew says, “so even if you were that kind of girl, you wouldn’t be into me. Three years, and you still love him? Summer, let him go. He’s not ever going to feel that way about you.” 

“You don’t know that,” I insist.

“I’m his brother,” Drew says. “I know.”

Nat comes back, a jar of something in one hand and his cell phone in the other. “I know,” he says, “Chrissy, I miss you already. No, don’t worry, there’s nothing here that could ever make me forget you.” Chrissy? 

I push the shopping cart away, heading down the ice cream aisle. After this, I’m going to need it.

“I was trying to tell you,” Drew says, keeping pace with me. “Nat has a girlfriend.”

“He knows how I feel,” I insist.

“But he still isn’t with you,” Drew points out. He puts a hand on the cart, bringing it to a halt. “You need to move on, or this summer is going to be a hard one for all of us.”
Kailin Gow is an international award-winning author, producer, woman director, and spokesperson for charities who hopes her stories will inspire women of all ages to become their most beautiful, independent, and happy self. Currently the Program Director and Emcee of the Celebrating Lives, Fighting Cancer International Musical Charity Concert Benefiting the American Cancer Society held at the Pasadena Civic Center (home of the Annual Emmys Awards) to be televised to over 25 million viewers worldwide, she is also a recognized humanitarian. Goodreads calls her an "Innovative Author" and "Author Influencer" during BEA 2014 where she was a speaker. Amazon profiled her on the homepage and also in their book, Transformations. She has written and published over 300 books under "Kailin Gow" and more under pen names since 2001, selling over 5 million books in multiple genres such as Thriller, YA, Fantasy, Sci Fi, Contemporary Romance, Erotica, New Adult, and Non-fiction in multiple languages. An indie publishing pioneer, she has written for and been quoted in Fast Company and Huffington Post as a publishing authority, and have appeared in the top radio shows as an authority on Women's image and self-esteem. USA Today recommends her steamy thrillers, while PBS Kids recommend her fantasy YA books. Internationally, she was featured on the front page of The World Journal, the largest Chinese-language newspaper outside of Asia, as an Author Phenomenon and been a speaker for Asian Week. Noted as a top bestselling author of YA and Contemporary Romance on CBS TV, she has won the Reader's Choice Nomination in Fantasy/Sci Fi from the ALA YALSA for her Bitter Frost Series, the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for her Dystopian Thriller- The FADE Series, for Best in Class, and the Best in Erotica Award from the NIEA for The Protégé Series. Bitter Frost was made into a mobile game and adapted into an animated film that was released on Amazon Prime TV and more channels in March 2017. PULSE Vampire Series, The FADE Series, and the Wordwick Games Series were also adapted into animated films that released on Amazon Prime TV and other channels in February and March 2017. Her bestselling Romantic Thriller and Family Saga, The Loving Summer Series, is currently in development as a Featured Film. 
In 2016 and 2017, Kailin Gow completed and hosted an entire season of the popular KAILIN GOW'S GO GIRL Travel, Food, and Lost History show that is on Amazon Prime TV. She just completed an entire season of hosting and directing the tv series, KAILIN GOW: THE CRAZY ONES, a series where Kailin presents and analyze past and present day innovators who have disrupted business and society with their innovations, and the animated superhero series, Super Supers: No Fan of the Ban.
She enjoys hearing from her readers at http://www.facebook.com/OfficialKailinGow

Her film and tv news can be found on http://www.imdb.me/kailingow

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Release Blitz: The Traveller by HJ Bellus

THE TRAVELLER by HJ Bellus
Genre: Contemporary Romance


Hart Richards has never found home.

Sure, he was raised in a house...but it was far from a home.

He thought he’d found it in the Army, only to have his world shattered along with his band of brothers.

Hart settled in a small-town in Montana until the inevitable happened.

The call he dreaded the most...


His mom was dying and he needed to return to the place he grew up.

Leaving his business behind to his best friend Cub, he set out on a long road trip back to Nashville.

The endless road, his only solace as the miles ticked by.


