*RELEASE BLITZ* ~The Long Way Down, by M. Sembera (includes excerpt and giveaway)

Title: The Long Way Down

Author: M. Sembera
Genera: Standalone/Women’s Fiction/Romance
Release Date: September 22

The Long Way Down is a Women’s Fiction/Romance standalone based on the character Abigail from my Rennillia Series. Highlighted by the men in her life, Abigail’s story begins with a summer friendship, that sparks a life-long game of back and forth. As she and Soman commit to making their childhood dreams come true, first loves, broken hearts, and betrayal pit them against one another. Lines are not only drawn, but crossed when the two reconcile just long enough to create a legacy that neither one can control.

 

EXCERPT: 

The moment was filled with sentiment and emotion as his firm but gentle lips moved against mine. He pulled away slightly just long enough for me to catch a glimpse of his dimple as he smiled before leaning back in for another kiss. I breathed in deeply, sliding my hands up his chest, against the sides of his face and into the back of his hair. There was a certain innocence to the warmth I felt as he held me in his arms. My mind ticked back to the anticipation I once felt, awaiting this moment. Now that it was happening, and innocence had long left us both, it wasn’t enough.

I waited for our kiss to slow down a bit before pulling away. Instantly missing the feel of being in his arms, I was delighted to see the same emotion reflecting back at me from his eyes. I gathered the sides of my white cotton nightgown in the palms of my hands before sliding it off over my head. The longing in his expression was satisfying as I stood almost completely naked in front of him. With soft smile on my face, I turned and walked back to my room.

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The Long Way Down, by M. Sembera
Giveaway ends September 30 2016
See the giveaway details at goodreads

*COVER REVEAL* ~ The Long Way Down, by M. Sembera (includes giveaway)

TLWD

Title: The Long Way Down

Author: M. Sembera

Genre: Standalone/Women’s Fiction/Romance

Release Date: September 22

TLWDFC

Everyone has their own side to a story.

I am…

a friend

innocent

a girlfriend

devoted

a lover

salacious

a wife

corrupt

a mistress

virtueless

a mother

forsaken

a mental patient

condemned

I am Abigail, and this one is mine.

The Long Way Down is a Women’s Fiction/Romance standalone based on the character Abigail from my Rennillia Series. Highlighted by the men in her life, Abigail’s story begins with a summer friendship, that sparks a life-long game of back and forth. As she and Soman commit to making their childhood dreams come true, first loves, broken hearts, and betrayal pit them against one another. Lines are not only drawn, but crossed when the two reconcile just long enough to create a legacy that neither one can control.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway:

The Long Way Down by M. Sembera

The Long Way Down by M. Sembera

Giveaway ends September 30, 2016. See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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*Book Blitz & Giveaway* Higher Ground by Nan Lowe

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Higher Ground coverTitle: Higher Ground

Author: Nan Lowe

Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Chick-lit

Date released: July 12th, 2016

Length: 292 pages

Blurb: Nearly a decade after leaving her tumultuous high school years and New Orleans behind, Dr. Violet Foster is thriving in Atlanta. She’s landed a job in the English Department of a prestigious school and shares a home—and her heart—with Wade Price, the love of her life.

Everything’s going according to plan.

Until a phone call from Violet’s younger brother thwarts her holiday plans and upends her carefully constructed life. She’s managed to avoid her hometown for years and dance around the secrets she left buried there. A wedding reception and an ailing grandmother beckon her return to The Big Easy, but as her departure nears, Violet is forced to reconcile the person she was with the woman she’s become.

Even if it means losing everything she holds dear.

BUY LINKS: AMAZON UK & AMAZON US

Higher Ground Nan Lowe

Author bio

Nan Lowe grew up in Memphis with barbeque and blues in her veins. She’s married to her high school sweetheart and is raising a son and daughter in a tiny town north of Graceland that has more cows than stoplights. Half farm girl and half city chick, she’s a little bit country and a whole lot of rock and roll. Most days, you’ll find her reading, writing, plotting, or listening to Pearl Jam, usually with a dog or two on her lap.

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/NanLoweAuthor
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NanLoweAuthor/

Amazon: http://amzn.to/28N2I4S

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/28NPkjR

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/higher-ground-28

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/642870

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30623643-higher-ground

 

The author is hosting a $25 Amazon GC Giveaway!

