RSS Feed

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Progeny by Tosca Lee

Posted on

Progency_without-quoteSo . . . I just finished reading Progeny by Tosca Lee and I have to talk about it! This was really good YA fantasy. I was hooked from the storyline and the main character was likeable and relatable. One of my favorite things about this book was how well the author wove spiritual themes into a fantasy novel (that’s not strictly a Christian novel). She’s not afraid to create flawed, realistic characters in this fantasy setting, while at the same time explore questions about God’s existence and add in religious elements. Since I’m someone with a spiritual bent to begin with, this aspect of the story really connected with me. But even for someone who is nonreligious, this aspect just rolls into the storyline completely seamlessly. I’ve found that with lots of YA fantasy books, I enjoy the first novel in a series, but then find myself not invested enough to want to keep going. With this one, I’d like to know what happens in book 2. I know not every story can hook me like Harry Potter or Hunger Games (where I want to buy the next book as soon as it releases, even if it’s at midnight!) so it’s nice to read something that pulls you in and makes you want to keep going with these characters.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee brings a modern twist to an ancient mystery surrounding Elizabeth Bathory, the most notorious female serial killer of all time.

Emily Jacobs is the descendant of a serial killer. Now, she’s become the hunted.

She’s on a quest that will take her to the secret underground of Europe and the inner circles of three ancient orders—one determined to kill her, one devoted to keeping her alive, and one she must ultimately save.

Filled with adrenaline, romance, and reversals, The Progeny is the present-day saga of a 400-year-old war between the uncanny descendants of “Blood Countess” Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer of all time, and a secret society dedicated to erasing every one of her descendants. It is a story about the search for self filled with centuries-old intrigues against the backdrop of atrocity and hope.

 

Stories of Our Lives: Origins of The Last Summer

Posted on

Confession, loveys: I watched Days of Our Lives back in high school, and college, and I loved it. (The school I went to had half days on Fridays, so I’d watch every Friday and get caught up on the week.) Stefano DiMera, Sami and Carrie and Austin, Marlena and John–all of it. And at the beginning, I remember the intro saying, Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. Later in college, I swapped Days for General Hospital and watched that through the rest of college–coming home at lunch and turning it on–and I dragged Jeff into the story during our first few years of marriage. No regrets. Those were good times. Jeff may not admit it, but he was just as hooked on finding out if Carly and Sonny would make it as I was.

The days of our lives really do go fast. And they tell a story. Our stories.

The Last Summer Front Cover

We’re five days out from the release of The Last Summer. (Eek! I’m SO excited!) I told you that I wrote the first draft of this twenty years ago, my first year of college. In fact, I still have the original spiral notebook.

Here’s a cool story, lovey. It’s just incredible to me.

After I’d written this last draft and sent it off to editors and publishers and finally heard back that it was going to be published–I realized something. In that first spiral notebook, I’d written the story of seven friends who love each other like family. The story has reshaped since then, but the plot has remained the same. The friends have remained true to their characters, but names changed over the years as I rewrote the story. In that spiral notebook are the original names that I came up with when I was eighteen years old.

Three of those names are Ashton, Lillian, and Everett.

My three children are named Ashtyn, Lillian, and Lincoln Everett.

The crazy thing is that this story never even came into my mind during my pregnancies. I was twenty-eight when I was pregnant for the first time. Ten years and a long way from the eighteen year old girl who’d gone away to college.

When I was pregnant with Ashtyn, my first child, I sometimes scribbled names on a notepad (usually during staff meetings!). Someone suggested Ashton to me, but at that time, it looked a bit masculine to me. I scribbled the name over and over on a notepad, and suddenly wrote Ashtyn, and it clicked. I loved it. Lillian never changed, I’ve always loved it. And I’ve loved the name Everett since I saw the movie With Honors way back in the 90s.

When I first realized that the names I came up with as a teenager are the names of my children–I’m not kidding when I say it sent chills over me. The truth that those names have been in my heart–in me–since I was just a girl . . . And have stayed with me for all these years, and have been passed on to the most important people in my life . . . without me even realizing it–well, I guess it’s just the connecting of all the days of my life.

