New Release: Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes @jansikes3 #RomanticSuspense #MilitaryRomance #WhiteRuneSeries

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

Happy Guest Author Thursday! It’s my pleasure to welcome friend and Story Empire colleague, Jan Sikes with her newest release Jagged Feathers.

Jan has been burning up the blogosphere with the launch of book 2 in her White Rune Series, and I’m delighted to participate in her tour. You can find my review of Jagged Feathers (which BTW, reads perfectly fine as a standalone) HERE. I was smitten with her two leads, Vann and Nakina, and Vann’s dog, Champion. I also enjoyed the layers of symbolism and folklore in the book. Today, Jan shares how some of that came about in her post below. Take it away, Jan!


Thank you, Mae, for inviting me to your blog site today to talk about my new book, JAGGED FEATHERS! I appreciate your generosity.

I have always been fascinated by Native American Folklore and spent a lot of time reading and researching different beliefs, especially concerning animals. Birds are believed to be messengers between worlds. My late husband had a strong connection with owls. To some tribes, the owl is an omen of death while to others it is a sign of wisdom.

In my story, Nakina Bird spent many summers of her youth on the reservation with her grandmother, so it was natural that she’d adhere to some of the Native American beliefs and traditions. The blue jay held special significance for Nakina. Not only are the blue feathers striking, but they are unique songbirds in that they mate for life. She recalled many of her grandmother’s teachings throughout the book, but this one seemed to stand out.

Banner ad for Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes on shows book on chipped, painted wooden floorboards

EXCERPT:

“Tell me about the shooting incident in your past that freaked you out so much.”

Nakina recounted the incident when the boys taunted her, and then how she accidentally shot the bird. “It made me physically sick. When the blue jay fell to the ground after I fired, it took every ounce of energy in me not to throw up right there in front of those boys.” She drew in a sharp breath. “After they left, I performed a sacred ceremony and buried the bird, but not before taking a special feather from him.” She twisted her hands together on her lap. “And now you understand why I reacted the way I did when you found the blue feather in the bottom of the boat. Ever since that day, blue feathers have been a good sign for me. Almost like the bird’s way of forgiveness.”

Vann whistled. “I can understand how you felt when you shot the jay.”

She stared out the window. “When I told Grandmother what happened with the bird, she said that to Native Americans, the blue jay represents trickery or mischievousness. Then she told me that blue jays mate for life, and that was symbolic for me. Of course, as a teenager, I dismissed all of it as folklore. But I did keep the beautiful blue feather to always remind me of what I’d done. And I never painted on it.”

“That’s quite some story. I’ve observed plenty of jays, and they’re generally aggressive and noisy birds, but I never thought of them as being symbolic of anything. I’ve watched them run off birds twice their size to get a ripe berry.”

“The Native American people have a story or some sort of symbolism for most everything, and they believe in spirit animals that walk with us and help us on our journey.”

***

Have you ever had a spirit animal or an experience with an animal that went beyond the norm? I know D.L. Finn has with bears and C.S. Boyack with Eagles. I’d love to hear about your affinity to a certain animal and what it means to you.

BLURB:
Vann Noble did his duty. He served his country and returned a shell of a man, wounded inside and out. With a missing limb and battling PTSD, he seeks healing in an isolated cabin outside a small Texas town with a stray dog that sees beyond his master’s scars. If only the white rune’s magic can bring a happily ever after to a man as broken as Vann.  

On the run from hired killers and struggling to make sense of her unexplained deadly mission, Nakina Bird seeks refuge in Vann’s cabin. She has secrets. Secrets that can get them all killed.

A ticking clock and long odds of living or dying, create jarring risks.

Will these two not only survive, but find an unexpected love along the way? Or, will evil forces win and destroy them both?

UNIVERSAL PURCHASE LINK

Connect with Jan Sikes at the following haunts:
Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Goodreads | Bookbub | LinkedIn | Amazon Page


bio box for author, Jan Sikes

I had no idea blue jays mated for life. Yes, they can be aggressive and noisy as Vann points out, but they’re also amazing birds. I always liked watching them flit around the feeder in my rear yard.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post as much as I did, and will help me in cheering on Jan with her new release. Drop her a comment, then hop over to Amazon to ONE-CLICK your copy of Jagged Feathers!

New Release: Brother of Interest by Karina Bartow @KarinaBartow @WildRosePress #mystery #familylifefiction #detectivefiction

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

Hello and thanks for joining me today as I welcome Karina Bartow to my blog. Karina is a first time guest who reached out to ask if I would be interested in taking part in her blog tour. Of course, I said “yes!” I hope you’ll make her feel welcome as she shares a story I think all writers can relate to…


The Power of Perseverance in Publishing
By Karina Bartow

Yesterday, The Wild Rose Press released Brother of Interest, the sequel to my debut novel, Husband in Hiding! This was the culmination of five years of waiting, hoping, and yes, a little crying. But a lot more work went into it than that.


I’d already finished the sequel when Husband in Hiding was released in 2015. My publisher at the time seemed eager to continue the mystery series, so I thought I was set to have a new installment out every year like the big-time authors do. I broadcasted it to just about everyone who bought the book, which began an endless game of hearing, “When’s the sequel coming out?” The anticipation thrilled me, but as matters started to fizzle out with the company and the sequel’s publication appeared ever more unlikely, the question became wearisome to discuss.

