#AuthorInterview : Iván Brave, Author of They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach #TLTW #Contemporary #Fiction @ivan_brave #BooksTeacupnReviews

Hello Readers! I’m happy to welcome ván Brave, Author of They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, for an interview on Books Teacup and Review. Read more about author and his book about Coming of age and artist struggle.

They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach by Iván Brave
Publisher: Self-published
Release date: June 16, 2020 (ebook and paperback)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Themes: Coming of age, artist struggle


Amid loss, hope, and despair, They Lived They Were . . . is a story about the power to move on.

It begins with a show at Brighton Beach, New York, where Ilya Gagarin performs a set of original dance music to a crowd of loyal fans. They know him as a rising internet star, only 22 years old, and the resident DJ at one of Brooklyn’s sauciest nightclubs. And yet, at the apex of this performance, a text comes in from his girlfriend who just happened to find his stash of coke and crushed prescription pills. Feeling betrayed for the last time, she leaves him. Deletes him. And goes on to have her own successful career as a blues guitarist.

The rest of the summer becomes a struggle to get her back.

The best way, and the only way Ilya knows how, is to launch the debut EP he has been putting off. Unfortunately for the DJ, the club where he works at teeters on fiscal collapse, plus the security manager is a jerk, blocking his every chance for a release party. Only a has-been, mentor-type DJ, encourages Ilya to finish the project, and share it with the world.

As he works towards his dream, the pressure to succeed, paired with the growing pains of a professional artist, reveals a dark truth: the loss of his mother. Soon, recurring nightmares haunt the DJ, alongside distant childhood memories. Only the power of music, together with an urge to regain his abandoned Russian heritage, both of which are described passionately in his journal, keep him afloat week after week.

Soon, Ilya meets a real life guardian angel. Someone twice his age, and Russian, too: the ethereal yet grounded Julia Levina, a celebrated news anchor with her own troubled past. She inspires him to finish the album and land a date for the launch. By midsummer, her pity turns to empathy, which itself turns into something more. An affair ensues. A smart one, they convince themselves, since it doesn’t implicate her 6 year old child, nor pull Ilya astray from the path he believes will win back his ex-girlfriend’s heart.

Close to the date of the show, however, the DJ suffers a relapse, this time with dire consequences. He isn’t able to finish the album in time for the launch party, which comes and goes, and culminates in even more tragedy. Though things look gloomy, it does serve as the reality check that concludes the misguided affair and ends his substance abuse. But not before one final twist.

“Do you know how Russians say Once Upon a Time?” explains a mysterious meta-character, who has been inserting footnotes the entire story. “. . . Жили были. It translates to They Lived They Were.” Suggesting Ilya might just get his fairy tale ending. Or at least move on.

Iván Brave lives in Bucharest, Romania, where he writes poetry, reviews and novels, as well as promotes language learning in multinational corporations. He graduated from The New School in NYC with an MFA in Creative Writing, after earning a Bachelor in Philosophy from The University of Texas at Austin. Language, multiculturalism, and love, or anything that connects, are the themes dearest to his heart. In addition to winning prizes, such as the Writing Award from The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics, his writings have appeared in literary publications like The American Scholar and The Acentos Review. Iván’s second novel, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, is out June 16th 2020.

Can you tell readers a little about your book, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach? What they can expect from it?

If you’ve ever been dumped, if you’ve ever danced all night to pop music, if you’ve ever tried to create something amazing, or if you’ve ever wanted to make sense of your origin, then this is the book for you. Expect inserts of the protagonist’s journal entries, as well as cuts from his recurring nightmares, as he sails through a summer of loss, hope, and despair. A modern retelling of the Greek tragedy between Orpheus and Eurydice, but set in New York City, the year 2018, and a twist.

How did you come up with the idea for your book?

The first inkling of this novel came to me in a very nebulous and vague form, but one I felt was worth pursuing. For years I had written stories that mixed my native Spanish and English, where the characters resembled those closest to me, and whose stories echoed those in real life. So on January 1st, 2018, driving home from a wild night in Austin, it dawned on me that I should try to write a story unlike anything I had ever done (or lived) before. Rather than factual details, I drew from my interests: electronic music, the Russian language, and Greek Mythology. Thus the first chapter, of a strung-out DJ ambling through Brooklyn boardwalk, was born.

What were the key challenges you faced when writing They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach?

