For this months review I’m going to be looking at Agent Undone, a romantic suspense by author Cassidy Reyne that has been released TODAY!!!
I was extremely lucky to have received an advanced copy and can guarantee, if you have read any of Cassidy’s other novels, you will not be disappointed. That being said, we have to be clear that Agent Undone is not part of The Sentinels series. This is completely separate, a standalone novel that is in some ways edgier and grittier, dealing with a lot of very dark, and very real, subjects.
The book is told from the perspectives of two main characters, and they couldn’t be more different. Carter Hollis is a DEA Agent, being forced to take leave from his demanding and high pressured job due to an injury. To say he misses the action is an understatement so he pushes himself harder than he probably should to regain his fitness. Taking to daily runs across the sands of a Florida beach as the sun rises would be a spectacular experience to anyone, but Carter isn’t interested in the view. Well, that would be a lie. There’s one view that he becomes obsessed with, and her name is Madison.
Maddy is nothing like Carter’s normal type. In fact, after a horrific experience where his ex-girlfriend died in his arms during a mission, he has sworn off women completely. As far as he is concerned, as long as he follows his mantra of love ’em and leave ’em, his heart will remain safe from further hurt, locking it away in it’s own vault. Madison, on the other hand, is screaming out for someone to love her.
After growing up being passed from pillar to post in the foster system, she found herself in a vulnerable position. She was taken advantage of, shaped and molded, until she could take it no longer. Now living under a new identity, she is rebuilding her life, but the scars are still there. Jumpy and somewhat paranoid, she keeps one eye trained over her shoulder waiting for the day she will be found.
Carter becomes increasingly frustrated at the situation. His body is rebelling, making him feel like a teenager when he is around Maddy, but when opportunities arise elsewhere a certain appendage does not. It’s a problem easily solved. He just needs to get Maddy out of his system in the only way he knows how, an all night session to leave them both satisfied. There’s just one monumental problem, he can’t force himself to get close to her in that way. He can see the darkness of her past swirling in her eyes, a haunted look of fear, and he knows any false move and the shutters would come down.
Duty calls and Carter returns to mission after mission, and when he finally has some downtime, Madison has disappeared without a trace. You can’t win them all, but something isn’t quite right, and Carter is left with way more questions than answers.
From then on Agent Undone is full of action, pain, misunderstandings, health issues, violence, drugs… I could go on, but I’ll leave you to find out the rest.
I love both of the characters as they are so well thought out. They have flaws, they have their own personal demons, and they both go on a journey. There will be moments that leave you with tears in your eyes, plenty that will make you so angry that you want to step into the book and give someone a close look at your first, and several more that will have you calling Carter an idiot (Trust me, I called him worse than that but I’d better not repeat it).
For a real emotional rollercoaster, this is a must read. The way Cassidy is able to pull it out of the bag time and time again is an art form. I can guarantee that you will be hooked from the first page.
For your copy of Agent undone, head to Amazon and keep up with Cassidy Reyne and her new releases on Instagram.
A self confessed introvert, she is able to create worlds and lives in such a way, it will leave you with a massive book hangover when you reach the conclusion. Annabelle was my first foray into her growing list of novels, I have all the rest on my shelf waiting to be read, and what’s more, I know I’m going to love every minute of them. Which one will be your first read?
Elexis Bell is a quiet nerd with too many hobbies, including everything from gaming to shower-singing and even archery, weather permitting. She specializes in sarcasm and writing stories that make people feel. She’s made a home for herself with her husband, their dog, and a small army of cats.
She writes dark, gritty stories, sprinkling gut-wrenching emotions over high fantasy romance, thrillers, post-apocalyptic romance, and science fiction.
