Tag Archives: suspense thriller

South Side Alchemy by J.M. Sawyer Review

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

A man seeking a temporary escape from the responsibilities of life finds intrigue and mystery surrounding him as he escapes to the circus for a night, only to find himself immersed in dangers that threaten his future and force him to confront his past in author J.M. Sawyer’s “South Side Alchemy”.

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The Synopsis

Jordan Peele’s Get Out meets Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Henry Lewis needed a temporary escape from his life. His job, home, and family have become the shackles that bind him in the prison of his mind. He longs to be free of it. . . for at least a little while. When Henry learns the circus has arrived in his Bronzeville neighborhood, he sneaks away in the night, hoping to find a brief escape from his troubles. With a world of distractions all around him, he finally feels free. But the circus paints a bright facade over a dark past, and the freer he feels, the more bound he becomes. He needs to break away. But before he can save his future, he’ll have to discover the sinister truth about his past. The stakes are high, and time is running out.

The Review

This was such a powerful and moving story. The blend of suspense and horror with edge-of-your-seat thriller and a hint of magic made this novel flow and kept me engaged throughout the story. The rich settings of this story, set in a particular historical period that gave readers a unique point of view that is rarely explored, were brought to life through powerfully vivid imagery and made the atmosphere feel thicker with tension.

For me, the psychologically and emotionally complex social and historical themes that were brought to life through dynamic character development made this a one-of-a-kind read. The protagonist’s journey and everything he endured were pushed to reflect the haunting history of the Black community and the chilling realities that very few people will ever know or understand. The dynamics between his interactions with the circus folks and the “real-world” people he interacted with not only mirrored the themes of segregation and social dynamics but the powerful effects that the events of the narrative began to have on his own psyche. 

The Verdict

Powerful, engaging, and thought-provoking, author J.M. Sawyer’s “South Side Alchemy” is a must-read suspense and horror thriller you won’t want to miss. The twists and turns in this story feel like a Jordan Peele movie bleeding into historical fiction and magical surrealism novel with a few elements of It’s a Wonderful Life thrown in for good measure, making this one novel that readers won’t want to miss this year. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

J. M. Sawyer is an author of adult suspense and horror novels. He received his B.A., summa cum laude, in Political Science from Seton Hall University and his J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law. Formerly a criminal defense attorney, his road to publication was anything but conventional. It was during trial preparation that he learned his true calling was that of a storyteller and his true talent was plotting complex, multi-layered narratives that will keep readers turning pages until the very end. Those are the stories that shaped his love of books, so those are the stories he endeavors to tell. A New Jersey native, he now lives in Michigan with his wife, Nora, and his two sons, Jesse and Alexander.

https://www.jmsawyerbooks.com/

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Allow Me To Ruin Your Christmas by Freddy Cruz Review

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

A man descends into rage and vengeance after he discovers the man dating his mother may be involved in the death of his father in author Freddy Cruz’s revenge thriller and suspense holiday novel, “Allow Me To Ruin Your Christmas”.

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The Synopsis

He just discovered why his dad died. Now ‘tis the season for a rampage of revenge…

Beckett needs his eyes bleached. Catching his mom and his favorite podcaster doing things that will get them on Santa’s naked and naughty list is enough to turn his stomach. And after he agrees to officially meet the new boyfriend, his slightly nauseous Yuletide cheer devolves into rage when he learns the guy was involved in his father’s death.

Driven by the need for vengeance, the incensed son sets out to stuff the home-wrecking grinch’s stocking with burning coal—by going after the loser’s wife and daughter. But as Beckett’s gore-trimmed plan descends into chaos, another ghastly secret could send him into murderous overdrive.

Is he about to unwrap a no-holds-barred retribution spree?

Allow Me to Ruin Your Christmas is a perfectly gruesome revenge thriller. If you like characters pushed over the edge, dark acts, and family drama, then you’ll love Freddy Cruz’s bloodstained holiday treat.

Buy Allow Me to Ruin Your Christmas to put the “x” in X-mas today!

The Review

This was a chilling and haunting revenge thriller. The fast-paced and atmospheric nature of the narrative played well into the imagery and tone that the author established in his writing. The shock and awe the author used in the story elevated the mystery of this novel, as the protagonists fought to not only reveal the truth behind their past but wrestle with the growing rage inside them. These themes of rage, vengeance, and family were felt heavily throughout this narrative and kept me invested in these characters.