Ashtyn and Lily and Lincoln Everett were always meant to be. They were always part of me. From years ago when I was a girl myself, spilling out a story that would hold pieces of me forever. (Before I even met Jeff!)

It makes me cry.

Their names were there–at the shaping of a story, at the shaping of my life. Little hints of who I would be and the children who would make my life wonderful. And I didn’t realize it, but it all came together.

I’ve been asked before about how I write my stories, lovey. For me, it’s just like that. They come together. A bit mysterious. The story unfolds and you see the connections later–and then you get it.

And I cry.

Our stories are being pieced together like puzzles–at the end you see the picture and you smile and you realize, Oh, that went there. Oh, right, of course that fit there. I see it now.

Loveys . . . stories–fictional and real–are amazing. They’ve been shaping me since I was a young thing. They’ve captivated me.

And this story I’m about to share with you–it’s a piece of the story of my life.

I’ll treasure it forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Releases!

Posted on

Loveys, I’ve got two book releases to tell you about! The book my sister and I have done together, Chosen, is available now in print and on Kindle at Amazon. com! Sara and I are so thrilled. If you’re on Instagram, you can follow the book at #the_chosen_trilogy. There are lots of really great posts! Sara and I have been doing a lot of book promotion on Insta, you can follow both of us @sahanson and @alittlebitofbrandy. If you read Chosen, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads and let us know what you thought about it! This book has been a labor of love for us, and to see it finally available and in the hands of readers is just wonderful. Hop over to Amazon and see what other people are saying about it.

Next book! The Romano Family Collection is available now in print and on Kindle! You guys know how partial I am to the Romano family. I wish I could pull up a chair at one of Leo’s restaurants and dive into a plate of Lobster Magnifico! You can also follow this one on Instagram at the hashtag #romanofamilycollection. And if you’re reading The Romano Family Collection in any form, I’d love for you to post a picture with the hashtag!

IMG_6872

I mentioned before that this new repackage includes a bonus short story and recipe! I’m going to give you the first page of the short story as a teaser! Enjoy! And hop over to Amazon to grab this collection. You might want to grab something to snack on while you read!

A Southern Belle Road Trip

 A Romano Family Collection Short Story

Ashley Gray looped her light brown hair into a loose bun on the top of her head, then stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the chaos of her apartment. Well, her apartment for the next week.

The front door opened and her friend Mandy peeked inside.

“I hate moving,” Ashley said, by way of greeting.

Mandy walked inside and set a plastic bag on the kitchen island. “At least the weather is decent. You won’t be driving in snow.” November had been a bit warmer than usual for Denver, Colorado. And while there was plenty of snow up in the mountains, Ashley was very grateful the roads where she lived were currently clear and dry. Traveling in cold weather was bad enough, snow would have been more than she could handle.

Mandy pointed to the bag. “Leo made a quiche this morning, and it was delicious. I brought you leftovers.”

“Hallelujah!” Ashley made a bee-line to the food. Mandy’s husband happened to be a talented chef, and Ashley’s stomach rumbled at the thought of breakfast. Mandy rounded the corner of the island and opened one of the cupboards.

“I see you haven’t packed the mugs yet. Or the coffee maker.”

“Fortification,” Ashley explained, pulling out a plastic container with two slices of quiche. She popped the Tupperware in the microwave for a minute while Mandy poured herself a cup of coffee. “I need the coffee to keep me going till all this is done.”

Once the food was warm, both girls sat together on barstools at the island, Ashley devouring the delectable egg-and-bacon quiche and Mandy sipping her coffee.

“So don’t move,” Mandy said. Ashley rolled her eyes and used her fork to motion to their surroundings.

“I’m halfway packed. I didn’t renew my lease. I have to move.”

“Tell me why.”

Ashley paused, her heart squeezing at the sight of her best friend’s sad look.

“You know why. We’ve talked about this. It’s time for a change.”

“But you’re going back to Virginia,” Mandy countered, tucking her hair behind her ears. “Is that the right kind of change? You’ve been there, done that, remember? You left for a reason.”

Ashley mulled that thought for a moment and then swallowed. “I left for adventure. A job opportunity opened up, and I’d never lived anywhere except for Sommersville, Virginia. It was time for me to spread my wings. I dreamed of moving out west and finding an amazing guy who’d fall head over heels for my Southern accent.”

