The 11th Annual First Book of the Year 2024 Edition

The incredible Sheila from Book Journey is once again organizing the First Book of The Year 2024 edition. This is Sheila’s 11th year of hosting this yearly event. Sheila, have I known you already for 11 years?

This is my 11th year participating in the  First Book of the Year.

So what is First Book?  First Book is the first book you plan on reading in the New Year.  It can be a long-coveted read you have not had time for, a guilty pleasure read like a re-read of a favorite…  really it can be anything – it is…after all…YOUR First Book.

If you are interested in taking part be sure to head over to Sheila’s blog.

Every December I always struggle with finding the right book to start the new year because I want to start the year right. I have to admit that it takes quite some time to pick out my book. At this time I currently don’t have a book picked out so be sure to check back at the end of the month to see what I have selected.

Will you be taking part?

Book Spotlight: Unsettled by Patricia Reis

Book Spotlight: Unsettled by Patricia ReisUnsettled by Patricia Reis

In this lyrical historical fiction with alternating points of view, a repressed woman begins an ancestral quest through the prairies of Iowa, awakening family secrets and herself, while in the late 1800s, a repressed ancestor, Tante Kate, creates those secrets.

As Van Reinhardt clears out her dead father’s belongings, she comes across hints of an unsettling family history, along with a request penned by her father prior to his death that sends her on a genealogical quest. Examining a 1900 family portrait of her German immigrant ancestors, Van curiosity grows about one of the children portrayed there.

In the 1870s, Kate is a German immigrant newly arrived in America with only her brother as family. Life changes for Kate when she and her brother split. When she returns, armed with a secret, nothing is the same, for her or her brother. Together they try to forge a life working for farmers in southwestern Iowa and at Kate’s urging, her brother takes the farmer’s daughter as his wife. And as that family grows, Kate becomes Tante Kate, isolated and separate from the rest of the family—almost a servant—not even appearing in the family portrait. Van revisits the town and the farm of her ancestors to discover calamitous events in probate records, farm auction lists, asylum records and lurid obituaries, hinting at a history far more complex and tumultuous than she had expected. But the mystery remains, until she chances upon a small book, sized for a pocket—Tante Kate’s secret diary—that provides the missing piece. Van revisits the town and the farm of her ancestors to discover calamitous events in probate records, farm auction lists, asylum records and lurid obituaries, hinting at a history far more complex and tumultuous than she had expected. But the mystery remains, until she chances upon a small book, sized for a pocket—Tante Kate’s secret diary—that provides the missing piece. Unsettled delivers what DNA analysis and cannot.

Using memory, imagination and heart, Van constructs her ancestral narrative, uncovers the secrets that have kept her from the truth, mending the tears in her family story and her own life.

Review: The Rotting Whale by Jann Eyrich

Review: The Rotting Whale by Jann EyrichThe Rotting Whale: A Hugo Sandoval Eco-Mystery (A Hugo Sandoval Eco-Mystery, 1) by Jann Eyrich

In this first case in the new Hugo Sandoval Eco-Mystery series, an old-school San Francisco building inspector with his
trademark Borsalino fedora, must reluctantly venture outside his beloved city and find his sea legs before he can solve the mystery of how a 90-ton blue whale became stranded, twice, in a remote inlet off the North Coast.

When a blue whale is struck by a research vessel off the north coast of California, San Francisco’s eccentric building inspector Hugo Sandoval is catapulted from his precious San Francisco waterfront nearly two hundred miles north to the headlands of a troubled sheep ranch in response to a call for help from his cetologist daughter.

This episode is set on the turbulent Mendocino Coast against the backdrop of a failing fishing fleet, illegal cannabis grows, and the struggling town of Fort Bragg. At the precarious Chicken Cove, he grapples with the connection between a red tag posted on the historic ranch and the decomposing marine mammal at the foot of its cliffs.

The new eco-mystery series tracks the collision of the man-made environment and nature while simultaneously charting Hugo’s own personal evolution as a husband, father, and native son.

A charming cast of secondary characters who revel in the unassuming man’s perceptive abilities, while overlooking his many idiosyncrasies, provide assists in solving the mysteries. We meet Carmen, his corporate lawyer ex-wife; T. Ray, his best friend and fellow sleuth; his intuitive assistant Mrs. Dunne who steers their office on Otis Street, as well
as the many regulars who populate Sandoval’s San Francisco.

Before I begin my review I quickly have to thank Diane from Saima Agency for contacting me asking if I wanted to read and review this book to which I said yes of course (just an FYI  I have worked with Diane in the past and it was heartwarming that she reached out after many years asking if I wanted to read this) and to Sibylline Press for graciously sending me an advance readers copy of The Rotting Whale.

This is the first book in the new Hugo Sandoval Eco Mystery series by Jann Eyrich. It’s a fiction/Mystery/Environment story. The next book The Blind Key will be coming out in the Spring of 2024 and the third one, The Singing Lighthouse will be in the fall of 2024 I am super excited because I will be reading them. I believe this is Jann’s debut novel.

This is one of the things I love about book blogging and working with publicists because, for the most part, they reach out with books I have never heard of before. You can always discover a little hidden gem in the books and authors.

I am going to try and keep my review brief only because it’s a quick read, a little over 200 pages.

The Rotting Whale follows Hugo Sandoval who is an old-school San Francisco building inspector. Hugo never really ventures outside his home town but when he gets a call from his daughter to come to the remote inlet of the North Coast he knows he has to go. He is called to investigate why a blue whale got washed up in the cove.

They discover that she got hit by a research boat as she was coming towards land because she was pregnant. Which all makes sense but the bigger question is how did she end up in the cove? Nothing makes sense especially when he discovers that the cottage where his daughter’s boyfriend is has gotten a red tag from the city. Why did he get it and who gave it to him?

Nothing is adding up and Hugo realizes this is more than just a blue whale being in the cove. Can Hugo uncover what is really going on?

