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ARC Review: Built to Last by Erin Hahn

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Thank you to St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Built to Last releases October 18, 2022.

"Built to Last" by Erin Hahn (cover)
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: Erin Hahn’s Built to Last is a sparkling second chance romance about owning what you’re worth and fighting for the one who got away.

Shelby Springfield has spent the last ten years trying to overcome her past, sanding it away like the rough spots on the vintage furniture she makes over. But as a former child star, it’s hard to forget a widely documented meltdown and huge public break up with her former co-star Lyle Jessup. It’s also hard to forget her other co-star and childhood sweetheart, Cameron Riggs—the one who got away.

Anytime Shelby has called, Cameron has come running… And then he runs right off again to chase stories around the world by making documentaries, too scared to admit what he really wants. But when Lyle stirs the pot, getting the two back in the spotlight with a home renovation show, Cameron can’t help but get on board.

There’s something in it for everyone—almost. Cameron wants to set down some roots. Shelby wants to prove she’s not the messy party girl anymore. And a jealous Lyle can’t help but try to get in the way. But for his two childhood friends who had more chemistry than he could ever dream of, nothing is getting in the way of their second chance at love.

 

REVIEW: I adored this story about two child stars and sweethearts with a messy history getting a second chance at love!

I was wary at first but the story gradually got better with each passing page. There was so much pining and angst between Shelby and Cameron. Even after so many years apart, their chemistry remains undeniable and strong on and off screen. It was a slow burn worth reading about. I was hooked!

I liked that Shelby and Cameron got to reconnect as they worked on the pilot for the home renovation show. Also, I loved how they had each other’s back through the whole process, especially with Lyle (who is the worst, as well as Shelby’s mom) constantly meddling. It’s a rocky slope for the main characters. They have to reconcile with their pasts (as individuals and together) in order to figure out what they most want from life and to have a future together.

I love how interchangeable the theme of renovation is throughout the story. Shelby’s discovered passion for refurbishing things. Mending family ties (or not). Revamping a once-thought lost romantic relationship. Restoring one’s self-worth. And so much more. It’s a well-done, exquisite use of theme.

The interview with the main characters at the end was nice to read. I liked the brief hint to who the next book will feature (please, let there be a book 2!).

Overall, I ended up really enjoying Built to Last. Shelby and Cameron’s romance was so sweet and tender and funny. Cameron was so loyal and charming. Shelby was so strong and passionate. I can’t wait to read whatever Hahn writes next!


AS ALWAYS, HAPPY READING!!!
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ARCs Book Reviews

ARC Review: Bet on It by Jodie Slaughter

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Thank you to St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Bet on It is set to be releases July 12, 2022.

"Bet on It" by Jodie Slaughter (cover)
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: The first time Aja Owens encounters the man of her dreams, she’s having a panic attack in the frozen foods section of the Piggly Wiggly. The second time, he’s being introduced to her as her favorite bingo buddy’s semi-estranged grandson. From there, all it takes is one game for her to realize that he’s definitely going to be a problem. And if there’s anything she already has a surplus of, it’s problems.

In Walker Abbott’s mind, there are only two worthwhile things in Greenbelt, South Carolina. The peach cobbler at his old favorite diner and his ailing grandmother. Dragging himself back after more than a decade away, he’s counting down the days until Gram heals and he can get back to his real life. Far away from the trauma inside of those city limits. Just when he thinks his plan is solid, enter Aja to shake everything up.

A hastily made bingo-based sex pact is supposed to keep this…thing between them from getting out of hand. Especially when submitting to their feelings means disrupting their carefully balanced lives. But emotions are just like bingo callers—they refuse to be ignored.

Jodie Slaughter’s Bet on It is a heart-stoppingly fun, emotional romance that will have readers falling in love until long after the last page is turned.

 

REVIEW: Bet on It was an earnest and entertaining summer romance.

Aja wants to put down roots in a quiet town and be more social and less anxious. Walker wants nothing to do with his hometown beyond his short return there to take care of his grandmother.

I liked how open they were with each other about their mental health, the cause and how it’s impacted their life. I also loved that Aja (who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and Walker (who has Complex PTSD) find another safe space with each other. Any time they discussed their mental health I felt like that safe space extended to me. This feeling is testament to how well the author did depicting mental health, life with anxiety, and discussions that need to be had about mental health. I wholly appreciate all of the secondary characters whose patience and understanding allow Aja and Walker to work through their emotions. That kind of support is so important to have.

Aja and Walker were spectacular main characters with delightful personalities and wonderfully developed storylines that show the power of finding your people. Their friends with benefits pact through bingo made for several entertaining and red-hot scenes oh my goodness!

