Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr


Title: The Lucy Variations

Author:  Sara Zarr


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:


Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.

That was all before she turned fourteen.

Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl’s struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It’s about finding joy again, even when things don’t go according to plan. Because life isn’t a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.


I love books set in highly competitive settings, and musical competitions are a favorite.  Lucy’s competitive days are over, though.  At the start of The Lucy Variations, she’s been in retirement for eight months.  Eight months since she quit, since she walked out of a concert hall in Prague.  She has been lost to herself for all of this time; longer, actually, because she lost her love for music and for her piano well before then.  Her journey to find herself is not without mistakes and heartbreak, but when she does find herself again, will she have the courage to stand up to her family and take herself back?

After destructing in Prague, Lucy is happy with her new, stress free life.  That’s what she keeps telling herself, anyway.  After her grandmother’s death, nothing mattered anymore; not her music, not her family, not her schoolwork.  Walking off the stage in Prague was intended as a protest to her grandfather, a message that she didn’t appreciate how he had made the decision that she would be competing instead of with her dying grandmother.  Betrayed, Lucy still hasn’t forgiven her family for lying to her, and she hasn’t forgiven herself for not standing up to her grandfather.  When she walked off the stage, he took her protest to be permanent.  He called her a quitter, and told her her career was over.  Now, the attention is on her talented younger brother, also a gifted pianist.  Now, without the pressure of competition and practice, Lucy can be a teenager.  She can have crushes and make friends and be a normal kid.  Only, truthfully, she will never be a normal kid because she misses being someone, though she can’t even admit that to herself.

Lucy is a compelling character.  She’s confused and angry.  She can’t get past that day in Prague, when she gave everything up, only she didn’t realize at the time that her actions would last forever.  She never thought that her grandfather, a harsh taskmaster, would be so uncompromising, and that he would deny her the chance to apologize and get back on with her piano practice.   Instead, he dumped her faster than a garbage truck emptying a load at the local landfill.  Lucy has no one to stand up for her against her grandfather, and as the months go by, she is more and more resentful of how she has been judged and left wanting. 

When her brother, Gus, needs a new piano instructor, Will and his beautiful wife enter their lives.  Will is so alive and so passionate about music.  He makes Lucy remember all of the things she loved about it.  He makes her want to try new things and play just for herself.  As she gets to know him better and work through her issues with her family, Lucy develops a monumental crush on Will.  This is the part of the story that I liked the least.  Lucy jumps from an inappropriate crush on her English teacher to a crush on Will, but none of the moral dilemmas were adequately explored.  There are no consequences explored, no significant examination of how their friendship is hurting Will’s wife.  I was very disappointed with this aspect of the story.

Overall, I did enjoy The Lucy Variations.  It’s an engaging story about a girl longing to find herself again, and to reestablish her voice in her demanding, controlling family.

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Interview with Natalie Anderson, Author of The Right Mr Wrong

I’m delighted to have special guest Natalie Anderson stop by the virtual offices to chat up her latest KISS release, The Right Mr  Wrong.  Please give her a warm welcome!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Natalie Anderson] Romantic, hardworking (though prone to procrastination), maternal, obsessive, useless housekeeper but ok cook, impulsive, silly voice queen.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about The Right Mr Wrong?

[Natalie Anderson] This book is a bit different from my usual Harlequins in that it is actually two novellas in one. The stories deal with the same hero and heroine in each but look at the different paths they take when the heroine made a decision one way in the first novella and another way in the second. They’re parallel universe stories.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Natalie Anderson] It was just one of those ‘what if’ moments—I was thinking about how the decisions we make can affect our future, and I was imagining what might have happened to Victoria if she’d said yes to her boyfriend, then no – then I got to thinking how much fun it would be to explore both stories, so that’s exactly what I did. Because sometimes one’s life hinges on a split-second decision, right? Haven’t you ever been torn inside over a dilemma and had to leap one way or the other? Don’t you ever wonder what might have happened if you’d chosen the other way?

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Victoria?

[Natalie Anderson] In Liam’s thoughts— gorgeous, touching, precious.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Liam had a theme song, what would it be?

