My Name is Marcia

A YA novel by Clint Chico

It’s a tepid night at the end of summer when Marci Torres, who prefers to be referred to as Marcia, and bestie Charlie are on the fifty-yard line of their high school football field and Marcia comes out as gay. She expects hell to break loose, but Charlie, as the best friend she really is, dismisses Marcia’s words by simply saying she already knew.

Marcia feels lighter, since she can finally share her love crushes with Charlie. There is this girl, Shannon Palmer, who plays in the same softball team as Marcia, and also runs the Bible Study Club. Even if Marcia is not a fervent Catholic, she decides to join the club to get to know Shannon better. However, during one of the group meetings Marcia has an altercation with another girl, Ashley. Contrary to Marcia and Shannon, Ashley is very strict on the interpretation of the Bible: it says nowhere that it’s ok to be gay, and it doesn’t matter if present times are different from the times the Bible was written. This confrontation is so cruel that Marcia is brought to tears and runs away, hiding in the toilet. Shannon follows her and calms her down changing topic: they have a softball match coming up in the next few days and Shannon promises that, if they win, the two of them will go out for an ice cream.

They do win the match and Shannon, faithful to her word, meets Marcia for an ice cream, specifying it’s not a date. If Marcia invited her to the freshmen ball, then that would be a date. Marcia dutifully records the message. They chat almost about everything and eventually Shannon opens up about how hard it is for her to live at home with her father, who is deeply religious and a high achiever, and has great ambitions for his daughter. He is constantly beating her up verbally, saying that she can’t do anything, that her efforts are not enough, and this constantly leaves Shannon in a dark place. Marcia feels for her. It’s clear that, in such environment, being gay is just not an option. The whole conversation becomes a ‘please be patient with me, give me some time, don’t be pushy but don’t ignore me’. 

Talking to Charlie, Marcia finds out there is no freshmen ball: only junior and senior students will be allowed. Marcia marches to Mrs Williams, the students’ counsellor, explains her situation and she is told that, to promote one, the motion must come from the student council. The elections for representatives are running at the end of the month and Marcia puts herself forward as a candidate. The only problem is she will be running against Ashley. It’s clear from the first day that Ashley is not ready to lose, and she is willing to go the extra mile to make it happen: on Monday morning Marcia finds herself slandered all over social media. It’s a hard blow but it will make Marcia cross paths with Patience Lancaster, who defines herself a ‘sort of a fan’. Patience tell Marcia that her and all her friends hate Ashley too. It gives her the strength to continue her battle to become the next students’ representative.

Speech day comes and both candidates take the podium, but while Ashley’s speech sounds very ‘political’, Marcia’s speech is honest, powerful and most of all, proud. After the longest second of her life, Marcia is mesmerised by a long and loud standing ovation. It’s clear who will win. 

But the happy ending is nowhere near.

This is, at a first glance, an unassuming book: the target audience are teenagers, and even though there may be a few repetitions (for example, Shannon is told at least twice that Marcia and Charlie are besties, and the fact that Ashley and Shannon behave politely around each other because their parents are part of the same church is reiterated a number of times), it’s far from being an easy to digest book.

The number of themes discussed is simply astonishing: self-discovery, self-acceptance, coming out, parents-sons relationship, the role of religion in personal lives and choices, domestic sexual abuse, self-harm, attempted suicide, jealousy and conflict. In a light plot the author is able to condense in few, specific words the troubles, the fears, the delightful pains and the awkward happiness of being a teenager. Not only you are discovering yourself, but you are also discovering that you are different from what is expected of you and from the role models you have around, and you need to accept it and deal with it because there is nothing else you can do, even if the only thing you want is to belong, to anything, anywhere, and stop feeling lost and alone. All this narrated with no drama, no judgment, and a lot of hope.

It’s rare to find books so powerful, so well written, with such a beautiful message and self-published. It’s a welcome surprise we want to read more of and will never grow tired of. 

‘My name is Marcia’ is book one of a four book series. All other novels by Clint Chico are available at:


Love is the best Revenge 

The second full length novel by contemporary fiction author AH Bracken 

Love is the best Revenge. AH Bracken, 2022.

Set in the fictional town of Somerzoy, ‘Love is the Best Revenge’ tells the (love – hate – and everything in between) story of best-selling romance novelist Lady Marianne Clemenceaux and journalist Tom Underwood. What’s the catch? Lady Marianne, daughter of an Earl, is loved and respected by the local community and a well-established name in publishing. Life’s good until Tom Underwood takes a job at the local gazette and writes an unforgiving article about her, questioning her authenticity and ability to create relatable stories – given her privilege, does she really know how ordinary people live? It’s not really that simple though, as Lady Marianne has a secret: what is she hiding behind her pink aura of perfection and literary glory? Tom Underwood has a secret too: he’s in Somerzoy to rebuild his career and reputation following a journalistic reporting flop in his previous job. Tom’s article bewilders Somerzoy citizens, and they join forces to help Lady Marianne. One of them in particular, Maria – the enigmatic raven-haired town mechanic – seems really keen to seek revenge on Lady Marianne’s behalf. Instantly fascinated by her, Tom Underwood falls in love with her, failing to see her hidden agenda. Unfortunately, revenge is hardly straightforward, and all plans will come crushing down, as Tom and Lady Marianne’s paths finally cross. 

