An unexpected inheritance rekindles a red-hot romance just in time for Christmas…
Janessa Parkman spent one long-ago summer in Last Ride, Texas, trying to bond with her estranged father, Abe. Turns out that was plenty of time to fall hard—and crash badly—for Brody Harrell, who managed Abe’s ranch. Everyone believed Brody would inherit Colts Creek one day, but now, fifteen years on, Abe’s will reveals the shocking truth—Janessa gets everything, and she must agree to stay in town for three months…through Christmas.
Brody’s attraction to Janessa burns hotter than ever. Though he refuses Janessa’s offer to give him the ranch, refusing her is impossible. Misunderstanding drove them apart once before, and secrets and betrayals run through both families. But what starts as a temporary Christmas fling might turn into a love strong enough to last every holiday season yet to come.
This was an incredibly fun and spicy romance. The whole premise is just fantastic and Fossen infused just the right amount of humor, intrigue, and hotness to keep me completely enthralled in this story. I read this book in two sittings and time just slipped away as I sat totally engrossed in this world. Janessa was a heroine that I had an instant connection with and really admired the way she handled everything that was thrown at her. Brody was an equally great hero and I appreciated how honest both he and Janessa were, with not only each other, but everyone else as well.
Beyond having a swoon worthy romance, Christmas at Colt’s Creek also had lots of drama going on. There was the expected drama of having a romance in a small town, but there was also a couple of riveting side plots that Fossen perfectly balanced with the main story. Janessa and her mother are thrown back into Last Ride because of a stipulation from Janessa’s father’s will and the book is mostly centered on those repercussions. However, there was also a side story involving the girl’s home that Janessa runs and her fostering one of the girls, Teagan, baby. Other than feeling she is too young to raise a baby, Teagan is coming out of an abusive relationship and her ex, Riggs, will stop at nothing to keep his “family” together. I should mention here that this book does include talk of toxic relationships and parenting, death of family members, a mention of suicide, and an abusive relationship.
This is the second book in the series and because of that some tendrils of story are left open which I am hopeful we will see glimpses of in future books. I also must recommend the audiobook of this book. I have never listened to a romance with a male narrator but Will Damron did an incredible job. I think Fossen deserves almost all the credit for how captivating I found this story but Damron does need his due because he told the story in the perfect way. (It’s not shocking that when I looked him up to see what else he has narrated that he has tons of books under his belt and has won many awards.) The only thing that kept me from giving this book a full five stars was that it has Christmas in the title and is marketed as a holiday romance but there wasn’t a lot of Christmas. Beyond a few mentions it read as a romance that could have been set anytime of the year.
If you are looking for an enjoyable and exciting small town romance than look no further than this book. And perhaps you don’t particularly enjoy books that scream Christmas and if that’s the case, this book might just be the five star read you are looking for. I am already eagerly anticipating the next book in this series that comes out in March but in the meantime, I will definitely be checking out the first book.
USA Today bestselling author, Delores Fossen, has sold over 70 novels with millions of copies of her books in print worldwide. She’s received the Booksellers’ Best Award, the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award and was a finalist for the prestigious Rita ®. In addition, she’s had nearly a hundred short stories and articles published in national magazines.
THIS IS LIKE one of those stupid posts that people put on social media,” the woman snarled. “You know the ones I’m talking about. For a million dollars, would you stay in this really amazing house for a year with no internet, no phone and some panty-sniffing poltergeists?”
Frowning at that, Janessa Parkman blinked away the raindrops that’d blown onto her eyelashes and glanced at the grumbler, Margo Tolley, who was standing on her right. Margo had hurled some profanity and that weird comment at the black granite headstone that stretched five feet across and five feet high. A huge etched image of Margo’s ex, Abraham Lincoln Parkman IV, was in the center, and it was flanked by a pair of gold-leaf etchings of the ornate Parkman family crest.
“Abe was a miserable coot, and this proves it,” Margo added, spitting out the words the way the chilly late October rain was spitting at them. She kicked the side of the headstone.
Janessa really wanted to disagree with that insult, and the kick, especially since Margo had aimed both of them at Janessa’s father. Or rather her father because he had that particular title in name only. However, it was hard to disagree or be insulted after what she’d just heard from Abe’s lawyer. Hard not to feel the bubbling anger over what her father had done, either.
Good grief. Talk about a goat rope the man had set up.
“Do you understand the conditions of Abe’s will?” Asher Parkman, the lawyer, asked, directing the question at Janessa.
“Yeah, do you understand that the miserable coot is trying to ruin our lives?” Margo blurted out before she could answer.
Yes, Janessa got that, and unlike the stupid social media posts, there was nothing amusing about this. The miserable coot had just screwed them all six ways to Sunday.
Twenty Minutes Earlier
“SOMEBODY OUGHT TO put a Texas-sized warning label on Abe Parkman’s tombstone,” Margo Tolley grumbled. “A warning label,” she repeated. “Because Abe’s meanness will surely make everything within thirty feet toxic for years to come. He could beat out Ebenezer Scrooge for meanness. The man was a flamin’ bunghole.”
Janessa figured the woman had a right to voice an opinion, even if the voicing was happening at Abe Parkman’s graveside funeral service. Janessa’s father clearly hadn’t left behind a legacy of affection and kindness.
Margo, who’d been Abe’s second wife, probably had a right to be bitter. So did plenty of others, and Janessa suspected most people in Abe’s hometown of Last Ride, Texas, had come to this funeral just so they could make sure he was truly dead.
Or to glean any tidbits about Abe’s will.
Rich people usually left lots of money and property when they died. Mean rich people could do mean, unexpected things with that money and property. It was the juiciest kind of gossip fodder for a small town.
Janessa didn’t care one wet eyelash what Abe did with whatever he’d accumulated during his misery-causing life. Her reason for coming had nothing to do with wills or assets. No. She needed the answer to two very big questions.
Why had Abe wanted her here?
And what had he wanted her to help him fix?
Janessa gave that plenty of thought while she listened to the minister, Vernon Kerr, giving the eulogy. He chirped on about Abe’s achievements, peppering in things like pillar of the community, astute businessman and a legacy that will live on for generations. But there were also phrases like his sometimes rigid approach to life and an often firm hand in dealing with others.
Perhaps those were the polite ways of saying flamin’ bunghole.
The sound of the minister’s voice blended with the drizzle that pinged on the sea of mourners’ umbrellas. Gripes and mutters rippled through the group of about a hundred people who’d braved the unpredictable October 30th weather to come to Parkmans’ Cemetery.
Or Snooty Hill as Janessa had heard some call it.
The Parkmans might be the most prominent and richest family in Last Ride, and their ancestor might have founded the town, but obviously some in her gene pool weren’t revered.
Margo continued to gripe and mutter as well, but her comments were harsher than the rest of the onlookers because she’d likely gotten plenty of fallout from Abe’s firm hand. It was possibly true of anyone whose life Abe had touched. Janessa certainly hadn’t been spared from it.
Still, Abe had managed to attract and convince two women to marry him, including Janessa’s own mother—who’d been his first wife. Janessa figured the convincing was in large part because he’d been remarkably good-looking along with having mountains of money. But it puzzled her as to why the women would tie themselves, even temporarily, to a man with a mile-wide mean streak.
A jagged vein of lightning streaked out from a fast approaching cloud that was the color of a nasty bruise. It sent some of the mourners gasping, squealing and scurrying toward their vehicles. They parted like the proverbial sea, giving Janessa a clear line of sight of someone else.
Oh, for so many reasons, it was impossible for Janessa not to notice him. For an equal number of reasons, it was impossible not to remember him.
Long and lean, Brody stood out in plenty of ways. No umbrella, for one. The rain was splatting onto his gray Stetson and shoulders. No funeral clothes for him, either. He was wearing boots, jeans and a long-sleeved blue shirt that was already clinging to his body because of the drizzle.
Once, years ago on a hot July night, she’d run her tongue over some of the very places where that shirt was now clinging.
Yes, impossible not to remember that.
Brody was standing back from the grave. Far back. Ironic since according to the snippets Janessa had heard over the years about her father, Brody was the person who’d been closest to Abe, along with also running Abe’s sprawling ranch, Colts Creek.
If those updates—aka gossip through social media and the occasional letter from Abe’s head housekeeper—were right, then Brody was the son that Abe had always wanted but never had. It was highly likely that he was the only one here who was truly mourning Abe’s death.
Though he wasn’t especially showing any signs of grief.
It probably wasn’t the best time for her to notice that Brody’s looks had only gotten a whole boatload better since her days of tongue-kissing his chest. They’d been seventeen, and while he’d been go-ahead-drown-in-me hot even back then, he was a ten-ton avalanche of hotness now with his black hair and dreamy brown eyes.
His body had filled out in all the right places, and his face, that face, had a nice edge to it. A mix of reckless rock star and a really naughty fallen angel who knew how to do many, many naughty things.
A loud burst of thunder sent even more people hurrying off. “Sorry for your loss,” one of them shouted to Brody. Several more added pats on his back. Two women hugged him, and one of the men tried to give Brody his umbrella, which Brody refused. You didn’t have to be a lip-reader to know that one of those women, an attractive busty brunette, whispered, “Call me,” in his ear.
Brody didn’t acknowledge that obvious and poorly timed booty-call offer. He just stood there, his gaze sliding from Abe’s tombstone to Janessa. Unlike her, he definitely didn’t appear to be admiring anything about her or remembering that he’d been the one to rid her of her virginity.
Just the opposite.
His expression seemed to be questioning why she was there. That was understandable. It’d been fifteen years since Janessa had been to Last Ride. Fifteen years since her de-virgining. That’d happened at the tail end of her one and only visit to Colts Creek when she’d spent that summer trying, and failing, to figure Abe out. She was still trying, still failing.
Brody was likely thinking that since she hadn’t recently come to see the man who’d fathered her when he was alive, then there was no good reason to see him now that he was dead.
Heck, Brody might be right.
So what if Abe had sent her that letter? So what if he’d said please? That didn’t undo the past. She’d spent plenty of time and tears trying to work out what place in her mind and heart to put Abe. As for her mind—she reserved Abe a space in a tiny mental back corner that only surfaced when she saw Father’s Day cards in the store. And as for her heart—she’d given him no space whatsoever.
Well, not until that blasted letter anyway.
She silently cursed herself, mentally repeating some of Margo’s mutters. She’d thought she had buried her daddy issues years ago. It turned out, though, that some things just didn’t stay buried. They just lurked and lingered, waiting for a chance to resurface and bite you in the butt. Which wasn’t a comforting thought, considering she was standing next to a grave.
Reverend Kerr nervously eyed the next zagging bolt of lightning, and he gave what had to be the fastest closing prayer in the history of prayers. The moment he said “Amen,” he clutched his tattered Bible to his chest and hurried toward his vehicle, all the while calling out condolences to no one in particular.
Most of the others fled with the minister, leaving Janessa with Brody, Margo and Abe’s attorney, Asher Parkman, who was also Abe’s cousin. It’d been Asher who’d called her four days ago to tell her of Abe’s death, and to inform her that Abe had insisted that she and her mother, Sophia, come to today’s graveside funeral. Both had refused. Janessa had politely done that. Her mother had declined with an “if and when hell freezes over.” That was it, the end of the discussion.
This is a fun and very quick little story that really just dips the readers (or listeners) toes into the world of Balkan fairy tales. Our main character, Riley, works at a bakery and one day a customer comes in with a special request. He would like her to make him a loaf of bread with an ingredient that can only be found in the forest at twilight. The ensuing quest was was delightful and the ending was truly the icing on top. The audiobook that I listened to was only 16 minutes but Johnson still told a tale full of adventure that left me wanting more. Which is great because she has a Christmas romance novella that is perfect for this upcoming time of year.
This quirky story revolves around our protagonist, who goes by the anonymous name of Jane Smith, as she tells us the story of her life starting with the unexpected delivery of an envelope containing a key to a storage locker from the deceased environmental warrior, Silvina. And if that sounds confusing then just wait until the story really takes off. Jane takes us on a labyrinth of twists and turns as she follows the breadcrumbs Silvina left behind. As Jane starts exploring the clues Silvina left behind her safety, as well as her family’s, becomes an issue since there are some dangerous people that don’t want Jane to find what Silvina had hidden.
This is such an original story and I enjoyed immersing myself in VanderMeer’s world. What this book is at its core is an ecological mystery which is an interesting mash up that ends up working so well. VanderMeer seamlessly weaves in facts about hummingbirds, salamanders, and nature in general along with slowly ratcheting up the suspense. We are thrown right into the story with Jane and since Jane is figuring out the mystery we are left in the dark with her while we wait for her to follow the breadcrumbs. This book also excels at the dichotomy of being both fast paced and slow. Make no mistake, this book requires work and effort as we work our way through the puzzle of Silvina. However, there are breathtaking moments that make all the slow trodding along more than worth it.
VanderMeer takes us on an exhilarating ride and the ending was both unexpected yet incredibly fitting. By the end Jane is a character that you have been through so much with that you can’t help but have an emotional connection to her. She is telling us the story in an intimate and almost journal like way that has left me still thinking about her months later. There is so much to talk about regarding this story but since I’m keeping this spoiler free I will just say that if you can get past the first part of this story you will be captivated by the rest.
This is my first VanderMeer book and it will not be my last. He has such a distinctive and eccentric way of writing that I really enjoyed and admired. I feel like this is a book for a very specific type of reader who doesn’t mind not knowing what is happening until practically the end. And even then it has some twists and turns. If you are looking for a book that demands you take your time to slowly immerse yourself into the story then this might be one that you could end up really loving.
This is a unique fantasy that is seeped in Japanese mythology. We follow Ren, a half British reaper and half Japanese Shinigami. Ren has gotten on somewhat peacefully in Britain for the last two centuries but when she loses control of her Shinigami powers she is forced to leave, along with her half brother, Neven. Ren and Neven make their way to Japan so Ren can finally claim her Shinigami powers and hopefully be reunited with the mother she has never known. The Japanese Goddess of Death agrees to let Ren become a full Shinigami if she completes the task of finding and killing three Yokai demons.
The Japanese myths that center this story were my favorite part. I loved learning about the different legends and characters that Baker introduced throughout her story. I was pleasantly surprised by the horror aspects that were in this book. Obviously a complete novice to Japanese mythology but I’m assuming that is a common occurrence in the lore. Another aspect of the story that I loved was Baker’s atmospheric and beautiful writing. I highlighted so many lines in my Kindle because I was so blown away with the elegant way she writes.
As intriguing as I found the story and as stunning as I found Baker’s writing I did find that the plot slowly started unraveling the more we got into it. I found the beginning to be instantly attention grabbing but unfortunately, for me, that was the strongest part. I still enjoyed the bulk of the story despite it’s many flaws. Ren is supposed to be a morally grey character and Neven takes on the role of the white knight but I found both of these personality traits underdeveloped.
I thought this book was ending at the perfect moment but then it kept going. And then I again thought that we had come to a satisfying conclusion but no the story continued. The end also had major pacing issues. It was obvious that Baker wanted to stop at a certain point but she should have added another 100 pages or so and told a more complete story. Or, what I would have preferred, saved some of what happened at the end for the sequel.
I would still recommend this book for the incredible way Baker weaves in Japanese folklore with stories of reapers and the dead. This is Baker’s debut novel and the plot coupled with her mesmerizing writing are reasons enough for me to be eagerly anticipating the sequel. If you are a fantasy reader who is looking for distinctive and compelling world building then look no further than The Keeper of the Night.
“Every step was a goodbye to a place I’d never really loved but that had made up my entire world.”
“I wouldn’t give her my story to add to her collection, because it wasn’t over yet.”
All the Feels is a sweet, funny, heartwarming, emotional and smutty romance about two characters that I won’t forget for many years to come. It is the last season of God of the Gates (think Game of Thrones) and Alex (think Jamie Lannister) has just gotten into a bar fight and that coupled with issues he’s had on other sets makes the show runner, Ron, hires his cousin, Lauren, to be his minder. Lauren is tasked with never letting Alex out of her sight lest he get himself into more trouble. While this story seems like a simple and straightforward romantic comedy it has many complex layers that give it so much heart and many moving moments.
Alex is everything one would want in a hero as he was equally funny and swoon worthy. However, Alex is dealing with some heavy emotional baggage due to some past regrets. Lauren is at a cross roads with her life since she just took a leave of absence from her job as an ER therapist. They are both thrown into a situation that requires them to be together almost constantly and this leads to them becoming friends and then slowly falling for each other.
I love how during their friendship and then eventual romantic relationship Lauren and Alex are navigating some tough issues together. Because of her past, Lauren has learned not to stick up for herself in any situation. Alex, because of his past, has big reactions to anything or anyone that he thinks his harmful. Confronting their trauma and past helps to solidify the bond between them and led to me yearning for them to have their happily ever after. I’m usually not a big fan of epilogues but I throughly enjoyed the one in this book and I even got teary eyed at the end.
To lighten up these tougher moments, Dade makes sure to throw in lots of fun and levity. The Spoiler Alert series is known for their basis in fan fiction and I have to admit that I had never heard of most of the smutty fan fiction tropes that are out there. It was very intriguing and Dade was even kind enough to throw in some fan fiction stories so we could clearly see the tropes in action. Also, if you wanted to, I’m sure you could have a drinking game (be responsible!) while reading this where you take a shot every time pegging is mentioned (spoiler: you will be very drunk).
My only negative to this book was that at times it felt overwritten. The characters would be in the middle of a dialogue heavy scene and Dade would interrupt to tell us how someone was feeling. Or that the other character knows how the other person is feeling because of x, y and/or z. It was a little frustrating to get taken out of the emotion or humor in the scene when it wasn’t necessary. Other than that I was fully immersed in this story and I love the world that Dade created. Especially as a fan of Game of Thrones who absolutely despises the last season, this felt like the perfect antidote to it.
If you are looking for a romance that will give you all the feels and also have you smiling/laughing practically the whole way through then I can’t recommend this book enough. Lauren and Alex took me on a journey that I absolutely loved and I know that I will continue to think fondly about them for awhile. I have my fingers crossed that the third book in this series will feature Lauren’s best friend but I will happily read any story that Dade releases.
Whew, I am finally here to wrap up Saturday’s 24 hr readathon. For some reason I am always busier then I think I will be. I think with the pandemic I got used to my kids not having that much to do and that is no longer the case but I haven’t made the mental shift yet. Saturday the readathon started at 5am for me and so it ended at 5am Sunday. I was so tired when I went to bed on Friday that I somehow managed to not save my alarm for 5 but I still woke up at 5:40 so I started from there. I tried to make it as long as I could but I finally tapped out at 1:30 am which means I did most of the 24 hr readathon. I also posted most hours so I will link all those posts at the end if you want to follow along with what I did that day.
My two oldest boys also participated in the readathon which was very exciting for me because I love how much they enjoy reading. My youngest is only 4 so he wasn’t quite able to join in but he did play ABC mouse while he did some snacking with us. And of course he gets read to anytime he asks pretty much so I hope when he is older he will want to read with us!
Total books read
Hunter: 2 read/finished (had already started previously). 1 partially read.
Connor: 3 audiobooks listened to (all from the Who Was series) and started a reread of Scythe
Me: 5 read. 1 finished that I previously started. 1 DNF
I read 87 pages of this but I decided to put it down because it had multiple instances of detailing someone dying of cancer and that is a topic that is extremely hard for me to read. I can usually push past it but it kept being brought up and it brought my mood and reading pace down. Whenever I decide to DNF a book I always look up spoiler reviews so I can get some resolution on the story and boy after reading some reviews was I glad I put this down. It seems like I put it down while the plot was still somewhat together and after that it turns into a whole other story. I thought this was going to be a ghost story but apparently it is more of a romance which I wouldn’t have guessed at all. I knew there was a love interest but I thought he would be helping her investigate the creepy happenings of their boardinghouse but I was wrong. If you like romance with some paranormal elements then perhaps this is a book you would enjoy.
This is a really cute romance between two long lost loves. The pacing of the main story was very quick. It had that insta love feeling since they fall back into their relationship so quickly after meeting again. The ending was also not great and a total rip off of a popular romance movie. However, the edition that I read had a few short additional stories that tell different parts of their relationship and it helped make everything seem more real. I really appreciated the sex talk in one story because it is not very often when a book is so open about safe sex options for women relationships. I also enjoyed the story that had some actual conflict between the wives and seeing them work through it was rewarding. When I first read this I gave it five stars but since thinking about it more I have lowered it down to four stars. The last story in the book also teased what the second volume will be about and I will definitely be picking that up.
I will have a full review up for this season since it was gifted to me by the publisher. A really fun domestic thriller that is centered around Halloween.
I read this because my son, Connor, has been wanting me to for awhile so I went into it without knowing anything. And I was not expecting a horror. This is basically the middle grade version of Junji Ito. Both the story and the art are creepy and there were a few instances where I was grossed out. The only downside to this book is that it doesn’t have a satisfying ending.
This is another one that Connor wanted me to read but I obviously knew what this was about going into it. Although I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned reading this.. There were a lot of interesting details about what was happening around the time of the Donner party that I never heard of before. These Nathan Hale books are great and my history loving son is obsessed with them. I also appreciated that there were trigger warnings for the kids reading this before it got into the graphic parts of the story.
The perfect addition to the Stranger Things story that we all know and love from the tv show. This graphic novel showcases how important Dungeon and Dragons is to the friend group before the events of the first season and in between every other season. Stranger Things is my favorite show of all time so this was just a heartwarming read.
One of the best written books I have ever read. Camilla Bruce is a genius and I have made it my mission to read everything she has ever written. (I recently got a collection of fairy tale retellings just so I can read her story.) A lot of people are not going to like this book and that’s ok. But if you love weird creepy books with unreliable narrators then this is one that I think you will enjoy. The topic of sexual abuse is a heavy theme of this story so please be aware of that if you are thinking of reading this. I will eventually have a full (probably spoiler filled) review up for this book.
And that’s all that I read. Thank you so much for everyone that followed along with me during that day! I enjoyed sharing my day with all of you but I’m glad that the readathon only happens a few times a year.
ABOUT THE BOOK: A sweetly charming love story that leaves the reader with a lasting sense of hope.” —Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star “The perfect novel to snuggle up with.” —Emily Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read No one ever said love would be easy…but did they mention it would be freezing?
Adam Stillwater is in over his head. At least, that’s what his best friend would say. And his mom. And the guy who runs the hardware store down the street. But this pinball arcade is the only piece of his dad that Adam has left, and he’s determined to protect it from Philadelphia’s newest tech mogul, who wants to turn it into another one of his cold, lifeless gaming cafés.
Whitney Mitchell doesn’t know how she got here. Her parents split up. Her boyfriend dumped her. Her friends seem to have changed overnight. And now she’s spending her senior year running social media for her dad’s chain of super successful gaming cafés—which mostly consists of trading insults with that decrepit old pinball arcade across town.
But when a huge snowstorm hits, Adam and Whitney suddenly find themselves trapped inside the arcade. Cut off from their families, their worlds, and their responsibilities, the tension between them seems to melt away, leaving something else in its place. But what happens when the storm stops?
I tried to read this book but I unfortunately DNF’d at 25%. The events of the synopsis don’t take place until much further in the book so it is more of a contemporary with a possible side of romance. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. Except for what we are left with is a heavy dose of technology that I really struggled with. I had a hard time visualizing what was being described and there was more of an emphasis on that than character building. I also found the quarter of the book that I did read to be pretty repetitive. I do think this book will be wonderful for its actual intended audience. If you are someone who enjoys gaming and the art community then this might also be one that you might want to think about picking up.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ERIC SMITH is an author and literary agent from Elizabeth, New Jersey. When he isn’t working on other people’s books, sometimes he tries to write his own. He enjoys pop punk, video games, and crying during every movie. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and best friend, Nena, and their son, Langston. WWW.ERICSMITHROCKS.COM
“The playfield is truly the heart of every pinball machine. All of the player’s goals are right there, splayed out in front of them. And like life, it’s up to you to find a way to reach them, with the tools you’re presented. In this case, it’s a ball.”—THE ART AND ZEN OF PINBALL REPAIR BY JAMES WATTS
The sound of collective screaming and a massive crash shake my entire workshop, and I almost stab myself with a piping-hot soldering iron.
“Adam!” my mom yells from inside the arcade. If another pack of junior high kids from the nearby Hillman Academy “accidentally” flip over a machine trying to get it to tilt, I am going to lose it. I grip the iron, the cracked brown leather wrapped around the metal handle squeaking a little against my skin, and shake my head, trying to refocus. Maybe I can finish this before it’s time to pick up that custom piece—
And another crash rattles the walls. A few parts tumble off my shelves, tiny intricate pieces of metal and glass, bits of copper wire, all clinking against my table.
I attempt to catch a few of the electronic pieces, trying not to burn myself with the iron in my other hand, and then a hammer falls off the perforated wall of tools in front of me. It collides with a small cardboard box full of pinball playfield lightbulbs, and I wince at the small crack and pop sounds.
“Goddammit,” I grumble out. I toss the soldering iron aside and try to clean up the mess. At least those lightbulbs are like, ten bucks a dozen on arcade wholesale websites. But pinball machines have a lot of lights.
“Adam!” This time it’s Chris. “Dude, where are you?”
I’m about to bolt from the workshop when I remember Mom is out there. I reach for the latest read I promised her I’d finish—We Built This Gritty by Kevin Michaels, a book on launching small businesses by an entrepreneur here in Philly that one of her colleagues is teaching at the county college—and immediately yank my hand back. The soldering iron had gone right in between the pages when I tossed it, and the book is already smoking. I pull the iron out and set it aside and flap the book around wildly, little wisps pooling up from inside the bright orange book. I flip it open.
It’s burnt right down the middle. Great. Something tells me she won’t be able to trade this back in at the campus store.
I glance over at The Beast and give the forever-in-progress Philadelphia-themed home-brewed pinball machine a pat, the glass still off the surface, wires and various parts splayed out over the playfield. My well-worn copy of The Art and Zen of Pinball Repair by James Watts sits smack in the middle of everything. I’ve still got a way to go before I can try playing Dad’s unfinished machine again, but if anyone is gonna get me there, it’s Watts. If I could just get a free chunk of time in between the studying and the arcade and the—
An array of swears echoes from inside the arcade, snapping me back.
Right. Chris. Mom. Chaos. Potentially broken and nearly irreplaceable machines worth thousands of dollars.
I unplug the soldering iron and place it in its little stand, like a quill pen in an inkwell. I wedge the now-toasty book under my arm and take a few steps to pick up some speed, to get a little force, and I push my shoulder against the dark red wooden workshop door. I push, gritting my teeth. The splintering surface presses into my arm, stinging with the pressure, until finally, the wood squeals against the frame, shrunken in and wedged together due to the sharp Philadelphia winter.
The whole workshop is like that, really, casting a major contrast to the polished, well-kept-despite-its-years pinball arcade. The cracked workshop table that is way more rickety than it has any right to be, tools showing their age with hinges that refuse to move and metal pieces falling off shrinking wood and weak plastic handles, vintage pinball parts that maybe still work, a concrete floor with a surface that’s chipping away, revealing dirt and dust, lightbulbs I don’t even remotely trust. My sad excuse for a drafting table sits off to the end of the workshop, and I’ve never really used it, preferring to fuss with plans right on the messy workshop table, next to all of Dad’s scribbles.
We could clean it up, have this room match the rest of the arcade. But I love it. It reminds me of him.
The door swings open suddenly and hits the wall inside the arcade with a loud bang.
And it is absolute chaos here.
A bunch of little kids are rushing outside, and I see a couple of adults gathering coats and their small children, who are likely about to join the exodus. The afternoon light that’s pouring in from the wide-open front door and the large plate-glass windows lining the wall make me wince. The glare hurts only slightly less than the idea of customers hustling out of here on a Saturday, easily our best, and only, solid day during the wintertime off-season. Especially now, at the end of the year, with so few days left before we close for the New Year holiday.
People don’t come to pinball arcades in the winter. Well. Maybe they do, but not when your arcade is located near all the tourist stuff in Old City, all the college students are away on break, and you don’t serve any alcohol. No tourists, no college kids, no booze, no pinball. It’s a neighborhood for expensive restaurants and niche boutiques, old-timey candy shops and artisan pour-over coffee. Not an arcade with a poor excuse for a snack bar inside that mostly serves soda, chips, and reheated chicken tenders and fries.
If it wasn’t for the upcoming Old City Winter Festival, I’m not sure we’d be able to keep the lights on come January. And there’s a businessman out in West Philadelphia who would very much like to see that happen, and there’s no way I’m going to let him do that. I’ve eaten way too many burnt chicken tenders that were “well, these are still kinda good, Adam” according to my mom, but not good enough for the customers. I’ve paid my dues.
“Mom!” I shout, looking to the back of the arcade. “Chris, what is—”
But then I see it.
On the other side of the arcade, my mom has her hands on her hips and is glaring intently at a handful of college guys who are sheepishly milling about near one of the windows. And Chris is trying to lift up a machine that’s currently knocked over, the glass that would normally be covering the playfield shattered across the floor. Another machine is tilted, leaning against a support beam, and looks okay from here. But judging by the angle and the amount of force it would have taken to get it off the legs in the first place, I’m betting we’re going to have some dents on the light box (the back of the machine that juts up over the area where you actually play, and displays the score and art).
“What the hell?” I snap, kicking the workshop door closed and storming across the arcade. My thick black boots squeak loud against the worn, polished hardwood floor, all the imperfections of the ancient Philadelphia wooden boards permanently glossed in place. A few more guys, these ones my age, weave around me, fiddling on their phones and oblivious. Bits of glass crunch under my feet, and I glance down at a bumper, red and black and looking like one of those crushed lantern fly bugs that litter the city sidewalks.
“What happened?” I ask, tossing my burnt book onto the floor. I nudge the tilted machine upright and then bend down to help Chris, who is straining to move the machine on the floor. I manage to wedge my fingers under the side, carefully tapping the metal, trying to avoid any extra glass, and lift. Chris lets out a groan and I grit my teeth as we push the machine upright, and it nearly topples back over the other way, but Mom reaches out and stops it.
“They happened.” Mom nods back at the guys who are standing about awkwardly. “Any updates there?” She points at one of them, and that’s when I realize they’re all sort of keeping an eye on one vaguely familiar-looking dude in the middle, who is fussing with his phone.
“Just a second,” he grumbles out, and he flicks his head to the side, his emo black bangs moving out of his eyes. I can’t help but squint at him, trying to place his face. Half his head is shaved, and he has this sort of Fall Out Boy look that would be cool, if he and his pals hadn’t clearly destroyed a pinball machine in my family’s arcade. A splash of anxiety hits me in the chest as I realize I don’t know what game has been totaled, and I turn to look at the machine.
I exhale, relieved that it’s not one of the more popular or rare games in the arcade. But still, it’s a machine from the ’80s. One of the first games in the industry to use the popular Squawk & Talk soundboard, a piece of technology that is wildly expensive to replace, since it isn’t made anymore. That’s the sort of pinball trivia both Chris and my mom tend to shush when I start rambling too much, telling me “that should be a tweet,” which translates to “shut up” in the nicest way possible. I’m almost positive that’s the reason they pushed me to get the arcade on social media—to have a place to share those musings.
The machine didn’t deserve this, even if that awful movie maybe did.
I run my hand along the side of the other machine that was just bumped into, leaning on one of the wooden beams that are scattered throughout the arcade, you know, holding the building up. It’s the Terminator 2: Judgment Day machine, and thankfully, it looks undamaged. A little dented along the light box, as I suspected, but the glass and everything else seems fine. It’s a popular one with the Millennial crowd, and I’m relieved.
“How much is it going to cost to fix?” the familiar guy with the hair asks. He must catch me staring at him, ’cause his eyes flit over to mine, irritated, and I look away, focusing back on the machine.
I pluck at some of the glass on the surface, nudging around some of the broken obstacles on the playfield, and feel a sharp sting in my hand. I quickly pull away and spot a thin line of red trailing along my palm.
I glance up, and my mom, Chris, and Emo Hair are all staring at me expectantly.
“What?” I ask, focusing back down at the machine and then back at all of them.
“The cost,” my mom presses. “That machine. How much do you think it’ll cost to fix all of this?” She gestures at the floor and shakes her head, her mouth a thin line. All that brewing frustration that she’s trying to bury down. Kids mess with the machines often, and we’ve certainly had a few hiccups like this before, but I’ve never seen her looking this wildly angry. I didn’t even think she liked that machine.
“Oh.” I swallow and clear my throat. “I don’t know. It depends on how bad the damage is?” I scan the playfield and then the side of the machine, which has a sizable dent in the steel that I can probably hammer out. But the shattered glass, the pieces, and who knows what’s going on inside it. I think back to Watts’s The Art and Zen of Pinball Repair, my holy tome, written by my hero.
“If you think it’s broken, it is. And if you think it’s going to be cheap to replace, it’s not.”
I stare at the broken glass.
“You know what, how’s a thousand dollars?” the familiar guy holding the phone asks. He looks around at his dude friends, their faces awash in expressions that are essentially shrugs, each nodding at him. “Everyone Venmo me two hundred after this or I’ll kick your asses.”
Some of the guys laugh while the rest break out their phones.
“Why?” scoffs one of them. “You’re the one with the money.”
Emo Hair snorts out a laugh and shakes his head, and glances back up from his screen. The fact that all of them are so relaxed about that much money irks me. The arcade is barely scraping by these days, and it’s no wonder other businesses have been sniffing around the building this year, leaving painfully awkward notes and emails for Mom. I’ve seen a few of them, here and there. The worst ones come under the guise of pretending to be supportive. Do you need anything? We’re here for you. Just checking in. And then in the same breath, bringing up property values and plummeting interest in arcades.
And despite frequent requests to stop mailing us, a local real estate developer loves sending us physical mail about the benefits of selling real estate in Old City now, and they’re always addressed to Dad. Assholes.
“What’s your Venmo?” he asks, looking at my mom and then at me. My mom and I exchange a look. He huffs. “How about PayPal? Apple Pay?”
“I mean…we could take a check?” My mom shrugs, wincing. One of the bros groans like this has somehow physically wounded him, and before I can say anything, my mom snaps a finger at the guy. “Hey, you five are the ones who broke this machine. If I want you to go get that thousand dollars in a burlap sack full of coins at the bank down the road, you’ll get it.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” one of them mutters.
“Just Venmo it to me,” Chris says, pulling out his phone. “I’ll hit the bank when I run out to pick up sidewalk salt for the snow, and get it taken care of, Mrs. Stillwater.” He glances at my mom and shakes his head at me. I know that look. He’s about to force another freaking app on me, and I don’t think I’ll be able to talk about pinball on Venmo. It was bad enough when he tricked me into joining Pinterest, convincing me it was a pinball thing.
He steps over to the pack of guys, and they’re all looking at one another and their phones and his, and I really shouldn’t be surprised that he knows how to handle this. Him and his apps. I wish he’d just run the social media for the arcade, but he says it wouldn’t sound “genuine” or something. If typos make someone sound genuine, I am very genuine.
A year behind me at Central, a junior, Chris has this whole Adam Driver look about him. Same sharp cheekbones and bits of facial hair, only a little shorter and with thin square glasses, and as geeky as you can get without actually being in a Star Wars movie. My best friend since I was eight, and our only employee in the off-season, as everyone is either a college student heading home for the break or a fellow local high schooler who has no interest in working over the winter.
He nods at the guys, looking at his phone.
“All right, I got it,” he says and then turns to us. The bros stand there for a beat.
“You can leave,” my mom snaps and points toward the door.
“Right, right,” the familiar guy says and gestures for the rest of his pack to follow. They amble out of the shop, their feet crunching the glass on the floor in a way that makes me feel like it’s on purpose. I take a step forward, but Chris reaches his arm out, his hand pressing against my chest.
I glance up at him, and he just shakes his head.
I huff and bend down to sift through the glass and pieces of machine, while my mom disappears into the back office. There are some bumpers on the ground, and a few small white flags, little targets meant to be knocked down for bonus plays, are scattered about like baby teeth. The glass, though, that really bothers me. A good sheet of playfield glass can go for a little over a hundred dollars, and while I know that’s not technically a lot of money in the grand scheme of things…we don’t have that much to spare these days.
Jorge over at NextFab, the makerspace that Chris practically lives in when he isn’t here, has been great at helping me replace some parts, as well as teaching me how to build some of my own, which is way more helpful than YouTube tutorials. But a whole sheet of glass? Bumpers with intricate circuitry and copper coils? That’s not something easily 3D printed, especially when he keeps doing it for free. And I don’t know how much of that I can manage in my workshop. Or afford, for that matter.
I look around the dirty playfield for the remaining flags but…dammit, they are nowhere to be found. At least the back glass, the lit-up artwork on the back of the machine, isn’t damaged. Flash is still there, looking dead ahead at me, alongside Dale and the…ugh, wildly racist Ming the Merciless.
Maybe the machine did deserve this.
Chris squats down next to me.
“Want me to grab the broom?” he asks, picking at a broken bumper.
I look back to my hand. The line in my palm is ugly but clean. I flex my hand a little, and the cut widens, and I see just how far up and down my hand it goes. I wonder if I’ll need stitches or if it’ll scar.
“Sure.” I clear my throat and both of us stand up. I glance toward the arcade’s exit, the place now empty, as Chris walks over to the snack bar. “Must be nice,” I say, “being able to drop that much money without thinking about it.”
“Yeah, well, not like his dad isn’t good for it.”
“His dad?” I ask, peering over. Chris is behind the bar, some paper towels already scattered out in front of him, a broom in one hand. Heat lamps keeping fries and onion rings warm tint his face a reddish orange for a moment before he ducks back out.
“Well, yeah?” He shrugs, walking over. He places the paper towels in my hands and nods at the cut. “Apply pressure.” He starts sweeping, moving bits of glass and broken parts into a small pile. “I swear, one more incident like this, and that is what’s gonna make me finally try to get a job at the makerspace. Or a coffee shop…” He looks up at me as I stare at him. “What? You know I can’t work in here forever, bro.”
“What do you mean what? I know that part.” I laugh. “Who is his dad? You’re just gonna leave the story hanging there?”
He nearly drops the broom but reaches out to grab the handle.
“Are you serious?” he scoffs. I shrug and he shakes his head. “Adam, that was Nick. That’s why I thought you were so mad, looking like you were about to charge after him and his goons.” I shrug again. “Jesus, Adam. Nick Mitchell.”
The stress on that last name.
It sends a shock through my entire system, and I turn to look at the exit, as though he and his friends might still be there. I tighten my hand into a fist, and the pain from the cut sears through my palm, lighting me up through my forearm. And I swear, for a moment I can feel it in my head, bouncing around like a pinball against bumpers.
Whitney Mitchell’s brother.
And also the oldest son of the man trying to buy my father’s arcade from my mother, with plans to make it into another one of his eSports cafés. He’s been poking around all year, like a vulture circling over something that might just die any minute. But this place still has a little life in it. A little fight in it.
And dammit, so do I.
Did he even recognize me? Did he know this was our arcade? Back when me and Whitney were supposedly friends, before high school changed everything, I don’t think I ever saw him come around. But I saw him all the time at school and before her dad’s career took off, when we’d play at Whitney’s old house in South Philly. And when we were kids, everyone had their birthday parties here at the pinball arcade. With so many mutual friends and the like, he had to have been in here at some point. Until they forgot about us, like the entire building was just one giant toy that fell behind a dresser.
“All right, well, I can tell you know who he is now,” Chris says, walking back toward the snack bar. He grabs some more paper towels and thrusts them at me, nodding at my hand. I look down, and the paper wad is an awful dark red, soaked through from my rage. “Go take a seat. I’m gonna get the first-aid kit out of your workshop.”
“What about Flash Gordon?” I ask, glancing back at the messed-up machine.
“It’s a problematic racist relic. Who cares? Come on.” He laughs, reaching out and grabbing my shoulder. “Besides, if you want some replacement bits, I’m heading to the makerspace tomorrow—we can rummage for parts. Go grab a seat.” He nods at the snack bar and walks off. I turn around and pull my phone out, snapping photos of the broken pinball machine. The scratched-up metal exterior, the dented places around the playfield. I bend down and snap pictures of some of the crunched glass still on the floor, the broken parts scattered in a neat pile thanks to Chris. I even take a few photos of the dented Terminator 2: Judgment Day machine.
I stroll over to the arcade’s snack spot, Dad’s last great idea for the place, and sit down. The chairs aren’t exactly the pinnacle of comfort, and the hard wood digs into my back, but it’s what my family could afford when we first put this spot in here. It’s still passably cozy enough that local writers will drop in to play a few games, drink our bad coffee or nurse a soda, and spend the day staring at a blank screen while scrolling through Twitter instead of writing.
I sigh and glance up at the wooden shelving that looms over the café corner, a shabby-chic display that Chris’s parents helped build. Tons of Mason jars, full of coffee beans and loose-leaf tea, illuminated by strings of white Christmas twinkle lights, sit on nearly every shelf. Decor meant for hip college students and artsy creatives in West Philly, pulled from a Pinterest board someplace and made real. I think it looks pretty, but if Gordon Ramsay made an episode about our arcade’s little food corner, it would just be a twenty-eight-minute scream.
Chris walks around the side, a little first-aid kit in hand, and gestures for me to give him my hand. I hold it out and he glances back at the Flash Gordon machine.
“Real shame,” he says, wistfully looking at the shattered game.
“Yeah.” I nod. “I took a bunch of photos to post—”
There’s the sound of spraying, and I scream, yanking my hand away. I glare at him, and he’s sporting the widest grin I’ve ever seen, a bottle of spray-on rubbing alcohol in his hand.
“Argh!” I groan. “Why!”
“Kidding, fuck that game.” He laughs.
“You could have told me you were going to do that!” I shout. He tilts his head a little at me. “Fine, you’re right—I would have made a scene over it.”
“Everything okay?” Mom’s in the doorway to the office, peeking out.
“Yeah, Mrs. Stillwater,” Chris says.
My mom scowls at the two of us before breaking into a little smile, but that expression disappears as her line of sight moves toward the broken pinball machine. She closes the door, and I look back at the exit to the arcade again. I feel like with every setback this place has had this year, it gets us one step closer to my mom putting the pinball machines in storage for good and selling the place to Mr. Mitchell. And two damaged machines, one of which is basically destroyed, isn’t going to help.
“And I’m gonna need you to stop it,” Chris says, reaching out and grabbing my hand, slapping a large Band-Aid on my palm. I wince and suck air through my teeth, and he just gives me a look. He pulls out some of that gauze-wrap stuff and starts to bandage up the big Band-Aid, keeping it pressed to my palm. “That guy isn’t worth it, that machine isn’t worth it, and that family definitely isn’t worth getting all riled up over.”
“He had to have known this was my place,” I grumble. “Whitney probably sent him here. If not her, then definitely her father.”
“Oh, come on,” Chris scoffs. “I’m not her biggest fan either, and I know you two don’t get along, but she isn’t some nefarious supervillain. And her dad isn’t going to send henchmen here. When was the last time you and her even talked, outside of snarky social media posts? You like pinball, she likes playing Fortnite and Overwatch. Not exactly a blood feud.”
“I’m not even sure she’s into the video games at her dad’s places or whatever,” I grumble. At least, she wasn’t into video games when we were kids, always so irritated when we’d retreat inside to get in games of Halo. “Besides, you don’t understand.” I shake my head, trying to chase away the memories of that summer before high school and those first days wandering the halls at Central. Her and her new friends, leaning against their lockers, matching jean jackets and bright lip gloss. She was like an entirely new person, and the way she laughed with them when I walked over to say hi…
“Anyway.” I clear my throat. “I wouldn’t put it past her.”
“You need to spend more time worrying about the people who are there for you and less about those who aren’t,” he says, fastening the gauze together with two little metal clips. “Maybe go on a date with someone or something.”
“How do you even know how to do this?” I lift my hand up, flexing my fingers, ignoring the dating question. “There’s no time for that, between the arcade and school. If I kiss a girl by the end of my senior year, it’ll be a miracle.”
“Please, my dads are carpenters and you know how I spend my free time,” he says. “It’s best to be prepared in case someone loses a finger at home or in the shop or at the makerspace.”
I laugh and again find myself looking toward the door. I let out a long exhale through my nose.
“You think we’re going to get anyone else in here today?” Chris asks. “It’s just, you know, maybe I could duck out early to go work on stuff?” There’s this beat of silence that doesn’t need to be filled, and I sigh.
“I think we both know the answer there, right?” With the snowstorm we all know is coming, the brutally cold gusts of wind, and the fact that business slows to a crawl right before the Old City Winter Festival, there’s not much to even say.
I lean back in my chair a little, the sharp pain of the wood digging into my back weirdly comforting, distracting me from my hand and thoughts of Nick and Whitney and that whole terrible family.
“Do you need to talk?” Chris asks, and I glance back at him. “I mean, I can hang a bit longer if you need me.” He digs around in his pocket and pulls out a little candy bag and waves it at me, the plastic crinkling. Swedish Fish. Not the regular kind either; the tropical sort, with orange, pink, purple, and off-white fish in the mix. He shakes it until one drops out onto his hand, and he holds it up between his fingers. “I grabbed a bag at the CVS before I came over here, for my dads. Didn’t realize we’d have to use it, though.”
“Oh, God, no,” I whine. “If you’re gonna do that to me, just leave.”
Whenever Chris’s parents want to talk about “big feelings,” they break out these Swedish Fish candies. Have something important to say? Out comes the candy. It’s usually something critical that might make someone feel upset, but it’s the way you’re feeling, so it’s good to get it all out. Then pair it with something that makes you feel good while you’re hearing something that might make you feel bad.
It was a tradition Chris first told me about when we were really little, and one that’s been ongoing. I’m not quite sure why Swedish Fish are the candy of choice, but I’m guessing it’s because you can buy them in bulk at the South Philadelphia IKEA. He’s since introduced it to me and all our friends. Tell someone how you feel, let them eat the candy, and take in all those thoughts and emotions. Or, give someone the opportunity to say how they’re feeling, and take it all in. Simple enough. And while we don’t practice it at home, my mom often likes to say, “Do you need a fish?” when she thinks I have something I need to talk about.
I hate it so much.
“I hate this so much,” I grumble and pluck the fish from between his fingers.
“Listen,” he says, reaching out and closing my good hand around the candy. “You’re upset. You’re thinking about Whitney and the Mitchells. Nick and the boys. Both of those sound like terrible West Philadelphia indie rock bands. And you’re thinking about maybe going on Twitter and saying something snippy on social media. That what those pictures are for? Yeah?”
“N-no.” I barely stammer the word out. “It’s for…insurance.”
He gives me a look.
“You’re the worst.” I glower at him.
“Nothing good ever comes out of these little fights you have with Whitney online.” He presses, pointing at me. “All you do is get all the stores in the neighborhood riled up, dunking on one another. As if you get points for dunking on people online.”
“You’re the one who taught me how to use social media.”
“Don’t give me the whole ‘I learned it from watching you’ thing. Resist the urge to go online. It’s a waste of your energy,” he says, nodding at me. “Save your online presence for posting your pinball puns and facts. Now, eat your candy.”
“No.” I glare at him.
“Fine, fine.” He smiles, shaking his head, and pulls out his phone. “I’m gonna head off to NextFab. You behave.”
“Ugh, can’t you just work on your weird woodworking coffee things in the workshop?” I groan and gesture toward the red door on the other side of the arcade. “Then you could just be here all the time.”
He laughs and then sighs. “What are you going to do here without me?” he asks.
“Hmph,” I huff. “Probably have a meltdown on the regular.”
He reaches over and taps the screen of my phone, and my eyes flit up to him. “Don’t do it, and you’ll be fine,” he says and then bends over to grab his backpack. It’s this beaten-up leather thing that looks straight out of an old movie. I half expect to see it filled with vintage books tied together in beige string, but I know it’s just full of woodworking tools, and depending on the day, some glassblowing stuff. It’s not lost on me that my best friend spends all his time creating beautiful new things out of nothing, while I stress over repairing machines older than I am every single day.
He walks out of the snack bar and toward the door but stops and turns around.
“And hey, if you need to talk—” he throws something, and I reach out to catch whatever it is that is flapping its way toward me; the plastic bag of Swedish Fish makes a loud crinkling sound as I grab it out of the air “—text me. But I’m gonna want pictures of you eating your candy. It’s important that you trust the process.”
From the thrilling voice of Sacha Wunsch comes a heart-stopping psychological mystery in a world where memories can be shared—but maybe not trusted.
Enhanced Memory changed everything. By sharing someone else’s memory, you can experience anything and everything with no risk at all: learn any skill instantly, travel the world from home, and safeguard all your most treasured secrets forever. Nova’s parents invented this technology, and it’s slowly taking over their lives. That’s where Nova comes in. She can pick up the slack for them—and she doesn’t mind. She knows Enhanced Memory is a gift, and its value outweighs its costs.
But Kade says Nova doesn’t even know the costs. Kade runs a secret vlog cataloging real experiences, is always on the move, and he’s strangely afraid of Nova—even though she feels more comfortable with him than she ever has with anyone. Suddenly there are things Nova can’t stop noticing: the way her parents don’t meet her eyes anymore, the questions no one wants her to ask, and the relentless feeling like there’s something she’s forgotten.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sacha Wunsch grew up dividing her time between the family farm in Canada and traveling to numerous fictional worlds. She was a bookseller before discovering her love of writing mind-twisty novels – which has proved an excellent job since she gets to blame all the TV she watches on her love of storytelling. She now splits her time between the city and the lake, and still travels to made-up worlds as often as she can.
I hadn’t even known I was afraid of heights until the moment I stood up there.
The stranger came up to me, grinning. “You’re going to love it,” he said.
My entire body was sweating, most notably my palms, slipping as I tried to grip the safety harness.
Was I really going to do this?
No. I was going to get unclipped, turn around, and simply climb back down what felt like the millions of stairs stretching below me.
And then, just as I started to turn, someone pushed me off the platform.
I screamed as I dropped, nothing but air beneath me.
And then… I started to glide.
The scream kept coming a few seconds more, but my heart did a flip before it could reach my mind. I was soaring. Over the treetops. Whizzing along the zip line at high speeds. It was the best thing I had ever felt.
I had never been this free. Which made sense, I was essentially flying, after all.
Giggling was very much not in my nature, but there I was, giggling anyway. I closed my eyes to get a better sense of the wind on my face, but when the sweet scent of fresh-blooming flowers greeted me, I opened them again. Sure enough, the trees several yards below my feet were blooming some kind of large purple flower.
I sucked in a breath, wishing I could inhale the whole scene, wanting to appreciate it as much as I could—savor it—knowing it wouldn’t last forever, and landed gently on the other side.
I did not have to be pushed off the second platform—barely able to wait my turn to jump again. I soared from platform to platform, wishing nothing more than for this to go on forever, grinning all the way, and realizing only at the last second that the final landing platform wasn’t a platform at all, but a deep, cooling pool.
I sucked in a breath, and with a final burst of adrenaline, I splashed into the crystal-clear water.
TWENTY MINUTES EARLIER
“Come on, open it,” Mom said, her smiling beaming.
I held the small, beautifully wrapped box, unable to imagine what it was. My parents knew I wasn’t really that into jewelry, and neither were they really, but what else could be in such a small box?
I tore into it and flipped the lid open.
Which confused me even more. It wasn’t a ring or a pendant, just a small metal disk.
Dad sensed my confusion. “Give it a second,” he said, beaming even brighter than Mom.
In a blink, a form emerged, a hologram above the disk. There was no sound, but it looked like the person in the hologram was gliding through the tops of trees high in the air.
“This is…really cool,” I said, and meant it, but couldn’t help but feel like I was missing something.
Mom was practically bouncing on the couch. “We wanted to do something special for your birthday.”
“Thank you” was all I could really think to say. The disk was pretty cool, but what the hell was with their enthusiasm?
“You’re welcome Nova,” Dad said. “But this isn’t the whole thing. It’s the experience of it that’s the real gift.”
“The experience of it?”
Mom had gotten up and gone to the desk by the front door. She picked up another box, this one unwrapped, and pulled something from inside.
“Here, you put this on,” she said, handing me a clunky set of headphones plugged into a small handheld device about the size of a phone.
“The disk goes in there,” Dad said, and showed me how to open it, setting my new present inside.
And then I experienced my first ever zip line.
As the experience ended, I blinked my eyes open, a hundred percent sure I’d be soaking wet, but I was sitting right back in my living room. The sensation was a bit disorienting, but my parents were staring at me like they were about to explode.
“What was that?” I asked, grabbing the hem of my shirt, which I couldn’t quite comprehend being dry.
“That was Enhanced Memory,” Dad said, but the look on his face said so much more—like if he’d had feathers, they’d be plumaged out like the most badass peacock of the bunch.
“What did you think?” Mom asked, clasping her hands like she had so much energy whizzing through her body she had to do something to hold it in.
“Well obviously it was amazing, but by the way you two are acting, you already know that.” I couldn’t help but grin. They were just so cute sitting there all proud of themselves. “But seriously, what is this? What is Enhanced Memory?”
I’d seen 3D movies and had even tried virtual reality once, but this was way beyond either of those. This was next level.
“It’s simple,” Dad said. “The headphones are equipped with dozens of…well, let’s call them electrodes for sake of ease, though really, they’re more advanced than that.”
“Okay,” I said, mostly with him still, although knowing Dad it wouldn’t be long until the science-y droning took hold and steered him right off the layman’s term trail.
“And these,” he said, taking the disk out of the machine and holding it up, “are Memories.”
Mom nodded. “We discovered a way to extract memories and reproduce them.”
“Wait, you guys created this?”
Mom nodded, her smile huge and eyes wide. “This is what we’ve been working toward all these years.”
My mouth dropped open. I knew my parents had been working on some kind of project for a long time, but I guess I hadn’t really been that interested in what it was.
Mom laughed at my stunned expression while Dad came over to give me one of his signature kisses on the top of my head.
“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” Mom said, beaming.
I mean, they were scientists and science was basically the last thing I wanted to pay attention to, so I never really asked many questions.
But this was way beyond science. This was…actually kind of awesome.
A smile crept across my face. I couldn’t wait to try it again.
*Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review.
Publication Date: May 31, 2021
Publisher: Minotaur Books
The Guilt Trip follows a small group of friends as they arrive in Portugal for a destination wedding. There are three couples that we are following and they all have secrets they are keeping and things quickly start imploding within the group. The story is told through the perspective of Rachel who has been married to Jack for around twenty years and she is there for her brother in law, Will’s, wedding. Also tagging along on the trip are Rachel and Jack’s best friends, Paige and Noah. Rounding out the group is Will’s bride, Ali, that no one other than Will seems to like.
My biggest problem with this story is that it is marketed as a thriller when it is really an adult contemporary for 90% of it and then we get some action. Which is then quickly resolved since it happened at the end. So, the majority of the story rests on the friend group and none of them are likable. Which is usually fine in a mystery or thriller but when the only “action” is drama in the friend group it wears thin very quickly. As for the drama it all felt fairly obvious and I was just waiting for Rachel to get a clue. I wish that Jones had added a prologue where we got glimpse of what was to come at the end because then this book could have had a suspense element that it desperately needed.
I listened to the audiobook of this and I feel like that is the only reason I was able to fly through it. Clare Corbett narrated this book and she did a fantastic job. The way she read it kept me intrigued way more than I would have had I been physically reading it. Her voices and her use of the different tones of her voice all added elements that kept me wanting to listen.
If you are interested in a slow burn domestic contemporary with shades of a thriller then this would be a great one to pick up. I think the setting alone would make this a good choice for the colder months since it will transport you somewhere tropical and warm. I also highly encourage you to look into the audiobook, whether through your library or other ways you access audiobooks, because it will greatly increase your enjoyment of this story.
Riverdale meets One of Us Is Lying in This Is Why We Lie by Gabriella Lepore, a standalone thriller following two teens who discover a body off the coast of their seaside town. As they search for the killer, they will learn the students of both the local prep school and the nearby reform school will do anything to protect their secrets.
Everyone in Gardiners Bay has a secret.
When Jenna Dallas and Adam Cole find Colleen O’Dell’s body floating off the shore of their coastal town, the community of Gardiners Bay is shaken. But even more shocking is the fact that her drowning was no accident.
Once Jenna’s best friend becomes a key suspect, Jenna starts to look for answers on her own. As she uncovers scandals inside Preston Prep School leading back to Rookwood reform school, she knows she needs Adam on her side.
As a student at Rookwood, Adam is used to getting judgmental looks, but now his friends are being investigated by the police. Adam will do whatever he can to keep them safe, even if that means trusting Jenna.
As lies unravel, the truth starts to blur. Only one thing is certain: somebody must take the fall.
This is an extremely fast paced thriller that I flew through in less than a day without even meaning to. I would pick it up and the next thing I knew I had sped through 30% of the book in a short amount of time. The short chapters helped as well as Lepore’s captivating writing style. The story itself was intriguing enough to keep me guessing on who killed Colleen although I didn’t necessarily care why. The synopsis makes it seem like the schools the characters go to are important but they really aren’t which was a little disappointing. I also found it odd that our two main characters, Jenna and Adam, act like they don’t really know each other but we quickly find out that they run in the same circle of people. The story is told through Adam and Jenna’s perspectives which I enjoyed. It helped give the story a well rounded feel since we see both the boys’ and girls’ sides. However, they both use a lot of flashbacks to tell their side of the story and some of the time it just felt very repetitive to what we just found out. On the other hand, I did enjoy the way Lepore interspersed the story with police interviews, news articles and texts. It helped keep the fast pace of the story and also added a bit of fun. While the ending was action packed and somewhat surprising I do think the fast pace makes it a little difficult to connect to the characters. I do think that you will get the most enjoyment out of this book if you are already a fan of YA thrillers like I am.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Gabriella Lepore is a YA author from South Wales in the United Kingdom. She lives in the countryside with her husband James and daughter Sophia. When she isn’t reading or writing, she can usually be found exploring the coastline. She enjoys cups of tea, bookstore coffee shops, stormy beaches, and autumn days.
Gardiners Bay at dawn is my secret. There’s a moment, right before the day starts, when the ocean is bathed in amber light. That first golden breath of morning. Everything is still, apart from the pelicans gathering near the water, their plump bodies shuffling along the shoreline. Sometimes I sit on the promenade for hours with my legs suspended over the pebble beach below, just watching the night turn to day. Watching the darkness turn to light.
It’s often like this, just me and the birds. The only other people I tend to cross paths with at this hour are fishermen wearing heavy-duty gear and hugging their thermoses. They sit on the benches and swig their hot drinks while skimming the daily newspaper. Then they leave. A little while later, their boats drift out onto the water.
Today, though, I’m the only one here.
I raise my camera and adjust the focus, capturing the new light as it spills over the ocean. In the muted daylight, the silver tide is a murky, dull gray and frothing as it slaps against the shore.
“Help! I need help!”
My eyes dart across the shoreline. There’s a boy on the stretch of beach at the foot of Rookwood Cliff. He’s kneedeep in the water, fully dressed.
He shouts again.
I spring to my feet and run along the promenade. Ducking beneath the boardwalk railings, I jump down to the pebbled cove.
The soles of my feet sting at the impact of the stones beneath my Converse. I scramble toward him, my footing slipping on the damp pebbles.
It’s then that I recognize him.
His jeans are soaked to the thigh. He’s wading through the shallows, his legs tangled in fishing net and seaweed. And a body lies limp in his arms. A girl. She’s swollen, her skin has turned purple, and one arm is swinging downward with the momentum of Adam’s labored movements.
I press my hand to my mouth.
“Call an ambulance,” he shouts.
But all I can do is stand there, paralyzed by the sight. He lowers the girl onto the sand and begins CPR, breathing into her mouth.