Posted in reviews

Dead of Winter Break (Cassandra Sato #3) by Kelly Brakenhoff Review

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

A woman working on a college campus in Nebraska finds her first Christmas in the area facing uncertain danger as a killer begins targeting her in author Kelly Brakenhoff’s “Dead of Winter Break”, the third book in the Cassandra Sato series.

The Synopsis

It’s beginning to look a lot like murder . . .

And Cassandra is knee deep in . . .

Suspects.

Her boss is dead, and the police are calling it burglary gone wrong. But when the killer comes after her, it’s going to take more than a pair of furry boots to keep the smart, witty Morton College administrator, Cassandra Sato, out of the deep. . .

Snow.

Her first Christmas in Nebraska could be her last unless her friends help unravel the mystery and housebreak her dog.

Buy now for a fast-paced, holiday themed whodunit.

The Review

A perfect whodunnit story just in time for the holiday season. The author does an amazing job of setting the pace early on in this story, crafting equal time for humor and a look inside of college campus life while also adding a deep air of mystery and dread with the murder of the protagonist’s former boss. While I had not read the first two books in the series thus far, I found Cassandra Sato to be a strong protagonist who had shown through looks into previous adventures and in this novel alone some serious growth as a character.

In any good mystery, atmosphere and mystery are two of the most crucial components. The author does a wonderful job of including both in this novel, as the story expertly crafts the shocking mystery of who killed Cassandra’s formally retired boss and infuses the setting of this small Nebraskan town naturally into the story itself. Cassandra’s wit and humor pair well with the narrative as well, creating a protagonist who readers can easily identify with and root for all at once.

The Verdict

A fun, exciting, and engaging mystery read, this is the perfect book to cozy up with next to open fire and a nice cup of tea. Author Kelly Brakenhoff’s “Dead of Winter Break” is the perfect next chapter in the Cassandra Sato series, and does an excellent job of showcasing why the mystery genre is one that will never truly tire out, as the author manages to keep the pace and tone of the novel fresh and exciting all the way throughout the novel. Be sure to grab your copy of this amazing winter read today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

KELLY BRAKENHOFF is an American Sign Language Interpreter whose motivation for learning ASL began in high school when she wanted to converse with her deaf friends.

Kelly writes the Cassandra Sato Mystery series including DEATH BY DISSERTATION, a 2020 RONE Award Mystery Finalist, DEAD WEEK, “a diverting whodunit,” (Publishers Weekly), and DEAD OF WINTER BREAK, a holiday themed cozy new for 2020!

NEVER MIND, and FARTS MAKE NOISE are her children’s picture books featuring Duke the Deaf Dog and illustrated by her sister, Theresa Murray. The Duke books have quickly become popular with children, parents, and educators for promoting inclusive conversations about children with differences.

The mother of four young adults and a hunting dog, Kelly and her husband call Nebraska home.

https://kellybrakenhoff.com/

https://www.instagram.com/kellybrak/

https://www.facebook.com/kellybrakenhoffauthor

https://twitter.com/inBrakenVille

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/173374245X/ref=x_gr_w_bb_glide_sin?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb_glide_sin-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=173374245X&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Posted in Blog Tours, Book Events, Interviews

Interview with Author Margi Preus

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

When I didn’t get the part I wanted in the kindergarten musical, I started making up my own plays so I could star in them. Once I learned how to write, I started writing plays (also in which to star)  My friends and I would put on these plays, no doubt after much revision from the cast, for our unwitting parents (or maybe they were witting, I don’t know). In high school I wrote the homecoming skits, in college I got involved writing for and performing in and eventually directing a touring children’s theater company, and after college I started a professional theater company. By that time I had quit performing and was sticking with writing and directing. I did this for a very, very long time before trying my hand at writing books for young readers. But I think all that theater writing as well as working in an ensemble situation really helped me with novel writing.

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2) What inspired you to write your book?

This particular book is the third in a mystery series, so I would have to say the other two books inspired this one! I couldn’t just leave my protagonist hanging there without finally finding out what happened to her mother! (Also I wanted to know,)

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I guess I think more about raising questions for readers to ponder than imparting a takeaway message. In any case, I certainly don’t think I could put a message into a sentence for you— As Isadora Duncan said, “If I could tell you what it meant, there’d be no point in dancing it.” 

