Little Fires Everywhere

little fires everywhere

When it comes to books, I love to be proven wrong. My indie bookstore in town had this novel as the chosen book for this month’s group discussion and I was prepared to be let down. I hate to say it, but most popular fiction is not my preferred cup of tea. I was so happy I ignored my reservations about this novel and decided to read it because it’s a gem of a story that shines brightly despite the dark and complicated themes that reside within the pages.

What makes a good mother? Should we be forgiven for the mistakes of our past? Is family truly a congruent concept or is it merely a social construct, one that punishes individuals that dare to not conform with the family mores and ideals? All of these ethical questions and more are explored in Celeste Ng’s beautiful and deeply moving novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

I am extremely proud of Ms. Ng (pronounced “ing” as per her Twitter account) for writing such a hypnotic, excellently written novel that seamlessly blends in amazing characterization, wonderful use of setting, and an engaging, visceral plot that keeps you turning the pages, salivating for more. I highly recommend this novel for any fiction lover out there. It is definitely one of the best novels to come out in the past few recent years.

5/5 stars.

Vacuum in the Dark

vacuum in the dark

…”Anyway, a few weeks before he disappeared, we got high together. He shot me up with heroin and cocaine, and I overdosed, or had some kind of allergic reaction This is going to sound crazy, but while I was unconscious I had some minor convulsions, during which I remembered being born. I remembered coming out of you. The passage through the canal, crowning, being delivered, the whole thing. Except it wasn’t a warm and fuzzy feeling – it was the most sickening thing I’ve ever felt or experienced. It was just…vile.”

Vacuum in the Dark spoke to the hurt, broken, and scared little girl that resides deep within me. Jen Beagin writes with the ferocity and stark, sobering realism that is reminiscent of Charles Palahniuk’s works. I struggled between laughing out loud and almost peeing my pants to almost falling to the floor and curling up into a little ball to whimper and cry. I wanted to hold Mona as I read her struggle to feel part of a world that she has no connection with, no matter how much she struggles to fit in. Ms. Beagin is a phenomenal writer with the amazing ability to write beautiful, flawed characters that are just like you and me. When Mona talks about where she is currently standing on the ‘Sui-Scale’, that broke my heart. As someone who has thought about killing themself nearly every day, I am grateful for writers like Jen Beagin who discuss topics that everyone wants to blissfully ignore. But the price of ignoring the real struggles of creative, kind people like Mona often leads to one fate: death. Thank you, Ms. Beagin, for sharing your beautiful words with us.

“Strange, she thought, how affected you are by malice when you’re a kid, how a mean word or look can unravel you, how devastating cruelty feels when you’re too young to protect yourself. But eventually, after all those defense mechanisms are firmly in place, it’s the so-called positive shit-mercy, not malice-that brings you to tears.”

5/5 stars.

The Professor’s Secret

the professor's secret

The Professor’s Secret is another delicious, excellently written erotica by the amazing Ms. Ava Sterling. While I do enjoy her F/M erotica, I can’t deny that she writes lesbian erotica so amazingly well. I adored these two characters and the dialogue between the two of them had me salivating for more! If you enjoy erotica, especially F/F erotica, please do yourself a favor and read this sexy, scorching story.

You Only Love Me When I’m Suffering

you only love me

You Only Love Me When I’m Suffering is a beautiful, raw, unflinching collection of poems that spoke to my heart and reminds me that I am not alone in my battle against the darkness of depression. Jon Lupin is extremely talented and I admire his veracity; his poems are so fluid and seamless and I just couldn’t get enough of them. As a fellow recovering alcoholic, I applaud him for speaking out against the disease of alcoholism especially since he is a male and alcohol is so intertwined with the rigid identity of masculinity. It takes strength and courage to share your pain and fears with the world, and Mr. Lupin proves that he is an amazing poet with the empathy and kindness that the world needs more of.

Turning Up The Heat By Laura Westbrook

Turning Up the Heat
Title: Turning Up the Heat: An Older Man Younger Woman Romance
Author: Laura Westbrook
Genre: Steamy Romance
Length: Novella
Heat Level: 4 out of 5 bonfires
One woman.
One restaurant to save.
One review can make or break her dreams.

