Book Review of Production Values by Liv Bartlet

Never mix business and pleasure.  It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, and there’s a reason for this.  The consequences can be disastrous.

This is the premise of Liv Bartlet’s debut women’s fiction novel, Production Values.  This edgy, contemporary, sometimes cut-throat story takes the reader on an emotional ride through the throes of best friends, Kat Porter and Bea Douglas, in Hollywood and the film industry beyond.  Kat and Bea are as different as night and day — the dreaming artist versus the level-headed realist — but their friendship and their partnership as Monkey & Me in the business of making TV shows thrives because of their contrasts.

I couldn’t help but be drawn in from page one to Kat’s desire for her dream to come true — for her vision to become reality.  She’s an art prodigy.  She’s ambitious.  And she’s also a hopeless romantic.  

Everything seems to be working well for Kat and Bea with their highly-rated BBC show, 21 Things.  Kat pushes the limits of the show by hiring heart-throb and heart-breaker Ian Graham, the GQ-esque actor from Scotland with the sex body and voice.  Having a star like Ian on the show is sure to give the story-line that extra oomph to get a Golden Globe.  

Bea is skeptical.  She has dreams of her own of stepping down from the world of producing shows and becoming a nurse and mother.  She comes from a family-oriented background that values close bonds, but she is ever-supportive of Kat’s dreams and goes the extra mile to make those dreams come to fruition.

But Bea sees Ian as a problem, a distraction.

But then golden statues become a reality for the whole team behind 21 Things, and it’s off to Hollywood from London.  With a Golden Globe under her belt, Kat is flying high.  She runs off with Ian while flying over Cloud Nine, leaving Bea to keep the rest of the team together.20448924_1970798226535004_702796297789596401_o

From there, Kat’s dreams grow.  More ideas for more shows means stretching herself too thin, and she relies on Bea even more to pick up the slack.  With growing reluctance, Bea does so.  

But Kat’s dream-bubble pops.  Ian and her next show aren’t in the limelight, but Bea’s hard work is paying off.  The women struggle to keep their friendship afloat as Kat continues to chase a dream (and Ian), and Bea keeps wondering when she’s going to get off the bus that’s taking her to the wrong destination.

Can their friendship survive the sometimes brutal business of making shows?  Can they overcome their differences to each find their true happiness?  Or will a guy or a movie come between them, irreversibly damaging the Monkey & Me partnership?

The story keeps the reader pulled in, needing to know the answers, from page one.  The writing is poetry in the form of prose, metaphorical and entertaining at the same time.  The characters step off the page with their witty, cutting, cunning, and lovely dialogue.  Liv Bartlet doesn’t disappoint.

Liv Bartlet clearly did her research on the inner-workings of the film industry.  The story is clear-cut and renders writing that would appear beautiful on screen.

At the core of this amazing novel is the struggle we all must face — head versus heart.  We live in a world of relationships and choices — often decisions that aren’t easy to make without hurting someone.  

I highly recommend this novel and applaud Liv Bartlet for delivering such an action-packed, punch-in-the-gut, heart-twisting story.

5 out of 5 stars

Visit Liv Bartlet’s Website

Purchase Production Values

Book Review of Finding Kate by Pamela Humphrey

Kate Westfall thought she was done with her family’s secrets.  Think again.

Finding Kate is the second in the Texas Hill County series by Pamela Humphrey.  It immediately follows the first book, Finding Claire, which I highly recommend you read before diving into Finding Kate.  Otherwise, Finding Kate won’t make much sense!

You can read my review of Finding Claire here.

Kate, after discovering the truth about her background and identity, including her real family, decides to move from Denver to Schatzenburg, Texas.  In the first book, she met Alex Ramirez, a lonely widower, and they spent a lot of time together under dire circumstances.  Alex and Kate developed feelings that were more than just the friendship-type, and at the beginning of this book, they are still sorting those feelings out.

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The beginning of Finding Kate seems a bit slow.  The reader feels like the dust has settled for Kate and Alex after how Finding Claire ended with such a bang, and now it’s just a matter of them figuring out their lives going forward.  Kate moving to Texas to be closer to her father and Alex, in addition to moving into the home she inherited, is the focus at first.  Alex comes with Kate to Denver to meet her friends and help her pack up her apartment.  Putting things in boxes and harmless talk feel mundane after what they have just been through a few days ago, but that’s part of getting back to real life.

