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Jennifer Reviews: Missing Pieces by Meredith Tate (@mltate24)

Missing Pieces

Synopsis:

Your family is the most important part of your life. Your families are the people you love, and love is what separates us from scoundrels and criminals. It maintains order. Your parents, your sibling, and your Partner, are the ones you love. There should never, ever, be anyone else who comes close to that bond. You have only one best friend, and that is the person you’ll be marrying someday. We must learn to differentiate the relationships in our lives: the people we love, and the ones we don’t. It’s inappropriate, it’s foolish, and it’s forbidden to think otherwise.

Trace Bailey’s mouth is her worst enemy – somehow it always gets her in trouble. Luckily, she has a partner in crime – her best friend and neighbor since age seven, Piren Allston. He can’t get enough of her crazy sense of humor, and she loves that he’s always up for another adventure.

They can’t be friends, though, not in their world. Trace and Piren were Assigned to other people at the age of six, and they’re supposed to marry their Partners when they turn twenty-four. Failure to comply leads to Banishment, a fate worse than death.

Worse still is the growing realization that their bond is stronger than just friendship.

In a world without freedom, there are still choices to be made. Following their hearts means losing their family, but following the law means losing each other.

Forever.

My Review:

Missing Pieces is the story of best friends, Piren Allston and Trace Bailey. The two meet in childhood, and their strong bond to one another forms almost immediately. They spend as much of their free time together as possible and quickly achieve an intimacy that even children recognize as a once in a lifetime kind of event.

“From the moment we happened upon the treehouse, it became our sanctuary, our pirate ship, our castle, our hideaway, our place. We visited it every day after school.

Trace and I shared all our secrets lying on the floor of our treehouse, from the juicy to the mundane, I relished the chance to share my day’s stories with her, and most afternoons I couldn’t get up that ladder fast enough. She’d perch her chin on her hands and smile up at me, awaiting whatever news I wanted to tell. I knew she already accepted my secrets before I even opened my mouth. Her presence draped me in an overwhelming sense of comfort.”

Theirs is the kind of affection we tend to label as Puppy Love, and in our universe it is normally viewed as something endearing and sweet. Unfortunately, Piren and Trace do not live in the same world as us.

In their society, children are assigned Partners by those in authority and are committed to their eventual spouses at the age of six. From a very young age, children are taught that no one but their assigned partner can be their best friend and they must adhere to a strict set of social rules until they are old enough to marry.

They date no one but their partner and cannot kiss until age sixteen.

They must begin living together at eighteen, but cannot have sex before marriage takes place at twenty-four.

And they must never have more than two children.

These are just the basic rules; and you can bet there are plenty of other restrictions in place. Any violation of the rules results in Banishment from everyone and everything they know.

Despite the serious consequences at stake, Piren and Trace manage to find ways to keep and grow their friendship while still adhering to their societal expectations. However, this leads to near constant complications that begin in childhood, continue through adolescence and seep into adulthood.

As I read this story, it was obvious that even a best case scenario for Piren and Trace would not be free of conflict and anguish. I found myself growing increasingly concerned for their eventual outcomes with each turn of the page. Missing Pieces is a tension rich story, yet despite the logical probabilities that consume Piren and Trace, both characters stubbornly cling to the hope that they will find a way through their tribulations together.

As a result of their defiance, there isn’t much that comes easily to Piren and Trace. The author, Meredith Tate, doesn’t shy away from allowing her characters to be damaged, and this kind of fearlessness in writing is a trait I have come to admire. It can be difficult to put your characters through hell, subjecting them to their worst nightmares come true; but we all know that nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy to secure.

Don’t allow the youth of these characters to steer you away from giving this book a try. Piren and Trace may be young, but their lives are full of raw intensity. These characters shouldn’t be required to become wholly focused on adulthood responsibilities, but because they are their story is a mature and cautionary tale.

You will experience a wide range of emotions while reading Missing Pieces and I give tremendous credit to Meredith Tate for striking the perfect balance between all of them.

This is a 5 star read that I highly recommend.

Missing Pieces is now available from Omnific Publishing:

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Jennifer Reviews: Pros & Cons by Sydney Logan (@SydneyALogan)

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Synopsis:

Con artists Jenna York and Ethan Summers always seem to cross paths during their travels around the world. With their partners in tow, the cunning criminals wreak havoc across the globe, stealing from the rich and giving to the richer. While Jenna tries to convince herself that she sees him as nothing more than a professional rival, Ethan finds it a little harder to fight his attraction to the beautiful thief.

When tragedy strikes, Jenna and Ethan join forces, but are the stakes too high? Can they escape this last job with their lives—and their hearts—intact?

My Review:

Over the past couple of years, I’ve read and reviewed several of Sydney Logan’s novels. Her books are always well-written and offer a certain amount of sweetness that I find refreshing. I’ve enjoyed all her stories to date, and was excited when I heard another book was on the way. Right from the moment I first saw the cover of Pros & Cons, I knew there was going to be something a bit different about this story.  As soon as I began reading this book, I really began smiling…

 As I slip quietly out of the suite and rush toward the elevator, I can’t deny I’m feeling a little better about Vegas.

That is, until the elevator doors open.

Standing there, leaning against the stainless steel wall with a cocky smile on his face, is the one person I really didn’t want to see this weekend.

With a miserable groan, I step inside the elevator and furiously stab the button.

“Are you following me, Summers?”

“I’d follow your dimples anywhere, York.”

Ethan Summers is infuriatingly charming and handsome. Both assets have proven to be beneficial to his career and detrimental to mine.

“Well, these dimples just lifted Bradley Jones’ credit card numbers.”

“Impressive. Although, one might argue that a more superior con artist would be capable of accomplishing such a feat without showing a little skin. Really, Jenna, I’m disappointed.”

He rarely calls me by my first name. Last names have always been our thing.

“Were you watching me?”

“Every heterosexual man in the casino was watching your little performance. Nice legs, by the way.”

Crap.

“Not good,” I mutter.

“No, but I enjoyed it.”

Ethan grins as the elevator doors open. I don’t protest when he grabs me by the elbow and leads me toward the nearest exit. It’s not brightly lit, but there’s a very nice bouncer that Ethan greets by name who allows us to walk right out the door and into the starry Nevada night. He doesn’t let go of my arm as we hurry toward a black SUV.