Even though they’re exactly what the other needs, they are understandably afraid to give up all the progress they’ve individually made. Not to mention Walker is adamant about leaving Greenbelt he hates for treating him badly and avoiding anything to do with his father. Knowing all of this slowly chipped away at my heart because the more time Aja and Walker spent together the closer and more clearly in love they became. The tension and inevitable downfall approaching loomed like darkening clouds before a storm.

I enjoyed reading Bet on It with each passing page. It took my emotions on a thrill ride. The plot twisted and turned in all the right places. I love the cover – it’s so cute and perfect for this story! The mental health rep was great and relatable. I felt a connection to both main characters in big and small ways. A few of my favorite moments were at the bingo hall with Walker’s grandmother, Ms. May, and Aja and Walker’s trip to the drive-in movie. And the romance was sweet fire! A lovely read for summer.

CW: anxiety, panic attacks, drug abuse, child neglect


AS ALWAYS, HAPPY READING!!!
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ARCs Book Reviews

ARC Review: Bend Toward the Sun by Jen Devon

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Thank you to St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Bend Toward the Sun releases August 9, 2022.

Cover of "Bend Toward the Sun" by Jen Devon
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: Jen Devon’s Bend Toward the Sun is a gorgeous, emotional love story about taking unexpected paths, accepting loss, and finding strength in the transformative power of love.

Rowan McKinnon believes love isn’t real. Armed with a PhD in botany, two friends who accept her social quirkiness, and some occasional no-strings sex, she has everything she needs. What she doesn’t share is that she hides deep wounds from the past—by an emotionally negligent mother, and by a fiancé who treated her like a pawn in a game. The only love she’s ever known came from her grandmother Edie, who taught her to care for all things that grow. After a chance encounter at a future winery, Rowan is captivated—by the beauty of the land, the challenge of the vineyards’ restoration, and by the warm and inviting family that plans to run it. They’ll offer her a job. She’ll eventually accept it.

And try not to think about Harrison Brady.

Harry Brady is a doctor. Was a doctor. An obstetrician profoundly struggling after the unexpected loss of a patient, Harry no longer believes he is capable of keeping people safe. Reeling from the loss and his crumbled four-year relationship, Harry leaves Los Angeles to spend time emotionally recuperating at his parents’ new vineyard in Pennsylvania. He’ll work to get the place ready to open, and try to pick up the pieces of his heart. Because if there’s one thing Harry Brady knows how to do, it is love deeply, fiercely, with his whole heart.

As soon as he meets Rowan McKinnon, sunlight begins to crack through the dark cloud smothering Harry’s soul. He wants to explore the compelling pull between them. Rowan just wants to keep things casual—she’s spent a lifetime protecting herself against feeling anything, for anyone.

But even Rowan can feel their extraordinary connection tilting the axis of the world they both thought they understood.

A moving, powerful novel about the ways love can irrevocably change your life, Bend Toward the Sun is a cinematic, unforgettable romance.

 

REVIEW: Bend Toward the Sun was an emotionally charged story with an electrifying romance that was painful, exhilarating, and deeply personal.

This story wears its heart on its sleeve as Rowan and Harry struggle to reconcile with their pasts in the wake of the instant attraction and affection they feel for one another.

The main characters had polar opposite upbringings. Rowan is socially awkward and understands plants far better than people. She had her beloved grandmother Edie who fostered Rowan’s love for nature – which led to Rowan becoming a botanist – until age 12 when she was then left in the uncare of her estranged mother. Meanwhile, Harry is one of six in a very close and loving family. This major difference is one of many roadblocks in Rowan and Harry’s relationship.

But I love how these two lost souls find their way again through love. It’s a painful journey and several times you’ll question in chest-tightening worry if their chance at true love and happiness will burn away.

Past intimate relationships have not gone well for either (an understatement). So to have such strong feelings feels right, wrong, and terrifying all at once. Plus, they both can be very, very, very stubborn.

I felt those months and months worth of time skips, which made their back and forth will-they won’t-they arguments seem redundant and a tad frustrating. Post-read, Rowan and Harry’s romance is really well fleshed out with all the necessary growth, drama and angst you’d want in an enthralling love story. Time just dragged some.

In the end (oh my goodness!), Rowan and Harry filled my heart with such joy and fondness. The chemistry between them was sizzling, the banter endearing and funny, and a satisfying conclusion worthy of a standing ovation.