Kate’s neighbor, Keith, stops by and is surprised she is leaving.  I detect jealousy in Keith, as he seems to like her and doesn’t care for Alex, who is hanging around the apartment.  The neighbor feels out of place, but maybe he’s just a weirdo.  Kate and Alex hit the road for Texas, and then things start to unravel when Jeff, the husband of Kate’s best friend (LeAnn), gets kidnapped, and it’s tied to Kate.

Poor Kate just can’t seem to get a break.  In addition to this new kidnapper who wants something from her, Kate starts to feel like things have moved too quickly between her and Alex.  She wonders if their attachment is simply the result of being forced together and going through stressful circumstances.  Whenever Alex tries to physically get close to Kate, she pulls away, and the reader starts to get the sense that there’s something else in her past that’s haunting her.

No place is safe for Kate or Alex — neither his cabin nor her new house (dubbed “the castle”), as they gave Alex’s address as the forwarding address for Kate when she moved away, and Schatzenburg is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.  The news of Kate’s family history has spread like wildfire in the small town, and everyone knows who she is, including someone who is following her and wants something from her.

Interwoven with the narrative are old letters written to Kate’s aunt Beth from a mysterious woman named “M.”  M and “Sticks” (who we later find out is Scott Bentley, Kate’s uncle) are the parents of a little boy named “Scooter.”  Sticks had an affair with M, and Scooter was the result.  When Sticks disappeared from Scooter’s life, the young boy became pent up with resentment and anger.

How do these letters tie into Kate’s story?  Who is following her?  What do they want?

And can Kate move past whatever it is that’s bothering her, so she can be happy with Alex?

19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_nSo many questions, and I know the answers…but that would be spoiling the book for you!  Suffice it to say that as I got further into Finding Kate, I was definitely drawn into the story more and more, needing to know the resolution to these questions…and more!

The book has a satisfying ending and doesn’t leave any loose ends.  I would recommend this book to lovers of romance and suspense.

Four out of five stars.

 

Review of The Blue Rebozo by Pamela Humphrey

12232826_866517436795996_7217886777960372424_oThe Blue Rebozo is a fictionalized story based on facts the author had of her ancestors.  I can appreciate Ms. Humphrey’s love for genealogy, as I share this passion. When I wrote my book based off of my late grandma’s life, it was done in a similar fashion, although I changed names and the story’s timeframe was more recent.

The setting for The Blue Rebozo is late nineteenth century Texas.  The narrative is centralized around Petra, a young woman whose family came from Mexico when she was a child.  The Ramirez family is large, with several children of various ages, and while I understand that large families were the norm for that time period, there were a lot of names to keep track of.  I guess there’s really no way around this, but the large number of names mentioned made it hard for most of these characters to be developed much.

One of the nice elements of the story was the grandmother, Clara, who was Petra’s abuelita.  Clara shares the tale of Leonor, who is the mother of Clara, and how she met and married Esteban.  When they married, a blue rebozo (a blue scarf) was given to the bride, Leonor, to wear on her wedding day.  The blue rebozo becomes a symbol of love that’s passed down the generations, from Leonor to Clara, to Jesusa (Clara’s daughter-in-law), to Petra (and eventually to Petra’s daughter, Candida).  This was a nice touch.  Many families have such heirlooms that have meaning.  I have my grandma’s china, which belonged to her mother-in-law and is well over 100 years old now, so I understand and appreciate such objects.  It’s like having a part of those who have gone before with you.

We follow Petra as she loses her first husband, Mr. Torres, to a stranger who stabbed him on a horse, to when she falls in love with Francisco, who has lived with her family for years and worked on the farm.  Mr. Torres was older than Petra, and while he was a good man, Petra hadn’t been in love with him.  I am a sucker for romance, so my favorite part was when Francisco confessed his love to Petra and she to him.  As I read, I kept waiting with anticipation from that moment.  Petra is still a young woman, after all, and has been left with three young kids to raise after losing her first husband.  The fact that Francisco was in love with Petra for years before he told her melts my heart even more as the hopeless romantic.  As a woman, wife, and mother, I know what it is to have one of the good guys.  Those quiet fellows who smile and trip over their words, waiting for the right moment to say “I love you,” that’s gold.

