A MelanieM Release Day Review: Whiskey and Moonshine by Elizabeth Noble

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

Drunk on love.

Like a well-aged whiskey, master distiller and old-money entrepreneur Malone Kensington is elegant and refined. Unfortunately he’s also a perfectionist who is more dedicated to the success of his generations-old company than his own love life.

That company needs a public spokesman.

What Colton Hale lacks in sophistication, he more than makes up for with the charisma that’s allowed him to survive on the street from a young age and charm his way into the lucrative—if overwhelming—public position at the Kensington Distillery. When Mal takes Colt under his wing, hoping to polish off his rough edges, opposites attract and a passionate romance blossoms despite the differences in age and background. But can it survive a Kensington Board of Directors who believe Colt is nothing but a gold digger and a kidnapper determined to profit from the love of Mal’s life—dead or alive?

I enjoyed Whiskey and Moonshine, a Dreamspun Desires title by Elizabeth Noble as I do most of her romances.  She created two wonderful main characters in Colton Hale and Mal Kensington, as well as including a age difference/economic level advantage to make it interesting.  On top of that?  The basis and foundation of Whiskey and Moonshine is a famous family held whiskey/moonshine distillery along the line of Jack Daniels so the reader gets some fascinating inside details on how whiskey is cured and stored.  I really could have used a little more of that.  But what we get is enough to provide an authentic “flavor” and framework for Mal and the Kensington Distillery.

I actually found the novel the strongest when it had  Colton working in the janitorial department and scanning the company boards for jobs to work his way up in a company and place he was clearly meant to be.  Touching, real, and given his background, easy to connect with his struggles to move forward.  And delight in a company that continued to accept him.

When the company chooses Colton to be the ‘face” of the distillery, then the novel moves into several new stages.  The romance stage and changes in dynamics for many of the relationships here, including Colton and Mal. We lose that intimate connection Colton was having with the  distillery oddly enough as he becomes it’s spokesperson and it removes him from the actual jobs itself.  Colton keeps saying he wants to learn the business but that’s impossible when your job is public relations and “the road”.  That’s one hole that never gets completely filled in this story.

The warm, loving relationship between Mal and Colton is lovely and sweetly based on complete truths on Colton’s background.  A nice changeup from other novels.  But it’s also a bit of a reality bump for me in the story.  I didn’t have issues with their relationship, not the age difference or anything else for that matter.  Mine was more of a corporate common sense one.  Colton had lived on the  streets for years, turning tricks and doing what he had to survive.  He told Mal and the people who hired him.  Admirable and truthful.  Hire him for lots of things.  But not the very public “face” of Kensington Distillery who appears on The Tonight Show for all his former johns to see.  I really don’t see that happening in RL, nor that he didn’t have even one charge for soliciting after all those years on the streets in Toledo for someone to find.  So that all that strike me as realistic?  Uh, no,  not really.  That strikes me as a public relations nightmare.

Does it come up? No.  Other things yes, this huge one no.  So there are things here you either  just pretend to overlook or they don’t matter to begin with, because you are enjoying the romance so.

And that’s ok, it’s a really sweet romance with some angst and drama in the wings.  It all gets sorted out in time for a HEA in the Smokies.  If you like contemporary romance, Elizabeth Noble, and the Dreamspun Desires line, then Whiskey and Moonshine is another story you will want to grab up.

Cover Artist: Alexandria Corza has done a fine job with the cover and story elements.  Great job.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

 

Book Details:

ebook, 238 pages
Published January 15th 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781640803824
Edition Language English

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Audio Review :The Missing Ingredient by Brian Lancaster and Seb Yarrick (Narrator)

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Chef Marcus Vine is a busy man, running his own popular restaurant in the UK and opening another with an investment partner in New York. But he finds time to step in and help out when he realizes his former best friend’s family needs him. Raine died a year ago and her husband, Tom, is struggling to be everything to his two daughters. 

With Marcus’s help and support, their lives take a turn for the better. And along the way, Marcus’s feelings for Tom—unrequited love—take on a renewed life. And then one day, Tom confesses his attraction to Marcus. He’s not gay, of course. That’s reiterated a number of times. So much so, that this reviewer found it distasteful when they went from that declaration to a simple kiss to penetrative sex. If one isn’t gay, why not try frottage or fellatio first? It just felt wrong and rushed. 

And then, of course, when Tom realizes Marcus has feelings for him, he backs off, and Marcus finds out he’s seeing a woman. So we have the heartbreak action, and the crisis comes when one of the girls needs medical attention and Marcus saves the day. But is Tom grateful? Nope. Now we have the period of breaking off, cooling down, and then the finale with the grand sweeping gesture. And the ending was… There’s not really a way to describe it. Granted, I was listening to an audiobook, but it seemed really bizarre to me—definitely from the pages of an old-fashioned dime novel romance.

Granted all these stories are based on old tropes. And granted, audiobooks pass quickly and there’s no chance to reread sections for clarity, so I could be wrong in my assessment. However, I will say that Seb Yarrick did a nice job on the narration. With a very British accent, he brought authenticity to the feel of the story. But I’m not a fan of gay for you when the character refuses to identify as anything but straight, even after sex, so I can’t rate this higher than 3 stars. As it is, the 3 stars were mostly earned by the narrator.

The cover by Aaron Anderson is a typical Dreamspun cover, with the circle in the center that, in this case, features a handsome man in chef’s coat in front and a man in a bathtub in the background. That is definitely not a scene from the story, but at least the colors are bright and the guy is attractive.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | AmazonAudible | iTunes

Audiobook Details:

Audiobook, 5 pages
Published November 8th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press (first published August 7th 2018)
Edition Language English

Louisa Masters on Writing, Contemporary Romance and her new release ‘The Athlete and the Aristocrat’ (author interview and giveaway)

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The Athlete and the Aristocrat by Louisa Masters

Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Alexandria Corza

Sales Links:

Dreamspinner Press: http://bit.ly/2NuvcEm

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2STNG43

Nook: http://bit.ly/2PshNhb

iBooks: https://apple.co/2zVhUN4

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2C2HP7e

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2L9jhfv

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Louisa Masters here today talking about her latest story The Athlete and the Aristocrate. Welcome, Louisa.