Mandy smiled. “Well, it is pretty charming.”

Ashley was quiet for a moment.

“The thing is,” she finally said, “things didn’t quite turn out like I’d hoped, Mandy. Working at the church drained me, and I ended up so burned out. Working with the singles group was fun until everyone paired off or found someone or moved. And I felt like I was pulled in a million directions, helping with a ton of ministries, leaving no time for myself and not enough money to match the cost of living in Denver. I never met anyone—”

“Greg—” Mandy began but Ashley held up her hand.

“Do not mention Greg.” Ashley had no interest in talking about the one guy she’d dated, who happened to also be the worship leader of the church. Five months of dating had ended with him telling Ashley that they were better off as friends. Two weeks later he’d started dating another girl, and married her within six months. The fact that the girl had looked like a supermodel and Ashley’d had to continue working at the church in near proximity to the lovebirds—well, the whole experience had left Ashley feeling less-than-Christian for a good, long while.

“Okay. But you could do something different without moving.” Mandy glanced down at her buzzing phone. “Sorry. Leo’s watching Antonio and Olivia, and it looks like Antonio might have hijacked his phone. Either that, or Leo’s sending me text messages in some kind of code.”

Ashley chuckled and stood up to grab another cup of coffee for herself.

“Honestly, Mandy. You have to understand. You found your happily ever after. You got the gorgeous Italian, who can cook to boot. And now you’ve got two amazing kids. All I have is a drafty apartment. I’m out of options.”

“Ash,” Mandy said softly. “I remember you telling me once that there’s always another option. It’s called faith.”

Chosen by Sara Hanson and Brandy Bruce

Posted on

img_5615

Loveys, we’re getting closer to the release of Chosen!  So exciting! This is YA (young adult) fantasy fiction. Kate Stokely is a 17-year-old girl, preparing to go to college. Humans and “Chosen” ones,  people who can manipulate the elements, share this world, but until now, Kate has never personally known anyone who’s chosen. All of that changes in the blink of an eye, and suddenly Kate’s reality looks completely different. She’s about to find out who she is and what she’s made of.

Sara and I are so excited to share this story with you! Here’s a sneak preview of the Prologue….

***

Prologue

Something was wrong.

At 3 a.m., an earthquake rocked all of northeastern America. By 5 a.m., a red moon was spinning in the western sky; to the east, a blazing yellow sun pulsated, and in between, millions of stars blinked frantically. People stopped on sidewalks and driveways, pointing up at the sky in open fascination or mildly camouflaged fear. By midmorning, black, billowing clouds crawled across the sky while a deep thunder boomed down from the heavens. And in the small quaint town of Huntington, New York, a cutting wind raced through the streets, sending the majority of its population indoors to seek refuge, while leaving the false impression of a ghost town in its wake.

The howling winds and turning clouds mirrored the woman moaning and tossing in labor at 947 Pine Hollow Street. Her water had broken the night before during an unusual, powerful earthquake that news reports indicated had left thirty or more missing persons throughout Long Island. The aftershocks that continued to wreak havoc across the city were lost on the dark-haired man now kneeling beside the writhing woman. He kissed her hand, whispering soft words of comfort, though his own face, pale and heavily perspiring, revealed his fear. The nearest hospitals were overrun with people and their doctor, overwhelmed with patients injured from the previous evening’s quake, had sent in his place a highly recommended midwife.

Delilah, short and plump with curly gray hair, ended her call with EMT and snapped her cell phone shut. At the same moment, the woman in labor, who had faded in and out of consciousness over the past few hours, began yelling hysterically, “JON! PLEASE HELP ME! Oh God, the pain—I can’t—” causing Delilah to sprint upstairs to the room.

Jonathan Stokely cried out, “Aurora! AURORA! Honey, wake up!”