While as a reader I am not naturally drawn to contemporary romance novels, I am making it my mission today to explain the 5 reasons why ‘Love is the Best Revenge’ is THE quintessential romantic novel and one to read NOW. 

1 | A sympathetic heroine. Maria is a complex character with lots of different nuances to her personality. She is a strong-willed young woman who’s also vulnerable (but not weak), extremely intelligent and capable. Maria’s humanity makes her very relatable, especially when it comes to her constant struggle with her wealthy parents, who refuse to understand why she wants to distance herself from her family heritage and privilege by challenging stereotypes through her tattoos, raven-black hair and by working as a mechanic.

    2 | A strong, irresistible (anti) hero. Tom Underwood is perhaps the polar opposite of the irresistible, fascinating male main character you would expect in a romantic novel. However, Tom is also a well-rounded character with very interesting layers to his personality: career-focused and trying hard to restore his reputation as a journalist after believing the wrong person; confident enough to put himself out there and chase what seems to be an impossible romance but sensitive and brave enough to question his own decisions and challenge himself to be a better man. Thanks to these two very strong main characters, Bracken makes you buy into the story immediately.

    3 | Emotional tension. At the heart of every romance, emotional conflict keeps the heroine and the hero from being together throughout the story even though they want to be. Again, Bracken did a great job here, creating a tension that’s complex, never dull, believable, and grows from the interaction between the two characters. I must confess that while reading I almost found myself shouting at them to finally stop resisting their feelings and recognise they are made for each other.

    4 | A believable plot. The context in which the emotional journey of our characters develops is perfectly believable. In terms of the social aspect, Maria comes from a noble family so that’s probably hard to relate to as it’s further away from our daily lives, but her rebellious, freedom-seeking spirit is by all mean something we can all understand. Tom comes from a middle class, caring family and has therefore a very specific outlook on life, considering privilege by lineage old-fashioned and anachronistic; if you think about how different they are to begin with, what an amazing journey for Maria and Tom (credit to AH Bracken for her narrative skills)! The backdrop to their journey, the small town of Somerzoy, is no different from any small town anywhere in the country, where everybody knows each other and has its own allegiances and conflicts but a perfectly pleasant place to live. I loved all the secondary characters, especially Maria’s best friend Kitty, always ready to stand by her friend and Maria’s relationship with her sister Annabel, who is acutely aware of how much Maria is suffering because she is “so lost and unable to be the person she badly wanted to be”. While some elements of the plot may be a bit far-fetched, this story is aspirational, fundamentally optimistic and provides some much needed escapism. 

    5 | A happy-ever-after ending. Of course. Maria and Tom do commit to coming together as a couple in the end, as you would expect from this particular genre: happiness is part of the promise of a romance after all!

    If to all of the above you add seamless writing, Bracken’s great ability to create an organic flow of actions, revelations and unexpected twists… you are in for a real treat. 

    About AH Bracken 

    Happily married and living in Buckinghamshire, UK, AH Bracken is an avid reader of contemporary and historical fiction. Her favourite authors include Marian Keyes, Trisha Ashley, Katie Fforde, Lindsey Kelk, CJ Sansom and Philipa Gregory.

    The desire to write finally became a reality in early 2021 when she began work on her first novel, and this enthusiasm also led to the release of ‘In December and Always’, ‘Someone to Cherish You’, and a new novel, ‘Love is the Best Revenge’.

    You can expect smart, strong female characters with a story to tell, narratives that highlight difference, adversity and survival; and charming, gentle love stories based on romance and connection (source:

    All books by AH Bracken are available for purchase at:


    Take Two

    Book Three of Stephanie Shea’s ‘A Gia, San Francisco Romance’ Series

    Andy and Whitney [i.e. Avery’s half-sister from Book Two, see our review here] meet again after six years apart, when Andy left San Francisco for London to study and become a director. They meet again in town by pure chance, and the awkwardness of the moment doesn’t escape either of them. They used to besties in high school until they started dating. It was amazing, it was great, they had ups and downs, like any other couple, but all in all they were doing well. Until they weren’t. And now, six years later, Andy is back. 

    Andy is actually after Jenn Coleman, chef patron of Gia’s Restaurant, keen to interview her for a docu-series she is working on about black women of power. Not only is Jenn black and self-made, but also queer and famous, making her appearance in the series even more meaningful. However, Jenn is not interested in appearing in front of a camera. She barely likes spending time front of house in at her own restaurant, and is much more comfortable creating in her kitchen. Whitney happens to be an employee at Gia’s Restaurant; it would be convenient to ask her for a favour so she can meet Jenn, but Andy finds the idea reproachful. It just wouldn’t be right. Especially because she is not expecting Whitney to still be mourning her departure, even less owe her anything.