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

I’ve always loved mysteries. I like to read them; they are also my favorite kind of audiobooks to listen to, and I am devoted to British (and other) TV mystery series. So naturally I wanted to try my hand at writing them. As Eudora Welty said, “Writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.” I find this to be true—we crave to write what we like to read. 

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

If I told you who and what I would ask, it would give away too much. So I guess I’d ask Francie’s grandfather just what he did in his younger life that he knows how to break out of jail, surveil people (albeit in a nursing home), and give advice on what to do if you feel you’re being followed.

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

No doubt any or all would be helpful if I was better at using social media! I am very impressed with writers who write books and keep up a robust presence on social media, and also seem to navigate it so easily. I also feel I am always lagging behind, in every way possible. Of the sites, I guess I favor Instagram (follow me @margipreus—and you’ll see pictures of my dog in a kayak, bears in our backyard, and the snow we had to shovel off our dock before we took it out of the lake this weekend.) But also follow me on FB (Margi Preus Books or Margi Preus) and Twitter (@MargiPreus) Oh! And my brand new Youtube channel. 

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7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Well, it’s always to READ, isn’t it? Good books are your best teachers. Read like a writer, once for enjoyment, then go back and read again to figure out how the author created tension, suspense, all the emotions, all with just little words on paper. It’s some kind of magic, when you think about it. Try to analyze it as if you’re figuring out a magic trick.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

I have a couple of picture books in the pipeline. Not due out til 2022 or beyond. And then I have several things on simmer burners. 2020, as crazy as it was, was my year to put out books: Village of Scoundrels, (Feb.) The Littlest Voyageur (March) and The Silver Box (October). C’est la vie!
Et merci, Anthony Avina!

The Silver Box is available to purchase at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble, and Thrift Books. You can also add this to your reading list on GoodReads.com.

About the Author Margi Preus

Margi Preus is the author of the Newbery Honor book Heart of a Samurai and other books for young readers, including the Minnesota Book Award winning West of the Moon, and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award book The Clue in the Trees. Her books have won multiple awards, landed on the New York Times bestseller list, been honored as ALA/ALSC Notables, selected as an NPR Backseat Book Club pick, chosen for community reads, and translated into several languages. New titles in 2020 include Village of ScoundrelsThe Littlest Voyageur, and The Silver Box, part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series. 

Back when such things were done, Margi enjoyed traveling, speaking, and visiting schools all over the world. Now mostly at home in Duluth, she likes to ski, hike, canoe, or sit quietly with a book in her lap.  

You can follow her online at: 

https://www.margipreus.com/

Twitter: @MargiPreus 

Instagram: @MargiPreus

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MargiPreusBooks/

Youtube

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— Blog Tour Dates

October 12th @ WOW! Women on Writing

What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Stop by WOW’s blog The Muffin and join us as we celebrate the launch of Margi Preus’s book The Silver Box. Enter to win a copy of her entire Enchantment Lake Mystery series.

https://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/

October 13th @ Mindy McGinnis

Join Mindy McGinnis as she interviews author Margi Preus about how she came up with the idea of The Silver Box and the Enchantment Lake Mystery series.

https://www.mindymcginnis.com/

October 14th @ Bring on Lemons

Visit Crystal’s blog today and read her review of Margi Presu book The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake series. 

http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

October 14th @ Reviews and Interviews

Join Lisa as she interviews Margi Preus and finds out more about this incredible author!

http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/

October 15th @ Karen Brown Tyson’s Blog

Join author Karen Brown Tyson as she interviews author Margi Preus about her book The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake middle-grade series.

https://karenbrowntyson.com/blog/

October 16th @ The Frugalista Mom

Visit Rozelyn’s blog today and read her review of The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake series. You can also enter to win a copy of the entire series!

https://thefrugalistamom.com/

October 17th @ Carrie Sorens’ Blog

Visit Carrie’s blog and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about raising big questions for readers to ponder (that don’t always have an answer).

https://www.cksorens.com/blog

October 18th @ Fiona Ingram’s Blog

Visit Fiona’s blog today and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about her writing house.

http://fionaingramauthor.blogspot.com/

October 20th @ The Faerie Review

Join Lily as she reviews The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake middle-grade series.

http://www.thefaeriereview.com/

October 20th @ Susan Uhlig

Join us today as Susan reviews The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake middle-grade series.

