Welcome! My blog is all about my love of books, in an ideal world I would blog about a specific genre but my taste is so broad I just love to read! I do however have a massive soft spot for anything dystopian and at the other end of the spectrum young adult! I have far too many books and I need more! I thought it would be a good idea to set up a blog so I can share my passions but I will occasionally also ramble about a lot of other things such as tv series and films and my love of Orlando plus did I mention I love books!!! I have a bit more info in my About Me page so please have a look!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

REVIEW - Red Rising by Pierce Brown


Thank you to Bookbridgr for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

So I am not enjoying writing this review, why? Because it means I have finished reading this awesome book and am now in the horrible process of waiting on the second book, AAAAARGH!!

Ok hissy fit over, this book with its deadly red cover and amazing credentials all over it, mentions of the Hunger Games, Game of Thrones etc and you know what?, they are all well deserved its like the Katniss and co have been shot in to space, landed on Mars, given birth to the Game of Thrones whilst feasting on a bit of Blade Runner with a dash of Tolkien and Orwell, have I gone over the top in my description? 

No! 

I love this book, I would have read it in one sitting if life didn't get in the way (my pesky kids!).  It is set upon our red neighbour Mars, we meet Darrow a young miner deep under the surface of the planet, he is mining a precious element used to terraform planets and his job is extremely important but he is also the lowest of the low.  Mars has a class system and Darrow is a Red, the Reds are bottom of the list carrying out all the horrible tasks the highers classes wont do. 

Darrow knows no difference he continues in his work until following a heartbreaking tragedy (cue tears from me) he discovers that his life has been full of lies, he has always been told there is nothing on the surface of the red planet, so needless to say the discovery of a vast population living up top in cities living life to the max comes as a shock but with that shock comes vengeance.

The population up top is also sorted by the class system and the rulers are the Golds, selfish, beautiful, cruel they are horrible and they are responsible for the Reds being kept in the dark, Darrow is given the chance of revenge by a shadowy rebel group but it comes at a painful cost, he will need to disguise himself as a Gold and it is not a simple case of dying his hair and popping in coloured contact lenses, he is literally redesigned, his entire body is carved so it is a perfect Gold specimen, the description of this happening is truly painful, you truly feel for Darrow and his quest to infiltrate the Golds.

The rebels want him to attend The Institute a school which sorts out the weaker Golds from the superior ones.  Darrow needs to seamlessly blend in, to become one of the people he truly hates, to make them believe he is one of them. 

He succeeds but he has to endure The Passage, a bloody ordeal where the Gold's sort out their weaklings and wage war against one another, the students are put in to houses, Darrow is House Mars and they all battle against one another in a terrifying war that test these teenagers to their limits, Darrow discovers who is the cruelest, the kindest, the most intelligent and so on but he also finds himself thinking of these Gold's as brothers and sisters as his time in The Institute goes on, is he losing sight of his original mission and becoming a Gold?

Well you will need to read and find out, the one thing that made me think this book would be good is a map, all of my favourite books have maps (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings) and I constantly found myself referring to it as Darrow and his fellow Golds moved across their battleground.

I really did feel bereft when I finished this book, I love it when a book can truly blow you away like that, I know that pitting teenagers against one another is hardly a new idea but the setting on Mars along with the class system and language they use makes this an extremely compelling read.

I cannot wait to read more about Darrow, I want to discover more about the planet he is living on and obviously knowing what happens at the end of this book I need to know if he completes his mission.

Red Rising is one book you need to add to your bookshelf now, it makes The Hunger Games look tame and I guarantee you will love it.

Red Rising is awarded 5 out 5




BLOG TOUR - The Mill River Redemption by Darcie Chan

 
Thank you to the Little Brown Book Group for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review


 I had heard wonderful things about this books predecessor The Mill River Recluse and when I was offered the chance to review The Mill River Redemption I happily accepted.

This story revolves around the DiSanti family, Josie and her two daughters Rose and Emily who at the start of the book arrive in the town of Mill River to escape from the city following a devastating fire that claimed the life of Josie's much loved husband, they move in with Josie's Aunt Ivy who she barely knows but this wonderful woman is a godsend and helps the young family get back on their feet.

The book flits backwards and forwards in time, and when it flits forwards you meet Rose and Emily years later mourning the death of Josie, the two sisters who were so close when we first met them now can't seem to stand the sight of each other.

Rose is a trophy wife with a rich husband and a young son, Emily is quite bohemian flitting from city to city trying to lay down her roots, neither of them is prepared for what is about to be revealed in their mothers wishes, she wants them to move back to Mill River, live in houses next door to one another, in each house is a clue to the location of Josie's safety deposit box which contains details about their inheritance.  The only way they are getting their hands on this box is to work together.  But is this something these two sisters who truly cannot stand one another manage? Can they pull together to honour their mothers final wishes?

The Mill River Redemption is a charming story, the setting is the perfect American town, the kind I would love to up sticks and move to! The family of Josie and her girls are beautifully written, Josie during the flashbacks turns from being shell shocked widow to becoming resourceful and driven as she strikes out to build a career to look after her children, also during the flash backs we find out why the sisters relationship has turned toxic and one of the sisters in particular is still in denial about a problem she really needs to seek help for.

The ending is good and (no spoilers!!) is a total major twist in the story!

It is the perfect blend of family drama, love and overcoming ones demons with a dash of forgiveness thrown in.

