I eagerly grabbed the packet from my sofa – it had arrived, at LAST! I ran my nails under the cardboard, tearing away the edge which then bent back to reveal my first view – that beautiful, black spine, with crisp, perfect lettering.
I slid the book out, savouring its weight in my hand, running my fingertips across the glossy cover with its classy photograph of a martini (with a twist) and seven white pills, lined up, ready for…who knows? I opened the book and flicked through the pages, relishing the waft of air and new-ink-scent which came my way. I lifted the book to my nose and inhaled it, burying my head between the pages, the text too close to distinguish, but beautiful, wonderful; storyful.
I moved a couple of cushions into a nest on the sofa, slipped off my shoes and snuggled in, cosied under a light blanket, and opened the first page of Dear Stephanie…
A notification dinged, alerting me to a new email. Mandi Castle – “It’s heeeeeere!!!”
My stomach clenched with excitement and I clicked straight in, reading the lovely message from my author friend as I downloaded the Kindle version of her soon-to-be-released book, Dear Stephanie. As soon as I heard she was asking for ARC readers, I jumped at the chance, and in spite of my passion for Actual, In Fact, Books, I was willing to undergo storytelling at the hands of an e-reader, because I’ve read and been wowed by her writing in the past, and I wanted to read this – her first novel.
Mentally sighing and rolling my eyes, I loaded the Kindle programme and selected the book (enjoying that the cover looked lovely next to Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’), unable to deny a little, shivering thrill as I saw the title and clicked through to the Prologue.
And so it was with a couple of unceremonious clicks of the mouse that Paige Preston came into my life and completely took it over. I won’t spoil the story for you, because I want you to meet her for yourself, but WOW, is she something else!
At first blush, she’s an absolute whorebag – utterly confident in going precisely as far as she needs to, to get what she wants. Her audacity left me speechless and her arrogance…wow! Okay, I couldn’t deny that she was allowed to be arrogant – the woman is stunning (totally augmented, totally up-front about it, and totally who cares anyway when she gets to look *that* good?)
I read, my eyebrows disappearing into my hairline at her antics and her audacity, whilst feeling almost envious of her devil-may-care attitude and her determination. It was only gradually, once I’d sunk into her story and seen the cracks which began to show beneath the perfectly-coiffed surface, that I started to care about her.
Then I realised that beneath the slick, glamourous, smart-enough-to-shoot-put-downs-you-need-a-dictionary-for exterior, was a fragile, vulnerable, precocious, intensely lonely woman. As she played with her privileged position, frittering away money because she could, and indulging in a party lifestyle which only partially erased the agony of being held over the blistering destruction of her own mind, I discovered that her story was immensely relatable, in spite of the vastly different circumstances in which it played out.
Because in the end, Dear Stephanie is a tale of a woman’s battle against mental illness and her own efforts to self-sabotage her entire existence. In spite of her privileges and mind-games, Paige’s story is one of connection and relationship and self. It’s a tale of maybe true love and definitely true love, and loss, and hope, and wonder, and deep, indescribable pain.
It made me laugh.
It made me cry.
It made me angry.
Just as easily (and as beautifully executed) as one of Paige’s conquests, Mandi’s story seduced me, pulled me beneath its sheets and went to work, skilfully delivering delicious plot-lines, delectable characters and shivering, delightful twists, which left me biting my lip and craving the next chapter.
I tore myself away to run, and frankly have never had a quicker run (pondering the story so far) or a speedier shower afterwards (desperate to get back to it).
Then a huge turn in the storyline made me late for dinner, and I could feel its presence in the corner of my brain as I tried to concentrate on Real Life for a few hours. It grinned at me, crookedly, devastatingly (reminding me that Paige’s love interest, Blake, was also waiting for me when I returned to those words which spun IMAX scenes in my imagination), and completely distracted me from the game of Scrabble I was trying to play.
As soon as I got back home I jumped back under the covers with the book, stripping away the evening and gleefully taking hold where I’d left off, ready for another romp…but this time, there was an urgency which hadn’t been present before, and as everything geared up towards the ending, I could feel my all focussing in on the big finish…
…which happened in such a way that I nearly screamed out loud.
Feverishly, my still-trembling fingers skittering across the keyboard, I typed off two noisy, demanding messages to Mandi, begging her to continue – imploring her not to leave me this way but to please, please, please come back and finish what she’d started…but like all good authors (and lovers, if Paige is anything to go by), she knows how to keep a person wanting more.
CongratuMANYlations to GIVEAWAY WINNERS Gretchen and BrickHouseChick – Mandi will be in touch to get your books to you after the release date on May 11th (and she’ll sign them for you too, as a treat)