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The First to Lie

The First to Lie by [Hank Phillippi Ryan]

In her latest release, The First to Lie, Hank Phillippi Ryan draws you into a complex web of dishonesty, deceit and duplicity. Told from the perspective of several unusual, sometimes evasive, and never completely honest heroines, The First to Lie quickly introduces you to Ellie and Nora, and the very heart of the action. 

Ellie Berensen is playing perhaps the most dangerous game of all. Determined to bring in the biggest scoop of her career, the Boston-based journalist soon finds herself telling one small lie after another, as the stakes get higher and higher. Aided by the mysterious and calculating Gabe and the ethically-challenged Meg, Ellie is investigating Pharminex, the same large pharmaceutical corporation that Nora Quinn has just started working for. 

A successful sales rep, Nora is pushing Monifan, the new wonder drug that can help women who are struggling to conceive. But Nora is also pursuing her own agenda, and hiding behind lies of her own. Soon, the lies start to spin too far. Far out of each of the character’s control. Begging the question, will the real truth come out before it’s too late?

The First to Lie is Ryan at her recent best; drawing her characters into a precarious cat and mouse act, while skillfully exploring the consequences of lying and the dangers of violating journalistic ethics. Ryan expertly juggles storytelling alongside character development; Ellie and Nora’s masks slip just enough to build suspense, but not enough to reveal anyone’s true agenda up until the final pages. 

Towards the end however, seasoned thriller readers may be left disappointed. Seemingly determined to fit in as many twists and turns as possible, Ryan layers in numerous double-identity reveals, each more improbable than the last. The rich tapestry of betrayal, treachery and greed, masterfully weaved over the preceding thirty chapters, is pulled apart quickly in the last three. 

If you can suspend your disbelief it’s easily possible to lose yourself in the five-time Agatha Award winner’s captivating page-turner. Only the most masterful of mystery writers can build suspense throughout multiple timelines, using multiple identities, allowing the reader to follow along, while questioning everything they know. 

There’s still much to savour in Ryan’s polished writing, well-nuanced characters and consummate pacing. The misplaced family loyalties, hidden agendas and long held vendettas may not keep you guessing for long, but they will keep the pages turning.

Pages: 345 | ASIN: B07WYSGYDT

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A Guy Can Dream…

Jafe, riding the rails in southern Germany.
Jafe Danbury Author Interview

The Other Cheek follows Rich as he struggles with his increasingly abusive wife and his attempt to escape. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing story?

First, I’d like to thank you for your brilliant, insightful and thoughtful review of my debut novel. It’s so refreshing and encouraging to read an intelligent review written by someone who holds such passion for the written word, and who “gets” my book!

Okay, back to your question: The inspiration for the setup of my story was pretty deeply rooted in personal experience, truth be told. There’s an old expression that advises writers to “Write what you know…”, and that was the springboard for taking on this difficult (understatement) story. Rich, the protagonist in the story, is a freelancer in the television industry, which mirrored my previous career in the Hollywood arena. So, there’s that. As for the story itself, and the harrowing predicament Rich finds himself in…well, without saying too much more about that, let’s just say I have some skin in the game––literally––on that front as well. Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt…ahem. The setting, the characters, and events naturally unfolded––once I allowed them to––but that took considerable time to process. Liberating it all from a depths of my soul was the biggest challenge I faced in deciding to share the story.

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

Writing the character of Rich didn’t require much invention, really, as he mirrored myself in many ways––not only professionally, but physically, emotionally, spiritually, and we had lots of shared experience. Rich came from a very loving and supportive family, as did I. His good character traits were forged in his upbringing, and I like to think that mine were as well. As the story has to do with a decent man who is living a secret life of pain, being subjected to a tortuous amount of abuse––both emotional and physical––at the hands of his supposedly loving spouse, Rich’s character had to plumb the depths of his soulful DNA to avoid responding in kind to the physical abuse. His childhood lessons were indelible, and the “boys don’t hit girls––ever” credo was adhered to at all costs. Plus, he took his vows seriously, and perhaps he took it all too literally. The cost was huge. Irreparable, really…

The novel explores abusive relationships and domestic violence. Was this intentional or incidental to telling the story you wanted to tell?

This story takes place in the 1990s, which––as the crow flies (?)––doesn’t seem like that long ago, but in terms of our lifestyles and attitudes, it was an eternity ago. By that, I mean, we didn’t have smart phones, the internet was just beginning to emerge, there wasn’t all of the instantaneous communication and technology at our fingertips, and along with that…awareness, it was lacking.

