Review: Collie Jolly by Leigh Landry

unnamedA sunny dog trainer. A grieving New Orleans photographer. The unruly pup that brings them together.

Ashley’s never owned a dog, much less trained one. But she’s not about to let that little detail stop her—especially during the holiday season—from applying for this dog training job. Her new gig is the perfect way to survive the recession while strolling the festive streets of New Orleans with a cute pooch. The biggest challenge? Heeling a growing attraction to her stunning shut-in of a boss.

When her girlfriend died a year ago, Madison found herself overwhelmed by grief and her girlfriend’s rambunctious puppy. Now the dog is an unmanageable, attention-starved reminder of everything Madison has lost. She’s still afraid to face the world, but her vibrant new dog trainer—with the help of a furry sidekick—is determined to bring light, laughter, and Christmas cheer back into Madison’s life.


I read this book in two sittings, but only because I had to pry myself away to go to bed at a reasonable hour last night. It’s charming, delightful, and full of healing and holiday cheer. I loved every minute of this book.

Both main characters were lovable and fun to read about. I was rooting for them the whole time, and even though happy endings are guaranteed in romances, it never gets old waiting for them to realize they’re perfect for each other.

The book deals with some heavy topics (the death of a former partner, being laid off, near death experience), but that only added to the book’s appeal to me. I love it when romances reflect real life, and I got plenty of that in this one.

This is the queer Hallmark story my queer heart has been longing for. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


COLLIE JOLLY will be available for purchase on December 1st, and is available for pre-order now!

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Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 3

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Need to catch up? Chapter 1 is here!


Rory was pacing her living room when Ellie walked into her small apartment above the laundromat on Main Street. The living room was tiny and it only took Rory four large strides from one side to another, but that didn’t stop her from stomping her way across the floor.

She stopped moving and turned to face Ellie when the door opened.

“Hi,” Ellie said, her voice quiet.

“About time,” Rory snapped. “I expected you like an hour ago. I was afraid you’d wiped out somewhere.”

Ellie opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She hadn’t spent any time figuring out what she’d say once she got here, but she couldn’t tell her best friend what she’d seen in the corn field. Rory would probably chalk it up to grief or being overtired and mistaking a coyote for a monster or even just emotional exhaustion from Robbie coming home.

Rory was amazing at many things, but believing in the fantastical wasn’t one of them. If she couldn’t see it, touch it, smell it, as far as Rory was concerned, it didn’t exist. Besides, no one in this town over the age of five believed the scary monster stories anymore. There was no way Rory would believe her.

“Sorry,” Ellie said finally. “I lost track of time… Robbie stopped by this morning.”

Rory’s face morphed from annoyance to something akin to pity. Ellie regretted saying anything, but then she’d never been good at thinking on her feet.

“It was fine,” Ellie said quickly, cutting off the interrogation she knew was brewing. “What’s for dinner?”

“Chili. But you don’t get off this easy.” Rory flopped onto the couch and pulled Ellie down next to her. “Tell me everything. Then we can eat.”

Ellie sighed and resigned herself to this conversation. After all, she was the one who brought it up.

“He called me El Bell. Told me he’d broken up with his girlfriend. And then he left. He was there for all of five minutes.”

Ellie picked at her nails. There was dirt under them from riding her bike. She curled her fingers under to hide them before risking a glance at Rory.

“How are you feeling about it all?” Rory asked.

“I don’t feel anything,” Ellie said. Her hands tightened in her lap.

“Right,” Rory said. “I believe that.”

“It’s fine,” Ellie said. “Everything that happened is ancient history. I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to dredge up, but the past is the past.”

Rory hummed in disbelief, but didn’t push. She got up to serve dinner. Ellie’s stomach rumbled, hunger finally catching up to her. Her thoughts raced, flipping between monsters and old boyfriends and treasure. She was grateful for a warm bowl of chili between her hands, loaded up with cheese and sour cream, just how she loved it.

“By the way,” Rory said, “I found one of those puzzle books you love so much at the grocery store.”

