A MelanieM Review: Fireworks & Wild Cards (The Wheel Mysteries #3) by Susan Laine

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Sequel to Devil’s Own
The Wheel Mysteries: Book Three – Litha Festival

Fireworks and Wild Cards coverWhen Gus Goodwin’s friend and mentor, Juliette Hayes, asks him to find out who’s stealing small sums from the cashbox of her Moonlight Haven Coven, Gus agrees. What’s the worst that could happen? They catch a small-time thief and, with any luck, retrieve a few bucks. Gus enlists the help of his boyfriend, PI Niall Valentine, and Niall’s retired police officer father, Owain, to go undercover and solve the mystery.

On the night of the next full moon ritual, however, the coven is struck with a fatal blow.

Now Gus and Niall face more than a murder mystery. The coven is torn apart, and along comes an eccentric psychic and Tarot master—plus a familiar face both Gus and Niall had hoped was long gone. As fireworks ignite and wild cards are spread, Gus and Niall have their work cut out for them.

Last year after I finished reading the first two stories in The Wheel Mysteries, (Sparks & Drops, Devil’s Own) I interviewed the author, Susan Laine, to talk about the Wiccan religion and the series, which I love.  One (of the many) things that came from that fascinating interview, was that this is an eight-book series, one story for each Wicca festival.  Fireworks & Wild Cards focuses on the midsummer solstice festival of Litha, the celebration of the longest day of the year.   Into the fabric of this story of murder, mystery and love, Laine continues to weave in-depth knowledge of the Wiccan religion, its fundamental tenets, history, rites and fight for acceptance.  This unique framework has made this series not only one of my anticipated “reads” as each new story rolls out, but the author’s wide scope of knowledge and ability to make this religion accessible through her characters and plot make it a highlight of the year.

This book picks up directly after the events of Devil’s Own, a book that moves its characters, all of them, into a time of change and uncertainty.  The main characters, Gus the Wiccan bookstore owner, and Niall, the private detective, are 3 months into their new relationship and it’s a little unsteady on its new feet.  For some readers, that will be a little surprising. Most of us are used to books that move the romance and relationship right along at a steady clip.  That doesn’t happen here (8 books remember).  So the opening scenes and chapter where a simple conversation blows up into something unexpected might take some readers aback.  That’s when you have to remind yourself that this is still a very new relationship between two very strong people who weren’t even sure they were looking for love when it smacked into them.  Niall and Gus are still trying to find their way with each other and their new status as lovers.  I really like that about this couple and story..  Their attraction and feelings for each other were quick to form but we never question that they are deeply felt and real. But like any believable couple, they question their partnership, feelings and course of the relationship. Miscommunication happens!

So believable a couple.  I just love that and them.

Now add in two or more plots  that move across a landscape of the Wiccan religion and things turn engrossing.  Each story involves a self contained mystery and murders that normally get solved by the end of the story.  However, there is also a larger intrigue at work in the series.  And each book moves that umbrella storyline forward clue by incremental clue.  How I love the layers the author weaves into these books  and relationships.

Another strong element here and throughout the series are the multidimensional characters.  This includes women and men.  There are the members of the Moonlight Haven Coven, including head priestess, Juliette Hayes, Owain Valentine (Niall’s retired police officer dad), and the return of Autumnsong, an enigmatic persona as elusive as the mist.  It’s primarily through their interactions with each other and the mysteries that center on the Coven and Gus that allows Laine to explore the rites and beliefs of the Wiccan religion. And the prejudices that exist against it.

The only issues I have with this book and the others is the fact that I feel they end too soon.  Perhaps that’s because I always want more…of the couples and their relationships and more of the series storyline.  I am beginning to see more than just the vague outline of a sinister plot at work, the clues are pointing a certain way but the speculation is killing me!  And I have 5 more books to go!

So what’s in store for us in The Wheel Mysteries stories to come?  Let’s hear it from Susan Laine herself.