 

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**RELEASE BLITZ** ~ GirlsQuad (Book Two), A Best of Friends Series, by J A Heron

GQ1&2

GQ 2

GirlsQuad

 A Best of Friends Series: Book Two

By J A Heron

GQ2 Ebook

☆☆☆☆☆RELEASE BLITZ ☆☆☆☆☆

GirlsQuad –
A Best of Friends Series: Book Two
Author: J A Heron Author
Genre: Comedy drama
Release date: 12th July 2016
Word Count: Approx 88,577
Published by: Gone Writing Publishing

☆ IT’S TIME TO DRINK CHAMPAGNE AND DANCE ON THE TABLES ☆

Buy links

Amazon ~ myBook.to/GirlsQuadTwo

B&N ~ Link coming soon

iBooks ~ Link coming soon

Kobo ~ Link coming soon

Add to your TBR: https://goo.gl/R7qvwE

GQ 1

GirlsQuad

A Best of Friends Series: Book One

By J A Heron

#funread #bookstagram #amreading #comedydrama #womensbooks

£1.99/$3.00

Buy links

Amazon ~ http://smarturl.it/Girlsquad

B&N ~ http://goo.gl/Yk1B2I

iBooks ~ https://goo.gl/g8p2Pi

Add  to your Goodreads TBR ~ goo.gl/hxFEIU

Blurb

They say, ‘opposites attract’.

Some would disagree, but these four women couldn’t be more different if they tried.

These best friends have different lives, different aspirations and different outlooks on life and the way it should be. However, they do share a few common denominators – they all work together. Every day, they earn their living by working in a hair and beauty salon, where fun is the top style of the day.

They also live in the same little village; quiet, peaceful and where not a lot happens. They’re all feisty and love each other fiercely.

Follow these ladies through a journey that’s packed with fun, happiness and heartache. This story will leave you smiling, feeling happy and grateful for the life you have. GirlsQuad is coming for you, and you will be able to relate to at least one of these characters, if not all of them. Everyone has a friend like Clarissa, Brenda, Carla or Davina.

What is the most important thing in life? The answer is friendship.

About the author

Jane Is a self confessed coffee addict and chocoholic. Like most women, she enjoys nothing more than snuggling with a good book, a steaming cup of coffee with a few munchies on hand.

Jane lives in a small town called Burton on Trent, Staffordshire in the heart of England. This little town where she resides is famous for making beer, the home of Coors Brewery. She has called this  industrial town home, all her life. Jane is a mother, a fiancée and loves to write books of all genres. She believes in variety and loves nothing more than to try her hand at anything her mind conjures up. Her back catalogue includes:

Erotic romance ~ ‘Belleza’

Erotic romance ~ ‘Alias’

Erotic thriller ~ ‘30 Days’

Women’s comedy drama ~ ‘GirlsQuad – A Best of Friends Series: Book one’

Women’s comedy drama ~ ‘GirlsQuad – A Best of Friends Series: Book Two’

She is currently working on a dark horror, collaborating with another author, amongst other projects. Jane believes in her work, she believes in her stories and she hopes you will too, she will be bringing you lots more tales from the heart.

Stalker links

Facebook ~ https://goo.gl/jIuFLE

Goodreads ~ https://goo.gl/wejYGH

Google+ ~ https://goo.gl/1GeIC0

TSU ~ http://goo.gl/dc8gCC

Instagram ~ https://goo.gl/TS2i75

Pinterest ~ https://goo.gl/pJ9MdW

Tumblr ~ https://goo.gl/37DVME

Twitter ~ https://twitter.com/JAHeronAuthor

Amazon author central ~ http://goo.gl/8RpOV6

My website ~ http://goo.gl/yQsDK5

Wattpad ~ https://goo.gl/Ea1191

Blog ~ http://jaheron.blogspot.co.uk/

Teasers

GQ1 banner

GQ teaser 1

Brenda' Song

GirlsQuad 2 Teaser

 

**REVIEW** The Double by Alison Brodie

It was a great pleasure to be approached by author, Alison Brodie, and be asked to read The Double. I am so very glad that she did. It’s an amazing adventure; a great book to read if you’re planning a holiday or even basking in the sunshine in your garden. Get ready for the most relaxing adventure you’ll experience!

“The luxury of living a lie.”

 

THE DOUBLE

Title: The Double

Author: Alison Brodie

Genre: Women’s fiction, mystery, romance, chick-lit

Date released: January 19th, 2016

Length: 294 pages

Blurb: A night she can’t remember. A week she won’t forget.

*

Beth is mistaken for rock star Sonita La Cruz, and ends up on a billionaire-dollar yacht. As a shift-worker in Glasgow, Beth has only known hardship. Now she’s in a world of uniformed stewards, delicious French food and rows of gorgeous designer clothes. Beth keeps quiet about the mix-up, determined to wear every outfit in her wardrobe before she’s sent home. What’s wrong with a little play-acting? Beth takes to the role of rock diva like a duck takes to water.