The story reads smoothly and is easy to follow.  As this is a novella, it’s not very long, which makes for a good book to read if you’re looking for something that isn’t going to take long to get through.  I read this book in a few days during the summer.  I have limited reading time, as I am also a writer and a mom of three young kids (like Petra), so finishing this novella wasn’t a problem.  I suggest it as a light read for someone whose time is already stretched but is looking to read more books, maybe as a vacation read for this summer.

This is a story with heart. I would have liked to have seen more details fleshed out, as Petra, the main character, goes through a lot: falling in love and losing loved ones.  It’s tragic how many children died young back then, and I cannot imagine the heartache it would have been on a mother (and father).  This is a repeated theme in the story in every generation, and while Ms. Humphrey writes that the parents are saddened to lose a child, more details about the heart-wrenching agony would have driven this point home.  Still, I suppose it is not something that is easy to write about in any circumstance, and unless a person has actually experienced such loss, it may be difficult to write about it convincingly19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_n

Overall, this is a good little story.  I don’t wish to spoil it by saying too much, especially in regards to who dies (which is a lot of people, sadly), so I recommend you pick up this little book and give it a try.

4 out of 5 stars

Buy The Blue Rebozo

 

Review of Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey

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Imagine waking up in the back of a van after being kidnapped with no idea who you are.  No memories.  No name.  Nothing.

You have a photo with the name “Claire” on it, perhaps the only clue to who you are — your whole identity.

You manage to escape, but you’re more lost than ever.  

This is how Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey opens.  You can see why I couldn’t stop reading.  I had to know what would happen next.

Ms. Humphrey’s writing is thought-out and easy to read, but her descriptions of the physical surroundings and the emotions stirring inside put the reader right in the scene.  As the kidnapped woman desperately picks her way through the forest at night trying to find help, my heart was pumping with adrenaline right there with her.  With every stick that snaps underfoot and every rustle of a bush, she and I kept looking over our shoulders, expecting the kidnappers to be right on our heels.

And then a safe haven pops into view — a cozy cabin in the woods with a black cat in the window.  She knocks on the door at about 3:00 AM and meets Alex Ramirez, a guy in his thirties who’s got his own demons.  A widower for the last couple of years, Alex lost his wife tragically.  She was murdered, leaving him with a guilt that eats away his insides for not being able to save her, leaving him a shell.  His first inclination is to act as protector to this strange woman who shows up at his door.  He gives “Rainy” (his nickname for her, as she can’t yet remember her name) a place to stay.

Luckily for “Rainy,” Alex’s best friend is D.J., a cop.  The authorities are quickly notified of “Rainy” and her kidnappers, including two photos that she took with her when she escaped.  The one with the name “Claire” on it is an old picture of a mother and a little girl, with “Emma and Claire” written on the back.  The new picture is a current one of “Rainy.”  The investigation begins while Alex and “Rainy” commence doing their own search online for links to Claire.

“Rainy” soon gets her memory back, and she remembers her name is Kate.  She recalls getting kidnapped in the mall parking lot after shopping with her sister, Meg.  Meg was knocked out, and once things settle, Kate visits Meg in the hospital.  Parts of the puzzle start to fall into place as Kate talks to Meg and her husband, Tom.  Kate’s family lives in Denver, and she was just visiting San Antonio (where Meg lives).

It turns out that Kate has a knack for uncovering information on people because she’s into genealogy.  I can appreciate this quality, as I am also a genealogy fanatic, having spent most of the summer of 2011 researching my family tree.  It’s amazing what you can find online these days in regards to records on people, so Ms. Humphrey’s descriptions of Kate using the Internet for this purpose is realistic.  Ms. Humphrey’s love of genealogy shines through in this book, which is nice touch.