Heart pounding, Delilah ran into the bedroom and rushed to the side of the woman whose face was now as white as the sheets around her. I have to do something. I can’t wait for help; it won’t be here fast enough. Even if we leave now for the hospital . . . she won’t make it. Still trying to fight the rising panic in her heart, and the terrible fear that Mr. Stokely would lose both his baby and his wife in the same day, Delilah placed her hand on the woman’s belly in an effort to regain some sense of duty and control over the situation. Delilah’s heart skipped a beat. Wait, no! That wasn’t my heart—that was the baby moving! The baby’s alive!

Pushing her sleeves further up her arms and brushing strands of hair away from her face, she set to work with fresh determination.

A half hour later, Delilah emerged from the room, smiling wearily and carrying a small bundle wrapped in white. Jonathan Stokely, who had been pacing the hall, continuing to call emergency services, and whose face was wet with tears, stopped abruptly, his eyes flying up to meet Delilah’s, searching for reassurance. She nodded.

“They’re both going to be fine. You have a beautiful baby girl. Congratulations.”

He breathed a huge sigh of relief, and his green eyes, falling back onto his daughter, lit up, displaying a fusion of joy and amazement.

“We’ll still need to go to the hospital as soon as the ambulance arrives. Your wife has lost a lot of blood. She and the baby need constant observation tonight,” Delilah told him.

Holding his sleepy daughter snugly in his arms, he approached the bed where his exhausted, weakened wife lay, a tired smile on her face. “She’s as beautiful as her mother,” he said, and leaned down so his wife could see their baby. “You have my heart, Aurora,” he promised. “You have since the moment I met you. And you have never been more beautiful than you are at this moment,” he added, his voice breaking.

Eyes filling with tears, she whispered, “I love you, too.”

Together, their eyes traveled down to rest on the newest addition to the Stokely family, a wisp of red hair just visible poking over the top of the cotton blanket.

“Hello, little chosen one,” Aurora whispered. “Jon, it’s cold in here.” Her husband wrapped his arms around his wife and daughter, enveloping them in an immediate rush of warmth.

“Her name?” he asked, as a tiny hand emerged from the blanket in his arms, reaching toward him with dainty fingers splayed open beseechingly.

Aurora wiped her eyes, which were silently spilling over in unchecked emotion, and replied with utmost tenderness in her voice, “Kathryn, her name is Kathryn.”

 * * *

Thousands of miles away in the opposite direction, another woman was crying.

In a remote area of northern England, a well-preserved castle stood massive and impregnable, blending in well with the surrounding mountains. In the West Wing, on a velvet pillow, lay a midnight blue stone affectionately referred to as Avonmore that was beginning to moan. The woman who was crying took a deep breath and reached for the stone. She wiped her eyes and tried to wish away the sense of helplessness weighing heavily on her mind; but her despair would not be dispelled. She held the stone tightly, its deep sapphire color matching the exact shade of her eyes.

Within a large, luxurious flat deep in the heart of Moscow, a white stone christened the name of Zephyr set atop a silver walking stick began to tremble in an umbrella rack, and at the sound, a man named Uvionus looked up sharply from his comfortable sofa. Without a word he stood up, reached for a gray fur coat hung casually on the back of a dining room chair, and opened the door that led onto a balcony. Even as the door opened, the cool current of air outside began to grow stronger.

At the same moment, in a tiny village of Northern Africa, a crimson stone called Pyrrhus glowed brightly on the chain around former tribal leader Phaedron’s scarred neck. Phaedron grasped the stone without thinking and felt its heat seep into his hand. Sounds of children running and laughing throughout the village began to fade from his ears as he looked up at the dark sky.

Back in the East Wing of the castle, a man named Thaddeus sat complacently at his desk with hands folded together. And one last stone, the color of deep timber, fittingly titled Terra, set in a silver ring on Thaddeus’s finger, split down the middle with a resounding crack. Wearing a look of relief mingled with a touch of trepidation, he resolutely abandoned his seat and walked toward the spiral staircase leading upward from his office.
Within moments, the four Bearers of the stones were standing in front of one another at the top of a great tower. Their arms outstretched, their fingertips barely touching.
“It is as we feared then?” The Bearer of the white stone, Uvionus, was unable to veil the obvious tremble in his voice. The others looked to the Bearer of the midnight blue stone, Joselyn. She shook back thick locks of long, white hair. Her sapphire eyes closed for one moment before opening again, now so light they looked like crystal. She nodded.