Aleksandr, the captain, arrives and is astonished to see a beautiful raven-haired girl lying on deck issuing orders through a loud-hailer. After talking to Beth, Aleksandr realises what has happened. His smuggling buddies, knowing Aleksandr needs to speak to Sonita about a kid’s crisis, grabbed Beth by mistake. Aleksandr is desperate. To save those children, he needs money, but Sonita has disappeared.

Beth rises to the challenge. She looks like Sonita, so why not BE Sonita? Beth does a magazine interview for one million dollars, and ransoms herself for another million. Beth saves the kids … but can she save herself? Too late, Beth discovers why Sonita disappeared.

*

A love story set against the backdrop of a luxury yacht on the Côte d’Azur, a civil war in the Eastern Bloc, and a Glasgow housing estate.

Buy Links: Amazon UK & Amazon US

REVIEW ***** (5 star rating)

Alison Brodie’s The Double has it all; from diva Sonita, the rock star, being stalked and threatened, to a gritty, realistic housing estate in Glasgow where nurse Beth is trying to make sense of her life, right through to a kidnapping followed by a luxurious adventure on a billionaire’s yacht on the Côte d’Azur. Meanwhile, Aleksandr, the captain, has had to deal with the effects of a civil war in the Eastern Bloc, and is now fighting to save many children suffering with tuberculosis as medical supplies cannot reach them and warfare is threatening their makeshift hospital site. Yes, if you’re looking for a little drama and mystery in a well-constructed romance story this is perfect for you!

The opening chapter sparks the interest of the reader immediately as we find a seemingly dark character acting secretly and wants Sonita La Cruz dead! This is a dark start for a fun, romance novel, but it captures a sense of fear and suspense from the offset, making the curious reader need to find out what becomes of both parties.

Although written in third person, the reader has an in-depth take on each main character as whole chapters are focussed on one at a time, as we discover their current situations as well as their background. My favourite character has to be Beth, partly for wanting the escape that she is able to have from her average life, and partly as she is the one that takes many risks throughout the story.

Beth is at the point in her life where, even though a mum, she is still young. Her kids are independents now, and aside from her nursing job, all  she has is a selfish man in Andy, and a shabby tower-block flat. Once the initial kidnapping is realised, Beth begins to come round to the idea, choosing to go along with it. I mean, after all, when does she ever feel free; free from routine, free from work, free from Glasgow, free from Andy and his controlling ways. Surely she deserves some luxury and freedom at last. Why not pose as beautiful superstar Sonita La Cruz? Beth begins to think that maybe her dreams could come true, and she doesn’t have to feel so trapped in her life. She adapts quickly and learns how to relax, to enjoy life, rather than stressing about her work, Andy, money, etc.

“This was so different to sunbathing at home. There, she had a tiny balcony, just about big enough for four plastic stools, a bike repair box and a scrawny plant….. In the summer, between five and six in the evening, the sun would touch one corner of the balcony – high up. Desperate for sunshine, she’d stand in her knickers and bra, one foot on a stool, one foot on the railings, her hand holding onto the washing line for support….

… Now, instead of teetering on the edge of a council block in saggy grey knickers, she lay on a cushioned sun-lounger alongside a luxurious pool, on a gorgeous yacht with a champagne re-fuelling depot nearby and an army of uniformed stewards, out of sight, but close at hand, ready to be summoned by the tinkling of a little bell.” (Beth)

That said, it is also clear that Sonita La Cruz is also looking for an escapism. Although a rock star, she is not recording the style of music she favours, she is very much subjected to media attention constantly, and her real feelings lie with being charitable to those, especially children, in need – something that her partner ignores. During the course of the story, ignorant of Beth’s situation, Sonita tries to find a relaxing moment herself, as she keeps her head down low from any threat, and her busy lifestyle.

It is a certain read in particular for the summer and holiday season. And, one of the most exciting and fascinating parts of the story were, for me, the way in which it provides a largely relaxing read despite the dark drama/mystery that lies beneath the surface. I just loved imagining myself to be in Beth’s shoes sunbathing on a luxurious yacht on the Med, blue skies, blue sea, with fine dining and clothes, etc, and not worrying too much about the consequences until I’d have to.

The icing on the cake is the knowledge that Beth is quite aware, certainly as the story progresses, that it is all in the name of charity; in being able to hopefully provide many children with the treatment that they need, during an absolutely crucial time when no one else can! Mix that in with a chance of romance and it is perfect. But will Beth realise where her heart is really at before it’s too late?

