‘Rheia’ release day

“Rheia by Aussie author Cassandra Page is a stunning, breath taking and tissue-inducing fantasy/steampunk/young adult novel which was unputdownable! Absolutely brilliant in my opinion. Filled with tension, the characters were extremely well crafted. The plot was exceptionally well done, flowing smoothly and well written. I thoroughly enjoyed Rheia and highly recommend it.”Brenda, five star Goodreads review

Rheia is the sixth full-length novel I’ve released into the world, and you’d think that I’d get used to that release day squirmy feeling that is both nerves and excitement (nervicitement — thanks, Pinkie Pie). I’m not, though, partly because Rheia is new ground for me as a writer: fantasy rather than the urban fantasy stories I’ve told so far.

We aren’t meant to have favourite children but, maybe because it’s so different, Rhiea is the book I’m the most proud of to date. (Don’t tell the others.) It has bronze-age tech, scheming demons and a sweet romance. It badgered me for years — years — before I finally wrote it, and now it gets to make its way in the world.

I’ll be over here, waving goodbye with a smile and a tear.

The obligatory thank you speech

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — writing a book is a curiously collaborative process for something that is, on the face of it, a solo endeavour. And there are a lot of people without whom Rheia (whose working title was Greek Fantasy, because I shouldn’t be allowed to name things) wouldn’t be what it is today.

Firstly, thank you to my beta readers: Stacey Nash, for helping me fill the plot holes and for fact-checking my Ancient Greek culture references (although, as always, any mistakes are my own); Peter Wass, for making sure the bad guys were sufficiently evil for his tastes; and Craig Lawrie, for coming up with the new book title and doing the sanity check at the end. I raise my coffee cup to you all.

As always, a mega-huge thanks to Lauren Clarke. She has edited most of my books and keeps me on the straight and narrow with regard not just to plot and the accursed POV intrusion (seriously, I hate those comment bubbles!) but to ellipses, hyphens, dialogue tags, and the other tiny building blocks of writing that, if done correctly, become almost invisible to the reader. You are worth your weight in gold, lady. And to Kim of KILA Designs, thanks yet again for another beautiful cover. I don’t know how you do it, my clever friend!

Thank you to my family and friends for putting up with my frequent absences, for letting me rant over Messenger, and for cheering most enthusiastically: Mum, Dad, Kristy, Craig, Karen, Ali, Cassandra, and the BC09 girls. And thanks to Tim and Jacinta, whose roleplaying game all those years ago provided the kernel of inspiration for Rheia and Alexandros’s story. (It’s your fault that there are so many stairs!)

And finally, as always, all my love and gratitude go to my son, Nathaniel. You are growing into a bright, articulate and hilarious young man. I’m more proud of you than of anything else I’ve ever achieved.

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The obligatory buy links

Ebook

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Australia | Barnes & Noble
iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords

Paperback

Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU

Note: As this post is going live in the morning Australian time, some of the links won’t switch from preorder to buy for up to twelve hours. Don’t let that stop you! 😉

The obligatory blurb and cover photo

“Beauty and the Beast” meets Ancient Greece, with a steampunk twist

Every year, Rheia’s father brought home four prisoners of war, sacrifices to keep the demon Typhein bound. Rheia never gave them much thought … until her father’s enemy made her one of them. Now she has two weeks to find a way to escape death at the hands of the Beast and either save her people or condemn them to destruction.

The last thing Rheia expected was to fall in love with the Beast oath-bound to kill her.

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Review: ‘Bitter Truth’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Book #2 in the Twisted Hearts duet

You can run, you can hide, but the truth will always find you.

Everly Jenkins knows darkness — but that doesn’t stop her living life to the max. Not until she meets Cameron Lewis, the tragic reminder of her past that she just can’t seem to shake.

Being “just friends” with a man who sends her soul flying and her body up in flames is near impossible — until her secrets come out, leaving her alone.

Will the darkness overcome her once again? Or will Everly fight for the man she loves and help him face the bitter truth?

I’m going to keep this review as spoiler-free as I can, which means being cryptic (and therefore fairly brief).

The first thing you need to know is that you really shouldn’t start with the second book in this series. You’ll be hella confused, and miss all of the good feels in the first book, which I reviewed here. That being said, the first third or so of Bitter Truth covers the same events as in Honest Love, but from Everly’s perspective. I really enjoyed this part of the book, with its glimpses into what Everly’s deal really is.