“Why are you helping me?”

“You drugged a millionaire and stole his credit card info. I think it’s best we get you out of town.”

That doesn’t really answer my question, but I can’t argue with his logic.
Ethan opens the passenger door and helps me inside.

“Nice stilettos.”

I glare at him, and he shoots me a sexy smile before slamming my door.

It’s really too bad that I hate his guts.

Ethan Summers and I have crossed paths many times throughout the past couple years. It’s unavoidable, considering we’re two of the finest criminal minds in the world.

That’s what the news says, anyway.

“Let me guess,” Ethan says as he pulls the SUV out onto the highway. “You used Rohypnol on Jones?”

I roll my eyes. “I’m a thief, not a sexual predator.”

“Well, you obviously slipped something into his drink.”

“Sleeping pill.”

Ethan hums his disapproval. I can’t argue with him. Slipping Bradley a sedative is so amateur.

“I was desperate. The entire weekend has been a complete waste of time. When did the Viper install dome cams?”

“A few weeks ago. The casino’s hosting the U.S. Poker Championship next month. Ceiling cams are a requirement.”

“Super.”

“I know.”

“So, if you knew about the cameras, what were you doing at the casino?”

“Let’s just say a little birdie told me you were hitting the Viper tonight. I had a feeling you might need my assistance.”

“So you’ve been talking to Abby.”

He remains silent and keeps his eyes trained on the freeway, giving me the chance to study his profile. Ethan has a mop of unruly dark hair and deep blue eyes that make most girls go weak in the knees.

Not this girl. Nope.
“Like what you see?”

My face heats. I hate when he catches me ogling him.

“You’re an ass.”

He laughs. “Someday, Jenna, you’re going to stop fighting this attraction between us. I’m really looking forward to that.”

Right off the bat, Ethan and Jenna show us their incredible chemistry.  Their back and forth banter is flirty and fun, and as the story moves along the sexual tension between the two amps up considerably with each encounter. Along with this dose of humor, however, is a darker plot twist that perfectly offsets the sexy comedy. As the story progressed, I found myself wrapped up within the fast paced plot and drawn up in the suspense generated once years of conning others begins to catch up with Ethan and Jenna.

The synopsis for Pros & Cons is shorter than most books I see, and I think there is good reason for this. There are several great twists and turns within the story, and to reveal any one of them could really diminish from the reader’s overall enjoyment. I am always loathe to reveal spoilers in my reviews, so I’m hoping my enthusiasm for Pros & Cons along with the excerpt I’ve included here will be convincing enough for you to give this book a go. If you’re looking for an entertaining read with some great sexual tension and a large dose of humor thrown in, then I highly recommend Pros & Cons.

While I was reading the story, I tweeted Sydney Logan and informed her this was fast becoming my favorite book of hers, and I still stand behind that tweet in this review. Four fabulous and flirty stars from me!

Buy links:

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About Author

Amazon bestselling author Sydney Logan holds a Master’s degree in Elementary Education. She is the author of three novels – Lessons Learned, Mountain Charm, and Soldier On. Sydney has also penned four short stories and is a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul.

A native of East Tennessee, Sydney enjoys playing piano and relaxing on her porch with her wonderful husband and their very spoiled cat.

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Jennifer Reviews: Fix You by Beck Anderson (@BeckAndersonID)

Fix You final cover

Adult Contemporary Romance
New release from Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) March 2015
Previously released by Omnific Publishing

Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Synopsis:

In this modern-day Cinderella story with a charming twist, a young widow with two rambunctious sons falls for a gorgeous movie star. But can she handle life in the limelight?
When Kelly Reynolds’s husband died two years ago, he left her to raise their two young boys. She’s barely pieced herself back together and takes refuge in her routine, running her kids around town and running the trails near their Idaho home.

A chance encounter on a trail run brings famous actor Andy Pettigrew into her life. He’s clearly interested in her, but Kelly hates risk, and a love affair with Andrew is certainly tempting fate. She doesn’t fit into his Hollywood world. She doesn’t own a pair of Louboutins, and she couldn’t walk five steps in them if she did. Andrew oozes cool. She reeks of dork.

Despite this, they click. But Andrew struggles with the pressures of his fame, and Kelly’s hold on a so-called normal life is already tenuous. So as much as she wants to indulge the fantasy, she doesn’t know how either of them is supposed to cope with stalkerazzi and tweet-happy fans with camera phones. Especially when she and Andrew both have secrets that seem impossible to keep…

Add to your Goodreads list!

 My Review:

As an author of a contemporary romance set in the celebrity world of Hollywood, I’m always interested to read someone else’s inside perspective on a movie star’s life.  Having already read another one of Beck Anderson’s novels, I was confident I would be treated to a good story in Fix You.  I’m happy to report that was exactly the case.

Both Fix You and The Jeweler feature heroines who are dealing with loss and grief, which can be a difficult emotion to write about.  It can be easy to over-dramatize the emotions associated with deep loss, just as easily as it can be to underwhelm a reader with a character’s apparent lack of feeling while mourning a loved one.  Just as when one writes about love, there is a fine balance to be maintained when addressing the delicate subject of death and grief. Beck Anderson has proven to me, not just once but twice, that she can convey these complicated emotions organically with her characters and I greatly admire this skill of hers.

When Kelly Reynolds loses her husband at the beginning of Fix You, the reader is taken along on her journey to mourn and to move on with life so that she can remain an involved and caring mother for their two children.  In the process of recovery, Kelly finds herself on vacation with her sons and her parents in California.  One morning she goes out for a jog and ends up running into one of the world’s most sought after movie stars. One brief introduction to Andy Pettigrew, the famous actor, leads to another brief interlude and soon Kelly finds herself easing into a most unlikely new friendship.

“Remember when you were first learning to drive?” I take another deep breath. I’m not sure if I’ve been breathing in any reliable way since we crossed the condo’s threshold.

“Yeah, I do, actually. Everything was a giant ordeal. My dad took me out in our neighborhood. I sneezed and ran the car up on Mr. Hattingfield’s yard. Took out his mailbox.”

“I haven’t been very social lately – except with people I know. Heck, since the boys were born, I haven’t been super social at all. Okay, I wasn’t ever amazingly social to begin with.”

