Monday, December 14, 2020

12/14/2020 Confessions in B - Flat By DONNA HILL @entangled_publishing @sidewaysbooks @brooklyngirl737 #ConfessionsinBFlat #CivilRightsMovement #historicalromance #AuthorDonnaHill #tlcbooktours




Essence bestselling author Donna Hill brings us an emotional love story set against the powerful backdrop of the civil rights movement that gripped a nation—a story as timely as it is timeless...
The year is 1963. In Harlem, the epicenter of Black culture, the fight for equality has never been stronger. The time is now. Enough is enough. Yet even within its ranks, a different kind of battle rages. Love thy neighbor? Or rise up against your oppressors?

Jason Tanner has just arrived in New York to help spread the message of his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of passive resistance, while beat poet Anita Hopkins believes the teachings of Malcolm X with all her heart: that the way to true freedom is “by any means necessary.” When Jason sees Anita perform her poetry at the iconic B-Flat lounge, he’s transfixed. And Anita has never met anyone who can match her wit for wit like this…

One movement, two warring ideologies—can love be enough to unite them?

Confessions in B-Flat is a celebration of the hard-won victories of those who came before us, and a stark reminder of just how far we still have to go.


MY REVIEW:


Donna Hill’s Confessions in B-Flat was a stunning historical fiction read and an emotional love story set in the epicenter of the civil rights movement as two people fight their way for equality. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X’s opposing perspectives were seen through the characters as they navigate these tumultuous times with one goal in mind. This story was as timely as can be as we read this book in 2020, that is set in the height of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Anita and Jason’s story was poignant, powerful, and inspirational. Readers today will easily relate to this poignant story that is thought provoking and moving.

The writing was beautiful and immersive. The back stories of these characters, along with the amount of historical facts embedded into the book was instrumental to fully understanding the civil rights movement. The photos were an amazing bonus.

I highly recommend this book for an exceptional must read.




AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT:







Donna Hill began her career in 1987 writing short stories for the confession magazines. Since that time she has more than fifty published titles to her credit since her first novel was released in 1990, and is considered one of the early pioneers of the African American romance genre. Three of her novels have been adapted for television. She has been featured in Essence, the New York Daily News, USA Today, Today's Black Woman, and Black Enterprise among many others.

She has appeared on numerous radio and television stations across the country and her work has appeared on several bestseller lists, including Essence, Emerge and The Dallas Morning News among others. She has received numerous awards for her body of work'which cross several genres' including The Career Achievement Award, the first recipient of The Trailblazer Award, The Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award, The Gold Pen Award among others, as well as commendations for her community service, during her tenure as Coordinator for Kianga House'a transitional residence for homeless teen mothers and their children.

Donna co-wrote the screenplay Fire, which enjoyed limited theater release before going to DVD. As an editor she has packaged several highly successful novels, and anthologies, two of which were nominated for awards. She organizes author-centered events and workshops through her editorial and promotions company Donna Hill Promotions and provides publicity and marketing services for authors. She is also a writing instructor at The Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center in New York. For the past year, Donna has been a writing instructor with the Elders Writing Program sponsored by Medgar Evers College through Poets & Writers, with a goal of compiling the memoirs of the elders for publication. Donna currently lives in Brooklyn with her family and works full'time, as a writer, for the Brooklyn Borough President's office.




Friday, December 11, 2020

12/11/2020 CRAVING LONDON By Jessica Stone




Still single five years after a broken engagement, 29-year-old food lover Jessica Stone decides to leave New York City for a fresh start in London, hoping the change in scenery would finally usher in a new relationship. In this all-consuming memoir, she indulges in one culinary adventure after another while undergoing the trials and tribulations of trying to date in a different country. Would she finally find the winning recipe for lasting love?
Craving London is an intimate journey of the heart and palate. Those engaged in a life-long love affair with food and travel—as well as a hunger for self-improvement and a curiosity for foreign culture—will find many ingredients to sink their teeth into here.

Join Jessica as she reinvents her life from scratch, reminisces about her Cuban roots, shares her favorite recipes, and attempts to unravel the nature of relationships…one rapturous bite at a time.


MY THOUGHTS:

I LOVED this memoir!!

Jessica Stone has captured my heart through my stomach in this delicious, hilarious, and refreshingly honest and well written memoir and travelogue.

Jess an American who transplants herself to live a life in London while training at Le Cordon Bleu after a failed engagement is just what I needed for a great lockdown read.

Thank you for not only transporting me to London but the sprinkling of amazing recipes throughout the book is simply divine! From chunky cookies, to delectable side dishes, brunch item menus and the to-die-for Curry Cauliflower, Jess........ THANK YOU!



ENJOY AN EXCEPRT FROM THE BOOK


Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I started reading The Power of Now, keeping a gratitude journal, getting up early to do yoga, meditating by candlelight, and really trying to find my happiness within. I also volunteered to serve on the rowing club's committee, which included doling out Pimm's during the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. Every spring, crews from both universities compete on a 4.2-mile stretch of the Thames in west London. It's a big party for onlookers lining the river. Pimm's, the drink of choice for the day, is a gin-based liquor mixed with lemonade, cucumbers, strawberries, oranges, and mint. Meanwhile, my food blog led to some TV appearances and a series of articles in Men's Health magazine, including a how-to piece on who fires up the best barbecue: Americans, Australians, or South Africans. Answer: they all do it differently.

I was convinced I had now really and truly "arrived" and that life had even bigger and better things in store for me.

And so it was. Because that's when I met The Supersize, an ex-rower.

Standing 6'5, he played rugby every weekend and could drink for the entire team. He was enormously proud of his body, and the tales of him dancing atop tables wearing backless chaps were legend. There was even a YouTube video to prove it.

On our first date, The Supersize drank 16 pints of beer--I counted. But I made excuses for it and pretended it didn't bother me; after all, the date had gone from brunch to past dinner, and I had to get with the programme.

He seemed to hold the alcohol well--too well. And he was so attentive! As we trained and bussed from one pub to another, he was so excited about me that at one point he looked up at the sky while holding my hand and yelled, "Winning!"

At the end of the night, he walked me to the bus stop and slurred, "So, Jess, this is what I do every Saturday. I go to the pub with my friends, and I drink. Are you OK with that?"

Completely overcome by finally being on a date with someone I wanted to jump--even if I needed a trampoline--I chirped, "Of course, we all like different things!"

Then he added two more questions: did I have any cats, and was I bisexual?

No to both, I said.

"Good," he replied with relief. "Because I dated a bisexual lady once, and they always go with the girl."

I never asked about the cat.

The next day, he called. Yes, an actual phone call.

"Jess, I want you to know I'm not usually that crazy."

Great, now we were both lying.

It was an opposites-attract match in the truest sense, and we both forged ahead knowing full well it was doomed. I reveled in the sheer size of him, while he felt even larger next to me. He would give me piggyback rides down the seven flights of stairs from my flat and swing me over his head à la Dirty Dancing for anyone who would watch. When we took a bubble bath together--his back against my chest--it was like playing the cello. When I'd set the table, he joked I should use plastic so his footsteps wouldn't shatter the glassware. In a wave of early-dating zeal, he even suggested we visit his mother in the country sometime. I was ecstatic.

Everything was fun, until it wasn't. I was as much a fish out of water with him as he drank like one. A barracuda.

One day in his car, he suddenly became serious.

"There's something I want to mention. We've been dating for over a month, and if there's anything at all you're upset about, I want to know. I don't want surprises."

It turned out that his last girlfriend had broken up with him after a few seemingly good weeks, and he didn't want to go through that again. I was touched by his vulnerability, and I kept trying to silence the voice within me that said yes, I was concerned about something.

But when we celebrated his 30th birthday and I watched the bartender try to dissuade him from yet another beer, I couldn't hold it in any longer. The next morning, over scrambled eggs and focaccia at Carluccio's, I finally brought up the issue. It was right after he told me "all my money goes to alcohol," and of course it was his way of waving the flag so I could escape before it was too late for both of us.

I took the bait. I confessed that his drinking worried me, and that I felt terrible watching someone as fit and full of life change the way he did when he drank. I tried to boost his ego as I carefully laid out my case, but as we walked past the pond in Hyde Park, I felt his hand go limp in mine. There it was again--the shift: that awful, gut-turning feeling when you know the person you're dating has had a change of heart, and not for the better. That night, we slept on opposite sides of the bed.



AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT


Jessica Stone has spent a hearty chunk of her time plotting what to eat next and pondering the mysteries of love, both of which come together in a lot of what she writes.

Jessica grew up in a Cuban family in Miami and studied journalism at New York University before moving to London in 2004, where she trained in patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu and wrote a blog that became the basis for Craving London. To afford city rents—and restaurants—she has worked as a copywriter on everything from dessert ads to dating advice.

Her articles have appeared in The Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, Restaurant Magazine, and Men’s Health. She lives in Pennsylvania with her son and a cat named Peppa.

12.11.2020 Aunt Ivy's Cottage by Kristin Harper @Bookouture

 





Clearing out the attic, Zoey opens the carved trunk and smiles as she picks up the small, leather-bound diary hiding inside. Curious, she leafs through the pages, and realises this will change everything…

All Zoey’s happiest childhood memories are of her great-aunt Ivy’s rickety cottage on Dune Island, snuggling up with hot chocolate and hearing Ivy’s stories about being married to a sea captain. Now, heartbroken from a breakup, Zoey escapes back to the island, but is shocked to find her elderly aunt’s spark fading. Worse, her cousin—next in line to inherit the house—is pushing Ivy to move into a nursing home.

With the family clashing over what’s best for Ivy, Zoey is surprised when Nick, a local carpenter and Ivy’s neighbor, takes her side. As Zoey finds comfort in his sea-blue eyes and warm laugh, the two grow close. Together, they make a discovery in the attic that links the family to the mysterious and reclusive local lighthouse keeper…

Now Zoey has a heartbreaking choice to make. Nick’s urging her to share the discovery, which could keep Ivy in the house she’s loved her whole life… but when Zoey learns that Nick and her cousin go way back, she questions if the man she‘s starting to have feelings for really has Ivy’s best interests at heart. Will dredging up this old secret destroy the peace and happiness of Ivy’s final years—and tear this family apart for good?

A stunning and emotional read about old secrets, new love and never forgetting the importance of family. Perfect for fans of Mary Ellen Taylor, Robyn Carr and Mary Alice Monroe.

 Read what everyone’s saying about Aunt Ivy’s Cottage:

“It was like a Hallmark movie in book form… heart-warming and satisfying ending… I loved this book and it made my heart super happy! It was just what I needed and I cannot wait to read the other book by this talented storyteller!!!” Mrs Mommy Booknerd's Book Reviews, 5 stars

“I enjoyed this story so much and cannot wait for something else by this author! I was so emotionally drawn to this book that I can't even tell you. The characters were fabulous… will grip you until the very last page.” Crossroad Reviews, 4 stars

“Loved this book… had a hard time putting it down once I started reading it! I can't wait to read more books by this author.” Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars

“This was gold! I loved everything this book was about!... truly heart-warming.” Oh Happy Reading

“I would definitely pick it up and read it again. Kristin Harper does an amazing job… The emotions of each character were put across so well and I felt every single one of them.” @myveryownbookclub

“Kristin Harper tells a wonderful story… a roller-coaster of emotions that kept this reader turning the pages.” Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars



MY REVIEW:

I enjoyed this fabulous new novel from author Kristin Harper for its heartwarming story, fun to read characters, and a story line and theme that resonated with me. Having to deal with aging parents, grandparents and a few aunts in the family connected me with this novel about spending time with your loved ones, enjoying story time, and reminiscing about the past. Just like in many families, we all have our stories that we keep quiet about, for fear of shame and other repercussion, only to find out that maybe honesty and openness would have also been a likely to change the course of events. 

This story is about families, the discoveries of hidden stories, the relationships told in an emotional and also heartwarming story. The mystery element and the plot twist had me turning those pages and kept my interest in this amazing story. I loved the descriptions and the rich detail of Kristin's writing that is truly immersive. I also enjoyed everyone of the characters and Zoey's most especially.

This is definitely one to pick up if you enjoy cozy family stories set in the amazing and beautiful backdrop of cape Cod with a few mystery elements you will have a hard time putting down. 

I had a great time reading this book. A new author for me that I definitely will be on my radar. 




About the author

 

Ever since she was a young girl, there were few things Kristin Harper liked more than creative writing and spending time on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with her family. Eventually (after a succession of jobs that bored her to tears), she found a way to combine those two passions by becoming a women’s fiction author whose stories occur in oceanside settings. While Kristin doesn’t live on the Cape year-round, she escapes to the beach whenever she can.

 

https://www.kristinharperauthor.com/

https://twitter.com/KHarperAuthor

 

Purchase links: 

Amazon: https://bit.ly/31dWybr

Apple: https://apple.co/3dtbHL2

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2GUQGx5

Google: https://bit.ly/357nOK5

Thursday, December 10, 2020

12/10/2020 A Wild Heart: An epic and emotional historical novel by Celeste De Blasis @BOOKOUTURE

 




Alexandria Falconer gazes around the honeyed land of Wild Swan, the extraordinary horse farm she built up from nothing in the border state of Maryland. It has been Alex’s sanctuary through years of turmoil, and she has come of age in this land of opportunity. But the storm clouds of civil war are gathering, and Alex knows she has a choice to make to protect her family and maintain the precarious peace at Wild Swan.

When Alex’s son dies tragically, she is shattered. It is only through caring for her adopted daughter, two-year-old Gincie, that Alex starts to overcome her grief and find comfort with her beloved husband Rane once more. But when Rane is called away to aid the Union war effort, she is left bereft.

Alex’s heart is with Rane, but at home she has the sole responsibility of shielding Gincie and the rest of her family from the danger creeping ever closer to their door. When a charming soldier arrives at Wild Swan, Alex reluctantly gives him shelter, but the two form a bond and when news arrives of Gettysburg, she is torn with worry for men on both sides of the battlefield. With Gincie by her side, she undertakes a dangerous journey to fight for her family, her principles, and the man who holds her heart…

Celeste De Blasis’ epic and heart-wrenching Wild Swan trilogy continues, available in eBook for the first time. Perfect for readers who love PoldarkOutlander and Daphne du Maurier.

A Wild Heart was originally published as Swan’s Chance.
  



 MY REVIEW:

A WILD HEART by Celeste De Blasis is the second book of the WILD SWAN trilogy originally published in 1984 and one of De Blasis most well-known and most ambitious works. A Wild Heart was previously titled A SWAN'S CHANCE published in 1984 with the last book in the trilogy published in 1989 called A SEASON OF SWANS. 

De Blasis is a truly stand out writer with this series and why it has remained popular over thirty years later and truly stands the test of time with readers of multiple generations. I feel so privileged to be able to read De Blasis novels now with this re-release. As an avid historical fiction fan the era I read the least amount of is during the time of Civil War. Just as I had expected, A Wild Heart was not only a sweeping saga full of dramatic elements such as battles about allegiances for the North or the South but also slavery and the underground railroad. The story telling was brilliant, the research impeccable and rich in detail, and the characterization was no exception. Through Alexandria Carrington Falconer, the story is intriguing to say the least, but it's also about the legacy she has created, with her horse farm, her family, all in a very passionate and strong heroine I love reading about. 

Though this book works as a stand-alone and I did love this very much, reading the first book will really delve into the wonderful characters DeBlasis has created for this trilogy. An engrossing read for historical fiction fans who enjoy an epic saga full of adventure, romance that is a deeply compelling read.

Author Spotlight:

 




Millions of readers have fallen under the spell of the lush, enthralling and bestselling novels by Celeste De Blasis. Tales of adventure and romance set against the sweep of history—all are storytelling at its finest. After graduating from Pomona College, Celeste devoted her life to impeccable research and spellbinding writing. A native Californian, Celeste grew up on the historic Kemper Campbell Ranch in the Mojave Desert, where she lived until her death in 2001.

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://bit.ly/3fRQ9sI

Apple: https://apple.co/3iA5iP6

Kobo: https://bit.ly/3jGymWh

Google: https://bit.ly/2JyZ8mi

 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Chelsea Girls By Fiona Davis - Dutton Books


PAPERBACK AVAILABLE NOW - 12/8/2020

The bright lights of the theater district, the glamour and danger of 1950s New York, and the wild scene at the iconic Chelsea Hotel come together in a dazzling new novel about a twenty-year friendship that will irrevocably change two women's lives—from the New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue.

From the dramatic redbrick facade to the sweeping staircase dripping with art, the Chelsea Hotel has long been New York City's creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who have called it home—a scene playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use to their advantage. Yet they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art, and everything to do with politics. A Red Scare is sweeping across America, and Senator Joseph McCarthy has started a witch hunt for communists, with those in the entertainment industry in the crosshairs. As the pressure builds to name names, it is more than Hazel and Maxine's Broadway dreams that may suffer as they grapple with the terrible consequences, but also their livelihood, their friendship, and even their freedom.

Spanning from the 1940s to the 1960s, The Chelsea Girls deftly pulls back the curtain on the desperate political pressures of McCarthyism, the complicated bonds of female friendship, and the siren call of the uninhibited Chelsea Hotel.


Review
Praise for The Chelsea Girls

“Davis tells a very good story and deserves all the praise she won for her other books set in famous New York landmarks. . . . What finally emerges from the mix of detailed research and solid writing is a tale that is intricate and subtle, unpredictable and exciting.”—The Washington Post

“A satisfying read about the bonds between women.”—Brenda Janowitz, POPSUGAR

“Davis, who has given juicy supporting roles to New York landmarks in The Masterpiece and The Address, uses Chelsea as a metaphor for the grandeur that was within reach but spirals into a much darker place.”—Associated Press

“Another spectacular novel . . . Davis needs to be celebrated for this. Sure, she gets the history right and does a magnificent job of bringing the Chelsea’s special magic to life. Beyond that, she is an exquisite writer, who captures the essence of people and times.”—The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)

“The glitz and glamour of the Chelsea Hotel provides a perfect backdrop for Davis's story of friendship, ambition, and behind-the-scenes theatrical intrigue. Hazel and Maxine are complex characters struggling with conflicting questions of loyalty, love, and professional success in a turbulent time. Their story is both a sharp-eyed commentary on female friendship and a vivid glimpse into the life of a New York City icon.”—Shelf Awareness (starred review)

“A completely absorbing page-turner of a read from cover to cover, The Chelsea Girls showcases author Fiona Davis's natural talent as a narrative-driven storyteller who pays meticulous attention to historical background elements while expertly crafting truly memorable characters and an original, entertaining, and thought-provoking story.”—Midwest Book Review

“Davis provides lots of historical details and some unforeseen twists. . . . [An] enjoyable read.”—Missourian

“The glamour of 1950s New York comes alive in this rich novel showcasing the history of the Chelsea Hotel, the theater district, and the twenty-year friendship of playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead.”—Woman's World

“Davis's writing is rich in detail, enhanced by her quality research.”—Historical Novels Review

MY REVIEW:

Fiona Davis is certainly a dominant force in the historical fiction genre and an absolute favorite of mine. She not only tackles important historical issues that affect women and the generations that follow but also delivers this through her brilliant and masterful writing. Davis gives the voice of empathy and strength through her astonishing characters you will absolutely love reading about. Also, the stunning world she builds with beautiful descriptions that are rich and vivid in detail of whatever time frame she is writing about, always transports and immerses me into the read. With an impeccable attention to historical facts, her stories are always a winner for me. I love her writing style and she always delivers. 

 In the Chelsea Girls, the famed Chelsea Hotel is brought to life following Hazel, a talented writer, and Maxine a captivating and beautiful actress. Their stories in this immersive read captures elements about the Red Scare and post McCarthyism world at the final years of WWII. This was such an enjoyable read for me that truly captured my heart for these characters whose hopes, dreams, and friendship has come to be realized. Davis captures both the glamour and the dark underbelly of what was happening in the entertainment industry at the time. I absolutely adored this historical fiction read.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT





Fiona Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of historical novels set in iconic New York City buildings, including THE LIONS OF FIFTH AVENUE (a GMA Book Club Pick) and THE CHELSEA GIRLS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, working on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master's degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down to write fiction. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages and she’s based in New York City. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.

Monday, December 7, 2020

The Unofficial Disney Parks COOKBOOK - Featuring Gaston's Giant Cinnamon Rolls By Ashley Craft - Adams Media


 

Every week this December, I will be featuring an amazing recipe from Ashley Craft's THE UNOFFICIAL DISNEY PARKS COOKBOOK!!

Today, I have Gaston's Giant Cinnamon Rolls (see below for the amazing recipe)

I absolutely love Disney and spending my summers in Disneyland Park here in SoCal where I live, and in Orlando, Florida where we have our vacation home, and even going to Tokyo Disney last Spring in Japan. 

So we are a Disney family for sure and love everything Disney especially the food!

Unfortunately with the pandemic, we are not able to enjoy visiting the parks, but thanks to my partners at ADAMS MEDIA an imprint of Simon & Schuster, I can bring the wonderful culinary delights of Disney to your home kitchen. If you are like me, I make a tradition of cooking with my teen daughter on weekends as our bonding time.

So from our family to yours, please enjoy the recipes, and look out for the other recipes coming your way....








USA TODAY BESTSELLER


Experience the magic of the Disney Parks right in your kitchen with these 100, easy and delicious recipes inspired by Walt Disney World!

Stroll right down the middle of Main Street USA, journey from Adventureland to Infinity and Beyond at Pixar Pier, and explore every avenue in between to taste the flavors of the Disney Parks…all without leaving your kitchen.

With The Unofficial Disney Parks Cookbook you can bring the magic of Disneyland and Walt Disney World snacks and treats right to your home. Recreate favorites like the classic Dole Whip and Mickey Pretzels to new favorites like blue milk from Star Wars land and Jack Jack’s Cookie Num Nums from Pixar Pier.

These 100 recipes inspired by iconic yummies are perfect whether you are a forever Disney fan or just love a good snack. Now you can feel as if you shared a snack with Mickey himself right from the comfort of your own home!
Review
“The perfect gift to give your Disney-loving foodie friends for the holidays.”

—Elite Daily

“A real treat.”

—What Everyone Else is Reading

“Sure to satisfy anyone’s Disney park cravings … will make your family and friends’ dreams come true.”

—Reader’s Digest

“Obsessed!”

—Us Weekly

“The perfect gift this holiday season.”

—Romper

“A must for Disney foodies.”

—Red Tricycle

“Brings the magic of Disney Parks right to your home. … Disney magic and a full belly, does it get better than that?”

—Laughing Place

“A stellar addition to any home culinary collection.”

—Ash Said It

“I recommend this book to anyone looking for a little magic.”









Excerpted from The Unofficial Disney Parks Cookbook by Ashley Craft. Copyright © 2020 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Photography by Harper Point Photography. Used with permission of the publisher, Adams Media, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.








Gaston’s Giant Cinnamon Rolls


Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom


Disney Parks have sold cinnamon rolls for a long time—regular, boring-sized cinnamon rolls. But in 2012, they upped their cinnamon roll game when they introduced the Warm Cinnamon Roll to their line-up. It is about 8" square in size and is smothered in frosting and butterscotch topping. It is perfectly made for the man who eats five dozen eggs each day—or your whole family!





SERVES 8


For Dough


3⁄4 cup salted butter, melted, divided


1 1⁄2 cups whole milk


6 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour, divided


2 (1⁄4-ounce) packets active dry yeast


1⁄2 cup granulated sugar


1 teaspoon salt


1⁄2 cup room-temperature water


2 large eggs


1.‌Grease a 9"×13" pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.





2.‌To make the Dough: In a medium bowl, combine 1⁄2 cup melted butter and milk.





3.‌In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 2 1⁄2 cups flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add water, eggs, and butter mixture. Using the flat beater attachment, mix until well combined. Add remaining flour 1⁄2 cup at a time while mixing until Dough starts to form a ball.





4.‌Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead Dough on low speed 5 minutes.





5.‌Remove Dough from bowl, sprinkle some flour in bowl, and place Dough back in the same bowl. Let rise 10 minutes in a warm place.





For Filling


2 cups light brown sugar


2 tablespoons ground cinnamon


1 cup salted butter, softened


1.‌To make Filling: In a medium bowl, mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter together. Set aside.





2.‌Roll out Dough into a long rectangle, about 3' × 2'. Spread Filling evenly across the whole surface of the Dough. Starting at short end, roll Dough like a jelly roll. Make a cut in the center of the roll, and then cut about 6" from the center on either side to make 2 giant rolls.





3.‌Place both rolls swirl-edge down in prepared pan.





4.‌Drizzle remaining 1⁄4 cup melted butter over rolls. Allow rolls to rise at room temperature 30 minutes.





5.‌Preheat oven to 375˚F. Bake rolls 20 minutes, then cover loosely with foil and bake another 10 minutes.





For Cream Cheese Frosting


8 ounces cream cheese


1⁄4 cup salted butter, softened


2 cups confectioners’ sugar


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


3 tablespoons heavy cream


1.‌To make Cream Cheese Frosting: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add cream cheese and butter. Combine and heat until melted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in confectioners’ sugar. Add vanilla, cream, and salt. Stir, then set aside.





For Butterscotch Topping


1⁄2 cup light brown sugar


4 tablespoons salted butter, softened


1⁄2 cup heavy cream


1⁄4 teaspoon salt


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1.‌To make Butterscotch Topping: In a separate medium saucepan over medium heat, add brown sugar, butter, and cream. Bring to a boil and boil 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Add salt and vanilla. Set aside.





2.‌To serve, place each giant roll on a large plate. Drizzle cream cheese frosting in one direction along each roll’s swirl, then drizzle with butterscotch in the other direction.





COOKING TIP


The dough leftover on either end of the giant rolls need not be wasted! Make cuts about 1–2 inches along the extra roll. Lay swirl-side down in a glass 9" x 13" baking dish greased with cooking spray and bake about 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.


About the Author






As a child who grew up in Anaheim, California, Ashley Craft could recite the Star Tours ride by heart, navigate the Park without a map, and fell asleep to the sound of Disneyland fireworks each night in her bedroom. After two internships at Walt Disney World and many, many more visits to the Disney Parks, Ashley is now one of the leading experts of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Her popular blog, Ashley Crafted, is best known for featuring recipes inspired by Disney Park foods to help people recreate that Disney magic right in their own kitchens. Today, Ashley lives in Kansas with her husband, Danny, and three kids, Elliot, Hazel, and Clifford…but she still makes time to visit the Mouse. Learn more at AshleyCrafted.com.

12/7/20 TAKE IT BACK BLOG TOUR - Kia Abdullah Interview and Book Excerpt -

 




From author Kia Abdullah, Take It Back is a harrowing and twisting courtroom thriller that keeps you guessing until the last page is turned.

One victim.

Four accused.

Who is telling the truth?

Zara Kaleel, one of London's brightest legal minds, shattered the expectations placed on her by her family and forged a brilliant legal career. But her decisions came at a high cost, and now, battling her own demons, she has exchanged her high profile career for a job at a sexual assault center, helping victims who need her the most. Victims like Jodie Wolfe.

When Jodie, a sixteen-year-old girl with facial deformities, accuses four boys in her class of an unthinkable crime, the community is torn apart. After all, these four teenage defendants are from hard-working immigrant families and they all have proven alibis. Even Jodie's best friend doesn't believe her.

But Zara does—and she is determined to fight for Jodie—to find the truth in the face of public outcry. And as issues of sex, race and social justice collide, the most explosive criminal trial of the year builds to a shocking conclusion.

Early praise for Take It Back


"Riveting, thought-provoking legal thriller... Abdullah is definitely a writer to watch." - Publishers Weekly, starred review


"Abdullah has done an exemplary job of character development and is especially good at ratcheting up suspense as the trial proceeds." - Booklist, starred review


"A thought-provoking and sparklingly intelligent novel, with the welcome bonus of an unguessable ending." —The Telegraph





MY REVIEW:



TAKE IT BACK is an explosive story and one so gripping, you cannot keep your fingers from turning those pages until the truth is revealed.

This story follows Jodie Wolfe, a 16 year old young girl who has had facial deformities, living a very hard life full of bullying, taunting, and most of all from her alcoholic mother of all people. Jodie Wolfe’s life even becomes more hardened when she accuses four teenage boys from immigrant families of rape. As we read the book, the story reveals itself in just impeccable pace and timing, and a very intense courtroom drama.

Zara Kaleel is a Muslim assigned to assist Jodie Wolfe – but so are the accused. A media circus soon forms about this case and so does the trolling and the criticisms for both Jodie and Zara. Zara believes Jodie with all her heart even though everyone had turned her back on her – her best friend and even her own mother. Zara’s moral compass is really empowering and inspirational as she finds the truth to bring the person responsible to justice.

This is an exceptionally well written book – so gripping and immersive, one that will have you fighting on the side of Zara and Jodie when the world has turned against them.

Read this!

What a phenomenal and outstanding legal thriller I highly recommend.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT:





Author Bio


KIA ABDULLAH is an author and travel writer. She has contributed to The Guardian, BBC, Channel 4 News, and The New York Times. Kia currently travels the world as one half of the travel blog Atlas & Boots, which receives over 200,000 views per month.


Q&A with Kia Abdullah, author of TAKE IT BACK



  1. In TAKE IT BACK, you deal with a challenging topic--a sixteen-year-old girl accuses four boys from her class in school of rape--how do you tell a story about such a traumatic subject while keeping readers turning the pages?


For me, character is so important because it does two things. Firstly, it forces me to approach a subject sensitively because I grow to care about my characters. I didn’t want Jodie – the 16-year-old girl in Take It Back – to be a loosely-sketched victim on which to hang my plot, so I took the time to interview survivors, counsellors, lawyers and police officers to make sure I was doing her justice.


Secondly, great characters make readers care about what happens and that’s what keeps the pages turning. The four boys who are accused in the novel are fully-fledged characters in their own right and so that setup is really compelling for the reader: “I care about both the victim and the accused here, but who is telling the truth?”


  1. Where did the inspiration for TAKE IT BACK come from?


I wouldn’t say that Take It Back is an angry novel, but it does come from a place of anger. I don’t like to admit that because anger is such a primitive emotion, but I was angry for nearly my whole twenties. I was raised in a conservative Muslim family in London and struggled with the pressures it placed on me: to be quiet and not raise my head above the parapet.


At the same time, I could see how the mood in certain quarters of the media was turning against Muslims and that made me deeply uncomfortable because we are not the monolithic, malevolent entity we are sometimes made out to be. 


Take It Back allowed me to examine this conflict in the context of a thriller. It’s a gripping courtroom drama at heart, but it also asks: how do we judge people based on what they look like or what they believe in? That is really the root of the novel. 


  1. How much of a challenge is it to write about potentially divisive social issues like racial and ethnic biases while keeping the tension high and driving the plot forward?


There is definitely a temptation to get on my soapbox and preach about issues that matter to me. The key is to trust the reader. I don’t need to spell things out or drone on for pages and pages. Sometimes, a simple action speaks volumes and I have to trust the reader to catch its meaning. 


For example, in one scene, Mo (one of the accused) is embarrassed of his father who works as a butcher because of the dried crust of blood on the cuticles of his nails. I could have expanded on this for several pages – about how immigrant children can be simultaneously proud and ashamed of their parents, or the plight of the working class – but I trusted the reader to recognise the pathos of that moment. Cutting out extra detail helps to keep tension high and drive the plot forward.


I can’t take all the credit though. There were definitely parts where my brilliant editor stepped in to say, “Um, this might be a bit much, so pare it back a little”. I owe her a huge amount. 


  1. Zara, the heroine in TAKE IT BACK, is smart, strong and fearless.  And she faces a lot of pressure from her family over her choices that break with tradition.  How did you go about writing her?


Zara was tricky because when you’re writing a woman of colour – especially one from a South-Asian background – you feel the burden of representation because there aren’t many characters like this in fiction. On one hand, I wanted to be true to who and what she was, but on the other I didn’t want to play into stereotypes. 


I’ll give you an example. Zara’s backstory involves an arranged marriage. On one hand, that plays into stereotypes of the South-Asian woman, but on the other, nearly every British-Bangladeshi woman from London that I personally know – certainly of Zara’s generation – had an arranged marriage (as did I by the way). Do I ignore this in favour of a false narrative? 


Ultimately, I opted for what I felt was true to Zara’s character. She isn’t purely one thing (strong, fearless, invincible) or the other (quiet, docile, submissive); she’s a mixture of many things as are we all. 


  1. Tell us about your other passion--travel writing.  How did you get started with that?  And does it influence your fiction?


I’d always wanted to travel around the world so, after a year of intense saving, my boyfriend and I quit our jobs in 2014 to spend a year hopping across the South Pacific and South America. Along the way, we set up our own travel blog, Atlas & Boots, mostly as a way to keep our skills sharp. It quickly gained traction and continued to grow. (Before Covid hit, it was getting 300,000 readers a month!)


The travel writing is very different from fiction, although I’m sure that the first informs the second. For example, I might be out on a swim and notice how seaweed looks like a woman’s hair floating in the bath and use that description in fiction. I could have written my novels if I’d just stayed at home, but the writing would likely be flatter. 


  1. What is your writing process typically like?  Do you set a goal of a certain number of pages per day?  Start with an outline or see where the story leads you?    


I am a planner for sure. I outline my novels before I write a single word. The idea of jumping in headfirst without knowing that I have a strong ending (or beginning and middle for that matter!) is just too scary. I do leave some room for the story to breathe so if it takes me in a different direction, I’m open to that. 


In terms of the writing itself, I’m fairly regimented. I write 1,500 words a day and won’t stop until that’s done. Sometimes, this means that I end up with terrible words, but I leave that for the editing!


  1. Do you have a routine or process that helps to get into a flow and stay productive when you’re writing?


I use Freedom to block out social media, which is absolutely intrinsic to my routine. Without it, Twitter would swallow hours of productivity. 


Other than that, I try to get out for a short walk every day. Sometimes, when I’m warm and toasty in my study and it’s gloomy outside (as it often is in England), it’s hard to motivate myself to venture out, but I always feel better for it. Whenever friends tell me that they’re feeling a bit sad or sluggish, I always encourage them to get out and go somewhere green if possible. 


  1. TAKE IT BACK was first published in the UK in 2019--was the reaction to the book what you’d hoped for?  Any memorable reader feedback?


I’ve been blown away by the feedback. I’ve been writing professionally for 14 years and would occasionally receive a message of appreciation for a column or a feature. With Take It Back, I got hundreds of tweets, emails and messages from readers who adored the book. 


It’s especially heartening when South-Asian women get in touch to say that they really see themselves in Zara. This makes me pleased that I stuck to the truest version of her. 


Another piece of feedback that sticks in my mind is from a reader who compared my work to Ibsen. That was rather nice to hear!


  1. What’s coming up next that you’re excited about?  


I’m gearing up for the UK paperback release of Truth Be Told in March 2021. It’s the follow-up to Take It Back and we will see Zara return to fight a new case.


Aside from that, I’m looking forward to the world getting back to normal – or some version of it. I really miss travelling. In December 2019, I was on a road trip through Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. I’d love to return and explore more of the area and beyond. 


Buy Links:


Macmillan

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Barnes & Noble

Amazon


Social Links:


Author Website

Instagram

Twitter @KiaAbdullah

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PLEASE ENJOY AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

CHAPTER ONE


She watched her reflection in the empty glass bottle as the truth crept in with the wine in her veins. It curled around her stomach and squeezed tight, whispering words that paused before they stung, like a paper cut cutting deep: colorless at first and then vibrant with blood. You are such a fucking cliché, it whispered—an accusation, a statement, a fact. The words stung because Zara Kaleel’s self-image was built on the singular belief that she was different. She was different from the two tribes of women that haunted her youth. She was not a docile housewife, fingers yellowed by turmeric like the quiet heroines of the second-gen literature she hated so much. Nor was she a rebel, using her sexuality to subvert her culture. And yet here she was, lying in freshly stained sheets, skin gleaming with sweat and regret.


Luka’s post-coital pillow talk echoed in her ear: It’s always the religious ones. She smiled a mirthless smile. The alcohol, the pills, the unholy foreskin—it was all so fucking predictable. Was it even rebellious anymore? Isn’t this what middle-class Muslim kids did on weekends?


Luka’s footsteps in the hall jarred her thoughts. She shook out her long dark hair, parted her lips, and threw aside the sheets, secure in the knowledge that it would drive him wild. Women like Zara were never meant to be virgins. It’s little wonder her youth was shrouded in hijab.


He walked in, a climber’s body naked from the waist up, his dirty blond hair lightly tracing a line down his chest. Zara blinked languidly, inviting his touch. He leaned forward and kissed the delicate hollow of her neck, his week-old stubble marking tiny white lines in her skin. A sense of happiness, svelte and ribbon-like, pattered against her chest, searching for a way inside. She fought the sensation as she lay in his arms, her legs wrapped with his like twine.


“You are something else,” he said, his light Colorado drawl softer than usual. “You’re going to get me into a lot of trouble.”


He was right. She’d probably break his heart, but what did he expect screwing a Muslim girl? She slipped from his embrace and wordlessly reached for her phone, the latest of small but frequent reminders that they could not be more than what they were. She swiped through her phone and read a new message: “Can you call when you get a sec?” She re-read the message, then deleted it. Her family, like most, was best loved from afar.


Luka’s hand was on her shoulder, tracing the outline of a light brown birthmark. “Shower?” he asked, the word warm and hopeful between his lips and her skin.


She shook her head. “You go ahead. I’ll make coffee.”


He blinked and tried to pinpoint the exact moment he lost her, as if next time he could seize her before she fled too far, distract her perhaps with a stolen kiss or wicked smile. This time, it was already too late. He nodded softly, then stood and walked out.


Zara lay back on her pillow, a trace of victory dancing grimly on her lips. She wrapped her sheets around her, the expensive cream silk suddenly gaudy on her skin. She remembered buying an armful years ago in Selfridges; Black American Express in hand, new money and aspiration thrumming in her heart. Zara Kaleel had been a different person then: hopeful, ambitious, optimistic.


Zara Kaleel had been a planner. In youth, she had mapped her life with the foresight of a shaman. She had known which path to take at every fork in the road, single-mindedly intent on reaching her goals. She finished law school top of her class and secured a place on Bedford Row, the only brown face at her prestigious chambers. She earned six figures and bought a fast car. She dined at Le Gavroche and shopped at Lanvin and bought everything she ever wanted—but was it enough? All her life she was told that if she worked hard and treated people well, she’d get there. No one told her that when she got there, there’d be no there there.


When she lost her father six months after their estrangement, something inside her slid apart. She told herself that it happened all the time: people lost the ones they loved, people were lost and lonely, but they battled on. They kept on living and breathing and trying, but trite sentiments failed to soothe her anger. She let no one see the way she crumbled inside. She woke the next day and the day after that and every day until, a year later, she was on the cusp of a landmark case. And then, she quit. She recalled the memory through a haze: walking out of chambers, manic smile on her face, feeling like Michael Douglas in Falling Down. She planned to change her life. She planned to change the world. She planned to be extraordinary.


Now, she didn’t plan so much.


* * *


It was a few degrees too cold inside Brasserie Chavot, forcing the elegant Friday night crowd into silk scarves and cashmere pashminas. Men in tailored suits bought complicated cocktails for women too gracious to refuse. Zara sat in the center of the dining room, straight-backed and alone between the glittering chandelier and gleaming mosaic floor. She took a sip from her glass of Syrah, swallowing without tasting, then spotted Safran as he walked through the door.


He cut a path through soft laughter and muted music and greeted her with a smile, his light brown eyes crinkling at the corners. “Zar, is that you? Christ, what are you wearing?”


Zara embraced him warmly. His voice made her think of old paper and kindling, a comfort she had long forgotten. “They’re just jeans,” she said. “I had to stop pretending I still live in your world.”


“‘Just jeans’?” he echoed. “Come on. For seven years, we pulled all-nighters and not once did you step out of your three-inch heels.”


She shrugged. “People change.”


“You of all people know that’s not true.” For a moment, he watched her react. “You still square your shoulders when you’re getting defensive. It’s always been your tell.” Without pause for protest, he stripped off his Merino coat and swung it across the red leather chair, the hem skimming the floor. Zara loved that about him. He’d buy the most lavish things, visit the most luxurious places and then treat them with irreverence. The first time he crashed his Aston Martin, he shrugged and said it served him right for being so bloody flashy.


He settled into his seat and loosened his tie, a note of amusement bright in his eyes. “So, how is the illustrious and distinguished exponent of justice that is Artemis House?”


A smile played on Zara’s lips. “Don’t be such a smart-arse,” she said, only half in jest. She knew what he thought of her work: that Artemis House was noble but also that it clipped her wings. He did not believe that the sexual assault referral center with its shabby walls and erratic funding was the right place for a barrister, even one who had left the profession.


Safran smiled, his left dimple discernibly deeper than the right. “I know I give you a hard time but seriously, Zar, it’s not the same without you. Couldn’t you have waited ’til mid-life to have your crisis?”


“It’s not a crisis.”


“Come on, you were one of our strongest advocates and you left for what? To be an evening volunteer?”


Zara frowned. “Saf, you know it’s more than that. In chambers, I was on a hamster wheel, working one case while hustling for the next, barely seeing any tangible good, barely even taking a breath. Now, I work with victims and can see an actual difference.” She paused and feigned annoyance. “And I’m not a volunteer. They pay me a nominal wage. Plus, I don’t work evenings.”


Safran shook his head. “You could have done anything. You really were something else.”


She shrugged. “Now I’m something else somewhere else.”


“But still so sad?”


“I’m not sad.” Her reply was too quick, even to her own ears.


He paused for a moment but challenged her no further. “Shall we order?”


She picked up the menu, the soft black leather warm and springy on her fingertips. “Yes, we shall.”


Safran’s presence was like a balm. His easy success and keen self-awareness was unique among the lawyers she had known—including herself. Like others in the field, she had succumbed to a collective hubris, a self-righteous belief that they were genuinely changing the world. You could hear it dripping from the tones of overstuffed barristers, making demands on embassy doorsteps, barking rhetoric at political figureheads.


Zara’s career at the bar made her feel important, somehow more valid. After a while, the armor and arrogance became part of her personality. The transformation was indiscernible. She woke one day and realized she’d become the person she used to hate—and she had no idea how it had happened. Safran wasn’t like that. He used the acronyms and in-jokes and wore his pinstripes and brogues, but he knew it was all for show. He did the devil’s work but somehow retained his soul. At thirty-five, he was five years older than Zara and had helped her navigate the brutal competitiveness of London chambers. He, more than anyone, was struck by her departure twelve months earlier. It was easy now to pretend that she had caved under pressure. She wouldn’t be the first to succumb to the challenges of chambers: the grueling hours, the relentless pace, the ruthless colleagues, and the constant need to cajole, ingratiate, push, and persuade. In truth, she had thrived under pressure. It was only when it ceased that work lost its color. Numbed by the loss of her father and their estrangement before it, Zara had simply lost interest. Her wins had lost the glee of victory, her losses fast forgotten. Perhaps, she decided, if she worked more closely with vulnerable women, she would feel like herself again. She couldn’t admit this though, not even to Safran who watched her now in the late June twilight, shifting in her seat, hands restless in her lap.


He leaned forward, elbows on the table. “Jokes aside, how are you getting on there?”


Zara measured her words before speaking. “It’s everything I thought it would be.”


He took a sip of his drink. “I won’t ask if that’s good or bad. What are you working on?”


She grimaced. “I’ve got this local girl, a teenager, pregnant by her mother’s boyfriend. He’s a thug through and through. I’m trying to get her out of there.”


Safran swirled his glass on the table, making the ice cubes clink. “It sounds very noble. Are you happy?”


She scoffed. “Are you?”


He paused momentarily. “I think I’m getting there, yeah.”


She narrowed her eyes in doubt. “Smart people are never happy. Their expectations are too high.”


“Then you must be the unhappiest of us all.” Their eyes locked for a moment. Without elaborating, he changed the subject. “So, I have a new one for you.”


She groaned.


“What do you have if three lawyers are buried up to their necks in cement?”


“I don’t know. What do I have?”


“Not enough cement.”


She shook her head, a smile curling at the corners of her lips.


“Ah, they’re getting better!” he said.


“No. I just haven’t heard one in a while.”


Safran laughed and raised his drink. “Here’s to you, Zar—boldly going where no high-flying, sane lawyer has ever gone before.”


She raised her glass, threw back her head and drank.


* * *


Artemis House on Whitechapel Road was cramped but comfortable and the streets outside echoed with charm. There were no anodyne courtyards teeming with suits, no sand-blasted buildings that gleamed on high. The trust-fund kids in the modern block round the corner were long scared off by the social housing quota. East London was, Zara wryly noted, as multicultural and insular as ever.


Her office was on the fourth floor of a boxy gray building with stark pebbledash walls and seven stories of uniformly grimy windows. Her fiberboard desk with its oak veneer sat in exactly the wrong spot to catch a breeze in the summer and any heat in the winter. She had tried to move it once but found she could no longer open her office door.


She hunched over her weathered keyboard, arranging words, then rearranging them. Part of her role as an independent sexual violence advisor was filtering out the complicated language that had so long served as her arsenal—not only the legalese but also the theatrics and rhetoric. There was no need for it here. Her role at the sexual assault referral center, or SARC, was to support rape victims and to present the facts clearly and comprehensively so they could be knitted together in language that was easy to digest. Her team worked tirelessly to bridge the gap between right and wrong, between the spoken truth and that which lay beneath it. The difference they made was visible, tangible, and repeatedly affirmed that Zara had made the right decision in leaving Bedford Row.


Despite this assurance, however, she found it hard to focus. She did good work—she knew that—but her efforts seemed insipidly gray next to those around her, a ragtag group of lawyers, doctors, interpreters, and volunteers. Their dedication glowed bright in its quest for truth, flowed tirelessly in the battle for justice. Their lunchtime debates were loud and electric, their collective passion formidable in its strength. In comparison her efforts felt listless and weak, and there was no room for apathy here. She had moved three miles from chambers and found herself in the real East End, a place in which sentiment and emotion were unvarnished by decorum. You couldn’t coast here. There was no shield of bureaucracy, no room for bluff or bluster. Here, there was nothing behind which to hide.


Zara read over the words on the screen, her fingers immobile above the keys. She edited the final line of the letter and saved it to the network. Just as she closed the file, she heard a knock on her door.


Stuart Cook, the center’s founder, walked in and placed a thin blue folder on her desk. He pulled back a chair and sat down opposite. Despite his unruly blond hair and an eye that looked slightly to the left of where he aimed it, Stuart was a handsome man. At thirty-nine, he had an old-money pedigree and an unwavering desire to help the weak. Those more cynical than he accused him of having a savior complex but he paid this no attention. He knew his team made a difference to people’s lives and it was only this that mattered. He had met Zara at a conference on diversity and the law, and when she quit he was the first knocking on her door.


He gestured now to the file on her desk. “Do you think you can take a look at this for the San Telmo case? Just see if there’s anything to worry about.”


Zara flicked through the file. “Of course. When do you need it by?”


He smiled impishly. “This afternoon.”


Zara whistled, low and soft. “Okay, but I’m going to need coffee.”


“What am I? The intern?”


She smiled. “All I’m saying is I’m going to need coffee.”


“Fine.” Stuart stood and tucked the chair beneath the desk. “You’re lucky you’re good.”


“I’m good because I’m good.”


Stuart chuckled and left with thanks. A second later, he stuck his head back in. “I forgot to mention: Lisa from the Paddington SARC called. I know you’re not in the pit today but do you think you can take a case? The client is closer to us than them.”


“Yes, that should be fine.”


“Great. She—Jodie Wolfe—is coming in to see you at eleven.”


Zara glanced at her watch. “Do you know anything about the case?”


Stuart shook his head. “Abigail’s sorted it with security and booked the Lincoln meeting room. That’s all I know—sorry.”


“Okay, thanks. I’ll go over now if it’s free.” She gestured at the newest pile of paper on her desk. “This has got to the tipping point.”


Carefully, she gathered an armful of folders and balanced her laptop on top. Adding a box of tissues to the pile, she gingerly walked to “the pit.” This was the central nervous system of Artemis House, the hub in which all clients were received and each assigned a caseworker. It was painted a pale yellow—“summer meadow” it had said on the tin—with soft lighting and pastel furnishings. Pictures of lilies and sacks of brightly colored Indian spices hung on the wall in a not wholly successful attempt to instill a sense of comfort. The air was warm and had the soporific feel of heating left on too long.


Artemis House held not only the sexual assault referral center but also the Whitechapel Road Legal Center, both founded with family money. Seven years in, they were beginning to show their lack of funds. The carpet, once a comforting cream, was now a murky beige and the wallpaper curled at the seams. There was a peaty, damp smell in the winter and an overbearing stuffiness in the summer. Still, Zara’s colleagues worked tirelessly and cheerfully. Some, like she, had traded better pay and conditions for something more meaningful.


Zara maneuvered her way to the Lincoln meeting room, a tiny square carved into a corner of the pit. She carefully set down her armful and divided the folders into different piles: one for cases that had stalled, one for cases that needed action, and another for cases just starting. There she placed Stuart’s latest addition, making a total of twelve ongoing cases. She methodically sorted through each piece of paper, either filing it in a folder or scanning and binning it. She, like most lawyers, hated throwing things away.


She was still sorting through files when half an hour later she heard a gentle knock on the door. She glanced up, taking just a beat too long to respond. “May I help you?”


The girl nodded. “Yes, I’m Jodie Wolfe. I have an appointment?”


“Please come in.” Zara gestured to the sofa, its blue fabric torn in one corner, exposing yellow foam underneath.


The girl said something unintelligible, paused, then tried again. “Can I close the door?”


“Of course.” Zara’s tone was consciously casual.


The girl lumbered to the sofa and sat carefully down while Zara tried not to stare.


Jodie’s right eye was all but hidden by a sac of excess skin hanging from her forehead. Her nose, unnaturally small in height, sat above a set of puffy lips and her chin slid off her jawline in heavy folds of skin.


“It’s okay,” misshapen words from her misshapen mouth. “I’m used to it.” Dressed in a black hoodie and formless blue jeans, she sat awkwardly on the sofa.


Zara felt a heavy tug of pity, like one might feel for a bird with a broken wing. She took a seat opposite and spoke evenly, not wanting to infantilize her. “Jodie, let’s start with why you’re here.”


The girl wiped a corner of her mouth. “Okay but, please, if you don’t understand something I say, please ask me to repeat it.” She pointed at her face. “Sometimes it’s difficult to form the words.”


“Thank you, I will.” Zara reached for her notepad. “Take your time.”


The girl was quiet for a moment. Then, in a voice that was soft and papery, said, “Five days ago, I was raped.”


Zara’s expression was inscrutable.


Jodie searched for a reaction. “You don’t believe me,” she said, more a statement than a question.


Zara frowned. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”


The girl curled her hands into fists. “No,” she replied.


“Then I believe you.” Zara watched the tension ease. “Can I ask how old you are?”


“Sixteen.”


“Have you spoken to anyone about this?”


“Just my mum.” She shifted in her seat. “I haven’t told the police.”


Zara nodded. “You don’t have to make that decision now. What we can do is take some evidence and send it to the police later if you decide you want to. We will need to take some details but you don’t have to tell me everything.”


Jodie pulled at the cuffs of her sleeves and wrapped them around her fingers. “I’d like to. I think I might need to.”


Zara studied the girl’s face. “I understand,” she said, knowing that nerve was like a violin string: tautest just before it broke. If Jodie didn’t speak now, she may never find the courage. She allowed her to start when ready, knowing that victims should set their own pace and use pause and silence to fortify strength.


Jodie began to speak, her voice pulled thin by nerves, “It was Thursday just gone. I was at a party. My first ever one. My mum thought I was staying at my friend Nina’s house. She’s basically the daughter Mum wished she had.” There was no bitterness in Jodie’s tone, just a quiet sadness.


“Nina made me wear these low-rise jeans and I just felt so stupid. She wanted to put lipstick on me but I said no. I didn’t want anyone to see that I was … trying.” Jodie squirmed with embarrassment. “We arrived just after ten. I remember because Nina said any earlier and we’d look desperate. The music was so loud. Nina’s always found it easy to make friends. I’ve never known why she chose me to be close to. I didn’t want to tag along with her all evening—she’s told me off about that before—so I tried to talk to a few people.” Jodie met Zara’s gaze. “Do you know how hard that is?”


Zara thought of all the corporate parties she had attended alone; how keen she had been for a friend—but then she looked at Jodie’s startling face and saw that her answer was, “No.” Actually, she didn’t know how hard it was.


Jodie continued, “Nina was dancing with this guy, all close. I couldn’t face the party without her, so I went outside to the park round the back.” She paused. “I heard him before I saw him. His footsteps were unsteady from drinking. Amir Rabbani. He—he’s got these light eyes that everyone loves. He’s the only boy who hasn’t fallen for Nina.”


Zara noted the glazed look in Jodie’s eyes, the events of that night rendered vivid in her mind.


Jodie swallowed. “He came and sat next to me and looked me in the eye, which boys never do unless they’re shouting ugly things at me.” She gave a plaintive smile. “He reached out and traced one of my nails with his finger and I remember thinking at least my hands are normal. Thank you, God, for making my hands normal.” Jodie made a strangled sound: part cry and part scoff, embarrassed by her naïvety. “He said I should wear lace more often because it makes me look pretty and—” Her gaze dipped low. “I believed him.”


Jodie reached for a tissue but didn’t use it, twisting it in her hands instead. “He said, ‘I know you won’t believe me but you have beautiful lips and whenever I see you, I wonder what it would be like to kiss you.’” Jodie paused to steady her voice. “He asked if I would go somewhere secret with him so he could find out what it was like. I’ve never known what it’s like to be beautiful but in that moment I got a taste and…” Jodie’s eyes brimmed with tears. “I followed him.” She blinked them back through the sting of shame.


Zara smarted as she watched, dismayed that Jodie had been made to feel that way: to believe that her value as a young woman lay in being desirable, but that to desire was somehow evil.


Jodie kneaded the tissue in her fingers. “He led me through the estate to an empty building. I was scared because there were cobwebs everywhere but he told me not to worry. He took me upstairs. We were looking out the window when…” Jodie flushed. “He asked me what my breasts were like. I remember feeling light-headed, like I could hear my own heart beating. Then he said, ‘I ain’t gonna touch ’em if they’re ugly like the rest of you.’” Jodie’s voice cracked just a little—a hairline fracture hiding vast injury.


Zara watched her struggle with the weight of her words and try for a way to carry them, as if switching one for another or rounding a certain vowel may somehow ease her horror.


Jodie’s voice grew a semitone higher, the tissue now balled in her fist. “Before I could react, his friends came out of the room next door. Hassan said, ‘This is what you bring us?’ and Amir said he chose me because I wouldn’t tell anyone. Hassan said, ‘Yeah, neither would a dog.’”


Jodie gripped her knee, each finger pressing a little black pool in the fabric of her jeans. Her left foot tap-tapped on the floor as if working to a secret beat. “Amir said, ‘She’s got a pussy, don’t she?’ and told me to get on my knees. I didn’t understand what was happening. I said no. He tried to persuade me but I kept saying no…” Jodie exhaled sharply, her mouth forming a small O as if she were blowing on tea. “He—he told his friends to hold me.”


Zara blinked. “How many were there?” she asked softly.


Jodie shifted in her seat. “Four. Amir and Hassan and Mo and Farid.”


Zara frowned. “Do you know their surnames?”


“Yes. Amir Rabbani, Hassan Tanweer, Mohammed Ahmed, and Farid Khan.”


Zara stiffened. A bead of sweat trickled down the small of her back. Four Muslim boys. Four Muslim boys had raped a disabled white girl.


“I—” Jodie faltered. “I wasn’t going to tell anyone because…” Her voice trailed off.


“You can tell me.” Zara reached out and touched the girl’s hand. It was an awkward gesture but it seemed to soothe her.


“Because if a month ago, you had told me that any one of those boys wanted me, I would have thought it was a dream come true.” Hot tears of humiliation pooled in her eyes. “Please don’t tell anyone I said that.”


A flush of pity bloomed on Zara’s cheeks. “I won’t,” she promised.


Jodie pushed her palms beneath her thighs to stop her hands from shaking. “Farid said he wasn’t going to touch a freak like me, so Hassan grabbed me and pushed me against the wall. He’s so small, I thought I could fight him but he was like an animal.” Jodie took a short, sharp breath as if it might stifle her tears. “Amir said he would hurt me if I bit him and then he … he put himself in my mouth.” Jodie’s lips curled in livid disgust. “He grabbed my hair and used it to move my head. I gagged and he pulled out. He said he didn’t want me to throw up all over him and…” A sob rose from her chest and she held it in her mouth with a knuckle. “He finished himself off over me.”


Zara’s features were neutral despite the churning she felt inside. “What were the others doing?” she asked gently.


Jodie shook with the effort of a labored breath. “I—I couldn’t see. They were behind me.” She clasped her hands together in her lap. “Hassan pushed me and I fell to the ground. He tore my top and undid my jeans and then … he started.” Jodie’s features buckled in anguish. “He—he came on my face, like Amir.”


Zara closed her eyes for a moment, stemming the weakness knotting in her throat.


Jodie’s words came faster now, as if she needed them said before they broke inside. “Hassan turned to Mo and said, ‘She’s all yours.’ Mo said he didn’t want to but they started calling him names and saying he wasn’t man enough, so … he did it too.” Jodie’s voice cracked, giving it a strange, abrasive texture. “Mo has sat next to me in class before. He’s helped me, been kind to me. I begged him to stop, but he didn’t.” She swallowed a sob, needing to get through this.


Zara listened as the words from Jodie’s mouth fell like black spiders, crawling over her skin and making her recoil. The sensation unnerved her. Part of Zara’s talent as a caseworker was her ability to remain composed, almost dispassionate, in the face of the painful stories told between these walls. Today, the buffer was breached.


“Jodie.” Zara swallowed hard to loosen the words. “I am so, so sorry for what you went through.” Her words, though earnest, rang hollow, echoing in a chamber of horror. “We’re nearly there. Can you tell me what happened after?”


“They just left me there.” Her words held a note of wonder. “I wiped everything off me using some old curtains. I tucked my top into my jeans so it wouldn’t keep splitting open and then I walked home.”


“Did you see anyone on the way? Any passing cars or revellers from the party?”


Jodie shook her head. “I stayed off the path. I didn’t want to be seen.”


“Were you injured at all? Bleeding?”


“No.” Jodie took a steady breath, appeased by the simplicity of this back and forth questioning.


“What time was it when you got home?”


“I walked for fifteen minutes so around twelve I think.”


“Did you tell your mum?”


“Not that night. She was in bed and I let myself in. I went to my bedroom and then I cleaned myself up.” Jodie pointed at her backpack, a bare and practical navy so she couldn’t be teased for signs of personality. “I’ve brought the clothes I was wearing.”


“Washed?”


“No. I didn’t want to be stupid like you see on TV.”


Zara blinked. “Jodie, nothing you did or didn’t do could be called stupid. Please understand that.”


The girl gathered her perfectly formed hands in her lap but gave no sign of agreement.


“Did you tell Nina or anyone else what happened?”


“How could I?” Jodie’s voice was soft but bitter. “How could I tell her that a boy who doesn’t even want her wanted me? How would she ever believe that?”


Zara looked up from her notes. “Hey,” she said, drawing Jodie’s gaze from her lap. “No matter what happens, I want you to know that I believe you.” Zara studied her for a moment, noting the dozen different ways in which she kept control: the tensing of her jowls and the squaring of her jaw, the curl of her fists and feet flattened on the floor. “I believe you,” she repeated.


Fresh tears welled in Jodie’s eyes. “So you will help me?”


“Yes, I will help you.” Zara watched her wilt with relief. “Is there anything else I need to know? Anyone else who was involved?”


“No. That’s everything.”


Zara drew two lines beneath her notes. She watched Jodie dab at her dripping nose and wondered how a jury would view her. A rape trial usually hinged on power—one person stripping it from another—but in this case, it would be difficult not to consider desire. Zara believed Jodie—had seen too much devious behavior, met too many appalling men to doubt the young girl’s story—but felt a deep unease at the thought of her facing a jury. Could they imagine four young men wanting to have sex with Jodie even in some twisted gameplay?


Zara reached for her box of tissues and handed a fresh piece to Jodie.


She took it with a quivering hand. “What happens now?”


Zara’s lips drew a tight line, a grimace in the guise of a smile. “We would like to conduct a medical exam. All our doctors here are female. After that, if you’re ready, we can help you make a formal statement with the police.”


Jodie blanched. “Can we go to the police tomorrow? I want to think about it for one more night.”


“Of course,” said Zara gently. “We can do the exam, store the samples and see how you feel.”


Jodie exhaled. “Thank you for being on my side,” she said, each few syllables halting before the next.


Zara offered a cursory nod.


“No, I mean it.” Jodie hesitated. “I told you it was hard to be at that party alone. The truth is it’s hard to be anywhere—everywhere—alone.”


Zara leaned forward. “You won’t be alone in this—not for any of it.” She gestured to the door. “If you want me in the exam room, I can sit with you.”


Jodie considered this but then shook her head. “I’ll be okay.”


Zara led her to the exam room and left her with the forensic medical examiner, a brisk but matronly Scotswoman who ushered Jodie inside. Zara shut the door with a queasy unrest. A small, delinquent part of her hoped that Jodie would change her mind, that she would not subject herself to the disruptive, corrosive justice system that so often left victims bruised. The law stress-tested every piece of evidence and that included the victim—probing, pushing, and even bullying until the gaps became apparent.


Beneath her concern, however, she knew that Jodie needed to pursue this. A horrifying thing had happened to her and only the arm of the law could scrub the stain clean and serve justice.


* * *


Erin Quinto watched the strange little girl walk to the exit with Zara, her metronomic shuffle almost jaunty in its motion. With unheard words, they said goodbye and Zara headed back to the pit.


“What’s her story?” asked Erin.


Zara sighed. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”


“Oh yeah, I’m just a babe in the woods, me.” Erin laughed, deep and throaty, and followed Zara to her office. Inside, she reached into her jacket and pulled out a manila file. “I’ve got something for you guys.” She placed it on the desk. “Can you give this to Stuart when he’s back? It’s the San Telmo financials he was after.”


Zara raised a brow. “Of course. I don’t want to know how you got them but thank you.” She watched Erin, her angular features and lanky limbs clearly poised in thought. With her cropped hair, leather jacket, and big dark eyes, she looked like a comic book anti-hero: an anime Goth designed to drive a certain type of man wild.


Fittingly, beneath the dark hair and piercings, she was as wily as a snake. It was why Stuart had hired her as an investigator to freelance for Artemis House. It was five years ago and he was in the midst of his first big battle: Lisa Cox against Zifer Pharmaceuticals. The company’s sparkling new epilepsy drug, Koriol, had just hit the market. Alas, no one was told that depression was a rare but possible side effect. When Lisa Cox stepped in front of a moving train, she miraculously escaped without injury. The media went wild, Big Pharma went on the defensive, and the Medicine Regulatory Authority denied all wrongdoing. When Lisa decided to sue, she was smeared as a money-hungry whore with little regard for herself or the three children she would have left behind. Lisa lost her job and almost lost her home. She was an inch from surrender when Erin—young, laconic, beautiful—strode into the Whitechapel Road Legal Center and handed Stuart a file. Inside were memos between regulatory officials and Zifer acknowledging the drug’s dangerous side effects. Stuart couldn’t use the documents legally but a well-timed leak prompted an investigation that not only exonerated Lisa but also made her a very wealthy woman.


Stuart immediately offered the mysterious young Erin a job. She refused to take it and instead offered her freelance services pro bono, and now here she was pushing classified documents across a cheap fiberboard desk.


Zara placed the folder in her bottom-right drawer, the place she reserved for sensitive material.


Erin watched her, then asked, “Seriously, what’s the girl’s story?”


Zara locked her drawer and set down the key. In a measured tone, she relayed Jodie’s story, recalling the horrors of the story she’d told.


When Zara finished, Erin leaned forward, elbows on the desk, and said, “Tell me what you need me to do.”


Zara handed her a piece of paper. “Find out everything you can about these boys.”


Erin scanned the handwritten note. “Wait.” She looked up. “They’re Muslim?”


“Yes.”


“Jesus. You’re telling me that four Muslim boys raped a disabled white classmate?” Erin whistled softly. “The tabloids will have a field day when this gets out—not to mention the Anglican Defense League. Those right-wing nutjobs will besiege anyone that’s brown.”


Zara nodded tensely. “That’s a concern, but we can’t be distracted by what could happen or might happen. We need to approach this with a clear head.”


Erin’s features knotted in doubt. She smoothed the note on the desk and traced a finger across the four names. “What if I tried talking to one of them?”


Zara held up a hand. “No, don’t do that. Leave it to the police.”


“Screw the police.” Erin’s voice was heavy with scorn. “You think they’re going to get to the heart of this?” She didn’t pause for an answer. “Look, the way I see it, these boys did the crime or they didn’t. Either way, the police are going to fuck it up. You think they can get more information out of these bastards?”


Zara thought for a moment. “Fine,” she ceded. “Please just wait until the formal statement. We’ve overstepped the mark before and we can’t do it again.”


Erin’s eyes glinted in the sun. “Tell me which one refused to take part.”


“Farid, but it wasn’t out of sympathy.”


Erin smiled. “Yes, but maybe he’ll confess to save his skin. When are you going to the police?”


“Wednesday. Tomorrow.”


“Perfect. I’ll scope him out on Thursday.” Erin slipped the piece of paper into her leather jacket and readied to leave. “Four Muslim boys. Well, no one can accuse you of upholding the status quo.”


“Yeah,” Zara said dryly. “Rock’n’ roll.”


* * *


The bells of St. Alfege Church cut across the quiet, sending birds fleeing across the early evening sky. Canary Wharf shone in the distance—Zara’s favorite feature of her tidy Greenwich flat. She watched from the balcony and raised a joint to her lips. A blanket of warmth clouded around her, loosening the painful knots in her shoulders. Her head felt light but her limbs were heavy, almost sensual in effect. She leaned forward and laid her head on the wrought-iron railings, welcoming relief.


Just as her mind quieted, the doorbell cut through the breeze. Cursing, she snuffed out the joint and stepped back inside. Her flat on the top floor of a converted warehouse was large and bright with creaky old ceiling beams and exposed brickwork. The giant cream corner sofa sat next to her desk, a sturdy structure of reclaimed oak. Opposite stood a large bookcase stuffed with legal textbooks next to floor-to-ceiling windows. At the far end of the enormous room was her rarely used kitchen, a modern mix of chrome and glass offset by her giant wooden dining table. In a sea of minimalism, the only signs of personality were her antique lawyer lamp—a graduation gift from her sisters—and five large posters on the western wall depicting headlines from what Zara considered the greatest legal achievements of all time. She padded past them now and opened the door to find Luka outside with two bags filled with takeout.


He smiled sheepishly. “You said you missed lunch so I brought you some food.” His gaze fell to the joint cooling in her hand.


She drew it back. “I’ve had a bad day.”


“I didn’t say anything.” He gestured inside. “Can I come in?”


She held the door ajar.


Luka set the food on the breakfast bar and started to unpack. “So why did my beautiful girlfriend have a bad day?”


She balked. Six months and she still wasn’t used to “girlfriend.” They were meant to be casual. He was meant to be a distraction, a mindless and uncomplicated diversion, and yet here he was buying her comfort food and calling her his girlfriend.


She waved a hand. “It’s just something at work.”


Luka stopped. “What happened? Are you okay?” His concern only reminded her that she had told him too much, pulled him too close.


“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s fine.”


He met her gaze, his eyes a stormy green, frustrated by her caginess. She wanted to reach out and touch him, to somehow soften her sharp edges, but opted instead to do nothing. She moved to the dining table and he followed, sitting next to her instead of opposite. We’re closer this way, he had once said. His hand rested on her knee, a subtle non-sexual gesture. She moved her leg so that he fell away. Don’t forget, it warned. She poured a large glass of wine and offered it to him.


He waved it away. “I can’t. I’m training for the climb.”


She set the glass on the table, noting the irony of a white man refusing a drink from a Muslim woman. She pushed it toward him. “You’ve still got a few weeks before you leave.”


He reached forward and wiped a crumb off her lip. “Yes, I do.” His fingers rested there a moment too long. “I’ll miss you.” He paused. “You know what’s happening between us, don’t you, Zara?”


She looked at him, eyes narrowed ever so slightly. It was her Ralph Lauren stare: part anxious, part vacant, detached but intense. Was she still playing or not? Even she couldn’t tell anymore.


His dark blond brows knotted in a frown. “I know what this is and what this isn’t but…” He watched her stiffen. “I know you don’t feel the same but I need you to know.”


“Luka—”


“You don’t have to say anything.” He leaned forward and pulled her into his arms.


Against her instinct, she let him hold her. If she was going to use him as a salve, at least she could let him heal.


“I love you,” he whispered.


She swallowed hard, as if rising emotion could be curbed at the throat. She held him tight, knowing full well that it was time to let go.


From Take It Back by Kia Abdullah. Copyright © 2020 by the author, reprinted with permission of St. Martin's Publishing Group.