Pre-Order for .99c Throwing Shadows: A Dark Collection by Jerry Roth #halloweenreading #shortstories #horror

Happy Monday! I’ve got a treat for you today! Actually, I have several guests this week with new releases. To start, I’m rolling out a short story collection PERFECT for the Halloween season. The best part? You can grab this fabulous book for the pre-order price of .99c.

Jerry Roth is an author I’ve read before. He’s an excellent story-teller, so when he offered me an ARC of his upcoming short story collection, I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t planned to write this post, but after finishing the book, and realizing the pre-order price is only .99c, I just HAD to share my review.

First the blurb:

A woman develops an unhealthy obsession with a scarecrow. A boy plays with a Ouija board and receives a terrifying warning of murder. A down-on-his-luck father learns what happens when you die in your sleep. These stories and six more frightening tales await the reader within the pages of Throwing Shadows: A Dark Collection.

Throwing Shadows will feed that hungry dark side that lives in your cellar.


MY REVIEW:

Goose bump alert!

If you like old-fashioned, creep-fest stories with bizarre twists and turns, this anthology is for you! It has an almost nostalgic feel to it, reminiscent of old horror shows like Night Gallery. Every single story held me spellbound and kept me glued to the pages. The diversity among the plots is fabulous and the descriptions oozed atmosphere.

I enjoyed all the tales but want to mention my top three favorites:

“A Woman’s Strength” introduces a young mother who learns about the unusual connection her husband’s family has to a sinister scarecrow that has stood for generations on the family farm. A powerful story with an unexpected and dramatic conclusion.

“My Soul to Take” is both unique and haunting and involves a father’s unexpected gift to his young daughter. This one really stuck with me after I finished reading it.

Finally, “Always Say Goodbye” is a brilliant piece of writing involving a thirteen-year-old boy, his dead grandfather, and a Ouija board. This one is my absolute favorite, delivering a roller coaster of creepiness and chills. The ending yanked the proverbial rug from under my feet and left me mesmerized by the author’s skill.

With polished writing, deft pacing, and amazing characters, this collection of tales is perfect reading for the Halloween season but is guaranteed to give you goose bumps any time of year—especially if the wind happens to be howling outside and the sun has slipped below the horizon.  Superb storytelling!


PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON FOR .99C

And there you have it—ideal reading for the Halloween season. Throwing Shadows releases on October 25th, but if you like reading about things that go bump-in-the-night you’ll want to pre-order your copy now! I hope you’ll use the sharing buttons and drop Jerry a line or two in the comments. Happy Halloween!

Book Review: The Premonition at Withers Farm by Jamie Jo Wright #mystery #christiansuspense @jaimejowright

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

Happy Thursday! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve done a book review, but I couldn’t resist sharing The Premonition at Withers Farm. Jamie Jo Wright is a new-to-me-author. I discovered this book on NetGalley, and am now a diehard fan of the author. The moment I finished reading it, I subscribed to her newsletter, ordered another title from her back catalog in Kindle, and bought Premonition in paperback.This book ranks among my top reads of the year, if not my favorite to date. An easy five glowing stars from me.

Check it out!

BOOK BLURB:

The voices of the past cannot stay silent forever.

In 1910 Michigan, Perliett Van Hilton is a self-proclaimed rural healer, leaving the local doctor convinced she practices quackery. It doesn’t help that her mother is a spiritualist who regularly offers her services to connect the living with their dearly departed. But when Perliett is targeted by a superstitious killer, she must rely on both the local doctor and an intriguing newcomer for assistance.

In the present day, Molly Wasziak’s life has not gone the way she dreamed. Facing depression after several miscarriages, Molly is adapting to her husband’s purchase of a peculiar old farm. A search for a family tree pulls Molly deep into a century-old murder case and a web of deception, all made more mysterious by the disturbing shadows and sounds inside the farmhouse.

Perliett fights for her life, and Molly seeks renewed purpose for hers as she uncovers the records of the dead. Will their voices be heard, or will time forever silence their truths?

MY REVIEW:

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers and NetGalley for my ARC.

Wow, W-O-W, WOW!!!! I was totally unfamiliar with author, Jamie Jo Wright, but I am now an avid fan. I requested an ARC of this title because I’m addicted to dual timeline mysteries, and I loved the idea of the early twentieth century setting (for the past timeline) and the hint of spiritualism woven into the plot. Although the start (in the present timeline) was a little bleak, it didn’t take long for plot and characters (in both timelines) to grab me. It got to the point, I couldn’t flip pages fast enough and was annoyed when interruptions drew me from the book.

In the present, Molly Wasziak and her husband buy an old property known as Withers Farm. Neither are in a good place, going through the motions of marriage but behaving more like strangers. Molly has experienced several miscarriages leaving her haunted by children who might have been, her husband unsure how to combat her lingering depression. Both hope moving to the farmhouse will be a new start for them.

