When You Laugh…

Whoever came up with the old adage laughter is the best medicine was on to something in my opinion because when you laugh darkness loses some of its power. I love to laugh and, much like Chandler in the TV series Friends, I’ve used it as a shield against many things throughout my life.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my long history of using humor as a protection of sorts is a time when I was about eight or nine years old. I was in fourth grade at the time and living in a tiny African island in the Atlantic called Ilha do Sal (Salt Island). As the name clearly suggests, the island was known for its salt mines and, unfortunately for the inhabitants at the time, for very little else; there were hardly any trees or other vegetation, nothing really grew on the island, it rained maybe once a year if we were lucky, and the only food resources came from the ocean. Not a bad thing for me since I discovered that I, the pickiest eater in the western world, absolutely adored lobster, a food product that abounded in the island.

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My dad worked for the national airline and, sort of like in the military, we moved around a lot. This time we were to spend a little over a year on this island where everyday luxuries were not quite a thing yet. For the first few months we lived in a tiny house without running water and no electricity but rich in giant flying roaches. Yes, that was quite an adventure.

My sense of humor came to my rescue when I became the target of hate in my school. There were two other white girls who hated me because I was not the daughter of a high-ranking officer in the army like they were, and I was hated by the other girls because–well, I was white. The simple act of going to school had become unbearable. I was bullied all the way to the building, during class by the most horrible teacher known to mankind, at recess, and then again on my way back home. All I wanted was to either be invisible or be seen for who I really was; just a girl who hated no one.

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My dad loved a Portuguese comedian called Raul Solnado and had all his records (yes, records. I’m ancient.) which he listened to every time he had a chance. I had grown up listening to those comedy skits and had them pretty well memorized. So one day at recess–not quite sure how or why–I began retelling all the jokes I had learned from listening to this comedian. Suddenly I had them. All the girls who had hated me because of the color of my skin were now my captive audience.

Things haven’t changed much for me when it comes to using humor to protect myself and those I love. Life turned hairy some years ago and if it wasn’t for my talent to find humor in pretty much everything, I’m sure I would have lost my mind a long time ago.

My love for the funny is well reflected in almost all my books, where I balance the sad and the serious with a touch of comedy. I’m sure not everyone thinks that is an actual good thing, but I do hope never to lose the power to see the kernel of the absurd in even the direst of situations.

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Syrian Brides-New Release

 

Syrian Brides

New Release

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Book Blurb:

Syrian Brides, published on November 3rd, is a collection of eleven short stories about the lives of women in Syria. The author manages to make the reader laugh while introducing a range of serious topics, such as domestic violence and the role of women in the Syrian society.

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Author’s Bio:

Anna Halabi was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. She emigrated to Europe in 1999 for her university studies. She currently lives with her family in Germany.
Syrian Brides is her debut as an author. The stories and characters in this collection were inspired by her personal experiences as well as her relatives, friends and TV Shows.

 

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Further details:

·  Paperback: 136 pages

·  Publisher: Independently published (November 3, 2018)

·  Language: English

Interview with Allison Garcia

Please join me in welcoming Allison Garcia, author of Vivir el Dream and Finding Amor.

N: Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.

In college I DJ’d a radio show with my roommate…It was called The Allison and Charlene Show, and we won DJs of the Year. We were very silly and had loads of fun!

N: What’s your favorite scene in “Finding Amor”, and what makes it a fave? Would you care to share an excerpt from the scene with us?

Sure! My favorite scene is…oh my…this is hard. I’ve been staring at the screen for five minutes. I can’t pick! Also I don’t want to pick a scene toooo far into the book and give anything away. I kind of like the scenes where Emanuel meets his grandmother, Mami Sandra. I know a lot more about the character than everyone at this point, so the way she connects with Emanuel is pretty miraculous and outside her normal character. Also it turns out she has a pretty good sense of humor. Who knew?! Here is a scene where they are eating breakfast together in Nashville. I apologize for the large amount of Spanish. There are footnotes in the book! J

Mami Sandra let out a sigh and took another swig of her coffee. “Regresemos al río.”

Emanuel nodded and walked alongside her until they got to the railing overlooking the flowing waters. The sunset was brighter and glowed with a mixture of orange and red, like mangos and jocotes.

Vamos a comer por allá. El puente tiene bancos.

They walked up the steep bridge until they got to the top, where they sat on a metal bench, looking out over the river below, its surface reflecting the changing colors of the sky.

Mami Sandra swallowed another gulp of coffee and passed Emanuel a warm wrapped sandwich from the paper bag. “Okay, I’m awake now. ¿Qué querés saber?” She checked her watch. “Tenés quince minutos para preguntarme todo lo que quieras.”

Emanuel stopped with his biscuit sandwich halfway to his mouth. “¿Por qué habla español con acento?”

“Out of practice,” she responded with a full mouth.

“Why?”

“I don’t like speaking Spanish.”

“Why?”

“Because.” She picked off a piece of her biscuit and threw it to a group of nearby pigeons.

“Because why?”

Mami Sandra narrowed her eyes but didn’t answer.

Me dijo ‘todo lo que yo quiera saber de usted,’” Emanuel reminded her, taking another sip of the flavorless juice.

She swallowed hard and looked out over the river. “Me recuerda a la Guerra.”

Emanuel sat back. “Oh. Por eso salió del país, ¿verdad?

She nodded and tossed another crumb to the birds. “It really messed me up.”

He had a million other questions floating around in his mind. Why had she abandoned Mamá? Why hadn’t she helped her get papers or waited so long to help Emanuel? Why did everyone seem to hate her so much?

He nibbled on his sandwich and studied her saddened face and her leg that restlessly shook the bench, deciding that la Guerra might be the answer to most of his questions. So he chose an easier one. “¿Por qué me está ayudando?”

Mami Sandra glanced at him, a strange far-off look in her eyes. “I don’t know.” She shook her head and finished off her biscuit and coffee, tossing the garbage into the trash. “Fifteen minutes are over.”

Emanuel laughed. “Ni llegué a cinco.”

“Oh, well. Son mis reglas.” Mami Sandra shrugged. “If I’d known you were so smart, I wouldn’t have let you ask me questions.” She ruffled his hair and stood up. “Let’s go.”

Emanuel swallowed his last dry bite of sandwich, gulped down the juice, and followed his grandmother down the hill. He smiled. Mami Sandra was strange, but for a moment, she’d reminded him of Mamita. Despite everything he’d heard about her his whole life, he couldn’t shake the feeling that somewhere deep inside, she was actually a good person.

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N: If you could spend some real-life time with one of the characters in the book, who would you choose and why?

Emanuel, hands down. He is a cool kid. He is so strong and has been through so much, and yet the world hasn’t dragged him down. He has a good heart and a lot of love to give.

N: On the flipside, which character would you probably least get along with? Why?

Carlos. He is the worst. When my editor made me write scenes from his POV, I bucked back hard. But, alas, it helped grow the story. And, don’t worry, horrible things will happen to him. Mwahahaha

N: Let’s take off your author cap and put on your reader cap for a moment: what do you look for in a book, what sort of protagonists do you love, and do you have a favorite genre/sub-genre?

I’m a sucker for the classics. My fav book is Jane Eyre. But I also love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and The Giver and And Then There Were None. My favorite recent book is The Hate U Give. I’d say I read whatever, as long as it has a good story and characters I care about.

N: What are your least and most favorite things about being an author?

I love writing. I haaaaate editing, though I love the final product. It is really awesome holding a book you wrote in your hands and seeing it on the shelves of a bookstore. Also I only have 2 books out, so next year I would looove to be in the black. J

N: Have you ever written a line, paragraph, or passage, and thought, “Darn, that’s pretty amazing, even if I do say so myself”? What was it?

Yes. There is one scene in Vivir el Dream, my book that has won 5 awards, where it talks about Juanita and her 3-yr old daughter Linda’s traumatic border crossing. So…I think the last line is the most powerful, but it needs context so here ya go!

Juanita had heard stories about people dying in the desert. Hundreds of people, maybe thousands. Searching for freedom and a better life for their families. She had heard other stories, too. Stories about what the coyotes did to women, stories she didn’t want to believe were true. She took a deep breath and looked ahead with determination. She wouldn’t be one of those bodies lying out for the vultures to find. They were going to make it.

All of a sudden, the old man in front of her stopped, swayed, and dropped onto the sand, dead. She made the sign of the cross over her chest and stepped around him, continuing on.

N:  When you sit down to start a new book, how do you decide whether it will best be told in the first or the third person?

I almost always write in 3rd person, and starting with Vivir el Dream, I have written stories from usually 3-4 POVs. I usually decide the main people I’d like the story to be about and go from there. I am a “pantser” so the story develops as I write.

N: Let’s talk tropes: do you have a few favorites that you enjoy both writing and reading? If so, what are they and what makes them your faves?

I sort of hate tropes. I don’t like things to be predictable at all. Though…I suppose I would say that I am a sucker for the underdog or for surprise declarations of love.

N: Describe your ideal fantasy writing environment—the beach in Monaco, a sidewalk café in Paris, a thatched cottage in the English countryside—wherever you can dream of.

I have written some really good stuff while down visiting my in-laws in Guadalajara. But I’ve already been there and I’ve never been to Italy, so I think there!

N: If you could choose one of your books to be adapted for the silver screen, which would you choose? Why do you think it would translate well to film?

This is hard because I see all of them in my head like a movie, but people seem to really love Vivir el Dream. I think the characters are lovable (most of them!) and it is very poignant. Finding Amor would also be cool. I can see people falling in love with sweet little Emanuel.

N: If I were to interview Ana and Emanuel what would they say about you?

Give us a break, Allison! I think they’d be mad about the next shoe that is dropping in Finding Seguridad (book 2 of the Buscando Home series) and the following shoe in Finding Paz (book 3). I like to make people squirm and care and worry, because these are real things that happen in the real world. I hear stories like theirs every day as a counselor. I want it to be authentic and not a fake, happy, perfectly-tied-up-in-a-bow ending.

N: Thank you so much. Finding Amor sounds very interesting. I wish you all the best in your writing career and hope you visit us again soon.

 

Buy Links

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A New Year Begins…

With the approaching of a new year, we all begin making resolutions or at least dreaming about what might be.

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“Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

― Brad Paisley

I love this quote not only because it pulls at my writer’s sensibilities, but also because it’s true. Obviously we are not always in control, and lots of what will happen may not be of our own doing. However, we can at least strive at doing the best we can.

Every year I have all these dreams of what I will accomplish or at least try. Like with most people, those things normally end up at least partially undone. As I get older though, I developed this sense of hurry, of urgency that was not there when I was younger. I’ve always been patient, willing to wait, never rushing. But for the past three or four years, I’ve had this need for speed. It’s almost as if, as my life draws near to the end, I realize I still have so much to do and possibly not enough time to do it. When you’re young, time just drags and old age is a very distant and abstract idea. When you get to my age, the end is suddenly very concrete. Most of the adults of your childhood are either dead or dying, your heroes, your idols, everything is dwindling down and you know that you’ll go sometime next.

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I had always wanted to be a published writer. I had a knack for writing and did it constantly since very early on. My dream finally came true four years ago. Nine books later, I still find it hard to believe it actually happened. My next “dream” is to actually be mildly successful at it. It’s a very slow process and I get antsy. I don’t have a life in front of me to wait patiently for the world to discover my stories, I need it now. Talk about self-induced anxieties, lol.

Those of you who are in the last quarter or so of your life, getting ready to become silver foxes, do you feel this way too? This anxiety to accomplish a thousand things all at the same time and frustration of not having enough time for it? Or energy? It has gotten so bad for me, I avoid things I used to love (and still do) and that helped me relax so that I have time to finish that story, or work on that ad, or interact with my audience. It’s exhausting.

So for this new year I still want to accomplish all of that, but I also want to learn to relax, to allow myself those moments of blissful peace when there is nothing to do, no place to go.

What are your plans for the new year?

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Location, Location, Location

I tend to locate my stories in imaginary places. In fact, it had never occurred to me to set one of my romances in a real place until I started hearing about all the small-town romances that were becoming so popular. The first time I used a setting that really existed was in my first M/M paranormal, Lavender Fields, which I set in Wiscasset, Maine—a town I vacationed in a few times. With Infinite Blue, I was determined to have it take place in a more local setting. That’s how my characters ended up in Old Town Manassas, just a few miles from where I live and a place I visit often.

Old TownManassas, VA

I was surprised how much fun it was to use real places or those inspired by the real ones. Restaurants, coffeeshops, even the train station are all very real.

A friend’s sister’s place of work became the model and the location for Cai’s graphic studio. I had visited the studio once so I had a good feel for the layout. It’s a small place over a well-known restaurant by the old-fashion train station.

The coffeeshop they both frequent is also a real hub of artistic activity in Manassas. So is the ice cream shop they mention, Jitterbug. Even the hospital was inspired by a real one, not in Manassas but close by.

The most fun I had was “researching” the Mexican Taqueria they all meet one evening. I knew about the place but had never eaten there. I had to check their menu online and I was glad to find out that I had described the place and the food accurately. When I finally ate there, I ordered the same thing my characters did in the book and had the delicious (and not Mexican) zepolle for the first time ever.

One of the most romantic scenes is set in the parking lot of the station which means that now every time I go there (and that’s where I normally park my car) I have visions of Cai and Shahin involved in a kiss.

Station

Heart’s Prey-The Journey

I’ve been an introvert all my life. Sometimes I feel that in spite of all my travelling, my life experiences, my education I’ve never been quite part of the whole. I’ve always felt much like an outcast of sorts, always on the outside looking in. Always afraid of voicing my strong opinions and beliefs, but feeling them deeply within my heart nevertheless.

All my novels reflect that in one form or another. But none so vividly as Heart’s Prey.

The world of Heart’s Prey is a world divided by prejudice, where society is parceled out between castes. When that world is attacked by monsters of their own creation, life as they know is crushed. My characters come from different castes and must somehow ignore the fact that they were brainwashed into hating each other and unite in order to survive.

As the plot develops the reader comes to find out that even within the castes there are divisions, prejudice, and cruelty. Nothing is what it seemed to be.They come to discover that the woman from a privileged caste was not very privileged after all, that she had been subjected to terrible things at the hands of her own people because of flaws in their system. They come to find out that in the end they were all outcasts and that if they are to survive, they must destroy those barriers of suspicion and fear, and learn to build a society that doesn’t judge, divide, or punish  those who are different.

I’m very passionate about this book, my only self-pub so far, and its message. I love the characters and the way they stick together even when faced with the horrors of the genetically-engineered creatures loose in their ravished world.

I’d love to hear from you and find out what you thought of my book.

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Blurb

The world Jia and Cees knew no longer exists. Amidst chaos and terror, they find each other and fall in love—a love that goes against all castes’s rules. As their civilization is ravaged by genetically-altered beasts, the caste system relied upon for ages crumbles. The privileged and wealthy are just as vulnerable to the onslaught as are the disadvantaged.

Faced with impossible odds and unsettling secrets about their society, Jia and Cees must decide which part of their dying world to take with them and what they should leave behind. As they travel in search of a safe haven, they face unspeakable horrors, which shake deep-rooted beliefs and their old way of life.

Will they look past prejudice and centuries-old traditions to join forces against annihilation? Or will they give in to society’s pressure and fight alone?

Buy Links

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BIO

Natalina wrote her first romance at the age of 13 in collaboration with her best friend, Susana. Since then she has ventured into other genres, but romance is first and foremost in almost everything she writes. She’s the author of seven romance novels that reflect the amazing diversity of humankind and the universal power of love.

After earning a degree in tourism and foreign languages, she worked as a tourist guide in her native Portugal for a short time before moving to the United States. She lived in three continents and a few islands, and her knack for languages and linguistics led her to a master’s degree in education. She lives in Virginia where she’s taught English as a Second Language to elementary school children for more years than she cares to admit.

Natalina doesn’t believe you can have too many books or too much coffee. Art and dance make her happy and she is pretty sure she could survive on lobster and bananas alone. When she is not writing or stressing over lesson plans, she shares her life with her husband and two adult sons.

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A Community of Writers

As tempting as it is to address the craziness of recent events and a certain writer’s lack of common sense, I will abstain from that. While what she did was selfish, uncalled for, and served no purpose other than burning all her bridges in the literary world, I don’t subscribe to the idea of name calling or finger pointing–be it in person or in cyber space.

What I would like to talk about today is professional courtesy and respect. When I first got involved in the romance publishing world, I was like most “virgins”–starry eyed and naive. I’ve never been good at making professional connections and having no one to guide me in this new world, I was pretty much a fish out of water–flopping around and gasping for air.

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Little by little, I learned the ropes, or at least enough to start getting some air into my lungs to survive. One of the things that hit me the most–in a positive way–was the camaraderie and professional interaction and support from other writers.

I have met amazing people both online and in person who have enriched my life not just as a writer but also as a human being, some of which  fill me with awe with their willingness to give. I hope one day to be able to return the favor, but for now all I can dish out is my half-baked advice, companionship, and support.

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It saddens me when things go awry, when authors turn against each other instead of talking it over. When authors become so deluded and full of themselves that they see nothing wrong with sabotaging other writers’ success. And most of all, it’s heartbreaking when a writer who has achieved a reasonable measure of success attack those who, unlike them, are still struggling to make ends meet in the publishing world.

Those of you who excel by respecting and supporting your fellow authors, I salute you. I would have been lost without you. You have taught me the ropes, supported me when I was drowning, and brightened my days with words of encouragement. That is what it should all be about.

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From the Ashes of Hate

Caution: venting ahead.

I’ve been so disappointed with humanity lately. I woke up today feeling exhausted and felt even worse after listening to the news. Those of you who know me or follow me here and/or on Facebook know that I very rarely talk about politics, religion or sports (you may laugh about the last one but being married into a sports-fanatic family this is a no-no subject in our house). Being a woman of a certain age means I have been through many things the younger crowd can’t even imagine (now I really sound like my grandma).

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When I was ten my country went through a revolution. The fascist government that had been in power pretty much since royalty became a thing of the past was deposed after a military coup. For the next decade we lived and breathed politics—and what people who had been repressed for far too long thought meant freedom. The music we heard, the movies we watched, the shows on TV, the conversation at the coffee shop were all around politics.  It took a long time to go back to the regularly scheduled program of life in the global stage. I don’t want to go back to that.

I am tired of all the arguing and finger-pointing that has been going on for the past year. Worse, my heart breaks every time I watch news of violence in the name of ideologies that profess tolerance and peace. What the hell are we doing?

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I hear from friends who have “unfriended” friends and family members because they were on the “other side” (whatever the side may be), husbands and wives fighting over politics, hate spewing from people’s mouths no matter where you turn to. I’m tired. I feel cranky all the time. I go to yoga, find my peace but as soon as I leave the studio it hits me again, that anger that permeates the air of lately.

I thought we, humans, had evolved but it seems like we take one step forward only to take many more backwards. Freedom is our right, but let’s not forget what the definition of freedom is. I had to take a class on economy and politics when I was in college. I don’t remember much about it but there is one thing I will never forget; the way individual freedoms were defined. It goes like this: you’re free to do whatever up to the point when it begins infringing on somebody else’s freedom. That’s where it stops. I have lived by that tenet ever since. There’s been a lot of people stepping over that line these past few months.

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I have friends in both sides of the debate and it’s been painful to watch as one side attacks the other. And you want to know what the irony (and scariest) part of it all is? As someone who has never supported one side or the other exclusively and is an expert at observing (a major perk of being an introvert) I hear the almost exact complaints from either side. The left blames those on the right for the same things the right blames those on the left. It’s insane. It’s exhausting and serves absolutely no other purpose than creating an environment of anger and negative energy.

Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, I felt a glint of hope that we may yet be peaceful and rational people. From the ashes of what has been a troubling wave of hate and violence, something beautiful emerged. I’m so proud of what women across the country (and some males) managed to do yesterday (Jan 21). Crowds of thousands across the country marched in solidarity and peace to demand the respect we deserve as human beings. Ladies, I’m so proud of being a woman in the US today. Thanks you for protesting in peace. You give me hope.

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Note:  I didn’t make it to the March because of my fear of crowds (anxiety issues) but together with a few other women I celebrated the occasion at yoga by focusing on the fifth chakra (voice) and in solidarity with all my friends who were marching in a super crowded Washington D.C.

 

Predators Among Us

There has been a lot of talk about sexual assault; the kind that millions of women worldwide endure on a daily base and that leaves deep psychological scars. When this whole scandal with one of the presidential candidates came to surface many people (some women included) said things like, “Well, if this was true why is it just now coming up?” or “Why are all these women all of a sudden coming forward with these stories? Isn’t that suspicious?”

I am not endorsing one side or the other of the political arena, but I’m here to tell you that the reason why all these women are coming forward now is because once the first one had the courage (yes, it takes courage) to bring her story into the public eye it gave all others the motivation and the strength to do the same.

When you have been a victim of that kind of assault, no matter how minor, you go through many emotions. You’re embarrassed that this happened to you, you feel guilty sometimes because of comments you hear about similar cases, you’re afraid that no-one will believe you or even worse, that they will turn you from the victim to the one who was asking for it.

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I grew up in a very male-oriented country at a time when women had very limited opportunities. Back then only rich people drove cars to work. Driving to school was unheard of. You took the bus or the train, most of the time both. During rush hour the public transportation was standing-room only and we were crushed against each other like sardines in a can. It never failed. There was always the one guy (sometimes two) who decided this was the optimum setting to give free reign to their sexual desires. By the time I hopped out of the train or the bus, I had been groped and rubbed against just as matter-of-fact as if I was wearing a sign saying, “Please, use my body in any way you please.”

From the time I was thirteen I had to endure these not-so-subtle attacks and the odious cat-calls. They were not really cat-calls and they did not stop at “hey beautiful”, “hot mama”, or whistling. Most were very explicit in what the men who yelled them out would do to me should they ever catch me alone. Others felt compelled to comment on parts of my body that should never have been discussed by strangers, especially those who were old enough to be my grandfather in some cases.

One day as I am sitting on a bus commuting home from a long day at work, I dozed off. When I woke up I felt something warm between my legs. The young man sitting next to me had slid his hand on my crotch and even my death-gaze did not faze him. Why didn’t I tell the bus driver or the police? Because I guarantee you if I did, someone would say he was just being a young, red-blooded male and what did I expect when I was wearing such tight pants?

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I am a much older woman now and if you think these incidents are lost in memory you’d be very wrong. They live in my head as vivid and as painfully embarrassing and demeaning as the day they happened. They have left scars, some of which I may not even be aware of. It’s hard to speak about them (this post has been languishing in the draft folder for a while) without feeling shame.

Things have changed quite a bit since then, even in my country, but let’s face it, there are still many who either think this is acceptable behavior or that it’s just “play” and does not do any harm. Well, you are wrong! It’s time women stand together against this type of assault and for one, I admire and applaud those who were courageous enough to come forward. As a woman who “been there, done that”, I thank you.

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Desert Jewel – New Release

“Powerful, passionate, & epic.”

Natalina Reis

 Desert Jewel

Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Release Date: October 8, 2016
Cover Designer: Claire Smith
 Add to Goodreads
 On sale for 99 cents 
Rebellion brews inside Milenda’s heart as the date for the Trials approach. As the
heiress to the throne of Natale, she is forced to choose a consort from the survivors of the
grueling quest across the desert.
Milenda’s heart belongs to Jaali and wants no part in the ancient and cruel ritual, but the
Elders—the true rulers of Natale—will not back down.
Jaali was brought from the far North as a child slave. His only chance to be with the woman
he loves is to volunteer for the Trials, no matter how dangerous or how much Milenda
objects.
Together they begin their journey of discovery and rebellion against the Elders. But will their
love be enough or will they lose everything they’ve fought for?
 ONLY 99 CENTS 
Amazon: US | UK | AU | CA
Natalina wrote her first romance in collaboration with her best friend at the age of 13. Since then she has ventured into other genres, but romance is first and foremost in almost everything she writes. Her novel, We Will Always Have the Closet, is her first published romance.
After earning a degree in tourism and foreign languages, she worked as a tourist guide in her native Portugal for a short time before moving to the United States. She lived in three continents and a few islands, and her knack for languages and linguistics led her to a master’s degree in education. She lives in Virginia where she has taught English as a Second Language to elementary school children for more years than she cares to admit.
Natalina doesn’t believe you can have too many books or too much coffee. Art and dance make her happy and she is pretty sure she could survive on lobster and bananas alone. When she is not writing or stressing over lesson plans, she shares her life with her husband and two adult sons.
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