What motivated you to become an indie author? Stories are just… what I do. They always have been. When I can’t sleep, I tell myself stories. When I’m bored, I come up with stories and worlds and characters. It gives my anxious, obsessive compulsive disorder-riddled mind something more productive to do than just overthinking my life, and it’s fun at the same time. Deciding to go indie was quite a decision. Creative control and controlling my timeline played heavily in the decision, as did the breakdown of how royalties and advances work in traditional publishing and the amount of marketing that still falls on author.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time? Reading is the obvious answer, and I do plenty of that. I play video games and D & D. I play with my army of cats and drink way too much soda. But I also dabble in a variety of hobbies including: hiking, archery, and graphic design.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you? I’m a pantser. I don’t plan anything, at all. I just write and see where the story and the characters take me. And that’s my favorite part. I love learning about the characters as they go through the story, love seeing how they turn out. Writing my books is every bit as much of a rollercoaster for me as it is for people to read them. All the emotions the characters go through, all the ways they grow and change for better or worse, all the loss and success… It’s all fresh and real in the moment that I write it because I haven’t spent a year analyzing and planning and figuring out where all the pieces are supposed to fit. That’s something I figure out as I go, as the character becomes clearer in my mind. And I absolutely love it.
The Writing Process
What is your writing process? I don’t really have one. I just write. The only real staple is that it’s easier for me to write late at night. I usually start writing somewhere between 11pm and 2am, and I don’t stop until about 5 or 6 am. I can edit during the day, but I write better in the middle of the night. Other than that… It doesn’t really matter where I am or what I’m snacking on. It doesn’t matter if I’m in pajamas or still wearing my normal clothes. And as I said before, I don’t plan. I just write.
How do you get inspired to write? It really just depends on the story. Some ideas come from random items, others from conversations. But once an idea takes hold, it consumes me, and all I want to do is write it.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers? First, don’t get hung up on any specific writing technique. If someone tells you to write a 150 page outline before you ever start writing the book (I’ve actually seen that advice given) but the idea of an outline makes you feel boxed in… don’t do it. If the idea of jumping in blind terrifies you, plan your book out first. Do what works for you. No two writers are exactly the same, and assuming that one technique would work for everyone is just silly. Second, study psychology. It helps a lot with realistic character development.
What are your five favorite books, and why? 1. The Host by Stephenie Meyer- It has conflict and emotion and the apocalypse and survival and aliens and romance and races I’d never heard of… All of which are fantastic things to find in a book.
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- It’s a classic for a reason. The romance in this book is just amazing. I hate insta-love, and Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are the freaking King and Queen of slow burn romance.
3. 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz- So much suspense, so much of the supernatural. And it was absolutely terrifying, in a good way. Which is saying something, because I don’t typically seek out scary stuff. All it needed was romance.
4. The Destined Queen series by Deborah Hale- Super swoon-worthy outlaw, magic-wielding girl, ancient prophecies, war, and again, masterful slow-burn romance. It checks all the boxes.
5. This one was harder to choose. I was torn between the Partials series by Dan Wells (fantastic, imaginative, compelling post-apocalyptic romance) or Highland Fire by Elizabeth Thornton (old Scottish romance, the slowest of burns, and genuinely interesting tidbits of history). But I’ve reread Highland Fire a number of times, so I’d probably have to give the number 5 spot to that one.
How do you discover the books you read? That really just depends. Sometimes I just peruse the bookstore, sometimes I buy books recommended by or written by friends.
What books are on your reading list this year? Sooooooo many. I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to my TBR, with several milk crates full of unread books, too.
World for the Broken
Fading into unconsciousness, Christian watches psychotic thugs drag his sister-in-law and nephew away to suffer in the city they just escaped. Left for dead near his brother’s corpse, he has but one hope for survival, rely on the pretty stranger who stumbled across him. Not exactly smart after the apocalypse.
Encumbered by the lingering effects of her own violent past, Chloe struggles against her need for independence. Trusting a stranger found lying in the snow is risky, to say the least. Yet, she patches him up.
As they strive to rebuild their hearts, the harsh world they’ve been thrust into promises to tear them apart. Because Christian’s rescue attempt can’t wait. Every second in Chloe’s idyllic hometown means another second of pain for Christian’s family, leaving Chloe with a choice. Risk her life to help Christian save his family? Or condemn them all to a slow death?