From my interview with Susan Laine:

“There are eight wiccan festivals, or sabbats, in a year that coincide with similar festivals in other religious and secular calendars: Samhain or Halloween, Yule or Christmas, Imbolc or Candlemas, Ostara or Easter, Beltane or May Day, Litha or Midsummer Festival, Lughnasadh or Lammas, and lastly Mabon which has no historical or modern equivalent. The cycle of these eight seasonal celebrations together forms the Wheel of the Year.

Lughnasadh, the harvest festival, is up next, and that story will feature Autumnsong more prominently, as we get to know what makes him tick.”

I can’t wait!  Until then you will find me rereading the first 3 stories, looking for clues and enjoying the start of an unusual and deeply loving relationship.  And yes, I highly recommend this story and series!

Cover art by Brooke Albrecht.  Love these covers.  The design is beautiful, its relevance spot on, and it forms a cohesive branding with the other stories and covers.  Great job.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press All Romance (ARe)Amazon   Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 210 pages, also in paperback (DSP)
Published June 1st 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781632169358
edition languageEnglish
seriesThe Wheel Mysteries #3
other editions (1)

The Wheel Mysteries to date in the order they should be read:

Sparks & Drops coverDevil's Own coverFireworks and Wild Cards cover

 

Author Spotlight: BJ on Author Jaye McKenna

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Author Recs!

 A BJ Author Rec: Author Jaye McKenna

Burn The Sky cover

The first time I picked up a book by Jaye McKenna was during the 2014 Don’t Read in the Closet event put on by the Goodreads M/M Romance group. It was a free story, and it was awesome. Then I found out it was the second of a series, so I went back and read the first freebie book, Human Frailties from the previous year’s event. Then another freebie, Facing the Mirror. I enjoyed all three. I requested a review copy of her newest book, Burn the Sky, and promptly fell in love with the broken ice dragon, Ilya. But it was when I went back and read the expanded version of Human Frailties, Human Strengths that I completely fell in love, irrevocably and head over heels. Ashnavayarian has stolen my heart and its for so many reasons but really, really its just like that quote by Michel de Montaigne, “because he was he.” There is just something magical and unique about him—so strong, yet he has his vulnerable moments. He’s imperfect, starts out self-centered and snarky but he’s growing and changing. And its so fun to see.

This author pushes some of my buttons big time, because I love angst and broken boys. Especially ones with long hair (ok, it’s a fetish of mine!). This author’s boys never have an easy time of it, they go through the wringer a few times over for their HEA. I eat that right up. The heat and sexual tension buildup that I love is always there. There’s snarky characters and witty dialogue.

Then there is her world. Most of McKenna’s stories are set in the same well-developed and nuanced fantasy world. The fantasy stories are separated from the more sci-fi ones by thousands of years, but it all ties in and builds… it sucked me in.

Jaye McKenna serves up magic meets science. Its lovely, nuanced broken boys getting slowly put back together and finding love. With a hefty dose of hot and sexy on top.

                                                                       ~  BJ

 

About author Jaye McKenna –

Jaye McKenna was born a Brit and was dragged, kicking and screaming, across the Pond at an age when such vehement protest was doomed to be misinterpreted as a “paddy”. She grew up near a sumac forest in Minnesota and spent most of her teen years torturing her parents with her electric guitar and her dark poetry. She was punk before it was cool and a grown-up long before she was ready. Jaye writes fantasy and science fiction stories about hot guys who have the hots for each other. She enjoys making them work darn hard for their happy endings, which might explain why she never gets invited to their parties.

You can find Jaye McKenna at the following:

Website , Twitter,  Goodreads Author Page

Human Choices coverHuman Frailties Human Strengths coverBurn The Sky coverPsi Hunter cover

Books You May Have Missed from Jaye McKenna (with links to BJ’s Reviews):

And look for the following books and their reviews from BJ in the upcoming weeks…

  • Psi Hunter (Guardians of the Pattern, #1)
  • Gremlin’s Last Run (Guardians of the Pattern, #2)
  • Ghost in the Mythe (Guardians of the Pattern, #3.0)

A Mika Review: Murder and Mayhem (Murder and Mayhem #1) by Rhys Ford

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Rating: 4.5 star out of 5 stars

Murder and Mayhem coverDead women tell no tales.