If you’d like a book to transport you on a relaxing holiday, with fun, drama and romance The Double is just the one!

A copy of The Double was provided by Alison Brodie in return for a fair and honest review.

Reviewed by Caroline Barker

You can also check out Alison Brodie’s author bio, along with an excerpt of The Double here.

*Promo w/Author Bio & Excerpt* The Double by Alison Brodie

“The luxury of living a lie.”

 

THE DOUBLE

Title: The Double

Author: Alison Brodie

Genre: Women’s fiction, mystery, romance, chick-lit

Date released: January 19th, 2016

Length: 294 pages

Blurb: A night she can’t remember. A week she won’t forget.

*

Beth is mistaken for rock star Sonita La Cruz, and ends up on a billionaire-dollar yacht. As a shift-worker in Glasgow, Beth has only known hardship. Now she’s in a world of uniformed stewards, delicious French food and rows of gorgeous designer clothes. Beth keeps quiet about the mix-up, determined to wear every outfit in her wardrobe before she’s sent home. What’s wrong with a little play-acting? Beth takes to the role of rock diva like a duck takes to water.

Aleksandr, the captain, arrives and is astonished to see a beautiful raven-haired girl lying on deck issuing orders through a loud-hailer. After talking to Beth, Aleksandr realises what has happened. His smuggling buddies, knowing Aleksandr needs to speak to Sonita about a kid’s crisis, grabbed Beth by mistake. Aleksandr is desperate. To save those children, he needs money, but Sonita has disappeared.

Beth rises to the challenge. She looks like Sonita, so why not BE Sonita? Beth does a magazine interview for one million dollars, and ransoms herself for another million. Beth saves the kids … but can she save herself? Too late, Beth discovers why Sonita disappeared.

*

A love story set against the backdrop of a luxury yacht on the Côte d’Azur, a civil war in the Eastern Bloc, and a Glasgow housing estate.

Buy Links: Amazon UK & Amazon US

Author Bio

Alison Brodie Author photo

Alison Brodie is a Scot, with French Huguenot ancestors on her mother’s side of the family. Alison was a photographic model, modelling for a wide range of products, including Ducatti motorbikes and 7Up. She was also the vampire in the Schweppes commercial.

A disastrous modelling assignment in the Scottish Highlands gave Alison an idea for a story, which was to become Face to Face. She wrote Face to Face as a hobby and then decided to send it off to see what would happen. It was snapped up by Dinah Wiener, the first agent Alison sent it to. Three weeks later, Alison signed a two-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton. Subsequently, Face to Face was published in Germany and Holland. It was widely reviewed, ie: “Vain, but wildly funny leading lady.” -Scottish Daily Mail. It was also chosen as Good Housekeeping’s “Pick of the Paperbacks.”

Unfortunately, Alison then suffered from Second-Book Syndrome. The publisher’s deadline loomed and she was terrified because she didn’t have an idea for a story! She found the whole experience a nightmare; and this is why she cautions first-time authors to write more than one book before approaching an agent. She managed to finish the book – Sweet Talk – but it bombed.

While writing Sweet Talk, she moved to Kansas and lived there for two years. She loved the people, their friendliness, their free-and-easy way of life, the history and the BBQs! Sadly, her visa ran out and she had to come back to the UK – although her dream is to one day live permanently in America. Now, Alison lives in Biarritz, France with her rescue mutt, Bayley.

Alison has taken the exhilarating steps to becoming an indie author. Her second ebook, THE DOUBLE, is out on Amazon Kindle with some great reviews. “Excellent.” –San Francisco Book Review.

Alison writes contemporary romance. She aims for a strong plot line, set against the background of a world-changing event, coupled with touches of humour, sexual tension and character transformation.

She loves to hear from her readers.

Link to website: http://www.alisonbrodiebooks.com/#!the-double/c1253

Excerpt

Aleksandr

It was early evening when Aleksandr leapt from his boat and onto the boarding platform of the Kazka. All around the sea boiled as the great engines roared. Why was the Kazka moving? he wondered. Had Gerrard found another captain to replace him?

He saw Gerrard at the top of the stairs and bounded up. ‘Are you sailing?’ he shouted to the butler.

Gerrard’s answer was lost in the roar. As the noise of the engines subsided, Aleksandr spoke again. ‘I’m sorry I’m late, I tried contacting you but my radio is dead.’

I have something to tell you Aleksandr.’

Hearing the grave note in his friend’s voice, Aleksandr stilled. Something was wrong.

We have a passenger aboard,’ Gerrard began. ‘A woman.’

Aleksandr nodded. So far, it didn’t sound too bad.