What inspired you to write World for the Broken? Oddly enough, given that an actual sex scene is one of the only triggers not in the book, the inspiration came from the trailer for an erotic film set in medieval times. It was a high end, story driven one, and the trailer consisted of a girl wearing heavy furs and old timey clothes tromping through the snow on a mountain side until she passed out. Then, some guy, also wearing furs and medieval clothes, found her and carried her to safety. And for some reason, the idea of someone finding someone near-dead in the snow just stuck with me. I’d been in a post-apocalyptic headspace for a while, so I shifted it to that rather than a fantasy setting. Of course, I didn’t want the baggage of “Is he going to kill me or worse?” hanging over the love interest, what with the potential hostage situation, so I flipped the genders. I don’t particularly enjoy writing women who fall in love with men after thinking they might kill or rape them. So, Chloe found Christian bleeding in the snow. Then, I just needed a reason for him to be there. I built the world around them, unintentionally throwing nearly every potential trigger into the book. I never even ended up watching the erotic film that inspired the story.
Is there going to be a follow up to World for the Broken? The short answer is no. This book is meant as a standalone. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing another book in the same world, but it wouldn’t be a continuation of the same storyline. If I write another in that world, it will also be a standalone.
Our author Q&A for April is with up and coming author, Alison Aldridge. I first came across Alison on Instagram and instantly knew we would get along. She is one of the kindest and caring people you would ever hope to meet, and she really does have a heart of gold.
We have since met up for a tour of the Ingram Spark factory in Milton Keynes, with other members of World Indie Warriors, and have become great supporters of each others work. In fact, I read an early copy of Ocean Heart, which will be Alison’s first published full length novel, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t wait for it to come out so I can read it again, and see just how far it has come.
Ally was born in London but grew up in Suffolk which is where most of her YA Fantasy novels are based. She is happily married to her high school sweetheart, and together they are raising two cats, their son and daughter.
When Ally is not writing (or at her day job), she loves spending time with her family at the local beach, in the forest or watching way too much Netflix.
Ally loves a cup of tea and has been known to order one on a night out.
Getting to Know You
What motivated you to become an indie author? I’ve been inspired by authors like yourself who have shown me it is possible. Being part of World Indie Warriors has taught me so much and I’ve connected with service providers I’ll need through recommendations. It’s still scary but I’m no longer alone.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time? I work at a local college as an NVQ Assessor, which takes up half my week. The rest of the time I’m busy making memories with my kids. Aria is an ambitious 1-year-old and Noah is an energetic 6-year-old. Keeping up with them is exhausting. I’m also guilty of watching way too much Netflix. And, sometimes, I even have time for my hubby.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you? I love coming up with story ideas. I wish I had more time to write them all. I often write a brief outline. I used to jump story to story, but now I’m more disciplined. I usually have my main project and a side project I dip into.
I love solving plot problems. When I have that “ah ha” moment, it gives me great satisfaction.
The Writing Process
What is your writing process? I’m a goal setter. I plan my annual goals, then break them down into manageable chunks. I then check in several times during the year to make sure I’m making progress. Sometimes I need to adjust goals where my needs have changed.
I’m lucky if I get an hour or two in the evenings to work on my projects, so I need to be very disciplined. I focus on one specific outcome at a time. Currently, my focus is editing Ocean Heart using feedback from my Developmental Editor.
I use a note app and Google Docs on my mobile, so I can write on the go or with the kids. I enjoy using notebooks to plot/plan, but when I get down to writing and editing I prefer to be on the PC or Laptop.
How do you get inspired to write? I think there is inspiration everywhere, all around us, all the time. I even get inspired by my own dreams, so sleep is inspirational too.
I enjoy building boards on Pintrest and Unsplash to develop ideas further. I enjoy bouncing ideas with my husband. He has a brilliant imagination but struggles to get it down on paper.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers? Changing your mindset is key. I used to refer to myself as an “aspiring writer” but I wasn’t because I was writing. If you want to write just do it. Be a “writer”.
Don’t close doors before you’ve opened them. For a long time, I thought the only way to publish was with an agent. But, it’s not true. If you really want to publish, explore every opportunity. Be brave and put yourself out there, whether its pitching on Twitter, entering a contest or learning how to publish yourself.