“He is gone. But not yet entirely out of reach.”

Phaedron gave a sharp intake of breath, his audible expression only echoing the other’s silent emotions.

“So the balance hangs in jeopardy. Unless we have the strength to restore it. Joselyn?” Thaddeus’s words were firm, but as gentle as a quiet, rolling stream. Joselyn’s eyes watered.

“I am strong enough.”

Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t. As the four Bearers raised their arms to the void above them, the ground shook violently beneath them. A scream could be heard—audible only to their ears. An icy wind began to blow around and through them, and a large fire roared in the center of them. As Joselyn’s tears fell silently down her face, the sound of water rushing—terrible and beautiful—filled each Bearer’s soul.

Thaddeus squeezed his eyes shut as his arms began to shake with an almost frightening power. The earth beneath him seemed to cry out in misery. The gusts of air, the swirls of waves, and the bellows of flames drowned out the shrill, painful screams. And in an instant, all was still. All was quiet. The four Bearers lowered their arms. For the moment, all was right. The balance was restored. The stars were aligned. The auburn moon returned to its pearly glow.

Thaddeus studied Joselyn, silently whispering words to her troubled mind—for the four Bearers had that unique ability to share thoughts without speaking. And slowly, Joselyn’s tempest gaze softened. Each Bearer breathed easier as the sense of equilibrium calmed the world around them and the spirits within them.

* * *

Back in Huntington, New York, Kathryn lay sleeping peacefully in her father’s arms. The strange, ominous weather outside had finally subsided, revealing bright, unblemished stars stamping the sky in its wake. The world was as it should be, once more.

But deep within the earth, a man whose screams had been silenced was shaking with rage . . . and waiting.

Dragonfly in Amber Book Club

Posted on
Dragonfly in Amber Book Club

Loveys, so Saturday night was book club at the Bruce house and we were talking about all things Dragonfly in Amber. This is book 2 in the Outlander series (which I love!). Honestly, it’s not my favorite book of the series (that would be Voyager), but it’s an important part of the overall story and there’s plenty to discuss. Seriously, we sat in my living room, talking and laughing, till after midnight! This is why I love book club. Book discussion can go in so many directions and you end up learning so much about each other in the process.

Back to the book. Outlander is all about Scotland, and the setting is important to understanding the characters. But in DIA, our setting moves to France, and again, the setting is extremely important to the story (it does reach back to Scotland eventually). So we stuck with France for our book club theme, specifically the spookiness of Master Raymond’s shop. img_4856

Master Raymond is one of the most intriguing new characters in DIA and he’s a favorite of mine. He owns something of an apothecary shop and he’s fascinating on many levels, not to mention the fact that he ends up being a good friend to Claire. I tied our table décor to themes in the book–Master Raymond’s shop, Claire being labeled ‘La Dame Blanche’ (the white witch), Jamie joining the wine business with his cousin Jared, and so on.img_4862

It was fun to tie in the role of wine from the book to our book club night because…um, wine and book club go together like syrup and pancakes. For real. So for our party favors, everyone received little bottles of wine.

I printed off discussion questions, just as a starting off point, but some of the best discussion came organically. There’s a moment early on the book, when Claire is telling her daughter Brianna the truth about who her father is and what happened, and Claire tells Brianna that she hated her for a time. This topic resulted in a lot of interesting discussion. Other topics that I felt were really good included the role of faith/God in the story, whether or not Claire made the right choice in leaving, whether Claire owns that decision or blames Jamie (or even Brianna), and Claire’s marriage to Frank. For literally hours, the girls and I dove deep, talking about the books and sharing about ourselves. Good stuff.

(To be honest, these books are really long. You could have a great discussion on the TV series alone. Though I’d argue the characters are much better in the books and there’s so much more! But still, good discussion.)