Rory produced the book from somewhere and dropped it in Ellie’s lap. Ellie put her chili on the coffee table and flipped through it.

So many new ciphers inside! It would take her hours to decode them all. She hugged it to her chest.

“Thanks, Rory. You sure know the right way to my heart.”

“I dunno how you can stand doing those things, but I’m glad to help.”

“They’re fun,” Ellie said, the argument over boring ciphers old and familiar. “Keeps my brain young.”

Rory just laughed.

After they’d eaten, Rory pulled some maps she’d photocopied at the library out of her messenger bag. She spread them on the coffee table. Ellie picked one up that had the boundaries of Harmon’s farm marked on it.

“Where did you get this one?” Ellie asked.

“Oh. I went to the library and looked up property records. Oliver was really helpful.”

Ellie groaned and bit back a harsh reply. Rory was just trying to help, but Oliver, the local historian and property guru, was the biggest gossip this town had ever seen. If he knew they were interested in Harmon’s property, so would everyone else by tomorrow morning at the latest.

“Don’t worry,” Rory continued. “I told him that Adam would want this information, and I was just being proactive. Please don’t be mad.”

“And Oliver bought that? Have you ever even met Adam?”

“Well, no, but I guess I also said I was helping you out.”

Ellie sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She needed a nap and some time alone to think about everything that had happened in the last couple days. Why is it that things could go along for a time without issue, but then outside forces conspired to ruin everything all at once?

She could have handled Robbie’s seeming interest in rekindling their relationship if Harmon was alive. She could have handled Harmon’s death if she could grieve without having to find a treasure on a timeline. And that creature… well… she wasn’t sure she could have handled that ever.

“So,” Rory said, intruding on her thoughts, “what were the directions Harmon gave you?”

Her voice was quiet, the same tone Adrianna had the night before when she mentioned Harmon. Ellie huffed out a watery laugh at her friends feeling like they had to walk on eggshells when bringing him up. She wanted to talk about him without her friends fearing she’d break down crying, but her eyes welled up just at the mention of his name. She blinked the tears away. Maybe she couldn’t talk about him yet, but she’d keep working on it.

Rory scooted off the couch and onto the floor next to the coffee table, studiously pretending she didn’t see Ellie wiping her eyes.

Ellie pulled a scrap of paper from her pocket. On one side was a receipt for the hospital cafeteria. One turkey club with a bag of chips, one iced tea, and one slice of carrot cake. Harmon wasn’t supposed to eat cake, but Ellie figured he should have whatever he wanted in his last days. She cherished the memory of the small smile of bliss on his face as he savored it.

On the other side of the receipt was Ellie’s hastily scribbled transcription of Harmon’s whispered directions.

Start at south corner of barn.

Walk half mile due east.

Stop. Turn left. Walk twenty paces.

Stop. Dig five feet.

Rory smoothed the receipt out on the table, reverent and gentle. She read it a few times with a bemused look on her face. Then she looked back at the map.

“Damn,” Rory said. “I didn’t think to put buildings on here. Not so helpful after all. But… the directions don’t sound so hard. What’s been the problem?”

“I don’t know,” Ellie said. “Maybe because I have to go out at night? Everything looks different. Maybe I’m veering off due east.”

Rory hummed and rested her head on one hand and pulled the outlined map toward her with the other.

“Have you ever had this much trouble finding a geocache before?”

Ellie shook her head, frowning at the useless map. Rory stared at it, too.

“This is so much different than geocaching, though,” Ellie said. “I don’t have specific coordinates to find, and the box is actually buried, not hidden in a clever spot aboveground. I have no idea how broad the hole I dig should be, or anything, so I don’t know how to tell if I’m in the right spot.”

“Well, we’ll bring a compass tonight and between your geocache skills, Adrianna’s tracking skills, and my robot-like digging skills, I’m sure we’ll find it.”

“I mean, I had a compass when I was out there,” Ellie said. At the pointed look Rory gave her, she quickly added, “But maybe Adrianna’s will work better.”