I enjoy Everly as a character. She’s gone through some pretty dark times and come out the other side with the willingness to fight, not just for herself but for Cameron and what he wants more than anything else as well — custody of his baby girl, Piper. She fights for him when he doesn’t even want to see her, and frankly I’m glad this part of the story was from her perspective rather than his, because I found his slump at the start of Bitter Truth a little frustrating (if understandable).

Lauren K. McKellar does what she describes as “romance with feels”, and one of the things that has made her an auto-buy for me is that her books never feel predictable even while they stay true to the romance genre (which can be rather formulaic). There was one moment in Bitter Truth where I was absolutely certain I knew what was going to happen next. I really struggle with super-cringeworthy moments in fiction (you know, the ones where you want to hide your face so you don’t die of secondary embarrassment), and I thought this was going to be one of them — so much so that I had to put the book down and gather myself in order to keep reading.

I should’ve had more faith, because not only did what I was expecting not happen but the whole story took a turn for the even-more-awesome.

This duology has a smoking hot couple, an adorable toddler, a conniving ex who still manages to be somewhat sympathetic at times, some tragedy, some steamy sex scenes, lots of beach scenes that made me hanker for my next coastal holiday, and a happily ever after. What more could you want?


Revew: ‘A Thousand Perfect Notes’ by C.G. Drews

An emotionally charged story of music, abuse and, ultimately, hope.

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music — because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

I bought A Thousand Perfect Notes the same day that it arrived at my local bookstore (I checked the delivery date) and gobbled it up that night. The author is Cait from the popular Aussie blog Paper Fury; she has such a hilarious writing style on social media that you might — if you know her work — go into this book expecting it to be full of sunshine and cake.

Well, it does have cake, at least. And maybe a little sunshine, mostly in the form of the delightful August. But there’s a lot of darkness in this story. Beck is terrorised by his mother, both physically and psychologically. He has zero sense of his own self-worth, despite being a genius player and an even better composer. There were so many times that I wanted to just sweep him up and take him and his kid sister away, or get them some sort of help (or drop a piano on their mother, not gonna lie).

Part of me can’t even comprehend a world where a boy could be so thoroughly abused and no adults would step in to help, and that’s why it’s so important for me to read a story like this one, even though parts of it made me feel kind of queasy. For example, the shame Beck feels for being a fifteen-year-old boy abused by his mother feels so real. His efforts to keep his distance from August because he’s afraid of what his mother will do if she finds out he’s wasting perfectly good practice time on a friend (or even to complete a group assignment) are so, so sad. And his desire to protect his five-year-old sister from his mother’s wrath were super sweet, even as it made me furious that he needed to.

August is, on the surface of things, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (dear god, someone make her wear shoes!), but she has depth that a MPDG doesn’t, with her desire to get straight As in school and to save every animal in the world — even some that maybe shouldn’t be saved. She has hippy veterinarians for parents, eats hipster vegitarian food and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. She also doesn’t rush into a relationship with Beck, even though she clearly grows to like him. The evolution of their friendship into something that could be more is sweet to see.

Joey, Beck’s sister, is a wildcat in glitter and gum boots. I adored everything about her, even as I wouldn’t want to parent her. Yikes! (Of course, if she were actually being parented, then I expect she wouldn’t be so violent in the first place…) And the descriptions of Beck’s music are magical. I don’t know classical music that well, but this story let me feel the mood of music by different composers.

A Thousand Perfect Notes is a quick read that will break your heart, but you should read it anyway.


Review: ‘Honest Love’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Book #1 in the Twisted Hearts duet

When you’ve got nothing left to live for, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

In one tragic moment, Cameron Lewis lost everything. His fiancée. His unborn child. His perfect life.

Now, he does what needs to be done in order to get by. Work hard. Play it safe. They’re his mottos, and he’s not going to break them.

Until a beautiful woman with the ocean in her eyes and freedom in her soul comes to his rescue. She’s never known the kind of tragedy he has — and that’s what makes her so damn appealing.

But can Cameron finally let go and risk that last piece of himself? Will honest love be enough?

Please note that my review will contain a tiny spoiler, one that is revealed in the first chapter or two of the story. If you’ve already bought the ebook, or are going to, and want to go in blind, then I’d suggest not reading any further.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: contemporary romance usually isn’t my jam, but Lauren K. McKellar is a contemporary romance author who is an auto-buy author for me. Her stories have that perfect combination of epic-level feels and the slow evolution of a relationship that never seems contrived. I love them!