His soul in his pocket travelled aimlessly…

Hart had no idea what was waiting for him back in Nashville. The Traveller’s adventure may turn into his reality. 


AUTHOR NEWSLETTER: http://bit.ly/HJBnewsletter

WATCH THE BOOK TRAILER: http://bit.ly/2pnfVdv

— NOW LIVE! —


— COMPANION NOVELS —
Also available on KINDLE UNLIMITED!
#1 Royal Atlas | #2 Gravity 


— EXCERPT —
Londa, who I’m sure used to wipe my nuts clean, sends me a wink while balancing a tray of drinks. Then Liza, who I’m also sure cleaned my crack, hugs me, but I do my best to follow the queen to the bar. I saddle up to a stool while she rounds behind the bar. She goes straight into bartending mode while checking on the rest of the bar. Her entertainment is up on the stage singing away, the crowd is legit, and she’s slinging out drinks.

Peaches slides me a whiskey neat then another. Before I know it, the tip of my black work boot is tapping to the country music blaring throughout the small, crowded bar. Being perched at the end of the bar where the waitresses put in orders has its own perks.

Hello, cowboy boots and shorty shorts while slinging drinks. My mind eases, wiping away all the worries and real life stress as each drink goes down. Peaches leans in every once in awhile letting me know my drink tab, but I just wave her on like I’m going to pay. Her pussy jokes are about to backfire and I smirk as I down the fourth drink.

“Excuse me.” A shoulder nudges mine.

When I look up to the movement, I come eye to eye with a raven-haired beauty. I’m clearly in her space, but the foggy cloud in my judgment is overpowering. She’s pretty, like a shiny nickel pretty.

I stare like a stark ass fool. Her emerald eyes hypnotize me something fierce. I should speak, but it seems all I can do is stare. I know what Tristan, the well-hung hero in the romance books, would do and I know what that badass biker, Trace, would do, yet, I just stare at her, getting drunker on her looks.

“Sit up.” She bites down on her bottom lip to stifle the rest of her message.

I guess dickhead, asshole, or fuckface would follow, but she refrains from using any of these terms all the while plastering on her poker face while trying to get more drinks from the bar.

“Help me.” I can Goddamn right sit up on my own, but her touch would be nice.

“Okay.” She shakes her head, apparently not amused by me.

That’s when I see her tits and my God are they a perfect set of tits. Motherfucking titties. I need my palms, lips, and mouth on those arts of perfection. It’s all about admiration for the perfect work of art. I’m all about being a professor of art and respecting the subject.

My clear admiration of the beauty before me is abruptly interrupted when the stool my ass is perched on is kicked out from underneath me. My ass lands hard on the wood floor. Peering back up at her I finally catch a smile gracing her lips.

“Did that help?” she asks, picking up her tray filled with drinks.

“Got the job done. I guess.” I stand slowly, cupping my nuts and hoping her next move isn’t to jab me there.

Peaches’ cackles join the conversation. “See you met Vannie, Hart.”

I narrow my eyes at the dark-haired goddess. “Vannie. Nice.”

She rolls her eyes with no desire to entertain me any longer. Her ass is entertaining enough as she sways out onto the floor. I’m a tall man, easily over six feet, and this woman in front of me is tiny in stature, but her attitude more than makes up for it.

“Leave her alone.” Peaches places another whiskey neat in front of me.

“She’s the one that knocked me on my ass.” I pound the entire drink in one long gulp since Little Miss Hot Ass killed my buzz.

“I’m serious, Hart. She’s a roamer. Don’t know her story, but if I had to guess it’s as dark as her black hair.”

“What? Did you hit on her and she turned you down?” I smirk over the glass.

Peaches shakes her head, but she has a glimpse of a smile dancing on her face. “No, too young for me. She’s my best worker so don’t scare her off, asshole.”

“Whatever, Cougar Cakes.”

The band up on the stage isn’t half bad even though country music tends to make my ears bleed. They’re upbeat with an original sound and music. I notice three or four big suits enjoying a drink and listening while tapping their fingers on the table.