Yet it was the character development that felt the most gripping and shocking to read, as the author played well into the grating relationship developed between Beckett and Lex, the twisted journey of revenge Beckett went on, and the harsh truths that made his mission flip on its head with a greater impact than he could have ever imagined. The rich dynamics and intensity of the narrative were a great juxtaposition to the holiday settings, keeping readers intrigued as the narrative unfolded before them.

The Verdict

It is often said that when seeking vengeance, be sure to dig two graves. In this twisted, captivating, and entertaining read, that has never been more true. In author Freddy Cruz’s “Allow Me To Ruin Your Christmas”, readers will be shocked and invested in this haunting journey of revenge that gets more and more insane as the story plays out. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy or preorder your book today, as the book releases this November!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Freddy Cruz is a Houston area author and host of Freddy’s Huge ASK Podcast. He’s obsessed with music, books, running, and coffee, and not necessarily in that order.

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Hero Haters by Ken MacQueen Review

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

After becoming the prime suspect in the disappearance of the finalists for the nation’s highest medal of valor for civilians, one man must put himself on the line to find and save these heroes from the sinister web they’ve been ensnared within author Ken MacQueen’s “Hero Haters”.

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The Synopsis

Jake Ockham had a dream job, vetting nominees for the Sedgewick Medallion—the nation’s highest civilian award for heroism. His own scarred hands are an indelible reminder of the single mother he failed to pull from a raging house fire; her face haunts him still. Obligations drag him back to his hometown to edit the family newspaper but attempts to embrace small-town life, and the hot new doctor, are thwarted by unknown forces. The heroes Jake vetted go missing and he becomes the prime suspect in the disappearances. Aided by resourceful friends, Jake follows a twisted trail to the Dark Web, where a shadowy group is forcing the kidnapped medalists to perform deadly acts of valor to amuse twisted subscribers to its website. To save his heroes, Jake must swallow his fears and become one himself…or die in the attempt. 

The Review

This brand-new thriller from a brand new author and seasoned journalist was absolutely fantastic. The author immediately showcased the strength of finding the right balance between character growth and suspense building. The atmosphere and tension really elevated the narrative here, capturing the shocking nature of the crimes and the fight for survival that takes place. The focus on “heroes”, and how we treat our heroes in the world is a great central theme to play into this thriller and did a great job of showcasing the humanity within our heroes.

The brilliant character development and escalating suspense were so well delivered. The chemistry between Tina and Jake as the story develops adds a hint of romance into the narrative, but the complexity of the protagonist’s struggle with his brush with heroism and the blend of guilt for those that couldn’t be saved, as well as the human faults all heroes still have in their daily lives that are often ignored in the wake of their heroism, made their development so mesmerizing to read about.

The Verdict

Thought-provoking, atmospheric, and entertaining, author Ken MacQueen’s “Hero Haters” is a must-read suspense thriller of 2022. The gripping blend of haunting dark web crime and the balance of morality with heroism as a whole made this such a rich and dynamic story to dive head first into, and readers will be hard-pressed to put this novel down. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy or preorder by October 5th, 2022!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Before turning to fiction, Ken MacQueen spent 15 years as Vancouver bureau chief for Maclean’s, Canada’s newsmagazine, winning multiple National Magazine Awards and nominations. He travelled the world writing features and breaking news for the magazine, and previously for two national news agencies.

He has written extensively on crime, politics, disasters, both natural and man-made—and, being Canadian, on the shifting fortunes of Queen Elizabeth II and her clan. All of this is potential fodder for future fiction, though the Queen as action hero seems unlikely.

Hero Haters, set in the Pacific Northwest and rural Pennsylvania, is his debut thriller.

MacQueen covered nine Olympic Games and drew the athletic prowess of Jake Ockham, his protagonist, from tracking elite rowers in training and on podiums in Athens, Beijing and London.

He and his wife divide their time between North Vancouver and British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.

kenmacqueen.com

Firefly Lies by Morgan Matthews Review

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

A young woman hoping to put her past behind her is forced to confront her trauma and even her sanity as dark events and a persistent enemy to her family seek to destroy their family estate in author Morgan Matthews’s “Firefly Lies”.

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The Synopsis

A stately manor, one peculiar groundskeeper, and untimely death set the stage for this thrilling and unexpected tale. As a twenty-nine year old married mother of two, Greer Tipton has spent nearly half her life trying to leave the past behind her. Yet she finds herself faced with reexamining her teenage years after agreeing to be interviewed by a biographer.

Greer’s recollection of events is equally as dark as it is compelling. Her harrowing story is fraught with lies, heartbreaking revelations, and an unknown enemy terrorizing her family’s beloved home – Langley Estates. Young Greer must find the answers she so desperately seeks, while also navigating the emotions of first love, loss, and an inherent mistrust of her own sanity.