Awarded 4 out of 5

Buy your copy now from Amazon



 



Tuesday, 26 August 2014

RELEASE DAY - I Want It That Way by Ann Aguirre ** GIVEAWAY **


 
We are absolutely thrilled to bring you the Release Day Launch for Ann Aguirre's I WANT IT THAT WAY! 

I WANT IT THAT WAY is a New Adult contemporary romance and is the first book in the 2B Trilogy Series, published by Harlequin HQN

We are already in love with this series and Ann's characters! Read the excerpt, then go grab your copy today!!

I Want It That Way

Amazon | B&N | BAM | Indiebound | Vroman’s | Book Depository Powell’siTunes | Amazon UK

  I WANT IT THAT WAY Synopsis: Nadia Conrad has big dreams, and she’s determined to make them come true. But between maintaining her college scholarship and working at the local day care to support herself, dating’s the last thing on her mind. Then she moves into a new apartment and meets the taciturn yet irresistible guy in 1B…. Daniel Tyler has grown up too fast. Becoming a single dad at twenty turned his life upside down—and brought him heartache he can’t risk again. Now, as he raises his four-year-old son while balancing a full-time construction management job and night classes, the last thing he wants is noisy students living in the apartment upstairs. But one night, Nadia’s and Ty’s paths cross, and soon they can’t stay away from each other. The timing is all wrong—but love happens when it happens. And you can’t know what you truly need until you stand to lose it.

"A tender, sweet, and sexy story about how life—and falling in love—can never be planned." —Jennifer L. Armentrout, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wait for You IWITW Teaser

I WANT IT THAT WAY on Goodreads

Read the First Chapter HERE!

EXCERPT: “Where are you from?” Ah, an actual question. That means I can ask one back. “Nebraska, toward the South Dakota and Wyoming side, if that helps.” “I’ve never met anyone from there.” Michigan was a long way from home. “I usually get ‘not in Nebraska anymore’ jokes, and then I have to decide if I’m going to remind them that’s Kansas or play along.” “What do you usually do?” “Play along.” “You don’t like conflict, huh?” He sounded normal tonight, as if talking to me wasn’t an unpleasant chore anymore. That was a relief since I’d come to look forward to these moments with him so much. More, maybe, than I’d like to admit.Right. Friends. I distracted myself by considering his question. “Not if it can be avoided. I’m not what you’d call pugnacious, no. But I like to think I don’t back off important issues. What about you?” “No.” His voice was bleak and quiet. “I don’t. Even when I should.” Wow, that took a dark turn. If I could’ve jumped onto his patio without breaking an ankle or waking Sam, I’d have been down there like a shot. The distance between us seemed intolerable, and from the knot in my throat, I didn’t see how I could live another second without touching him, finding out if his hair was as soft as it looked or what he smelled like. I wanted him in a way I never had before. In high school, I had a boyfriend who played basketball, and we broke up when I left the state. It was a rational decision, and I didn’t miss him that much once I was gone. My freshman year, I went out with a lot of different guys, one date here, two dates there, but I never clicked with anyone enough to focus on them. Sometimes there were hookups with no strings, no expectations. Classes, friends and work seemed a lot more important. The intensity of this attraction was foreign and frightening, if exhilarating. I might already be backing off if I had the faintest sense that Ty was jerking me around on purpose. Wish he didn’t make me feel this way. It’d be so much simpler if I could friend-zone him. I realized I still hadn’t touched his verbal grenade. “We all have things we’d do differently in hindsight.” “What is it about you?” he asked in a wondering tone. “Huh?” “You make me…better. Calmer.” “Like a sedative?” I snickered. It was the least sexy thing a guy had ever said to me, including a junior high squeeze who said my face wasn’t actually that bad. He laughed, too, a sheepish sound. “I didn’t mean it like that. Just…I’m worried pretty much all the time that I’m dropping the ball somewhere, about to face-plant, but when I come out here and hear your voice, everything backs off like ten steps. I can breathe again.”

 IWITW Available now Author Photo

About Ann Aguirre: Ann Aguirre is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author and RITA winner with a degree in English Literature; before she began writing full time, she was a clown, a clerk, a voice actress, and a savior of stray kittens, not necessarily in that order. She grew up in a yellow house across from a cornfield, but now she lives in sunny Mexico with her husband, children, and various pets. Ann likes books, emo music, action movies, and she writes all kinds of genre fiction for adults and teens, published with Harlequin, Macmillan, and Penguin, among others.      

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Monday, 25 August 2014

BLOG TOUR - Rival by Penelope Douglas

Welcome to the Blog Tour for Rival by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Penelope Douglas



“We both grab at each other. He pulls me hard against him, and 

his mouth is all over mine. This isn’t like when Nate kissed me 

downstairs. Madoc feels real. Like nothing is planned. Everything is 

coming from his gut. This feels right.”


Madoc and Fallon. Two estranged teenagers playing games that push the boundaries between love and war

She's back.

For the three years she's been away at boarding school, there was no word from her. Back when we lived in the same house, she used to cut me down during the day and then leave her door open for me at night.

I was stupid then, but now I'm ready to beat her at her own game . . .

I'm back.

Three years and I can tell he still wants me, even if he acts like he's better than me.

But I won't be scared away. Or pushed down. I'll call his bluff and fight back. That's what he wants, right? As long as I keep my guard up, he'll never know how much he affects me . . .


