Chocolatiers

Review: Trust Me by Laura Florand

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Title: Trust Me (Paris Hearts #3)
Author: Laura Florand
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance 
Release Date: 4 Apr 2017

Author's links:
Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
Add on Goodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb

She's nobody's damsel in distress...
Top Parisian pastry chef Lina Farah is used to fighting for her success. But when a violent attack shatters her security, she needs a new tactic to battle her dragons. What better way to banish the monsters under her bed than by inviting a sexy SEAL to tangle the sheets? 

He's a professional dragon slayer...
Elite operative Jake Adams has never stayed in one place long enough to form a lasting relationship. Lina’s fire and beauty tempt him to give her the hot affair she craves. But her spirit and courage make him long for more. Can he convince a woman seeking forgetfulness to dream of ever after...with him?

Review

This is the third book in the Paris Nights series about three female chefs in Paris and even though I really enjoyed the previous two, this is definitely my favourite. It can be read as a standalone but I recommend reading at least the previous one where all the action happens that leads to Lina and Jake acting the way they do in Trust Me. 

I love Laura Florand's stories in general and this is no exception. It's compelling, beautifully written, emotional and very powerful and like most of her recent writing, highly topical. 

Lina is an amazing character. She is a top pastry chef, she is Muslim, of Algerian origin. She used to be and brave and strong, boldly tackling any obstacle in her way. Now she is dealing with the aftermath of a violent attack in the best way she can - struggling with nightmares, fear, insecurity, guilt. And a growing attraction to Jake. Who is not just a source of strength and safety and calmness but also completely enamoured with her. 

He is a special ops guy, one who is used to danger and one-night stands. And suddenly he wants more with Lina, he wants the flirting and the dating and the getting to know each other and most importantly he wants a future with her. And she proposed no-strings-attached sex, as a way for her to move on from the attack, to bring back her sense of enjoyment of life, and faith in the future. 

The progress of their relationship was just deliciously presented. As can be expected a lot of food was involved and it was just the sweetest. His special ops buddies provided a much needed comic relief and I absolutely adored them all. Though Mark definitely stood out for me, I mean her chooses Camus and Kafka for their book club, how can I not love him. I can't wait for him to get his own book. 

Family and friends got involved in Lina and Jake coming together and it was both endearing and frustrating. Still, they are at the centre of the story and the author delves deep into their souls and brings their most sacred fears and dreams and hopes to the fore, makes them open up to each other and reclaim their lives in a most emphatic and profound way. 

It's such a powerful romance, tender but also emphasizing the strength of the individual, the confidence, the will to live and not give up. It's not about finding someone to fix you, but about finding someone to help you discover your inner strength to fix yourself, to believe in yourself.

The writing is mesmerising and I especially love how the author always brings some classical fairytales in her stories. And here the references to Camus and Kafka with Harry Potter in between totally made my day. 

It's one the best books of Laura Florand that I have read, and have to admit that I have read and loved almost everything she has written. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Anyone who enjoys a masterfully written, emotionally charged contemporary romance needs to read this.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iTunes

Historical Romance

Release Day Launch for A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers

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My guest on the blog today is the lovely Joanna Chambers, presenting her latest release, A Gathering Storm. It's a mm historical romance, part of a series of queer romance set in the fictional town of Porthkennack and written by different authors. I finished this book last week and have just one word for it - wonderful. It's fun and intriguing and so well written. Read on if you are curious how it all came into being and what else we can expect from Joanna Chambers in the near future. 


Interview 


1. Your new release, A Gathering Storm, is part of a historical romance series written by different authors but set in the same fictional town of Porthkennack. It’s the first time I’m hearing/reading something like that. How did this idea come about? 

It’s a format Riptide, the publishers, have used successfully before. So, for example, they put out the Bluewater Bay series and the Tucker Springs series which you may have come across? Porthkennack is the same idea in that it’s set in a specific universe but the books are written by a number of different authors. The differences with the Porthkennack series are that (a) it’s distinctly British, being set in Cornwall in South West England, and (b) it’s a mix of contemps and historicals.

In terms of how the idea came about, I gather it was the brain child of Sarah Lyons (Riptide editor extraordinaire) and the amazingly talented Alex Beecroft. The other authors playing in the Porthkennack sandpit with me are Alex Beecroft, JL Merrow, Garret Leigh and Charlie Cochrane and we’re all writing two books each. I’ve read Jamie Merrow’s first one, Wake Up Call, which is also out now and is fantastic. I can’t wait to read the others!

2. What was the experience writing this book compared to your other series?


It was quite tricky since I was writing in a new-to-me time period (Victorian, 1850s) AND there was lots of research needed AND the book ended up being longer than I usually write at over 80k—so it took a wee bit longer than planned than most of my stories. The initial bit though – of selecting characters and identifying the basic storyline – was a bit easier, thanks to the detailed bible we got.

3. There is lots scientific bits in the story – hypnosis, nature/power of electricity, spiritualism, even weather forecasting. Did you have to do a lot of research on these? Which was the most fun thing to research for this book? 

I did a LOT of research for this book! The most fun parts were probably reading into the spiritualism and seances and mesmerism/hypnosis. Those also gave rise to two key scenes in the book – the one in which Ward hypnotises Nick and the one in which they attend a séance together. However, about 80% of my research doesn’t even appear in the book. For example, I spent hours reading into the Second Burmese war and the Siege of Rangoon and its aftermath (where Ward’s brother lost his life). I even researched which British regiments fought at the Siege and which one Ward’s brother would have been part of, which county his regiment was based in and how close that was to Ward’s family home etc. None of that is in the book, but you never really know at that research stage, which parts of the general history you are reading into will end up being significant to your story. Anyway, it’s all interesting and worthwhile, regardless of whether you use it.

4. One of the heroes, Nicholas Hearn is half-Romani. How did you go about representing his cultural heritage? I have to say I found him both fascinating and convincingly presented as a Romani (based on my limited knowledge of Romani people). 