Her name is Sonita La Cruz.’

Sonita La Cruz?’ Aleksandr repeated cautiously.

That is correct.’

The American singer?’

Yes.’

Aleksandr gripped Gerrard’s arms. ‘My friend, you cannot believe how lucky this is! I have been desperate to speak to her and all this time she was here, as Karimov’s guest.’

She is not a guest of Karimov. As we speak, he is in Marseilles, detained by the French authorities and knows nothing of her presence on board. It was your friend, Boris Lazutin, who brought her here. He found her in Port Glasgow and-’

Stop!’ Aleksandr’s shoulders sagged with bitter disappointment. ‘She is an imposter. An American rock star would have no reason to be in Port Glas-’

It is her,’ Gerrard insisted. ‘Boris looked in her passport.’

Aleksandr scoffed: ‘Sonita La Cruz permitted Boris Lazutin to look in her passport?’

She did not give permission, because …’ Gerrard took a visible breath. ‘There was chloroform in the shipment they picked up …’

Aleksandr felt the first stirrings of unease. ‘And?’

They abducted her.’

No.’ Aleksandr shook his head emphatically. ‘Boris would never do such a thing.’

It was Igor.’

Igor!’ Aleksandr balled his fists. This, he could understand. His old cell-mate had the morals of a barbarian, and what had he, Aleksandr, said to him back in Odessa? ‘How I wish I could speak to Sonita, if only for five minutes.’

The Chechen, ever loyal, had given Aleksandr his wish. But at what cost?

She must have been terrified!

Gerrard reared back in affront. ‘Pas de tout! Boris and Dimitri showed her a message, in English, reminding her of the children and immediately she understood what was happening. She even sang for them and signed autographs.’ Gerrard swept out a hand. ‘And her time with us has been most pleasant, I can assure you. She has been quite content to wait for your arrival … until last night.’ Gerrard sighed. ‘If only you had arrived earlier, this debaçle would never have occurred.’

What happened last night?’

She wanted to go ashore to make a phone call. When I told her she could not leave the ship, she became wild with fury.’ Gerrard held out his palms. ‘But I could not allow her to make that call. Her intentions may be good, they may be bad, but I cannot risk police investigation, especially at this time.’

Yes, yes, of course.’

Gerrard continued: ‘She believes her abduction was part of a game.’

‘A game?’

Mais, oui. The rich become easily bored; it is a curse. They need always to search for fresh amusement. She talked of James Bond and hunting micro-chips that would save the world. Perhaps, she believed a friend had taken her. When she realised this was no game, she accused you, Aleksandr, of masterminding her abduction. She also began to insist that she is not Sonita La Cruz.’

She has been shunted from boat to boat like a barrel of beer. Is it any wonder she wishes to be anyone but herself?’ Aleksandr raked his fingers through the stubble of his hair. There had been a glimmer of hope that this one woman would help them but … now?

Where is she? Take me to her.’

No. You are dirty and unshaven. You must scrub yourself, first.’

No more delay!’ Aleksandr marched off. ‘I brought photos and a video recording to show you – now I can show them to her. And when she sees the suffering, she will forgive everything.’

Gerrard put a hand on the big man’s arm. ‘For the sake of privacy, she has asked me to use her alias, Mademoiselle Skiffington.’ He hurried to catch up with the big man. ‘My friend, you will be disappointed. This woman will not help you. The means by which she has been brought here have cancelled out the good intentions she may have had.’

But I must try.’ Aleksandr had to shout as, once more, the ship’s engines began to roar. ‘Why are we moving?’

Gerrard waited for the noise to subside before answering. ‘Mademoiselle has given the order to turn the Kazka around.’ He shrugged helplessly. ‘She wishes to view the sunset without having to move from her chair.’

Aleksandr gazed at Gerrard in astonishment. He was now aware of classical music. The clarity of the sound system was astounding, as if a live orchestra was performing. He walked onto the open deck. It was a live orchestra; the musicians dressed as angels.

Beside him, Gerrard muttered, ‘She has been making outrageous demands of me. An orchestra dressed in wings. Cocaine. Even peanut butter! It has been a nightmare. She keeps saying, “You want a rock star, pal, well that’s exactly what you’re going to get.”’

As the ship’s engines began to grow in volume, a woman’s voice filled the sky.

STOP THE BOAT – YOU’RE GIVING ME A HEADACHE!’

Then he saw her.

She reclined on a sunbed, holding a loudhailer to her mouth. A small white animal sat on an ornate gold chair beside her. Because the rock star was angled away from him, he could not see her face, only the veil of long black hair cascading over a crimson gown, and a slim brown leg, bent at the knee.