While Kate may have her memory back, she remains confused about why she was kidnapped in the first place and what her connection to Claire might be.  In addition to fearing for her safety because her kidnappers are still at large, she begins to have romantic feelings for Alex.  Unsure of whether he returns the feelings because it’s clear he still loves his late wife, Ellie, Kate holds back.  She wants more than a protector, as much as she appreciates Alex for everything he’s done.  She stays at his cabin with him for several days, and the tension between them grows as Alex struggles with his blossoming feelings for Kate, torn between loving another woman and the guilt over losing Ellie.

The suspense romance is written in alternating points-of-view.  One chapter is from Kate’s point-of-view, and the next is from third person.  I have read books like this before, although it’s rarely done.  One of the more recent books I read where the POV kept changing from first person between two main characters was the third book in Rebecca Donovan’s Breathing Series, Out of Breath.  I found this confusing in Donovan’s case because the first two books were only from one character’s POV, and with switching between two first person POVs, this was a bit much.  In Ms. Humphrey’s book, however, it works.  While Donovan would switch in the middle of a chapter, Ms. Humphrey sticks to whole chapters written in one point-of-view or the other.  There was never any confusion.  I found the insight into Kate’s mind important, knowing her fears, her reservations, her lapses in memory, her feelings for Alex, etc.  Knowing less about how Alex feels about Kate keeps the tension building, although it’s clear as the book moves along that he sees Kate as more than just a friend.

To say much more about the plot would give away too much, and I don’t want to spoil the book.  Let me just say that Ms. Humphrey doesn’t disappoint.  The same quality of needing to know what happens next that hooked me in the beginning continued through the whole novel and didn’t die for a second.  There is more to the kidnapping than you would imagine.

One final nice touch of this story is the letters written to Claire every year on her birthday by her mom and dad.  Claire was taken from her parents before she turned three years old.  You can feel the parents’ heartache, even though they know their daughter is alive.  Claire’s mom also shares the backstory of how Claire was born and what happened with her kidnapping. Again, I cannot say more without revealing too much.19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_n

I highly recommend this book.  It’s the first in a series, so we have more to look forward to from Ms. Humphrey.  I, for one, am glad for that!

Buy Finding Claire here!

 

 

 

 

 

A Review of This Dread Road, by Olivia Folmar Ard

A Review of This Dread Road, by Olivia Folmar Ard

This Dread Road is the third and final installment in Olivia Folmar Ard’s Bennett Series.  Each book takes place on the fictional campus of Howard Knox College and University in Bennett, South Carolina.  The books are related in that there are characters overlapping between each one, but each book can be read independently and still enjoyed.  However, I recommend reading all three to get the full-effect of that enjoyment.  I do not think you will come away disappointed!

I have read books one and two, A Partition of Africa and The Marshall Plan (in addition to Olivia Folmar Ard’s other two books, ‘Tis the Season and Pretty Lies & Other Stories).  That being said, I believe I am qualified to give an honest review of the author’s work.  I am very familiar with Ms. Ard’s writing, having personally been given advance copies of her works for reading and reviewing.  It has been my pleasure because I believe that Ms. Ard has talent in buckets.

Her writing draws the reader in from the first page.  Her dialogue brings her characters to life.  Do you ever pick up a book and start reading it, only to wonder, “Why am I bothering with this?  I don’t care about the characters!”  To me, if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the book!

In This Dread Road, the reader meets Claire James again, who was the roommate of main character Hattie in book one.  At first glance, Claire strikes us as an entitled, spoiled young lady who is just throwing her life away.  Her parents are rich beyond measure and can buy her anything she wants…except true happiness.  We already know from book one of the series that there’s more to Claire than meets the eye, as both Hattie and the reader find out.  Claire is deeply unhappy, unfulfilled, and downright depressed.  In book three, she is found working at a hotel (owned by her father) because she wants experience and to prove to both herself and others that she can be responsible.  She has just graduated from Howard Knox and is trying to figure out her future.  While working in the hotel, she strikes up a conversation with the manager, Hank.  Hank is an older fellow who is strict but fair, and while talking with Claire, he reminisces about a lost love in his life.

