Limecello http://www.tartsweet.com A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet Sat, 27 Aug 2016 21:23:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 41844566 Review: The Asset by Anna del Mar http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/08/27/9062/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/08/27/9062/#respond Sat, 27 Aug 2016 21:23:00 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=9062 Mary’s Review of The Asset by Anna del Mar
Romantic suspense released by Carina Press on February 1, 2016

The AssetAsh Hunter knows what it is to run. A SEAL gravely injured in Afghanistan, he’s gone AWOL from the military hospital. Physically and mentally scarred, he returns home to his grandmother’s isolated cottage—and finds a beautiful, haunted stranger inside.

Like recognizes like.

Lia Stewart’s in hiding from the cartel she barely escaped alive, holed up in this small Rocky Mountain town. Surviving, but only just. Helping the wounded warrior on her doorstep is the right thing to do…it’s loving him that might get them both killed.

Soon, Ash realizes he’s not the only one tormented by the past. Pushing the limits of his broken body, testing the boundaries of her shattered soul, he’ll protect Lia until his last breath.

I picked this book up while it was on sale. I’m a sucker for a wounded warrior story and romantic suspense is my most loved genre, so it was an easy purchase. I didn’t read any of the reviews on this book beforehand but I probably should have. What I thought I was buying wasn’t what I ended up with.

Lia is sequestered away in a small town from someone horrible. I learned, from the blurb, that it’s the cartel but it’s not actually stated in the book until much later. She’s dealing with an extreme case of PTSD. She and the hero literally meet over the barrel of a shotgun. She’s so terrified of the stranger in front of her, Lia doesn’t even notice he’s on crutches. So yeah, her PTSD is bad. But Lia is also kind and has a soft spot for anyone in need. Once she realizes Ash is in serious pain, she does her best to help him – even while respecting his boundaries. He adamantly refuses to let her take him to the hospital and, after he passes out on her, Lia figures out a way to treat him anyway. She’s resourceful and smart, a heroine I connected with immediately.

Ash was the perfect offset to Lia. He’s grumpy and gruff, direct almost to a fault. He’s also dealing with a bad case of PTSD but has a much better handle on it than Lia. As a Navy Seal, he’s used to pushing through the pain but the raging infection in his foot is more than he can handle. The hospital isn’t an option – the doctors want to amputate and Ash knows he won’t ever be able to return to active duty if that happens. With no family left, he has no one to care for him. Accepting Lia’s help isn’t easy, but it’s better than the alternative and Ash knows it.

The first 60% of the book flows quickly but reads more like a contemporary romance than a romantic suspense. There was no indication whatsoever that anyone from the cartel was after Lia. She experiences some problems – with her neighbors, at the bar she works at – but her reactions were over-the-top and seemed directly associated to her PTSD.

So, okay. Fine. Romantic suspense is a broad genre and, depending on the author, the book can be packed full of trouble or have only a drop. In this case, the characters were great and the writing was smooth. I was invested in the story despite the fact that I originally wanted a suspense.

Then the suspense finally showed up and it ruined everything.

From the very beginning, Lia knows (even if the reader doesn’t) that a dangerous individual is hunting her down. Yet, she never, ever says a word to Ash. The entire time he’s recuperating in her home, he is in serious danger but completely unaware of it. Her decision rubbed me the wrong way when I realized the risk she’d put him in without giving him the choice – especially after he’d recovered enough to go somewhere else.

Once Lia finally shares her problems with Ash, he makes some decisions that caused me to dislike him. A lot. He repeatedly refuses to allow Lia into his plans but his actions have serious consequences for her. Lia isn’t much better. She’s so determined to protect everyone around her, she ends up making some TSTL moves. The couple I’d fallen in love with in the first half of the book never ended up working together and that was a huge disappointment. Additionally, the book takes a dive into some pretty gritty stuff that didn’t really fit with the rest of the novel. Lia’s backstory was dark – really dark –and its described in brutal detail. So be sure to check the trigger warnings on Goodreads.

Ultimately, this book didn’t work for me. I really loved the first half, however, and would be willing to try another by this author – just not another romantic suspense.

Grade: D

You can read an excerpt here and buy a copy here.

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Guest Review: Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/06/07/guest-review-shanna-by-kathleen-e-woodiwiss/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/06/07/guest-review-shanna-by-kathleen-e-woodiwiss/#comments Tue, 07 Jun 2016 04:36:31 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=9041 Paige’s review of Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Historical romance released by Avon in 1977, republished in 2016 as part of their Diamond Anniversary

ShannaFrom New York Times bestselling author Kathleen E. Woodiwiss comes one of her most iconic and beloved romances of all time…

A pact is sealed in secret behind the foreboding walls of Newgate Prison. In return for one night of unparalleled pleasure, a dashing condemned criminal consents to wed a beautiful heiress, thereby rescuing her from an impending and abhorred arranged union.

But in the fading echoes of hollow wedding vows, a solemn promise is broken, as a sensuous free spirit takes flight to a lush Caribbean paradise, abandoning the stranger she married to face the gallows unfulfilled.

Ruark Beauchamp’s destiny is now eternally intertwined with that of the tempestuous, intoxicating Shanna. He will be free . . . and he will find her. For no iron ever forged can imprison his resolute passion. And no hangman’s noose will keep Ruark from the bride— and ecstasy—that he craves.

Originally published in 1977, Shanna tells the tale of a spoiled little rich girl and the convicted criminal turned bondsman (which is a nicer way of saying “slave who works to pay off their debt and eventually can go free but are treated like trash by anyone with a title”) whom she marries in order to gain a name. Why does she do this? To get her father off her back, because she’s so spoiled that every man she meets, she finds fault with. She even rejects one because his shirt is fraying a bit at the edges.

When I told one of my friends that I was getting ready to read a Woodiwiss novel, she got super excited and told me that Ruark (how do you pronounce that, anyway?) was her very first book boyfriend and that I was just going to love him.

I didn’t. At all.

