About Mae Clair

Hi, I'm Mae Clair, an author who writes tales of mystery and suspense, flavored with folklore. In addition to writing, I'm an avid reader who loves discussing books and anything writing related. I'm also passionate about cryptozoology, legends, and cats!

Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Phantom Settlements

Stack of books with round eyeglasses on top, brass vintage candle, and carnivale mask in background

Recently, while reading a novel, I happened upon a curiosity I was unfamiliar with—phantom settlements. No, these aren’t communities where ghosts hang out, or locations that disappear (though the latter might be closer to the truth). Also known as paper towns, these are spots that don’t actually exist, but appear on maps. Cartographers included them as copyright traps in order to point to plagiarism if their work was stolen.

One of the most famous phantom settlements is Agloe, New York.

The tale starts in the 1930s when Otto G. Lindberg and Ernest Alpers of the General Drafting Company—a small mapmaking firm—came up with the idea of creating foldable maps for motorists. These were sold at gas stations, and could be conveniently stored in the glovebox. Prior to that, most maps were bound in large heavy books, and weren’t easily transportable. Rand McNally was the industry giant; Lindberg and Alpers, small fish.

But these guys had vision! With more people taking to the roadways, and recreational driving becoming popular, they saw a bright future in foldable maps. They’d also invested a lot of research and time into creating their map of New York State. The last thing they wanted was for a competitor to come along and copy their work, but what to do?

The two men put their heads together and hit upon the idea of creating a fictitious town using letters from their names and scrambling them. They dropped “Agloe” onto a dirt road intersection in the Catskill Mountains—trap set. Years later, Rand McNally produced a map that included Agloe—bait taken. Or so, Lindeberg thought.

He cried foul, citing the phantom settlement, but Rand McNally protested it had gotten the coordinates for Agloe from county records. Those records indicated the Agloe General Store occupied the spot on the map.

How is such a thing possible? Turns out someone had spied the name Agloe on a GDC map, decided to build a store there, and named it after the “town.” The store eventually went out of business in 2008, but if you Google Agloe General Store, you’ll find a Facebook page devoted to it, along with numerous references.

In the case of Agloe, Lindberg and Alpers created a phantom settlement that became an actual place, then later vanished once again. While you can’t step foot in the General Store anymore, you can still visit the area where it stood.

Should you decide to take a drive, you can always use your GPS, but you may want to get there the old-fashioned way and use a paper map. After all—that’s how Agloe was born. 🙂

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon #HistoricalFiction #Hindenburg

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Recently, a brick and mortar bookstore closed up shop in my area. A discount store that sold new, overstock hardbacks and paperbacks, the place hadn’t been in business that long. Word is a larger retailer expressed interest in the space, along with the two stores on either side, so the outlet center didn’t renew the leases. I haven’t heard what will be taking over all three spaces, but was saddened to see the bookstore go. Before closing their doors, they had a blow-out sale—paperbacks for $1.00 and hardbacks for $2.00. I bought armloads (as if I don’t already have enough to read).

I couldn’t wait to dive into Flight of Dreams, a fictional account of the Hindenburg disaster. Much like the Titanic, I think people are drawn to exploring the tragedy because it’s so mind-boggling. The Hindenburg was meant to usher in a new age of air travel, but its destruction effectively brought an end to the era of the dirigible. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I highly recommend this stunning novel which masterfully transports you to an earlier age.

NOTE: The Amazon link at the end of the review connects to the Kindle version which has a different cover. I love the hardback cover so much, I couldn’t resist using that in my post.

Black and white image of the Hindenburg exploding into flames at its mooring mast in Lakehurst, NJ
Sam Shere (1905–1982), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Zeppelin the Hindenburg on fire at the mooring mast of Lakehurst (United States of America) 6 May 1937. Ballast water is thrown down. Exit airships.

book cover for Flight of Dreams shows Hindenburg in flight above city with factories, bridge, waterways, tall buildings

FLIGHT OF DREAMS
by Ariel Lawhon

BLURB:
On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.
 
Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.