[Natalie Anderson] hmmm – maybe Wild Ones by Flo Rida?

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Oliver is never without.

[Natalie Anderson] His pride 😉

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Victoria’s greatest regret?

[Natalie Anderson] Oh that’s tricky!!! Because this will be different in both stories—probably not freeing herself the moment she met Liam…

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Natalie Anderson] The shower – lol!!!! Seriously, the one thing that always gets my muse working is water—be it relaxing under the shower or walking along the beach, swimming, soaking in a hot pool… I just adore water.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Natalie Anderson] Time, space and snacks 😉

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Natalie Anderson] I’m very spoilt because I get to read Soraya Lane’s books ahead of everyone else and I love them!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Natalie Anderson] Robert the Rose Horse – when I was five I refused to go to school until I had my own copy!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Natalie Anderson] I’m a very busy mom with four young children and a husband who works long hours—our favourite down time together is to watch movies when the children have gone to bed. I just adore movies.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Natalie Anderson] I really enjoy hearing from readers — I’m on  Facebook and Twitter regularly — and you can also sign up to my newsletter at my website
Or you can email me directly of course:

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

Purchase Links:


About the book:

"Will you marry me?"

Isn’t that the question every girl dreams of hearing? Victoria certainly used to think so. And safe, steady Oliver seemed perfect husband material. But that was until she met Liam, his rebellious, scorchingly hot best friend. Suddenly Victoria’s feeling things—crazy lust-fueled things!—she’s never felt before. But for the wrong guy… Then Oliver goes down on one knee, and it’s decision time—head or hormones?

Victoria’s about to discover the truth about guys like Liam—once you go bad you never go back!

Extra bonus: included is The Wedding Dress Diaries by Aimee Carson, the prequel to our fab new quartet!

About the author:

USA TODAY bestseller Natalie Anderson writes fun, frisky, feels-good contemporary romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon, Entangled Publishing and independently. With over twenty-five books published, she’s been a Romantic Times Award nominee & a finalist for the R*BY (Romantic Book of the Year).

She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband, four children and what feels like a million ducks.

Watch for THE HEAT IS ON coming in July from Jill Shalvis, as her Harlequin KISS novel, BLAME IT ON THE BIKINI is included as a bonus read, and also be sure to grab a copy of BREATHE FOR ME, her first indie novel published in April.

Spotlight and Giveaway! Talking Dirty with the CEO by Jackie Ashenden




Jackie Ashenden and Entangled Publishing are celebrating the release of Talking Dirty with the CEO.  This is a fun and sexy romp with a geeky girl who loves gadgets, and a hunky guy who makes them.  To get the party underway, they are giving away a $50 Amazon or Amazon UK gift card. 
Fill out the widget to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A bit about the novel Talking Dirty with the CEO:

"A perfect mix of heat and humor, add up to a great read." RT Book Reviews 4 1/2 stars! “

Gadget journalist Christie St. John is more geek than chic. But when research for an article she has to write on online dating leads to the bed of the hottest guy she’s ever met, she knows that if the geek is to keep the hottie CEO, she’s going to have to come out of her digital shell.

Tech mogul Joseph Ashton never expected an Internet blind date to end in the best sex of his life. Yet as the chemistry between him and Christie burns out of control, he can’t help but think this woman is out for his money like all the rest. She claims she wants his heart instead – but that’s the one thing he can never give.

A bit about Jackie:

Jackie has been writing fiction since she was eleven years old. Mild mannered fantasy/SF/pseudo-literary writer by day, obsessive romance writer by night, she used to balance her writing with the more serious job of librarianship until a chance meeting with another romance writer prompted her to throw off the shackles of her day job and devote herself to the true love of her heart – writing romance. She particularly likes to write emotional stories with alpha heroes who’ve just got the world to their liking only to have it blown wide apart by their kick-ass heroines.

She lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her husband, the inimitable Dr Jax, two kids, two cats and some guppies (possibly dead guppies by the time you read this). When she’s not torturing alpha males and their stroppy heroines, she can be found drinking chocolate martinis, reading anything she can lay her hands on, posting random crap on her blog, or being forced to go mountain biking with her husband.