I had a good feeling I would end up truly enjoying Bend Toward the Sun, and I did! I loved the story and all of the characters. Rowan was my favorite because I could relate with her and she’s unexpectedly hilarious. Jen Devon wrote a wonderful, heartfelt romance. I highly recommend this novel.


AS ALWAYS, HAPPY READING!!!
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ARCs Book Reviews

ARC Review: The Suite Spot by Trish Doller

25 Days of Book Reviews logo.

DAY 10

Thank you to St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! The Suite Spot is set to be released March 8, 2022.

Cover of The Suite Spot by Trish Doller.
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Series: Beck Sisters #2
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: We stand there on the brink of something we both feel but neither of us is ready to identify, and the little half grin he shoots me is nearly as devastating as his full-blown smile…

One of the few bright lights in Rachel Beck’s life is her job at a Miami Beach luxury hotel—until she’s fired for something she didn’t do. As a single mom, Rachel knows she needs stability, and fast. On impulse, Rachel inquires about a position at a brewery hotel on a tiny island in Lake Erie called Kelleys Island. When she’s offered the job, not even the grumpy voice on the line can dissuade her from packing up her whole life and making the move.

What she finds on Kelleys Island is Mason, a handsome, reclusive man who knows everything about brewing beer and nothing about running a hotel. Especially one that’s barely more than foundation and studs. It’s not the job Rachel was looking for, but Mason offers her a chance to help build a hotel—and rebuild her life—from the ground up.

Trish Doller’s The Suite Spot is about taking a chance on a new life and a new love.

 

Light blue text that says "Book Review" over a stem of while orchids.

The Suite Spot was so lovely and sweet! The slow development of the romance was perfect for the main characters who are afraid to risk their hearts again for love.

After Rachel loses her job at a fancy/wealthy hotel in the most infuriating and unfair of ways and her ex-boyfriend once again shows how unreliable he is when it comes to their daughter, Rachel packs up her life to take a chance on a job offer that seems too good to be true in order to finally live a fulfilling life.

Rachel is surprised to find not only an unfinished hotel/brewery but a rather good-looking, recluse of a boss named Mason. But this new venture soon becomes a chance for both Rachel and Mason to rebuild their lives from the ground up.

Mason loves beer and has excelled at brewing. I like when he gushes about fermentation – so adorkable! Yet it’s been a challenge to keep his family’s history/legacy alive and build a hotel/brewery on a remote island in Ohio after the devastating loss of his child and subsequent divorce. Love is too painful to consider. Enter Rachel whose kindness, understanding, and capabilities – not to mention her adorable daughter, Maisie – begins to undo the carefully constructed walls he’d placed around his heart.

I like that the romance is more in the background because we get to really focus on the small and big changes Rachel and Mason undergo and how far they’ve come towards reopening their hearts to love and family. Neither pushes the other into something they’re not emotionally ready for.

The Suite Spot is the quieter sister to book 1 but just as heartwarming and significant. I like how heartache turns into an opportunity to reclaim one’s sense of self in order to have a purposeful future that has meaning. There’s a lot to love about this book.

Maisie is so cute and I like how her character kind of breaks the ice (tension) between Rachel and Mason. Mason has a mean cat with the most perfect of names, Yōkai. I don’t know much about brewing but it was really interesting to learn. Rachel’s ideas for the hotel/brewery sound cool and unique. Their passions were infectious. And I like that the author headed each chapter with a word from different languages and definition to encompass the emotion of each chapter.

The Suite Spot was another great read from Trish Doller. Reading this and Float Plan (book 1) have been the highlight of 2021. I can’t wait to see what stunning new romance she delivers next.


More by Trish Doller

Beck Sisters
Float Plan (#1)

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ARCs Book Reviews

ARC Review: Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture by Zeba Blay

Light blue text that says "Book Review" over a stem of while orchids.

Thank you St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Carefree Black Girls is set to be released October 19, 2021.

Image via NetGalley

Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: An empowering and celebratory portrait of Black women—from Josephine Baker to Aunt Viv to Cardi B.

In 2013, film and culture critic Zeba Blay was one of the first people to coin the viral term #carefreeblackgirls on Twitter. As she says, it was “a way to carve out a space of celebration and freedom for Black women online.”

In this collection of essays, Carefree Black Girls, Blay expands on this initial idea by delving into the work and lasting achievements of influential Black women in American culture–writers, artists, actresses, dancers, hip-hop stars–whose contributions often come in the face of bigotry, misogyny, and stereotypes. Blay celebrates the strength and fortitude of these Black women, while also examining the many stereotypes and rigid identities that have clung to them. In writing that is both luminous and sharp, expansive and intimate, Blay seeks a path forward to a culture and society in which Black women and their art are appreciated and celebrated.