At her command, the engines subsided, leaving only the music. The loudhailer swung to the orchestra. ‘MOZART PIGFART! FUCK OFF!’ She tossed the loudhailer to the deck in childish bad-humour. ‘Gerrard!’ she called peevishly. ‘I need an aspirin.’

Immediately, Mademoiselle,’ Gerrard replied before hurrying away.

Aleksandr hesitated. Was this the woman who had written to him promising her help? He strengthened his resolve against his growing sense of dread and walked forward.

As he drew to a halt beside her chair, he saw a scarlet bikini against brown silken skin and a diamond-studded belt around slim hips – a belt which seemed to be an exact replica to the collar around the animal’s neck. She held a silver teaspoon to the creature’s mouth, watching as the tiny tongue licked the caramel-coloured paste from the spoon. Aleksandr had never been interested in the music scene, but he couldn’t deny this surge of ‘teenage’ excitement that he now stood before someone so famous.

As his shadow fell over her, she waved him away. ‘I am TRYING to look at the sunset.’

He stepped to one side. ‘Miss Skiffington-’ he began.

Where’s my aspirin?’ The sunglasses glanced in the direction of his hands. ‘What do I have to do? Writhe around on the deck in agony?’ With her attention on him now, her gaze travelled sharply up and over him. ‘Oh my God!’ She sat straight. ‘How dare you stand there … dirty. Look at your fingernails – they’re black!

It’s not dirt. It’s engine oil.’

Engine oil!’ She recoiled; pulling her scarlet robe tight around her as if fearful he would mark it. ‘What are you doing outside the engine room? Go back in, immediately.’

He pulled up a chair from the table and sat down.

I am not a mechanic,’ he said. ‘I am Aleksandr Shtcherbatsky Zhivago.’

Beth

Beth didn’t give him a second glance. She lifted her chin and shouted across the deck, ‘Gerrard, I am not stupid!’ God, she thought, Gerrard must be desperate to pacify me if he has to dig up a man from the engine room and palm him off as Zhivago.

She carried on feeding Pookie, smiling indulgently as she watched the tiny tongue licking the peanut butter off the spoon. She’d expected some big greyhound-type and had been surprised and delighted to receive this little bundle of fluff. Tonight, at dinner, she would clip diamond ear-rings on his perky ears.

The mechanic still hadn’t budged. She shouted again: ‘GERR-ARD!’

I am Aleksandr Shtcherbatsky Zhivago,’ the man blustered.

Look, sunshine, I know you’re not, so take a hike.’

Why do you say this? Why do you believe I am not him?’

Because he’s short, fat and ugly and you’re …’ Needing the relevant description to finish the sentence, she inspected the man from over the top of her sunglasses. He sat with his big hands gripping his knees, heavy black eyebrows converging into a frown. Despite the oil marks, dirt and bruises, he was strikingly handsome, if a little wild-eyed, ‘… not.’

She turned her attention back to Pookie.

Short and fat?’ the man echoed.

She sighed. ‘His photos are all over the boat, so I know what he looks like.’

Ah, that is Yakov Karimov. He is the owner of the Kazka. I am the captain.’

She wasn’t going to let him think she was listening but she was, her eyes narrowed suspiciously behind her sunglasses. Was she being led to believe that instead of being abducted by a suave and sophisticated billionaire, she had in fact been abducted by a man who reeked of diesel?

He took out a wallet. ‘This is my captain’s licence.’

She saw his photo stamped with an official seal and the name: Aleksandr Shtcherbatsky Zhivago.

Zhivago!’ She spun on her bottom and planted her feet firmly on the deck between them. ‘You! You had me kidnapped!’

Startled, he held out his palms against her accusation. ‘Please, Miss La-’ He quickly corrected himself, ‘Miss Skiffington. I knew nothing of it. I have come from Odessa on my own boat, with no means of communication. This was the fault of Igor. He knew how desperately I wanted to talk to you, but there is no excuse for what he did.’

The man hoisted a satchel onto his lap. ‘I have video recording and photographs that will prove my honesty. Five minutes of your time is all I ask. If, after that, you do not wish to involve yourself, I will gladly escort you from the ship.’

The words, ‘But you’ve got the wrong woman!’ had been on the tip of Beth’s tongue but his suggestion struck her dumb.

Escort you from the ship.

But she didn’t want to be escorted from the ship!

She lay back on the chaise-longue, her thoughts flustered and indignant. Pierre was making her favourite pudding tonight: Charlotte Malakoff aux Framboises. And the fur-trimmed, copper-coloured gown – which she knew to be extra-special because she’d discovered it in a refrigerated wardrobe – was now hanging ready in her dressing room.