    As a matter of fact, Whitney has indeed moved on, and is currently dating Isabelle, a doctor. She is trying, at least. Because despite all her efforts, she knows deep down they are not meant to be. There are too many things that don’t work between them, and it’s just a matter of time before they go their separate ways.

    While in town, Andy goes home to see her parents and meets Kasey, a very good friend of hers, for a drink. Once again, she runs into Whitney, who’s in the same bar with Isabelle. Andy can see them, but she can’t hear their conversation. What is really happening is that Whitney is finally breaking up with Isabelle. The following day, Andy goes back to Gia’s and meets Whitney again. She didn’t expect to find her ex-girlfriend working there, but she quickly recovers from the surprise and explains to her what she is trying to achieve. Unfortunately, they also start talking about other things, one word leads to another and after a very heated discussion, they end up having sex in the office. It is clearly a mistake, because it leaves them both even more empty, angry and confused.

    Life goes on and Whitney’s brother is in a bit of a pickle. He has Encanto on Ice tickets, planning to take his daughter and his pregnant wife, but his wife gave birth earlier than expected and it’s not exactly the right time to leave her alone with a baby. As he doesn’t want to disappoint his daughter, he asks Whitney if she can go. There are two adult tickets though, so in the spur of the moment, Whitney asks Andy to come along. After a very pleasant night and a brilliant show, Whitney and Andy decide to have a drink somewhere. Things take yet again an unexpected turn and they end up hot and breathless on the sofa, but they accept their encounters are only a temporary thing: it will all be over as soon as Andy leaves San Francisco.

    In the meantime, Andy manages to persuade Jenn to take part in the docu-series, so she starts shooting at Gia, meaning that Whitney is forced to see Andy more often than she would like. During a conversation with her mother, Whitney tells her that Andy is back in town, and the woman suggests she should talk to her ex and see why she really left all those years ago, clear up the air and finally move on.

    The dreaded conversation takes place, but what comes out of it sheds a new light on many things, giving them a totally new perspective on their past, but, most of all, starting a nuclear fallout that will break down all the walls they built and allow them to have the much dreaded resolution they deserve.

    What do I think about ‘Take Two’? Well, Stephanie Shea has done it again. But bigger and better. I simply loved her book! It’s a clean story, with lots of twists and a much more realistic setting that the previous one. This is a book that girls can identify with, because many of them might have gone through the same things. It’s the (in)famous ‘the right person at the wrong time’ situation, and the kind of story we want to read when approaching LGBTQ+ books.

    Romance as a genre is fine, there is nothing wrong with an old fashioned love story, it’s appealing to many and I can see why: we need that bit of hope at the end of another stressful day, we crave that escape, we would pay good money for Prince(ss) Charming to sweep us off our feet and take care of all our problems. But so many times stories are artificial, unrealistic and not at all relatable. That is not the case with ‘Take Two’. What Stephanie writes about could have happened to me, or you, or your neighbour, it might be happening right now or in 10 years’ time; we’ve all made poor choices based on fear and we’ve all had to deal with the consequences; we can all think of situations where in hindsight we could have done things differently, perhaps hope to have a second chance, to explain or repair a damage. Most of the times, we don’t. But this story gives us hope, strength and courage. It’s never too late, don’t give up yet, believe you can do it, and if you can’t, be proud of yourself for trying.

    A brilliant, brilliant read, a confirmation of Stephanie’s talent, a massive improvement from the previous efforts and the certainty she will continue on the same upward path with her next book. People, get reading now!


    A Unique Space for Us

    The debut novel by Chantell Monique

    A Unique Space for Us. Chantell Monique Romance, 2022.

    Once upon a time there were two races: Humans and Aechaihs, a super race of demi-gods who had existed for thousands of years. The two used to co-exist in peace and harmony, ruled by Queen Aniyah, the last Aechaih governor married to a human man, Rhoman. It was under her reign that the Rhoman Massacre took place. Queen Aniyah’s husband, helped by a bunch of other humans, killed the queen and their unborn baby, decimated the Aechaih population and destroyed Human-Aechaih relations. The Aechaihs reacted by establishing a human enclave inside the city, governed by the Tri-Family Council, representing the three most powerful Aechaih families: Haslem, Syon and Tarnicon.

    A good 700 years go by since the Rhoman’s Massacre and a thin and precarious balance exists between the two races, with tensions still running high. Until the city wakes up to the news that a human killed an Aechaih.

    Fellowship Dancy, a human detective of the Trianah Metropolitan Police Department, is assigned to the case and, despite her wariness towards the Aechaihs, she is willing to do all she can to avoid a war between the two races and see the little privileges humans still have be eroded even more.

    Fellowship is well known by the local population for her efforts to maintain peace between the two factions, going beyond her detective job. She understands that education plays a key role in avoiding the further spread of hate and incomprehension, so she also works as a teacher in the local college, where she tries to facilitate integration and keep young humans out of trouble. One day she organises a trip for her class to Queen Aniyah’s Temple. While Fellowship and her students are gathered right outside, ready to go back, she notices something wrong. Gunshots are fired from a car and to protect her students, Fellowship is caught in the line of fire and gets seriously injured. Hyphen Haslem, the heir of Haslem family, is, by pure luck, close to the location and intervenes immediately. The situation appears critical and Hyphen does the only thing he can to save Fellowship: he spreads his wings and flies her to the Septain Memorial, the Aechaihs’ hospital.

