May 28, 2024

Promo Post: The Ride of Her Life by Jennifer Dugan

at 5/28/2024 12:11:00 PM 0 comments

Molly has always loved weddings, ever since she was a little girl, and for nearly as long she’s dreamed of starting her own wedding planning company. But that dream has remained stubbornly out of reach, and between Molly’s first job as a barista, her second at a call center, and her crushing student loans, it seems farther away than ever. The absolute last thing she needs is to inherit a run-down, struggling horse barn, courtesy of her estranged late aunt.

Molly is so ill-equipped to run the barn, it’s laughable. She certainly doesn’t know how to save it, no matter how much faith everyone who loved her aunt has that she will. But maybe her aunt left Molly a blessing in disguise—if she can sell the land, the profits could be the small-business seed money miracle she’s been waiting for. Doesn’t matter if she’s starting to love the mismatched family this barn brought together, and feeling closer to the aunt she never got a chance to know.

The real snag in her plan is the woman who took care of Molly’s aunt in her last days, and still lives and works on the property as a farrier: Shani. Judgmental, grouchy Shani, who thinks she’s so morally superior because she hasn’t given up on the crumbling barn while Molly wants to “destroy” everything her aunt built; who’s really good with the horses, and always comes whenever Molly calls her in a panic; and is actually kind of thoughtful, and obnoxiously hot, and unfailingly loyal…and oh no, has Shani become an entirely different kind of problem? One Molly can’t possibly solve, no matter how much her heart wants to?

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About the Author
Credit: Amber Hooper Photography

Jennifer Dugan is the author of the young adult novels Melt With You, Some Girls Do, Verona Comics, and Hot Dog Girl, and the adult romance Love at First Set. She is also the author of the YA graphic novel Coven. She lives in upstate New York with her family.

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May 7, 2024

Promo Post: You Should Be So Lucky by Cat Sebastian

at 5/07/2024 02:00:00 AM 0 comments

An emotional, slow-burn, grumpy/sunshine, queer mid-century romance for fans of Evvie Drake Starts Over, about grief and found family, between the new star shortstop stuck in a batting slump and the reporter assigned to (reluctantly) cover his first season—set in the same universe as We Could Be So Good.

The 1960 baseball season is shaping up to be the worst year of Eddie O’Leary’s life. He can’t manage to hit the ball, his new teammates hate him, he’s living out of a suitcase, and he’s homesick. When the team’s owner orders him to give a bunch of interviews to some snobby reporter, he’s ready to call it quits. He can barely manage to behave himself for the length of a game, let alone an entire season. But he’s already on thin ice, so he has no choice but to agree.

Mark Bailey is not a sports reporter. He writes for the arts page, and these days he’s barely even managing to do that much. He’s had a rough year and just wants to be left alone in his too-empty apartment, mourning a partner he’d never been able to be public about. The last thing he needs is to spend a season writing about New York’s obnoxious new shortstop in a stunt to get the struggling newspaper more readers.

Isolated together within the crush of an anonymous city, these two lonely souls orbit each other as they slowly give in to the inevitable gravity of their attraction. But Mark has vowed that he’ll never be someone’s secret ever again, and Eddie can’t be out as a professional athlete. It’s just them against the world, and they’ll both have to decide if that’s enough.

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About the Author

Photo Credit: Cat Sebastian

Cat Sebastian writes queer historical romance. Her books have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist, and she’s been featured in the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly,
and Jezebel.

Before writing, Cat was a lawyer and a teacher and did a variety of other jobs she liked much less than she enjoys writing happy endings for queer people. She was born in New Jersey and lived in New York and Arizona before settling down in a swampy part of the south. When she isn’t writing, she’s probably reading, having one-sided conversations with her dog, or doing the crossword puzzle.

The best way to keep up with Cat’s projects is to subscribe to her newsletter. You can email Cat at CatSebastianWrites [at] gmail [dot] com, visit her on twitter, or check out her instagram.

Cat is represented by Deidre Knight at the Knight Agency.

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April 25, 2024

HTP Winter Reads Blog Tour Promo Post: The Good Ones are Taken by Taj McCoy

at 4/25/2024 04:33:00 PM 0 comments

When Maggie's best friend admits he's in love with her, she'll have to decide whether it's worth giving up something good for something that could be amazing in this laugh-out-loud friends-to-lovers rom-com.

After a bad breakup, Maggie wants to find her Prince Charming, but all she’s finding are frogs. When her best friends, Savvy and Joan, apply pressure and demand she find a date worthy of attending their respective weddings, she agrees to take her own advice and try online dating. Since she's the maid of honor for both weddings, her bridal party duties are massive, but both brides insist that Maggie prioritize finding a date. After an onslaught of maybes, noes and hell noes, she’s close to giving up, when she meets a handsome doctor at the gym who just might be the one.

Meanwhile, her college bestie, Garrett, throws salt in everyone’s game. At every turn, he points out the red flags and tells Maggie to keep looking. Things come to a head when Maggie demands that Garrett be happy for her, and he finally admits that he can’t. Not when he’s not with her. When he blurts out his feelings, Maggie’s world is turned upside down. Now she must choose between the perfect guy and a friendship that is the foundation for everything she’s ever wanted.

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HER EYES LOCKED WITH ANOTHER PAIR ON THE OTHER side of the bar—deep brown eyes framed with black, curly lashes and bookended with laugh lines. Maggie’s heart flopped in her chest as she inhaled a breath, almost willing the scent of his cologne to travel the fifteen feet to where she sat. He looks like he smells good.

The man looked back at her, eyeing her intently. His long locs were pulled back into a messy bun, random tendrils reaching toward his bearded jawline—a lone streak of silver to one side of his manicured chin. His full lips spread into a wide smile bright enough for a toothpaste ad, and he raised two fingers in the air before beckoning her over. He jutted his thumb toward a booth behind him where the table was set with a bottle of champagne on ice and two empty flutes.