There is a lot of love for the Fall Away series, I enjoyed this book but I think it would have helped me to have read the other books in this series to understand all the characters in Rival, however it is a good young adult read, Fans of the likes of Colleen Hoover and Abbi Glines will just adore this series.

The story revolves around Madoc and Fallon, step siblings with a very much love hate relationship which after several years apart has deteriorated, total polar opposites she is very much an emo kid where he is just your typical young guy.

They have a past which is very much coming back to haunt them, a past where they were very much involved with one another and Rival deals with how they cope with the fact that they still have feelings for one another and no matter how much they resist, they keep coming back to one another but their path is not going to be a a smooth one, they have lots of bumps in the road ahead - but you know me no spoilers!

This is an extremely sexy contemporary young adult novel , it has amazing chemistry, strong characters, jealousy and a whole lot of angst, I hope you enjoy it!

4 Stars!

Rival by Penelope Douglas (Piatkus) is now available as an eBook

Thank you to Piatkus for providing me with a copy


Praise for the Fall Away Series

‘I read this book in one sitting. Rival was as gripping as it was sexy!’

#1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover

‘Full of feeling and intensity that will appeal to the reader seeking an emotional rush’

IndieReader

‘I was really craving a book that would make me stop everything I was supposed to be doing and devour every word . . . and that's exactly what Bully did!’

Smitten Book Blog

‘A unique twist on the bad boy meets good girl tale. I could not put it down!’

Aestas Book Blog

‘She did something seasoned writers haven't been able to do - take a hero who was a complete ass and make me fall in love with him’

Scandalicious Book Reviews


BLOG TOUR - Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips **GIVEAWAY**



 New York Times bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips 
is back with a delightful novel filled with her sassy wit and dazzling charm

Find out more below about Heroes Are My Weakness, read an excerpt, enter the giveaway and find out what I thought about this new release!


The dead of winter.

An isolated island off the coast of Maine.

A man.

A woman.

A sinister house looming over the sea ...

He's a reclusive writer whose macabre imagination creates chilling horror novels. She's a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids' puppet shows. He knows a dozen ways to kill with his bare hands. She knows a dozen ways to kill with laughs.

But she's not laughing now. When she was a teenager, he terrified her. Now they're trapped together on a snowy island off the coast of Maine. Is he the villain she remembers or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes.

It's going to be a long, hot winter.


 Follow the Blog Tour! ** Add to Goodreads!

REVIEW


When I read chapter one (which you can enjoy below) I really had no idea what this novel had in store for me, the setting sounded perfect, a desolate island blanketed by an icy winter but then  all of a sudden some puppets make themselves known, at this point I was a little bit "what the hell is going on?" but I was intrigued, why was our leading lady Annie driving through a remote island to an even remoter cottage by the sea with puppets?

Annie has left her city life behind for a couple of months to live in Moonraker Cottage, the house her late mother stayed in, a house that holds memories both good and bad but on her arrival she discovers that the house is not ready for her, the caretaker has not prepared it for her but she endures the night and in the morning sets of to Harp House the home of late mother's ex-husband and the setting for a less than perfect summer many years ago.

She goes to Harp House expecting to find the elusive caretaker but she finds more than she bargains for in the shape of her childhood foe Theo Harp.

Theo was her first love but he ended up treating her terribly all those summers ago, he has suffered a lot since them, losing those he has loved becoming an almost recluse, writing his novels in the turret of his families old house, he doesn't want Annie here but she ain't going anywhere!

As the two start to put up with each other, spanners are thrown in the works with Annie's cottage being broken in to, this is just the start of a hate campaign by faceless cowards, she is not easily scared but Theo starts to feel protective and the worse things get the more he realises that they have both changed over the years, feelings that both of them hadn't expected come to the boil.

So where do puppets come in to it then? Well Annie is a struggling actress but due to a lack of jobs she successfully puts on puppets shows that deal with combating problems such as bullying, her puppets are like family to her, amazingly the whole puppet thing fits in really well especially when dealing with a mute child, the daughter of Theo's housekeeper.

Heroes Are My Weakness is actually nothing like I thought it was going to be, it was actually ten times better, it was funny, it was sad, it was sexy and romantic, the two main characters of Theo and Annie had superb chemistry and with the stunning backdrop of the island, the story just flows like a dream, add in some back story, some wonderful locals and some expert cooking and you have a fantastic tale.

Awarded 5 out of 5

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review

Read Chapter One!