Former cat burglar Rook Stevens stole many a priceless thing in the past, but he’s never been accused of taking a life—until now. It was one thing to find a former associate inside Potter’s Field, his pop culture memorabilia shop, but quite another to stumble across her dead body.

Detective Dante Montoya thought he’d never see Rook Stevens again—not after his former partner’d falsified evidence to entrap the jewelry thief and Stevens walked off scot-free. So when he tackled a fleeing murder suspect, Dante was shocked to discover the blood-covered man was none other than the thief he’d fought to put in prison and who still made his blood sing.

Rook is determined to shake loose the murder charge against him, even if it means putting distance between him and the rugged Cuban-Mexican detective who brought him down. If one dead con artist wasn’t bad enough, others soon follow, and as the bodies pile up around Rook’s feet, he’s forced to reach out to the last man he’d expect to believe in his innocence—and the only man who’s ever gotten under Rook’s skin.

Every chance I get to read a Rhys Ford book I do. Last year I was introduced to Dirty Kiss and fell immediately in love with the writing as well as the characters. I find her stories very well woven together and I absolutely love them. Here I was sad thinking of the end to come with the Cole McGinnis series, and she brings up Murder and Mayhem.

I’m happy to say I was privileged to read an Arc copy of this story, and of course it’s done perfectly.

Just the name Dante Montoya has me shuddering. Ugh, I’m still squeeing on the inside and it’s 3 days later. He was the perfect man to me. It’s hard reading any book by R.F and not end up comparing this character to Cole-ah. I can’t do it. Cole has wormed him way into my heart and ain’t anybody getting through.

But Montoya fought and clawed his way in. I really do love the class of characters that she brought to the world in this one. Rook Stevens, was done perfectly too. I loved the chemistry between these two men, and I loved Rook’s vulnerability. It didn’t make him weak, but he has every reason to be skeptical. If I had a man like Dante Montoya on my heels, I’d lay down for him and let him have his bloody way with me!

The plot was well done. Anything jewel heist/treasure hunt I’m all in. I did figure out the villain ahead of time, which I’m shocked by. My favorite thing about this story was Archie. I find Rhys portrayal of the older generation spot on. It was some heartfelt moments in here. The heat level was just right. I’m most likely going to re-read this a couple more times until book #2 comes along. Good Job, Rhys, Thank you for continuing to write these amazing books.

Cover Art by: I liked this cover a lot. I love how her books are always so colorful. I think it caught my eye because this Rook was beautiful as well as all her other covers.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press eBook & Paperback –  All Romance (ARe)Amazon   Buy It Here

Book Details: eBook, 236 pages, June 5th, 2015 by MLR Dreamspinner Press

An LGBTQIA Non-fiction Book Spotlight: Denial, Deceit, Discovery by J. James (excerpt and giveaway)

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Denial, Deceit, Discovery by J. James
Release Date: May, 2013

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Goodreads Link
Publisher: Inkslingers Publishing

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Sales Links:  Amazon US Amazon UKBarnes and Noble

 

STRW Author BookSynopsis

Denial, Deceit, Discovery is the heart-rending story based on true events in the life of Jack Ellis; a young Catholic man deep in denial of his own homosexuality. It tells the story of how his own denial and the denial of his loved ones forced him to conform to the straight world, resulting in his marriage to his high school sweetheart. After years of cruising gay porn sites, chatting online with endless guys and intimate encounters with close friends, Jack was pulled into a life of deceit with a string of sexual partners.

The story explains the pain and suffering of those around him as his secrets unfold and honesty rises up. The torture endured as Jack struggles to piece together the complex story of his own sexuality is truly moving. Escaping the shame, Jack flees to Bangkok with his gay lover where a much greater world of deceit and discovery awaits them both.

Denial, deceit, discovery will make you laugh, cry, cringe and blush as Jack’s story unfolds from a life of shame to one of hope and acceptance for homosexual men.

Pages or Words: 364 pages

Categories: Non-fiction

STRW Spotlight Book Excerpt

PROLOGUE

‘Did you ever think of men when you masturbated?’