 

My Review: Nonfiction is a genre way outside my comfort zone. Essays I am familiar with, but pop culture…uh, not so much.

I’ve never reviewed a collection of essays before so bear with me while I try to compile my thoughts into something organized and coherent.

Carefree Black Girls is comprised of an introduction and 8 essays:

  • Body: The historical perception and misuse of Black women’s bodies and its negative, harmful impact.
  • She’s A Freak: The regulation of Black women’s bodies and their sexuality. The backlash over any agency exerted that goes against those regulations.
    Man, This Shit Is Draining: Black women don’t have the freedom to express their anger with repercussions compared to others who do the same or worse.
  • Extra Black: Colorism and its correlation to beauty, desirability, and marketability of lighter skin tones versus darker skin tones, such as in Hollywood castings.
  • #Cardibissoproblematic: The author’s feelings about Cardi B, her fame, her place in pop culture, her words and actions, and her feud with Nicki Minaj.
  • Girlhood: The images of Black women that left an impression on the author growing up versus what she knows now of the realities those images represented. The author’s feelings of recognition towards Mel B and how Mel B navigated spaces not meant for people like her.
  • Strong Black Lead: Black women and mental health as well as the author’s struggles with her own mental health. (CW: anxiety, depression, suicide – 24/7 resources below)
  • Free of Cares: What does it mean for Black women to be carefree? and the concept of freedom.

These were very well-written essays with enviable poise, details, structure, clarity, and sureness that I wish I’d had even a speck of whenever I had to write essays in school. Each essay focused on an idea that was heavily reinforced by a ton of source material – interviews, books, essays, artwork, movies, songs lyrics, tweets, Instagram stories, speeches, and so much more. Even when I didn’t know what the author was referencing – like with some Twitter happenings or much of the Cardi B essay – I could still more or less grasp the point she was trying to make. She makes a lot of compelling arguments and states the sad but real truths that tend to be ignored, glossed over or outright dismissed.

Carefree Black Girls is raw and thought-provoking. It discussed truths about the struggles and hardships Black women are still subjected. I liked how the author wove in her own experiences – as hard as some of those still are to talk about – to illustrate her points. Not always as the 100% proof but as personal examples and perspective of how she came to certain conclusions.

The book is very engaging. I felt various emotions while reading it. For me, there were several moments of retrospection and introspection. Parts of others I saw myself in. But there also were a few parts I wasn’t too sure about or disagreed with to varying degrees.

Carefree Black Girls had a solid structure, was vividly detailed, and had a strong voice. The topics were relevant to the past, present, and future of our world and who we are as people. Overall, a good read.


24/7 Support That’s Here For You

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line
www.crisistextline.org
US and Canada – Text HOME to 741741
United Kingdom – Text HOME to 85258
Ireland – Text HOME to 50808

National Alliance On Mental Illness
https://nami.org/Home
NAMI Helpline – Call 800-950-NAMI
Or in a crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741

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ARC Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston #newbookrelease

Thank you to St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! One Last Stop is available now!

Image via NetGalley

Genre: LGBTQIA+, Romance, Mystery
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

 

My Review: One Last Stop is an enchanting, unforgettable story that takes your heart on a journey where two lost souls find themselves and love defies the laws of time at every stop.

I didn’t expect this story to go the way it did. One Last Stop is more than it appears on the surface the same way the mystery surrounding Jane is. The romantic suspense was high but didn’t overshadow all the other parts that makes this story so charming.

August and Jane are amazing main characters and super relatable. The lack of true family connections, of a place to plant roots, have left them feeling lost. Almost going through the motions of living and never quite fitting in wherever they wandered. In that, I felt a profound kinship to August and Jane.

August has vehemently wanted out the quote unquote family business of helping her mother find her runaway brother. So I was surprised by how quickly and eagerly she latched onto solving why Jane – a punk-rock style queer Asian girl from the 1970s – is stuck on the Q train. Yet I kind of get it because of the kind or person Jane is.

Jane is a bright, shining star. She’s colorful, kind, effervescent and funny. Her presence draws you in and once within her orbit you can’t help but feel happy or loved. I don’t think she realizes just how great of a person she is and how much of herself she’s left on people, places, and time.

Really the entire cast of characters in One Last Stop are amazing, endearing, dynamic, and diverse. August’s roommates are so chill and made me smile a lot with their antics and freeing way of life. August’s co-workers at a pancake diner are tough on the outside but inside they are so much more that it’s hard to describe. I wanted to be friends with all these people who are so supportive of one another.