“But your point?” I think he’s kind of grinning. At me. He could be close to laughing.

“I have one. Stop smiling. You’re not helping. The point is, I’m back at the aware-of-every-little-part-of-a-social-interaction stage. Like beginner driving, when you check the mirrors, and you have to think, Turn on the blinker. That’s the stage I’m in. I don’t even know where to look. Do I look right at you the whole time we talk? Do I look you right in the eye?”

I stop to breathe for a second. He turns the mug all the way around by the handle before he responds, his eyes on the tea bag. “You’re fine. You need to breathe, and you need to not tap the spoon on the table. Other than that, I find you pretty socially capable. I might even venture to say charming.”

“Where do I look?” This has devolved into a social etiquette class offered by a movie star to a woman whose mind has completely left her in her moment of need.

“You can always look at me.” He looks up from the mug, right into my eyes.

I agree. I think I could look at him for a nice long while.

Naturally, Andrew (as he prefers to be called) prefers to keep his personal life as private as possible, and given the situation Kelly is currently working through her mindset is in a similar place. The two enjoy a budding but secret friendship, and when Andrew makes an unexpected visit to Kelly’s hometown of Boise, he soon finds that her quiet lifestyle is exactly the kind of life he dreams to call his own.  The two spend limited time with one another but quickly come to rely on each other for a much needed change of pace from their individual normal routines.

Content in their bubble of distraction, Kelly and Andrew easily find ways to avoid sharing some of their deeper personal struggles with one another, but as their affection for one another begins to grow hiding these issues becomes more and more difficult.  Both Kelly and Andrew are in mentally fragile places and Fix You soon transforms into a dramatic love story as a result.

I’ve enjoyed reading Beck Anderson’s books recently and it is easy to see why Fix You was picked up by Gallery Books for a re-release. Beck is a skilled storyteller and she navigates her characters quite naturally through some very extraordinary circumstances.  As a reader, I experienced a wide variety of emotions while immersed in the story and practically read this book through in a single day, after finding it nearly impossible to set down.

For those of you who enjoy a good Hollywood novel or a story about finding love a second time around, I highly recommend Fix You. I happily rate it 4.5 stars!

About the Author

Beck Anderson loves to write about love and its power to heal and grow people past their many imperfections. She is a firm believer in the phrase “mistakes are for learning” and uses it frequently to guide her in writing life and real life.

Beck balances (clumsily at best) writing novels and screenplays, working full-time as an educator, mothering two pre-teen males, loving one post-40 husband, and making time to walk the foothills of Boise, Idaho, with Stefano DiMera Delfino Anderson, the suavest Chihuahua north of the border.

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Jennifer Reviews: The Jeweler by Beck Anderson (@BeckAndersonID)

The Jeweler Banner-1

Adult Contemporary Romance
Published by Omnific Publishing
Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Synopsis:

Fender Barnes profits from an institution he doesn’t believe in: marriage. He’s a talented designer, but a reluctant jewelry store owner, thanks to his pop’s retirement. He’s cynical, he’s jaded, he’s not entirely certain about the concept of love, but he’s happy to sell an eager young guy an engagement ring for his fiancée to be—until moments after the transaction when that eager guy is hit by a car and killed, and Fender’s conscience pays a rare visit.

He retrieves the ring and decides to find the woman his customer intended to marry. That woman turns out to be Ginger Stevens, twenty-something ski instructor, who—despite being full of guilt and self-doubt after the death of her boyfriend—is someone Fender finds he quite enjoys being around. He’s smitten.

Which is all well and good, except that after he meets her, Fender can’t do it. Though it’s right there in his pocket, he can’t tell her about the ring. Instead, he embarks on a long, ridiculous quest to find a way to tell her the truth he knows she deserves. Aided by advice from Pop and the antics of his best friend Sam, Fender tries desperately to juggle his budding romance with the reality he knows could ruin it.

Will he find love or foul it up? Can Ginger move out of the past to embrace what the future has to offer? Meet this unlikely pair in Beck Anderson’s heartfelt and fabulously funny second novel, The Jeweler.

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My Review:

I’ll make one statement right upfront. For me, there was a familiarity with The Jeweler that was particularly endearing. The story is set in Boise, Idaho, which is a place that many of my family and friends call home. We travel there for family events every once in a while and so I recognized many of the settings used in this novel (the scene at the Record Exchange was a particular favorite). There’s even a mention of an Oregon coast town that I know well and it really helped me connect on a deeper level with the book. It was as though I was reading about people I already knew.

The synopsis above does a stellar job of explaining the overall plot,  so I won’t bother to recap the summary here. I’d rather spend my limited review space highlighting the one big note I made about The Jeweler as I read it.  There’s a unique spin on this romantic tale that I don’t often come across in such stories. Ready?

While this is a narrative written in third person, and explores the perspectives of Ginger and Fender, I found that much of the romantic story unfolded from the male point of view.

“Fender looked back on his “wasted youth” and didn’t feel regret; he just felt sorry for his dad. Oh, to have a son who excelled in mediocrity, with a side of troublemaking. This was yet another reason to never have children; they might inherit his juvenile delinquency. And another reason not to get married. But Fender was constantly reminded why he despised marriage, regardless. Every time he’d craft a delicate setting with a pale, clear diamond, and it went on the hand of a crass, selfish gold digger, or some cheating, sweaty lout gave a necklace of blood red rubies to his unsuspecting, hard-working wife, Fender remembered how he felt about the sacred institution.”

Not only does the reader become well-accustomed with Fender’s thoughts and feelings about romance in general and Ginger in particular, but many of the story conflicts and solutions are largely driven by the male influences in Fender’s life.  Fender’s best friend, Sam, is the epitome of the Pacific Northwest bachelor. He lives a quiet, unassuming life and enjoys smoking, Carhartt coveralls and beer. He’s perfectly content and could truly care less if people can’t deal with his choices.  But he’s also warm and loyal and willing to help Fender figure out his dilemma with Ginger.  He pushes Fender to stray outside his romantic comfort zones, and stays right by his side through thick and thin.

