Review of A Bittersweet Garden by Caren J. Werlinger

A Bitter Sweet Garden

Caren J. Werlinger is one of my all-time favorite authors. Her books have always shocked me by how well written they are. A Bittersweet Garden is no exception. It is a beautiful written paranormal romance that will suck you in from the very first page.

Here is a short blurb about the book:

Nora McNeill has always dreamed of exploring her Irish roots. When she finally gets the opportunity to spend a summer in the village where her grandparents grew up, the experience promises to live up to her very high expectations. Except for the ghost that is haunting her rented cottage and is soon invading her dreams.

 

Briana Devlin has arranged her life the way she likes it: a good dog, good mates, and work with horses. There’s no room in her life for a relationship. Especially with an annoyingly clumsy—and attractive—American who is only going to be around for a few months.

 

The weeks fly by, and Nora’s ghost becomes more demanding, seeking her help in solving the mystery surrounding her death. Briana watches as Nora becomes more wrapped up in the past, seeming to fade away before her eyes.

 

Past and present are on a collision course, leaving Nora and Briana caught in a ghostly intrigue that could cost them not only their chance of a future together, but their very lives.

 

A Bittersweet Garden is like nothing I have ever read before. It is a mixture of ghost story and romance novel. I was sucked into the history of the cottage and its past inhabitants. The haunting of the cottage is so interesting it really sucked me into the book. I wanted to know what had happened to the past inhabitants. But I don’t want to spoil any of the story so I will stop here.

 

The romance aspect of A Bittersweet Garden is great. Briana is the strong silent type. She might come across as hard and uncaring but that isn’t the case at all. She is just very selective about who she lets in. Nora on the other hand never really thought that she deserved love. She was used to being everyone’s second choice. When they come together their chemistry is amazing.

 

I really loved the side characters in this book. Eve is one of the most interesting characters that I have ever read. I can’t say too much about her because it would spoil the story, but she is my favorite character. As most of you know I love the addition to pets in a story and Shannon, Briana’s wolfhound, is a great addition. The way she reacts to the haunted room and protective nature make Shannon a great addition to the book.

 

The one thing I wish was different about this book is the lack of an epilogue. I think it could have really added to the book. I would have loved to know what happened to everyone at the end of the book.

 

If you are looking for steamy sexy scene this book might not be for you. The sex scenes are all fade to black. But there is some sexy build up to where there would be sex.

 

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves paranormal romance and to anyone who likes a good ghost story.

 

You can purchase a copy of A Bittersweet Garden by clicking here.

Interview with debut author Tammy Bird

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Who or what inspired Sandman?

Sandman was inspired by a trip to the outer banks (OBX) in October. The majority of tourists were gone, and we had much of the beach and sound to ourselves. One afternoon, my wife and I stepped into one of the few local businesses that were still open: an ice cream shop. The owner was playing on his phone. I think we startled him when we entered. As we ate our ice cream cones (sprinkles for me, chocolate and peanut butter for my wife) we chatted with the owner about the end of tourist season and the quiet that settles over the sand.

He said, “Yep. Quiet enough around here in the off-season to bury a body in the dunes and never get caught.”

Just like that, Sandman was born.

Who or what inspired you to start writing?

As a kid, I worshipped my dad. He loved words. He often challenged me to look things up in the encyclopedias that were housed on my shelf in my room. Then we would talk about it over dinner. He would ask me questions like, “What do you think the children in Chile are having for dinner? Are they quiet or loud? What are their parents like?” We would build an entire story around their meal. I suspect this was the catalyst.

I also am a high school dropout who fell in love with a local community college instructor who used to come into my restaurant and ask me to read and discuss things to keep her company. At first it was weird, but I found myself looking forward to being challenged in that way. She eventually talked me into getting my GED and going back to school to earn an English degree. So, she took up the challenge where my dad left off, and I am forever thankful.

Who is your favorite character from your books and why?

