2016 Book 282: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT by Sarah Title

Practice Makes Perfect by Sarah Title
ISBN: 9781601836854 (ebook)
ASIN: B018CGZ1JI (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 30, 2016 
Publisher: Lyrical Shine

Sometimes the best surprises come wrapped in a bow-tie…

Helen Lee has a top-secret dream: to publish a romance novel. There’s just one problem, and her most recent rejection letter doesn’t mince words: Helen can’t write a love scene to save her life. As Head of Reference at Willow Springs, Kentucky’s Pembroke College, Helen is hoping her library research skills will do the trick. But she may have to resort to a far more “hands-on” course of study. Luckily, there’s someone who’s more than happy to instruct her…

History professor Henry Beckham has noticed that his friend, Helen, is behaving strangely. Known for her laser sharp focus—not to mention her snorting laugh—she’s been oddly distracted. He misses that laugh. But it all makes sense when he catches Helen researching erotic writing and discovers her ambition. She seems to think her only option is to die of embarrassment or give up and surrender to spinsterhood in the company of her two basset hounds. Good thing Henry has a much more real-life approach in mind. And his tutorial just might teach them both a thing or two…

Helen Lee is a research librarian extraordinaire. Her colleagues respect her research abilities. Her friends like and love her. Her two adopted basset hounds, George and Tammy, adore her. The only thing missing from Helen’s life is success as a romance author…oh, and having a love life. And apparently, the lack of the latter has gravely influenced the lack of success as a writer. The only thing left for Helen to do is research the heck out of sex/love scenes in Sarah Title’s latest addition to the Southern Comfort series, Practice Makes Perfect.

Helen finally receives a rejection letter that provides constructive criticism on her romance novel. Everything she’s written works except for the sex/love scenes and since the book is being submitted as an erotic romance there’s obviously a problem. Fortunately, Helen knows how to research almost any topic. Unfortunately for Helen, her friends, especially history professor Henry Beckham, notices that Helen is not being herself. After getting Helen to admit what’s going on, he does the only thing a true friend can do and that’s offer to help her in her research and that leads to lots of kissing and sex. 

Practice Makes Perfect is, in my opinion, the perfect addition to the Southern Comfort series by Sarah Title. It is a fast-paced and enjoyable read that provides all of the hallmark elements of a Sarah Title read: sweet and sexy romance, sassy characters and dialogue, and humor. Seriously, what’s not to love about a sex-starved librarian turned erotic romance writer and a history professor that hides his assets behind suits and bow-ties, throw in the two adopted basset hounds  and you’ve got the perfect romance read. If you’ve never read anything by Ms. Title and enjoy reading romance, Practice Makes Perfect may be the perfect entry into the world of the Southern Comfort series. If you’re not sure about romance reads but want something quick and sassy to read, then I urge you to read Practice Makes Perfect. Just in case you couldn’t tell, I enjoyed reading Practice Makes Perfect and I look forward to reading more from Ms. Title in the future.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this book 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 Showcase: QUILT OF SOULS by Phyllis Lawson

Quilt of Souls by Phyllis Lawson 
ISBN: 9781507789759 (paperback)
ASIN: B00V8QTPXS (Kindle edition)
Publication date: March 13, 2015 

Like many Black Americans of the mid-twentieth century, Phyllis Lawson’s parents moved from their hometown of Livingston, Alabama to the big city in search of a better life. It wasn’t long before hardships left them unable to provide.

Soon, four-year-old Phyllis is plucked off her front porch, ripped away from the only family she knows and sent to live with her grandmother Lula on an Alabama farm with no electricity, plumbing, or running water.

Heartbroken by her mother’s abandonment, Phyllis struggles to acclimate to her new surroundings. Thanks to the unconditional love of Grandma Lula and the healing powers of an old, tattered quilt, she is finally able to adjust to her new life.

In Quilt of Souls, Lawson documents her childhood growing up with the incredible woman who raised her and the powerful family heirloom that served as the cloth that would forever stitch their lives together.

With its tales of family, despair, freedom and hope, the true story behind this deeply personal memoir serves as the inspiration for http://www.quiltofsouls.org/, where individuals share relics and stories from their own family histories.

Read an excerpt: 


There were some deep and troubled times during the 1940s and 50s when many Blacks made the long trek north to large American cities in search of better living conditions. Once they got established and began having babies, hardships arose. They’d end up sending a child or two down south to live with grandparents; grandparents they might never had met before. Just like that, a young’un would be plucked off their front porch, out of the only family they knew and without explanation, left on the doorstep of virtual strangers. Sometimes these children didn’t return north until they were teenagers. Sometimes they never returned.

I was one of these “Grandma’s other babies;” four years old taken from my home and driven sixteen hours down the road in a car full of strangers, to a house in the middle of nowhere, with grandparents I never met before. I was abandoned. No way around it. The stigma of being given away followed me around for many years, like a lost puppy nipping at my heels.

It took my grandmother’s love and an old, tattered quilt to repair my self-esteem and return me to wholeness. She was responsible for preparing me to overcome a myriad of obstacles, and tilled the soil for my resiliency. She built me a solid foundation as I prepared to face an uncertain and harsh future over the next twenty years.

Grandma Lula told me stories of the amazing, and often tragic lives of her loved ones as she wove pieces of their clothing into quilts she made by hand. I sat and listened intensely. I connected with those people whose stories and souls were transformed into a patchwork of healing with every pull of the thread. I knew one day I’d retell them as Grandma Lula conveyed them to me.

I may have long since forgotten the first time I rode a bike, received my first kiss, or got my driver’s license, but I never forgot Grandma’s stories of the Quilt of Souls. They stitched my broken heart back together and healed my life.

Those heroic grandmothers of the 1950s and 60s have been passed over by history. No notice has been taken of how they toiled to raise grandchildren who were left on their doorsteps: the endless hours of changing diapers and drying the tears of those young children who were considered surplus. Like other grandmothers from her era, Grandma Lula was a pioneer, a symbol of hope who found alternative ways to soften the horrors of racism and bigotry. She made beautiful quilts as a way for people to refocus their gaze from the ugliness. Even if only temporarily. She was an impenetrable wall that weathered all the storms of life. Through her, I learned the meaning of unconditional love. She was my rock. She taught me everything I needed to know about life, including all its twists and turns. She solidified my ability to conquer any roadblock that stood before me. I can’t stop thinking about the stories of those people whose clothes were embedded into her quilts. Their lives interrupted, cut short, and the children who suffered and died needlessly.

Years later, I know these stories are what carried me through the most difficult periods of my life including, emotional and physical abuse and homelessness. The days of quilting with Grandma became a period of transformation for me. The pillars of our culture are those unwavering grandmothers who held up, and continue to hold up, multitudes of children and families. The debt of gratitude I owe these women who loved me so completely is one that can never be repaid. I honor them by embodying the lessons they taught me.

Meet the author:

Ms. Lawson was born in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of four, she was sent to the tiny town of Livingston, Alabama to be raised by her grandmother Lula Horn (1883-1986), who made beautiful quilts out of the clothing of her loved ones. Each strip of fabric tells the story of the wearer’s life and death. She shared these mostly tragic and sometimes witty tales with little Phyllis as she sewed their clothes into a quilt that threaded broken lives back together. Ms. Lawson now shares these profound stories with the world as Grandmother Lula told them to her.