I was quite wary about depicting Nick’s heritage. Romance novels have quite a troubled history with Romany people. I remember reading many ’gipsy romances’ as a teenager (25-30 years ago, gulp!) and honestly? I loved them – I really did – but now I look back and see how troubling it was that Romany people were always depicted as passionate, wild, dark, ‘other’. In this book, I wanted to portray Nick, who is estranged from the Romany half of his family, in a way that would push back against these assumptions. Consequently, Nick, is by far the more pragmatic and level-headed of the two heroes and in fact is the one who has to be pushed to make a leap of faith.

5. We don’t see much of Nick’s cousin, Isabella but I think she is a very intriguing character and I’d love to read her story. Is there any chance of that happening? 

I’d honestly never thought about writing about her! She’s basically the heroine of all those romance stories I read when I was teenager, you know? The headstrong, passionate redhead etc. But now you mention it, I do like play around with romance clichés, so maybe that would be a good one to try to subvert 😊

6. Finally, what can we expect next from you?


Next up – and very soon – is a co-written book with my long time pal and crit partner Annika Martin. We started this book a year ago, dashed off 15K words, then had to shelve it while we met our other commitments. We came back to it late last year to write the rest and I’m super excited about releasing it next month. It’s a hot, fun and emotional contemp story with an American hero and a British hero. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to reveal all the details! Coming soon!

Blurb

A Porthkennack novel

When grief-stricken scientist Sir Edward Fitzwilliam provokes public scorn by defending a sham spiritualist, he’s forced to retreat to Porthkennack to lick his wounds. Ward’s reputation is in tatters, but he’s determined to continue the work he began after the death of his beloved brother. 

In Porthkennack, Ward meets Nicholas Hearn, land steward to the Roscarrock family. Ward becomes convinced that Nick, whose Romany mother was reportedly clairvoyant, is the perfect man to assist with his work. But Nick—who has reason to distrust the whims of wealthy men—is loath to agree. Until Fate steps in to lend a hand.

Despite Nick’s misgivings, he discovers that Ward is not the high-handed aristocrat he first thought. And when passion ignites between them, Nick learns there’s much more to love than the rushed, clandestine encounters he’s used to. Nevertheless, Nick’s sure that wealthy, educated Ward will never see him as an equal.

A storm is gathering, but with Nick’s self-doubts and Ward’s growing obsession, the fragile bond between the two men may not be strong enough to withstand it. 

Purchase links: Riptide / Amazon 

Author Bio and Links

Joanna Chambers always wanted to write. In between studying, finding a proper grown-up job, getting married, and having kids, she spent many hours staring at blank sheets of paper and chewing pens. That changed when she rediscovered her love of romance and found her muse. Joanna’s muse likes red wine and coffee and won’t let Joanna clean the house or watch television.

You can find Joanna at www.joannachambers.com, friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @ChambersJoanna, and connect with her on Goodreads.

Alexis Hall

Release Day Launch for How to Bang a Billionaire by Alexis Hall

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I'm excited to welcome one of my all-time favourite authors, Alexis Hall, as my guest on the blog today to celebrate the release of his next book, How to Bang a Billionaire (this Sunday, April 16). It's the first book in the Arden St. Ives series of bildom romance. Check my interview with him if you want to learn how this story came about and what can you expect from it. Read on and enjoy!


Interview 

ER:  Your next book, How To Bang a Billionaire, is coming out on Sunday, April 16. How did you come up with the idea about it?

AJH: I think basically a lot of my work is about doing my own take on a relatively common trope and I’ve been wanting to do a take on bildom romance for a while. And that’s kind of the whole story, really — which isn’t the most exciting answer, I’m afraid, but that’s where it came from.

I think one of the things that particularly attracted me to the trope is that, in many ways, it’s built around quite gendered assumptions. The bildom is the quintessential alpha male. And the heroine of those kind of books tends to be the quintessential everywoman heroine. And so I was interested to see how that dynamic would have to be different if you were writing about two men.

I was also interested in trying to write a proper alpha hero. Which, honestly, I kind of didn’t. In early drafts, Caspian was a lot more traditionally alpha but I didn’t much like him and neither did anyone else who read the book. I think there are lots of ways to write a hero but, for me, if I personally can’t understand what you’d see them, then I can’t really do them justice. So Caspian wound up being a lot, well, nicer.

ER: It’s your first trilogy following the same couple, right? Why did you choose this approach? What was your experience writing it?

AJH: Partially, it was just a matter of opportunity. I’ve wanted to write a “follow the same couple” series for a while but the pieces never fell into place. And part of it comes back to genre expectations. A lot of the big names in the bildom romance genre tend to be trilogies so approaching a publisher with a bildom trilogy is a non-silly thing to do. It’s not like you’re just turning up and being like I want to write three books about a pair of carpet weavers from Dagenham, where they don’t know if that’s in any way something people will want to read. But with the bildom thing the structure is already there so they know that people do, in fact, like these sort of stories told in this sort of way.

ER: You have already written a massively successful BDSM romance, how does HtBaB compare to it?

AJH: I think I’m far too British to be comfortable describing anything I’ve done as ‘massively successful.’ Can we meet in the middle at ‘relatively well-received’?

ER: Absolutely! Well-received by critics and readers is a good way to put it as well.

AJH: I think they’re basically very, very different sorts of book. And the kink elements in them have a different purpose and are approached in very different ways. One of the things that’s very important to me about For Real is that BDSM is just an accepted part of both characters’ sexualities and isn’t really a massive source of conflict. It’s essentially a May-December romance that happens to be between two people who are also into BDSM. And obviously, the age difference intersects with the kink in some ways because it’s considered unusual for the dom(me) to be younger than the sub. But that’s just part of how the age difference manifests in that relationship.