We turn the page and are taken back to 1968 and into the life of Annemarie Vanderhorst.  Annemarie has just arrived at Howard Knox and is eager to begin her own life, make her own choices without her parents’ interference, and experience college life.  She meets a slightly older, handsome man in her philosophy class and finds out he works as the janitor at the school.  His name is Henry Eden, and he comes from a very different background than Annemarie.  Henry lives on a farm with his brothers and their families, but he’s going to college to get a degree in business.  As the weeks progress, Annemarie and Henry grow closer and fall in love.  They are falling fast, though.  Annemarie brings Henry home to meet her family at Thanksgiving, and disaster ensues.  Her parents don’t approve of her boyfriend.  Her mother has other ideas for the type of man Annemarie ought to marry, and she is really only entertaining Annemarie’s desire to go to college.  When things don’t go well, Henry decides that Annemarie’s parents can’t tell them they can’t be together if they’re married.  They go to the courthouse right before Christmas and marry.  This only fuels Annemarie’s family’s dislike of Henry, and the consequences are harsher than poor Annemarie ever imagined when she’s cut off from the family and their money.

In the months that follow, Henry and Annemarie’s relationship suffers.  I felt for both Annemarie and Henry during this time and kept hoping they would figure out a way to make things work.  Because love is supposed to conquer all, right?  We see a darker side of Henry: his drinking, his anger, his violent streaks.  We feel heartbreak for him as well.  We see Annemarie breaking and confinding elsewhere when her husband is changing, trying to understand what happened to the man she loves.  Love is supposed to win, right?  Right?

Fast forward to 2017, and we find Claire James and her fiance breaking it off over…crabcakes?  It’s obvious this is just the proverbial last straw, the final thing in a long line of mistakes, bad judgment, and brokenness over many years.  Claire is heartbroken that things just aren’t going to work out with her fiance.  Maybe sometimes love isn’t enough.  Poor Claire has turned to all the wrong places over the years to try to find happiness — drugs, sex, drinking.  She’s suffered in even worse ways than we can imagine, mirroring Annemarie’s suffering almost fifty years prior.  It’s like Claire doesn’t believe she’s meant for happiness.  She doesn’t want her dad’s help or money.  She doesn’t want her mom to buy her any more stuff or take her on any more fancy vacations.  She wants to stand on her own two feet, so she takes the hotel job.

By the end of the story, I was wondering where this was all going, how the lives of these two ladies were connected, and hoping for a happy ending.  This is a romance, after all, and Ms. Ard has never failed before in regards to delivering a happy ending.  I will say that my heart melted, that tears of joy prickled in my eyes, and the warmth of a smile cascaded over my lips.  I am also a writer and an author, so I understand what it means to create believable characters that your readers will fall in love with, as much as some characters fall in love with others within the context of the story.  Henry, especially, reminds me of one of my own characters, so he was dear to heart.  For all his flaws and faults, he was and is beautiful.  The same goes for Annemarie and Claire.  After all, we are all flawed people.  As I put it in my most recent story about two imperfect people finding love:

“We were, neither one of us, one persona or the other, but rather some beautiful, messy, complicated version splattered on a canvas, but a masterpiece painting nonetheless.”

Thank you, Olivia Folmar Ard, for another masterpiece to add to my gallery of books.

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Release Date: February 14, 2017
Published by: Three Amigas Press
Genre: Historical Romance, Women’s Fiction

Available from: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Createspace

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– Summary –

It’s September 1968, and Howard Knox freshman Annemarie Vanderhorst is happy to be free of her controlling mother’s societal expectations. She vows to spend her time at college wisely in pursuit of her own dreams. But before she can figure out what she wants from life, Henry Eden, the dark and handsome stranger in her philosophy class, takes over every waking thought.

Nearly half a century later, Claire James returns to Bennett after leaving her fiancé, determined to be independent for once in her life. After convincing her father to let her work for the family business, she soon realizes being a responsible adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Loathed by her coworkers, neglected by her best friend, and held captive by a terrifying secret, she doesn’t know how much more she can take.

The lives of these two women, decades apart but uncannily similar, finally intersect one fateful night. With broken hearts and hope for the future, will they find the answers they’re looking for?