I slow down on the drinks knowing my limit. Drinking was my one vice to get me through life after returning home from my deployment. Our band of brothers was hit hard. We had lost a handful before we returned. I saw shit I can never forget. Booze numbed that ache until Izzy came screaming into our world. Then it was all her and keeping up the bed and breakfast I’d bought.

It was a fixer upper at best and super cheap, but it was more therapy to restore and turned out to be a profitable business even though at one point I could only afford air to eat. It was all worth it. Cub and his family now run it for me. They own it. I left the papers behind because I knew he’d never accept.

I’m a roamer like that. My heart grows wild and the desire inside me flairs up with the need to move on. I’ve quit wondering when I’ll strike gold in life and find the one person or place that can keep me rooted. Instead, I float with the breeze and enjoy life as it comes.

“Thank you, everyone. Up next for your entertainment is the very talented Miss Savannah Ray.”

The voice booming over the microphone catches my attention. I look up to see the girl Peaches calls Vannie take the stage with a guitar strapped to her front. I have no idea how much time has floated since our first encounter. She’s changed into a white sundress with dainty straps. Her feet are covered with worn, brown cowboy boots.

She’s pulled her hair up into a ponytail. Her defensive, badass aura has disappeared leaving behind a timid woman up in the spotlight. No band members surround her. It’s just her up there.

“Watch this.” Peaches nudges me in the shoulder.

The moment Vannie opens her mouth, magic happens. Her voice is haunting, delicate, soothing, and beautiful. I’m in awe of the way she sings into the microphone, blocking out the rest of the bar. It’s by far the best voice that’s ever graced my ears.

It’s my new favorite song even though I have no idea what it is. The bar grows eerily silent with everyone hypnotized by her honey-laced voice. The blush that creeps on the apples of her cheeks is adorable. She ducks her head once the song is finished and the bar goes wild with cheers. Some even stand on their feet cheering away.

She removes her guitar for the next song. I recognize it since it’s been played on the radio several times. “Let Her Go” by Passenger has never sounded so seductive. Her voice controls the entire song with her hips swaying softly from side to side. She never makes eye contact while deep in the lyrics. It’s as if she’s pouring all of her soul into the words.

Song after song streams from her and never once does the bar go back to socializing. She keeps their attention the whole time. You could hear a pin drop between songs.

“Thank you.” She drops her head and moves off stage.

Peaches hollers out last call and then sits next to me with a drink in her hand. “So, what do you think now?”

Too stunned to talk, I remain still and quiet.

“Well, that’s a first, somebody finally shut you up.”

“She’s so different up there.” I point to the empty stage.

“Yeah.” Peaches nods sipping from her drink. “Like I said, I don’t know her story, but could guess she’s street smart, but shy when it comes to being on the stage.”

“She’s fucking talented. Why hasn’t she been scooped up yet?” I ask.

“She doesn’t want it.”

“Why?”

Peaches doesn’t get the chance to reply before we’re interrupted by Vannie herself.

“Hey, need help closing up?” She tucks her hands into the front of her shorts pockets.

She’s changed again. Odd.

“You can head home, Vannie, got it covered here.” Peaches hops from the stool and hugs her. “See you tomorrow night.”

“Okay, thanks.”

I don’t miss the fact that she doesn’t make eye contact with me this time. You’d think I had on an invisibility cloak, but it doesn’t stop me from studying that sweet little ass as she waltzes off. She stops near a table, sets down her guitar, and proceeds to put a hoodie over her head. Her dark hair blends into the material of the pitch black hoodie making her allure all the more powerful.

“Vannie,” Peaches hollers out.

She pivots slowly, grabbing her guitar once again and giving Peaches her attention.

“You get your car fixed?”

Shyly she shakes her head.

“Girl, I’m going to beat your ass.”

“I’m only five blocks away.”

“It’s dark. You’re young and gorgeous. I don’t care how close you live.”

Without thinking, I hop up from the stool. “I’ll walk her home.”

“No.” Vannie’s defensive attitude flairs right back up with no hesitation.

“Hey, I’m a good guy.” I hold up both of my hands. “You can even frisk me to make sure I don’t have any weapons.”

