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!

Guest Author Thursday: Joan Hall with House of Sorrow #newrelease #mystery #psychologicalfiction @JoanHallWrites

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

It’s my pleasure to welcome good friend and Story Empire colleague, Joan Hall, to my blog today. Joan is here to share her new release House of Sorrow, the introduction to her Legends of Madeira series. You can find my five star review for this fantastic novella that blends history and suspense HERE.

As someone who has an extensive set of books about Robert F. Kennedy, I’m particularly fond the post she’s sharing today. Take it away, Joan!


House of Sorrow: June 1968 & Bobby Kennedy

Mae, thank you for hosting me today. It’s a pleasure to visit today. I’m excited to tell your readers about my newest release.

House of Sorrow is a short-story prequel to my upcoming novel Cold Dark Night, book one of my Legends of Madeira series. It’s the story of Ruth Hazelton, a reclusive older woman who lives in a two-story Victorian house in the fictional town of Madeira, New Mexico. Ruth reflects on her life, particularly when she and her husband Lee first moved to town.

I included some historical events in the book, as well as some personal memories. Most of the scenes occur in the late 1960s. One event is the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy.

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“Senator Kennedy has been shot.” 

I still recall waking up to my mother’s words. Mom often had “premonitions” something bad was about to happen. It happened the day of JFK’s assassination and again with Bobby. She’d been unable to sleep that June night, so she turned on the television to hear the sad news. 

In the days following Bobby’s death, I saw his funeral train on television and remember how crowds lined the tracks between New York City and Washington, DC. I was only ten, but it made a profound impact on me.

Robert F. Kennedy at podium, standing in profile, crowd gathered around him
Bobby Kennedy in Los Angeles shortly before his assassination (public domain photo)

Only two months earlier, I had been the one to first learn of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I hurried into the other room to tell my parents. It’s safe to say 1968 was a volatile year in America.

A few years ago, my husband and I visited DC and Arlington National Cemetery. Seeing the simple marker and single white cross on Bobby’s grave touched me more than the eternal flame at JFK’s.

Single white cross and headstone on field of green lawn, gravesite of Robert F. Kennedy
Photo by Joan Hall

Some may think this is weird, but when I looked at the surrounding hillside, the last line of the song, “Abraham, Martin, and John” came to mind. I could almost picture the four men strolling together on the hill, and it brought tears to my eyes.

In this passage, Ruth has just moved to Madeira and met her neighbor, Sam. It’s only a few days after RFK died. 

Excerpt:

Sam sat in silence for a few minutes. “Damn shame about Bobby Kennedy.”

“Yes, it was. I watched the funeral on television. So sad for Ethel, especially with her being pregnant. That poor child will never know his or her father.”

“Guess it wasn’t surprising at the number of people who lined the tracks as the train made its way to Washington. Not to mention those at the funeral. President and Mrs. Johnson. Even Nixon was there.”

“Coretta Scott King. You know it had to be hard on her, having lost her husband only two months ago. And Jackie, of course.” Ruth had long been an admirer of the former first lady. She’d watched JFK’s funeral on television and was impressed with Jackie’s poise and elegance in such difficult times. She managed to look classy in her black mourning clothes, her brother-in-law at her side.

“First Jack, now his brother. Not to mention Joe Jr. and their sister. I believe that family is cursed. What do you think?”

“I really don’t believe in curses.”

Sam scoffed. “Curses are real.”

“You think so?”

“I do.” He made a sweeping motion with his hand. “Take some of the people who have lived in this—” Sam shook his head. “Never mind.”

“Lived where? Madeira?”

“It’s not important. Besides, I take it you’re not superstitious.”

“I’m not. This may sound callous, but both President Kennedy and Bobby were politicians and public figures. They were bound to have enemies.”

“That’s true, but what about the other Kennedy children?”

“The oldest brother was killed during World War II. Kathleen’s death was simply a tragic accident.”

“You may be right. On the other hand, Jack’s and Bobby’s assassinations could be part of a conspiracy. They got rid of both brothers. Murdered Martin Luther King. With that war over there, this world is a mess.”

Blurb:

Promo graphic with book cover for House of Sorrow shows porch swing on covered front porch

Dream home or damned home? 

Ruth Hazelton is over the moon when her husband Lee agrees the nineteenth-century Victorian in Madeira, New Mexico, is the perfect home for them. While he starts his new job as police chief, she sets about unpacking and decorating.

But it’s not long before Ruth needs more. She becomes a fixture in the community, making time for everyone, volunteering, hosting events—she’s every bit the social butterfly her husband is not. Through her friendships, she learns several former residents of her home met with untimely deaths. If she were superstitious, she might fear a curse, but such nonsense doesn’t faze her.

Until the unthinkable happens.

Now, as the end of Ruth’s life draws near, she must find a way to convey her message and stop the cycle to prevent anyone else from suffering in the house of sorrow. 

