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.

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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.


Confessing my fear: failing as an author

Happy Halloween, dear readers! As you’ll already be aware, this month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re talking fears. I’ve already blogged about a couple of mine previously — during our 2014 Haunting Halloween blog hop, I shared a scary (and true) story of the last time took part in a seance, and talked about […]

via Fear of failing as a writer — Aussie Writers


Review: ‘The Lovely Dark’ by K. A. Last

Three teenagers.
One witch.
Twelve souls.

Harvey Anderson always knew the universe was against him, but there’s a lot of stuff he never expected to happen, like having a crush on the most popular girl at school, and then falling into a giant hole in the middle of nowhere with her. And if that wasn’t enough, somehow they managed to release a soul-sucking, ancient witch as well. So yeah, there’s that. You’d think it’d be pretty hard to beat, but knowing Harvey’s luck, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

I was lucky enough to nab an ARC (advanced reader copy) of The Lovely Dark, which is scheduled for release later this month — just in time for Halloween. The release date is particularly appropriate, because this story is atmospheric and occasionally creepy as all get out. I was reading it in an empty house when the sun was going down, and brr!

The story starts with Harvey, his best friend Toni, and popular girl Lian as they get lost orienteering in the Aussie bush on school camp (who hasn’t done that — amirite?) and fall into an underground cavern that opens up during an earthquake. Toni is injured, so Harvey and Lian explore the cave system, trying to find a way out. Of course, given Harvey’s luck, they manage to release a soul-sucking, murderous witch instead. Whee!

Harvey is the point of view character. He’s afraid of the dark, which makes the scary night-time and underground scenes in this book twice as confronting as we see them through the filter of his terror. He is also very conscious of what the other teens think of him, and would prefer to escape into Netflix rather than deal with what is going on.

All of this made him seem realer to me than your average young adult protagonist … at the same time that I occasionally wanted to shake him a little, not gonna lie. But those moments where Harvey took action were glorious, just because I’d been cheering for him to step up for so long.

Toni is far and away my favourite character. She has a little bit of Hermione about her — she is the one who figures out what is going on and tends to be the voice of reason and competence throughout the story. I loved her. Lian was nice enough, and I could see why Harvey had a crush on her, but she was no Toni! 😉

K. A. Last hasn’t just gone for the wicked witch stereotype here, which is a relief (I’ve dabbled in paganism in my past, so I hate a bad stereotype). While there’s no doubt that the witch they release is evil, she has a tragic backstory and her nastiness is more than offset by the awesomeness of the other witchy characters that pop up throughout the story. (I won’t provide details, because spoilers.)

Other than how atmospheric this book is, my favourite thing about The Lovely Dark is the dialogue. There were actual, for real laugh out loud moments for me (something that doesn’t normally happen when I’m reading). Plus there’s a nod to Evil Willow from Buffy, which basically earned the book a star on its own. ❤

If you love your books spooky as all get out, with creepy birds and a high body count, then this is the story for you!


Review: ‘Fast’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Quinn Hamilton had it all—A grades, a loving family, and a spot on the waitlist for the latest Hermes handbag. The one item left unchecked on her to-do list was her brother’s best friend, Liam, and that was only because Braden was overprotective when it came to his mates.

When tragedy struck, Quinn was left with nothing. Not even the handbag made it.

Three years later, Quinn’s focused on the things that count—getting a steady job, looking after her mother, and playing it safe. Her dreams of working for a fashion magazine haven’t just left the building—they’ve dived into the gutter, never to be touched again.

But when completing a two-week internship in the city, Quinn meets someone who makes her do the one thing she’s been trying desperately to avoid—feel. Will this sexy man who knows so much of her history help her go after what she wants? Or is their brand of passion as outdated as last season’s trends?

She’s running from her past, but her past is running faster.

Life has been pretty hectic for me lately, so what better to read than a novella by the amazing Lauren K. McKellar? Her prose flows so smoothly and her story so quickly that this is truly a fast read — I gobbled it up in two sittings and was left with that satisfying “plentiful and delicious dessert” feeling. And I say this as a person who doesn’t generally read romance.

For fans of the genre, all the goodies are here: the girl, the guy, the obstacles that draw out the process of them getting together (but not too far; this is a novella). Quinn has scars on the inside that are worse than the scar on the outside: a massive case of survivor’s guilt means she subconsciously believes she doesn’t deserve happiness. Liam is an A-grade hottie who struggles with a minor case of the same. Together, they manage to muddle their way through to a place where they might be able to start healing.

Through Quinn’s eyes we also get another glimpse into the world of magazines, a place that the author knows well. It was nice to see Madison, the leading lady from Fame — although Fast had none of Fame‘s steaminess, unless you count the smooching.

I love Lauren’s writing. Regular readers of my blog will recognise the name; she is my editor, the one who I (as a professional editor myself) trust with my books. What this means is that you can buy her books — most of which are self-published — safe in the knowledge that they will be beautifully written and professionally treated. She has a keen eye for story and her editing game is amazing.

If romance is your thing and you’re keen to try a new author, why not give this novella a try? It’s a great way to discover someone new. You won’t regret it.


Bookstagramming Aussie books

Today on Instagram I decided (on a bit of a whim) to post pics of Aussie books. Because Aussie books are the prettiest — and they look even better when placed beside Funko PopVinyl figures (of which I have, err, rather a lot).

So, on a similar whim, I decided to share some of them here too. Taking bookstagram pics is one of my new favourite hobbies! I could post a ton more, but these are some of my most-recent photos. I decided to stick to those, primarily because I’m really digging this style of pic. Angles! Origami stars! Pops! Yay!

… and yes, I snuck a pic of some of my own books in there. I couldn’t resist. And it is a pretty picture! (In case you weren’t already aware, the first ebook in my Isla’s Inheritance trilogy is available for freeeee! The links are up there, at the top of the screen. *points*)

For my Australian friends, have an awesome public holiday … especially if you’re working. For everyone else, HAPPY THURSDAY!

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AussieOwned_ContributorToday over at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking why we love being an Aussie writer, and why we set our books where we do. Check it out!