But when a distant relation, who was investigating members of the Wasziak family tree, is murdered near their property, Molly dives into the past—specifically 1910, when a killer known as the Cornfield Ripper claimed the lives of two young women with connections to Withers Farm.

With alternating timelines, building past and present mysteries, the story held me spellbound. It’s hard to say which timeline I enjoyed better. In the past, Perilett Van Hilton, is a rural healer whose mother is an in-demand spiritualist. Perilett is a strong, determined woman though not without doubts about her mother’s vocation. She’s engaged in a test of wills with the local doctor, George Wasziak, who accuses her of quackery. He and another (mysterious) gentleman, had me waffling back and forth as to their motives. All the characterizations are exquisite, though I was particularly enamored of those in the past.

Goosebumps abound! From the descriptions of carriage rides and nighttime walks on country roads lined by towering corn stalks, to the eerie use of the nursery rhyme Cock Robin, my skin prickled. In the present, every time Molly ventured into the basement—built with gravestones, no less—I held my breath. When the tension grew too strong, I could always count on the diversion of Molly’s chicks and chickens to warm my heart. I fell in love with those birds!

This is a superb book, among my top reads of the year, if not, my favorite to date. After finishing, I immediately looked up the author, signed up for her newsletter, and ordered more of her previous books. I can’t recommend The Premonition at Withers Farm highly enough. Thank you again to Bethany House Publishers and NetGalley for my ARC. I couldn’t put this one down!

The Premonition at Withers Farm is available now.
PURCHASE FROM AMAZON

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Diablo Mesa by Preston & Child, The Club by Ellery Lloyd

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Welcome to my book reviews for the week. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have noticed I cut book reviews back from two days a week to one day with the launch of 2022. As a result, most times I’ll be featuring more than one book with each post. For that reason, I’ll be skipping blurbs, but you can always find them by following the Amazon links.

Today, I have two books to share—both mysteries, but with very different slants. Let’s get started!


Book cover for Diablo Mesa features watermark of skull over desert background, silhouette of woman in the "O" in "Diablo"

DIABLO MESA
BY PRESTON AND CHILD

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book started a little slow, but kicked in around the 30% mark and just kept getting better and better. Combining the Roswell Incident, the H-bomb, Cold War spies, UAPs, and a secret military organization, it’s a riveting adventure full of pulse-pounding moments and far-flung conspiracies.

Although this is the third Nora Kelly/Corrie Swanson adventure, you don’t need to be familiar with the previous books. Archaeologist Nora is recruited by an eccentric billionaire to excavate a dig at Roswell. When two bodies are unearthed, Corrie is called in from the FBI. This is when the train really starts rolling.

I loved the introduction of new character, adventurer/billionaire Lucas Tappan, and it was great to see the return of fast-draw sheriff, Homer Watts. Nora’s brother, Skip, gets several moments to shine, and who can resist having Mitty, the dog, tag along?

There’s plenty of danger, dollops of sci-fi, intrigue, duplicity, bad guys to “boo,” and two clever heroines to cheer for. I love the fact that neither Nora nor Corrie are written as “kick-butt” characters, but rather as smart, professional women willing to take risks.

Break out the popcorn and enjoy the ride. I can’t wait to see where this series heads next!

AMAZON LINK


Book cover for The Club shows part of pool underlit from below at night, silhouette of trees in background against dusky sky, book title in neon pink letters

THE CLUB
BY ELLERY LLOYD

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper for an ARC of this book.

This is an unusual story with a bizarre assortment of characters which is what makes it so entertaining. Island Home is an exclusive resort for celebrities and A-Listers. Ultra-posh where every whim is catered to and overseen by head honcho Ned, his brother Adam, Ned’s PA, Nikki, and Annie, who handles memberships. The guests are ridiculously self-centered, pampered, egotistical, all with baggage and hidden secrets and issues. The same goes for those who run the show.

When Ned sets up a blackmail scheme, centered around several of his guests’ worst secrets, the situation implodes in ugly ways. Till all is said and done, there isn’t just one body that turns up, but several.

Told from multiple third person POVs, the book also uses clips from an article about what took place on the island. There is plenty of glitz, and the twists and turns in the plot are nicely executed. It’s a little slow to get off the ground, but worth sticking with, especially when everything starts to slot into place.

If I have one quibble the book is on the wordy side. I’m a reader who loves description, but I often felt like I was wading through passages of lengthy prose, many that seemed repetitious of what came before. That aside, I would recommend The Club to those who like locked room mysteries with an eclectic assortment of characters.

AMAZON LINK


In closing, I know readers are often hesitant to purchase a high-end Kindle book, especially if they’ve never tried the author before. I have certain auto-buy authors (like Preston & Child) I don’t mind shelling out $$$ for, but others will give me pause. In that case, I check LIBBY and will borrow the title from my local library using Amazon to read on my Kindle.

If you’re unfamiliar with Libby (a free service), see my post on Story Empire regarding how it works. You can find it HERE. Happy reading!