So, Outlander book club part 2 was a success! I’m thankful to the girls who came. Friends and wine and snacks and books…all good things. (Jessica and Marina, I missed you girls! Next time for sure!)

null

 

 

Hosting Outlander Book Club

Posted on

img_2281

It’s almost time for Dragonfly in Amber book discussion! I’ve been thinking about book club and hopped on this blog to remind myself of what I did the last time I hosted Outlander book club, and I can’t believe I never wrote an Outlander post over here! For all those people who watch the show, we’re currently experiencing Droughtlander, so some of us are reading through the books to compensate. But for all those lovely women reading Outlander and looking for book club party ideas, let me share with you!

img_2314 Let’s talk about Outlander. So I discovered the show on a free preview Starz weekend. Honestly, I wasn’t all that hooked on the first episode, but it intrigued me enough that I wanted to keep watching. So I did. And I started reading the first book (which was intimidating because these books are massive!). I ended up being really hooked and reading all of the books and becoming a crazy person who vents on forums when the show makes me mad. So there’s that.img_2357

I found some other women to be crazy with me and we read the first book together and had an Outlandish book club night at the very beginning of summer. And it was perfect! Book club is always a fun time. But there’s something about Outlander that makes it even more fun (could be James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser–just sayin). img_2279

I found discussion questions online and printed those off. I also printed off the “Claire Randall Missing” flyers that you see above. I put one on the front door, which was so fun for all the guests to see. And as you can see above, our party favors were little bottles of whisky, with name tags. (I thought about making Scottish dishes to serve, but for real, I couldn’t find any that sounded very appealing. Haggis? Um, maybe not. Even the Scotch cocktails sounded kind of scary, like The Penicillin and the Rusty Nail. Or the Car Bomb and The Meatball. What?? When in doubt, stick with chocolate and wine, lovey.) I rented the Outlander soundtrack from the library (p.s. The soundtrack is amazingly beautiful), and that was our background music.

Because it was basically a perfect summer evening, we sat outside under the pergola and had cheese and chocolate fondue and drank lots of wine and talked about Scotland and time travel and romance and all sorts of things related to the book for hours. There’s so much to unpack with a book series like Outlander, add the show to the mix, and it makes for good discussion.

I love the heart of the story–which is the relationship between Jamie and Claire. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Claire in the first couple of books. There are things I like about her, and things that I don’t connect with (I feel much the same about Brianna, her daughter). Jamie’s a straightforward character and there’s SO much to love about him (still, he’s not without his controversial moments). It’s who they are together that I totally get, and that keeps me reading. The show is much like the books, some parts I love, some I really don’t. Last season especially, I was ranting on forums at times! But part of the fun of Outlander is the enormous community out there to share it with. (I love My Outlander Purgatory blog!)

Practically speaking, reading is a solitary experience. But when you’ve read a great book or watched a great movie, you want to dish about it with other people! And sometimes you have to go looking outside your usual circle. Maybe this is an interest that some of your close friends don’t share–that’s okay! There are book lovers in every neighborhood, you just have to find them. Example, I was at a birthday party this weekend and I was standing and chatting with some women I’ve never met. I randomly said, Do any of you read Outlander? Voila! A kindred spirit was in the midst. A new recruit for all the crazy.

Here we are now, just days away from getting together to talk about Dragonfly in Amber! Just a few girlfriends and a couple of bottles of wine, talking about a Scot and his lass. Swoon! I’ll be back with ideas for hosting a Dragonfly in Amber book club night (if I actually have any ideas, which I don’t yet!). Book club is my favorite, loveys. And it’s not just because of the books, it’s the community. It always comes back to community. Finding something great and sharing it.

Terra Soul by S.J. Abraham

Posted on

Terra%20Soul%20Cover_zpsd6ycqimvLoveys, I want to tell you about a story I’m excited about! So I had the privilege of working on this super-fun, YA, sci/fi novel and I loved it! Here’s the book blurb:

Ayla thinks she’s just a comic-book nerd with a photophobia until the day a space fold forms in her living room and her father drags through it to the alien world of Karanik, her birthplace. When she discovers that soul-drinking aliens have infested Earth, she must embrace who she truly is in order to save it.

This story is great for young adults, boy and girls. It’s got aliens, teen angst, adventure, basically the world coming to an end and all that great stuff. I really enjoyed it and I think this author will have more amazing stories to tell. So check out Terra Soul on Amazon!!

https://www.amazon.com/Terra-Soul-S-J-Abraham/dp/0997625813