 

✒︎

 

An interview with Louisa Masters

How much of yourself goes into a character?

It depends on the character, but I think there’s a little bit of me in every person I write, although sometimes it’s as simple as a dislike of fish, and other times it can be a major personality quirk.

Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?

Without question. I’ve always preferred books that ended happily. I’ve always, since I was old enough to know what it meant, liked a romantic storyline. I started reading romance when I was eleven (sneakily) and have never stopped. I love fantasy as well, and one day may try my hand at writing one, but it will also be a romance.

Do you like HFN or HEA? And why?

I like both. The key ingredient for me is the H—as long as the story ties up happily, I’m good with it. Some shorter stories feel unrealistic with a HEA, so a HFN works perfectly.

If you write contemporary romance, is there such a thing as making a main character too “real”?  Do you think you can bring too many faults into a character that eventually it becomes too flawed to become a love interest?

I love this question, mostly because after thinking about it for ten minutes, my answer has changed five times. Ultimately, I have to say yes. I think there are some “flaws,” for want of a better word, that make a person irredeemable. That’s not to say that if they were a real person they wouldn’t be able to find love (it’s a weird and sometimes scary world out there), but I don’t think they could ever be the focus of a romance novel. For me, the best kind of development in a “flawed” character is when they become a better person without changing who they fundamentally are, and that assumes that on some level they are a relatable person to begin with, even if readers initially hate them.

 

Have you ever had an issue in RL and worked it through by writing it out in a story?  Maybe how you thought you’d feel in a situation?

Yes, absolutely. One of my M/F novellas touches on the issue of workplace bullying, which I was dealing with at the time I wrote it. I’ve also taken RL situations and written what I’d like to have done, but didn’t—a great example of that was in The Bunny and The Billionaire, when Ben followed the sexy, mysterious stranger into the casino to find out who he was. In real life, I stayed where I was and finished my ice cream, forever doomed to wonder.

 

Ever drunk written a chapter and then read it the next day and still been happy with it?  Trust me there’s a whole world of us drunk writers dying to know.

No, although I may try it sometime 🙂 One time I was at a wedding, drinking steadily in an attempt to make it through the speeches (the best man talked for ten minutes about his car) and live-texting the highlights to Renae Kaye. Most of those texts ended up in a novella of hers, pretty much word for word.

 

If you could imagine the best possible place for you to write, where would that be and why?

I’d love to say a busy café or a hotel terrace overlooking a crowded beach, but the truth is, I’m way too distractible. I already struggle with ignoring social media and email when I’m trying to write. A private, quiet space is the best bet if I want to be productive, although I will vote for a warm climate.

 

With so much going on in the world today, do you write to explain?  To get away?  To move past?  To widen our knowledge?  Why do you write?

I write to escape—the same with reading. Anyone who’s read my books is going to know that deep angst is not my thing. I don’t mind reading it occasionally, but for the most part I’m all about minor angst or none at all. I love including new information and places I’ve travelled to in my books, but ultimately, it’s just an escape to a different world to live with different people. Plus, I love being part of their stories!

 

What’s next for you as a writer?

The Athlete and The Aristocrat is my next release, coming January 1 from Dreamspinner Press. In March I have an M/F novella in the Emerald Isle Enchantment series being released, and I’ve just signed a contract for another M/M novel, set in a fictional theme park complex, that will release in 2019.

The Athlete and The Aristocrat:

Sometimes love takes balls.

Newly retired championship footballer Simon Wood is taking on his next challenge. His plan for a charity to provide funding for underprivileged children to pursue football as a career has passed its first hurdle: he has backers and an executive consultant. Now it’s time to get the ball rolling.

Lucien Morel, heir to the multibillion-euro Morel Corporation, is shocked—and thrilled—to learn his father has volunteered him as consultant to a fledgling football charity. Better yet, the brains behind it all is heartthrob Simon Wood, his teenage idol and crush.

Although Simon and Lucien get off on the wrong foot, it’s not long before they’re getting along like a house on fire—sparks included. But with the charity under public scrutiny, can their romance thrive?

The Giveaway

And don’t forget to enter the Giveaway! http://bit.ly/2CnrBFQ

 

About the Author:

Louisa Masters started reading romance much earlier than her mother thought she should. While other teenagers were sneaking out of the house, Louisa was sneaking romance novels in and working out how to read them without being discovered. She’s spent most of her life feeling sorry for people who don’t read, convinced that books are the solution to every problem. As an adult, she feeds her addiction in every spare second, only occasionally tearing herself away to do things like answer the phone and pay bills. She spent years trying to build a “sensible” career, working in bookstores, recruitment, resource management, administration, and as a travel agent, before finally conceding defeat and devoting herself to the world of romance novels.

Louisa has a long list of places first discovered in books that she wants to visit, and every so often she overcomes her loathing of jet lag and takes a trip that charges her imagination. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she whines about the weather for most of the year while secretly admitting she’ll probably never move.

Website: http://www.louisamasters.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LouisaMastersAuthor

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AuthorLouisaM

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/AuthorLouisaM

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/subscribeLouisaM

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Louisa-Masters/e/B008YBZT0S

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/louisa-masters

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5755521.Louisa_Masters

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: The CEO’s Christmas Manny (Beyond the Boardroom #1) by Angela McCallister

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

From the blurb: Billionaire CEO Nic Price lives for his job. With sales down and grumbling from the board of directors—including Nic’s permanently dissatisfied father—the last thing Nic needs is distraction from the new manny, whose freewheeling approach to childcare is outlandish… and who makes Nic feel things he’s never allowed himself to feel. Ex-teacher Sasha Lindsey is all about fun—that’s the reason people love him, so he has to be. After a bad break-up leaves him jobless and homeless, the live-in manny job with Mr. Price seems like a windfall. But his chemistry with Nic is off the charts, and he can’t afford another workplace romance disaster.

