Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Stripped Bare by Shannon Baker (Book Review)

Stripped Bare by Shannon Baker
Book 1: Kate Fox Mystery Series
Publisher: Forge Books
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Format: Hardcover - 288 pages
               Kindle - 1225 KB
               Nook - 875 KB
ISBN: 978-0765385444
BNID: 978-0765385451
Genre: Mystery

Buy The Book:
Barnes & Noble
Books A Million

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book review promotion by Roger Charlie Publicity.

Book Description:

Stripped Bare
by Shannon Baker is "A must read" (Alex Kava, New York Times bestselling author) that stars a female Longmire in the atmospheric Nebraska Sandhills.

Kate Fox is living the dream. She’s married to Grand County Sheriff Ted Conner, the heir to her beloved Nebraska Sandhills cattle ranch, where they live with Kate’s orphaned teenage niece, Carly. With the support of the well-connected Fox Clan, which includes Kate’s eight boisterous and interfering siblings, Ted’s reelection as Grand County Sheriff is virtually assured. That leaves Kate to the solitude and satisfaction of Frog Creek, her own slice of heaven.

One night Kate answers a shattering phone call from Roxy at the Bar J. Carly’s granddad Eldon, owner of the ranch, is dead and Ted has been shot and may never walk again. Kate vows to find the killer. She soon discovers Ted responded so quickly to the scene because he was already at the Bar J . . . in Roxy’s bed. And to add to her woes, Carly has gone missing.

Kate finds out that Eldon was considering selling his ranch to an obscenely rich environmentalist. Some in town hate the idea of an outsider buying up land, others are desperate to sell . . . and some might kill to get their way. As she becomes the victim of several “accidents,” Kate knows she must find the killer before it’s too late. . . .

Book Excerpt:

Stripped Bare by Shannon Baker

I've never trusted happiness. Just when you think you've corralled that mustang, she busts through the fence and leaves you with splinters. I should have seen it coming.
Still, when I tromped across the back porch, feeling grateful to be out of the frosty night air, I wasn't worrying about my world turning into a sloppy, wet pile of manure. My calving ratio sat at a hundred percent so far this year. Maybe I could convince Ted to take a week off after the election and head down to a beach someplace, anyplace away from cattle and family and sheriffing.
The house lights weren't on when I'd trudged from the barn. Carly was supposed to be home working on the term paper she'd blown off last semester. Using her charm, Carly had convinced the English teacher to give her another chance. If she didn't finish the paper this time, though, she wouldn't graduate, and my dear niece would be living with me forever.
I pried off one cowboy boot and dropped it to the porch floor, wondering how to motivate Carly without pushing too hard. The jangle of the phone penetrated the door to the house. I could have ignored it, but if Ted didn't answer his cell, the county sheriff's number rolled over to the landline installed in our house. I burst through the door and thudded across the kitchen. With one boot on, one boot off, I flew into the closet-turned-office and grabbed the old-fashioned receiver. "Sheriff's phone."
"Listen, Kate, Uncle Bud and Aunt Twyla are planning Easter at their place and I told them you'd bring that seven-layer salad."
As far as the Fox family was concerned, you can run but you can't hide. "Hi, Louise." My older sister. One of them, anyway. "We've talked about you using the sheriff's phone only for emergencies. Right?"
The reminder was as effective as ever. "You won't answer your cell. Let me talk to Carly."
"Carly's not here." Where was she, anyway? And where was Ted?
I stretched the phone cord. Grand County didn't believe in fancy equipment like cordless phones. They sprang for Ted's cell phone, but he wasn't supposed to use it for personal calls. I slapped on the light, squinting into the tiny living room. Several books were scattered on the floor. A potted plant spilled dirt onto the worn carpet and the throw from the threadbare couch puddled in the middle of the living room. The chaos seemed unusual, even for Hurricane Carly.
"Where is she?" Louise asked.
"Not sure." Maybe I wasn't fit to be a guardian, but I thought a girl destined to graduate from high school in a month ought to have a fair bit of autonomy. Course, with Carly's history, I was balancing on barbed wire there.
Louise paused to build up steam. "You should supervise her better. She needs —"
A syllable blanked from her lecture. "Gotta cut you off," I said. "The sheriff's second line."
I punched line two, expecting another one of my siblings, who'd also been warned against using the official sheriff's line. "Sheriff's office."
"Oh God, oh God, oh God!" Sobbing, hysterical. A woman blubbered into the phone. "Oh God!"
It took a moment to recognize the voice. It wasn't one of my favorites. "Roxy?"
More sobbing. "He's dead. He's dead. I think. Oh God."
"It's Kate. Who's dead? Where are you?"
"Kate. Oh my God. Blood!"
My skin chilled and my scalp prickled, despite knowing Roxy's penchant for drama. As Ted's old high-school girlfriend, and by some unfortunate quirk of fate, Carly's stepmother, she'd been plaguing me for years. "Roxy!" I yelled, trying to shock her hysterics away.
It didn't work. "I don't know who to call. I came home and the door was open. There's blood everywhere."
"Whose blood? Where are you?"
She finally sounded as if someone caught her with a grappling hook and dragged her slowly down to the ground. "I'm at Eldon's."
Eldon Edwards was her father-in-law. Their houses were only one hundred yards apart and a good half hour from the nearest town. "Is he hurt?"
She started to sob again. "He's dead. He's been shot."
Dead? Eldon? No. My brain tried to push the words away. This was definitely a job for the sheriff. "Okay, hang on. I don't know where Ted is, but I'll find him and get him out there right away."
"He's shot." Roxy sounded like she jumped on the panic wagon again.
"I'll get an ambulance and find Ted."
She wailed out his name. "Ted."
"Stay calm and he'll be there soon."
"He's bleeding. Oh God, he's dying!"
I'd often wanted to slap Roxy, but this time I could probably get away with it. "I thought you said he's dead."
"No, Eldon is dead." Sob, sob.
"Then who is dying?" Maybe Ted was buying drinks at the Long Branch, since it was campaign season. Or visiting his mother in Broken Butte, more than an hour's drive away. I ran through a list of places he might be.
"Ted!" Roxy shrieked into the phone.
That's when her stampeding words started to make sense. "Ted what?"
"He's shot. And there's blood everywhere!"
I dropped the phone and didn't hear whatever else she said.