Probably my own frustrations, and limitations, as a writer. It occurred to me the other day that if you want to bake a chocolate cake, the first place to look is the internet. Or better, you call on an experienced family member. Most likely you do both, just to get started, and then see what happens in the mix. For a novel however, you must set out to create something completely new. By definition it should be unlike anything that came before. So that’s a challenge in and of itself. Naturally there are some rules, some worth breaking, yet others unbreakable. And I don’t even mean some magical sequence of plot points, I mean the fact that the novel you work on has to be the best possible book you can create. In other words, you have to go all the way. So this book contains all the tricks, all the ingredients, all the fascinations that I could think of which would take this book from a collection of scattered chapters, to a resounding symphony of ideas. Nevertheless, pertaining to my key challenge, it is this: I aimed high, yet for the majority of writing this book, I felt like what I had to give wasn’t enough. The ending wasn’t coming out right, because I didn’t have a clear idea of it. The middle for a long time felt boring, because I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting. And of course, the beginning was full of typos and begged for endless rewrites, because . . . who knows. After two years, however, what’s done is done. In your hands is something worth sharing.

How long does it take you to write a book?

Because I don’t edit as I write, I can fill 100 pages in a week, and in about a month have a book. That’s usually writing like mad, as they say. If you mean how long did it take to write this book, from start to publish, then it actually took two years. That includes working a job, gradation from school, moving to another country, getting married! But also multiple drafts, and rewrites, each reviewed for feedback. Plus time to set the book aside, and come back to it fresh. Finally, one last go at the manuscript. So two years . . . probably I could have finished it in one year, if I hadn’t stopped, or if I didn’t have a life. But there is something romantic to me about taking a while to really nail a book down, and doing other things with your time. My favorite books took 6-10 years to write, by people who were really passionate about stories, but also had other things to do. My next book, for example, I completed a rough draft in three months but over six years ago, then never touched it again. Once I get back into it, it will probably take me a couple months to rewrite, polish, and then publish . . . will I brag about it taking seven years? You bet! But does it take that long? Technically no, but realistically yes.

Did you outline your book beforehand? Why or why not?

Since I still feel like a novice, I impose a rule on myself of always trying new ways to write. So I’ve done both: written a book with and without an outline beforehand. But the thing is, after a book has been on my desk for so long, when my screws start to come loose a little bit, I will write an outline if there hadn’t been one, or I will completely scratch an earlier outline just to start afresh. I do think outlines are useful, and certainly if a great book didn’t have one to start with, we could write one for it after the fact – because good books follow an internal logic which could be detailed in hierarchy. In any case, I’m a big fan of mind-maps and timelines. So at any given moment there will be scattered sheets of paper with lines going up and down and crisscross on my desk.

What type of characters do you love and hate to write? What is your favorite quality in protagonists? Has anyone in real life inspired you to write them?

Your question is making me think I should start writing characters I hate, if only as a literary practice, to add spice! Usually the characters I write I have a soft spot for. I want my protagonist to succeed. I want my bad guys to have good reasons for what they do. What type of characters do I love to write in general: goofy, witty, imperfect people with something to prove. My favorite quality in a protagonist is someone who against all odds will stand up for what he or she believes in, even at the risk of losing, although I prefer it when they win. As for real life inspiration, almost everyone in my close circle has fallen prey to the pen, #sorrynotsorry. But there is one gentleman in particular, one of the most genuinely weird profound goofy loveable persons I have ever met, who I could write a whole book about.

So the main character is a troubled DJ. Which playlist you think he likes most?

What a great question! I know this might sound a bit freaky . . . surely other writers do the same . . . but I recently saw a commercial by one of the biggest producers of all time, DeadMau5, for an online MasterClass. In it, seeing the artist take off his helmet and give some insights to his technique, I thought, wow, this is something Ilya would go crazy about. Maybe I should pay the $XXX just to learn something! Plus it probably comes with an amazing new mix of experimental, never before heard music. Now, if it’s straight playlist you’re asking about, on YouTube there’s a really good DJ (name: f1rstpers0n) who mixes obscure yet great electronic music, and Ilya would like that the most these days, especially to build his own mixes.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned through writing They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach?

That people don’t fall in love with words, they fall in love with ideas. This hit me hard a few months ago. I was someone obsessed with language (heck, I still am!). To put it metaphorically, language is only the skin of a story. Seductive, sensual, sensitive. But ultimately shallow, superficial, and . . . just one element. To be specific, when I started writing TLTW the story of a DJ, my focus was on language, so I ignored the DJ and only listened to what he said, not so much what he did. Until I realized this, I couldn’t figure out what was not working with the story . . . it was missing action! And actions speak louder than words, as we know. Put another way, it’s like asking a hundred people to tell you the first line of Anna Karenina. You will roughly get the same sentence, although told a little differently. And that’s ok. Because what really matters is the concept, the idea, the truth – which words do best to point at. That’s why my next book has a central idea, and capturing that will be the central aim, while playing with language will be the fun, sexy part of writing, and not so much the focus.