I wink at her. I’m beginning to think she has no personality at all. But her voice just a few minutes ago convinced me otherwise.

Peaches convinces Vannie that I will be walking her home. “I’ll apologize in advance, Vannie, but Hart is a good guy. You shouldn’t be out there walking alone.”

“I’ve seen scar…”

Peaches lays her hand on Vannie’s forearm. “I’m sure you have, doll, but not a hair on your head is getting hurt on my watch. Now get going, you two.”




— ABOUT THE AUTHOR —
HJ Bellus is a small town girl who loves the art of storytelling. When not making readers laugh or cry, she's a part-time livestock wrangler that can be found in the middle of Idaho, shot gunning a beer while listening to some Miranda Lambert on her Beats and rocking out in her boots.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Blitz: Summer of Irreverence by Cathrine Goldstein

Promo: HEAT by CA Harms

HEAT by CA Harms
Series: Montgomery Men #2 (Standalone)
Genre: Contemporary Romance

— SYNOPSIS —
Beckett Montgomery is a well-known detective in the New York area. He takes his job seriously and has little time for anything else.

But when he’s called to Shanelle Kramer’s apartment after she’s frightened by an intruder in the middle of the night, he finds himself getting a little too involved. He can’t seem to let go of the image of the beautiful, scared blonde sitting at the end of her couch in those tiny shorts and that even tinier tank top.

It was his job to keep her safe. His job to find the man stalking her.

But Beckett is finding it next to impossible to keep this case strictly professional.

Maybe just one taste would end his addiction for Shanelle.

But one taste was just a tease….

He needed more.

Because the Heat between them was just too hot to resist.




— EXCERPT 
The moment she lifted her gaze, I swear I felt the floor shift beneath my feet and my stomach grew weak momentarily. 

It was her, the woman from the club that night. The one I’d thought of often ever since she walked away from me that night and though I barely knew her I swear I felt the loss. 

She looked so confident then, but now she looked so delicate and frail. The scared look in her eyes made my stomach feel hollow. It was a strange feeling, really. Over the years on the job, I’ve looked into the eyes of a terrified woman so many times. I’ve listened to them explain their fears and describe the terror they lived through, and watched them break in front of me. But I’ve never felt the kind of things I did now. 

I wanted to find the asshole that had placed her in this state and strangle the life out of him. 

“It’s you,” she whispered. I was surprised she recognized me in her current state of mind. Our initial meeting was so brief it probably couldn’t even be called an introduction. “Beckett,” she whispered, and I took a seat before her. “Right?” I nodded and ignored the curious looks of those around us. “Yes,” I replied as she continued to stare at me. “Beckett’s right. Detective Montgomery, actually,” I clarified and her eyes widened just a bit. 

Her lip trembled even though I could tell she was attempting to appear strong. I wanted to take her into my arms and hold her close. I wanted to whisper that she was safe now, but I refrained. Fuck, I had never had this type of battle when it came to my job. Putting my emotions aside had never been a problem until now. 

“There was someone here,” she said, staring me in the eyes with a look of determination. “I saw him. He just stood there in the doorway watching me. And I was so scared to move because I had no idea what he wanted. I wanted him to leave, but he stood there, watching and waiting, I don't even know for what.” She took in a deep breath. “I’ve never felt that kind of fear before.” 

I allowed her a few moments to just breathe before I began my own series of questions, doing my best to sound supportive and genuine. 

“I know it was dark, but was there anything about him you recognized?” She shook her head. “Could you tell if he had short hair, long hair?” 

“He wore a hat. A baseball cap,” she clarified. 

“Did he say anything? Do anything that you remember?” 

She shook her head again. 

“Did he turn in the doorway, was there any lighting illuminating the room that gave you the chance to see his side profile?” Another shake of her head left us with no answers. Tears rolled along her cheeks, and my chest ached. “It’s okay,” I assured her as I placed my hand on her forearm. “I’m gonna take a look around,” I said as I began to stand, and panic took over her features. 

There was something greatly satisfying about the fact that she didn't like the idea of me leaving her. “Just a quick scan,” I assured her as I stood. “I’m not leaving. I promise you, you’re safe with me.” 

She gave a quick nod before she wrapped her arms around herself and sank back into the couch, as if she were attempting to hide from this evening’s events. 

As I moved from her living room to her bedroom, I looked for any clue that may help us solve this puzzle. Each time I looked to her, she was watching me, and that satisfied feeling returned again. 

I’d never wanted to be any woman’s savior. I just woke up every day and fought the bad guys because I fucking loved the rush. 

But tonight felt different. Knowing that she was looking at me as her hero felt deeply gratifying. 

I wanted to be the one to saved her. I wanted to take down the man who’d terrorized her and give her back her freedom. And damn if I didn't want her to keep looking at me just like she was now. 

Like I was her hero.


— ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CA HARMS —
A little about me. Let’s see where to start.

I love HEA stories, as long as they come packing a little heat. I need some excitement, some angst, and moments that make me fan my face are always good too. I am an Illinois girl, born and raised. Simple and true, it honestly doesn’t take much to make me happy. I love the little things; they truly mean the most. I may have a slight addiction to my new Keurig—oh my, that thing is a godsend. And so fast too. I have two children who truly are my very best friends, and their faces never fail to put a smile on my face. I have been married to my husband for sixteen years, and even though at times I want to beat him with a stick, I would never change the years we have had. We have learned and fallen, only to pick each other up, dust off the ache, and help each other make it right.

I am one of those authors that adore my fans. I love to hear from you. After all, it is because of each one of you that I continue to write. I look forward to your feedback.

Be sure to follow me to stay up-to-date on all my upcoming releases.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Still Black Remains by Kevin Michaels

Title: Still Black Remains
Author: Kevin Michaels
Release Date: April 1, 2017
Publisher: Literary Wanderlust
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Received from Smith Publicity in exchange for honest review

Synopsis
“Still Black Remains” is an original work of fiction.  It tells the story of Twist, one of the leaders of an inner-city gang named the Skulls, and the architect of his gang’s decision to kidnap a mafia soldier in a last-ditch attempt to end a violent turf war.  The war started when the Skulls tried taking a bigger piece of the drug business in their Newark, New Jersey neighborhood from the organized crime family who had once been their partners.  Like most great ideas, the plan doesn’t turn out as expected. Negotiations between the gangs deteriorate, words fail, the violence escalates, and the only recourse left is the inevitable execution of the hostage.  Chosen to be the one to execute the prisoner, the story covers Twist’s ability to pull the trigger, the consequences of that action, and his internal struggle.  
As the volatile situation grows more explosive by the hour, the lines between right and wrong blur; resolution comes with a price and Twist has to decide if pulling the trigger will get him what he wants, and if he can live with that cost.

My Review
Still Black Remains tells the story of Twist, who is one of the leaders of the inner-city gangs called Skulls and he also engineers a plan for his gang’s decision to kidnap a mafia soldier in a last-minute attempt to end a huge violent turf war that’s been going on. Twist is chosen to pull off the execution and he must decide whether he wants to pull the trigger and live with the consequences and will get him what he wants, and if he can live with what he did. Reading Kevin’s Still Black Remains was something that I haven’t read in a while. It was uniquely different with how Twist wanted to handle things, especially for someone who was a leader of a gang. Overall, I thought that the characters were explained well and the story line was clear and I really felt the characters played well with their roles. I really enjoyed Still Black Remains and I highly recommend it. 

Interview

How did you come up with the title?
It started with the idea/image of a chalk outline of a body on the pavement and grew from there. There is a certain amount of violence within the story – it’s about inner city life and violence is a significant part of gang life, so that image became integral to the story.  Depending on how you look at it, it could also be a social commentary on race.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The central theme in “Still Black Remains” is the struggle of a different generation trying to realize the American Dream against all odds, and through any means possible.  The characters in the book have learned that hard work by itself will never help them achieve what they want.  They have to work outside the system to get what they want. The inner city landscape where they live is filled with desperation, anger, and a sense of futility and in many cases violence is both the solution to problems and the result of problems.  Actions – no matter what’s involved or who gets hurt – are justified as being “part of the game.” 
At the core of the book (and my writing) it’s all about the human experience each of us shares.  When you dig down underneath surface differences, we are all human beings no matter what our backgrounds. And all of us want essentially the same things at our core. We want to love and be loved. We want to be safe. We want our loved ones to be safe. We want to feel that what we do with our lives has meaning.
I also liked that question of “does the end justify the means”, even it involves the death of someone else.

What books have most influenced your life?
That’s a tough question to answer.  There are a number of books that have influenced my life – not just as a writer but in life lessons and as inspiration.
“Dawn” by Elie Wiesel (along with “Night”)
“The Sun Also Rises” and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway
“Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy
“Brotherly Love” by Pete Dexter
“Zen and The Martial Arts” by Joe Hyams

Each of these books has a story behind the reasoning, but there’s probably not enough time or space to get into the specifics. 

What book are you reading now?
I just finished Laura McHugh’s “Arrowood” which was excellent, and Wallace Stroby’s “The Devil’s Share”.  If you’re a mystery/crime/thriller reader and haven’t yet discovered either McHugh or Stroby, you’re missing out on excellent writers.
I’m all over the place with my reading list, but next up for me are:
Rise” by Cara Brookins
Bad Boy Boogie” by Thomas Pluck
Savages #2” by Don Winslow
The Second Mrs Hockaday” by Susan Rivers


Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Not necessarily “new” but in addition to the writers already listed, a few of the writers who have gotten my attention recently are:
Brynn Greenwood  - “All The Ugly and Wonderful Things”
George Saunders – “Lincoln in the Bardo
Emma Flint – “Little Deaths”

What are your current projects?
I have two other novels in the pipeline – the first that I’m finishing is one entitled “All Those Yesterdays” which is about domestic violence crossing three generations of a family.   Although the book is a slight departure from my recent writing, domestic violence is a subject that I’ve actively written about over the past few years, and this book allows me to not only explore the topic in detail but to feature a strong female character at the heart of the story.  In my other books I haven’t had that opportunity, and it’s been exciting giving voice to a problem that affects individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. 
The second is tentatively entitled “A Steady Rain” and falls within the more traditional crime fiction category (“Breaking Bad” meets “Justified” with a touch of “Winter’s Bone” and “A Simple Plan”)

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some hesitation, doubt, and a little insecurity when I finished. I think that’s natural after you’ve poured everything you have into writing a book.  I had a strong team of editors who challenged me to tell the best story possible, and to make it as tightly written and realistic as possible.  By the time I had finished editing I was able to walk away and say, “THAT is the story I want to tell”, without any regrets.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?
“Still Black Remains” tells the story of Twist, one of the leaders of an inner city gang named the Skulls, and the architect of his gang’s decision to kidnap a mafia soldier in a last-ditch attempt to end a violent turf war.  The war started when the Skulls tried taking a bigger piece of the drug business in their Newark, New Jersey neighborhood from the organized crime family who had once been their partners.  Like most great ideas, the plan doesn’t turn out as expected. Negotiations between the gangs deteriorate, words fail, the violence escalates, and the only recourse left is the inevitable execution of the hostage.  Chosen to be the one to execute the prisoner, the story covers Twist’s ability to pull the trigger, the consequences of that action, and his internal struggle.  As the volatile situation grows more explosive by the hour, the lines between right and wrong blur; resolution comes with a price and Twist has to decide if pulling the trigger will get him what he wants, and if he can live with that cost.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
The book that made a difference was “Prince of Tides”. There’s a certain beauty in the writing of Pat Conroy that is awe-inspiring – there is a certain flow to the way he weaves his way through stories incredible images with everything he ever wrote.  “Prince of Tides” and “South of Broad” both took away my breath - not only the beauty of his words, but the grace and style of the imagery in everything he wrote.  There are times when you sit back as a writer, admire what someone else has written, and just say, “Damn….I wish I could write like that”. 