https://susanuhlig.com/

October 21st @ Lady Unemployed

Visit Nicole’s blog today where you can read Margi Preus’ guest post about how all writing is political and how to weave local or national issues into storytelling.

https://ladyunemployed.com

October 21st @ The Frugalista Mom

Rozelyn goes live on Facebook with author Margi Preus. Join them as the author talks about her wonderful middle-grade mystery series.

https://www.facebook.com/AllergyFriendlyHome/

October 22nd @ The Knotty Needle

Visit Judy’s blog today and read her review of The Silver Box, part of the Enchantment Lake middle-grade series.

https://knottyneedle.blogspot.com

October 24th @ Carrie Sorens’ Blog

Join Carrie again where you can read her review of The Silver Box, part of the Enchantment Lake middle-grade series. You can also win a copy of the series too!

https://www.cksorens.com/blog

October 26th @ Bev. A Baird’s Blog

Visit Bev’s blog today where she shares Margi Preus’ guest post about creating a fictional place from an amalgam of places. A must-read if you are working on your story setting today!

https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com

October 28th @ Kathleen Pooler’s Blog

Join us at Kathleen’s blog today and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about what she learned from her dog about writing.

https://krpooler.com

October 29th @ It’s Alanna Jean

Stop by Alanna’s blog today where she shares Margi Preus’ guest post about finding inspiration out the window.

http://itsalannajean.com/

October 30th @ Lori Duff Writes

Join Lori Duff as she reviews Margi Preus’ book The Silver Box, the third book in the Enchantment Lake mystery series. 

https://www.loriduffwrites.com/blog/

November 1st @ Author Anthony Avina’s Blog

Visit Anthony’s blog today and read his review of The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake series. 

https://authoranthonyavinablog.com/

November 2nd @ World of My Imagination

Join Nicole as she reviews The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake series. Also, you can enter to win a copy of the whole series.

https://worldofmyimagination.com

November 3rd @ Jill Sheets’ Blog

Visit Jill’s blog today and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about how not writing is probably still writing. 

http://jillsheets.blogspot.com/

November 4th @ Author Anthony Avina’s Blog

Join Anthony’s blog again today and you can read his interview with author Margi Preus.

https://authoranthonyavinablog.com/

November 4th @ Crafty Moms Share

Join Carrie as she reviews The Silver Box by author Margi Preus, the third book in the Enchantment Lake mystery series.

https://www.craftymomsshare.com/

November 5th @ Bev. A Baird’s Blog

Join Bev as she reviews The Silver Box by author Margi Preus, the third book in the Enchantment Lake mystery series. Don’t miss her review of this charming middle-grade fiction series!

https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com

November 7th @ BookMama789

Join us over at Jean’s Instagram page as she reads and reviews The Silver Box by author Margi Preus, part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series. 

https://www.instagram.com/bookmama789/

November 8th @ Shoe’s Stories

Join Linda at her blog today and read her review of The Silver Box by author Margi Preus, part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series. 

https://lschuelerca.wordpress.com/

November 9th @ Always in the Middle

Visit Greg’s blog today and read his review of The Silver Box by author Margi Preus. You’ll love hearing about this middle-grade mystery series.

https://gpattridge.com/

November 10th @ Deborah-Zenha Adam’s Blog

Visit Deborah’s blog today and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about the magic ball of yarn and using folk and fairy tales as a guide in story writing.

http://www.deborah-adams.com/dzas-blog/

November 11th @ Bookapotamus

Join Kate as she reviews The Enchantment Lake mystery series, part of The Silver Box blog tour. You’ll love hearing about this middle-grade mystery! 

https://bookapotamusblog.wordpress.com/

November 13th @ Choices

Visit Madeline’s blog today and read author Margi Preus guest post about how research can be a cure for writer’s block.

http://madelinesharples.com/

November 14th @ Reading in the Wildwood

Visit Megan’s blog today she reviews The Enchantment Lake mystery series, part of The Silver Box blog tour. You’ll love hearing about this middle-grade mystery! 

https://readinginthewildwood.com/

November 15th @ Shoe’s Stories

Visit Linda’s blog again today where she shares author Margi Preus’ guest post about whether or not you should know the ending before you start writing.

https://lschuelerca.wordpress.com/

Posted in Blog Tours, Book Events, reviews

The Silver Box: An Enchantment Lake Mystery (Northwoods #3) by Margi Preus Review

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

A young girl in possession of a mysterious box finds herself in the midst of a series of investigations, with all signs pointing to the box, and enemies closing in who are willing to do whatever it takes to get it back in author Margi Preus’s “The Silver Box: An Enchantment Lake Mystery”, the third in the Northwoods series. 