At a crossroads, I decided to shift my focus until the dust settled and pursue my second novel, Forgetting My Way Back to You. In fact, I first discovered Wild Rose when I was shopping that to companies in 2017, but it didn’t end up being the right match for them. I proceeded with Vinspire Publishing and hoped they might be a good home for the Brother of Interest, but they didn’t feel that it was right for their catalog. Nonetheless, they gave me input that helped the plot along. While it changed the way I originally wanted the beginning to unfold, I saw the advantages of implementing their advice and how it would better attract readers and prospective publishers.

Fast-forward a year, I came across Wild Rose again and realized they also publish mysteries, so I figured I’d give it another shot. After reading the first three chapters, the editor wanted me to make some tweaks but said she’d be willing to look at it again once I did so. When I resubmitted it to her, she complimented me on my adjustments, but she felt the story still needed some work. She suggested I read Revision and Self-Editing for Publication as I continued to sculpt it further, so I ordered the book that day.

Between its guidance and hers, I looked at the plot with clearer vision and adjusted elements I may never have thought to without it. I didn’t even intend to submit it to her again, but I didn’t want to waste the insight she gave me. I knew it’d benefit me regardless.  The week I resumed sending out queries, I mustered the nerve to contact her to thank her for her help and ask if she’d like to review it once more. To my surprise, she did, and it led to a long-awaited acceptance letter.

I wanted to share this experience for the hard-working, often frustrated, aspiring authors like me—and dreamers of all sorts. Perseverance and persistence does pay off, but it involves more than pure willpower. You can’t close the door on a company just because of past rejections. You also can’t squander the wisdom the right people provide. When it comes to publishing, very few editors/agents give you anything past a straightforward rejection, so you should appreciate it when someone takes the time to give you tips. They could give you just the leg-up you need to find success…sometimes where you least suspect it!


Book cover for Brother of Interest by Karina Bartow shows old-fashioned baby buggy with handcuffs dangling from handle

Brother of Interest
(Unde(a)feted Detective Series Book 2)

BOOK BLURB:
When Minka Avery left the police department and her life as a deaf detective, she thought chasing after her toddler daughter and keeping tabs on her mischievous husband would be the extent of her excitement. Before long, however, her brother lands on the list of suspects in a high-profile crime and throws her world into chaos.

Torn between her conflicted feelings for him and her desire to see justice carried out, she decides to unofficially explore the matter on her own. She begins to see that the case is bigger than it seemed at first glance, but before she can unravel it further, she discovers Robin using her garage as a hideout from the authorities! Now forced together, can Minka overcome the many distractions to figure out the massive scheme that’s really playing out? And can the bizarre circumstances somehow improve her and Robin’s chilly relationship?


PURCHASE FROM
The Wild Rose Press | Amazon | Walmart | Books-A-Million

Author, Karina Bartow

AUTHOR BIO:
Karina Bartow grew up and still lives in Northern Ohio.  Though born with Cerebral Palsy, she’s never allowed her disability to define her.  Rather, she’s used her experiences to breathe life into characters who have physical limitations, but like her, are determined not to let them stand in the way of the life they want.  Her debut novel, Husband in Hiding came out in 2015, followed by Forgetting My Way Back to You, 2018.  She may only be able to type with one hand, but she writes with her whole heart!

To learn more, visit https://karinabartow.com/

Social media:
Blog | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads


I love celebrating new releases, and am delighted to be hosting Karina just a day after the release of Brother of Interest. Don’t you just love that book cover? And how about that post? We all know this is a tough business with a lot of ups and downs. I’m glad Karina stuck with her dream and didn’t give up. It just goes to show that bridges are never burnt, doors are never closed, and there’s always room to keep trying. Happy book birthday to Karina!

PURCHASE BROTHER OF INTEREST FROM
The Wild Rose Press | Amazon | Walmart | Books-A-Million


Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Perfect House by R.P. Bolton, Kittens and Kisses at the Cat Cafe by Kris Bock @RachintheFax @Kris_Bock #fictionreviews #bookish

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

Today I’m sharing two books I read toward the end of 2021 (yes, I’m still catching up). These are on opposite ends of the fiction spectrum, but both deserve a splash in the spotlight for keeping me entertained and flipping pages!


THE PERFECT HOUSE
by R.P. Bolton

Book cover with key on key ring with a house-shaped fob

Ellie and Tom move into what they believe will be the house of their dreams. It’s in a great neighborhood and the price can’t be beat. Sure, the property requires fixing up and the garden is overgrown, but as new parents of a beautiful baby girl, it’s the perfect place for them to raise Trinity and be a family. If only Tom’s job as a police officer weren’t so demanding, often leaving Ellie in isolation with the baby in an empty house. It isn’t long before Ellie learns the property has a history, one that has made it a pariah in the neighborhood.

Ellie starts experiencing strange happenings, hearing things and seeing things, all instances that escape Tom’s notice. Then she begins sleepwalking and begins to question her sanity—especially given she’s never made peace with a tragic incident in her past that left her suffering from PTSD ten years ago.

The book shifts chapters between “Then” and “Now” gradually unfolding the history of the house and the incident from Ellie’s past. If you enjoy a mystery with supernatural elements, this book delivers. It’s easy to read, moves at a fast clip and ties everything together neatly at the end. Ellie and Tom are both good characters and the history of 6 Moss Lane (the house they bought) makes for interesting backstory.