Tell us about your journey to publication.

With the next book, I would like to try the traditional path again. It didn’t work with my first novel published, after four years of trying. So that’s why I went self-publishing. That time so many things went wrong (a few right) however that I decided to give self-publishing one more shot with TLTW. Thus, the journey here has been through Kindle Direct Publishing again. It’s pretty DIY and not that complicated. Once on your KDP account, you click create new book. You fill in the details. You upload the manuscript, checking that all the odd little letters (if you’re using Cyrillic like me) look good, as well as margins. Then you upload the cover, emailing your artist if the bleed doesn’t look good. Then you publish! Or in my case, hit presale. This is the first time doing a presale, meaning the ebook is available for order, but it won’t reach your kindle until the launch date. In a sense it’s strange since my audience prefers paperback, and that cannot be up for presale; but in another sense it’s awesome because I can build the book page in these weeks, before the hard launch in June. <Cough, cough> For example I reach out to awesome blogs like the Teacup and we connect before the launch! 😁

What are your most favorite and least favorite things about being an author?

My favorite thing has to do with feeling like I am accomplishing a deep, earnest desire. The inner most part of me wants to connect and entertain and make others think of things in new ways. It’s like a voice inside of me telling me to speak up. So it’s nice, and fulfilling to show that inner side of me. On the other hand, my least favorite thing about being an author is always feeling like I’m in the early stage of my career. I do not feel like I have improved at all! Yet maybe I should heed that nagging voice, and keep pushing forward, you know? Of course, while being grateful: just the other day I fixed up my website and counted all the blog posts I had. There were so many! Later I went through my old stories on my laptop, and I literally found a story I didn’t remember writing! Meaning, I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t even remember all the things I’ve written. That’s a good thing I guess, if what I want is to feel like I am improving. But anyway . . .

Do you have any writing rituals?

I’m an ardent follower of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. So I write three pages long-hand every morning when I first wake up. Also, I like to light tea candles (those small round ones, scent-less) when I am in real need of flow. Often accompanied by incense. Anything that simulates the senses. Food and writing don’t really go well for me, nor does drink. Those I prefer to do, and celebrate, on their own—before or after. Like, I used to write with a glass of wine, or with a cup of tea (sometimes a whole bottle of wine, or a whole pot of tea) but then I realized that if I want to write my hands need to be on the keyboard. Go figure. So, no drinks as part of my ritual. Just consistency.

What is the next project you’re working on?

I’m on the fence, you know. Maybe answering this question will help, or perhaps you might nudge me in the right direction . . . but originally my plan was to pick up that old story from six years ago. That’s because since its conception I feel like I’ve learned a lot about storytelling, plus I want to put some new tricks to use on the page. But another part of me, the part that’s been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, wants to revive a memoir project that’s been collecting dust. The reason for that is I want to write it as a gift to my wife: the story of why I believe we are meant to be. Why would a husband have to write this for this wife? Ask any husband, ask any wife.

When not writing, what do you like to do to relax?

I love to read! Lol. Honestly, it’s so nice to catch up on my pile of books which never seems to get smaller. Aside from books, I really, really, really like YouTube. It could be a certain channel, or just random recommendations. Finally, I really enjoy conversation. Whether it’s over Facetime, or over dinner, I like talking and listening and sharing and learning through conversation. It’s relaxing.

Can you describe They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach in five words?

Artist struggle meets modern love.

And the last one, top 3 tips for aspiring authors.

  1. Accept that life is chaos.
  2. Pay attention.
  3. Go all the way.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

A brilliant question! The easiest way is on Amazon. But the deepest way, since that’s where I put everything, including bad, awkward, personal writing, is my blog. In the summer I will revamp my Instagram—and then that will be the most fun way to connect.

Website | Blog | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Amazon (author page)

Purchase Link:

The Summer Abroad:

Let’s discuss!

What do you think about the book and interview? Have you read this book or any book by the same author? Are you going to add it to TBR?


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#BookReview : Autoboyography by Christina Lauren #Autoboyography #LGBT #Contemporary #Romance @simonteen


Autoboyography by Christina Lauren
Publication Date: September 12th 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: LGBT / YA / Contemporary Romance
Pages: 407
Stars: ★★★★★

Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.