Purchase Link

Connect with Joan:

Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |   Bookbub  |  Goodreads  |  Instagram

Bio box for author, Joan Hall

I was six when Bobby Kennedy died. I only have a grainy memory of a newscast. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I became fascinated with him, devouring books on his life, and collecting DVDs—both documentaries and TV movies. One of the things I loved best about House of Sorrow is how Joan spins back the clock to bring so many events of the 1960s and early 1970s to life in her story. It’s an entertaining novella which acts as lead in for what promises to be a most excellent series. I recommend heading to Amazon to ONE CLICK and snatch up your copy today!

Book Spotlight: Out of Kindness by J.A. Walsh @JAWALSH_BOOKS @SunburyPress #thriller #suspense

An open book with rays and orbs of light shooting from the pages

Thanks for joining me for another Book Spotlight. Today, I’m welcoming Sunbury Press author, J.A. Wash with his suspense/thriller novel, Out of Kindness. J. A. has the perfect background to spin this type of tale, as you’ll see when you check out his bio. First be sure to read the blurb for his very intriguing release, then drop a line to share your thoughts! Doesn’t that cover rock?

Book Description:

A beautiful Irish island reveals its ugly secrets in this thriller of the opioid crisis

Sean Casper retired from the Boston Police to get away from murderers. He left Massachusetts to get away from everything else, especially his broken marriage and the pain of his son’s fentanyl overdose.

Casper retreats to a seaside cottage on a beautiful Irish island, unaware he is surrounded by ugly secrets. When Casper finds a mutilated lamb ritually displayed in an ancient cemetery, he reads up on the island’s only recorded murder and sees a pattern.

One of the island’s 600 residents is a serial killer. Someone else is about to die.

His investigation leads to Aoife Walsh, an island native suffering from the same addiction that killed his son. Her best friend was murdered twenty years ago, and she knows who did it. With no authority, but nothing to lose, Casper goes after the killer. 

Instead of finding an island refuge, Casper discovers much of Europe’s heroin passes through the island’s remote coast. And as he gets closer to the truth, he places himself in the crosshairs of the island’s drug traffickers, who will do anything to protect their secrets.

Out of Kindness is a thriller about grief and isolation, swirling in the backdrop of the opioid epidemic, on one of the most hauntingly beautiful islands on Earth.

PURCHASE LINKS:
SUNBURY PRESS | AMAZON

JA Walsh (Author)AUTHOR BIO:

J.A. Walsh worked in intelligence and counter-terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, before embarking on a career advising the U.S. military on energy security strategy. He has degrees in Russian, English literature, and Environmental Law. He and his family split time between Lake Norman, North Carolina and the Florida Keys. Learn more at JAWalsh.com

WEBSITE | TWITTER


I love the location of this one. The story definitely sounds like one to sink your reading chops into, don’t you think? J.A. will be dropping by to say hello, so be sure to let him know your thoughts in the comments. We’d both be delighted if you’d use the sharing buttons to spread the word about Out of Kindness. Thank you for visiting today!

Book Review Tuesday: The Bad Sister by Kevin O’Brien, The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter #domesticsuspense #psychologicalsuspense #bookreviews

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

I seem to be devouring a lot of psychological suspense and domestic thrillers these days. There is so much to choose from and so many good titles out there. Today’s reviews are a mix of an auto-buy author and a new-to-me author. Both earn five glowing stars!

BOOK BLURB:
TOO CLOSE
The site of the old campus bungalow where two girls were brutally slain is now a flower patch covered with chrysanthemums. It’s been fifty years since the Immaculate Conception Murders. Three more students and a teacher were killed in a sickening spree that many have forgotten. But there is one person who knows every twisted detail. . . .
 
TO SEE
Hannah O’Rourke and her volatile half-sister, Eden, have little in common except a parent. Yet they’ve ended up at the same small college outside Chicago, sharing a bungalow with another girl. Hannah isn’t thrilled—nor can she shake the feeling that she’s being watched. And her journalism professor, Ellie Goodwin, keeps delving into Hannah and Eden’s newsworthy past. . . .
 
THE DANGER
When Hannah and Eden’s arrival coincides with a spate of mysterious deaths, Ellie knows it’s more than a fluke. A copycat is recreating those long-ago murders. Neither the police nor the school will accept the horrific truth. And the more Ellie discovers, the more she’s convinced that she won’t live to be believed. . . .

MY REVIEW:
Kevin O’Brien is one of my auto-buy authors. I can always count on him to deliver a complex mystery with characters who are easy to relate to.

Hannah and Eden are sisters who only recently learned they’re related. Their relationship is rocky, but when they go away to Our Lady of the Cove college, they both end up sharing the same bungalow with a third girl. Rachel tells them about the Immaculate Conception Murders which occurred fifty years ago. It’s not long after Hannah and Eden arrive that a copycat killer strikes, staging his victims in the same manner as the original murderer.

The problem with mysteries is it’s hard to say a lot about them without giving away the plot, but O’Brien has a solid winner with The Bad Sister. He builds tension throughout, the clock ticking with each successive murder. Several characters sent up potential suspect flags for me, but in the end, I was completely off base.

In addition to the sisters and Rachel, other key players include a journalism teacher and one of her students—a thirtyish man who doesn’t fit with the rest of the student body. Each has a background that plays into the overall plot, subtle layers about their pasts revealed a bit at time. When everything comes together at the end, each twisty plot thread is wrapped with a satisfying conclusion. I always think of O’Brien’s mysteries as fat, juicy reads, and for that reason I buy his novels in paperback form—perfect beach reads no matter the time of year or place.