Excerpted from Stripped Bare by Shannon Baker. Copyright © 2016 Shannon Baker. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates. 

My Book Review:

In Stripped Bare, the first book in the Kate Fox Mystery series, author Shannon Baker weaves an intriguing mystery tale that follows the amateur sleuth adventures of cattle rancher Kate Fox Conner, as she tries to prove the innocence of her husband, Sheriff Ted Conner, and niece Carly Edwards, who have become person of interests in the murder of Carly's grandfather, cattle rancher Eldon Edwards.

Kate Fox Conner's life revolves around working on the Frog Creek cattle ranch and supporting her husband of eight years, Grand County Sheriff Ted Conner. Kate's life is turned upside down when Ted is shot at the murder scene of local cattle rancher Eldon Edwards. Kate finds out that Ted is having an affair with Roxy Edwards, his ex-girlfriend and Eldon's daughter-in-law. And if that isn't enough, Eldon's granddaughter and Kate's niece Carly is also missing, leaving authorities to list both Ted and Carly as person of interests in Eldon's murder. Concern for her husband and niece leads Kate to embark on an amateur investigative adventure to clear their name and find the real killer, even when danger lurks in their Nebraska Sandhills community.

Stripped Bare is an intriguing whodunit tale that easily peaked my interest. This riveting tale has enough quirky characters, witty banter and humor, drama, secrets, betrayals, a growing list of suspects, and surprising twists and turns, that will easily keep you guessing the identity of the murderer. You can't help but get caught up in the drama and calamity that ensues as Kate tries to solve the murder and prove Ted and Carly's innocence. Kate's amateur investigative adventure unfolds with a wonderful balance of comedy, drama, and suspense, that easily left me wanting more. I loved the surprise ending, and I can't wait to read the next installment of this sassy lady's adventures!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much I really enjoyed the author's rich description of the midwestern setting. The author transports the reader to the rustic Nebraska Sandhills small town of Hodgekiss surrounded by cattle ranches, railroad tracks, the large Fox clan and memorable townsfolk.

Stripped Bare is a fast-paced suspenseful tale that mystery fans will enjoy reading.


About The Author

Shannon Baker
is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink. A fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder. Shannon is an itinerant writer, which is a nice way of saying she’s confused. She never knows what time zone she’s in, Timbuck-Three, Nebraska, Denver, or Tucson. Nora Abbott has picked up that location schizophrenia and travels from Flagstaff in Tainted Mountain, to Boulder in Broken Trust and then to Moab in Tattered Legacy. Shannon is proud to have been chosen Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2014 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at

Author Website
Amazon Author Page

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Ghostwriters by Mickey J. Corrigan (Book Review)

In association with Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book review tour event for The Ghostwriters by author Mickey J. Corrigan!

Book Review

The Ghostwriters by Mickey J. Corrigan
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Publication Date: September 2, 2016
Format: Paperback - 194 pages
               Kindle - 472 KB
               Nook - 206 KB
ISBN: 978-1509209255
BNID: 2940156979257
Genre: Psychological Thriller w/Romance 

Buy The Book:
Barnes & Noble

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book review tour event hosted by Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours.

Book Description:

She's funny, cynical, and kinda crazy, but she knows how to tell a story.

