Friday, May 18, 2018

[Blog Tour Review] BANE by L. J. Shen


Bane, the highly-anticipated next standalone in the Sinners of Saint Series by L.J. Shen is LIVE!


Bane by L.J. Shen
Source: Received a copy from the author to
give an honest review.
Release Date: May 10, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Designer:  Letitia Hasser at RBA Design
Photographer: Pavel Lepikhin
Model: Vadim Ivanov

DESCRIPTION 

Bane

Naked surfer. Habitual pothead. A con, a liar, a thief and a fraud.

Last I heard, he was extorting the rich and screwing their wives for a living.

Which is why I’m more than a little surprised to find him at my threshold, looking for my friendship, my services, and most puzzling of all—looking humbled.

Thing is, I’m on a boycott. Literally—I cut boys from my life. Permanently.

Problem is, Bane is not a boy, he is all man, and I’m falling, crashing, drowning in his sweet, perfect lies.

Jesse Carter

Hot as hell, cold as ice.

I wasn’t aware of her existence until a fat, juicy deal landed in my lap.

She’s a part of it, a little plaything to kill some time.

She is collateral, a means to an end, and a side-bonus for striking a deal with her oil tycoon stepdad.

More than anything, Jesse Carter is a tough nut to crack.

Little does she know, I have the f****** teeth for it.


Download today or read FREE in Kindle Unlimited!
Amazon US | Amazon Universal

ADD TO GOODREADS


Start the Series of Standalones Today!


VICIOUS

REVIEW

Ever since I read L. J. Shen's VICIOUS she's been one of my absolute favourite authors. Her books never fail to touch every single one of my emotions. I love her writing, and I'm constantly impressed by just how much she manages to pull me into her stories. BANE was no exception! It was amazing and I couldn't put it down!

I'd been eager to read BANE ever since L. J. Shen announced it after SCANDALOUS released...and it was soooo worth the wait! It was raw, passionate, intense, and addictive! I loved it so much! Roman “Bane” Protsenko was absolutely magnificent! I was pretty sure when we met him in SCANDALOUS that I'd love him, and I was so right! He’s brash, and a bit ruthless, but underneath it all he’s unerringly good and kind. It was an interesting dichotomy when you think about him in comparison to Vicious. They’re both pretty cruel when you get on their bad side, but while Vic never cares about other people’s feelings (Emilia being the rare exception for the most part), Bane always tries to be “nice” about things, even if it’s just on the surface sometimes. ;) I loved the power and dominance he wielded, and I really loved how he interacted with Jesse right from when they first met to when he was utterly consumed with her...sooooo good! And Jesse: I hurt for her so much throughout the story, but I also admired her and was so proud of her. She was so strong, and I absolutely loved her wit and definitely related to her love of romances! 

I gushed about Bane and Jesse already a bit, but I have to continue to gush a bit more about Bane! My ultimate L. J. Shen book is still VICIOUS and Vicious is still my favourite of her leading men, but I have to admit that Bane has come the closest to topping my love of Vicious--both character and book-wise! He's so sexy, and this book was soooo good! I loved the romance between Bane and Jesse, and I loved how Bane helped Jesse realize her own strength and grow! I loved their friendship, but I loved when it became a full-fledged romance and relationship even more. The chemistry between the two of them was sizzling! As far as plots go, BANE was pretty heavy. Jesse had a some pretty rough moments in her past, and Bane grew up being pretty much the only kid on the wrong side of the tracks in a town where there wasn't really a lower class. I loved how they helped each other move on from their hang-ups from their pasts...and while parts of BANE were tough to read and face, L. J. Shen did a wonderful job telling this story.

Overall, I absolutely loved BANE! It's moved right up to the top of my favourite L. J. Shen books alongside VICIOUS, and I think that romance readers who like their romances a little rawer, darker, and on the sexier side will absolutely love BANE! And just in case this is your first experience with L. J. Shen, BANE can be read as a standalone, but it also fits into her series of standalones, the Sinners of Saints, so feel free to choose this as your first L. J. Shen book! And then if you love it, you can go back and see where her stories set in Todos Santos all began. ;)



About LJ Shen

L.J. Shen is an International #1 best-selling author of Contemporary Romance and New Adult novels. She lives in Northern California with her husband, young son and chubby cat.

Before she’d settled down, L.J. (who thinks referring to herself in the third person is really silly, by the way) traveled the world, and collected friends from all across the globe. Friends who’d be happy to report that she is a rubbish companion, always forgets peoples’ birthdays and never sends Christmas cards.

She enjoys the simple things in life, like spending time with her family and friends, reading, HBO, Netflix and internet-stalking Stephen James. She reads between three to five books a week and firmly believes Crocs shoes and mullets should be outlawed.

Connect with LJ Shen:
Facebook | TwitterPinterestInstagram | Website | Newsletter


Have you read anything by L. J. Shen yet?
If you've read Bane already, what did you think?
If you haven't read it, do you plan to?

Friday, May 11, 2018

[Review] ARROGANT DEVIL by R. S. Grey

Source: Received a copy from the author to
give an honest review.
Release Date: May 10, 2018

DESCRIPTION

Everyone in Cedar Creek, Texas, knows Jack McNight is an arrogant devil. Physically, I get it: he’s tan and fit, with coal-black hair that’s clearly been scorched by hellfire. Oh, and his personality? It burns just as hot.

When I show up on the doorstep of Blue Stone Ranch, I’m run-down and rockin’ my last pair of underwear. I’m hoping for a savior, but instead, I find him.

My opinion of Jack is marred by a dismal first impression, but his opinion of me is tainted even before I arrive. He’s heard I’m a spoiled princess there to take advantage of his goodwill. To him, I’m more trouble than I’m worth.

Our button-pushing banter should get under my skin. His arrogance should be a major turn-off. Problem is, devils are known to offer their own form of temptation.

Every one of his steely glares sends a shiver down my spine.

Every steamy encounter leaves me reeling.

Sure, it could be the Texas heat messing with my head, but there’s no way I’ll survive the summer without silencing him with a kiss and wrestling him out of those Wranglers.

Who knows…going to bed with the devil might just be the salvation I’ve been looking for all along.

Buy It Here: Amazon 


REVIEW

I first stumbled upon R. S. Grey during the Rio Summer Olympics when she wrote two Summer Games titles. I absolutely LOVED them, so I quickly one-clicked some of her other titles, and I haven't looked back since! She quickly became one of my favourite rom-com authors, and her books always have me laughing, smiling, and swooning! As soon as I heard she had a new book coming out, I added it to my to-read list...I have to admit that with Arrogant Devil, I didn't even read the description...just automatically added it on Goodreads. That's how much I love her books...doesn't matter what she writes, I'll read them, and she never disappoints!

Just as I expected, Arrogant Devil was absolutely wonderful! From start to finish it was extremely funny, and it constantly had me laughing. When I was reading it on the bus, I was struggling to keep a big goofy grin off my face almost the entire time. I didn't realize just how much I was craving laughter and something a bit lighthearted until I started reading Arrogant Devil and it instantly made me feel more relaxed and refreshed...even though I stayed up way too late during the work week because I didn't want to stop reading. ;)
  
One of the things that I always love about R. S. Grey's books is the fact that she really, really knows how to write dual POVs. She does an amazing job of showing both characters and she manages to make sure you get both sides of the story while never making a story feel repetitive! In the case of Arrogant Devil, Meredith and Jack were fantastic! I absolutely loved Meredith! I wanted to hug her close and I wanted to protect her from everyone who was judging her. She was so sassy, and sooooo funny! I loved her snappy lines, and I really loved how she interacted with Jack! And Jack...holy hot cowboy! I'm a sucker for an amazing rom-com...throw in a sassy heroine and a sexy hero...especially one who's a bit broody, distant, and so, so, strong and I'm so there for it. Chemistry-wise,  Meredith and Jack were absolutely off-the-charts! Their dynamics were fiery and I loved seeing them battle each other with their banter! I also loved the calmer moments between them...it all left me feeling so content and happy! I finished Arrogant Devil with a seriously big grin on my face and I'm already looking forward to the next R. S. Grey book that I read!

Overall, I loved Arrogant Devil! It was hilarious, sexy, and packed full of so much swoon-worthy goodness! Once I started reading, I didn't want to stop! I'd recommend Arrogant Devil (and any of R. S. Grey's other wonderful books) to readers who like stories that are full of humour and heart with some good ol' steamy sexiness thrown in!



ABOUT R.S. GREY

R.S. Grey
is the USA Today bestselling author of thirteen novels, including THE FOXE & THE HOUND. She lives in Texas with her husband and two dogs, and can be found reading, binge-watching reality TV, or practicing yoga!

Visit her at rsgrey.com

Follow R.S. Grey: Website | Twitter | Facebook
R.S. Grey's Little Reds Facebook GroupNewsletter | Instagram



So I guess I'm just going to sit here and eagerly wait for R. S. Grey's next rom-com, but while I wait, I'll just have to keep encouraging all of y'all to read her books! (Couldn't resist the y'all after reading Arrogant Devil. :P I've always wanting to "say" it you know. haha)

What do you think?
Are you a fan of rom-com books?
Does Arrogant Devil sound like one that you'd like?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

[Release Day Blitz] BANE by L. J. Shen


Bane, the highly-anticipated next standalone in the Sinners of Saint Series by L.J. Shen is LIVE!


Bane by L.J. Shen
Release Date: May 10th
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Designer:  Letitia Hasser at RBA Design
Photographer: Pavel Lepikhin
Model: Vadim Ivanov

DESCRIPTION 

Bane

Naked surfer. Habitual pothead. A con, a liar, a thief and a fraud.

Last I heard, he was extorting the rich and screwing their wives for a living.

Which is why I’m more than a little surprised to find him at my threshold, looking for my friendship, my services, and most puzzling of all—looking humbled.

Thing is, I’m on a boycott. Literally—I cut boys from my life. Permanently.

Problem is, Bane is not a boy, he is all man, and I’m falling, crashing, drowning in his sweet, perfect lies.

Jesse Carter

Hot as hell, cold as ice.

I wasn’t aware of her existence until a fat, juicy deal landed in my lap.

She’s a part of it, a little plaything to kill some time.

She is collateral, a means to an end, and a side-bonus for striking a deal with her oil tycoon stepdad.

More than anything, Jesse Carter is a tough nut to crack.

Little does she know, I have the f****** teeth for it.


Download today or read FREE in Kindle Unlimited!
Amazon US | Amazon Universal

ADD TO GOODREADS


Start the Series of Standalones Today!


VICIOUS


About LJ Shen

L.J. Shen is an International #1 best-selling author of Contemporary Romance and New Adult novels. She lives in Northern California with her husband, young son and chubby cat.

Before she’d settled down, L.J. (who thinks referring to herself in the third person is really silly, by the way) traveled the world, and collected friends from all across the globe. Friends who’d be happy to report that she is a rubbish companion, always forgets peoples’ birthdays and never sends Christmas cards.

She enjoys the simple things in life, like spending time with her family and friends, reading, HBO, Netflix and internet-stalking Stephen James. She reads between three to five books a week and firmly believes Crocs shoes and mullets should be outlawed.

Connect with LJ Shen:
Facebook | TwitterPinterestInstagram | Website | Newsletter


I've been eagerly waiting for this one!!!

What about you? Are you ready for Bane?

[Release Day Blitz] ARROGANT DEVIL by R. S. Grey


R.S. Grey's newest romantic comedy, ARROGANT DEVIL, is available now! Find out more about it below and pick up your copy today!



  About ARROGANT DEVIL

Everyone in Cedar Creek, Texas, knows Jack McNight is an arrogant devil. Physically, I get it: he’s tan and fit, with coal-black hair that’s clearly been scorched by hellfire. Oh, and his personality? It burns just as hot.

When I show up on the doorstep of Blue Stone Ranch, I’m run-down and rockin’ my last pair of underwear. I’m hoping for a savior, but instead, I find him.

My opinion of Jack is marred by a dismal first impression, but his opinion of me is tainted even before I arrive. He’s heard I’m a spoiled princess there to take advantage of his goodwill. To him, I’m more trouble than I’m worth.

Our button-pushing banter should get under my skin. His arrogance should be a major turn-off. Probli is, devils are known to offer their own form of tiptation.

Every one of his steely glares sends a shiver down my spine.

Every steamy encounter leaves me reeling.

Sure, it could be the Texas heat messing with my head, but there’s no way I’ll survive the summer without silencing him with a kiss and wrestling him out of those Wranglers.

Who knows…going to bed with the devil might just be the salvation I’ve been looking for all along.

Add ARROGANT DEVIL to your Goodreads list here!
Get your hands on ARROGANT DEVIL now:

About R.S. Grey

R.S. Grey is the USA Today bestselling author of thirteen novels, including THE FOXE & THE HOUND. She lives in Texas with her husband and two dogs, and can be found reading, binge-watching reality TV, or practicing yoga! Visit her at rsgrey.com



I love R.S. Grey's rom-coms! She's hilarious and her books are so sweet!

Have you read any of her books?
Are you planning to read Arrogant Devil?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

[Blog Tour #Review, #Excerpt + #Giveaway] MY OXFORD YEAR by Julia Whelan

I'm super excited to be a part of the blog tour for Julia Whelan's MY OXFORD YEAR! I've been a fan of Julia's audiobook work for quite a while now, and once I read the description for MY OXFORD YEAR, I was extremely excited to read her debut...sneak peek for my review from below: it did not disappoint! ;)

I have a fully loaded post to share with you all today, so let's get straight to it! 

Scroll on down for my review, then read an excerpt from chapter one of the book, and keep going to enter to win a giveaway for a paperback copy of MY OXFORD YEAR (US/Canada only, sorry!!!)! 


Source: Received an egalley through Edelweiss.
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date: April 24, 2018
Number of Pages: 352 (Paperback)

ABOUT MY OXFORD YEAR

Major Motion Picture Already in Development with Temple Hill Entertainment

Set amidst the breathtaking beauty of Oxford, this sparkling debut novel tells the unforgettable story about a determined young woman eager to make her mark in the world and the handsome man who introduces her to an incredible love that will irrevocably alter her future—perfect for fans of JoJo Moyes and Nicholas Sparks.

American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day.

When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret.

Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for.



BUY LINKS for MY OXFORD YEAR:
ABOUT JULIA WHELAN

Julia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator. She graduated with a degree in English and creative writing from Middlebury College and Oxford University. While she was in England, her flirtation with tea blossomed into a full-blown love affair, culminating in her eventual certification as a tea master.

Connect with Julia

REVIEW

Wow!!! This book shattered me and put me back together and just seriously messed with all of my feelings! I loved it! I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was extremely excited going into My Oxford Year. I’m a sucker for a fish-out-of-water story and I’m a huge fan of books set in England...let me tell you that this one completely delivered and then some! I was expecting this to be lighter than it was, but I definitely wasn’t disappointed with what it ended up being. It actually kind of blew me away!

First, the characters were wonderful! I loved Ella, and all of the other characters were amazing too! Jamie...gah, sooooo dreamy, and Ella’s friends: Maggie, Charlie, and Tom, were all fabulous! Ella was dedicated, determined, sassy, but also a bit ruthless, too. I really admired her, and I loved seeing how her time at Oxford changed her. I also just loved every single moment of interaction between her and all of the other characters, no matter how small, from Hugh in the lobby of her lodging, to Simon at the chippy shop, to all of her friends and most of all, to Jamie! I adored Jamie....sooooo much. Dude had me swooning from the first time his posh prat face appeared on the page. :P

And the story...holy heartstrings Batman! My Oxford Year sucked me in and then sucker punched me. I feel like that one girl in Mean Girls who says that Regina George punched her in the face and then said that it was awesome. That’s definitely me right now. I loved where this story ended up and I loved the journey that took me there. And I really loved how poetry and English literature wove throughout the story. It was moving and well done. It made me remember how much I loved studying the English language during my undergrad as an English major...and it made me want to pick up some poetry books...if only I could just as easily find a swoon-worthy Brit to read me poetry, too. ;)


Overall, I absolutely loved My Oxford Year! I loved that I went in expecting one thing and ended up with something else entirely...it made me relate to Ella even better than I could have hoped. Just as she ended up loving her time in Oxford, despite it not being what she expected to experience, I also loved my time with My Oxford Year! I wholeheartedly recommend this book! If you love stories that make you laugh, swoon, cry, and feel a whole influx emotions, then this book is definitely for you!

 

EXCERPT

CHAPTER 1

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad – Robert Browning, 1845

   “Next!”

   The customs agent beckons the person in front of me and I approach the big red line, absently toeing the curling tape, resting my hand on the gleaming pipe railing. No adjustable ropes at Heathrow, apparently; these lines must always be long if they require permanent demarcation. 

   My phone rings. I glance down. I don’t know the number. 

   “Hello?” I answer.

   “Is this Eleanor Durran?”

   “Yes?”

   “This is Gavin Brookdale.”

   My first thought is that this is a prank call. Gavin Brookdale just stepped down as White House Chief of Staff. He’s run every major political campaign of the last 20 years. He’s a legend. He’s my idol. He’s calling me? 

   “Hello?”

   “Sorry, I-I’m here,” I stammer. “I’m just –”

   “Have you heard of Janet Wilkes?” 

   Have I heard of – Janet Wilkes is the junior senator from Florida and a dark horse candidate for President. She’s 45, lost her husband twelve years ago in Afghanistan, raised three kids on a teacher’s salary while somehow putting herself through law school, and then ran the most impressive grassroots senatorial campaign I’ve ever seen. She also has the hottest human-rights-attorney boyfriend I’ve ever seen, but that’s beside the point. She’s a Gold Star wife who’s a progressive firebrand on social issues. We’ve never seen anyone like her on the national stage before. The first debate isn’t for another two weeks, on October 13, but voters seem to love her: she’s polling third in a field of twelve. Candidate Number Two is not long for the race; a Case of the Jilted Mistress(es). Number One, however, happens to be the current Vice-President, George Hillerson, who Gavin Brookdale (if the Washington gossip mill is accurate) loathes. Still, even the notoriously mercurial Brookdale wouldn’t back a losing horse like Wilkes just to spite the presumptive nominee. If nothing else, Gavin Brookdale likes to win. “Of course I’ve heard of her.”

   “She read your piece in The Atlantic. We both did. ‘The Art of Education and the Death of the Thinking American Electorate.’ We were impressed.”

   “Thank you,” I gush. “It was something I felt was missing from the discourse –”

   “What you wrote was a philosophy. It wasn’t a policy.”

   This brings me up short. “I understand why you’d think that, but I –” 

   “Don’t worry, I know you have the policy chops. I know you won Ohio for Janey Bennett. The 138th for Carl Moseley. You’re a talented young lady, Eleanor.”

   “Mr. Brookdale –”

   “Call me Gavin.”

   “Then call me Ella. No one calls me Eleanor.”

   “Alright, Ella, would you like to be the education consultant for Wilkes’ campaign?”

   Silence.

   “Hello?”

   “Yes!” I bleat. “Yes, of course! She’s incredible –” 

   “Great. Come down to my office today and we’ll read you in.”

   All the breath leaves my body. I can’t seem to get it back. “So… here’s the thing. I-I’m in England.”

   “Fine, when you get back.”

   “… I get back in June.”

   Silence.
   “Are you consulting over there?”

   “No, I have a… I got a Rhodes and I’m doing a –”

   Gavin chortles. “I was a Rhodie.”

   “I know, Sir.”

   “Gavin.”

   “Gavin.”
   “What are you studying?”

   “English Language and Literature 1830 to 1914.”

   Beat. “Why?”

   “Because I want to?” Why does it come out as a question?

   “You don’t need it. Getting the Rhodes is what matters. Doing it is meaningless, especially in Literature from 1830 to 19-whatever. The only reason you wanted it was to help you get that life-changing political job, right? Well, I’m giving that to you. So come home and let’s get down to business.” 

   “Next!” 

   A customs agent – stone-faced, turbaned, impressive beard – waves me forward. I take one step over the line, but hold a finger up to him. He’s not even looking at me. “Gavin, can I call –”

   “She’s going to be the nominee, Ella. It’s going to be the fight of my life and I need all hands – including yours – on deck, but we’re going to do it.”

   He’s delusional. But, my God, what if he’s right? A shiver of excitement snakes through me. “Gavin –”

   “Listen, I’ve always backed the winning candidate, but I have never backed someone who I 
personally, deeply, wanted to win.” 

   “Miss?” Now the customs agent looks at me. 

   Gavin chuckles at my silence. “I don’t want to have to convince you, if you don’t feel –”

    “I can work from here.” Before he can argue, I continue, “I will make myself available at all hours. I will make Wilkes my priority.” Behind me, a bloated, red-faced businessman reeking of gin, moves to squeeze around me. I head him off, grabbing the railing, saying into the phone, “I had two jobs in college while volunteering in field offices and coordinating multiple city council runs. I worked two winning congressional campaigns last year while helping to shape the education budget for Ohio. I can certainly consult for you while reading books and writing about them occasionally.”

   “Miss!” the customs agent barks. “Hang up the phone or step aside.” I hold my finger up higher (as if visibility is the problem) and widen my stance over the line.

   “What’s your date certain for coming home?” Gavin asks.

   “June 11th. I already have a ticket. Seat 32A.”

   “Miss!” The customs agent and the man bark at me.

   I look down at the red line between my sprawled feet. “Gavin, I’m straddling the North Atlantic right now. I literally have one foot in England and one in America and if I don’t hang up they’ll –”

   “I’ll call you back.”

   He disconnects. 

   What does that mean? What do I do? Numbly, I hurry to the immigration window, coming face to face with the dour agent. I adopt my best beauty-pageant smile and speak in the chagrined, gee-whiz tone I know he expects. “I am so sorry, Sir, my sincerest apologies. My Mom’s –”

   “Passport.” He’s back to not looking at me. I’m getting the passive-aggressive treatment now. I hand over my brand new passport with the crisp, un-stamped pages. “Purpose of visit?” 

   “Study.”

   “For how long will you be in the country?”

   I pause. I glance down at the dark, unhelpful screen of my phone. “I… I don’t know.”

   Now he looks up at me.

   “A year,” I say. Screw it. “An academic year.”

   “Where?”

   “Oxford.” Saying the word out loud cuts through everything else. My smile becomes genuine. He asks me more questions, and I suppose I answer, but all I can think is: 

   I’m here. This is actually happening. Everything has come together according to plan. 

   He stamps my passport, hands it back, lifts his hand to the line.

   “Next!”

#

   When I was thirteen I read an article in Seventeen Magazine called, “My Once in a Lifetime Experience,” and it was a personal account of an American girl’s year abroad at Oxford. The classes, the students, the parks, the pubs, even the chip shop (“pictured, bottom left”) seemed like another world. Like slipping through a wormhole into a universe where things were ordered and people were dignified and the buildings were older than my entire country. I suppose thirteen is an important age in every girl’s life, but for me, growing up in the middle of nowhere, with a family that had fallen apart? I needed something to hold onto. I needed inspiration. I needed hope. The girl who wrote the article had been transformed. Oxford had unlocked her life and I was convinced that it would be the key to mine.

   So I made a plan: get to Oxford.

   After going through more customs checkpoints, I follow signs for The Central Bus Terminal and find an automatic ticket kiosk. The “£” sign before the amount looks so much better, more civilized, more historical than the American dollar sign, which always seems overly suggestive to me. Like it should be flashing in sequential neon lights above a strip club. $ - $ - $. Girls! Girls! Girls! 

   The kiosk’s screen asks me if I want a discounted return ticket (I assume that means round trip), and I pause. My flight back to Washington is on June 11th, barely sixteen hours after the official end of Trinity term. I have no plans to return to the states before then, instead staying here over the two long vacations (in December and March) and traveling. In fact, I already have my December itinerary all planned. I purchase the return ticket, then cross to a bench to wait for the next bus.

   My phone dings and I look down. An email from The Rhodes Foundation reminding me about the orientation tomorrow morning. 

   For whatever reason, out of all the academic scholarships in the world, most people seem to have heard of The Rhodes. It’s not the only prestigious scholarship to be had, but it’s the one that I wanted. Every year, America sends 32 of its most overachieving, uber-competitive, social-climbing, do-gooder nerds to Oxford. It’s mostly associated with geniuses, power-players, global leaders. Let me demystify this: to get a Rhodes, you have to be slightly unhinged. You have to have a stellar GPA, excel in multiple courses of study, be socially entrepreneurial, charity-minded, and athletically proficient (though the last time I did anything remotely athletic I knocked out Jimmy Brighton’s front tooth with a foul ball, so take that tenet with a grain of salt). I could have gone after other scholarships. There’s the Marshal, the Fulbright, the Watson, but the Rhodies are my people. They’re the planners.

   The other finalist selected from my district (a Math/Econ/Classics triple-major and Olympic archer who had discovered that applying Game Theory to negotiations with known terrorists makes the intel 147% more reliable) told me, “I’ve been working toward getting a Rhodes since Freshman year.” To which I replied, “Me, too.” He clarified, “Of high school.” To which I replied, “Me, too.”

   While, yes, the Rhodes is a golden ticket to Oxford, it’s also a built-in network and the means to my political future. It ensures that people who would have otherwise discounted me – this unconnected girl from the soybean fields of Ohio – will take a second, serious look. People like Gavin Brookdale.
Going after things the way I do, being who I am, has alienated my entire hometown and most of my extended family. My mom hadn’t gone to college and my dad had dropped out after two years because he’d thought it was more important to change the world than learn about it, and there I was, this achievement machine making everyone around it vaguely uncomfortable. She thinks she’s better than everyone else.

   Honestly, I don’t. But I do think I’m better than what everyone, besides my dad, told me I was. 

#

   I wake up in a moment of panic when the bus I’d boarded back at Heathrow jerks to a stop, sending the book on my lap to the floor. Hastily retrieving it, I force my sleepy eyes to take in the view from the floor-to-ceiling window in front of me. I chose the seat on the upper level at the very front, wanting to devour every bit of English countryside on the way to Oxford. Then I slept through it. 

   Pushing through the fog in my head, I peer outside. A dingy bus stop in front of a generic cell phone store. I look for a street sign, trying to get my bearings. My info packet from the college said to get off at the Queens Lane stop on High Street. This can’t be it. I glance behind me and no one on the bus is moving to get off, so I settle back into my seat. 

   The bus starts up again, and I breathe deeply, trying to wake up. I jam the book into my backpack. I’d wanted to finish it before my first class tomorrow, but I can’t focus. I was too excited to eat or sleep on the plane. My empty stomach and all-nighter is catching up to me. The time difference is catching up to me. The last twelve years spent striving for this moment is catching up to me. 

   Inside my jacket pocket, my phone vibrates. I pull it out and see the same number from earlier. I take a deep breath and preemptively answer, “Gavin, listen, I was thinking, let’s do a trial period of, say, a month, and if you feel that I need to be there –”

   “Not necessary."

   My throat tightens. “Please, just give me thirty days to prove that –”

   “It’s fine. I made it work. Just remember who comes first.”

   Elation breaks through the fog. My fist clenches in victory and my smile reaches all the way to my temples. “Absolutely,” I say in my most professional voice. “Thank you so much for this opportunity. You won’t be disappointed.”

   “I know that. That’s why I hired you. What’s your fee? FYI: there’s no money.”

   There’s never any money. I tell him my fee anyway and we settle on something that I can live with. The Rhodes is paying my tuition and lodging and I get a small stipend for living expenses on top of that. I decide right then that what Gavin’s going to pay me will go directly into my travel budget. 

   “Now, go,” he says, “Have fun. You’ve clearly earned it. There’s a pub you should visit in the center of town. The Turf. See where one of your fellow Rhodes Scholars – a young William Jefferson Clinton – ‘didn’t’ inhale.”

   “Ha, got it. Will do.”

   “Just take your phone with you. Your phone is an appendage, not an accessory. Okay?”

   I nod even though he can’t see me. “Okay. It’s a plan.” Just as I say this, the bus rounds a bend and there she is:

   Oxford.
   Beyond a picturesque bridge, the narrow two-lane road continues into a bustling main street, lined on each side by buildings with a hodge-podge of architectural styles, no room to breathe between them. Like the crowd at the finish line of a marathon, these buildings cheer me on, welcoming me to their city. Some are topped with sloped, slate roofs, others with battlements. Some of the larger buildings have huge wooden gates that look as if they were carved in place, a fusion of timeless wood and stone that steals my breath. Maybe those doors lead to some of the 38 individual Oxford colleges? Imagining it, dreaming of it all these years, doesn’t do it justice.

   I look skyward. Punctuating the horizon are the tips of other ancient buildings, high-points of stone bordering the city like beacons. 

   “The City of Dreaming Spires,” I murmur to myself.

   “Indeed it is,” Gavin says in my ear. I’d forgotten he was still on the line.

   That’s what they call Oxford. A title well deserved. Because that means, before it was my dream or Seventeen Magazine girl’s dream, it was someone else’s dream as well.


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Ella is a huge fan of plans. She's always planning, but the plan that sets this story in motion is one that she made when she was just a girl. When she was 13, Ella made a plan to go to Oxford and it became her dream, have you ever had a big dream like that?

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