Another source of male guidance and support is Fender’s father. Not only has he looked after Fender emotionally, he has also provided his only child with an established jewelry business for financial security. Having grown up without a mother and with no other siblings, Fender’s experiences with women are largely limited. Until his life intersects with Ginger’s under a set of tragic circumstances, Fender has kept his interactions with women casual, seemingly as Sam and his father sit on the sidelines waiting for Fender to discover something or someone special.

Pop’s questioning gray eyes were still trained on Fender, and his sparse mustache twitched with curiosity. “Tell me, Sonny. What’d you do today?”

“Nothing.” The day had been humiliating enough. He didn’t want his dad to know on top of it all.

“Jerry, he was in fine form.” Sam sat across the table from them, out of Fender’s striking distance.

Fender tilted his head and shot his most withering look at Sam. “I went skiing.”

“No, no, it’s better than that. We went after this girl, and Fender learned how to ski all over again. He also tried to use two old ladies as bowling pins.” Sam’s shoulders were shaking again.

As per usual, Pop focused on the woman in the conversation. “Fender went after a girl? Really? Does this mean little Sandy didn’t make you swear off women forever?”

Sam brightened. “I’d almost forgotten about Sandy. Isn’t she the one that wrote I HATE YOU with weed killer on your front lawn?” Sam sat back and stretched his arms out on the top of the booth, relaxed and apparently prepared for a stroll down Fender’s memory lane of exes.

As The Jeweler unfolds, we see that even Ginger tends to rely on the support and advice of these two gents; and as a captivated reader I was glad to see her do so.   For these reasons, this novel was an enchanting and refreshing read for me. I’ve become a true fan of Beck Anderson as a result, and I’m hoping that she’ll be willing to meet up with me in downtown Boise the next time I happen to pop into town for a visit.  The author has that special ability to infuse both tragedy and humor into a novel without skewing to extremes with either. Not only is this novel filled with characters I swear I already know, it tells a story that is as realistic and fragile as it is courageous and surreal. Just like life.

An enthusiastic four star read from me!

About the Author:

Beck Anderson loves to write about love and its power to heal and grow people past their many imperfections. She is a firm believer in the phrase “mistakes are for learning” and uses it frequently to guide her in writing life and real life.

Beck balances (clumsily at best) writing novels and screenplays, working full-time as an educator, mothering two pre-teen males, loving one post-40 husband, and making time to walk the foothills of Boise, Idaho, with Stefano DiMera Delfino Anderson, the suavest Chihuahua north of the border.

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Jennifer Reviews: Love Starts With Z by Tera Shanley (@terashanley)

LSWZ Cover

 

Synopsis:

Twenty-four years into the Dead outbreak that ended the world, Soren Mitchell sticks out like a sore thumb in the remains of the human race. She’s an anomaly: a hybrid of human and Dead, created by her mother’s genetic immunity. Like her parents, she’s fierce and strong. But despite their hopes for her happiness and safety, and even though she is no real threat to the colony, she has let the humans muzzle her and confine her within the walls of Dead Run River in search of a cure.

When Kaegan Langford stumbles into the colony with an injured friend draped across his shoulders, her world is turned upside down. Intrigued and affected by her, he asks her to come to Empalme, Mexico with him to fight in the war between Deads and humans. It’ll be a long, treacherous journey to the coast, but she’s had all she can take in the colony.

Battles with Deads, betrayal, injury, kidnappings, and a criminal-run train ride stand between them and the war. But in the end, it’s not just the war with the Deads that could be the death of them.

Tera Shanley’s final book in the Dead Rapture series will thrill your heart…and your braaaains.

My Review:

Love Starts With Z is the third and final book in the Dead Rapture series, and I have to confess upfront that I’ve haven’t yet read the first two books.

Tera’s novel was brought to my attention by her publisher, and after hearing a little bit about the plot I decided that I would give it a go.  Admittedly, this was a bit of a risk but I’m happy to say that the book can easily be read as a stand alone novel. And perhaps the even better news is that I now plan to backtrack and read the others in this series.

The easy description of this novel is to call it a zombie story, but  it is a zombie story with what I considered to be a unique angle.  The main character of the book is a young woman named Soren Mitchell.  Born in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, Soren is a living, breathing, conscious human who happens to possess many of the physical traits of a zombie. While her zombie-like appearance and her tendency to enjoy extremely rare meat make it difficult for other humans to trust her (most humans initially are inclined to kill her at first sight), these traits also make it possible for Soren to come into direct contact with zombies (also referred to as Deads) without danger of being attacked.

At the beginning of Love Starts With Z, we learn that Soren has left the colony of humans she was born into and raised by to live with a different colony. The purpose in doing so is to assist researchers in their quest to develop a cure for the deadly zombie outbreak that constantly threatens to wipe out the dwindling human race. In this new colony, Soren is treated more like a Dead than a human. She is forced to adhere to a strict series of rules developed to protect humans, but at the cost of dehumanizing Soren. Despite the inhumane treatment, Soren endures in ultimate hopes that her personal sacrifice will benefit mankind.

Amidst this chaos, a young man named Kaegan Langford finds himself at Soren’s colony. Once he’s made aware of her existence, Kaegan becomes infatuated by Soren. What begins as intense curiosity in Soren soon develops into something much more substantial. Kaegan finds her treatment by others in her colony cruel and is soon inclined to become a defender of the mysterious young woman.

Anger coursed his veins, red and blinding until all he could think about was wrapping his fingers around Colten’s throat. Closing his eyes, he counted to ten, and then ground out, “If you call her a zombie again, your nose will match Mark’s.”

“Geez, man. You’re so touchy now.”

“He’s got it bad,” Ben said.

Bad? Nah. He’d liked girls before. It had been a few years since he’d had any kind of steady relationship with one, but bad? So he thought about her more than was maybe healthy. And he worried about her wellbeing. And when people insulted her, he wanted to kill them slowly. Okay, so maybe he did have it worse than he ever had before, but it was Soren. She was different. Not just the way she looked, which enamored him more every time he saw her, but she was kind. Not polite-kind to trick people into liking her, but she was someone who honestly cared about the feelings of others. And she did what she thought was right no matter what anyone else thought of her. She was respectable, beautiful—this gorgeous warrior who had consumed him, mind and body, without any effort at all. And when she fought? She was an artist.

“Hello,” Colten said, waving his hand in Kaegan’s face.

Irritated, he swatted it away and ducked a low hanging branch.