Jackie’s Links:

Visit Jackie Ashenden’s website:


Facebook Page:!/jackie.ashenden?fref=ts


Buy Links:


Barnes and Noble:

Guest Post: Kay David, Author of Texas Hold’em and Giveaway!

Please welcome special guest Kay David to the virtual offices today! Kay is here to introduce her new series, Smokin’ ACES.  After, stick around for your chance to win some extra cool earrings!

Smokin’ ACES by Kay David

TEXAS HOLD’EM is the launch book for my latest romantic suspense series,  Smokin’ ACES.   Set on the dangerous Texas-Mexico border, the trilogy, published by Entangled Suspense, features a team of undercover Texas Rangers bound by their goals but torn by their secrets. Posing as a rogue motorcycle gang, the ACES are forced to walk a very thin line between good and evil as they search for a brutal cartel lord intent on controlling anything and everyone.

The scene below features Timothy Santos, the leader of Smokin’ ACES.  In the aftermath of a bar fight, Santos and his team are growing antsy and nervous; they need to make a move soon or risk the life of a confidential informant who’s gone missing. The team is leaving the local biker bar, The Ice House.

(FYI–I named the establishment this because I went to high school in a very small town on the Texas Gulf coast. There was only one place in town, at that time, that sold ice, and we, naturally, called it The Ice House. The place doubled as a bar, and a very raunchy one at that. I’d never considered going there until my mother announced it was forbidden territory. Needless to say, my buddies and I checked it out the following weekend.

She was right.

We were dumb teenagers, but not that dumb. We left and never returned. But, oh, the shiny allure of illicitness… It never dulls.)

Only one woman can help ACES, and she’s the one woman who has vowed she’ll never have anything to do with Timothy Santos again, Sheriff Rose Renwick.  The first time they loved was disaster.  The second time could destroy her.

Santos know he must overcome Rose’s objections, but telling her the truth will hurt her even more. He can protect his team, rescue the informant, or reunite with Rose, but doing all three might kill him—or Rose.  Doing nothing could have the same result.

TEXAS HOLD’EM: Outlaw bikers, dark secrets, and hot Texas nights!

Excerpt from TEXAS HOLD’EM by Kay David for

Entangled Suspense

Some of the bikers had already pulled bottles of Jack from their saddlebags and were passing the whiskey around in the dark.  As Santos and his men walked by, they made smooching sounds and mocked him.

      “Hey, cowboy, ya’ll going back to the ranch?  Better be careful now–them Harleys buck better than your skanky-ass girlfriends!”  More raucous laughter rang out. “Don’t fall off and bust your butts…”

     Santos’s crew heard the same taunts every time they came to the Rio County dive and they waved them away with one-finger salutes, the other men shouting with laughter.

Mounting their motorcycles, Santos and his men pulled onto the highway and rumbled toward their home away from home, a rundown house on the edge of the county line. The cold wind rushing over Santos’s raw face helped him stay upright, his stinging arm doing the same.

     Thirty minutes later, they reached the caliche road that took them the rest of the way.  Santos owned the house and the six-hundred-acre cattle ranch where it sat but for more than one reason, the name on the deed could never be traced back to him. His grandfather had turned over the property to Santos on his deathbed, the section of land in the family since Santa Anna had come and gone.

The ear-splitting roar of the Harleys echoed against the spreading mountains, a cloud of dust marking their progress. They reached the stone house after another thirty minutes and turned off their engines, the sudden silence as deep as the darkness.  The mesquite trees smelled like heaven after the smoky bar, their hollow shadows leading the men toward the windows warm with light.

     Santos made it to the living room and stopped before a ratty couch where he lowered himself to the cushions, every muscle in his body crying out. He was doubly glad the ranch was so isolated; if his newfound best friends could see him right now, they would have wondered just what kind of bad-ass biker he was. Of course, if they knew the real truth, more than Santos’s reputation would be at stake.

     Biker gangs and Texas Rangers didn’t normally mix.