This is a Dreamspun Desires story. As such, it’s based on an old trope: the billionaire falls in love with the nanny, which in this case is the manny. The execution was good overall, but there were segments where it dragged for me and I just wanted it to end.

On the flip side of that, the time it took for the attraction and then the romance to evolve was a plus. I do love a slow-burn romance. There are always pluses and minuses to these trope-based stories. In many cases, it’s nice to see them applied to MM romance, but in some cases, the plot gets bogged down in repetitive detail. In this case, what bugged me most was Nic’s relationship with both parents, primarily his father. He’s the most disgustingly reprehensible businessman I’ve encountered in a while, and of course, a nasty piece of work to his hard-working son who’s dedicated to making their company succeed. Thinking that might even remotely be true in real life hurt down my heart and saddened me so much I found it hard to enjoy the story.

And Sasha was a sweetheart, but another character caught up in the “nobody loves me” trope. For a guy who has so much going for him, his self-worth was sure in the dumps, and he easily thought the worst of Nic. Granted what Nic does is reprehensible (like father like son?) but honestly, I would have loved to see Sasha pop Nic in the nose. In any case, the two fumble their way back together, and we do get a HEA. And we get a nice secondary character in Percy as well, a man who I hope we’ll see in the future. 

If you love these Dreamspun Desires stories, you will likely enjoy this rich man/poor man theme.

Cover by Alexandria Corza is done in the style of other Dreamspun Desires books and shows a ferry on Puget Sound in the background and a man in a business suit in the foreground. It definitely represents the story and the bright color attracts attention.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 222 pages
Expected publication: December 18th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN13 9781644051207
Edition Language English

Cover Reveal for A Model Escort by Amanda Meuwissen

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Title: A Model Escort

Author: Amanda Meuwissen

Cover Artist: Bree Archer http://www.breearcher.com.

Dreamspinner Press

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Buy Links: Dreamspinner Press eBook and  Paperback
Blurb:
What’s the value of love?
Shy data scientist Owen Quinn is brilliant at predictive models but clueless at romance. Fortunately, a new career allows him to start over hundreds of miles from the ex he would rather forget. But the opportunity might go to waste since this isn’t the kind of problem he knows how to solve. The truth is, he’s terrible at making the first move and wishes a connection didn’t have to revolve around sex.
Cal Mercer works for the Nick of Time Escort Service. He’s picky about his clients and has never accepted a regular who is looking for companionship over sex—but can the right client change his mind? And can real feelings develop while money is changing hands? Owen and Cal might get to the root of their true feelings… if their pasts don’t interfere.

Category: Contemporary, Dreamspun Desires

Pages: 225

About the Author
Amanda Meuwissen is a primarily gay romance writer, as well as Marketing Operations Manager for the software company Outsell. She has a Bachelor of Arts in a personally designed major from St. Olaf College in Creative Writing, and is an avid consumer of fiction through film, prose, and video games. As author of the paranormal romance trilogy The Incubus Saga, young adult novel Life as a Teenage Vampire, the novelette The Collector, and superhero duology Lovesick Gods and Lovesick Titans, Amanda regularly attends local comic conventions for fun and to meet with fans, where she will often be seen in costume as one of her favorite fictional characters. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband, John, and their two cats, Helga and Sasha (no relation to the incubus of the same name), and can be found at www.amandameuwissen.com.

A Lucy Review: Seeking Solace (The Walker Boys #3) by Ari McKay

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Like his cousins, Devin Walker aspires to be a chef, but he wants to indulge his wanderlust while feeding his customers, and working a cruise ship seems like the solution. Since he can’t find an opening in the kitchen, he’s happy to start out in a position behind the bar.

While onboard Poseidon’s Pearl, Devin is assigned to shepherd a visiting executive. Paul Bailey is quiet and unassuming, and the car accident that cost him his leg also shattered his confidence. He doesn’t think he’s attractive to other men anymore, and Devin is eager to show him just how wrong he is. Paul has a surprising secret that might sink their passionate affair before it even leaves port.

I loved the idea of a cruise ship romance, even more that it wasn’t a passenger type thing but workers.  Add in that Devin wants to be a chef and I thought this is a total win for me.  Devin comes from a super close knit, large family who support each other unconditionally.  That was another win for me.  Paul’s family, though wealthy, doesn’t seem quite as close. 

Paul is on board to check out the workings of the ship but he is there with a secret.  One that really doesn’t affect much unless you start hanging out with and falling for the bartender who is assigned to be your ship liason.   They both have baggage, Paul’s in the shape of an ex-boyfriend who after Paul lost his leg in an accident dumped him and assumed they would no longer be able to do the physical, outdoor things they had always done; Devin’s in the form of an ex-boyfriend who was using him as a way to upset his conservative parents.

The two bond over getting to know the ship’s crew and workings.  Devin shows Paul how to chill out a little and enjoy life and in the process begins to fall for him.  It was a little odd to read how much time off Devin got.  With a relative who worked the cruise ships who always talked about how little time was their own, this was a little bit of a shock.

I felt like they got to know each other, even though the secret was in the way.  It was insta-love to be sure, as the whole thing happens over the course of a two-week cruise.  The final reveal of the secret is a little bit of a let down.  There is no angst here, despite the baggage they each have, and they are pretty well adjusted.  Paul gets over his insecurity about his  missing leg and scars fairly easily as well.

A very weird thing was as I was reading about Beau Walker and Jake Parnell, Devin’s cousin and his husband, I kept thinking how much I would like to read their story.  It wasn’t until I looked it up to add to my list that I realized I already read it! 

There is a moment in Jamaica with a pair of shorts, when Devin realizes that he is really falling for Paul, that totally made my heart melt.  It was my favorite moment of the book.