    Something’s not quite right though: Hyphen is not supposed to fly and the two should’t be able to men-com. Aechaihs used to have wings, but in a past so far it almost seemed like a legend; plus, some can men-com (mentally communicate with each other), but Fellowship is a human and she’s not supposed to have that ability. They blame it on the fact that the injuries she sustained almost killed her, but the two can still men-com even after she’s completely recovered.

    Despite his prestigious origins, Hyphen is the family black sheep: he is an inspector, something his father regards as a passing fancy, he has wings, that are recorded as a ‘defect’ on his birth certificate and he absolutely despises his father’s policies inside the Tri-Family Council, consecrated to keep humans in a lower position and using the Aechaih’s murder to justify limiting their existence even further.

    Fellowship and Hyphen will find themselves working shoulder to shoulder on the case, and unfortunately two more deaths will follow, in a brutal escalation of tensions. They will be forced to spend a lot of time together and they will find out they have a lot in common, up to the point where they will no longer be able to deny their reciprocal attraction. 

    This is only the tip of the iceberg… Hypen and Fellowship’s story is everything but conventional and straightforward, not exactly along the lines of “boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are both detectives trying to solve a case and eventually succeed”, but quite the opposite! In an uninterrupted sequence of plot twists and jaw dropping revelations that I will not spoiler, this book is so action-packed it will leave you gasping for air.

    A Unique Space for Us is so much more than a fantasy/romance book, if you are willing to read between the lines: the segregation of humans by the Aechaihs recalls very closely the segregation that white people carried out towards the black community – in the US as well as South Africa – something that still has an impact on society today. It’s also led by a very strong female main character who is sassy, black, in her early 40s and absolutely unapologetic about how she lives her life, and God only knows if we need more of these heroines! The narrative is simple, efficient and clear to follow, the story proceeds at a fast pace and glues you to the page. There are the occasional slip ups (for example I would have done with less detailed clothing descriptions and words of endearment such as “baby and sweetheart” between Fellowship and Hyphen), but that perhaps comes down to the fact that this is Monique’s debut novel. These definitely don’t take much away from the story itself that is absolutely brilliant, thrilling, romantic and almost hypnotic.

    I really enjoyed this read and I would have probably enjoyed it even more with a nice glass of Zion’s Ink whiskey, as they drink in Trianah. I can’t wait for Monique to give us more!

    A Unique Space for Us is available for purchase at:

    About Chantell Monique

    Chantell Monique believes that love embraces and accepts without conditions, a simple truth found at the heart of her stories. When she’s not creating dynamic couples in magical and contemporary worlds, she’s usually reading or in search of a binge-worthy show. A mental health advocate and self-love enthusiast, Chantell resides in the Midwest with her lovable pooch, Beans (source:

    Books, Letter N

    Neil Peel’s Holiday

    A Novel by Ben Dixon

    Neil Peel’s Holiday. Ben Dixon, 2021 (Cover Design by Simon Green).

    Neil Peel’s Holiday (sequel to Ben Dixon’s 2020 novel The Heroic Truths of Neil Peel) narrates the real-life adventures of 12 years old Neil, who lives with his slightly dysfunctional but perfectly pleasant family in a small village called Lower Piercing.

    “Honesty: my strength and my curse.” Teenage years can be challenging, but even more so if, like Neil, you always tell the truth. He just can’t help himself. Neil is a fundamentally shy, peculiar and curious boy trying to deal with growing up the best way he can. If only he could lie a little… the good thing is, people always know where they stand with him. In the words of Ben Dixon, “Neil lacks the elementary coordination needed to succeed” (both in PE and life); for this reason, he often finds himself in awkward situations (if not actual trouble) but always manages to wing it somehow.

    The story takes place between Lower Piercing and Majorca, where Neil goes on holiday with his family and Steve’s, his best friend. The two have a completely different approach to how they want to enjoy their time there: while Neil is more interested in adventure than girls (he has a crush on a classmate and doesn’t see anybody else), Steve wants to meet a nice girl to practice “severe tongue interaction” (or STI). Neil eventually gives in and makes space in his holiday for Steve’s crush, the lovely Shamone Eehi from Egypt. This part of the story in particular is narrated with a touch of irony and extreme care, focusing on Neil’s feelings as he faces up to the fact that he does not have any relationship experience and recognises he may not be ready just yet.

    Adding to these already challenging circumstances Neil had not planned for, his sister Lemony – with whom he has a true love-hate relationship – is also caught up in a spot of summer romance with waiter Stijve Tepels, who will eventually reveal his true colours, thanks to Neil’s relentless efforts to expose him for the shady character he is. This misadventure is a way to temporarily bond with his sister, as he tries to protect and vindicate her. Other unexpected and very funny holiday incidents include: unwelcome contact with topless ladies, a missing key at the bottom of the ocean, an unwanted visit to the Sugar Tots Club run by entertainment enthusiasts Ann Francisco e Felix Navidad, and a series of other embarrassing moments Neil could really have done without. The book ends with Neil returning to school and meeting a new archenemy, paving the way to Book Three.