This Dread Road (The Bennett Series #3)

– About the Author –

Olivia started writing creatively at eight years old. During middle and high school, she attended several writing conferences. Her short story “By Its Cover” placed first in its divisi15800522_10209756472760857_6955444529121609696_oon in the 2008 District III Alabama Penman Creative Writing Contest. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Montevallo in 2012, married in 2013, and published her first novel in 2014. She received a Readers Favorite five-star review for her holiday novella, ‘Tis the Season, in 2016.

Olivia lives in central Alabama with her husband JD and their cats, Buddy and Lafayette. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching quality television, teaching herself how to cook, and playing Pokémon GO.

– Connect with the Author –

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Pinterest

– Praise for ‘Tis the Season

“Although it is a quick read, ‘Tis the Season is not light in subject . . . it goes deeper than you ever thought it would. Olivia Folmar Ard manages to create such a beautiful story that is cheery and heartbreaking all at the same time. The way she captures the characters’ raw, genuine emotions is stunning. Instead of ‘Tis The Season turning out to be another simple novel, it manages to make you feel like you are involved in a real-life situation. The overall pacing of the novella is just right, and the writing is top notch. If you are looking for a way to really get into the holiday season, this is the book for you. It will make you feel so many things, but above all, it will remind you to be thankful for all that you have. Be warned – you’ll need lots of tissues!” -Katherine Williams, ReadersFavorite.com

“A sweet novella for any time of the year, but especially in light of the Christmas season. If you love stories with heart, have ever struggled with dissatisfaction, or love the holidays, then you’ll love ‘Tis the Season.” -Angel Leya, Author of Skye’s Lure

“Just the right size for a holiday break. Do yourself a favor and settle in with ‘Tis the Season and a warm mug of your favorite drink . . . preferably in front of a roaring fire.” -Traci, Goodreads

“Olivia Folmar Ard is building a reputation for relevant, contemporary women’s fiction with a soul.” -Carolyn Astfalk, Author of Ornamental Graces and Stay With Me

– Advance Praise for This Dread Road

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Excerpt:

Claire’s bedroom looked so strange emptied of all her possessions, like a body whose soul had already departed, leaving it one last paltry breath. The closet, once overflowing with haute couture, now held only a few ragged Oxford shirts, two pairs of acid wash jeans, a Howard Knox hoodie, and an ill—fitting secondhand blazer with a hole in the right armpit. Her side table was empty, everything swept hastily into a plastic bag and then shoved into one of the suitcases now piled high in the living room. Every piece that had given the room the right dash of sophistication—the artwork, the Oriental rug, the chenille damask bedspread, the Egyptian cotton sateen sheets, the wingtip chair in the corner—had all been packed into a moving truck and were on their way to a self—storage unit.

A flimsy floor lamp in the corner illuminated everything left behind. The bed. A few trash bags lined up like prisoners against the walls, stuffed with the cast—offs of two lives breaking apart. The alarm clock on the other side table ticked out a steady rhythm.

Claire forced herself to sit on the bed with her feet tucked beneath her. Keeping them near the floor was too much of a temptation. As much as she wanted to bolt now, while she still felt brave enough, she felt obligated to wait until Trevor arrived home from work. After all the times before this, the times she’d only pretended to leave so she could get what she wanted, she needed him to understand that this time, there was no need for him to chase her.

A shiver ran through her, probably the ghost she was convinced lived in the corner of their—no, his—bedroom, the place where light never seemed to reach the wall. Sliding her arms out of her sleeves, Claire hugged herself and grimaced when her hands brushed against her prominent ribs. They didn’t show through her clothing, thanks to her careful layers, but her bones could not lie to each other. She felt herself buckle and recede like a washboard and swallowed back her rising disgust.

This was why she needed to get away. If she stayed here, in this sad, drafty apartment, this disintegration would continue until she completely vanished. Trevor could blame it on the antidepressants she popped like chewing gum these days, or the fact that she’d been subsisting on espresso and tequila in the four months they’d lived in Baltimore, but she knew the real culprit was her fiancé himself. It wasn’t his fault, but it kind of was.

If Hattie could see her now, she would be appalled by how much Claire had let herself go. Claire could imagine her best friend now, delivering a stern lecture while forcing her to eat various tasty manifestations of carbohydrates and fat. She smiled. As much as she’d always resisted Hattie’s attempts to fatten her up, she had to admit she would welcome a change in diet. Her mouth watered at the thought of Hattie’s divine eight hundred calorie mac and cheese.