This is a tough one. I am going to go with Paige. She trains cadaver dogs and gives them names like Derrida and Nietzsche. It is her and one of her “little nose artists,” as she calls them, that uncovers the secret burial ground of Buxton. If that isn’t cool enough, she is the character who tells the main character, Katia, like it is. No BS. Throughout the novel we witness a growing respect and friendship between the two women.

How do you approach writing a new storyline?

I am somewhere between a planner and a pantser. I like to have a rough outline of where a storyline is going, and I typically have the ending in mind when I start, but I also allow the characters to take me on a new journey if what I have planned doesn’t suit them. At the end of the process, I always compare what I intended to what happened. In the editing process I often have to rein a character or two in a little.

Where do your inspirations for characters and their lives come from?

Everywhere. I am sure you hear this a lot from writers. I can be sitting in a meeting at my day job, and someone will say something in a particular way, and I think, “Oh man. That is the voice of a character.” Or, I will see a mom in a bookstore trying to read, and a small child crawling all over her. The mom keeps reading like the child isn’t even there. I think, “What if the child really wasn’t there? What is she is a child lost to another world who wants to be seen. What if whoever actually feels the child will be deemed the mother?” It goes on and on. LOL

Where is your favorite place to write?

A coffee shop. I don’t listen to music. I know, weird. I prefer words whistling by, settling on my table, rattling in the air. I don’t want to interact with them. I just want to know they are there. The people are just the vehicle for the words. It is this introverts way of being with others.

And there is coffee. Lots of coffee.

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What is your writing process?

I have a calendar reminder set for everyday at the same time. When it reminds me, I treat it like any other meeting. Sometimes I write new words. Sometimes I edit words that are already there. Sometimes I journal new ideas or write character sketches. The idea is to treat writing like a job. To be successful, you have to show up. If my boss puts something over the time-slot, I honor that, of course, and sometimes a grandkid wants to play, and I honor that, too. Otherwise, I show up and I write.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I don’t know that it changed my process. I taught me a ton. That’s for sure. Writing the first draft of a book, writing “THE END,” for the first time, is an amazing experience. It is also where the real work begins. I had no idea the work that goes into editing, negotiations, marketing, readings, etc. Going into book two I am better equipped to know what works and what doesn’t. I know the word “had” is a word I overuse and I need to search for it in my document and revise. I know that adverbs are often a weak tool and that I use them too often in my first draft. Stuff like that.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Two things come to mind. (1) Money spent on other books. Stephen King said something to the effect of, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the tools to write.” I totally agree. Not only do I read, but I study books by the masters. (2) The GCLS writing academy. I’m not sure if you want to include plugs for awesome writing academies, but this one was phenomenal. It is a year-long program where new writers learn the trade from well-established writers in the lesbian community. I actually finished the first draft of Sandman in this program.

What is something memorable you have heard from your readers/fans?

I am dedicated to inclusion in my writing. As such, when someone writes a review like the one below, I am blown away:

“One of my favorite things about the characters is how three-dimensional they are. Even fairly minor characters are so realistic and believable. The amount of detail used in descriptions of the Katia’s brother, who is on the autism spectrum, is incredible. It is clear that the author is either familiar with autistic children or did a great deal of research on the subject.”

What book that you have read has most influenced your life?

I was a literature major in college, so I am in love with American literature. It influenced me as a whole. Words have to taste good on my tongue for me to turn the page. Reading and dissecting the works of greats, including, but not limited to, Burroughs, Faulkner, Perkins-Gilman, Morrison, Walker, Hawthorne, Hurston, and Frost taught me that there is always a message. Regardless of what I write, I want a well-crafted message.

Do you have any new books coming out? If so, what are they about?

I am nearing completion on my second novel, tentatively titled, “Book of Promises.” It is a coming out story with a twist. Best friends, Katie and Tess, held hands in fourth grade and promised one another that they would never be apart. Now in high school, one of them will stop at nothing to make sure this promise is kept.

I also have an outline for the sequel to Sandman. Stay tuned for more on that.