Sometimes I cannot believe I have arrived at this point. This is one of many direct and personal questions from the Catholic priest dealing with my annulment. I cannot help but sense his judgement of me. From his failure to hide his disgust to the way his sunken, weathered eyes glare at me as he waits for my sordid responses. I am sitting in a room that reminds me of a nursing home. It is bitterly cold; though I’m not sure if I am shivering from the cold or the depth of questioning. Excessively floral wallpaper with clashing printed soft furnishings was never a good look. The mahogany 70’s style furniture pieces marked the perimeter of the room and the over-sized portrait of God’s beloved son hanging above the chimneybreast was particularly distracting. I did not feel comfortable discussing my love of cock with a priest, let alone with Jesus in the room!

Two years after our thirteen year relationship ended, I have been instructed by my now ex-wife to visit the priest to support her annulment application – a Catholic loophole that allows two Catholics to declare that their marriage never truly existed. We have to prove that I was incapable of willingly entering into the marriage due to my underlying, yet undiscovered, homosexuality. Personally I do not have the patience for this, but it is a small gift for my ex-wife that will enable her to one day remarry in the eyes of God.

In 2001 we married after seven happy years and we stayed married for another six, although maybe these were not as happy as the first seven. And why did I do it? Why did I marry a girl when the answer to the opening question was YES! Quite simply, because I loved her. When I stood there on the day of our wedding it never entered my mind that I was lying, or trying to cover up or trick anyone. I simply loved her and wanted to spend my entire life with her. On reflection, I guess I knew I was gay but I certainly did not want to live my life as a gay man. At that point I had never admitted to myself that I was indeed gay; something I have come to regret. It was not out of malice or false intentions, rather just total confusion and denial; born out of an upbringing in a straight, Catholic world. The signs were all there, but no one ever asked me the question and, therefore, I had no reason to even question it myself.

I have spent many a sleepless night trying to piece together the complex story of my sexuality and can now define three distinct periods in my life: one of denial, one of deceit and a final time of discovery. To some extent they are chronological but there are many overlaps whilst in each phase of my life. When I finally declared my sexuality at the age of thirty-one, I ended the thirty-one years of denial – a pretty hefty sentence for anyone! To some extent I am still there now. But there have been many exciting and somewhat dangerous discoveries along the way; from early childhood fumbles with girls, mutual masturbation sessions with male friends as teenagers first discovering porn, to naive visits to male prostitutes as a young man and random hook ups with strangers off the internet as a married man. With some of these discoveries came webs of deceit shrouded in guilt, lies and more confusion. But it was these very experiences that have shaped the gay man I am today – one who has found true monogamous love.

Since accepting my homosexuality, many people have used the line, ‘You had a choice…’ but to me it was anything but a choice. In fact, I would say I did everything possible to choose not to be gay and despite my greatest efforts to suppress who I really was; eventually it came and bit me on the arse anyway.

STRW Author Bio and Contacts

About J. James:

Denial, Deceit, Discovery is a new work of fiction by J. James. Written in the style of a personal memoir, James tells the complex, engaging and moving coming out story of the book’s main character, Jack Ellis. Jack is a young Catholic man living in the UK who struggles mightily on the road to self-awareness. Jack’s life is inspired by many events experienced by the author, but the universal themes of honesty, personal growth and acceptance transcend one person’s story. Denial, Deceit, Discovery will make you laugh, cry, cringe and blush as Jack’s life evolves from shame and embarrassment, to hope and acceptance. It’s a wholly relatable tale that will speak to anyone who has struggled to understand an aspect of his or her identity.

After over a decade of teaching, educational management and administration, James needed to find an outlet to share his personal story. As a lifelong lover of literature and writing, James has dedicated his career to educating students, helping them develop the tools they’ll need to share their stories in the future.

His first manuscript was inspired by the response James received from the Catholic priest who officiated his marriage annulment. As part of the process, James was asked to submit a small document outlining his feelings about the events that culminated in the failure of his marriage. The priest commented that the piece was the most moving and impactful account he had ever read. He called it an “inspiration” to other men and women struggling with similar situations. After exploring many options, James realized that his story could help people to understand the complex issues facing gay men in denial – hopefully, helping to spare others from the heartache he and his loved ones experienced.