    There is only one way I can describe Neil Peel’s Holiday: clever, clever, clever. Hilarious at times and most certainly funny and witty, the story is well built from beginning to end, with no dull or slow moments. In addition to being an outstanding writer, Ben Dixon is very imaginative and successfully manages to create a very complex world around young Neil, made of awkward moments, mannerisms that make Neil unique and very real, as well as words (ever hear of “knickergred”?) and worlds that are a product of Neil’s fervid imagination.

    Do not be fooled: Neil Peel’s Holiday is everything but a children’s book; it can be read by a younger audience of course – your children won’t be disappointed – but I strongly suggest you give it a go too, it won’t disappoint you either.

    Ben Dixon’s books are available for purchase at:

    About Ben Dixon

    Ben Dixon is a father of four children, teacher of French and the author behind the hilarious world of Neil Peel. He grew up in Yorkshire, grew up a bit more in Leicestershire before moving to settle in Surrey. The Heroic Truths of Neil Peel was his first novel, published in 2020. Neil Peel’s Holiday was the sequel published in 2021. He lives in Guildford with his wife, Sarah, and children, Sophie, Isabelle, Max and Kiera (source:


    Missed Connection

    Book Two of the series A Gia, San Francisco Romance by Stephanie Shea

    Missed Connection. Stephanie Shea, 2022.

    It’s right after Christmas and we are in sunny and cheerful Australia, inside an airport lounge. Avery, a brokenhearted American girl who spent her Christmas holidays miles and miles away from home, is all but cheerful. The whole trip had been planned to spend time with her long-distance boyfriend Oli, but the knob dumped her right before her plane to Australia took off, leaving Avery with no other choice than travelling there anyway. She obviously didn’t reach Australia in her best mind frame, but she was determined to make the best of this experience. While she did enjoy partying and meeting new people, with the occasional tear here and there, she can’t really say she feels sad when it’s time to go back home to the States.

    While she is at the airport bar, waiting for her flight to be announced, she meets a girl, Kyla, who suggests her the best type of coffee to cure a hangover – a coconut iced coffee. Avery follows her suggestion, there is a brief exchange and Avery has the feeling Kyla is flirting, but she doesn’t want to give too much credit to it, even if she feels flattered. It’s not the first time another woman compliments her in such a way, she says to herself. There is no need to have butterflies in her stomach, right? Especially because she will never see Kyla again.

    She is so terribly wrong.

    In fact, for a weird twist of fate, Kyla is not only on her same plane, but also on the seat next to hers. And since Sidney – San Francisco takes a very long time, what’s wrong with spending it having a chat with your neighbour? Even sharing a kiss that won’t have any future does not feel wrong, even though it leaves them both hungry for more.

    Avery stops in San Francisco, where she lives and works at Gia’s Restaurant (the main pillar of the whole book series) while Kyla continues her journey to Rio. She is a travel influencer and, as much as she’d love to stop in San Francisco, she has previous work commitments she needs to attend to. They exchange Instagram handles, leaving a few likes here and there, but it’s not until Kyla’s birthday that they start a message exchange, timid at first but more and more intense as times goes on.

    Six months go by and the two girls are once again under the same sky. Kyla is in San Francisco for a whole month, at the end of which she will attend her best friend’s wedding. She knows Avery lives there, but she avoided telling her, wanting to surprise her. When they finally meet, Avery is not only surprised, but also taken aback: what now? Because one thing is online, another is face to face. What she is feeling for Kyla is different under so many points of view. She never had a crush on a woman, but to her memory, she’s never felt anything like that for anyone else before. Is she running recklessly into something new and exciting and maybe a bit crazy just to get over Oli or is there something more?

    Destiny will give her a hand to better understand the situation. In fact, on the day they agree to go out for lunch, Avery receives a call from the handyman of the building where she lives: her apartment has a leak. She rushes home, or better, Kyla takes her, only to find out that the leak is, in reality, a proper flood, the ceiling of her living room caved in, water all over the floor and urgent repairs will take at least two weeks. Two weeks where, clearly, she needs to find alternative accommodation. Kyla offers to host her and while Avery has plenty of other options, she accepts. This starts an unexpected cohabitation that will bring them even closer.

    The story itself is very pleasant and easy to read, ideal for taking your mind off the stress of everyday life (literature is all about escapism after all). It follows all the typical canons and patterns of romance books and thankfully glides on openly and overly-sexual scenes that can happily be left to the reader’s imagination. There are also some delicate themes throughout the narration: Kyla’s mother is an alcoholic that is trying to get clean again, leaving Kyla to ponder whether she should believe her mother’s good intentions or not; Avery’s parents divorced after her mother discovered that her father had an on-off relationship with another woman that produced a lovechild, Whitney, for whom Avery has mixed feelings – to meet her or not to meet her, that is the question. However, the story comes across as slightly naïve at times: there aren’t many women romance stories out there, and I do understand the genre needs to adhere to specific criteria, but because the literature itself is so scarce, why not populating it with something more than just the traditional clichés? It would give this book a whole new perspective and elevate it to the next level.