My last nugget is to find fellow writers. We all have good and bad days, and these are the people who get it. They will motivate you, problem solve, share ideas and their experiences. Being part of a supportive community of writers really boosts growth and progress.
What are your five favorite books, and why? This is the hardest question to answer but I narrowed it down to five:
Rachel Vincent’s contemporary fantasy shifter series. I loved the world building and politics that made this secret society believable in the real world. I also enjoyed the romance and sexual tension between her and the enforcers.
A recent favourite was The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst. It had a strong female character and I loved the different spirits and world she created. I liked the different roles assigned for having powers and the consequences of their choice. There’s more in this series, so I’m hoping to read them too one day.
An old favourite is Poison Study by Maria.V.Snyder. In this series magic is outlawed. The MC is on death row. She gets the opportunity to train as the poison study (to taste food to check for poison) instead of certain death. It is a dangerous job but she takes the role. I daren’t say more but I really enjoyed the magic system in this world. I also enjoyed the spin off Glass series.
Night Flame by Catherine Hart, is a historical romance. Sarah has been plagued by steamy dreams with a stranger. Night Hawk is a Native American. When he sees her, he is compelled to kidnap her and make her his bride, and renames her Flame. The two struggle with language and customs but eventually fall in love.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a dystopian tale of religion being used to repress Americans, especially women. It’s scary because the story shows us this could happen and how controlling fear can be.
I know this makes six but, as of last night, Sorceress of Truth by you, J.D. Groom. This is the Contemporary Fantasy I’ve been waiting for (and now need more). I love the romance and the gentle world building and magic. It was just the right amount of everything. Look out for my review, coming soon.
How do you discover the books you read? Quite often it is through recommendations. Someone posts a pic on social media and if it sounds good I add it to my ‘to buy’ list. My sister recommended The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood, and I was gripped.
I’ve bought books at book festivals. I usually attend YALC and Felixstowe Book Festival. My plans are on hold at the moment (Covid-19) but I’m thinking about attending online festivals instead.
I also connect with authors via social media and learn about their books whilst supporting their journey. Reading these feels personal. I feel invested after witnessing the book come together over time.
Amazon and Good Reads recommend books based on my reading history. I’m also on Net Galley and received ARC’s (Advanced Reader Copies). For kids books I use Toppsta.
What books are on your reading list this year? This list grows faster than I can read. It’s way too long, but here are the ones near the top of the pile (not in order) because I have them ready and waiting!
The Sentinels (series) by Cassidy Reyne Number Eight Crispy Chickeny by Sara Neofield Sea Witch (series) by Sarah Henning King’s Cage & War Storm by Victoria Aveyard The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble Traitor of the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris A Court of Thorns and Roses (series) by Sarah J Maas Mirror Souls by Julia Scott Forgotten Scars by Natalie Reddy Join or Die by J. Adrian Ruth Storm of Ash by Michelle Kenny Shadow City by Anna Mockiat The Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz
This list doesn’t include children’s books, which I use my kids as an excuse to buy. I love picture books and the humour of early readers and first chapter books.
There are tons more I want to buy… OMG, just thinking about it causes me anxiety.
One kiss is all it took to wake Mariah’s weather manipulation powers.
Mariah is crushing on her best friend, rivalling with the swim team star and her guardian, Gwyn, is meddling in her life using magic. Mariah is about to awaken her dormant powers. With no idea she is a mermaid, she risks losing control and could even kill!
When your deadly powers are connected to your emotions, it gives a new meaning to “It’s complicated.”
What inspired you to write Ocean Heart? My current project has been inspired by my personal experiences; my hometown, an image, other stories, and music.
I married my best friend, but getting together wasn’t easy. The complications of a best friend romance is one of the challenges my MC faces.
I was very inspired by Rachel Vincent’s werecat series. I loved how she integrated fantasy into real life. I wanted to do something similar, but in the UK, with teens and create my own secret world.
Ellie Goulding’s song, Starry Eyed, was playing on the radio and it inspired my main character, Mariah; A teen, first love and a no control over her lightening powers.