But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.

It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him. 

*** Note: I read this book online available as free read on Riveted by Simon Teen. Many thanks to publisher. ***

Autoboyography was LGBT, contemporary romance that revolved around relationship between two high school boys in Mormon town. It was about finding and accepting true self, being you and loving yourself the way you are, family relationship, Mormonism, views on bisexuals and gays and their feelings, friendship, and m/m romance.

WOW! This book was amazing. Characters, plot, setting, theme, writing, monologues and dialogues, school, school work, seminar, book writing, those post it notes, and messages- everything from first word to last full stop at the end, I loved it all. Writing was gripping, flawless and beautiful. Told in first person narrative in witty and refreshing voice of Tanner made the book enjoyable.

Book started with Tanner telling about his friendship with Autumn ever since he moved to Utah, his life at Provo high in LDS town among LDS students and how suffocating he felt keeping his bisexuality secret because of his ex-Mormon mom’s past experience and what her family did to his mom’s lesbian sister. When Autumn challenged him to join the seminar that means he had to write entire book to pass the class, he went along with it thinking writing book in four month would be simple, a piece of cake.

Well, it was actually simple for him as this year prestigious LDS student and bishop’s son – Sebastian – was teacher assistant in this seminar who happened to be hot and handsome and sparks were flying when they met eyes in the first class. He inspired Tanner to write his own story and feelings, an autobiography with their story.

The attraction and infatuation turned into real feelings and love but every love story has obstacles and here it was Mormon religion. Sebastian and his family were through and through Mormon, their religion and beliefs don’t accept gay relationships. It was interesting to find out where this relationship and feelings lead Tanner and his book on his bisexuality, will Sebastian reciprocate his feelings and if so, will he keep it secret, and what will happen when Sebastian’s family will know about his sexuality and relationship.

Family dynamic was amazing. I loved Tanner’s family. Father- Jewish but not very Jewish or followed Jewish tradition and rules, Mother Ex-LDS, Aunt- Lesbian, and sister- a teen who was outspoken and true gothic lover. Tanner’s parents were so supportive, understanding and lovely. I loved the way they waved their gay friendly flag. They accepted their son and daughter the way they were, answered their all curious questions, discussed things, loved them unconditionally. They raised equally amazing son, Tanner.

Tanner was best, my new favorite character who won my heart. He was smart, funny, and adorable. He wore his heart on sleeves but at the same time he was being cautious in town of Mormon. And when he fell in love, wow, he was on cloud nine and was writing such romantic book. He was developed character but not totally perfect. There was a moment when he made huge mistake but he wasn’t the one who would turn his head away and run in opposite direction. He was one of those who will face the situation and solve the problem. I loved that in him. His feeling, thoughts, and reactions were heat felt and so realistic.

Sebastian was written wonderfully. He was perfect son, perfect LDS, perfect student and to-be-published author. He has even perfected his smile and facial expression but he was gay and that was imperfection for him. I could see why he felt it was wrong to use gay word or accept it. He lived and was brought up in house and town that felt the same and it was instilled so deep in him. Like Tanner, I loved it when Tanner made him throw that perfection and false smile out of window and accept the real him and let his feeling come out. But it took lot of chapters and pages, heartbreak and suffering for him to accept who he was, what he wanted and decide what to do about it. His development was slow and steady. We see much later what was going on in his mind but all his feelings and struggle was shown through his conversations with Tanner and what Tanner understood from his reactions and replies.

Best thing in the book was balance between family, friendship and romance. His friendship with Autumn was great. I enjoyed reading their time together and conversation between them. It did look complicated from the beginning and I suspected it will come in between Tanner’s relationship with Sebastian but I loved how they made things smooth at the end. I loved Autumn by the way.

I loved romance and chemistry between Tanner and Sebastian. There was instant attraction and it took less time in turning that to boyfriend and love but doubt and complications was always there. Tanner knew giving Sebastian heart would be big mistake, his parents were right to worry and me too was dreading heartbreak as soon as they kissed first time. And when that heartbreak came, I hated Sebastian at that time. I didn’t want to understand his situation. How could he do that!

At climax, things turned from complicated to disastrous by Tanner’s mistake and then its admission. Honestly, I thought book will end here but then came second blow. Of course there need to be more because life is not that simple. I liked reading what happened at Sebastian’s home and what he felt in this part. End was good and epilogue was best.

Overall, it was lovely, heartwarming, refreshing, and the best contemporary romance and LGBT book I ever read.