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The Synopsis

In the final Enchantment Lake mystery, Francie’s search for the truth about her mother—and herself—plunges her into danger during a North Woods winter

When she wakes in her aunts’ cold cabin on the shore of Enchantment Lake, Francie remembers: everything about her life has changed. Or is about to. Or just might. Everything depends on the small, engraved silver box that she now possesses—if only she can follow its cryptic clues to the whereabouts of her missing mother and understand, finally, just maybe, the truth about who she really is. 

Francie, it turns out, has a lot to learn, and this time the lessons could be deadly. Her search for answers takes her and her best friends Raven and Jay as far afield as an abandoned ranch in Arizona and as close to home as a sketchy plant collector’s conservatory and a musty old museum where shadows lurk around every display case. At the heart of it all is a crime that touches her own adopted North Woods: thieves dig up fragile lady’s slippers, peel bark from birches, strip moss off trees, cut down entire forests of saplings to sell for home décor. But Francie is up against no ordinary plant theft. One ominous clue after another reveal that she possesses something so rare and so valuable that some people are willing to do anything to get it. When Francie’s investigation leads her into the treacherously cold and snowy North Woods, she finds out  that she too is being pursued.

The Review

This was a fantastic read! A modern-day Nancy Drew style heroine takes center stage as Francie takes readers on a personal journey like never before. The mystery surrounding her mother’s disappearance all those years ago finally comes full circle, and the payoff for fans of the series is well worth the wait. Yet the great thing about the way the author writes is that readers who are new to the series are able to jump right into the action. While some of the finer details surrounding Francie’s backstory may be better understood by reading the first two books, the mystery of the Silver Box gives readers plenty of narratives to become engaged in.

The author does a wonderful job of not only setting the tone throughout this read of mystery and suspense but of crafting memorable and well-rounded character arcs for Francie and her friends. Her youthful determination and growth throughout the series is evident as this book comes to a close, and gives young readers someone to relate to and aspire to all at once. 

The Verdict

An evenly-paced, mystery-driven narrative, author Margi Preus’s “The Silver Box” is a must-read YA adventure. The twists and turns the story takes readers and the cast of characters on are a perfect fit for the genre and give readers a satisfying and well-rounded journey overall. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

The Silver Box is available to purchase at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble, and Thrift Books. You can also add this to your reading list on GoodReads.com.

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About the Author Margi Preus

Margi Preus is the author of the Newbery Honor book Heart of a Samurai and other books for young readers, including the Minnesota Book Award winning West of the Moon, and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award book The Clue in the Trees. Her books have won multiple awards, landed on the New York Times bestseller list, been honored as ALA/ALSC Notables, selected as an NPR Backseat Book Club pick, chosen for community reads, and translated into several languages. New titles in 2020 include Village of ScoundrelsThe Littlest Voyageur, and The Silver Box, part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series. 

Back when such things were done, Margi enjoyed traveling, speaking, and visiting schools all over the world. Now mostly at home in Duluth, she likes to ski, hike, canoe, or sit quietly with a book in her lap.  

You can follow her online at: 

https://www.margipreus.com/

Twitter: @MargiPreus 

Instagram: @MargiPreus

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MargiPreusBooks/

Youtube

— Blog Tour Dates

October 12th @ WOW! Women on Writing

What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Stop by WOW’s blog The Muffin and join us as we celebrate the launch of Margi Preus’s book The Silver Box. Enter to win a copy of her entire Enchantment Lake Mystery series.

https://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/

October 13th @ Mindy McGinnis

Join Mindy McGinnis as she interviews author Margi Preus about how she came up with the idea of The Silver Box and the Enchantment Lake Mystery series.

https://www.mindymcginnis.com/

October 14th @ Bring on Lemons

Visit Crystal’s blog today and read her review of Margi Presu book The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake series. 

http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

October 14th @ Reviews and Interviews

Join Lisa as she interviews Margi Preus and finds out more about this incredible author!

http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/

October 15th @ Karen Brown Tyson’s Blog

Join author Karen Brown Tyson as she interviews author Margi Preus about her book The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake middle-grade series.