International Day of Awesomeness: Celebrating Sally Cronin @sgc58

A big company of colorful cats with top hats and flowers standing on the beautiful light green background
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Today is the International Day of Awesomeness! Who wouldn’t want to celebrate something so spectacular? I can think of plenty of things I consider awesome, and plenty of people. When you hang around in the blogosphere for any length of time, you get to know others.

One of the most generous and thoroughly supportive people I’ve “met” is Sally Cronin.

Author, Sally Cronin

My Story Empire colleagues and I thought today would be the perfect opportunity to shine a well-deserved spotlight on Sally. She is an amazing individual who gives of her time selflessly, constantly sharing promo pieces which showcase others.

Her blog, Smorgasboard Blog Magazine, is filled with author spotlights, book reviews, weekly roundups, profiles and more—all in support of her fellow authors and bloggers. I seriously don’t know how she does it, but I’m thankful to have been touched by her generous spirit.

For the Story Empire group, today is all about Sally! It isn’t just the International Day of Awesomeness—it’s Sally Cronin Day! To celebrate, I’m sharing a trio of my reviews for Sally’s books. She has plenty more in her catalog, covering everything from fiction and non-fiction to short stories, and poetry. I’ve found her work to run the gamut from heartfelt to humorous, introspective to slice-of-life. Be sure to check out Sally’s work on her AMAZON PAGE, and find the book or books that speak to you.


Book cover for Flights of Fancy by Sally Cronin shows colorful butterfly winging over landscape

FLIGHTS OF FANCY
by Sally Cronin

This is an entertaining collection of short stories and one novella. It takes a strong look at relationships, some flavored with reminiscing, others firmly rooted in the here and now. Each tale offers polished writing, unique characters, and engaging plot lines.

I enjoyed the cleverness of Getting Away with Murder and Psychic Parrot, and the emotional tug of The Other Side of Heaven and Curtains. Henry’s Story was a particular favorite of mine, having met Henry and Sam in one of the author’s other works. There’s nothing like a world-wise cat to share his story.

The title tale, Flights of Fancy is deftly executed and delivers a wonderful punch. The story of a woman (now much changed) encountering two people she knew during high school, left me grinning ear to ear.

Finally, closing out the book, The Sewing Circle, is a brilliant gem. In this novella, a group of senior ladies takes it upon themselves to right a horrible wrong. You can’t help cheering for these feisty women as they use grit, determination, and a few surprises to ensure justice is meted out. A great read all around!

AMAZON LINK


SAM, A SHAGGY DOG STORY
by Sally Cronin

Seriously. Who could resist that face?

This is a fun, heart-warming book that tells the story of Sam—the author’s collie—from the time he is a puppy through adult life. What makes the tale especially unique is the delivery. The book is told entirely from Sam’s POV. We learn about his early life after adoption, including his friendship with Henry, a feral cat who becomes a precious friend ultimately responsible for teaching Sam to speak “cat.” Sam also has two young kittens who become special friends during their short life span (that part broke my heart).

Sam shares how he learns to “speak” a few human words, about his favorite treats, trips to the vet, adventures on walks and even relocating to a different country. For anyone who loves animals, this is an enchanting story that leaves the reader with a feel-good glow. The author clearly loves her canine companion, an attachment that shines through in each page of this winning story. Photographs of Sam from puppy to adult collie are sprinkled throughout. He is such a beautiful dog!

AMAZON LINK


LIFE IS LIKE A BOWL OF CHERRIES: SOMETIMES BITTER, SOMETIMES SWEET
by Sally Cronin

a bowl of cherries on cream background with single cherry setting outside of bowl

This is an entertaining collection of short stories with several poems scattered throughout. The book is grouped into topics such as Technology, Animal Magic, and Connections (to name a few) with stories and poems related to their header topics appearing underneath. It’s cleverly presented and cleverly written. All of the stories are winners but there were some that really stood out for me, including The Weekly Shopping, The Nanny, The Scratch Card, and The Night Shift.

In The Weekly Shopping we get a taste of what ordering groceries might be like with when we come to rely too much on technology. It’s both hilariously funny and worrisome at the same time. I loved the argument related to the cat!

In The Nanny, a young couple discover who is watching over their baby at night. The Scratch Card left me with a lump in my throat at the generosity of others, and The Night Shift made me appreciate the special love pets have for their owners and the kindness of those who appreciate that bond.

These stories are heartwarming and touching, with scattered poetry further enriching the sections. A lovely collection and a quick read, the stories will lodge in your heart and linger.

AMAZON LINK


Cheers and a cyber toast with a clink of champagne glasses to Sally!
I invite you to connect with her on her

Amazon Page | Blog | Twitter | Goodreads | BookBub

Thanks for joining the Story Empire gang for our
International Day of Awesomeness shout-out to Sally!

Collage of photos of the authors from Story Empire, with blog title in center with the tag line "Exploring the World of Fiction"