Kindle cover for Flight of Dreams shows woman in foreground, sepia-tone drawings of air ship and air balloons in background
Kindle Cover

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Although a fictional account of the Hindenburg disaster, the author of Flight of Dreams uses actual passengers and crew members on the ill-fated zeppelin to tell the story of its destruction. Chapters alternate between the navigator, the cabin boy, the stewardess (the first female attendant on a zeppelin), a journalist, and an American passenger. There are other non-POV characters who populate the story—including vaudeville performer, Joseph Spah—all of whom breathe life into this amazing tale, and all of whom were either actual passengers or crew. Of the 97 people on the fateful flight, 62 survived.

Ariel Lawhon turns a deft lens on the behemoth air ship and the era in which it graced the skies. The pages are soaked with the nuances of history, the shadow of coming war, and interpersonal relationships. Within the pages you’ll find intrigue that often plays out like a chess match as the hidden agendas of various characters overlap.

The chapters are fairly short, which keeps the plot moving at a steady pace. I liked the way each chapter immediately picks up on the one before it, despite a change in POV. Ending chapters are clipped dramatically short to generate maximum tension.

From the start, the reader knows the Hindenburg is slated for disaster, but seeing how the mammoth dirigible reaches that point keeps suspense simmering just below boil throughout. I loved the descriptions and details of time spent on the air ship. Much like the Titanic, the crash of the Hindenburg—which brought the age of the dirigible to an end—remains a fixation for many. Keep in mind this is a novel, and a fictional account of what might have happened, but it is exceptionally well written. The moment I finished the book, I began Googling the passenger and crew list to learn more. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who has an interest in the Hindenburg, the dirigible era, or who simply enjoys good historical fiction.

AMAZON LINK

Book Review Tuesday: The Resort by M. J. Hardy, The Safe Place by Anna Downes #psychologicalfiction #psychologicalsuspense

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Welcome to my last book review of the month. I have a number of other posts I want to share—everything from new Cabinet of Curiosities posts to writing updates—but time hasn’t been kind to me lately. I hope to be able to get back on track soon, but in the interim, I hope these reviews pique your curiosity.


Book cover shows four colorful roll suitcases sitting on dock overlooking ocean

THE RESORT
by M.J. Hardy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a quick read (I blew through it in two sittings), and as the title suggests, great escapist fiction. Three couples, a single man, and a single woman have the seemingly good fortunate of winning all-expense paid trips to a luxury resort on a tropical island.
This is luxury with a capital “L.”

The setting is exquisite—sun-soaked accommodations, turquoise pools, white sand beaches, gourmet meals, boating excursions, and opulent spa treatments. Just reading those passages put me in a tranquil frame of mind. But there’s also a creeping, steadily building sense of what’s coming—because all this pampering and too-good-to-be-true opulence has to lead somewhere, right?

The characters are an assortment of people who either take up lodging in your heart or leave you loathing them. I wasn’t sure where the book was headed, but found the ending a surprise, and also a delight. This is a popcorn read that would make a fantastic Lifetime movie. Definitely a fun, escapist read!

AMAZON LINK

Book cover shows unground swimming pool overlooking tropical ocean

THE SAFE PLACE
by Anna Downes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Emily Proudman is a failed actress who loses her temp job and her apartment, only to have paradise fall into her lap. Her ex-boss, Scott, offers her a job as a housekeeper/companion to his wife and young daughter who live alone on an isolated French estate. Emily is flown, all expenses paid to the property, given her own car, a private house, and a credit card, but there are a few rules—the main being she is never to enter the “family house” where her boss’s wife, Nina, lives with their daughter, Aurelia.

Emily soon discovers Aurelia has a number of ailments, including sun sensitivity, and though she is capable of vocalizing (giggles, shrieks, screams), never speaks. The estate is luxurious and everything Emily hoped it would be. She enjoys plenty of poolside days sipping wine with Nina, who quickly becomes a friend. But there is something off kilter about the situation—about Nina and Scott themselves—and the more time Emily spends poking around the estate, the more she realizes Emily and Scott are hiding something. Scott is rarely there, and when he does arrive, Nina seems anxious.

While a bit slow at the beginning, the novel picks up speed once Emily arrives at the estate and is introduced to Nina and Aurelia. The setting is superb—sun-soaked, but remote. Empty rooms and an underlying odor of rot are used to create a sense of foreboding beneath the bliss.

Chapters alternate between Emily and Scott in third person POV, and an unnamed narrator in first person—though it quickly becomes apparent who that individual is. Through this narrator, the reader gradually sees the past unfold. By the time it connects with the present, the stage is set for all plot threads to tie together for the final reveal. Emily is a good protagonist, and for the most part the story is entertaining.

I was slightly disappointed by the twist—I was hoping for something less predictable—and I felt the ending could have been stronger with a tighter wrap to Emily’s story. Overall, however, I found this a diverting read and worthy of four stars.

AMAZON LINK

Book Review Tuesday: Jazz Baby by Beem Weeks, #historical fiction #comingofage, Outside by Ragnar Jonasson #internationalmystery #crimefiction @beemweeks

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

It’s past the mid point of April and we had snow yesterday. Not anything that laid on the ground, but the fact that it was even tumbling from the sky seemed so wrong. I resisted the urge to sob, reminding myself we have warmer temperatures coming later this week. Hopefully, yesterday’s snow was winter’s last sneeze.

On a positive note, I have book reviews to share! The first is a gritty and vibrant piece of historical fiction. Sadly, the second fell short of what I expected, but since it’s a Net Galley selection, I felt the need to post my review.


book cover for Jazz Baby shows framed picture of barefoot young girl in sundress, sepia-tone finish

JAZZ BABY
by Beem Weeks

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Beem Weeks will take you back in time with this story of a young girl who dreams of becoming a jazz singer. Emily Ann “Baby” Teegarten is gifted with an amazing voice, but her life falls apart when her mother murders her father, and she is left orphaned at thirteen. Taken in by an aunt, she struggles to navigate her own way, singing in speak easies, getting caught up in a life of gangsters, drugs, and sex.

The setting is gritty and raw, perfectly rendered. This is a dark book—the character endures a lot at the hands of those who would use her for their own gain—but it also presents a realistic slice of life that brings the seedier side of the 1920s to vivid clarity. The writing is a mesmerizing combination of “plain-speak” and crude beauty. I don’t think I’ve ever read dialogue that felt so authentic or flowed so effortlessly. Characters are exquisitely drawn. Some, like Nessie, will steal your heart. Others, like Pig and Rydekker, will make your skin crawl. There is a side plot related to stolen money, and others involving infatuations and the first flush of love.

Emily Ann is feisty—daring but also naïve. There were many times I wanted to shake sense into her, and others where I cringed over the danger she found herself in—time and time again. This is a coming-of-age tale that doesn’t pull punches. I felt like I stepped back in time to an era when “speaks” and cathouses ruled the night and dreams of overcoming circumstance resulted in reckless choices. Bravo to the author for painting such a stark reality of hardscrabble living.

AMAZON LINK

Book cover shows set of footprints through heavy snow leading to small house at base of mountains, light shining from doorway of house

OUTSIDE
by Ragnar Jonasson

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for this ARC.

I love books set in winter climates, and the idea of this one being set in Iceland was extremely appealing. Add in four old college friends reuniting for a hunting trip, plus a snow storm, and it sounded like a fantastic set up for a great mystery.

Unfortunately, I found myself plodding through chapter after chapter of lengthy backstory and next to zero action. I couldn’t even connect with any of the characters. I normally don’t mind backstory (I love seething undercurrents) but this was just so dry and often repetitive that it took an effort to finish the book. Sadly, not at all what I expected. This one just wasn’t for me.

PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON
(Release date is June 28, 2022)

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Carolina Moonset by Matt Goldman #mystery #suspense #southernfiction

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Happy Hump Day! For today’s book review, I must give a shout-out to Lady Tessa of Tessa Talks Books who first alerted me to this fantastic family drama and mystery. Carolina Moonset is definitely a winner!


Book cover shows old antebellum mansion on edge of marsh at twilight

CAROLINA MOONSET
by Matt Goldman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thank you to Net Galley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing an ARC.

From the title, to the book cover, to the blurb, I couldn’t wait to disappear into the pages of this novel. I was so engrossed, I read 68% in one sitting, then finished it the next day, frustrated sleep had intervened.

Joey Green visits his parents in the small South Carolina town where his father grew up, focused on spending time with his dad, Marshall, a beloved local physician who is sinking into dementia. When Marshall starts talking about the past, holding conversations with people who aren’t there, Joey and his mother chalk his behavior up to a deteriorating mind. But it soon becomes apparent there are secrets hidden in his reminiscing, puzzle pieces that bind the past to the present. When one of the town’s most influential citizens is murdered, suspicions fall on Marshall, but Joey knows his father is innocent. Finding out who is responsible opens a door on an old tragedy and unresolved circumstances.

While I found the mystery from the past to be the more intriguing of the two, I was completely surprised by the identity of the killer in the present. Although this is more of a quiet story, it moves at a pace that makes it impossible to set the book down. The descriptions are phenomenal, the richly detailed setting easily transporting the reader to a place of salt marshes, shrimp boats, and antebellum homes.

Main and secondary characters are equally well-developed, and no one gets short shrift (I developed such a soft spot for Bubba). There is a subplot with a low-key romance, but it enhances rather than detracts from the overall tale. Beautifully written, this is a story that touches on relationships, sacrifice, heartache, and love. I thought the ending was perfect, and would recommend this to anyone who likes an intelligent and compelling mystery with memorable characters.

RELEASE DATE IS MAY 31, 2022
PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON OR YOUR FAVORITE BOOK VENDOR

Book Review Tuesday: The Marriage Secret by Carey Baldwin, Hues of Hope: Selected Poetry by Balroop Singh #PsychologicalFiction #Women’sFiction #poetry @CareyBaldwin @BalroopShado

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Hello and Happy April! Welcome to my first book review feature for the month. Today, I have two very different titles to share, both splendid. A shout-out to Harmony Kent for alerting me to The Marriage Secret with her own fabulous review. For my second book today, I can always count on this author to deliver when it comes to poetry. Let’s get started!


Book cover shows double bed made with white sheets and pillows, bouquet of red roses on bed with several loose petals

THE MARRIAGE SECRET
By Carey Baldwin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I became an instant fan of Carey Baldwin when I read Her First Mistake. With The Marriage Secret, Baldwin has scored again with the twisty story of a woman trapped in a wretched marriage. Holly thought she had it all when she married Zach, a respected doctor. For a time, her life was perfect—even after Holly shared a horrid secret from her past on their marriage day. Still, Zach lavished her with attention and gifts, promising to love her forever. But on the day their baby, Jolene, is born, Zach reveals a side of himself that is only the beginning of a dark and downward spiral for Holly. Her once perfect husband becomes manipulative and controlling, orchestrating events to make her question her sanity.

Zach is a character who made my skin crawl from the moment he showed his true colors in chapter one.

The book starts with a hook and keeps the tension building as Holly struggles to extradite herself from her wreck of a marriage and possessive husband. Because the book is told in first person POV, it’s easy to connect with Holly. Uncertain of her footing at first, she gains strength as the story progresses, willing to do what is necessary to protect Jolene.

This is a book of mind games, not physical abuse. Zach and Holly dance around each other in a clever game of cat and mouse. Especially when Holly gets wind of a secret from Zach’s past and gains leverage to use against him. Then two of the med students he mentored are found dead and matters go from simmer to boil. When the end comes, it corkscrews in a series of impossible twists. I was thrilled to have a “lightbulb moment” before the author delivered the final reveal, but even so—wow!

This is a fantastic domestic thriller and one I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys a slick and crafty read.

AMAZON LINK


HUES OF HOPE: SELECTED POETRY
by Balroop Singh

Book cover is an open window on night sky with crescent moon and dark sky above, fiery sunset sky below with small trees in silhouette, old vanished lantern in front of window

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I think of Balroop Singh’s poetry as immersive poetry because you’re able to sink so deeply into the words, the images they evoke, and the emotions they inspire. In this collection of poetry, themed around hope, you’ll find verses that celebrate nature, explore love, loss and death, as well as examine joy and resilience—all paving a path to the hope that inspires and raises us above circumstances.

Contents are broken into sections led by verse: Beyond the chaotic world; When each moment shimmers; Beams of Love; Clutching bizarre hope, and Reflections that retort. Each of these features its own gems where you’ll experience feelings inspired by the powerful brushstroke of the author’s words.

I’m a fan of nature poetry, so I was particularly drawn to those. Watch the Magic, which speaks to the changing seasons, is one of my favorites. You can see the magic unfold in verses such as

Deep shadows dance around me
Wind and breeze compete to win.
Far away, at the horizon, gray scrambles
To steal some golden kisses.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the poems in this collection, but of particular note, I was moved by Transient Waterfall, A Touch, Buried Dreams, My Muse, and Ode to Poetry. Topping the list, my very favorite is Do you Remember—a beautiful testament to memories and looking back on life with a loved one. I’ll share the opening verse here:

Do you remember the days?
When we played with clouds
Rolled in colors,
Wore them around
Drenched and smiled
When we splayed colors at each other.

This poem alone, I can read over and over, and find new glimmers of meaning and memory each time. Grab the book, experience Do You Remember, and all the jewels in this lovely collection!

AMAZON LINK

New Release: Good Liniment by C. S. Boyack #superherofantasy #urbanfantasy #lizzieandthehat #writingcommunity @Virgilante

red quill pen on a piece of old parchment paper, with an ink well with words Welcome Guest in script

Hello, and happy Thursday. My guest today is good friend and Story Empire colleague, Craig Boyack, here to talk about his latest Lizzie and the Hat release. I’ve read all of these novellas and thoroughly enjoyed them all. After you check out Craig’s post, be sure to take a gander at my review for Good Liniment listed at the end. And now, here’s Craig…


Thanks for letting me borrow your space again, Mae. I’m here to talk about Good Liniment. This is the newest entry into The Hat Series. Remember, this series consists of short novels that can be read in a single afternoon. They’re also stand-alone stories, so you can start anywhere you like without feeling lost. Maybe somewhere like Good Liniment.

I have my spokesmodel, Lisa Burton, out touring around with her posters, and those always lead to a few clicks. That leaves me to talk about the craft elements of my stories.

One thing I strive for is to avoid low hanging fruit. I’m not saying I haven’t used zombies or vampires in my stories, but I try to make them different somehow. Those who know about Kevin the vampire will understand that he’s not a sparkly and romantic hunk of a guy.

Whenever I can, I try to come up with something new. Speculative fiction has enough dragon riders, schools for the magically gifted, and others. This brings me to creatures I created for this story; bog trogs.

A bog trog is a magical creature about one story tall. They’re amphibious predators who live underground. Inside their gut, they produce the most powerful magical element of all, magical ambergris.

One of my new characters, Cyrus Yoder, makes a living by harvesting the occasional bog trog then selling ambergris to members of the magical community. Finding a creature that lives underground is no mean trick.

Cyrus is acutely aware of herd management, and only harvests one every few years to replenish his stock. Otherwise, he monitors their locations using a sequence of archaic tools and notebooks to determine when they might move again.

He has to wait until one of the trogs relocates to gain access to them. Bog trogs cause sinkholes when they move, so it’s not a very safe battleground when the time comes. They’re also not above eating him.

Good Liniment happens at a time when Cyrus is out of ambergris and desperate to restock his supply. Even the cult that’s trying to kill off witches won’t keep him home when one of the creatures decides to relocate.

I try to be peripherally aware of many things. Sometimes they come together in strange but wonderful ways. A news bit about sinkholes, a bit about finding ambergris washed up on the shore and what it’s worth, then one day a bog trog shows up at the writing cabin. I keep notes and bookmark interesting tales I come across online. I also use Pinterest as a great visual resource that helps me remember items.

If you would like to go hunting for a magical creature that has no problem eating you, using nothing more than a spear on unstable ground, then part of Good Liniment might appeal to you. Oh, and Cyrus does it all while someone else is trying to kill him simply for being a witch.

book cover with imposing four-story gothic looking building against night sky

BLURB:
Someone is murdering members of the local witches coven. They turn to Lizzie and the hat for their unique skills that might help eliminate the killers.

A religious zealot might be a monster, but is still a human being. This task isn’t the same as staking vampires or shooting zombies. It isn’t the usual project Lizzie takes on for her night work.

This all takes place during a recovery period for Lizzie. She needs to keep her cover band together and find a new way of getting them gigs. More bands and less venues are making finances tight. The hat didn’t make things easier during her absence, by spreading rumors about why she took her sabbatical.

Someone killing others over a point of view insults Lizzie’s sensibilities. She has secrets to keep. Her employers have secrets, too. It doesn’t make for a comfortable working environment, but she agrees to do what she can.

Convincing her strong willed employers to stay indoors during all this poses another problem. Can she keep them alive long enough to finish her task?

Good Liniment is full of magic, magical creatures, and an entire underground community living amongst us.

The Hat Series consists of short novels that can be read in a single afternoon. They’re full of snarky dark humor and can be easily read out of order.

PURCHASE GOOD LINIMENT
SERIES LINK

bio box for author, C.S. Boyack

Connect with Craig at the following haunts:
Blog | My Novels | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook | Pinterest | BookBub


Bog trogs, sinkholes, magical ambergris—Craig is at his usual imaginative best with his latest Hat story. Be sure to hop over to Amazon and ONE-CLICK your copy. Before you go, however, here is my review of this entertaining story!


Another good entry into The Hat series, Good Liniment has Lizzie and the hat coming to the aid of a coven of witches… more precisely, they’re hired to find a killer who murdered one of the coven and is looking to up the score.

The first order of business is getting Lizzie and the Hat together again, given the way the previous novella ended. Boyack does that quickly and efficiently, while providing a glimpse into Lizzie’s family background. There are also several new characters, most of the supernatural variety.

My favorite is “Noodles” a quasi pet-like creature belonging to Cyrus Yoder, a witch and key player in this story. As usual, Boyack’s imagination runs wild with the variety of witches he dreams up, and an amusing foray to a comic con.

There’s plenty of adventure, cameos from past characters (Kevin the vampire, Joe Yoder the cop, and a surprise guest). More music from Lizzie and the Pythons, snark from the Hat, sightings of Hellpox, and a personal favorite of mine—forays into Night Bump Radio. But there are also tense moments, and a hard hit for Lizzie (you’ll have to read the book to discover what that’s all about).

A fun and imaginative tale with a universe that just keeps growing!

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, The Midnight Man by Caroline Mitchell #suspense #mysteries

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Today’s reviews are for books that had been on my reading radar for some time. I’d read Ruth Ware before, but for some reason hesitated on snatching up In a Dark, Dark Wood. I eventually grabbed it through Libby.

The Midnight Man intrigued me the moment it was released, but I had so many other books on my reading plate, I kept putting it off. Then BookBub sent me notice of a .99c deal, and I had to snatch it up. Apparently, it’s the first book in a new crime series, and if this one is any indication of what lies ahead, I can’t wait for the next!


bookcover with black and white illustration of tree branches, white branches on black background

IN A DARK, DARK WOOD
BY RUTH WARE

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This book wasn’t exactly what I expected. Leonora agrees to attend a hen party for an old friend—one she hasn’t seen or spoken to in ten years. Because of last minute cancellations, the group ends up being very small, just six people, including the intended bride. The setting is a large contemporary home tucked deep in the woods.

I loved the descriptions of the house which features walls and walls of glass windows. Because the author drives those images home in scene after scene, I was really hoping for those towering windows to have more impact in the story. The atmosphere of both home and woods really pervades the first half of the book, which held me enthralled. There are squabbles during the hen party, old wounds reopened, even a few moments with a Ouija board.

The second half of the book deals with Leonora waking up in the hospital, trying to recall the events that led to someone being killed. That half is a bit plodding and I found myself wishing things would move at a faster pace.

The author does a good job of making each person a suspect in the killing, so I really had no idea who the culprit was prior to the reveal. Kudos for that. Kudos too, for placing the answer in plain sight but nestling it so cleverly I never picked up on the obvious. When the revelation comes it’s an “ahhh!” moment. So… great first half with a fantastic setting, clever close, but some plodding to get there. Also, I feel like the Ouija board incident was left hanging. Overall, 3.5 stars rounded to 4 for review purposes.

AMAZON LINK


THE MIDNIGHT MAN
Slayton Thrillers #1
BY CAROLINE MITCHELL

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh, the creep factor! Give me a spooky abandoned old house with a name like Blackhall Manor, an infamous history involving a grisly murder/suicide and an urban legend twined with a game played on Halloween, and you’ve hooked me as a reader. That’s exactly what Caroline Mitchell did with The Midnight Man, a crime thriller with a supernatural twist. From the first chapter—suspense on steroids—to the mind-boggling and thoroughly satisfying conclusion, I was riveted.

Detective Sarah Noble has returned to the force after a long absence and a ruined marriage that negatively impacted her job. She struggles with the censure of her peers while trying to adapt to a lesser role in the department.

On Halloween, fifteen years after the murders in Blackhall Manor, five girls receive an anonymous invitation to play a game in the old house which will summon the Midnight Man (think ghostly games, like Bloody Mary). Only four of the girls make it home.

Despite trying to keep a low profile, Sarah has ties to the old house she’s managed to keep secret from most everyone. As the danger ramps up, she’s caught up in a net that tangles her past with the game the girls played and Blackhall Manor itself. In addition, her friend, Maggie, has a seven-year-old son who has the gift of sight. Elliott sees visions he doesn’t understand, dark and macabre images that terrify him. With Elliott’s help, Sarah must piece together the mystery and put an end to the darkness of Blackhall before it claims more victims.

This is a creepy, atmospheric story that oozes suspense with every scene. There’s a full roster of suspects to keep you guessing about culprits. Everyone’s life overlaps in various ways for a plethora of knots in what makes a twisty little thriller. The reveals at the end come like a stack of dominos, one toppling upon the other for a staggering conclusion. I read this book in two days, irritated when real life intervened and pulled me away from the story. The best news—although this is a complete tale, it’s also the first in a new series by the author. I eagerly look forward to the next!

AMAZON LINK

Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Corpse Roads

Stack of books with round eyeglasses on top, brass vintage candle, and carnivale mask in background

Imagine a craggy footpath etched into a rugged landscape which ultimately ends at a lonely cemetery or church with ancient burial grounds. In medieval times such “corpse roads” were commonplace—established routes used to transport the dead to their final resting place. Because bodies could only be buried at designated mother churches or minsters, mourners were often forced to transport their loved ones across long distances, usually by foot.

These paths, rugged and uninhabited, became known as corpse roads, church-ways, burial roads, and bier roads. Their topography was frequently dotted with crosses and coffin stones—large, flat stones where a procession set a casket when pausing to rest—and usually crossed a bridge or marsh. Most of our ancestors believed the spirits of the departed could not cross water, hence corpse roads incorporated a path that spanned a ford or lake, preventing the deceased from returning to haunt the living. Bodies were carried with their feet facing away from home, another superstition to keep restless ghosts from returning.

Stream crossing a Corpse Road. This is the old drovers track between Eskdale & Wasdale. It is also the old corpse road from Wasdale to the church at Boot in Eskdale. Photo courtey Nigel Chadwick [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Spirits, wraiths, and even nature beings such as faeries, were believed to move along special routes like burial roads, flying close to the ground on a straight line. For this reason, any direct path connecting two places was kept clear of obstructing fences, walls, and buildings, so as not to impede the flight of the phantoms. As a result, locals knew to avoid such byways after dark. Labyrinths and mazes had the opposite effect, hindering the movement of spirits.

Flickers of flame called “corpse candles” were often seen traveling just above the ground on the path between a dying person’s house, the cemetery and back again. A phenomenon reported mostly in Wales, it’s also believed corpse candles materialized in churchyards preceding someone’s death.

In some parts of the UK and Europe those endowed with supernatural abilities would watch coffin paths on auspicious dates. These “lych watches” were conducted to receive premonitions of who might perish in the coming year.

There are numerous beliefs and legends tied to corpse roads. Some country folk believe that if a body is carried across a field the ground will thereafter fail to produce a good harvest. Others, that coffin stones were sanctified and placed on church-ways to allow the body a place to rest on its journey without defiling the ground beneath it.

Coffin Stone at Town End. This stone is beside a ‘corpse road’ along which coffins had to be carried from Ambleside for burial at St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere. This stone, along with others along the way, was used to support the coffin while the bearers rested. Photo courtesy of Gordon Brown [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

One particular legend involves a funeral procession that bore the body of a man who had done great evil in his life. When the procession paused to rest, they set the casket on a coffin stone for a brief time. Almost at once, the casket was struck by lightning, shattering it to bits, reducing its contents to ash, and splitting the stone in two. The procession determined God did not want such a vile soul buried in the cemetery and took actions to prevent the mans interment.

Like so many of our forgotten customs and folklore, corpse roads harken to a time when superstition ruled both day and night and simple folk placed their faith in good over evil. The echo of those beliefs and quiet voices still linger today, buried in the dusty remnants of legend. As long as we keep memory alive, old traditions will always find a place at the campfire. Do you find these old stories as interesting as I do?

Book Review Tuesday: Means to Deceive by Alex Craigie, Between the Vines by Staci Troilo #bookish #bookreviews @stacitroilo

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Hello, and Happy Tuesday! I’ve got two wonderful books to share today, both of which kept me flipping pages. One is a twisty slow-build suspense novel, the other a snappy, breezy romance novella with a villain you’ll love to hate. You can’t go wrong with either!


book cover for Means to Deceive shows a white daisy with part of the petals torn away

MEANS TO DECEIVE
BY ALEX CRAIGIE

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is an intricately plotted mystery/suspense book that builds from simmer to a slow boil. Gwen Meredith moves home to care for her elderly grandmother who suffers from dementia. Gwen has always viewed their relationship as strained, mostly due to a tragedy in Gwen’s past for which she harbors crushing guilt. The reader sees bits and pieces of that tragedy unfold a little at a time as Gwen periodically recalls the event, allowing layers to become exposed as though she is peeling a metaphorical onion. It is this past event, an episode that has shaped her life, that factors so brilliantly into the plot, particularly the ending.

Complicating matters, Gwen has crossed paths with two men who hold a grudge against her, each for different and alarming reasons. Her home life is disrupted when she becomes a target for harassment. The attacks grow in frequency and become frighteningly malicious. While the police are involved the culprit is never pinned down. Fortunately, Gwen has the benefit of an attentive older brother who moves in temporarily, and a new neighbor with whom she begins a tentative relationship. Gwen is a strong character, constantly standing up for herself to the chagrin of both brother and suitor, yet at the same time the past has burdened her with inner fragility she doesn’t allow to show.

Characters are realistically portrayed, reflecting all the ups and downs, doubts, and sacrifices that play out between them. Gwen’s relationship with her grandmother is thorny but a delight to read. I couldn’t help developing a soft spot in my heart for Granny. I also appreciated how Gwen’s relationship with Ben developed over time with plenty of hiccups along the way.

Red herrings and curve balls lead to a lot of second-guessing when it comes to the culprit. Although I did finger that person correctly (after waffling more than once) the motive left me dumbfounded. The ending was brilliant and wholly satisfying. A polished, well-written tale for fans of intelligent mysteries and slow-build suspense.

AMAZON LINK

Book cover of Between the Vines shows silhouette of couple embracing, large bunch of grapes with leaves and vine in the background

BETWEEN THE VINES
Keystone Couples #3
BY STACI TROILO

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Elena is a wedding planner who doesn’t believe in love thanks to the jerks who have been sniffing around her door since high school. Aaron is her cousin Rick’s longtime friend, a cop who’s recently been dumped by his fiancée, Heather.

Heather is now engaged to Jarod, a one-time friend of Rick, until he tried to take advantage of Elena. Sound like a romantic merry-go-round? Oh, just wait until the complications/fun begins!

From the start, the underlying attraction between Elena and Aaron is clear, but several obstacles stand in their way—foremost, Heather, who decides she was hasty in leaving Aaron once she sees him take down a robbery suspect. This woman is the pinnacle of self-centered and shallow. Troilo writes her in such a way that the moment she appears in a scene, you cringe. Heather is a character you love to hate.

But all Troilo’s characters are well developed. Elena is a walking bundle of doubt buried under a core of outer strength. Aaron seesaws between exasperation and attentiveness. Poor guy has his work cut out for him, but bring out the pom-poms because you’ll be cheering for him and Elena from their very first spark of chemistry.

This is a fun novella with snappy dialogue, perfectly paced scenes, and breezy writing. It leaves you with a warm feeling and a happily-ever-after smile. All three Keystone Couples stories are superb, but I think this clever gem might just be my favorite.

AMAZON LINK