    Still, it is indeed a page turner, with a very well paced story and the right amount of action and characters’ internal conflict. In fact, we totally look forward to the next book in the series (end of October release) which we will be reviewing very soon!!

    The three books in the series A Gia, San Francisco Romance are available for purchase at:

    About Stephanie Shea

    Stephanie Shea is a self-proclaimed introvert, who spends her days in corporate daydreaming of becoming a full-time novelist. Her favorite things include binging tv shows, creating worlds where no character is too queer, broken or sensitive, and snacks. Lots of snacks. Someday, she hopes to curb her road rage, and get past her anxiety over social media and author bios.


    Beneath the Surface

    Book Four of the DCI Jane Birchfield Murder Mysteries by Heaton Wilson

    Beneath the Surface. The DCI Jane Birchfield Murder Mysteries. Heaton Wilson, 2022.

    The old adagio “starting in medias res” (i.e. into the midst of things) takes a whole new meaning in this recently released crime fiction novel. The opening pages of Beneath the Surface already contain all the core elements of a crime scene: a young woman, Mary MacDonald and her lover, Geoff Pegg are spending a spicy afternoon at her place in the small idyllic village of Cardale (just north of Manchester), when Rob Simmons, a local boy, runs into the side of the house with his tractor, causing the whole building to collapse on the two unlucky lovers, killing them instantly.

    DCI Jane Birchfield, the main character of all books in the series, begins to investigate. The first thing she wants to clarify is: was it an accident, was the driver drunk, was it a scorned rejected lover or were drugs involved? As a matter of fact, under the rubbles of what once was Mary’s cottage, the police finds a small bag containing a white powder that turns out to be cocaine. 

    Birchfield peruses all possibilities, but while Rob Simmons was probably tipsy – he himself declares he was at the pub before crushing into the cottage – he also mentions that the brakes of his tractor weren’t working properly. Birchfield decides to pay a visit to Sid Marsh, owner of Marsh Farm (and the tractor). Sid is a city boy who, tired and engrossed with London, decided to move up North with his wife Julie, where they bought a farm. Their dream is to successfully produce and sell organic products, proving to the locals they are not the rookies everyone believes, but things are not going as well as they hoped and, despite all their efforts, the Farm is in debt. For this reason, the tractor was not sent for the annual MOT. Birchfield is not totally sold on this version of events and continues her investigation.

    Behind closed doors, Sid and Julie Marsh are far from the idyllic couple they want to portray in public but are instead on the verge of divorce. He is a heavy drinker/borderline alcoholic, full of debts and in the process of selling part of his land to property developers. He did have a reason for wanting Mary dead, as she used to run the village residents group, in charge of preserving the local territory against savage property speculation.

    At the same time, though, there are plans afoot in the village for gas exploration, which are most welcome, as they will create new jobs within the struggling rural community. Sid and Julie strongly oppose these, as they would have a negative impact on the environment, destroy habitats and poison the atmosphere. One more reason to point at Sid as the most probable suspect.

    Things suddenly take a turn for the worse when, on his way back home after a night at the local pub, Rob Simmons is found unconscious in a nearby ditch. It seems like an accident, but he’s found with cocaine in his pocket and Jane is on the alert once again. She rightly decides to pursue the drugs lead, but what she will find out is totally unexpected and definitely impossible to imagine, in a twists and turns final that will leave readers’ heads spinning.

    ‘Beneath the Surface’ is simply brilliant: it’s well written, it shows the writer’s great knowledge of the Mancunian territory and population and it’s clear that a great amount of research on police procedures and investigative methods has gone into it. It’s an absolute page turner, from the beginning to the end, which is absolutely unexpected and unpredictable: in fact, there are no tell-tale signs of who is the real mastermind behind the whole drug ring.

    In addition, the intermissions provided by personal matters (a friends’ wedding, Jane and her former boyfriend trying to get back together, Ross and Lorry’s meaningful exchanges of personal problems in the police station cafeteria) make the characters vibrant, human and extremely likeable, drawing the reader even more into the story.

    The only thing that could probably be improved is the tone: at times the pace is too slow and not gripping enough. If you consider this is a thriller, as a reader I’d like to be constantly on my toes. However, this is a minor weakness that doesn’t take anything away from the story.

    Definitely a book I would read again and I do look forward to reading the other books in the series!

    ‘Beneath the Surface’ is a new release (August 2022) and is available at:

    About Heaton Wilson

    Originally from Manchester, he now lives on the beautiful Isle of Wight. When he’s not writing stories, he loves campervan trips and working outdoors, maintaining the garden against attack from sea breezes, bracken, brambles and rabbits; and walking his two dogs, Robbie and Twiggy. Heaton loves writing crime fiction and has published a series featuring the nice/tough/feisty DCI Jane Birchfield. All his other books (‘Every Reason’, ‘Whatever It Takes’ and ‘Retribution’) are available on Amazon. (source:


    The Reunion (Coming of Age in the Age of Aquarius)

    A Novel by Gary Wells

    The Reunion (Coming of Age in the Age of Aquarius). Gary Wells, 2021.