I’m a huge fan of The Little Mermaid. As a child, I got teased for my red hair. Luckily, my best friend Jo loved my hair. We were about age 7 when we went to the cinema for my birthday to watch the movie and she said, “Ariel is beautiful, like you”. Those words meant so much to me and comforted me when others were mean. I think a lot of teens experience changes that cause them to question where they belong. I wanted Mariah to be a misfit that learns to accept her uniqueness. It made sense for her to be a mermaid with red hair.
Early in the process I found an image online that inspired a scene in my book. It was a pair of tangled legs underwater. The girl is wearing a red silk dress and the boy is wearing denim jeans. When I saw the image, it inspired a key scene in the novel.
Is there going to be a follow up to Ocean Heart? Yes. The next book is Sky Heart and follows Kiely.
Kiely is the nemesis in book 1, but I always believe there are two sides to every story. Kiely is rebuilding herself after hitting rock bottom.
I’ve almost finished the first draft. I know what must happen but I struggle with endings. As Ocean Heart is my primary project, Sky Heart is on hold. Hopefully when I get back to Sky Heart, I’ll get those last chapters finished.
My plan is for the series to follow different shifter/spiriter types. There will be an optimum order but can be read as a stand-alone. There may be spin off novellas too. I have endless ideas, it’s always time I’m short of.
Ocean Heart will be available soon, but stay up date with Alison and her progress via social media and her blog.
I’d had Annabelle in my ‘to be read’ pile for a while, but I finally got around to it in February. Initially I picked it up as a light read. I was taking my daughter for her weekly swimming lesson and, being small, I thought it would be easy to dip into and finish within a couple of sessions. I was definitely not prepared. Do not be fooled. Annabelle maybe small, but she is mighty!
Set in the old Wild West, you are instantly transported to streets of dirt, wooden buildings, and saloons that were definitely not for young women from good families. Making a living was hard, having a life of your own was even harder.
I don’t like to give too much away with my reviews, I would rather my readers pick up the book and read it for themselves. There aren’t many pages, but small definitely doesn’t mean sweet on this occasion. What you will read is something raw, immensely powerful, and moving. Despite her vigilante persona, you would be hard pressed to find fault in Annabelle’s motives.
On the outside, Annabelle is a young woman who dresses well and speaks with good manners. To the towns that she passes through, she would make a good prospect for any gentleman to have hanging off his arm. But, that’s the last thing she would ever agree to be.
Whilst the book is set within the Old West, Annabelle’s views and opinions are much more modern, and you have to wonder how she would get on today. Why should she be somebody’s property? How do men think it is okay to lay a hand upon a woman? Why can’t no mean no? Why is it always the woman’s fault?
The sad truth is that thousand’s of women, and some men, ask these questions every day and still don’t get an answer. Too many times the victim is tainted and stigmatised. They were asking for it. It was the clothes they were wearing. They’d already said yes.
This tale will leave you with a sense of pride for Annabelle, but with that comes a heavy dose of realisation. What she has gone through has been felt by countless others, and will continue to do so, unless a change is made. Until you have walked in the shoes of the victims of these crimes, you will never truly understand the self loathing, blame and need for vengeance that swirl around in a never ending cycle.
This is something that Elexis is able to put across so beautifully. You feel Annabelle’s emotions. You are there for every twist and turn of her inner thoughts, and you do understand.
A quick read. A powerful read. A must read.
For your copy of Annabelle, head to Amazon and keep up with Elexis Bell and her new releases on Instagram.
It’s safe to say the world has imploded and any goals I set for myself last month went out of the window. I’m guessing you may have had similar issues.
In summary, my Facebook live with Cassidy Reyne in the World Indie Warriors Group went ahead as planned. We are now starting Camp NaNoWriMo, and you can follow along on Instagram with our daily challenge.
I did manage to go to the spa for my wedding anniversary. I went with my Mom, Auntie and one of my best friends. We had a lot of fun and laughs, good food, and plenty of time to relax and enjoy the pools and steam rooms etc.