Annie didn’t usually talk to her suitcase, but she wasn’t exactly herself these days. The high beams of her headlights could barely penetrate the dark, swirling chaos of the winter blizzard, and the windshield wipers on her ancient Kia were no match for the wrath of the storm that had hit the island. “It’s only a little snow,” she told the oversize red suitcase wedged into the passenger seat. “Just because it feels like the end of the world doesn’t mean it is.”
You know I hate the cold, her suitcase replied, in the annoying whine of a child who preferred making a point by stamping her foot. How could you bring me to this awful place?
Because Annie had run out of options.
An icy blast rocked the car, and the branches of the old fir trees hovering over the unpaved road whipped like witches’ hair. Annie decided that anybody who believed in hell as a fiery furnace had it all wrong. Hell was this bleak, hostile winter island.
You’ve never heard of Miami Beach? Crumpet, the spoiled princess in the suitcase retorted. Instead you had to haul us off to a deserted island in the middle of the North Atlantic where we’ll probably get eaten by polar bears!
The gears ground as the Kia struggled up the narrow, slippery island road. Annie’s head ached, her ribs hurt from coughing, and the simple act of craning her neck to peer through a clear spot on the windshield made her dizzy. She was alone in the world with only the imaginary voices of her ventriloquist dummies anchoring her to reality. As sick as she was, she didn’t miss the irony.
She conjured up the more calming voice of Crumpet’s counterpart, the practical Dilly, who was tucked away in the matching red suitcase in the backseat. We’re not the middle of the Atlantic, sensible Dilly said. We’re on an island ten miles off the New England coast, and the last I heard, Maine doesn’t have polar bears. Besides, Peregrine Island isn’t deserted.
It might as well be. If Crumpet had been on Annie’s arm, she would have shot her small nose up in the air. People barely survive here in the middle of the summer let alone winter. I bet they eat their dead for food.
The car fishtailed ever so slightly. Annie corrected the skid, gripping the wheel more tightly through her gloves. The heater barely worked, but she’d begun to perspire under her jacket.
You mustn’t keep complaining, Crumpet, Dilly admonished her peevish counterpart. Peregrine Island is a popular summer resort.
It’s not summer! Crumpet countered. It’s the first week of February, we just drove off a car ferry that made me seasick, and there can’t be more than fifty people left here. Fifty stupid people!
You know Annie had no choice but to come here, Dilly said.
Because she’s a big failure, an unpleasant male voice sneered.
Leo had a bad habit of uttering Annie’s deepest fears, and it was inevitable that he’d intrude into her thoughts. He was her least favorite puppet, but every story needed a villain.
Very unkind, Leo, Dilly said. Even if it is true.
The petulant Crumpet continued to complain. You’re the heroine, Dilly, so everything always turns out fine for you. But not for the rest of us. Not ever. We’re doomed! Doomed, I say! We’re forever¾
Annie’s cough cut off the internal histrionics of her puppet. Sooner or later her body would heal from the lingering aftereffects of pneumonia¾at least she hoped so¾but what about the rest of her? She’d lost faith in herself, lost the sense that, at thirty-three, her best days still lay ahead. She was physically weak, emotionally empty, and more than a little terrified, hardly the best state for someone forced to spend the next two months on an isolated Maine island.
That’s only sixty days, Dilly attempted to point out. Besides, Annie, you don’t have anywhere else to go.
And there it was. The ugly truth. Annie had nowhere else to go. Nothing else to do but search for the legacy her mother might or might not have left her.
The Kia hit a snow-packed rut, and the seat belt seized up. The pressure on Annie’s chest made her cough again. If only she could have stayed in the village for the night, but the Island Inn was closed until May. Not that she could have afforded it anyway.
The car barely crested the hill. She had years of practice transporting her puppets through every kind of weather to perform all over the state, but even a decent snow driver had limited control on a road like this, especially in her Kia. There was a reason the residents of Peregrine Island drove pickups.
Take it slow, another male voice advised from the suitcase in the back. Slow and steady wins the race. Peter, her hero puppet¾her knight in shining armor¾was a voice of encouragement, unlike her former actor-boyfriend-slash-lover, who’d only encouraged himself.
Annie brought the car to a full stop then started her slow descent. Halfway down, it happened.
The apparition came from nowhere.
A man clad in black flew across the bottom of the road on a midnight horse. She’d always had a vivid imagination¾witness her internal conversations with her puppets¾and she thought she was imagining this. But the vision was real. Horse and rider racing through the snow, the man leaning low over the horse’s mane streaming. They were demon creatures, a nightmare horse and lunatic man galloping into the storm’s fury.
They disappeared as quickly as they’d appeared, but her foot automatically hit the brake, and the car began to slide. It skidded across the road and,with a sickening lurch, came to a stop in the snow-filled ditch.
You’re such a loser, Leo the villain sneered.
Tears of exhaustion filled her eyes. Her hands shook. Were the man and horse indeed real or had she conjured them? She needed to focus. She put the car into reverse and attempted to rock it out, but the tires only spun deeper. Her head fell against the back of the seat. If she stayed here long enough, someone would find her. But when? Only the cottage and the main house lay at the end of this road.
She tried to think. Her single contact on the island was the man who took care of the main house and the cottage, but she’d only had an e-mail address to let him know she was arriving and ask him to turn on the cottage’s utilities. Even if she had his phone number¾Will Shaw¾that was his name¾she doubted she could get cell reception out here.
Loser. Leo never spoke in an ordinary voice. He only sneered.
Annie grabbed a tissue from a crumpled pack, but instead of thinking about her dilemma, she thought about the horse and rider. What kind of a crazy took an animal out in this weather? She squeezed her eyes shut and fought a wave of nausea. If only she could curl up and go to sleep. Would it be so terrible to admit that life had gotten the best of her?