How do you take your coffee?

Sweet and light. Iced or hot.

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Review of Sandman by Tammy Bird

Sandman

As most of you know I’m a huge fan of thrillers. When I was given the opportunity to read Sandman by Tammy Bird I jumped at the chance. I mean who doesn’t love a strong group of lesbians fighting against time to bring a serial killer to justice.

 

Here is a short blurb about the book:

Katia Billings, EMT with the Emergency Medical Services of Buxton Beach, NC, is one of the first to respond after a hurricane rips through the small island community. As she helps search for survivors, she and her fellow responders discover a secret that will haunt Katia the rest of her life.

 

Lurking beneath the sand dunes is an evil that no one suspected.

 

A sandy grave not connected to the storm leads investigators to uncover the tomb of a serial killer, literally beneath their feet, hidden for years from the residents of the tight community.

 

For Katia, it’s personal because she knows one of the killer’s victims. She enlists help from K-9 search expert Paige, and Katia’s on-and-off lover, Zahra, in her determination to find the killer, dubbed Sandman, and stop him from killing again.

 

What small-town secrets will they unearth in their pursuit of the truth? Will the three women survive the physical, emotional, and psychological attack being waged against their small slice of sand? Or will they become the next victims of Sandman?  

 

I was drawn into Sandman from the very start. Katia is everything I love in a main character. She is cool in the face of danger and willing to do anything to help protect the ones she loves. When a hurricane rips through the Outer Banks of North Carolina Katia’s life changes forever. The woman who was like a mother to her growing up was found dead in the dunes with her throat slashed. This gruesome discovery leads the team of investigators to find several more bodies and the discovery that there was a serial killer in their small town.

 

Zahra is an investigator on the case of the Sandman serial killer. She is also Katia love interest. Before the story starts, they had fooled around a little bit but nothing serious. The case brings them closer together. I liked that the romance element didn’t overpower the thriller aspects of the book.

 

The book uses points of view from all of the characters involved. For me, this really made the book interesting. It really transformed the story into something spectacular. Marco was one of my favorite points of view. Marco is Katia’s brother and is non-verbal autistic. Marco knows who the killer is, but he struggles to communicate who the killer is.

 

What really made this book standout is that you never truly know who the Sandman is until the very end of the book. When I found out who the Sandman truly was my jaw dropped. It was such an amazing twist. It is by far my favorite book of the year so far.

 

 

I would recommend Sandman to anyone who likes mysteries and thrillers.

 

You can purchase a copy of Sandman by clicking here.

Interview with Amanda Kayhart

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Who or what inspired Shipped?

My wife and our honeymoon in the Caribbean. There’s lots of little Easter eggs in the story about her and our trip together. We celebrated our 13thwedding anniversary this month, so it was fun to reminisce about that time in our lives as I wrote it.

 

 

Who or what inspired you to start writing?

My high school English teacher, Mrs. Bahrenburg. She had a contagious passion and energy about writing and books and poetry. She read Mary Oliver’s Wild Geesein class (I can still hear her steady, soothing voice in my head to this day), and hypnotized me with those revered lines. Words were never just words after that. They felt supernatural, almost. And I wanted to be a part of the magic.

 

Who is your favorite character from your books and why?

I can only pick one?? But I don’t want the others to be mad at me LOL I think I’ll have to go with Avery from my first book, Running the Tides. She was the first fictional character I ever wrote, and because of that, she’ll always have a special place in my heart.

 

How do you approach writing a new storyline?

Obsession and curiosity. I enjoy picking a setting or profession or topic that I’ll need to research. Something that fascinates me to the point I know I’ll get nerdy obsessed with, and get excited about to learn more and write about.

 

Where do your inspirations for characters and their lives come from?

I pull a lot from real life acquaintances, or people I’ve encountered in life, maybe even for a very brief period of time, who really left an impression on me.

 

Where is your favorite place to write?