If you like a good whodunit with strong, relatable characters, I highly recommend The Bad Sister. And if you haven’t read O’Brien before, you’re missing out. My bookcase is filled with his novels!

5 STARS

BOOK BLURB:
Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave.

Matthew: the perfect husband.

Titus: the perfect son.

Charlie: the perfect illusion.

Rachel: the perfect stranger.

Charlie didn’t want her at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.

And that’s how Charlie finds himself slumped beside his husband’s body, their son sitting silently at the dinner table, while Rachel calls 999, the bloody knife still gripped in her hand.

Classic crime meets Donna Tartt in this nerve-shredding domestic noir thriller that weaves a sprawling web of secrets around an opulent West London world and the dinner that ends in death.

MY REVIEW:
This is a quick read that immediately sucks you into the story with subtlety. Matthew and Charlie are married, with an adopted teenage son, Titus. One day while shopping, they encounter Rachel, a newcomer who has moved nearby. After some chit-chat, Matthew invites her to his book club. Charlie is puzzled by the swiftness of Mathew’s actions and feels there is something off with Rachel, though he can’t put his finger on why. This is just the beginning of Rachel winding her way into their lives, the lives of their family, and friends. With each successive chapter, Rachels actions grow more and more questionable, but she is far from the only character keeping secrets.

The book shifts in time with scenes in the present—Matthew has been murdered—to scenes in the past leading up to the moment of his death. Gradually, the backstories of the four main characters—Matthew, Charlie, Titus and Rachel—unfold as past rushes to join present and we learn the identity of Matthew’s killer. There are multiple twists and turns along the way. Some I figured out beforehand, others caught me blindsided. The ending is different than most books of this type but altogether satisfying in its cleverness. 

This is slow build psychological/domestic suspense, but at the same time, a riveting page-turner. I finished it in two-sittings, and have no problem awarding it a well-earned five stars. I’ll look for more from this author. 

5 STARS


I had an entertaining week of reading, as you can see. I’m also excited that another of my auto-buy authors (Jennifer McMahon) has a new novel out. I pre-ordered The Drowning Kind, it’s now on my Kindle, and I can’t wait to get to it. But…TBR, you know? Hopefully, soon.

Happy Reading!

The Vanished Boy by Harmony Kent @harmony_kent #mystery #suspense #bookreview

Yes, I know it’s a Monday and not my normal day for posting reviews, but I already had my Tuesday Book review post formatted and ready to go (I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to check out the selections), when I devoured The Vanished Boy in two days. Rather than waiting another week to share my review, I thought I’d post it today. This one gets an easy five stars. Congrats to my Story Empire colleague, Harmony, on delivering such an excellent novel!

BLURB:
It’s so remote out here. Anything could happen …

A missed phone call in the night is all it takes.

When Carole’s 18-year-old son goes missing, she breaks into Jayden’s laptop to try to understand his life.

All too soon, Carole discovers just how little she knew her boy.

And when one lead after another dead-ends, the distraught mother has to face the unthinkable.

Sucked into a sticky web of deceit and lies, nothing is as it seems.

When your life turns inside out and upside down, who would you trust?


MY REVIEW:
Harmony Kent delivers a powerhouse novel about a teen’s disappearance. Carole is a widow with an eighteen-year-old son. When Jayden fails to return home one evening, she discovers she missed a cryptic text he sent. Two words only: “I’m stuck.”  Those words propel her into a frantic search that begins with her delving into his life online. The police insist Jayden is an adult, and there’s not much they can do—at least not until time has passed. But Carole reacts with the anguish of a mother for her only child.  

As she begins to piece together Jayden’s life through online activity, she learns there is a side to her son she didn’t know about. A side that has led him into a dangerous situation. The more she delves, the more the tension mounts, clues unravelling a bit at a time, for a staggering revelation at the end. 

I had read this book in two days, flipping pages well into the night. The story is well-plotted with a thoroughly satisfying wrap. If you enjoy psychological fiction and domestic suspense, this is engrossing story with a plot highly relevant to current times. 

5 STARS

I’ve read several of Harmony’s books. She always delivers an exceptional tale, but she really scored a home run with this one. If you’re a non U.S. reader, you can find The Vanished Boy at this LINK.

That’s it for me today, but please come back tomorrow when I’ve got two more excellent novels to share. I’ve also got a Book Spotlight coming up on Wednesday, and a guest author on Thursday, so it is going to be a busy week on The Pen of Mae Clair. 🙂

New Release: The Vanished Boy by Harmony Kent @harmony_kent #mystery #suspense

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

It’s my pleasure to welcome friend and Story Empire colleague, Harmony Kent, today with her new release The Vanished Boy. If you enjoy mystery / suspense novels, I know this is one you’re going to want to gobble up. I already have my copy waiting on my Kindle, and it’s next on my read list. Now, here’s Harmony to chat more about her book…


Hi everyone. Harmony here. Thanks so much, Mae, for letting me visit with you today. I’m so thrilled to share the launch of my latest book with you all. 