After losing his wife, Bella, and his unborn child — and effectively losing his father — in a tragedy a couple of years before the story takes place, Cameron sought solace for a while in alcohol. One mistake during that period was enough to set him back on the straight and narrow: he drunkenly sleeps with a woman named Giselle, who bears a passing resemblance to Bella. Eighteen months later, she is sent to jail for drug offences (she’s a real class act) and hits Cameron up to look after her nine-month-old daughter, Piper.

Cameron is more than a little shocked to suddenly become a daddy, but he takes to it well. I really enjoyed the scenes early on where he’s adjusting to parenthood (especially parenthood in the light of his apparently untreated PTSD), and I adored Piper and her squishy cheeks and enthusiasm. McKellar wrote this story when her own child was a baby, and she really captured the wonder and worry of that time — although at least Piper is a good sleeper! If she weren’t, the story wouldn’t have gotten very far, I expect… 😉

The relationship with Everly develops slowly; her and Cameron’s attraction to one another is clear from the start, but Cameron struggles with the idea that he is being unfaithful to his wife, and that he is broken and unworthy of anything more. Everly is clearly hiding something about her previous relationship — I have my suspicions but won’t voice them here — but she is a midwife who’s good with kids and provides the sort of no-nonsense support that Cameron needs.

Once Cameron really grows attached to Piper, he naturally doesn’t want to lose her at the end of the three months and never see her again. I admit, I really struggled with this aspect of the story — through no fault of its own, but because the idea of losing access to a child really guts me. I had to put my e-reader down for a couple of days and come back to it. Still, McKellar’s writing (and my desire for closure) pulled me back in.

That brings me to the most important thing you need to know about Honest Love. I knew it was part of a series going in, but I didn’t realise the books were a two-parter — and that the first one ends with a cliffhanger! Aaaah! (YMMV, but I hate cliffhangers! Not wrapping up a metaplot works for me, but not cliffhangers!) The only good thing is that the sequel, Bitter Truth, is already out, so I don’t have to wait.

Thank goodness for that. 🙂

 


Cover reveal and excerpt: ‘Honest Love’ by Lauren K. McKellar

It will be no surprise to people who’ve read the last few reviews on my blog that I am a huge fan of Lauren K. McKellar’s writing. She lets the reader experience her characters’ emotions (as she puts those characters through hell!) like no other. Well, I was lucky enough in the last week or so to get to read the first few chapters of her impending release, Honest Love, and then I couldn’t help but sign up for the cover reveal.

Keep scrolling, you guys — not just for cover-y goodness but for an excerpt.

Title: Honest Love (Twisted Duet #1)
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release: March 8, 2018
Cover design: BE Designs

Cover

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Blurb

When you’ve got nothing left to live for, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

In one tragic moment, Cameron Lewis lost everything. His fiancée. His unborn child. His perfect life.

Now, he does what needs to be done in order to get by. Work hard. Play it safe. They’re his mottos, and he’s not going to break them.

Until a beautiful woman with the ocean in her eyes and freedom in her soul comes to his rescue. She’s never known the kind of tragedy he has—and that’s what makes her so damn appealing.

But can Cameron finally let go and risk that last piece of himself? Will honest love be enough?

 

Excerpt

I staggered onto the street, the chill of the late autumn air creeping into my bones. The yellow glow of speeding vehicles blurred into a long never-ending light.

“I’ll never let you go.”

I rubbed my thumb against the ring on my finger. Today was the day. The day he would have been born. The day our baby …

And then I saw her.

Red hair curling down her back.

A white dress, billowing in the breeze.

She was about ten feet ahead in a group of three. Two other women I didn’t know.

My chest tightened. My throat constricted.

I grabbed at the wall of the building next to me, but my hand couldn’t make purchase. It slammed against the ground, my body weight behind it, but I didn’t feel the sting, didn’t feel the pain.

Bea.

“Wait!” I pushed to my feet, darting between shadows of people, my eyes on the red hair moving so far in front. “Please!”

I ran, my breath coming shorter. Too much whiskey. Too much love—both were the culprits and I didn’t give a damn. Because I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know why, but she was here. My Bea. She’d come back.

My feet pounded against the pavement, my soles slapping on the concrete. People turned to look, but for once, I didn’t care. Let them look. I wanted to laugh, a crazy, maniacal laugh. Let them look all they want.

Bea.

It was her.

I was sure of it.

It was her—

And then she turned around.

And for one glorious second, it was her. The woman I loved.

The woman I saw every time I closed my eyes, and sometimes when they were open, too.

The woman who’d own my heart forever.

“Hey,” she said.

But her voice—it wasn’t right.