Soon, a friendship begins to grow between Kaegan and Soren and the two allies quickly find themselves caught up in circumstances that accelerate both the depth of their connection and their respect for one another.

While I’m pretty open to reading books of all kinds, I do have to admit that I’ve never sought out zombie stories. What I enjoyed about Love Starts With Z was that while the zombie outbreak is an integral part of the overall plot, this novel is really more about how humans can sometimes be more frightening than the numerous Deads wandering aimlessly in search of brains.  The unusual dynamic that develops between Soren and Kaegan made for a compelling read, and ultimately I found their eventual outcome uncertain due to the unconventionality of their relationship.

The action scenes were well-written, the various characters were numerous and interesting, and the emotional scenes were captivating. There were great moments of suspense and swoon, and I’d happily recommend the Dead Rapture series to anyone looking to read something a bit outside the usual realms of the typical romance novel.

Love Starts With Z is now available from Omnific Publishing:

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Book One (only 99 cents for the month of February! Get it now!)

Book Two

You can also follow Tera Shanley on social media:

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Jennifer Reviews: Closer and Closer by Jenna Barton (@WriteyJennaB)

Closer and Closer

The Synopsis:

Dominance and submission. The delicate balance between hurts so good and too hot to handle. They’re not just kinky trends for the members of The Enclave, a tight-knit group gathering in a Gilded Age mansion secluded in the North Carolina mountains.

Come Closer…

For Erin Proctor, life has always been about working hard, creating stability, and succeeding. She plays it safe, watching from a distance. Then she encounters an unpredictable, sensual world she’s always known was there, but didn’t believe she could belong to.

Walt Easton is straightforward and unpretentious, a big, earthy man in possession of himself—and a fierce set of solid leather floggers. Once he and Erin meet, their attraction is undeniable. Walt wants a full relationship, not just fun in the playroom. Their kinky adventures can be negotiated later.

They’ve finally found a relationship that can let them explore who they fully are. But can Walt accept that while he’s in charge in their private lives, when it comes to her job, Erin is the one in charge? Will Erin take the risk of letting down her walls and allowing Walt in all the way?

The biggest risk, after all, isn’t mixing pain and pleasure. It’s finding yourself—in love.

The first book of The Enclave series will bring you Closer to your desire.

My Review:

I have to start this review with the disclaimer that I haven’t read a wide variety of stories that feature BDSM, but when I was offered the opportunity to read Closer and Closer there was just something about the synopsis that told me this book was worth a peek. I agreed to receive an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I’ve been mulling over my thoughts on this book for a couple of weeks now.

The story begins with Erin Proctor, a successful and single career woman who has just relocated from California to North Carolina. She does so not only to pursue a promising job opportunity, but also to put some distance between herself and her mother and sister (who have always depended on Erin to be the responsible one). Having secretly possessed a curiosity about the taboo world of BDSM, Erin now finds an opportunity to indulge her interests in a town full of strangers. After being invited by an acquaintance to a *demonstration*, Erin is introduced to Walt Easton at the event.

The attraction between Erin and Walt is sparked almost immediately, but not in the overtly sexual way I would have expected. Erin and Walt genuinely like one another and their friendship forms in a quiet, even sweet way.  By day, Walt is a responsible and unassuming Park Ranger, but he’s also been an *ahem* active Dominant for most of his adult life. Erin know this and is intrigued by him…

He was recalling last night. I knew it, in another atypical flash of human-focused intuition. Felt it, really, as a plume of heat rolled down my neck.

I cleared my throat. “Thank you for inviting me. I’m sure it’s unusual, asking someone to your workplace who’s from…well, you know—there?”

He glanced away, turning the brim of his hat through his hand, then gestured toward me.

“I’m glad you came.”

The timbre of his voice never changed, but the volume softened appreciably. Before I could stifle the thought, I wondered what his voice would sound like in the morning, across from me in my bed, or in my ear as his thick thighs rode between mine, behind me as he grasped my hair and drove into me again and again.

Warmth quite unlike anything I’d known spread, from that first shimmer across my neck, to my shoulders, and sparked a fuse traveling straight down my spine.

His mouth twitched slightly, then spread into a disarmingly sweet smile as his eyebrows lifted. A small rumbling chuckle escaped his chest, and then Walt the Park Ranger with matching floggers shocked the hell out of me. His eyes darted toward the parking lot, he looked down, and the tips of his ears flushed.

“I think it’s just us,” he said, still looking away, and put his ranger’s hat on. “Want to get goin’?”

“Yes, of course.” I bristled inwardly at the sound of my own voice: too efficient, mechanical, harsh.

As we walked across the wooden bridge at the trail’s head, I settled into a pace a little slower than his. Practically, his legs were much longer and he would constantly trip over me if I lead. Letting him lead made sense.

An added benefit was a better view of the movement of his legs against his dark olive green pants, and the round, muscular backside that rippled in differing defined landscapes with each step. His pale green ranger’s shirt stretched across his broad back as his arms swung, revealing even more refined muscles. They strained slightly against the short sleeves before continuing on to tanned forearms, scattered with brown hair.

I pushed a damp strand of hair from my neck. Only May and it’s this humid?

On the other side of the spectrum, Walt is a man who has sworn off relationships in favor of play. When he is introduced to Erin, he immediately knows that she is new to the scene; but he also senses there is a deeper yearning brewing within her. Something more than the mere exploration of her deepest sexual fantasies. Walt intuits (correctly) that Erin wants to experiment as a submissive and he offers her careful guidance as she delves more and more into a lifestyle she knows precious little about.  What I found welcoming about Walt was his concern for Erin’s well-being. He is not an alpha man simply looking to take advantage of a naive woman. Walt values and respects Erin and strives to nurture her burgeoning sexuality.

“So how long have you been in…um, known Cla—clover?”

“How long have I known Claire or how long have I been in the lifestyle?” He took a long drink from his water bottle. “Or how long have I been kinky?”

“I don’t know.” His directness pinned me down, with no easy route to a more comfortable means of discovering everything I wanted to know about him. I wanted to hear his version of this thing—a lifestyle, maybe—he shared with Claire. And I did want to know, not only because I should if what felt like our mutual attraction became something more, but because of him. Already, I liked him. I wanted to know Walt’s story. Maybe all of them.

