Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Review: Shattered Dreams by Christina Sol

Author: Christina Sol
Publisher: Sol Media LLC
Publication Date: February 2024

She's a small-town boutique owner. He's a world-famous former MMA champion. They're both wary of relationships, but the attraction between them is undeniable. When someone threatens the life he's built, everyone he loves becomes a target...

Fresh out of a messy divorce, Poppy Walker is determined to stay strong and grow her business, Rainy Day Boutique. But while her twin sons are thriving during their first year away at college, she’s all alone for the first time in years, fighting to hide the internal scars from her failed marriage. The last thing on her mind is dating…but a certain local celebrity athlete is determined to win her over.

Cade de la Rosa is riding high as one of the top mixed martial arts coaches in the world, and he’s more than happy to focus all his attention on his gym and fighters. His fame and fortune taught him the hard way that trust is a rare thing, so he’s avoided relationships for years, keeping his flings brief and casual. That’s why his endless fascination with the pretty and sassy boutique owner is the last thing he expects.

Drawn together by a series of perilous events, Poppy and Cade quickly go from acquaintances to friends. As their magnetic connection lures them closer and their chemistry proves explosive, an unseen enemy puts everything at risk. Will their relationship survive the danger? Or will it get cut short by the person who wants to destroy everything—and everyone—Cade holds dear?

Shattered Dreams is the third book in the Hudson Island series.  This one is Poppy and Cade's story.  It definitely can be read as a stand alone book.  I really enjoyed this one.  Cade and Poppy were so adorable.  I loved how Cade made Poppy feel beautiful and desired.  She really deserved to finally feel all of that.  I also loved how her twins interreacted with Cade and how protective they were of their mom.  It was very sweet.  The mystery and the action was pretty intense and it made me want to keep reading.  I am loving this series and I can't wait for the next book.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Review: The Hotel by Louise Mumford

Author: Louise Mumford
Publisher: HQ Digital
Publication Date: June 2023

 Four of them went to the hotel

Four students travel to Ravencliffe, an eerie abandoned hotel perched on steep cliffs on the Welsh coast. After a series of unexplained accidents, only three of them leave. The fourth, Leo, disappears, and is never seen again.

Only three of them came back

Ten years later, they return one last time

But as soon as they get to the hotel things start going wrong again. Objects mysteriously disappear and reappear. Accidents happen. And Bex realizes that her former friends know far more than they are letting on about the true events at Ravencliffe that night…

The Hotel ended up being an enjoyable thriller.   Mainly told through the eyes of Beth, as she returns to the remote island that houses The Ravencliffe Hotel.  Ten years before she and three friends went there to ghost hunt.  Only 3 of them came back.  Now, they are back and Beth is hoping to figure out what really happened that night.  

As I said, I really enjoyed this one.  I was left guessing and was surprised by the reveal at the end. The events of the past were laid out in just the right way to keep the suspense going until just the right time for the reveal. The best part about the story is the spooky atmosphere.  There is one scene in a tunnel toward the end that was outright creepy.  I thought the characters were compelling.  Each of them were affected so differently by that night. Having the story go between past and present enables the reader to really see how each of them changed. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll just say I do recommend this one.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Review: Wild for You by Kristen Proby

Author: Kristen Proby
Ampersand Publishing, Inc.
Publication date:  January 2024

Remington Wild is a single dad of two adorable kids, and as the oldest son of the Wild family, has recently taken over the Wild River Ranch from his father. Life is crazy, and he’s finally willing to admit that he needs help, and the sooner the better. He has no idea that the beautiful woman he sees every day at Bitterroot Valley Coffee Co. is the woman who would show up for the job.

Erin Montgomery couldn’t get out of Seattle fast enough. It’s not that she doesn’t love her big, loud family, but living in the big city just wasn’t for her. The minute she stepped foot in Bitterroot Valley, she knew she was home. She loves the slower pace, the friendly people, and her job at the coffee shop. Even the smoking hot grumpy guy who stops in every afternoon can’t put a damper on how much she loves small town life!

Thanks to car trouble, and her stubbornness when it comes to using her trust fund, Erin needs a second job and applies for the position of a part-time nanny. She’s surprised to find that it’s Grumpy himself who answers the door at the ranch, but Erin quickly learns that she loves his kids and the ranch, and it’s a no-brainer to take the job. She just has to remind herself to resist the sexy rancher and keep it strictly professional.

Remington is attracted to his younger nanny, and finds himself falling headfirst in love with her. He and his kids have never been happier, and he knows she is the perfect addition to their family for as long as she’s willing to stay. Hopefully forever.

But when secrets are exposed, one of which endangers his children, will their love survive? Or will it tear them apart?

Wild at Heart is the first book in the Wilds of Montana series.  This one is Remington and  Erin's story.  It's an age gap, single dad/nanny story. I'm definitely continuing my streak of good luck when it comes to romance.  I thought this book was really adorable.  I loved Remington and Erin together.  I loved watching them get to know each other. In fact, having the two main characters actually have full conversations in order to get to know each other was a very refreshing part of the book..  I feel like that is lacking in some stories.  The kids were adorable and really added to the story.  I also loved both of the extended families involved.  I can't wait for the siblings' stories. There is a bit of danger toward the end, but  I won't spoil it for you.  I highly recommend this one. 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Review: The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski

Author: Tara Laskowski
Publisher: Graydon House
Publication Date: December 2023

Every year, the illustrious Van Ness siblings—heirs to a copper fortune—gather at their luxury winery estate for a joint birthday celebration. It's a tradition they've followed nearly all their lives, and now they are back with their significant others for a much-needed weekend of rest and relaxation, away from the public spotlight.

With lavish comforts, gorgeous scenery, and indulgent drinking, the trip should be the perfect escape. But it soon becomes clear that even a remote idyllic getaway can’t keep out the problems simmering in each of their lives. As old tensions are reignited, the three couples are pushed to the edge. Will their secrets destroy them, or will they destroy each other first? And who’s been watching them from beyond the vineyard gates?

When a torrential rainstorm hits, plunging them into darkness, the answers prove all too deadly…

While I have had really good luck with romance so far in the year 2024, I don't seem to be having very good luck with thrillers.  The Weekend Retreat was not enjoyable. I probably should have DFN'd it, but for some reason, I wanted to see how it ended.  There was a twist, but it was glaringly obvious.  My biggest issue with this book was the lack of likable characters.  I always try to find someone to root for in a story, but there was literally know one that I cared about at all.  The mystery overall was disappointing, so I couldn't even overlook not liking anyone in the book.  The ending was really unbelievable and I hated it.  I'm disappointed because I liked her previous book, The Mother Next Door.  Maybe this is a one-off.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Review: Shadow of Death by Heather Graham

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

You can cut off the head of the snake, but another will emerge.

When two hikers go missing within a series of daunting caves outside of Denver, Colorado, FDLE special agent Amy Larson and her partner, FBI special agent Hunter Forrest, have good reason to suspect foul play. The pair of hikers are only the latest to vanish after a rash of disappearances that’s left local law enforcement stumped. But in searching the dank caverns near the Arkansas River, the agents aren’t prepared for the horror they uncover: a muddy pit littered with corpses. Covered in bite marks. Made by human teeth.

When a tiny toy horse is found on the scene, Amy and Hunter recognize the calling card. They’ll have to move quickly before the already sizable body count can grow. Their investigation soon draws them down the rabbit hole of a dangerous cult with a sinister mandate—one that involves human sacrifices. Anything to further their twisted cause. But when more people go missing, it becomes clear the cult’s reach extends beyond state lines, leading Amy and Hunter deep into the Florida Everglades to set a perilous trap, one that stands to risk everything they hold dear, including their lives.

Shadow of Death is the third book in the Amy Larson and Hunter Forrest FBI series.  This one picks up fairly soon after the second book.   When a pair of hikers go missing, the search is on.  One of them is found in a cave barely alive.  It also happens to be the scene of a mass body dumping site.  When another toy horse is found at the scene, Amy and Hunter know the killer they have been hunting is involved.

I'll be honest, I didn't really enjoy this one.  I found it unfocused with too many characters to keep straight.  I had a hard time keeping engaged with the audiobook and had to re-listen to parts a few times because I kept zoning out.  I found the story repetitive.  The romance boring.  The whole cult story line was weird and I'm still not sure how it fits into the serial killer arc.  The story also just kind of ended abruptly. The other thing that made this book really drag for me were the history lessons.  I know this author likes to add in history of the featured areas into her stories, but they just felt like info dumps here.  I didn't need to know any of the information for the story to really be enjoyable.  I would have preferred they not be included.  Despite this one being kind of "meh". I will finish out the quartet with the next book.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Spotlight: Excerpt from A Step Past Darkness by Vera Kurian


Vera Kurian
On Sale Date: February 20, 2024
$30.00 USD
Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological 
448 pages

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER meets Stephen King in this character-driven thriller about a study group of six teenagers who witness something tragic in an abandoned mine, which comes back to haunt them 20 years later.
There’s more to Wesley Falls than meets the eye, but for six high school students, it’s home.
Kelly, the new girl and rule-follower.
Maddy, the beauty and the church favorite.
Padma, the brains and all-A student.
Casey, the jock and football star.
James, the burnout and just trying to make it to graduation.
And Jia, the psychic, who can see the future.
When these six are assigned to work on a summer group project, their lives are forever changed. At an end of the year party in the abandoned mine, they witness a preventable tragedy, but no one will take them seriously. As things escalate, they realize the church, the police, and the town’s founders are all conspiring to cover up what happened. When James is targeted as the scapegoat, to avoid suspicion, they vow their silence and to never contact each other again. Their plan works – almost.
Twenty years later, Maddy is found murdered is Wesley Falls, and the remaining five are forced to confront their past and work together to finally put right what happened all those years ago. If they can survive…

Enjoy this sneak peek:


August 17, 2015

The mountain had existed long before there had been anyone around to name it, pushed up by the inevitable forces that made the Appalachian Range millions of years ago. Hulking, it stood with a peculiar formation at its apex, two peaks like a pair of horns, giving the mountain its eventual name of Devil’s Peak. The coal mine inside was abandoned long ago.

On the southern side of Devil’s Peak was the town of Wesley Falls, where there were no remnants of the mine except for the overgrown paths crisscrossing up to two entrances, ineffectually boarded up, partially hidden but available to anyone looking hard enough. Down the western side were the steeper paths, far more overgrown with vegetation, leading down to the abandoned town of Evansville. That side of the mountain and beyond grew strange because of the coal fire that had been burning underground for almost a century. The Bureau of Mines had managed to contain the fire to the western side of the mountain so that only Evansville suffered. Only Evansville had bouts of noxious gases, open cracks of brimstone in the roads, residents complaining of hot basements and well water. Over time they left town, leaving behind a ghost.

Unlike its unfortunate neighbor, Wesley Falls had avoided the mine fire and transitioned from a coal-mining town to something not unlike Pennsylvania suburbia. It was the sort of town where one of the billboards outside the Golden Praise megachurch proclaimed, “Wesley Falls: the BEST place to raise a family!” and most adults agreed with that assessment. The sort of place where the city council had voted against a bid to allow a McDonalds to open, arguing that it would “lead to the deterioration of the character of Wesley Falls.” This had less to do with concerns about childhood obesity or dense traffic than it did a desire to keep the town trapped in amber. The sort of town where the sheriff was the son of the previous sheriff. 

Jia Kwon, stepping off a train at the station some miles away from Wesley Falls, looked around the crowded station for that son—the sheriff—now in his thirties, though she had trouble picturing this. Sheriff Zachary Springsteen had an air of formality that she couldn’t match up with the image of the boy she knew from high school, whom everyone called Blub. He was an inoffensive, nondescript kid who delivered papers via his clackety bike, who then grew to be the generic teen who stood in the back row of yearbook pictures. She had always been friendly with him, but never quite friends, starting from when she had transferred from St. Francis to the Wesley Falls public school system and Blub sat next to her in homeroom.

Was the fact that she had chosen to keep in contact with this not-quite-friend after she moved away from Wesley Falls an accident? No—she knew that now. Blub had been the perfect person to report back town news over the years because he never suspected her interest was anything more than curiosity. Their exchanges over the years had been just enough for him to feel comfortable, or compelled enough, to make the phone call that had brought her here.

Jia paused to put her phone in her purse, pretending she did not notice any stares. No one looked twice at her in Philly, but here she stood out as the only Asian, drawing even more attention to herself because she had dyed her hair a shade of silvery gray with hints of lavender in it. It would only be worse when she got into town, but even as a kid she had been so used to being stared at that she just exaggerated her strangeness, opting for bright clothes rather than trying to blend in.

“Jia?” said an uncertain voice.

She turned her head and instantly recognized Blub, who stood with the gawky awkwardness of someone uncomfortable with his own height. “Blub!” she exclaimed, coming closer. She embraced him, her head only coming up to his midchest. “You’ve grown two feet!”

He shoved his hands into his pockets, smiling. “Want to ask me if I play basketball?” Their smiles felt hollow, she realized, because of the strangeness of the situation and everything they weren’t saying. “I appreciate you taking the time to come out here. I know you’re probably busy but…” He led her to his patrol car. “Sorry, you’ll have to ride in the back.”

“It’s no problem,” she murmured, surprised to see that he had brought someone along for the ride.

“This is Deputy Sheriff Henry,” Blub said, turning the car on. A smaller man whom she did not recognize half turned and nodded at her curtly, though Jia could see him looking at her in the rearview mirror as they pulled away from the station. What on earth had Blub told him?

That once, in one of their email exchanges, when he complained about having to repair his roof, she made a joke about which team to bet on for the Super Bowl, and he did, and she had been right? That she had one too many stock tips that turned out to be good? That she inexplicably sent him a “You okay?” email at 8:16 a.m. on September eleventh, thirty minutes before American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center? There had been enough incidents as strange as these that when he called her last year asking for help, it felt like something clicking into place. Something that was supposed to happen. Over the years, she had started to feel comfortable with that clicking feeling, rather than being afraid of it. Last winter he had called her saying that Jane Merrick was missing from the old-folks home—she was prone to running— and she was outside in the freezing weather in only a nightgown, and they were worried about her. He did not say why he was asking her, a person who hadn’t lived in Wesley Falls for two decades, a person who neither knew nor liked Jane Merrick. She told him to look in the barn on the Dandriges’ property without providing an explanation of how she knew. She knew because she saw it. She knew because sometimes she could call up things when she wanted to, though not all the time, but this was still significantly better than when she was a kid and she couldn’t control when the visions hit her, or stop them, or even understand them.

And now, in the peak of summer heat, he had called again, saying that there was a missing person, could she help, friends were worried. She did not ask who because she felt something like the deepest note on a double bass vibrating, reverberating through her body. She saw herself walking, her white maxi dress—the one she was wearing right now—catching on brambles as she maneuvered her way down the overgrown path to the ghost town.

She had to go back to Wesley Falls. It was time.

“You all went to school together?” Deputy Sheriff Henry said when they pulled onto the highway.

“Yeah,” she said. “We didn’t overlap with you, did we?” Henry shook his head. “Blub and I go way back,” she said, meeting Blub’s eyes in the rearview mirror.

“I’ll never get over the fact that people call you Blub,” Henry remarked. “How’d you get that name anyway? Were you chubby or something?”

“I don’t think there’s an origin story,” Blub said, looking like he wanted the subject to change.

“I remember!” Jia exclaimed. “It’s when you threw up in fourth grade.” She leaned forward, pressing against the grate that divided the car, addressing Henry directly. “It was during homeroom. He threw up on his pile of books. I remember because it was clear and ran down the sides like pancake syrup.”

Henry laughed and Blub flushed. “Jia, you can’t remember that because you weren’t there. You were at St. Francis in grade school!”

She stopped laughing abruptly. “I could have sworn I remember that happening!”

“Sometimes when enough people tell you a story, you start to remember it like you were there,” Henry mused.

Sometimes, Jia thought. But there were other people who could see things that had happened or would happen, even if they weren’t there.

As they drove down the highway and drew closer to Wesley Falls, the mood shifted to an anxious silence. Jia checked her phone for anything work related. She ran a small solar panel company called Green Solutions with her two best friends, both hyper-competent, both probably picking up on Jia’s strange tone when she said she had to go back home for a short trip. They probably thought that it had to do with the settling of her mother’s estate, and Jia, even though she was uncomfortable with lying, allowed them to believe this. When her mother had died, Jia had come to Wesley Falls to liquidate everything in The Gem Shop and sell the store itself to the least annoying bidder: a fifty-something-year-old former teacher who wanted to open a bakery. A significant part of the decision had been not that her baked items were good—they were—but something about her aggressive combinations of spices had seemed witchy, and, most importantly, she did not attend Golden Praise. Jia’s mother, Su-Jin, would have approved.

And now, with Blub turning off the highway, her heart felt torn in different directions. Wesley Falls wasn’t home, but it was, because it was where most of her memories of Su-Jin lived. As the car moved it felt as if they traveled through an invisible veil, something that felt uncomfortable in a way she could not put into words anyone else would understand, but was familiar and, she knew, strange. Strange like how she was strange.

But then it came: the feeling that arose every time she had gone home to visit her mother—the feeling that she shouldn’t be here. Except this time, it was worse. They had just arrived in Wesley Falls, passing Wiley’s Bar, which was on the outskirts of town. It was frequented by truckers stopping for a cheap burger and beer.

“That place is still here?” she murmured.

“They got karaoke now,” Blub offered.

“Please kill me,” Jia responded, trying to sound light. Blub laughed, then turned onto Throckmartin Lane. The street hadn’t changed in twenty years: it still housed Greenbriar Park, which everyone called “The Good Park,” and the larger homes where the wealthier families lived. Built before McMansions had hit this part of Pennsylvania, the houses differed in their architecture—some colonial, some farmhouse—but were all similar with their immaculate lawns, American flags, and WESLEY FALLS FOOTBALL signs.

Blub slowed to a stop, making eye contact with her in the rearview mirror. He was waiting for directions.

She gestured for him to turn onto Main Street, that old, curved road with the bottom half of the C drawn out like a jaw that had dropped wide open—it was impossible to drive anywhere in Wesley Falls without driving on Main Street at some point. They passed the police station, then the row of shops. Some of the mom-and-pop stores that lined Main Street had changed, but Wesley Falls still didn’t have a Target, a chain grocery store, or a reasonable place to buy clothes. Indeed, the best place to raise a family was apparently a place where you had to drive ten miles to the mall to get many of the things people wanted. She gazed at the bakery that used to be The Gem Shop. Spade’s Hardware was still there—her mother had had a grudging friendship with the owners. The candy shop had changed ownership but it was still a candy shop. They drove along the north side of town, by the lake and the Neskaseet River—called Chicken River by locals because of its proximity to and usage by the chicken processing plant at the north edge of town.

Wesley Falls and Evansville had both popped up in the 1800s, their economies at first built entirely around the Wesley coal mine, which resided inside Devil’s Peak. No matter how many times well-meaning adults attempted to close off the entrance of the mine, which had been abandoned in the 1930s when the coal ran out, high school kids always found their way in. Drawn to the allure of ghost stories, rumors that if you found the right path you could find the mine fire in Evansville, and the inevitable urban legends about the Heart.

Jia pointed and Blub turned onto the unpaved road that crossed the Neskaseet and wound up the side of Devil’s Peak to Evansville. From this elevation, she could see the entire tiny, abandoned town. The simple, squared-off eight shape of the town’s few roads, the dilapidated strip of larger buildings at the center, then the rectangles of homes, all identical because they had been provided by the mining company.

The road came to an end, trees and shrubbery blocking their passage. Blub put the car in Park, turning to face Jia. “Can’t drive farther.”

“Then we walk,” she said. She led the way, ignoring the looks from both men as she freed herself from prickly branches that caught onto her dress. Blub used his nightstick to whack away a tangle of vegetation, then Jia found a path that led down to the town.

It smelled like sulfur with a hint of cigar. Jia picked her way gingerly down the main road, which was buckled and cracked in places, then turned a corner behind the old church and stopped. There was someone in the road wearing a bright fuchsia shirt. She could only see the top half of the figure’s body. The lower part, from the stomach down, was trapped inside the road in what looked like a fresh sinkhole.

Jia knew without looking. Some part of her had known from the moment Blub called her. He needed help finding a missing person, but he hadn’t said who. This was the thing that had pulled her back, made her feel an insistent anxiety for the past few months.

Blub and Henry were running to the body, the latter yelling. When Jia finally approached, Blub was trying to get a pulse. She watched the two men huddle over the body, Henry almost making an attempt to pull her from the chasm before Blub stopped him. This could be a crime scene.

Blub sat back on his haunches. The fuchsia T-shirt was soaked with last night’s rain. Her blond hair was pulled into a ponytail, tendrils stuck to the sides of her face. That face. Familiar but different. She’s still so pretty, Jia thought. Her mouth was open and a scratch stood out livid on her pale cheek. Her eyes were closed.

“It’s her,” Blub stated.

“Maddy Wesley,” Henry said, disturbed and awed.

“You knew that Maddy was the missing person? You didn’t tell me,” Jia said, trying to keep her voice stable.

Blub remained crouched, his elbows on his knees with his hands dangling down. “Didn’t think I needed to,” he stated, his voice devoid of the warmth it had had while in the car. He didn’t look at her as he examined the scene, and it occurred to Jia that he was actually the sheriff. Not Blub, the kid who threw up on his pile of books, but an actual agent of the law.

Jia edged backward, fearful that the road could break under her.

“You know her?” Henry asked.

His gaze made her self-conscious. Jia had never been a good liar. Much of the lying she had done that summer so many years ago had been by omission. She was working on a project. She was hanging out with Padma. These things had been true, but misleading.

“She was in our year,” Jia managed. “We all went to high school together.”

Blub’s eyes went from the body to Jia. “You weren’t friends, though, were you?” Maddy ran with the popular crowd, the Golden Praise crowd. Jia had been the opposite of that.

“No,” she said finally. “We weren’t friends.”

Excerpted from A Step Past Darkness by Vera Kurian, Copyright © 2024 by Albi Literary Inc. Published by Park Row Books.  

Photo Credit:
Fredo Vasquez Photography
Vera Kurian is a writer and scientist based in Washington DC. Her debut novel, NEVER SAW ME COMING (Park Row Books, 2021 was an Edgar Award nominee and was named one of the New York Times’ Best Thrillers of 2021. Her short fiction has been published in magazines such as Glimmer Train, Day One, and The Pinch. She has a PhD in Social Psychology, where she studied intergroup relations, ideology, and quantitative methods. She blogs irregularly about writing, horror movies and pop culture/terrible TV.
Author website:

Monday, February 19, 2024

Spotlight: Excerpt from Necessary Deeds by Mark WIsh

Author: Mark Wish 
On sale: January 30, 2024
Regal House Publishing

Matt Connell, a formerly successful literary agent who’ s been in prison for four years for a crime of passion— homicide by strangulation after learning his wife slept with a friend— receives an early release from Sing Sing to join an FBI undercover investigation of multiple murders in Manhattan. Killings continue to mount as Matt does his best to calm his “ Ferrari brain” — a condition in which his mind accelerates wildly into negative thoughts and worst-case scenarios— even as he falls in love with a suspect, then discovers disturbing truths about his past and hers. When he finds his own life in danger, can he stand up for the Bureau’ s heralded principles of Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity? Not to mention genuine love?

Enjoy this excerpt:

Here in Sing Sing, the killers I’ve met are better story-tellers than most of the novelists. I’ve represented. They’ll bombard you with twists and turns about how they were ambushed and shackled and prosecuted harshly de-spite their innocence, and you’ll find yourself nodding, buying their horror stories.

To be fair, though, I should probably admit that I’m natural-ly more inclined to suspend disbelief for these guys—my fellow inmates—because of my need to get along with them. After all, for years now I’ve wanted to prove to Warden Scardina that the stint of fury in which I myself killed a human being was a singular incident in an otherwise placid life. I mean, I’m trying to convince him I deserve an early release. Or at least inclusion on the list of exemplary inmates whose hours in the yard have been tripled.

In fact I’m out there, in the yard, when I first meet Jonas. On the unshaded basketball court, where my mood often spikes if direct sunshine finds me. Using the hoop with no net and therefore alone, sometimes lost in thought about my victim, sometimes imagining him putting his first move on my ex, in any case vulnerable to the whims of anyone who has the nerve to approach me.

And Jonas indeed has the nerve. As he crosses the out-of-bounds line, all I know about him (well, all I’ve heard about him since he arrived here yesterday) is that he, too, has killed a man, in his case during a flubbed attempt to rob the Mahopac OTB while partnering up with a defective AR-15.

“This hoop yours?” is how he starts with me.


“You play in school?”

I hoist up a shot that proves to be a brick. “Just out here for the vitamin D.”

He folds his arms, studies me up and down. To imply I fear no one, I reciprocate. I see a gaunt, slightly hunched yet taut fellow ten years younger than I and six inches taller. I see a clean-shaven horse face, a weak yet cleft chin. Green eyes that squint a little through black hornrims, a full head of brown hair with gray coming in barely and on the sides only. Mine, by the way, went completely white during my first five months here.

“How long you in for?” I ask. “Would rather not discuss that.”

I pass him the ball, which he bobbles. He does not shoot.

My guess is he doesn’t give a shit about hoop either.

“Would rather hear what you know about Ethan Hendee,” he says.

Ethan Hendee was a client of mine who, eighteen years ago—that is, more than a decade before I learned my wife wasn’t exactly a saint—gave up on writing novels to write poems that appear in those photocopied literary mags no one reads. He’s a helluva writer, candid and interesting and succinct as anyone published, but I have not survived here by not holding cards close. So: “Ethan Hendee?”


“Why ha?”

“Because I know you’re Matthew Connell, and that you’ve represented the poet Ethan Hendee for a long time.”

“The only problem being I don’t know such a person.” “But see, bro, there’s no question in my mind that you do know him. I know you’ve been his agent for years.”

I shake my head no. Eye the asphalt between us and the cyclone fence.

“You trying to tell me you’re not Matthew Connell?” he asks. “Matt Connell.” I force a sour expression. “Maybe you’re confusing me with some hoity-toity guy? Anyway, how does someone who hauls around an AR-15 know anything about poetry?”

He points at his hornrims. “Because he’s read some?” 

“Well, I don’t know any Hendee.”

“But see, Matt, I still think you do. Plus I think that, as his literary agent, you know what a badass he is.”

In all truth, I do not know this. The Ethan Hendee I represented before my arrest had a soul gentle as any. I’m curious about what this Jonas guy heard Hendee did, but to get an early release, I’ve pledged to myself never to talk about crime that’s gone down on the outside. After all, a rehabbed convict no longer cares about crime, and I am nothing if not a rehabbed convict.

To let this Jonas guy know I’m done socializing for the day, I turn and face the run of the Hudson beyond the chain link and the razor wire, its waves peaking into whitecaps here and there.

“So you’re not gonna spill?” he asks.

I don’t as much as shrug.

He zings me a no-look pass, really zips it, hard, straight at my head, but I notice it soon enough to catch it.

“Ya missed,” I mutter loud enough for him to hear, and I look over to stare him down, but his back is already turned, a confident stride taking him off.

And it occurs to me, as he heads to the guarded double doors between us and the inside, that if he doesn’t have six inches on me, he has seven.

And that my own storied past has taught me that the strength to kill a man comes not only from size—it also comes from youth.

So I’ll avoid him, I decide. Won’t let him know I’m avoiding him, but that’s what I’ll do.

There’s an art to this.

I spend the rest of my time in the yard pretending I care only about my jump shot. At one point I miss sixteen straight. I admit to myself that if this Jonas wanted to get inside my head, well, he has. And as I continue to miss generally, I think more about Ethan Hendee. How does a sixty-some-year-old recluse who’s devoted his life to writing poems suddenly leave his hovel of a basement apartment to do something awful enough to be known by a guy like Jonas?

I ponder this question on and off even after I’m back in my cell. At dinner I ignore Jonas’s glances at me from two tables over, letting my stone-cold expression announce my resolve to keep to myself. Assuring him we’ll never be friends, pals, partners, whatever you want to call it. I am done trusting anyone male. Probably I’m done trusting anyone.

I sleep fitfully that night, with Lauren invading my thoughts only slightly more than Hendee does. More than once I try to dismiss the moment I learned she’d been with a man whose literary success I made happen. Conjuring my state of mind during the twenty-eight minutes that followed that moment can trip off a replay of that state (the uncontrollable acceleration of thoughts, the sharp panic due to loss of control, the goug-ing sense that my very personhood has been decimated), and I don’t want such a replay. I want to be calm. I need calm to sleep. I must sleep so I can conduct myself admirably next I see a guard.

Finally, I doze. Somewhat and for who knows how long. I wake to the clinks of a guard’s keys unlocking my cell. There’s another guard with him, a younger one, maybe a rookie. The older one mutters, “Scardina wants to see you.”

Excerpted from Necessary Deeds by Mark Wish © 2024 by Mark Wish, used with permission from Regal House Publishing.


Mark Wish's previous novels have been praised by Daniel Woodrell, Delia Ephron, Salman Rushdie, Rebecca Makkai, Ben Fountain, Anne Serling, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. His short fiction has won a Pushcart Prize and appeared in more than 125 print venues including BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES. A renowned book doctor for thirty years, he now edits and publishes COOLEST AMERICAN STORIES, whose inaugural volume went to a third printing.