Eliza is fighting tooth and nail to keep her father’s dream alive: running a successful restaurant in the heart of Houston. Bleeding money every month and out of options, her last hope is a positive review from a popular food magazine.

Traveling all over the world, Bryan has been focusing on furthering his career as a prestigious food critic. Staying in one place too long isn’t exactly his thing. Once he visits this small restaurant in Texas and writes his last review of the trip, he can head back to Chicago to rest before the next round of globe-trotting.

Neither of them are looking for love, yet they’re immediately drawn together. It’s too bad a kitchen fire interrupts their plans, forcing them both to make a tough decision. 

Between their growing attraction, separate lives, and competing dreams, the kitchen might not be the only thing going up in flames.

If you enjoy steamy romance stories with alpha men, guilty pleasures, happily ever afters, no cliffhangers, no cheating, and a touch over-the-top, then you’ll love Turning Up the Heat. Get your fix with a story that hits the spot and doesn’t take all year to read.

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Laura was kind enough to send me a sneak peek of her new book titled Turning Up the Heat. Older men/younger women romances are sadly missing in the erotica/romance genre and I’m excited to read this story! Be sure to check out this sexy book and support an amazing, talented writer. You can purchase her story in the links included below. (Please note that if you have Kindle Unlimited, the story is yours for free!)

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Here is an actual excerpt from the story. Enjoy!

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Prologue
Bryan
 

In conclusion, that’s why I’ll never look at Risotto the same way again. I leaned back in my chair and cracked my knuckles. I’d been typing and editing for the past three hours, and I was ready for a drink before bed. A six-ounce rocks glass with blended grain scotch and three ice cubes would hit the spot right about now. I could head down to the hotel bar, but I didn’t feel like getting dressed and, more than likely, interact with other people. I’d been interacting with more than my fair share of people the past month.

It had been a whirlwind tour, visiting a long list of restaurants in the central Texas area. It wasn’t my first trip to the state but certainly the most in-depth. My boss had been compiling a list of restaurants for a while now, in an effort to save costs of sending out a food critic to only a few stops per trip. My company was still doing well, but the economy was putting a squeeze on everyone, and costs were going up.

I shut my laptop and moved from the chair to the bed. This hotel featured a quality mattress, not the cheap kind I’d slept on when I first started in this business. My boss recently tried to get me to downgrade the quality of hotels I stayed at, but I swatted that away. Best to nip that kind of thing in the bud before it starts. I hadn’t been the best in my industry for the past ten years without knowing my worth.

Although sleep called to me, I decided to check one last thing, the folder with my next assignment. It was the last stop on my month-long trip, and I looked forward to heading back home. Not that Chicago had any better weather than Texas, but it would be nice to sleep in my own bed for a little while before my next trip. I actually preferred the dryer weather down here, and I wouldn’t complain about never seeing a snowflake again. I’d talked to more than a few Texans who had never seen snow before. The luxury.

The place was simply called Warren’s, located in the heart of Houston. It hadn’t been in business long, just under two years, but they already had made a name for themselves with grill items, but they were mostly known for their elaborate, upscale burgers. One in particular was titled “The Monster” and almost had more onion strings than burger patty. I already knew I’d skip that one. I didn’t come all the way to Texas just to have a heart attack. I was only forty-four, so too young for that mess, but still…it was best not to tempt fate.

I shrugged. It would be just like the rest. An average meal, an overbearing owner, wait staff hovering around me every minute, and a review that wasn’t exactly glowing. If I had a bigger head I’d enjoy it more, but usually the fuss was more trouble than it was worth. If I could work out a way for the restaurant to ship the meal to me, where it could remain just as fresh as if it had just come out of the kitchen, I’d do that in a heartbeat.

My eyes scrolled down the page to pick out the highlights. The establishment was owned by a woman named Eliza Carter who had run the place for just short of two years. Not much surprised me anymore, but that made me raise my eyebrows. Usually the youngest restaurant my company sent me to was a decade old. Either the place was doing something right, or she’d begged every day to get an appointment with me.