Did you know that the Blue Whale is an endangered species? Did you know that the hearts of the Blue Whales are the size of a small car?

I loved how Jann described the setting and the information about the whales. I loved that Jann took the time to include all that.

If you love mysteries I think you will really enjoy this. It’s a quick read that will have you questioning what is the truth and what is lies. I know I thought I had it figured out but when I got to the ending I realized I didn’t. I think I want to reread it to see if I missed the clues.

Working as a hands-on, independent woman contractor in San Francisco for twenty years, Jann Eyrich resided in the legendary shacks of Telegraph Hill where the writer was gifted anchorage to the City, along with insight into the lives of the characters she continues to create.

First as a documentary filmmaker, then as a screenwriter, Eyrich’s stories always seem to be set within an environmental footprint.

Later, as a writer and an activist in Sonoma County, Jann heard about a real blue whale stranding itself on the Mendocino Coast in 2009 and, with that, the adventures and character of Hugo Sandoval were born.

Book Spotlight: One More Seat at the Round Table by Susan Dormady Eisenberg

Book Spotlight: One More Seat at the Round Table by Susan Dormady EisenbergOne More Seat at the Round Table by Susan Dormady Eisenberg
Published by Atmosphere Press on May 18, 2023
Pages: 358

What if the most conflicted lovers in Broadway’s Camelot aren’t Lancelot and Guenevere?

Set backstage during the out-of-town chaos of Lerner and Loewe’s now-classic 1960 musical, One More Seat at the Round Table portrays the struggles of feisty drama school grad Jane Conroy, who lands a plum Gal Friday job, and Bryce Christmas, a gifted, if insecure, actor on the verge of his big break. When Jane and Bryce fall helplessly in love during Toronto tryouts, their relationship is tested by mistakes they make and endless work woes: Camelot’s four-hour length, poor reviews, the illness of librettist Alan Jay Lerner, and the near-fatal coronary of director Moss Hart who quits.

As Lerner, composer Loewe, and their stars, Richard Burton and Julie Andrews, trudge on to Boston, doubts besiege Jane who hopes to buck convention and skip marriage and Bryce who wants a wife. They also discover hidden strengths as Jane gains agency backstage and Bryce takes charge of his talent. But will Jane’s commitment phobia derail their future? Will Camelot become a glittering hit? These questions create a tense roller-coaster ride to the end of Susan Dormady Eisenberg's wise and witty novel, a story about the transformative power of love and the luminous pull of Broadway as it casts its spell on performers and fans alike.

Book Spotlight: The Boy In The Rain by Stephanie Cowell

Book Spotlight: The Boy In The Rain by Stephanie CowellThe Boy in the Rain by Stephanie Cowell
on June 1, 2023

“The Boy in the Rain transports us to another time and place in this powerful, sensual, and lyrical novel that literally took my breath away—the love is so visceral, the pain so deep, the beauty so real, and the danger so palpable!” ~NYT bestseller, M.J. Rose, author of The Last Tiara

It is 1903 in the English countryside when Robbie, a shy young art student, meets the twenty-nine-year-old Anton who is running from memories of his brutal childhood and failed marriage. Within months, they begin a love affair that will never let them go. Robbie grows into an accomplished portraitist in the vivid London art world with the help of Anton’s enchanting former wife, while Anton turns from his inherited wealth and connections to improve the conditions of the poor. But it is the Edwardian Era, and the law sentences homosexual men to prison with hard labor, following the tragic experience of Oscar Wilde. As Robbie and Anton’s commitment to each other grows, the world about them turns to a more dangerous place.

Book Blitz: Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess

Everything’s Fine
Cecilia Rabess
Publication date: June 6th 2023
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

“Extraordinarily brave…plain funny as hell, too.” —Zakiya Dalila Harris, New York Times bestselling author of The Other Black Girl

“A subtle, ironic, wise, state-of-the-nation novel, sharp enough to draw blood, hidden inside a moving, intimate, sincere and very real love story–or vice versa.” —Nick Hornby

On Jess’s first day at Goldman Sachs, she’s less than thrilled to learn she’ll be on the same team as Josh, her white, conservative sparring partner from college. Josh loves playing the devil’s advocate and is just…the worst.

But when Jess finds herself the sole Black woman on the floor, overlooked and underestimated, it’s Josh who shows up for her in surprising—if imperfect—ways. Before long, an unlikely friendship—one tinged with undeniable chemistry—forms between the two. A friendship that gradually, and then suddenly, turns into an electrifying romance that shocks them both.

Despite their differences, the force of their attraction propels the relationship forward, and Jess begins to question whether it’s more important to be happy than right. But then it’s 2016, and the cultural and political landscape shifts underneath them. And Jess, who is just beginning to discover who she is and who she has the right to be, is forced to ask herself what she’s willing to compromise for love and whether, in fact, everything’s fine.

A stunning debut that introduces Cecilia Rabess as a blazing new talent, Everything’s Fine is a poignant and sharp novel that doesn’t just ask will they, but…should they?

Goodreads / Amazon


Chapter 11

Jess’s first day of work, the first day of the rest of her life. Into the elevator and up to the twentieth floor, where the doors open with a little whoosh.

The entire building smells like money.

She receives a small plaque with her name printed in all caps: JESSICA JONES, INVESTMENT BANKING ANALYST. Then mintroductions—the other analysts on the team: Brad and John and Rich and Tom, or maybe it’s Rich and Tom and Brad and John—and also Josh, who Jess remembers from college.

“Hey,” she says, “it’s you!”

He looks up from his desk—he is already installed at a workstation, looking busy and important—but his face is blank.

They had a class together last year and Jess remembers him, because he was the worst.

“Jess?” she offers. “From school?”
He blinks.
“We had a class together?” she tries again. “Supreme Court Topics?”
He just looks at her, saying nothing. Is it possible she has something on her face? “With Smithson? Fall semes—”
“I remember you,” he says. And then promptly swivels in his chair.
Cool, Jess thinks. Nice catching up.
She starts to go.
“You know,” he says, not turning, “I knew you’d been assigned to this desk.”
Jess stops. “Oh, really?”