After graduating from High School, Ms. Lawson joined the United States Air Force as a WAF (Women’s Air Force) and was one of the first female B-52 mechanics. She served one tour in the Air Force and left the service in 1978. She used her military educational benefits to attend the University of Maryland, receiving a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Sociology and Social Work. She spent twenty years working as a counselor for incarcerated youth, women who were victims of domestic violence, and with youth and adults suffering from alcohol/substance abuse. Three of those years were spent in the United States Army Reserves.

Following a seventeen-year break in 2002, Ms. Lawson returned to the military as a member of the U.S. Army National Guard and Active Duty Service, retiring from the U.S Army in 2013. After retiring from the military, Ms. Lawson spent the following two years writing her memoir Quilt of Souls, released March 13, 2015. Ms. Lawson currently resides in Viera/Suntree, Florida with her husband Larry. She has two sons and five granddaughters.

Connect with the author:

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Guest Post: Bill Larkin – BULLET IN THE BLUE SKY

The Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to host a visit from Bill Larkin, author of Detective Lessons and the recently released Bullet in the Blue Sky. Today Mr. Larkin will be discussing with us the importance of place in fiction, especially in crime fiction and thrillers. 

On Crime Fiction and Thrillers: 
Why Place and Setting Matters

“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

Setting helps shape any novel, movie or TV show, but the canvas of Southern California is a particularly broad and varied one. Many giants of the crime fiction genre wrote or write here – Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Walter Mosley, James Ellroy, T. Jefferson Parker, Joseph Wambaugh, Michael Connelly, and Robert Crais. And dozens of other authors.

People still come to Southern California to chase their dreams, not just in Hollywood. There is a gravity to the place, and a burnout – people leave too. It offers the promise of nice weather, beautiful people, the entertainment industry, top universities, surfing, skiing, the casual lifestyle, and prosperity, but what’s also here many incredibly different pockets of demographics, corruption, natural disasters, over-crowding, heady politics, expensive real estate, the country’s most traffic-clogged freeways, and a lot of crime.

A familiar setting hits home to a reader who has been to places described. Familiar or not, setting always contributes to the mood and nuance of a story. Nobody wrote about a city better than Raymond Chandler wrote about Los Angeles. He is widely acknowledged by many crime writers to have influenced and motivated them, including me. Even though his books are some sixty years old, they so perfectly describe Los Angeles, even today. It tells you a lot about Philip Marlowe by how he traverses and interprets the city.

Chandler’s books take you so marvelously to a time and place in Los Angeles, with vivid characters and a city of darkness hiding in plain sunlight. Marlowe gives the reader all the confidence and coolness that you want to travel with him. See what he sees, learn what he figures out, and demonstrate that the fix was in. A lonely man whose insight is perceptive and who is not afraid of power, money, or the law. To me, his books are literary gold and to this day, they hold up extremely well in most respects.

A character has a certain relationship with the physical environment, the social underpinnings, the politics, and how he or she fits into the setting. The character must find order, make life-and-death choices, dispense justice, and maybe make somebody’s life better. The only rule is if you have a homicide, don’t make it a real restaurant!

The vast majority of places I write about are places I’ve been, worked, or visited. Mostly in Southern California, which encompasses over 12 million people and at least one hundred cities each with a population over 50,000. It’s such a vast landscape of different locales, socio-economic pockets, cultures, and world-famous landmarks.

Part of the premise to my new release, Bullet in the Blue Sky, is that the characters don’t know what’s really happening. Reality and the truth are illusory and elusive. Los Angeles captures that essence. It’s always changing and it’s always the same.

Meet the author:

Bill Larkin

Bill Larkin writes crime fiction and is the author of two highly-acclaimed books: Bullet in the Blue Sky and Detective Lessons. He has also written several short stories, including The Highlands and Shadow Truth, both Amazon category bestsellers. Bill previously served as a reserve with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, then the Los Angeles Police Department where he worked in four different divisions and a detective assignment. Bill is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.

Catch Up With Mr. Larkin:

Bill Larkin’s Website Bill Larkin’s Twitter

Bullet in the Blue Sky by Bill Larkin coverIn the chaotic aftermath of a massive earthquake that leveled much of the Los Angeles region, a LAPD deputy chief sends an elite team of detectives on a rescue mission. They are ordered to set aside all law enforcement duties, to ignore the destruction and to focus on one task: Find LAPD Detective Gavin Shaw, who disappeared just before the earthquake.

Kevin “Schmitty” Schmidt of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department joins five others on the rescue team. With rioting, looting, attacks and homicides rampant in the streets, the six cops have to defend themselves while chasing down leads on the whereabouts of Shaw. The mission takes them through the dizzying war zone and the more they encounter, the more they wonder why they are searching for one man in these extreme circumstances. Why is this man so important to the deputy chief, and why now?

Schmitty discovers that others with high connections are also after Shaw. The questions pile even higher when they learn of a shadowy history between Shaw and the deputy chief. A history with deadly consequences for the team as they uncover a threat that elevates the mission to a race against time.

Book Details:

Genre:  Crime Fiction
Published by:   Indie
Publication Date:   August 4th 2016
Number of Pages:  366
ISBN:   978-0-9894002-1-3
Purchase Links: Amazon  Barnes & Noble  Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

The adjunct lieutenant moved into the conference room and stood behind Jenkins and off to the side. Jenkins now addressed our five–person team.

“Your orders are to find Detective Gavin Shaw. He’s a member of Major Crimes and I need him here or I need to know where he is. That’s it. Nothing more.”
As Jenkins paused, several of the detectives looked at each other. Anderson opened her mouth. “Is he—”
Jenkins put up a hand. “You are not, repeat not, to take on law enforcement duties. You are not out to arrest looters, answer radio calls, help firefighters, or anything else you think you ought to be doing. Your only assignment is to find Shaw. And find him as fast as you possibly can. Am I clear?”
“Can I ask the importance of Detective Shaw at this juncture?” Mata said.
“No, you may not. Find him and bring him to me.”
“A search-and-rescue mission?” Anderson said in a puzzled tone.
“Call it that, Anderson. Lieutenant Tallon is in charge and you’d better be aware of what you’re facing. This city is falling apart. Aside from the destruction, there are forty-five thousand gang members and at least that same number of state parolees and felons on probation. Then there are the opportunists who will loot, burglarize, and kill without the police to stop them. That’s probably a hundred fifty thousand bad guys in a city of rubble and fire.”
Jenkins let that number sink in a moment. The man projected political polish, as I would expect from somebody of his rank, but he didn’t hide his edgy urgency.
He went on. “The LAPD has almost ten thousand sworn, but who knows how many are still alive, much less how many can physically get mobilized. Break that down into twelve-hour shifts and there might be two thousand cops in the whole city at any given time. Three thousand if we’re lucky.”
Lieutenant Tallon said, “Sir that makes the odds against the LAPD about sixty-to-one.” His voice carried both cordiality and self-assurance.
Jenkins nodded. “That’s right. But you will be undercover. Plain clothes and a plain vehicle.”
“Where is Shaw?” Anderson asked.
“I don’t know.” Jenkins nodded to his adjunct who stepped forward and handed a folder to Tallon, then stepped back. “Here is his address and personal information. Best guess is home, but start wherever you need to and find the man.”
Anderson made a small snort. “What if he’s dead?”
“You find him, either way.”
One thing was for sure. Jenkins wasn’t sugarcoating the assignment.
“What about help from the outside?” I asked.
“In time. They’ll mobilize the National Guard and we’ll get relief and search-and-rescue teams, but it’ll take days.”
Tallon said, “We’ll be mostly on our own for the first forty-eight hours. Keep in mind just about every other city in Southern California has the same problems. Some worse, some better.”
“Jesus,” Anderson said.
Tallon said, “Chief, you’ll be here? We bring Shaw here?”
“At this time, I am in command of the department. The chief, assistant and other deputy chiefs have not yet been in contact. That means I’m the Director of Emergency Operations until further notice. That’s all. Dismissed.”
Jenkins motioned to Tallon to follow him and they stepped outside of the conference room with the adjunct lieutenant close behind. Tallon stood about six inches taller than the deputy chief, but Jenkins didn’t seem the least bit intimidated.
The doorway stayed open and I stood up, keeping my back to them, but close enough to hear.
“Lieutenant, I don’t know you very well, but I’ll tell you this with certainty. This is the most difficult challenge you’ll ever face on this job. I was told you have the intellect, resourcefulness, and tenacity to carry this out. Do not disappoint me.”
I heard Jenkins walk away. When I turned, Tallon had locked eyes with the other lieutenant. A beat later, she hurried after her boss.
** / **