Maggie’s eyebrows shot up, and she pointed at herself. “Me?” she mouthed.

His smile widened and he bit his lip as he nodded slowly. The carnal look in his eyes spread warmth to her belly.

She swiveled her bar stool to the side, a moment from stepping down and crossing the room before she caught a glimpse of the woman standing directly behind her. Late twenties, svelte and a dress that hugged every curve of a Coke-bottle figure. She had deep dimples, and her honey-blond goddess locs were pulled up and away from her face, showing off her sparkling green eyes and fluttering lashes. The woman strode to the other side of the bar confidently in stiletto sandals tied just below muscular calves. The sexy, loc’d-up couple embraced tightly, kissing twice before they slid into the booth and poured themselves some bubbles. They snuggled close as he raised his glass to toast the occasion, his beautiful date beaming as they clinked their glasses together and tenderly locked lips.

Damn. Strike one.

Maggie turned back to face the bar, sipping the final dregs of her cocktail before running her fingers over her glass of water. The ice had melted and the glass was slick with condensation. With the pad of her finger, she drew a figure eight before dabbing it on a cocktail napkin. She opened her mouth to ask the bartender, Matt, for her check when someone spoke behind her.

“Anyone sitting here?” The rich baritone voice sent a delicious shiver down the back of her neck.

Maggie peeked coyly over her shoulder, her right brow arching slightly as her eyes swept over the tall specimen behind her. The man wore a tailored black suit with a loosened silk tie and a white dress shirt unbuttoned at the collar. His easy smile widened as she regarded him. “Seat’s all yours,” she responded slowly, her voice a sultry whisper as she swept a loose coil behind her ear. She turned back toward the counter, sending an amused wink in the direction of the bartender.

“Thanks.” He slid onto the bar stool and unfastened his tie, tucking it into his jacket pocket.

Matt nodded a greeting. “Hey, man, looks like you could use a drink. What can I get you?”

“Yeah, let me get a Maker’s Mark old-fashioned, and another drink for the lady.” The handsome stranger tilted his head in Maggie’s direction, turning to observe her. His salt and-pepper fade contoured down to a closely cut beard; a few grays speckled the sections framing his mouth.

Matt nodded and set to making the drinks.

Maggie eyed the man next to her, notes of spiced oud and sandalwood invading her senses from his cologne. “Thank you.”

“What you drinkin’?” He crossed his arms, setting his elbows on the bar. He leaned toward her slightly, pointing to her empty cocktail glass.

“A filthy gin martini, extra olives.” She accepted a fresh glass from Matt and took a slow sip, savoring the briny liquid. Her heel crooked over the stool’s footrest, she flexed her foot and then pointed her toe, her feet still sore from enduring a long day of meetings. She’d braved the day in her favorite Cole Haan pumps, mistakenly deciding that she didn’t need to carry her customary pair of flats in her laptop tote. Never again.

“Long day?” She eyed him curiously, the stem of her martini glass between her index and middle fingers, her palm flat against its cool foot. Slowly, she swirled the contents of her drink, her shoulders finally beginning to relax, courtesy of Tanqueray.

He nodded. “You could say that. Divorce mediations. You?”

“Tax attorney, and it’s nearing April.” Maggie sipped slowly, willing the gin not to take hold of her too quickly. “I’m sorry about your marriage.”

His brow lifted. “How did you know the settlement was mine? I could be the attorney.”

She pursed her lips, considering that statement before shrugging a shoulder. “You could, but your thumb keeps rubbing against the space between your middle and ring finger, like you’re missing something.”

The bartender slid over a glass tumbler filled with an oversize ice cube, amber liquid and an orange peel. The man took a big gulp before jutting his chin upward in thanks. “I guess as an attorney, you know all the tells.”

Her face softened slightly. “Not all of them, but I’ve seen enough to know it’s not going well.” She regarded him out of the corner of her eye for a moment. “Sorry.”

His shoulders slumped a little. “Not your fault. All mine, really.” He took another gulp, almost finishing off his drink, gazing at her in her cream pantsuit and camel pumps. He leaned a little closer, his voice barely above a whisper. “This may be forward of me, but you are a very beautiful woman. Would you maybe want to get out of here?” He raised his eyebrows as he pressed his lips together.

Maggie’s eyes widened as she sputtered, almost choking on her cocktail. “Damn, you just go straight for ass, huh?”

Shocked, he laughed awkwardly. “Wow. I’m so sorry. I didn’t think about what I was saying until after it came out of my mouth. Please don’t be offended. I just— My eyes were immediately drawn to you when I walked in and, honestly, I’ve been out of the game for a long time.” He put a hand to his chest as he apologized, frustration furrowing his brows.

Maggie tilted her head as she employed the poker face she used with her clients, her gaze moving back and forth between her drink and the bartender, who had frozen at the proposition. “Well, I appreciate the compliment and the drink, but I’m going to have to pass. I’m not really the type to bust it open when I don’t know your name, we’re not dating and you’re still married. That’s a lot to ask of a stranger.” She shook her head, chronicling this proposition among the many things she intended to share with her girlfriends over dinner. Who does that?

The man pressed his lips together and nodded, chuckling. “You’re right, and I’m sorry. My wife and I, we’ve been living separate lives for a long time, though I can understand why it still sounds fresh. I didn’t mean any harm.”

Maggie smiled down at her drink and flipped her wrist at him. “All good, and thanks for the drink. Honestly, I’m still getting over my own breakup, so I wouldn’t make great company tonight.”

The man turned his entire body to face her, his knee bumping the outside of her thigh. “Do you want to talk about it? I’m obviously not a relationship expert, but I can listen.”

Sweet Jesus, that was not an invitation. She shook her head slowly, her lips pressed together in a tight smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Not tonight but thank you.”