I flipped the page. It didn’t really matter either way. I was going there to do a job, and I did it well. Most of the restaurant owners thought the reviews were too harsh, but to that, I’d say they should up the quality of their food and service. It could hardly be my fault if their guest experience was less than stellar, and the readers of our magazine needed to know that.

Picking up the remote control, I turned on the first channel that came up. A man walked behind a woman in what I presumed was a movie, and he kissed her neck. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, offering more of her skin to his ravishing lips. He wasted no time in taking advantage of it, raking them along her shoulders in a way that appeared to give her goosebumps large enough to be seen by the viewers at home.

I pressed the button and the TV went dark. With a sigh, I adjusted my pants to make additional room below the waist. I didn’t expect a scene from a cheap movie to have affected me that much, but it only served to remind me how long it had been since I got laid. God, has it been that long? I tried not to think about it, and that made it easier.

I didn’t have time to focus on dating. Or maybe because I didn’t make time, but either way, it wasn’t really happening. Sometimes I felt like a lone wolf, best roving solo. Besides, life out on the open road was rarely a boring one. I’d worked hard to get to this point in my life and career, and I had no plans to be distracted from it.

 * * *

Two For One

Two For ONe

I really enjoyed this short but sweet and erotic story by Ms. Ava Sterling. She is an extremely talented writer and she has the skill of reeling me in and enrapturing me with her realistic characters and unique storylines. Two For One was no exception and I found myself loving every word. I love Angela, Jake, and Simon. The three of them have an amazing chemistry together and I only wish that I could read more of them because I found them to be so down to earth and sexy. 5/5 stars.

Interview With Esma Ashraf, Writer of Shamma: The Dancing Flame

Esme

Interview With Esma Ashraf, Writer of Shamma: The Dancing Flame

A.R.: What is the most significant difference between writing poetry in English and Urdu?

Esma: Urdu is more expressive and romantic. Since it’s my mother tongue, so I am able to write easily as words flow naturally. The Urdu language is vast; one word can have multiple meanings. However, I did enjoy writing poems in English. I wanted to test my capability in the language as well. My love for expressing in English is growing more and more.

A.R.: I found your poems full of spirituality and so much passion, which is rare for me to find in other forms of media and in the world in general. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person and how do you think spirituality played a role in the writing process?

Esma: Yes, I am a spiritual person, also very emotional. I firmly believe that we are all connected with each other. I live in the spiritual realm, in imagination; not so much in the physical world. I completely believe in soul connection. Nature is another best way to extend the relationship with your soul. With Shamma, I definitely regard it as a spiritual book. The sensuality aspect of the book also branches out towards soul power. We tend to always look for something to quench our thirst and my journey of poetry is to fulfill one part of that desire.

 

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A.R.: You mention that you are very in tune with your emotions. It seems that most (if not all) artists of all types are extremely intuitive and in touch with their emotions. Do you see your writing as a separate entity or an extension of yourself?

Esma: Writing is me; it’s my personal experience. Every single word I have written, I have lived it. It’s my whole existence, from head to toe. Whether it is about inner conflicts, girl empowerment, passionate romance or loss; are reflected in my poems..

A.R.: As someone who suffers from severe depression, I always appreciate it when a writer is courageous enough to be completely honest. There are some poems here that deal with some darker elements, such as sadness, grief. Do you find it easy to write about these difficult topics?

Esma: Nothing is easy, as struggling through depression or fear can build up those roads to drive once you have no choice. I find that my pen dances on the paper when passion weaves out from my heart. I find it easy to write down my thoughts, feelings, and my ability to express so much sadness and grief. Everyone at some point suffers from depression and I myself am a victim of this. However, I find this a painful process to collect my thoughts together, but once I start, it is a relief as venting out is very important.

 

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A.R.: Living in the Hudson Valley can be a great source of inspiration for us writers. What else besides spirituality inspires your work?