The reader will be left wondering who, if anyone, can be trusted. Can we as human beings even trust ourselves?

The Review

This was such an engaging and inviting read. The mystery and suspense of the narrative felt vibrant and alive and delved into themes that felt very relatable and relevant to modern-day true crimes. The twists and turns in the story kept me invested in this narrative, as the author’s writing style kept this mystery feeling very mature yet in a genre that many readers would classify as “clean” mysteries. In that regard, the author crafts a narrative that focuses solely on the mystery and not on any elements of more adult narratives that would make this a heated and passionate read instead. 

Yet what drew me into the narrative was the characters, especially when it came to the storytelling perspective. The author’s choice to not only jump back and forth between the past and the present but from the POV of both the biographer and the protagonist of this mystery was so heartfelt and honest in a way. The way biographer was able to bring an outside perspective to the story while also connecting with their “subject”. At the same time, the protagonist kept readers in suspense and brought an emotional depth to the narrative, making this story such a unique reading experience.

The Verdict

Captivating, thoughtful, and exhilarating, author Morgan Matthews’s “Firefly Lies” is a must-read mystery and suspense read of 2022. The drama, twists, and rich character development will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The final revelations about what happened to this family and the true villain of this tale will shock many readers, while also keeping readers emotionally invested in these characters. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Morgan Matthews is a wife, mother, photographer, lifestyle blogger, and fiction writer. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in psychology, as well as a Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.

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Delta by Tom Starita Review

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

Tensions mount in one man’s life when he discovers a young girl locked in his basement soon after the loss of his daughter, claiming to in fact be his daughter, and he must decide if fate has brought his daughter back to him or if he is slowly losing his grip on reality in author Tom Starita’s “Delta”.

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The Synopsis

Jason Carico is a grieving father, desperately trying to come to grips with the loss of his eight-year-old stepdaughter, Delta, who drowned two months ago.

But if she’s dead, then why is there a little girl claiming to be Delta locked up in his basement?

Desperately wanting to believe her, Jason attempts to live a normal life while hiding his nightmare below. His anxiety explodes when his late wife’s sister appears on his doorstep. Can he trust her? Would she believe him? And what will the police think if they ever find out the only African American man in town has a white girl trapped in his basement?

The haunting motto of Mother’s death cult tolls throughout the book, “The Universe has a plan, independent from the wants of man.” 

The Review

This was such a chilling and haunting read. The tension and heart-pounding suspense the novel’s narrative brings to life was the perfect way to marry both the horror and thriller genres that this story needed. The pacing the author set up perfectly allowed readers to develop this compulsive need to understand the circumstances surrounding this strange and troubling situation, as one minute readers see a tale of a man who has captured a young girl in his basement, and in the next a disturbing cult has set their sights on the same girl, and in the next a powerful force of nature threatens to converge on everyone at once.

This book’s narrative was definitely character-driven, and the characters really elevated the tension and atmosphere of this gritty suspense thriller meet horror read. The emotional pull of these characters, from Jason’s fractured psyche and desire to “protect” Delta, to Colleen’s struggle to right a grievous wrong and stop the madness she suspects is happening, really kept me invested in the narrative. 

The Verdict

Haunting, engaging, and thrilling, author Tom Starita’s “Delta” is a must-read horror suspense read of 2022. The chilling atmosphere the author’s use of imagery creates and the shocking twists and turns that leave readers on the edge of their seats, eager for a second book, made this story shine so brightly. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Tom Starita is the author of three novels, “Two Ways to Sunday,” “Growth and Change Are Highly Overrated,” and his latest “Delta.” When asked for her thoughts about him, Oprah Winfrey said, “Who?” Tom Hanks refused to respond to an email asking for a quote, and former Mets great Mookie Wilson once waved to him from a passing taxi.

Originally from Staten Island, NY, Starita has now found a home in Connecticut with his amazing wife Shannon, their beautiful daughter Chloe and their potato of a dog Lola. But, most importantly, he loves the New York Mets.

https://goppygots.com/

Into the Mist (Into the Mist Book One) by P.C. Cast Review

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

A group of women who gain supernatural abilities in the midst of a biological attack have to survive and face untold danger as they battle the impending apocalypse in author P.C. Cast’s “Into the Mist”, the first book in the series of the same name.

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The Synopsis

As men fall to the mist, the age of womankind begins to rise.

