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)!

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Bloodless by Preston and Child #supernaturalthriller #pendergast

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

Oh boy, oh, boy, oh boy! Once a year, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child make it possible for readers to escape into the dangerous and eerie world of Special Agent Aloysuis Pendergast, a highly unorthodox FBI agent who specializes in unusual cases. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you know I’m crazy-mad about this series and, most especially, Pendergast. Needless to say, I devoured the latest release, Bloodless. The only down side of finishing this enthralling book is now I have to wait a year until a new release!

BOOK BLURB:

Agent Pendergast faces his most unexpected challenge yet when bloodless bodies begin to appear in Savannah, GA, in this installment of a #1 New York Times bestselling series.

A fabulous heist:

On the evening of November 24, 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a fake bomb, collected a ransom of $200,000, and then parachuted from the rear of the plane, disappearing into the night…and into history.

A brutal crime steeped in legend and malevolence:
Fifty years later, Agent Pendergast takes on a bizarre and gruesome case: in the ghost-haunted city of Savannah, Georgia, bodies are found with no blood left in their veins—sowing panic and reviving whispered tales of the infamous Savannah Vampire.

A case like no other:
As the mystery rises along with the body count, Pendergast and his partner, Agent Coldmoon, race to understand how—or if—these murders are connected to the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Together, they uncover not just the answer…but an unearthly evil beyond all imagining.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Combining the mystery of D. B. Cooper with a series of odd murders in which the victims are drained of blood? Only Preston & Child could pull off a plot like that, and they do it exceptionally well in the twentieth outing for FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast. If you’ve never read a Pendergast novel, Bloodless is written in such a way that you can go into it fresh without worrying about what came before.

Pendergast and his sometimes partner, Coldmoon, are diverted to Savannah, Georgia, accompanied by Pendergast’s ward, Constance Greene. Call me a happy camper as other than Corrie Swanson (who now stars with Nora Kelly in their own series), Coldmoon and Constance are my favorite supporting characters.

The haunted setting is perfect for a story that includes an unethical ghost-hunting reality TV host, a slimy politician, and an eccentric wealthy woman who lives in isolation on the upper floor of a luxury hotel. There’s also a collection of local law enforcement for Pendergast and Coldmoon to interact with. I particularly loved Delaplane, the Savannah commander who gets to shine in her own right.

The book starts out with a slow build of eerie killings, then explodes in the last half as all hell breaks loose. The story is so different than any that have preceded it—downright bizarre—I had to pause for a day to examine how I felt about it. I stayed up reading past bedtime on a work night just because I had to know how it ended.

It’s near impossible to put the book down once the action really kicks in and pieces begin to slot into place. The pace is frantic, and the descriptions vividly portrayed. This is another five-star read in a series that never grows stale and features one of the most unique characters in modern fiction. I can’t wait for the next Pendergast adventure—especially with the hint provided in the closing chapter of what is to come. One of my top reads of 2021!

Book Review Tuesday: The Haunting of Abram Mansion by Alexandria Clarke and Lullaby (Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper #7) by J. L. Bryan #ghosts

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

Today is a theme book review day. I have two novels that fall into the genre of ghost suspense. I’m seriously behind on the Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper series, which I always enjoy.The other book is part of a haunted house series that is new to me. Take a look…

BOOK BLURB:

A riveting new haunted house mystery that will keep you guessing until the end!

When Peyton and Benjamin Fletcher inherit a dilapidated house in the quiet town of Falconwood, Connecticut from Peyton’s grandfather, all they want to do is get rid of it. Unfortunately, the will stipulates that the couple must live in the house for a minimum of six months before they sell it. As Peyton and Ben try to make the best of the situation, Peyton discovers the house is inhabited by ghosts, and they aren’t happy with the mansion’s new occupants.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Peyton and Ben are ready to sign their divorce papers when Peyton inherits the Abram Mansion from her maternal grandfather. His will stipulates they must live the mansion for six months before they can sell. It’s not an ideal situation, especially for Peyton who wants the divorce finalized as quickly as possible so she can move on with her life. What Peyton doesn’t expect is to encounter in the home are ghosts.

I loved the small town of Falconwood and the descriptions of the crumbling old mansion. The house comes with a murky history that includes the suicide of the last owner and the disappearance of his wife and child. Throughout the story we get hints of what might have taken place, but full disclosure doesn’t come until near the end.