There were times I grew frustrated with Ellie for not speaking up, and some of the “happenings” felt repetitious after a time, but the mystery kept me flipping pages and reading late. An intriguing supernatural mystery.

AMAZON LINK


KITTENS AND KISSES AT THE CAT CAFE
by Kris Bock
#2 Furrever Friends

As someone who has always loved cats and kittens, I was drawn to this book the moment I saw it. Single mother, Marley, is a baker at a cat café—a coffee shop/eatery/bakery that also has a set-up allowing patrons to mingle with cats which are awaiting adoption (real cat cafes exist in a number of cities though I have never had the good fortune to visit one).

One morning, someone leaves a box with five, week-old kittens on the doorstep. Adam, who has carried a flame for Marley since his tween years, when he knew her as the older sister of his best friend, volunteers to take the kittens to the vet. When all is said and done, Adam becomes their caregiver. He recruits Marley, her nine-year-old son, Brian, and other friends to help him in nurturing the kittens. In the process, Adam finds opportunities to reveal his feelings to Marley, and she begins to see him in a new light.

Naturally, there are complications, as the path to true love is never smooth, but the reader knows an HEA awaits at the end. This is a sweet romance in which the kittens have almost as much page time as the characters. There are several secondary threads, involving a restaurant reviewer, a singing contest, and Adam’s passion for writing. The way in which Marley finally reveals her feelings to Adam is flirty and clever, guaranteed to leave the reader with a smile.

This is the second book in a series in which characters cross over, but each story is complete. I had no problem being grounded in this book despite not having read the first book. After finishing it, I immediately bought three more. I could do no less as someone who loves books and cats—a match made in Heaven!

AMAZON LINK

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Pour it On by Staci Troilo, Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes @stacitroilo @jansikes3 #romance

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

Happy post Hump Day! To off set your mid-week winter blahs (for those of you in the northern hemisphere), I have two romantic reads sure to perk you up. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, enjoying sunshine and warmth, these are perfect companions to take to the beach or pool. Both are new releases and both were penned by Story Empire colleagues. How cool is that? Naturally, I am super excited to share!

cover for Pour it On, by Staci Troilo shows silhouette of couple in foreground, wine glass in back ground

POUR IT ON
Keystone Couples #2
by Staci Troilo


One of my favorite types of stories are those built around misunderstandings, especially when it involves mistaken identity. Staci Troilo has penned a gem that dishes up—an appropriate pun for a tale centered in a restaurant—generous servings of humor and romance.

Restaurant owner, Romy Chandler, has lost her sommelier right before a huge meet-and-greet, and I do mean RIGHT before. Plus, Valentine’s Day is lingering around the corner. Rick Santucci is a vintner who needs to get his wine into the right establishments to grow his winery. Do you sense the stars aligning?

That’s all well and good, but Troilo, who has a deft touch with couples’ romance, isn’t about to let things proceed smoothly. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but let’s just say this short tale will warm your heart while tickling your funny bone. The dialogue is fast and flirty, the scenes stacking like dominos that tumble into a brilliant HEA ending.

Grab a glass of your favorite pinot or merlot, settle into a comfy seat, then Pour it On with this enchanting story that will leave you laughing on the sidelines and rooting for the characters. Troilo is a master of her craft who always delivers a polished tale. I can’t wait for the next Keystone Couples novella!

AMAZON LINK


JAGGED FEATHERS
The White Rune Series #2
By Jan Sikes

Book cover for Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes shows a dream catcher with feathers, two large blue feathers in the center

Vann Noble is an ex-solider, suffering from PTSD, living off the grid in an isolated cabin. His companion is a stray dog nearly as damaged as he is, but with the same stalwart and loyal heart as Vann’s.

When Vann crosses paths with Nakina Bird—a woman clearly fleeing a dangerous situation—he’s determined to help her. Soon both are on the run, fleeing gunmen bent on retrieving a mysterious package Nakina was given by her former boss.

What stands out in this slick romance most is the time the author invested in her characters. It’s wonderful seeing how Vann and Nakina, both damaged in their own way, find themselves drawing closer together. Nakina also has a psychic gift and is tuned into the metaphysical. Symbols and signs are deftly woven into the plot, including a white rune stone that appeared in Ghostly Interference, book one in this series.

I liked seeing familiar characters return and meeting new ones. Champion, Vann’s dog, stole my heart with his devotion to Nakina. Most of all, the message of love over adversity and the commitment of two souls joining together shines through. The HEA is well-deserved and left me with a warm smile. I’m already looking forward to Colt’s story in the final book of the series. If you love romance woven with suspense and characters who will have you cheering, Jagged Feathers is an ideal read. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention I love how the author wove the title into the story. A thoroughly enjoyable and romantic read.

AMAZON LINK

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Body in the Buick, The Wreck of the Lanternfish, Searching for Home @judypost @Virgilante @JillWeatherholt

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

Hello, and thanks for joining me for my first book review post of 2022. It will take me a few posts to catch up with the books and novellas I’ve read this month. Today, I’ve got three five-star reads in a variety of genres. To prevent the post from being too long, I won’t be sharing blurbs, but I encourage you to click on the Amazon link to explore the blurb and other reviews. Happy
reading!