When we first meet him, he’s rude and gruff. I suppose it’s understandable because he’s in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit, and then after she strikes a bargain to marry him, she finds a way to screw him over (I told you she’s a spoiled brat). So, of course he’s pissed. But the thing is, he’s already calling her “my love.” How is that possible? He’s known her for what, a day? Sorry, I don’t buy instalove. Not even in historical romance. Or maybe especially in historical romance, because back then men were expected to court women for some time. Granted, this isn’t the typical HR, but still.

I was supposed to have this review to Lime by 5/28. It’s now 6/6. For that, I’m truly sorry, but it really did take me that long to read this book. Usually I can power through a novel in a single day (I read the last few Harry Potter books all on release day, making my roommate think I’m insane), but I had the worst time getting into this book. I didn’t really have much interest in the characters until about 70% into the book—after they’re captured by pirates and Shanna starts showing that she’s growing up a little bit, and she’s got some backbone.

For the life of me, I still don’t understand why Ruark loved her from the beginning. She was like a Katy Perry song. Hot one minute and cold the next. If I were him, I would’ve gladly walked away the first time she told me to sod off. I’m too old to play games. And (I know I already said it, but it bears repeating) she’s such a spoiled, childish, selfish brat! But apparently, her beauty excuses all that…or something. I swear, every single person that she came across in the book talked about how gorgeous she was. It got to the point where my eyes hurt from rolling so hard every time I read about her beauty. She was such a [expletive deleted] every time she got near Ruark that I wanted to slap the supposed pretty off her face. Every sexual encounter between Shanna and Ruark ended with her calling him names and accusing him of taking advantage of her. Um, there were quite a few times that she went to him, if I recall correctly. And she’s the one who struck the original bargain, which included them spending the night together “as husband and wife.” She screws him over, berates him, and teases him, denies him his rights as her husband even as she gets viciously jealous when he even looks at another female (though he’s so head-over-heels for her—for whatever reason—that he barely notices anyone else exists). What does he see in her?

At 672 pages, there is far too much book. I found myself skimming through the endless description of trees and landscape and clothing. I almost felt like I was reading the romantic version of Moby Dick. So. Many. Words. And it’s soooo slow.

I feel the need to draw attention to the insane amount of references to rape in the book. Performing a search on my Kindle, there are eight different instances where rape is mentioned (although that doesn’t count the times it’s referenced indirectly), most of which are Shanna afraid she’s about to be raped or Ruark talking or thinking about it. A few examples that I highlighted:

“It was all Ruark could do to hold in check the urges that flooded him and to keep himself from simple rape.”

“Madam, rape does have its rewards, even if they be one-sided.”

“She rose from the bed and sought cover, aware that she must garb herself or face the prospect of rape.”

“Perhaps she seeks from me some violence so she can have reason to hate me.” (Shanna is wearing a sexy nightgown found in the bedroom they’re essentially trapped in while they’re with the pirates.)

I was so disturbed by these casual mentions of rape that I talked about it with Lime. I also noticed that my friend who’d told me she loved Shanna was re-reading a Woodiwiss book as she took time off from her own work. I looked through the comments, and noticed that someone said the books were rather “rapey” but they still loved them. *jaw drops* Whaaaat?

If a book were written like this nowadays, the author would be slammed with hate mail and the book would receive a million one-star reviews. Long, ranty posts would appear on Facebook and on blog posts about the mistreatment of women in fiction and how rape is never okay—not even to joke about. But apparently, it was okay enough in 1977. As it stands now, Shanna has 3,536 five star reviews, 2,409 four star reviews, 1,365 three star reviews, 409 two star reviews, and 174 one star reviews. It boggles my mind that so many people loved this book so much. To each their own, I suppose, but I just can’t get behind a book that nearly bored me to death with a heroine that I wanted to stab in the throat, and a hero that was basically a doormat (who excused, if not glorified rape in his thoughts).

Going on Limecello’s grading scale, I’d give Shanna a D (can I give it a D- ?) only because the last 30% was slightly entertaining.

Grade: D

You can buy a copy here.

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I Have … An Imposter? O_o http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/05/10/i-have-an-imposter-o_o/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/05/10/i-have-an-imposter-o_o/#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 01:31:05 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=9031 My mind is a wasteland these days. I’m a mess, I don’t have any of my shit together, my kids are getting murdered, and their killers are walking away without convictions. So … that’s where I am.

But the purpose of this post … is to tell you all that someone out there may be … pretending to be me? I’m not quite sure but I think this is important enough to mention. Last week I got home and saw that Harper Collins was having its Fall Preview Blogger Chat. You all know I always have lofty ideas of being up to date and on top of things so I thought “well, how fortuitous! I’ll join in!”

However, when I tried to sign in as Limecello (who and what else?!) The box firmly told me “There is already someone signed in with that name.” … Or whatever the particular language was. I wish I had screencapped it. And stayed in the chat to see wtf “[not me] Limecello” said. I did mention it on Twitter, and FB, and some of the ladies at Harper Collins did see my posts. [Pam told me that Caro didn’t notice fake Limecello say anything untoward… so, small mercies?]

But here’s the thing. Limecello is not at all a common name. If it was “Mary” or “Sue” or “Lynn” sure – but … Lime itself isn’t a normal “name.” Limecello? That … has got to be intentional. Especially in a book world blogging thing. If it was some mixologist, or whatever, possibly.

So, I wanted to let you know … if there are things out there on social media posting as “Limecello” … it may or may not be me. :\ And in fact, unless it’s on my own Twitter of FB accounts (unless/until I get hacked) … it probably isn’t me considering how little I’ve been able to do lately. [If you want to keep up to date with me, I’m fairly active in both places, and discuss industry issues, books, my life, and world issues I find important. It’s just easier to do something that requires less of a commitment and is more ephemeral.]

If you see someone running around posting as Limecello, joining chats as Limecello and such … please let me know? Feel free to try to confirm identity? It’s just … shadypants to me. And if by some insanely odd chance that person who signed into the chat as Limecello reads this … please let me know why? We can talk, and I promise to do my best to be open minded.

Anyway, I’ve also been wanting to make changes to ALBTALBS – more book talk, reader focus, and also talk about any damn thing I want to. Which, for this post … is just the update.

Thanks for sticking around, y’all! *muah!* I appreciate you more than I can say. <3

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Dreamy Strawberry Dessert: Fresh Strawberry Mousse http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/04/16/dreamy-strawberry-dessert-fresh-strawberry-mousse/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/04/16/dreamy-strawberry-dessert-fresh-strawberry-mousse/#comments Sat, 16 Apr 2016 07:33:53 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=9021 So, first, I used Cooks Illustrated’s recipe. It was fantastic. They even have a step by step video you can watch. I was happy with the first go, but I thought – this can be even better. I also like fresher brighter flavors in general. It depends on what you’re looking for. I also have to make a “confession” … I am just AWFUL about following recipes. I know, I’m bad. So, what you might want to do is follow the “real” recipe first, then tweak it as you like.

This is my finished product from my second go-round. (Wouldn’t you love to live close to me?) 😉

Fresh strawberry mousse from scratch with a dark chocolate covered strawberry

These are the ingredients as according to Cook’s Illustrated.

  • 2 pounds strawberries, hulled (6 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled

And… this is my list.

  • 2 pounds strawberries, hulled (6 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • zest of one lemon (or lime)
  • fresh squeezed juice of half a lemon (or lime)
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled

Pretty similar, yes? Also, I’m bad at this food blogging thing. First of all, I took all the pictures using my cell phone. >.> Let’s blame everything that looks not great on that. Next, I did everything in the evening, so the lighting was less than ideal – so just … imagine it brighter and prettier. 😛

First of all, you want to wash and dry your strawberries. Then hull them, trim or clean as necessary, and cut them up. Really the recipe says to dice 1c into a 1/4″ dice to reserve to put on top. I … didn’t reserve them. You’re supposed to pulse the rest, but I don’t have a large food processor and … I’m kinda neurotic so I diced all 2 lbs. Again. The second time I had a “sous chef” though.

First Step

Dice or chop however you like. That’s just how I did it – and if you did want to reserve some for the garnish – I’d say that’s the best way. Also fun was making sure my knives were super sharp. That’s a me thing that I adore doing though. >.> The following was the start. Just … imagine 2lbs of that in a bowl, kay? 😛 Once the strawberries are cut up, you stir in 1/4c sugar, and a pinch of salt. If the berries don’t seem sweet, add a tiny bit more sugar – but I’d err on the side of “less is more” here because you want strawberry flavor to be the star.

Nice dice!

The second time, I took out the cream cheese ASAP and actually tried whipping it (by hand with a fork) to soften it and make it more pliable, because I felt it ended as “chunks” in the mix the first time. I’d suggest taking out the cream cheese even before you wash the strawberries. Also, if you want to try to whip it, use a smaller bowl. It’s definitely not a necessary step, but I’ll do it again next time. You’ll also notice I’m crazy though.

Cream cheese

Once you mix in the sugar and the salt, juice will immediately come out. Let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. (*whispers* It’s totally okay to let it sit for longer, but you don’t need to.)

Your strawberries will look foamy and wet from the get go. Once it’s done sitting – the pictures of course go in chronological order from top left to right, etc. If you notice the bottom left the chunks are being spooned on to a sieve, and the bottom right is them drained. I spooned through it to hurry the process, but honestly I think you can just let it strain for 30 minutes while you go watch a favorite sitcom – such as Archer – and it’ll be fine. The juice will have a lot of foam on top, but that’ll cook off/deflate when mixed.

Macerating

You’ll end up with a pot of juice – I strained directly into a sauce pan the second time. (The first time I used a liquid measuring cup because I was concerned about measurements, and was trying to be good.) Spoon 3T of the juice into a small bowl. Then sprinkle the gelatin over it. How much gelatin you need depends on how much cream cheese you use. If you use more cream cheese, then I’d go with the 1 3/4t. If you go with my amount of cream cheese, I’d say 2t or even 21/8t. Cook’s Illustrated said let the gelatin soften – which takes about 5 minutes. I say let it sit for as long as it takes to hydrate because nobody wants chunks in their dessert. You can also stir it up to help it. To get the juice for the gelatin, I just skimmed the foam away from the top and went straight to the juice at the bottom to spoon into the bowl.

While the gelatin is softening, you should be reducing the strawberry juice. Cook’s Illustrated says use medium-high heat. I say go as low as you like, but no higher than their recommendation. If you’re impatient though, I’d say put it at medium-high, but do not touch it because stirring will only push the liquid up the sides, which will scorch. And then you’ll be sad. The idea is to reduce the juice down until you only have 3T of liquid. Thus you keep all the flavor as it has concentrated, but you also control the amount of liquid going into the dessert. Science! If you like citrus, here is where you’d add the juice of half whatever citrus you decided to zest. Cook’s Illustrated actually says “for more complex berry flavor, replace the 3 tablespoons of raw strawberry juice in step 2 with strawberry or raspberry liqueur.” The main point though, is that you want to end up with only 3T of liquid total in the pot.

I wanted to be absolutely sure the gelatin was hydrated, and I had my heat on low (>.> still scorched a bit of the edge because I was fussing with it – so I had to keep mixing that in … so don’t do that) – but I still had time to puree the remaining fresh strawberries while the juice was reducing. I used a hand immersion blender – you can use whatever you have on hand or most prefer. Top left is of course the remaining fresh strawberry. Top right is me using the same strainer to sieve the puree. Make sure you work the puree – press it against the mesh – scrape the bottom with a spatula, whatever – you want everything you can get from it. Bottom left is basically what remains – I ate it, because, it’s still super strawberry flavored, and why not? Bottom right is where I deviate from Cook’s Illustrated. I wanted the brightness and freshness I knew the zest would bring.

Now you can look back to the strawberry juice that you’ve been keeping an eye on – because once it hits 3T you mix in the hydrated gelatin. If you’ve reduced down to 3T before you’ve finished sieving the puree, leave the fresh fruit – it’ll be fine. Focus on the things being cooked, and let the puree continue to drain on its own.

Once your puree is done, this is the scary part. You want to add the cream cheese to the juice + gelatin mixture. It will curdle. I repeat. It. Will. Curdle. You will worry, and think it looks awful and everything is ruined. It looks absolutely wrong, and unappetizing, but I included it because you need to see how it looks so you won’t panic. The acidity in the strawberry juice – and the heat – will just not react nicely with the dairy + structure of the cream cheese. Whisk like hell. Whisk like it offended you. Whisk like you think you just put hours of work into this goddamn dessert and now it’s all ruined and fuck you, dessert.

Initial mix, action shot whisking, final product

On the left is once the cream cheese is in and you’ve just started to whisk. The middle is an action shot. Pour that mix into the strained puree, and mix it together. That on the right is what you end up with once they’re combined. See? It looks so much better! (If you weren’t done getting the fresh strawberry puree by the time the cream cheese, gelatin, and juice had been whisked together, you can either mix what you have and incorporate the remaining strawberry, or leave them separate until you’re ready to combine. At this point there’s – IMO – no way to ruin it.)

Then, you want to make the whipped cream. This is where the remaining 1/4c sugar comes in. I experienced an extra layer of self loathing, so I decided to whisk it by hand. I was feeling silly, so I took a picture of the heavy whipping cream … then the “stiff peak test” wherein you turn the bowl upside down. [Hint – if any of the cream moves, you haven’t achieved stiff peaks. Also, if you haven’t achieved stiff peaks, you, or the floor, will likely be wearing whipped cream. Notify the pets if you have any.] Anyway – once your whipped cream has been made, and properly sweetened, dump it on your strawberry mix, and whisk it in.

Once everything is fully incorporated, spoon the mousse mixture into whatever container you want to serve it in. I think individual bowls is nice for mousse. [Also I’m not sure how well it’d stand to being spooned?] I happened to have these dessert cups.

I made ten of these. Eyeballing it I’d say each cup has … maybe 3/4c of mousse? Anyway, chill it for 4-48 hours. I covered mine, with cling wrap, and let it go in the fridge. You’ll end up with a final product like the dessert you see at the top. Well, if you take some extra berries, melt the Ghiradelli dark chocolate you had at home and make dark chocolate covered strawberries.

Enjoy.

Psst. Last tip – the first time, I sieved everything to the extreme. The second time … well, my “sous chef” suggested I used the immersion hand blender to make the whipped cream. It didn’t work, and hadn’t been cleaned off, so there were some strawberry seeds in it. That means there are a minute amount of strawberry seeds in the second batch. I have to say, I actually kind of like that. It’s an extra “in your face” that these are fresh strawberries in a mousse that you made from scratch. So if you like a tiny bit of texture, I’d say you know, dip a spoon into the remaining strawberry puree/seeds and use that to mix the mousse at the end. You don’t want a LOT – you don’t want crunchy mousse, but not being neurotic with your kitchen tools and allowing for a few seeds … isn’t the worst thing ever. In fact, some people might prefer it. You’ll know your guests better than I do.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask! I hope I made some sense of this … and as you’ll see, I am truly terrible about recipes. And following directions. XD

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SWHM Guest: Cecilia London http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/03/26/swhm-guest-cecilia-london/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/03/26/swhm-guest-cecilia-london/#comments Sat, 26 Mar 2016 04:09:22 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=9010 My friends, March is almost over, and I’ve let Smithsonian Women’s History Month pass quietly. There will likely be some changes at ALBTALBS (and ideally a more usual schedule – that’d be a change of pace for sure…) – and some “retroactive” posts… but as you see, we have the fantastic Cecilia London guesting with us, and she’s got a double relevant post – discussing Women’s History Month as well as her books – one of which is currently free. Whee!

My earliest political memory is of drawing a mustache on Walter Mondale while my best friend drew a beard on Ronald Reagan. We had just been handed a special election copy of Weekly Reader. Don’t judge me, or her…we were seven and in parochial school. I hadn’t yet realized that my parents were moderate to liberal independents with rebellious voting tendencies that have only gotten more radical with age. I was convinced I was a Republican.

Flash forward a few years to eighth grade, when I took a highly questionable test on a school computer that declared me a liberal. Liberal? From everything I’d been told, that was a very dirty word. I wasn’t sure I wanted any part of it. But I embraced the results and zoomed head-on into high school.

By the time the 1992 elections came around, I knew the score. I’d watched the Hill-Thomas hearings. I’d gotten sick of seeing all those arrogant men acting like they owned the damn country. And I was ready to dedicate my life to public service. I wanted to be like my idols – Pat Schroeder, Geraldine Ferraro, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan – all the women I’d read about in the paper or seen on TV. I wanted to be a member of Congress.

I love political memorabilia.

Easier said than done, of course. I supported Jerry Brown up until the convention, when I finally admitted that Clinton was going to be the nominee. I had hope in Bill along with Senator-elect Carol Moseley Braun, who had scored a huge upset victory against Alan Dixon in the Democratic primary. I was a fresh faced, idealistic fifteen year old convinced that this so-called Year of the Woman and Clinton’s election could get us going…somewhere. It had to…right?

Hey, an old copy of the Chicago Tribune! I keep EVERYTHING. If I ever drop off the social media map without warning, please send someone to check on me. I’m likely buried in a pile of old newspapers and copies of Entertainment Weekly.

My parents and I visited Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1993. I was so excited. A friend of mine gave me a copy of Pat Schroeder’s first book (Champion of the Great American Family) as a joke since she’d gotten it at a book sale for fifty cents (it was not exactly a commercial success). Pat Schroeder was my idol. The idealist. The feminist. The woman who along with six others marched up the steps to the United States Senate demanding an inquiry into the accusations Anita Hill had made against Clarence Thomas. And I was determined to meet her.

Remember this? That’s then-Congresswoman Barbara Boxer leading the way.

(You can click on the photo for more information.)

Yes, I wanted to meet Pat Schroeder. And Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, and Barbara Mikulski, and Patty Murray, and any other female member of Congress I could find. These women were my superstars, my celebrities, my inspiration. Sadly, Representative Schroeder was not in her office when I visited. Her staffers let me sit at her desk and my parents snapped a photo. They offered to have her call me at my hotel but (being the shy kid I was) I stupidly said that wasn’t necessary. To this day I wish I would have said yes. Who knows what that conversation might have been like?

Pat Schroeder declined to run for re-election in 1996. I was devastated. But I understood. She’d spent 24 years in the House. Progress had been made, but not much. She was one of the trailblazers, making it easier for other female candidates to run and win. But had anything in the promise of the Year of the Woman actually been achieved? Perhaps. But we have miles to go before we sleep.

So what’s the point of this piece? To drop some names, share some personal anecdotes, (eventually) plug my books? Whenever February and March roll around, I always wonder why some folks get up in arms about Black History Month and Women’s History Month. I don’t mean those of us who celebrate it. I mean those who feel such celebrations aren’t necessary.

Hopefully those of you reading this guest post have recognized all the names I’ve mentioned so far. But if you haven’t? That’s why we need Women’s History Month. It’s not just about female politicians and social activists (though they have driven a lot of this country’s political evolution) but inventors, writers, lawyers, architects, astronauts…and not just the ones that show up in mainstream history books. This is about more than Jeannette Rankin and Geraldine Ferraro and Shirley Chisholm…more than Fannie Lou Hamer and Toni Morrison and Sally Ride… it’s about all of those accomplishments that have been buried because the gatekeepers have deemed them to be insignificant.

I took women’s studies and African American history classes in college but never learned all the details of Chisholm’s historic 1972 presidential run until I was well out of law school. I had to seek the story out myself (in a wonderful documentary entitled Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, which I highly recommend). And she is (IMHO) a relatively high profile figure in women’s history. This is the kind of information that should be taught in every high school American history class. And it is not.

Anyway…back to my story (and my books!). As I grew older, my political drive lessened but I remained interested in public policy. I went to law school, dedicated to serving the public in some capacity. But I began to realize that the gamesmanship required to gain elected office wasn’t something I was willing to do. I decided to work in the public sector in a non-political capacity. But my creativity was sapped…until October 2013.

I was still a dreamer in law school but those three years force you to process your thoughts in a different way. I stopped writing poetry and short stories to focus on briefs and motions but had a very active imagination. And I created these two vibrant characters in my head – a male and female member of Congress on opposite sides of the aisle. But I had no vehicle for them. They languished in my daydreams for almost ten years until I had a food poisoning-induced dream in which I pictured them as valiant patriots fighting a fascist regime.

The overall plotline of my series has evolved but thanks to that questionable barbecue, The Bellator Saga was born. And despite current events, I assure you I am not writing metafiction (so far as I can tell).

In a way, Caroline Gerard (my heroine) is an idealized version of the public figure I’d hoped to become back in high school. Moderately liberal, fiercely passionate about human and civil rights, genuinely kind and decent. Her romantic lead may at first appear to be a caricature – millionaire, playboy, Republican, silver fox (if you dig the older dudes like I do) – but…

Gratuitous teaser included in guest post at no extra charge!

I wanted to humanize my characters. Make them real. Because we all have foibles. We all have flaws. It doesn’t matter if we’re high profile or not. We’re all just people. Granted, Caroline and Jack are larger than life in any number of ways, but I hope that they’re relatable.

I wanted to explore a few deeper issues in The Bellator Saga – which is best described as It Can’t Happen Here blended with, uh, a lot of sex. What would happen if a fascist were allowed to take office? How easily could it happen? How would Americans react? And more importantly, how would those with money, power, and influence (like Caroline and Jack) respond when dissent is batted down viciously (though clandestinely)?

It would be easy for a person of privilege to flee instead of fighting, but Caroline chooses to throw down the gauntlet. As I developed the plotline it was vitally important that she not only be a badass (in the intellectual, politically active sense) but a compassionate, loyal person who would defend her ideals and her country until the very end. It was also important that she and Jack have an egalitarian relationship grounded in a deep emotional connection and an undying passion for one another.

The series is different; I will grant you that. The first two books, Dissident and Conscience, are told in a non-linear fashion, with parallel present/past timelines converging at the end of book two. The journey continues in Sojourn, as Caroline continues to wrestle with her memories of a beautiful past while struggling in an uncertain present.

The last three books in the series will be released in 2016, and a box set of the first three books was released on February 29. The Bellator Saga has a bit of everything but is at its heart an epic romance. It’s got a meaty plot and parts of it can be difficult to read (I don’t sugarcoat anything – totalitarian regimes don’t play nice), so you’ll likely either love it or hate it.

I hope that if nothing else, Caroline has lived up to the women I admired as a child. Because of them I continue my activist spirit in a different way – through the written word (and sometimes as a lawyer, I suppose!).

Thanks to Lime for having me, and here’s more Shameless Author Stuff!
Website, Facebook, Twitter: @authorclondon

Currently Free is Dissident
Dissident“I will always be with you…”

Rising Democratic star Caroline Gerard hasn’t had an easy year. After losing her husband, she is raising two small children alone while trying to navigate the tricky and sometimes shallow halls on Capitol Hill. A string of nasty speeches has her scrambling to apologize to any number of candidates, including newly elected Republican Jack McIntyre. Falling in love again is the last thing on her mind.

Jack McIntyre might have a reputation as a playboy, but he has his sights set solely on his new colleague. Can he break through Caroline’s grief and capture her heart?

Told mostly in flashback and set against a chilling fascist backdrop, Dissident is a rollercoaster ride of political intrigue, passionate contemporary romance, and undying love.

For readers 18+. Ends on a cliffhanger.

And for The Bellator Saga which includes the first three books…
The Bellator SagaTwo souls intertwined. One epic love story.

Get swept away in the passionate romance between political opposites Caroline Gerard and Jack McIntyre in the first half of The Bellator Saga.

This set contains the first three books in the series, Dissident, Conscience, and Sojourn.

Dissident
Rising Democratic star Caroline Gerard is reluctant to fall in love again after losing her husband. Can Republican playboy Jack McIntyre break through her grief and capture her heart? Told mostly in flashback and set against a chilling fascist backdrop, Dissident is a rollercoaster ride of political intrigue, passionate romance, and undying love.

Conscience
Caroline faces the biggest challenge of her life when confronted with the cruelty and sadism of her captors at The Fed. Hope fades quickly, even as she holds onto her one last bit of sanity and her unshakable belief that her husband will rescue her. But is that faith just a mirage?

Sojourn
Reeling from her experiences at The Fed, Caroline tries to forge ahead and create a new identity. But that’s hard to do with the ghosts of the past constantly whispering in her ear. She is determined to find the rebellion and move on with her life, but what will she find when she arrives there?

Includes bonus material featuring a deleted scene from Sojourn, a sneak peek at Phoenix, and a never before released love scene told in Jack’s first person point of view!

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“i” Fixed it http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/03/12/i-fixed-it/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/03/12/i-fixed-it/#comments Sat, 12 Mar 2016 05:39:43 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=9002 So … if you were part of the mad discussion on my most recent post you’ll notice a lot of people talking about typos and missing letters. Well, one in particular. The “i.” I was so confused, because I wasn’t checking the site – just getting email notifications, and there the comments were proper. So I kept thinking “what on earth are these ladies talking about?!”

… And then I tried to comment and me – the site admin! – had the lowercase “i” stripped from every word too! So I fixed it! 😀

Sparkle Unicorn

Well, I didn’t actually fix fix it … I’m pretty sure it was a theme issue and some glitch and I just don’t have it within me to go searching for code. Also that theme didn’t have an update – which it should because someone should take care of that shit  – so I just switched to a theme I like not quite as much, although I like how the icons show more.

[I really hate how it gives me that stupid blue box by every comment I make though. >:( ] And I hate the derpy smilies. I like the cute colorful original ones more. 🙁 But … that’s also for another day.

Anyway, this is just proof positive you need to be on top of things here at ALBTALBS right? XD Especially since it’s so rare I post now – like … seeing a unicorn. Or a blue moon. OR A BLUE MOON ON A UNICORN! … >.> I mean …

Heh. See above. Also, damn. I meant to add a horn on her to make her a unicorn. Forgot about that. And if you ever needed proof that I am a world class procrastinator … I found that image and changed it to what you see below … then went from there into what you see above. :X

Twilight Sparkle

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My New Most Favorite Thing In The World: Mozart in the Jungle http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/03/05/my-new-most-favorite-thing-in-the-world-mozart-in-the-jungle/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/03/05/my-new-most-favorite-thing-in-the-world-mozart-in-the-jungle/#comments Sat, 05 Mar 2016 05:29:27 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=8996 I remember when Mozart in the Jungle was part of Amazon’s pilot [week?] where you could vote on what shows you’d like Amazon to pick up. I watched the pilot, and liked it most out of the shows I watched. I did think some of the pilot had a hint of “trying too hard edgy cable gratuitous sex” – but that hasn’t been the case in any of the other episodes.

In fact, I never watched it again until March. Then I blew through both seasons in a week. A week! The pilot is longer – the other episodes are about 30 minutes. I love it. I’m re-watching it now. I’m bereft that season 3 isn’t out yet and Amazon hasn’t ordered more seasons yet. I think this is one of the most under-appreciated and under-buzzed shows out there.

If you like music at all – you just have to watch this show. I mean maybe it’s because I grew up trying to learn classical music (I was never really good and didn’t love it then …) – but the music. And the characters. <3

The Trailer for Season One:

Season Two:

I need more. I re-watched a two episodes of Pushing Daisies yesterday which I enjoyed as much as I did when it first came out. It was nice … but it was no Mozart in the Jungle.

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Review: Nuts by Alice Clayton http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/02/20/review-nuts-by-alice-clayton/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/02/20/review-nuts-by-alice-clayton/#respond Sat, 20 Feb 2016 05:53:08 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=8986 Babs’ review of Nuts by Alice Clayton
Contemporary romance released by Gallery Books on October 20, 2015

NutsRoxie Callahan is a private chef to some of Hollywood’s wealthiest, and nastiest, calorie-counting wives. After a dairy disaster implodes her carefully crafted career in one fell ploop, she finds herself back home in upstate New York, bailing out her hippie mother and running the family diner.

When gorgeous local farmer Leo Maxwell delivers her a lovely bunch of organic walnuts, Roxie wonders if a summer back home isn’t such a bad idea after all. Leo is heavily involved in the sustainable slow food movement, and he likes to take his time. In all things. Roxie is determined to head back to the west coast as soon as summer ends, but will the pull of lazy fireflies and her very own Almanzo Wilder be enough to keep her home for good?

Salty. Spicy. Sweet. Nuts. Go on, grab a handful.

Nuts is my first Alice Clayton read and the first book in the Hudson Valley series. I have had Alice Clayton’s Wallbanger on my to-read list for awhile now. I started seeing Nuts talked about on Twitter. Other reviewers were saying great things about it. I honed in right away on references to how funny it was. There’s no way I could not try it. Add a bearded farmer and a chef which guaranteed food references? Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!

Roxie returns to her hometown after leaving to escape small town life and find her own way as a chef in LA. She’s promised to help her flighty mom one last time and run the family diner while her mom goes on an adventure. Roxie hasn’t been in a committed relationship with any guy—she’s strictly interested in no strings “company” when she wants it. And she thinks she’s found “company” when she sees Leo.

Leo escaped New York and his wealthy family years ago. Since then he has turned the family country home into a great local food producer and educational farm. Leo has his own secrets but doesn’t want to trust Roxie since she’s only staying in town for the summer.

As it usually does, things quickly became more than just a summer fling. I liked how Roxie was pretty quick to acknowledge it wasn’t going to be easy to go back to LA and not just because of Leo. She was finding her place in her hometown, making new friends, seeing job opportunities, and then yummy Leo. Leaving wouldn’t be so simple. I think I also like that Leo didn’t try to convince her to stay once it was clear there was more going on than sex (I’m thinking this through as I write this review:)). He would have a good life even if she left but hoped they could try to be together. This is a romance so there is a happily-ever-after. The end was great. I love the epilogue from Leo’s point of view.

So many things in this story worked for me. The instant chemistry between Leo and Roxie. The kind of cutesy clumsiness the first few times they meet in person. There’s also a running quirk of Roxie’s that made me giggle. I’ve been reading a lot of “we won’t get emotionally involved; it’s just sex that always turns into more” books lately and this one is one of the better ones.

I love to laugh so it makes sense I gravitate towards and especially enjoy books with humor. Nuts is a great example of a contemporary romance that really works for me. I’m a mood reader and I’m not into funny all the time but I definitely appreciate a well-placed joke, bit of dry humor, or snappy one liner to break up angst or tension filled stories.

I’ve read this book twice now and enjoyed it just as much the second time. I loved the humor, the romance, the characters, the setup for the next book. All of it!

The next book in the series is Leo’s neighbor and one of Roxie’s best friends. I can’t wait! Cream of the Crop is scheduled for release July 2016. I’ll also be checking out her other series. There’s a brief tie to the Redhead series. And I need to read Wallbanger and the Cocktail series.

Grade: B+

You can read an excerpt here & here or buy a copy here.

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SBHM Guest: Lynn Balabanos on Lesser Known Heroes & Heroines of Black History Month http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/02/04/sbhm-guest-lynn-balabanos-on-lesser-known-heroes-heroines-of-black-history-month/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/02/04/sbhm-guest-lynn-balabanos-on-lesser-known-heroes-heroines-of-black-history-month/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:39:03 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=8976 Hi friends! So we’re doing this! Celebrating Smithsonian Heritage Months again! I’ve been asking anyone and everyone to participate, and today we have a contribution from Lynn Balabanos. 😀 I hope you’ll check out what she has to say!

The numerous contributions the Black community has made to the fabric of our country are inspiring and instrumental. Most of us learn about the heavy hitters in school, individuals like Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriett Tubman and Rosa Parks. Important people, absolutely, but they were not alone in their struggles for equality and freedom. In honor of Black Heritage Month, I’d like to share just few of the lesser known heroes and heroines.

Benjamin Banneker PortraitBenjamin Banneker (1731-1806)

Next time you look at a photograph of Washington, D.C., I hope you think of Benjamin Banneker.

He was born in Maryland a free Black man. He was mostly self-educated and drew a reputation for being an amazing mathematician and astronomer. In 1789, he was part of the surveying team that laid out the plans for Washington D.C. When L’Enfant, the Frenchman hired to build the capital, walked off of the site taking all of the plans with him, it was Benjamin who re-created from memory the layout of the streets, parks and major buildings. Without him, our nation’s capital wouldn’t look the way it does today.

Benjamin’s achievements don’t stop there. At the age of 22, he built a wooden clock that accurately kept time, despite having no formal training regarding clock making. He created a crop irrigation system, producing food which prevented US soldiers during the Revolutionary War from starving. Oh, and the Farmers’ Almanac? You know, the book farmers relied on for generations to predict weather and crop planting.* It was invented by Benjamin Banneker, who did all of the calculations himself for the first six years of its existence.

As if that wasn’t enough, Benjamin, throughout a long correspondence, urged Thomas Jefferson to create racial equality and abolish slavery.

Garrett MorganGarrett Augustus Morgan (1877-1963)

Every time you drive or see a firefighter, you should think of Garrett Augustus Morgan. This man saved countless numbers of lives and the modification of his inventions still exist and are in use today.

Garrett Morgan was a prolific inventor. Born in Kentucky, he only had a grade school education. In 1914, he created a safety device, a canvass hood with two breathing tubes. The device would filter smoke backwards while cooling the air inside. This “safety hood” was used by firefighters, who had at that time had almost no protection from the smoke and gases they encountered while in the line of duty. His invention was also used by the U.S. Army and was the precursor for the gas masks used in WWI.

In 1923, Garrett Morgan invented the first mechanical traffic signal, a rudimentary version of the three way traffic light we use today. While traffic lights existed before, Garrett’s included a warning signal to drivers as well as the standard stop and go.

In addition to his successful inventions, he was also an activist and philanthropist. Garrett was a member of newly formed NAACP, gave money for young Black men to go to college and opened the first Black country club.

Dr. Charles DrewDr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950)

Every time you donate blood, especially to the American Red Cross, Dr. Charles Richard Drew is who you should think of.

He was born in segregated Washington D.C. but, although he was very bright, he didn’t have enough money to attend medical school. He worked for a few years as a biology instructor and eventually was accepted to McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He graduated second in his class and earned both a Doctor of Medicine and a Masters of Surgery. In 1938, he received a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at the University of Columbia in New York. It was there he was able to continue his work on blood related matters, and he developed a process for preserving blood plasma thereby making it possible to be stored or “banked” for longer periods of time. His doctoral theses entitled “Banked Blood” earned him a Doctorate Degree from Columbia. He was the first African-American in history to earn this degree from Columbia.

When WWII broke out, he was invited by Britain to head up their special campaign, “Blood for Britain.” In this capacity, he collected blood from New York and shipped it overseas where it was used to treat soldiers. He ran the program so successfully that one report says he was able to collect over 14,000 pints of plasma.

As a result of both his research and his work with Britain, in 1941, Dr. Drew was made Director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank. He successfully created processes and procedures for blood donation and distribution that saved countless lives. Among his innovations, was the mobile blood donation center, much like the ones still in existence today.

Unfortunately, Dr. Drew didn’t stay as director of the blood bank long. When the program started, African Americans were prohibited from donating, per U.S. military rules. This meant that Dr. Drew couldn’t even donate his own blood to the bank he’d not only created but also ran. He fought to change the rules and the result the military relented – but only a little. African Americans were able to donate but their blood was segregated and only used for African American soldiers. Unable to agree to these terms, Dr. Drew resigned in 1942.

Bessie ColemanElisabeth “Bessie” Coleman (1892-1926)

Whenever you go to an air show, or see a pilot doing stunts, think of Bessie Coleman.

She was born in Texas during segregation. Her parents were uneducated and illiterate and Bessie herself went to school in a one room shack. As a young adult, she moved to Chicago and lived with her older brothers, working as a manicurist. It was during this time, listening to the pilots returning from WWI, that she developed an interest in aviation. In 1918, there were very few women pilots and all of them were white and wealthy. Bessie applied to aviation schools across the country but was turned away, her race and her gender a double strike against her.

So, she taught herself French and, taking all of her life savings, moved to France. As you do. She completed flight training at the best flight school in France, graduating in only seven months. She became the first African American woman to hold to hold an international pilot’s license.

Bessie went on to perform at countless stunt shows and became one of the best known aviators of her time, due in large part because of her skill and daring. She dreamed of opening her own aviation school, and routinely encouraged other African Americans to pursue their pilot’s license. In addition, Bessie refused to participate in an event in which African Americans were not welcome.

Sadly, Bessie never lived long enough to establish her aviation school. She died during a stunt in 1926. However, her life and accomplishments inspired generations, including but not limited to Mae C. Jemison, the first African American woman in space who reported took a photograph of Bessie with her on the mission.

These individuals are only a selected few, but there are so many more. Please, take some time this month and check out the Smithsonian’s website. They have lots of fascinating information on historical figures, as well as music, art and so much more. In addition, if you have any stories or interesting tidbits regarding Black Heritage Month you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

Thanks so much for this post, Lynn! I actually knew about Dr. Charles Drew because of Archer – but I didn’t know he was Black! The more you know! So cool. 😀 (I’d also like to note that Rosa Parks was born on this day 103 years ago! Her deliberate and brave acts truly facilitated change and momentum for the Civil Rights Movement.)

*So I’m pretty sure he didn’t invent the Farmers’ Almanac, but he did publish six Almanacs, with a lot of impressive information, at a time where a Black author was basically unheard of.

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SBHM Guest: Alexa Rowan on Jean M. Auel’s The Mammoth Hunters http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/02/02/sbhm-guest-alexa-rowan-on-jean-m-auels-the-mammoth-hunters/ http://www.tartsweet.com/2016/02/02/sbhm-guest-alexa-rowan-on-jean-m-auels-the-mammoth-hunters/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 05:03:02 +0000 http://www.tartsweet.com/?p=8970 Hi friends! We’re kicking off another year of Smithsonian Heritage Month celebrations, and as you might know this year I’ve decided to expand things even further. Our first guest is Alexis Rowan who kindly answered my call to talk about the first book she remembered reading that featured a Black main character. Let’s give her a warm welcome! <3

It’s Hard To Get More Historical Than The Pleistocene

The Mammoth HuntersThanks so much to Limecello for opening up ALBTALBS to guest posters during the Smithsonian National Heritage months—and for celebrating diversity by encouraging the book-loving (and especially, the romance-loving) community to discuss authors and characters of color.

For Black History Month, Lime posed the question, what is the first book you remember reading with a black character? And while I’m sure I must have read something else prior to this, the book with a black character that has stuck in my mind since its publication in the mid-1980s is Jean M. Auel’s The Mammoth Hunterswhich is book 3 in her Pleistocene-era epic series of six massive books. Mammoth Hunters saw the introduction of Ranec, a “dark-skinned, magnetic master ivory carveras the third corner in a love triangle with blond and blue-eyed Ayla at its apex and equally Caucasian Jondalar as her existing love interest.

Ranec’s Caucasian father had travelled far to the South, where he “mated” (married?) a woman whose skin was “almost as black as night” and had a son with her, but she died during their long journey back to his people. Auel portrays Ranec in a positive light (unless one interprets Ranec’s interest in Ayla as creepy/obsessive—teenaged me didn’t). He’s considered to be attractive within his otherwise-Caucasian community, and his unusual skin color is admired. And while he’s got a (stereotypically?) strong sex drive, he’s also got mad skillz beyond the pre-historic bedroom.

Teenaged-me didn’t think twice about Ranec’s skin color, or that Ayla and Ranec became a couple. I’ve done a little research for this blog post, and I didn’t find any contemporaneous discussion of this as an interracial relationship, or that it was considered to be controversial or shocking. Rather, the reviews and commentary I found focused on Auel’s craft (e.g., plot flaws, shallow character arcs, Ayla’s annoying character traits and having invented damn near everything), her penchant for minute detail and lovingly researched scenes, and her purple prose (which, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, teenaged me thought was pretty hot!).

Ultimately, teenaged me felt badly for Ranec, who was ready to be mated with Ayla when she and Jondalar had their long-overdue conversation and resolved their protracted misunderstanding. I suppose it’s hard to compete with a man as well-hung and talented in the sexual arts (and blue-eyed) as Jondalar, the itinerant deflowerer ;-). Is it problematic, that Ayla threw over the character of color for the couldn’t-possibly-be-more-Caucasian guy? Given the context of the book, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say no, at least from my (privileged) perspective. I’d love to hear from others with differing opinions, though. Auel’s Pleistocene-era setting describes an inter-species divide between the Clan (Neanderthals) and the Others (Cro-Magnons); within the Cro-Magnons, racial differences were ignored as irrelevant or were appreciated, not vilified. So the relationship between Ayla and Ranec was something teenaged me took at face value, yet Ayla’s getting back together with someone she loved and had intense chemistry with (Jondalar) also made sense for reasons unrelated to race. I found only one contemporaneous reviewer who commented on the fact that it was the two “blond, blue-eyed beauties” who end up riding off into the sunset with each other.

That said, if Ayla had chosen to stay with Ranec and sent Jondalar on his merry way, the series would have ended. And when you sell out a million-copy first hardcover printing, as Mammoth Hunters did, you plan as extensive a series as you can write. Right?

Have you read The Mammoth Hunters? What did you think of the love triangle and Ranec’s position in it?

I’m curious too! I’ve actually never even heard of this book until now – but I definitely think there are other things we can speak to – books we loved as children that might not stand up to a re-reading – not because of writing style, but because of the content, yes? Let’s discuss!

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