Ellie’s desire to go back to the property tonight faded as the memory of glowing eyes intruded into her thoughts. She didn’t know what that thing was, but for the first time in her life, she was afraid to go to Harmon’s house.


Chapter 2                                                                                                                          Chapter 4

The birth of a PhD student

It’s been almost a year to the day since I uprooted my life and moved to the Midwest for grad school. It’s been a grueling, wonderful, painful, freeing year. I needed this change, even during the parts where I wished I had stayed back home. Especially then. If I’d stayed, I’d still be working a soul-crushing job with miserable coworkers, growing more and more bitter each passing day, as I marked the years until retirement.

Leaving that job was easy. Leaving home, on the other hand, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But growth doesn’t happen in the comfortable places in our lives, and I wouldn’t become who I’m meant to be if I’d stayed.

I still don’t know who that person is, that I’m going to grow into. I just feel that my time here is going to shape and change me in ways I would not have even dreamed of. It already has.

This past year, I’ve realized that I’m terrible at making decisions for myself, almost always deferring to the opinions and advice of others. I have low self-esteem, I don’t trust myself, I’m not great at communicating, and I’m prone to bouts of depression and loneliness.

Going through this PhD program has opened my eyes to these things, and even after the first year, it’s challenging me to change them. One of these days, I’m going to have to take ownership of my research project, deciding on the direction it’s going to take and carrying out the experiments. I’m going to get up in front of crowds of people and tell them about my science. I’m going to have to be confident enough in my choices and knowledge to defend my science to other experts.

I’m not there yet, but I will be.

It won’t be easy. It won’t be painless. But it will probably be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

I finished reading LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren today. It’s a brutally honest look into the world and career I’m getting myself into, but, like Jahren, I can’t imagine any other life. I might not have her stamina and reckless drive, but I’m willing to do what it takes to reach my goals, just the same as her. I’m glad this book found me at this particular moment. I’m glad I have Jahren’s voice, the voice of a woman who succeeded in carving out a place for herself in biology, to listen to when things get hard. She knows. She’s been through it all.

I love science. I love learning. I love passing on knowledge to others.

I need to hold onto those things, even when research gets hard and I think about quitting. My dream of teaching college will only have the change at being realized if I don’t give up. I need to learn how to push past my self-doubt, how to ignore the little voice in my head saying I can’t do it. It’s so easy to get bogged down when things aren’t going well. I need to learn how to pick myself back up over and over and over, even when it seems impossible.

This past year has flown by, but I’m grateful for every moment of it. Even the not-so-great ones. And I’m looking forward to another year of more growth, no matter how painful.

I can do this.

I will do this.

 

Recent Reads

It’s summertime, and that means plenty of time for me to read without feeling guilty! Homework is a thing of the past (until September), so I’m enjoying the time to read for fun.

I’ve been reading a blend of new things and old favorites, and it’s been wonderful revisiting loved places and discovering new ones.

What are you all reading this summer? I’m always looking for new recommendations!

Recent Favorites:
STRANGE GRACE by Tessa Gratton
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This book tugged at my heart in all the right ways. It’s beautifully gruesome in the way only Gratton can write, and I loved every agonizing second of it. The most surprising thing about this book was the polyamorous triad that was so well done, I couldn’t see any of the characters without the others. Highly recommend this gorgeous book.

 

 

 

TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT by Lana Wood Johnson
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Full disclosure: I helped beta this book when it was still under construction, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. But even that hadn’t been the case, this is a fun, light read for the summer and it comes out tomorrow! It’s another beautifully queer book with both main characters discovering themselves and each other, and I just love these nerds so much.

 

 

Books That Missed The Mark:
THESE WITCHES DON’T BURN by Isabel Sterling
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I wanted to like this. I really did. Queer witches is usually a fierce SIGN ME UP, but the first 1/3 of this gave me anxiety because the adults refused to listen to the teens and the middle 1/3 was pretty forgettable. It was only in the last 1/3 that the book picked up and left me wanting more. (Which is good because this is the first book in a series, and ends on a cliff-hanger!) The queer rep in this was awesome, and I enjoyed the casual diversity in this. (Ex/ non-plot-advancing description of a little girl on the street with two dads!) Overall, not a successful book for me, but mostly due to personal preferences.

DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK by Paul Tremblay
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I was expecting paranormal horror, and I got some weird “maybe it is, maybe it isn’t” horror instead. If I hadn’t been expecting something different, maybe I’d feel differently. But I was looking for some creepy devil action, and all I got was the horrors that humans inflict on one another instead. Which is much more frightening, but not what I wanted when I picked this book up.

 

 

Book In Progress:
THE LUMINOUS DEAD by Caitlyn Starling
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I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK. I’m halfway through, and I’m enjoying every terrifying second of this book. It hits on a bunch of things I love: caves, horror, and character-driven sci-fi. Wonderfully written, engaging, and suspenseful. Highly, highly recommend you don’t miss out on this one.

 

Interview–Lana Wood Johnson

Hi everyone! I’m super excited to welcome author Lana Wood Johnson to my blog today! Her debut YA book, TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT, comes out June 25th from Scholastic.

9781338335460


When a guy named Martin Nathaniel Munroe II texts you, it should be obvious who you’re talking to. Except there’s two of them (it’s a long story), and Haley thinks she’s talking to the one she doesn’t hate.

A question about a class project rapidly evolves into an all-consuming conversation. Haley finds that Martin is actually willing to listen to her weird facts and unusual obsessions, and Martin feels like Haley is the first person to really see who he is. Haley and Martin might be too awkward to hang out in real life, but over text, they’re becoming addicted to each other.

There’s just one problem: Haley doesn’t know who Martin is. And Martin doesn’t know that Haley doesn’t know. But they better figure it out fast before their meet-cute becomes an epic meet-disaster


Hi Lana! Thanks for joining me on the blog today. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m Lana and I’m a giant nerd! People sometimes don’t entirely get how deep it goes when I say it, but I’ve got the cred: my first memory is Star Wars A New Hope in theaters, I met my best friend 24 years ago in an online roleplaying game, and I initially flirted with my husband by shouting a meme at him in the year 2000.

Wow, your nerd cred is impressive! Your debut novel, TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT, comes out this summer. Can you tell us a bit about the project?

Haley and Martin are also just as nerdy in their own way as I am, (although Martin’s a bit cooler than either of us.) Told entirely through their text messages, it’s Haley’s story of falling in love with someone whose physical body she doesn’t really recognize but who she knows better than anyone else around her.

What inspired you to write this story?

After a hefty round of full rejections on my second book, I found myself volunteering on a crisis line for a local youth shelter. That’s where I discovered my skill of connecting with people via text messages is actually kind of special. I realized that like the youth I was talking to, I used the internet to connect with people and I decided to channel that into a story.

Very cool! In addition to the nerdiness, this book is also really queer. I’m super excited to see it hit mainstream shelves. Can you tell us a little about those themes and what you’re hoping people will take away from them?

My biggest hope is that people will take away that even though it’s m/f it’s two queer characters connecting in their own ways. And while it’s not about their identity, and the coming out they do is incidental and contextual to the situations, the story wouldn’t be remotely the same if they were straight characters.

As I started revising, I realized how important it was to me that the story stay in their text messages. By keeping it there, it made Haley’s perspective on the relationship the center and I realized showed better what it was like to fall in love with the person inside the skin.

What media (books, movies, podcasts, etc) are you enjoying right now?

I’ve just started drafting again which means my tendency is to go back to old, familiar stories. That said, I just discovered My Favorite Murder and as the completionist I am, I’m working my way through their archives. There’s a LOT of archives tho!

Any favorite writing snacks or drinks?

I don’t need anything to write, but I love writing at a fancy bakery nearby my house. They have miel lattes which is made with honey and the FANCIEST pastries. I think one of their bakers also watches Great British Bake Off so I get to taste some of the weird things they make on the show. That’s where I first had a kougin amann which is an excellent writing food.