     Timothy Santos had never been the kind of man who cared about normal, though, and even if he had, it wouldn’t have stopped him now. He and his undercover team had come to Rio County to stop the violence that had taken control of west Texas-and he was there to make that happen, no matter what it took, including cutting some corners that might have made other officers uneasy.  It wouldn’t be the first time he’d broken one law to keep another one, and it wouldn’t be the last.

     That was the only way to catch someone like El Brujo.

Ready to enter for a chance to win Harley Davidson Earrings?  Is that the coolest giveaway or what??

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About Texas Hold ‘Em:

Part law enforcement. Part criminal. And all deliciously bad…

Working undercover as part of an elite team of Rangers disguised as the Smokin’ ACES biker gang, Timothy Santos walks the thin line between law-enforcer and law-breaker. With one of his informants missing—and possibly dead—at the hands of vicious cartel leader El Brujo, Santos will do whatever it takes to find justice. Even if it means heading to Rio County to look up his former lover…who’s not only the sheriff, but Santos’s only lead.

Rose Renwick is not happy to see Santos. In the past, their chemistry had been explosive—raw, sensual, and unforgettable—but she’d been burned. Now Santos is back in town, looking just as lethal and as irresistible as she remembered. But Santos wants something from her—and suddenly Rose’s family is in danger and her town is under attack. The only way out is to trust the one man she swore never to trust again. Ante up…

A bit about Kay:

Kay David is the author of over thirty five romantic suspense novels. After enjoying a variety of careers including computer programming at NASA, custom home building and working in the oil and gas industry, Kay admits that writing has always her been her first love. Living in such diverse countries as the United Arab Emirates, Argentina and Bolivia has made Kay appreciate her own great home in Texas while allowing her to add intimate details to her books of the exotic settings she knows firsthand.

Kay’s Links:



Facebook Page:


Buy Link:

Interview with Susan Stephens, Author of Diamond in the Desert

Please welcome USA TODAY bestselling author Susan Stephens to the virtual offices today! Susan is here to chat about her latest Harlequin Presents Diamond in the Desert.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you describe yourself?

[Susan Stephens] The children call me Ninja Carrot.  I prefer to think of myself as driven! I love people and music, art and food, and one of my main passions is travel, which allows me to immerse myself in all these things.

I have been lucky enough to travel the world singing, and now with my writing. It would be fair to say I’ve seen quite a bit of life along the way.

I have a deep love of animals and have never been without a pet of some sort in my life, even when I was forced to smuggle a ridiculously young puppy I found in a disreputable pet shop into my theatrical digs. Poor Fleur was so tiny she didn’t even have proper fur, and the vet told me that if she was still alive the following week she would put her on an inoculation plan. Fourteen years later Fleur left me. She was a life-enhancing privilege,  to know and love.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Diamond in the Desert?

[Susan Stephens] Diamond In The Desert is my first book in the Skavanga series. I feel so passionate about the heroine in this book. Britt is the oldest sister who feels herself responsible for the rest of the family, but Britt cuts herself no slack and has no personal life outside her work and family. I so want Britt to be happy and fulfilled in all areas of her life, and I hope I found a hero in Sheikh Sharif who can both excite Britt and show her that she can enjoy personal fulfilment without compromising her sense of duty.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Susan Stephens] I just love the concept of ice and fire. The characters exploded from these extreme settings and demanded to have their stories told

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Britt?

[Susan Stephens] Britt is strong, loyal, and lonely

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Sharif had a theme song, what would it be?

[Susan Stephens] My way

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Britt is never without.

[Susan Stephens] Care for those who rely on her

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things will you never find in Sharif’s bedroom?

[Susan Stephens] Alarm clock . A mirror. Pink cushions

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Britt’s greatest regret?

[Susan Stephens] She hasn’t saved herself for Sharif

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Susan Stephens] Life, my children, and the wonderful books I read

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Susan Stephens] The love of my family. My Betty dog lying on my feet, and the phone not ringing constantly.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Susan Stephens] Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Susan Stephens] Harper Lee To Kill A Mockingbird

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Susan Stephens] Cook, bake, eat, travel, play the piano, entertain friends, read, walk, think about the next book

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Susan Stephens]

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can purchase Diamond in the Desert from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the links below:

About the book:

Breathless in a Bedouin tent With the future of the Skavanga diamond mine in jeopardy, heiress Britt Skavanga needs an injection of cash-fast. She finds it in the mysterious Arabian investor known only as Emir… 

Britt travels to the desert kingdom of Kareshi to confront her arrogant benefactor. If diamonds are in Britt’s blood, then the scorching desert sand runs through Sheikh Sharif al Kareshi’s. He’s determined to show arctic beauty Britt how things are really done in Kareshi, including how hot nights in the desert can be…

Review: River Road by Suzanne Johnson


Title: River Road

Author: Suzanne Johnson


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:


Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.

Wizards are dying, and something—or someone—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.

It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans series continues


I enjoyed Royal Street, the first book in Suzanne Johnson’s Sententials of New Orleans, with a few reservations.  I was disappointed with the lack of romance, and wondered why DJ constantly made such bad decisions.  The lack of common sense drove me bonkers.  I’m happy to report that River Road is a stronger book overall, and even when DJ made some not so wise choices, she really didn’t have any choice in the matter.  Keeping two warring clans of merfolk from killing each other, and getting normal humans caught in the crossfire, kept her busy and kept her putting herself on the line.  It’s hard to argue about doing the smart thing when the smart thing is going to cost people their lives.

DJ and Alex are both working as sententials now, and the story picks up three years after the events of Royal Street.  DJ is more comfortable in her own skin, with her powers and her elvin wand.  She complains about the same things we all do; being overworked, working for a bunch of guys who expect results no matter what, not getting that raise she thinks she deserves.  Her relationship with Alex has settled down and they have decided that they make great friends.  When the merpeople start feuding,  Dj and Alex have to put an end to their territorial disputes, which are complicated by Jean Laffitte.  He’s buddies with two of the mer, Rene and Robert, and he has a vested interest in seeing a treaty between the clans.  Rene and Jean have many shady business dealings, the less DJ knows about, the happier she is.

I enjoyed all of the characters this time around.  They all make DJ’s life a trial.  The merpeople hate wizards because of how they were treated after a large group of paranormals attempted to set up shop in the mundane world years ago.  They are suspicious of her motives and treat her like crap, to be frank.  I really felt bad for DJ; she is trying so hard to come to a fair solution to their dispute, and they just keep on giving her grief!  Even her own employers don’t give her any respect, and she is constantly at odds with the Elders because of her methods, which are basically act now and ask for permission later.  They are putting a huge amount of pressure on her to get the situation fixed, and when wizards start turning up dead, they are even more unrelenting that she fix it.  Fix it now!  I felt that the only person to give her any credit was Jean.  He turned out to be a fun, well-rounded character, and I enjoyed the courtship between them.  I can’t see them setting up house together, but there’s a lot of fun chemistry between DJ and her immortal pirate.

River Road kept my interest from beginning to end.  The mystery was compelling, and DJ’s methods were entertaining as she raced against the clock to put a stop to the war brewing between the merpeople.  I am looking forward to DJ’s next adventure, Elysian Fields, in August.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by Bewitching Book Tours

Spotlight! River Road by Suzanne Johnson

Today we’re celebrating Suzanne Johnson’s River Road.  This is the second book in her Sentinels of New Orleans series, which follows Drusilla Jaco’s adventures as the sentential of New Orleans.   Check back in a bit for my review of River Road, but for now, enjoy this excerpt from the book.

Excerpt River Road by Suzanne Johnson

The minute hand of the ornate grandfather clock crept like a gator stuck in swamp mud. I’d been watching it for half an hour, nursing a fizzy cocktail from my perch inside the Hotel Monteleone. The plaque on the enormous clock claimed it had been hand- carved of mahogany in 1909, about 130 years after the birth of the undead pirate waiting for me upstairs.

They were both quite handsome, but the clock was a lot safer.

The infamous Jean Lafitte had expected me at seven. He’d summoned me to his French Quarter hotel suite by courier like I was one of his early nineteenth-century wenches, and I hated to destroy his pirate-king delusions, but the historical undead don’t summon wizards. We summon them.

I’d have blown him off if my boss on the Congress of Elders hadn’t ordered me to comply and my co-sentinel, Alex, hadn’t claimed a prior engagement.

At seven thirty, I abandoned my drink, took a deep breath, and marched through the lobby toward the bank of elevators.

On the long dead-man-walking stroll down the carpeted hallway, I imagined all the horrible requests Jean might make. He’d saved my life a few years ago, after Hurricane Katrina sent the city into freefall, and I hadn’t seen him since. I’d been desperate at the time. I might have promised him unfettered access to modern New Orleans in exchange for his assistance. I might have promised him a place to live. I might have promised him things I don’t even remember. In other words, I might be totally screwed.

I reached the door of the Eudora Welty Suite and knocked, reflecting that Jean Lafitte probably had no idea who Eudora Welty was, and wouldn’t like her if he did. Ms. Welty had been a modern sort of woman who wouldn’t hop to attention when summoned by a scoundrel.

He didn’t answer immediately. I’d made him wait, after all, and Jean lived in a tit- for- tat world. I paused a few breaths and knocked harder. Finally, he flung open the door, waving me inside to a suite plush with tapestries of peach and royal blue, thick carpet that swallowed the narrow heels of my pumps, and a plasma TV he couldn’t possibly know how to operate. What a waste.

“You have many assets, Drusilla, but apparently a respect for time is not among them.” Deep, disapproving voice, French accent, broad shoulders encased in a red linen shirt, long dark hair pulled back into a tail, eyes such a cobalt blue they bordered on navy. And technically speaking, dead.

He was as sexy as ever.

“Sorry.” I slipped my hand in my skirt pocket, fingering the small pouch of magic-infused herbs I carried at all times. My mojo bag wouldn’t help with my own perverse attraction to the man, but it would keep my empathic abilities in check. If he still had a perverse attraction to me, I didn’t want to feel it.

He eased his six-foot-two frame into a sturdy blue chair and slung one long leg over the arm as he gave me a thorough eyeraking, a ghost of a smile on his face.

I perched on the edge of the adjacent sofa, easing back against a pair of plump throw pillows, and looked at him expectantly. I hoped what ever he wanted wouldn’t jeopardize my life, my job, or my meager bank account.

“You are as lovely as ever, Jolie,” Jean said, trotting out his pet name for me that sounded deceptively intimate and brought back a lot of memories, most of them bad. “I will forgive your tardiness— perhaps you were late because you were selecting clothing that I would like.” His gaze lingered on my legs. “You chose beautifully.”

I’d picked a conservative black skirt and simple white blouse with the aim of looking professional for a business meeting, part of my ongoing attempt to prove to the Elders I was a mature wizard worthy of a pay raise. But this was Jean Lafitte, so I should have worn coveralls. I’d forgotten what a letch he could be.

“I have a date after our meeting,” I lied. He didn’t need to know said date involved a round carton with the words Blue Bell Ice Cream printed on front. “Why did you want to see me?”

There, that hadn’t been so difficult—just a simple request. No drama. No threats. No double- entendre. Straight to business.

“Does a man need a reason to see a beautiful woman? Especially one who is indebted to him, and who has made him many promises?” A slow smile spread across his face, drawing my eyes to his full lips and the ragged scar that trailed his jawline.

I might be the empath in the room, but he knew very well that, in some undead kind of way, I thought he was hot.

I felt my face warming to the shade of a trailer- trash bridesmaid’s dress, one whose color had a name like raging rouge. I’d had a similar reaction when I first met Jean in 2005, two days before a mean hurricane with a sissy name turned her malevolent eye toward the Gulf Coast. I blamed my whole predicament on Katrina, the bitch.

Her winds had driven the waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the canals that crisscrossed the city, collapsing levees and filling the low, concave metro area like a gigantic soup bowl.

But NBC Nightly News and Anderson Cooper had missed the biggest story of all: how, after the storm, a mob of old gods, historical undead, and other preternatural victims of the scientific age flooded New Orleans. As a wizard, I’d had a ringside seat. Now, three years later, the wizards had finally reached accords with the major preternatural ruling bodies, and the borders were down, as of two days ago. Jean hadn’t wasted any time.

River Road

Sentinels of New Orleans, Book 2
Suzanne Johnson

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Tor Books

ISBN: 978-0765327802

ASIN: B00842H5VI

Number of pages: 336

Word Count: approx. 92,000

Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen

Amazon Barnes & Noble

Book Depository Indiebound

Book Description:

Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.

Wizards are dying, and something—or someone—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.

It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans series continues.

About the Author:

Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance from Auburn, Alabama, after a career in educational publishing that has spanned five states and six universities.  She grew up halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.






Publisher Page:

Interview Laura Drake, Author of The Sweet Spot

Laura Drake is our special guest this morning.  Please give her a warm welcome!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Laura Drake] Glass overflowing thrill-seeker, recovering bean-counter, writer, motorcycling grandma, cowboy fangirl, and aspiring Texan!

(Whew! Thank God for all the Twitter prep!)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about The Sweet Spot?

[Laura Drake] Here’s a quick blurb:

Charla Rae Denny’s role as a traditional ranch wife and mother fits her like custom-tailored Wranglers. But when her only son is killed in a tragic accident, Char retreats to a world of grief and Valium. Her reeling husband takes up with a blonde buckle bunny half his age. Their ranch, which supplies bucking bulls to the Pro Bull Riding circuit, is split up in the divorce. All her county fair ribbons won’t help Charla now. She’s alone, addicted, ill-equipped, and has no one to blame but herself. In spite of her fear of horses and smelly cows, she stands up, takes off her apron, and learns to run a ranch. She and Jimmy have lost their way. But through months of hard work, tears, and some hard knocks, they both learn to forgive — themselves and each other. Together, they find their way back, to life, to love, to the Sweet Spot.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Laura Drake] I love ‘fish out of water’ stories. My mother-in-law was actually the kernel of what would become Charla. She’s a ranch wife, who majored in Home Economics in college (yes that was once a major!) Though she came from a long line of farmers/ranchers, she considered everything inside the house her job, and outside, her husband’s.

So I wondered, what would happen if someone like that suddenly had to take over running a ranch?

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Charla?

[Laura Drake] Old-fashioned, damaged, plucky!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If JB had a theme song, what would it be?

[Laura Drake] Forever and Ever, Amen

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Charla is never without.

[Laura Drake] Regret.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things will you never find in JB’s bedroom?

[Laura Drake] A neatly made bed, a senior league championship baseball cap, or pajamas!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is JB’s greatest regret?

[Laura Drake] Not building his son a tree house.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Laura Drake] My husband and his family. I’m a city girl from Detroit, but he’s a farmer/rancher’s son from Texas. I so respect their strength and way of life. We’re moving to Texas next year, and I’m hoping to someday earn the title, “country girl.”

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Laura Drake] Coffee, a computer, and a cat (in that order.)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Laura Drake] All God’s Creatures, by Carolyn McSparren. If you’ve read James Harriott’s novels, you’re going to love this one! A rural vet, but set in the U.S., and the vet is a woman! A wonderfully real, heartwarming book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Laura Drake] Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry. Yes, I was horse-mad from an early age.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Laura Drake] Motorcycling, bicycling, fly fishing, reading, camping, knitting.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Laura Drake] My website is best:

But I’m also a Twitterholic: @PBRWriter

For any aspiring writers, I’m a member of the writing craft blog, Writers in the Storm:

Thank you SO much for having me here at Manga Maniac Café!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can purchase The Sweet Spot from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the links below

About the book:

A Love as Big as Texas . . .

Charla Rae Denny was the perfect wife with a perfect life, content to keep the home fires burning while her husband, JB, competed as a champion bull rider. Then their son died in a tragic accident-and everything fell apart. Divorced and saddled with a hill of bills and a failing ranch, Charla must now cowboy up to put her life back together.

James "JB" Denny doesn’t stay where he isn’t welcome. So when Charla shut him out of her grieving heart-and their home-a year ago, he took comfort where he could find it. Now after seeing beautiful Charla again, he wants it all back. She can’t work the ranch alone, and deep in his heart he knows he can be the man she needs. But after so much history and heartbreak, can JB convince Charla to take a risk and give their love a second chance?