Of course, this story isn’t without its share of heartaches. There’s how much of a toll Jane being “present” has on her. The life Jane and others have lived prior to the start of this book. The hate towards LGBTQIA+ community and the resentful disappoint some of the characters have experienced. And ultimately how time hinders the growing love between August and Jane.

I had some trouble getting into the story and really feeling something for what was happening. It felt slow going, as if the story could have been wrapped up much earlier. In hindsight, the story was fully told and what took place made the plot and characters richer.

My favorite parts were Isaiah’s annual drag family Easter brunch and the Christmas in July party. Those scenes were so much fun and allowed August to really consider and experience things for the first time in her life.

In the end, I enjoyed reading One Last Stop. It’s a unique, time-travel romance with a well-written mystery to be solved. All of the characters are wholesome, lovable, and vibrant. A beautiful story.

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[BLOG TOUR] ARC Review: Float Plan by Trish Dollers

Thank you St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Float Plan is on sale now!

Image via NetGalley

Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance, Mental Health
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: Heartbroken by the loss of her fiancé, adventurous Anna finds a second chance at love with an Irish sailor in this riveting, emotional romance.

After a reminder goes off for the Caribbean sailing trip Anna was supposed to take with her fiancé, she impulsively goes to sea in the sailboat he left her, intending to complete the voyage alone.

But after a treacherous night’s sail, she realizes she can’t do it by herself and hires Keane, a professional sailor, to help. Much like Anna, Keane is struggling with a very different future than the one he had planned. As romance rises with the tide, they discover that it’s never too late to chart a new course.

In Trish Doller’s unforgettable Float Plan, starting over doesn’t mean letting go of your past, it means making room for your future.

 

Content Warning: Death by suicide, depression.

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or harm to others, please seek help.  24/7 support and resources are listed at the end of this post.

 

My Review: Float Plan beautifully weaves together a story or grief and loss as Anna (the MC) – rather than continue on isolated and depressed – searches for closure on the high seas after the loss of her fiance by suicide.

It was a great idea to explore such heavy/important topics through sailing trip because it gave Anna the freedom to really examine her feelings, her relationship with Ben, why he might have committed suicide, and figure out how to continue on with her life without him. As she gets to know Keane – who she hires to help guide the sail – she sees her inner turmoil reflected in a whole new light.

Keane is a charming and optimistic man who lives freely as a passionate, professional sailor. But the loss of his leg made it hard to find opportunities, causing cracks to form in his up-beat persona. His character is the perfect counterpart to what Anna is going through.

Anna and Keane’s personal stories really put a spotlight on how trauma affects one’s mental health: the hardships of living day to day within a new normal that has a dark gaping hole in it and learning to love life again. Anna’s life used to be all “Anna and Ben” but now she’s unsure how to be just “Anna” without Ben. For Keane, it’s proving he is more than his disability. It’s a painful story and I want to wrap Anna and Keane in a big hug and help them.

Float Plan is also an exciting adventure as you travel with the characters to places you may or may not have heard of or been to, learning little known histories of people, places and events along the way. Trish Doller paints a colorful, scenic view and cultural experience of Anna and Keane’s travels. The details and what the characters encounter made me want to travel to some of these places someday.

Tragically beautiful yet fun and humorous, Float Plan was an enjoyable contemporary, second-chance romance. I was transfixed by the emotional depth of the story and its characters. The ending left me wanting more. I highly recommend Float Plan by Trish Doller if you enjoy books set at sea, second chance romances and plots that take you on a transformative voyage.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

TRISH DOLLER is the author of novels for teens and adults about love, life, and finding your place in the world. A former journalist and radio personality, Trish has written several YA novels, including the critically acclaimed Something Like Normal, as well as Float Plan, her adult women’s fiction debut. When she’s not writing, Trish loves sailing, traveling, and avoiding housework. She lives in southwest Florida with an opinionated herding dog and an ex-pirate.

Buy link: https://read.macmillan.com/lp/float-plan/

Social Links: @TrishDoller on Instagram and Twitter


24/7 Support That’s Here For You

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

The Trevor Project
https://www.thetrevorproject.org/
1-866-488-7386
TrevorChat available
Text START to 678678

Crisis Text Line
www.crisistextline.org
US and Canada – Text HOME to 741741
United Kingdom – Text HOME to 85258
Ireland – Text HOME to 50808

National Alliance On Mental Illness
https://nami.org/Home
NAMI Helpline – Call 800-950-NAMI
Or in a crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741

To Write Love On Her Arms
https://twloha.com/