    Have you ever been to a class reunion or casually met an old school friend you haven’t seen in a very long time? If the answer to any of these questions is YES, you know way too well how it feels: awkward moments, all sorts of memories flooding back to you (mostly bad for some reason), idle chit chat and reflections on how the world has changes (as well as you).

    This is exactly the situation our protagonist Nick Taylor finds himself in. A retired Media PR expert and former journalist, he is reluctantly attending the 50th high school reunion of the Class of 1969. Despite a successful career in a relationship-based profession, Nick is an introvert by nature and finds it challenging to interact with his former classmates, especially those he hasn’t seen in ages (he actually keeps count of how many people he’s managed to talk to during the evening, so he can tell his wife). Nick has also a fatal flaw: he remembers absolutely EVERYTHING: events in the past down to the tiniest detail, songs (lyrics, singers, writers and trivia) and futile information nobody else would normally remember – basically a living encyclopaedia. 

    Utilising copious references to 60s songs and key events in American history, Nick – who narrates in first person – explores crucial parts of his past, gradually telling us more about him as the story progresses. It’s coming of age in reverse: page after page, we discover how Nick evolved from a chubby, insecure teenager with several interests (mostly music and sports) and a small bunch of friends to a more mature, self-confident (but not quite) young man. The narration also focuses heavily on the political and social turmoil of the late 1960s, from the Vietnam War and the Mobe activist movement, to student protests (especially around Kent State, given our protagonist went to college there), the Moon landing and even Woodstock. In all this, we also gauge his thoughts about a potential face-to-face encounter with “THAT Girl”, his high school sweetheart who rarely attends reunions: will she turn up this time? Nick reflects on his friendship with those who were there for him all along like the very social, charming Tom Baker, (almost his polar opposite), those who have just appeared briefly in his life and those he’s never shared a moment or memory with. 

    ‘The Reunion’ is not an easy read, especially if you are not well versed in American culture (being originally from Southern Europe, it was a crash-course in 60s history, politics and music). However, I mean this in the most positive way: Gary Wells is an extremely gifted writer, his style showing enviable wit and a complexity I honestly haven’t come across in any other self-published author so far. Real-life, historic events are masterfully intertwined with the protagonist’s many personal memories brought to the surface every time he meets somebody new – the level of detail in describing each one so impressive it’s almost disturbing (and perhaps overwhelming at times).

    While Wells drew from his own life experience for inspiration (see his Amazon bio here), there are certainly elements of his book we can all relate to, regardless of our age: moments in the past that stayed with us forever, the inner struggles of being a teenager, the difficulty to socialise and be true to ourselves, fears and expectations around the future or something as simple as a specific soundtrack to our memories. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the fact that I too remember everything: my friends find it mostly entertaining (and sometimes annoying, exactly like Tom in the book) but some things are better left in the past where they belong. Well, Gary/Nick seems to think otherwise: “Preserve your memories, son. They’re all that’s left you”. Want to find out what’s yours? I thoroughly recommend you buy a copy and start reading now to find out.

    The Reunion is available for purchase at:


    Breath And Mercy

    Book Two of the Phineas Mann Series by Mark Anthony Powers 

    Breath And Mercy – The Phineas Mann Series. Hawksbill Press, 2022.

    There are stories and Stories. Breath and Mercy is part of the second category.

    The book begins with Phineas, the main character, starting his day at the hospital. He is still a student, but he’s already reached that brilliant, hellish stage of his career where doctors study and work at the same time and sleep becomes a commodity they are too poor to buy.

    He is a kind, caring, goofy and sensible young man, who does everything by the book and loves his job: helping people makes the many hours he spent on books memorising as many names and diagnosis his brain could store worth it. He is enjoying his internship in the cardio-pulmonary unit as well as his flatmate’s company, and life is plain sailing towards a brilliant future. Life is looking good for Phineas. He meets a girl, Iris, who almost immediately tells him that she loves what he does and she would like to be of some help too, but she is too terrified by blood – risking to pass out at the mere idea. This doesn’t discourage them from getting together and, eventually, get married.

    For a number of reasons, they move from Boston to New Orleans, at the end of the 70s. They find a decent apartment with a nice landlord that helps them with a few repairs and they also get a dog, as Iris is not very happy to spend her nights alone in their new house on the outskirts of the city. Life goes on, Iris gets a new job, her father dies, her mother falls into a deep depression and Iris leaves everything behind to temporarily look after her. In the meantime, Phineas is about to face a terrible outbreak of pneumonia at the hospital, which is also accompanied by a mysterious bruising on the skin. All the patients die within a very short period of time and no one can explain why, until months after, when the word AIDS enters the world, with all its scary connotations. It’s terrifying, they are all worried – to catch the disease, to not being able to find a treatment, scared of the paralysing uncertainty of the unknown – but eventually things begin to ease. They don’t find a cure, but at least they find some form of treatment that gives a little hope to the sick.