The Body in the Buick
by Judi Lynn
Jazzi Zanders #8

This is another great entry into an entertaining series. All the main characters are back, including the growing and extended roster of secondary characters and friends. Jazzi and Ansel are expecting a baby and Ansel moves into father-to-be protective mode when it comes to Jazzi. That doesn’t stop her from becoming involved in investigating another murder when the body of mechanic turns up in a Buick. At the same time, she and Ansel, along with their house-flipping partner, Jerod, are working on converting a barn to a residential property. And, of course, there are the usual big family dinners each Sunday, complete with a cast of characters I have grown to love.

I was surprised that one murder eventually led to three which broadened the list of suspects. The reason and motive were also a surprise. As always, the writing is breezy, and Jazzi and Ansel are a fun pair. I always enjoy their interactions and the relationship they have. It was fun seeing Ansel trying to come up with the perfect baby name. I’ve spent so much time with these characters over eight books, I feel like they are family. Judi Lynn really has something special going with this series and I highly recommend it to fans of cozies.

AMAZON LINK


The Wreck of the Lanternfish
by C. S. Boyack
Lanterfish #3


I’ve followed this series from the start, so the ending is somewhat bittersweet. I’m going to miss these characters. I’ve been through numerous sea battles with them, have been swept up in warring factions, confronted by exploding monks, and a bevy of creatures from dangerous to intriguing, each and every one a fantastical invention of the author’s creative mind.

This time around core characters are split, each group engaging in separate strategies while caught up in the war between the Hollish and the Prelonians. The Palumbo’s are still running cons (this time along with the help of an older woman posing as Camilla’s mother), Serang, now a general, is in the thick of the fighting, and James Cuttler risks everything to make Lanternfish seaworthy again. The action is non-stop, with all three plot arcs merging perfectly at the end. I grew particularly fond of the Palumbo’s during this third novel, and who knew I would develop such a soft spot for a snubhorn? (If you don’t know what a snubhorn is, you’re missing out on something special—and truly bizarre).

James is a clever, fair captain who rises to circumstance and finds himself in a surprising new role by the end of the book. Of all the characters, he remains my favorite. For fans of the series, the root monsters are back. I especially loved the section when a group in search of papers “and other crap” receive names—always a fun event.

Boyack deftly mixes dollops of humor into the story, to offset the political maneuvering and battle scenes. Underneath the bigger picture, this is also a tale about relationships. Of special note, I love the father/son relationship between James and Mule and how that wraps at the end. The title sits a little heavy on my heart, but the way in which Boyack addresses what becomes of each character (even the root monsters and Serang’s Fu dogs) left me thoroughly satisfied. Wreck of the Lanternfish is a fantastic conclusion for an engaging series. Bravo to the author!

AMAZON LINK


Searching for Home
by Jill Weatherholt
Love Inspired Inspirational Romance


What a heart-warming story! I fell in love with the characters immediately.

A physical therapist, Meg has inherited a B&B and become guardian to her two nieces and nephew—triplets of her sister who took off and left her children behind. The children’s father did the same, abandoning them before his wife did.

Meg and Luke were a couple back in high school, but then he took off to find fame in the rodeo circuit, believing he had to prove himself before he could ask her to marry him.

My heart broke for these kids, especially for Tucker, who felt he was somehow responsible. Enter “Cowboy Luke” who has returned to his hometown to heal from an injury, never realizing his PT is going to be Meg.

What follows is a mix of misunderstandings, plus a beautiful path about learning to forgive, and making family where you find it. Luke is such a strong father figure, and he has a heart of gold. Meg is selfless, constantly putting the kids before herself, all the while managing a plethora of potential problems and hurt.

I read this book in one day, I was so caught up in the story. There is heartache and joy, an adorable puppy, a fun rodeo experience, a scary venture at a river, and a wonderful HEA at the end that left me with a big ‘ole sloppy grin. I’ve read several of the author’s books, but this one is my favorite to date. I especially loved the epilogue, which shared an extra glimpse into how everything wrapped up for these charming characters. A true gem!

AMAZON LINK


Have you read any of these? Hopefully, I’ve tempted you to add to your TBR yet again. Starting today, I hope to return to one review post per week. I’m glad to roll out that commitment with these three wonderful authors.

Limited Time 99c Sale: A Thousand Yesteryears by Mae Clair #mystery #suspense #thriller #writingcommunity #mothman #pointpleasant #urbanlegends

Hi, friends. I hadn’t planned to blog today, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share news of a limited time sale. My publisher has placed A Thousand Yesteryears, book one of my Point Pleasant series on sale for 99c. You can read this as a stand-alone novel, or as the first of three books comprising the series.

Book cover for A Thousand Yesteryears by Mae Clair, depicting a wooded thicket at night

New York Times best-selling author, Kevin O’Brien called this book “Masterful, bone-chilling fiction…one intense thriller. A Thousand Yesteryears will keep you guessing, gasping and turning the pages for more.”

I honestly don’t know how long the sale will last (it’s likely a 1-2 day flash sale), so if you’d like to sink into a novel where “A woman’s homecoming is met with death threats, a treacherous killer, and a legendary monster” now is your chance.