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for Bill Larkin. There will be ONE (1) prize & ONE (1) Winner for this tour. The winner will receive 1 copy of Bullet in the Blue Sky by Bill Larkin. Winners within the United States may choose either an eBook or a physical book, however, winners outside the US can only receive an eBook. This is subject to change without notification. The giveaway begins on August 1st and runs through September 30th, 2016.

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Guest Post: Lynne Constantine – THE VERITAS DECEPTION

Hello, my bookish peeps. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Lynne Constantine, author of The Veritas Deception. Ms. Constantine will be discussing The Veritas Deception, from conception, writing, editing, rewriting, proofreading, to print, or “the birth of a book.” Please welcome Lynne Constantine.

The Birth of a Book

Books, like children, begin with an idea, a spark, a desire to create something out of ourselves. The idea for The Veritas Deception came to me over twenty years ago when I was working full-time in corporate America. At the time, my writing consisted of persuasive marketing pieces aimed at changing consumer behavior. I began to think about the extent to which we are influenced by media and advertising and from these musings my book began to take shape.

Over the next twenty years, in between changing jobs, having children, homeschooling children, moving, and other life events, I picked it up and put it down too many times to count. Finally, four years ago, after attending my first Thrillerfest writer’s conference in New York, I decided it was time to get serious about my writing again.

I built a website, e-published an earlier book, wrote two other books and finished The Veritas Deception. I attempted to get an agent for a year, and after coming close several times, finally decided to publish on my own. I developed a crowdfunding campaign and raised money to publish independently.

Thanks to referrals from other author friends, I found the perfect editor for my book—one who had been a top New York editor for years and was available for freelance work for the first time. When she handed me a fifty-page “letter” with suggested changes, I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t pick it back up for over a week. I took ninety percent of her suggestions, expanded the plot and had to go back and do a lot more research. I worked on the book all last summer, and she and I went through several rounds before she deemed it “ready.”

But the work was far from over. Still ahead were all the production steps required and normally handled by a publishing house. While the idea of going “indie” appealed to the entrepreneur and marketer in me, I will admit to being a little daunted at all the tasks needing to be done. Next step was the copy editor and deciding on which of her suggestions to take. That took another couple of months. By spring, the book was ready and marketing and production was in full swing.

I started a publishing company with my sister, Sailor Dance Publishing, and put together a marketing plan. Cover design, manuscript conversion, ISBN procurement, social media promotion, and arranging for launch tours has kept me very busy. But the hardest part has been the proofreading and proofreading and proofreading. I used to stress over a single marketing letter to make sure it was perfect before sending out. Imagine having to make sure that 300 pages plus are all error free. I read aloud—that’s the best way to catch contextual typos and have at this writing read the book at least three times aloud (not to mention the dozens of times I’ve read it after changes and developments). No matter how much you like your book, after reading it that many times, you never want to read it again. I have one, maybe two more read alouds to look forward to before the book launches on August 10th—a date I chose to honor my mother as it is her birthday.

Now comes the fun and scary part. The launch. Will others like it? Will it sell? Will I get criticized? (of course). It’s hard to let it go after developing and nurturing it for so long. But it’s time to push it out into the world and let it speak for itself. And it’s time for me to move on to my next book. And I’m ready. Almost.

Meet the author:

Lynne is a Twitter addicted fiction writer always working on her next book. She is the coauthor of Circle Dance, a family saga spanning three generations, that received an endorsement from Olympia Dukakis. She is also a social media consultant and speaker, working with authors to build their brand platforms. Lynne teaches at various workshops and has spoken at the Thrillerfest conference in New York. She is a monthly contributor to SUSPENSE MAGAZINE and a contributing editor to THE BIG THRILL magazine.

Connect with the author:     Website     |     Twitter     |     Facebook 

The Veritas Deception by Lynne Constantine
ISBN: 9780997694215 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780997694222 (ebook)
ASIN: B01H3TCWC4 (Kindle version)
Publication Date: August 10, 2016
Publisher: Sailor Dance Publishing

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.Proverbs 14:21

Days after US Senator Malcolm Phillips changes his vote on a bill he sponsored, he is murdered and his death disguised as an accident. He contacted one man before he died: investigative journalist, Jack Logan. He left Jack a single clue to help him uncover the truth and keep Phillips’s widow, Taylor, safe. But safe from whom? 

Jack and Taylor’s desperate hunt leads them to a vast network of corrupt authority, controlling everything from social media and television programming to law enforcement and US legislation. The key to unraveling a complex web of lies is a set of ancient relics, dating back to the time of Christ. But what do these relics have to do with a senator’s death? 

Allies turn to foes when Jack and Taylor discover that those closest to them are part of the conspiracy and that they too have been manipulated. How long has a puppet master been pulling their strings—and will Jack and Taylor trust the right people long enough to win what becomes a colossal battle for souls?

Watch the book trailer and read a sample here.

Enter to win 1 of 4 prizes. This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for Lynne Constantine. There will be 4 US winners. There will be FOUR (4) different prizes for this tour. Each winner will receive only one prize. The prizes are as noted on the rafflecopter. This is subject to change without notification. The giveaway begins on August 1st and runs through August 30th, 2016.

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Guest Post: Peter M. Parr, author of ESCAPE TO REDEMPTION

Good morning my bookish peeps. Today, the Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to host a visit from Peter M. Parr, author of Escape to Redemption. Mr. Parr will be discussing his writing and editing process. 

Writing is a mixture of inspiration and perspiration. Occasionally I’ll sit at the computer – or more often with a pen and notepad in my armchair – and the words will simply flow. Or I may be lying in bed at night and, unbidden, a sentence or a phrase will come to me… and (somewhat grudgingly!) I switch on the light to jot it down. More often, the going is a lot harder. It may take me a month to grind out a chapter… I’m talking here about a first draft. At this early stage, I have to remind myself that it’s important to get something – anything – down on paper. What daunts me is a blank page. Once I have the spine of a scene, it’s relatively easy to expand on and enhance. 

Every chapter of Escape to Redemption went through at least six drafts – and in some cases, many more than that. After I’d written a first draft of a scene, perhaps little more than an outline, I’d print it out and set to work on it with my red pen. It’s an eighty-minute train journey from where I live, on the south coast of England, to London… a perfect opportunity to do some editing. Each time I travelled to London for work, or to meet friends, I’d develop or improve a scene: putting meat on the bones of dialogue, honing descriptions, reading and re-reading to see how it flowed. Then, at home, I’d type up my changes and print off a clean version of the document to work on again. After three or four drafts I’d reach the point where I began to cut more than I added… pruning superfluous dialogue or descriptions until the pace felt right.

The novels I most enjoy tend to have compelling and rounded protagonists. I prefer a flawed hero or heroine; someone neither too perfect nor all bad. Even the minor characters should have depth to them. I spend a lot of time getting to know my own characters; gaining a sense of what makes them tick, their likes and dislikes, hopes and fears. When I write a scene from a character’s perspective, in my mind I become them. I’m aware of their history, and their motivation – even beyond what’s recorded in the novel. I attempt to think as they’d think and speak with their voice. One of the key things I look out for when I’m editing is whether I’ve portrayed the characters in an authentic way. Do the characters drive what happens next, as opposed to saying or doing something simply to conform to the plot? I’m not afraid to change the direction a chapter takes if the way I’ve initially planned it doesn’t feel true to how the characters would behave. 

Before submitting a book to a publisher, I put it aside for several months. The time gap means that, when I return to do a final edit, I can look at the text with fresh eyes. The homestretch of the editing process is what I call polishing. I’ve read a number of books, especially self-published ones, which had the potential to be good, but which in my view were let down by a lack of keen editing. It’s amazing what a difference small changes make; how much tighter and more professional a book can be made to feel. For example, I search for words or phrases which I may have overused. I have a checklist of suspects which I cut or replace unless there’s no alternative – words such as ‘seem’ or ‘just’ or anything ending in ‘‒ly’. In dialogue, I tend to stick with ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, rather than use alternatives like ‘interrupted’, ‘suggested’ or ‘screamed’. ‘Said’ is almost invisible on the page, whereas the other words stand out more and may slow the dialogue down. If it isn’t apparent from the context that a character has interrupted or screamed, I take it as a sign that I need to get my red pen out and refine that section of dialogue again.

Some writers can pen a great novel in six months. I’m not one of them. Trying to force out a book within a set amount of time would, to me, mean compromising on quality and depth. Everything in nature has its own rhythm and I believe the creative writing process does too. It’s important that we enjoy that process and engage in it wholeheartedly. If we can do that, I think we’re more likely to create a story that’s authentic – one that was uniquely ours to tell. 

Meet the author:

Peter M. Parr works part-time as a civil servant, which gives him time to indulge his passion for writing. He facilitates workshops to encourage people to reflect on what truly matters. He lives in Hastings, England, overlooking the sea. Escape to Redemption is his first novel.

Website: http://www.thingstoremember.org.uk/

Escape to Redemption by Peter M. Parr
ISBN: 9781785352270 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781785352287 (ebook)
ASIN: B01G2M4LYA (Kindle version)
Publication Date: June 24, 2016
Publisher: Roundfire Books

Josie only had the gun to frighten Curtis Rook, but his son disturbed her. One startled reflex and now he’s dead. Josie flees to Poland leaving her boyfriend Snaz to take the rap. A reformed criminal offers her refuge from the police and the chance to begin a new life, but she cannot hide from her guilt. As the stakes rise, Josie begins to realise that only her own forgiveness can set her free. 

Fast-paced and original, Peter M. Parr’s contemporary take on Crime and Punishment challenges traditional ideas about guilt and redemption, and the meaning of forgiveness. 

Read an excerpt:

Snaz caught up with Josie at the top of the staircase.

‘Sorry for my mum’s comment about reading the meters. She’s a bit of a racist, I’m afraid,’ Josie said.

‘Is that what it is?’

‘My mum and I share a mutual antipathy. When I go up to Oxford next month I’ll be out of her hair and she won’t need to worry. You look shocked, Snaz. I bet you’re really sweet to your mother.’

‘I never see her,’ he said.


‘She… It’s a long story. My aunt brought me up.’

Josie looked like she might say something, but didn’t. After a pause she went into her bedroom. ‘Make yourself at home,’ she told him, closing the door and then perching on the chair by her dressing table. He marvelled at the clutter of perfumes and make-up bottles.

Snaz saw no chair to sit on, only her single bed. He meandered to the window and looked out onto the back garden. ‘You’ve got a tennis court!’

‘Do you play?’ she asked.

‘Never have.’

‘Pity. I’d have given you a game.’

Snaz kicked himself for missing out on a chance to see her in a skimpy tennis outfit. ‘I play football,’ he said, the first thing that came to him. When she showed no interest, he changed the subject. ‘Is that photo of your dad?’

Josie nodded.

‘You get on better with him than with your mum?’

‘He’s alright, when he’s actually here. He’s always off on business trips. The States, usually. I think he’s in Poland this time.’

‘What does he do?’

‘He runs his own business putting buyers in touch with sellers. Sometimes it’s property. Sometimes it’s art. I don’t think he cares too much if there’s money in it. One day he might stop and enjoy what he has.’

Snaz groped for something else to say. He noticed a higgledy-piggledy stack of CDs on the chest of drawers and was about to ask her what music she liked.

‘I wanted to thank you again for what you did,’ she said.

‘That’s okay. Anyone would have done the same.’

‘Not anyone would have seen that man spike my drink. I’m lucky you were watching me so closely. I saw you.’ She smiled.

Snaz felt himself blush. ‘You’ve got to be careful in clubs. Some blokes try anything.’

‘It’s my friend’s fault for dragging me there, then leaving with the first man she set eyes on.’

‘Did you get home okay?’ Snaz asked.

‘You saw me into a cab.’

‘I mean, you felt alright, did you? You weren’t shaken up?’

A lock of her hair fell across her face and she brushed it to one side. You couldn’t call her a redhead, but her hair was redder than blonde. There must be a word for hair that colour, Snaz thought.

‘Is it true what you told him, about being a boxer?’

Snaz smiled. ‘I’ve boxed as many times as I’ve played tennis. He didn’t know that though. But I can handle myself. I could’ve dealt with him.’

‘Why don’t you sit down? I want to ask you something. It’s kind of a favour.’

He sat on the edge of her bed.

Josie picked up a birthday card from her dressing table and held it out to him. She had tiny dainty hands. ‘What do you make of this?’

He pulled his eyes away from her to the picture of a kitten, all fluffy fur and ribbons. Sickeningly cute.

‘Read inside.’

Happy birthday. From Erin, a friend. Call me if you want to know the truth. And underneath, the sender had written a phone number. ‘Who’s Erin?’ he asked.

‘That’s the thing. I haven’t a clue. I rang her, and she wants to meet me. She says there’s something I ought to know, but she can’t tell me over the phone. Her accent is ghastly, like she finds it too much of an effort to pronounce her t’s.’

‘It sounds dodgy. What’ll you do?’

‘Dodgy,’ Josie repeated, and Snaz wondered if she considered his way of speaking ghastly as well. ‘That’s what I thought. Will you come with me, to go to meet her? I’m going on Saturday.’

‘Sure. I mean, if you want me to.’ It sounded odd; not exactly a date, but at least he’d see her again.

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Guest Author Post by Marty Wingate, THE BLUEBONNET BETRAYAL

I’m always excited when an author agrees to visit The Book Diva’s Reads and today I’m beyond excited to welcome Marty Wingate, author of the Potting Shed Mystery and Birds of a Feather Mystery series, as well as a host of nonfiction books on landscaping and gardening. Ms. Wingate will be discussing not always following the rules as they relate to cozy mysteries.

There are quite a few rules for cozy mysteries, and I am quite happy to ignore them if I choose – especially the one about the series being set in one place only. In the Potting Shed books, Pru Parke, my protagonist, does not stay put. Instead, each book is set in a different place in Great Britain. Although – that being said – this latest installment, The Bluebonnet Betrayal, takes place in London where it all started for her in book number one (The Garden Plot). But since then, she’s been in Sussex, Edinburgh, and Hampshire.

I choose to make Pru’s “village” her friends and family, and I will always drag one or two of them along into the next book or bring someone back from an earlier story. In Potting Shed #6 (now underway!), Pru returns to a village she visited in The Garden Plot. Our lives weave in and out of others’ lives, so why shouldn’t our stories?

But here’s the cozy mystery rule I do follow: the main character/protagonist/solver-of-mysteries is an amateur sleuth, not a police officer or a private investigator. We do not write police procedurals, thrillers, or hard crime. We write the story of an event into which our main character – be she a gardener, librarian, scientist, baker or resident of an old folks home – is thrown and must fight her way out of. And solve the mystery along
the way.

That’s not to say there are not police involved – of course there are, and in a cozy, that’s part of the fun. The relationship between the amateur sleuth and the police can play out in all manner of ways – combative, cooperative, exasperating (and not just for the police), comic, suspicious, coercive. (Gosh, I’ve just given myself a few more ideas there.) Because Pru hops around, she’s had to deal with more than one police officer, so I thought it would be fun to look at how those encounters have gone. Let’s begin with the new book, The Bluebonnet Betrayal, and work our way backward.

Detective Chief Inspector French is fairly new to his promotion, having worked his way up in the Metropolitan Police (as the London force is known). In fact, Christopher Pearse, former DCI with the Met and Pru’s husband, knows French. French has a cool, calm exterior, and he knows the rules. The rules are that no civilian is going to take this investigation out of his hands – so just back away from the body, Ms. Parke.

In The Skeleton Garden, affable Martin Chatters is a sergeant out of the police station in Romsey. DCIs are officers in larger cities, but in smaller cities and towns the highest rank may be only a detective inspector. This is the case here – and the DI is overworked. He asks Christopher to take the case, but Christopher wants Martin to get some experience under his belt. Pru, sticking more than a toe in the water of this investigation, wishes Christopher would take over, and Christopher wishes (to no avail, of course), that she
would stay away and stay safe.

Taking another step back in time, Between a Rock and a Hard Place finds Pru in Edinburgh and Christopher too far away to help when she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. This time, the DCI (Edinburgh is a big city) is only days away from retirement and cares more for his prize-winning parsnips than anything else. This is lucky for Pru because during this case she must deal with Tamsin Duncan, the chain-smoking young sergeant.

Before Edinburgh, there was the village of Bells Yew Green in Sussex (The Red Book of Primrose House) and a most disagreeable policeman, Inspector Tatt. Tatt has a chip on his shoulder as big as Big Ben – he resents Pru sticking her nose into the investigation and he’s outraged that Christopher even breathes the same air as he does. Does this stop Pru from following up on her own leads? Not a chance.

In the beginning (The Garden Plot), there was Pru in London, discovering a Roman mosaic in someone’s back garden and soon after discovering a body, too. It’s a stressful time for her – she’s about to give up on her dream of living in England, her few friends are looking a bit suspicious, and the detective chief inspector is a bit of a stickler for procedure. They knock heads, but she won’t give up. And neither will DCI Christopher Pearse.

Meet the author:

Marty Wingate is a Seattle-based writer and speaker who shares her love of Britain in her two mystery series. The Potting Shed books feature Pru Parke, a middle-aged American gardener transplanted from Texas to England, and Birds of a Feather follows Julia Lanchester, bird lover, who runs a tourist office in a Suffolk village. Marty writes garden articles for magazines including Country Gardens and The American Gardener. She is a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Crime Writers Association. She leads garden tours to England, Scotland, and Ireland, spending free moments deep in research for her books. Or in pubs.

Connect with the author:

Website      |     Facebook      |     Twitter      |     Goodreads 

The Bluebonnet Betrayal by Marty Wingate
ISBN: 9781101968062 (eBook)
ASIN: B017QLSIU4 (Kindle version)
Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Publisher:  Alibi

Bestselling author Marty Wingate “plants clever clues with a dash of romantic spice,” raves Mary Daheim. Now Wingate’s inimitable gardening heroine, Pru Parke, is importing a precious bloom from Texas—and she won’t let a vicious murder stop her. Pru’s life in England is coming full circle. A Texas transplant, she’s married to the love of her life, thriving in the plum gardening position she shares with her long-lost brother, and prepping a Chelsea Flower Show exhibit featuring the beloved bluebonnets of the Texas hill country. Technically, Twyla Woodford, the president of a gardening club in the Lone Star State, is in charge of the London event, but Pru seems to be the one getting her hands dirty. When they finally do meet, Pru senses a kindred spirit—until Twyla turns up dead. Although Twyla’s body was half buried under a wall in their display, Pru remains determined to mount a spectacular show. Twyla would have insisted. So Pru recruits her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, to go undercover and do a bit of unofficial digging into Twyla’s final hours. If Pru has anything to say about it, this killer is going to learn the hard way not to mess with Texas.

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2016 Book 265: FAMILY TREE by Susan Wiggs

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs
ISBN: 9780062425430 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062425478 (ebook)
ASIN: B01825C50W (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 9, 2016 
Publisher: William Morrow

For readers of Kristin Hannah and Jodi Picoult comes a powerful, emotionally complex story of love, loss, the pain of the past—and the promise of the future.

Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes.

Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.

Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.

Family Tree is the story of one woman’s triumph over betrayal, and how she eventually comes to terms with her past. It is the story of joys unrealized and opportunities regained. Complex, clear-eyed and big-hearted, funny, sad, and wise, it is a novel to cherish and to remember.

Annie Rush has always dreamed of combining her two loves, film, and food. As a child, she videotaped cooking shows in her family’s kitchen. As an adult, she is producing a cooking show, The Key Ingredient, with her chef husband, Martin Harlow. The show is a hit, her marriage is going well, and now she’s pregnant. But Annie’s dream quickly turns into a nightmare in Susan Wigg’s latest, Family Tree.

Annie Rush grew up in a small town in rural Vermont. Her family owns and operates a farm that produces maple syrup. Living in her family’s ancestral home with her mother, brother, and maternal grandparents, Annie is happy but wants more. She wants to travel, cook, and learn as much as possible about the world and food. During her senior year of high school, she meets and falls in love with Fletcher Wyndham, a transfer student. Her romance with Fletcher is hot and heavy throughout much of their senior year and becomes an off-again/on-again relationship during her college years. As Annie struggles with what she truly wants out of life, her senior film project becomes an internet sensation and before she knows it, she has an agent, an entertainment lawyer, and a contract with a production company in California. The star of her film project, Martin Harlow, is now the star of a new cooking show and Annie’s husband. A few years later Annie discovers she’s pregnant. Eager to share the news with her husband, she leaves an important interview for the studio and discovers her husband in flagrante delicto with his cohost. Annie storms off the set and is injured in a freak accident. Fast forward a year and Annie wakes up in a rehabilitation facility in Vermont. She doesn’t remember much of the past decade nor understand why she’s back in Vermont. As she regains her strength and some of her memories, Annie reconnects with her high-school love. Now she must decide what she wants from this second chance at life and love.

I found Family Tree to be a fast-paced and engaging read. I enjoyed the way Ms. Wiggs presented Annie’s story in then-and-now vignettes. The “then” stories provide the reader with Annie’s past in Vermont with Fletcher and her family, as well as with Martin in New York and California. The “now” sections focus on Annie in rehab and post-recovery. Both versions of Annie reveal a woman in the process of uncovering her strengths and weaknesses. The then Annie doesn’t really trust her inner voice and loses the love of her life, Fletcher, after graduating from college. The now version of Annie isn’t as quick to throw love away, even if she doesn’t really trust her feelings or those of others for the long-haul. Family Tree provides a bit of romance and self-discovery in a story about memory, family, friends, hope, love, and second chances. if you’ve never read anything by Ms. Wiggs then Family Tree may be the perfect book for your first read by this author. If you’ve previously read books by Ms. Wiggs, then you’ll want to grab a copy of Family Tree to read ASAP.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via 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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2016 Book 262: BEHIND CLOSED DOORS by B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

ISBN: 9781250121004 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250121011 (ebook)
ASIN: B01CXO4VRI (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 9, 2016 
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

Picture this: a dinner party at their perfect home, the conversation and wine flowing. They appear to be in their element while entertaining. And Grace’s friends are eager to reciprocate with lunch the following week. Grace wants to go, but knows she never will. Her friends call—so why doesn’t Grace ever answer the phone? And how can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim?

And why are there bars on one of the bedroom windows?

The perfect marriage? Or the perfect lie?

Jack Angel appears to be the perfect gentleman and husband. He adores his wife and is protective of his new sister-in-law. He’s an attorney that fights in court on behalf of battered women. Grace Angel appears to the be the perfect wife, loving and nurturing and never more than a few steps away from her husband’s side. Is theirs the perfect marriage or can looks be deceiving in Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris.

Jack and Grace have a whirlwind romance and before you know it, Grace has quit her job, sold her house, and is ready to be a full-time wife. Jack was the perfect gentleman and lover during their courtship and is quite accepting of the fact that Grace’s younger sister, Millie, will be moving in with them when she finishes at school. Grace knows many men aren’t so accepting of having a younger sibling, much less one with Down’s Syndrome, move into their homes after marriage, so this is just one more thing to admire about Jack. Grace quickly learns that Jack is not the man he pretends to be on the day of her wedding and during her honeymoon. Every attempt she makes to deflect Jack results in her being seen as deranged or psychotic. As a result, Grace does the only thing she can do in this situation and that’s bide her time and pray that things will change for the better before Millie comes to live with them. Just how far is Grace willing to go in an effort to protect Millie from Jack?

I found Behind Closed Doors to be a fast-paced read that kept me on tenterhooks from the beginning to the very end. Jack is quite skilled at manipulating not only Grace but his circle of friends and acquaintances as well. The more that is revealed about Jack and Grace’s relationship, the more we realize that Jack epitomizes the psycho in this psychological thriller. I’ve read books with plenty of bad guys and books with plenty of evil guys, and Jack is probably in the top ten on both lists. Ms. Paris provides a nice little twist at the end of the story that was somewhat unexpected but pleasing nonetheless (no, I’m not going to tell you what the twist is…read the book!). The story is presented from Grace’s perspective from both the past and the present. This story contains some hot-button topics such as emotional, mental, and physical abuse, not to mention murder. The abuse isn’t presented in graphic detail, but it isn’t exactly glossed over either. If you enjoy reading psychological thrillers, then you’ll definitely want to add Behind Closed Doors to your reading list. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Paris in the future.

Read an excerpt here.

Disclaimer: I received a free print copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher. 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.”

This review brought to you by Wunderkind-PR.

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Book Showcase: BLUE MOON by Wendy Corsi Staub

Blue Moon

by Wendy Corsi Staub

on Tour July 25th – August 26, 2016


Blue Moon by Wendy Corsi Staub

New York Times bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub returns to Mundy’s Landing—a small town where bygone bloodshed has become big business.

Hair neatly braided, hands serenely clasped, eyes closed, the young woman appeared to be sound asleep. But the peaceful tableau was a madman’s handiwork. Beneath the covers, her white nightgown was spattered with blood. At daybreak, a horrified family would discover her corpse tucked into their guest room. The cunning killer would strike again . . . and again . . . before vanishing into the mists of time.

A century ago, the Sleeping Beauty Murders terrified picturesque Mundy’s Landing. The victims, like the killer, were never identified. Now, on the hundredth anniversary, the Historical Society’s annual “Mundypalooza” offers a hefty reward for solving the notorious case.

Annabelle Bingham, living in one of the three Murder Houses, can’t escape the feeling that her family is being watched—and not just by news crews and amateur sleuths. She’s right. Having unearthed the startling truth behind the horrific crimes, a copycat killer is about to reenact them—beneath the mansard roof of Annabelle’s dream home…

Book Details:

Genre:  Thrillers, Suspense
Published by:   William Morrow, Mass Market
Publication Date:  July 26th 2016 
Number of Pages:  448
ISBN:   0062349759 (ISBN13: 9780062349750)
Series: Mundy’s Landing #2
Purchase Links: Amazon  Barnes & Noble  Goodreads

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mundy’s Landing, New York

“Here we are,” the Realtor, Lynda Carlotta, announces as she slows the car in front of 46 Bridge Street. “It really is magnificent, isn’t it?”

The Second Empire Victorian presides over neighboring stucco bungalows and pastel Queen Anne cottages with the aplomb of a grand dame crashing a coffee klatch. There’s a full third story tucked behind the scalloped slate shingles, topped by a black iron grillwork crown. A square cupola rises to a lofty crest against the gloomy Sunday morning sky. Twin cornices perch atop its paired windows like the meticulously arched, perpetually raised eyebrows of a proper aristocratic lady.

Fittingly, the house—rather, the events that transpired within its plaster walls—raised many an eyebrow a hundred years ago.

Annabelle Bingham grew up right around the corner, but she stares from the leather passenger’s seat as if seeing the house for the first time. She’d never imagined that she might actually live beneath that mansard roof, in the shadow of the century-old unsolved crimes that unfolded there.

For the past few days, she and her husband, Trib, have taken turns talking each other into—and out of—coming to see this place. They’re running out of options.

Real estate values have soared in this picturesque village, perched on the eastern bank of the Hudson River midway between New York City and Albany. The Binghams’ income has done quite the opposite. The only homes in their price range are small, undesirable fixer-uppers off the highway. They visited seven such properties yesterday and another this morning, a forlorn little seventies ranch that smelled of must and mothballs. Eau d’old man, according to Trib.

Magnificent isn’t exactly the word that springs to mind when I look at this house,” he tells Lynda from the backseat.

She smiles at him in the rearview mirror. “Well, I’m not the professional wordsmith you are. I’m sure you can come up with a more creative adjective.”

Annabelle can. She’s been trying to keep it out of her head, but everything—even the tolling steeple bells from nearby Holy Angels Church—is a grim reminder.

“Monolithic,” pronounces the backseat wordsmith. “That’s one way to describe it.”

Murder House, Annabelle thinks. That’s another.

“There’s certainly plenty of room for a large family,” Lynda points out cheerily.

Optimism might be her strong suit, but tact is not. Doesn’t she realize there are plenty of families that don’t care to grow larger? And there are many that, for one heartbreaking reason or another, couldn’t expand even if they wanted to; and still others, like the Binghams, whose numbers are sadly dwindling.

Annabelle was an only child, as is their son, Oliver. Trib lost his older brother in a tragic accident when they were kids. Until a few months ago, Trib’s father, the last of their four parents to pass away, had been a vital part of their lives. He’d left them the small inheritance they plan to use as a down payment on a home of their own—a bittersweet prospect for all of them.

“I just want Grandpa Charlie back,” Oliver said tearfully last night. “I’d rather have him than a new house.”

“We all would, sweetheart. But you know he can’t come back, and wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice big bedroom and live on a street with sidewalks and other kids?”

“No,” Oliver said, predictably. “I like it here.”

They’re living in what had once been the gardener’s cottage on a grand Hudson River estate out on Battlefield Road. The grounds are lovely but isolated, and they’ve long since outgrown the tiny rental space.

Still . . . are they really prepared to go from dollhouse to mansion?

“There are fourteen rooms,” Lynda waxes on, “including the third-floor ballroom, observatory, and servants’ quarters. Over thirty-five hundred square feet of living space—although I have to check the listing sheet, so don’t quote me on it.”

That, Annabelle has noticed, is one of her favorite catchphrases. Don’t quote me on it.

“Is she saying it because you’re a reporter?” she’d asked Trib after their first outing with Lynda. “Does she think you’re working on an article that’s going to blow the lid off . . . I don’t know, sump pump function?”

He laughed. “That’s headline fodder if I ever heard it.”

Lynda starts to pull the Lexus into the rutted driveway. After a few bumps, she thinks better of it and backs out onto the street. “Let’s start out front so that we can get the full curb appeal, shall we?”

They shall.

“Would you mind handing me that file folder on the floor back there, Charles?” Lynda asks Trib, whose lanky form is folded into the seat behind her.

He’d been born Charles Bingham IV, but as one of several Charlies in kindergarten, was rechristened courtesy of his family’s longtime ownership of the Mundy’s Landing Tribune. The childhood nickname stuck with him and proved prophetic: he took over as editor and publisher after his dad retired a decade ago.

But Lynda wouldn’t know that. She’s relatively new in town, having arrived sometime in the last decade. Nor would she remember the era when the grand homes in The Heights had fallen into shabby disrepair and shuttered nineteenth-century storefronts lined the Common. She’d missed the dawning renaissance as they reopened, one by one, to form the bustling business district that exists today.

“Let’s see . . . I was wrong,” she says, consulting the file Trib passes to the front seat. “The house is only thirty-three hundred square feet.”

Can we quote you on it? Annabelle wants to ask.

“I can’t imagine what it cost to heat this place last winter,” Trib comments, “with all those below-zero days we had.”

“You’ll see here that there’s a fairly new furnace.” Lynda hands them each a sheet of paper. “Much more energy efficient than you’ll find in most old houses in the neighborhood.”

Annabelle holds the paper at arm’s length—courtesy of advancing farsightedness—and looks over the list of specs. The “new” furnace was installed about fifteen years ago, around the turn of this century. The wiring and plumbing most likely date to the turn of the last one.

“Oh, and did I mention that this is the only privately owned indoor pool in town.”

She did, several times. Some potential buyers might view that as a burden, but Lynda is well aware that it’s a luxury for Annabelle, an avid swimmer.

Still, the house lacks plenty of key items on her wish list. There’s a ramshackle detached garage instead of the two-car garage she and Trib covet. There is no master suite. The lot is undersized, like many in this historic neighborhood.

“You’re never going to find exactly what you want,” Lynda has been reminding her and Trib from day one. “You have to compromise.”

They want a home that’s not too big, not too small, not too old, not too new, not too expensive, not a rock-bottom fixer-upper . . .Goldilocks syndrome—another of Lynda’s catchphrases.

This house may be too old and too big, but it isn’t too expensive despite being located in The Heights, a sloping tree-lined enclave adjacent to the Village Common.

Its owner, Augusta Purcell, died over a year ago, reportedly in the same room where she’d been born back in 1910. Her sole heir, her nephew Lester, could have sold it to the historical society for well above market value. But he refused to entertain a long-standing preemptive offer from the curator, Ora Abrams.

“I’m not going to cash in on a tragedy like everyone else around here,” he grumbled, adamantly opposed to having his ancestral home exploited for its role in the notorious, unsolved Sleeping Beauty case.

From late June through mid July of 1916, a series of grisly crimes unfurled in the relentless glare of both a brutal heat wave and the Sestercentennial Celebration for the village, founded in 1666.

Forty-six Bridge Street was the second home to gain notoriety as a crime scene. The first was a gambrel-roofed fieldstone Dutch manor house just around the corner at 65 Prospect Street; the third, a granite Beaux Arts mansion at 19 Schuyler Place.

No actual homicide took place inside any of the three so-called Murder Houses. But what had happened was profoundly disturbing. Several days and several blocks apart, three local families awakened to find the corpse of a young female stranger tucked into a spare bed under their roof.

The bodies were all posed exactly the same way: lying on their backs beneath coverlets that were neatly folded back beneath their arms. Their hands were peacefully clasped on top of the folded part of the covers. Their long hair—they all had long hair—was braided and arranged just so upon the pillows.

All the girls’ throats had been neatly slit ear to ear. Beneath each pillow was a note penned on plain stationery in block lettering: Sleep safe till tomorrow. The line was taken from a William Carlos Williams poem published three years earlier.

The victims hadn’t died where they lay, nor in the immediate vicinity. They’d been stealthily transported by someone who was never caught; someone who was never identified and whose motive remains utterly inexplicable to this day.

Ghastly death portraits were printed in newspapers across the country in the futile hope that someone might recognize a sister, a daughter, a niece. In the end, their unidentified remains were buried in the graveyard behind Holy Angels Church.

Is Annabelle really willing to move into a Murder House?

A year ago, she’d have said no way. This morning, when she and Trib and Oliver were crashing into porcelain fixtures and one another in their tiny bathroom, she’d have said yes, absolutely.

Now, staring up at the lofty bracketed eaves, ornately carved balustrades, and curve-topped couplets of tall, narrow windows, all framed against a blood red foliage canopy of an oppressive sky . . .

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

“Since you both grew up here, I don’t have to tell you about how wonderful this neighborhood is,” Lynda says as the three of them step out of the car and approach the tall black iron fence that mirrors the mansard crest.

A brisk wind stirs overhead boughs. They creak and groan, as does the gate when Lynda pushes it open. The sound is straight out of a horror movie. A chill slips down Annabelle’s spine, and she shoves her hands deep into the pockets of her corduroy barn coat.

The brick walkway between the gate and the house is strewn with damp fallen leaves. For all she knows, someone raked just yesterday. It is that time of year, and an overnight storm brought down a fresh barrage of past-peak foliage.

Yet the grounds exude the same forlorn, abandoned atmosphere as the house itself. It’s the only one on the block that lacks pumpkins on the porch steps and political signs posted in the yard.

Election Day looms, with a heated mayoral race that reflects the pervasive insider versus outsider mentality. Most residents of The Heights back the incumbent, John Elsworth Ransom, whose roots extend to the first settlers of Mundy’s Landing. Support for his opponent, a real estate developer named Dean Cochran, is stronger on the other side of town, particularly in Mundy Estates, the upscale townhouse complex he built and now calls home.

A Ransom for Mayor poster isn’t all that’s conspicuously missing from the leaf-blanketed yard. There’s no For Sale sign, either.

Trib asks Lynda if she’s sure it’s on the market.

“Oh, it is. But Lester prefers to avoid actively soliciting the ‘ghouls’—not the Halloween kind, if you know what I mean.”

They do. Plenty of locals use that word to describe the tourists who visit every summer in an effort to solve the cold case. The event—colloquially dubbed Mundypalooza—has taken place every year since 1991. That’s when, in conjunction with the seventy-fifth anniversary of the cold case, the historical society first extended a public invitation: Can You Solve the Sleeping Beauty Murders?

So far, no one has—but every summer, more and more people descend to try their hand at it. The historical society sponsors daily speakers, panel discussions, and workshops. Even Trib conducts an annual seminar about the sensational press coverage the case received in 1916.

He turns to Annabelle. “That’s something we’d have to deal with if we bought this place.”

“You’re right. We’d be inundated with curiosity seekers. I don’t think I want to—”

“Just in the summer, though,” Lynda cuts in quickly, “and even then, it’s not a big deal.”

“This house will be crawling with people and press,” Annabelle points out.

After all, a Murder House isn’t just branded by century-old stigma; it bears the brunt of the yearly gawker invasion. No local resident escapes unscathed, but those who live at 46 Bridge Street, 65 Prospect Street, and 19 Schuyler Place are inundated.

“Let’s just walk through before you rule it out,” Lynda urges. “A comparable house at any other address in this neighborhood would sell for at least six figures more. I’d hate to have someone snatch this out from under you.”

The odds of that happening are slim to none. Lester, who insists on pre-approving every showing, requests that prospective buyers already live locally. Not many people fit the bill, but Annabelle and Trib passed muster and they’re here. They might as well look, even though Annabelle is sure she doesn’t want to live here after all. She’d never get past what happened here during the summer of 1916, let alone what will happen every summer forever after, thanks to Mundypalooza.

They step through the massive double doors into the dim, chilly entrance hall. So far, so not good.

Before Annabelle can announce that she’s changed her mind, Lynda presses an antique mother-of-pearl button on the wall. “There, that’s better, isn’t it?”

They find themselves bathed in the glow of an elegant fixture suspended from a plaster medallion high overhead. Surprisingly, it is better.

There’s a massive mirror on the wall opposite the door. In it, Annabelle sees their reflection: Lynda, a full head shorter even in heels, bookended by herself and Trib, who could pass for siblings. They’re similarly tall and lean, with almost the same shade of dark brown hair and light brown eyes—both attractive, if not in a head-turning way.

Their eyes meet in the mirror, and he gives her a slight nod, as if to say, Yes, let’s keep going.

“Just look at that mosaic tile floor!” Lynda exclaims. “And the moldings on those archways! And the woodwork on the grand staircase! We haven’t seen anything like this in any of the houses we’ve looked at, have we?”

They agree that they haven’t, and of course wouldn’t expect to in their price point.

Annabelle can picture twelve-year-old Oliver walking through those big doors after school, dropping his backpack on the built-in seat above the cast-iron radiator with a Mom? I’m home. As she runs her fingertips over the carved newel post, she envisions him sliding down the banister curving above.

The long-dormant old house stirs to life as they move through it. One by one, doors creak open. Spaces beyond brighten courtesy of wall switches that aren’t dime-a-dozen rectangular plastic levers. These are period contraptions with buttons or brass toggles or pull-pendants dangling from thirteen-foot ceilings. Lynda presses, turns, pulls them all, chasing shadows from the rooms.

Annabelle’s imagination strips away layers of faded velvet and brocade shrouding the tall windows. Her mind’s eye replaces Augusta’s dark, dusty furnishings with comfortable upholstery and modern electronics. Instead of mustiness and cat pee, she smells furniture polish, clean linens, savory supper on the stove. The ticking grandfather clock, dripping faucets, and Lynda’s chirpy monologue and tapping footsteps are overshadowed by the voices Annabelle loves best, echoing through the rooms in ordinary conversation: Mom, I’m home! What’s for dinner? I’m home! How was your day? I’m home . . .

Yes, Annabelle realizes. This is it.

This, at last, is home.

Wendy Corsi StaubWendy Corsi Staub

USA Today and New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub is the award-winning author of more than seventy novels and has twice been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She lives in the New York City suburbs with her husband and their two children.

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Book Blast: A MIGHTY FORTRESS by S.D. Thames

A Mighty Fortress by S. D. Thames 
ASIN: B01FMWET52 (Kindle version)
Publication Date: July 1, 2016 

In Tampa, the only thing more crooked than the mob is the police…

Milo Porter leads a happy life in Tampa, Florida. The Iraq war veteran runs routine private investigations by day and coaches powerlifting at night. When Chad Scalzo, the grandson of a rumored mob boss, goes missing, Milo takes the seemingly easy case. After Chad turns up dead, Milo goes from investigator to suspect.

As he seeks to clear his own name, Milo finds himself at the crossroads of two crooked investigations — one by the mob and the other by the police. With the body count climbing, Milo discovers the key to the case in the last known person to see Chad alive.

But can Milo get to her before someone else does?

A Mighty Fortress is the first book in the Milo Porter mystery series, a set of gritty crime thrillers that will remind you of the characters from Robert B. Parker and Robert Crais. If you like gripping suspense, hardboiled crime-solvers, and heart-stopping action, then you’ll love the powerful series starter from S.D. Thames. 

Buy A Mighty Fortress to get caught up in the mystery today!

Meet the author:

S.D. Thames is the author of Foreclosure: A Novel, A Mighty Fortress, and other works of crime fiction exploring the dark side of the Sunshine State. Born in Dayton, Ohio while Jimmy Carter was president, S.D. grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati (with intermittent stints in the bayous of Louisiana and on the riverbanks of Indiana). In 1992, his family relocated to Florida’s gulf coast, about an hour north of Tampa, where he blossomed as a rock guitarist and all around miscreant. While trudging his way through school, he held various odd jobs, including, in no particular order, working as a pizza cook and deliveryman (though never concurrently), dishwasher, newspaper salesman, custodian, carpenter, bookstore clerk, guitar instructor, and manual laborer.

After meeting the love of his life in 1995, he matured five years in one semester and eventually enrolled at the University of Florida, where he majored in English and studied about everything from Chaucer to the Twentieth-Century novel, along with a healthy dose of literary theory. After graduating, he spent a school year teaching German in high school. His life would forever change when he returned to the University of Florida to attend law school, the traditional fallback for despondent English majors. After completing his J.D., he went to work as a litigation associate at a Tampa law firm.

The ensuing seven years are a bit of a blur, but suffice it to say that, unlike the protagonist of Foreclosure, S.D. made partner the first year he was eligible, and did so without having to lie, cheat or otherwise bend the professional rules of conduct. Most days he enjoys the practice of law. He’s had the pleasure of working for a diverse array of clients, including Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, small business owners, real estate developers, venture capitalists, non-profit organizations, parents in Central America seeking the return of their abducted children, and death-row inmates.

He still lives in Tampa, Florida, where he’s married to the love of his life (yes, the same one he met in 1995). They have one daughter, who is 8 years old and a more prolific writer than her dad.

Connect with the author:     Website      |     Facebook      |     Twitter 

Enter for a chance to win 1 of 3 $10 Amazon Gift Card (3 US winners chosen). Each winner will receive one $10 Amazon Gift Card. This giveaway ends on August 5, 2016, and is hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for author S.D. Thames. 

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