It had been a few months since Rob left, and the sting of his betrayal still burned right below the surface of Maggie’s skin. She thought they were getting close to moving in together, but he had already set his sights on someone else. Now she wanted nothing more than to junk punch him in front of his new girl. Too embarrassed by the fact that he chose someone else, she preferred to brood over a cocktail rather than air out her hurt, even though her eyes had opened to the potential for someone new. Just not this guy. Being in the midst of divorce proceedings didn’t exactly signal emotional availability. Now, if only he would take a hint.

The door opened, and a couple of women breezed toward a high-top table in dark corporate suits, their identical bobs parting bone-straight hair with recent highlights. Maggie’s neighbor perked up, and she prayed silently for his departure.

“Will you excuse me? I think I recognize someone,” he murmured, his eyes never leaving the newcomers.

“Of course. Thanks again.” Maggie raised her glass and watched with amusement as he moved quickly across the room and greeted the pair, neither of whom seemed to recognize him. That didn’t stop him from planting himself at their table, oblivious to the panicked look on their faces. Maggie winked at Matt, who rested his hands on the bar, an easy smile spreading across his face. “That was…a lot!” She rested her chin in her hand, shaking her head as she laughed.

He whistled in agreement. “One more for the road, Mags? On me. You deserve it after—” he gestured around chaotically “—whatever that was.”

She grinned. “You know what, Matt? I think that I’m going to save myself from strike three and head on home. Can you cash me out?” She handed money to him to cover her drink and tip.

“You got it.” He moved over to a digital register—a tablet connected to a cash till and a printer. “Thanks, Mags. See you next week?”

“Uh-huh.” Maggie’s eyes were drawn across the bar to the-booth-that-could-have-been: the loc’d couple entwined and oblivious to the world around them. Their lips and hands were in constant movement, connecting fervently, and when they broke apart to breathe, the intensity of their gazes told everyone in the room what time it was. These two were going to ravish each other, probably before they even made it home. Their kisses made Maggie ache low in her stomach.

I want that.

Excerpt from The Good Ones Are Taken by Taj McCoy. Copyright © 2024 by Taj McCoy. Published by MIRA.

About the Author

Photo Credit: Alaysia Jordan

Law grad Taj McCoy is committed to championing plus-sized Black love stories and characters with a strong sense of sisterhood and familial bonds. Born in Oakland, Taj started writing as a child and celebrated her first publications in grade school. When she’s not writing, Taj boosts other marginalized writers, practices yoga, co-hosts the Fat Like Me and Better Than Brunch podcasts, shares recipes, and cooks supper club meals for friends.

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April 22, 2024

ARC Review: Archangel's Lineage by Nalini Singh

at 4/22/2024 01:56:00 PM 0 comments

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh’s dangerous and beautiful world of archangels, vampires, and mortals has never faced a threat this cataclysmic…

Raphael and Elena are experiencing their first ever year of true peace. No war. No horrors of archangelic power. No nightmares given flesh. Until…the earth beneath the Refuge begins to tremble, endangering not only angelkind’s precious and fragile young, but the very place that has held their most innocent safe for eons.

Amid the chaos, Elena’s father suffers a violent heart attack that threatens to extinguish their last chance to heal the bonds between them and make sense of the ruins of their agonizing shared history.

Even as Elena battles grief, Raphael is torn from her side by the sudden disappearance of an archangel. But worse yet is to come. An Ancestor, an angel unlike any other, stirs from his Sleep to warn the Cadre of a darkness so terrible that it causes empires to fall and civilizations to vanish.

This time, even the Cadre itself may not be able to stop a ticking clock that is counting down at frightening speed…

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Disclaimer: I received an advanced reader's copy from Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, via NetGalley. The following thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. Spoilers below. Read at your own risk.

I've been of fan of Nalini Singh for a long time. I've read everything this woman has ever written. Her paranormal romance and urban fantasy series are both so good! Continuing on with the Guild Hunter series, we have a time skip of 20 years or so. I thought this was a great move. After 20 years of waiting for the other shoe to drop, everybody is burnt out and in need of a party. Too bad! The Refuge experiences violent earthquakes for the first-time in twenty or so years. This obviously freaks out Angel kind and the urgency to find out what's going on is palatable. To throw in more issues, Jeffrey has a near-fatal heart attack. With Elena and her mortal heart, she perceives the mortality of her friends and family differently. She is both involved in their lives and somewhat looking at it as a bystander. In this book, she finally deals with her longstanding trauma with Jeffrey. Nothing like a near-death experience to get the ball rolling. 

Raphael has his own problems to deal with as the Archangel of New York. I loved Archangel's Lineage. There were new, interesting characters, some old and familiar faces, and peeks into the lives of the children (now, no longer children) of Elena's friends and family. By using a time skip plot device, Nalini Singh has material to work with, if she ever wants to write a spin-off Guild Hunter series, featuring Eve or Zoe Elena or any of the other Guild Hunter kiddos. One new character, in particular, gives me hints about the next book in the Guild Hunter series that does not feature the main couple. I am excited! There was a notable lack of Ransom, though it is understandable that he was left out. Nalini Singh had a lot of people to "update" us about, but a one sentence update would have been nice. Something like "Ransom and his family were taking a vacation" or "Ransom was away on a hunt" or "Ransom was taking paternity leave". The overarching plot was tied up nicely by the end with the addition of a new character and implications for the future.

4.5 stars

About the Author

Photo Credit: Author's Website

Nalini Singh is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Psy-Changeling, Guild Hunter, and Rock Kiss series. She lives and works in beautiful New Zealand, and is passionate about writing.

If you’d like to explore her other books, you can find lots of excerpts and free short stories on her website. Slave to Sensation is the first book in the Psy-Changeling series, while Angels’ Blood is the first book in the Guild Hunter series. The Rock Kiss books are all stand alone and can be read in any order.

Connect with Nalini!