A struggling writer living in Manhattan, Jacy McMasters is the first to admit she's a terrific liar and a screw-up. Then the ghost of the famous novelist JD Balinger asks her to "channel" a follow-up to his classic coming of age book, The Watcher in the Sky. Along with her new boyfriend, a bear of a man who has no patience for mind games, the ghost in Jacy's head forces her to confront a lifetime of secrets—dark secrets. Secrets she's been keeping from herself.

My Book Review:

The Ghostwriters is an intriguing psychological tale that follows Jacy McMaster's journey of self-discovery and recovery.

Written in the first person narrative, Jacy takes the reader along for the ride on her gritty and raw journey as she unravels the complicated layers of her past, and confronts the reality behind the toxic family dysfunction that has haunted her life.

Set in New York City, the author weaves an intricate and tragic story that will provide the reader with much food for thought. Jacy is a struggling writer and part-time waitress at a microbrewery, who has been haunted by her troubled past, and avoids the reality of her toxic and dysfunctional family dynamic and history of mental illness. Her life has been in a downward spiral and on a dangerous and self-destructive path of dark depression, drinking, substance abuse, numerous one-night stands, hallucinations, and black outs. When Jacy channels the ghost of recently deceased author JD Balinger, who requests her assistance in writing a sequel to his novel, The Watcher in the Sky, little does Jacy know that she is embarking on a journey of self-discovery that will save her from the vicious cycle of wanton and destructive behavior and lifestyle choices. And along the way Jacy will finally find a good man in Firth, a NYC Social Worker, who will be her rock and help her to put the past behind her and move forward with her life.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this riveting story. Jacy is a straight-talking, street smart girl who easily draws the reader into her story with an edgy dark sense of humor. I loved the gritty and realistic spin that author Mickey J. Corrigan weaves, there is a sense of reality to the issues of mental illness and the dysfunctional family dynamic of Jacy's life that was slowly revealed, it kept me captivated and provided much sobering food for thought. I loved the balance of dark humor, gritty drama, and suspenseful mystery that is interwoven in the story, it keeps you engaged, and the unexpected twists and turns makes this story that much more thrilling a read that will leave you wanting more. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much I enjoyed the rich description of the familiar landmarks of my favorite city, New York City, it made me want to hop on the train and visit the city that never sleeps.

The Ghostwriters is an edgy psychological thriller that is a must read!


About The Author

Originally from Boston, Mickey J. Corrigan hides out in the lush ruins of South Florida. She writes pulp fiction, literary crime, and psychological thrillers. Her stories have been called "gritty realism," "oh so compulsive" reads, and "bizarre but believable." Recent books include the literary suspense novel The Ghostwriters, the neo-noir satire The Blow Off, and the crime caper Ex-Treme Measures from The Wild Rose Press (US). Songs of the Maniacs was published by Salt Publishing in 2014 (UK). Salt will release her new crime novel in 2017.

Author Website
Amazon Author Page

Virtual Book Review Tour

Tour Schedule:

September 19 – Chick Lit Plus
September 20 – Polished & Bubbly
September 21 – Jersey Girl Book Reviews
September 22 – Book Lover in Florida
September 23 – Varietats

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Christmas Cookie Shop by Ginny Baird (Book Blast Event / Contest Giveaway)

In association with Goddess Fish Promotions, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book blast event for The Christmas Cookie Shop by author Ginny Baird!

About The Book

The Christmas Cookie Shop by Ginny Baird
Book 1: Christmas Town Series
Publisher: Winter Wedding Press
Publication Date: October 25, 2016
Format: Paperback - 381 pages
               Kindle - 4683 KB
               Nook - 793 KB
ISBN: 978-1942058182
BNID: 2940157034139
Genre: Contemporary Romance / Holiday - Christmas Themed Romance

Buy The Book:
Amazon - US
Barnes & Noble

Book Description:

Come home this Christmas to…


Where everyday dreams come true!

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Ginny Baird brings you the start of a brand new holiday series…


(Christmas Town, Book 1)

Hannah Winchester is down on her luck and disillusioned with love, but her fortunes are about to change. When Hannah inherits a defunct bakery in East Tennessee, her first thought is to sell it and settle her substantial debt. Then the townsfolk welcome her warmly and she’s taken with the joyful spirit of the place, where stores employ holiday themes and residents have surnames like Christmas and Claus. After a handsome lawman comes to her aid dressed as Santa, Hannah learns he’s more than a hot guy in a red suit and shiny black boots. Sheriff Carter Livingston has joined in the cause of rejuvenating the town, and he’s encouraging her to do her part. Hannah’s great-grandmother, Lena, sold special holiday cookies that brought hope and renewal to the people of Christmas Town. Yet Hannah has plans elsewhere and isn’t looking to stay. Can she possibly reopen the shop known for kindling romance—without sacrificing her heart?

Book Excerpt:

He met her eyes. “Hannah…?”

Her chin tilted up toward his. “Yes, Carter?”

“You going to be okay here? I can always call Sandy—”

“No, please. Sandy’s already done enough. So have Lou and Kurt, and…” She ducked her head with a blush. “You, Santa.”