Her stomach rumbled, the muscles contorting in an odd dance beneath her arms. Claire glanced at the clock again. Trevor wouldn’t leave the school for at least two hours more, and the walk home took fifteen minutes in the best of circumstances. She might as well get something to eat while she waited.

She didn’t bother checking the pantry. All that was there was an expired jar of peanut butter and a mostly empty box of breakfast cereal. She’d been putting off grocery shopping for the last two weeks, preferring to order in on the days Trevor was working. She picked up the phone and dialed the Chinese place around the block. The person who answered recognized her number and asked if she wanted her regular—General Tso’s chicken, brown rice, and egg drop soup, just the broth. She said yes, hung up, and sank onto the couch.

Assuming lotus pose¾the only thing she remembered from the yoga class the Howard Knox registrar’s office had forced her to take ¾Claire tried to clear her mind of everything and simply exist for a minute, even a few seconds. Instead, her thoughts raced even faster, flitting from one happy memory of Trevor to the next. It didn’t seem to matter that they were all out of context, that in reality each moment of bliss she had experienced with him was framed with weeks, if not months, of sadness. Her mind only wanted to focus on their shared joy.

But maybe this was a good thing, speeding through all the false contentment like this. Perhaps it would work all the sympathy out of her system. Perhaps if she played along, she would actually leave this time; she would find the strength to tell him she didn’t love him anymore, and mean it.


Excerpt:

“Everyone, please take your seats.” The professor glanced at his watch and frowned before letting his arm fall back down to his side. “Class should have begun three and half minutes ago. Apparently, punctuality is no longer a priority at this school.”

As he spoke, Annemarie darted through the door, red—faced and panting. “So sorry,” she mumbled to the professor, who either didn’t hear her apology or refused to accept it.

The weight of fifty—six pairs of eyes bore down on her shoulders as she stared up the stacked rows, hoping to find an unclaimed desk. In her desperation, she started up the nearest set of stairs. There had to be an empty seat near the back, right? Stomach clenched, she grasped the handrail and continued her ascent. What would she do if she couldn’t find one?

Susan. None of this would have happened if it weren’t for Susan.

Annemarie had been happy to grab lunch at the cafeteria after she and Susan left their biology class, but she’d let her roommate talk her into making a quick trip into town instead. She’d sworn up and down they would make it back in time for their one o’clock classes.

“My dad and I ate at this great little deli downtown last summer when he brought me for a visit. It’s just a few streets over.”

But the deli was busier on the first day of class than it had been over the summer. They stood in line for almost half an hour and didn’t receive their food for another fifteen minutes after that. Annemarie didn’t even know what her sandwich had tasted like, she’d had to eat it so quickly. She’d spent the next ten minutes running full tilt back to campus, hoping their professors would be forgiving.

So much for that.

Down below, the professor cleared his throat. Annemarie’s face turned an even brighter shade of red. Maybe her mother was right. Did she really need to take this class? Hurtling down the stairs and running out of the lecture hall seemed more appealing by the second.

But just as she decided to succumb to the temptation, she found what she was searching for: an empty seat. It was farther up than she would have liked, the very last desk in the very top row, but it was available.

With a sigh of relief Annemarie hopped up the last few steps and scooted behind those already seated, ignoring their grumbling about inconsiderate people. When she reached the end of the row, she tapped the shoulder of the boy—no, man—sitting next to the empty desk.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”

He looked from her to the seat and back. “Don’t think so.”

She slid behind the desk and tucked herself against the wall, willing herself to be invisible.

The professor heaved an exaggerated sigh and said, “Now that everyone is finally ready, let’s begin. I’m Dr. Liam Craig. Welcome to Introduction to Philosophy. In this course, you will learn to …”

Annemarie leaned over and whispered, “Sorry about that. I’m usually on time, or even early.”

Keeping his eyes on Dr. Craig, the man beside her nodded but said nothing.

“My name’s Annemarie,” she said. “What’s yours?”

