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Review: If You Knew by Barbara Meyers Tags: if you knew barbara meyers rnftb romance novels for the beach book blogs book reviews reviews lauren

Where are your kids? Turns out they’re at school, but they have a former porn star as a teacher’s aide, and a reformed junkie as a guidance counselor. The beauty of this novel is it will show you why there’s no problem with that situation.

What’s it About? 

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In a town filled with lies, is there room for one more? When widow Devonny Campbell arrives in tiny Red Bud, Iowa, she is determined to make a new life for herself and the child she carries. But when her former career in adult films is uncovered, she becomes the catalyst for a nasty political campaign which creates a tornado of controversy. High school coach and guidance counselor Luke Bradshaw knows one strong wind will collapse the house of cards he’s built to contain his demons. He’s falling hard for Devonny in spite of her past. And she might be what trips him up and exposes everything he’s kept hidden. But Devonny and Luke aren’t the only citizens of Red Bud forced to face the judgment of their peers. As the campaign turns vicious, deeply-buried truths are revealed and lifelong relationships are shattered. Can Devonny and Luke stick together? Or will too much truth tear them apart?

First Impressions

There’s nothing better than a romance novel that shatters any of your preconceived expectations, and this novel succeeds in doing that in abundance. The author does a fantastic job at introducing us to these characters in a somewhat slow and natural way. Devonny is a newcomer to the city of Red Bud, trying to find a peaceful haven after losing the love of her life, and locate a place to raise the child she’s just recently found out she’s going to have. Then you have Luke, a friendly local who is more than happy to welcome Devonny to this small Iowa town. He also can’t deny the attraction he feels for this quiet woman who also has a spark about her. At first, they seem completely “normal”, and silly me I thought this book would primarily tell a story of Devonny learning how to move on from her former love to find a romance with someone new. In a way, that’s true. However, we also slowly start to discover that these two characters have some unexpected surprises to share about their respective pasts. Little did I know this book would make me confront my own biases and prejudices, and learn the importance of acknowledging that who a person is now is often more important than who they once were.

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The Porn Star and the Junkie

As I previously eluded to, the author gives us a somewhat slow introduction to Devonny and Luke. It doesn’t open up right away with the description of a former porn actress moving to Iowa from LA, soon thereafter meeting a dashing man who also just so happens to be a reformed junkie. Instead, we start off seeing how they are both very friendly, caring people who just want to live a happy life. We’re rooting for them to find happiness with each other, and you can’t help but describe their burgeoning romance as “cute”. Devonny is obviously moving on from the tragic loss of her husband, Jack, to a quick illness, but she realizes that he wouldn’t have wanted her to wallow away in sadness. Especially with a baby on the way. Sure, her romance with Luke might seem a bit quick considering the recent death of her husband, but their chemistry feels so natural you sincerely believe they’re a perfect fit for each other. Luke must learn that Jack will always remain a part of Devonny’s life through their child, and Devonny has some of her own introspection to deal with in order to no longer see her feelings for Luke as a betrayal of the love she felt for her husband.

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Only after we see the base of their relationship, as well as the true nature of their characters, do we peel away at some of the details of their past. Devonny appeared in a number of adult films with her husband, and Luke has struggled with a history of alcohol and drugs. I’ll admit, when we first uncover the details of their pasts the irony was not lost on me over the fact that they both work in a high school with children. Doesn’t seem like the most thorough of background checks, amiright? But here is where I truly appreciated this novel. Why should we pass judgement on them for something they’d done in the past? It’s not like Devonny is teaching these kids how to give a good blow job for crying out loud, she’s tutoring them in math! As for Luke, why can’t he use the story of his triumph over drugs as something for these kids to admire? They’ve both been on a journey in life, and they’ve each had a few unexpected bumps and curves along the way. When we look at who they are today we find that they’re stronger because of the difficulties they’ve traversed in the past. Not to mention…we also learn they aren’t the only ones in this wholesome little town with secrets.

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The Lie of Middle America? 

A seemingly perfect town full of good-natured, respectable citizens. Sure, on the surface. But what happens when we look beneath the polite smiles, and look at the truth of what’s hiding underneath. As it turns out, it’s really a town full of secrets and lies. Let’s face it, we all have certain aspects of ourselves or our pasts which we’d prefer to keep hidden from others. Nobody’s perfect, and the citizens of this small Iowa town might like to think they live in an oasis that espouses family values, but it’s all an illusion. In a way, it was an illusion for Devonny as well when she chose to settle here, hoping that her previous career as an adult film actress wouldn’t become widely known to her neighbors, and she could find the perfect place to set up a home. Some secrets are more potent than others, including cheating spouses and hidden sexualities, but what’s most surprising is the fact that some of these people with their hidden lies are the same ones to judge Devonny when her past comes to light.