Of course, she wanted to leave, had to leave, but this was all too … sudden.

A launch is waiting,’ Zhivago added helpfully. ‘You can be back in Glasgow by midnight.’

Glasgow…

She thought of Andy’s twisted, angry face; the smell of urine on the stairs; the cacophony of televisions and wailing babies. The flat with its low-ceiling and box rooms with no space to move, to breathe, to think. She gazed towards the horizon seeing the pink feathery clouds that the sun had left behind; the heart-melting blue of the sky that went on for ever; the silence, the space, so much glorious space, it made her feel she could spread her arms and fly.

Your aspirin, mademoiselle.’ Gerrard bent towards her, holding a tray.

I don’t want it.’

Gerrard straightened. ‘Mr Shtcherbasky Zhivago has explained everything, I trust?’

She nodded sullenly. She knew she was behaving like a petulant prima donna but she couldn’t help herself. Anyway, it was their fault. They’d given her a mega cruise-liner, a battalion of servants, diamond tiaras and designer frocks; and now they were throwing her back to where she’d come from as if she was a rag doll.

I am relieved,’ Gerrard said. ‘Now, I hope, you can forgive me for keeping you here?’

She refused to look at him.

Let me bring you a beer, Captain Shtcherbatsky Zhivago.’ Gerrard moved off. ‘And I will fetch water for Pookie.’

Beth looked at her little dog. She couldn’t take him back to Glasgow. How thoughtless of her to demand an animal. But it wasn’t her fault! It was these people who had made her so angry she’d been unable to think straight. Now, Pookie would have to go back to the breeders. And she would have to go back to Glasgow.

She scowled at Zhivago. I will stay one more night, she decided. I’m owed that much. After that, I don’t care if they think I’m Sonita La Cruz or King Kong.

She paused in thought: Had Sonita promised to help with this children’s hospital? If so, was she, Beth, hindering the project by continuing this farce? But, surely, one more night wouldn’t make any difference. She turned to Zhivago. ‘I just want to get a couple of things straight. Why have you brought me here?’

To discuss building a children’s hospital.’

And you’re not holding me to ransom?’

He looked appalled. ‘No! Please believe me, no.

She did believe him. With her eyes obscured behind her sunglasses she was able to study him openly. He was dark, rather tensely drawn with a swarthy gypsy-look. Although he looked like some un-neutered tom-cat, there was a reassuring sincerity about him.

OK,’ she announced. ‘I will stay one more night.’ Watching how he fell back in his chair, she could almost see the tension flow from his body.

Thank you,’ he whispered.

She carried on feeding Pookie, distancing herself from the man’s obvious relief. ‘So, where’s the owner while all this is happening?’

Yakov Karimov? He is in Marseille.’

And you’re the captain?’

Briefly, yes. I am to sail her back to her home port of St Tropez.’

St Tropez!

Although she continued to look at the man, her inner eye gazed beyond him, imagining herself at the prow of the Kazka with Pookie in her arms as the crème de la crème of the Riviera looked up from their aperatifs, watching them in awe.

When does the Kazka leave?’ she whispered, feeling her throat choked with tears.

Tomorrow.’ The man leant forward, misconstruing her silence. ‘I know this has been difficult for you.’ He removed a manila envelope from his bag. ‘But once you see the evidence, you will understand and forgive.’

Beth wasn’t interested in his envelope. She continued to stare into space, wistfully choosing the gorgeous outfits she and Pookie would have worn if they’d had the chance to sail into the most glamorous port in the world. She snapped from her reverie, aware of a lip-smacking sound. Pookie had peanut butter stuck to his upper palette and was trying to dislodge it with his tongue.

The man nodded. ‘What is it?’

Peanut butter. Crunchy.’

No, the animal. What is it?

A Papillon.’

What is that? A cat, a dog?’ The man tilted his head to one side. ‘A rabbit?’

A dog,’ she answered tartly, watching him suspiciously for signs of mockery.

Gerrard appeared and handed the Zhivago a glass of beer before placing a bowl of water on the deck. ‘Would you like your cocktail served now, Mademoiselle Skiffington?’

Startled, she realised the light had faded from the sky. ‘Absolutely not! I can’t possibly take my cocktail looking such a mess.’ She saw Zhivago’s expression and chose to ignore it. Slipping her feet into scarlet sling-backs, she scooped Pookie up from the bowl of water and stood straight. Courteously, Zhivago rose with her, increasing alarmingly in height.