Website  |  Facebook |  Twitter  |  Goodreads  |  Instagram

April 15, 2024

Promo Post: A Sign of Her Own by Sarah Marsh

at 4/15/2024 04:50:00 PM 0 comments

In 1878, five-year-old Ellen Lark’s world forever changes when she loses her hearing to scarlet fever. Ellen’s mother, determined for her daughter to have a “normal” life, painstakingly teaches Ellen how to read both written text and the speech on people’s lips. With the help of a wealthy patron, she enrolls Ellen into a school for the deaf where Ellen for the first time meets others like her.

Ellen’s schooling leads her to Boston University where she becomes a student of Alexander Graham Bell and his Visible Speech method. Visible Speech allows deaf people to pronounce words as clearly as a hearing person would—though without having any understanding of what they’re saying. Ellen is initially captivated by Mr. Bell and his many dreams for a variety of inventions, but as he becomes consumed by the race to invent the telephone, Ellen begins to doubt the value of her mentor’s teachings. Her doubts only deepen after she meets Frank McKinney, a charming deaf man who runs a print shop and promotes the value of sign language.

When Mr. Bell and the Western Union both submit patents for a device that carries the human voice over a wire, there is controversy over who has won the race. In their quest for the patent, the Western Union tries to recruit Ellen to spy on Mr. Bell using her lip-reading abilities. Ellen must decide if she’ll remain loyal to Bell – despite her growing realization of his harmful teachings – or if she’ll spy on him to protect someone she loves.

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Photo Credit:  Rii Schroer

Sarah Marsh was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish prize in 2019 and selected for the London Library Emerging Writers program in 2020. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA. She is the daughter of neurosurgeon and author Henry Marsh. A Sign of Her Own is her first novel, inspired by her experiences of growing up deaf and her family’s history of deafness. She lives in London.

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April 5, 2024

HTP Winter Reads Blog Tour Promo Post: The Book of Thorns by Hester Fox

at 4/05/2024 03:44:00 PM 0 comments

An enchanting tale of secrets, betrayal, and magic…

Penniless and stranded in France after a bid to escape her cruel uncle goes awry, Cornelia Shaw is far from the Parisian life of leisure she imagined. Desperate and lacking options, she allows herself to be recruited to Napoleon’s Grande Armée. As a naturalist, her near-magical ability to heal any wound with herbal mixtures invites awe amongst the soldiers…and suspicion. For behind Cornelia’s vast knowledge of the natural world is a secret she keeps hidden—the flowers speak to her through a mysterious connection she has felt since childhood. One that her mother taught her to heed, before she disappeared.

Then, as Napoleon’s army descends on Waterloo, the flowers sing to her of a startling revelation: a girl who bears a striking resemblance to Cornelia. A girl she almost remembers—her sister, lost long ago, who seems to share the same gifts. Determined to reunite with Lijsbeth despite being on opposite sides of the war, Cornelia is drawn into a whirlwind of betrayal, secrets, and lies. Brought together by fate and magic at the peak of the war, the sisters try to uncover the key to the source of the power that connects them as accusations of witchcraft swirl and threaten to destroy the very lives they’ve fought for.

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BEGONIA: a favor repaid, a warning foretold, a promise delivered in darkness.

Sussex, England, February 1815

I can feel Betsy watching me from the doorway.

She hovers like a bee, rehearsing some small speech in whispers. I pretend not to notice her fidgeting and instead focus on the vase of narcissi before me, the weight of my pencil in my hand. Betsy clears her throat, twice, but I am already arcing out the path of the dainty stems and unfurling petals. There is something calming about reducing the flowers to splashes of grays and blacks, finding beauty in the absence of light.

Betsy lets out a throaty cough. “You might as well come in and be done with it,” I tell her without looking up.

“Yes, miss.” She drops a curtsy, her gray ringlets bouncing under her cap. “It’s just that there’s a man in the drawing room with your uncle, miss, and your uncle asks that you join them.”

I continue sketching, watching the frilly petals take shape on my paper. “Please make my excuses,” I tell her. Uncle likes to bring me out when he has business meetings, the same way he sets out the good claret and crystal goblets with the old family crest. With no wife and no children of his own, I make a pretty addition and bring a touch of softness to his otherwise hard demeanor. “There’s a cake in the kitchen and cold ham as well that you might bring them,” I add as an afterthought.

But Betsy doesn’t leave. She wrings her hands and tuts about like a fussing hen. “No, miss. He’s for you.”

I carefully set aside my pencil. This is what I was afraid of. Closing my eyes, I rub my temples, wishing that it was anything else besides this. My time is not even my own, and I hate being pulled out of my work just to oblige Uncle.

“Very well.” I dismiss Betsy and take a moment in front of the mirror in the hall. Uncle’s friends and associates are mostly stodgy old men, but there is always the possibility that it could be someone young, someone exciting. I pinch roses into my cheeks and tease out a few of my yellow curls. If have control of nothing else in this house, I at least can take pride in my appearance.

I take a deep breath and let myself into the drawing room. “Betsy said you wanted me, sir?”

Uncle stands and tugs at his waistcoat. “Cornelia, come in.”

Though not more than fifty years in age, his poor temper and taste for rich food and drink has left my uncle with a ruddy complexion and portly figure. He is not a healthy man, and his jowls are loose, his complexion jaundiced. What he lacks in polished comportment, though, he makes up in his wardrobe, opting for elaborate cravats and showy brocaded waistcoats that never quite fit him but speak of money and an account in good standing at the tailor. Uncle waves me over, impatient. “Come meet Mr. Reeves.”

Obedient, I come and position myself near the window where I know the soft gray light is especially flattering to my fair complexion. The man unfolds himself from his chair. He is tall and spare, his black frockcoat well-cut and his boots shined. He looks familiar, perhaps from church or one of Uncle’s interminable business dinners. I suppose some might consider him handsome, but there is an intensity in his dark eyes that is more predatory than charming. “Miss Cornelia,” he says, taking my hand and bowing over it, “a pleasure.”

“Mr. Reeves.” I withdraw my hand. “I hope my uncle is not boring you with land yields and livestock accounts.”