I also really liked Peyton’s friendship with Theo, a young woman she meets in Falconwood, and Theo’s son Sammy. Della and Basil, an older couple, plus Mason, who runs the Black Cat Cafe were also excellent characters, and I really liked Ben. It did, however, take me a long time to warm up to Peyton. She came across as selfish at the beginning of the book, especially in her relationship with Ben.

This is not really a spooky haunted house story so much as a mystery set in a house with hauntings. The book held my interest but there were points that frustrated me. I felt the entire plot thread with Theo’s drug-addled ex could have been eliminated, and several things (especially regarding the home’s original owner, and Peyton’s grandfather) didn’t ring true. I also had issues with how the school responded to Sammy’s consent forms.

Although the writing was good, there were editing problems throughout—words and typos—but not enough to ruin the story. The book could have used a better edit. Finally, the author had a weird habit of summarizing parts of the story every now and then, as if a new reader had just stepped into the story and needed to be told what happened previously. It made me wonder if the novel had been stitched together from a serialized work.

The Haunting of Abram Mansion is part of the “Riveting Haunted House Mystery Series” books written by different authors. This novel, despite the issues I mentioned, was certainly enjoyable enough for me to try others in the series.

BOOK BLURB:

Life is more difficult than ever at Savannah’s only ghost-hunting detective agency. While Ellie copes with her mentor’s departure and other unwelcome developments, she also worries about the supernatural injuries keeping her boyfriend caught in an endless slumber.

At the same time, Ellie and Stacey are called in to investigate an eerie entity haunting a baby’s nursery room. The ghost appears late at night, its face barely visible on the baby monitor, and sings a chilling song.

Soon, Ellie learns there are more ghosts in the house, and at least one of them is a dangerous, child-hunting monster who must be stopped before it kills again.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m behind on this series, but I always enjoy the stories, especially the mysteries related to the spirits Ellie, Stacey, and Jacob encounter. This time, their investigation involves several ghosts in a house that is undergoing renovations, one of the spirits particularly violent. There’s also an eerie lullaby that no one can distinguish words to when they hear it, and a very creepy scene involving a toy baby doll.

While I LOVED the ghost(s) plot thread, I’m not overly thrilled with Eckert Investigations being purchased by a larger, high-tech company with two spiritual gurus as the head honchos. Support/tech guy, Hayden (“the Hoff”) is a fun character, but I could do without Nicholas and Kara, especially Kara. I’ll wait to see how their characters play out in successive books. Right now, I wish the stories hadn’t taken that turn.

Ellie is excellent. She’s a tough cookie who stands up to hair-raising encounters. She’s also great with a comeback, a bit like a female Harry Dresden minus the magic. I look forward to catching up with more ghost-hunting with Ellie and crew (hopefully without Kara involved!).

Book Blast: The Laws of Nature by Jacqui Murray #newrelease #prehistoric fiction @AskATeacher

Banner ad for Laws of Nature by Jacqui Murray shows three book covers from series of watermark image of prehistoric boy in background

Today I’m happy to be participating in the book blast tour for Laws of Nature, the new release from Jacqui Murray, and the second in her Dawn of Humanity trilogy. Jacqui puts an extraordinary amount of research into her fiction, her love and interest in the prehistoric world evident with every book she writes. Please join me in celebrating her her latest achievement!


A boy blinded by fire. A woman raised by wolves. An avowed enemy offers help. 

Summary

In this second of the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, the first trilogy in the Man vs. Nature saga, Lucy and her eclectic group escape the treacherous tribe that has been hunting them and find a safe haven in the famous Wonderwerk caves in South Africa. Though they don’t know it, they will be the oldest known occupation of caves by humans. They don’t have clothing, fire, or weapons, but the caves keep them warm and food is plentiful. But they can’t stay, not with the rest of the tribe enslaved by an enemy. To free them requires not only the prodigious skills of Lucy’s unique group–which includes a proto-wolf and a female raised by the pack–but others who have no reason to assist her and instinct tells Lucy she shouldn’t trust.

Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.

A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!


QUESTION:
The famous Lucy skeleton (found by Donald Johanson) was a 3.2 million year old Australopithecine, 1.5 million years older than this story. Why use that name? 

ANSWER:
Congratulations—you know your paleoanthropology! This story’s Lucy is more evolved than her namesake, I chose a name often associated with prehistoric man to make the story familiar to readers.


Book cover for Lawns of nature shows prehistoric buy holding staff crouched by wolf, rugged cliffs in background

Series: Book 2 in the Dawn of Humanity

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Editor: The extraordinary Anneli Purchase

Available (print or digital) at: Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU  Kindle India



Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.

Social Media contacts:

Amazon Author Page  | Blog | Instagram | LinkedIn | Pinterest | Twitter | Website

Thanks for visiting today. I hope you’ll drop Jacqui a comment or two and wish her well with her release. Don’t forget to click for your copy at the Amazon seller of your choice!

Available (print or digital) at: Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU  Kindle India

Book Review Tuesday: Second Chance Romance by Jill Weatherholt, Keeping Bailey by Dan Walsh #christianromance #christianfiction @JillWeatherholt

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

Welcome to another Book Review Tuesday. I shared books from both of these author’s series the end of June. In that post (which you can find HERE ) I mentioned I enjoyed the stories so much, I purchased an additional title in each series. Today, I’m happy to report the new books I picked up are every bit as enchanting as the first. Take a look . . .

BOOK BLURB:

Jackson Daughtry’s jobs as a paramedic and part-owner of a local café keep him busy—but the single dad’s number one priority is raising his little girl with love and small-town values. And when his business partner’s hotshot lawyer niece comes to town planning to disrupt their lives by moving her aunt away, Jackson has to set Melanie Harper straight. When circumstances force them to work side by side in the coffee shop, Jackson slowly discovers what put the sadness in Melanie’s pretty brown eyes. Now it’ll take all his faith—and a hopeful five-year-old—to show the city gal that she’s already home.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a delightful book with characters who quickly become friends. Jackson is a single dad, raising his five-year-old little girl, Rebecca. A paramedic, he’s also business partners with Phoebe in a local café called the Bean. When Phoebe encounters health problems, her niece, Melanie—a high-profile divorce attorney from Washington—shows up to take Phoebe back to D.C. But Phoebe has no intention of leaving the small town of Sweet Gum, and Jackson has no intention of allowing it to happen. Phoebe is family to him, which means Melanie has an adjustment in store.

One that is long overdue. Since losing her husband and children over a year ago, she has buried herself in work and the unfeeling isolation of urban life. Sweet Gum and the people who populate the town are friendly, sociable, and truly care about one another. What’s more, she finds herself falling for Jackson and becoming involved with Rebecca.

Weatherholt writes from the heart, delving into the emotions and tribulations of her characters. A Christian theme is beautifully woven into the story, especially in the character of Melanie who has lost her faith. I loved the relationship between Melanie and Rebecca almost, if not more, than the relationship between Melanie and Jackson. And Aunt Phoebe is a charmer!

But it’s not all smooth sailing. Especially when an unexpected character causes havoc in the last quarter of the book. I loved the HEA ending, and the small-town values. This is a well-written, feel good story that leaves the reader with a smile long after the final page is read. If you want a sweet escape… escape to Sweet Gum with this talented author!

BOOK BLURB:

Through no fault of her own and after spending her entire life with an owner she loves, Bailey’s life is turned upside down. She’s dropped off at the Humane Society where Kim Harper works as the Animal Behavior Manager. Alone and confused, Bailey shuts down completely. She won’t eat or even acknowledge anyone who reaches out to her. Kim knows older dogs are hard to re-home. If Bailey can’t come out of this, it will be impossible.

A retired widow named Rhonda Hawthorne volunteers at the shelter. Rhonda’s dog recently passed away after a long and full life. Rhonda can’t even think about getting another one but hopes doing this will give her a chance to be around dogs, make a small difference in their lives, but without making a permanent commitment. Soon she decides to do whatever she can to help Bailey, before it’s too late.

What life-changing difference will this decision create in her own life? Kim Harper is also wondering about something else…will Ned, the boyfriend she loves, ever get serious and pop the question? Bestselling Author Dan Walsh adds a fourth installment to his fan-favorite Forever Home Series (which begins with Rescuing Finley). Fans of this series and dog lovers everywhere will thoroughly enjoy this touching, emotional tale.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read a lot of psychological fiction and domestic suspense, but sometimes I just want a simple feel-good story that I know is going to leave me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Keeping Bailey is the fourth book in Dan Walsh’s Forever Home Series. It’s the second book I’ve read in the series, caught up in the lives of a small set of people who populate a tiny town, particularly those centered around the local humane society. This book reads fine as a standalone (each novel is designed that way) but I appreciated it more, having an understanding of a few supporting characters from book three.

Rhonda, the MC in this novel is a widow who has made a decision to volunteer at the humane society. She starts out as a dog walker, then transitions to a foster parent when her path crosses with Bailey, an eleven-year-old dog who suddenly finds herself displaced after her elderly owner has to transition to a nursing home. Because of her age, and some behavioral issues (she doesn’t do well with other dogs or small children), Bailey’s chances of adoption are limited. When placed at the humane society, she shuts down, refusing to interact with others until Rhonda gradually wins her over.

Rhonda’s initial thought is to foster her and help her find a good home, but the more time she spends with Bailey, the more her thought process is altered. It takes a dangerous situation to open Rhonda’s eyes to how Bailey’s future should play out.

I like these books because not only does the author provide POV from the characters, but the reader also gets to experience what the dogs are feeling. I fell in love with Bailey immediately. Her situation tugged on my heart strings. I felt for all of the characters involved. From her previous owner, to Rhonda, to all those who are trying to do right by Bailey, I was invested from start to finish. The ending is beautiful, and brings closure not only for Bailey but for several human characters, too.

If you love animals, and well-deserved HEA’s, this story is for you. I like how characters continue book to book but each novel is complete as a stand-alone. Best of all, every single animal—including Bailey—finds their forever home.

Book Review Tuesday: A Mother for His Twins by Jill Weatherholt, Saving Parker by Dan Walsh @JillWeatherholt #christianromance #smalltownfiction

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

Happy Tuesday! I have two books to share today, both in a similar heart-warming vein. Both of these authors were new to me, but you can bet I’ll be reading their work again. I’ve already snatched up more books from both. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I devour psychological suspense and thrillers, but every now and then, I want to lose myself in the pages of small town life with a fat HEA at the end. Both of these did the trick and then some!

BOOK BLURB:

She’d given up on having a family…until he made her feel right at home.

First-grade teacher Joy Kelliher has two new students—twin boys who belong to her high school sweetheart. If teaching Nick Capello’s sons wasn’t difficult enough, the widower’s also her neighbor…and competing for the principal job she wants. Now with little matchmakers drawing Joy and Nick together, can they overcome a painful past to build the family Joy’s always wanted?

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A heartwarming story about second chance romance, A Mother for His Twins ticks all the right boxes for anyone looking for a feel-good novel with a lovely HEA. Joy and Nick grew up together, falling in love in their teen years. They always knew they would be together until Nick’s family moved abruptly and Joy was cut out of his life.

Fast forward years later. Nick returns to his hometown, a widower with twin boys. The boys join Jill’s grade school class, quickly stealing her heart (and the heart of the reader). Meanwhile, Jill is vying for the position of principal at the school where she works, the only other applicant, Nick.

I don’t read a lot of romance, but I don’t really consider this story romance at the heart, so much as a tale of people finding their way back to each other. That journey is helped along by Nick’s boys, Joy’s sister and her niece, and the guiding touch of God. The story has a light Christian theme, twined with Hallmark-esque moments that will melt your heart. The characters suffer ups and downs, which make the eventual HEA all the sweeter. Both Nick and Joy have burdens in their past, secrets that present hurdles they need to overcome if they’re to recapture the love they once had. Factor in they’re both applicants for the same job, and the stakes rachet higher.

The writing is polished, the characters (even the secondary ones), beautifully defined. I breezed through the pages, enchanted by the author’s casual flair with handling the day-to-day challenges of her MCs. This is book 3 in a series, but it reads fine as a standalone. I enjoyed it so much, I immediately bought another after finishing. I’m smitten!

BOOK BLURB:

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy’s terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he must do more. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free. Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell is hiding a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He suffered the same fate as a child. It’s the main reason he became a cop. But what can he do? When a near-death tragedy occurs, what role might Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is known for page-turning, character driven novels. Fans of Dan’s other novels, as well as dog-lovers everywhere will especially enjoy Saving Parker (and if they do, 3 more books are available in the Forever Home series, including Book 4, Keeping Bailey, the sequel to Saving Parker).

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is a heartwarming story built around Parker, a dog who gets a second chance at a forever home. Abused by his former owner, a drug dealer, Parker is rescued by Ned, a police officer. If you’re worried about animal abuse, don’t be. The neglect Parker endures happens before the story starts, which makes this about his learning to trust people again, and his journey to recovery.

Ned is a great character, strong, and l likeable. He decides to take a chance on fostering/adopting Parker, and through that decision connects with Kim, who works at an animal shelter. He also has new neighbors—a single mom and her sixth-grade son, Russell, who becomes a target for bullies at school.

The story shifts between Parker’s recuperation, Ned and Kim juggling emerging romantic feelings, and Ned helping Russell find a way to stand up to the bullies. There is nothing earth-shattering in the plot, just clean, wholesome feel-good entertainment. Think Hallmark with a light Christian theme. Although this is the third book in a series, it reads fine as a standalone. I got the impression some of the characters cross over from book to book, but I had zero difficulty following the story. If I hadn’t been aware beforehand, I wouldn’t even realize Saving Parker is book three in a series.

I enjoyed the humbleness and simplicity of the tale, to the extent that I plan to seek out other titles in this series. If you enjoy reading books about dogs, and a story that leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling, you’ll find Saving Parker enchanting.

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Edge of Fear by Maura Beth Brennan #domesticthriller @maurabeth2014

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

It’s pool weather, which means I’ve been doing a lot of reading. It won’t happen often, but, yes this is my third book review post this week. My husband and I are traveling this weekend, leaving Friday to attend a family wedding. I won’t be visible after tomorrow until some time next week, so decided to share this today.

I always love when I discover the work of an author I haven’t read before and it resonates strongly with me. Today, I have the pleasure of sharing my review for The Edge of Fear by Maura Beth Brennan. Not only is this a fabulous story, but the character relationships alone kept me flipping pages!

BOOK BLURB:

When you have everything you always wanted, you have everything to lose. 

After years of struggling to overcome her tragic childhood, Hattie has the life of her dreams—a husband, a baby daughter, a beautiful home, and more money than she ever dreamed possible. But lately, a feeling nags at her, a sense of something not-quite-right. Is this just her imagination? Hattie’s family, and her best friend, Celine, keep telling her that it is. 

Meanwhile, Frank, Hattie’s ex-husband, has not fared so well himself. He wants everything, but feels he ended up with nothing. A thought has taken hold in his mind—something that could involve Hattie. How can he make her good fortune pay off for himself? He comes up with a plan—one that will shatter Hattie’s life and bring about her worst nightmare. When the unthinkable happens, Hattie does everything the police advise her to do. But as time passes and her life crumbles around her, it seems everyone fails her—law enforcement, a private detective, even her husband. So Hattie decides to take matters into her own hands. Desperate but determined, and aided by her best friend, Celine, she sets out to take back what is hers.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hattie is happily married to Eli with a beautiful three-year-old daughter, Lily. But fifteen years ago, she was the wife of Frank, an abusive thug with ties to the mob. Hattie has since fallen into a sizeable inheritance that makes her—and Lily—a target for Frank who needs a payday for a quick escape after crossing a lethal mob boss. Frank abducts Lily from her home in Maine hoping for a million-dollar pay out for her safe return, but circumstances take a turn that has him on the run with Lily, and a co-conspirator, Sharon.

Months past with police investigations going nowhere. Hattie undertakes to devise a plan to get her daughter back safely. With her friend, Celine, she sets out on Frank’s trail, determined to rescue her daughter.

Wow! This is the second book in a series, but it stands fine as a standalone. I didn’t read the first novel, but had no problem following the character relationships and the edge-of-the-seat plot in this one. Hattie is such a relatable character. Her love for Lily shines through in every risky move she undertakes. I also loved her friendship with Celine, and the willingness of both ladies to always be there for each other no matter the circumstance.

The first half of the book is set-up for Lily’s abduction, the second half a nail-biting race with Hattie, Celine, and others tracing Frank’s path with Lily. That course involves a cross-state manhunt, a venture into a remote New Jersey area which the Jersey Devil is said to haunt and underworld figures possibly tied to illegal adoptions or sex trafficking.

This is a clean but high suspense mystery with characters to cheer for. The danger, adventure, and the way puzzle pieces fall into place keep you flipping pages. Even secondary characters get moments to shine. I especially loved Sharon’s stepmother, Rhonda. The ending delivers everything I would hope for, and the writing is polished with an easy flow. Thank you to the author who provided me with a gift copy for an honest review. An easy five stars!