Are you joining me for dinner?’ she asked; conscious of his dirty hands and loathe to think he might touch her.

That would be an honour, but do not worry, I will first scrub myself clean.’

She nodded her approval. Dressing up for oneself was fun, but not as much fun as when a man was there to appreciate it. And the fact that the man believed himself to be in the presence of a sex goddess added a delicious piquancy. She pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head to give him a clear-eyed look; then she bathed him in a dazzling smile, turned and sashayed away.

She would be Sonita … for one last night.

THE DOUBLE

‘Give any girl a billion-dollar yacht, a mile of pretty frocks and an army of manservants and she’ll turn into Cleo-sodding-patra!’ – The Double quote

Taglines

“She saved the children.  But who will save her?”

“Her dream came true but her nightmare is just beginning.”

“Only someone this bad could be this good.”

**Release Day Review** Smoke by Catherine McKenzie

Today sparks the release of international best-selling author Catherine McKenzie’s SMOKE! And, we are delighted to welcome her work to A Reader’s Review Blog. Smoke is a contemporary mystery drama in Women’s Literature following two women who were once close friends, and whilst tackling the danger of a wildfire threatening their town, they also have the chance to reflect on their personal family problems, as well as their friendship. With many questions to be answered, you’ll find yourself buried amongst the drama until the very end!

SmokeTitle: Smoke

Author: Catherine McKenzie

Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction/Chicklit/Mystery/Drama

Release date: October 20th, 2015

Released by: Lake Union Publishing

Length: 351 pages

Blurb: From the internationally bestselling author Catherine McKenzie comes an evocative tale of two women navigating the secrets and lies at the heart of a wildfire threatening their town.

After a decade-long career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in her former life for a quieter one with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce and a fire in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.

For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who has lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.

As the encroaching inferno threatens the town’s residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved.

REVIEW ***** (5*)

Smoke follows two women, Elizabeth and Mindy, who, although once friends, are almost the opposite of each other in terms of personality/character. Elizabeth on the one hand is career-driven to a large degree, and it was only due to wanting a quiet, family life with her husband that encouraged her to leave the job she loved and move to the quiet town of Nelson. Whereas Mindy, having already had two children of her own, is a very devoted housewife who dotes on her children to the point that she has little time for herself. Her every worry and stress concerns her kids and her husband.

The story is told from Elizabeth’s point of view, and begins with Elizabeth waking up and smelling the smoke from ‘a fast-spreading ground fire’. Due to the threat of some homes on the edge of the town, there is an advisory from the emergency services for some homes to be evacuated – Elizabeth’s being one of them. With Elizabeth and her husband, Ben, only having decided to divorce that evening, things become a little awkward when the only real place they have to move to is Ben’s parents, who are unaware of their marital problems.

When Elizabeth arrives on the scene to investigate the fire and give a helping hand where she can, she finds that she misses the drama, the danger and excitement of working on the ground, amid all the chaos. Meeting with colleagues and firefighters at the scene places her among the action and it is an aspect of her life that she simply gets pulled into and thrives in. This is perhaps something that Ben doesn’t quite fully understand.

Investigating the fire leads to her finding out that it began behind a local neighbour’s house, and when looked into a little further it leads to us discovering that the neighbour had been bothered on a regular basis by local kids. Is it possible the kids started the fire, be it an accident or intentional? Did arson have a part to play? To make matters worse, one of the kids implicated is possibly Mindy’s son, Angus, which, over the course of the story, sends Mindy going frantic, blaming herself for not noticing his recent, distant behaviour, and feeling like the world’s worst mum! Will this possible accusation widen the rift between Elizabeth and Mindy even further?

Catherine McKenzie has written scenes that are very true to real life, and Smoke does make you think about your priorities: family, children, work, and relationships with friends and partners. How much should we consider those around us before we make work choices, different friends, etc? And, how selfish should we be?

With its well written style and in-depth characters – many of which go on an emotional/reflecting journey – Smoke is a fantastically well-developed and thought out story. For analytic readers, you will grasp the power that the fire has on this town’s regular, daily routine, and how each of the character’s private lives is pulled apart in the process. However, even the more laidback reader will benefit as the story itself poses many questions alone. Plus, there is an absolutely brilliant reading guide at the end of the book which will provide even more questions and encourage the reader to think even deeper about the meaning of the fire, and how it impacts the main characters. It breaks down the story and you will see some areas in a different light! In this manner, the story will stay with you much longer than after the initial read!

A copy of Smoke was provided for the purpose of a fair and honest review.

SMOKE by Catherine McKenzie is now available on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Reviewed by Caroline Barker