The world as we know it ends when an attack on the U.S. unleashes bombs that deliver fire and biological destruction. Along with sonic detonations and devastating earthquakes, the bombs have also brought the green mist. If breathed in, it is deadly to all men—but alters the body chemistry of many women, imbuing them with superhuman abilities.

A group of high school teachers heading home from a conference experiences firsthand the strength of these new powers. Mercury Rhodes is the Warrior, possessing heightened physical powers. Stella Carver is the Seer, with a sixth sense about the future. Imani Andrews is the Watcher, with a rare connection to the earth. Karen Gay is the Priestess, demonstrating a special connection with Spirits. And Gemma Jenkins is the Healer, a sixteen-year-old student who joins the group after losing her parents.

As they cross the Pacific Northwest, trying to find a safe place to ride out the apocalypse, the women soon learn they can’t trust anyone, and with fresh danger around every corner, it will take all their powers to save themselves—and possibly the world.

The Review

This was a gripping and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic read. The elements of sci-fi and fantasy that play into the narrative are perfectly utilized, for they don’t necessarily overpower the story at all but enhance it, and add more depth to the overall drama of the sequence of events that begins this cataclysmic event. The imagery and atmosphere (both figurative and literal) are well defined and give the reader a true sense of the world that has become their reality, delving into themes of survival, relationships, and the breakdown of society as a whole. 

The character dynamics and growth was superb in this read. The author really did an amazing job on page 1 of defining the relationships and connectivity of these characters, especially the core cast of women who serve as the backbone of this story. The way the author is able to flip the script so to speak on the post-apocalyptic story by having a group of women takes on the roles of protectors and heroes in a world that has turned into a nightmare was an inspired choice, and making the women feel realistic and vulnerable in one breath while also exuding strength and determination in the next was great to read.

The Verdict

Heartfelt, engaging, and exhilarating, author P.C. Cast’s “Into the Mist” is a must-read suspense thriller that meets dystopian apocalyptic sci-fi read, and is one of my top suspense reads of 2022! The chilling nature of the attacks that lead into this main narrative and the heart-pounding thriller aspect of the narrative that keeps readers on the edge of their seat as alliances and distrust form in the wake of civilization’s breakdown was so compelling to read. The shocking twists and turns will leave readers eager to read the author’s sequel when it inevitably arrives. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today, or preorder the book and receive it on July 12th, 2022!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

PC was born in the Midwest and grew up being shuttled back and forth between Illinois and Oklahoma, which is where she fell in love with Quarter Horses and mythology (at about the same time). After high school, she joined the United States Air Force and began public speaking and writing. After her tour in the USAF, she taught high school for 15 years before retiring to write full time. PC is a #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today Best-Selling author and a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. Her novels have been awarded the prestigious: Oklahoma Book Award, YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Prism, Holt Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, Booksellers’ Best, and the Laurel Wreath. PC is an experienced teacher and talented speaker. Ms. Cast lives in Oregon near her fabulous daughter, her adorable pack of dogs, her crazy Maine Coon, and a bunch of horses. House of Night Other World, book 4, FOUND, releases July 7th, 2020. More info to come soon about the HoN TV series!

https://www.pccastauthor.com/

Agapē (Heart’s Compass Book One) by Lisa Cordeau Review

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

A woman scarred by her past must place her trust in 3 detectives after witnessing a murder that could bring down a powerful mob boss in author Lisa Cordeau’s “Agapē”, the first book in the Heart’s Compass series. 

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The Synopsis

Fiercely independent, Cassie settled into an unpredictable, sometimes dangerous life under the park bridge with Janice and Pete. Her heart marred by past betrayals, she found trusting others difficult. But, after witnessing a murder, will she sacrifice her freedoms and place her trust in three unselfish men bent on keeping her, Pete, and Janice safe?

Detectives Alex, Raf, and Ryder Consopolat, brothers raised with a strong sense of family unity, strive to bring down the local mob boss, but their witnesses keep dying. Fate intervenes, providing them one final opportunity to end a tyrant’s reign. Can they keep their reluctant allies alive, or will they all be victims of The Boss?

The Review

This was such a brilliant and captivating read. The adrenaline-fueled thriller takes readers on a wild ride, showcasing a brutal landscape of gangsters and corruption that felt very reminiscent of a noir thriller in a more modern-day era. The world-building and atmosphere played heavily into the narrative, adding tension and sending chills down the reader’s spine as the gangsters of this tale crept ever closer to the cast of characters.