I’ll be taking a closer look at the urban legend behind this book in 2022, as part of a new series I’m planning called Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

A Thousand Yesteryears is a fictional account of historic events and established folklore, involving the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and sightings of the Mothman. I made two weekend trips to the actual town and surrounding areas while writing this series in order to visit areas firsthand and talk to the locals. I’ve been honored to have many book reviewers who live/lived in the area remark on how well I captured the town.

I’ve closed comments, but invite you to meet the Mothman and learn the history of a once thriving river town!

Teaser ad for A Thousand Yesteryears, a novel of suspense by Mae Clair

PURCHASE LINK

New Release: No Such Luck by Staci Troilo #sweetromance #holidayromance #novella

Happy Tuesday! Although I’m mostly offline this month to concentrate on NaNoWriMo, I’ve made several exceptions to host new releases on my blog. First up, is No Such Luck a sweet holiday romance from Staci Troilo.

Staci is a dear friend and one of the founding members of Story Empire. She’s also a super talented author who always delivers a phenomenal story. Her latest is no exception. Look for my five star review at the end of this post, but in the meantime, say hello to Staci!


I appreciate you inviting me here today, Mae. Hi, everyone. Thank you for chatting with me about my new release, No Such Luck. It’s a fast and fun clean romance perfect for the holiday season.

Piper Seidel’s life-long best friend is Jack Rhodes. He’s always been there for her, and even though she moved away right after high school—first for college, then for her career—he never stopped staying in touch with her. When he says, “I’ll always be there for you,” he means it. They have history, even if she can’t remember it. This brief excerpt shows how far back it goes.

Teaser Graphic for or No Suck Luck by Staci Troilo shows couple in silhouette with background of red carnation, teaser text over top

“Where’d you park?”

“At the lodge.”

“At the—How do you get the tree down there?”

“We drag it.”

“You and your father drag a tree down the side of a mountain?”

Piper nodded and smiled.

“It’s no wonder it takes you so long.”

She shrugged.

“Grab the top, Pea.” 

“Stop calling me that.”

“Never. You earned it.”

“Did not.”

“Did, too.”

“How?”

“Third grade.

“How?”

“Guess you don’t remember that one.” Jack shook his head and sighed. “Grab your end.” When she complied, he hefted the trunk, then started down the hill. He called over his shoulder, “Come on, Frank.” 

She worried about her Dad. He was still on the phone with Pam and didn’t look happy. 

The three of them made their way back to the lodge. 

While her father paid for the tree and got it loaded in the bed of his truck, she thanked Jack again. “I’m really sorry about Pam. You didn’t need to come here.”

Jack got a bottle of water and bandana from his center console, then turned to her. He dabbed at the cut on her head, cleaning the blood off her face. “I’ll always come for you if you need me, Pea. Always.”

“Stop calling me that.”

He smiled. “No.”

She shook her head, but he kept wiping at it. 

“There. That’s better.”

“What are you doing?”

“Taking care of you. The way you should be cared for.”

“I don’t know what to make of that.”

“Think about it. Think about third grade, too. You need a better good luck charm.”


I have to admit, I’ve sustained an injury or two Christmas tree shopping. But I never walked away with my forehead bleeding. Good thing Piper had help. 

I hope you enjoyed that quick sneak peek. No Such Luck, the first installment of the Keystone Couples series, is available now on Amazon.

Book cover for No Suck Luck by Staci Troilo shows couple in silhouette  with background of red carnation

Blurb:

Seeds of luck usually wither. The rare one grows and blooms.

Piper Seidel has one thing going for her—a red carnation given to her by Tommy Burnett in the tenth grade. It might have dried over the years, but it’s still her good luck charm. Losing it sets her life in a downward spiral, forcing her to return to her hometown where she comes face to face with her high school crush.

The years have been kind to Tommy, who looks better than ever. Unfortunately, Piper is at her worst, continually embarrassing herself whenever he’s around. The only plus? Her long-time friend, Jack Rhodes, still lives in town. Since she last saw him, his legs have grown longer, his biceps thicker, and his shoulders broader. He was always the brother she never had, but now she can’t help noticing him in an unsisterly way. Jack is every bit as caring as he’s ever been—until her bad luck drives him away, maybe forever.

Piper needs a new good luck charm, and fast, before she loses her final chance at happiness.

PURCHASE FROM AMAZON

Bio box for Staci Troilo

Website | Blog | Social Media | Newsletter | Amazon ​| BookBub ​| Goodreads

MY REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a sweet, breezy romance that instills a feel-good glow. Piper Seidel has lost her job as a journalist and ends up returning to her hometown for an extended winter vacation, uncertain of her future. Reconnecting with her past includes crossing paths with her old high school crush, Tommy Burnett, and her childhood best friend, Jack Rhodes. Both bring complications into her life and have her re-examining what matters most to her.

This is a short read, but one that is tightly written with a fully fleshed out plot. I loved the near-to-Christmas time frame (especially when Piper and her dad go searching for a Christmas tree) and the small-town feel. Piper grows over this story, learning truths that she was too blind to see previously, but I like to think the other characters (one in particular) experienced personal growth, too. Definitely a charmer!


Thanks for joining Staci and me today as we celebrate the release of No Suck Luck, Pop the virtual bubbly, and drop a comment to cheer on Staci with her newest book, the first in the Keystone Couple Series. I for one am definitely looking forward to more!