https://karenbrowntyson.com/blog/

October 16th @ The Frugalista Mom

Visit Rozelyn’s blog today and read her review of The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake series. You can also enter to win a copy of the entire series!

https://thefrugalistamom.com/

October 17th @ Carrie Sorens’ Blog

Visit Carrie’s blog and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about raising big questions for readers to ponder (that don’t always have an answer).

https://www.cksorens.com/blog

October 18th @ Fiona Ingram’s Blog

Visit Fiona’s blog today and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about her writing house.

http://fionaingramauthor.blogspot.com/

October 20th @ The Faerie Review

Join Lily as she reviews The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake middle-grade series.

http://www.thefaeriereview.com/

October 20th @ Susan Uhlig

Join us today as Susan reviews The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake middle-grade series.

https://susanuhlig.com/

October 21st @ Lady Unemployed

Visit Nicole’s blog today where you can read Margi Preus’ guest post about how all writing is political and how to weave local or national issues into storytelling.

https://ladyunemployed.com

October 21st @ The Frugalista Mom

Rozelyn goes live on Facebook with author Margi Preus. Join them as the author talks about her wonderful middle-grade mystery series.

https://www.facebook.com/AllergyFriendlyHome/

October 22nd @ The Knotty Needle

Visit Judy’s blog today and read her review of The Silver Box, part of the Enchantment Lake middle-grade series.

https://knottyneedle.blogspot.com

October 24th @ Carrie Sorens’ Blog

Join Carrie again where you can read her review of The Silver Box, part of the Enchantment Lake middle-grade series. You can also win a copy of the series too!

https://www.cksorens.com/blog

October 26th @ Bev. A Baird’s Blog

Visit Bev’s blog today where she shares Margi Preus’ guest post about creating a fictional place from an amalgam of places. A must-read if you are working on your story setting today!

https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com

October 28th @ Kathleen Pooler’s Blog

Join us at Kathleen’s blog today and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about what she learned from her dog about writing.

October 29th @ It’s Alanna Jean

Stop by Alanna’s blog today where she shares Margi Preus’ guest post about finding inspiration out the window.

http://itsalannajean.com/

October 30th @ Lori Duff Writes

Join Lori Duff as she reviews Margi Preus’ book The Silver Box, the third book in the Enchantment Lake mystery series. 

https://www.loriduffwrites.com/blog/

November 1st @ Author Anthony Avina’s Blog

Visit Anthony’s blog today and read his review of The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake series. 

https://authoranthonyavinablog.com/

November 2nd @ World of My Imagination

Join Nicole as she reviews The Silver Box, book three in The Enchantment Lake series. Also, you can enter to win a copy of the whole series.

https://worldofmyimagination.com

November 3rd @ Jill Sheets’ Blog

Visit Jill’s blog today and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about how not writing is probably still writing. 

http://jillsheets.blogspot.com/

November 4th @ Author Anthony Avina’s Blog

Join Anthony’s blog again today and you can read his interview with author Margi Preus.

https://authoranthonyavinablog.com/

November 4th @ Crafty Moms Share

Join Carrie as she reviews The Silver Box by author Margi Preus, the third book in the Enchantment Lake mystery series.

https://www.craftymomsshare.com/

November 5th @ Bev. A Baird’s Blog

Join Bev as she reviews The Silver Box by author Margi Preus, the third book in the Enchantment Lake mystery series. Don’t miss her review of this charming middle-grade fiction series!

https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com

November 7th @ BookMama789

Join us over at Jean’s Instagram page as she reads and reviews The Silver Box by author Margi Preus, part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series. 

https://www.instagram.com/bookmama789/

November 8th @ Shoe’s Stories

Join Linda at her blog today and read her review of The Silver Box by author Margi Preus, part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series. 

https://lschuelerca.wordpress.com/

November 9th @ Always in the Middle

Visit Greg’s blog today and read his review of The Silver Box by author Margi Preus. You’ll love hearing about this middle-grade mystery series.

https://gpattridge.com/

November 10th @ Deborah-Zenha Adam’s Blog

Visit Deborah’s blog today and read author Margi Preus’ guest post about the magic ball of yarn and using folk and fairy tales as a guide in story writing.

http://www.deborah-adams.com/dzas-blog/

November 11th @ Bookapotamus

Join Kate as she reviews The Enchantment Lake mystery series, part of The Silver Box blog tour. You’ll love hearing about this middle-grade mystery! 

https://bookapotamusblog.wordpress.com/

November 13th @ Choices

Visit Madeline’s blog today and read author Margi Preus guest post about how research can be a cure for writer’s block.

http://madelinesharples.com/

November 14th @ Reading in the Wildwood

Visit Megan’s blog today she reviews The Enchantment Lake mystery series, part of The Silver Box blog tour. You’ll love hearing about this middle-grade mystery! 

https://readinginthewildwood.com/

November 15th @ Shoe’s Stories

Visit Linda’s blog again today where she shares author Margi Preus’ guest post about whether or not you should know the ending before you start writing.

https://lschuelerca.wordpress.com/

Posted in Blog Tours, Book Events, reviews

The Last Wife by Karen Hamilton Review

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

A tragic loss and desire for a better life leads a woman down a dark and dangerous path into the past and future in author Karen Hamilton’s psychological thriller, “The Last Wife”. 

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The Synopsis

In Karen Hamilton’s shocking thriller, THE LAST WIFE (Graydon House, July 7, $17.99) Marie Langham is distraught when her childhood friend, Nina, is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Before Nina passes away, she asks Marie to look out for her familyher son, daughter, and husband, Stuart. Marie would do anything for Nina, so of course, she agrees. 

Following Nina’s death, Marie gradually finds herself drawn into her friend’s lifeher family, her large house in the countryside. But when Camilla, a mutual friend from their old art-college days, suddenly reappears, Marie begins to suspect that she has a hidden agenda. Then, Marie discovers that Nina had long suppressed secrets about a holiday in Ibiza the women took ten years previously when Marie’s then-boyfriend went missing after a tragic accident and was later found dead. 

Marie used to envy Nina’s beautiful life, but now the cards are up in the air and she begins to realize that nothing is what it seemed. As long-buried secrets start surfacing, Marie must figure out what’s true and who she can trust before the consequences of Nina’s dark secrets destroy her.

The Review

The author does an excellent job of ramping up the suspense early on in the story. At first glance, the mystery of the promises Marie made to Nina seems harmless, but they are anything but. The edgy nature of the thriller lends itself well to the cast of characters and their hidden natures.

The author’s focus on character development really shines through in this thriller. The mark of a good mystery shows in this narrative, as the characters all show evidence of both good and nefarious intentions, marking them as well-rounded and complex characters that are both relatable and engaging to readers. 

The Verdict

An edge-of-your-seat thriller, author Karen Hamilton’s “The Last Wife” is a must-read summer mystery that is reminiscent of the shocking and electrifying mystery surrounding Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”. The characters steal the show as by book’s end those you thought you could trust suddenly are not, and readers are left shocked as the book comes to a close. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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Buy Links: 

Harlequin 

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Books-A-Million

Powell’s

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @KJHAuthor

Instagram: @karenhamiltonauthor

Facebook: @KarenHamiltonWriter

Goodreads

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Author Bio: 

Karen Hamilton spent her childhood in Angola, Zimbabwe, Belgium and Italy and worked as a flight attendant for many years. Karen is a recent graduate of the Faber Academy and, having now put down roots in Hampshire to raise her young family with her husband, she satisfies her wanderlust by exploring the world through her writing. She is also the author of the international bestseller The Perfect Girlfriend.

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Now Here is an Excerpt From “The Last Wife” by Karen Hamilton


PROLOGUE

Clients trust me because I blend in. It’s a natural skill—my gift, if you like. I focus my lens and capture stories, like the ones unfolding tonight: natural and guarded expressions, self-conscious poses, joyous smiles, reluctant ones from a teenage bridesmaid, swathed in silver and bloodred. The groom is an old friend, yet I’ve only met his now-wife twice. She seems reserved, hard to get to know, but in their wedding album she’ll glow. The camera does lie. My role is to take these lies and spin them into the perfect story.

I take a glass of champagne from a passing server. I needn’t be totally on the ball during the latter half of the evening because by then, people naturally loosen up. I find that the purest details are revealed in the discreet pictures I snatch during the final hours, however innocuously an event starts. And besides, it seems this event is winding down.

The one downside of my job is the mixed bag of emotions evoked. I rarely take family photos anymore, so normally, I’m fine, but today, watching the wedding festivities, the longing for what I don’t have has crept up on me. People think that envy is a bad thing, but in my opinion, envy is a positive emotion. It has always been the best indicator for me to realize what’s wrong with my life. People say, “Follow your dreams,” yet I’d say, “Follow what makes you sick with envy.”

It’s how I knew that I must stop deceiving myself and face up to how desperately I wanted to have a child. Delayed gratification is overrated.

I place my camera on a table as the tempo eases and sit down on a satin-draped chair. As I watch the bride sweep across the dance floor with her new husband, I think of Nina, and an overwhelming tide of grief floods through me. I picture her haunted expression when she elicited three final promises from me: two are easy to keep, one is not. Nonetheless, a vow is a vow. I will be creative and fulfill it. I have a bad—yet tempting—idea which occasionally beckons me toward a slippery slope.

I must do my best to avoid it because when Nina passed the baton to me, she thought I was someone she could trust. However, as my yearning grows, the crushing disappointment increases every month and the future I crave remains elusive. And she didn’t know that I’d do anything to get what I want. Anything.

ONE

Ben isn’t at home. I used to panic when that happened, assume that he was unconscious in a burning building, his oxygen tank depleted, his colleagues unable to reach him. All this, despite his assurance that they have safety checks in place to keep an eye out for each other. He’s been stressed lately, blames it on work. He loves his job as a firefighter, but nearly lost one of his closest colleagues in a fire on the fourth floor of a block of flats recently when a load of wiring fell down and threatened to ensnare him.

No, the reality is that he is punishing me. He doesn’t have a shift today. I understand his hurt, but it’s hard to explain why I did what I did. For a start, I didn’t think that people actually sent out printed wedding invitations anymore. If I’d known that the innocuous piece of silver card smothered in horseshoes and church bells would be the ignition for the worst argument we’d ever had, I wouldn’t have opened it in his presence.

Marie Langham plus guest…

I don’t know what annoyed Ben more, the fact that he wasn’t deemed important enough to be named or that I said I was going alone.

“I’m working,” I tried to explain. “The invitation is obviously a kind formality, a politeness.”

“All this is easily rectifiable,” he said. “If you wanted me there, you wouldn’t have kept me in the dark. The date was blocked off as work months ago in our calendar.”

True. But I couldn’t admit it. He wouldn’t appreciate being called a distraction.

Now, I have to make it up to him because it’s the right time of the month. He hates what he refers to as enforced sex (too much pressure), and any obvious scene-setting like oyster-and-champagne dinners, new lingerie, an invitation to join me in the shower or even a simple suggestion that we just shag, all the standard methods annoy him. It’s hard to believe that other couples have this problem, it makes me feel inadequate.

One of our cats bursts through the flap and aims for her bowl. I observe her munching, oblivious to my return home until this month’s strategy presents itself to me: nonchalance. A part of Ben’s stress is that he thinks I’m obsessed with having a baby. I told him to look up the true meaning of the word: an unhealthy interest in something. It’s not an obsession to desire something perfectly normal.

I unpack, then luxuriate in a steaming bath filled with bubbles. I’m a real sucker for the sales promises: relax and unwind and revitalize. I hear the muffled sound of a key in the lock. It’s Ben—who else would it be—yet I jump out and wrap a towel around me. He’s not alone. I hear the voices of our neighbors, Rob and Mike. He’s brought in reinforcements to maintain the barrier between us. There are two ways for me to play this and if you can’t beat them…

I dress in jeans and a T-shirt, twist my hair up and grip it with a hair clip, wipe mascara smudges from beneath my eyes and head downstairs.

“You’re back,” says Ben by way of a greeting. “The guys have come over for a curry.”

“Sounds perfect,” I say, kissing him before hugging our friends hello.

I feel smug at the wrong-footed expression on Ben’s face. He thought I’d be unable to hide my annoyance, that I’d pull him to one side and whisper, “It’s orange,” (the color my fertility app suggests is the perfect time) or suggest that I cook instead so I can ensure he eats as organically as possible.

“Who’s up for margaritas?” I say with an I’m game for a big night smile.

Ben’s demeanor visibly softens. Result. I’m forgiven.

The whole evening is an effortless success.

Indifference and good, old-fashioned getting pissed works.

Excerpted from The Last Wife by Karen Hamilton, Copyright © 2020 by Karen Hamilton 

Published by Graydon House Books

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 Book Promotion

Book Spotlight: The Wolf of Ashford Manor by Toni Cox

The Wolf of Ashford Manor by Toni Cox

Blurb:

The animal within him was never far from the surface, but with her, the wolf was untameable.

Patrick Blakesley, born to a bloodline of werewolves, falls in love with the mysteriously shy, yet ravishingly beautiful daughter of his new employer – the Lord of Ashford Manor.

When the town of Ashford is besieged by a sudden spate of murders, suspicions fall on Patrick, for he has been discovered for the beast that he is.

Although forced to go into hiding, it does not stop Patrick from pursuing his love for Angelica. Shacked up in an old boat shed, they discover pleasures such as only forbidden fruits can yield.

As Patrick discovers all that Angelica has to offer, the brutal murders continue.

Are they strong enough together to discover the true beast and tame it, before all of humanity perishes before its wrath?

A steamy paranormal romance that merges romance, thriller, mystery, and the paranormal.

Amazon buy link: https://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Ashford-Manor-Toni-Cox-ebook/dp/B08297961X

GoodReads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49237537-the-wolf-of-ashford-manor

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Excerpt:

Patrick stood at the edge of the precipice of white cliffs, and gazed out over the ocean, staring at the distant continent across the water; the ship he had stepped off earlier was already out of sight. 

Too long had he been away from home. 

He now turned his back on those distant shores, burying deep within the memories of the last three years. He strode out powerfully, his long legs steeled from the years in the war. He had miles to go to Ashford and would not reach it for several days.

There would be inns along the road, and he hoped to find accommodations there for the nights. 

After a good day’s march, Patrick readjusted his weighty satchel and stepped off the rutted road to allow a wagon to pass. The two heavy draught horses snorted uneasily as they went by him. 

He looked up into the sky and realised night would be upon him soon.

“Good sir,” he called out to the driver, “would there be an inn close by?”

“Not for another twenty miles, ‘m ‘fraid.”

The horse nearest to him exhaled nervously, and the driver shifted his attention away from Patrick. 

Stepping back, Patrick cast another heavenward. Wispy clouds sailed across an orange tinged sky as the sun began to set in the west. Soon the moon would rise.

Leaving the driver to calm his horses, Patrick turned away from the road and headed towards the nearby forest. A vein in his neck throbbed at the thought of spending the night within the confines of the dark trees before him.

He walked deep into the woods, well out of sight of the road. At a pebbly creek, he hung his satchel upon a high branch of a tree before slaking his thirst with the cool water.

As the light faded, Patrick gathered firewood and made a fire pit with rocks from the riverbed. He put dry moss and kindling in the centre, and then stacked some logs around it, but he did not light it.

Instead, he removed his clothing, folding it neatly and arranging it next to the fire pit. His

clothes were worn and faded, but clean. Although muscular, his tall body was made of clean lines, long legs and a broad chest. Years of war had made him lean and tough.

Naked, he cast an approving glance over his sparse camp and then walked away from it. Over the years that he had been away, he had learned to control himself. It had not always been easy, and until even a year ago, there were occasions where he could not trust himself. Today, however, he was in control.

Away from his camp, with the moon rising over the forest, his naked body distorted, changing shape with agonising contortions.

Breathing heavily, the werewolf ’s fur bristled in the cool evening air, and he raised his snout to taste the scents on the wind. 

Tonight, he would hunt.

About the author:

Born in Germany in 1976, International Bestselling Author Toni Cox moved to South Africa in 1991. Although she has spent much of her working career in the timber wholesale business, she is also an accomplished horse rider, has a diploma in project management, photography, and nutrition, and has a passion for books and all things fantasy.

From a young age, her dream had always been to put her imagination into words. When she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2013, she decided life is too short not to follow her dream. With the support of her husband and three children, she began writing book 1 of the Elemental Trilogy in January 2015.

Toni Cox writes Epic Fantasy, YA Fantasy, Sci-Fi Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Dystopian Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy, and Dark Fantasy. She is a firm believer in dragons.

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ToniCoxAuthor

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Things you might not know: 

I have a cat, named Kitty, who sleeps on my desk whenever I work.

I love dragons and unicorns and collect them in all colours, shapes, and sizes.

I study something new every year – 2020 it is a combination of writing techniques and marketing.

My parents own a Big-5 Safari Lodge in South Africa.

Due to health reasons, I had to become a Vegan and eat only gluten-free meals.

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!

Posted in reviews

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.

Buy Links: 

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Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @thrillerchick

Facebook: @JTEllison14

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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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