Stop it right now, sensible Dilly said.
Annie’s head pounded. She had to find Shaw and get him to pull out the car.
Never mind Shaw, Peter the hero declared. I’ll do it myself.
Buy Peter¾like her ex-boyfriend¾was only good in a fictional crisis.
The cottage was about a mile away, an easy distance for a healthy person in decent weather. But the weather was horrible, and nothing about her was healthy.
Give up, Leo sneered. You know you want to.
Stop being such a douche, Leo. This voice came from Scamp, Dilly’s best friend and Annie’s alter ego. Even though Scamp was responsible for many of the scrapes the puppets got into¾scrapes heroine Dilly and hero Peter had to sort out¾Annie loved her courage and big heart.
Pull yourself together, Scamp ordered. Get out of the car.
Annie wanted to tell her to go to hell, but what was the point? She pushed her flyaway hair inside the collar of her quilted jacket and zipped it. Her knit gloves had a hole in the thumb, and the door handle was icy against her exposed skin. She made herself open it.
The cold slapped her in the face and stole her breath. She had to force her legs out. Her beat-up brown suede city boots sank into the snow, and her jeans were no match for the weather. Ducking her head into the wind, she made her way to the rear of the car to get her heavy coat, only to see that the trunk was wedged so tightly into the hillside that she couldn’t open it. Why should she be surprised? Nothing had gone her way in so long that she’d forgotten what good fortune felt like.
She returned to the driver’s side. Her puppets should be safe in the car overnight, but what if they weren’t? She needed them. They were all she had left, and if she lost them, she might disappear altogether.
Pathetic, Leo sneered.
She wanted to rip him apart.
Babe… You need me more than I need you, he reminded her. Without me, you don’t have a show.
She shut him out. Breathing hard, she pulled the suitcases from the car, retrieved her keys, snapped off the headlights, and closed the door.
She was immediately plunged into thick, swirling darkness. Panic clawed at her chest.
I will rescue you! Peter declared.
Annie gripped the suitcase handles tighter, trying not to let her panic paralyze her.
I can’t see anything! Crumpet squealed. I hate the dark!
Annie had no handy flashlight app on her ancient cell phone, but she did have… She set a suitcase in the snow and dug in her pocket for her car keys and the small LED light attached to the ring. She hadn’t tried to use the light in months, and she didn’t know if it still worked. With her heart in her throat, she turned it on.
A sliver of bright blue light cut a tiny path through the snow, a path so narrow she could easily wander off the road.
Get a grip, Scamp ordered.
Give up, Leo sneered.
Annie took her first steps into the snow. The wind cut through her thin jacket and tore at her hair, whipping the curly strands onto her face. Snow slapped the back of her neck, and she started to cough. Pain compressed her ribs, and the suitcases banged against her legs. Much too soon, she had to set them down to rest her arms.
She hunched into her jacket collar, trying to protect her lungs from the icy air. Her fingers burned from the cold, and as she moved forward again, she called on her puppets’ imaginary voices to keep her company.
Crumpet: If you drop me and ruin my sparkly lavender dress, I’ll sue.
Peter: I’m the bravest! The strongest! I’ll help you.
Leo: (sneering) Do you know how to do anything right?
Dilly: Don’t listen to Leo. Keep moving. We’ll get there.
And Scamp, her useless alter ego: A woman carrying a suitcase walks into a bar…
Icy tears weighed down her eyelashes, blurring what vision she had. Wind caught the suitcases, threatening to snatch them away. They were too big, too heavy. Pulling her arms from their sockets. Stupid to have brought them with her. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But she couldn’t leave her puppets.
Each step felt like a mile, and she’d never been so cold. Here she’d thought her luck had begun to change, all because she’d been able to catch the car ferry over from the mainland. It only ran sporadically, unlike the converted lobster boat that provided the island with weekly service. But the farther the ferry traveled from the Maine coastline, the worse the storm had become.
She trudged on, dragging one foot through the snow after the other, arms screaming, lungs burning as she tried not to succumb to another coughing fit. Why hadn’t she put her warm down coat in the car instead of locking it in the trunk? Why hadn’t she done so many things? Find a stable occupation. Be more circumspect with her money. Date decent men.
So much time had passed since she’d been on the island. The road used to stop at the turnoff that led to the cottage and to Harp House. But what if she missed it? Who knew what might have changed since then?
She stumbled and fell to her knees. The keys slipped from her hand and the light went out. She grabbed one of the suitcases for support. She was frozen. Burning up. She gasped for air and frantically felt around in the snow. If she lost her light…
Her fingers were so numb she nearly missed it. When she finally had the flashlight back in her grasp, she turned it on and saw the stand of trees that had always marked the road’s end. She moved the beam to the right, where it fell on the big granite boulder at the turnoff. She hoisted herself back to her feet, lifted the suitcases, and stumbled through the drifts.
Her temporary relief at having found the turnoff faded. Centuries of harsh Maine weather had stripped this terrain of all but the hardiest of spruce, and without a windbreak, the blasts roaring in from the ocean caught the suitcases like spinnakers. She managed to turn her back to the wind’s force without losing either one. She sank one foot and then another, struggling through the tall snowdrifts, dragging the suitcases, and fighting the urge to lie down and let the cold do what it wanted with her.
She’d bowed so far into the wind that she nearly missed it. Only as the corner of a suitcase bumped against a low snow-shrouded stone wall did she realize that she’d reached Moonraker Cottage.