“Kinky. How long?”

Glancing over at me with a wry half-smile, he laughed softly. “Straight to the point, huh?”

I shrugged, pulled at a stray peanut and bit into it. “I suppose. I wonder about things, though.”

“About?”

“About people. I’m curious about how people figure things out. Not just with—” I gestured toward the forest, like it was where I’d find the perfect example of the parts of BDSM I always was curious about. “That. Being into that.”

“Hey, Erin,” he said, tipping his shoulder toward mine like a conspirator. “If you have a hard time saying it, you might want to reconsider giving it a try.”

As I read Closer and Closer, I was completely won over by Erin and Walt. Their relationship may not be defined by convention, but it is wholly real.  It is emotional and complex, intelligent and sensual. And while all my attention in this review is focused on them, this book also contains a fabulous ensemble cast of characters, each as well-developed and captivating as the two leads. This novel is the first in the new Enclave series by author Jenna Barton, and I’ve been given a few clues by the author as to what comes next.

I’ve thought a lot about this story (and definitely about Walt) over the past few weeks and I’ll be on pins and needles waiting for the forthcoming books! I’ve been spoiled lately with several 5 star reads, and I’ll happily add this story to that list.

Closer and Closer will be released by Omnific Publishing on February 10th, 2015.

You can add it to your Goodreads list or you can follow Jenna Barton’s Amazon page to await the live links.

You can also follow Jenna Barton on social media:

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Jennifer Reviews: Seven For A Secret by Rumer Haven (@RumerHaven)

SFAS

The Synopsis:

It’s the year 2000, and twenty-four-year-old Kate moves into a new apartment to find a new state of independence in a new millennium. Almost immediately, she starts crushing on a hot guy who lives in her building. Deciding to take a break from her boyfriend Dexter, Kate believes the only thing now separating her from the fresh object of her sexual fantasies is the thin wall between their neighboring apartments.

A former 1920s hotel, Camden Court has housed many lonely lives over the decades—and is where a number of them have come to die. They’re not all resting in peace, however, including ninety-year-old Olive, who dropped dead in Kate’s apartment and continues to make her presence known.

For Olive has a secret she’s dying to tell. One linking her to the sex, scandal, and sacrifice of a young dreamer named Lon. As the past haunts the present, Kate’s romantic notion that the thrill-of-the-chase beats the reality-after-the-catch unexpectedly entwines her modern-day love life with Lon’s Jazz Age tragedy.

With a little supernatural and a lotta’ razzle-dazzle, Seven for a Secret is where historical fiction meets contemporary rom-com—from the Roaring Twenties when the “New Woman” was born, to the modern Noughties when she really came of age.

My Review:

Truthfully speaking, Seven For A Secret is not just one love story, but two. Although both are told simultaneously and are set in the same city of Chicago, they take place 75 years apart from one another.  One story takes place during the Roaring 20’s and is centered around Lon and Eva. Lon is a man who is attempting to discover his own place in the world, away from the societal expectations of his upbringing.

“Staring down at the floor as he strode deeper down the corridor, Lon lost his focus in observation of the intricate design, step after colorfully tiled step – until his wingtips stubbed against a marble lip rising about an inch from the floor. He looked up to meet the life-sized stone likeness of a courtier wooing a fair maiden above a fountain. The couple was white as purity and forever frozen mere inches from embrace.

“The thrill of the chase,” Lon murmured. “The only thrill there is.”

Lon isn’t looking for love, but finds it anyhow when he attends a party and meets Eva, a young and intelligent woman who immediately captures his eye.

“There was no doubt about it: she was exquisite. Lon knew this not to be a matter of his opinion, but a fact.This beauty had nothing to do with which eye beheld it. It was there, filling all eyes in the same way, no more, no less. She is for everyone.”

In stark contrast is the story of Kate and Dexter, set in the year 2000.  By all accounts, Kate has found a good man in her work colleague, Dexter. But as their relationship deepens and the pressure mounts for Kate to make a long-term commitment she becomes insistent on setting boundaries by moving out of his condo and into her own studio apartment.

“The music next door had stopped, perhaps already had some time ago while she and Dex had been…what? Making love? Just passing the time? What was it that she’d really wanted when she’d walked out of that Lake Shore condo? Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe as the responsibility for Dexter’s heart crushed down on her own. Absence was only making things foggier so far.”

Kate’s desire to establish some personal distance from Dexter provides some potential complication when she notices a good looking stranger in her new building  – a man she soon begins to speculate is her next door neighbor.

“Suddenly shy and anxious about what might happen next, she turned to press her palm against the wall behind her. It felt warm, a soothing contrast to her room that had just turned so cold. She imagined Hot Neighbor sitting there with his hand against the wall, too, directly opposite her. What if he’d noticed her before and wanted to get her attention? Maybe seen her around sometime, even if just out his window, and then followed the sound of her footsteps and door slams to trace her to this unit? Kind of stalkerish, but awfully flattering, Kate thought. After all, she was doing the same thing with him.”

The historical love story is dramatic and dark, while the modern contemporary tale is lighter and humorous. At first glance it might be tempting to think there is too much story within one novel, but Rumer Haven balances it all so well.  Both love stories are compelling, intelligent and heart-warming.  Haven’s narrative is both poetic and endearing and I quickly found myself admiring the effort and devotion that went into writing this story.  There were moments in Seven For A Secret when I laughed out loud, shed a few tears and held my breath while I read.

This novel hit all the right spots emotionally for me, and I highly recommend it. Typically, I’m stingy in doling out 5 star ratings. I only do when I know that a book has made a lasting impression on me and when I know that others will feel the same way once they’ve given the story their time and attention.

Seven For A Secret receives an enthusiastic 5 star rating from me!

I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what Rumer Haven produces next, which incidentally won’t be long from now. Her next release, Four Somethings and a Sixpence, is coming up on February 3!

You can purchase the ebook or the paperback of Seven For A Secret here:

You can also find Rumer Haven on social media:

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Jennifer Reviews: Emerald Eyes by N. Michaels (@N_Micheals22)

emerald eyes

The Synopsis:

After years of fighting the pressure of becoming a neurosurgeon and continuing her family’s famous legacy, Katherine Slav’s father has had enough of her partying. He cuts her off financially, leaving Katherine to fend for herself.Finding a job is a priority. Finding Eric Miller is a bonus – a bonus that quickly proves to be impossible to resist. How can she have the only man who denies her every step of the way? How can she seduce her boss without losing her job?Struggling to ward off feelings that go beyond professional, Eric tries to keep Katherine at arm’s length, but the more he’s around her, the weaker his resistance becomes.