“Kind of funny meeting that way.” When she looked up he was grinning. “Funny, but not bad—by any stretch.”

“No. Not bad at all.”

Hannah noticed his jacket slung over the back of the armchair and that he’d set his hat on the table by the door. Carter lifted the jacket and slipped into it, raising its zipper. “Might want to stick that bowl of stew in the microwave for a minute or two.”

“I’ll do that,” she said brightly.

He ambled toward the door and placed his hat on his head, tapping it down. His deep voice rumbled. “Kurt’s a good-looking guy.”

“Kurt?” Hannah asked, flummoxed.

“Eligible bachelor too.”

“Can’t say I noticed.”

“No? I thought I heard the two of you talking from the kitchen—”

“Sheriff.” She stopped him. “I’m not interested in any man right now, okay? And if I
were…” Hannah swallowed hard past the lump in her throat.

“If you were…?” he said, leading.

Hannah’s heart hammered and her knees felt weak. “I told you, I’m just passing through.”

“Odd thing about that, Hannah.” He tipped his hat her way. “Nobody in town seems to know that, but me.”

Then he stepped out the door, shutting it soundly behind him.

Copyright © 2016 Ginny Baird

About The Author

Romance writer Ginny Baird has published novels in print and online and received screenplay options from Hollywood for her family and romantic comedy scripts. Whether writing lighthearted romantic comedy or spine-tingling romantic suspense, she delights in delivering heartwarming stories.

She is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a Top 10 Best Seller on Kindle, NOOK and iBooks, and a #1 Best Seller in several Romance and Women's Fiction categories. When she's not writing, Ginny enjoys cooking, biking and spending time with her family in Virginia. Ginny loves hearing from her readers! She invites you to visit her website and connect with her on social media.

Contest Giveaway

Author Ginny Baird will be awarding The Complete Holiday Brides Collection (Books 1 - 5) to five randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Blast Event

Click on the above link for a list of the event participants.

Friday, September 16, 2016

From The Sideline by Amy Avanzino (Book Review)

In association with Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for From The Sideline by author Amy Avanzino!

Book Review

From The Sideline by Amy Avanzino
Book 2: The Wake-Up Series
Publisher: Henery Press
Publication Date: July 19, 2016
Format: Paperback - 276 pages
               Kindle - 774 KB
               Nook - 556 KB
ISBN: 978-1635110531
BNID: 2940158208393
Genre: Chick Lit / Romantic Comedy / Women's Fiction

Buy The Book: 
Barnes & Noble

Buy The Series: The Wake-Up Series
Book 1: Wake Up Call
Book 2: From The Sideline
Barnes & Noble

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours.

Book Description:

After losing her marriage, life savings, and waistline, Autumn Kovac is terrified of being hit by more heartache. So when her only child decides to try out for the football team, the overprotective, sports-illiterate mom has a near phobic reaction. But Zachary hasn’t smiled since his father left, and she’s desperate to make him happy (and doing nothing and hoping for the best hasn’t been working). She reluctantly enters a new world of youth competitive sports, full of overzealous coaches with Vince Lombardi dreams and fanatical parents trying to achieve vicarious glory. 

Unexpectedly, Autumn begins transforming within this strangely addictive new culture, finding her voice, facing her past, tackling her fears…and uncovering the secret that’s been keeping her from her son. After meeting her ideal catch, she finds herself back in the dating game and discovers some fierce competition of her own. Will Autumn make it off the sideline? Can the underdog finally win?

Praise for From The Sideline

“Avanzino has written a story of motherhood. Every word is one of love, of sacrifice, and of surprising depth. I absolutely adored it.” – Gretchen Archer, USA Today Bestselling Author of Double Knot

"Amy Avanzino is one seriously funny and smart writer. Her wry and winning voice is reminiscent of Liane Moriarty.

FROM THE SIDELINE is a wildly entertaining novel about the world of competitive youth sports, and I laughed on every page." --Karin Gillespie, national bestselling author of the Bottom Dollar Girl series

"Sparkles with wry humor and will keep you laughing and cheering for this mom-and-son team." --Jackie Bouchard, USA Today Bestselling Author of House Trained

"Heartwarming, tender, and funny as hell--FROM THE SIDELINE is a lot more than a football story: about parenting, friendships, and the courage to take yourself off the bench and get back in the game. Avanzino will have you cheering!" --Phoebe Fox, author of the Breakup Doctor series and writer for Elite Daily

"A great story that never slowed down with twists around every corner." --Holly Rust, contributing writer for The Huffington Post, The TODAY Show Parenting Team, Scary Mommy, Women's Prospects, and Mother's Guide to Sanity