The small, gray-shingled house was nothing more than an amorphous shape beneath the snow. No shoveled pathway, no welcoming lights. The last time she’d been here, the door had been painted cranberry red, but now it was a cold, periwinkle blue. An unnatural mound of snow under the front window covered a pair of old wooden lobster traps, a nod to the house’s origins as a fisherman’s cottage. She hauled herself through the drifts to the door and set the suitcases down. She fumbled with the key in the lock only to remember that island people seldom locked up.
The door blew open. She dragged the suitcases inside and, with the last of her strength, wrestled it shut again. The air wheezed in her lungs. She collapsed on the closest suitcase, her gasps for breath more like sobs.
Eventually she grew conscious of the musty smell of the icy room. Pressing her nose to her sleeve, she fumbled for the light switch. Nothing happened. Either the caretaker hadn’t gotten her e-mail asking him to have the generator working and the small furnace fired up or he’d ignored it. Every frozen part of her throbbed. She dropped her snow-crusted gloves on the small canvas rug that lay just inside the door but didn’t bother to shake the snow from the wild tangle of her hair. Her jeans were frozen to her legs, but she’d have to pull off her boots to remove them, and she was too cold to do that.
But no matter how miserable she was, she had to get her puppets out of their snow-caked suitcases. She located one of the assorted flashlights her mother always kept near the door. Before school and library budgets were slashed, her puppets had provided a steadier livelihood than her failed acting career or her part-time jobs walking dogs and serving drinks at Coffee, Coffee.
Shaking with cold, she cursed the caretaker, who apparently had no qualms about riding a horse through a storm but couldn’t summon the effort to do his real job. It had to have been Shaw riding the horse. No one else lived at this end of the island during the winter. She unzipped the suitcases and pulled out the five dummies. Leaving them in their protective plastic bags, she stowed them temporarily on the sofa, then, flashlight in hand, stumbled across the frigid wood floor.
The interior of Moonraker Cottage bore no resemblance to anyone’s idea of a traditional New England fishing cottage. Instead her mother’s eccentric stamp was everywhere¾from a creepy bowl of small animal skulls to a silver-gilded Louis XIV chest bearing the words pile driver that Mariah had spray-painted across it in black graffiti. Annie preferred a cozier space, but during Mariah’s glory days, when she’d inspired fashion designers and a generation of young artists, both this cottage and her mother’s Manhattan apartment had been featured in upscale decorating magazines.
Those days had ended years ago when Mariah had fallen out of favor in Manhattan’s increasingly younger artistic circles. Wealthy New Yorkers had begun asking others for help compiling their private art collections, and Mariah had been forced to sell off her valuables to support her lifestyle. By the time she’d gotten sick, everything was gone. Everything except something in this cottage¾something that was supposed to be Annie’s mysterious “legacy.”
It’s at the cottage. You’ll have… Plenty of money…” Mariah had said those words in the final hours before she’d died, a period in which she’d been barely lucid.
There isn’t any legacy, Leo sneered. Your mother exaggerated everything.
Maybe if Annie had spent more time on the island she’d know whether Mariah had been telling the truth, but she’d hated it here and hadn’t been back since her twenty-second birthday, eleven years ago.
She shone the flashlight around her mother’s bedroom. A life-size mounted photograph of an elaborately carved Italian wooden headboard served as the actual headboard for the double bed. A pair of wall hangings made of boiled wool and what looked like remnants from a hardware store hung next to the closet door. The closet still smelled of her mother’s signature fragrance, a little-known Japanese men’s cologne that had cost a fortune to import. As Annie breathed in the scent, she wished she could feel the grief a daughter should experience following the loss of a parent only five weeks earlier, but she merely felt depleted.
She waited until she’d located Mariah’s old scarlet woolen cloak and a pair of heavy socks before she got rid of her own clothes. After she’d piled every blanket she could find on her mother’s bed, she climbed under the musty sheets, turned out the flashlight, and went to sleep.
***
Annie hadn’t thought she’d ever be warm again, but she was sweating when a coughing fit awakened her sometime around two in the morning. Her ribs felt as if they’d been crushed, her head pounded, and her throat was raw. She also had to pee, another setback in a house with no water. When the coughing finally eased, she struggled out from under the blankets. Wrapped in the scarlet cloak, she turned on the flashlight and, grabbing the wall to support herself, made her way to the bathroom.
She kept the flashlight pointed down so she couldn’t see her reflection in the mirror that hung over the old-fashioned sink. She knew what she’d see. A long, pale face shadowed by illness; a sharply pointed chin; big, hazel eyes; and a runaway mane of light brown hair that kinked and curled wherever it wanted. She had a face children liked, but that most men found quirky instead of seductive. Her hair and face came from her unknown father¾“A married man. He wanted nothing to do with you. Dead now, thank God. Her shape came from Mariah: tall, thin, with knobby wrists and elbows, big feet, and long-fingered hands.
To be a successful actress, you need to be either exceptionally beautiful or exceptionally talented,” Mariah had said. “You’re pretty enough, Antoinette, and you’re a talented mimic, but we have to be realistic…”
Your mother wasn’t exactly your cheerleader. Dilly stated the obvious.
I’ll be your cheerleader, Peter proclaimed. I’ll take care of you and love you forever.
Peter’s heroic proclamations usually made Annie smile, but tonight she could think only of the emotional chasm between the men she’d chosen to give her heart to and the fictional heroes she loved.  And the other chasm¾the one between the life she’d imagined for herself and the one she was living.
Despite Mariah’s objections, Annie had gotten her degree in theater arts and spent the next ten years plodding to auditions. She’d done showcases, community theater, and even landed a few character roles in off-off Broadway plays. Too few. Over the past summer, she’d finally faced the truth that Mariah was right. Annie was a better ventriloquist than she’d ever be an actress. Which left her absolutely nowhere.