My answer will be probably odd, but it’s in the woods. I live in Vermont and there’s an abundance of hiking and nature trails here, and I find my best writing and plotting is done, not sitting in front of my computer, but outside where my mind can wander as freely as my feet.

 

What is your writing process?

I’m a pantser, so it’s messy and disorganized. I start with a real crappy and careless first draft, followed by several rounds of meticulous edits I obsess over until I break down and cry into bowls of ice cream. *shrugs* It seems to be working fine LOL

 

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I learned to relax. I was very nervous and uptight my first time around, freaking out over minor details. Now, I let the mistakes happen and not let the imperfections in a story take away from the fun of writing.

 

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Taking writing classes. Being a part of a small writing community, and learning, not only the craft and mechanics of fiction, but also how to take and use criticism productively.

 

What is something memorable you have heard from your readers/fans?

Olivia, one of my MCs in Running the Tides, is bisexual, and a reader thanked me for having positive bisexual rep in my story. I want my books to be, not only inclusive to all identities within the queer community, but done so in a welcoming and affirming way. Their message to me really meant a lot.

 

What book that you have read has most influenced your life?

Winter Jacket by Eliza Lentzski. It was the first lesfic book I ever read and inspired me to start writing my own stories and start my author journey.

 

Do you have any new books coming out? If so, what are they about?

Fire and Water. It’s an age-gap romance set in Vermont, between a college professor and a glass blower. There’s a nice sprinkling of ice queen thrown in there too.

 

How do you take your coffee?

Preferably iced

 

Review of Shipped by Amanda Kayhart

Shipped

With the cold weather enveloping Arizona, who thought it would snow in Arizona, I thought I would escape with a little reading. Shipped by Amanda Kayhart is the perfect escape into a tropical beach vacation.

 

Here is a short blurb about the book:

No one understands that more than Leah Ives–a fresh college grad who spent the last several years studying, working hard, and counting pennies. So what did all that hustle earn her? A dismal day job, debt up to her eyeballs, and a Bachelor’s degree in fetching coffee.

 

Leah needs a getaway.

And luckily, she’s taking one.

 

After years of planning, Leah finally saves enough for her dream cruise in the Bahamas. Her bags are packed, and she’s ready to board that ship and sail off on a trip of a lifetime. Except all that organizing doesn’t prepare Leah for Mallory Miller, her bitter ex-girlfriend who threatens to capsize her entire Caribbean vacation.

 

Shipped is a novella that focuses on Lucy’s cruise to the Caribbean. Lucy’s vacation starts with a catastrophe. Somehow the cruise line double booked her room. They ended up moving her into a suite with another woman. The shock truly comes when Lucy finds out her roommate is no one other than her ex-girlfriend Mallory who she ghosted shortly before she started college.

 

Malloy and Lucy were uncertain how to approach their new living arrangement and ended up walking on eggshells around each other for the first part of their stay. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. It kept me wondering if they would ever be able to get over their past. One of my favorite scenes in the book was when Lucy and Malloy spent their final day on the beach.

 

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the inclusion of a gender non-conforming character. It is not often that you see trans character in books and I was pleasantly surprised by Devon’s character. I would love to see more books with trans characters.

 

There was only one thing that I thought detracted from the book. I felt that it could have used an epilog. It seemed like there could have been a more in-depth ending.

 

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a good second chance romance or to anyone who likes new adult romances.

 

Shipped is available on Kindle Unlimited by clicking here.

Review of Charm City by Monica McCallan

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With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching I thought I would get myself in the spirit by reading a Valentine’s Day novel. The book I chose was Charm City by Monica McCallan. It was so much more than the traditional cutesy romance novel and I couldn’t put it down.

 

Here is a short blurb about the book:

Taylor Tate has one last chance to turn things around. As the owner of Charm City Events, she needs her upcoming week of Valentine’s Day events to go off without a hitch. She’s painstakingly planned every detail down to the last red heart decoration, but what Taylor doesn’t plan on is the less than enthusiastic bar manager she’s paired with stumbling into her life at the worst possible time, making things more difficult every step of the way.

