BY: BETHANY RAMOS

Danielle thinks that the worst is behind her, but she couldn’t have been more wrong…

As a beauty editor of Denver’s hot new High Life magazine, Danielle Starkey didn’t have becoming a widow on her to-do list. Then nine months after her husband’s death, she discovers he booked a vacation with another woman. Suddenly, Danielle sees Adam’s death in a whole new light and has to get over it – for the second time.

Hit with the truth when she least expects it, Danielle brings a fresh, funny, and honest approach to the grieving process as she struggles through online dating, stalking her dead husband’s mistress, and, hopefully, finding the man of her dreams. With her stubborn and sassy best friend April by her side. Danielle refuses to let sleeping dogs lie. Will she finally face the truth about herself and her marriage? Or will she succumb to one of the five stages of grief?

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: 5 Stages of Grief—sounds like a self-help book, right? Wrong. Think Chick Lit, surprisingly good Chick Lit. I say surprisingly because I had no idea from the title I’d be so impressed with the story. Bethany Ramos has littered her tale with the kind of feisty and sassy humor that had me laughing aloud and thinking of same situations in my own life. Yep, she hooked me with that humor, held me right up until the last page. Danielle is twenty nine, widowed and just getting her emotional sea legs back on the road to recovery when she stumbles upon a bombshell. That devoted, loving husband she’d been mourning for the past nine months had in fact been cheating on her, and with a perky blond, no less. Since he’s no longer around to try to explain his actions and get the ass kicking he so richly deserves, Danielle has to process this new found grief as best she can—hence the title of this story.

5 Stages of Grief portrays Danielle’s journey with more than smart humor. There’s some pathos, self-reflection, a generous dose of scheming from our plucky heroine, that will have you in fits of laughter, and a hilarious look at the perils of on-line dating. Bethany Ramos has excelled in her debut novel with a fresh style that makes her characters engaging and vulnerable. The reader wants Danielle to be happy, to find her peace, and above all, have a successful date! Grab yourself a glass of your favorite liquid refreshment, a box of sinful chocolate, and curl up somewhere comfy for a delightful read.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Normally I don’t read Chick Lit. It’s just not my genre. I’m more in to action and suspense than Women’s Fiction or Chick Lit, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled when asked to review 5 Stages of Grief by Bethany Ramos. In fact, the title alone gave me pause. My first thought, oh please, this isn’t going to be one of those long drawn out midlife crisis novels, is it? However, to my surprise, and delight, I thoroughly enjoyed 5 Stages of Grief. The main character Danielle, is 29 not 49, which was a relief, so right off the bat I knew it wasn’t midlife crisis. Instead, it’s about a woman who discovers nine months after her husband’s death that he was a lying, cheating SOB. Danielle is charming, funny, and very down to earth. I liked her humor and the realistic way she viewed things. I also liked the hilarious look into the world of online dating. I’ve never tried it, but Ramos gives us some delightful insights on what it must be like to do so. I know I certainly look at eHarmony commercials differently now.

Ramos has a fresh and interesting voice. This is her debut novel, and while she still has a bit to learn about writing, for the most part the book is well written and definitely worth taking time to read.

PROLOGUE

“Ma’am, this is a suicide hotline. We can’t give you advice on how to kill yourself.”

“If you don’t tell me, I’m just going to Google it.”

I wasn’t really sure why I said that. I’d never known myself to be the irrational, making-wild-threats, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of gal. Still, desperate times called for desperate measures, or however that saying goes.

“I was simply asking how many pills a person needs to take to kill themselves,” I continued. “I didn’t necessarily say that I was going to be the one doing it.”

Also not true. But again, I was desperate. I wasn’t sure why I thought I could trick the Suicide Hotline operator into telling me the best way to off myself. She was obviously a professional. But I figured anything was worth a shot—especially since this whole ordeal was anonymous. The anonymity of the call charged me with a newfound boldness, probably classifying me as, “This crazy lady who called up the hotline today and asked me how to kill herself,” that the operator would tell her boyfriend about later over dinner. So be it.

“Ma’am, can I please have your first and last name?”

“No.” I absolutely loved this new, rebellious, anonymous version of myself.

“Ma’am, unless you give me your first and last name, I’m afraid we can’t continue on with this phone call.”

Shit. I tried to think of a totally anonymous name off of the top of my head. “Heidi Klum.” Ah! What a horrible fake name! That’s what I got for watching hours on end of Project Runway.

“Ma’am, with all due respect, I don’t believe that is your actual name. So can you please tell me your first and last name?”

The Suicide Hotline operator sounded exasperated. I actually started to feel a bit of compassion for her. After all, she was wasting ten minutes of her precious evening trying to help an unreasonable caller like myself when she could actually have been helping someone much closer to death by their own hand.

The truth was that I wasn’t going to kill myself. I simply wanted to dabble with the idea as an option after the shocking/horrible/stomach-turning news I had recently received.

I promptly hung up on the patient, Suicide Hotline operator so she could progress to the more important callers of the evening—and maybe actually save someone’s life. That thought made me feel quite pleased with myself. For a moment, I almost believed I had done a good deed. Twisted thinking, yes, but I would take a pat on the back where I could get it.

I returned to my previous activity of watching—you guessed it—Project Runway, eating a bowl of tepid ramen, and placing mental bets on when the fish in my husband’s aquarium were going to die since I hadn’t fed them in a full week. I was thinking the angelfish would probably last another week without food, but all of the colorful guppies were looking positively green around the gills. I assumed that meant their numbers would be up soon.

I never used to be the type of person that would starve her pets and watch them suffer before her eyes. But again, shocking news will do strange things to a person.

This shocking news came in the form of discovering a secret about my husband, which was made all the worse because he was dead. Finding out this secret made me unspeakably angry—full of boiling rage I couldn’t do anything about because the person who did this to me was dead. And I’d been wasting my time grieving over him for the last nine months.

When your spouse dies unexpectedly, it is literally the worst thing you could ever imagine happening to you—especially since I’d only been married for three years. Three years is that magical-in-between time where you are just settling into the rhythms of your marriage, thinking about having a kid or two, and feeling pretty darn happy that you’d made it. You’d been able to create a solid relationship that looked like it would last well into the future.

So when death became a factor, it seemed like a horrible, cruel twist. Which could pretty much be summed up by every Lifetime movie ever created. I was such a sucker for that channel—pure addiction.

My husband passed away in a typically clichéd fashion. He was driving home on a rainy night, his car fishtailed, and he went into oncoming traffic and died instantly.

I could say this now with such clinical candor because I was over much of my sadness regarding the situation—simply because of the aforementioned secret that punched me in the stomach and made me start to hate the man. Of course, admitting that made me feel like a horrible person who starved her fish and watched them die—which I obviously was. It was also difficult to admit you hated your late husband when all of your friends, family, coworkers, and even dry cleaner had been showering you with sympathy because of your tragic loss.

So that left me in a bit of a pickle. Did I reveal the horrible secret I found out about the jerkoff and let everybody else hate him, too, or did I let his memory live on angelically and continue to receive false sympathy that was becoming more and more difficult to swallow?

I found out about this gut-wrenching secret roughly nine months after his death. I had just recently returned to work as the beauty editor for the hit Denver magazine High Life that had newly launched their online publication. This was the sweet, cushy job I’d always dreamed of, but I’d only been able to enjoy it for a mere six months before the husband-killing car accident occurred.

So basically, I got my awesome job as a beauty editor for a hip Denver magazine. I started enjoying my new position. My husband was killed. I was forced to take six more months off of work because I could barely leave the house, since I looked ghoulish from grief—to put it nicely. And when I felt I was finally ready to return to work—like a semi-normal human being who recently lost a spouse—BAM! I found out the secret that took my “grief” to a whole new level.

I had been back at work for about two months when I learned this secret. High Life was a newer, albeit highly successful, publication that started in Denver but soon had a national reach. High Life, true to its name, represented the typical outdoorsy, granola, nature-loving woman often found in the Mile High City. So all of our features, articles, and columns related to this natural, healthy, and independent career woman you might find walking about the streets of downtown Denver at any given time.

For some reason, this image appealed greatly to the entire country. Women everywhere were snatching this magazine off the racks to read more about the latest organic, fair trade, faux fur lined boots that were en vogue for the season, or to find a homemade beauty mask recipe made from organic yogurt, papaya, and honey that would revitalize tired and dry skin so that you instantly looked five years younger.

The job itself was fantastic—everything that I had been hoping to achieve after working in freelance PR for a lowly beauty supply store in south Denver for more than five years. I always felt like that crappy job was my steppingstone to something greater and much more fabulous, so I kept chugging along. Even when I had to create flyers advertising weekly specials for exclusive made-for-TV products like the Bump It or Smooth Away.

I was just starting to ease back into my role at the magazine. I had my own small but adequate office, which, for me, merited quite a celebration since I was used to being crammed into a long desk with four or five other PR reps who constantly chatted on the phone with anyone and everyone they knew with such fervor that I could hardly think straight.

My assistant buzzed my phone at ten a.m. I was expecting this since I had placed calls to a few popular beauty bloggers in the hopes they would review the beauty section of High Life to give it a little more Internet buzz as we proceeded to launch the online version of our magazine. Thinking that one of these said beauty bloggers was giving me a ring back, I jumped on the call right away.

“Hello. Danielle Starkey.”

Yes, I still had my husband’s name. I just wasn’t ready to face going back to my former Danielle Black just yet.

“Mrs. Starkey? This is Meredith calling from Classic Vacation Caribbean Travel regarding your recent reservations booked by a Mr. Adam Starkey. I’m afraid we have a little bit of a problem. We have reservations for two at the Grande Royal Antiguan Beach Resort for August first through August ninth, which was five days ago. We were concerned since the hotel alerted us that you never showed up for your vacation.”

I struggled to suppress the tears that immediately welled up in my eyes. “I think there must be a mistake. My husband never told me about a vacation he booked for us. Unfortunately, he…passed away, which is why we never went on that trip.”

Even though the mention of my husband’s name felt like a sharp poke into an open wound, I also felt a little bit of pleasure knowing he had booked a surprise vacation for both of us so far in advance. He was always the thoughtful type. This was just one more of his surprises I got to be reminded of after his death.

Meredith was clearly embarrassed and at a loss for words. “I am so sorry for your loss, Mrs. Starkey. We had a reservation here for Adam and Cherry Starkey, so I’ll try to see what I can do to get your deposit back for you since you missed the vacation altogether.”

“Sorry, that must be a mistake. My name is Danielle, so the reservation would have been under Adam and Danielle Starkey.”

Meredith hesitated. “No, it says right here that it was under the name Adam and Cherry Starkey. Mr. Starkey also faxed us copies of both of your passports, and the other traveler’s legal name is Cherry James. Is that correct?”

“Cherry? Like Cherry, not Sherry? Are you sure it’s not Danielle, or even Dani?” I asked lamely, although Dani and Cherry sounded nothing alike.

“Yes. Mrs. Cherry Starkey. Is that correct?”

I was simply stunned. Why would my husband book the wrong name for our surprise vacation? How could he make a mistake with his own wife’s name? And whose passport did he fax instead of mine? I wasn’t necessarily the brightest crayon in the box, but I wasn’t slow either. The only answer I had for why it took me so long to connect the dots was simply due to my overwhelming disbelief mixed with some residual grief. How could my husband stab me in the back from beyond the grave? It just didn’t make sense.

When I finally grasped the reality that my husband had booked a secret vacation with a mistress—who had a stupid, slutty, stripper name, I might add—I wrapped up the call with Meredith from Classic Vacation Caribbean Travel as quickly as possible.

“Thanks for the information, and if you could get the deposit back, that would be great. Oh, and can I ask how you got this number?” Since I wasn’t the “Cherry” in question booked on the vacation, I was wondering how Meredith had gotten ahold of me so quickly.

“Yes, we called the home number left by Mr. Starkey. The voicemail had your work number listed, so we called you here.”

Damn my overly-informational voicemail covering all the bases for me! “I see. Thank you.”

I slammed down the phone with both hands and immediately started puking the stomach acid that had risen up in my throat into the trashcan under my desk. I had always heard—and seen on Lifetime—that when women were faced with the truth of infidelities, they would cry, go into a rage, or cut all of the sleeves off of their husband’s nicest shirts.

I really thought that Mary J. Blige would have been playing in the background as I tossed all of my husband’s clothes into trash bags and threw them out onto the lawn for him to find when he got home from work.

Still, in my cheater-revenge fantasies, I had never thought about the fact that Adam would be dead and long gone, and I would have to find out about his mistress nine months after he passed away. I hadn’t seen a Lifetime movie that covered this scenario just yet and really was at a loss over what to do.