Domestic violence has long been a dirty little behind-closed-doors secret, really, and I wanted this story to challenge readers to reevaluate what they think they really know about domestic abuse. Rich’s predicament involved being on the flip-side of the “typical” domestic violence equation, as he was in that underreported (again, understatement) demographic of a male being physically abused by a female. He thought he was the only one on the planet going through that! Besides, who would believe him? With that well-kept secret, an immeasurable burden of shame adds enough weight to assure one sinks to the deepest abyss imaginable. It’s a dilemma and place I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and––sadly––it’s a place from where some never return.

I remember back to when I was a teenager, and my father recommended I read a book called Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. This was some deep, dark––yet enlightening––stuff, as it dealt with his experiences in a concentration camp and his internal search for the meaning of it all. That, probably subliminally, was what I was looking for as I dove into the dark places I had to go in order to write this book. What would be the meaning behind it? What purpose could possibly be served by going through horrific experiences––whether they be in concentration camps, or as a prisoner of war in your own home? I figured, if the book touches just one person, then it will all be worth it. I guess my purpose was being a conduit to help with Awareness. I guess I was deemed strong enough to live through it, and to tell it. I needed to get it right, and necessary authenticity comes from that place.

Readers will also notice that I incorporated lots of music references throughout the narrative. The choices were very deliberate in not only establishing mood in some scenes, but also at times reflecting or belying emotions of the characters. I am especially grateful to Tom Petty’s estate for granting permission in the use of a song that was very important to driving the plot of certain scene (I won’t give spoilers here). I wish I could’ve included a two-CD soundtrack with every book, but that was prohibitive. It was challenging enough to navigate the licensing of the songs I decided to use, and there were several I had to let go. In the book, Rich interacts with “The Great D.J. in the Sky”, who is almost a character in his/herself. Readers have mentioned how much the songs added to the experience.

Amazingly, about a month ago, I was notified that this debut novel of mine received a Finalist Medal in its “Best First Novel” category in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards! This little naked-making project of mine, the one that I almost kept stuffed down out of fear and uncertainty, is slowly finding an audience, is being embraced critically, and being appreciated for its honesty and candor. I receive letters from readers who either know someone who’s going through an abusive relationship, or have been in one themselves, and I feel for them all.

I hope my book comes up on Oprah’s radar, because that would take readership and awareness to the next level! A guy can dream…

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

Well, I’ve been wearing many hats as I try to get this book launched and safely out of the harbor. Without a major publishing house behind you, it takes a lot of extra effort to get your book noticed, as I envision my book as a little baby sea turtle trying to navigate that Normandy Beach-like stretch of sand to find relative safety in the deep water. It truly helps to have some great reviews to help differentiate it from the millions of other books out there, and I really appreciate Literary Titan taking the time to review the book and interview the author.

That being said, I think my next book will center on a female protagonist. I’m still in the early stages of fleshing out her character and story, but I think it will be a worthy follow-up. And, not unlike my first one, it’ll probably have a killer soundtrack!

Author Links: Website | GoodReads | Facebook

He took his vows seriously. So did she. Especially the ‘Til Death part… It’s1992, and Rich and Tami have a fantastic future ahead of them as husband and wife: he as a technical expert behind the Hollywood scenes, she an up-and-coming actress. They both have drive and ambition and, knowing life isn’t always fair, are willing to tough it out to succeed. But is that enough? Does working in a town run on secrets and backstabbing doom any institution requiring trust and loyalty? On the outside, this beautiful couple present an enviable façade, including their ability to stick it out when the going gets tough. Behind closed doors, however, their struggle includes keeping the noise down so the neighbors aren’t privy to the pitched screaming, the hurled objects, and the soul-crushing cage fight happening next door. Complicating matters already far from simple is that the aggressor here is the 105-pound wife against her strong and capable husband, who is all too aware of the stigma surrounding “ordinary” victims of domestic abuse, let alone the male partner. Rich has no intention of being a victim, not in his own estimation and not in the eyes of a society with an aversion to weakness, particularly in those appointed to act as its protectors. Will Rich’s closely-held secret result in his demise or will he escape the cycle of abuse––and at what cost?

Levels to My Insanity: UnMastered

Levels To My Insanity: UnMastered by [Adrianne Mouton]

Levels to My Insanity: Unmastered by Adrianne Mouton is a story of generational trauma that plagues three women from the Dagher family in West Virginia. The story starts with Ethel Dagher, the pain she suffers from childhood abuse, loss, and mental health conditions lead her to inflict pain onto the generations that succeed her. After Ethel’s story, we follow two generations of her granddaughters, Tawny and Violet. The women both suffer from traumas of their own while still carrying pain from the generations that preceded them. The sheer hope for relief, healing, and triumph is all the Dagher women have.