The Vanished Boy is a mystery suspense novel based around a teenaged boy, who’s gone missing. The book follows the mother as she trawls through her missing son’s online life and realises, to her horror, how out of the loop she’s become. 

The inspiration for this novel came from watching a number of movies based on how our lives both revolve around and are influenced by the Internet and mobile devices. Although these movies covered many genres such as murder/mystery, thriller, and the supernatural, they all centred around the same theme: Apps and living life online. This led me to ponder how many of us spend our lives in digital pursuits rather than physical—both the old and the young? For many people, their actual physical lives become but a shadow compared to their online existence.

Mostly, the shift to a digital world happens slowly. It’s incremental and, too often, insidious. All of which led me to ask how well do we actually know our children? Our loved ones? Those around us? What might be going on in the shadows? From that inspiration and questioning, this story was born. Much of life and our actions originate from the same needs and wants: to be loved and accepted, the ability to differentiate between truth and lies, and the things we do to cover our mistakes and make ourselves look better than the reality instead of owning who we are. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

new release TVB animated flyer

Below is an excerpt from the book:
Her heart stalls, and she forgets to breathe. Then her chest squeezes, her heart hammers, and she sucks in a lungful of air. She’d know this fob anywhere. It’s a Cornish Pirates keyring. The chain is snapped. At some point, this fell off Jayden’s car keys. Her son did come here. Frantic, she runs back to the car and throws herself into the driver’s seat.

She fumbles her mobile from the passenger seat, where she’d tossed it before tearing away from her house, and tries to unlock the screen. Her hand is too wet. Irritable, she wipes her fingers on her trousers and tries again. She’s in. Mike’s number is the last one called, so she hits the redial on it, but the line goes straight to voicemail. Carole checks the signal bars on her phone: four, which is good enough. The problem must be on the detective’s end.

Full of thrumming, frantic energy, she begins to type in the triple-nine for emergency services, but at the last moment realises this won’t count as a life-or-death situation. She deletes the two nines she’s typed and, instead, taps in 101. After three rings, an operator responds. Thank all that exists the police line isn’t as oversubscribed as usual. Sometimes, it gets so jammed that you have to log a request online instead of over the phone.

Hurriedly, Carole garbles out that her son has been missing for three days and she’s found his key fob and it must have broken from his keys.

Calm and collected, the operator asks, ‘Do you have a case log number, ma’am?’

BLURB:

It’s so remote out here. Anything could happen …

A missed phone call in the night is all it takes.

When Carole’s 18-year-old son goes missing, she breaks into Jayden’s laptop to try to understand his life.

All too soon, Carole discovers just how little she knew her boy.

And when one lead after another dead-ends, the distraught mother has to face the unthinkable.

Sucked into a sticky web of deceit and lies, nothing is as it seems.

When your life turns 
inside out and upside down, 
who would you trust?


Author BioAuthor, Harmony Kent
After spending around thirteen years as an ordained Buddhist monk, living in a Zen Buddhist temple, and six years after a life-changing injury following a surgical error, Harmony Kent returned to the world at the tender age of forty.

Now, she is famous for her laughter, and has made quite the name for herself … she’s also, um, a writer … and fairly well known for that too. She’s even won a few awards. Harmony lives in rural Cornwall with her adorable husband, ever-present sense of humour, and quirky neighbours.

Harmony is passionate about supporting her fellow authors.

Connect with Harmony at the following haunts:
Website | Story Empire (co-authored)Amazon Author Page | Twitter 
Goodreads | Bookbub

PURCHASE THE VANISHED BOY FROM AMAZON
(U.S. READERS)
OR
UNIVERSAL LINK FOR NON U.S READERS

It’s so true (and sad) what Harmony said in her post about people vanishing into a life online. I love the sound of this book, and can’t wait to dive in. I recommend hopping over to Amazon to one-click. Help Harmony celebrate her release by dropping her a comment then using the sharing buttons to spread the news about The Vanished Boy! Thanks for visiting with us today!

Book Spotlight: I Am Mayhem by Sue Coletta #preorder #womensleuths #crimefiction #bookreview

An open book with rays and orbs of light shooting from the pages

Today I’m shining the spotlight on the very talented, Sue Coletta, who is releasing the long-anticipated fourth novel in her Mayhem series. Shawnee Daniels makes a great MC, and “Mayhem” is one of my favorite book villains. Mayhem’s crows—yes, crows—Edgar, Allan, and Poe, also deserve a mention because they are every bit characters in their own right. Especially Poe.

I was lucky enough to score an ARC of this novel, and am sharing my 5 STAR review at the end of this post. Be sure to take a look and be ready to ONE-CLICK!

Book Description:

As bloody, severed body parts show up on her doorstep, Shawnee Daniels must stop the serial killer who wants her dead before she becomes the next victim.

But can she solve his cryptic clues before it’s too late? Or will she be the next to die a slow, agonizing death?


With crows stalking her every move, Shawnee can barely function. Things worsen when body parts show up on her doorstep. An unstoppable serial killer wants her dead. Mr. Mayhem threatens to murder everyone she loves, sending Shawnee a piece at a time.