Book Links: Goodreads | Amazon| Book Depository

Let’s discuss!

What do you think about the book and my review?
Have you read this book already?
Are you going to add it to TBR?
Which is your favorite LGBTQ book?


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#BookReview : Avocado Bliss by Candace Robinson, Gerardo Delgadillo #AvocadoBliss #Contemporary @literarydust @Gero_Delgadillo @EvernightTeen

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Avocado Bliss by Candace Robinson, Gerardo Delgadillo
Publication Date: March 27th 2020
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 232
Stars: ★★★★★

Dacre Vinson has spent the majority of his life in quite the predicament—even the surf and his books can’t erase his Type 1 diabetes. But when Dacre’s family moves to a new Mexican town, an eccentric girl obsessed with trees offers him a job on the spot, leading to what could be the perfect distraction from his problems.

Salbatora Tames has one true love, her avocado farm. Her family constantly nudges her to be more social, but Sal much prefers the dirt, the sun, and the solitude. Besides, trees listen better than people do.

For Sal and Dacre, their job won’t stay easy breezy for long, not when an avocado delivery to Palenque, Mexico pops up on their radar. Together, they embark on a road trip across the jungle, where they form a tighter bond. However, as obstacles arise, their new-found troubles may lead to more woes than bliss.

*** Note: I received this e-copy of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to author. ***

Other books I read by the same authors:

Avocado Bliss was refreshing YA contemporary romance that revolved around Avocado lover, Salbatora and Diabetes fighter, Dacre. It was about life of Type 1 diabetic, everyday struggle with disease, passion, coming out of shell and grief, insecurities with new friendship and love.

This was my second book coauthored by Candace and Gerardo and let’s not count individual books by them I read. I read all their books and like those books, this was written wonderfully. I enjoyed this even more than Bacon Pie. It was lovely and refreshing to read alternative perspective of Salbatora (Sal) and Dacre.

It started with Dacre flying with his two baby brothers from US (where dad lived) to Mexico (where his mother lived and had great job).  His whole life he and his brothers travelled back and forth to live with each parent. Moreover, diagnosed with Diabetes Type 1 at very young age made life even more struggling and challenging for Dacre. This time when they shift to new Mexican town, he stumbled upon a job at organic avocado farm, offered by peculiar avocado obsessed girl, Sal.

Sal lived robotic life, too organized and too methodical. But behind her robotic shell she was suffering from grief of losing her aunt. Ever since her aunt’s death she lost herself in her passion, Avocado farm. It was her true love and she didn’t feel it practical to dress and live like other normal girls even though her family and friends pushed her to be more social.

When Sal and Dace started working together both formed friendship but there was a big delivery and road trip filled with adventure and danger. It was interesting to find out what happened on the road trip, how it will affect their new found friendship and if it will stay same even after the trip.

I liked all characters. They were interesting, realistic, and both authors brought them to life. Dacre’s both brothers and Sal’s dad were cool. I loved Dacre and Sal most.

Dacre was clever, an amazing brother and person. He carried responsibility as son, elder brother and of his diabetes so well. He put everybody’s feeling before him and smiled for them. I could see and feel why it was tough for him to cope with new change on returning to his mom’s house. Even with his reasoning, he overreacted a little. It was like he traded place with his middle brother for this particular situation and to come out of it or rather put a distance and have breathing space, he joined avocado farm and later two days road trip with Sal. I liked how this trip changed him and his feelings towards his mom and Sal.

During the trip I knew more about his thoughts and feeling towards his disease, why he was single, what he was going through inside, and why he took that decision after climax.

Through him I got to know more about Diabetes Type 1. My grandmother had Diabetes type 2, my aunt has it as well but I don’t know anybody with Type 1 in real life. While reading this book I could see their situation was not as bad as it was with Type 1. I saw them taking tablets, exercise regularly, and some food restriction and have seen how bad it can be if they didn’t take care, but they didn’t have to check sugar as frequently as Dacre was checking here. Authors had represented the disease, symptoms and struggle of diabetics so well.

Sal was peculiar but cute peculiar. She loved her avocado farm and trees like a baby. The farm and her Pa was her life. I liked her the way she gave them priority, organized her day, took care of deliveries and trees. I don’t know why everybody pushing her. She was truly comfortable with her life and in fact loved it. They were right to worry but I felt she was amazing with the way she was and lived. I admired her more when she got to know about Dacre’s diabetes and the way she handled it throughout the trip.