He met her eyes with a heavy—lidded stare before returning his attention to the front of the classroom, again saying nothing. His jaw stiffened, and was it her imagination, or was his hand twitching?

When it became obvious this was the only answer she could expect from him, Annemarie leaned back in her chair and tried not to let it bother her. Class had already started, after all—she was the one being rude. Besides, what did it matter? She was there to learn about philosophy, not moon over some guy.

But as Dr. Craig droned on about fallacious reasoning, the nature of reality, and the existence of God, Annemarie couldn’t keep her mind from wandering back to her handsome seatmate.

With ten minutes left, Dr. Craig said, “I think I’ve covered everything necessary for our first full class meeting, so I’ll give you an early dismissal today. Don’t get used to it, though. Take a copy of the syllabus on your way out, and please prepare to discuss chapters one and two of your textbook for Wednesday. And be on time,” he added, glaring up at Annemarie.

Without a word, the man next to her stood, stepped behind her, and slowly made his way down the steps. He took intermittent pauses to allow others to pass him, but he spoke to no one. People parted around him and rejoined on the other side. The guys seemed to size themselves up against him, while the girls ducked their heads and gave him a shy smile, but he didn’t seem to notice any of them. When he reached the bottom of the stairs and released his grip on the railing, he limped across the narrow stretch of floor between the lectern and the first row of seats. She couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to his leg.

Before she knew it had happened, she was the last person in the classroom other than Dr. Craig. She blushed and gathered her books, chiding herself for her distraction. Why should she care about this person she’d only just met? He didn’t care about her—he’d made that abundantly clear. She should just put him out of her mind and focus on school.

Even so, for the rest of the day, she couldn’t shake the memory of his eyes—shielded, mistrustful, and darker than a thundercloud.


Dreamcast Interview: Who the Author Envisions Playing Various Roles if Her Book Were Made into a Movie

Annemarie Vanderhorst

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Of all the young, blonde actresses Hollywood has to offer—and there are several—Saoirse Ronan is the only one I can picture playing Annemarie. I’ve only seen her act as a child and young teen, but she is incredibly talented and I can only imagine her skills have grown as she’s aged. She’s a little older than Annemarie is in the beginning, but I believe she could still pass for 18.

Henry Eden

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Despite being too short and several years too old, Milo Ventimiglia seems to me the perfect pick for Henry. His acting is amazing, and he has the same rugged good looks I pictured Henry possessed. The fact that he has a baby face would help with the age difference, and movie magic could surely take care of the height issue. I just know he and Saoirse would do a lovely job together.

Susan French

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Evan Rachel Held has a mixture of classic beauty and strength that makes her a perfect pick for Susan, Annemarie’s roommate.

Paula Johnson

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Brittany Snow did a great job pulling off the fifties look in Hairspray! and I enjoy her acting, so in my opinion she’d do a great job as Perky Paula.

Alan Eden

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I loved Sam Jaeger’s performance as Joel Graham in Parenthood, and he has the look and temperament to play the older and gentler of Henry’s brothers.

Russ Eden

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Armie Hammer’s acting is fantastic, and he would definitely be able to pull off Henry’s hot-tempered brother.

Cora Eden

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Ginnifer Goodwin’s compelling portrayal of sweet, sensitive Mary Margaret/Snow White on ABC’s Once Upon a Time makes me think she’s perfect for compassionate, maternal Cora.

Merle Patterson

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Domhnall Gleeson looks very similar to the picture of Merle I’ve been carrying around in my head. As a plus, I loved his portrayal of Levin in Anna Karenina.

Claire James

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Emma Stone’s facial features aren’t exactly how I pictured Claire’s, but her coloring is perfect and her acting style is perfect. She would make my favorite redhead heiress come to life.

Trevor Pennington

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Trevor’s always been a bit elusive to me; I’ve never been able to pin down exactly what he looks like. But When I saw Alden Ehrenreich, I knew he was the right person. He’d do a great job.

Zoe

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Aja Naomi King’s performance in How to Get Away from Murder is gathering lots of attention, and besides that, she looks exactly how I pictured Zoe, Claire’s roommate.


Have you read This Dread Road? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s casting choices? Let us know down below.