Cover art:  Alexandria Corza.  Has the moon and ship as the backdrop and Paul as the center model.  If that is supposed to be Devlin, a total miss of the mark.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Dreamspinner

Book Details:

ebook, 206 pages
Published November 6th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781640805231
Series The Walker Boys

Striking Sparks

Breaking Bonds

Seeking Solace

Review Tour – Seeking Solace (The Walker Boys #3) by Ari McKay (excerpt and giveaway)

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Length: 55,188 words
 
Cover Design: Alexandria Corza
 
 
Walker Boys Series
 
Book #1 – Striking Sparks – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 – Breaking Bonds – Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Blurb
 

All hands on deck for a shipboard romance—with a secret.


Like his cousins, Devin Walker aspires to be a chef, but he wants to indulge his wanderlust while feeding his customers, and working a cruise ship seems like the solution. Since he can’t find an opening in the kitchen, he’s happy to start out in a position behind the bar.


While onboard Poseidon’s Pearl, Devin is assigned to shepherd a visiting executive. Paul Bailey is quiet and unassuming, and a car accident that cost him his leg also shattered his confidence. He doesn’t think he’s attractive to other men anymore, and Devin is eager to show him just how wrong he is. Paul has a surprising secret that might sink their passionate affair before it even leaves port.

 

Excerpt
 
PAUL MERCER stood in front of the full-length mirror mounted on the closet door and checked his tailor-made navy suit for lint or wrinkles before he left his cabin, which was more like a small hotel room than he’d expected. But Triton Cruises prided itself on being one of the more upscale cruise lines, and Poseidon’s Pearl was one of their top ships.


The suite was luxurious enough that Paul could have spent the entire trip inside, maybe reading on the private deck, which was big enough for two lounge chairs with a small table between them. But Paul wasn’t on vacation.


He’d been sent by his father, who was the CEO of Triton Cruises, to assess the ship and its crew and to report on whether the crew was adhering to company standards. To do so, he was posing as Paul Bailey, a new executive with the company who needed to learn about the cruise line. He was using his mother’s maiden name to help avoid anyone making a connection between him and the company’s founding family.


He glanced down at his pants, which were loose enough to hide the fact that he wore a prosthetic on his left leg below the knee. He’d covered the prosthetic foot with a shoe, and looking down at his dress shoes made him feel almost normal again. He had a slight limp, especially at the end of the day when he was tired, but most people were tactful enough not to ask about it, if they even noticed.


The other reason Paul had been sent was because he’d never been on a Triton cruise before. Hell, he’d never been on any cruise before. The cruise line was strictly eighteen-plus so Paul was never allowed to go with his parents when they took their annual trip while he was growing up. Then he’d gone away to college, and after graduation he went straight into grad school for his MBA. After that, he’d started working his way up the ladder at Triton and hadn’t taken much time off except for a few long weekends here and there. Then the accident happened. So the trip was a way for him to experience a Triton cruise from their guests’ perspective. It was also the last trip Paul would take anywhere in a while. Andrew Mercer was ready to retire, and he had put Paul on a fast track to taking over after Paul finished rehab and was cleared to return to work.


Focusing on his reflection, Paul smoothed his hand over his dark brown hair, which was cut short and neatly styled, its natural wave tamed with product. It was too early to go to the dining room, so Paul decided to visit the bar for a while instead.


While most cruise lines these days seemed intent on going the megaship route—huge vessels that could accommodate almost seven thousand passengers—Triton catered to a different clientele. Ships like Poseidon’s Pearl and her sisters carried a maximum of nine hundred passengers, with a crew of nearly six hundred, and every stateroom on the ship boasted a private balcony. The decor in the common areas was just as posh as it was in Paul’s cabin. As he left his cabin on Deck 7, it was only a short walk to the Seafarer’s Lounge.


He heard soft piano music—live, not recorded—as he entered the two-story lounge, which was set in the fore of the ship. It had glass windows from floor to ceiling on three sides that offered a magnificent, panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico and the serenely blue sky above. The room was large, with stairways on the port and starboard sides giving access to the second level. Small clusters of loveseats and chairs were set around low tables, allowing for intimate groups to engage in conversation, while the rear of the room was lined in bookcases housing the ship’s library, which was large enough to cater to almost any taste. The plush carpet underfoot was patterned in tones of deep blue and gold, which set off the cream of the upholstery.


In the center of the room was a semicircular bar topped with polished mahogany, surrounded by comfortable high seats. As with everywhere else on the ship, the trademark of the line—a three-pronged triton—was subtly worked into the decor, such as the patterns of tile fronting the bar and the fabric covering the seats. There were no more than twenty or so people in the bar, broken into groupings around the room. Everyone was well-dressed, and conversations were muted, giving the room a relaxed and welcoming feeling.


As Paul approached the bar, he caught sight of the bartender, who was tall with broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist emphasized by his tailored uniform vest. He had high cheekbones, a square jawline that looked sharp enough to cut paper, and skin with a rich copper glow that seemed to result from a combination of genetics and sunshine. His dark, thickly lashed eyes were crinkled at the corners as he flashed a dazzlingly white smile and handed an olive-garnished martini to his customer. His midnight-black hair was pulled back from his face and hung in a thick braid that reached all the way to his waist.


As soon as the bartender had scanned the customer’s cruise card and returned it, he turned to Paul, who had claimed a seat at the end of the bar, and Paul got the full effect of his smile. “Good afternoon, sir. I’m Devin. How can I make your day even better?”


The intense charisma behind that smile made Paul almost believe Devin meant the greeting for him alone, but he sternly reminded himself that the ship employees were supposed to say such things to all the customers.


“I’d like a glass of Malbec, please,” he said.


“Excellent choice,” Devin replied. He retrieved a bottle from the wine rack, and after uncorking the wine, he placed a crystal wineglass on the bar, then held an aerator over it as he poured a stream of the rich, dark wine from the bottle through it, making a bit of a show of the process. Then he set the bottle and aerator aside, placed a gilt-edged paper napkin in front of Paul, and served the glass of wine.


