I’m going to apologize in advance because I’m not going to be available to answer comments on my post, but I’m leaving them open in the hopes that you’ll support author Vera Day with her debut release, When Did We Lose Sylvia? Oh, how I chuckled through this one! The tongue-in-cheek humor, built around small town living, and quirky characters is off the scales!
BLURB: Southern humor, faith, and murder intersect in the tiny town of Tulip, Texas.
Betty Bell is a famous poet, or at least a local celebrity, in the tiny town of Tulip, Texas. Gossip runs amok when a Goth teenager, Sylvia Smith, and her elderly grandfather arrive. Even worse, they’ve moved into the creepy, old Sanchez place on the outskirts of town.
Betty volunteers to teach a summer poetry class to restless Tulip teens. Soon, the kids are expressing themselves in stellar stanzas and heart-rending rhymes. But what was supposed to be a summer of ministering to the teens becomes a season of sleuthing when one of Betty’s students, the spooky Sylvia, goes missing.
When Sylvia turns up dead, suspicions point to Sylvia’s reclusive grandfather. Deputy Miller is a good man and excellent investigator, but after a second death shakes the small town, Betty is convinced the deputy is after the wrong suspect. Betty, her left-brained husband Larry, and her quirky friend Flora must use haunting haikus, couplet clues, and lots of prayer to track down the real killer.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
What a delightful debut! I was hooked from page one. This small-town cozy is big on quirky characters and tongue-in-cheek humor. Betty Bell is a quasi-famous poet who teaches a summer class to a collection of high school students, one of whom—Sylvia–is a goth-like social outcast. When Sylvia goes missing, Betty is drawn into the search to discover what happened to the moody but talented teenager. Aided by her best friend, Flora (who is on a perpetual diet), supported by her low-key but loving husband L.B., and often thwarted by her sometimes friend, prima donna cashier, Jacqueline, Betty unearths a spiderweb of suspects and motives.
The plot moves along at an engaging clip, leaping from one highly entertaining scenario to the next, all the while ramping up the mystery. Things that really stood out for me include the snippets of poetry peppered throughout. Each chapter begins with a verse, plus samples of the students’ creative efforts are scattered among sections. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I was enthralled by how cleverly these were worded and how they played into the plot.
And did I mention the humor? It won’t clobber you over the head, but I guarantee you’ll be grinning at how skillfully it underpins each scene. I loved that Betty is a heroine approaching social security age, and I adored her relationship with L.B. (not to mention Flora’s constant wordplay on his initials). The ending is wholly satisfying and left me looking forward to seeing more of these colorful characters and their small Texas town.
Thank you for visiting today and helping me cheer on Vera with her debut release, which I highly recommend for fans of cozy mysteries, engaging humor, and small-town tales. On a side note, I will be updating my writing progress with a post in July. You’re going to be seeing a lot more of me online after this month is over! 🙂
Hello everyone! I know I’m hit or miss on blogging these days, but I hope to have some announcements to share in the near future that may change some of that. In the meantime, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to promote my latest read—which I devoured in a single day.
I’ve read most of Craig Boyack’s books, but—OH MY WORD!!!—he really outdid himself with this. He’s not touring this book, which is a shame, because it deserves plenty of buzz. If you’re a fan of good guys vs. bad guys, imaginative adventure, or old spaghetti westerns, this is pure gold. I could almost hear “wah-wah-wah” in the background. 🙂
I am doing double duty today, covering my own job and a second position, so I don’t know if or when I’ll be available to answer comments, but I’m keeping them open for cheering on Craig! 🎉
Once Upon a Time in the Swamp By C. S. Boyack
Mari and her husband opted for a simple life as farmers. It’s been decades since the world tore itself apart, pitting neighbor against neighbor and family against each other. They were happy in this re-emerging world, until disaster struck.
Mari sets out on a solo quest to avenge the deaths of her family and loss of everything she holds dear. She’s ill equipped for the task, but seems to have time on her hands. Time alone in the wilderness to deal with her personal demons along the way.
She is helped by a few sympathetic elders and a couple of animal companions with lessons Mari can use if she pays attention. Can Mari find justice for her family?
Set in a post apocalyptic, Gulf Coast world, this is a story for fans of the old Spaghetti Westerns.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
C. S. Boyack is known for creating imaginative worlds populated by colorful characters, and amazing creatures. This time, he transfers his inventive paintbrush to the Golf Coast of the U.S., in a post-apocalyptic world. The area is riddled with fledgling towns and outposts, much like the scattered cow towns of the Old West.
Raiders attack the farm Mari shares with her husband and young son, killing both while she is off hunting turkey. When the local sheriff brushes her off, too busy to help, Mari sets out on her own in a quest for vengeance. Her trek is long and arduous, fraught with danger. Victimized by the raiders, she’s left for dead—until assisted by Miss Kelilah, who offers friendship and wisdom along with her aid.
If you’re squeamish, no worries. Boyack kept the violence against Mari “off screen” and it was only referenced after the fact, something I truly appreciated.
Next, we meet Mr. Vance, my favorite secondary character. Kelilah teaches Mari knife-fighting and throwing, while Vance teaches her the nitty-gritty about handguns. All of this plays wonderfully, as Mari is tough and determined, eager to learn. Though vengeance is her driving goal, there are splashes of humor throughout. I Loved (with a capital “L”!!) Worthless, the dog, and Dirt, the ox. Boyack always delivers amazing animal characters, but he outdid himself this time around.
If you’re looking for a book that delivers adventure, amazing characters, gritty descriptions, and settings that ooze texture, don’t pass this up. I’ve read many works by this author, but consider Once Upon a Time in the Swamp Boyack’s best. He’s created a strong, relatable character in Mari and a good vs. evil tale that delivers frontier justice. The ending couldn’t have been better. I would love to see more stories with Mari’s ongoing adventures. Bravo, Mr. Boyack!!!
Today, I’ve got Story Empire colleague, D.L. Finn on my blog with her latest collection of short stories. No matter what Denise writes—novel-length fiction, short stories, poetry, or tales for children—she keeps her readers enthralled. In the Tree’s Shadow is no exception (see my review at the end of this post). In the meantime… are you ready for goose bumps?
Take it away, Denise!
Thank you, Mae, for having me here today to share the release of my short story collection, In the Tree’s Shadow.
“When the Lights Go Out” is a story I started writing while sitting on the deck during one of our power shutdowns for fire protection. Those shutdowns have slowed down, and the fires weren’t as bad last year, but each year provides its own challenge.
During one of these outages, with only the rumble of generators, my mind wanders. Like Bea in the story, I don’t like the dark. There is always a night light to counter the darkness and the perceived evil within it. Not wanting to waste batteries or leave candles unattended with curious cats around, it is completely dark in the house during these times.
As Bea discovers, when her generator doesn’t work, things that live in these shadows have an agenda. But as I have learned, where there is evil, good is somewhere nearby.
Knowing evil lurks, Bea has some choices to make to survive.
A collection of short stories where dreams and nightmares coexist.
Nestled inside these pages, you’ll meet a couple in their golden years who take a trip with an unexpected detour, a boy desperate to give his brother the Christmas gift he asked for, a girl with a small glass dragon who is at the mercy of her cruel uncles, and a young mother who has a recurring dream about murder. You’ll be introduced to worlds where people get second chances and monsters might be allowed their desires, while angels and dragons try to help. Happy endings occur, but perspective can blur the line between good and evil in these twenty-seven tales. Since the stories vary between 99 and 12,000 words, whether you have only five minutes or an entire evening to settle into reading, there is something that will suit your time and taste.
People will tell you that fiction is only make-believe. Don’t let them fool you. Some of it is real. But maybe if you knew the truth, you’d never sleep again. Right now, I’m resting but hooked on monitors and medication, with a different perspective on life.
Sleep has been hard for a long time because fantasy has become a reality for me. Oddly, they have always been okay with me discussing them as fiction. I would have gone crazy if I hadn’t written it down. They were so confident that no one would believe me. I think it amused them that my stories talked about the cliché things that go bump in the night.
What I’m about to tell you is not a fictional story. Whether or not you believe me, I can do nothing about it. I hope that those who have seen what I have will be comforted by my words.
Some of our darkest nightmares and things we imagine in the shadows are real. This knowledge prevented me from leaving my home at night. I stayed safely inside my brightly lit house. Could they get in? Of course, but it was the best I could do. Luckily, they preferred the darkness. I knew I was being watched whenever I fell asleep, even with all the lights on. Illumination only encouraged them to keep their distance. Still, I never understood what they were waiting for until that night. Before that moment, I figured they enjoyed the hunt or just liked observing.
Two black cats, Luna and Coco, and two tiger-striped, Zuzu and Chester, share our house.
I saw spin dolphins jumping around our boat in Hawaii. Amazing.
D. L. Finn is an independent California local who encourages everyone to embrace their inner child. She was born and raised in the foggy Bay Area, but in 1990 she relocated with her husband, kids, dogs, and cats to Nevada City, in the Sierra foothills. She immersed herself in reading all types of books but especially loved romance, horror, and fantasy. She always treasured creating her own reality on paper. Finally, surrounded by towering pines, oaks, and cedars, her creativity was nurtured until it bloomed. Her creations include children’s books, adult fiction, a unique autobiography, and poetry. She continues on her adventure with an open invitation to all readers to join her.
Now that you’ve enjoyed this wonderful GOOSE BUMP ALERT, I hope you’ll take a moment to drop Denise a comment below and join in her release celebration. Please use the sharing buttons to help spread the word about In the Tree’s Shadow, then don’t forget to grab your own copy from AMAZON.
MY REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of stories that run the gamut from mild horror, slice-of-life, and sci-fi, to fantasy and paranormal. Creatures, angels, and animals populate the pages along with protagonists and villains. There is darkness, but also whimsy and plenty of hope. With a variety of micro-fics, shorts, and one novella-length work, the mixture will keep you flipping pages.
My favorite stories included Old Gray Cat, In That Moment, Effervescent Potion, Bonsai, and most especially, The Bike. In many places, I had to pause to savor the author’s deft turn of phrase. These are but a few that stood out for me:
“The other man, dressed all in black that matched his mesmerizing night eyes, had a voice like a bass guitar.”
“The dragon’s red eyes softly glowed like an autumn-toned sunset.”
“Tears mixed with her blood in a tie-dye swirl of insanity.”
If you enjoy speculative fiction that straddles lines of peril and hope, shadows and light, this is a collection that checks all the boxes.
Happy Wednesday, friends! I hope you like fish food because I’ve got an exciting announcement!
If you’re scratching your head wondering what that’s all about, I’m delighted to say I’ve become a regular contributor to a new book review blog, The Well Read Fish. The brainchild of Vera Day, TWRF is dedicated to reviewing Christian fiction and bringing faith-based novels to the attention of readers everywhere.
You may know Vera by a different name—Priscilla Bettis.
That’s right—former horror novelist, Priscilla, is now writing Christian cozies as Vera Day. You can find an announcement about her change of genre, and The Well Read Fish on her blog. You’ll also find announcement posts from other regular Fish contributors—Staci Troilo, JoanHall, and Gwen Plano.
We are all so excited about this new venture, and hope you’ll join us.
A new review will post every Wednesday with sub-genres ranging from suspense, mysteries, science-fiction, and YA to Biblical fiction, fantasy, and thrillers. If it’s Christian fiction, it’s fish food for our review realm.
Regular followers of my blog know I often post Christian fiction review posts. Now, I’ll have a specific home to share them.
You can find today’s inaugural post HERE. Vera, Staci, Joan, Gwen, and I would love if you poked around the Fish and perhaps subscribe. Please help us spread the word with the share buttons, and tell your friends about The Well Read Fish.
Hello, everyone, and happy Monday! I hope you had a blessed and happy Easter.
Today, I’m happy to share a new release from friend and author N.A. Granger. If you haven’t read one of Noelle’s books before, you’re missing something special. From her polished and clever Rhe Brewster series, to her meticulously researched The Last Pilgrim, Noelle delivers stories that keep you glued to the pages. Today, I’m happy to spotlight her latest release, Death at the Asylum. Look for my 5-Star review at the bottom!
BLURB:: Attending the opening of a new commercial center, Rhe Brewster, an ER nurse and police investigator, and her husband Sam, chief of the Pequod police department, save the governor of Maine from a sniper attack. They are assigned to a task force to find the sniper, at the same time trying to identify the person who has stolen Rhe’s personal data and is using it to run up thousands of dollars in debt and even steal their home. Rhe treats a student from Pequod University raped following a night at a local bar and soon discovers there is a serial rapist on the loose. The threats to Rhe and Sam escalate as a sociopath from Rhe’s past reemerges in a strange twist. Are any of these perpetrators linked?
Maine’s most tenacious sleuth is back, surrounded by the colorful characters who populate the coastal town of Pequod. In this fifth installment of the Rhe Brewster Mysteries, Rhe’s strength and determination are tested to their limits while she tries to protect her unborn child.
EXCERPT: The sniper had been in the attic of the empty house across the river for nearly a day, lying on a table pushed up to a window, with his gun resting on the window sill. The view was perfect. Habit kept him there, virtually unmoving, diapered to take care of his needs, and stoked on coffee until earlier this morning.
Now he needed steady hands. Gravity, wind speed and direction, altitude, barometric pressure and humidity could all affect the bullet trajectory, and he’d taken each one of those factors into account.
Just one shot. He’d done it before with deadly accuracy in Iraq—twenty-three times. Just one more. He could do this. Maybe then the gnawing pain of his loss would lessen.
He slowed his breathing, slowed his heart rate, stilled every muscle except for those in his trigger finger, and focused on the grinning head now in the crosshairs of the telescopic lens. He heard his former spotter’s voice whispering quietly, ‘Now.” He gently, slowly, squeezed the trigger, felt the solid push back against his shoulder. And waited. It takes time for a bullet to get to its target from that far away.
AUTHOR BIO: N.A. GRANGER is a Professor Emerita at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. After forty years of research and teaching undergraduates and medical students, plus earning her EMT licence, she decided to use her knowledge of human anatomy and emergency medicine in mystery writing. In addition to the Rhe Brewster mystery series (Death in a Red Canvas Chair, Death in a Dacron Sail, Death by Pumpkin, Death in a Mudflat), she has written for Coastal Living and Sea Level magazines and several times for the Bella Online Literary Review. She recently published her first historical fiction novel, The Last Pilgrim, which received critical acclaim. The mystery series has its own website: http:www.na-granger.com. You can find more of her writing at saylingaway.wordpress.com. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her husband and a Maine coon cat who blogs.
MY REVIEW: This intriguing mystery juggles multiple plot lines but the author handles them all with finesses. Although this is the fifth entry in the Rhe Brewster mystery series, you needn’t be familiar with any of the previous titles (though I do recommend them). Character relationships are clearly defined both before the story in a Forward by the author, and throughout the engrossing chapters that follow.
Things begin with a bang—literally—when ER nurse, Rhe, and her Chief of Police husband, Sam, attend a speech given by the governor, and a sniper targets him. As a part-time investigator with the police, Rhe gets caught up in the resulting investigation led by Sam. Multiple suspects complicate matters, but that’s only the beginning. A stalker reemerges from Rhe’s past, drug thefts occur at the hospital, and a serial rapist is on the loose.
If that sounds like a handful, trust me—it will keep you flipping pages. The plot is like an octopus with arms, each branching in a different direction, each given the proper amount of attention to keep the reader puzzling out possibilities. This is a clever mystery with strong characters. Rhe and Sam are wonderful together, and even supporting characters, like Rhe’s BFF, and co-workers at both the hospital and police department get to shine. I loved the Maine setting and the back-and-forth between investigative work, hospital cases, and home life.
If you enjoy intelligent plots, polished writing, and layered mysteries with characters who settle into your heart, you’re sure to like this latest entry in the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series. Highly recommended for fans of female sleuths!
Thanks for joining me today as I spotlight this wonderful new release from a gifted writer. Please use the sharing buttons to help spread the word on Noelle’s latest. Drop a comment with your thoughts to join in the release celebration, and don’t forget to grab your own copy of Death at the Asylum from Amazon!
Today, I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Gwen M. Plano, who has just released a novel of psychological intrigue. I’ve read all of Gwen’s work, and immediately snatched this up the moment it became available for pre-order. Look for my five star review at the end of this post.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Gwen as she gives us a glimpse into this compelling and powerful read.
Thank you, Mae, for inviting me to your site today. It’s a pleasure to visit your readers and share a bit about my new release.
Redemption, A Father’s Fatal Decision takes place in the Southeast corner of New York state, in the towns of New Rochelle and Cortlandt. On occasion, the characters journey to Old Lyme, Connecticut, but for the most part, the drama is in New York. Having spent about twenty years in and around that area, it was exciting to visit as a writer.
The book tackles themes of forgiveness, redemption, and absolution through a psychological thriller. We accompany the son and daughter of the deceased as they try to uncover the reason for their father’s murder. What they discover prompts them to ask if they even knew him.
Sometimes complicated situations help us see our own challenges in a different light. That is my hope for this book. Most of us won’t experience threats like those of my characters, but pain is universal, as is joy. Seeing either in the extreme helps us recognize our own—and severe or elated, those emotions are impactful.
In the excerpt below, Lisa and Trace Holmes, meet with Father O’Brien, who is the confidant of their mother. The siblings’ youngest brother, Robbie, died when he was just a couple years old. They will soon understand why.
“She reminded me several times that you’d visit someday, but I never imagined these circumstances.” He shakes his head in disbelief and touches the cross hanging from his neck. “Please, follow me.”
Slowly, he walks outside to a flower garden, where a vast spread of daisies covers the perimeter abutting the stone fence. “Several times a year, your mother visits. She weeds, trims, and sometimes cuts the daisies to take home with her. She keeps her tools in the shed to the left.”
While strolling through the flowers, Lisa notices a memorial sign and stops. It reads Robbie’s Garden, My Beloved Angel. She takes Trace’s hand and points to the sign.
The priest sees their interest. “Katherine likes to say that her baby Robbie is playing happily in Heaven. She buried a remembrance box next to the sign. That’s what she wants you to have now.” He turns to Trace, “There’s a trowel in the shed if you’d like to dig it up.”
Trace tilts his head to the side and considers the priest’s offer. For a moment he hesitates then fetches the garden tool. After a quick glance at Lisa, he digs. A few strong thrusts later, he hits something hard—a steel box inside a sealed plastic container. Trace pulls it out, brushes off the dirt, and gives it to his sister.
Lisa unseals the mystery container and peeks inside. Her face drops. “It’s filled with documents and other papers.”
The priest nods, “If you’d like to go through the box in our reading room, you’re welcome to do so. It’s private, and you can close the doors.”
“Thank you, Father. We’d appreciate that.”
Father O’Brien takes them through a side door of the Parish Center to the room. “Your mother likes to sit in here and read. The upholstered chair by the window is her favorite spot. She claims Robbie joins her. I don’t know about that, but she always leaves smiling.”
BLURB Family secrets can be deadly. When Lisa Holmes visits her parents one fateful Saturday morning, she hugs her father and walks to her childhood bedroom. The doorbell rings. Her father opens the door, and one minute later, he lies dead on the floor—three bullets to the chest.
The Holmes family lives on a quiet street, but no one really knows Eric Holmes. He travels for business and comes home a few days each month. Unbeknown to all, Eric has multiple lives.
In this fast-paced psychological thriller, Lisa and her brother, Trace, embark on a quest to solve the mystery involving the murder of their father. The journey takes them into a secret world where nothing is as it seems. As the puzzle pieces begin to coalesce, they discover the meaning of Redemption.
What an excellent excerpt! I’m already wondering what mysteries all those documents contain. Please help me spread the word about Redemption, A Father’s Fatal Decision by using the sharing buttons below. Drop Gwen a comment to join in her launch celebration, then snatch up your own copy through one of the purchase links. I wish you happy reading!
Part family drama, part thriller, Redemption moves at a swift pace with events occurring in rapid succession. Lisa has barely arrived at her parents’ home for a visit when an assailant murders her father, Eric, and sends her mother to the hospital with gunshot wounds. Never truly close with her father, Lisa soon realizes his past was filled with secrets—shadows of a dangerous life that threaten her safety and the lives of her family.
Along with her brother, Trace, and his friend, Ryan, they attempt to unearth her father’s secrets, but there are hurdles at every turn. Stalkers trail them, a hotel room that should be a safe haven is bugged, and even the police and FBI are suspect.
The author did a great job of keeping things moving at a fast clip. One scene spirals into the next as Eric’s life unravels. It’s almost as if he left puzzle pieces behind, laying out a trail for his children to follow. The three main characters—Lisa, Trace, and Ryan—make an excellent team. All are likeable individually but have great chemistry when together. And there is one supporting character I truly loved (I don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling a thread).
The message of redemption and the way things wrap at the end make this not only an exciting read, but a heartwarming one too. A polished book with a fast plot, wonderful characters, and a beautiful message!
Hello, and happy Monday! I’ve got two book reviews to share today. Both of these are five star reads which I highly recommend. I devoured the first in one day, the second in two days. I also read them back-to-back which was interesting given they are so different in style and subject.
Point of interest—if you’re a Prime member, Daisy Jones & The Six is being made into a series with season one launching on March 3rd. I will definitely be tuning in!
There are two stories contained in this single volume, and I found them both riveting. Although they’re classified as horror, I’d put them more in the vein of Rod Serling and Night Gallery.
In the first, the vividly-described Alaskan wilderness is as much a character as Frasier and Billy, two friends who become stranded after a rafting accident. With no supplies, no food, and increasingly cold weather, that would be a challenge for any stalwart hiker. Compounding the situation is Billy’s belief he was born a vampire. Several scenes will make the hair prickle on the back of your neck. I loved the author’s deft touch in building suspense and making me wonder right up until the end.
The second story has an almost folklore type of feel to it. There are a few biblical allusions, but what I loved best was the eerie use of a steam locomotive to fatten the plot. Once again, the descriptions sucked me into every richly-detailed scene, and I found the Widow Vandermeer particularly creepy.
Both stories, though short, benefit from strong characters, incredible settings, and tight writing. I’ve read and enjoyed this author’s work multiple times before, but she really hit it out of the ballpark with this book!
This book had been on my reading radar from the time it was released. I don’t know why I waited so long to become lost in the pages, especially given how much I enjoyed Malibu Rising.
With Daisy Jones & The Six, Reid gives us the story of an iconic 1970s rock band—from their early days through their meteoric rise to the top of the charts, then finally to what ultimately disbanded them at the height of their fame.
Told in a quasi-interview format, we get snippets of individual memories from the band members and those who moved in their orbit. At first, I thought that would make the story difficult to follow, but it played out brilliantly. The inclusion of song lyrics and Rolling Stone interviews made it feel like this band truly existed, especially given how well the author captured the 1970s.
Parts of the book harken to Fleetwood Mac, others reminded me of the Beatles. Each band member is given a distinctive personality, and not all of them play well together. There are parts of the story that unfold like a train wreck, others that will wreck your heart. If you love rock n’ roll, if you love the 1970s or the music scene, you don’t want to miss this incredible story that shines a spotlight on all three. I loved the complex relationship between Daisy and Billy, and Billy’s wife. The closing line brought a flourish of perfection.
I devoured this story in two days, but might have easily done it in one if time permitted.
Happy Monday! I’m kicking off the week with two book reviews. Both of these stories are exquisite reads. I was drawn to the first by the title and the second by the blurb, which promised a story “inspired by Fleetwood Mac, the Manson murders, and the infamous summer Percy and Mary Shelley spent with Lord Byron at a Lake Geneva castle––the birthplace of Frankenstein.”
I found them both engrossing, but will let you be the judge . . .
I was drawn to this book because of the title and the thoroughly enchanting cover, then I read the blurb and knew I had to pick it up. I LOVE cats, so of course I had to discover how everything played out.
In the story, a young unnamed postman discovers he has terminal cancer. The devil tells him he will die the next day—unless he accepts an offer. For each thing he agrees to make disappear from the world, his life will be extended by one day.
The devil begins with smartphones then moves onto clocks. Each day he reappears with a new object that has to be eradicated from the world. Each has a strong connection to the postman, although he doesn’t always realize it at the time.
You see where this is headed, right? Did I mention the postman lives alone, and his only companion is a cat named Cabbage?
Translated from Japanese, this is a short read, and one I would categorize as “different.” Our troubled postman does a lot of reflecting and conscience wrestling. The reader is treated to his backstory, including his relationship with both parents and a former cat named Lettuce. While I thought the beginning was a little slow, the second half of the book captured my attention (and my heart) and didn’t let go.
A most unusual read. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 for review purposes.
An intensely character-driven mystery that builds from slow simmer, The Villa is an intriguing dual timeline story. In the present, Emily Sheridan is going through a painful divorce while struggling to finish her latest cozy mystery. Her long-time friend, Chess, a renown author of self-help books, invites her to vacation at an Italian villa–suggesting they can focus on writing. Although they haven’t been truly close for a while, and their friendship has had its share of ups and downs, Emily agrees.
After arriving, she realizes the villa is the same place where Noel Gordon, a notorious rock star, gathered a handful of musicians and writers in 1974 for a summer fueled by sex, drugs, music, and literature. One of those guests–Mari, a nineteen-year-old girl–would pen a book that goes on to become a classic horror novel. The end of the gathering would also leave one of the group dead and another imprisoned for murder.
What appealed to me most about The Villa are the parallels between Gordon’s summer of ’74 where Mari writes Lilibeth Rising, and the summer Percy and Mary Shelley spent with Lord Byron at his castle. It’s easy to spot who resembles who among the assortment of characters (there are a few others involved, too). Emily gets caught up in the history of the Villa and that infamous summer which leads to increasing tensions and complications with Chess.
The book moves at a slow pace, yet somehow despite nothing much happening until several twists and turns at the end, the story is still a page-turner. It’s a book to read and soak in, not one to breeze through. The ’74 timeline is by far the more interesting of the two despite the insensitivity of most of the characters. Modeling it after the Shelly/Byron summer was a stroke of genius by the author.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Thanks for visiting today. I hope one of these books caught your interest. I’d read Rachel Hawkins before (Reckless Girls) and knew she’d deliver a good tale, but Genki Kawamura was new for me. Though wildly different in style, I found both books hard to put down.
Happy Monday and Happy February! It feels good to be able to share a few book reviews—a trend I hope I can continue in the coming weeks. Sometimes, depending on my days, I may close comments. That’s the case with this post. Obviously, I am way-way-way behind in posting reviews, but if I wait for free time when I can answer comments, well…. who knows when I’ll get around to posting again, LOL.
In any case, these are two books I just had to share!
A novella that takes a talon-sharp swipe at fame, social commentary, and public opinion, The Bubble Reputation sets itself forth like a train wreck—a totally revolting scenario, but one from which you can’t look away.
Emmie Hobson is the IT Girl of her generation—a popular children’s author and TV personality. She’s at the top of her game, the darling of the press, the public, and A List Celebrities. When she wins a coveted award, a tabloid makes her the target of a smear campaign by creating fake news using an altered photograph and lies generated by a jealous co-worker. Like the proverbial train wreck, Emmie’s perfect world starts to unravel, slowly at first, then speeding headfirst into disaster.
As horrendous as it is to watch what happens—and to cringe with the knowledge that social media, overzealous press, and undocumented “source” accounts make the entire scenario plausible—it’s impossible not to become immersed (and inwardly enraged) by the way this clever social commentary plays out.
I was by turns appalled, devastated, heartbroken, and enraged by the biting turns in the story. Most of all, however, the character of Emmie, her partner Luke, and her parents shine through. No matter how much mud is slung, the core of some people remain steadfast in the face of adversity. Bravo to the author for wringing so many emotions from me, painting a believably bleak picture, then making me believe in the good of humanity.
I’m torn on how to rate this book. It started off with a bang. Amy is a dive instructor and a suburban mom living the good life when a new woman in her neighborhood shows up unexpectedly at book club night. From there, things spiral into a drunken game of “never have I ever” with long reaching consequences.
Both Amy and Roux (the interloper) have nasty secrets buried in their past. When Roux turns to blackmailer, Amy is forced to go to extremes if she wants to keep her happy life. The cat and mouse and one-upmanship between these two is exceptional, with twists and turns bouncing off the walls. Midway through the book there is a major bombshell that had me struggling to pick my jaw off the floor.
The narrative moves at a brisk pace and the plot is well-crafted. When all is revealed at the end, the subject matter left me a little….erm, less enamored of the story, but it was all so well-executed that it comes down to a matter of personal taste.
I’m going to go with 4 stars because of my personal feelings on the big reveal, but my guess is that most will rate this a 5-star read. I would definitely read this author again.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Thanks for checking out the reviews today. I hope you found a book that appeals to you. I recommend them both. Hopefully, when I return with more reviews next week, I’ll have the time to participate in comments! Wishing you an awesome day!
Welcome friends! I have a special guest on my blog today—good friend and Story Empire colleague, Joan Hall. I’m super-excited to be taking part in the blog tour for her newest release, Menagerie, a collection of short stories that spans multiple genres. Trust me folks, this one is a gem you don’t want to miss. I’ll be sharing my five star review at the end of this post, but in the meantime, please give a big welcome to Joan!
A Moment in Time
Thank you for hosting me today, Mae, and helping me kick on the tour of my latest release. It’s always a pleasure to visit with your readers. Menagerie is a mixed-genre collection of thirteen short stories. For each tour stop, I’ll feature one story and tell what inspired me to write it.
A Moment in Time is a dual timeline story set during the American Civil war in the 1860s and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Two women, Joanna and Maggie, deal with life as their husbands are away fighting. Despite living a century apart, Joanna and Maggie have much in common. Both are young wives left on the home front to face the realities of war, and they live on the same farm.
The idea for A Moment in Time came from a childhood memory. In the late 1960s, there was a nearby farm that was once known as the County Farm. At one time, people could drive through the place, but it’s now privately owned.
The owners raised cattle, but there was also a large grove of pecan trees. In the fall, when the pecans were mature, area residents were able to help with the harvest. One year, my parents decided to take part. I went to the farm a few times after school while waiting for them to finish the day.
The property had an old two-story building that I later learned served as a jail. As I recall, it had stucco sides and a covered front porch with ornate railings. Although it didn’t date as far back as the 1860s, for some reason I always envisioned it during the time of the American Civil War.
Maybe it was because I’d recently seen the movie Shenandoah, but I felt connected to those days. Almost like I was back in time. I would sit on the porch looking over the farm and imagine what life was like during the war.
About a year ago, the idea came to write a story with a similar setting. Instead of an unused building, I decided on a house. My 1860s character, Joanna lived in the home. While it was still standing in the 1960s, Maggie could only dream about what it was like a century earlier. After discovering an old family cemetery, Maggie feels bonded to Joanna, particularly when she sits on the steps of the old house.
What Maggie couldn’t know is that Joanna often sat on the porch, reading letters her husband wrote to her while he was away at war. The two women shared many things—fear their husbands wouldn’t make it home alive, worry the wars would drag on forever, and loneliness.
I wish I had photos of the old building I remembered as a child. Writing A Moment in Time enabled me to recall fond memories of that time and place.
Excerpt: Joanna observed her husband’s expression as he absorbed everything the officer said. “You’re enlisting, aren’t you?”
Caleb nodded. “Do you understand why?”
“I want to.”
“It’s the only way we’re going to save this country. I can’t, in good conscience, not do my duty.”
They had talked at length about the possibility but hearing him say the words made it real.
“I have to do this. It’s only for three months.”
Ninety days a wasn’t long time. But even as Joanna mulled the idea, she couldn’t shake the feeling this war would last a lot longer.
Lloyd pulled a letter from his pocket as he sat opposite her.
Maggie feared what it said but ignoring it wouldn’t make the problem go away. She took the envelope from him, opened it, then began to read.
You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States and to report to Centerville Greyhound Bus Station on June 10, 1968, at 6: 00 a.m. for forwarding to an Armed Forces Induction Station.
“You’ve been drafted?”
“Honey, we knew this was a strong possibility. College is the only thing that kept me out of the war this long.”
Tears filled her eyes. “I know, but I hoped they wouldn’t call you so soon.”
“I’m not the only one. Two others in my class got their notices today.”
Maggie looked at the letter again. “June 10. Lloyd, that’s only three weeks away.”
Blurb: King’s. The Tower of London. Glass. What do these have in common?
Each is a famous menagerie.
While this Menagerie doesn’t focus on exotic animals, it does contain a collection of stories that explore various trials people face and how their reactions shape their worlds.
Survivors of a haunted bridge. Women who wait while their husbands fight a war. Former partners reuniting to solve a cold-case murder.
These are just three of the thirteen stories in this compendium, encompassing past and present, natural and supernatural, legend and reality. The genres and timelines are varied, but there’s a little something for everyone who enjoys reading about simpler times and small-town life.
REVIEW FROM MAE CLAIR: This wonderful collection offers thirteen tales spanning multiple genres, the heart of each rooted round strong characters and up-close glimpses into small-town life. Several are set in earlier decades evoking simpler times, others are twinned around legends. One even involves a tale told around a campfire. The writing is polished, and the scenes flow easily, packing fully formed and satisfying stories into gems that can be read over coffee breaks, a long afternoon, or as a way to wind down in the evening.
Each reader will find their personal favorites. For me, those include A Moment in Time, in which two women in different centuries try to remain strong during the long years while their husbands are away at war.
The Dare is a brilliant take on a town legend. Add an old cemetery, a skeptical journalist, and a dare on Halloween night, and I was glued to the pages. Storm Rider also resonated with me by tapping into my love of urban legends.
In an entirely different vein, The Homecoming is a moving story spun around several generations of a military family who have gathered to honor a fallen hero. Told from several POVs, it’s both a family drama and a beautiful salute to military veterans.
Finally, at the top of my list is Hot August Night in which the author skillfully captures a snapshot of small-town Americana—especially when she delves into a past decade. From the sultry summer air to the odor wafting from a nearby paper mill, to railroad tracks, old records, and family relationships, this is a superb story. The descriptions alone make it a delight to read, and the characterizations are pure gold.
I highly recommend this thoroughly bewitching collection of tales!
I love learning how authors develop their ideas for stories and books. Isn’t it great how we can take a memory from childhood, hold onto it for years, then use it as a springboard for a tale decades later? I’m so glad to be able to host Joan today, and hope you’ll take a moment to drop her a comment.
Afterward, don’t forget to hop over and grab your own copy of Menagerie. It’s a gem!