She found a bottle of ginseng-flavored water that had somehow escaped freezing. It hurt to swallow even a sip. Taking the water with her, she made her way back into the living room. 
Mariah hadn’t been to the cottage since summer, just before her cancer diagnosis, but Annie didn’t see a lot of dust. The caretaker must have done at least part of his job. If only he’d done the rest.
Her dummies lay on the hot pink Victorian sofa. The puppets and her car were all she had left.
Not quite all, Dilly said.
Right. There was the staggering load of debt Annie had no way of repaying, the debt she’d picked up in the last six months of her mother’s life by trying to satisfy Mariah’s every need.
And finally get Mummy’s approval, Leo sneered.
She began removing the puppets’ protective plastic. Each figure was about two and a half feet long, with moveable eyes and mouth and detachable legs. She picked up Peter and slipped her hand under his T-shirt.
How beautiful you are, my darling Dilly,” he said in his most manly voice. “The woman of my dreams.”
And you are the best of men.” Dilly sighed. “Brave and fearless.”
Only in Annie’s imagination,” Scamp said with uncharacteristic rancor. “Otherwise, you’re as useless as her exes.”
There are only two exes, Scamp,” Dilly admonished her friend. “And you really mustn’t take out your bitterness against men on Peter. I’m sure you don’t mean to, but you’re starting to sound like a bully, and you know how we feel about bullies.”
Annie specialized in issue-oriented puppet shows, several of which focused on bullying. She set Peter down and moved Leo off by himself, where he whispered his sneer inside her head. You’re still afraid of me.
Sometimes it felt as if the puppets had minds of their own.
Pulling the scarlet cloak tighter around her, she wandered to the front bay window. The storm had eased and moonlight shone through the panes. She looked out at the stark winter landscape¾the inky shadows of spruce, the bleak sheet of marsh. Then she lifted her gaze.
Harp House loomed above her in the distance, sitting at the very top of a barren cliff. The murky light of a half moon outlined its angular roofs and dramatic turret. Except for a faint yellow light visible from a room high in the turret, the house was dark. The scene reminded her of the covers on the old paperback gothic novels she could still sometimes find in used bookstores. It didn’t take much imagination for her to envision a barefoot heroine fleeing that ghostly house in nothing more than a filmy negligee, the menacing turret light glowing behind her. Those books were quaint compared to today’s erotically charged vampires, werewolves, and shape-shifters, but she’d always loved them. They’d nourished her daydreams.
Above the jagged roofline of Harp House, storm clouds raced across the moon, their journey as wild as the flight of the horse and rider who’d charged across the road. Her skin turned to gooseflesh, not from the cold but from her own imagination. She turned away from the window and glanced over at Leo.
Heavy lidded eyes… Thin-lipped sneer… The perfect villain. She could have avoided so much pain if she hadn’t romanticized those brooding men she’d fallen in love with, imagining them as fantasy heroes instead of realizing one was a cheater and the other a narcissist. Leo, however, was a different story. She’d created him herself out of cloth and yarn. She controlled him.
That’s what you think, he whispered.
She shivered and retreated to the bedroom. But even as she slipped back under the covers, she couldn’t shake off the dark vision of the house on the cliff.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…
***
She wasn’t hungry when she awakened the next morning, but she made herself eat a handful of stale granola. The cottage was frigid, the day gloomy, and all she wanted to do was go back to bed. But she couldn’t live in the cottage without heat or running water, and the more she thought about her absent caretaker, the angrier she grew. She dug out the only phone number she had, one for the island’s combination town hall, post office, and library, but although her phone was charged, she couldn’t get a signal. She sank down on the pink velvet couch and dropped her head in her hands. She had to go after Will Shaw herself, and that meant making the climb to Harp House. Back to the place she’d sworn she’d never again go near.
She pulled on as many layers of warm clothes as she could find, then wrapped herself in her mother’s red cloak and knotted an ancient Herm├Ęs scarf under her chin. Summoning all her energy and willpower, she set out. The day was as gray as her future, the salt air frigid, and the distance between the cottage and the house at the top of the cliff insurmountable.
I’ll carry you every step of the way, Peter announced.
Scamp blew him a raspberry.
It was low tide, but the icy rocks along the shoreline were too hazardous to walk along at this time of year, so she had to take the longer route around the saltwater marsh. But it wasn’t just the distance that filled her with dread.
Dilly tried to give her courage. It’s been eighteen years since you made the climb to Harp House. The ghosts and goblins are long gone.
Annie pressed the edge of the cloak over her nose and mouth.
Don’t worry, Peter said. I’ll watch out for you.
Peter and Dilly were doing their jobs. They were the ones responsible for untangling Scamp’s scrapes and stepping in when Leo bullied. They were the ones who delivered antidrug messages, reminded kids to eat their vegetables, take care of their teeth, and not let anyone touch their private parts.
But it’ll feel so good, Leo sneered, then snickered.
Sometimes she wished she’d never created him, but he was such a perfect villain. He was the bully, the drug pusher, the junk food king, and the stranger who tried to lure children away from playgrounds.
Come with me, little kiddies, and I’ll give you all the candy you want.
Stop it, Annie, Dilly said. No one in the Harp family ever comes to the island until summer. Only the caretaker lives there.
Leo refused to leave Annie alone. I have Skittles, M&M’s, Twizzlers…and reminders of all your failures. How’s that precious acting career working out?
She hunched into her shoulders. She needed to start meditating or practicing yoga, doing something that would teach her to discipline her mind instead of letting it wander wherever it wanted¾or didn’t want¾to go. So what if her acting dreams hadn’t worked out the way she’d wanted.  Kids loved her puppet shows