James currently lives and works in Southeast Asia. He enjoys the tropical climate, and the relaxed pace, which has provided him with the opportunity to continue developing ideas for his second novel.

Where to find the author:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Denial-Deceit-Discovery/579655628715059
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/jack.ellis.5220
Twitter: https://twitter.com/je1author
Other: http://www.jjamesauthor.com/

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Enter to win a Rafflecopter Prize: One of five e-copies of ‘Denial, Deceit, Discovery’ by J. James.  Must be 18 years of age or older to enter. Link and prizes provided by the author and Pride Promotions.
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In the Book Spotlight: The Storm Before The Calm by Cate Ashwood (Author interview and giveaway)

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The Storm Before The Calm by Cate Ashwood
Release Date: June 5, 2015

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Goodreads Link
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Anna Sikorska

Sales Links at Dreamspinner Press
E-book – Paperback

My Interview with Cate Ashwood!

1. Dancing is so very sexual. Is that what made you make it a central component of your story?
Partly. I wanted the guys dancing together because there is such an intimate connection between partners when they’re dancing together. A lot of the time it can be sexual, but it goes beyond that too. There’s a level of trust needed for lifts, a certain amount of connection needed to know where your partner is at all times, even without looking at him. I wanted all that for Charlie and Max. And since dance is such an explicit form of expression, I needed Charlie to be able to come into who he was through something he loved.

2. When I think of dancers, I think of people totally at home in their skin. What is it about dancers that made you want to make it a passion for your characters?
That was a huge part of it! Dance was the one place that Charlie felt safe to be himself, even if he wasn’t able to admit out loud who he was. It was an outlet for him as it is for so many kids (and was for me, too, which makes it very close to my heart).

3. I can think of several of my favorite movies with dancing at its heart. From The Red Shoes to Dirty Dancing to The Turning Point, even today those movies take me to another place. Do you have any favorites? Or favorite dancers?
Oh God. So many! Of course the classics like Dirty Dancing and Strictly Ballroom. One of my favourites of all time is Singin’ in the Rain (which of course isn’t a movie about dancing, but there’s enough in it to make me giddy). And I’ll admit to loving the cheesier ones too, like Center Stage (which was huge for me when I was a kid), Step Up, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.

4. What was the inspiration behind this title and characters?
The title comes from the song that I imagined them dancing to. “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” by John Mayer. I love the song and I saw a video of a dance choreographed to it that lit a spark for Charlie and Max. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hk9-qH5fyTU
When I heard that line of lyrics, I knew it was perfect for Charlie. It’s exactly his path–the storm is within him but eventually he finds his happily ever after.
Charlie came first. To a certain degree, he’s a very exaggerated picture of me when I was younger. Thankfully, I never went through anything close to what Charlie endured, but I knew people who did. The world can be an ugly place sometimes, and often people can’t even see it. Max was created for Charlie, not only to give him the love he deserved, but to help be the catalyst for Charlie to discover who he was.

5. I have always loved the “truthfulness” you seem to bring out of every situation in your stories when it comes to exploring a person’s growing aware of their sexuality. what do you think makes your scenes stand out with such authenticity and realness?
Wow. Thank you so much! I try to write as close to real life as I can. I know there’s a certain fantasy element that’s required when it comes to writing romance, but I always strive to make my characters as authentic as I can. I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a bit of me in all of them, but I think that’s true for all authors. It’s impossible to create someone else without leaving traces of yourself within them.

In terms of sexuality, that’s difficult for me. I was raised in a very open household (I was taught about the birds and the bees at age 4) and my parents were always very supportive and welcoming of conversation and discussion if ever I had questions. Despite it all, I’ve always been borderline prudish when it came to talking about sex. I had a hard time telling my parents that my husband and I were going to have a baby because it would mean admitting that I wasn’t a virgin (which was ridiculous, I know). So for me, writing about characters coming to terms with themselves as sexual beings and expressing those emotions and that desire is liberating because I had such a difficult time with it myself.

6. What’s next for Cate Ashwood?
Lots! I have a book coming out at the end of the month that I co-wrote with L.J. LaBarthe called Brick by Brick. That one drops on the 29th.
On the 15th of July, the second book in the Newport Boys series (Keeping Sweets was the first) comes out. This one is Colt’s story!