Book Review Tuesday: Solstice Retribution by Judi Lynn, The Dime Museum Murders by Daniel Stashower #muddyriver #harryhoudini

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, and happy September! If you reside in the U.S. or Canada, I hope you enjoyed your long Labor Day weekend. Today, I have two books to share. I’ve been a fan of Judy Lynn’s Muddy River series since book one–a cozy, sometimes not so cozy mystery series that combines supernatural elements with a cast of intriguing preternatural characters. I also discovered a new series starring a man who has long fascinated me–Harry Houdini. See below.

BOOK BLURB:

Hester’s close friend, Carlotta, has gone to a witches’ solstice festival with Jason, the young neighbor she took under her wing. When she learned that he had cancer, she sent him to Hester and Raven to be “changed.” He chose to become an owl shifter, but is still very new at being a supernatural, so she wants to introduce him to her witch friends. The festival is close to Muddy River, so Carlotta plans on stopping to visit Hester after the ceremonies are finished.

But Jason calls Hester to tell her that Carlotta has disappeared, so have two other witches, and Hester suspects foul play. She and Raven race to the isolated, wooded area, only to find a dead body near the parking area. Not Carlotta’s. Once they start seriously looking for Hester’s friend, they discover that someone has come to the ceremonies that honor Hecate with plans of revenge that date back to the witch trials at Salem. Hester’s family died there, and she thought she knew the truth. But she was wrong.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Another entertaining story in this wonderful collection that combines mystery with the supernatural. Hester is a powerful witch who heads her coven in Muddy River—a community of shapeshifters, vampires, witches, fae and other supernatural creatures and beings. Raven, her mate, is a fire-demon and the Enforcer for their town. In this tale, they travel to a nearby area where a solstice celebration among witches is taking place. Unfortunately, it also includes murder. Not one, but multiple victims.

As Hester and Raven dig deeper into motive and suspects, Hester’s own past during the Salem witch hunts come into play. For long-time fans of the series, we learn a bit more about her background, but this is easily read as a standalone. There are numerous potential suspects, a number of whom I loathed. The mystery is nicely contained until the end with the motive something I would never have suspected. Even Hester’s ocelot familiar, Claws, has moments to shine.

There are several new characters, some whom I suspect will settle in Muddy River. As an added bonus, there’s also a short Yuletide story at the end of the book that acts as an introduction to Jason, one of the secondary characters in the tale. All around, a thoroughly engaging story.

BOOK BLURB:

Harry Houdini and his brother, Dash, are called to solve the murder of a toy tycoon in this first locked room mystery starring the legendary real-life magicians
 
New York City, 1897: Young escapologist Harry Houdini is struggling to get the recognition he craves from the ruthless entertainment industry. But when toy tycoon Branford Wintour is found murdered in his Fifth Avenue mansion, detectives call upon Houdini to help solve this mysterious crime, ushering in a new era of Houdini’s career: amateur sleuth.
 
When Harry and his brother Dash reach the scene of the murder, they discover Wintour was found dead in a room that was locked from the inside out—the result of a cruel magic trick. Together, the brothers Houdini launch their first ever investigation, venturing into the bizarre world of rare curios and the collectors who will pay any price to own them.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The first book in the Harry Houdini mystery series, this certainly kept me entertained. Harry is still struggling for recognition as an escape artist, assisted in his act by his wife, Bess, and brother Dash. It’s Harry and Dash who become involved in solving the murder of a toy tycoon. The two brothers play off each other well, and the author portrays Houdini in a manner that rings true. I loved the 1897 setting and definitely plan on reading other books in this series.

Book Review Tuesday: If the Light Escapes by Brenda Marie Smith #dystopian #postapocalyptic

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

Last week it was my pleasure to host Brenda Marie Smith, the author of If the Light Escapes, with a riveting look at her life living off the grid in a hippie commune. If you missed that post, you can find it HERE. After reading it, you’ll understand why she has the perfect background to write a post apocalyptic novel. Today, I’m pleased to present my five star review. On a side note, I was honored to be asked to provide a cover blurb for the book. Isn’t that cover striking?

BOOK BLURB:

“Gritty and powerful… takes the reader on an emotionally charged and adrenaline-fueled journey that lingers long after the last page is read.”
—Mae Clair, author of the Point Pleasant series and the Hode’s Hill series

The standalone sequel to IF DARKNESS TAKES US

A solar electromagnetic pulse has fried the US grid. Now, northern lights are in Texas—three thousand miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms. All that’s left for him and his broken family is farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If the Light Escapes is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.

“Brenda Marie Smith stuns a gain with the breathtaking sequel to her debut. With her skill for detail and character, Smith captivates us with Keno’s kindness and humanity while also exploring the capacity for violence that lurks within all of us.”
—Aden Polydoros, author of THE CITY BEAUTIFUL

“IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is a rich coming-of-age story about the legacy of family, infused with hopefulness and humanity.”
—Laura Creedle, author of THE LOVE LETTERS OF ABELARD AND LILY

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Picking up where book one left off, If the Light Escapes is a powerful and emotional read. With Bea, the central character from book one no longer able to lead her family and their neighborhood, Keno, her eighteen-year-old grandson finds himself shouldering most of the burden. Time has passed since the sun sent an enormous pulsar flare to Earth, knocking out power and throwing humanity back decades, if not centuries. Creature comforts are gone, medicine comes down to home remedies, food amounts to what can be grown or hunted, and the greatest danger comes from human predators.

