Monday, July 31, 2023

Release Blitz: Excerpt from Enemies in Earnest by Willow Sanders


by Willow Sanders
Acacia has hated Edwin ever since ‘the incident’ four years ago, but when stormy weather threatens both their businesses, they realize a farewell to arms may be the best way to avoid a dangerous summer. Readers who love the Man of the Month Club will devour Enemies in Earnest by Willow Sanders, a steamy, small town, forced proximity, enemies-to-lovers romance.
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Acacia Ashley has one love: the written word. Specifically the rich, earthy, prose of Mr. Ernest Hemingway. Her love for Hemingway goes so deep that she opened a bar in his honor. Every year in July she plays host to Hemingway Days in Candy Cane Key, and every year she has to stay on guard in case Edwin Wheeler decides once again to find a way to ruin the solemnity of the occasion.

Edwin Wheeler doesn't care about books or old men, but the sea? The sea is where he spends his days in search of the almighty dollar. But when he grows bored of plying tourists with fruity drinks, he’s often found needling the resident bookworm, Acacia. She's hated him ever since the incident four years ago. Why does getting a rise out of her give him a bit of a rise as well?

When the bell tolls signaling approaching stormy weather that threatens both of their businesses, the pair realizes a farewell to arms may be the best way to avoid a dangerous summer.
Copyright 2023 Willow Sanders
It was much easier to ruminate over one’s nemesis when he wasn’t ten feet away. The other problem? The way he doted on and cared for his mother was literally catnip. Lady Kitty catnip, not like, for Six- toed Joe. The second his mom shivered, he was there with her cardigan. She coughed, he had her water at the ready. He repeated what MariJo’s nephew and niece said, but louder and in the direction of her good ear, without making it obvious he did it for her benefit.  How could someone who was such an asshole be so sweetly attentive to his mother? It didn’t compute.
“What if we served a buffet of Hemingway-inspired appetizers?” Asher asked, his bushy eyebrows the only thing I could make out over the clipboard he referenced.
“Now wouldn’t that be a hoot?” Edwin flipped a fifty onto the counter. “I’m sure no one in the history of Hemingway-inspired bars, restaurants, parties, or events has ever thought to offer a little canape dipped in literary puns.”
Asher lifted an eyebrow in his direction as if to ask me is he for real? Unfortunately, yes, he was. The two of us had a War and Peace length conversation in silent eye rolls and quirks of lip before Asher heaved a dramatic sigh and placed his clipboard on the counter.
“I believe it was the great Oscar Wilde who said sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.”
 Edwin nabbed a cherry from my garnish center, shrugging in Asher’s direction. God, he was ridiculous. He never took his eyes off me, even though the shrug was directed at Asher. Did he want me to chastise him for stealing a cherry? Because of the list of things I could chastise the man over, being a cherry stealer was low on the list.
“What can I do for you Edwin?”
I tried to be as subtle as I could, affixing the plastic top to the tray of garnish. It was a place of business after all. Sanitation was important. Certainly, no one wanted his grubby, work-roughened fingers anywhere near their drinks.
“Now there’s a statement heavy with possibility.”
Edwin Wheeler did not get to do funny things to my nervous system. No ma’am. The way his voice went soft and gravely did not affect the steady, reliable thrum of my pulse. And his tipped lip or the mischievous glint in his eyes did not make my face feel hot. I’d rather succumb to food poisoning from bad fish than have him be the reason I felt flushed and a little woozy.
“Did your mom call up your cousin and ask him to come for a playdate? That was so considerate of her. This way you have someone who is obligated to tolerate your company every day while your boat’s boo-boos get all patched up.”
At that moment, the sexy version of Santa Claus, also known as Edwin’s cousin, took a seat next to him at the bar and regarded me.
“How’s that champagne coming along?” he asked his cousin.
“This here’s Klaus.” Edwin cocked his head.
“Bottle or glasses?” I asked, ignoring the flirty challenge in Edwin’s eyes. “The bottle is probably the better choice as you’ll get four glasses out of it for thirty dollars versus four glasses of champagne at nine fifty a piece which would be thirty-eight, before tax.”
Edwin’s eyes flit to the fifty he had sitting in front of him and back up to look at me. Though that didn’t really answer the question. Regardless of which he chose, the fifty covered it and then some.
He didn’t get to win. It was my bar. If I were a petty person, I’d pour four glasses and charge him the per-glass rate. If he wanted to play Mr. Unaffected, James Dean cool, and answer me in smirks and eyebrow lifts instead of words, fine. I’d show him.
About Willow Sanders
A marketer by day, and author by night, Willow Sanders is a best-selling author of sweet with heat Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense. She loves to write spunky, take no shit women, and understanding men with a strong side of sarcasm and an extra helping of BDE. When not writing you can find her torn between her loyalty to the Fighting Illini and her husband’s loyalty to Michigan State, bemoaning traffic, feeding her caffeine addiction, and trying to find the connection between her and the Gilmore Girls–because she is certain she is a long-lost family member.
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Sunday, July 30, 2023

July Mini Musings (4 Mini Reviews)

The Ghost Hunter:  I was loving this short story up until the ending.  I hated the ending. There was a great creep atmosphere and suspense.  It was a fun read, but the ending ruined it for me.  While it was a twist, it was a cheesy twist.  At least it was short.

Summer Share
:  This is a short story that involves Emily who spends the summer with 6 housemates ahs has not me.  It's a way to relax and get ready for college.  I thought this one was just OK.  It was so obvious who was responsible for everything that was happening. There was little suspense and just annoying teenagers.