I have a novel in edits right now called Tasting Notes. It’s the first in a new series and it’s about a venture capitalist who one day realizes that he has money but not happiness, so he takes off for California to spread his grandfather’s ashes and take a step back from work. He arrives and buys a winery on a whim, and then meets the son of the original owners who is none too happy about him taking over his parents’ legacy.

There are a few more books in the works, as well–I am set to finish the first book in yet another series in the next few days. This one is about emergency service personnel. The first book follows a paramedic and a forensic pathologist. I also have two more co-writes that will hopefully be finished soon, one with Skylar Cates, and the other with LJ. And then eventually finishing up all the series with a few standalones thrown in for good measure. It’s going to be a busy year!

STRW Author BookSynopsis

Charlie has one passion in life: dancing. It’s his salvation when it feels like the world is swallowing him whole. When his mom secretly secures him a spot in the summer intensive at the Free Rein Dance Company in New York, he is thrilled. He knows that once the summer ends, he’ll have to return to Beacon to get a job and help support his family, but for those two months, he can spread his wings.

In New York he meets Max, a junior instructor who is everything Charlie wishes he could be. Bold and self-assured, Max radiates pride in who he is. As they spend time together, Max shows Charlie what life can be like past the walls of his closed-minded home town. But Charlie doesn’t know if he’s ready to show the world who he truly is when standing in the spotlight is the last thing he wants.

Pages or Words: 62,000 words

Categories: Contemporary, Gay fiction, M/M Romance, Romance

STRW Spotlight Book Excerpt

My fingers tugged at the edge of the cardboard cozy wrapped around the cup as I waited for him to speak. The silence between us felt heavy, and the awkwardness settled in around me as he stared at me, his mouth quirked in a playful expression.

“What?” I asked finally.

“Nothing,” he replied, smiling. “So I guess we should get started.”

“Sure.”

“I think maybe just one, two songs at most. The festival isn’t until the end of the summer, so we have lots of time.”

“What festival is it again?” I asked.

“OutShine,” he responded.

“What kind of festival is that?” I asked.

“It’s a big arts festival that takes place throughout the city, mostly in parks. There are exhibits and performances, and a huge celebration at the end. It was started a few years ago to raise awareness and money for gay rights.”

“Oh. Are you… I mean….”

“Gay?” Max supplied.

“Yeah.”

“Yes. Are you?”

“I… no, uh I…,” I stuttered. I was stunned by how nonchalant and completely unapologetic he’d been about his sexuality, as though admitting to me he was gay was the most ordinary thing in the whole world. A part of me wished I could do that. I could nod and say the words like it was as natural as telling him I was blond or I liked chocolate ice cream.

“It’s okay, Charlie. No big deal. You don’t have to be gay to participate. Originally, all the artists were gay, but it has grown and evolved now to include everyone, which is how it should be,” Max said, shooting me an understanding look.

I should have corrected him. I should have told him, but I’d never said the words out loud. Hell, it was hard enough for me to form that three-word sentence in my head. Even as I sat there, my brain rebelled, doing its own version of sticking its fingers in its ears and humming. So instead of being honest with him about who I was, I let him assume I was something else.

 

RC

 

STRW Author Bio and Contacts

Cate Ashwood wrote her very first story in a hot-pink binder when she was in the second grade and found her passion for writing. Her first successful foray into romance writing came five years later when she wrote her best friend, who was experiencing a case of unrequited love, her own happily ever after.
Cate’s life has taken a number of different and adventurous roads. She now lives a stone’s throw from the ocean, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband, her brand new little boy, and her two cats. Her life is filled with family and friends, travel, and, of course, books.

Where to find the author:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cate.ashwood
Facebook Author Page
Twitter: https://twitter.com/cateashwood
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/cateashwood/
Other: http://www.cateashwood.com

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Giveaway: Must be 18 years of age or older to enter. Link and prizes provided by the author and Pride Promotions. Enter to win a Rafflecopter Prize: E-copy of ‘The Storm Before the Calm’ by Cate Ashwood.

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