“Thanks.” Paul picked up the glass and took a sip, and he was pleased by the quality of the wine.


After cleaning up and recorking the bottle, Devin returned to Paul, favoring him with another smile. “How do you like it? Triton prides itself on the quality of the wines it serves, even the ones they use in the kitchen.”


Good to know, Paul thought, making a mental note for his report. “It’s good, thanks.”


Devin glanced around the nearly empty lounge, but he must not have seen anything that needed his attention, since his gaze returned to Paul. He tilted his head to one side, looking at Paul with a slightly puzzled expression. “If I may ask, sir, have you cruised with us before? You look familiar.”


Paul smiled as blandly as possible and shook his head. Full-sized portraits of Andrew Mercer and Abraham Mercer—Paul’s grandfather and the founder of Triton Cruises—hung in the atrium, so Paul wasn’t surprised one of the employees had picked up on the family resemblance.


“No, this is my first cruise,” he said, assuaging the slight pang he felt over deceiving the crew with the fact he was telling Devin the truth.


“All right, then. I’m very good with faces, and I’m sure I would have remembered you.” Devin grinned. “Especially since you’re almost as tall as I am.”


“Almost?” Paul raised one eyebrow. “I’d say we’re about even.”


“I’m six-foot-five,” Devin said. “In the lower areas of the ship, I have to be careful not to smack my head on the conduits.”


“Then we are in fact even,” Paul said. “I was in high demand for basketball teams all through school.”


Devin chuckled. “If that Charleston accent hadn’t already told me you weren’t from Texas, the basketball comment would have. I was in demand too, but as a wide receiver.”


“I’ve heard rumors that football is the state religion of Texas, but I’ve never played it myself,” Paul said, taking a sip of his wine. “I was on the varsity basketball team in high school, and I played intramural in college.”


“Nice,” Devin said. “I played in high school, then was offered a scholarship to Texas A&M, but football was never more than a hobby. I wanted to go to culinary school, and they don’t have football teams.” He lowered his voice. “Although we often played badminton with food that didn’t turn out very well. It’s amazing how much overdone chicken Kiev resembles a hockey puck.”


Paul chuckled. “How did you go from culinary school to tending bar on a cruise ship? Have you worked here long?”


“Six months, and it was a matter of opportunity,” Devin said. “My best friend and I took a cruise after… well, after I went through a bad breakup, and it was just what I needed. I fell in love with the ship, and the sea, and the travel. I’d never even been out of Texas before, and the travel bug bit me hard. I did some research, and Triton is far and away the best cruise line to work for. They have people lining up for jobs, and it took me almost two years to get my foot in the door, and then it was because I’d also trained in bartending. Of course I hope to work in the kitchen someday, but when they offered me a position I jumped on it, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.” Devin’s smile was rueful. “I hope I haven’t bored you to death.”


“Not at all.” Paul thought it was helpful for the staff to be friendly, especially on longer cruises like this one. It would promote the family atmosphere that Triton Cruises wanted to cultivate. “I don’t want to monopolize your time, though.”


Devin glanced around the nearly empty lounge. “It’ll be slow in here until after dinner,” he said. “The action right now is up by the pool. But once the sun goes down, everyone will come into the Seafarer to socialize and listen to the cruise director’s talk about our ports of call.”


“I should probably come back for that,” Paul said. “I don’t know much about the ports we’re visiting, and I don’t want to wander off without a plan.”


“There are some great shore excursions,” Devin said, his brown eyes shining with interest. “They have some for people who like to be physically active, like diving trips and hiking tours, and some for people who prefer to relax on the beach and play in the waves. They also have activities for people who want to experience the culture of the various islands. And if you’d prefer to be on your own, they’ll have maps to help you out.”


“Sounds like I shouldn’t have any problem finding something fun to do.”


“I’m sure you’ll have a great time,” Devin said. “If I may make a suggestion, there’s something you can do tonight. Just before midnight, go up on Deck 9. They have an open area to do outdoor yoga. The captain always turns off all the extra lights on the ship for several minutes, and we’ll be well away from land by then. You’ll be able to see more stars than you ever thought the sky could hold. It’s beautiful and humbling at the same time.”


“If I’m still awake, I’ll check it out.” Paul glanced at his watch, then slid off the bar stool, taking his wineglass with him. “I should probably head to the dining room.”


“Be prepared for a real treat,” Devin said. “I recommend the beef Wellington, and the triple chocolate torte with Chambord for dessert. Although you won’t go wrong with any of the selections. The food on the Pearl is fantastic.”


“You had me at triple chocolate,” Paul said, lifting his glass to Devin. Then he headed out of the lounge. He wanted to get there in time to take a few notes about what he had observed so far before dinner, but if the rest of the ship had the same kind of staff and atmosphere as the lounge, his assessment would be a glowing one.

Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who have been writing together for over a decade. Their collaborations encompass a wide variety of romance genres, including contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, and action/adventure. Their work includes the Blood Bathory series of paranormal novels, the Herc’s Mercs series, as well as two historical Westerns: Heart of Stone and Finding Forgiveness. When not writing, they can often be found scheming over costume designs or binge watching TV shows together.


Arionrhod is a systems engineer by day who is eagerly looking forward to (hopefully) becoming a full time writer in the not-too-distant future. Now that she is an empty-nester, she has turned her attentions to finding the perfect piece of land to build a fortress in preparation for the zombie apocalypse, and baking (and eating) far too many cakes.


McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.


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Read Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words review for Seeking Solace here

A MelanieM Release Day Review: Seeking Solace (The Walker Boys 3) by Ari McKay

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

 

All hands on deck for a shipboard romance—with a secret. 

Like his cousins, Devin Walker aspires to be a chef, but he wants to indulge his wanderlust while feeding his customers, and working a cruise ship seems like the solution. Since he can’t find an opening in the kitchen, he’s happy to start out in a position behind the bar.