Discovering Eric’s secret and baring her own, she fights for her newfound love with everything she’s got, but will it be enough to banish the darkness in Eric’s life?

Is having Eric Miller all she thought it would be?

Will Katherine be enough?

My Review:

If you like your fictional men to be young, successful Alpha CEO’s, then please allow me to introduce you to Eric Miller…

“I risk a quick glance in Mr. Miller’s direction and find him standing in front of his floor-to-ceiling window. He’s looking down at the busy streets of Midtown. I can only see his strong profile but from what I can tell, he’s deep in thought. His strong arms are crossed over his chest and his back is tense. Worry flutters in my chest, and I feel the sudden urge to go to him and comfort him, to ease his mind of whatever is bothering him. Instead, I fight it. I force my eyes away from Mr. Miller’s tense body and go back to work.

He’s not my boyfriend; he’s my boss.”

The heroine of the story is Katherine Slav, a gorgeous young woman, who is never in want of male attention. Her comfortable life is turned upside down when she stubbornly refuses to follow in her father’s professional footsteps and is served with an ultimatum: End her frivolous partying and focus on a career in neurosurgery or else find her own way in the world.

Katherine opts for the latter, but manages to land on her feet quickly when she secures work as an Executive Assistant for the CEO of Miller Financial.  She desperately needs the job in order to make ends meet, but she is quickly fascinated by her attractive boss; a boss who appears to be doing his best to resist her irresistible charm. Katherine and Eric attempt their best to settle into a professional relationship, but their instant physical chemistry is almost impossible to deny from the moment they meet and emotions run high whenever Mr. Miller requires Katherine’s presence at after-hours functions.

“He lifts his head and notices me, but then his gaze falls on Patrick. His eyebrows furrow for a moment before he rises, then leans his head closer to mine.

“I didn’t know you were going to bring a date,” he whispers. The air escaping his mouth tickles my ear, sending goose bumps down the rest of my body.

I bring my lips to his ear and say, “It wasn’t planned. Sort of a last minute thing.”

He smells so intoxicating, pure male, fresh soap and a faint trace of cologne. His heady scent makes me want to spend the rest of the night glued to his neck. I inhale deeply then force myself to lean back and face him. His striking face is not giving anything away, but in his eyes I see the fury rising like blue flames in an inferno.”

Both Katherine and Eric have complicated personal lives, which lends more emotion to their growing sexual tension, and the result makes for an enjoyable read.  Emerald Eyes is the debut novel from N. Michaels. This author is new to publishing fiction, but someone I believe shows good instincts as a writer.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the occasional technical glitches in the narrative, but none were severe enough to distract me from the overall enjoyment of the story. I’ve actually read two versions of Emerald Eyes within the last year and was quite pleased when I was just as caught up in my second read of the book as I was during the first. The characters in Emerald Eyes are well-developed and the story is well-paced. N. Michaels has done a great job of drawing the reader in to the emotions necessary to hold interest in the plot.  There were moments of great tension – sexual and otherwise; and I always appreciate a good cliffhanger.  Emerald Eyes ends on a startling note, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to Eric and Katherine in the upcoming sequel, Onyx Heart.

You can purchase Emerald Eyes from the following retailers:

Amazon  Barnes & Noble  iTunes  Kobo

You can also find N. Michaels on social media:

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Jennifer Reviews: Starbright by Alexandra Richland

Starbright-Cover-2

 

The Synopsis:

For starlet Elizabeth Sutton, it’s difficult to tell which has more momentum: her burgeoning film career, or the growing intimacy in her forbidden romance with notorious Hollywood outsider, Aidan Evans.

When the opportunity to costar in a feature film arrives, Beth and Aidan fight to keep their relationship out of Hollywood’s rumor mill and away from the ever-watchful eyes of Starlight Studios head Luther Mertz, who condemns a union between them and threatens the future of Beth’s acting career.

The pressure mounts as the cameras roll. Beth and Aidan navigate the precarious heights of superstardom while exploring their physical desires in secret. Beth grapples between the debilitating nervousness over her sexual inexperience and her unbridled need for Aidan. Meanwhile, the demons from Aidan’s past he thought forever vanquished linger on the fringes of a fragile inner peace . . .

Starbright is the second book in The Starlight Trilogy, a story of love and redemption set against the backdrop of the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

My Review:

I first heard about the Starlight Trilogy through word of mouth. Many of my trusted online friends had been talking up the story on twitter before the release of the first book in 2013, so I downloaded the book onto my kindle as soon as it was available.

And then I was promptly consumed by real life. *frowns*

After a very hectic time, I gladly welcomed a long holiday weekend. I decided to spend some of my time off by enjoying a bit of leisure reading. I began Starlight early one morning, figuring I’d read a few chapters before moving on with my day.

Well, as it turns out, I rarely moved from my favorite reading perch for hours. Once I was drawn in by the Prologue, there was no going back. Over the course of the afternoon, I found it nearly impossible to put my kindle down, and by the evening I had finished the story.

I spent the next year eagerly awaiting the release of the second book, Starbright, and my expectations for a worthy sequel were quickly met. In writing this series, Alexandra Richland has demonstrated great skill as a storyteller. The romance between Aidan and Beth builds slowly during the course of the first book, but their love story is genuine and profound. Starbright builds upon the fragile foundation of this couple’s relationship as the two young lovers develop their physical intimacy.

“Please don’t go yet.”

Aidan’s tenacity vanished. He turned around. The look in Beth’s eyes showed she wanted him here as much as he didn’t want to leave. He approached her slowly and discovered she was no longer shaking. He touched a tender hand to her cheek. She was no longer cold.

Aidan bathed in her vanilla scent, which was extra potent from the rain. Her lips were just an impulse away, but he wasn’t about to be reckless with her. Not with Beth. Not his fragile little dove.

“You’re so beautiful.” The compliment slipped from his lips in a reverent whisper.