HtBaB, by contrast, focuses a lot more (and I’m aware this sounds a bit wanky) kink as a literary construct. In the kind of book it’s inspired by, the hero’s interest in BDSM tends to be presented as an outward manifestation of a deeper darkness within their character. And it’s really that trope that HtBaB responds to. I mean, without getting too glib or giving away too many, for want of a better word, emotional spoilers Caspian’s basic arc in the How To Blah A Billionaire trilogy is that he starts out strongly believing that he’s into kinky sex because he’s messed up. And, slowly comes to realise, that actually he’s into sex and, also, independently of that is messed up. Also, hopefully, he gets less messed up.

ER: I suspect that researching the billionaire lifestyle is a lot of fun, at least it would be for me, so I’m curious what was the most fun/amusing thing you had to research for this book?

AJH: Um, maybe this is my working class roots showing but I’m actually genuinely really uncomfortable about wealth. And to an extent I think billionaires are a bit like dukes and hitmen — quite cool and sexy in the abstract, but deeply problematic when you start looking into them in detail. I mean, without wanting this to get political, it’s worth bearing in mind that your average billionaire is far more like Donald Trump than Christian Grey. So, yes, on the one hand it's cool to research fabulous apartments and private jets and ludicrously expensive champagne. But it’s hard to do that without reminding yourself quite how much inequality there is in the world. 

ER: Many authors have inspiration boards/fantasy casting for their stories? If you have one for this series would you share it with us?

AJH: Sure, my slightly-out-of-date Pinterest board for this one is here (mind you, it’s mainly suits and cologne): https://uk.pinterest.com/alexisjhall/restrained/

Author Bio and Links

Alexis Hall is a villainous writer of kissing books who tweets about Poirot, slugs, and the world's most surliest duck.

Blurb 

Rules are made to be broken . . .

If England had yearbooks, I'd probably be "Arden St. Ives: Man Least Likely to Set the World on Fire." So far, I haven't. I've no idea what I'm doing at Oxford, no idea what I'm going to do next and, until a week ago, I had no idea who Caspian Hart was. Turns out, he's brilliant, beautiful . . . oh yeah, and a billionaire.

It's impossible not to be captivated by someone like that. But Caspian Hart makes his own rules. And he has a lot of them. About when I can be with him. What I can do with him. And when he'll be through with me.

I'm good at doing what I'm told in the bedroom. The rest of the time, not so much. And now that Caspian's shown me glimpses of the man behind the billionaire I know it's him I want. Not his wealth, not his status. Him. Except that might be the one thing he doesn't have the power to give me. 

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks

Contemporary Romance

Review: Pretty Face by Lucy Parker

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Title: Pretty Face (London Celebrities #2)
Author: Lucy Parker
Genre / Themes: Romance / Theatre actors / British
Release date: 20 Feb 2017

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb

The play's the fling

It's not actress Lily Lamprey's fault that she's all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that's not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance—if only Luc wasn't so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He'd be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily's suddenly rising career, it's threatening Luc's professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they're not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers

Review

I read Lucy Parker's debut novel, Act Like It, last year and have been looking forward to her next book ever since. And I ended up loving it even more than the first. Pretty Face is of my best reads of 2017. For me this story represents contemporary romance at its finest - a compelling story, engaging characters. slow burn romance with numerous twists and turns and some drama (well, a bit more than necessary) and a well deserved and fitting HEA.

I admit I'm not a big fan of age gap stories but every rule has its exceptions and this is case with Pretty Face. I found the age difference to be handled believably and it really worked well to highlight differences between the hero and the heroine. And they were quite a few, seemingly insurmountable at the beginning.

This is a story about expectations and presumptions and how their deceive us, about complex family relationships (Lily's family was just Wow! so messed up) and relationships between friends and ex-lovers and new lovers and colleagues. We also get a glimpse at the drama of the theatre/TV series world which I found interesting and done just right - not too little, not too much.

Lily is a wonderful heroine. She is trying hard to shed the image of a brainless bimbo and it's no easy given her curvy figure and breathy voice, and the role in a popular TV series which made her popular. But she is much more than people see on the screen and just because she is young and successful and comes where she comes from, people have a certain image of her. Initially we see Luc falling victim to his own assumptions and snobbish prejudice, only to gradually discover the real Lily behind the fake public image. And that was quite a journey of discovery for both of them. 

Luc also has a public image (one of grumpy, heartless theatre director), yet in his heart hearts he is sweet and cares about his friends and family. Somewhat unexpectedly both for him and for Lily, she breaks through his hard facade and brings to to fore his gentler, more human side. 

All these discoveries and revelations happen through some fun banter and comic situations. We see some complex, nuanced characters in an intriguing plot finding their way towards each other and it's a pleasure to follow along. Lucy Parker is a masterful writer that draws you into the story and keeps you invested in it till the very end.

There were some plot twists, especially towards the end which felt a bit too much, but it's a minor thing which did not detract from my overall enjoyment of this romance. I can recommend this, together with first book in the series (they both can be read as standalones) to all fans of contemporary romance. 

Purchase links: Amazon | iTunes | B & N | Audible

Author Interview

New and Debut: Taylor Barton

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My guest in the New and Debut feature this week is Taylor Brooke whose debut novel, Fortitude Smashed, comes out in September 2017. Read on to learn more about her, her inspiration and the stories she wants to tell.


Meet Taylor


1. Tell us about yourself and why did you decide to become a romance writer? 

You know, it’s weird, because I didn’t start out as a romance writer. My first three books are action adventure stories with hints of science fiction thrown in. I thought that’s where I’d stay – in a really fast paced environment with big, complex casts and high stakes. It seemed natural for me. I was a Special Effects Makeup Artist for years before I started writing novels, so making monsters was easy and exciting, on set and in books. But I had an idea I’d been playing with for years – a fate-based concept that explored the soulmate trope. Once I wrote the first scene, I was hooked. I found myself wrapped up in the characters, which isn’t new for me, I’m a character-driven writer, but this time was different. I tethered myself to the characters, the emotions, the internal urgency. I let my heart call the shots rather than sticking to publishing standards or trends. I can’t say I’m the typical Romance writer. I implement a lot of realism and try to stay true-to-life, so to speak, but it is romantic at its core, full of hope and struggle and strength.

I guess I didn’t become a Romance writer until I after I finished writing Fortitude Smashed, but once I did, it changed the way I wrote my next books.

2. Can you share some of your favourite books and authors?

Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles is incredible. It’s lush and heartbreaking, and influenced my style quite a bit. Maggie Stiefvater is another one of my favorite authors. She made me believe in magic again. Melissa Maar shaped a lot of my fantasies when I was in high school.

3. Who/what do you consider your writing influence/inspiration?

I don’t necessarily have an influence, but I’m inspired by all sorts of things. The Isolation Series, my debut series, was inspired by the state of the planet. It’s a story about resistance and freedom, with a huge, diverse cast of strong characters. Fortitude Smashed is autobiographical in some respects. The story was inspired by the time I spent in Laguna Beach in my late teens, early twenties. It dives into some heavy topics – mental illness, sexual assault, first everything’s, and it came from somewhere deep inside myself. I had to unpack a lot to write this book, but it’s my best work yet. I’m very proud of it.

4. What kind of stories can the readers expect from you (contemporary/historical/sci-fi, adult/NA/YA, etc)?

I write for older teens and adults, but right now readers can expect a lot of New Adult. My books center a cast in their early to mid-twenties, which is an age of in-betweens. It’s a confusing, jarring time for a lot of people, and I learned while I was writing characters much like myself that there aren’t many books that accurately portray what it’s like to be at that stage – not a kid, not really an adult. Many of us in our twenties feel like we’ve got to get it together, stay on a designated path, and focus on one main aspect of our lives – a major, a grad-program, a new career. I hope my books will help people my age remember to live for themselves. To pause, appreciate, and take their time. Especially when it comes to love, and mental health.

5. Please, introduce your latest/upcoming release.

Fortitude Smashed (September 21, 2017) is about an unlikely fated pair. It’s lyrical and heartfelt, and introduces mental illness in a way that I hope resonates with readers.

Official Blurb

When scientists stumbled across a human hormone anomaly present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate. Fate is now a calculation.

But loving someone isn’t.

When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another, or defy fate.


Author Bio and Links

Taylor Brooke is a traveling story-teller, believer in magic, and a science fiction junkie. She writes inclusive Queer novels for teens and adults. She's the author of the resistance inspired YA trilogy The Isolation Series. The first book in her fate-based New Adult romance series Fortitude Smashed debuts from Interlude Press September 21, 2017. 

www.taylorbrookewrites.org / @taysalion (Twitter & Instagram)








Contemporary Romance

Review: A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand

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Title: A Crown of Bitter Orange (La Vie en Roses #3)
Author: Laura Florand
Genre/Themes: Contemproary romance
Release Date: 24 Jan 2017

Author's links:
Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
Add on Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Childhood friends. 
Tristan Rosier might have asked Malorie Monsard to marry him when he was five years old, but things had only gone downhill from there. She’d spent the rest of their lives ignoring him, abandoning him, and destroying his perfumes. Now she was back, to wreak who knew what havoc on his life.

Lifelong enemies. 
Tristan might choose to dismiss the generations-long enmity between their two families, but Malorie didn’t have that privilege. Like all the other privileges wealthy, gorgeous Tristan took for granted that she couldn’t. But if she was going to restore her family company to glory, she might just need his help.

Or the perfect match? 
They’d known each other all their lives. Could these childhood friends and lifelong enemies ever uncross their stars and find happily ever after?

Review

Laura Florand is one of my favourite authors of contemporary romance. This the third book in her series set in the French province telling the story of a family of rose farmers and perfume makers.

The story of Tristan and Malorie is marked the usual intensity and deep sensuality. like most of the author's books this is a very character-focused story. Tristan, unlike most of her heroes appears to be more open, jovial, less closed off than his cousins but we quickly see this is only on the surface. His carefree and easy going manner is in reality a mask, a mechanism he uses to cope with his ADHD. His outward appearance and behaviour is deceptive and way too often people form the wrong opinion of him, yet he can't really correct this impression of himself if he wants to be able to help the people he cares about. When it comes to the things and people he cares the most about he becomes shy and tongue-tied.

It's a friends-to-lovers romance where Tristan and Malorie have known each other all their lives and have been attracted to one another for almost as long. Yet in their eyes there are too many obstacles before them to come together.

I liked how their relationship developed, how the author managed to make their differences so very clear. The reader can see how Tristan fails to understand Malorie's fears,  it's oh so easy to misinterpret things and so difficult to see them from the other person's perfectible. Same holds true for her. She couldn't imagine how he felt, what was going on in his mind. Their different situations in life, opposite family relations and social status were a big obstacle before them. And it's not easy to talk about things like that, even more so with someone whom you love desperately and would do anything for your affections to be returned.

It's uncanny how topical the books in the series have become today - the Rosier family history as part of the French Resistance during WWII brings to the fore the topics of the past and how it shapes our present, the importance of family and strong support system, the whole aspect of the fight between good and evil and how it never really ends. 

A Crown of Bitter orange is a wonderful contemporary romance with some hidden depths and relevance to the current political turmoil all over the world. It's a bit nostalgic, a lot romantic, but also playful and fun. 

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks

Cole McCade

Review: Autumn by Cole McCade

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Title: Autumn (Crow City #2.75)
Author: Cole McCade
Genre: Contemporary romance, MM romance
Release Date: 27 March 2017

Author's links:
Add on Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb

There are worse things in life than loving a man who hates you.

Unfortunately, Walford Gallifrey can’t think of many.

Ever since a ghost from his past kidnapped his niece, Willow (THE FOUND, Crow City #2), Wally’s life has been nothing but grief, turmoil, and loss. With no idea if Willow is dead or alive, Wally’s only comfort is in caring for his grieving brother-in-law and Willow’s father, Joseph Armitage. For the past twenty years, Wally has never hoped to be anything but the backdrop to Joseph’s life; between marrying Wally’s sister and decades of mistakes building walls of enmity and resentment between them, Joseph has been firmly cemented in Wally’s mind as unattainable.

But the pain of Willow’s loss forces them to face the demons sleeping between them, find common ground—and more. Together, they explore mutual grief. Shared memories. Quiet respect. Warmth. Camaraderie. The joy of learning to live again.

And an unspoken attraction, buried beneath the scars of hurtful words and terrible missteps. 

Yet even as they work through the thorns and tangles of old wounds, Joseph has his own struggles to face. The struggle to leave his ex-wife in the past. To let his daughter go. And to trust Wally to love him, to see him as more than just his multiple sclerosis, when so many have treated him as less than a man. The only way forward for them both is forgiveness. Trust.

And a second chance to discover what it means, to truly be in love.

Review

This is the fifth book in the series, after two novels and two novellas and the first queer one. And unlike all the previous, it's so much lighter, happier and heart-warming and how it can any other way when one the heroes is Walford Gallifrey. He brought warmth and tenderness even in the darkest moments in the previous books, so I couldn't his own story any other way. 

We get the story of two older characters, Wally - a circus ringmaster, whimsical and caring and lonely, having had a crush on Joseph since they met over 20 years ago. The other - Joseph, suffering from MS, angry, abandoned and alone. They have a history with its ups and downs, and some serious hurt of unpack and overcome. There are expectations of each other to change. And revelations, so many revelations to absorb.

Joseph has a lot to deal with, including realising he is bi but that is not what this story is about. I liked how the author didn't make this focus of the romance. It's just one aspect of his personality, yes, a bit unexpected both for him and for Wally, yet he accepts it in stride. It's just what it is and no one in the story (their friends and family) made a big deal about it. 

I really liked how the focus in their relationship was on intimacy, companionship, being together - sexually and in all other ways, in their everyday lives. It's not all smooth sailing. They keep hurting each other inadvertently, but never give up on trying. We see them learning their way around each other, how to express their love for each other, how to be there for the other in sickness and in health, in good time and bad times. 

I'm avoiding any spoilers, so let me just say we see more of Willson and Vin and Gabriel and Leigh and it's perfect!

The writing is what I have come to expect from Cole McCade - lyrical, emotional, evocative. He builds these rich, powerful images that stay with the reader long after they have finished the book.

Autumn could be read as a standalone though I definitely recommend reading the previous books in the series before it, or at least the novella, The Saved. They will give you a deeper insight into the world of Crow City and its inhabitants, including Wally and Joseph.

Purchase links: Amazon





Author Interview

New and Debut: Dal MacLean

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I'm really happy to welcome Dal MacLean for the regular New and Debut spotlight. She is the author of Bitter Legacy, mm romantic suspense, which was just announced to be a Lambda Literary Awards finalist in the Mystery category! Read on to see what inspires her to write her stories and what you can expect from her in the future. There is also short excerpt from Bitter Legacy for you to enjoy. 

Meet Dal


1. Tell us about yourself and why did you decide to become a romance writer?

First of all thank you for having me! To answer the question (that sound is me sucking my teeth in a considering fashion)… I don’t think I ‘decided to become a romance writer’ so much as deciding to TRY to become a romance writer. I’m still not really sure I’ve succeeded. I’ve been fascinated to find that romance has a formula and structure that maybe I veer from slightly. Without meaning to. Not deliberately. Or anything. It’s because I don’t know any better. Honestly.

I do know that the kind of romance I love reading, has genuine, believable conflict at the heart of it, which must be overcome to win the happy ending. I think my first (and so far only) book, ‘Bitter Legacy’ was a bit of a 50/50 hybrid really of mystery and romance. Mystery, I discovered (it was my first try at that too) has its own structure that readers expect to see, and trying to wrestle both structures into one coherent, balanced story isn’t the easiest thing in the world. I loved the process though, in a masochistic kind of way.

Before this, my training and experience were in writing, but not creative writing. I hadn’t done any of that since school. I decided, on a whim, to give fanfic a go and discovered that, while I was using, in principle the same basic skills (grammar, punctuation etc) it was a totally different thing. I didn’t do much of it, but I loved the challenge and reward. I think MM is different again from fanfic. 

2. Can you share some of your favourite books and authors?

The person who first got me in to reading (and writing) M/M is still right at the top – Josh Lanyon. I bought ‘Fatal Shadows’ and was blown away because it read like a top-of–the-line mainstream mystery, but with gay leads and a turbulent, charismatic romance at its core. I thought it was incredible, and then I bought the rest of the Adrien English series and I became A Fan. A Fanyon in fact. She writes so beautifully and intelligently and she’s not afraid to make her characters genuinely flawed, and her conflict genuine and not easily resolved. I crave that in romance, and, really, in any book I read. It’s that ability to make what’s probably essentially wish fulfillment feel believable and real that gets me every time

Harper Fox, Nicole Kimberling and Ginn Hale are such superb, skilled writers they kind of knock me on my arse every so often, with sheer envy. I think we’re incredibly lucky to have them in this genre. I recently discovered and love Elin Gregory & Roan Parrish. I loved the Captive Prince series by C P Pacat – that felt like something a bit different. And because I like historicals (history was what I studied) KJ Charles. And I still want to read Alexis Hall, Rhys Ford and CS Poe because so many people have told me how good they are. But right now, if I read, I don’t write, so…

3. Who/what do you consider your writing influence/inspiration?

I don’t know, to be honest. I read and a watch mainstream mystery and detective fiction – mainly UK stuff, though I love US TV as well. But I also love historical books and TV –– medieval to Elizabethan is my favourite. And I like sci-fi and fantasy too.

I’ve always admired Agatha Christie particularly, as a mystery writer, not just because she emphasized characterization with actual flaws included, but because she was never afraid to make an unpopular decision for the good of the book. By which I mean, sometimes the culprit was a person you liked and understood. That made her work more messy, far less predictable, and far more exciting, and I think it’s one reason it’s had such longevity. I also love Hollywood film noir and Raymond Chandler etc -- laconic humour, lovely use of language and flawed larger than life characters.

In MM, possibly Josh Lanyon, because I love what she does so much. But also because I’ve never been taught to write formally (as in taking a course or anything) having an editor as skilled and insightful as Nicole Kimberling at Blind Eye Books was a real revelation. Nicole’s taught me such a lot.

4. What kind of stories can the readers expect from you (contemporary/historical/sci-fi, adult/NA/YA, etc)

I think probably contemporary and for the time being anyway, mystery, though, as I said, mystery was a genre I never tried before Bitter Legacy. I have an MM ghost story/romance, shoved down the back of the sofa, but it’s not a traditional romance structure so I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. I don’t have the nerve to try historical because I research everything so obsessively I’d spend months identifying historically accurate curtain fabric. So contemporary it is.

5. Please, introduce your latest/upcoming release.

Ah. I can’t really because I’m still writing and forming it. But at this point I can say it’s in the ‘Bitter Legacy’ universe, but not a sequel. It’s set in present day London, and the main protagonist/narrator is not a policeman. That may all change tomorrow if I panic and throw it in the bin.

In the meantime though, there’s Bitter Legacy. It’s a fairly complex police procedural/whodunnit on the one hand (set with the Metropolitan Police in London) and a focus on a challenging romantic relationship on the other. Everything is seen through the eyes of the narrator, DS James Henderson, but bear in mind that, just like all of us, Jamie sometimes gets the wrong end of the stick when it comes to interpreting other people’s behaviour. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it!

BLURB

London...

Detective Sergeant James Henderson’s remarkable gut instincts have put him on a three-year fast track to becoming an inspector. But the advancement of his career has come at a cost. Gay, posh and eager to prove himself in the Metropolitan Police, James has allowed himself few chances for romance.

When the murder of barrister Maria Curzon-Whyte lands in his lap, all that changes. His investigation leads him to a circle of irresistibly charming men. And though he knows better, James finds himself enticed into their company.

Soon his desire for photographer Ben Morgan challenges him to find a way into the other man’s lifestyle of one-night stands and carefree promiscuity. At the same time his single murder case multiplies into a cruel pattern of violence and depravity.

But as the bodies pile up and shocking secrets come to light, James finds both his tumultuous private life and coveted career threatened by a bitter legacy.

Purchase links: Amazon


AUTHOR BIO AND LINKS

Dal Maclean comes from Scotland. Her background is in journalism, and she has an undying passion for history, the more gossipy and scandalous the better. Dal has lived in Asia and worked all over the world, but home is now the UK. She dislikes the Tragic Gay trope, but loves imperfect characters and genuine emotional conflict in romantic fiction. As an author, and a reader, she believes it’s worth a bit of work to reach a happy ending. Agatha Christie, English gardens and ill-advised cocktails are three fatal weaknesses, though not usually at the same time.



EXCERPT


The door on the left at the top of the first flight of stairs appeared identical to the one on the ground floor—paneled and freshly glossed white. But though James knocked on it, ignoring the intercom-man’s instructions, and though he definitely heard voices behind it, it remained stubbornly closed. He knocked again. The door didn’t open. The man had meant what he said.

James had no real reason to feel as pissed off as he did. The man inside couldn’t know he was a detective investigating a murder. He wasn’t purposely disrespecting the police. Yet, as James lurked, frustrated, in the plush hallway, stealing irritated glances at his watch, he found himself almost deliberately pushing himself to conclusions.

The visitor in there had an appointment. And the man who’d answered had said there’d be another right after James.

So. What kind of men were most likely to have serial “appointments” at expensive residential addresses? High-end hookers.

He glowered at the pristine door, copper’s imagination running with it.

Fuck—the last thing he needed was a vice collar right now, but he couldn’t exactly ignore a high-class prostitute operating under his nose.

Or maybe—he could. He really didn’t have time for this.

He frowned fiercely, slumped against the opposite wall. Then, without warning, the door to the flat opened with a shocking blaze of light, and a man slipped out into the hall.

James, as he straightened, could hardly fail to notice the guy was flamboyantly good looking—all extravagant cheekbones and pouty lips, like a catwalk model—and to all appearances, extremely pleased with himself. As he strutted past, he gave James a quick once-over and a knowing smirk, then he trotted down the stairs and out of sight.

James stared after him. He didn’t look like the kind of man who paid for it, but, if police-work had taught him anything, it’d be that people rarely obliged by fitting their stereotypes. Whatever the guy had been there for, he’d emerged appearing very satisfied indeed. James’s suspicions solidified.

“Sorry about that, mate. Overran a bit.”

James snapped his head back to stare at the figure now standing in the open doorway of the flat, assessing him in turn.

The man was startling. Caucasian, round about James’s height, but with a more slender build and thick, dark, shoulder-length hair in silky, loose curls. He had a fine bone structure, straight black brows and large, dark eyes whose color James couldn’t determine in the dimness of the hall. If the guy fucked for money, James thought in those first moments, he could fully understand how he could afford to live in Selworth Gardens.

Suddenly James felt very aware that, while he was wearing a very nice Paul Smith suit from his old life, it needed a good pressing. And after only three hours’ sleep, he could do with the equivalent himself.

The man smiled brilliantly, which rendered him even more startlingly attractive.

James found himself fighting not to blush. It was his fatal emotional tell and he hated it—a lifetime of self-discipline, and he still colored up like an adolescent.

“Hey,” the man said. “Come in.”

Eli Lang

Review: Half by Eli Lang

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Title: Half
Authors: Eli Lang
Genre/Themes: MM fantasy romance
Release Date: 13 Feb 2017

Author links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
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My rating: 3 Stars

Blurb

Living between worlds has never been comfortable, but it’s where I’ve always fit: between human and fey, illness and health, magic and reality.

I’ve spent the last six years looking for a cure for the nameless sickness eating me up. If I believed there was one out there, I would keep searching. But there isn’t, so I’ve come back home, where my past and present tangle. Come home to live . . . and to die.

But my father insists I meet Kin. He’s a healer, and determined to help, even though I’m not so hopeful anymore. But Kin isn’t what I expected, in any way. He sees me, not my illness. He reminds me of what it’s like to be alive. And I can’t help falling for him, even though I know it isn’t fair to either of us.

Kin thinks he has the cure I’ve been looking for, but it’s a cure that will change everything: me, my life, my heart. If I refuse, I could lose Kin. But if I take it, I might lose myself.

Review

Before I start this review I feel the need to add a trigger warning which this story doesn't have but for me there needs be one. TW for serious disease/disablity, which is potentially terminal.

This is a debut novel and I was drawn to the premise of an urban fantasy with faeries and the while I enjoyed a lot of things in the story ultimately it was an OK read for me.

I loved the writing style, it's very lyrical, poetic and reminds me a bit of Alexis Hall's writing which I absolutely love.

Eli Lang tells a tender love story, subdued and quiet and in a way I missed there being a stronger conflict at the center of it. The mood was melancholic and self-reflective throughout the story and while I liked it and also felt it was too much at times.

Both main characters, Luke and Kin are interesting and well developed. The focus falls on Luke and his struggles to come to terms with his fate which leads to a lot introspection, thoughts on life and death, im(mortality), the meaning of love. I very much enjoyed how the author explored the complexity of human relations, the difficulty of building and maintaining meaningful connections with the people around.

The romance between Luke and Kin was something I really liked in the story. There was an easy, natural flow to it with the inevitable setbacks and both characters making mistakes and trying to overcome them. We see two people coming together and learning to be together and making compromises and ultimately respecting the decisions the other persons makes.

A major plot in the story was Luke's relationship with his sister and I felt it overshadowed the main plot at times. There was a lot of going back and forth in both relationships (Luke and Kin; Luke and his sister) and some repetition which I found annoying. This affected the flow of the story as a whole making go all too slow at times, nothing much happening.

I was the drawn to the (urban) fantasy setting  and found it interesting but in the end it felt underdeveloped. I was left wanting to learn more about the world of the different faeries.

The ending is a bit unconventional when it comes to romance though it was fitting and came as not surprise. It's a sort of HFN ending, not too optimistic but focused on the now and enjoying the good things while they last without thinking much of the future.

Despite the issues I had with this story, still I found it to be a very tender, imaginative romance beautifully told. It was not quite the right book for me but I loved the author's writing style and I want to read more of her books in the future.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo  / Riptide

M/M romance

Review: Insight by Santino Hassell

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Title: Insight (The Community #1)
Authors: Santino Hassell
Genre/Themes: PNR mm romance
Release Date: 13 March 2017

Author links: Website / Twitter / Fb group / Goodreads
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My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb

Growing up the outcast in an infamous family of psychics, Nate Black never learned how to control his empath abilities. Then after five years without contact, his estranged twin turns up dead in New York City. The claim of suicide doesn’t ring true, especially when a mysterious vision tells Nate it was murder. Now his long-hated gift is his only tool to investigate. 

Hitching from his tiny Texas town, Nate is picked up by Trent, a gorgeous engineer who thrives on sarcasm and skepticism. The heat that sparks between them is instant and intense, and Nate ends up trusting Trent with his secrets—something he’s never done before. But once they arrive in the city, the secrets multiply when Nate discovers an underground supernatural community, more missing psychics, and frightening information about his own talent.

Nate is left questioning his connection with Trent. Are their feelings real, or are they being propelled by abilities Nate didn’t realize he had? His fear of his power grows, but Nate must overcome it to find his brother’s killer and trust himself with Trent’s heart.

Review

I'm don't read much PNR but I'm a fan of Santino Hassell and was intrigued by the idea of a romance involving psychics, so picking this book was a no-brainer for me. And I'm so glad I did. 

This is an intriguing story combining a tender and explosive romance with an interesting suspense/mystery plot. There is a bit of everything - a very dysfunctional family, a murder to solve, a road trip during which to fall in love, a big bad mastermind and their organization to bring down. All the while trying to make a relationship work while keeping both yourself and person you love safe.

That's a lot for Nate to deal with, Nate who is a low-level psychic, angry at his family, unable to use/control his gift fully and basically just a young guy dealing with some pretty hard luck in life.

And then he meets Trent and everything changes, Trent is all warmth and sunshine and happiness and optimism. At least that is what Nate psychic gift tells him. And this is very much true, though Trent is not naive or totally out of touch with reality, he is just a genuinely kind person. We see this practical down to Earth, engineer-major guy accept the existence of psychic power and gradually get involved in some serious conspiracy, behind-the-scene actions, yet he stands by Nate without hesitation or doubt.

We get the story from Nate's perspective and we are privy to his innermost thoughts which give us an invaluable insight into his character. I wish we got the same level of familiarity of Trent but only see him from Nate's perspective. He is defined more in his relation to Nate rather than on his own and that is fine with me. He is an invaluable partner, a lover, best friend, the person everyone needs in their lives, especially during turbulent confusing times.

the story, despite being paranormal, is very emotional and raw, and feels real in the way I have come to expect from Santino Hassell. It read very much like romantic suspense which I greatly enjoyed. Nate (and Trent)'s struggle to figure out who to trust and who is the real danger and how to fight it was one exciting ride.

Overall, Insight is a very well written with intriguing plot and likable characters  which made me a very happy reader. And there is still a lot to look forward to in the next two books in the series. I'm excited to see some very interesting characters (Chase, Chase!) get their stories told and  ultimately the good winning the fight against evil. 


Purchase links: KoboRiptide | Amazon | BN | iBooks



Contemporary Romance

Review: Madly by Ruthie Knox

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Title: Madly (New York #2)
Author: Ruthie Knox
Date of publication: 14 March 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:
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My rating: 4.5 stars

Blurb

Allie Fredericks isn’t supposed to be in Manhattan, hiding in the darkest corner of a hip bar, spying on her own mother—who’s flirting with a man who’s definitely not Allie’s father. Allie’s supposed to be in Wisconsin, planning her parents’ milestone anniversary party. Then Winston Chamberlain walks through the door, with his tailored suit, British accent, and gorgeous eyes, and Allie’s strange mission goes truly sideways.

Winston doesn’t do messy. But after a pretty stranger ropes him into her ridiculous family drama with a fake kiss that gets a little too real, he finds out that messy can be fun. Maybe even a little addicting. And as the night grows longer, Allie and Winston make a list of other wild things they could do together—and what seems like a mismatch leads to a genuine connection. But can their relationship survive as their real lives implode just outside the bedroom door?

Review 

Ruthie Knox is one of my favourite authors of contemporary romance. I have enjoyed most of her previous books but somehow I missed that she started a new series. I haven't read Truly yet but after I finished Madly which I absolutely loved, the first thing I did was to go on Amazon an get it :)

Madly is exactly the kind of contemporary romance I like to read - life-like complex characters, struggling with life and love, discovering themselves, making mistakes and growing up as people. And the romance part was just perfect - a bit whimsical, both characters acting simultaneously slow and fast, cautious and daring.

The heroine, Allie, is fabulous in my opinion and I feel there is a lack of heroines like her in romance. She is young and independent and smart and financially successful. She doesn't depend on no man and doesn't need a man in her life to support her, take care of her. She needs and finds a partner, someone who appreciates and loves her with all her contradictions and complexity - being smart and beautiful, young and rich, self-confident but also desperately trying to keep her family together, hungry for the love and approval of her loved ones, deeply involved (albeit, often misguidedly) with their lives.

Winston was an interesting character as well. He has just turned 40, divorced, re-evaluating his life. He appeared stuffy and distant, too set in his ways, deeply unhappy and lost. he was not prepared for Allie and all the possibilities she brought with her. And it took him some time to grasp it and take a chance on being happy, on falling in love, on being vulnerable and honest with himself and the peole in his life he cares about.

I liked how Allie and Winston challenged each other, how they opened up to one another. The game of the list of sexual dares that want to try was an interesting and effective way to bring them together in raw honesty. Their romance was a curious mix of daring and hesitation, of I-don't-need-this-in-my-life-right-now and This-is-so-exciting-and-new-and-perfect-for-me.

The story explored different family relationships, between sibling, between parents and children, withing the romantic couples themselves. in all their complexity and dysfunction. And I liked where the author went with all of them. Through them she built a compelling picture of the characters' lives - complex, interwoven, changing and evolving.

I have only one minor quibble with the story and this has to do with Allie's mum and her relationship with her dad and her artistic career. I was surprised with the development of this plotline and I am not sure how to take it. On the one hand she is presented as a strong woman, one that balanced having a family and a suitable way to express her creativity. She is someone who hasn't sacrificed her dreams but have found an alternative way to pursue them. On the other hand, I felt her behaviour was deceptive to her family, keeping a secret like that, leading a double life. This didn't sit very well with me. I'd say it is a matter of personal preference and not a weakness of the story itself. Other readers may not feel like that about it, so don't let this minor issue of mine stop you from taking a chance on this wonderfully complex romance. 

Madly it's a beautiful and compelling modern day love story that fans of contemporary romance would greatly enjoy.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Ibooks / Kobo

Gilded Age

Review: Mogul by Joanna Shupe

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Title: Mogul (The Knickerbocker Club #3)
Author: Joanna Shupe
Date of publication: 31 Jan 2017
Genre: Historical romance, Gilded Age
Author links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
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My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

The privileged members of the Knickerbocker Club can never climb too high up the social ladder. But for one charming New York bachelor, does the ascent take precedence over love in the Gilded Age?

As owner of a well-respected national newspaper, Calvin Cabot has the means to indulge his capricious taste for excess—and the power to bring the upper crust of society to its knees. So when a desperate heiress from his past begs for his help, Calvin agrees . . . as long as she promises to stay out of his way. Except, like the newsman, this willful beauty always gets what she wants.

Lillian Davies lives a life brimming with boundless parties, impressive yachts, and exotic getaways. But when her brother disappears, Lily knows that blood runs thicker than champagne and she'll spare nothing to bring him back alive. Unfortunately, the only man who can help her is the one she never wanted to see again. Can Lily keep Calvin at arm's length long enough to save her brother and protect her name . . . even when the tenacious powerbroker turns out to be absolutely irresistible?


Review

I enjoy this intriguing series a lot, the first two book were a lot of fun to read. I had great expectations of this one too and till the very end it was a solid 4 star read till the very end but the very abrupt and rushed ending spoiled it all for me.

I like the Gilded Age NY setting, the abundant historical details built a powerful sense of time and place and brought me deep into the story and really bring into to the story. This story focused a lot of the social/political issues of the period - the situation with the Chinese immigrants and the women entering business. 

I found the way the Chinese characters were presented convincing and respectful. There were the main part of the subplot but also central to the conflict in the main plot. I dare say the author created complex diverse characters and focused on their issues even though the main couple were white American.

What I enjoyed the most in this book was the romance itself. It was a second chance, lovers-to enemies-to lovers story that I found absolutely fascinating. The chemistry between Calvin and Lilly was explosive and I appreciate the sex positive attitude the author created by giving us a heroine who acted free and wild and uninhibited with her lover. 

The mystery element of the plot worked well for me as well. It kept me invested till the end but never overshadowing the romance. 

My greatest disappointment was the ending. I literally tapped my Kindle repeatedly hoping to open the next page. I just couldn't believe the author ended a well plotted, complex love story in such a rushed unsatisfactory way.

Purchase links: AMAZON / B&N / IBOOKS / KOBO

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