As Mr. Mayhem sits in judgement, his cryptic clues must be solved before the final gavel drops. The game rules are simple—win the unwinnable or submit to a slow, agonizing death.

When Shawnee tries to fight back, she discovers her very existence is based on lies. But the full impact of the truth might become the headstone on Shawnee’s grave.

Preorder on Amazon for 99c.

Book will be delivered to your device on April 20, 2021 (release day).

Tirgearr Publishing

Sue Coletta

Author Bio:
Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as one of the “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (Murder Blog sits at #5). Sue also blogs at the Kill Zone, a multi-award-winning writing blog.

Sue lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two serial killer thriller series (Tirgearr Publishing) and true crime (Rowman & Littlefield Group, Inc.). And recently, she appeared on an Emmy award-winning true crime show. Learn more about Sue and her books at: https://suecoletta.com


MY REVIEW:
Wow! I’ve followed this series from book one, and it just keeps getting better. Coletta has penned a wonderfully unique and memorable set of characters—Shawnee Daniels, a (reformed?) cat burglar/computer hacker currently working for the police, her detective boyfriend, and Mr. Mayhem—serial killer, and chameleon-like adversary. Oh, and there are crows. Not just ordinary crows, but birds who are characters in their own right. Mayhem has three crows who do his bidding—Edgar, Allan, and Poe. 

Poe, in particular, is a scene stealer. A charmer with Mayhem, Poe is oil to Shawnee’s water. Nails on a blackboard which makes for intriguing interaction.

In this the fourth book of the series, Coletta builds on the cat-mouse relationship between Mayhem and Shawnee. There is history between these characters, deeply-rooted, so it does help to have an understanding of that going into the novel, especially as this story picks up where book three left off. Stakes are high right off the bat with murder on the menu. As the story progresses, cold-blooded killings mingle with mysticism and Native American beliefs, customs, and folklore. For those who have followed the series, Shawnee’s family background is fleshed out, along with that of Mr. Mayhem, bringing surprising results.  

Shawnee and Mayhem are polar opposites—one street-tough, and gritty, the other cultured but deadly. Parts of this story left me biting my fingernails to see how everything would play out, while other sections had me misty eyed. The suspense is great, but the character development is what makes this one so exceptional. The story wraps with a solid ending but does leave wiggle room should the author choose to continue. As a fan of the series, I can only hope she does. If you enjoy strong characters in a fast-paced tale layered with folklore and Native American themes (think skinwalkers and Tony Hillerman), you won’t want to miss this novel.

*I received a complimentary ARC for an honest review


Intrigued? I hope my FIVE STAR review enticed you. You can grab your own copy of I Am Mayhem from Amazon. Release date is April 20, but you can pre-order through the link below. An excellent read for a mere .99c.

Thanks for visiting today. Please drop Sue a line or two in the comments to help her celebrate her upcoming release.


Preorder on Amazon for 99c.

Book Review Tuesday: House of Sorrow by Joan Hall @JoanHallWrites, The Street Party by Claire Seeber @claireseeber @bookouture #psychologicalfiction

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

Thank you for joining me for another Book Review Tuesday. Today, I have a short story from friend and Story Empire colleague, Joan Hall. House of Sorrows serves as an introduction to Joan’s upcoming release Cold Dark Night, the first in her Legends of Madiera series. The second novel, The Street Party by Claire Seeber is the first of many NetGalley ARCs I hope to review in the weeks and months ahead. Both of these excellent novels fall into the category of psychological suspense.


BOOK BLURB:
Dream home or damned home?

Ruth Hazelton is over the moon when her husband Lee agrees the nineteenth-century Victorian in Madeira, New Mexico, is the perfect home for them. While he starts his new job as police chief, she sets about unpacking and decorating.

But it’s not long before Ruth needs more. She becomes a fixture in the community, making time for everyone, volunteering, hosting events—she’s every bit the social butterfly her husband is not. Through her friendships, she learns several former residents of her home met with untimely deaths. If she were superstitious, she might fear a curse, but such nonsense doesn’t faze her.

Until the unthinkable happens.

Now, as the end of Ruth’s life draws near, she must find a way to convey her message and stop the cycle to prevent anyone else from suffering in the house of sorrow.

MY REVIEW:

This short read is set mostly in the 1960s and serves as an introduction to the author’s upcoming Madeira series. Ruth Hazelton and her husband, Lee, have just moved into a beautiful old Victorian home. Lee has accepted a job as Madeira’s new police chief and the world is looking up for them.

Ruth is a wonderful character. Social and outgoing, someone who quickly establishes herself as a friendly face in her neighborhood and community. I particularly liked her friendship with her neighbor Sam. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, opinionated, but highly likeable at the same time. He also believes in curses. It’s through Sam that Ruth learns several of her new home’s former residents died unexpectedly. The history of the house is a mystery that serves to open the door for Hall’s series.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the way the author wove events from the 1960s into the story. Some are delivered via journal entries from Ruth, others through narrative and dialogue. As someone who has long been fascinated by that time period, those references were highlights for me.