Do you travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not yet, but within the next few weeks I expect to put together a schedule of readings at a number of small venues, book clubs, and local writing groups throughout the east coast.  I’ll also be traveling to some of the larger shows such as Book Expo in New York, Bouchercon in Toronto, and SIBA.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part was understanding the ins and outs of the gang culture (both the Skulls and the organized crime family they are at war with), and writing it accurately.  You run the risk of creating stereotyped characters if you aren’t truly realistic about all parts of gang life.  That involved a significant amount of research into all aspects of the street level drug trade from all points of view, including law enforcement – the threat from the police is a real part of everyday life on the streets, and it’s an undercurrent that hangs throughout everything the Skulls do.
Voice was also extremely important.  To write it realistically and accurately you need to understand the language – the slight nuances and speech patterns characters’ use was critical.  My favorite parts of writing “Still Black Remains” were the scenes between Twist and Michael Valentine – that dynamic between them was interesting to create and fun to explore.  As they get to know each other they find some commonality and shared similarities in each of their lives.  Each of them found a sense of belonging – Twist with the Skulls while Valentine got the same thing with his organized crime family – and as their relationship grows, they learn that in some ways they aren’t so different.  Twist finds that Michael Valentine understands him better than some of the Skulls do – even with their differences they almost grow to like each other.  Friendship will always be out of the question because their backgrounds and differences are too pronounced, but in another place they might have had a different kind of relationship. 
Actions usually speak louder than words, but putting Twist and Valentine together in that room over the garage on Murray Street allowed me to strip away everything else and build their relationship solely through dialogue.  Nailing their voices was the hardest and most challenging part of writing the story.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
It was challenging finding the right publisher for “Still Black Remains”.  I needed a publisher who was willing to take a little bit of a risk on something that was outside the mainstream and didn’t fall within a specific genre.  That was the biggest obstacle - “Still Black Remains” doesn’t have a clearly defined niche or category like horror, fantasy, or romance.  There’s more broad-based appeal to the story and it crosses over between different genres like contemporary fiction as well as crime fiction.  Agents and editors who first read the book felt it was a strong story but they didn’t know how to position it in the market or where to target the audience (most were afraid it would fall through the cracks). The other issue that came up was voice- most of the characters in “Still Black Remains” are black, and I was told that some publishers might be reluctant to publish the book because I wasn’t black (assuming that only a black writer could write and market a book from that POV….which is idiotic because that would mean only women could write books featuring women characters, only real cowboys could write westerns, and only zombies could write about the zombie apocalypse. That kind of belief and attitude diminishes and dismisses a writer’s creativity and ability to imagine).


Biography


Kevin Michaels is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel LOST EXIT, as well as two entries in the FIGHT CARD BOOKS series: HARD ROAD and CAN'T MISS CONTENDER. His collection of short stories entitled NINE IN THE MORNING was released in April 2014. His short stories and flash fiction have also appeared in a number of magazines and indie zines, and in 2011 he was nominated for two separate Pushcart Prize awards for his short stories. Other shorts have been included in the anthologies for SIX SENTENCES (volumes II and III) and ACTION: PULSE POUNDING TALES (2).

In April 2017 his latest novel STILL BLACK REMAINS was published by Literary Wanderlust LLC.

He has also published a number non-fiction articles in print publications ranging from the NYTimes.com and the Life/Style section of The Boston Globe to The Bergen News and Press Journal, and has been found in print at places like the triCity News, NY Daily News, and The Press. He is the Founder and Creative Director of Story Tellers which is a community-based organization that develops and promotes literacy through writing. Story Tellers provides under-served teenagers, young adults, and women from distressed situations the opportunity to discover the strength and power of their own voices (self-empowerment through self-expression).

Visit him at his website http://kevinmichaelsfiction.com/. He also shows up periodically at: SLIDING DOWN THE RAZOR'S EDGE to offer opinions and POV on topics ranging from violence against women, sexual assaults on college campuses, and domestic violence to politics, education, and his increasing anger and disappointment at the NFL.

Originally from New Jersey, he carries the attitude, edginess, and love of all things Bruce Springsteen common in his home state, although he left the Garden State to live and work in the foothills of the Appalachians (Georgia).