 

Carson Smith is getting by fine. She loves her job as the bar manager at Second Chances, a dive bar staple of the Baltimore landscape, and she doesn’t need anything or anyone disrupting the delicate balance she’s finally created. Especially for a stupid Valentine’s gimmick to take advantage of desperate singles. When the owner of the bar forces her to work with an event planning company to drum up business, she has no choice but to begrudgingly agree. It’s either play along or see the bar close, and she can’t let that happen.

 

It’s only a week, but time passes differently when there’s love in the air and too much on the line, and both women soon find their lives, and hearts, intertwined as they work together to make the week a success.

 

Can opposites attract? Find out in this HEA Valentine’s Day novella.

 

I wouldn’t really call this book a novella. I defiantly saw it as a full-length novel. No matter what you want to call it Charm City sucked me in from the very beginning. The book had more layers than I was expecting. I really enjoyed Carson’s character. She is the type of person who seems tough on the outside but once you get to know them, they turn into a huge softy. Carson’s past has left her broken she finds it hard to trust anyone because in the past she didn’t know what would happen in her life from day to day. Carson is the exact opposite of Taylor who seems to have her life so put together. While Taylor appears to have her life together that is not truly the case. Behind the scenes she is struggling, she is working her butt off in order to save her business and rebuild her brand.

 

I really liked the opposites attract aspect of Charm City. It made me want to keep reading to see how they would push each other buttons. I also liked how Taylor and Carson’s backstories played into their behavior. I could really see why Carson would shy away from relationships and why Taylor had trouble trusting. It really added to the angst keeping me hooked into the story.

 

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a good Valentine’s Day read or to anyone who likes opposites attract romances.

 

Charm City is available on Kindle Unlimited by clicking here.

Interview with Magnolia Robbins

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Who or what inspired Starbound?

My best friend Amanda. After I released Forbidden Melody last year, I kind of had a bit of a frustrating breakdown. It was a lot of work, it took a lot out of me mentally, and I wasn’t sure what to do next. In October, Amanda suggested I write a “nerd book” as she so lovingly put it. This book is really based a lot on our friendship, and is kind of an ode to her. A lot of our inside jokes are in the book, little things that have happened to us. She likes to call me a “nerd” because of all of my hobbies and interests (they’re pretty nerdy, I mean I love playing Dungeons and Dragons, I’m not going to lie…) So, really this book was for her. I went through a lot last year, and finishing this book meant a lot. I’m just happy it’s out there for people to read now.

 

Who or what inspired you to start writing?

In 4thgrade, I wrote a book called “Freddie the Falcon” that got published by my school. I drew the pictures that went with it, and wrote the story. I’ve always had a passion for storytelling ever since I was little. It wasn’t until early college I started really picking it up. I have a mostly-finished draft of a science fiction story that I want to publish at some point as queer fiction. In 2017, my mother-in-law was dying of ovarian cancer and we had a talk in the hospital one day. I’d just quit graduate school after discovering it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I was pretty depressed, for a variety of reasons. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and then told me I should write, because she believed so much in my writing. The day after she passed away, I self-published my first book on Amazon.

 

Who is your favorite character from your books and why?

Wow! This is a doozy! Haha. Hm, I think if I’d have to pick my favorite, it would have to be Shiloh Pierce from Wildsky. The character was kind of based off of a variety of different people and kind of all melded together. I loved her rugged outdoorsy personality, how passionately she loved Grace, and how dedicated she was to helping her through her mental health struggles. My significant other and I went through a very similar experience when I was going through graduate school as Grace/Shiloh did, so she really mattered a lot to me.

 

I also would have to say Reese, just because I based her a lot off of Amanda, and I love Amanda to pieces.

 

And, I can’t go without saying Juliette Hamilton from Forbidden Melody, because… well, obviously.

 

I totally didn’t give you one person—sorry about that haha.

 

 

 

How do you approach writing a new storyline?