Aidan dipped his head and swept his arms around her waist. Beth closed her eyes in silent offering. Ever so slowly, he brought their lips together, his hands traveling down her side to her hips.

Beth whimpered and returned the kiss, weaving her fingers into his damp hair, tugging, swirling, and scratching. Aidan took that as a green light to go further. With a gentle nudge, his tongue entered her mouth.”

Beyond the tantalizing attraction these two feel toward one another, Starbright offers much more to the reader. The backdrop of the movie studio is incredible in its detail and is filled with fascinating secondary characters, some of whom are completely fictional and some of whom are amongst the biggest stars in the history of cinema.  Chief among these characters is Starlight Studios head, Luther Mertz, who views any connection between the rebellious Aidan and the demure Beth as a detriment to his carefully managed empire.

“…he withdrew a magazine from the top drawer of his desk and slid it toward her. The publication was opened to a specific article, which he positioned so she could look at it right-side up.

“Explain this photo of you and Aidan Evans in Santa Barbara.”

The blood drained from Beth’s face. She gripped the armrests and rose from her chair, peering over the desk at the publication. It was an issue of Life magazine. The largest photograph was the group shot of her, Aidan, and their friends taken after the race. The other photographs were of Aidan and his Porsche. Surely the group photograph wasn’t the source of her boss’s anger?

Mr. Mertz slapped his hand down on the magazine and dragged it toward him. “Why were you at Mr. Evans’ race? He is no good for your image, and a racetrack is not a place you should be visiting under any circumstances.”

Beth sat back down in her chair. It was crucial to handle the situation calmly. Mr. Mertz had no proof that she and Aidan were in a relationship.”

It is clear that the author has a deep respect and knowledge for 1950’s Hollywood. As such, a reader can be swept up into the fantastic life of movie-making while still feeling that the novel offers a realistic portrayal of both the era and the larger-than-life circumstances that took place in the entertainment capital of the world.

The cast of secondary characters are rich in both complexity and amusement, and the bustling activity of life behind the gates of Starlight Studios is glamorous and enthralling. If you are looking for a carefully crafted and well-written love story, I highly recommend reading Starlight and Starbright.  The conclusion of this trilogy, Stardust, is expected to release during 2015, and I know I’ll be one of the first in line to buy a copy.

You can purchase all of Alexandra Richland’s books on her Amazon Page and you can also follow her on twitter: @RebelMissAlex.

POP TALK: The 80’s Called, They Want Their Music Back

I’ve felt like a teenager again these past few months because there have been a flood of iconic 80’s bands releasing new material. Information Society, (one of my all-time favorites), put out their first new album in 20 years; and on the very same day, Erasure also put out a new CD.

Before I review the aforementioned albums, I should also mention the release of not one, but two new records by Prince. I’ve been tempted to break out the Gumby earring and jump Hammer pants first into the bubble gum decade that raised me.

Spoiler alert: All four albums are good. In fact, some of their best works respectively. Prince especially surprised me with his Lenny Kravitz-esque funk feel. (Incidentally, Lenny also released a new album, and it too is a worthy addition to his already hearty catalog).

If you ever wondered why Prince changed his name to a symbol for a few years here, in a nutshell, is the reason. He was feuding with his then record company and refused to give them any more of his music. However, they technically owned his name so he released material on a different label without it until his contract ran out.

Prince1

One of the two new Prince releases was written and recorded with a new partner in rhyme, 3rdeyegirl, whom I had never heard of but who has clearly been given a high position in the New Power Generation. Their CD, Plectrum Electrum, does not play out like a corny duets album, but instead has an effortless blend of both their talents. The style is all Prince but the addition of 3rdeyegirl adds a valuable and enjoyable layer to his brand of sexually charged songs.

There are moments of pure wisdom as well. I site a line from the song, Aintturninround, where they sing “Maybe the hand you’re looking for is at the end of your arms.”

Most reviewers have preferred the more upbeat and produced Plectrum Electrum, and Lord knows my 80’s ear loves the catchy tunes and bleep blorpy treatments mixed with a healthy dose of solid Prince guitar, but it’s his solo album that I think is the stronger of the two.

Prince2

Art Official Age is just the sort of random album title I would expect from Prince, and the motif of the third eye is carried through this twin release. Prince explores several different musical styles, but funk and soul seem to be his flavor at the moment. (If his hair is any indication he’s reliving 1979.)

Overall, both albums are strong and fun to listen to. Prince is clearly enjoying his rebirth and only time will tell if the radio stations reward his efforts.

 

Now on to Erasure’s new CD, The Violet Flame. It’s their 16th studio album which is impressive enough, but when you remember that Vince Clarke also founded Depeche Mode and had a two album career with Alison Moyett as the band Yaz, it becomes down right impressive.

Erasure has embraced the more aggressive production styles of late and their low end is represented well enough to give the kids something to thump in their car stereos (if any kids even know who Erasure is). At times it’s laid back, but at others it sounds more like the violent flame and I’m happy to report that there isn’t a single dud on the entire album.

Erasure
Andy Bell is in fine voice and it has the best overall flow of all four records. This was of great relief to me because I tend to get very disappointed when good bands produce bad albums. Not this time.

 

Finally, the longest break between new recordings came from Information Society, whose new collection of songs called, _hello world, has one foot firmly planted in the past while the other is stepping into the future of their music.While there are a few unsuccessful attempts on this album, the eight or so songs that I do like are wonderfully layered and jam-packed with interesting sounds and bold beats. I have always liked Kurt’s vocals, and he doesn’t sound like he’s aged a day. (But the photo on the back of the album shows a trio so ugly they could be honorary members of the Traveling Wilburys).

Many good bands are filled with gargoyles. Yes, for instance should have never included photos of the band members because people kept thinking that they were looking at a team photo of the 1988 Boston Celtics.

INSOC

Although I skip around from song to song on the new Information Society album, I find myself putting it in more than the others. The music is just that exciting and makes me want to explore more of it. I hope all of these acts receive enough success and encouragement with these new projects to keep them artistically inclined because I would love to hear more from all of them. (And I don’t want to wait another twenty years to do it).

It’s the simple fact that none of these acts tried to re-invent themselves that makes these albums good. They did what they do best and had fun doing it. As a result, I’m having fun listening.

Your Pal,
MOG