The road trip to Palenque and then adventure in jungle was both hilarious and dangerous. I wouldn’t give much detail. It’s best that way because it’s so much fun reading this part with its surprises. I do feel they shouldn’t have gone in that forest. It was stupid but oh God, the series of events in there were so eventful. They both acted exactly opposite how I expected. That little Mayan world info was interesting. Both Dacre and Sal were developed but weren’t perfect and I liked how the seed of their friendship grew throughout this book and found perfect bond with their imperfection. I enjoyed conversation and chemistry between these two.

Climax made my heartbeat stop for a sec. I knew this was coming and yet I wasn’t prepared for it. I was tense and worried along with all characters. Dacre’s decision, his talk with his mother and then his change of heart on arriving back was fabulous. I loved the way Sal was taking it. The hope and happiness and arrived with firecrackers at the end. I absolutely loved the end and those last few lines. It was amazing.

Overall, it was lovely, delightful, and refreshing contemporary with serious topic and unique characters. I highly recommend this book to contemporary romance lovers.

Book Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Let’s discuss!

What do you think about the book and my review?
Have you read this book already or any books by the same authors?
Are you going to add it to TBR?
Which books you read that featured disease other than mental diseases?


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#BookReview : Friends First by Angela Lam

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Friends First by Angela Lam
Publication Date: February 4th 2020
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 268
Stars: ★★★★★ [4.5]

Maddy Strong doesn’t like to be alone but a weight loss boot camp is not her idea of a good time. Working out and counting calories is a test she’s bound to fail—especially when paired with fitness-focused Greg as a workout partner.

Health-conscious Greg Power is desperate to end his night terrors. While he doubts his therapist’s prescription of exhausting his body and reprogramming his mind he is willing to try anything.

During their workouts they uncover a deep connection. But when their friendship blossoms into love, they discover possibilities neither have ever considered. Faced with the biggest decision of their lives, who will they choose? 

*** Note: I received e-copy this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to author. ***

Friends First was contemporary fiction set in Atlanta that revolved around Maddy and Greg. It was about excessive eating and drinking habits, struggle in weight loss, PTSD but mainly it was about friendship, helping and supporting each other in friendship, living for yourself and your loved one, and giving second chance to love and life.

That synopsis said it all so I’m not going to repeat it in this review. I’m also not sure how much should say in this review as I want to discuss characters and in doing so I fear I might include more than I should.

First of all, the writing was engaging and easy to follow. Story was told in third person narrative from both Maddy and Greg’ perspective, alternatively. It was character driven and author did wonderful job with both these characters.

Both Maddy and Greg were flawed, damaged and lost, made wrong decisions and were escaping their problems. They needed somebody to lean on even though they both were engaged, they needed somebody to understand their problems and help them. You would be thinking why they need each other if they had fiancé. For that you need to know characters. Let me start with 34-yr-old Maddy.

From the very beginning I didn’t understand why Maddy was marrying Darren. Clearly they had many issues. She couldn’t live alone or eat alone but Darren had job that required traveling. If she had problem with his traveling, why would she commit to relationship or agree to marry was beyond me. Maddy didn’t like cleaning or any physical work out while Darren was well built and preferred cleanliness. Darren sometimes ignored Maddy but kept constant contact with her siblings while she couldn’t get along with them. Result of these differences were, Maddy eating and drinking excessively to suppress her feeling, sadness and unhappiness that ultimately caused weight gain.

Now I didn’t like the way Darren was pushing her, nicknaming her porky, and threatening her to reduce her weight. She shouldn’t let him control her but thing was she wasn’t comfortable or happy with her body. She felt jealous of her sister who was slim and rich. She envied all who had fit body. Moreover, her habits were unhealthy to the limit that it could harm her. She had no control over her behavior after drinking. She was also a bit selfish. She asked Darren to leave his dream job so he could stay home with her, even when there was fear of losing her job.

As I read more I could see why she disliked her siblings. They were obviously were not easy to get along. They were really controlling and treated her like a baby. They didn’t trust her to take her own decisions. As I read more of her and Greg’s conversations I saw why she was with Darren as well. Greg brought out the best in her. She could see and accept what she was doing wrong and how she should come out of it, learned to face her problem, draw boundaries in relationships, and express her feelings more openly. She saw what true love is and that made her question her relationship with Darren. I was curious to see whom she will choose or if she would marry Darren?