He shares a confidential look with my uncle. “On the contrary. Our conversation has been on the most enjoyable of topics.”

“He’s here to see you,” Uncle says, plowing straight into the heart of the matter as he always does. “Mr. Reeves comes as a suitor.”

Uncle makes the outcome of this meeting perfectly clear in the sharp downturn of his lips. His patience with the matter of my marital status is wearing thin.

Well, that makes two of us.

I don’t fancy marriage, but I certainly don’t fancy spending one more day than I have to under my uncle’s roof, either. My dreams of publishing a book remain foggy and out of reach, and the money from my illustrations published in a French newspaper under a nom de plume pays only a pittance. It is not enough to live on, and certainly not enough for a young woman who enjoys fine things and an easy life. A husband would solve at least two of my problems, but it would create a host more.

“I’ll leave you two alone to talk,” Uncle says, cutting me with a look that says there will be hell to pay if I emerge from this room without securing an engagement.

The air usually lightens, the room sighing a breath of relief, when Uncle leaves, but Mr. Reeves’s presence prickles me under my stays, makes me fidgety.

Betsy is posted outside the door, her needles softly clacking as she knits some horrid bonnet or muffler. Outside, a fine mist has rolled over the gentle Sussex hills. A smile spreads over Mr. Reeves’s sharp features. “Your uncle says you’re a spirited filly. That you need a strong hand to break you.”

Ah, so it is to go like that, then. I pour a cup of tea, ignoring my guest’s outstretched hand, instead lifting the cup to my lips. “That does sound like the sort of nonsense my uncle would say.”

Mr. Reeves regards me, his dark eyes calculating. “Your uncle was right, but I think he also underestimated you. I can see you possess some wits, so I’ll not mince words.” He crosses his long legs. “I am looking for a wife, and your uncle is looking to expand his landholdings to the south of the county.”

If the man who has sat down across from me was meek, pliable, then perhaps I would have more patience in hearing his suit; I don’t need someone who will get underfoot or try to handle me. Even some doddering old lord who might die quickly and leave me a widow would be acceptable. But Mr. Reeves is irritatingly young and looks to be in good health.

“My uncle was mistaken. I am not in need of a husband.” I offer him a cold smile, my mind already back on my flowers, my fingers itching to hold my pencil. The light has shifted with the gathering clouds, and I will have to rework my shading.

He pours himself a cup of tea. “Come, wouldn’t you like to have a fine house? Be mistress of a whole host of servants? I can see that you enjoy some degree of freedom, and I can give you that. You will have a mare and a generous allowance.”

“I should think it would be terribly lowering to have to lure a wife into one’s home with promises of horses and gowns. Shouldn’t you rather wish her to come of her own volition because she holds you in some esteem?”

“You are naive if you think that marriage is anything other than a business transaction. You are a young woman of beauty and some small means but a drain on your guardian. I am an enterprising man, with successful business dealings and a good bloodline looking for a wife who will elevate his status and ornament his home. I hold a commission in the army and anticipate traveling to the Continent shortly. It is a good deal for you, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better one, especially with your lack of polish and manners.”

“It’s a little late to be going over to the Continent, isn’t it? I believe we quite vanquished Napoleon.”

Irritation animates his dark eyes before he glances away, taking what I suspect is an intentionally long sip of his tea.

I study him over the rim of my cup, imagining the way I would draw the sharp angle of his chin, the aquiline nose, before finally placing where I’ve seen him. “You were married before, were you not?”

There is an almost imperceptible stiffening of his body. “Yes, I make no secret of the fact that I am a widower,” he says shortly.

“And how, exactly, did your first wife die?” The roses in the vase on the table beside me are vibrating, warning me. I pretend not to notice, pretend that I am a normal young woman who does not receive messages from flowers.

His lips thin. “An unfortunate fall.”

“Mm. She did not bear you any children, did she?”

“Barren.” He tugs at his cravat, irritated. “You would do well not to let your ear wander to every housemaid that has a piece of gossip to peddle,” he says coldly.

“In any case, I am not interested.” I move to put my cup down, but a hand closes around my wrist, hard. I look up to find that he has leaned in close, his breath hot on my neck.

“Perhaps you’ve also heard that I have certain…proclivities.”

The roses in the vase strain toward me, singing, setting my teeth on edge. My fingers begin to tremble, but I do not let him see it. “Why would you tell me that?”

“Because I think, dear girl, that you are under the impression that I would use you poorly.” He leans back, but only slightly, the air around him still charged and menacing. “I can be a very hard man when I’m tested, but I can take my pleasures elsewhere, so long as my wife is obedient.”

His gaze is sharp, his grip painful, and I realize that here is a dangerous man, one who is not just a brute but also clever. He cannot be fobbed off with witty barbs or batting eyelashes.

“This conversation bores me,” I tell him, standing. “I will not be your wife. I’m sorry that you wasted your time in coming here.”

But he makes no move to stand, his cool gaze sliding over me in a way that leaves me feeling horribly exposed. “I’ve seen you often, Cornelia. In church, sitting so demurely with your hands folded in your lap. You may think to have everyone else fooled, but I see the spirit in your eyes. A woman like you can never be satisfied with the life of a spinster, put on a shelf here in Sussex. I can offer you fine things, take you to exciting places abroad with me.”

And I’ve seen you, I think. I’ve seen how cruelly you used your first wife, the bruises on her pretty face. The way she faded little by little every week in church, until she was just a ghost in a dress, her final service that of her funeral. That will not be me.

“Surely there are other young ladies that would be flattered by your attentions,” I tell him.

“None so beautiful, none that I would take so much pleasure in breaking. The more you deny me, the more determined I am. Ask your uncle. I am a man who gets what he wants, one way or another.”

All the promise of gold or Continental trips would not be enough to tempt any marriage-minded mama to let her daughter enter into an arrangement with a man like Mr. Reeves. But of course, I have no mama to arrange such matters for me, to keep me safe.