Esma: I’m a profoundly romantic person. I definitely believe in love, which influences my work for sure. Several people who have I have met along through my journey, have also inspired me to write. Nature is always a constant fountain of inspiration. I actually started writing my poetry in London in 1999. When the sky there changed colors and rain kissed the roses outside my backyard, it gave me an incentive to write. I found so much beauty in that transition. It was a huge source of inspiration for me. Depression also triggered me to write. When you spend a lot of time alone, it often develops a connection between you and yourself.. I find that spirituality comes more with age as well, but not necessarily. Because of the depression that blossomed from the loss of my mother, I became more spiritual and began to write more often. My experiences with other people, which were often risky, are also a source of inspiration as well. Pain, tears, crying, loneliness, loss: they all make you. I love the whole notion of love so I find myself suffering a lot.

A.R.: Personally, I find it much more organic to write by hand. The words seem to flow better. What is your preferred way to write?

Esme: I used to write a lot by hand. Now, I find myself writing my poems on my phone as I am constantly writing whether I am outside or home, so it’s more realistic for me. I do not want to lose my chain of thoughts as raw feelings are very important in a poetic world. Then, I correct them and upload them on my website. I prefer to write on the phone now due to convenience and easy access. Words are always flowing through me, coming out and spilling out through my fingers.

 

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A.R.: You mentioned that you are preparing for a new publication. Can you tell us more about the themes and subjects in your next work?

Esma: They are a collection of short stories about certain events related to my culture that I yearn to share with Westerners. The stories are lush with food and cultural events. I am much more detailed about experiences and people in the short stories. I also describe how love is portrayed in our society today, which has a lot to do with social obligations. The writing courses at the local college helped my pen to explore more and assisted me well to write short stories. I also want to experience different genres/styles.

A.R.: A few years ago I read the amazing book ‘Women Without Men’. It is still one of my most favorite novels ever. To have a woman write such a profound, searing, yet beautiful story immersed in Indian culture really inspired me and still does to this day. Which women writers do you identify most with?

Esma: I am a huge fan of Rupi Kaur; she inspired me to write. Her poems have deeper understanding of internal and external issues. Jhumpa Lahiri is another source of influence for me. Her cultural and social understanding that reflects in her short stories inspires me to write. I also am a huge fan of Atticus. His poems have a meaningful way of expression. I’m not as experienced to identify myself with other women writers as I am still new in the writing world. They are like stars and I am standing on the ground looking from down to above. I have a lot of admiration for all the writers; whether they are women or men.

 

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A.R.: Alcoholism, depression, and writing sadly seem to go in hand, unfortunately. As someone who suffers from these afflictions, it makes me very sad and concerned to be reminded of the deaths of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Hunter S. Thompson. What would be your advice to writers that struggle with these demons?

Esma: The emotional pain of depression destroys you from the inside; that’s what artists go through. Depression makes you an artist if you recognize that artist in you. Personally, I think that writing and wine have a sisterhood relationship. Although, everything needs to be balanced; whether our drink or food intake. Artists struggle immensely. There is so much inner battle every day, every single minute. Writers have an eccentric mind who are full of beauty and passion. There is so much to live for. I find myself concerned for people with suicidal ideation since they suffer from so much inner struggle as well. We have this affinity with words, music, brush or any type of art, and we should not waste this power. It’s difficult for sure, but we have so much to offer to the world through our skills. The artists’ struggle is what creates their art. If you fall in love with yourself, life will be beautiful. If you make yourself your own best friend, you will be at peace.

A.R.: As a fellow nature lover, I find it hard to choose between the mountains, the desert, the ocean, and the woods. If you had to choose one element in nature, which one would it be and why?

Esma: (laughs) I love them all but the ocean is by far my favorite. It’s so deep and mysterious; I have such a huge fascination with it: its vast depth, the waves, how they intertwine and make love to each other. I find myself comparing the eyes of a lover to the ocean. You find yourself drowning deeper and deeper into them. When you kiss your lover, it’s just like the ocean, pulling you in. The color of the sky reflected on the surface of the ocean is amazing, heavenly. The sound of the waves whispering to you is so sensual and romantic. I find it very powerful; it just wants to sweep you away. My fascination with water is definitely reflected in my poems.

 

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Esma’s Homepage

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All photographs are the property of the writer, Esma, and shared with her permission.