This is a good question! It’s a very crazy process, sometimes there’s no semblance of order. An idea will come to me and it will start brewing and festering in my head. I try to make an outline. Most of the time I don’t get through it all the way, but I’m happy to say I’m getting better about it. I will try to build as good of an image of characters in my head before I start, so I can picture what might happen to them. Then I throw out a bunch of scene ideas, just as many as I can think of. Once that happens, I try to puzzle piece them together to figure out a good plot.

 

Really though, it’s kind of a magical experience. Somehow things just start coming together once I start going. Definitely not a pantser though, as much as I envy them.

 

Where do your inspirations for characters and their lives come from?

As I mentioned in a previous question, I get a lot of inspiration from people in my life. Sometimes characters from other books will inspire ideas for me. Like I said, my significant other, Amanda, some of my lesfic friends have all inspired me. My parents, other friends. For Forbidden Melody, Emma was inspired by an America’s Got Talentcontestant named Mandy Harvey, who had the same disorder that Emma did in the book. I get my inspiration from random places.

 

Where is your favorite place to write?

Okay. I have two places. It’s hard to choose.

First, is the Salt Lake City Library. Look how gorgeous this place is! It’s 4 stories, they have really nice desks to work at that face the mountains and you can look out at them while you write. There’s windows EVERYWHERE. And a coffee shop inside, so I can get all the coffee I want! The barista’s there love me haha.

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Second, is my home office. I like it a lot because I pimped it out a little this year and got nice big framed photos of my book covers. I also have a giant sloth from Amanda that keeps me company.

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What is your writing process?

I have a daily routine, which usually consists of getting up about 5:30-6am in the morning, even on the weekends. I make a big pot of coffee, take a walk for about 10 minutes, stretch, meditate most days that I can remember to do it, and then I sit down at the computer with my coffee and make a deal with myself—I need to write x amount today and then I can do something I want to do with my life. My goal is usually 2,500 words.

 

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I don’t think my first book was what really changed my writing process. I’ve written 11 books now, 5 novels and 6 novella. I started out writing novellas because I was nervous publishing novels. It was really good practice. I got a review on one of my novellas after I’d been publishing a while saying that they felt like the story could be fleshed out more and have more detail. After that, I decided to write my first official novel. I tried really hard to pay attention and add more details, and work on my craftsmanship. Every book since has been really focusing on one area I can improve each book. It helps a lot. I really thank that reviewer for calling me out, because I might have still been stuck in novella writing mode and not gotten the courage to try something new, if it wasn’t for them.

 

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Hiring a copy editor. 100%

 

What is something memorable you have heard from your readers/fans?

The reviews for Wildsky and for Forbidden Melody just exploded my heart. I think the best review/thing I heard was from someone who read Wildsky, who was going through the same experience with graduate school as I did. They said because of the book, and then talking with me after they’d read it, they got the courage to call it quits. I wrote that book specifically for those people who are struggling, because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. And that was a really cool moment to be able to support someone else going through the same thing.

 

What book that you have read has most influenced your life?

“Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. If you haven’t ever read that book, you should read it.

 

Do you have any new books coming out? If so, what are they about?

So, I just released Starbound a few days ago, which is a geeky friends-to-lovers romance about a science-fiction television star and a game store manager (who are BFFs) who fall in love. It’s definitely a very cute and light read, a lot different that Forbidden Melody. I hope my readers won’t be too disappointed that it’s a lot different, but I still think it’s a really cute read!
Early February I’ll be releasing the first novella of a 3 part series called “Essence” that is about a baker and an accountant that have a nice falling-for-each-other kind of story. It’s light and sweet like Starbound, but it’s some of my best writing, in my opinion. All three of the books take place in Vermont, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year. It’s a beautiful state that is underrepresented in literature. The series will be the “Green Mountain Novellas” and they’ll release in February, April, and June (tentatively).

 

How do you take your coffee?

Black or with a little cream! And about 20 cups. Ha!