    When things seem to finally turn for the best again, a hurricane hits New Orleans. Its name is Jezebel, and just like the biblical princess, it brings destruction on a vast scale. Phineas shockingly finds out that the electrical system of his hospital is located in the basement which will probably be flooded, meaning the only power supply available to the hospital is external power units. Nedless to say that they won’t last forever. Phineas is simply brilliant at organising all he can think of, moving patients and giving directions to his staff, but despite all their efforts and the relatively quick passage of Jezebel, a hard time is ahead of them, made of difficult choices, unbearable heat, no water, no sleep, barely any food. Help will arrive but it will only bring Phineas to a court of justice, his reputation smeared with the accusation of euthanising some of his patients.

    Breath and Mercy is a brilliant book, full of plot twists and unexpected events. The way some events are shaped and presented is so relatable. HIV, for example, still scares older generations – both the ones who saw it happen in real time and the ones right after, who grew up in the fear of the disease. It also resonates with a younger public; think about Covid: no one knew what it was, what to do and we could only powerlessly look at people dying. On the other hand, there is the humanity of doctors: we almost look up to them as if they were gods and had all the answers and could fix anything, not realising that they are people, they see terrible things and take incredible decisions and are required to do it everyday and move on to the next patient. I think that telling a doctor’s story from the voice of someone who has been there is simply brilliant (Mark himself was an Associate Professor Emeritus of Medicine at Duke University).

    However, there are times when the drama of it all doesn’t come across in all its brutality. I would have loved a touch more pathos, perhaps digging deeper in the testing, desperate and hopeful moments that are typical of any hospital, along with the smell of disinfectant and the cheap linoleum flooring. As much as we don’t want to scare our readers off, some stories deserve to be told in all their ugly details.

    Other than that, it’s a brilliant book that I loved reading. It’s a dramatic story told with a very light touch and an incredible ear for words and constructions, making the hand of the writer disappear completely behind a curtain, letting the reader enjoy the ups and downs of human lives with a pinch of irony and a bittersweet insight on the medical profession and all the challenges medical staff have to face.

    Breath and Mercy is available for purchase at:

    About Mark Anthony Powers

    Mark Anthony Powers grew up in the small town of West Lebanon, NH. At Cornell University, he strayed into Russian and Creative Writing while majoring in engineering. After receiving his MD from Dartmouth, he went south to the University of North Carolina for an internship and residency in Internal Medicine, followed by a fellowship in Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine. 

    After almost forty years in clinical practice and teaching, he retired from Duke University as an Associate Professor Emeritus of Medicine and began his exploration of other parts of his brain. Writing, gardening, IT, and magic courses were just some of the enjoyment that followed. A deep dive into beekeeping led to his presidency of the county beekeeping association and certification as a Master Beekeeper. Two cups of coffee and two hours of writing most mornings produced A Swarm in May and other works. To learn more or connect with Mark, please visit (Source:


    Secrets of the Volkovs

    Book One of the Secret Series, a trilogy by Ellie Jay

    Secrets of the Volkovs – The Secret Series (Book One). Ellie Jay, 2021.

    Do what you have to do to survive in a world where everyone is your enemy“.

    Antonin Jelennski is a young, ambitious police officer originally from Moscow who has been given his first solo undercover assignment in the town of Yaroslavl, 173 miles away from home. He is tasked with investigating the Volkovs, a local family allegedly running mysterious criminal activities – an actual plan for world domination nonetheless. Despite receiving help from the inside by Daryia, daughter of the family patriarch, Anton will soon find himself in over his head, the investigation made more challenging by an omnipresent, omniscient, viciously persistent Vladimir Volkov, his huge progeny and a mole within the local police department, putting Anton’s own family in mortal danger. Will justice prevail or was it too much to handle for our hero?

    Secrets of the Volkovs is the first book of the Secret Series trilogy by English author Ellie Jay, a fast-paced story masterfully built through robust dialogues, very easy to read and written in an informal, unpretentious language that is honestly a breath of fresh air.

    The book could probably have done with an additional reading and further editing, as typos and repetitions sometimes stand in the way of fluency. Descriptions could also be improved, to make the story more powerful. For example, there is hardly any reference to the space the main characters move within, except for a couple of brief, generic descriptions, leaving the reader to figure it out by themselves. The story could actually take place anywhere in the world, which is a shame, as the Russian winter setting is an interesting narrative choice.

    Character development could also be improved: characters do have goals, face obstacles and conflict, but we hardly know anything about their background, mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, or motivations informing their actions and decisions, elements that could give them further depth.

    The overall impression is that Ellie Jay sees the world she is painting so clearly and vividly she sometimes forgets that the only way we can experience it as readers is through her own words. We strongly believe this book could have been absolutely magnificent if the author took more time to scratch beyond the surface of the story.

    Having said that, the Volkovs saga does not stop here, so we cannot wait to tackle the rest of the series!

    The Secret Series is available for purchase at: