Deadly Obsession (Brown and de Luca #4) by Maggie Shayne
ISBN: 9780778316800 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781460343333 (ebook)
ASIN: B00L0XO282 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: November 25, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

A cold-blooded killer with a burning obsession… 

Rachel de Luca has a bad feeling about the new woman in Detective Mason Brown’s life, the nurse taking care of him after he’s injured in the line of duty. She’d like to think it’s just jealousy, but intuition tells her it’s something more, maybe something dangerous. 

Mason knows Rachel’s wary of commitment, and asking her to stay when he’s in this condition would be the worst thing for their relationship. Then they receive chilling news that drives everything else from their minds. 

Mason’s psychotic sister-in-law has escaped from custody, putting her sons — the nephews he’s raising — in the crosshairs. When his house is burned to the ground, he and Rachel are relieved that there are no bodies in the smoldering rubble, but now his nephews are missing and the clock is ticking. 

As Mason and Rachel try to find the boys, she senses a new and unexpected danger stalking them. Soon, everyone close to Mason is in deadly peril — Rachel more than anyone…

They’re back . . . Rachel de Luca and Mason Brown are back in the fourth book in the Brown and de Luca series by Maggie Shayne, Deadly Obsession. Rachel is preoccupied by Mason’s recent use of the “L-word” (love) but their relationship is steady and progressing. This book starts off with a bang . . . literally; a house explodes and erupts in fire. Fortunately Rachel and Mason have just finished a date and are on their way home when they spot the fire. Since Mason is one of the first on the scene, he enters the home to rescue two children. His rescue attempt is successful in more ways than one because he now has attracted the attention of a killer. Will he be able to survive this killer’s attempts to rid him of all of his loved ones, including Rachel? Better yet, will Rachel be able to survive?

Rachel is still quite mouthy, speaks first, thinks later in this book, but she quickly comes to realize that her life is nothing without Mason and the boys, Jeremy and Joshua. She takes charge of Mason’s nephews after he is hospitalized from the fire rescue, and learns that she no longer yearns for those quiet, peaceful evenings at home. She’s still adamant about not being psychic but rather having NFP (not-effing-psychic) abilities. These abilities will be put to great use in Deadly Obsession as she is realizing that something isn’t quite right with Mason’s nurse. She also realizes that she’s just a little bit jealous and wants to delve into the visiting nurse’s background. Unfortunately she’s talked out of it by her assistant Amy, whose new title is “She Whose Quitting Will Result in My Complete and Utter Annihilation.” While Rachel sulks about Mason not coming to stay at her house after his release from the hospital, Mason’s sister-in-law Marie has had a major meltdown at the psychiatric hospital. Marie knows that someone is out to get Mason and her sons but she can’t convince anyone because she’s psychotic. It probably doesn’t help that she refers to this person as a demon. Meanwhile Rachel is trying to write a new book, dealing with two young boys, falling in love, preoccupied and stressing about falling in love, stressing over her lover’s injuries, dealing with a psychotic in-law, planning a blowout graduation party, and now dealing with an obsessed want-to-be rival love interest. 

I found Deadly Obsession to be a fast-paced read. As with all of the books in this series, it was filled with tongue-in-cheek humor, romance, suspense, family drama, teen angst and drama, and one stylish blind bulldog. Rachel and Mason’s relationship is sweet, tender, and prickly. Neither wanted to fall in love and both are trying to figure out the best way of dealing with it. Mason’s nephews, Jeremy and Joshua, add a nice built-in family component to their relationship since Mason now has custody. Take two fiercely independent adults – one a police officer and the other a renowned motivational author, add in romance and suspense then watch the sparks fly. I enjoyed reading about the progression of their relationship. I also enjoyed reading about both Rachel and Mason coming to grips with the idea that they are in love. The suspense from a crazed and obsessed would-be love interest and a psychotic sister-in-law just added to the drama. Each book in this series reveals more about Mason and Rachel’s characters, to the point that they feel more like long-distance friends than characters in a book. Most of the characters that appeared in previous books reappear in Deadly Obsession, including Rachel’s sister, brother-in-law, twin nieces, as well as her perky, personal assistant Amy. Mason’s partner, Rosie, his mother Angela, his sister-in-law Marie, and nephews are also featured. The cast of characters is rounded out with the new bad guy, Gretchen, Rachel’s beloved bulldog Myrtle, and a new four-legged addition to the family, a bulldog pup – Hugo. The characters are wholly realistic and the situations, some more farfetched than others, seem just as realistic. Ms. Shayne adds more pieces to the puzzle of who are Rachel and Mason and where are they heading with each book. Deadly Obsession reveals just how much Mason and Rachel truly care about one another and solidifies them as a unit. If you enjoy light-hearted romantic suspense reads, then you’ll enjoy the Brown and de Luca series. If you haven’t read any of the books in the Brown and de Luca series, read them! Start at the beginning with Sleep with the Lights On, before moving on to Dream of Danger, Wake to Darkness, Innocent Prey, and finally Deadly Obsession. If you’ve read the previous books in this series then you’ll want to grab a copy of Deadly Obsession as soon as it comes out. This is one series you don’t want to miss out on (can you tell I like this series).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book 366: THE WHISPERS Review

The Whispers (The Whispers #1) by Lisa Unger
ISBN: 9781476797786 (ebook)
ASIN: B00L6C37YM (Kindle edition)
Publication date: October 27, 2014
Publisher: Pocket Star

Eloise Montgomery discovers her amazing gift in the wake of tragedy in this first of three captivating e-novellas from award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger.

It’s a day like any other for Eloise Montgomery—until tragedy strikes. While she is recovering from a horrible accident that takes the lives of her husband and oldest daughter, and as she works to help her younger daughter move forward, Eloise experiences her first psychic vision. Though she struggles to understand her newfound gifts, Eloise finds a way use them to save lost women and girls—for whom her help may be the only way out…

Eloise Montgomery considered herself quite ordinary before the accident. She was a devoted wife and mother of two daughters. A routine car trip with the family ends in tragedy. Eloise awakens in the hospital after the accident to learn that her husband and one of her daughters died. Now she must deal with her surviving daughter’s guilt as well as her new found “gift” — psychic whispers from the lost.

The Whispers is a fast-read novella that provides the backstory for Eloise Montgomery. A devastating car accident leaves Eloise with the special ability to hear “whispers” of the lost. She learns to heed these whispers and save lives or deal with the consequences of inaction. Quite a bit of The Whispers deals with the Montgomery family dynamic and the changes wrought by the accident. It was interesting to read about Eloise and the development of her paranormal gifts. This short story packs a punch with family drama, tragedy, survivor guilt, paranormal aspects, and an underlying sense of mystery-suspense. If you’re looking for a quick mystery-suspense read or just something a little different, then you may want to grab a digital copy of The Whispers to read. Eloise’s story will continue with more of The Whispers series with The Burning Girl and The Three Sisters

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book 381: THE MARTIAN Review

The Martian by Andy Weir
ISBN: 9780553418026 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780804139038 (ebook)
ASIN: B00EMXBDMA (Kindle edition)
Publication date: October 28, 2014 (paperback)
Publisher: Broadway Books

Apollo 13 meets Cast Away in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller, set on the surface of Mars.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

I’m not a heavy reader of science fiction, but The Martian by Andy Weir is one book that has changed my mind about this genre forever. A team of scientists are finally on Mars. It’s the end of their mission and an unexpected storm emerges. After the storm settles it becomes clear that the one scientist that was thought to have died during the storm has survived and now he is left alone on the surface of Mars. His mission now is simply survival. 

The reader witnesses the angst and despair of our lone survivor, Mark Watney. Fortunately, Mark is a botanist and contrives a way to grow food to extend his life (I was sick of potatoes by the end of the story . . . read the story!). He salvages what he can from the mission camp and ingeniously reimagines usages for his survival. Once he’s able to reestablish communication with earth, he no longer has to survive without a goal. His goal is to live long enough to be rescued. 