While onboard Poseidon’s Pearl, Devin is assigned to shepherd a visiting executive. Paul Bailey is quiet and unassuming, and the car accident that cost him his leg also shattered his confidence. He doesn’t think he’s attractive to other men anymore, and Devin is eager to show him just how wrong he is. Paul has a surprising secret that might sink their passionate affair before it even leaves port.

The Walker Boys series by Ari McKay all center around main characters that are or have aspirations to be chefs with their own restaurants. Seeking Solace (The Walker Boys 3) by Ari McKay falls into the latter category.  Devin Walker, of the enormous Texas Walker clan, has been working on board the Triton line cruise ship learning the kitchen and “the ropes”, waiting for the chance to move up into the role of chef.  It’s a job he loves, even though he wants it to be temporary in the long run with his goal of opening his own restaurant, just as a trained chef would.

Everything is going according to plan, until he is assigned the role of liaison to a visiting executive who needs to learn more about the Triton cruise business from the bottom to the top, never realizing who the man is that he’s showing around.

So, yes.  It’s the false identity trope but it works here.  I mean haven’t you all seen Undercover Boss on tv?  Not that far fetched an idea anymore. The addition of Paul working through his acceptance of his disability, the worries over his appearance (scars and prosthetic) felt authentic and grounded this romance in a definite reality as opposed to a sheltered cruitse glow. I liked that the author(s) gave the readers a believable “behind the scenes” feel to the cruise line and it’s workings.  I enjoyed that and the staff.

The chemistry between Devlin and Paul was hot, sweet, and lovely to read.  I delighted in their romance and the cruise in general.  Plus don’t get me started on the food here.  I felt as though I was going to gain weight just through reading some of the detailed, vivid descriptions of the drinks and drool worthy  menu items alone!  Really mouth watering  and scrumptious!

The cruise takes place over two weeks so the attraction/instant love element is a bit of a stretch for me.  The physical attraction and like?  Absolutely.  Love?  On the road to, yes.  Which is why I enjoyed the HFN ending that McKay left the couple at.  That felt more honest with one exception involving the ship.  Won’t go there, spoiler territory.  I just thought it was unlikely that Devlin would have done that given his working relationship there.

The Walkers Boys and their search for HEA or in this case HFN is a fun series for people who love sweet contemporary romance with a mixture of food and travel.  From Texas to North Carolina and New York (Breaking Bonds) to cruising and back to Texas, this series has a little something for everyone.  They work well as standalone stories but are fun read together as well.

Cover art:  Alexandria Corza.  Has the moon and ship as the backdrop and Paul as the center model.  If that is supposed to be Devlin, a total miss of the mark.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Dreamspinner

Book Details:

ebook, 206 pages
Published November 6th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781640805231
Series The Walker Boys

Striking Sparks

Breaking Bonds

Seeking Solace

Release Blitz for Seeking Solace (The Walker Boys #3) by Ari McKay (excerpt and giveaway)

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Length: 55,188 words
 
Cover Design: Alexandria Corza
 
 
Walker Boys Series
 
Book #1 – Striking Sparks – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 – Breaking Bonds – Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Blurb
 

All hands on deck for a shipboard romance—with a secret.


Like his cousins, Devin Walker aspires to be a chef, but he wants to indulge his wanderlust while feeding his customers, and working a cruise ship seems like the solution. Since he can’t find an opening in the kitchen, he’s happy to start out in a position behind the bar.


While onboard Poseidon’s Pearl, Devin is assigned to shepherd a visiting executive. Paul Bailey is quiet and unassuming, and a car accident that cost him his leg also shattered his confidence. He doesn’t think he’s attractive to other men anymore, and Devin is eager to show him just how wrong he is. Paul has a surprising secret that might sink their passionate affair before it even leaves port.

 
Excerpt
 
PAUL MERCER stood in front of the full-length mirror mounted on the closet door and checked his tailor-made navy suit for lint or wrinkles before he left his cabin, which was more like a small hotel room than he’d expected. But Triton Cruises prided itself on being one of the more upscale cruise lines, and Poseidon’s Pearl was one of their top ships.


The suite was luxurious enough that Paul could have spent the entire trip inside, maybe reading on the private deck, which was big enough for two lounge chairs with a small table between them. But Paul wasn’t on vacation.


He’d been sent by his father, who was the CEO of Triton Cruises, to assess the ship and its crew and to report on whether the crew was adhering to company standards. To do so, he was posing as Paul Bailey, a new executive with the company who needed to learn about the cruise line. He was using his mother’s maiden name to help avoid anyone making a connection between him and the company’s founding family.


He glanced down at his pants, which were loose enough to hide the fact that he wore a prosthetic on his left leg below the knee. He’d covered the prosthetic foot with a shoe, and looking down at his dress shoes made him feel almost normal again. He had a slight limp, especially at the end of the day when he was tired, but most people were tactful enough not to ask about it, if they even noticed.


The other reason Paul had been sent was because he’d never been on a Triton cruise before. Hell, he’d never been on any cruise before. The cruise line was strictly eighteen-plus so Paul was never allowed to go with his parents when they took their annual trip while he was growing up. Then he’d gone away to college, and after graduation he went straight into grad school for his MBA. After that, he’d started working his way up the ladder at Triton and hadn’t taken much time off except for a few long weekends here and there. Then the accident happened. So the trip was a way for him to experience a Triton cruise from their guests’ perspective. It was also the last trip Paul would take anywhere in a while. Andrew Mercer was ready to retire, and he had put Paul on a fast track to taking over after Paul finished rehab and was cleared to return to work.


Focusing on his reflection, Paul smoothed his hand over his dark brown hair, which was cut short and neatly styled, its natural wave tamed with product. It was too early to go to the dining room, so Paul decided to visit the bar for a while instead.