I shook my head. No.

“Hey.” She tried again, but her smile was big. Too big.

Bea never smiled like that.

Nausea churned in my gut.

“Aren’t you that guy from the—”

Bile raced up my throat. I doubled over, clutching at my waist, and emptied the contents of my stomach into the gutter. Acid burnt the back of my tongue, and I coughed and spluttered, wiping at my mouth.

It wasn’t Bea.

No matter how many times I thought I’d seen her during the last six months, it was never Bea.

And as I stared at my own vomit, wanting her to be there, needing her to be there, I wished that just once I could pretend she was. That for one night, I could hold her in my arms again, stroke her long, red hair, and tell her everything would be all right.

“You guys go ahead,” the redhead told her friends. She placed a cool hand on my back, bending to my level. “Are you okay?”

“No,” I croaked. “I was s’posed to be a father. Today.” My baby. I would have met my baby today. Our baby.

She gave a smaller smile this time, and damn, she looked like her. “My name’s Giselle.”

“I’m Cam.” I straightened, the world sliding as I overbalanced, then corrected myself. “I have to go …”

“No.” She linked her hand in mine. “Let me take care of you.”

And I shouldn’t have. But I was so tired of fighting, of blocking out the past, that I let her lead me to her hotel room, let her pour me another drink, let her take off my clothes.“We’re so incredibly lucky, babe.” I pressed a kiss to the soft skin of Bea’s neck.

“The luckiest.” She smiled up at me, tossing her hair out of her eyes. “The luckiest people in the world.”

Only, it turned out that we weren’t.

Because seven weeks after that positive pregnancy test, Bea died.

And I’d never let her go after that.

Author Bio

Lauren K. McKellar is a writer of contemporary romance reads that make you feel. This hybrid-published USA Today best-selling author loves writing books with stunning settings, heart-throb heroes, and leading ladies who overcome great hardships in their lives.

In addition to writing, Lauren loves to read, and you can often find her up at all hours of the night with a glass of wine, some chocolate, and a good book. She lives by the beach in New South Wales, Australia, with her husband, infant son, and their two dogs. Most of the time, all four of them are well behaved.

Website | FacebookTwitterInstagramGoodreads |  Amazon


Review: ‘Seeking Faith’ by Lauren K. McKellar

The inseparable are well and truly split.

Mack, Faith and Lacey, joined at the hip since they were kids, are about to graduate high school. You might think this sounds like a book about coming-of-age and taking that leap into adulthood.

It is — except one of them doesn’t make it …

Mackenzie Carter has one solid thing on the agenda for her future — get out of town and focus on her post-school studies. After all, she’s wanted to be a vet since she was a little girl, and nothing, not the thought of being apart from her two best mates or the idea that maybe she’s got more-than-friendly feelings for a sexy local surfer can alter that … can it?

Graduation changes everything.

Almost three years later, and Mack’s high school dreams are just that — figments of her imagination, thanks to the guilt that haunts her on a daily basis. Will a faux relationship with Byron Leckie be the thing she needs to get her life back on track? Or will it make everything worse?

One thing is for certain. When these two collide, the damage will be fierce. After all, graduation was never meant to end like this.

This is the second in the pair of companion novels that together comprise the Surfer’s Way series, parallel novels that look at the consequences of Faith’s death from the perspectives of her two best friends. I reviewed the first book, by Jennifer Ryder, here. (And if you’re flicking between the reviews, I recommend taking a moment to admire the cover art. The use of the same stock image has been so cleverly done here — it ties the two books together but is sufficiently different that you don’t get confused. I love it!)

I adored Seeking Faith. Mackenzie is a character struggling with guilt, forbidden love and a lack of direction that leaves her surviving rather than living, cut off from everyone she loves. Despite all this, when we first meet her, she isn’t flat and defeated — she still has the spark that defines her. I was cheering for her from the first chapter.

Her relationship with Byron evolves through both flashbacks and current day events, so that we get to see how they came to fall in love and be pulled apart. While Losing Faith (the other book in the series) is the story that tells you who killed Faith, Seeking Faith is the one that gives you the real, tangled backstory behind the events of graduation night.

Poor Lacey almost seems naive once you understand the full story.

As a writer, I’m amazed at the craft that has gone into these two books, that they each have their own puzzle and that neither one spoils the main secrets for the other. I take my hat off to both authors. Also, McKellar has this amazing knack for drawing you into her characters. She takes “show, don’t tell” to a whole new level. I’m in awe.