Mr. Weir’s story captured my attention from the very beginning. As a child of the 60s, growing up with Star Trek, space is an unknown that man has wanted to conquer for decades. We’ve never gone further than the moon or the space station with manned flight, so this mission to Mars was fantastical. The Martian isn’t simply a story about the science of staying alive on a foreign environment; it is about survival. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of science involved and even that I found interesting. I cheered along with the masses on earth as I witnessed Mark Watney’s progress and gasped in horror when things didn’t go as expected. Mr. Weir has this incredible ability to write science fiction and make it seem more like science possible. Mark Watney becomes more than just a man fighting for survival; he became The Martian. Trust me, even if you think you don’t like science fiction, you’ll want to read this book. Told you I’m not big into science fiction, but I’ve read this book twice this year (yes it is that good!). I look forward to reading more from Mr. Weir in the future. (Psst…a movie is in the works based on this book; make sure you read the book before you see the movie.)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from Edelweiss. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review: DANGEROUS DENIAL by Amy Ray

Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray
ISBN: 9781935460961 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781935460046 (ebook)
ASIN: B00JJDNZ60 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 8, 2014
Publisher: Barking Rain Press

Denying the past proves deadly for BK Hartshaw and Trevor Mayhew in this gripping noir novel where nothing is as it seems. BK is a rising star at a public relations firm, and tonight’s charity ball should be a high point in her career. But a closely guarded secret threatens to destroy her chance for happiness with the only man she’s ever loved… a man who is also hiding a deadly secret. Trevor has tried to put the past behind him, pretending it never happened. But the conniving father he’s been running from for years has finally found him-and is determined to settle the score once and for all. BK and Trevor’s deeply buried secrets are about to catch up with them-and everyone they know and love. Who will pay the ultimate price for their dangerous denials? 

“The sins of the parents are visited upon their children in this entertaining thriller. BK’s (short for Beatrice Karen) and Trevor’s lives collide when a charity ball erupts into violence. Tightly plotted suspenseful moments and a deftly-executed plot twist combine to keep readers holding onto this novel until the wee hours.” – Publisher’s Weekly 

BK Hartshaw and Shelby Fulton have been best friends since they were teenagers. Shelby was born into a wealthy and influential family. BK’s mother married into a wealth by snaring an entrepreneur. BK and Shelby met when BK moved into her stepfather’s house beside Shelby’s family. They were roommates at boarding school, in college, and again as young, urban professionals striving to make a name for themselves in their chosen professions. Shelby was there for BK when she was ostracized by her family for being fat and tries to be there for her while BK is dealing with anorexia. BK has been by Shelby’s side while she dealt with a psycho stalker and continued to be her support system years later. Shelby is in love with her former high school crush, a doctor, and BK is in love with one of her clients, a young entrepreneur – Max Emerson. Just when they both think that all is right in their worlds they receive the biggest surprises of all. On the night that should be a shining jewel of achievement in BK’s career in public relations, everything seems to spiral out of control and lives are at risk. People aren’t who they seem to be and secrets from the past may end with bloodshed. Will BK and Shelby be able to survive?

I began Dangerous Denial late yesterday evening and read it through until the last page in one sitting. Ms. Ray provides an interesting glimpse into the present with her prologue and then throws you back in time to 1977, 1985-86, 1996, and then back to the present – the early 2000s. At first I wasn’t quite sure how these three time periods would intersect, but trust me having the backstory to the major and minor characters is necessary for everything to make sense. Dangerous Denial provides the reader with a lot in one compact story: mystery, suspense, romance, murder, stalking, rape, eating disorders, child abuse, dysfunctional families, and more. Just when I thought I knew who everyone was and their role in the story, Ms. Ray threw in a nice twist. (No, I’m definitely not going to tell you what the twist is, you’ll have to read the story for yourself!) What I can tell you is that Ms. Ray has crafted an amazingly intricate story with vivid characters that kept this reader’s attention from beginning to end. I found Dangerous Denial to be a fast-paced read with convincing good and bad guys as well as realistic scenarios. If you’re looking for a great mystery-suspense-thriller with a bit of romance and a lot more, then you’ll want to add Dangerous Denial to your TBR list. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Ray in the future. 


Want to dine out and discuss some great books? Enter this giveaway for your chance to win a prize that includes a $25 GC to Applebees AND two ebook downloads from Ms. Ray’s publisher, Barking Rain Press.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the author via TLC Book Tours. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Showcase: FAVORS AND LIES by Mark Gilleo

FavorsandLiesBannerFavors & LiesDan Lord is a forty-year-old private detective with a law degree working the blurred line between right and wrong in the Nation’s Capital. As a self-employed solutions broker and legal consultant, he works for a very select clientele. He doesn’t advertise and only takes cases on referral. But when two people close to him are murdered, Dan’s work becomes very personal.

With the assistance of a newly hired female intern, extracting clues from a ladder of acquaintances, Dan bounds through both the underbelly and elite of society, each step bringing more questions and yet ultimately taking him closer to the answer he seeks. A bail bondsman, a recluse hacker, a court clerk, a university student, an old-school barber, a high-class madam, an intelligence officer, a medical doctor, and a police detective are among the list of people Dan must cajole for help. His quest will lead him to discover things he never wanted to know, and put him in the position to reveal things that important people would prefer remain unrevealed.

Tense, ingenious, and filled with the unforgettable characters, Favors and Lies is Mark Gilleo’s most thrilling novel yet.

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Read an excerpt from the book:

The cab pulled to the curb on one of the city’s myriad one-way streets and Dan spoke through the holes drilled in the security glass. “What’s the damage?”

“Nineteen even.”

Dan stepped from the back of the cab and slipped a twenty through the front passenger window. “Keep the change.”

“Thanks, big spender,” the burly driver replied, shoving the cash into the front pocket of his sweaty shirt.

Dan bent at the waist, his manila folder in hand, and peered into the open window. The glare from Dan’s light-blue eyes melted the driver’s bravado, bringing long-sought momentary silence to the interior of the car. The cabbie muttered something unintelligible and the car pulled away from the curb into evening rush-hour traffic.

Dan straightened his dark blue suit and his red tie before heading down H Street. The business side of the White House sat just beyond Lafayette Square to his left. As a white male in a suit, within spitting distance of the White House, Dan was perfectly camouflaged. Despite the changing face of American society and the dual terms of President Obama, those making the rules remained largely as it always had been – lily white. An hour watching C-Span was the only proof needed.

Dan walked deliberately to the corner of H and 16th streets and silently mingled with a half-dozen likeminded suits waiting for the light. The pedestrian signal changed from an illuminated red hand to the depiction of a person walking. The crowd moved. Dan took three steps toward the street and then froze at the edge of the curb. He scanned his environment for a mirror reaction from anyone in the vicinity. Sometimes the best way to see if you are being followed is to stop. It was a standard counter-surveillance move, likely perfected a hundred thousand years ago by an animal on the Serengeti trying to avoid becoming dinner.

The sidewalk around Dan emptied as the pedestrian signal on the far side of the street began to count down. Dan swiveled his head slowly, finishing with a glance over each shoulder. No one, he thought. At least no one on foot. Walking against traffic on a one-way street mitigated most of the possibilities of being trailed by car.

He waited until the countdown on the pedestrian signal reached five and then crossed the street illegally in the opposite direction, dissecting a group of lawyers and think-tankers on their way to a local watering hole to finish their briefs and pontifications for the evening.

On the far side of the street Dan turned right and headed back in the direction from which he came. Once again he checked for surveillance. Nothing.

Near the end of the block, with a taxi queue ten yards ahead, Dan checked his watch with a casual glance and turned left down an alley without looking back.

He passed several dumpsters and looked up at the darkening sky framed by the buildings on both sides of the alley. A light scent of urine wafted through the air. Under a fire escape near the corner of the building Dan turned again. He followed a staircase downward, his hand running along a worn metal handrail, his shoes trampling cracked concrete steps. Three stories above the urban crevasse, room rates started at eight hundred a night.

Dan forced himself to relax. Feeling out of place was the single greatest contributor for being spotted in an area where one had no earthly business. But with the appropriate behavior and movement, a man in a suit in an alley was no more out of place than a man in overalls in the lobby of an office building. Properly portrayed, every appearance could be overlooked.

Dan reached the bottom of the stairs and admired the collection of discarded cigarette butts thrown half-heartedly at an empty coffee can resting just outside the door. He took one more calming breath and pushed through an unlocked metal door that read “Exit Only” in neat white print.

Unlocked doors were goldmines. Half the buildings in the Nation’s Capital were circumventing million-dollar security systems with propped open doors. A brick here. A doorstop there. If you knew where to look, an employee with a smoking habit could be better than a week of surveillance. Not to mention cheaper and less risky than paying off a doorman.

Inside the building, Dan entered an elbow-room-only foyer facing another door. He watched the light under the closed door and waited for the telltale movement of people on the other side to subside. When the timing was right and the movement ceased, he pulled the knob.

An attractive blonde in an off-the-shoulder red dress took a breath of surprise. Dan muted his response and without pausing pointed towards the men’s room with his chin. “Wrong door.”

The lady in red smiled and Dan followed through on his impromptu ruse and entered the restroom.

“Shit,” Dan whispered, looking into the mirror over a granite sink with gold fixtures. He had rules. One adjustment in the plan was standard. Two put him on notice. Three unforeseen adjustments to a plan and he aborted – immediately and without exception. There was little he could do about the woman in the hall so he pushed it aside. That’s one, he thought. A little early for an adjustment.

The lower level back door at the Hay Adams Hotel was a direct line into the living room of the elite. Off the Record – the appropriately named bar in the basement of the Hay Adams Hotel – boasted a history as long as its client list. It was where the rich blew off steam. People with faces too famous to enjoy a quiet drink in Georgetown or along Connecticut Avenue. Faces from the morning paper and evening news. Off the Record embraced customers who didn’t mind overpaying for drinks or the forty bucks it cost to valet their cars. Money was rapidly becoming the last legal barrier for keeping out the riffraff.

The Hay Adams Hotel, and its subterranean watering hole, was public. Dan could have chosen to walk through the lobby. He could have nodded at the bellhop and doorman as he strolled in unquestioned and unmolested. He could have slowly crossed the ornate wood-paneled entrance and past the polite scrutiny of the front desk as he made his way to the stairs. But why announce your arrival when you didn’t have to? Especially so close to payday.

In the mirror in the bathroom, Dan checked his watch, his hair, his face, his glasses, his teeth, his fingers. He peeked inside his manila folder. He exited the room and walked through the lone swinging door into the bar. He located his target before his first foot hit the deep burgundy carpet. He completed his room assessment by the time his second foot landed. Nine men and four women, he calculated, parsing his headcount before anyone noticed he was in the room. Five men at the bar, two of them seated together, most likely coworkers. Two women alone at a table on the far side of the room in similar black dresses. Waiting for dates, he thought. A table of three huddled in the opposite corner, far enough away to be out of most contingency scenarios. Dan added two more to the headcount for the bartender and waitress, and one more for the lady in red who was now in the bathroom.

Dan stepped from the dark corner near the bathroom and approached a man in his early fifties sitting alone at a table, his hand caressing a glass of Maker’s Mark.

“Judge McMichael,” Dan said, sitting quickly without invitation.

The judge tried not to look surprised but the corner of his eyes betrayed him as they danced towards the entrance of the bar.

“The back door?” the judge asked.

“Bathroom window,” Dan replied straight-faced.

“Am I at the correct table?”

“Yes. Thank you for following instructions.”

Dan didn’t take his eyes off the judge. The judge looked older than his pictures in the press. More stately. Fifty and fit with large hands and sharp eyes. The lighting at the table was romantic – enough light to see the judge, but dark enough to erase cosmetic imperfections from across the table. Perfect call-girl ambiance.

The judge stared back across the table at a short grey mop of curls and wild blue eyes dancing behind thick black-framed glasses. The judge’s eyes dropped to Dan’s hands and the manila folder on the table. Dan noticed the judge’s attention and he covered one hand with the other, both on top of the folder.

“Why don’t we both agree to keep our hands on the table,” Dan suggested before getting to work. “See the two guys at the far end of the bar?”

The judge turned his head slightly.

“They are with me.”

The judge nodded.

“I will make this short and sweet. Your wife has divorce papers for you to sign. She also has an agreement regarding alimony and the custody of your stepson and stepdaughter. She says you have been refusing to sign these documents and have threatened her and her children.”

“Do you know who I am?”

“Yes. Judge Terrance J. McMichael. Born in Naperville, Illinois. Educated at Princeton. Law School at Dartmouth. Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit… also known as the D.C. Circuit. Wife is named Cindy. Stepdaughter is Caroline. Stepson is Craig.”

“And you are?”

“Someone willing to ruin your life. Your wife hired me to make a request on her behalf. You are a highly intelligent man so I’m going to assume you heard my request the first time and that I don’t need to repeat myself.” Dan paused for effect. “You are going to sign the papers.”

“Do you have any idea what I can do to you?”

Dan slid the manila folder into the middle of the table and opened it. The first photograph showed the judge’s wife with raccoon eyes, her nose broken, swollen to…

About the author:

mark gilleoMark Gilleo is the author of three award-winning novels.  His books have won both the National Indie Excellence Award and the Readers’ Favorite Award.   His two most recent novels were finalists in the 2014 International Book Awards.  His latest novel, Favors and Lies, was named Runner-Up for fiction in both the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival and the 2014 New York Book Festival.  Mark has a graduate degree in international business from the University of South Carolina and an undergraduate degree in business from George Mason University.  He enjoys traveling, hiking and biking.  He speaks Japanese.  A fourth-generation Washingtonian, he currently resides in the DC area.  Follow the author on Twitter | Goodreads

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Book Showcase: DON’T FORGET ME, BRO

Don’t Forget Me, Bro by John Michael Cummings
ISBN: 9781622880782 (paperback)
Publication date: December, 2014
Publisher: Stephen F. Austin State University Press (Texas Book Consortium)

Don’t Forget Me, Bro deals with themes of childhood abuse, mental illness, and alienated families. The book opens with the main character, forty-two-year-old Mark Barr, who has returned home from New York to West Virginia after eleven years for his older brother Steve’s funeral. Steve, having died of a heart attack at forty-five, was mentally ill most of his adult life, though Mark has always questioned what was “mentally ill” and what was the result of their father’s verbal and physical abuse during their childhood. The book unfolds into an odyssey for Mark to discover love for his brother posthumously in a loveless family.     

Don’t Forget Me, Bro is a portrait of an oldest brother’s supposed mental illness and unfulfilled life, as well as a redeeming tale of a youngest brother’s alienation from his family and his guilt for abandoning them.


Crossing the field back to my mother’s house, I walked myself deeper into dread of having these photos. To my mother there was one person in the world more pathetic than herself, and she needed Steve, alive or dead, to be that person.

He was her dead baby in her arms. She should have protected him from the man she married, but she didn’t. So she lived with the nails and knots of self-persecution.

Steve smiling, having fun, enjoying himself? Steve getting out of his shoebox apartment and living a little? I did not come here to snap anyone’s twisted thinking. No to showing these photos to my family.

After stashing them in the backseat of my rental, I stepped inside my mother’s house to find a worse surprise: my father sitting in the center of the lemon-yellow sofa, Granddad’s deathbed. It was, I immediately thought, the one inevitable location for him.

When the sofa was moved into our house from Grandma’s, Mom immediately made it off-limits to us, including Dad. Dad never liked Granddaddy Roy. One time they actually had words in front of us. For most of my childhood, the sofa was invisibly roped off. It was also pulled out from the wall like a hideously colored, cotton upholstered sarcophagus. After all these years, my father, who hadn’t lived in this house since I was in high school, when he and Mom separated, was happily sitting on the sofa—no, triumphantly parked on it, one-upping both Mom and his long-dead father-in-law once and for all. 

I closed the front door behind me, and my eleven years had never happened. No battered car or truck outside, nothing to warn me he was here.

He raised his head as if expecting me.

“Well, the prodigal son returns,” he said. 

He was in front of my eyes before I had a chance to be startled. His voice was no different, still piping out the same sarcasm. In the primrose-yellow light of afternoon coming through the wavy old window panes, his complexion was a strange off-shade of creamed coffee. His short hair was this same muddy-ash.

“Hello,” I said.

Two syllables. With my father, every uttered sound was a tripwire. 

“You wanna see something?” he asked.

He lifted from his lap and held out an exceptional vase—teal, metallic, finely grooved, as if turned on a lathe.

I stepped past so much in this living room that was still his—a brass powder horn lamp and, on an end table, a miniature Viking ship with a dragon’s head bow and a lashing tail stern, a dozen little oars on either side, which my father had put together from a kit.

When I extended my arm to take this curious-looking vase from him, he pulled it back.

“Know what it’s for?” he asked. 

Flowers? That would be my guess. 

“You don’t?” His voice rounded down in disappointment.

As soon as he turned a veiny temple toward me, I knew. 

Steve’s urn.

A glint in his eyes as he again raised the urn. Warily, I reached for it, eyeing his big-knuckled hand. At the last minute, he tomahawk-chopped the base of the urn down snugly into my palm—not hard, but hard enough.

He held tight to it. But so did I. Then he gave it a sharp pull, sending a snap through my arm and shoulder, and a tug-of-war over the urn was underway. I had no good hold on the wide end of the urn, and he had every advantage grasping the narrow neck. He grinned slightly, the faintest indication of affection. Then, as strangely as it had all started, our arms became relaxed, and the urn felt like a prosthetic handshake between us. He let go, and I stepped back with it.
Just like him to make a little game out of handing it to me.

Everything on his terms.

The urn—not metal, ceramic, or painted glass—and lightweight. If dropped, it would bounce like a plastic water pitcher.

My redneck brother inside this thing? He’d drink beer out of it. 

“Now I understand from your mother you gave her some words. Some nonsense about being buried?” He pointed across the living room at the big framed picture of my grandfather.

“Near old Roy the family man?”

Roy the family man, as my father liked to put it, had a halo around him for being everything my father was not—soft-spoken, devoted to his children, a good neighbor.

“It wasn’t nonsense,” I muttered. “Steve told me he did.” 

My father leaned forward on the deathbed. 

“He told you? Well, whoop–de–do! That damn boy told me a lot of things too. Never carried through with one of them. Told me he was going into the Air Force—but did he?”

I didn’t answer.

“But since he told you, well hell, I guess I should just run out and do whatever he says—is that what you drove all the way down here to say?”

There was but one move here. The nowhere move. Like in chess, when you just stare down at the board, pretending to think, knowing it’s hopeless.

“Laziness. That was Steve’s problem his whole life…quit that good job at Jacobs Concrete. Not a word to anyone, just walked off the site. Damn his foolish little heart.”

I actually understood my father’s ugliness. His sons hated him. Didn’t he realize why we did?

Even as a child I had known that his slapping me and kicking me made him a bad man. Five times my age of five and didn’t know or care? As an old man, he was still a bully. 

I rolled Steve’s urn around in my hands.

“Now when you’re finished looking, you can set it down”—he pecked his finger down on the coffee table—”right beside his picture, just where the little devil can look at what he did to himself.”

I was finished. I put the urn beside Steve’s high school graduation picture, which I couldn’t look at, and turned toward the darkened kitchen doorway. I got the feeling my mother wasn’t in the house.

“And for your information, buster, before you run off, the church doesn’t want him buried.”

Caught in a pivot, I glared over my shoulder. 

“You heard me. Not in St. Mary’s Cemetery anyway. Your brother—and careful how you look at me—had a reputation.”

“Yeah, well, he was still Catholic.”

“The hell he was—and don’t smart mouth me!” He leaned down with one forearm against his knee and sighted me as if I were a billiard ball at the end of a pool cue. “Another thing, old family sweetheart Roy over there wouldn’t want your damn brother buried near him.”

Clearly the old bastard didn’t want me here. I got that. But what could I do? Erase myself for another decade until someone else died?

Meet the author:

John Michael Cummings’ short stories and essays have appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including The Iowa Review, North American Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Kenyon Review. Twice he has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. His short story “The Scratchboard Project” received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

He is the author of the nationally acclaimed coming-of-age novel The Night I Freed John Brown (Philomel Books, Penguin Group, 2009), winner of The Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers (Grades 7-12) and one of ten books recommended by USA TODAY for Black History month.

He is also the author of the short story collection Ugly To Start With (West Virginia University Press, 2011), which The Philadelphia Inquirer calls a work of “sharp observation and surpassing grace.”

*Please check back in December for links to purchase this book.

BEAM N READ Personal Reading Light Promo & Giveaway

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    Book Blitz: COMING TO ROSEMONT by Barbara Hinske

    Coming to Rosemont by Barbara Hinske

    Women’s Fiction / Contemporary

    Date Published: February  18, 2013

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    Maggie travels to Westbury for the stated purpose of listing Rosemont for immediate sale, but what she really seeks are answers to her all-consuming questions about her sham of a marriage; her sham of a life. She never anticipated the seductive charm of Rosemont. Throwing her trademark caution to the wind, and over the objections of her opinionated grown children, she pulls up stakes and moves halfway across the country, determined to make a fresh start in Westbury. Behind closed doors, however, lurks a cadre of evildoers, playing with multiple wild cards of fraud, embezzlement and arson.

    With a quiet, orderly — and distinctively solitary — life in mind, Maggie is instead thrown headlong into a crusade against political corruption, where defeat and retreat are not an option. Still bearing the scars of betrayal, will she find joy, romance and possibility in Westbury?

    This fast-paced, smart novel has enough twists and turns to make the reader want to buckle in!


    From chapter 9

    Maggie dropped to her knees and threw her arms around the squirming dog.  “You don’t know how much I appreciate being able to have Eve with me tonight,” she beamed up at John.  “My flight was delayed and I had a Chatty-Cathy car rental agent.  I drove like a maniac to get here. I’m really very grateful you waited.  The lot was empty and I thought that I was too late.”

    “It was no trouble.  I was catching up on paperwork,” John assured her.  “I live on the other side of the Square and walk to work, weather permitting.  I usually stop at one of the restaurants on the way home for dinner.”

    “Are you done?  Would you like a lift home?”

    John knew an opportunity when he saw one.  “I just need to lock up,” he said.  “Are you hungry?  Or are you full of delicious airline food,” he mocked.  When she shook her head and indicated that she was, indeed, starved, he proposed that the three of them walk over to Pete’s for dinner. They could leave her car at the Hospital and she could drop him off at his house after dinner.

    From chapter 7

    “What do you mean, mom?  Fresh start?  I don’t get it,” Susan finally replied.

    “You know how awkward things have been for me with the College crowd.  The new President and his wife are headed in a different direction and don’t want me hanging around.  I don’t feel like I fit anywhere anymore.  Helen is the only friend that I continue to see,” she said.  Maggie raised her hand to hush their objections.  “You both have your own lives.  I need to have mine.  I can run my business from anywhere with a phone and a computer.”

    “So you’re thinking of moving there?” Susan choked.

    “That’s exactly what I’ve decided to do,” Maggie replied with her best attempt at a firm, confident voice.

    “But you don’t know anyone there,” Susan protested.

    “Won’t you rattle around in that huge house all alone?  Won’t that make you feel more alone?” Mike interjected for the first time.

    “You know, that’s the part I’m most sure of.  That I won’t be lonely in that house.  When the front door closed behind me that first night, I knew I was home.  I never told you, but I checked out of the hotel and moved into Rosemont the night I arrived,” Maggie said.  Mike and Susan exchanged a skeptical glance.  “And you know, the most extraordinary thing happened the next morning.  I adopted a lost dog.  Or more accurately, she adopted me,” Maggie said, and told them about Eve.  “So you see, I won’t be alone there,” Maggie finished.

    Both children remained silent.  Astonished, Maggie thought with a measure of satisfaction.

    From chapter 4

    “Now,” Tonya said, “As you know, I have been calling for an independent audit of Westbury’s books.  At first, I simply thought this was a good practice.  I never dreamed that something could be wrong.  But the more I requested and pushed for one, the more the Mayor and the other Council Members balked and stalled and misdirected the conversation.”

    “I grew up the oldest child in a large family,” she continued.  “I’ve heard plenty of wild excuses and tall tales in my time.  My mother always knew when one of us was lying, and I guess I’ve inherited her nose for nonsense.”  At this, a chuckle rippled through the crowd.  “I felt like I was back in my mother’s kitchen with my brothers when these guys were making excuses to avoid an audit,” she said.  “So I got my back up and decided that I was going to find out about the town’s finances one way or the other.  And at last week’s Town Council meeting I finally got my chance.  Mayor Wheeler left the bank statement out on the Council table in plain sight when we went to recess.”  Tonya paused for dramatic effect.  “So I spent my recess pouring through it.  Long story short, the general account is about half of what was reported in the treasurer’s report and the pension fund was short by almost forty percent,” she announced, as a gasp escaped from the crowd.

    Side conversations started up all over the room.  Tonya raised her hands and gestured for quiet.  “At this point, I don’t have a good picture of where the money has gone.  I confronted the Mayor and Council when we resumed after recess.  They scolded me for looking at ‘confidential Town information’, as they called it, telling me that I didn’t understand what I was looking at.  ‘Well, enlighten me,’ I said.  Instead, they quickly adjourned the meeting.  I’ve been calling the Mayor and each of my fellow Council Members ever since and no one has been available to take my call.  And they’re not coming to their offices, either.”

    “They’ve all gone to ground,” she continued.  “And you hunters in the crowd know what that means.  We have to drive them out of their hidey-holes.  And this is where I desperately need your help.  Each and every one of you.”

    About the Author

    Barbara Hinske







    Buy Link



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