Greg was 50-yr-old, escaping his home, his family and life. His father’s contemptuous remarks left deep scar in his soul. Losing leg, returning from war without accomplishing his mission was failure him. He was suffering from PTSD for years. His lack of confidence, will to live, panic attacks and nightmares kept him wondering, doing temporary jobs in different states, cheating his fiancée by giving into his new addiction, lust. He was going through a lot for long time and that too alone. I felt for him but at the same time I didn’t like his infidelity to Amy, his fiancée who was really saint and was waiting for him for 30 years! Who can have this much patience? He was fool really.  

Maddy made him see how selfish he was and what he was losing by his behavior. I wasn’t sure if he really loved Amy. When his and Maddy’s friendship developed, it really confused me whom he loved and at the same time made me curious to find out who he will choose at the end.

Both character’s development was great. I loved their friendship and how they evolved throughout the book. Along with this friendship and drama, author talked about PTSD and panic attacks and some people’s prejudice and behavior with person suffering from trauma, how much support, love and patience they need to come out of it through Greg’s story; and danger of eating and drinking disorder and how strong will and determination can help to overcome it through Maddy’s story.  I loved the message of giving a second chance to whom you love and it might surprise you.

Climax was good. I could see what will happen next and thought I would rate it 4 but I liked what characters decided and the way story ended. It was different from clichés or what I predicted.

Why 4.5 stars-

There was nothing wrong with the story and I actually enjoyed it.  But when I gave a thought later, I was skeptical about characters’ decision at the end. If it happened to me in both the cases I wouldn’t have taken that decision. I kept thinking, is it that easy to forgive?

Overall, it was interesting, engaging contemporary dealing with good topics and characters that gives you so much to discuss over.

Book Links: Goodreads

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What do you think about the book and my review?
Have you read this book already or any book by the same author?
Are you going to add it to TBR?
Which book you read was more focused on friendship than romance? Did you like it?


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#BlogTour #Excerpt : King of Hearts by Mark Stibbe @markstibbe @malcolmdown @LoveBooksGroup

Hello Readers! Today is my stop during the blog tour for King of Hearts by Mark Stibbe, organized by Love Books Group Tours. Please check out book details and excerpt in this post.


It’s Christmas Eve and festive lights are guiding people home. Jake Graystone (44), however, is about to make the worst decision of his life. Bored by his job, and unable to provide for his wife and two sons, a chance meeting with a poker-playing friend in a local bar changes his life. Pete Marley (44) and Jake have known each other since school days. While Jake’s life has plateaued, Pete is wealthy and has everything. Three months before Christmas, he teaches Jake the art of poker – the chance to make money and have what he has. In the dimly lit bar, he whispers the secret of the cards.

Jake is now drawn into a world of gambling. Poker becomes his new life, as Sally (39), his long-suffering wife realises she is losing the man she loves. Jake’s poker addiction grows, along with his ability to read the playing cards and people. He soon becomes unbeatable. Jake cannot keep his secret forever, however, and when his wife finds out, there is a volcanic argument on Christmas Eve. Jake walks out on his family, gets into his car and heads north to Casino City with barely a thought for the people he is leaving behind.

In Casino City, prosperity comes with every deal of the cards. Jake is soon playing in high stakes tournaments. He has a special gift, not only for the game but also for reading his opponents. Days and nights are spent at the casino. It becomes Jake’s world of bright lights and easy money. In all the madness, he confides in a friendly Pit Boss. Father Jim (55) is a former priest who now works on the tables. An improbable friendship allows Jake to share his troubles with him.

Life is good for Jake until he is challenged to take part in the biggest stake game in town set up by the Mob. The scene is set. Winner takes all. As Jake takes his seat he is joined at the table by a tall and hauntingly thin man known as the Undertaker. Cards are dealt and in a crunch heads-up with the final turn of a card, Jake loses everything.

Now indebted to the Mob, Jake goes on the run. He is soon homeless. His first nights are spent hiding in an old Pentecostal Church, then on the streets, always watching out for the shadow of the Undertaker. There he meets Christine (27), who has been living rough since her dad died when she was ten. They form a strong friendship that melts away the hubris of his heart.

One night, Christine is walking with Jake down an icy street. The lights of a speeding limo come into view as Jake is frozen in its path. The Undertaker is in the driving seat. Without warning, Christine pushes Jake out of the way. Jake is devastated.

As the Christmas snow falls again, he stumbles into a diner frequented by truckers. Jake looks up to see Matt (30) a huge, black truck driver sat opposite him. They begin to talk. Matt says he is going south towards his town, his last call on Christmas Eve. He tells Jake that he will take him home. They walk out of the Diner together to his Coca Cola lorry. On the journey, Matt talks to Jake and Jake begins to come to his senses.