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We’ve all heard a variation of some quote or another about why this is the epitome of hypocrisy. Don’t judge others lest ye be judged. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Well, the people in this town basically live in a glass dome, and they’re apparently in the mood to chuck a few boulders in Devonny’s direction. We question if Devonny will be able to remain strong in the face of so much hatred, or if she’ll choose the easy way out and simply escape to another town where nobody knows her past. Let’s just say she’s not one to give up. She’s a fighter, but she’s also poised, friendly, and not one to lose her cool when being accused of corrupting the youth of Red Bud. Eventually Devonny realizes she has a number of allies on her side, and all of them take it upon themselves to show this town that it can be easy to judge someone for what they may have done in the past, but it’s more about how that past influenced who they are today.

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The Root of the Problem

“We all have a journey…And everyone has mountains and valleys and stumbling blocks. But there’s a purpose in everything. It isn’t always good versus bad. Everything isn’t white and black.” This is where the author shocked me yet again by applying this logic to our supposed “villains”. There are a number of key characters who seem determined to run Devonny out of town. They are characterized as the bad guys you hate to hate, who seemingly have no redeeming qualities. While we root for Devonny and Luke to succeed, we simultaneously root for these characters to fail. However, if we apply the same moral of the story to our villainous characters as well, we learn to acknowledge that their determination to see Devonny ruined “isn’t always good versus bad.” Just like Devonny and Luke, our hateful characters have pasts and motives of their own. By the end of the novel I wouldn’t say we necessarily come to lovethese characters who wanted to ruin Devonny’s chance of happiness in Red Bud, but we come to understand that everyone has a history of their own which influences the decisions they make in life. Sometimes they go down the wrong road, but that doesn’t mean they can never find their way back.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Red Bud, Iowa, Book 1. I’m intrigued to continue on with this series. This first novel was full of engaging characters, and it’d be interesting to see what story each of them might have to tell.

Final Impressions: This book will really make you rethink how you look at other people, and cause you to pause before you pass judgement on others. The beauty of the moral lesson presented in this romance is that it never feels like you’re being preached to, or made to feel guilty for having those judgments. At times it’s simply our first reaction, but the true test is whether or not we can look beyond those first impressions to see the true nature of a person. It also makes us look at ourselves, and in a way admit our own faults when we try to find faults in others. This was definitely more than the simple “moving on from tragedy” romance I was expecting. We really saw a social message built in as well that I wasn’t expecting, but in the end appreciated.

Smut Level: Two words folks. Pregnancy hormones. Nothing too over-the-top erotic, but you’ll fan yourself a time or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Sandalstring Productions. 327 Pages

Review by Lauren, host of Romance Novels for the Beach

When Your Bookshelf Freaks You Out
Category: JUST A GIRL
Tags: bookshelves bookish book preferences just a girl drea damara gaskell larry niven austen funny book blogs page dropper

You know how they say, 'You are what you eat.'? Well, what if we are what we read too?

rabbit hole signI suppose we can break this article down to me having one of those moments where you go way too far down the rabbit hole of self-analysis, but come on - walk with me a while! It'll at least be worth a laugh.

As an author I am constantly faced with the dilemma of choosing the most appropriate genre that my books fit into when it comes time to market them. I was perusing my "read" list trying to understand why I write what I write.  Is it because of what I enjoy reading? As I scanned over all of the books I have read, I began to wonder - why in the hell do I read what I read? Does it say something about me?

It kind of looked like a junk drawer of an unstable person - although, whose junk drawer makes them look stable, if we're being honest here?  I imagined that if someone was applying personality profiling techniques to me based on my reading selection, I would make no sense or worse yet, be voted off an island of population: 2 people.

I have science fiction books from the 1960s - 1970s, and I mean ONLY from the 60s - 70s. il_570xN.1099032707_pcw8I've never been interested in reading sci-fi written in any other decades.  At least not interested enough that I ever picked one up and actually read it.  If faced with an oldie or other, I go with the oldie because I know I'll like it. There was something about the creativity of the stories I never found in post era books of the same genre.  I literally get a rush of excitement when I see or hear something about Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Ray Bradbury, or Robert Heinlein.  What the heck does this say about me? Was I a hippie that got hit by a bus on her way to a sci-fi convention and came back as this hot mess?

Here's where it gets weird - if it wasn't already.

My collection also consists of the following: Western historical romance because modern westerns are too far from reality for me to tolerate, although I've read and enjoyed the ones who get it right and paint life in the west as accurate (like Elise Manion). English regency romance and the Industrial Revolution-era romances - there's something about how much life sucked for women back then that draws me to them. Why do I have such a desire to read about a lifestyle that sucked?

Almost every copy of Mercer Mayer's Little Critter series (if you don't like Little jKL1MHcCritter just step away, man!) - I will leave you no further explanation here other than they're deeply personal to me and I find them adorable. The complete works of William Shakespeare, and almost the entire Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum series (because the grandma cracked me up).

Hold on, Betsy. It gets worse...

please-stop-youreCalvin and Hobbes (the complete collection) because there was something adorable about what a genius and bastard that Calvin was and how deviously scary Hobbes could be.  I secretly wondered if somehow all the answers to life were within those comics, like when people say if you play Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" backward, you hear crazy stuff. No, I've never done that - that would just be bonkers!

Elizabeth Gaskell, Jane Austen, J.D. Salinger, George Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway.