While most cruise lines these days seemed intent on going the megaship route—huge vessels that could accommodate almost seven thousand passengers—Triton catered to a different clientele. Ships like Poseidon’s Pearl and her sisters carried a maximum of nine hundred passengers, with a crew of nearly six hundred, and every stateroom on the ship boasted a private balcony. The decor in the common areas was just as posh as it was in Paul’s cabin. As he left his cabin on Deck 7, it was only a short walk to the Seafarer’s Lounge.


He heard soft piano music—live, not recorded—as he entered the two-story lounge, which was set in the fore of the ship. It had glass windows from floor to ceiling on three sides that offered a magnificent, panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico and the serenely blue sky above. The room was large, with stairways on the port and starboard sides giving access to the second level. Small clusters of loveseats and chairs were set around low tables, allowing for intimate groups to engage in conversation, while the rear of the room was lined in bookcases housing the ship’s library, which was large enough to cater to almost any taste. The plush carpet underfoot was patterned in tones of deep blue and gold, which set off the cream of the upholstery.


In the center of the room was a semicircular bar topped with polished mahogany, surrounded by comfortable high seats. As with everywhere else on the ship, the trademark of the line—a three-pronged triton—was subtly worked into the decor, such as the patterns of tile fronting the bar and the fabric covering the seats. There were no more than twenty or so people in the bar, broken into groupings around the room. Everyone was well-dressed, and conversations were muted, giving the room a relaxed and welcoming feeling.


As Paul approached the bar, he caught sight of the bartender, who was tall with broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist emphasized by his tailored uniform vest. He had high cheekbones, a square jawline that looked sharp enough to cut paper, and skin with a rich copper glow that seemed to result from a combination of genetics and sunshine. His dark, thickly lashed eyes were crinkled at the corners as he flashed a dazzlingly white smile and handed an olive-garnished martini to his customer. His midnight-black hair was pulled back from his face and hung in a thick braid that reached all the way to his waist.


As soon as the bartender had scanned the customer’s cruise card and returned it, he turned to Paul, who had claimed a seat at the end of the bar, and Paul got the full effect of his smile. “Good afternoon, sir. I’m Devin. How can I make your day even better?”


The intense charisma behind that smile made Paul almost believe Devin meant the greeting for him alone, but he sternly reminded himself that the ship employees were supposed to say such things to all the customers.


“I’d like a glass of Malbec, please,” he said.


“Excellent choice,” Devin replied. He retrieved a bottle from the wine rack, and after uncorking the wine, he placed a crystal wineglass on the bar, then held an aerator over it as he poured a stream of the rich, dark wine from the bottle through it, making a bit of a show of the process. Then he set the bottle and aerator aside, placed a gilt-edged paper napkin in front of Paul, and served the glass of wine.


“Thanks.” Paul picked up the glass and took a sip, and he was pleased by the quality of the wine.


After cleaning up and recorking the bottle, Devin returned to Paul, favoring him with another smile. “How do you like it? Triton prides itself on the quality of the wines it serves, even the ones they use in the kitchen.”


Good to know, Paul thought, making a mental note for his report. “It’s good, thanks.”


Devin glanced around the nearly empty lounge, but he must not have seen anything that needed his attention, since his gaze returned to Paul. He tilted his head to one side, looking at Paul with a slightly puzzled expression. “If I may ask, sir, have you cruised with us before? You look familiar.”


Paul smiled as blandly as possible and shook his head. Full-sized portraits of Andrew Mercer and Abraham Mercer—Paul’s grandfather and the founder of Triton Cruises—hung in the atrium, so Paul wasn’t surprised one of the employees had picked up on the family resemblance.


“No, this is my first cruise,” he said, assuaging the slight pang he felt over deceiving the crew with the fact he was telling Devin the truth.


“All right, then. I’m very good with faces, and I’m sure I would have remembered you.” Devin grinned. “Especially since you’re almost as tall as I am.”


“Almost?” Paul raised one eyebrow. “I’d say we’re about even.”


“I’m six-foot-five,” Devin said. “In the lower areas of the ship, I have to be careful not to smack my head on the conduits.”


“Then we are in fact even,” Paul said. “I was in high demand for basketball teams all through school.”


Devin chuckled. “If that Charleston accent hadn’t already told me you weren’t from Texas, the basketball comment would have. I was in demand too, but as a wide receiver.”


“I’ve heard rumors that football is the state religion of Texas, but I’ve never played it myself,” Paul said, taking a sip of his wine. “I was on the varsity basketball team in high school, and I played intramural in college.”


“Nice,” Devin said. “I played in high school, then was offered a scholarship to Texas A&M, but football was never more than a hobby. I wanted to go to culinary school, and they don’t have football teams.” He lowered his voice. “Although we often played badminton with food that didn’t turn out very well. It’s amazing how much overdone chicken Kiev resembles a hockey puck.”


Paul chuckled. “How did you go from culinary school to tending bar on a cruise ship? Have you worked here long?”


“Six months, and it was a matter of opportunity,” Devin said. “My best friend and I took a cruise after… well, after I went through a bad breakup, and it was just what I needed. I fell in love with the ship, and the sea, and the travel. I’d never even been out of Texas before, and the travel bug bit me hard. I did some research, and Triton is far and away the best cruise line to work for. They have people lining up for jobs, and it took me almost two years to get my foot in the door, and then it was because I’d also trained in bartending. Of course I hope to work in the kitchen someday, but when they offered me a position I jumped on it, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.” Devin’s smile was rueful. “I hope I haven’t bored you to death.”


“Not at all.” Paul thought it was helpful for the staff to be friendly, especially on longer cruises like this one. It would promote the family atmosphere that Triton Cruises wanted to cultivate. “I don’t want to monopolize your time, though.”


Devin glanced around the nearly empty lounge. “It’ll be slow in here until after dinner,” he said. “The action right now is up by the pool. But once the sun goes down, everyone will come into the Seafarer to socialize and listen to the cruise director’s talk about our ports of call.”


“I should probably come back for that,” Paul said. “I don’t know much about the ports we’re visiting, and I don’t want to wander off without a plan.”


