Blog Archives

This Mess You’ve Made

This Mess You've Made by [D.J. Hawkins]

In This Mess You’ve Made, author D.J. Hawkins gives the reader a story which explores themes such as depression, grief and suicide. Chapter by chapter we follow the different points of view of two high school teenagers, Savannah and Aryn. Through them we see their struggles and how they’ve almost given up on life but, after meeting each other, they’ll realize that there still might be more out there for them. Hanging onto hope, Savannah and Aryn’s relationship fuel a flame inside of each that could change everything. Their love might be exactly what’s necessary to save themselves. Darkness meets light, hatred finds love, D.J. Hawkins shares with us the possibilities of healing and recovery despite the brokenness of one’s soul.

From the very beginning Hawkin’s writing is incredibly descriptive and full of emotion. The reader is able to paint a mental picture of how the main characters see themselves and their lives. The reader gets a very clear glimpse of how broken they are, how they feel and how they view the world. Allowing the reader to be immerse in each of their stories and experience a path that goes from helplessness and loneliness to hope and love.

The importance in our existence of friendship and family is shown, given that their impact can make the difference between life and death. It was nice reading about the varying relationships: both Savannah and Aryn have supporting friends that truly care about them and try their best to cheer them on and push them through life despite their misery. When these two meet, they understand perfectly how each other feel. Their darkness is what will unite them in the first place, bringing with it the light that they very much need.

The story can be heartbreaking at times, but hope keeps the reader wanting to see where everything is going to lead to in the end. I only wish that we had been able to see a bit more of the characters’ personalities, in particular of Savannah’s, but I guess that everything that she had to go through didn’t allow for her to show or develop much of herself. On another side, it was great to follow Savannah and Aryn’s relationship growth, which made me want to read more about them together, because the story was so much more deep and passionate when they’re on the page.

This Mess You’ve Made is a riveting coming of age romance novel that examines mental illness, recovery, and the importance of healthy relationships in an engaging and thought-provoking way.

Pages: 228 | ASIN: B08KTLVKPN

Buy Now From B&N.com

Everyone Had Tragedy

Zachary Ryan Author Interview
Zachary Ryan Author Interview

Cutthroat Cheerleader follows a bully who dies and is given the chance to look back at how her life affected the people around her. How long did you have the idea for this novel and what made you decide to start writing?

I had the idea kind of come forward while I was writing High School Queens. I have really loved this campy caddy novels, but I really wanted to add murder to it. With covid happening, I’ve had a bunch of time to write. I just really didn’t want to write a depressing novel while our world is a huge dumpster fire right now.

What were some ideas that informed Madison’s revelations throughout the story?

I think her seeing everyone’s life behind closed doors. What I always add to my novels is the theme, don’t judge a book by its cover. I feel like we all have our own struggles, and we don’t really know what someone’s going through unless we look behind all the closed doors. She realized everyone had tragedy, and I hurt a lot of people along the way. She made Mark be two different guys, and she made Chad be the stereotypical jock. These two were unhappy because they were playing the same game book as Madison to survive high school.

What scene from the book was the most challenging for you to write?

I think for me it was the plot twist when you realized one of the characters wasn’t crazy, and it had to be when the murderer was revealed. I think both I wanted to live up to the hype that I created in the novel.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’m working on a book called Playlist. I have wanted to write this novel for honestly over ten years. It’s a love story between two characters and my love for my music. It should be out in the summer. I’m just having too much fun with Cutthroat that I’m not ready to publish just yet another novel.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook

In the sleepy town of Townsend, Washington, there was an act so gruesome that no one would ever be the same. What heinous crime do I speak of? Skylar Torres thinking she could pull off a crop top with that pudgy body of hers. Oh, did you think I was going to say my murder. Well, I thought it was more sensational than anything else, but the real scandal was who killed me and why.

You should already know my name since it was on everyone’s lips once they found me with my throat ripped out. People thought they should have only feared me, but the Liberty Lion’s cheer squad knew one thing, hunt or be hunted.

No one’s hands were truly clean from all the dirt and blood on them. Be safe, watch your back and always remember, Happy Hunting.

Love
Madison Taylor

Live In The Moment

Ryan Standley
Ryan Standley Author Interview

To the Top of Greenfield Street is a compelling coming of age story about a teen starting a new life in a small town in the 90’s. What was the inspiration for the setup to this fascinating story?