Shielding the Baby
:  This is the first book in  the Pacific Northwest K-9 unit series.  All of the stories can be read as stand alones, but they have a few interwoven mysteries that span the series.  This one introduces the unit and is Danica and Luke's story.  I enjoyed this one.  I did like that it wasn't insta-love really.  I also liked the twist in the end.  A good start to the series.

Scent of truth
: This is the second book in the Pacific Northwest K-9 Unit series.  I thought this one was pretty enjoyable.  The twist was a bit far-fetched.  So you have to suspend a bit of disbelief.  I would recommend it however.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Blog Tour: Review & Excerpt from Deadly Depths by John F Dobbyn

Deadly Depths by John F Dobbyn Banner

Deadly Depths

by John F Dobbyn

July 24 - August 18, 2023 Virtual Book Tour


Deadly Depths by John F Dobbyn

The death by bizarre means of his mentor, Professor Barrington Holmes, draws Mathew Shane into the quest of five archeologists, known to each other as "The Monkey's Paws", for an obscure object of unprecedented historic and financial value. The suspected murders of others of the Monkey's Paws follow their pursuit of five clues found in a packet of five ancient parchments. Shane's commitment to disprove the police theory of suicide by Professor Holmes carries him to the steamy bayous of New Orleans, the backstreets of Montreal, the sunken wreck of a pirate vessel off Barbados, and the city of Maroon descendants of escaped slaves in Jamaica. By weaving a thread from the sacrificial rites of the Aztec kingdom before the Spanish conquest of Mexico through the African beliefs of Jamaican Maroons and finally to the ventures of Captain Henry Morgan during the Golden Era of Piracy in his conquest and sacking of Spanish cities on the Spanish Main, Shane reaches a conclusion he could never have anticipated.

Praise for Deadly Depths:

"Deadly Depths gives readers characters they care about and gets hearts pumping as the mystery and adventure unfold!"
~ Janet Hutchings, Editor, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

"Deadly Depths is an exciting mystery novel that asks who has the right to seek and exploit lost treasures."
~ Foreword Reviews

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Crime Thriller
Published by: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: August 2023
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 9781608095483 (ISBN10: 1608095487)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads | Oceanview Publishing

My Thoughts:

    Deadly Depths is an adventure story involving law professor Matthew Shane.  When his friend and mentor dies under mysterious circumstances, a cryptic note sends him on a journey to figure out what happened.  I thought this was a solid adventure.  It's a bit out of my comfort zone, but I just let go and went along for the ride. I loved the various locations that the adventure took Matthew to.  There is also a little romance thrown in for your enjoyment.  I do recommend this one.  

Read an excerpt:

We arrived at an area of private docks in a town called Oistins. The driver stopped at the base of a wharf that anchored power boats of every size, speed, and description. One power yacht stood out as the choice of the fleet. The Sun Catcher. My guide hustled us both directly to the carpeted gangplank that led on board a vessel that could pass for a floating Ritz Carlton.

The engines were already revving. I was escorted to a padded deck-lounge with maximum view on the foredeck. I had scarcely settled in, when we were slicing through late-afternoon sea-swells that barely caused a rise and fall.

My guide, still in suit and tie, brought me, without either of us asking, a tall, cool, planter’s punch with an ample kick of Mount Gay Rum. For the first moment since Mick O’Flynn told me that someone was asking for me, I made a fully-considered decision. This entire fantasy could easily turn into a disaster that could outstrip New Orleans and Montreal together, but to hell with it. It was just too elating not to accept it at face value – at least for the moment.

My mind was just settling into a comfortable neutral, when I heard footsteps from behind that had more heft than I imagined my guide could produce. I made a move to swing out of the padded deck-chair, when I felt the touch of a hand with authoritative strength on my shoulder. The voice that went with it had the same commanding undertone.

“Stay where you are, Michael. I’ll join you.”

A matching deck-chair was set beside me. I found myself looking up at a shadow against the setting sun that appeared double my bulk and yet compact as an Olympic hammer-thrower. The voice came again. “You’re an interesting study, Michael. I may call you ‘Michael’, right? I should. I probably know more about you than anyone you know. You might have guessed that by now.”

An open hand reached down out of the shadow. I took it. The handshake fit the shaker. It took some seconds for the feeling to come back into mine.

Before I could answer, the voice was coming from the deck-lounge beside me. “No need for coy name games. You know that I’m Wayne Barnes. And you know that I’m one of the, shall we say, associates in that little clique we call the Monkey’s Paws. In fact, your escort here, Emile, tells me it was the mention of my name that swung your decision to get on that plane.”

He nodded to my nearly empty Planter’s Punch. “Another?”

Before I could answer, he gave a slight nod to someone behind us. Before I could say “Yes”, or possibly, but less likely, “No”, a native Bajan in a server’s uniform was at my left taking my empty and handing me a full glass.
I was three good sips into the second glass before I said my first word since coming aboard. I looked over at Wayne. I seemed to have his full focus. His engaging smile seemed to carry a full message of relaxed hospitality, and none of the threatening undercurrents I was scanning for. “You have an interesting way of delivering an invitation, Mr. Barnes”

He raised a hand. “Wayne.”

“’Wayne’ it is. You must have an interesting social life.”

“I do. Do you find it offensive?”

I looked over the bow, past the deepening blue crystal water to the reddening horizon. I felt the soothing caress of the slightly salted ocean breeze. I took one more sip of the most perfectly balanced planters punch of a lifetime, and looked back at Wayne. “Not in the slightest. Yet.”

“Ah yes, ‘yet’.”

“Right. I’m sure this won’t impress you, Wayne, and it’s not a complaint, but I’ve had a week full of enough tragedy to fill a lifetime. Hence the ‘yet’.”

His smile and focused attention remained. “I know more about your week, perhaps, than even you do. But go on.”

The second planter’s punch was having a definitely mollifying effect. “I have no idea what you mean by that last statement, Wayne, so I’ll just pass on. Given that week, and the abrupt transport from hell on earth to . . . paradise on earth, I’d have to be Mrs. Shane’s backward child not to listen for a second shoe to drop.”

The smile expanded. Still no alarms. “Or perhaps you’ve come into a sea-change of good luck, Michael. Why not go with that?”

“Why not indeed? For the moment. Just one question. ”

“Alright. One question. For now. Make it a good one.”

“Oh it is. It’s a beaut. Ecstatic as I am with all this, why the hell am I here?”

That brought a bursting laugh. “I think I’m going to enjoy having you around for a couple of days, Michael. You have an instinct for the jugular. No chipping around the edges. We won’t waste each other’s time.”

“Thank you. But that’s not an answer.”

“No it isn’t.” He looked out to the diminishing sunset. “The only answer I can give you at the moment that would do justice to the question is this. And you’ll just have to live with it for now. You’re here for a quick but depthful education. I think you’ll find it well worth two days of your life. Are you in?”

“Do I have a choice?”

We both looked back at the rapidly diminishing shore-line behind us. “None that comes to mind. Now are you in?”

That brought a smile from me, another healthy sip of the planter’s punch, and a deep breath of the ocean-fresh breeze. “I’m in.”

We chatted through the sunset on far-ranging subjects that had no association whatever with Monkeys Paws, Maroons, murder-suicides - in fact nothing that gave a clue as to why my gracious host had chosen my company over the undoubtedly vast range of his acquaintances. By then, the moon had risen.

At some point, I was aware that the engines had stopped. The splash of two anchors could be heard on either side. The sun had set. The shift from twilight to a darkness, penetrated only by a quarter moon went unnoticed.

I was slowly sipping away at my third or possibly fourth Planter’s Punch, when I became aware of a bobbing light approaching from the port side. Without interrupting the flow of conversation, I noticed that Wayne was following its approach with more than the occasional glance until it reached the side of the yacht.

Within a few minutes, my original guide, still in suit and tie, approached Wayne’s side with an inaudible whisper. I sensed that a bit of steel crept into Wayne’s otherwise conversational tone. “I’ll see him.”

I began to get up to provide privacy. Wayne held my arm in position. “Stay, Michael. Let your education begin.” My guide nodded to someone behind us and lit his path with a small flashlight.

I settled back, as a fiftyish man with narrow, cautious eyes and thinning grey hair that might have last been combed by his mother came up along Wayne’s right side. The loose wrinkles in his ageless cotton suit indicated that he might have been close to six feet, but for a constant stoop as if to pass under an unseen beam. The stoop caused his head to bob and gave him the look of one asking for royal permission to approach.

Wayne’s eyes turned to him. I noticed the stoop of the back became more noticeable. Wayne’s voice was calm and soft, but it commanded his visitor’s full attention. “Do you have it? I assume you wouldn’t be here without it, yes, Yusuf?”

The thin mouth cracked into a smile that conveyed no humor. “Of course. Of course. But perhaps our business . . .”

Wayne nodded toward me. “No fear. Mr. Shayne is here for an education. We shouldn’t deprive him of that, should we?”

The smile on the man’s lips did not match the apprehension in the tiny eyes, but he nodded. “As you say.”

“Then what are you waiting for?”

The man gave a slight glance to either side as if it were the habit of a lifetime. He reached into some deep pocket inside his suitcoat. I noticed a slight but tell-tale hesitation before he slipped out what appeared to be a hard, flat, roundish object, about seven inches across. It was wrapped in several layers of ragged cloth.

He held it until Wayne extended a hand and took it onto his lap. He laid it on the small tray on his stomach. He looked back at the man, who simply forced a smile .

“I assume it all went well?”

“Oh yes, Mr. Barnes. No problems,”

Wayne smiled back. “How I do love to hear those words.”

My eyes were glued to Wayne’s hands as he carefully peeled back one layer of cloth after another. When he turned over the last layer, the object in the shape of a disc sent out instant glints of reflections of the rising moonlight.

I could see Wayne running the tips of his fingers over the entire jagged surface of the disc. He took a flip cigarette lighter out of his pocket, opened it, and lit the flame. When he held it close to the object, I could make out the resemblance of a human face, coarsely pieced together from chips of green stone.

Wayne held it up toward me and ran the flame in front of it.

“Do you recognize it Michael?”

“I’m afraid not.”

He nodded. “Most wouldn’t. Your friend, Professor Holmes, would spot it immediately. The Mayans made death masks to protect their important rulers in their journey to the afterlife. They go back to around 700 A.D.”
“What stones are these? They look like jade.”

“Good spotting. The eyes were made of rare seashells.”

“And I assume valuable?”

He laughed again. “Right to the crux of the issue. Right, Michael.”

He turned the object over and ran his fingers over the back side of it. “One that apparently goes back as far as this, and belonged to the ruler we have in mind, the right collector will pay half a million. Isn’t that right, Yusuf?”

Yusuf’s grin was beginning to become genuine. “Oh yes. Oh yes. And more, as you would know, Mr. Barnes.”

Wayne swung his legs over the deck-lounge toward me. He sat up and very carefully replaced the wrapping that had covered the mask. He stood up and walked toward the man. “And the key to its value is that it is absolutely authentic.”

Wayne looked down at the grinning eyes of Yusuf for several seconds. I think I let out a yell that came from the pit of my stomach when Wayne hurled the wrapped object over side of the yacht, into the pitch blackness that absorbed it with barely a splash.

I thought that the man would crumble to the deck. He barely held his balance. In the blackness of the night, I couldn’t make out his features, but I know to a certainty that every drop of blood left his face.

Wayne called a uniformed attendant.

Before the man moved, Wayne took hold of his arm. I was almost as frozen to the spot as the man. I think we were both certain that he would be following the object into the blackness below.

Wayne held him close enough to speak directly into his ear, but spoke loudly enough, I’m sure, so that I could hear.

“It’s a fake, Yusuf. I’m sure you know that. But you’ll live to do me a service. You’re a delivery boy. Nothing more. I want you to take a message back to Istanbul. I want you to say just this. ‘You had my trust. I give it sparingly, and not twice. Rest assured, we’ll speak of this again.’ Do you have that Yusuf?”

The man had all he could do to nod.

Wayne signaled his attendant. “Take him back.”

The man was escorted, practically carried toward the back of the vessel. In a few minutes, I could see running lights heading away from the yacht.

Wayne sat back down. “What do you think, Michael? One more Planter’s Punch before dinner?”

I could only smile at the abrupt change of tone and subject.

“No? Then shall we go in to dinner. The chef should be prepared by now.”

When he stood up, I saw that he took something from under his deck-lounge. My mouth sprung open when a glint of light from an opening door of the yacht cabin lit up the death mask. I could see amusement in the smile of my host.

“What on earth did you throw overboard?”

“Oh that. I substituted my lap tray in the wrapping for the desk mask. I’ll keep the mask.”

“But if it’s a fake.”

“It is, but a fake by a well-respected forger of these antiquities. It has enough value for that reason alone to pay the expenses I’ve already incurred in acquiring it. Shall we go to dinner?”


Excerpt from Deadly Depths by John F Dobbyn. Copyright 2023 by John F Dobbyn. Reproduced with permission from John F Dobbyn. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:

John F Dobbyn

Following graduation from Boston Latin School and Harvard College with a major in Latin and Linguistics, three years on active duty as fighter intercept director in the United States Air Force, graduation from Boston College Law School, three years of practice in civil and criminal trial work, and graduation from Harvard Law School with a Master of Laws degree, I began a career as a Professor of Law at Villanova Law School. Twenty-five years ago I began writing mystery/thriller fiction. I have so far had twenty-five short stories published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery magazine, and six mystery thriller novels, the Michael Knight/Lex Devlin series, published by Oceanview Publishing. The second novel, Frame Up, was selected as Foreword Review's Book of the Year.

Catch Up With John F Dobbyn:
BookBub - @JohnFDobbyn
Instagram - #JohnFDobbyn
Twitter - @JohnDobbyn
Facebook - @JohnFDobbynAuthor



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Thursday, July 27, 2023

Review: Only If You Dare by Josh Allen

Author: Josh Allen
Publisher:  Tantor Media
Publication Date: October 2022

Thirteen chilling short stories to keep you up at night--but only if you dare. You never know what's out to get you. Though you might think you're safe from monsters and menaces, everyday objects can turn against you, too. A mysterious microwave. A threatening board game. A snowman that refuses to melt. Even your own heartbeat has its secrets. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. When you stop to listen, each beat sounds more menacing than the last. Master storyteller Josh Allen brings thirteen nightmare scenarios to life in this must-listen collection that's perfect for budding horror junkies. In his wondrous world, danger waits behind every doorway . . . even in the most ordinary places. Listeners will sleep with one eye open!

Only if You dare is a collection of 13 short stories that are perfect for the middle school reader. I really enjoyed listening to this one.  I would have absolutely devoured this collection when I was in middle school.  Every story was just creepy and disturbing enough some someone who is just starting to get into horror.  I was really impressed with the balance of the stories being just a little step above Goosebumps, but not so over the top that they would scare a young reader who is trying out horror.
 My favorites ones were "The Substitute", "Scrabbled", and "My Right Hand, Right There".  There is something in here for every reader.  Most of them have modern issues that kids might have fears about.  I highly recommend this one.  It would be a wonderful addition to any classroom library.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Review: Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson

Author: Rick Emerson
Publisher: BenBella Books
Publication Date: July 2022

In 1971, Go Ask Alice reinvented the young adult genre with a blistering portrayal of sex, psychosis, and teenage self-destruction. The supposed diary of a middle-class addict, Go Ask Alice terrified adults and cemented LSD's fearsome reputation, fueling support for the War on Drugs. Five million copies later, Go Ask Alice remains a divisive bestseller, outraging censors and earning new fans, all of them drawn by the book's mythic premise: A Real Diary, by Anonymous.

But Alice was only the beginning.

In 1979, another diary rattled the culture, setting the stage for a national meltdown. The posthumous memoir of an alleged teenage Satanist, Jay's Journal merged with a frightening new crisis—adolescent suicide—to create a literal witch hunt, shattering countless lives and poisoning whole communities.

In reality, Go Ask Alice and Jay's Journal came from the same dark place: Beatrice Sparks, a serial con artist who betrayed a grieving family, stole a dead boy's memory, and lied her way to the National Book Awards.

Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries is a true story of contagious deception. It stretches from Hollywood to Quantico, and passes through a tiny patch of Utah nicknamed "the fraud capital of America." It's the story of a doomed romance and a vengeful celebrity. Of a lazy press and a public mob. Of two suicidal teenagers, and their exploitation by a literary vampire.

Unmask Alice . . . where truth is stranger than nonfiction.

Unmask Alice is a look into the real story behind the books, Go Ask Alice and Jay's Journal.  I know these books were a really big when they came out and have always been on the summer reading lists.  Both books are supposed to be real life diaries of a couple of teenagers.  One deals with dug addiction and the other teen suicide and depression.

I will admit, I never read either of these books.  I just never had the desire as neither of the subject matters interested me enough when I was in high school.  I did enjoy this book though.  I hadn't realized until I picked it up that there was even a controversy.  What Beatrice Sparks did, especially to the parents of the real "Jay" is just wrong and I'm glad this has been exposed.  I also had a bit of nostalgia because I lived through the Satanic Panic era and did read books like "Michelle Remembers".  What a crazy and sad time that was.  I definitely would recommend this one.  It was engaging and I learned a lot.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Review: Last Rites by Sharon Sala

Author: Sharon Sala
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: July 2023

There's nothing a community won't do to protect its own...

Shirley Wallace and her four sons return to her childhood home on Pope Mountain in Jubilee, Kentucky, with a lifetime of hardship behind them, hoping to find peace and begin their lives anew. Eldest brother Aaron Pope returns to his life as a police officer, and is settling in just fine. Then Aaron's investigation into an attempted murder leads him right to Dani Owens. She may hold the key to a long-lost part of the Pope family's past, and more importantly, she may hold the key to Aaron's heart.

Last Rites is the second book in the Jubilee, Kentucky series.  The series follows the Pope family.  This one is mostly Aaron and Dani's story.  Dani has moved to Jubilee to get a fresh start.  Aaron and his family have finally come home to live among their kin and start a new life as well.  

I was so looking forward to this one.  I had enjoyed the first book and that mystery. So, I thought I 'd love this one.  Sadly, it really fell short of my expectations.  The book felt very unfocused to me and was all over the place.  There were too many points of view and story-lines.  There was a romance, but that was just kind of meh.  There was no suspense.  The two potential mysteries were easily solved and wrapped up just over halfway through the book.  The danger that Dani could have been in never really surfaced. The way her attacker was caught was kind of laughable and ridiculous.    The only thing I did like was the hunt for Meg and how her story was wrapped up.  That was bitter sweet.  So in all this one was a miss for me. Hopefully the next visit to Jubilee will be more focused and suspenseful.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Review: Whispers at Dusk by Heather Graham

Author: Heather Graham
Publisher:  MIRA
Publication Date: June 2023

When darkness falls, there’s nowhere to hide.

Four bodies have been discovered along Europe’s riverbanks, placed with care—and completely drained of blood. Pinpricks on their throats indicate a slender murder weapon, but DNA found in the wounds suggests something far more sinister. Tasked with investigating, the FBI recruits Agents Della Hamilton and Mason Carter to Blackbird, an international offshoot of the Krewe of Hunters. If you want to catch a vampire killer, you need agents who can speak with the dead.

The pair travel to Norway, where the shadowy forests of Lillehammer reveal a gruesome scene. The killer is thirsty for more victims, and the bloodless trail soon leads Della and Mason to a group that believes drinking blood is the key to immortality. To catch the culprit of such an intimate crime, the agents will have to get close. Mason’s already lost one partner; he’s not ready to risk Della as bait. But sometimes justice requires a sacrifice…

Whispers at Dusk is the first book in the Blackbird Trilogy.  It is also the first in an off-shoot series about the Krewe of Hunters going international.  It works well as a stand alone, which was good for me since I am way behind on the Krewe series.  This trilogy focuses on the set up of Blackbird (the name of the group) and Della and Mason.  They are on the hunt for an international serial killer.

I thought this was a solid set-up for a newish series.  I liked the idea of the Krewe going outside of the US.  It's nice to change up long running series sometimes.  As for this over-all story, I did ultimately enjoy it.  I liked Della and Mason, although their romance was a bit too quick and easy for me.  I would have liked it to drag out a little longer before they hooked up. My biggest issue is all of the info dumping in the book.  There were pages and pages of history lessons about each area they went to.  It really slowed the story down for me.    I won't say this the best I have read by this author, but it's worth trying out. 

Friday, July 21, 2023

Spotlight: Coming Home to the Cottage by the Sea by Rebecca Alexander

Author: Rebecca Alexander
Publisher: Bookouture
Publication Date: 

As Olivia watches the island grow larger on the horizon, she wonders if returning to this place was the right decision…
When Olivia Elliott decides to spend the summer on the remote Morwen Island where she grew up, she can’t help but wonder if returning home is a good idea. After all, she still remembers the heartbreak she left behind on those shores many years ago.

Back on the island, Olivia soon adjusts to life as an islander and rents a cottage for the summer. But, before long, she runs into her first love, Jory Trethewey, a handsome local boatbuilder who never left the remote community. And despite the fact she can still recall their painful breakup, Olivia finds she now can’t stop thinking about him…

When Jory offers to help Olivia fix up the cottage, the two begin to spend more time together. And as they renovate, they realise the house has its own secrets and they decide to put the past behind them and investigate its history.

Soon they uncover a story dating back to the Second World War, of a wounded airman who came to this island to hide from the world, and of the woman who fell in love with him, and risked everything to be with him…

As Olivia tries to find out what happened to the young woman and her airman, she finds herself frustrated by the lack of answers. What became of their story? Did risking everything for love work out for them? And, if it did, should she follow in the lovers’ footsteps, and finally trust her heart?

A totally heartbreaking and unputdownable read, perfect for fans of gripping family dramas, and for those who enjoy the novels of Debbie Macomber, Fiona Valpy and Nancy Thayer.


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About the author

Rebecca Alexander was born in Malta and grew up on the south coast of England, becoming a psychologist. She escaped parenting six children to study writing in 2011, and the Secrets series of novels was published in 2013. A Baby’s Bones and sequel followed. Rebecca lives in a haunted 300-year-old cottage in Devon where she grows fruit, paints, and bakes. She reads and writes all sorts of genres, from women’s fiction to fantasy to crime. She is married with four chickens, two grandchildren and a cat. 

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Thursday, July 20, 2023

Review: Lying in the Deep by Diana Urban

Author: Diana Urban
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: May 2023

A juicy mystery of jealousy, love, and betrayal set on a Semester at Sea-inspired cruise ship, with a diverse cast of delightfully suspicious characters who’ll leave you guessing with every jaw-dropping twist.

After being jilted by her ex-boyfriend and best friend, Jade couldn't be more ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime—11 countries in 4 months, all from the luxurious Campus on Board ship—and to wedge an entire globe between her and the people who broke her heart.

But when Jade discovers the backstabbing couple are also setting sail, her obsession with them grows and festers, leading to a shocking murder. And as their friends begin to drop like flies, Jade and her new crush must race to clear her name and find the killer they’re trapped at sea with….before anyone else winds up in body bags.

Lying in the Deep is a closed room mystery.  Taking place on a cruise ship, Jade becomes the main suspect after her ex-best friend is presumed to being murdered and thrown over the side of the ship.  While she tries to clear her name, she learns that a lot of people on board have secrets and she may be too late to save herself.

I wanted to love this one.  I did ultimately enjoy it, but it wasn't as good as I was hoping.  I did call one of the twists, but didn't see the ending coming.  So, I liked that aspect.  My main issue with the book was I felt like I was reading about a bunch of high schoolers.  Not juniors and seniors in college.  Every character came across as very immature.  That really reduced my enjoyment of the book.  I also wasn't a huge fan of the ending.  I needed more follow-up.  Maybe an epilogue.  I'll still recommend it.  It was an entertaining read, just not as good as I was hoping.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Review: The Only Survivor by Megan Miranda

Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Marysue Rucci Books
Publication Date:  April 2023

Seven hours in the past. Seven days in the present. Seven survivors remaining. Who would you save?

A decade ago, two vans filled with high school seniors on a school service trip crashed into a Tennessee ravine—a tragedy that claimed the lives of multiple classmates and teachers. The nine students who managed to escape the river that night were irrevocably changed. A year later, after one of the survivors dies by suicide on the anniversary of the crash, the rest of them make a pact: to come together each year to commemorate that terrible night.

To keep one another safe.
To hold one another accountable.
Or both.

Their annual meeting place, a house on the Outer Banks, has long been a refuge. But by the tenth anniversary, Cassidy Bent has worked to distance herself from the tragedy and from the other survivors. She’s changed her mobile number. She’s blocked the others’ email addresses. This year, she is determined to finally break ties once and for all. But on the day of the reunion, she receives a text with an obituary attached: another survivor is gone. Now they are seven—and Cassidy finds herself hurling back toward the group, wild with grief—and suspicion.

Almost immediately, something feels off this year. Cassidy is the first to notice when Amaya, the annual organizer, slips away, overwhelmed. This wouldn’t raise alarm except for the impending storm. Suddenly, they’re facing the threat of closed roads and surging waters…again. Then Amaya stops responding to her phone. After all they’ve been through, she wouldn’t willfully make them worry. Would she?

And—as they promised long ago—each survivor will do whatever he or she can do to save one another. Won’t they

The Only Survivors is a thriller involving 7 survivors.  Years before, seven teens were the only survivors of a tragic accident.  Every year they get together to remember those who were lost.  This year, Cassidy has had enough of that and wants to move on.  She reluctantly goes to the reunion.  But things quickly turn out to be more than she bargained for.

I really enjoyed this one right up until the ending.  I wasn't s fan of that.  It's definitely a story that you are better off not knowing much about.  It goes between the present and years before on the day of the accident.  Those parts are told through each survivor's point of view.  I did like how the author chose to tell the story  this way.  It kept up the suspense.  I was surprised at  the reveals.  I just didn't love the ending.  Still , I do recommend giving it a try.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Spotlight: Excerpt from Women of the Post by Joshunda Sanders


Joshunda Sanders
On Sale Date: July 18, 2023
Trade Paperback
$18.99 USD
368 pages


For fans of A League of Their Own, a debut historical novel that gives voice to the pioneering Black women of the of the Six Triple Eight Battalion who made history by sorting over one million pieces of mail overseas for the US Army.
Inspired by true events, Women of the Post brings to life the heroines who proudly served in the all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps in WWII, finding purpose in their mission and lifelong friendship.
1944, New York City. Judy Washington is tired of having to work at the Bronx Slave Market, cleaning white women’s houses for next to nothing. She dreams of a bigger life, but with her husband fighting overseas, it’s up to her and her mother to earn enough for food and rent. When she’s recruited to join the Women’s Army Corps—offering a steady paycheck and the chance to see the world—Judy jumps at the opportunity.
During training, Judy becomes fast friends with the other women in her unit—Stacy, Bernadette and Mary Alyce—who all come from different cities and circumstances. Under Second Officer Charity Adams's leadership, they receive orders to sort over one million pieces of mail in England, becoming the only unit of Black women to serve overseas during WWII.
The women work diligently, knowing that they're reuniting soldiers with their loved ones through their letters. However, their work becomes personal when Mary Alyce discovers a backlogged letter addressed to Judy. Told through the alternating perspectives of Judy, Charity and Mary Alyce, Women of the Post is an unforgettable story of perseverance, female friendship and self-discovery.

Enjoy this sneak peek!



From Judy to The Crisis

Thursday, 14 April 1944

Dear Ms. Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke,

My name is Judy Washington, and I am one of the women you write about in your work on the Bronx Slave Market over on Simpson Street. My husband, Herbert, is serving in the war, so busy it has been months since I heard word from him. It is the fight of his life—of our lives—to defend our country and maybe it will show white people that we can also belong to and defend this place. We built it too, after all. It is as much our country to defend as anyone else’s.

All I thought was really missing from your articles was a fix for us, us meaning Negro women. We are still in the shadow of the Great Depression now, but the war has made it so that some girls have been picked up by unions, in factories and such. Maybe you could ask the mayor or somebody to set us up with different work. Something that pays and helps our boys/men overseas, but doesn’t keep us sweating over pails of steaming laundry for thirty cents an hour or less. Seems like everyone but the Negro woman has found a way to contribute to the war and also put food on the table. It’s hard not to feel left behind or overlooked.

Thank you for telling the truth about the lives we have to live now, even if it is hard to see. Eventually, I pray, we will have a different story to tell. My mother always says she brought us up here to lay our burdens down, not to pick up new ones. But somehow, even if we don’t go to war, we still have battles to fight just to live with a little dignity.

I’ve gone on too long now. Thank you for your service.


Judy Washington

Since the men went to war, there was never enough of anything for Judy and her mother, Margaret, which is how they came to be free Negro women relegated to one of the dozens of so-called slave markets for domestic workers in New York City. For about two years now, her husband, Herbert, had been overseas. He was one half of a twin, her best friend from high school, and her first and only love, if you could call it that.

Judy had moved with her parents from the overcrowded Harlem tenements to the South Bronx midway through her sophomore year of high school. She was an only child. Her father, James, doted on her in part because he and Margaret had tried and tried when they were back home in the South for a baby, but Judy was the only one who made it, stayed alive. He treasured her, called her a miracle. Margaret would cut her eyes at him, complain that he was making her soft.

The warmth Judy felt at home was in stark contrast to the way she felt at school, where she often sat alone during lunch. When they were called upon in classes to work in groups of two or three, she excused herself and asked for the wooden bathroom pass, so that she often worked alone instead of facing the humiliation of not being chosen.

She had not grown up with friends nor had Margaret, so it almost felt normal to live mostly inside herself this way. There were girls from the block who looked at her with what she read as pity. “Nice skirt,” one would say, almost reluctantly.

“Thanks,” she’d say, a little shy to be noticed. “Mother made it.”

Small talk was more painful than silence. How had the other Negro girls managed to move with such ease here, after living almost exclusively with other Negroes down in Harlem? Someone up here was as likely to have a brogue accent as a Spanish one. She didn’t mind the mingling of the races, it was just new: a shock to the system, both in the streets she walked to go to school and to the market but also in the halls of Morris High School.

Judy had been eating an apple, her back pressed against the cafeteria wall when she saw Herbert. He was long faced with a square jaw and round, black W.E.B. Du Bois glasses.

“That’s all you’re having for lunch, it’s no wonder you’re so slim,” he said, like he was continuing a conversation they had been having for a while. Rich coming from him, with his lanky gait, his knobby knees pressing against his slacks.

A pile of assorted foods rose from his blue tray, tantalizing her. A sandwich thick with meat and cheese and lettuce, potato chips off to the side, a sweating bottle of Coke beside that. For years, they had all lived so lean that it had become a shock to suddenly see some people making up for lost time with their food. Judy finished chewing her apple and gathered her skirt closer to her. “You offering to share your lunch with me?”

Herbert gave her a slight smile. “Surely you didn’t think all this was for me?”

They were fast friends after that. It was easy for her to make room for a man who looked at her without pity. There had always been room in her life for someone like him: one who saw, who comforted, who provided. Her father, James, grumbled disapproval when Herbert asked to court, but Herbert came with sunflowers and his father’s moonshine.

“What kind of man do you take me for?” James asked, eyeing Herbert’s neat, slim tie and sniffing sharply to inhale the obnoxious musk of too much aftershave.

“A man who wants his daughter to be loved completely,” Herbert said. “The way that I love her.”

Their courting began. Judy had no other offers and didn’t want any. That they had James’s blessing before he died from a heart attack and just as they were getting ready to graduate from high school only softened the blow of his loss a little. As demure and to herself as she usually was, burying her father turned Judy more inward than Herbert expected. In his death, she seemed to retreat into herself the way that she had been when he approached her that lunch hour. To draw her out, to bring her back, he proposed marriage.

She balked. “Can I belong to someone else?” Judy asked Margaret, telling her that Herbert asked for her hand. “I hardly feel like I belong to myself.”

“This is what women do,” Margaret said immediately.

The ceremony was small, with a reception that hummed with nosy neighbors stopping over to bring slim envelopes of money to gift to the bride and her mother. The older Negro women in the neighborhood, who wore the same faded floral housedresses as Margaret except for today, when she put one of her two special dresses—a radiant sky blue that made her amber eyes look surrounded in gold light—visited her without much to say, just dollar bills folded in their pockets, slipped into her grateful hands. They were not exactly her friends; she worked too much to allow herself leisure. But some of them were widows, too. Like her, they had survived much to stand proudly on special days like this.

They settled into the plans they made for their life together. He joined the reserves and, in the meantime, became a Pullman porter. Judy began work as a seamstress at the local dry cleaner. Whatever money they didn’t have, they could make up with rent parties until the babies came.

Now all of that was on hold, her life suspended by the announcement at the movies that the US was now at war. The news was hard enough to process, but Herbert’s status in the reserves meant that this was his time to exit. She braced herself when he stood up to leave the theater and report for duty, kissing her goodbye with a rushed press of his mouth to her forehead.

Judy and Margaret had been left to fend for themselves. There had been some money from Herbert in the first year, but then his letters—and the money—slowed to a halt. Judy and Margaret received some relief from the city, but Judy thought it an ironic word to use, since a few dollars to stretch and apply to food and rent was not anything like a relief. It meant she was always on edge, doing what needed doing to keep them from freezing to death or joining the tent cities down along the river.

Her hours at the dry cleaner were cut, so she and Margaret reluctantly joined what an article in The Crisis described as the “paper bag brigade” at the Bronx Slave Market. The market was made up of Negro women, faces heavy for want of sleep. They made their way to the corners and storefronts before dawn, rain or shine, carrying thick brown paper bags filled with gloves, assorted used work clothes to change into, rolled over themselves and softened with age in their hands. A few of them were lucky enough to have a roll with butter, in the unlikely event of a lunch break.

Judy and Margaret stood for hours if the boxes or milk crates were occupied, while they waited for cars to approach. White women drivers looked them over and called out to their demands: wash my windows and linens and curtains. Clean my kitchen. A dollar for the day, maybe two, plus carfare.

The lists were always longer than the day. The rate was always offensively low. Margaret had been on the market for longer than Judy; she knew how to negotiate. Judy did not want to barter her time. She resented being an object for sale.

“You can’t start too low, even when you’re new,” Margaret warned Judy when her daughter joined her at Simpson Avenue and 170th Street. “Aim higher first. They’ll get you to some low amount anyhow. But it’s always going to be more than what you’re offered.”

Everything about the Bronx Slave Market, this congregation of Negro women looking for low-paying cleaning work, was a futile negotiation. An open-air free-for-all, where white women in gleaming Buicks and Fords felt just fine offering pennies on the hour for several hours of hard labor. Sometimes the work was so much, the women ended up spending the night, only to wake up in the morning and be asked to do more work—this time for free.

Judy and Margaret could not afford to work for free. Six days a week, in biting winter cold that made their knees numb or sweltering heat rising from the pavement baking the arches of their feet, they wandered to the same spot. After these painful experiences, day after day all week, Judy and Margaret gathered at the kitchen table on Sundays after church to count up the change that could cover some of the gas and a little of the rent. It was due in two days, and they were two dollars short. Unless they could make a dollar each, they would not make rent.

Rent was sometimes hard to come up with, even when James was alive, but when he died, their income became even more unreliable. They didn’t even have money enough for a decent funeral. He was buried in a pine box in the Hart Island potter’s field. James was the only love of Margaret’s life, and still, when he was gone, all she said to Judy was, “There’s still so much to do.”

Judy’s deepest wish for Margaret was for her to rest and enjoy a few small pleasures. What she overheard between her parents as a child were snippets and pieces of painful memories. Negroes lynched over rumors. Girls taken by men to do whatever they wanted. “We don’t need a lot,” she heard Margaret say once, “just enough to leave this place and start over.”

Margaret’s family, like James’s, had only known the South. Some had survived the end of slavery by some miracle, but the Reconstruction era was a different kind of terror. Margaret was the eldest of five children, James was the middle child of eight. A younger sibling left for Harlem first, and sent letters glowing about how free she felt in the north. So, even once Margaret convinced James they needed to take Judy someplace like that, it felt to Judy that she always had her family in the South and the way they had to work to survive on her mind.

Judy fantasized about rest for herself and for her mother. How nice it would be to plan a day centered around tea, folding their own napkins, ironing a treasured store-bought dress for a night out. A day when she could stand up straight, like a flower basking in the sun, instead of hunched over work.

Other people noticed that they worked harder and more than they should as women, as human beings. Judy thought Margaret maybe didn’t realize another way to be was possible. So she tried to talk about the Bronx Slave Market article in The Crisis with her mother. Margaret refused to read a word or even hear about it. “No need reading about my life in no papers,” she said.

Refusing to know how they were being exploited didn’t keep it from being a problem. But once Judy knew, she couldn’t keep herself from wanting more. Maybe that was why Margaret didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t want to want more than what was in front of her.

Herbert’s companionship had fed her this kind of ambition and hope. His warm laughter, the way she could depend on him to talk her into hooky once in a while, to crash a rowdy rent party and dance until the sun came up, even if it got her grounded and lectured, was—especially when James died—the only escape hatch she could find from the box her mother was determined to fit her future inside. So, when Herbert surprised her at a little traveling show in Saint Mary’s Park, down on one knee with his grandmother’s plain wedding band, she only hesitated inside when she said yes. It wasn’t the time to try and explain that there was something in her yawning open, looking for something else, but maybe she could find that something with Herbert. Her mother told her to stop wasting her time dreaming and to settle down.

At least marrying her high school buddy meant she could move on from under Margaret’s constant, disapproving gaze. They had been saving up for new digs when Herbert was drafted—but now that was all put on hold.

The dream had been delicious while it felt like it was coming true. Judy and Herbert were both outsiders, insiders within their universe of two. Herbert was the only rule follower in a bustling house full of lawbreaking men and boys; Judy, the only child of a shocked widow who found her purpose in bone-tiring work. Poverty pressed in on them from every corner of the Bronx, and neither Judy nor Herbert felt they belonged there. But they did belong to each other, and that wasn’t nothing.

Excerpted from Women of the Post by Joshunda Sanders, Copyright © 2023 by Joshunda Sanders. Published by Park Row Books. 


Joshunda Sanders is an award-winning author, journalist and speechwriter. A former Obama Administration political appointee, her fiction, essays and poetry have appeared in dozens of anthologies. She has been awarded residencies and fellowships at Hedgebrook, Lambda Literary, The Key West Literary Seminars and the Martha's Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing. Women of the Post is her first novel.
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