I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing how this series unfolds, and can’t wait for the release of the first full-length novel which will be set in present day. I have a passion for books that combine historical elements, old legends, and contemporary settings. Legends of Madeira promises to deliver all three!

5 STARS


BOOK BLURB:

The party was supposed to be the highlight of the summer. If only I’d known that night would destroy our lives…

All the neighbours were laughing, drinking out of plastic glasses and getting along. I almost felt happy. Almost forgot about the terrible argument earlier and the sinister messages I’d been receiving from a strange address all week, threatening to expose the lies behind my perfect life.

As we finished with the red and gold fireworks and welcomed everyone back to our house, I believed that everything would be okay.

But I didn’t know who I was inviting in.

I never could have imagined what would happen here, in our home, after I’d gone up to bed.

Everyone saw something different.

It’s my daughter’s word against the story the boy from down the road is telling. But how can I find out what really happened that night without everyone finding out the truth about me?

An absolutely gripping story of the secrets you would do anything to keep hidden, with a twist you just won’t see coming. Perfect for fans of Gone Girl, Big Little Lies and The Girl on the Train.

MY REVIEW:
Thank you NetGalley and Bookouture for the ARC!

I was initially drawn to this story by the cover of the book, then I read the blurb which sounded delicious. The Street Party is told from the first person POVs of three different women—Ruby, Melissa, and Nella. Ruby and Melissa are good friends, while uber-rich Nella is a client of Melissa’s (who teaches yoga). When a street party is planned as a community fund-raiser, all three become involved, along with their teenage children.

The novel is written by a British author, so there was a slight adjustment for me with various references and slang. After a while I settled right in, especially as it became clear not everyone was as they appeared. There are enough crackling undercurrents and hidden motives to start a fire. As the lives of the three women and their families unfolded, I had specific opinions about each, but several of those changed over the course of the story.   

The first half of the book is pre-party, with the last half post-party. There is plenty of set-up and several seemingly random events which later come into play. When Nella’s daughter accuses Ruby’s son of inappropriate behavior toward Melissa’s stepdaughter (got that?) it sets off a chain of events that will alter the lives of all three women. The book takes a while to get off the ground, but keeps you flipping pages to discover how it all plays out.

This is a story that looks at what some people are willing to do to fit in, the sacrifices others make without even realizing the hole they’ve fallen into, and the fragility—and strengths—of family and friendships. Several of the plot threads surprised me. There is a large cast of characters but they’re easy to keep track of. By the end of the novel the various threads (and there are many) have all been woven into a neat bow. I wouldn’t term this a thriller as much as slow-build suspense with layers of mystery. Ruby is a strong, likable character. I was really cheering for her and Melissa throughout, but even the less than savory characters are presented in a way to make you understand their actions. Some of the men (and women) are positively wretched but their story arcs are well done. The writing is casual, which makes it easy to say “just one more chapter” which I did on several nights. I would read this author again.

4 STARS


And that’s another wrap for this week on reviews. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for a Book Spotlight, and on Thursday for a Guest Author post. Both feature new releases from authors I admire and have read before. I can’t wait to share their latest with you! In the meantime, I hope one of the above novels have snagged your attention, or you’re currently immersed in a book that won’t let you rest until you finish it. Aren’t they the best kind?

Happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: The Body in the Trench by Judi Lynn #cozymystery, Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown #southernfiction

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 first book review post of April! Today, I have a cozy mystery, part of an ongoing series, and a novel by an author I’ve never read before. I’m pleased to say both were five star reads. Let’s get started!

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BLURB:
This time, Jazzi isn’t called to solve murder. Ansel is. His uncle Len, who promised him a job when he came to River Bluffs and then let his sons drive him away, calls to ask for help. One of the workers on his construction site is buried when a retaining wall gives and dirt pours into the trench where Xavier is laying pipe. But is Xavier’s death an accident? Or did someone purposely sabotage the retaining wall?

MY REVIEW:
Loved this latest Jazzi mystery! Murder hits close to home when a worker at Ansel’s uncle’s construction site meets with an untimely death. Add in a second mystery involving workers at a country club, plus a new—and more difficult house—for Jazzi, Ansel and Jerod to flip, and there is plenty to keep readers glued to the pages. Once again, Jazzi and Ansel’s extended family make appearances (I love their Sunday get-togethers and Gram’s predictions), and there are a handful of new characters who add interest and suspicion.

The backstory involving Ansel, his Uncle Len, and Len’s sons worked well in crafting a balance between the murder mystery and family dynamics. There are several characters in this book I wanted to “take to task,” for their attitudes, but that was exactly what the author intended. Another character, I loved the moment she appeared on the page, and was happy to see how her story arc progressed. It’s the mark of a good author who can make you care for her secondary players as much as her MCs.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries with characters who lodge in your heart, this is an excellent series to escape with. I do recommend starting at the beginning for maximum enjoyment and appreciating how all of the characters connect. A highly entertaining read!

5 STARS

BLURB:
In Gods of Howl Mountain, award-winning author Taylor Brown explores a world of folk healers, whiskey-runners, and dark family secrets in the high country of 1950s North Carolina.

Bootlegger Rory Docherty has returned home to the fabled mountain of his childhood – a misty wilderness that holds its secrets close and keeps the outside world at gunpoint. Slowed by a wooden leg and haunted by memories of the Korean War, Rory runs bootleg whiskey for a powerful mountain clan in a retro-fitted ’40 Ford coupe. Between deliveries to roadhouses, brothels, and private clients, he lives with his formidable grandmother, evades federal agents, and stokes the wrath of a rival runner.

In the mill town at the foot of the mountains – a hotbed of violence, moonshine, and the burgeoning sport of stock-car racing – Rory is bewitched by the mysterious daughter of a snake-handling preacher. His grandmother, Maybelline “Granny May” Docherty, opposes this match for her own reasons, believing that “some things are best left buried.” A folk healer whose powers are rumored to rival those of a wood witch, she concocts potions and cures for the people of the mountains while harboring an explosive secret about Rory’s mother – the truth behind her long confinement in a mental hospital, during which time she has not spoken one word. When Rory’s life is threatened, Granny must decide whether to reveal what she knows…or protect her only grandson from the past.

With gritty and atmospheric prose, Taylor Brown brings to life a perilous mountain and the family who rules it.

MY REVIEW:
I won’t reiterate what the story is about. The book blurb does a great job of covering that. What initially drew me to this novel was the backwoods North Carolina mountain setting. Taylor Brown brings it vividly to life, along with characters like Granny May, a woman who creates folk remedies and keeps a “spirit tree” strung with glass bottles in her front yard. Add moonshiners, revenue men, a church of snake-handlers, and a decades-old secret and readers are treated to a wonderfully multi-layered story. Even the setting becomes a character.

Example: “The road spilled down out of the mountains before him like a moonlit creek. He knew it well, as he knew the lesser roads that branched along the ridges and forked down into the hollers, that swung along the great walls of blasted stone and through tunnels of black oak and hickory.”

The writing is exquisite, richly detailed without being overwrought.

Another example: “Most of all it was talk, Rory knew, the lies of gummy old men in their rockers, on their nail kegs in front of the feed store. Stories punctuated by black bullets of tobacco juice spat quivering in the dust, attended by ageless hounds that lay tongue-out in the shade like something dead.”

The story is alternately gritty and lyrical. I was surprised by the ending—didn’t see the twists coming—but loved how everything played out, especially as related to an incident in the past. This was my first time reading Taylor Brown, but it won’t be my last!

5 STARS
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In other news, I’ve signed up properly with NetGalley and have downloaded my first yet-to-be-published ARC. With as much as I read and review, it only makes sense to start taking advantage of upcoming releases. So, going forward, my reviews will be a mix of books I’ve purchased and soon-to-be-released ARCs. I’m excited to be diving in. As always, happy reading!

Time for an Update #amwriting #writingcommunity #WIPs

Typewriter, old book and a quill pen with a inkwell on an author desk table background.

Hello! It’s been a while (January?) since I shared how my writing is progressing, so I thought it was time for an update. After all, this is a writing blog. 🙂

Several short stories aside, I’m mostly focused on two novels.

The Keeping Place

This was my NaNoWriMo project, which I didn’t finish until December. A mystery that combines the recent past—a disappearance/murder from the year 2012—with the present, it also addresses relationships. Family drama plays a large part, examining the forced reunion between an estranged mother and her twenty-seven-year-old daughter.

For the most part, this is a straight mystery, although it does have threads of an old legend woven in. Apparently, it’s impossible for me NOT to play with a little folklore. In the case of The Keeping Place, the legend is one I invented for the novel, involving a derelict shack and the daughter of a railroad tycoon.

abandoned building overgrowin with trees and vines along railroad tracks

My critiques partners have been through the manuscript chapter by chapter and have provided feedback. I’ve tweaked what needed to be tweaked. Right now, the story is waiting for a final read through. This is a manuscript I hope to market to literary agents. I’ve yet to begin that search—which I know is going to be time consuming—but I’m in no rush.

In the meantime, I’ve been concentrating on my WIP.

The Ghosts of Wingate Hall

I guess there’s no question this one has a supernatural theme. 🙂

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ve probably seen mention of a story that has haunted me for decades. Wingate started as a novella (different title) when I was in my 20s, then evolved into a novel (different title again) in my 30s. Both were complete, but I wasn’t happy with either. I’ve dug the novel manuscript out again and again. During those times, the story went through several plot and character changes, but nothing worth keeping. Even so, this tale refuses to leave me alone.

I’m now in the process of yet another major plot overhaul. Several existing characters have been dumped (or seen their roles drastically altered) in favor of new characters. For the first time, I feel I might actually finish. I’d love to have the book ready to release in October for Halloween. Right now, I’m planning to indie publish.

A Follow Up to In Search of McDoogal

It’s always been my intention to turn my McDoogal characters into a series of short reads and novellas. If you’ve read this short story, you know it’s completely different than anything else I’ve written­—a comedy of errors. It was such a diversion, and so much fun to write, I would love to visit with Declan, Brady, and Clark Barr again. 