Yet it was the characters themselves that brought such heart to this story. The exploration of life on the streets as a homeless person was such an emotional and powerful change in direction for this type of thriller. The hardships and struggles Cassie, Pete, and Janice undergo on a daily basis and in their backstories only add to the dangers the gangsters bring to their feet, and the balance that the author stuck with the story of the brothers/detectives and how they came to interact with these witnesses over time added a depth to the emotional connection readers will have to this story. 

The Verdict

Heartfelt, entertaining, and delightfully written, author Lisa Cordeau’s “Agapē” is a must-read thriller of 2022. A fantastic balance of emotional storytelling and exhilarating action-packed detective work, the story shines as a stand-alone narrative while also leaving room to grow as a series that examines the personal lives of those involved while also adding deep-seated character studies to a thrill-ride of a suspense story. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Her mother’s love of books inspired Lisa to read and write from an early age. She filled her journals with story ideas and made up towns full of interesting characters. One of their favorite used book stores offered an exchange program, so they spent many weekends perusing the shelves of novels there. After returning the novels they read, they walked away with several bags filled with new stories to explore. Although life took her in other directions, writing has always been her first love. Returning to those pages, she became motivated to accomplish her dream of publishing her debut novel, Agapē. Now, her dream is a reality.

On a Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass Review

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

A woman fearing her husband may be cheating, she turns to a friend who lost her son the year before, and together they hope to catch the husband in the act. However, this plan turns down a dark and deadly road as more secrets are unearthed that neither of them could have imagined in author Seraphina Nova Glass’s “On a Quiet Street”.

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The Synopsis

A simple arrangement. A web of deceit with shocking consequences.

Welcome to Brighton Hills: an exclusive, gated community set against the stunning backdrop of the Oregon coast. Home to doctors, lawyers, judges–all the most upstanding members of society. Nothing ever goes wrong here. Right?

Cora’s husband, Finn, is a cheater. She knows it; she just needs to prove it. She’s tired of being the nagging, suspicious wife who analyzes her husband’s every move. She needs to catch him in the act. And what better way to do that than to set him up for a fall?

Paige has nothing to lose. After she lost her only child in a hit-and-run last year, her life fell apart: her marriage has imploded, she finds herself screaming at baristas and mail carriers, and she’s so convinced Caleb’s death wasn’t an accident that she’s secretly spying on all everyone in Brighton Hills so she can find the murderer. So it’s easy for her to entrap Finn and prove what kind of man he really is.

But Paige and Cora are about to discover far more than a cheating husband. What starts as a little agreement between friends sets into motion a series of events neither of them could have ever predicted, and that exposes the deep fault lines in Brighton Hills. Especially concerning their mysterious new neighbor, Georgia, a beautiful recluse who has deep, dark secrets of her own…

The Review

The author continues to do a phenomenal job of pushing the domestic thriller genre to its limits and beyond in the best way possible! The world-building and character growth early on in the book did a great job of layering the mystery of both the fidelity of Cora’s marriage to her husband and the circumstances of Paige’s son and his untimely demise. The shocking twists and turns that this small community takes on, as well as the secrets that these households harbor, really add both an engaging plotline and yet an eerily realistic touch to the narrative, as the shocking developments are not necessarily out of the realm of possibility in this day and age, making this even more of a haunting read. 

For, as a longtime fan of mystery reads, the suspense aspect of this mystery thriller and the theme that it explores were the biggest draws for me. The exploration of this multi-layered mystery and how each character’s struggles early on in the novel inadvertently stack up against one another’s until all three protagonists and narrators of this novel find themselves coming together. The theme of toxic masculinity and how it impacts marriages and relationships was a major theme throughout the novel. Often seen in our world, men will go to extreme lengths to be dismissive of women, mansplain to women things they already have an understanding of, and manipulate the women in their lives to fulfill their own personal needs. This toxic behavior is explored in several of the characters’ lives, and the shocking twists that toxicity takes add to the depth of character development and the mystery that unravels as a result of those developments.

The Verdict

Haunting, shocking, and entertaining, author Seraphina Nova Glass’s “On A Quiet Street” is a must-read novel of 2022 and one of the top domestic thrillers of the year. The chilling twists this narrative takes and the emotional pull of these characters’ struggles will have readers on the edge of their seats as the climactic second half of this novel takes off! This is one of the best authors to come through in this genre in years and I cannot wait to read more of her work. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Seraphina Nova Glass is a professor and playwright-in-residence at the University of Texas, Arlington, where she teaches film studies and playwriting. She holds an MFA in playwriting from Smith College, and she’s also a screenwriter and award-winning playwright. Seraphina has traveled the world using theatre and film as a teaching tool, living in South Africa, Guam and Kenya as a volunteer teacher, AIDS relief worker, and documentary filmmaker.

Buy Links: 

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Social Links:

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Twitter: @SeraphinaNova

Facebook: Seraphina Nova Glass: Author

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Here is an excerpt from “On a Quiet Street”

ONE

Paige

Paige stands, watering her marigolds in the front yard and marvels at how ugly they are. The sweet-potato-orange flowers remind her of a couch from the 1970s, and she suddenly hates them. She crouches down, ready to rip them from their roots, wondering why she ever planted such an ugly thing next to her pristine Russian sage, and then the memory steals her breath. The church Mother’s Day picnic when Caleb was in the sixth grade. Some moron had let the potato salad sit too long in the sun, and Caleb got food poisoning. All the kids got to pick a flower plant to give to their moms, and even though Caleb was puking mayonnaise, he insisted on going over to pick his flower to give her. He was so proud to hand it to her in its little plastic pot, and she said they’d plant it in the yard and they’d always have his special marigolds to look at. How could she have forgotten?

She feels tears rise in her throat but swallows them down. Her dachshund, Christopher, waddles over and noses her arm: he always senses when she’s going to cry, which is almost all the time since Caleb died. She kisses his head and looks at her now-beautiful marigolds. She’s interrupted by the kid who de-livers the newspaper as he rides his bike into the cul-de-sac and tosses a rolled-up paper, hitting little Christopher on his back.

“Are you a fucking psychopath?” Paige screams, jumping to her feet and hurling the paper back at the kid, which hits him in the head and knocks him off his bike.

“What the hell is wrong with you, lady?” he yells back, scrambling to gather himself and pick up his bike.

“What’s wrong with me? You tried to kill my dog. Why don’t you watch what the fuck you’re doing?”

His face contorts, and he tries to pedal away, but Paige grabs the garden hose and sprays him down until he’s out of reach. “Little monster!” she yells after him.

Thirty minutes later, the police ring her doorbell, but Paige doesn’t answer. She sits in the back garden, drinking coffee out of a lopsided clay mug with the word Mom carved into it by little fingers. She strokes Christopher’s head and examines the ivy climbing up the brick of the garage and wonders if it’s bad for the foundation. When she hears the ring again, she hollers at them.

“I’m not getting up for you people. If you need to talk to me, I’m back here.” She enjoys making them squeeze around the side of the house and hopes they rub up against the poi-son oak on their way.

“Morning, Mrs. Moretti,” one of the officers says. It’s the girl cop, Hernandez. Then the white guy chimes in. She hates him. Miller. Of course they sent Miller with his creepy mustache. He looks more like a child molester than a cop, she thinks. How does anyone take him seriously?

“We received a complaint,” he says.

“Oh, ya did, did ya? You guys actually looking into cases these days? Actually following up on shit?” Paige says, still petting the dog and not looking at them.

“You assaulted a fifteen-year-old? Come on.”

“Oh, I did no such thing,” she snaps.

Hernandez sits across from Paige. “You wanna tell us what d id happen, then?”

“Are you planning on arresting me if I don’t?” she asks, and the two officers give each other a silent look she can’t read.

“His parents don’t want to press charges so…”

Paige doesn’t say anything. They don’t have to tell her it’s because they pity her.

“But, Paige,” Miller says, “we can’t keep coming out here for this sort of thing.”

“Good,” Paige says firmly. “Maybe it will free you up to do your real job and find out who killed my son.” Hernandez stands.

“Again, you know we aren’t the detectives on the—” But before Hernandez can finish, Paige interrupts, not wanting to hear the excuses.

“And maybe go charge the idiot kid for trying to kill my dog. How about that?”

Paige stands and goes inside, not waiting for a response. She hears them mumble something to one another and make their way out. She can’t restrain herself or force herself to be kind. She used to be kind, but now, it’s as though her brain has been rewired. Defensiveness inhabits the place where empathy used to live. The uniforms of the cops trigger her, too; it reminds her of that night, the red, flashing lights a nightmarish strobe from a movie scene. A horror movie, not real life. It can’t be her real life. She still can’t accept that.

The uniforms spoke, saying condescending things, pulling her away, calling her ma’am, and asking stupid questions. Now, when she sees them, it brings up regrets. She doesn’t know why this happens, but the uniforms bring her back to that night, and it makes her long for the chance to do all the things she never did with Caleb and mourn over the times they did have. It forces fragments of memories to materialize, like when he was six, he wanted a My Little Pony named Star Prancer. It was pink with purple flowers in its mane, and she didn’t let him have it because she thought she was protecting him from being made fun of at school. Now, the memory fills her with self-reproach.

She tries not to think about the time she fell asleep on the couch watching Rugrats with him when he was just a toddler and woke up to his screaming because he’d fallen off the couch and hit his head on the coffee table. He was okay, but it could have been worse. He could have put his finger in an outlet, pushed on the window screen and fallen to his death from the second floor, drunk the bleach under the sink! When this memory comes, she has to quickly stand up and busy herself, push out a heavy breath, and shake off the shame it brings. He could have died from her negligence that afternoon. She never told Grant. She told Cora once, who said every parent has a moment like that, it’s life. People fall asleep. But Paige has never forgiven herself. She loved Caleb more than life, and now the doubt and little moments of regret push into her thoughts and render her miserable and anxious all the time.

She didn’t stay home like Cora, she practically lived at the restaurant. She ran it for years. Caleb grew up doing his homework in the kitchen break room and helping wipe down tables and hand out menus. He seemed to love it. He didn’t watch TV all afternoon after school, he talked to new people, learned skills. But did she only tell herself that to alleviate the guilt? Would he have thrived more if he had had a more nor mal day-to-day? When he clung to her leg that first day of preschool, should she have forced him to go? Should he have let him change his college major so many times? Had he been happy? Had she done right by him?

And why was there a gun at the scene? Was he in trouble, and she didn’t know? Did he have friends she didn’t know about? He’d told her everything, she thought. They were close. Weren’t they?

As she approaches the kitchen window to put her mug down, she sees Grant pulling up outside. She can see him shaking his head at the sight of the cops before he even gets out of the car.

He doesn’t mention the police when he comes in. He silently pours himself a cup of coffee and finds Paige back out in the garden, where she has scurried to upon seeing him. He hands her a copy of the Times after removing the crossword puzzle for himself and then peers at it over his glasses.

He doesn’t speak until Christopher comes to greet him, and then he says, “Who wants a pocket cookie?” and takes a small dog biscuit from his shirt pocket and smiles down at little Christopher, who devours it.

This is how it’s been for the many months since Grant and Paige suffered insurmountable loss. It might be possible to get through it to the other side, but maybe not together, Paige said to Grant one night after one of many arguments about how they should cope. Grant wanted to sit in his old, leather recliner in the downstairs family room and stare into the wood-burning fireplace, Christopher at his feet, drinking a scotch and absorbing the quiet and stillness.

Paige, on the other hand, wanted to scream at everyone she met. She wanted to abuse the police for not finding who was responsible for the hit-and-run. She wanted to spend her days posting flyers offering a reward to anyone with information, even though she knew only eight percent of hit-and-runs are ever solved. When the world didn’t respond the way she needed, she stopped helping run the small restaurant they owned so she could just hole up at home and shout at Jeopardy! and paper boys. She needed to take up space and be loud. They each couldn’t stand how the other was mourning, so finally, Grant moved into the small apartment above their little Italian place, Moretti’s, and gave Paige the space she needed to take up.

Now—almost a year since the tragic day—Grant still comes over every Sunday to make sure the take-out boxes are picked up and the trash is taken out, that she’s taking care of herself and the house isn’t falling apart. And to kiss her on the cheek before he leaves and tell her he loves her. He doesn’t make observations or suggestions, just benign comments about the recent news headlines or the new baked mostaccioli special at the restaurant.

She sees him spot the pair of binoculars on the small table next to her Adirondack chair. She doesn’t need to lie and say she’s bird-watching or some nonsense. He knows she thinks one of the neighbors killed her son. She’s sure of it. It’s a gated community, and very few people come in and out who don’t live here. Especially that late at night. The entrance camera was conveniently disabled that night, so that makes her think it wasn’t an accident but planned. There was a gun next to Caleb’s body, but it wasn’t fired, and there was no gunshot wound. Something was very wrong with this scenario, and if the po-lice won’t prove homicide, she’s going to uncover which of her bastard neighbors had a motive.

She has repeated all of this to Grant a thousand times, and he used to implore her to try to focus on work or take a vacation—anything but obsess—and to warn her that she was destroying her health and their relationship, but he stopped responding to this sort of conspiracy-theory talk months ago.

“What’s the latest?” is all he asks, looking away from the binoculars and back to his crossword. She gives a dismissive wave of her hand, a sort of I know you don’t really want to hear about it gesture. Then, after a few moments, she says, “Danny Howell at 6758. He hasn’t driven his Mercedes in months.” She gives Grant a triumphant look, but he doesn’t appear to be following.

“Okay,” he says, filling in the word ostrich.

“So I broke into his garage to see what the deal was, and there’s a dent in his bumper.”

“You broke in?” he asks, concerned. She knows the How-ells have five vehicles, and the dent could be from a myriad of causes over the last year, but she won’t let it go.

“Yes, and it’s a good thing I did. I’m gonna go back and take photos. See if the police can tell if it looks like he might have hit a person.” She knows there is a sad desperation in her voice as she works herself up. “You think they can tell that? Like if the dent were a pole from a drive-through, they could see paint or the scratches or something, right? I bet they can tell.”

“It’s worth a shot,” he says, and she knows what he wants to say, also knows he won’t waste words telling her not to break into the garage a second time for photos. He changes the subject.

“I’m looking for someone to help out at the restaurant a few days a week—mostly just a piano player for the dinner crowd—but I could use a little bookkeeping and scheduling, too,” he says, and Paige knows it’s a soft attempt to distract her, but she doesn’t bite.

“Oh, well, good luck. I hope you find someone,” she says, and they stare off into the backyard trees.

“The ivy is looking robust,” he comments after a few minutes of silence.

“You think it’s hurting the foundation?” she asks.

“Nah,” he says, and he reaches over and places his hand over hers on the arm of her chair for a few moments before getting up to go. On his way out, he kisses her on the cheek, tells her he loves her. Then he loads the dishwasher and takes out the trash before heading to his car. She watches him reluctantly leaving, knowing that he wishes he could stay, that things were different.

When Paige hears the sound of Grant’s motor fade as he turns out of the front gate, she imagines herself calling him on his cell and telling him to come back and pick her up, that she’ll come to Moretti’s with him and do all the scheduling and books, that she’ll learn to play the piano just so she can make him happy. And, after all the patrons leave for the night, they’ll share bottles of Chianti on checkered tablecloths in a dimly lit back booth. They’ll eat linguini and clams and have a Lady and the Tramp moment, and they will be happy again.

Paige does not do this. She goes into the living room and closes the drapes Grant opened, blocking out the sunlight, then she crawls under a bunched-up duvet on the couch that smells like sour milk, and she begs for sleep.

Excerpted from On A Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass, Copyright © 2022 by Seraphina Nova Glass. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Payback by Ramon del Villar Review

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

The world of narco-trafficking takes center stage as a man is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and the pursuit of justice takes a drastic turn in author Ramon del Villar’s “Payback”.

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The Synopsis

Ramon del Villar is well known and highly respected English-Spanish translator in Texas’s Southern District U.S. Courts. He is now residing in Houston after he migrated (legally) from his h homeland, Mexico. In this his first published novel, he skillfully brings up to us his expertise, both in the judiciary proceedings and his knowledge of people involved in narco-traffic with very witty remarks about behavior and reactions by Hispanics and Anglos: “You have the right to remain silent. If you speak, anything you say may and will be used against you in court. You have the right to have an attorney…” so starts this thriller in which Mr. del Villar guides us through the inner and awesome steps of a criminal trial, so readers become familiar with terms such as arrest, detention, hearing, cross-examination, rebuttal, and verdict, so well narrated that it is very difficult to stop reading this novel once you started…

The Review

This was an eventful and captivating thriller. The author found just the right balance between legal suspense and adrenaline-fueled action-thriller storytelling. The exploration of the law in such detail and how it impacts everyone, from those pursuing the law to those caught in its wake to the family affected by the trial and more, was both impressive and engaging to read about.

I truly appreciated the rich character development of this novel, especially the focus on the cultural aspect of the narrative. As someone who comes from a Hispanic background himself, I was grateful to see such attention to detail shown in the story, even from minor yet important details like how Mexican people will utilize both the father and the mother’s last names in their culture. The study of how narcos and the narcotic trade as a whole have impacted everyone, on both sides of the border, was critical to this novel’s success, as was the study of how those with money and power influence the events that determine other people’s fate, whether they be deserving or not.

The Verdict

Hauntingly suspenseful, entertaining, and culturally impactful, author Ramon del Villar’s “Payback” is a must-read thriller. From the shootouts to the dramatic legal twists and the important character developments, this was a meaningful and thoughtful approach to the genre and deserves to be checked out. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Ramón del Villar is a lawyer, a black belt in karate, a teacher, a private pilot and an author. He recently retired from his day job as Senior Interpreter in Houston for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. His nonfiction text, An Interpreters Anatomy of a Civil Lawsuit, is available as a bilingual resource and he is working on the next adventure of Roberto Duran, intrepid attorney.