"FROM THE SIDELINE was just like being handed a perfect sundae - an indulgence that leaves a smile on your face. Amy Avanzino takes a typical setting and cast of characters (i.e. suburban life) and elevates it to an experience. Deftly written in candid honesty and humor, she perfectly captures what it is to be a mom and a woman. Sometimes I had to double-check the name of a character because it felt like she was writing about somebody I know.” –Theresa Murphy, reviewer

“5 out of 5 stars…I loved it!” -Comfy Reading

“I most appreciated Avanzino's ability to put into words the complex feelings of parenting. Rather than coming off as sappy or preachy or pitying, it is a fresh and honest interpretation that readers can relate to. She also captures the essence of woman friendships, that thing that keeps most moms afloat when they're ready to sink.” –The Pensive Missive

"FROM THE SIDELINE packs an emotional punch in the best way. Laughter, tears, heartache and joy all combine for a truly touching read." - Laura Nagore, 125Pages reviewer

“I loved the story, but loved Avanzino's voice even more. She writes with a snarky wit that had me laughing out loud (seriously, on the beach, people turned & looked at me!) and a vulnerability that all moms feel. I highly recommend this heartwarming and funny bone tickling story, and I'm placing Avanzino on my favorites list!” -Goodreads Reviewer, 5 out of 5 stars

"An absolute delight - funny, sharp, and full of heart. From the Sideline kept me laughing and, more importantly, Amy Avanzino kept me turning the pages. I can't wait to read whatever she brings next." --The Girl with Book Lungs Blog

“I loved this book and I love the author's writing style…There were some pages I read twice just because I loved how funny and honest they were. She can make you laugh and cry on the same page. Her humor and storytelling grab you in the beginning and you don't want to let go! I highly recommend this book and make sure to read Wake Up Call as well! I can't wait to read what she writes next!” -NetGalley Reviewer

Book Excerpt:

I'm not the kind of person who likes to sweat, run, or exert myself in anyway-unless I'm being chased by an angry mob threatening to tear my limbs off - but even then, I'd probably just lay down and hope for the best.
Working out is a cruel and inexplicable punishment.   It’s literally the consequence given at a military school to high risk juveniles for delinquent behavior.  To drop down and give some irate commanding officer twenty push-ups after he yells in your face.  Push-ups are not something I’d ever do voluntarily, when instead I could, say, watch television, eat a taco, hang with girlfriends, read a book, virtually anything else would be better than wielding unnecessary energy.  
Don’t get me wrong, I would die to have Jennifer Aniston’s body, but, nonetheless, I would not diet or exercise. 
I still have post-traumatic flashbacks of times I was forced into acts of physical fitness.  The images of dodging balls, and that impossible climb to the top of the gymnasium, followed by the rope-burning descent, still gives me nightmares.  I can’t forget the disappointed faces of the captains who got stuck with me on their kickball teams.  Not being able to live up to the expectations of our beloved President, in that impossible physical-fitness challenge, no-doubt turned me into the maladjusted adult I am today.  These experiences are unquestionably the root to all of my insecurities. 
So when my only son announced that he wanted to try out for the local youth football team, it left me with feelings of confusion.  How can the fruit fall so far from the tree?
It’s impossible to get comfortable on a metal bench that is conducting heat and blistering my thighs.  Gnats are swirling around my head.  The grass has just been cut so my eyes are swollen and my nose begins to drip.  This mid-summer heat is unbearable.  Beads of sweat grow until perspiration runs down my face.  It’s hard to enjoy anything while having to mop my dripping brow with my forearm.  I have pit marks, two half-moon shaped stains under my breasts, and streak lines where my fat folds.  My favorite blouse now looks like a tie-dye shirt. 
Naturally, I hope my son fails, not miserably, but just enough to get cut from the roster. 
Things are looking great.  Zachary couldn’t look worse. 
He was beaten by every kid his size in the sprints.  After running around the perimeter of the field several times, he hyperventilated.  He tripped over the cones during the agility drills, twice.  Tumbled over his long legs, his limbs flying awkwardly everywhere once he hit the ground.  When he got up; little flecks of black rubber turf were stuck to his sweaty face. 
But despite it all, he hasn’t quit yet. 
It’s day four in the first week of a two-week tryout, not once has any of the kids touched a football, which seems counterintuitive for a football tryout.  
This strict evaluation process incorporates a wide variety of training exercises to measure each player’s little league potential.  The drills are conducted in a no-nonsense fashion and in quick succession to test levels of stamina.  Men with stop watches study these ten-year-olds in great detail and then scribble notes into their clipboards.  They’ll scratch their heads in deep contemplation and exchange knowing nods to one another from across the field. 
These evaluators of youth talent are the most powerful men in Snoqualmie Ridge.  They take their responsibility very, very--I mean exceedingly--serious.   They use a high degree of care and circumspection in their performance appraisal system, with the use of scoring algorithms that calculate each boy’s value and risk to the team. 
This is definitely not what I had in mind when I signed Zachary up to “play a game.”
There is a group of players stretching along the sidelines, doing deep lunges, and neck rolls.  They’re giving themselves pep-talks and performing visualization exercises.  They wear shoes with rubber spikes worth more than designer footwear.  Their hair is styled into intimidating Mohawks or sophisticated patterns etched into their hair.  I’m sure somewhere on the field, the kid sponsored by Under Armour is wearing two-carat-diamond studs on each ear.
These miniature athletes, acting like NFL draft prospects, are busy sizing up their competition.  The winner pumps his fist like Tiger Woods did after he sank a big putt in the PGA Tour.   The others fall to the ground when they are out beat and cry out in woe.  One poor kid throws his hands up in the air in frustration.  He proceeds to cover his ears because he doesn’t know which crazy, screaming adult to listen to; his parents, grandparents, neighbors, the family dog--are all coaching him from the stands, contradicting what the actual coaches on the field are yelling.
The bleachers are full of parents sitting at the edge of their seats, hypnotized by their child’s performance.  They twitch at every move their child makes.  Some pace up and down the bleachers, biting their nails, and shouting exhortations.  They’re all seeking confirmation that great athletic possibilities exist in them. 
I overhear one parent bribe her child with a fifty-inch flat screen TV for his room if he got a certain time in a race.  She’d throw in a Nintendo if his time lands in the top five.
There was a dad on day two that threw his shoe at a coach.  “How dare you move my child from the backfield!  He’s a skill player!  His trainer says he’s college scholarship material!”  This dad, who had veins protruding from his neck, had to be dragged off the property by two men with big muscles and tiny tank tops.  They were completely unbothered by the event.  “Mark my words John, I’ll be buying my paint from someone else from now on!  I’ll never do business with you again, never!”  His son didn’t seem surprised by his dad’s outburst either.  He casually grabbed his water jug, bumped fists with a few buddies on his way out, and met his dad in his monster truck.  They peeled out of the parking lot, as was expected. 
When one kid threw up orange Gatorade all over the sideline and his parent told him to, “Stop acting like a crybaby,” it became swiftly evident that these are not our peers.  We do not belong here. 
“Are you a football mom?” asks a man wearing a safari hat, mirror sunglasses, and a badge that reads EMT.  
“Me?  No way.”  I nearly collapse at the thought.  “My son is only here for the tryouts.”
“Okay.”  He doesn’t say anything right away.  “I’m going to need his medical release and parental consent forms before he can suit-up and is allowed to participate in full contact.”   
“Oh.” Several thoughts run through my mind, none of which I can decipher.  There’s a long uncomfortable pause, at least sixty awkward seconds pass.  “Do you mean the forms that relinquish this organization of any liability if my son gets hurt while under your supervision?” 
“Um, ah,” he stammers, “yeah, those are the forms.” 
I know signing this contract is like signing a contract with the devil.  My son’s happiness in exchange for all that I am against:  violence, competition, perpetual judgment, egos-
“So, you got ‘em?”
I knew even as I was saying the words, even as I was thinking them, that I’d soon regret it.  “Yes.  I have the forms.”
I dig into my bag and hand over the binder of paperwork.  It includes the registration forms, physical form, medical clearance, emergency and treatment authorization, grade check, uniform and equipment information, parent code of conduct contract, volunteer (although it’s not really volunteering when you’re forced to do it) contract, mandatory fundraising contract, several other forms I didn’t read, and a whopping five-hundred-dollar check. 
I cross my arms and inform him, “There are labels along the side for every requested item.”
“Wow.”  His bushy eyebrows raise up behind his sunglasses.  “It’s color coded.”  The EMT flips through the binder.  The corners of his mouth turn upward, which tells me he’s impressed.  “No one has ever done this before.”  
“You’re welcome.”
He checks several pockets of his cargo pants for a pen.
“Maybe it’s in your fanny pack,” I say, wincing on his behalf because the fanny pack is one of the most polarizing trends of the eighties. 
He scratches his forehead.  One falls out from his ear. 
Perfect.  This is the man who’ll be supervising my child.  He can’t even keep track of a pen or what decade we are in.
I follow the EMT to his E-Z Up canopy to ensure he does not lose Zachary’s paperwork along the way. As he files the forms, I look around.  It is fully equipped with emergency and first aid equipment.  There is a trauma kit, basic life support equipment, splinting equipment, stretcher, AED, airway masks, and supplies needed to stabilize a patient until an ambulance can arrive. 