Like Losing Faith, Seeking Faith has some steamy sex scenes, so that’s something to be aware of if you’re worried about — or looking for — that sort of thing. It also has action, enough mystery to keep me (someone who isn’t normally a romance reader) hooked, and a hot leading man. What more do you need?


Review: ‘The Last Days of Us’ by Beck Nicholas

Five teens, one derelict Kombi and an unforgettable road trip…

Six months ago, Zoey’s life went off the rails. After the tragic loss of her brother, she partied her way to oblivion, estranged her best friend, Cass, and pushed away her now ex, Finn. But when her destructive behaviour reaches dangerous heights, Zoey realises she needs to pull herself together and get her old life back, including her ex. There’s just one complication: Finn is now dating Cass.

Now, it’s the last week of summer and Zoey, Cass and Finn are setting out on the road trip of a lifetime to see their favourite musician, Gray, perform live, joined by Finn’s infuriatingly attractive bad-boy cousin Luc and his vibrant younger sister Jolie. Zoey thinks this is her chance to put things to rights and convince Finn they should get back together. But she wasn’t counting on her friends’ lingering resentment, Luc’s disarming sincerity, and Jolie’s infectious love for life to turn her plans upside down.

I bought this book yesterday, and finished it last night (well, technically this morning — it was after midnight). That’s something that never happens to me these days, so I needed you to know that upfront. I mean, I’ve owned this book for so short a time that I haven’t even taken a bookstagram pic of it to go with this review yet!

While some of the speed with which I read it is due to the relatively short length of this young adult contemporary, especially compared to the last book I reviewed here on the blog, most of it is due to Nicholas’s accessible writing style and the natural momentum of a road trip story.

But The Last Days of Us isn’t just any road trip story. Firstly, it’s Australian, set on the road between Adelaide and Melbourne as the characters travel there to see the musician Grey in concert. That has particular appeal for me, because — although that’s not a drive I’ve done myself — I’ve seen photos of a lot of the landmarks that the teens visit. It’s always self-affirming to see your own world in fiction.

Secondly, The Last Days of Us is a powerful exploration of grief and grieving. As the blurb says, Zoey is trying to piece her life back together after losing herself in alcohol and wild parties following her brother’s death. She has broken up with her boyfriend, has grown distant from her best friend (who is now dating her boyfriend, so that seems fair), and is estranged from her parents. She can see that her life is a mess, but the only way she can see to fix it is to try and return to the “old” Zoey, the one she was before Dan died. She tries to do this in a very literal sense — same haircut, same fashion sense, same boyfriend.

Some may find Zoey’s intention to get between Cass and Finn a little shocking, but it didn’t prevent me from being able to get behind her as a character. For a start, Zoey isn’t particularly nefarious about it. She doesn’t set out to directly sabotage Cass with Finn. She instead tries to reconnect with him, show him that the old Zoey is back (even if she’s not and never can be), and see if that is enough. Also, it’s clear from the beginning that Finn is a terrible choice for Zoey (and probably for Cass), so I guess I never expected Zoey’s scheme to go very far.

I’m not going to lie, those moments in the first half of the book where she tries to orchestrate things so she can talk to Finn alone are awkward as anything. But, here’s the thing — I found them so cringey because I remember how, when I was seventeen, I tried to arrange things so I could be with a crush. Not one that had a girlfriend, admittedly, but I was just about as ham-fisted about it as Zoey. I could really relate to her in that regard.

There are other elements of grief in the story, ones I won’t get into because of spoilers. They are fairly well telegraphed, and play out as you might expect — but that didn’t make them any less heartbreaking. Still, the scene that made me cry is one that is all Zoey, mourning for her brother. Her grief is so raw.

The relationship that develops between Zoey and Luc is sweet, and didn’t feel rushed despite the relatively short timeframe in which most of the book takes place. He is perceptive, is sweet without being a pushover when Zoey is rude to him, and provides an excellent foil for the shallowness that is Finn. Cass is a little more problematic as a character — she clearly struggles with having Zoey back on the scene and is insecure about her relationship with Finn, but she resorts to some pretty low comments for a supposed best friend. (She and Finn try to slut-shame Zoey, which did make me want to punch them a little bit.)

The other thing I really loved about this book was Grey, the teen musician they are travelling to see. He’s only in a couple of scenes, but excerpts from his songs (written by the author, obviously) are at the start of each chapter, so his fingerprints are throughout. His music leans towards tortured and broody, so the excerpts are a nice note … so to speak.

Definitely check out The Last Days of Us for an easy  but compelling summer read.