“Then, perhaps it was time you lose for a change. Do you not find it dull to always get what you expect?”

He stands, drawing close and jabbing a finger into my bodice. It takes some great force of will to stand my ground and not let him see my fear. “You may think yourself clever, but this visit was just a courtesy. Your uncle and I have all but drawn up the contract already.”

He storms out, and the room grows quiet in the wake of the front door slamming. Betsy startles from her seat where she had fallen to dozing. I close my eyes, take a breath, wait until my heartbeat grows even again. Then I return to my waiting drawing in the parlor.

If I work quickly, I can still finish it and have it ready for tomorrow’s post. But for now, there is no waiting publisher, no silly French pseudonym; it is just the light and the shadows and me, a silent dance as I commit them to paper. Mr. Reeves and his odious proposal quickly fade away from my mind.

But then a raised voice shatters the silence, breaking my concentration, and there is the thundering velocity of Uncle coming down the hall.

Excerpted from THE BOOK OF THORNS by Hester Fox. Copyright © 2024 by Hester Fox. Published by Graydon House, an imprint of HarperCollins.

About the Author

Photo Credit: Stephanie Patalano Photography

Hester Fox is a full-time writer and mother, with a background in museum work and historical archaeology. She is the author of such novels as The Witch of Willow Hall, A Lullaby for Witches, and The Last Heir to Blackwood Library. When not writing, Hester can be found exploring old cemeteries, enjoying a pastry and seasonal latte at a café, or scouring antique shops for old photographs to add to her collection. She lives in a small mill town in Massachusetts with her husband and their two children.

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March 21, 2024

HTP Winter Reads Blog Tour Promo Post: Good Half Gone by Tarryn Fisher

at 3/21/2024 12:17:00 PM 0 comments

Iris Walsh saw her twin sister get kidnapped—so why does no one believe her?

Iris narrowly escaped her twin sister’s fate as a teen: abducted in broad daylight and long gone before she could convince the cops there was anything to investigate. With Piper presumed a runaway and no evidence to go on but Iris’s scattered memories, the case quickly goes cold.

Ever since that terrible day, Iris’ search for Piper has bordered on obsession. Chasing leads across years and following clues that all seem to point to a single name, Iris does everything she can to get close to the only person who might know the answer to the question that still haunts her: where did Piper go? And if the police still won’t help, she’ll just have to find the answer herself--using her criminal psychology degree to intern at the isolated psychiatric hospital on Shoal Island, where secrets lurk in the shadows and are kept under lock and key. But Iris soon realizes that something even more sinister is simmering beneath the surface of the Shoal, and that the patients aren’t the only ones being observed…

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“911, WHAT IS your emergency?”

“Hello? Help me, please! They took my sister! Please hurry, I don’t know where they are. I can’t find them.” *rustling noise* *yells something* “Oh my god—oh my god. Piper!”

“Ma’am, I need you to calm down so that I can understand you.”

“Okay…” *crying*

“Who took your sister?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know them. Two guys. Dupont knows them, I—”

“Miss, what is the address? Where are you?”

“The theater on Pike, the Five Dollar…” *crying* “They took my phone, I’m calling from inside the theater.”

“Wait right where you are, someone is going to be there to help shortly. Can you tell me what your name is?”


“What is your name? Hello…?”

*crying, indecipherable noises*

“Can you tell me your name?”


“What is your sister’s name, Iris? And how old is she?”

“Piper. She’s fifteen.”

“Is she your older sister or younger sister… Iris, can you hear me?”

“We’re twins. They just put her in a car and drove away. Please hurry.”

“Can you tell me what kind of vehicle they were driving?”

“I don’t know…”

“—a van, or a sedan—?”

“It was blue and long. I can’t remember.”

“Did it have four doors or two… Iris?”


“And how many men were there?”


“I’m going to stay on the line with you until the officers get there.”

He leans forward, rouses the mouse, and turns off the audio on his computer. Click click clack. I was referred to Dr. Stanford a year ago when my long-term therapist retired. I had the option of finding a new therapist on my own or being assigned someone in the practice. Of course I considered breaking up with therapy all together, but after eight years it felt unnatural not to go. But I was a drinker of therapy sauce: a true believer in the art of feelings. I imagined people felt that way about church. At the end of the day, I told myself that a weird therapist was better than no therapist.

I disliked Allen Stanford on sight. Grubby. He is the grownup version of the kindergarten booger eater. A mouth breather with a slow, stiff smile. I was hoping he’d grow on me.

Dr. Stanford clears his throat.

“That’s hard to listen to for me, so I can only imagine how you must feel.”

Every year, on the anniversary of Piper’s kidnapping, I listen to the recording of the 911 call I made from the lobby of the Five Dollar. When I close my eyes, I can still see the blue diamond carpet and the blinking neon popcorn sign.

“Do you want to take a break?”

“A break from what?”

“It must be hard for you to hear that even now…”

That is true, reliving the worst day of my life never gets easier. The smell of popcorn is attached to the memory, and I feel nauseated. A cold chill sweeps over me. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I nod once.

“What happened after you hung up the phone?”

“I waited…what else could I do? I was afraid they were outside waiting to take me too. My brain hadn’t fully caught up to what was happening. I felt like I was dreaming.”

My voice is weighed down with shame; in the moments after my twin was taken, I was thinking of my own safety, worried that her kidnappers would come back. Why hadn’t I chased the car down the street, or at least paid attention to the license plate so I could give it to the cops? Hindsight was a sore throat.

“I wanted to call Gran.” I shake my head. “I thought I was crazy because I’d dialed her number hundreds of times and I just… I forgot. I had to wait for the cops.”

My lungs feel like they’re compressing. I force a deep breath.

“I guess it took five minutes for the cops to get there, but if you asked me that day, I would have said it took an hour.”

When I close my eyes, I can still see the city block in detail— smell the fry oil drifting across the street from the McDonald’s.