All at once, I realize everything that can go wrong and I want my binder back. 
The EMT tells me, “Okay, you’re now good to go Ms...” He looks down at his clipboard.  “Autumn Kovac.”
I’m overcome with the thought of my baby needing a neck collar or oxygenI begin to pace circles around his tent, like I’m being chased by my fears. 
“Are you okay Ms. Kovac?”
I put my hand out and brace myself on the table.  “Fine. Fine.  I’m fine.”  But the words get lodged somewhere in my throat, tangled up with my furiously beating heart.  My breath is coming fast and shallow.  I can’t catch it. 
Now I’m choking on air. 
 “I’m, I’m, I’m going to go outside and get some air,” I spit out before my mouth goes very dry.  My tongue feels like it’s sticking to its roof, making it difficult for me to talk.  “It’s a bit stuffy in here,” I slur.
The EMT gives me an odd look.  “This tent has no walls.”  He cocks his head to one side. His face begins to spin like a Kaleidoscope.
A heat-wave rolls up on me suddenly.  It starts in my chest and rises to my neck and head. “It’s really hot in here,” I think to myself, but accidently say out loud. 
The EMT unfolds a metal chair.  He places it behind me.  “Why don’t you sit down for a second and have some water?”
What I need is air conditioning, to be indoors in a controlled climate, on a comfortable couch, with my son curled up in my arms where I can protect him from the world.
I want out of here. 
I need to get out of here.
I dodge the EMT, teetering for a second before I get my legs back.  I stumble my way over to the bleachers.  I try and stop shaking.  I begin an inner dialogue inside my head.  I’m asking myself hundreds of questions, while trying to answer them at the same time.  
I catch Zachary glance over at where I’m sitting.  I wave and give him my very best fake smile.
I try to remember why I agreed to a contact sport. 
Oh yes, I can recall that it all began with Zachary’s meddlesome pediatrician.  The doctor was concerned about his weight.  He described my son as “disproportionately heavy for his size.”  Zachary has always had a healthy appetite.  He’ll eat anything, Brussel sprouts, quinoa, organ meat, and all in a single sitting.  He’d eat the cat food if our cat wouldn’t scratch his eyes out.  I’ve always consider my son big boned or at least that’s what we called thick, stocky kids when I was growing up, decades ago.  The doctor called him “obese.”  He prescribed more physical activity. 
“You should seriously consider organized sports.  They build character and self-esteem, promote self-discipline, and sportsmanship…” His pediatrician went on and on as if he’d make commission from his sale.
“Can I mom?”  Zachary looked up at me with piercing eye contact. 
“I guess,” is how I responded.  “Do you want to do track, tennis, golf?”
“Football,” he decided.
I made a gagging sound, blacked out for a second, and continued.  “There’s also soccer or basketball.”
“I want to play football Mom.” 
“Flag football?” 
“Tackle football.” 
“No fricking way,” is what I should have said, but instead I told him, “You don’t have to decide now.  Why don’t you think about it,” which he did, obsessively, for over a month.  He checked out every book from the library on the topic.  He began reading the daily sports column in the newspaper and pulling up sports news sites on the computer. 
He presented me with a PowerPoint presentation.  He showed me confusing graphs and tables, statistical sheets with a bunch of numbers, and research written by people with a series of letters that trail their name. 
I got a second doctor’s opinion and a third.  I even asked my gyno if she thought my son should play football.  They all said the same.  “The benefits outweigh the risks and that playing sports is better than playing video games all day.”
I also picked up a prescription for Xanax.
The man who looks like Mr. Clean, wearing gym shorts, a tight shirt, and a lanyard with a whistler attached yells, “Bring it in boys!”  I met him at the equipment pick-up.  He introduced himself as Coach McCall, followed by a heavy slap on my back, which nearly knocked me off my heels.  He’s the head coach of the pee-wee team.  He went through his extensive sports resume, but all I understood is that he is extremely serious about his after-work-hobby. 
There were also seven assistant coaches; I had no interest in getting to know. 
On the coach’s command, sixty-two anxious young boys line up, desperate for a handful of spots available on the team.  About a third are returning players; many have played for three or more years.  You can tell by their posture, who is experienced and who’s on the chopping block. 
Coach McCall has finally brought out the leather sphere.  They begin a catching drill.  He doesn’t even look at Zachary, he just shouts, “Your turn Twelve!” Addressing him by his tryout number.  
Zachary’s lips tighten.  His eyes narrow.  He digs in at the line.  He pushes off.  His long arms and legs flair.  His auburn wavy locks blow in the wind. Before the ball even leaves the thrower’s hand, Zachary hits the ground.  The coach looks up at the equipment shed.  “Is there a sniper on the roof?  What the hell was that?”
Zachary blinks hard.  He lowers his head.  His shoulders are slump over, as he heads towards the back of the line. 
He tries again.  The thrower throws the ball.  He puts it right into Zachary’s chest.  It bounces off and falls to the ground.  The thrower keeps putting the ball where Zachary should be able to catch it.  He even begins throwing them softer.  He’s practically lofting them like pop flies in softball.  Zachary drops every one. 
I try not to smile.
A part of me feels terrible rooting against my child’s dream, but a much bigger part of me wants to keep him safe.  I want him locked away in a padded room, just he and I, with miniature unicorns as our pets, for the rest of our lives. 
I allowed him to tryout because I hate disappointing him and I was confident he wouldn’t make the team.  He’s too much like me.  We have grey owl-like eyes that take up a disproportional amount of space on our face.  We’re pale, like we’ve been hiding in the shade for years.  We’re both five-foot-five and robust.  We’re also bookish, flat-footed, completely lack in physical aggressiveness, and terribly uncoordinated.  He can fall up the stairs, not just going down.  He runs into the kitchen table even though it’s been in the same spot his entire lifetime.  He trips over air and spills everything.  I’m confident he won’t make the team.
At the water break the kids scatter to find their parents.  We are not allowed on the field; in fact, we have to be off the turf, passed the track, and behind the chain linked fence.  
Moms are massaging their kids’ shoulders and misting their faces with water.  Dads are giving their sons inspirational speeches and wise insider knowledge.  Players are ingesting performance enhancing energy drinks and nutritional supplements.  One family is holding hands kneeling on one knee and praying. 
I have nothing prepared, so I go with my usual.  “I’m so proud of you Baby.”
“Stop calling me a baby.”  I look into his face.  All I see is disappointment that I’m not his father or Russell Wilson.  I’m just a divorced, unsuccessful, single mom, who’s hoping for the worst for her son. 
“You were terrific.”  This is a lie.  He was terrible.
“I suck,” he says.
“Don’t say the S-word,” I remind him.
“I can’t throw the ball, catch the ball, or carry the ball.  Coach McCall asked me if I was left-handed.”
I reach out and pat his saturated hair, trying to connect with him at any capacity.  “Who cares what they think?” 
 “I do.”  He gives an exaggerated sigh.  “They’re gonna cut me mom.  I know it.”  His face is all twisted up, as though he’s in pain. 
“It’s not a big deal if you cut,” but I know it is.  He wants this and it seems the harder I wish him not to, the more determined he becomes. 
There’s a long silence before he says, “You don’t understand.”  
He’s right.  I don’t.  Football is a violent culture and I’m a passive person.  My instinct is to avoid confrontation.  I like win-win solutions.  I’m an indoorsy type.  I’d prefer not walking around perspiring or greased from suntan oil. 
Zachary starts fidgeting with the label on his Gatorade.  His eyes water over.  “Dad would understand,” I hear him say, almost to himself.  His forehead gathers. My heart clenches.  This is when everything changes.