I’ve been a few times now but, if you ever get an opportunity to go to Hoar Cross Hall, you really should jump at the chance. I didn’t get to do as much writing as I had hoped, although I did manage a bit of reading, but time seemed to pass so quickly while we were there. It’s a good job we were able to relax though as when we got home on that Monday, the situation changed rapidly.
There was a press conference in England announcing that anyone who showed signs of Coronavirus —a cough or breathing difficulties— should stay home for 14 days along with everyone else in their household. Unfortunately, that night I developed a cough, which meant we were imprisoned in our own home.
My hubby had already been given the go ahead to work from home, but I did feel really guilty about keeping my daughter off school. She’s only seven, so isn’t in the middle of a big year, but I knew she would miss her friends and being able to go out to places.
Anyway the cough amounted to nothing, I think it was just the effect of the steam room clearing my sinuses and chest, but by the time our 14 days were over the country was pretty much in a lockdown situation anyway. So, since 17th March all I have done is go to the corner shop once, been for one run and went to the doctors for a blood test, and that is it. We are trying to make use of the garden, and I have done the first cut of the season and jet washed the decking, but now there is a whole load of painting to do. Let’s hope some nice weather heads our way over the next few weeks as this last one has been very cloudy and windy.
The self isolation itself hasn’t been that big an adjustment for me. As a stay-at-home-mom and author, I tend to spend a lot of time at home alone anyway. Plus, I detest doing the food shopping and often keep putting it off until eventually I either do an online shop or decide that actually, we really do need food, and head to ASDA. Even having the hubby around hasn’t been too bad, generally he keeps himself to himself in his office upstairs. My main issue has been having Amberley at home and trying to attempt the dreaded “homeschooling”.
Before she started in primary school I did consider homeschooling her, there is a reason I didn’t. There are a few actually, but the main ones being, I am not a teacher and I’m under no illusions that I could ever be. I just don’t have the patience. Another, Amberley is a very active child who needs a lot of stimulation, and certainly needs space to run around. Finally, she just does not listen to me.
I don’t mean in a “no, you’re not having that chocolate” or “off Minecraft, it’s dinner time” kind of way, she’s actually not too bad at that, it’s in those instances where you are trying to explain a maths equation, or that she can’t write about a pony because the task is asking for dinosaurs.
I’m not stopping her creativity, by all means she can write her pony story after she’s written the dinosaur story, but herein lies the problem. She won’t write the pony story when I say she can because she doesn’t want to anymore. Sigh.
I’m sure I’m not alone and, unfortunately, we may have this situation for many months.
To top off my never-ending-March, my Mother’s Day plans of travelling to the Netherlands were cancelled. I had hoped to meet up with Cassidy and another of our writing friends, Kara S. Weaver, but instead I was treated to a homemade card and a healthy dose of self-isolation because the hubby hadn’t planned ahead and thought to order anything. It wasn’t too bad though, I ended up blitzing the entire house and cooking Sunday lunch for my troubles.
With all that happening, I achieved nowhere near my target of 60,000 words towards Sorceress of Flame. I did, however, manage to have a look at each chapter and condense them so it feels like I’m more in control and know exactly where I need to fill in the gaps.
So, April is now upon us and I must set some kind of target, which is kind of easy as it is Camp NaNoWriMo and I already have a graphic ready and waiting.
I’m aiming for approximately 15,000 words over the course of the month on Sorceress of Flame. I am absolutely making this my priority, and even finished the book I was reading right on time. This will take my total word count to around 75,000 and I should be finished, or close to finished, with my first draft. I still really want to aim for a November publishing date, but it’s going to be tight.
Underneath that you may have spotted another little project. This has been niggling at me for the past year and I’ve finally given it a name. Otsana. Google it, and it may give you a clue what it’s about. I wrote a snippet from a prompt on Instagram this time last year and I’ve come to realise that it is an ideal prologue. I’m still not fully sure where it’s going to go, but that’s why I want to do a bit of research and see if something comes to me.
Well, I’ve been rabbiting on for ages now, so I’d better leave you to get on with your day.