The second story (no title yet) is partially formed in my head, I just have to find the time to write it. I promise a fun and “out there” adventure when I do finally get around to it. In the meantime, if you haven’t checked out McDoogal, and you’re looking for a short, off-the-wall read, the link is below.

… and that’s my update. I’ve been sticking to my regular weekend writing schedule, even squeezing in hours on Saturday (in addition to Sunday), which has really helped moving my WIP along. I’ve only got one quarter of Wingate written, but I’ve worked out the worst of the hurdles in my head. I’m feeling pretty good about 2021 as a writing year.

Now, I just have to find that literary agent!

Book Review Tuesday: The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Whisper Island by Carissa Ann Lynch #psychologicalthrillers #domesticthrillers

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

Happy Tuesday! I have two books to share today, both in a similar vein—a group of people on a secluded island cut off from the mainland, a murderer among them. One of these books rocked my world and the other didn’t quite live up to the hype. Both, however, kept me entertained for hours. If you enjoy murder mysteries and psychological thrillers, you’ll want to check these out.

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BLURB:

A wedding celebration turns dark and deadly in this deliciously wicked and atmospheric thriller reminiscent of Agatha Christie from the New York Times bestselling author of The Hunting Party.

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner  – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

MY REVIEW:

Lucy Foley has done it again! Keeping in vein with her novel, The Hunting Party, she serves up a similar whodunit. The prime ingredients in both books are an isolated location, treacherous weather, and a group of characters with plenty of skeletons rattling in proverbial closets.

For The Guest List, Foley presents the marriage of two pseudo celebrities. Jules is the publisher of a trendy magazine and Will is the star of a reality TV series. Together these two make the perfect couple—attractive, glamorous, and wealthy. For their wedding, they invite guests to a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Think rugged cliffs, crashing waves, the ruins of a stone chapel, and a cemetery dotted with Celtic crosses. The setting is exquisite, wonderfully played for mood that is both over the top glamorous, yet darkly sinister. I loved how a cave along the shoreline and the sightings of cormorants added creepy atmosphere.

The story is told in multiple first person POV (I had no problem keeping track of whose head I was in), along with scattered chapters of omniscient. It’s a little slow to get off the ground, but after a few chapters—WOW! Trust me, you’ll want to stick with it.

The cast of characters is an intriguing mix—the bride, her younger sister, the groom with his frat buddies and polar-opposite best man, the caterer and her husband who are just launching their business, the plus-one and her husband…who just happens to be the bride’s best friend.

When a body turns up, Foley keeps the identity of the victim wrapped tightly until the end. Throughout, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and petty jealousies erupt. And erupt again. Entangling more and more people in the web. By the time the identity of the body is revealed, most everyone has a motive.

All of this undercutting and sniping is played against the backdrop of an impending storm and the extravagance of the wedding. I’m usually pretty good at fingering the culprit, and although I had suspicions that eventually proved correct, the whys and wherefores completely blindsided me. The plot threads are deftly woven, for a wholly satisfying and stunning conclusion.

If you like a combination of psychological thriller and whodunit murder mystery, this is a fabulous five-star read!

5 STARS

BLURB:

It was the perfect escape

Until one by one they vanished…

For friends Riley, Sam, Mia and Scarlett, their trip to Whisper Island, Alaska, was meant to be a once in a lifetime adventure – just four young women, with everything to live for…

But as soon as they arrive things start to go wrong.  First there is the unexpected arrival of Sammy’s drug addict brother and his girlfriend Opal – why are they here? 

And then the deaths begin. 

As the dream trip quickly turns into a nightmare, suspicion is high.  Are they really alone on the island?  Or is there a killer hiding in the shadows? 

And as each of the girls reveals a dark secret of their own, perhaps the truth is the killer is closer than they think…just a whisper away…

MY REVIEW:
This is an okay quick read. Four college friends, all artists, decide to vacation on a secluded Alaskan island for the summer to concentrate on their art. When they arrive, they discover the “mansion” where they thought they would be staying is a run-down relic. Other than a few outbuildings, it’s the only property on the island. Also unexpected—one of the girls’ drug-addicted brother is there, along with his latest girlfriend.

The story is told from alternating viewpoints of these six characters, all in first person. As the book progresses, the reader learns each of the characters has secrets tucked in their backgrounds. When murders start taking place, I settled in for an “And Then There Were None” Agatha Christie type story. Was there a killer on the island, or could the killer possibly be among them?

The book definitely held my interest and kept me flipping pages–despite an overabundance of internal (italicized). POV. That grew a little distracting. I enjoyed the story right up until the big reveal of the killer. Part of a mystery is trying to solve the puzzle yourself, but there weren’t enough clues peppered throughout for the ending to make sense. So, the “twist” really wasn’t a twist for lack of set up.

That aside, this is an easy read, a nice diversion if you want something quick. The author does an excellent job of crafting the spooky atmosphere of the island, and the last line of the book brought appreciation. I just wish there had been more set-up and backstory to make the identity of the killer belieavable.

3 STARS

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That’s it from me for today. I hope one of these books snagged your attention. I guess it’s pretty obvious which one I enjoyed better, but that’s the great thing about books–there is always something for everyone. As always, happy reading!