My Book Review:

In From The Sideline, the second book in the Wake-Up Series, author Amy Avanzino weaves an entertaining tale that follows divorced and single mom Autumn Kovac's personal journey of self-discovery, when she enters the world of youth competitive sports from the sideline.

Set in the Seattle suburb of Snoqualmie Ridge, Washington state and told in the first person narrative, From The Sideline is an entertaining tale that easily draws the reader into Autumn's life and the challenges that she faces when she allows her ten year old son Zachary to try out for the Knights youth football program. Knowing nothing about the sport, Autumn is reluctant to let her only child to try out for a sport that she feels is violent, but since her ex-husband Clyde has abandoned them, she doesn't want to disappoint Zachary, so she supports his desire to make the football team as a way to reconnect and bond with her son.

From The Sideline is a wonderful story that had a great mixture of humor and drama that will easily keep you engaged and turning the pages. You can't help but feel for Autumn as she learns how to embrace and overcome the hilarious challenges, trials, and tribulations of being a youth sports sideline parent, while also re-discovering the woman that was lost during her difficult marriage, and finding an unexpected romance along the way.

I loved how Autumn and Zachary reconnected and bonded over the shared sport of football, their mother-son relationship was heartfelt and touching. I also enjoyed how Autumn's two best friends Sarah and Lainey (who we met in the first book of the series, Wake-Up Call) always had her back just like BFFs are supposed to do. It was fun to watch how Autumn re-discovered herself, and how she transformed into a strong woman who knows what she wants out of life. Finally, what more could a sports fan want then to have a fun read featuring a football theme! This story is so much fun that it will leave you wanting more. I hope that if there is a next book in the series, that it will feature Lainey's story!

From The Sideline is a heartwarming story about life, choices, decisions, regrets, happiness, family, love, and discovering what the really important things are in life.


About The Author

Amy Avanzino is a former advertising executive, who has spent the last several years writing while doing extensive hands-on research for her WAKE-UP CALL series. She’s a contributing writer of Hap Scotch, a play performed at the 2008 Frigid Festival in New York. 

Author Website 

Virtual Book Tour Event

Tour Schedule: 

September 5 – Chick LitPlus – Review
September 6 – A Southern Girls Bookshelf – Excerpt
September 9 – CoffeeholicBookworm – Review
September 12 – Spunky N Sassy – Novel Spotlight
September 13 – BookLover in Florida – Review & Excerpt
September 16 – Jersey Girl Book Reviews – Review & Excerpt
September 16 – Authors and Readers Book Corner – Excerpt