A roller-coaster of emotions; Levels to My Insanity grips you from the start! The development of the characters is quick but thorough. Mouton fleshes out her characters with detailed backstories, realistic dialogue, and poetic inner monologue. The use of foreshadowing in the stories of each woman leaves you craving more. A glance towards something by one of the characters can mean so much more than what meets the eye.

The realistic atmosphere is beautiful, but at times chilling. Mouton uses nature’s beauty to artistically convey the thoughts and emotions of the characters. Stormy clouds, a magnolia tree, and the night sky represent gloom, light, and dread; these are only a few of the elements Mouton uses.

Mouton is a master of prose; she takes the English language. Her poetic approach makes you feel as if you are inside the characters’ minds and living through their pain. Compelling descriptions and poetry like sentences set the story apart from similar novels on the market.

I must state that although I loved this book, the subjects discussed weighed heavy on my heart during and after reading it. Authors often promise to deliver a breathtaking and heart-wrenching tale but only end up scratching the surface of the issues they are discussing. In the case of Levels to My Insanity, Mouton delivers this promise brutally and truthfully.

Combining all the remarkable elements I mentioned previously; realistic imagery, thorough character development, and rich prose; Adrianne Mouton has created an unforgettable novel! Levels to My Insanity: Unmastered is a work of heartbreaking literary fiction that dares to speak on topics that many authors are scared to.

Pages: 287 | ASIN: B078YFJ77X

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The Mirror Without Reflection

The Mirror Without Reflection by [Sarudzai Mubvakure]

The Mirror Without Reflection by Sarudzai Mubvakure is a contemporary fiction story set primarily in England about Sofia Blackwell, a woman who meets a Nigerian man who she marries. Oche is a charming conman and Sofia allows herself to be deceived by him due to her low self-worth, ignoring the obvious signs of his true character. After many previous attempts, she finally finds the resolve necessary to break away from him and starts seeing a therapist, Dr. Michael Marshall, who is helping her work through her issues. Spending time together, Michael and Sofia develop feelings for each other. But when Oche reenters Sofia’s life again, will he pull her back into the same toxic cycle of belittlement and misery? Or can she escape for good this time?

This was an interesting story. I enjoyed reading about Michael and Sofia getting to know each other during her therapy sessions. I liked that Sofia helped Michael almost as much as he helped her. Helping Sofia find effective methods to cope and validating her feelings during her sessions gave him purpose once more and helped him to move beyond the grief of his wife’s passing. This put Michael and Sofia on a much more equal footing, eliminating some of the inherent power imbalance in a relationship between a therapist and patient. I was happy to see Sofia finally find her self worth, and I’m glad she ended up with a man who respected and admired her.

I preferred reading the sections where Sofia was describing events in her past to Michael, rather than the actual flashbacks. It was hard to read the scenes where she is being treated badly and allowing herself to be used time and time again, always making excuses for Oche and taking him back after unforgivable actions. I didn’t like that Sofia tolerated this treatment from Oche from the very beginning of their relationship because she didn’t want to be alone and she didn’t believe that anyone else would want her. I understand Sofia wanted to be loved, but that wasn’t love. Being alone should be preferable to accepting a toxic relationship that just made her feel even worse about herself. Even her relationships with friends seemed to follow a similar pattern because she didn’t value herself, and she missed the signs of a controlling nature in her new fiance. The Mirror Without Reflection made me feel all of these things about fictional characters! It was emotionally raw and I was enthralled by the story.

Pages: 228 | ASIN: B089JY4SSZ

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Humans Can Be The Curse And The Cure

Grendolyn Peach Soleil Author Interview

Grendolyn Peach Soleil Author Interview

Limbo Jubilee follows Neala as she experiments with what it means to be human as her panic escalates with every page. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing story?

I experienced an existential crisis, the gut punch of grief, at a formative age in my life, which inspired me to write Limbo Jubilee. I wrote Limbo Jubilee as an ode to my family, my ancestors, and the misty mountains where I grew up. I wanted to illuminate the intricacies of culture, trauma, and healing. I wanted to share the message that humans can be the curse and the cure and to not give up on each other as tempting as it may be.

My granny taught me that it hurts to be human, and pain is inevitable, but she also taught me that what matters most is how I respond to my pain. Humans are masters at avoiding, ignoring, and numbing their pain in all sorts of destructive ways. Humans are sly creatures and can spread their pain to others along the way. Humans are also incredibly good at getting so stuck in their pain that they can’t imagine living life any other way, but my granny taught me to face my pain with courage. Writing Limbo Jubilee was my way of transforming my brokenness into something beautiful.

Neala is an interesting and well-developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character development?

I was born in Appalachia where the line between fairy tales and memoirs is imaginary. What many people call fairy tales and folklore, I call reality. Folk magic is as real as the rolling hills in West Virginia. My granny talks to the rivers, the sunflowers, the moon, and the stars, and she believes that they talk back to her. Granny’s mountain medicine is not a complementary or alternative medicine for me. In fact, there is nothing as powerful as the first sip of granny’s elderberry tonic on a cold, October night by the campfire.

Neala’s character reflects my own experiences growing up in Appalachia where magical realism is a way of life. It is a reality of its own. The human brain constructs memories and narratives, and to some degree, all memoirs are imaginary, existing in the planes of shared realities and unique realities. Memoirs are cultural artifacts, spinning tales of who we are and where we come from. Neala’s character reflects the values and beliefs of her culture, shifting between different voices and different planes of reality. Is she the alien or the human? The little girl or the therapist? The healer or the wounded? The sinner or the saint? Neala is all of them, and she writes in a style that is authentic to her experience.

The way that humans experience the world is based on so many different factors. Naturally then, readers will have a variety of reactions to Neala and to Limbo Jubilee. As for me, Neala is a raw and real character with both light and dark qualities, and at its core, Limbo Jubilee is a story of empowerment and healing.

What were some themes you felt were important to explore in this book?

Limbo Jubilee is a visionary celebration and explores visionary and metaphysical themes. Limbo Jubilee is a metaphor for being human and alien, earthly and otherworldly, broken and blessed, and all in the same breath. To be in the wheelhouse of visionary and speculative fiction with incredible authors like Margaret Atwood is a dream come true for me.

Limbo Jubilee provides observations and commentary on society. For example, it discusses the pressure for women to have children and how having children is viewed as normal and human. The alien living on planet Spry is a metaphor for how women without children can be viewed in our culture. Limbo Jubilee also explores and challenges the normalcy of addiction, as well as the black-and-white thinking that leads to extremes.

Limbo Jubilee is the anthem for creatures of the in between, shedding light on both earthly and sacred dimensions and exploring religion and spirituality. There are moments in life when we are fully present in our humanity, and moments when we morph into a creature feature, and moments when we shine as bright as the golden gods of eternity.

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

I am very excited to reveal my next book, The Mermaids Melt at Dawn. I am currently waving my magic wand and putting on the finishing touches. The Mermaids Melt at Dawn is a departure from my brain-busting and heartstring-pulling debut novella, Limbo Jubilee. I don’t want to spoil the mystery, but I’ll offer a quick teaser. Close your eyes and imagine a rowdy Cajun from Louisiana, a pair of warring mermaid sisters, a greedy Poseidon, petulant gods, and a magical island called Barbiche. The Mermaids Melt at Dawn is a melting pot for Cajun fairy tales and Greek Mythology. It will be released in late July or August 2020!

Author Links: GoodReads | Website

Limbo Jubilee by [Grendolyn Peach Soleil]Neala’s surreal story begins in the backwoods of St. Roscoe, West Virginia. Neala’s hero is her Aunt Betsy, who saves the day in a pair of red cowgirl boots. Neala’s life is forever changed as she witnesses the death of her Aunt Betsy. Neala longs for a love that will heal her wounds, so when she meets Brick, she is tempted to cross the imaginary line, but she finds herself in a dangerous limbo. Neala’s spooky voyage transports her to the fringes of reality where she flirts with some creepy-crawly surprises. While a macabre sickness hunts Neala down, she experiments with what it means to be human. Neala’s panic escalates with every page, but could her paranoia be grounded in wisdom?

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Limbo Jubilee

Soleil’s novel Limbo Jubilee is a psychological drama written from the perspective of the West Virginian born Neala, who has to overcome the trauma and loss inflicted upon her at an early age and later becomes a psychologist in Arizona while still trying to find herself and her place in the world. While I won’t spoil it entirely, I do have to point out that she isn’t entirely successful, and the book becomes a narrative that slowly unwinds in the same way she does. Slowly, until finally it spirals to a fitting conclusion at the end of the book.

I was quickly taken in by Neala’s story, even as it is interwoven with her growing madness as her psyche breaks down. I was able to easily empathize with her character. You want her to pull through, and heal herself, like she promises she should at the beginning. Neala means Champion—the heroine should be a champion—but midway, as she begins to unravel you know it’s going to end in tears as she loses touch with reality, becomes convinced that she isn’t real, and eventually loses herself bit by bit until there is nothing left except something she has called the “Choisi”. This is wistful and somewhat somber but utterly compelling.