Every book I read on forensics in college and kept because the science of the processes was so damned fascinating. About two shelves of non-fiction by authors who basically tried to dissect the origins of terrorism and haven't. I think I was personally trying to understand how awful we've been throughout history and what started it all. World War II non-fiction. Foreign language books galore - oh my!

e8c220cff956a65ba531fd9c25d10694--good-design-art-designLouis L'Amour. Another shelf about emergency management and global warming that scares the poo out of my conservative old-schoolbutt because of all the conservatives who think global warming and asteroid strikes are less believable than unicorns. Wake up people.  Put your criticism in a plastic bag and stick it in the ocean that is your toilet.

Oh, and did I mention my fondness of old-fashioned cookbooks, Joseph Campbell's A Hero's Journey, and collections of classic poetry?

Why do I read about domineering men when I don't want to be dominated? Am I searching for the literary tough guy who is a walking contradiction with a gooey candy center?  How can I learn about how to kill people with only my thumb and household products, but be enough of a pacifist that I want to know foreign languages so we can all talk it out (hug it out), while we walk on a clean beach, toting our crap in a cloth bag, looking out for aliens, meteors, and adorable little critters?

So when people try to sound like they're educated because they've read a lot of different genres of books, I take a cue from my own self-criticism and step back with caution.  You've got what on your shelves?  Oh no! They warned me about people like you! Right this way. We have your reservation - at the freaks' table.

book spiralAlso, I go to book shows or have author interviews and readers always assume I have read every book that they have because I write books.  Clearly, not the case!  As they describe the books they love with wild enthusiasm, all I can think is, please don't ask me what I read. It comes down to this, however, in my opinion.  Read what makes you happy.  "A little learning is a dangerous thing.  Drink deep," as Alexander Pope said.  Don't ever be ashamed to read for educational purposes -  be a sponge.

Okay, I've showed you mine.  Show me yours.  What's on your shelf that makes you look like a scary, complicated enigma?

Happy reading!

- Drea

Drea Damara

Drea Damara is the author of YA fantasy and thriller fiction, as well as, occasional blogger of completely useless information.

 

The Emotional Journey of Reading Books
Category: JUST A GIRL
Tags: bookish books booknerd bookworm emotional books fangirl drea damara book blogs

Here is a video collection of the many emotions I go through while reading a book. I have way too much inner-dialogue going on 24/7 and because of such, I often think in "movie" quotes or book quotes. It's like having a few hundred too many imaginary friends.

1.The Hook

The hook is what I call the point in the novel where the light from Heaven cracks open, the page glows, and you are like Alice going down the rabbit hole, knowing you are now in it for the long haul. When this happens, I often see this scene from "Grandma's Boy" in my head where he comes home stoned, raiding the fridge and declares, "I don't know what you are,  but I'm going to [email protected]#king eat you too!"

2.The Oooh! Moment

I know there is a story diagram, arcs and dips, that the flow of novel is supposed to follow, but I happen to feel that the Oooh! Moment comes at different times for readers. Perhaps, it might come at the same moment, but there can be something different about that moment that each reader appreciates and clings to.  When I hit that mark, when the action gets good, when the sexual tension goes up a notch, or when I realize I don't have it figured out anymore, but want to scurry up the mountain to find out where in the hell the author is taking me, I remember the Zesty salad guy...wait for the end of the commercial!

3.The I Hate You Moment

Some books...just piss...us...off.  I have literally growled like some rabid animal and chucked a book across the room I was so disgusted, aggravated, or angry with the way dialogue or the story development was going in a few books. There are plenty of movie "meltdowns" we could attach to this emotion, but here's one that comes to mind from "Happy Gilmore":

4. Redemption / Climax

After the "You're gonna die clown" moment, sometimes there comes a moment of redemption.  I am very grateful for this because I always WANT to enjoy a book that I am reading. This goes hand-in-hand with the climax of a book where you know good things are coming or that the end will at least not disappoint.  This, for me, is Lisa Kudrow's line about shopping in "Romy And Michele's High School Reunion"

5. Emotional Roller coaster

Not every story is meant to be a happily ever after. I don't mind dramas. I don't. I love a book that sucks me in body and soul, so if it does that, I forgive the author for leaving me emotionally crumpled, bawling, or scarred for life. It looks a little something like this:

6. It's Over?

If you've just discovered your new favorite author or series, you may find yourself in a moment of fangirl/fanman madness as you wait for more.  You visit the author site, prowling for new release dates, giveaways, and any sign of life about the characters to which you've become emotionally attached.  You pray you'll meet some other geek in the painful real world that will gush story lines with you.  You dream at night that you are back in the warm bosom of the pages and you are the protagonist. You know exactly what you'd wear...what you'd say.  Congratulations, you have just become a book stalker and probably look something like Bill when he's practicing to be the Bionic Woman for Halloween on "Freaks and Geeks".

Well, time to go pad the walls in your book reading nook corner and remove all sharp objects. It's a war zone in there!

Happy reading.  -D.D.

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When everyone else fails to bring her daughter home from a high-powered human-trafficking ring, a widowed mother determines what she must do to rescue her child.

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