This is not a typical apocalyptic read. The story takes place in a single small neighborhood and close vicinity. The author tells a gritty and emotional tale, brutal yet gilded with hope. The emotions the characters experience are heart-wrenching. Particularly Keno who’s forced to make tough decisions, including judgements about members of his own family. What he faces and experiences forever change boy to man.

The last half of the book left me wrung out, both emotionally, and from the adrenaline-fueled closing. The story is grim in many ways, but it speaks to the souls of the characters. A break-down, and at the same time, a reinforcement of humanity. There is no gloss on how people react. When called for, the author shows us all the ugliness inherent with the need to protect loved ones. Also of note are the descriptions. From living in a time when you shower in the rain, plant, tend gardens and ration supplies, the experiences are brought to life with vivid and forceful prose.

A thoroughly engaging novel that will make you appreciate the many comforts of home—including being able to curl up with your Kindle to read this compelling story!

Trigger warnings: Language

Guest Author Thursday: Brenda Marie Smith, If the Light Escapes #newrelease #dystopian #postapocalyptic

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

I’m delighted to welcome Brenda Marie Smith back to my blog with another riveting post about her years of living off the grid in a commune. She has the perfect background to write post-apocalyptic fiction. I positively loved her novel, If Darkness Takes Us, so when she offered me an ARC of the follow-up, If the Light Escapes, I jumped at the chance.

I was honored when she asked me to write a cover blurb for the book. And wow–what a stellar cover! Look for my review on this fantastic novel next week. In the meantime, check out Brenda’s amazing post below!


Living Communally
By Brenda Marie Smith

While living off the grid in the Ozark Mountains in the 1970s, my ex-husband and I read the book Hey Beatnik! about a hippie community in Tennessee called The Farm. They were vegans before there was a term for it, they offered free midwifery services, and they even pledged to raise your child if you didn’t want it. The group followed a spiritual creed—a fusion of the common threads that run through most religions—love, compassion, and keeping a clean mind. We needed to see it; we took off for southern middle Tennessee.

book cover for Hey Beatnik!

Farm folks were amazingly friendly, which was scary for me as a shy twenty-one-year-old who’d been living in the woods for years. But they were genuinely kind. Full beards, long hair, bright clothing—much of it held together with multi-colored patchwork. They had 1,700 acres of woods and farmland, with creeks and springs and wells, horses and tractors, a free store, a soy dairy, a canning kitchen, and scads of housing made from old school buses and army field tents stretched across wooden frames.

There were pink-cheeked kids and babies and pregnant women everywhere, a greenhouse under construction, a coin-free laundromat, a mill with workers covered in flour, and acres upon acres of soybeans, sorghum, tomatoes, and more. The smell of woodsmoke permeated the air, and when you walked the dirt roads, everyone greeted you.

My youngest son Jared (J.D.) going back to his roots in 2018, visiting a school bus still on The Farm.

People mediated in the meadow on Sunday mornings, finishing it off with a harmonious OM. Couples were often married afterwards. They had a spiritual leader, Stephen Gaskin, who pulled the group together with his charisma, but who outlived that role over time.

We wanted to join up, but we had to go back to Arkansas first. I got pregnant that winter, as though all the pregnancies we’d witnessed had rubbed off on me.

We moved to The Farm in March 1975 and “soaked” for weeks—a kind of probationary membership before making a final commitment. At the end of that period, we gathered at the gatehouse with other soakers, signed a “Vow of Poverty,” and turned over our meager cash plus the keys to our truck, which went to the motor pool to be shared.

We moved into a tent house on Hickory Hill. Our bedroom had East Indian print curtains for interior walls and a platform bed with foam on top. We lived with two other couples, fairly far from where most of the community resided. We wanted it that way. We were too shy to live close to so many people. We carried our water from a creek down the hill—probably not the cleanest, but we didn’t know.

For a few months, it was sheer, heady adventure—working in the hot beds growing sweet potato slips, starting tomato and pepper plants, building compost and working it into the soil, hiking up Hickory Hill to make dinner by kerosene light, maybe play music with neighbors.

My ex and I with our babies, Aaron and Jared, in our school bus bed where Jared was born.

But The Farm was short on money and food. Sometimes we ran out of flour, other times salt. We seldom had cooking oil, but more often had margarine and sugar, home-canned tomatoes and pickled eggplant. The only foods we could count on having were soybeans and soy flour, which we made into not-so-tasty soy souffle. We baked small sweet potatoes to carry around to eat for energy.  But I was pregnant, and I couldn’t eat a bite of soybeans without instant nausea. Years later I learned that I’m allergic to soybeans.

I was given peanuts to shell, roast, and take to the mill to become peanut butter. People who went to town sneaked me candy bars with nuts and boxes of crackers to get me through. The midwives checked me regularly, and the local doctor pronounced me in good health, just a little too thin.

All this may sound crazy, but we were intense idealists, trying to create a more sustainable lifestyle, believing that our voluntary peasantry would help the world’s poor. But the Farm was located in a disadvantaged part of Tennessee, which lacked in ways to earn sufficient money to support twelve hundred hippies.

A construction crew, tree-planting crew, and farmhands worked outside The Farm for money. Our farming crew sold produce and farmed nearby land as well as ours, but they had to run up debt to do it, and the depleted soil wouldn’t yield enough to feed us all. We had to buy bulk food, plus cloth diapers for the dozen or so babies being born each month.

The food situation improved when we started a satellite Farm in Florida and shipped home mass quantities of fruits and veggies. My first son was delivered by midwives in October 1975, my second son fifteen months later. I had difficulties with the second birth but was well cared for at a nearby hospital.

Eventually, we got water delivered to barrels outside our houses with gravity-fed plumbing to our kitchen sinks. A few doctors joined our ranks and trained a crew of EMTs. A system of governance was established, and tent houses gradually became regular homes.

A typical day as a new mother on The Farm: Wake up twice per night to nurse the baby and feed the wood heater. Rise at dawn for breakfast. Pack up and head to work, one baby strapped to my front, the other on my back, diaper bag and lunch in tow. If a car passed, hitch a ride. If not, walk a mile to the farming crew office in the tractor barn to do bookkeeping while tending babies. Head home in late afternoon to pick up food from the store and make dinner. Once a week, haul enormous bags of laundry a mile to the laundromat, where it could take all night to get your clothes clean. Lug them home wet and hang them to dry.

Other typical days: take turns babysitting, where two moms would tend eight or ten babies, lining them up in highchairs to eat, lining them up to change diapers, chasing toddlers all day. Other days, cook for the masses, making bread, tortillas, and tofu from scratch. Or be a farmer or bookkeeper or caregiver. Learn midwifery; work in the solar electronics lab, or for Plenty, our charity.

Each of the few thousand people who cycled through the Farm over the years has a separate story to tell. I think of it fondly. I made dozens of lifelong friends. My kids, now in their forties, have friends they’ve known since birth. I overcame my shyness and learned to cooperate in households as large as forty people with dozens of kids underfoot, sharing all we had.  I never mastered tie-dye, but I can braid hair like a boss.

A sign on a truck on The Farm in 2018

My allergies in the Tennessee woods gave me recurring bronchitis. We tried several satellite Farms, ending up manufacturing tofu salad in Austin, Texas, where we had indoor plumbing and no dusty roads.

In the mid-1980s, the Farm underwent a “change-over” and switched from being a collective—where all money was thrown into the pot—to a cooperative—where each family pays its share. Hundreds of people couldn’t do that in rural Tennessee and moved away. The population decreased from near-2,000 at its peak to a few hundred, and the satellites shut down. But the Farm is now celebrating its 50th anniversary, its debts are paid, the roads are paved, and second and third generation families have made it their home. Co-ops actually work; collectives not so much.

And I have a rich vein of experience to draw from in my writing. I often think I should write about the Farm, but others have written fine nonfiction accounts, and the place and its human relationships were so complex that there’s no earthly way to do it justice.

I think I’ll write a fictional story based on limited aspects of communal living. Guru of the Ozarks has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

black and white photo of commune members, author on right with her children

(Me on far right with braids, holding my baby, who’s cut off, my other son in front of me)

In 2018 when they were in their early forties, my sons Aaron and Jared (J.D.)—lifelong vegetarians—took a trip back to their roots to visit the Farm. They sent me almost 200 photos while there and called me while visiting old friends. Everyone was so happy to see what fine young men they had become. And I couldn’t help but cry.

My sons J.D. and Aaron visiting The Farm in 2018.

Thank you, Mae Clair, for your monumental kindnesses and for hosting me on your blog.


Did that post leave as astounded as I am? Brenda has led quite the colorful and intriguing life. Her background is just perfect for her dystopian series. Today, I am happy to share book two, If the Light Escapes.

BOOK BLURB:

“Gritty and powerful… takes the reader on an emotionally charged and adrenaline-fueled journey that lingers long after the last page is read.”
—Mae Clair, author of the Point Pleasant series and the Hode’s Hill series

The standalone sequel to IF DARKNESS TAKES US

A solar electromagnetic pulse has fried the US grid. Now, northern lights are in Texas—three thousand miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms. All that’s left for him and his broken family is farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If the Light Escapes is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.

“Brenda Marie Smith stuns a gain with the breathtaking sequel to her debut. With her skill for detail and character, Smith captivates us with Keno’s kindness and humanity while also exploring the capacity for violence that lurks within all of us.”
—Aden Polydoros, author of THE CITY BEAUTIFUL

“IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is a rich coming-of-age story about the legacy of family, infused with hopefulness and humanity.”
—Laura Creedle, author of THE LOVE LETTERS OF ABELARD AND LILY

PURCHASE FROM AMAZON

Author, Brenda Marie Smith

BRENDA MARIE SMITH lived off the grid for many years in a farming collective where her sons were delivered by midwives. She’s done community activism, managed student housing co-ops, produced concerts to raise money for causes, done massive quantities of bookkeeping, and raised a small herd of teenage boys. Brenda is attracted to stories where everyday characters transcend their limitations to find their inner heroism. She and her husband reside in a grid-connected, solar-powered home in South Austin, Texas. They have more grown kids and grandkids than they can count.


Connect with Brenda at the following haunts:
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads | YouTube
| BookBub


Thanks for visiting with me and Brenda today. I hope you enjoyed her post as much as I did, and will drop her some thoughts in the comments below. Remember to check back next week for my review of If the Light Escapes (hint: it involves lots of stars)!