The book and narrative reminds me a lot of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam because I felt like it carried much the same tone. Fans of Atwood’s work in that series will enjoy Limbo Jubilee as I did. In between the rational and recognizable are snippets of what really is happening.

The start of all of this is heavily foreshadowed in the first chapter, beginning with her trying to help her dying Aunt Betsy, and it is in this chapter that the seeds of her eventual anorexia and the lifelong battle with it are planted, as are the seeds of what will come later in the book. I had to read the beginning a few times to catch all the colorful nuances and each time I did, I found another snippet and hint of the prods and disconnects that eventually are Neala’s undoing by the end of the book. While it isn’t a book for the faint of heart, it is definitely one with plenty of potential that needs to be on the bookshelf of anyone that appreciates a complex and thought-provoking read. Not one word isn’t there that doesn’t serve a purpose — Limbo Jubilee has been masterfully written.

Pages: 193 | ASIN: B07ZTTK6BB

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White Harvest

White Harvest (Behind the veil: Book 1) by [Kine, A]

It all started with a nice man in a café. A man so nice he stirred sugar into her beverage. What followed was a series of lies and deceptions that led to the loss of her son. Lilly Reynolds finds herself trapped in a secret underground cell with a pool of water and an unlikely ‘friend’. She finds herself having to develop a weird friendship with a bigfoot Ox. Is there a hope of escape for Lilly? Does she suffer Stockholm syndrome? Is her perception of prison influenced by her ‘friend’?

White Harvest is thought-provoking and deeply disturbing. Everything from the strange sex and Lilly’s desire to be comforted by Ox are disconcerting to say the least. However, this is what makes the story good. Your flabbergast button will remain perpetually pressed. It is imaginative and creative. The author’s masterful portrayal of this warped world is a testament to author’s literary prowess. The author weaves a sufficiently graphic and well detailed account of Lilly’s experience.

Lilly is a likable woman. To some extent you will understand her strangely welcoming reception of Ox so soon after meeting. Then there is Ox, whose motivation I barely understood and who always seems like he could be genuine despite the mildly manipulative undertone. An undertone that could very well be imagined. It is so hard to decipher whether his is a façade or not. These are just examples of the author’s ability to create wonderfully appealing characters that have depth and dimension. The characters do as much for the book as the complex plot does.

White Harvest has a comedic nature with an element of darkness. It is all conspiracy theories with some truths too. The reader will enjoy all the references and lessons from Ox. I found myself engrossed in this strange tale of human nature. It is a tale about choices that human beings face from time to time. It is about the impact of situations versus the nature of the choices taken.

This is a book you take your time with. Consume every page in its entirety and enjoy looking at the world through Lilly’s eyes.

Pages: 345 | ASIN: B07YKBQZGC

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The Silver is Mine

The Silver is Mine by [Phillips, Jason Roger]

Marcel Freeman is an ordinary man, prisoner of his ordinary life. He goes to work every morning, from his workplace he heads directly home and then goes to sleep. There is nothing special about his life until one day, something exceptional happens. He decides to leave work one hour earlier, without permission, without explanation. This decision seems trivial, but it will start an unlucky chain of events for him, soon he finds himself in the middle of a forest with strange people and he has to face danger, mystery, and crime. But the most important question is: can he run away from his fate?

The Silver is Mine by Jason Roger Phillips is a gripping mystery novel. The story is very impressive, the author creates a complex cryptic story after outlining more separate stories. The novel takes place in two different places: in a big city’s ghetto and in the countryside in Geronimo Bay. The weather is mostly rainy or stormy, which has a symbolic meaning and also provides a good base to the mysterious mood. I liked how the real and the imaginary events alternate through the story, and how all the dreams, metaphors and poems have a deep meaning.

The characters are introduced separately in the novel but their lives get connected somehow as the story unfolds. The main characters are well worked out and all of them have a very strong personality, even the young ones. Marcel is an average office worker, who gets tired of his boring life and the fact that the woman he loves can never be his. His character develops as the story goes on, first he is impulsive in his actions, but later he starts to make rational decisions in order to gain his freedom. Gemma, Marcel’s lover changes a lot also, from a rich, drug addict, co-dependent woman she becomes someone who has values and appreciates simple things, like other people’s love. Shippie’s character is very interesting, I think that her mysterious personality would be worth a separate book.

Although the story is engaging and interesting, I think the book’s value is in the effect it has on the reader. While reading, I stopped multiple times to think about what I read and even after finishing the book, I still keep thinking. Such an amazing novel!

Pages: 239 | ASIN: B01N2V2MT4

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