Her boots crunched in the show. Dead cattails and hollowed reeds poked their battered heads through the frozen crust of the sleeping marsh. In summer, the marsh teemed with life, but now all was bleak, gray, and as quiet as her hopes.
She stopped to rest once again as she neared the bottom of the freshly plowed gravel drive that led up the cliff to Harp House. If Shaw could plow, he could get her car out. She dragged herself on. Before the pneumonia, she could have charged uphill, but by the time she finally reached the top, her lungs were on fire and she’d started to wheeze. Far below, the cottage looked like a neglected toy left to fend for itself against the pounding sea and rugged Maine cliffs. Dragging more fire into her lungs, she made herself lift her head.
Harp House rose before her, silhouetted against the pewter sky. Rooted in granite, exposed to summer squalls and winter gales, it dared the elements to take it down. The island’s other summer homes had been built on the more protected eastern side of the island, but Harp House scorned the easy way. Instead it grew from the rocky western headlands far above the sea, a shingle-sided, forbidding brown wooden fortress with an unwelcoming turret at one end.
Everything was sharp angles: the peaked roofs, shadowed eaves, and foreboding gables. How she’d loved this Gothic gloom when she’d come to live here the summer her mother had married Elliott Harp. She’d imagined herself clad in a mousy gray dress and clutching a portmanteau¾gently born, but penniless and desperate, forced to take the humble position of governess. Chin up and shoulders back, she’d confront the brutish (but exceptionally handsome) master of the house with so much courage that he would eventually fall hopelessly in love with her. They’d marry, and then she’d redecorate.
It hadn’t taken long before the romantic dreams of a homely fifteen-year-old who read too much and experienced too little had met a harsher reality.
Now, the swimming pool was an eerie, empty maw, and the simple sets of wooden stairs that led to the back and side entrances had been replaced with stone steps guarded by gargoyles.
She passed the stable and followed a roughly shoveled path to the back door. Shaw had better be here instead of galloping off on one of Elliott Harp’s horses. She pressed the bell but couldn’t hear it ring inside. The house was too big. She waited, then rang again, but no one answered. The doormat looked as though it had been recently used to stamp off snow. She rapped hard.
The door creaked open.
She was so cold that she stepped into the mudroom without hesitating. Miscellaneous pieces of outerwear, along with assorted mops and brooms, hung from a set of hooks. She rounded the corner that opened into the main kitchen and stopped.
Everything was different. The kitchen no longer held the walnut cabinets and stainless steel appliances she remembered from eighteen years ago. Instead the place looked as though it had been squeezed back through a time warp to the nineteenth century.
The wall between the kitchen and what had once been a breakfast room was gone, leaving the space twice as large as it had once been. High, horizontal windows let in light, but since the windows were now set at least six feet from the floor, only the tallest person could see through them. Rough plaster covered the top half of the walls, while the bottom was faced with four-inch-square once-white tiles, some chipped at the corners, others cracked with age. The floor was old stone, the fireplace a sooty cavern large enough to roast a wild boar…or a man unwise enough to have been caught poaching on his master’s land.
Instead of kitchen cabinets, rough shelves held stoneware bowls and crocks. Tall, freestanding dark wood cupboards rose on each side of a dull black industrial-size AGA stove. A stone farmhouse sink held a messy stack of dirty dishes. Copper stockpots and saucepans¾not shiny and polished, but dented and worn¾hung above a long, scarred wooden prep table designed to chop off chicken heads, butcher mutton chops, or whip up a syllabub for his lordship’s dinner.
The kitchen had to be a renovation, but what kind of renovation regressed two centuries. And why?
Run! Crumpet shrieked. Something’s very wrong here!
Whenever Crumpet got hysterical, Annie counted on Dilly’s no-nonsense manner to provide perspective, but Dilly remained silent, and not even Scamp could come up with a wisecrack.
Mr. Shaw?” Annie’s voice lacked its normal powers of projection.
When there was no reply, she moved deeper into the kitchen, leaving wet tracks on the stone floor. But no way was she taking off her boots. If she had to run, she wasn’t doing it in socks. “Will?”
Not a sound.
She passed the pantry, crossed a narrow back hallway, detoured around the dining room, and stepped through the arched entry into the foyer. Only the dimmest gray light penetrated the six square panes above the front door. The heavy mahogany staircase still led to a landing with a murky stained-glass window, but the staircase carpet was now a depressing maroon instead of the multicolored floral from the past. The furniture bore a dusty film, and a cobweb hung in the corner. The walls had been paneled over in heavy, dark wood, and the seascape paintings had been replaced with gloomy oil portraits of prosperous men and women in nineteenth-century dress, none of whom could possibly have been Elliott Harp’s Irish peasant ancestors. All that was missing to make the entryway even more depressing was a suit of armor and a stuffed raven.
She heard footsteps above her and moved closer to the staircase. “Mr. Shaw? It’s Annie Hewitt. The door was open, so I let myself in.” She looked up. “I’m going to need¾” The words died on her tongue.

The master of the house stood at the top of the stairs.
************************************************
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Susan Elizabeth Phillips soars onto the New York Times bestseller list with every new publication. She’s the only four-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Favorite Book of the Year Award. Susan delights fans by touching hearts as well as funny bones with her wonderfully whimsical and modern fairy tales. A resident of the Chicago suburbs, she is also a wife, and mother of two grown sons.


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