“The cops parked their cruiser on the street in front of the theater,” I continue. “I was afraid of them. My mother was an addict—she hated cops. To certain people, cops only show up to take things away, you know?”

He nods like he knows, and maybe he does, maybe he had a mom like mine, but for the last twenty years, he’s been going to Disney World—according to the photos on his desk—and that somehow disqualifies him in my mind as a person who’s had things taken away from him.

I take another sip of water, the memories rushing back. I close my eyes, wanting to remember, but not wanting to feel— a fine line.

I was shaking when I stumbled out of the theater and ran toward the cop car, drunk with shock, the syrupy soda pooling in my belly. My toe hit a crack in the asphalt and I rolled my ankle, scraping it along the side of the curb. I made it to them, staggering and crying, scared out of my mind—and that’s when things had gone from bad to worse.

“Tell me about your exchange with the police,” he prompts. “What, if anything, did they do to help you in that moment?”

The antiquated anger begins festering now, my hands fisting into rocks. “Nothing. They arrived already not believing me. The first thing they asked was if I had taken any drugs. Then they wanted to know if Piper did drugs.”

The one with the watery eyes—I remember him having a lot of hair. It poked out the top of his shirt, tufted out of his ears. The guy whose glasses I could see my face in—he had no hair. But what they had both worn that day was the same bored, cynical expression. I sigh. “To them, teenagers who looked like me did drugs. They saw a tweaker, not a panicked, traumatized, teenage girl.”

“What was your response?”

“I denied it—said no way. For the last six months, my sister had been hanging with a church crowd. She spent weekends going to youth group and Bible study. If anyone was going to do drugs at that point, it would have been me.”

He writes something down on his notepad. Later I’ll try to imagine what it was, but for now I am focused.

“They thought I was lying—I don’t even know about what, just lying. The manager of the theater came outside to see what was going on, and he brought one of his employees out to confirm to the police that I had indeed come in with a girl who looked just like me, and three men. I asked if I could call my gran, who had custody of us.”

“Did they let you?”

“Not at first. They ignored me and just kept asking questions. The bald one asked if I lived with her, but before I could answer his question, the other one was asking me which way the car went. It was like being shot at from two different directions.” I lean forward in my seat to stretch my back. I’m so emotionally spiked, both of my legs are bouncing. I can’t make eye contact with him; I’m trapped in my own story—helpless and fifteen.

“The men who took my sister—they took my phone. The cops wanted to know how I called 911. I told them the manager let me use the phone inside the theater. They were stuck on the phone thing. They wanted to know why the men would take my phone. I screamed, ‘I have no idea. Why would they take my sister?’”

“They weren’t hearing you,” he interjects.

I stare at him. I want to say No shit, Sherlock, but I don’t. Shrinks are here to edit your emotions with adjectives in order to create a TV Guide synopsis of your issues. Today on an episode of Iris in Therapy, we discover she has never felt heard!

“I was hysterical by the time they put me in the cruiser to take me to the station. Being in the back of that car after just seeing Piper get kidnapped—it was like I could feel her panic. Her need to get away. They drove me to the station…” I pause to remember the order of how things happened.

“They let me call my grandmother, and then they put me in a room alone to wait. It was horrible—all the waiting. Every minute of that day felt like ten hours.”

“Trauma often feels that way.”

“It certainly does,” I say. “Have you ever been in a situation that makes you feel that way—like every minute is an hour?” I lean forward, wanting a real answer. Seconds tick by as he considers me from behind his desk. Therapists don’t like to answer questions. I find it hypocritical. I try to ask as many as I can just to make it fair.

Excerpt from Good Half Gone by Tarryn Fisher. Copyright © 2024 by Tarryn Fisher. Published by Graydon House.

About the Author

Photo Credit: HarperCollins

Tarryn Fisher is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of nine novels. Born a sun hater, she currently makes her home in Seattle, Washington, with her children, husband, and psychotic husky. She loves connecting with her readers on Instagram.

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March 18, 2024

HTP Winter Reads Blog Tour Promo Post: The Day Tripper by James Goodhand

at 3/18/2024 01:00:00 AM 0 comments

What if you lived your days out of order?

It’s 1995, and twenty-year-old Alex Dean has it all: a spot at Cambridge University next year, the love of an amazing woman named Holly and all the time in the world ahead of him. That is until a brutal encounter with a ghost from his past sees him beaten, battered and almost drowning in the Thames.

He wakes the next day to find he’s in a messy, derelict room he’s never seen before, in grimy clothes he doesn’t recognize, with no idea of how he got there. A glimpse in the mirror tells him he’s older—much older—and has been living a hard life, his features ravaged by time and poor decisions. He snatches a newspaper and finds it’s 2010—fifteen years since the fight.

After finally drifting off to sleep, Alex wakes the following morning to find it’s now 2019, another nine years later. But the next day, it’s 1999. Never knowing which day is coming, he begins to piece together what happens in his life after that fateful night by the river.

Why does his life look nothing like he thought it would? What about Cambridge, and Holly? In this page-turning adventure, Alex must navigate his way through the years to learn that small actions have untold impact, even in a life lived out of order. And that might be all he needs to save the people he loves and, equally importantly, himself.

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SEPTEMBER 6, 1995 | AGE 20

It’s three-deep at the bar, and I get my order in seconds before they ring for time. I double up: a JD and Coke each and two beers to take with us. The lights are up and the music’s gone quiet as I weave the tray through the punters. Standing in the doorway out to the terrace, I am disorientated. There must be fifty tables outside between here and the river and it’s still packed out, darker and smokier than ever. I search the crowd but can’t see Holly.

I negotiate my way down to the water’s edge. She’s maybe ten tables away, oblivious, a ciggie poised skyward in her fingers like she’s posing for Vettriano. I smirk, enjoy my good fortune again.