“There are some great shore excursions,” Devin said, his brown eyes shining with interest. “They have some for people who like to be physically active, like diving trips and hiking tours, and some for people who prefer to relax on the beach and play in the waves. They also have activities for people who want to experience the culture of the various islands. And if you’d prefer to be on your own, they’ll have maps to help you out.”


“Sounds like I shouldn’t have any problem finding something fun to do.”


“I’m sure you’ll have a great time,” Devin said. “If I may make a suggestion, there’s something you can do tonight. Just before midnight, go up on Deck 9. They have an open area to do outdoor yoga. The captain always turns off all the extra lights on the ship for several minutes, and we’ll be well away from land by then. You’ll be able to see more stars than you ever thought the sky could hold. It’s beautiful and humbling at the same time.”


“If I’m still awake, I’ll check it out.” Paul glanced at his watch, then slid off the bar stool, taking his wineglass with him. “I should probably head to the dining room.”


“Be prepared for a real treat,” Devin said. “I recommend the beef Wellington, and the triple chocolate torte with Chambord for dessert. Although you won’t go wrong with any of the selections. The food on the Pearl is fantastic.”


“You had me at triple chocolate,” Paul said, lifting his glass to Devin. Then he headed out of the lounge. He wanted to get there in time to take a few notes about what he had observed so far before dinner, but if the rest of the ship had the same kind of staff and atmosphere as the lounge, his assessment would be a glowing one.

Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who have been writing together for over a decade. Their collaborations encompass a wide variety of romance genres, including contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, and action/adventure. Their work includes the Blood Bathory series of paranormal novels, the Herc’s Mercs series, as well as two historical Westerns: Heart of Stone and Finding Forgiveness. When not writing, they can often be found scheming over costume designs or binge watching TV shows together.


Arionrhod is a systems engineer by day who is eagerly looking forward to (hopefully) becoming a full time writer in the not-too-distant future. Now that she is an empty-nester, she has turned her attentions to finding the perfect piece of land to build a fortress in preparation for the zombie apocalypse, and baking (and eating) far too many cakes.


McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.


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A Lucy Release Day Review: Handle With Care by Cari Z

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 Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Aaron McCoy is a social worker who gives too much to his job.  In an attempt to keep other kids safe from what he went through as a child, he works himself nearly sick. “Aaron knew all too well how it felt to be ignored by your case worker.”  He is always ahead of schedule with his paperwork and answers the call to help at any time.  It gets to the point where his boss, Pam, forces him to take a vacation before he burns out completely.   Mandatory time off and no checking emails.  It just might kill him. 

Luckily, he has his best friend, Tyler, to be there with an idea.  Aaron has received an invitation to his little brother Zach’s wedding.  The brother he hasn’t seen in fifteen years.  The brother who was “…young and cute and well-behaved for his foster parents…” and ended up being adopted by Chrissy, “I wish I could take you too” and doesn’t that make not one bit of difference to a hurting 13-year-old losing his family.   My heart hurt for him, especially since the reason his brother was so good was because Aaron took care of him when their mom didn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t.  He’d have to see Chrissy too.  “To my brother’s wedding? To the house of the woman who decided she didn’t want to take me but who had no problem taking my little brother?”  But Tyler is persuasive – a road trip!  The fact that Aaron has secretly longed for Tyler might make the trip uncomfortable, but Aaron can handle it.

Tyler is lovely.  He is silly, enthusiastic and totally on Aaron’s side.  He brings a garbage bag filled with snacks for a fairly short road trip, has dumb car games all ready for them to play until Aaron threatens him if he looks away from the road to see another license plate, and he’s just there for Aaron.  He also has stalked Zach online in order to know more about Aaron.  “I’d never make you share something you don’t want to. But you can’t blame me for lookin’ for clues wherever I could find them.”

I have to admit even though Zach wanted Aaron to stay at Chrissy’s, I think it would have been kinder for him to stay at a hotel and have a place to escape.  It’s so uncomfortable for him, especially when Chrissy talks of how well she cared for Zach and Zach is talking of what a great mom she is.  Things that Aaron didn’t have.  Add in that one of Zach’s groomsmen, Owen, is a nasty homophobic jerk.  I couldn’t understand if Zach was such a good person he could allow someone like that around him, let alone allow the things he said to Aaron and Tyler. “What, fairies can’t hear now?” was one of the tamer things.  Yes, Zach did the “knock it off” thing to Owen, but that didn’t stop it and I was furious at them both.  It was lucky that the bride-to-be, Becky, wasn’t going to take that.  Zach and his “He didn’t mean anything by it” did not fly with her.  There is also a giant surprise that Zach didn’t mention to Aaron that again made me want to smack him.  Obviously, I wasn’t a big Zach fan.

Tyler is there for all of it.  “Weren’t you listenin’?  You put everybody else first.  I’m the only one’ll put you first.” Thank Pete Aaron has someone like that in his corner.  They are such great friends and I was pulling for them to be more.  “We’re still family.”  And that was the family that Aaron needed.  We get to see the slow transformation and it was a great thing.  Aaron makes progress as well, facing some things from his past and showing his strength.  “So I’m glad to hear you say it, but I think it’s probably more important for you to apologize than for me to be apologized to.”

Much as I loved Tyler and Aaron and Becky, the winning character here is Becky’s grandmother.  I can only say that I want to grow up to be here.  She reminded me so much of my favorite female character ever, Nana from Until You. I give a huge thank you to Cari Z for putting that firecracker in there.  “The only attraction they garnered was from Grandma, where she was dancing with a trapped-looking Owen on the dance floor.  “You get you some, honey!”  She’s not in there a lot but the time she is there count.

This is not only a friends to lovers story but it’s a story of healing from the things that might have broken you and moving forward. It was sweet and lovely. 

Cover art by Alexandria Corza shows Aaron set against a background of the road and trees.  It is simple but fit the story.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 194 pages
Expected publication: October 16th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781640804463
Edition LanguageEnglish