He nods—the back of his head—“I worked with these guys when I was here last summer. And I graduated off-cycle, so I’ve been back since January.” He pauses. “They asked me about you.”

“What did you say?”
“What! Why didn’t you tell them I was amazing?”
“Because,” he says, finally turning to look at her, “I’m not convinced you are amazing.”

The first time Jess met Josh, it was fall of their freshman year. November. The night of the 2008 election. All day the campus had pulsated. History in the making. Around eleven the election was called and Jess emerged stunned and delirious onto the quad, which had erupted into something like a music festival. Students spilled out into the night cheering and hugging. Car horns honked. Someone screamed woot woot and, somewhere, a trombone, brimming with pathos, played a slow scale.

Jess had the feeling she had been shot out of a cannon; she was blinking into the moonlight when a couple of reporters from the school paper stopped her. They were compiling quotes from students on the eve of this historic moment. Did she have a minute to share her feelings, and would she mind if they took her photo? Jess said sure, even though the air was crackling and she wanted to weep.

The reporter’s pencil was poised. “Whenever you’re ready.” What could she possibly say? There were no words.

“I’m just… I’m just… fucking ecstatic! Is this even real? And now I’m probably going to go have, like, thirty shots—no, fifty!—because that’s more patriotic!”

The student reporter looked up from his mini legal pad. “End quote?” “Wait, no! Don’t write that!”
“What do you want to say?”

Jess thought about it, collected herself. Imagined her dad reading her words. Her dad, who she’d spoken to just hours ago, and whose reaction to the early returns—Ohio and Florida were set to break for Obama—was to pour himself another Coke and say: “Well, Jessie, I’ll be darned.”

She started over. “I feel the weight of history tonight. To cast my very first vote for our nation’s very first Black president is such an awesome privilege. A privilege that my ancestors, slaves, did not share. Standing on the shoulders of so much strength and sacrifice, I’ve never felt more humbled or hopeful.”

“That’s great,” the reporter said. “Now just stand over there and we’ll take your shot.”

Jess took a step to the left and watched as the reporter approached another student. A sandy-haired freshman wearing chinos and a collared shirt.

The photographer said to Jess, “Look this way. On the count of three.”

And the reporter said to the boy in business casual, “How are you feeling about the election?”

Jess turned to the camera and smiled.

The guy in chinos turned to the reporter and said, “Everyone seems to forget that we’re in the middle of a financial crisis. The stock market is in free fall. Gas is four dollars a gallon. So I’m not convinced that now is the right time to entrust another tax-and-spend liberal with the economy,” he shrugged, “but I guess I can see the appeal.”

Jess, aghast, turned to give him a dirty look, her smile dropping just as the flash popped.

The next day she was on the front page of the school newspaper under a headline that read STUDENTS REACT TO OBAMA’S HISTORIC WIN.

The picture was good—the angle, the moonlight, her face radiating quiet wonder—and that, plus the gravitas of the moment, made Jess feel like this was something she would show to her children and their children one day.

There was only one problem.

The paper had spoken to ten students, a grid of two-by-two photos and quotes, names and graduation years printed below. But there were only two faces above the fold. There was Jess, but also the guy in the collared shirt, with his terrible quote. Jess’s friends agreed that it was a stupid thing to say. Miky, who lived across the hall, said, “Who pissed in his Cheerios?” And Jess’s roommate, Lydia, peered at the photo and declared: “He looks boring.”

Still, Lydia tacked the paper to the outside of their door. With a marker, she drew a frame of hearts and stars around Jess’s face. But there was no way to accordion the paper so that only her picture appeared. It cut off the text strangely and warped her smile. It was impossible to see Jess without seeing Josh. Eventually Miky took a Sharpie and drew devil ears and a weird mustache across his face, and that was better.

Eventually the tack hardened and the paper fluttered to the floor. At that point it was the spring semester and the hallway had devolved into a persistent, low-grade chaos: crushed pizza boxes, twisted extension cords, a mysterious pair of men’s underwear. And when the cleaning crew cleared out the dormitory between the spring and summer sessions, they swept everything, including that momentous reminder, into the trash.

But until that happened, Jess could return to her room each day and see the newspaper, like a talisman, stuck to her door, emanating strength and inspiration, and when she looked at it, she would think: We are standing at the precipice of a bright new world, hopeful and resolute, knocking on the door of progress, with the conviction of what’s on the other side.

And then she would slide her eyes to the right, to the photo of JOSH HILLYER ’12 and his terrible quote, and she would think: Asshole!

Brad and John and Rich and Tom’s and Josh’s desks are all arranged in a tight semicircle around a dirty carpet in the center of the room. In the bullpen, they are packed like sardines, swimming in pitchbooks and gym bags and coffee cups, so there is no space for Jess.

“We’ve got you over here,” Charles says. He is the most senior associate on the team, and Jess can tell he’s in charge because he wears his tie the loosest and calls everyone by their last name. Even more senior is Blaine, the team’s managing director, but he can’t be bothered to meet her.

Charles leads her to a row of desks along the wall. By now, after the all-day orientation, it’s after five, but the office is still buzzing. Still, the seat that Charles points to and all the ones that surround it are empty. The desks, though, are covered in equipment, telephones and Bloomberg Terminals and digital handsets.

Traders, Jess guesses.

Traders are the first ones in and the first ones out. When the market closes their day is done. Jess feels a tingle of excitement. The traders are loud and potty-mouthed and wear hideous pinstripe suits. The investment bankers, on the other hand, are nasty but

humorless. Jess might have liked to be a trader but had missed the deadline to apply. Maybe this is a sign, an opportunity.

She imagines herself shouting orders into a phone, telling someone to go fuck themselves when she doesn’t like a price.

“So this is where the traders sit?”

Charles blinks. “No, not exactly.”

“Then what’s with all the telephones?”