That sounds delicious, and I’m hungry now. That’s a good place to leave this conversation. In closing, where can people find you online?

I am on Twitter and Instagram, and on my website.


TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT will be released on June 25th. You can preorder it from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, Target, or Book Depository!


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Lana Wood Johnson was born and raised in Iowa in the time before the internet but has spent the rest of her life making up for that. After years working in wireless communication for companies of all sizes, she now works doing the same for a local youth shelter. Lana lives in Minnesota with her husband and their English bulldog. TECHNICALLY, YOU STARTED IT is her debut novel.

 

World Poetry Day

Happy World Poetry Day!! I don’t usually share my poetry, but I thought that in honor of today, I’d share a poem I wrote a few years ago. I’m not the world’s best poet, though, so please be kind.

What are some of your favorite poems?


Moving On Is Not Forgetting (2013)

Your pictures are hidden deep under floorboards in the attic
buried under seasons of clutter and dust
lying unseen and half-remembered in the darkness.
I need no photos to remember your laughter like rolling waves
and yet I struggle to trace your lips in the sand.

How strange it is to have memories
of a different kind of warmth beside me as I sleep.
Not the gentle ember
of the man who lies there now,
but raging forest fires and the dying hearts of stars.

I smell you in the ocean air at daybreak,
I hear your voice on the breeze at twilight,
I feel your hand in mine as we walk the darkened dunes at midnight.
But these are only in my dreams
and in the morning I sigh, wistful, and avoid questioning eyes.

He knows of you,
the one who stepped into your place in my life
but not in my heart.
He does not mention you, though,
as if the mere utterance of your name would be enough to resurrect your soul.

But I know better than he does
that I do not need your physical presence
to feel you all around me,
but I love him deeply in my own way.
He’ll never replace you, and he keeps the darkness at bay.

Dating by the Book — Review

71im--6M06LIs love just something you find in books?

Six months ago, writer and bookstore owner Maddie Hanson was left at the altar. Since then, she’s had zero interest in romance—despite the fact that she runs a book club full of sexy eligible bachelors. But when her latest novel is panned by an anonymous blogger who goes by the name Silver Fox—and who accuses her of knowing nothing about passion—she decides to prove her nemesis wrong by seeking a romance hero in real life…
 
There’s the smoldering rock musician, the bookish college professor, and her competitive childhood friend who may want to steal her bookstore more than her heart. Even Silver Fox is getting in on the action, sending Maddie alarmingly—and intoxicatingly—flirtatious emails. And that’s not all. Her ex wants her back.
 
Now Maddie is about to discover that like any good story, life has twists and turns, and love can happen when you least expect it—with the person you least expect…


I’m not usually one for enjoying romance novels (*waves in asexual*) but when I heard the synopsis of DATING BY THE BOOK, and the author put out a call for reviewers, I wanted to get in on the fun. I received an ARC several months later in a hot pink polka dot envelope, and I knew I’d made a good decision.

The main character was real and I identified with her living life with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. I really enjoyed her character arc from expecting people to behave like book characters to really seeing the reality of what was in front of her. Her growth and self-actualization were great to see. I never identify with the sexual pining in romance novels (and is often why I don’t quite enjoy them), but there was enough other plot going on that the pining was sort of secondary, which I appreciated.

One major thing that was really jarring was the subplot regarding the online book reviewer whom Maddie (as a debut author) writes a scathing email to while drunk after the reviewer only gave her 3 stars. It’s quite taboo in real life for authors to respond to reviewers, especially after a real-life author stalked and confronted a reviewer at her home after a bad review. The beginning of DATING BY THE BOOK made me deeply uncomfortable because of how badly this plays out in real life, so I had to keep telling myself that this is fiction (and romance at that!) so everything was going to turn out okay. And it did. But if you’re sensitive to this type of situation, you may want to skip this particular book.

Overall, this was a fun story with characters I enjoyed. I will definitely be picking up Mary Ann Marlow’s other books!


DATING BY THE BOOK will be out June 25. You can pre-order it here!