“Excuse me, good gentlemen,” I say to a group of four in my path, voice cocky with booze and lust. They shuffle over, not breaking from their conversation. The resulting gap between their circle and the edge of the path isn’t wide enough—a careless elbow would send the tray of drinks into the river, possibly me with them.

“If you don’t mind, guys?” I lay a palm on the forearm of the bloke with his back to me. Their circle opens out and he turns side-on, ushering me past. “Nice one,” I say, glancing at him as I pass.

I look back at the ground. There’s a delay in my brain processing who it is I’m walking past. There’s a moment in which it seems that we’ll just carry on, pretend like we don’t know each other.

The air thickens. Time slows. I stop, a step past him. Look again. Razor-sharp short back and sides, hooded eyes, lopsided mouth. Preppy. It’s a face I catch myself imagining sometimes, never for long. A waking nightmare. Not that my imagination does it justice. Not even close, I now realize.

His recognition of me unfolds in slow motion. Perhaps like me, alcohol has dulled his synapses, delayed the inevitable shift of mode.

Blake Benfield. There have been times in the past when just hearing that name in my head has stopped me dead, left me incapable.

How long since we last ran into each other? I was sixteen—best part of four years, then. Feels so recent. Our paths crossing has always been inevitable; we grew up barely a mile apart. He spat at me that last time, called me faggot cunt. The many times before that I’d just legged it, hidden from his fury and his hatred. But you get too old to do that.

This crowded place seems so quiet now. Like there’s cotton wool stuffed in my ears. The two bottles tip over on my trembling tray, foam splattering to the ground. One rolls over the edge and shatters on the concrete. People turn.

How long have we stood here, him glaring at me, me unable to hold his stare? Saying nothing. A few seconds? Feels longer.

There’s the smell of burned-out house in my nose. The sound of his whisper in my ears that I try to drown out.

Don’t think about it. Do not think about that day.

Why do I shake? I’m a fucking grown man. Why am I shaking?

He takes a half step closer to me.

I once told him I was sorry. It was years ago—when I was still a kid. I was sorry. Does he remember?

I spin around. Where’s Holly? She must be watching this.

There’s no more delay. There is, of course, nothing for me and this bloke to say to each other. We have ventured into each other’s space, and that brings with it a remembering. And, as we always have, we must deal with that in our own way.

His knuckles graze my chin. I stumble backward and the tray falls to the ground. His swing is off, though; there is no pain. Not even surprise. We definitely have an audience now.

My response is pure instinct: palms raised, lean away. Easy now.

I don’t want to fight this man. I want to go back thirty seconds, walk a different route, have this night back for myself.

Blake closes the gap, my weakness an invitation. His second punch crashes into my ear like a swinging girder. My brain slaps side to side in my skull. Vision sways. My head boils, a cool trickle from my eardrum.

Where is Holly? Panic grips. I can’t just stand here and take this.

My eyes flit to our audience. He swings again, this time with his left. But I see it coming, dodge. He stumbles.

I drive my weight, shoulder first, into his ribs. He goes over, sprawled among the spilled drinks and shattered glass.

On all fours, he stares up at me. I’m perfectly positioned. I could kick him square in the face. End this right now. Why don’t I do it? Why can’t I bring myself to do it? I’d rather turn my back and cry than kick his head in.

He glares up at me. Why do I pity him? Why am I so uncomfortable towering over him like this? It’s like the positions we’ve always held have been reversed. The power is mine.

I let him find his feet.

He’s up and level with me again. He glares like a bloodthirsty dog, wipes his nose on the sleeve of his polo shirt. If we were alone, maybe I’d run. But with people watching, with Holly watching, that’s no option.

My punch lands perfectly. His jaws scissor against each other. For a second his head floats, eyes rolling.

I realize my error too late. I should’ve followed up when I had the chance. One punch is only enough in the movies, everyone knows that. His hands are on the collar of my shirt, cloth tearing as he holds firm. His forehead slams into the bridge of my nose like a sledgehammer. My face is suddenly and totally numb. I drop to the ground. A ruby-red stain spreads fast through the jewels of broken glass around me.

He shouts above me. Every filthy word I’ve long come to expect. Something soft disperses against my head. Spit.

The neck of the Stella bottle I dropped lies on the ground. Inches away. Blood gurgles in my mouth as I take a deep breath. I launch like a sprinter. Leading with the dagger of green glass, I’m aiming straight at his face and closing fast.

Blake backs into a table, stumbles, hands slow to cover his face. His eyes widen, abject fear. But this is no time to be derailed.

I see it too late. No time to react. One of Blake’s friends windmilling a table ashtray. The side of my skull cracks like thunder.

The ground feels like a cushion, drawing me in and bouncing me back. My vision finds enough order in time to see the sole of boot accelerating toward me, like a cartoon piano from the sky.

There is no pain. Just a sense of floating in space.

Time passes. More blows land.

The surface of the Thames billows like a black satin sheet as it rises toward me. There’s no fear. Is that Holly I can hear calling my name? It’s so distant, so hard to tell.

The river gathers me in like it’s here to take care of me.

Cool water spears my lungs like sharpened icicles. I sink forever.

A low hum builds in my ears. Lights fades to nothing.

And I sleep.

NOVEMBER 30, 2010 | AGE 35

My head throbs. It doesn’t matter if I open or close my eyes, the pain worsens either way. My mouth is like dust. Joints and muscles lie seized.

Last night is a blank. I hate that. I look above me. Focusing is excruciating. The ceiling is browny cream, textured in spikes like a Christmas cake. An unshaded bulb swings in the draft, the filament shivering. It’s really cold in here.

Where the fucking hell am I?

Excerpted from THE DAY TRIPPER by James Goodhand. Copyright © 2024 by James Goodhand. Published by MIRA Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.

About the Author

Photo Credit: HarperCollins

James Goodhand has written two YA novels. His YA debut, Last Lesson, was called "a powerfully charged study in empathy," by the Financial Times. THE DAY TRIPPER is his adult debut. He lives in England with his wife and young son.

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