“Switchboard,” Charles says. “Secretaries and stuff. You know, ‘Goldman Sachs, how may I direct your call?’ Switchboard,” he repeats. “Secretaries.”

He pauses. “Yeah.”

By the end of her first month, Jess can say How may I direct your call? in four languages and she still hasn’t been assigned any real work. Her back is to the bullpen, but whenever she looks over, the other analysts appear to be chained to their chairs, heads bent over their desks, doing God’s work.

Jess is doing nothing.

It doesn’t help that when the bankers shout for coffee orders or someone to run to the copy shop, they do it in her general direction: a secretary is a secretary, even when she’s actually an analyst.

Just yesterday a harried-looking senior associate asked her to pick up a suit from the dry cleaner’s downstairs.

“Oh, I’m actually an analyst.”
He stared.
“So, I think maybe you should ask one of the admins?”

“I don’t have time for this,” he said, handing her his bright pink ticket. “Look, can you just help me out?”

She said she couldn’t, but then hid in the bathroom for fifteen minutes so that he wouldn’t see she had nothing else to do.

Jess begs Charles for something to do.

She reads an article about women and work. It says: “It is incumbent upon females in male-dominated workplaces to create their own opportunities for development.”

She says to Charles, “It is incumbent upon females in male-dominated workplaces to create their own opportunities for development.”

He squints.

“And so I was hoping you could help me. Create an opportunity? Like, give me something to work on?”

Miky sends Jess a link to a video of Nicolas Cage superimposed on a teenage girl’s body, wearing white panties and a tank top, swinging from a giant cement wrecking ball.

Jess clicks on it.
Charles walks by her desk right then and says, “I see.”
Later, he drops a stack of public information books on her desk. “Jones,” he says, “I need some numbers.”

“Should be pretty straightforward,” he says, flipping through one of the books. “If you log in to the server, you’ll see we’ve already got a template. I just need you to tune the model and run a few different comps. Got it?”

“Got it.” Jess eyes the stack of books. “When do you need this by?”

Charles says, “Yesterday.”

It doesn’t occur to Jess that she has no idea what she’s doing until it’s too late to ask for help. The only person who offers is Josh, though not because he actually wants to help, but because he is her buddy.

On her second day he appeared at her desk.

“Hey, Jess.”

She spun around so that she was face-to-face with his waist. “Josh, hey.”

“I’m your buddy,” he said.

“Excuse me?” she said, to his belt.

“Your buddy,” he said.

She pumped the lever on the side of her chair and dropped three inches in her seat. Her face was still uncomfortably close to his crotch so she stood.

“So what does that mean? You’re my buddy?”

“I’ve been assigned to help you. To answer questions if you have them,” he shrugged. “They try to pair every first-year analyst with a second-year analyst, kind of like a mentor. They picked me for you. Probably because we’re from the same undergrad.”

“But you’re not a second-year analyst.”

“Close enough,” he said. “Anyway, I’m here.” And then he walked away.

Now every night before he leaves, if it’s before she does, he asks if there is anything she needs help with. But he’s always holding his phone and his bag and wearing his jacket, and his corporate badge is already in his pocket, so that Jess can tell he doesn’t mean it. It’s just something to say and, anyway, her desk is right next to the elevator.

Of course she needs help, has questions. How is a debt capacity model different from a credit risk analysis? How does the federal funds rate affect LIBOR? How come her key card doesn’t work at the gym on the first floor?

But he is the last person she wants to ask. She can tell he thinks she’s an idiot, that she doesn’t belong here. She catches him sometimes, looking at her sideways. Interested but unimpressed. Like he’s waiting for her to mess up.

Plus, he’d already made his feelings clear.

That class they’d had together senior year: Supreme Court Topics. Each week they debated a different landmark decision, and someone was always shouting. Or sharing a

pointless personal anecdote. Or invoking the founding fathers to prove a stupid point. Jess hated it, but it fulfilled the undergraduate Law & Society requirement.

They sat around a big wooden table that was meant to foster “active dialogue,” and the discussion was student-led, the format purposefully discursive, so that even if one day, for example, the syllabus said Grutter v. Bollinger: Affirmative Action, they might spend half the class arguing about basketball and standardized tests until someone groaned: “Is anyone else completely bored of this debate?”

It was the guy from Jess’s door, JOSH HILLYER ’12, who cared about the price of gas and hated Barack Obama. Who Jess had managed to avoid since freshman year, but who had reappeared three years later. Still with the newscaster hair and the terrible takes.

Jess had turned and glared. Not because she wasn’t also bored of the debate, but because she knew he was bored for the Wrong Reasons. He’d said what he said on the front page of the school paper, but it wasn’t just that: it was everything about him. His Choate sweatshirt, for example, which made Jess think of lawns and regattas and gin cocktails and haughty blondes. And there was something about his face. It had been there in the school paper, that something, but the effect was more pronounced in real life.

He looked like what a fifth grader might come up with if asked to draw a man, all even lines and uncomplicated symmetry. Square jaw, blue eyes. Like someone to whom life had been incredibly kind. Like a guy from an old sitcom who condescended to his wife.

“It’s 2011,” Josh had argued, “why are we still having this debate? How does throwing open the doors to elite universities fix discrimination? The problem is broken homes and blighted communities. That’s where policy interventions should start. In homes, in neighborhoods, in schools.”

“This is a school,” Jess had pointed out.
“Whatever,” another classmate said. “It’s reverse racism.”
And Jess had said, “If that were a thing!”
Another classmate: “People shouldn’t get into college just because they’re Black.”

“Sure,” Jess replied, “because my college application was just the words ‘I’m Black’ repeated one thousand times.”

Someone else clarified, “I think his point is that we shouldn’t take race into account at all.”

“Exactly. Affirmative action isn’t fair.”

“It’s not meritocratic.”

“It’s not constitutional.”

“It is kind of outrageous that there’s essentially a double standard based on, you know, melanin.”

“What about the double standard for athletes and legacies!” Jess’s heart was pounding; she felt a little wild-eyed. “Isn’t that the outrage?” She searched the room—for what? For someone who might agree with her? That wasn’t going to happen. They would make their dispassionate arguments, and when class was over they would calmly pack their textbooks away and Jess would be the only one who’d felt like she’d been kicked in the teeth repeatedly.

She took a breath. “My point is just that anyone with a squash racquet or a trust fund is automatically exempt from scrutiny. No one’s asking if they’re qualified. Why?”

“That’s not the same thing, and you know it.” “Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it—!”

The professor cleared his throat. “Let’s bring it back to the case at hand. Was Grutter’s claim valid? Or was the court’s decision, on balance, unconstitutional?”

Jess sighed and sat back.
To her right, Josh leaned close.

He whispered, “Is that really your argument? That legacies and affirmative action are the same thing? I mean… really?”

Jess had ignored him and pretended to pay attention as someone prattled on about why it didn’t make sense for universities to “lower the bar.”

Josh slid his elbows over the table so that his clasped hands rested on Jess’s notebook. So that she could smell the fabric softener on his sleeves. “Come on,” he had said, his voice low. “I don’t believe you believe that.”

Jess had picked up her pen, drawn a series of squiggles and spirals in the upper right corner of her notebook. Avoided eye contact.

“At least you see how it’s a false equivalence, right? You do see that, don’t you?”

All Jess saw was his pale wrists, the titanium watch ticking silently. His father had probably given it to him on his eighteenth birthday. Along with a fifty-year-old bottle of scotch and the passwords to all the brokerage accounts.

Jess didn’t reply.

He leaned closer. “So you really think relaxing admissions standards for ‘underrepresented minorities’?”—here he used air quotes, which confirmed for Jess that, yes, he was the worst—“is an acceptable mechanism by which to achieve”—more air quotes—“?‘equality?’?”

This was why Jess hated Law & Society. It was always the same story: oppressed peoples, willful misrememberings of history, a whiff of white supremacy. Unlike calculus or economics, in which the professor silently scratched out the answers at the front of the lecture hall, and in which there was rarely controversy—unless someone got started on infinity!—in these liberal arts classes people insisted on shouting out their opinions, no matter how unseemly. It was a lot to endure for a couple of college credits. Yet here she was.

And there he was. Breathing. Staring. Forcing her to engage. Emanating smug entitlement. Waiting.

“So you really believe that having a certain skin color is as good as possessing some demonstrable skill or talent?” He shook his head. “Seriously?”

Why couldn’t he just go polish his watch and leave her be?

But he wouldn’t let it go. He kept shaking his head, saying, “I don’t believe you believe that,” until Jess said: “Josh?”

He leaned toward her, expectant, and Jess tugged her notebook from under his wrists. “You’re on my notes.”

He seemed momentarily startled but was undeterred. “You realize you’re essentially arguing that ‘diversity’ matters more than merit.”

She was losing patience. “Well, you’re arguing that swinging a squash racquet is equivalent to four hundred years of slavery and systemic inequality!”

Around the table conversation stopped.

Everyone looked over. It occurred to Jess that she wasn’t exactly whispering, wasn’t even really using her indoor voice anymore.

The professor frowned. “Jess? Did you have something to add?”

This always happened: She got sucked in. When she would rather say nothing, just sit quietly playing number puzzles on her phone under the table.

At the same time she accepted, begrudgingly anyway, that it was her responsibility to Say Something. This Jess had learned from her father, who, throughout her Nebraska childhood, seemed perpetually to be saying something. Demanding that the Walmart manager stock multicultural dolls while Jess stood behind him, mortified. Driving across state lines at Christmas to find the only Black Santa in the Great Plains. Pestering the principal about the lack of books about Black history in the school library.

He was doing his best, Jess knew. Compensating, probably, for the fact that her mom had died when Jess was a baby. But sometimes she wondered why he bothered. Wouldn’t it have been easier to move? Instead of yelling at her teachers for fucking up the Civil War unit? Or buying knockoff Barbies? All she had wanted was to fit in, not to read another children’s biography of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Not to have to whisper-fight with Josh, in his prep school sweatshirt with his newscaster hair; not to have to defend herself, her race, her right to be there.

Later that night, at the bar where everyone went, he tracked her down and dragged her back into the conversation. It was nine o’clock and everyone was drunk. Avenue Tavern had sticky floors and a sign above the door that said FREE BEER TOMORROW. Fifteen dollars and a fake ID bought twenty-five-cent well drinks all night long.

Jess had drunk cranberry vodkas until she ran out of quarters and when the room started spinning she found an empty booth near the bathroom. She had only been there for a minute when she felt a depression in the fabric. A body next to hers. She had opened one eye, cocked her head slightly.

“Jess, right?”—it was him—“Josh,” he introduced himself, formally, sticking out his hand. She ignored it, closed her eyes again, hoping he’d go away.
But he didn’t. She could hear him rattling ice around in his drink.
“So,” he said, “your argument in class today was pretty thin.”

Jess said nothing, slid a little bit lower in her seat.

Josh ignored her ignoring him, pressed on. “As a direct beneficiary of affirmative action I see why you’d want to defend it. I get it, I do. But you can’t really believe, I mean intellectually not emotionally, that relaxing admissions standards is an appropriate mechanism by which to address systemic inequality. Sending kids to schools that they’re not qualified to attend? That’s helping? Besides, it’s completely unenforceable. I mean the real problem with inequality in this country has nothing to do with race, right? It has to do with class. How is it fair that a rich African American kid with mediocre grades and test scores gets preference over some poor kid from Appalachia who’s had even less in life?”

“So, you’re asking me, the expert”—Jess finally opened her eyes—“why we don’t have affirmative action for poor white people?”

He nodded. “I mean that’s fairly reductive, and I sense some sarcasm, but yes, I’d like to hear your thoughts.”

“My thoughts are”—she took a sip from her drink, melted ice that tasted of metal—“fuck you.”

He shook his head. “It’s like pulling teeth, trying to have an honest intellectual conversation with anyone at this school.”

“Maybe you’d be happier at Appalachia State.” “Funny,” he said, and got up.
But then he was back.

“Here.” He pushed a glass of water at her and Jess had to make an effort not to say thank you.

“So,” he said, one arm slung over the banquette, “what are you doing next year?” “What?”
“After graduation. I’m working at Goldman Sachs. You?”
“Oh.” Jess shrugged. “Don’t know.”

“Really? You don’t have anything lined up?”

Jess shrugged again. “Maybe a nonprofit that does something with kids. Or an art gallery.” That was her roommate Lydia’s plan. Rent an apartment in the West Village or Brownstone Brooklyn and take taxis to her full-time internship at Christie’s in Rockefeller Center.

“A thing with kids? An art gallery?” Josh shook his head. “Those aren’t real jobs.”

“Okay, well, not everyone wants to grow up to be Gordon Gekko, yelling at their secretaries and raiding pension funds just to buy more caviar and purebred dogs. Some of us would actually like to give something back.”

“Give something back? With a forty-thousand dollar salary?” “Funny,” she said, “I didn’t realize everything was about money.”

Jess wanted to believe this more than she actually believed it. Wanted to affect a casual relationship with money. To seem like she could take it or leave it. She didn’t want to seem too hungry. Or desperate. Or striving. None of her friends wanted jobs in finance. They wanted to volunteer, to seek fulfillment, to make art. And why not? They were right. Money didn’t matter.

Unless you didn’t have any.
Or you wanted to be taken seriously.
He raised an eyebrow. “So what, you’re going to pay rent with… IOUs?” “Josh.” She looked at him, exasperated. “Why do you care?”

“I’m curious, that’s all. Is it because that’s what your friends are doing? I thought you were different.”

“Different from what?” “From your friends.”

It was true that in many ways Jess was different from her friends; from Lydia, who had attended a boarding school in the Alps where they broke at noon for cheese and chocolate and whose father was the president of a Swiss bank. Or from Miky, who wasn’t a member of the Korean royal family but who seemed like she could be—she had a way of insisting that she wasn’t that made it seem somehow truer. But they had been friends since freshman year and it rankled Jess to think that her efforts to obscure those differences had failed, and that some guy at a bar, in a pink shirt, would call it out.

“What do you mean different?”

“Not an art gallery girl.”

“I’m sorry.” Jess was taken aback. “Do you know me?”

“Don’t be defensive,” Josh said. “Some of us had to work to get here. Some of us will have to work after we leave. I’m guessing that’s you too.”

“You don’t know anything about me. You think just because I’m Black I’m poor? How enlightened.”

“Well, I mean statistically, that’s the reality. It’s just numbers. But that’s not what I was saying. It’s something else. You seem…” He stopped, searching for the right word.

Involuntarily, Jess leaned toward him. “I seem…?”

He ran his finger around the rim of his glass. It whistled, low and melodic, like a whale. “Keen,” he said finally.

Keen? Keen? Jess would have been less offended if he’d told her she smelled like hot garbage.

“Josh?” she pointed across his lap. “Yeah?” he said, but didn’t move.

“I’m leaving.” She pushed past him out of the booth, spilling both of their drinks as she did.

At the bar, Lydia was ordering another round. “Who was that?” she asked, handing Jess a shot. “He’s cute! Are you going to bone?”

Jess tipped her head back and the icy liquid burned. She let a wave of nausea pass through her and then wrinkled her nose. “You don’t recognize him?”

“Should I?”
“He’s the guy from the paper. Freshman year. Devil ears?”
“Oh, yeah!”
“So no, definitely not cute.”
“Hmm.” Lydia made a face.
“Just,” Lydia shrugged, “I don’t know.”
“Well, I know,” Jess said, shaking her head, “and we hate him. He sucks.”
“I’m heading out,” Josh says. “You good?”
And because she is desperate, Jess goes off script: “Actually, I might have a question.” He looks at his watch, “What is it?”
“It’s just this model Charles asked me to do. It’s kind of giving me trouble?”
“You’re not done with that?”
“Not exactly.”

She taps her computer and it hums to life. She hopes to impress, or intimidate, him with complicated numbers and figures that appear on-screen. But he immediately recognizes what she’s doing.

“A precedent transaction analysis?” He leans over Jess, pecks at her keyboard and flips through various documents on her desktop. He narrates each document as he goes: “Discounted cash flow, balance sheet, cost of capital.” He looks at Jess. “So what’s the problem?”

“I don’t know.”

He looks at her screen. Toggles back and forth between the various spreadsheets. His face is just inches from hers. He smells like store-brand soap and Altoids. “Do you even know what you’re doing?”

“That depends on how you define ‘know’ and ‘doing.’?”

“Christ,” he says, wheeling over the chair from the desk next to Jess’s. He sits. “Where are you calculating the discount rate?” He is keying over the cells of Jess’s spreadsheet; his fingers dance over the keyboard like a pianist’s.

“Here.” Jess points to the screen. “This is wrong.”
Jess doesn’t disagree.

“You need to take the weighted average cost of capital”—he picks up a public information book from her desk, pages through it, picks up another and turns to the appendix—“from here”—he points to a number on a page, grabs a yellow marker and highlights it—“and then use that to drive the model assumptions”—he points to the screen—“here. See?”

She nods.

“Here, scoot over.” He rolls his seat toward her and pulls the keyboard into his lap. “Do you know how to set up dynamic named ranges?”

She shakes her head. “Christ.”
But he helps her.

He is a little hostile, but also patient, like a German schoolteacher. And eventually it gets done.

She sends the model to Charles first thing in the morning and immediately receives a response: “Come see me.”

Jess flies over to his desk. He is leaning back in his seat, one leg crossed in a triangle over the other, bouncing a rubber band ball against the corkboard wall. The model is open on his computer.

“You rang?”

He swivels toward her. “What is this?”

“It’s the model you asked for.” Jess stops herself from saying more.



“This isn’t a fucking humor magazine. Next time you use Arial. Or Times New Roman if you’re feeling fresh.” He snaps a single rubber band just over her shoulder. “Got it?”

Jess finds Josh in an empty conference room.

“Thanks again for your help last night,” she says.

He ignores her, just keeps scrolling through his phone.

Jess says, “No ‘You’re welcome, Jess’? No ‘Happy to help, Jess’? No ‘Anytime, Jess, what are buddies for’?”

“I had plans,” he says, still staring at his phone.
She is trying to be friendly. To say thank you. But, fine.
“What, did you miss your Young Republicans happy hour or something?” He finally puts his phone down, looks up, raises an eyebrow.

Jess wonders if she’s offended him, wonders if she cares. Implying that someone is a Republican is not an insult, not technically. Especially not at a bank. But he definitely is, Jess is pretty sure. In their Supreme Court class he was always talking about fringy

economic things, like payroll taxes and public debt. Once, she’d run into him at the school bookstore and watched him pay for a pack of gum with a hundred-dollar bill.

“Funny.” He picks up his phone again.

“Well,” Jess says, headed for the door, “for what it’s worth, I do actually appreciate your help.”

Outside, the city is teeming with new college graduates, everyone looking to have a good time. It’s late August, and the hot sticky heart of the summer has passed, so it feels like spring.

It reminds Jess of college, when the entire student body emerged from the gray winter in short shorts and plastic sunglasses and dragged couches out onto front lawns. Sometimes they would cut class, Jess and Miky and Lydia, and sit on a patio drinking sun-warmed beer and spicy margaritas until their heads would spin.

But that’s all over now.
Miky and Lydia make new friends, while Jess is stuck inside.

Their new friends, the Wine Girls, are sunny California optimists with trust funds and tangled hair whose parents grow grapes in the Napa Valley, who believe in free love and acupuncture and private space travel and electric cars.

Jess meets them one night, when she sneaks out of work at a reasonable hour. The bar slash restaurant is dark and loud, and in the heat of the crowd Jess feels nostalgic.

She finds them all sitting at a small table crammed with cocktails and tall glass bottles of sparkling water.

Everyone screams hello and then the Wine Girls shout over the music, “Why are you wearing a suit?”

Jess sits down and shout-explains that she works at Goldman Sachs.
They frown over their cocktails and shout back, “That sucks! Why do you work there?” Silently Miky slides a drink in front of Jess.
The Wine Girls don’t let up. “How can you work there!”

“It’s not that bad,” Jess shrugs.

“Not that bad! Goldman Sachs is the great vampire squid!” the Wine Girls insist, “attached to the face of the economy, sucking it dry!”

A waiter materializes.

“Ooh,” Lydia lights up, “should we order the squid?”

The Wine Girls inform Jess that, given her hundred-hour workweek, she’s essentially making minimum wage, less, probably, than she would slinging burgers at a fast-food place.

This is not true, obviously, and more importantly, working at McDonald’s doesn’t come with the imprimatur of the most powerful and important bank in the world. Or the begrudging respect of people who might otherwise write her off. Or black car rides home every night. But the Wine Girls aren’t completely wrong; Jess kind of hates her job. It’s boring, and no one is nice to her, and all the midweight wool makes her itch. She barely sees her friends, barely sleeps, barely eats anything that doesn’t come in a take-out box. When Lydia asked, Jess complained about life on the front line.

“Lyd, it’s awful. It’s just a bunch of dudes, in suits, doing shit and saying shit. All day. Every day.”

“Well,” Lydia said, “the patriarchy wasn’t dismantled in a day. At least there’s no line for the ladies’ room.”

This was not the case in Lydia’s own office, a boutique auction house, where two-thirds of the employees were women and where the toilet was always clogged with tampons and glitter.

Jess fantasizes constantly about a different job.

Like Lydia’s job at the auction house, which can be demeaning, but has a decidedly glamorous air. Or like the Wine Girls: Callie, who works at a cookie dough startup, and Noree, who works at an eco-first company that makes shoes out of recycled bamboo. Even Miky, who’s an account coordinator for the world’s biggest creative advertising agency, is still home by six every day.

It would be nice: a fake job and a nice apartment and parents who pay the bills.

Instead: student loans, a studio that eats up half her salary, people always and forever looking at her sideways.

Jess’s dad calls.

“Well,” he asks, “are you giving ’em hell?”

She knows what he wants to hear. That she’s showing up early and leaving late; that she’s beating them at their own game. Growing up he’d said it again and again. She needed to be twice as good to get half as much. He was right, she knew, but she resented it. Why did her success have to be predicated on perfection instead of, say, a vague sense that she was someone people would like to have a beer with?

Still, she tries. To keep up, to keep her head down, to make herself useful. Even though she’s not sure anyone notices. And while she’s definitely better than Rich, who graduated from Harvard but still can’t spell Wednesday, it’s not clear that she’s better than Josh, who can do a discounted cash flow with his eyes. She considers telling her dad the truth: that she feels like a baby sometimes, needy and helpless. That she is the only one at a loss, the only one who doesn’t have a strong opinion about The Things That Matter: the price of soybeans, the nuances of Glass-Steagall, the new menu at the University Club.

But she can hear him smiling, waiting, on the other end of the line.
So instead she says, “You bet. I’m great. I’m awesome. Everything’s fine.”


Author Bio:

Cecilia Rabess previously worked as a data scientist at Google and as an associate at Goldman Sachs. Her nonfiction has been featured in McSweeneys, FiveThirtyEight, Fast Company, and FlowingData, among other places. Everything’s Fine is her debut novel.

Goodreads / Instagram / TikTok / Youtube


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Blitz: Stalked by the Devil by Stacy-Deanne

Stalked by the Devil
Publication date: June 3rd 2023
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Fear is the name of his game.