When Matt drops Jake off near his house, Matt and his truck disappear into the night.

Jake wraps a red rug around his shoulders and lugs a sack of presents, given by Matt, over his shoulder. It is now time for Jake, looking like a bedraggled Santa, to shuffle through the snow to the place he once lived.

It’s Christmas Eve and festive lights are guiding people home. 

What will Jake find when he returns?

King of Hearts tells the gripping story of Jake Graystone, a struggling teacher, husband, and father, who looks for easy money playing poker. When his wife Sally exposes his secret addiction on Christmas Eve, he walks out and heads north for Casino City, leaving his family for a dark world of gambling, prostitution and murder.
How will the cards fall for Jake in this brutal, urban wasteland? And, as the stakes get higher and higher, will this modern Desperado ever come to his senses?

King of Hearts is a winter, festive story to sit alongside It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. Raw yet redemptive, it is a Christmas tale you’ll not be able to put down.

At the end of each chapter, you will want to twist, not fold.  


Even during the worst moments of his life, Jake had never imagined that he would be living rough at Christmas. Now reality had begun to bite as fiercely as the frost. He was on the run in Casino City from a man who wanted blood – his blood. He had a killer behind him and nothing in front of him except the ashen clouds which loomed ahead, heavy with their payload of snow.

After twenty minutes, Jake was exhausted. Drops of sweat were falling from his glistening brow. He winced as their salt began to sting his bloodshot, squinting eyes. He slowed down to a brisk walk, his already blistering feet leaving deep impressions in the thickening snow that layered the pavements from the riverside to the city centre. He had less than twenty-four hours to find a haven in an unfamiliar urban landscape – somewhere hidden from the predatory eyes of the Undertaker.

Jake considered his options as he walked past unlit, decorated store fronts with posters advertising winter sales, and then veered into meandering alleyways. He could find a homeless shelter, except that he knew this would be the first place he would plan to search if he was the hunter, not the hunted. He could knock on the doors of high-rise tenements and suburban homes, begging for somewhere to stay until he fell on better times and could recompense his hosts for their philanthropy. But who would ever trust a desperate stranger such as him on Christmas Day? Jake knew that he would never have opened his home for someone else. Why would anyone do the same for him?

He considered the police, but he also knew that no self-respecting officer would ever allow him to take refuge in a cell. He could imagine some firm but kindly duty sergeant. ‘We are not in the practice of offering free bed and breakfast here, even at Christmas.’

For a moment Jake contemplated leaving the city, hailing a driver for a lift, but where would he go? He might find himself worse off than he was right now – roaming icy fields and country lanes with only the hope of some broken shack or dilapidated barn for shelter. That, he knew, meant probable death – and death was what he was trying to evade. No, Jake had run out of options and he knew it.

Buy Link: https://amzn.to/340M7qO

About Author:

Mark Stibbe, “An acclaimed Christian author,” New York Times.

Mark started writing when he was very young, publishing his first book – an anthology of poetry entitled The Drawing out of Days – when he was just 17. Since then, he has been a prolific author and professional writer, with over 50 books published, and countless articles in broadsheet newspapers, journals and magazines. One of his most successful recent books has been Home at Last, offering a faith-based journey of recovery for those who were deeply affected by the trauma of being sent away to boarding school. He has also ghost written over thirty books, of many different genres.

In 2013, Mark migrated from writing nonfiction to fiction and this resulted in the co-authored historical spy thriller The Fate of Kings and now his debut, single-authored novel, King of Hearts, a raw but redemptive Christmas tale in the tradition of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. In early 2020, as the official storyteller for the award-winning Arokah Puzzle Game, he and Steve Brazier, the inventor of the puzzle, will publish the first in a series of Sci Fi Fantasy novels based around Arokah and starring Khali, an autistic, mixed-race hero. These are aimed at the 9-13 age group. 

Mark runs BookLab with his wife Cherith, a company dedicated to equipping aspiring writers to become great authors. He is a frequent and much in-demand speaker at workshops for writers and conferences in which the subjects of his books are featured. He has often been interviewed on BBC (Radio and TV), Channel 4 and other media, and writes articles for The Times. Having been brought up by an adoptive father who dined fortnightly with CS Lewis, his whole life has been devoted to books and to writing. He lives in Kent with his wife Cherith and their Black Labrador, Bella.

Organized By:

Love Books Group

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What do you think about the book? Have you read this book or any book by the same author? Are you going to add it to TBR? Share your thoughts in the comment-box below.


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