My story was unexpectedly inspired by a coming of age pop song, “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran. The lyrics resonated with me and I began writing about similarly misbehaved teens from my hometown, but I struggled to find a clear beginning/ending setup. Then lightning literally struck, a block away from my house, and a beautiful, gigantic church burned to the ground, the tragedy that’s described in the first paragraphs, as Eric’s home. While I watched the church burning I knew their insurance would never cover a rebuild and the parishioners would be uprooted like Eric.

Eric is an interesting and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind his character development?

Thanks! I knew Eric had to be innocent, and somewhat naive, so his traits could change over a short time and carve out his journey. In early drafts, Eric came off as arrogant. He needed the self-loathing, and the insecurity of being overweight, which were also traits that could be shed quickly at his age. Plus, from an actor’s vocab, I wanted Eric to “live in the moment” and let the conflicts be real-time discoveries

What were some themes that were important for you to focus on in this book?

Classic themes like appreciating what you have, and hard work pays off were deeply anchored in the plot. I had fun exploring the circumstantial morality, loyalty, and whimsical hope of teenagers. I wanted to show how rumors spread and fade while the history of a town remains solid. Above all, honesty and trust were huge, so the events and dialog had to ring true.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

Right now I’m working on another coming of age novel tentatively titled “Better Out West,” about a college dropout who finds love and inspiration, gets dragged back into the dark world of substance abuse, and has to claw himself free again. Sounds pretty rugged but there’s a lot of hope there too. Should be available next fall.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

After tragedy strikes, Eric Daniels, age 15, must start over in a small town, where rumors fly and trouble follows. Though shy at heart, Eric meets neighborhood kids, builds his reputation, and excels at his first job. Then as soon as he lands his first kiss, he is betrayed and attacked by a jealous friend. Like most teens, Eric wants happiness, love and independence. He finds everything he ever wanted on Greenfield Street, but how long can it last?

TO THE TOP OF GREENFIELD STREET is an honest unveiling of the teenage spirit, a sensational coming-of-age tryst, and an uplifting example of starting over. Standley writes with an irresistible blend of action, humor, disgust and nostalgia. Set in the sleepy town of Freeport, IL, in 1993, the novel speaks to the teenagers in the midst of their heartaches, and to the adults who will never forget theirs.

Fall Boys and Spring Girls – Book Trailer

Over the span of his high school career, we follow unpopular Todd Anderson through several moves, changing of schools, and his journey to discover that popularity doesn’t exclude you from life’s problems. We meet Todd—an unpopular 1990’s teenager living in Springdale, Missouri—as he starts his freshman year of Catholic high school. Over the span of four years, we follow Todd on his journey of heartbreak, parental conflict, and cross-country moves. And he might even get the “popularity” title he’s always wished for…

For fans of Normal People and Election, this darkly comical coming-of-age story delves into the social issues we all face in high school and beyond.

Buy Now From B&N.com

Cutthroat Cheerleader

Cutthroat Cheerleader by [Zachary Ryan]

Madison paid the ultimate price for her attitude, her controlling behavior, and her desire to rule the school. As a cheerleader and bully extraordinaire, she has taken her last breath–but only one person in her life knows the truth. And it isn’t Madison. Watching over everyone she has left behind, Madison faces some hard facts about the life she led, the friends she let down, and the persona she regrets having carried all these years. Things are not what they seem in her high school and, whether she is ready for it or not, it just might be Madison’s responsibility to put a stop to the killings that only she can see coming.

Cutthroat Cheerleader, by Zachary Ryan, is a young adult thriller featuring Madison Taylor as the victim of murder and the narrator of her own story. Ryan has created a unique take on the omniscient point-of-view and given his main character free reign to come and go in the lives of those she left behind. Serving as a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge-type character, Madison quickly learns exactly what she meant to the people she believed were her friends and sees, in no uncertain terms, exactly how much pain she created as she ruled the school with an iron fist.

One of the most unique aspects of Madison’s story is the process whereby she learns as much about herself as she does those she watches from afar. Her spirit, though still rough and tumble, is broken at the thought of leaving her family and friends hurting and in need. Hers is a long road of discovering everything she left unsaid prior to her death.

Ryan includes some truly breathtaking lines at the close of almost every chapter. He seriously knows how to deliver a punch that incenses readers and keeps them coming back for more. Leaving readers with that “just one more chapter” feeling time and time again, Ryan has created a book most readers will find easy to read cover-to-cover.

While I enjoyed this book, Ryan’s work is filled with vulgarity. It’s not for the faint of heart and may offend some readers who prefer much less explicit language especially when it comes to the interactions of young adults.

Cutthroat Cheerleader has a unique storyline and point-of-view that makes this one of the more captivating books I have read this year.

Pages: 352 | ASIN: B08LR1TQ3P

Buy Now From B&N.com

To the Top of Greenfield Street

Ryan Standley’s To the Top of Greenfield Street follows Eric Daniels as he spends a brief yet formative summer in Freeport, a small northern Illinois town hundreds of miles away from his childhood home in Iowa. The text is written in an autobiographical fashion, with many musical and cultural references that indicate that the events take place in the 1980s or 1990s.

Standley does a superb job at recounting the nostalgia of youth. Eric’s adventures with his (mostly) newfound neighborhood friends – from their nighttime rendezvous to the drive-in theater to the Fourth of July festivities, all the way down to Eric’s surprise going-away party hosted by his mates – feel absolutely real and capture the freedom of any summer in the life of a Midwestern teenager. Nate, Matt, Billy, Melissa, Jen, Rachel, and Declan each make their own contribution with their easy-to-distinguish personalities.

To the Top of Greenfield Street is ultimately an engaging coming of age story. Eric has two major experiences that take place in a short amount of time, but leave an indelible mark. It is also through these turning points that Eric learns that resolutions aren’t always happy events – nor do they need to be. One, he comes to grips with the reality of his ties with Donna, his estranged and drug-addicted mother. Two, he experiences through Jen what it is like for a young man to share feelings of affection and chemistry, however fleeting, with another young woman.

Above all, the author showcases the finite nature of young relationships in a way that resonates with readers as young as their twenties. By the end of the text, Eric walks away cherishing the friendships and good times that he has had, but also accepts that just as summer inevitably turns to fall, he must accept what is and begin his next chapter of life alongside his dad. Endings do not need to be finite in nature – and very often in life they are anything but.

This is a solid read for readers of any age who want a well-written, teen-centered coming of age story. To the Top of Greenfield Street is a young adult novel that I heartily recommend.

Pages: 286 | ASIN: B08GFQCVH8

Buy Now From B&N.com

She Had Spunk

P.J. Colando
P.J. Colando Author Interview

The Jailbird’s Jackpot follows a women who wins the jackpot after being released from prison and sets out to get revenge. What was the inspiration for the setup to this exciting novel?

This novel, The Jailbird’s Jackpot, is the fourth – and final – book in my Faith, Family, Frenzy!, series set in the American Midwest.

The first book, Stashes, had this logline/sales pitch: “Baby Boomer retirees gallivant around the country in a Winnebago leaving the family farm to their hapless son and his conniving wife. What could go wrong?” Well, some things went well, but much went wrong – and Amy was that conniving daughter-in-law. She had spunk, but her plans went awry and she took the fall for a guy that double-crossed her and she was imprisoned. Thus, when she’s released, she’s prim for revenge.

The book prior to The Jailbird’s Jackpot was The Winner’s Circle and had a similar plot: an unexpected influx of mega-millions bucks after purchasing a single lottery ticket on a whim. (both protagonists won the same lottery on the same day, so the payout was ‘only’ 1/4 billion bucks.) I’d set it up that way, to foreshadow this book. Great plan, eh!

So, I call The Jailbird’s Jackpot is the separate-and-equal sequel to The WInner’s Circle. I dedicated the book to “Amy, a classy-yet-sassy young lady who knows how to steer a plot.”

Amy is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character development?

Amy had a hard-scrabble early life. Her mother was schizzy and drunk much of the time, so Amy had to look out for herself and her younger brother. A high school teacher mentored her and Amy earned a scholarship to Michigan State University, where she snagged the handsome-and-coddled quarterback of the winning football team. She craved family, respect, and stability, but found small town life tedious and she wrecked her life. Now she’s returned to her main life goals – family, respect, and stability – in addition to her vibrant revenge for revenge.

Amy also gains redemption, as she forgives herself for the mistakes she’s made. An unexpectedly terrific outcome.

What were some themes that were important for you to focus on in this book?

Gaining friends and family, Redemption and achieving a better self. I feel that The Jailbird’s Jackpot is a new twist on the common Coming of Age story.

This is book four in your Faith, Family, Frenzy! series. What can readers expect in book five?

I feel that I’ve completed the Faith, Family, Frenzy! series… but Amy has a strong will. Further, she may/may not have fallen in love with her handsome parole office.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Website

REVENGE REWARD REDEMPTIONParolee Amy Breeden held herself together during nearly two thousand days of incarceration with a single-minded focus: to destroy the dude who did her in. Within hours of her release, Amy hits the lotto mega-million jackpot.“Living well is the best revenge,” her parole officer advises, but Amy is hellbent on revenge.A former Chicago crime boss, an estranged brother, a substitute mom, a zany house painter, a pre-imprisonment pal – and the handsome parole officer – complicate Amy’s quest for empowerment. When Amy’s longtime nemesis invades her haven, her ire ignites. She becomes more determined than ever to avenge herself.The aging crime boss enjoins her mission. Victory is finalized when she’s able to buy her mortal enemy’s thriving bar in a fire sale… and becomes the Boss. But is that enough? Will revenge result in satisfaction? Will her personal redemption require more than revenge and the monetary reward to live well?

The Tragedy of Misunderstandings

Alexa Kingaard
Alexa Kingaard Author Interview

My Name is Rose follows a curious young woman who leaves a commune to explore the world and find herself. What were some ideas that informed this novels development?

The thread that runs through my novels is nostalgia. As a baby boomer, I lived through some of the best decades, experienced the life-changing views of all Americans that were shaped by the Vietnam conflict, as well as the hippie peace movement that followed. I was never extreme, but fads began and ended in California. A teenager or young adult couldn’t help but be swept up in the changes that were happening, and communes were an escape for many of my generation who preferred the unhurried environment they provided.

The plot line of Rose’s lineage sprang up from the well-known fact that “free love” was embraced during this time, especially in San Francisco, the poster city for peace rallies and an over-indulgence of mind-altering drugs. Without degrading personal choices or judging anyone’s character, I thought it would be an interesting perspective to pursue from the point of view of one couples’ offspring. This nugget of inspiration has nothing to do with my life or direct involvement, but is an encapsulated version of what might have happened in this situation. There was no particular incident that triggered this story, but it flowed easily once I started to write.

I enjoyed Rose’s character and evolution. Was there anything from yourself that you put into Rose’s character?

Like Rose, I was never the center of attention growing up and spent more time observing than participating. I cultivated my skills that were more cerebral, as opposed to physical, and Rose has a touch of my personality in her. I was able to weave her life through the years not so much with first-hand experience, but with knowledge I had acquired over decades that helped me to understand what links hearts and souls together. My protagonists are ordinary people dealing with difficult circumstances. My antagonists are as much self-doubt, anger and immaturity as they are a person, as we can damage ourselves just as easily as we can be damaged by another human being. The tragedy of misunderstandings and mistakes that lead to estrangement is something many of us have felt, and this particular family saga puts into perspective how everyone plays a part in the final outcome. As an author, I have the ability to shape my characters – the way they think, dress, talk, behave – in order to present a tight, neat package with what I hope is a satisfying ending for my readers.

I find that writers often ask themselves questions and let their characters answer them. Do you think was true for this book?

Great question! That is absolutely true in this story! When I started to think about this novel in my head, before I even started writing it, I knew there were a few endings that I could create. As I wrote, and the characters and situations evolved, I considered all of them in the back of my mind and how I would determine the final chapters. Interestingly, when I got to that section and the question of who Rose’s biological father was, the words just spilled onto the page. I didn’t question it, scrapped the other endings, and let it emerge to a natural conclusion. It was seamless.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

During my first nine weeks of quarantine, I completed the first draft of my third novel, MIRACLE. The story revolves around two young women in the 1950s’. One lives in Southern California and must come to terms with the fact that four unsuccessful pregnancies leave adoption as the only option for herself and her husband. The inability to qualify with the adoption agency due to their advancing age – almost thirty was old in the 50s’ – steers them towards an alternative solution of adopting a child outside the United States. From 1945 to the 1970s, the Canadian government created maternity homes for young women who were without a spouse or family assistance. Forced to give birth in secrecy, it was understood that they would leave their baby behind for adoption by a suitable couple. The second young lady finds herself in a position that demands she reside in one of these homes for the last part of her pregnancy where she agonizes about the ultimate sacrifice that is forced upon her. These two women are destined to connect, but the ending is not as one might expect. I hope to have MIRACLE ready for publication by mid-2021.

Author Links: GoodReads | Facebook | Website

Rose is unsettled, curious, and bored. Life in a hippie commune in the ‘70s is her parent’s dream come true, not hers. She doesn’t share their passion for living off the land, nor does she enjoy the isolation that is thrust upon her. When she convinces them to send her to public school in the nearby town, a new world opens up to her.

As she pursues her education, Rose chooses a different path, leaving her parents heartbroken at her insistence they are hiding something from her. She’s convinced her father isn’t the man her mother married.

Although she finds love far away from her roots and upbringing, her wounds only deepen as she keeps her family at arm’s length. What she loses during those years can only be retrieved with her understanding that “a Rose by any other name is still a Rose.”
%d bloggers like this: