Posted in Blog Tours, Book Events, reviews

This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf Blog Tour

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman dealing with a pregnancy and her career as a police officer has her world turned upside-down when the unsolved murder of her best friend finds new evidence, and leads her into a whirlpool of suspects who are far closer to her than she could have imagined, in author Heather Gudenkauf’s “This Is How I Lied.” 

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The Synopsis

With the eccentricity of Fargo and the intensity of Sadie, THIS IS HOW I LIED by Heather Gudenkauf (Park Row Books; May 12, 2020; $17.99) is a timely and gripping thriller about careless violence we can inflict on those we love, and the lengths we will go to make it right, even 25 years later.

Tough as nails and seven months pregnant, Detective Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe of Grotto PD, is dreading going on desk duty before having the baby her and her husband so badly want. But when new evidence is found in the 25-year-old cold case of her best friend’s murder that requires the work of a desk jockey, Maggie jumps at the opportunity to be the one who finally puts Eve Knox’s case to rest.

Maggie has her work cut out for her. Everyone close to Eve is a suspect. There’s Nola, Eve’s little sister who’s always been a little… off; Nick, Eve’s ex-boyfriend with a vicious temper; a Schwinn riding drifter who blew in and out of Grotto; even Maggie’s husband Sean, who may have known more about Eve’s last day than he’s letting on. As Maggie continues to investigate, the case comes closer and closer to home, forcing her to confront her own demons before she can find justice for Eve. 

The Review

A truly gripping thriller that takes readers on an emotional roller-coaster ride, author Heather Gudenkauf’s “This Is How I Lied” begins as a personal story of a young woman seeking justice for her long lost best friend, and takes a dramatic turn that puts every character in the spotlight. 

The brilliant use of flashbacks through the eyes of the victim to the modern-day investigation and the secrets that fuel all of the characters make this such an engaging narrative. Just when readers have a bead on who the killer is, the author drops a new piece of the puzzle that turns the investigation on its head. The author does a marvelous job of portraying the narrative in a very cinematic way, allowing readers to envision the events of the story playing out perfectly. 

The Verdict

A must-read thriller and mystery, “This Is How I Lied” by Heather Gudenkauf is a fantastic narrative that deserves to be read. Evenly paced, thought-provoking, and shocking in its delivery, this is a one of a kind read that fans of the mystery and thriller genres will not be able to get enough of, especially in the final shocking moments of the book’s end. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of many books, including The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. Heather graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages. She lives in Iowa with her husband, three children, and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time, Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading, hiking, and running. 

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Author Q&A

1. What is your writing process like? 

I approach each of my novels with the goal of being a plotter – someone who explicitly organizes and outlines her books – but it never quite works out that way for me. I make notes and outline the plot but ultimately the characters take over and do what they want to anyway. My process is messy and meandering. Thankfully, I have a brilliant editor who is able to see through the weeds and pull out the best parts of my plots and keep me on the right path. This is How I Lied completely evolved from my initial intentions. The characters changed, the plot shifted and the final ending poked its head up near the end of revisions and I couldn’t be happier with the results. 

2. Which came first: the characters or plot line?

For me, the two go hand in hand. The basic plot line comes first, and close behind comes the characters. It doesn’t matter how suspenseful of a plot I develop, if the right characters aren’t there to mold the story and carry it forward, it won’t work. Before I begin writing, I attempt to give my characters rich backstories. Often many of these details don’t make into the novel, but by fully developing their personalities and biographies, it helps keep me in tune with them as I write. Knowing the characters’ likes and dislikes, their foibles and strengths helps me to honestly and accurately determine their motivations and the decisions they make as they move through the novel. 

3. How do you come up with your plots?

I’m a news junkie! I’ll scan newspapers and websites and a story will catch my eye. It can be the smallest detail or a broader theme but if the idea sticks with me and keeps harassing me to write about it, I know I’m on the right track. For my novel Little Mercies, it was an article about a social worker who ended up on the other side of the justice system because of alleged negligence with her caseload. From this I created an entirely new story about a social worker who was fighting for her own child. In This is How I Lied, I was intrigued by news stories that dealt with the use of familial DNA to solve cold cases and it became a key detail in the novel’s resolution.

4. Do you use music to help set a mood/tone for your books? 

I do listen to music as I write. It varies based on the story and what I think the characters might listen to. By curating these playsets, it helps me get into their mindset. As I worked on Maggie’s sections in This is How I Lied I listened to a lot of Avett Brothers and Lumineers. For Nola, I listened to classical music and hard rock – she’s an interesting mix. As for Eve, since she was sixteen years old and living in the 90s, I listened to plenty of Nirvana and Beck. 

5. Where did the idea for this story come from? 

Before I started writing This is How I Lied, I read I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, about the author’s investigation of The Golden State Killer who, for decades, terrorized northern California. This book both terrified and fascinated me and I became intrigued by how modern technology was being used to close old cold cases. For my project, I thought it would be interesting to explore how this might play out in a small town where the perpetrator thought the truth behind the crime would never be discovered. 

As I was writing the novel, I learned about the developments in a 40-year-old cold case not far from where I live where familial DNA was used to ultimately convict the killer. Amazing!

6. Do you find inspiration for your novels in your personal life? 

I often get asked what my childhood must have been like because of the twisty thrillers I write. Thankfully, I can say that I had a blissfully uneventful childhood with parents and siblings that loved and supported me. For me, the inspiration from my own life comes in the settings of my novels – the Mississippi River, farmland, the woods and bluffs – all found in Iowa. In This is How I Lied, the town of Grotto is loosely based on a nearby town until I moved to this part of Iowa, I never realized that we had cave systems.  Visitors to the state park, can literally step back thousands of years. The limestone caves and bluffs are beautiful, haunting and have something for everyone. You can take a casual stroll through some of the caves and have to army crawl through some of the others. Old clothes and a flashlight are a must! The caves made the perfect backdrop for a thriller and I was excited to include them in This is How I Lied.

7. What is the one personality trait that you like your main characters to have and why? 

In looking back at all my main characters, though they are all different ages and come from different walks of life, I think the trait that they all seem to have in common is perseverance. I’ve had characters battle human evil and demons of their own creation but it doesn’t matter what traumatic events they have been through or the challenges they will face, they manage to make it through. Changed for sure, but intact and hopeful for the future.

8. Why do you love Maggie and why should readers root for her? 

I do love Maggie! As a police detective, Maggie has dedicated her adult life to helping others and is a loving daughter, sister and wife and is expecting her first child. This doesn’t mean that Maggie is perfect. Like all of my protagonists, Maggie is complicated and flawed and has made some big mistakes, but ultimately she is doing the best that she can.

9. What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?

As a former elementary school teacher, I had absolutely no insights into the publishing world beyond what I saw on television and in movies – which portrayed it as a dog-eat-dog world. I have to admit, as a new author, I was very intimidated. But to my delight –  and relief – the people I’ve encountered along the way– my agent, editors, publishing teams, fellow authors, booksellers and readers – all have been nothing but supportive, encouraging and kind.

10. What is coming up next for you? 

I just finished the first draft of my next novel, a locked-room mystery about a reclusive writer working on a true crime book when a snow storm leaves her trapped inside her remote home, setting off a series of events that lead to a stunning revelation. It was so much fun to write!

11. Has quarantine been better or worse for your writing? 

It’s been such a scary, unsettling time but I’ve found writing a nice distraction and a great comfort during this extended time at home. I’ve been able to turn off the news and get lost in my manuscript or other writing projects. It’s a lot like reading – a much needed escape from the real world.

12. What was your last 5 star read? 

Julia Heaberlin has a new book coming out this August called We Are All the Same in the Dark and it has surged to the top as one of my favorite reads of the year. It has everything I love in a great thriller: a beautifully written small town mystery, with multilayered, unforgettable characters and a twisty plot. It was absolutely mesmerizing.

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This Is How I Lied Book Excerpt

Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe

Monday, June 15, 2020

As I slide out of my unmarked police car my swollen belly briefly gets wedged against the steering wheel. Sucking in my gut does little good but I manage to move the seat back and squeeze past the wheel. I swing my legs out the open door and glance furtively around the parking lot behind the Grotto Police Department to see if anyone is watching.

Almost eight months pregnant with a girl and not at my most graceful. I’m not crazy about the idea of one of my fellow officers seeing me try to pry myself out of this tin can. The coast appears to be clear so I begin the little ritual of rocking back and forth trying to build up enough momentum to launch myself out of the driver’s seat.

Once upright, I pause to catch my breath. The morning dew is already sending up steam from the weeds growing out of the cracked concrete. Sweating, I slowly make my way to the rear entrance of the Old Gray Lady, the nickname for the building we’re housed in. Built in the early 1900s, the first floor consists of the lobby, the finger printing and intake center, a community room, interview rooms and the jail. The second floor, which once held the old jail is home to the squad room and offices. The dank, dark basement holds a temperamental boiler and the department archives.

The Grotto Police Department has sixteen sworn officers that includes the chief, two lieutenants, a K-9 patrol officer, nine patrol officers, a school resource officer and two detectives. I’m detective number two.

I grew up in Grotto, a small river town of about ten thousand that sits among a circuitous cave system known as Grotto Caves State Park, the most extensive in Iowa. Besides being a favorite destination spot for families, hikers and spelunkers, Grotto is known for its high number of family owned farms – a dying breed. My husband Shaun and I are part of that breed – we own an apple orchard and tree farm.

 “Pretty soon we’re going to have to roll you in,” an irritatingly familiar voice calls out from behind me.

I don’t bother turning around. “Francis, that wasn’t funny the first fifty times you said it and it still isn’t,” I say as I scan my key card to let us in.

Behind me, Pete Francis, rookie officer and all-around caveman grabs the door handle and in a rare show of chivalry opens it so I can step through. “You know I’m just joking,” Francis says giving me the grin that all the young ladies in Grotto seem to find irresistible but just gives me another reason to roll my eyes.

“With the wrong person, those kinds of jokes will land you in sensitivity training,” I remind him.

“Yeah, but you’re not the wrong person, right?” he says seriously, “You’re cool with it?”

I wave to Peg behind the reception desk and stop at the elevator and punch the number two button. The police department only has two levels but I’m in no mood to climb up even one flight of stairs today. “Do I look like I’m okay with it?” I ask him.

Francis scans me up and down. He takes in my brown hair pulled back in a low bun, wayward curls springing out from all directions, my eyes red from lack of sleep, my untucked shirt, the fabric stretched tight against my round stomach, my sturdy shoes that I think are tied, but I can’t know for sure because I can’t see over my boulder-sized belly.

“Sorry,” he says appropriately contrite and wisely decides to take the stairs rather than ride the elevator with me.

“You’re forgiven,” I call after him.  As I step on the elevator to head up to my desk, I check my watch. My appointment with the chief is at eight and though he didn’t tell me what the exact reason is for this meeting I think I can make a pretty good guess.

It can’t be dictated as to when I have to go on light duty, seven months into my pregnancy, but it’s probably time. I’m guessing that Chief Digby wants to talk with me about when I want to begin desk duty or take my maternity leave. I get it.

It’s time I start to take it easy. I’ve either been the daughter of a cop or a cop my entire life but I’m more than ready to set it aside for a while and give my attention, twenty-four-seven to the little being inhabiting my uterus.

Shaun and I have been trying for a baby for a long, long time. And thousands of dollars and dozens of procedures later, when we finally found out we were pregnant, Shaun started calling her peanut because the only thing I could eat for the first nine weeks without throwing up was peanut butter sandwiches. The name stuck.

This baby is what we want more than anything in the world but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a little bit scared. I’m used to toting around a sidearm not an infant.

 The elevator door opens to a dark paneled hallway lined with ten by sixteen framed photos of all the men who served as police chief of Grotto over the years. I pass by eleven photos before I reach the portrait of my father. Henry William Kennedy, 1995 – 2019, the plaque reads.

While the other chiefs stare out from behind the glass with serious expressions, my dad smiles showing his straight, white teeth. He was so proud when he was named chief of police. We were all proud, except maybe my older brother, Colin. God knows what Colin thought of it. As a teenager he was pretty self-absorbed, but I guess I was too, especially after my best friend died. I went off the rails for a while but here I am now. A Grotto PD detective, following in my dad’s footsteps. I think he’s proud of me too. At least when he remembers.

Last time I brought my dad back here to visit, we walked down this long corridor and paused at his photo. For a minute I thought he might make a joke, say something like, Hey, who’s that good looking guy? But he didn’t say anything. Finding the right words is hard for him now. Occasionally, his frustration bubbles over and he yells and sometimes even throws things which is hard to watch. My father has always been a very gentle man.

The next portrait in line is our current police chief, Les Digby. No smile on his tough guy mug. He was hired a month ago, taking over for Dexter Stroope who acted as the interim chief after my dad retired. Les is about ten years older than I am, recently widowed with two teenage sons. He previously worked for the Ransom Sheriff’s Office and I’m trying to decide if I like him. Jury’s still out.

Excerpted from This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf, Copyright © 2020 by Heather Gudenkauf 

Published by Park Row Books

Posted in Blog Tours, reviews

First Cut by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A medical examiner new to the San Francisco area finds herself embroiled in a harrowing case involving a murder to cover up the actions of a ruthless drug lord in authors Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell’s “First Cut”. 

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The Synopsis

Wife and husband duo Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell first enthralled the book world with their runaway bestselling memoir Working Stiff—a fearless account of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner. This winter, Dr. Melinek, now a prominent forensic pathologist in the Bay Area, once again joins forces with writer T.J. Mitchell to take their first stab at fiction. 

The result: FIRST CUT (Hanover Square Press; Hardcover; January 7, 2020; $26.99)—a gritty and compelling crime debut about a hard-nosed San Francisco medical examiner who uncovers a dangerous conspiracy connecting the seedy underbelly of the city’s nefarious opioid traffickers and its ever-shifting terrain of tech startups.

Dr. Jessie Teska has made a chilling discovery. A suspected overdose case contains hints of something more sinister: a drug lord’s attempt at a murderous cover up. As more bodies land on her autopsy table, Jessie uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate network of powerful criminals—on both sides of the law—that will do anything to keep things buried. But autopsy means “see for yourself,” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she’s seen it all—even if it means the next corpse on the slab could be her own.

The Review

A brilliant read, this novel perfectly blends the expertise and gritty reality of forensic work and the work of the medical examiners office with the harrowing and heart-pounding action that comes with a good thriller. 

The story cuts into the complex web of lies uncovered by Jessie Teska, from drug kingpins and dirty lawyers to collegues she thought she could trust and beyond. Haunted by a painful past, Jessie finds herself fighting to uncover the truth behind a horrific crime, with only her brilliant mind and determination to aid her in her fight against politics, criminal empires and more. 

The Verdict

A fantastic thriller for anyone who enjoys a heavy mix of medical forensics and suspense, authors Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell have created a masterful story that will give readers a protagonist to root for, a story to engage with and a brilliant race to the finish that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. If you haven’t yet, grab your copy of Final Cut today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Authors

Judy Melinek was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.
T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.

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EXCERPT

PROLOGUE

Los Angeles
May

The dead woman on my table had pale blue eyes, long lashes, no mascara. She wore a thin rim of black liner on her lower lids but none on the upper. I inserted the twelve gauge needle just far enough that I could see its beveled tip through the pupil, then pulled the syringe plunger to aspirate a sample of vitreous fluid. That was the first intrusion I made on her corpse during Mary Catherine Walsh’s perfectly ordinary autopsy.

The external examination had been unremarkable. The decedent appeared to be in her midthirties, blond hair with dun roots, five foot four, 144 pounds. After checking her over and noting identifying marks (monochromatic professional tattoo of a Celtic knot on lower left flank, appendectomy scar on abdomen, well-healed stellate scar on right knee), I picked up a scalpel and sliced from each shoulder to the breastbone, and then all the way down her belly. I peeled back the layers of skin and fat on her torso—an ordinary amount, maybe a little on the chubby side—and opened the woman’s chest like a book.

I had made similar Y-incisions on 256 other bodies during my ten months as a forensic pathologist at the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office, and this one was easy. No sign of trauma. Normal liver. Healthy lungs. There was nothing wrong with her heart. The only significant finding was the white, granular material of the gastric contents. In her stomach was a mass of semidigested pills.

When I opened her uterus, I found she’d been pregnant. I measured the fetus’s foot length and estimated its age at twelve weeks. The fetus appeared to have been viable. It was too young to determine sex.

I deposited the organs one by one at the end of the stainless-steel table. I had just cut into her scalp to start on the skull when Matt, the forensic investigator who had collected the body the day before, came in.

“Clean scene,” he reported, depositing the paperwork on my station. “Suicide.”

I asked him where he was going for lunch. Yogurt and a damn salad at his desk, he told me: bad cholesterol and a worried wife. I extended my condolences as he headed back out of the autopsy suite.

I scanned through Matt’s handwriting on the intake sheet and learned that the body had been found, stiff and cold, in a locked and secure room at the Los Angeles Omni hotel. The cleaning staff called the police. The ID came from the name on the credit card used to pay for the room, and was confirmed by fingerprint comparison with her driver’s license thumbprint. A handwritten note lay on the bed stand, a pill bottle in the trash. Nothing else. Matt was right: There was no mystery to the way Mary Walsh had died.

I hit the dictaphone’s toe trigger and pointed my mouth toward the microphone dangling over the table. “The body is identified by a Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s tag attached to the right great toe, inscribed LACD-03226, Walsh, Mary Catherine…”

I broke the seal on the plastic evidence bag and pulled out the pill bottle. It was labeled OxyContin, a powerful painkiller, and it was empty.

“Accompanying the body is a sealed plastic bag with an empty prescription medication bottle. The name on the prescription label…”

I read the name but didn’t speak it. The hair started standing up on my neck. I looked down at my morning’s work—the splayed body, flecked with gore, the dissected womb tossed on a heap of other organs.

That can’t be, I told myself. It can’t.

On the clipboard underneath the case intake sheet I found a piece of hotel stationery sealed in another evidence bag. It was the suicide note, written in blue ink with a steady feminine hand. I skimmed it—then stopped, and went back.

I read it again.

I heard the clipboard land at my feet. I gripped the raised lip of my autopsy table. I held tight while the floor fell away.


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Q&A with Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Q: Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?

A:The idea for First Cut was prompted by some of Judy’s actual cases when she worked as a San Francisco medical examiner. She has real experience performing autopsy death investigation, and she also has the imagination to apply that experience to a fictional framework for our forensic detective, Dr. Jessie Teska. Judy invented the story, and together we worked it up as an outline. Then T.J. sat in a room wrestling with words all day—which he loves to do—to produce the first complete manuscript. That’s our inspiration plus perspiration dynamic as co-authors.

Q: What does the act of writing mean to you?

A: It is, and has always been, something we can do together, an important part of our marriage. We’ve collaborated as a creative team since we were in college together many years ago, producing and directing student theater. We’ve also spent twenty years raising our four children, and have always approached parenting as a partnership. We find it easy to work together because we write like we parent: relying on one another, each of us playing to our strengths. It helps that, in our writing process, we have no overlapping skill set!

 Q: Have you ever had a character take over a story, and if so, who was it and why?

A: Oh, yes! That’s our heroine, Dr. Jessie Teska. She has elements of Judy in her, and elements of T.J., but Jessie is a distinct individual and a strong-willed one. We’re often surprised and even shocked by the ways she reacts to the situations we put her in. There are times we’ll be writing what we thought was a carefully laid-out scene, and Jessie will take us sideways. She’s coming off T.J.’s fingertips on the the keyboard, both of us watching with mouths agape, saying, “What the hell is she up to?”

Q: Which one of First Cut’s characters was the hardest to write and why?

A: Tommy Teska, Jessie’s brother. He’s a minor character to the book’s plot, but the most important person in Jessie’s life, and he’s a reticent man, downright miserly with his dialogue. Tommy carries such great emotional weight, but it was hard to draw it out of him, especially because so much of his bond to our heroine is in the backstory of First Cut, not in the immediate narrative that lands on the page. We’re now working on the sequel, Cross Cut, and finding that Tommy has more occasion to open up in that story.

Q: Which character in any of your books (First Cut or otherwise) is dearest to you and why?

A: The late Dr. Charles Sidney Hirsch, from our first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner. Dr. Hirsch is not just a character: He was a real person, Judy’s mentor and a towering figure in the world of forensic pathology. Dr. Hirsch trained Dr. Melinek in her specific field of medicine and imbued in her his passion for it. He was a remarkable man, a great teacher and physician and public servant—a person of uncompromising integrity coupled with great emotional intelligence.

Q: What did you want to be as a child? Was it an author?

A: Judy’s father was a physician, and though she never wanted to follow in his immediate footsteps—he was a psychiatrist—she has always wanted to be another Dr. Melinek. T.J. has always been a writer, but also has theater training and worked in the film industry. As much as we enjoyed authoring the memoir Working Stiff, and as happy as we have been with its success, we are even more thrilled to be detective novelists.

Q: What does a day in the life of Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell look like?

A: Judy is a morning person and T.J.’s a night owl, so we split parenting responsibilities. Judy gets the kids off to school and then heads to the morgue, where she performs autopsies in the morning and works with police, district attorneys, and defense lawyers in the afternoon. T.J. takes care of the household and after-school duties. If we work together during the day, it’s usually by email in the late afternoon. T.J. cooks dinner, Judy goes to bed early, and he’s up late—at his most productive writing from nine to midnight or later.

Q: What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?

A: We go for a long walk together. Our far corner of San Francisco overlooks the Pacific Ocean, bracketed by cypress trees and blown over with fog, and serves as an inspiring landscape. We explore the edge of the continent and talk out where our characters have been and where they need to get, tossing ideas back and forth until a solution, what to do next on the page, emerges. Getting away for a stroll with our imaginary friends is always a fruitful exercise!

Q: What book would you take with you to a desert island?

A: T.J. would take the Riverside Shakespeare, and Judy would take Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians, Illustrated.

Q: Do you have stories on the back burner that are just waiting to be written?

A: Always! We are inspired by Dr. Melinek’s real-life work, both in the morgue and at crime scenes, in police interrogation rooms, and in courtrooms. Our stories are fiction—genre fiction structured in the noir-detective tradition—but the forensic methods our detective employs and the scientific findings she comes to are drawn from real death investigations.

Q: What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?

A: The hardest thing is juggling our work schedules to find uninterrupted time together to write. The most fun is meeting and talking to our readers at book events, especially those who have been inspired to go into the field of forensic pathology after reading our work.

Q: What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?

A: It’s all about connectivity. Linking up with other writers, readers, editors, and research experts is a crucial way to get your work accomplished, and to get it out to your audience. Yes, ultimately it’s just you and the keyboard, but in the course of writing your story, you can and should tap into the hive mind, online and in person, for inspiration and help.

Q: What was the last thing you read?

A: Judy last read The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, and T.J. last read The Witch Elm by Tana French.

Q: Your top five authors?

A: Judy’s are Atul Gawande, Henry James, Kathy Reichs, Mary Roach, and Oliver Sacks. T.J.’s are Margaret Atwood, Joseph Heller, Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Q: Book you’ve bought just for the cover?

A: T.J.: Canary by Duane Swierczynski. Judy: Mütter Museum Historical Medical Photographs.

Q: Tell us about what you’re working on now.

A: First Cut is the debut novel in a detective series, and we’ve recently finished the rough draft of Cross Cut, its sequel. We are in the revision phase now, killing our darlings and tightening our tale, working to get the further adventures of Dr. Jessie Teska onto bookshelves next year!

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Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A chilling death takes readers into the mysterious and secretive world of a prestigious prep school in author J.T. Ellison’s novel “Good Girls Lie”. 

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The Synopsis

Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

J.T. Ellison’s pulse-pounding new novel examines the tenuous bonds of friendship, the power of lies and the desperate lengths people will go to to protect their secrets.

The Review

A fantastic thriller that does an excellent job of taking readers through an underutilized setting and explores the lies, deceit and horrors that come often to those enrolled in the life of the wealthy and elite. A shocking death takes readers through a harrowing story of a young woman escaping her past, only for it to come back and haunt her in unexpected ways. 

As her past catches up to her, the secrets she has been hiding begin to unravel the other secrets the school has to offer, and those who reside in it. A story of family, lies and love turns into a chilling mystery that will leave the students and faculty alike of this prestigious school shaken forever. The novel’s plot is what takes center stage in this carefully crafted novel, bringing the tale of this inexplicable death to life as the truth becomes stranger than the fiction the characters were telling themselves. 

The Verdict

A must read thriller of 2020! A brilliant, evenly paced read that thoroughly explores the background of the school and the lives of the cast of characters, this novel will keep readers on the edge of their seat and will shock everyone as the final pages play out the story of the novel’s protagonist in an unexpected way. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of J.T. Ellison’s “Good Girls Lie” today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 20 novels, and the EMMY-award winning co-host of A WORD ON WORDS, Nashville’s premier literary show. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 26 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

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Twitter: @thrillerchick

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Q&A with J.T. Ellison

• Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?

Both. Sometimes the story just unfolds, and sometimes I have to relentlessly work on themes and turning points and characters’ points of view. Every book is different, every book has its own unique challenges. I’m always thinking about what’s next, and sometimes even what’s after that. But when it comes to actually sitting down to write, I like to let the story unfold a bit, let it stretch its wings, before I try to lash it to the mast and conform it to my vision.

• What does the act of writing mean to you?

It’s a sacred contract with me and a mythical “someone” who might read the words at some point in the future and find them entertaining or moving. It’s sheer magic on my end, creating, and sheer magic on the readers’ end, when they get to experience what was in my head as I was writing. It’s the most incredible mystical experience out there.

• Have you ever had a character take over a story, and if so, who was it and why?

All the time. Oh my gosh, all the time. Honestly, if the character doesn’t run away with things, I know there’s a problem. Ivy, n LIE TO ME, is a particular favorite. She’s just so nasty…

• Which one of Good Girls Lie’s characters was the hardest to write and why?

Ash, for sure. She was so elusive and aloof with me. The Britishisms, the secrets, the lies, she was always just out of reach. Of course, that was because I’d written her in third person. When I switched her to first, she wouldn’t shut up. 

• Which character in any of your books (Good Girls Lie or otherwise) is dearest to you and why?

Oh that’s an impossible question. Taylor. Sam. Sutton. Vivian. Ash. Aubrey. Ivy. Juliet. Lauren. Becca. Gavin. Baldwin. Xander. They are all me, on some level, whether it’s a fear or a triumph, a flaw or a heroic action. A moment of love or a moment of animosity. It’s like asking me to choose among my children, which one is my favorite. (I don’t have kids, by the way, but I couldn’t pick my favorite of my kittens, either.)

• What did you want to be as a child? Was it an author?

I desperately wanted to be Colorado’s first female firefighter. When that job was taken, I cast about. Doctor. Lawyer. Fighter Pilot. Spy. International business maven. Olympic swimmer. Poet. In the end, being a writer was my only choice. That way, I get to experience all the lives I could have led.

• What does a day in the life of J.T. Ellison look like?

It’s rather blissful. It starts rather lazily, with the cats cuddled into my arms and the newspaper on my iPad, then progresses to kicking the lazy beasts out, pouring a cup of tea and handling email. I am not a morning person, so I tend to do business in the morning and writing in the afternoon, when I’m sharper. I’ve always wanted to be the writer who gets up at 5 am to write whilst the birds chirp and the house sleeps, watching the sun rise and running five miles before the rest of the world is awake, but alas, it was not meant to be. You need to go to a concert that starts at ten p.m., I’m your girl. 

• What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?

It depends. If it’s a genuine block, a I’ve lost faith in myself and my work block, I will step away from the manuscript entirely, read, walk, golf, yoga, go out for margaritas with my husband, anything to remove me from the situation. But 90 percent of the time, it’s just a story issue, so I work it out with some of my creative partners. Lots of texting and phone calls and what ifs, until it shakes itself free. 

• What book would you take with you to a desert island?

Hmmm… my knee jerk is the Harry Potter series – I know, I know, that’s seven books, but I’m sure there’s an omnibus edition somewhere. The fight for good and evil never ceases to amaze and comfort me. Knowing love conquers evil is a big deal in this world. And Hermione kicks ass. If I’m forced into a single title, Plato’s Republic. I’ve been obsessed with the allegory of the cave my entire adult life. 

• Favorite quote?

“Do. Or Do not. There is no try.” – Master Yoda

• Coffee or tea?

Loose leaf earl grey. Making tea is a meditative experience for me.

• Best TV or Movie adaptation of a book?

Clueless, hands-down the best adaptation of Austen’s Emma ever, and I’ve been enjoying A Discovery of Witches, based on the fabulous books by Deborah Harkness. Outlander isn’t bad, either. And Game of Thrones… obviously, I don’t include anything past the second episode of the final season of that, though I did enjoy the whole Deanarys-Drogon airborne apocalypse. I mean, talk about a girl who had reason to be aggravated with society.

• Do you have stories on the back burner that are just waiting to be written?

So. Many. Stories. I will never get to them all. At last count, there are 49 in my “Story Idea” folder, with several more floating around in my head. 

• What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?

The hardest is staying in the game, juggling the necessary mix of creativity and business, finding new paths to reach readers and leveling up the writing so it’s possible to grow my career. It was much easier to write, to focus, before our constant connections to the internet consumed us. The most fun is that email from a reader, when something I’ve written strikes a chord with them and they write to tell me they love a story, or a character, or an ending. It doesn’t get better than that. 

• What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?

Stay as much in a vacuum as you can while writing. You don’t need a platform, you need an excellent, groundbreaking book. And read everything. Everything you can get your hands on. You learn writing through osmosis as much as writing the books themselves. Find your writing habit and hold it sacred. If you respect your work, your people will, too.

• What was the last thing you read?

I just finished Holly Black’s THE QUEEN OF NOTHING, the finale of her Folk of the Air trilogy, and just finished listening to BAG OF BONES by Stephen King. Both were exceptional.

• Your top five authors?

Diana Gabaldon

JK Rowling

Deborah Harkness

Leigh Bardugo

Sarah J. Maas

• Book you’ve bought just for the cover?

That’s how I found the Holly Black trilogy – I adored the cover of THE CRUELEST PRINCE.

• Tell us about what you’re working on now.

 I’m writing a novel about a destination wedding that goes very, very wrong. It has loose ties to Rebecca, and it titled HER DARK LIES. 

Posted in book news

Book Announcement: Identity by Anthony Avina

Hello there everyone. This is Author Anthony Avina, and today I am thrilled to be able to announce the upcoming release of my novel, Identity. This will be the first book published through the amazing team at Sirens Call Publications. I first and foremost want to thank the amazing team of editors at Sirens Call Publications for taking the time to work with me to get this book to the place it’s at today. 

The link will take you to the official eZine for Sirens Call Publications, where I share my book announcement and the first two chapters of the novel on pages 129-140. I talk about what inspired this story, what the story is about and what readers can expect. It was my most challenging yet rewarding writing experience to date, and after all this time I am so thrilled to be able to share this story with you all. 

The book is due to be released in early 2020, possibly within the next few months. I will be sharing more with you all as the book finalizes and we begin moving forward with the publication. This is a dream come true, and I want to thank everyone who has supported me over the years on this journey. From the authors who encouraged me and the readers who took a leap of faith on my early works, to my amazing family for always sharing their love and support for me over the years. I hope this is the first step in a long career, and no matter what I want to thank Sirens Call Publications for taking a chance on my story and to you, the readers, who take the time to purchase your own copies and read my novel. I hope you all enjoy it, and I can’t wait to share this journey with you all in the months to come. Enjoy this book announcement and the collection of wonderful stories featured in this month’s eZine!


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Posted in Book Related Blog Posts

Best Books Of 2019

Hello everyone! This is Author Anthony Avina, and today I am here to share with you all the top reads of 2019 on my website. I’ve reviewed over 160 books this year, and as we close out not only 2019 but the decade, I thought it appropriate as we head into 2020 to look back on 2019 and see what were the top books of the year. So without further adieu, here are my top picks of 2019! 


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Best YA Romance: Again, but Better by Christine Riccio 

A beautiful story from emerging author Christine Riccio about the choices we make in life, and what we would do if we could go back and change things. A story of following your dreams, living the life you want and finding love, and how hard a person is willing to fight to hold onto that dream and that love. 


Best YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy: Nexus (The Androma Sage #2) by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

This exciting concluding chapter to the Androma Saga duology was a whirlwind sci-fi adventure in the YA genre. Authors Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg did a wonderful job closing this story out, creating a universe under the forced rule of a pair of siblings that seek control, but as a young outlaw turned hero seeks to save her makeshift family and stop this threat, the siblings find they are more pawns than true rulers in this quest, and an even greater threat is set to emerge on the galaxy. A must read sci-fi adventure! 


Best Fantasy: The Second Life of Eddie Coyne by Louis K Lowy

A brilliant fantasy driven narrative from author Louis K Lowy, which showcases the downfall of a father and husband and the journey he takes to find the true meaning of life and a life well lived. Finding what matters most in life and holding onto it as the protagonist struggles to find their way back home again, this is a fantastic read for 2019. 


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Best Mystery/Crime: A Shattered Lens: A Detective Preach Everson Novel by Layton Green

If you are looking for a great murder/mystery series to sink your teeth into, then the Detective Preach Everson series is for you. Author Layton Green’s second novel is a masterpiece of the genre, expertly crafting a murder mystery that pushes the protagonist to their limit both professionally and personally. This book serves as both the perfect continuation of the series and a great book for newcomers to enjoy as well.


Best Comic Book/Graphic Novel: Spider-Geddon by Christos Gage

While there were many great comic books in 2019, and many that I still need to read, out of all the comics I read that were published this year, my all time favorite had to be Spider-Geddon. A great sequel to the epic Spider-Verse storyline, the return of the Inheritors and the imminent threat they pose to the Spider-heroes of the Marvel Multiverse make this a thrilling read. Spider-Man is an essential hero to the larger Marvel Universe, and the comic book industry as a whole, and so exploring not only his story but the story of several other spider heroes in the multiverse is always a thrill. Add the terrifying and powerful threat of the Inheritors to the mix, and this storyline makes for a wonderful read. 


Best Contemporary Romance/Fiction: If Only by Melanie Murphy 

One of my all time favorite reads of 2019, Melanie Murphy’s debut fiction novel was a brilliant novel. The characters were engaging, the fantasy element of seeing various lives if the protagonist had made different choices was a great addition to the plot and yet it didn’t overpower the overall theme and romance of the story whatsoever. Its a story many people our age can identify with and the author’s voice and tone in the novel is entertaining, engaging and refreshing to read, making this a must read of 2019. 


Best Dystopian Thriller: A Single Light (The Line Between #2) by Tosca Lee

A great ending to another brilliant duology, author Tosca Lee has created a wonderful dystopian thriller that showcases the continued struggle for survival in the face of a massive breakout. Months after surviving the events of book one, the protagonists must fight for survival in a crumbling society, and as secrets threaten to tear them apart, they must find that which makes life worth living in the face of great danger once more. A must read novel of 2019!


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Best Science Fiction: Hybrid by Rebecca Henry

My all time favorite sci-fi read of 2019, my good friend author Rebecca Henry has created a fantastic story that delves into the best aspects of the sci-fi genre. Secret government operations, powerful aliens who have influenced society, time and space travel and so much more. It’s a sci-fi fans dream read and I highly recommend reading my full review to get a sense of this amazing novel. 


Best YA Historical Fiction: The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

If you are a fan of History’s Vikings or the legends of Norse Mythology mixed with historical settings then you will absolutely love Adrienne Young’s “The Girl The Sea Gave Back”. The novel is a sequel of sorts to “Sky in the Deep”, and expertly crafts a story of a young girl considered an outcast her entire life and burdened by knowledge of fate, and a young man striving to make a better life for his people years after the end of a decades long war. Its a great way of continuing the story of the original novel while focusing on new characters and a new period of time in this wonderful world the author has created. 


Best Mystery Crime Thriller: The Sixth Wicked Child (4MK Thriller #3) by J.D. Barker

The exciting final chapter in one of the best crime thrillers of the decade, author J.D. Barker’s “The Sixth Wicked Child” is the brilliant concluding story in the 4MK Trilogy. The shocking game of cat and mouse between the protagonist and 4MK is taken to new heights in this novel, as readers are forced to examine whether or not the series protagonist is the hero they’ve been led to believe, or will he turn out to be the villain all along? A twisted tale that pushes everyone to their limit, this was a phenomenal read and one of the top books of 2019 for me personally.


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Best Nonfiction: Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley by Carol Es

Last but certainly not least is author Carol Es’s book “Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley”. A heartbreaking and emotional journey, this non-fiction read was one of the best of 2019, and took readers through the author’s life as well as through the harrowing journey of being caught in the midst of a cult. It’s a gritty and realistic novel that will catch the reader off guard at times, but is well worth the read. Highly recommend!