Nothing’s going right in Melody Carter’s life right now. She’s broke, unemployed, and living in the shadow of her successful fashion-model sister Sahara. But that ain’t even the half of Melody’s problems, the biggest one is Keith Taylor, Sahara’s new boyfriend who’s slowly worming his way into the sisters’ lives.

Keith’s perfect to everyone else: successful, gorgeous, and at 35 he’s the co-CEO of his family’s billion-dollar company. But Melody feels she has every reason to hate him from his arrogance, his controlling ways, and how every woman he’s had a relationship with seems to disappear.

While everyone else seems blinded by the silver-tongued bachelor, Melody will do anything in her power to prove that Keith is the devil himself.

Tropes: Billionaire, stalking, interracial, love triangle, office romance, first love, second-chance, opposites attract

Goodreads / Amazon


Every woman knows fear. When your knees knock, your forehead sweats and you get that feeling in your stomach as if you’re falling off a cliff.

Melody Carter felt undeniable fear as she stood in her bedroom, bare-breasted and all in front of Keith Taylor, her older sister’s boyfriend.

Keith was weird. He was hard to read, and he was sneaky, but she never, ever thought he’d do something like this.

And he just stood there, his natural lavender eyes penetrating her.

“You are so beautiful.” His raspy voice blanketed Melody’s bedroom, the same way his overpowering cologne did. “I shouldn’t have come in here, but I couldn’t help myself. Should I apologize?”

Melody pressed her lips together, fuming.

“I guess I could apologize.” Keith chuckled. “But that would be bullshit. We both know I came up here because I wanted to.”

“And you think this is okay?” Melody’s orange-size breasts spilled from under her arms. “How dare you? This time you’ve gone way too far.”

“Please, Mel. You should be flattered a man like me would find you so attractive.”

Keith was right. Melody should’ve been grateful for his attention. A man like Keith Taylor didn’t just grow on trees. They fell off of private planes and into multimillion-dollar mansions, which he had plenty of all around the world.

At only 34, Keith was a bona fide billionaire. Yes, a real life billionaire stood in unemployed Melody Carter’s room. A guy that only existed in romance books or women’s wet dreams. Co-CEO of Taylor Industries, a worldwide marketing firm that handled accounts for some of the biggest brands in the world, Keith and his family owned Lapeka, Florida. His mother was the mayor, for God’s sakes, and his family was the richest in the area. There wasn’t one entity in this fun-loving, hipster seaside town that Keith didn’t have his hands or money in.

“I think I’ve figured you out.” Melody grabbed her Black Girls Do It Better T-shirt from the bed and slipped it on.

“Oh, don’t do that,” Keith teased. “Can’t I have another peek first?”

“I know your game now.” She straightened her shirt. “I couldn’t understand why you act the way you do when Sahara’s not around. Now I got it.”

The overhead light bounced off the diamonds in his Rolex. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re not interested in me.” She crossed her arms. “Why would you be?”

“I don’t know.” Hints of red shot out from his copper-brown hair, cut in the chic comeback all the actors were now wearing. “Maybe because you’re so goddamn sexy, Mel. You intrigue me.”

“Cut the bullshit, Keith. I think this is about something else. You wanna control me like you do Sahara.”

“There you go with the holier-than-thou routine. Always trying to read someone else when you’re mooching off your sister like some pathetic waif.”

“Are you kidding me?” Melody laughed. “You haven’t done a day of work in your life, Keith. You sit on your ass, taking credit for a company your grandfather built. If you weren’t a Taylor, you’d be nothing.”

“But I am a Taylor, Melody.” His trimmed eyebrows lifted. “And it’s best you

remember that.” He pursed his lips. “You got some great tits, Mel. Not as nice as Sahara’s, but yeah, you got some nice ones.”

“What the fuck do you want?”

“How about a quickie?” He leaned forward, grinning. “Before Sahara gets back?”

Hell, she couldn’t lie. A part of her wondered what rolling in between the sheets with Keith Taylor would be like. Fuck, she was human and would be lying if she said she didn’t find him irresistible. But she would never, ever do anything to hurt Sahara and Keith’s charm, gorgeous smile, and money wouldn’t change that.

“You and me will never happen, Keith.”

“I was kidding about the quickie. Trust me, there is nothing quick about fucking me.”

“If you do anything like this again, I’m telling Sahara.”

“Mm…” He wiggled his hypnotic lips. “You think she’d believe you? She already knows you don’t like me, even though I’ve been nothing but nice to you.”

“She doesn’t know the shit you’ve been doing behind her back.”

He rubbed his clean-shaven, diamond-shaped chin. “And what have I been doing?”

“Stop playing with me! The little flirty remarks? Or how you look at me or even coming into my bedroom? If she knew you did this, you’d be gone.”

“Or she’ll just think you tried to run me off like you did all her other boyfriends. This is a pattern with you, Mel, remember? You’ve never liked Sahara’s boyfriends because you’re jealous of her because she’s better than you. Isn’t that right, little sister?”

“Get out of my room and get out of this house.” She pointed toward the hall. “Get out!”


Author Bio:


Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Stacy-Deanne (Dee-Anne) is an award-winning author of romantic suspense, romantic thrillers, contemporary romance, historical romance, and erotica books featuring BWWM pairings. Her books have been bestsellers in stores worldwide including Amazon, Apple, and Barnes and Noble. Her work has been praised and reviewed in USA Today numerously. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree and is a 2011 and 2012 African-American Literary Award Nominee. She also is a winner of the Swirl Award (an award dedicated to authors of multicultural/interracial works).

Stacy is known for bringing versatile stories to her readers. With her, you never know what you’re gonna get, which separates Stacy’s work from the pack.

Stacy’s books are full of passion, thrills, intriguing characters and so much emotion you can’t get enough! If you want something different and unpredictable then definitely check out her work.

With Stacy every book is an adventure.

Want to receive book updates? Sign up for Stacy’s mailing list:


Stacy is a proud member of ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Website / Goodreads / Instagram / Twitter / Newsletter


a Rafflecopter giveaway