Book Review: FIND ME by Alafair Burke

FIND ME by Alafair Burke Book CoverFind Me by Alafair Burke
ISBN: 9780062853363 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062853387 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062985019 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B0876GPJGF (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08728FV3Y (Kindle edition)
Publication date: January 11, 2022
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Fiction | Suspense Thriller | Psychological Thriller

The disappearance of a young woman leaves her closest friend reeling and an NYPD homicide detective digging into her own past in this thrilling mystery full of twists from the New York Times bestselling author of The Better Sister and The Wife.

Some pasts won’t stay forgotten . . .

She calls herself Hope Miller, but she has no idea who she actually is. Fifteen years ago, she was found in a small New Jersey town thrown from an overturned vehicle, with no clue to her identity. Doctors assumed her amnesia was a temporary side effect of her injuries, but she never regained her memory. Hope eventually started a new life with a new name in a new town that welcomed her, yet always wondered what she may have left behind—or been running from. Now, fifteen years later, she’s leaving New Jersey to start over once again.

Manhattan defense lawyer Lindsay Kelly, Hope’s best friend and the one who found her after the accident, understands why Hope wants a new beginning. But she worries how her friend will fare in her new East Hampton home, far away from everything familiar. Lindsay’s worst fears are confirmed when she discovers Hope has vanished without a trace—the only lead a drop of blood found where she was last seen. Even more ominously, the blood matches a DNA sample with a connection to a notorious Kansas murderer.

With nowhere else to turn, Lindsay calls NYPD homicide detective Ellie Hatcher, the daughter of the cop who dedicated his life to hunting the Kansas killer. Ellie has always believed there was more to the story of her father’s death twenty years earlier—and she now fears that Hope’s recent disappearance could be related.

In pursuit of answers, three women search for the truth beneath long-buried secrets. And when their searches converge, what they find will upend everything they’ve ever known.

 
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A woman with no sense of a past decides, after 15 years in a small town, to move on with her life. Hope Miller survived a car accident but has no idea where she came from or even who she was before the accident. She’s been dealing with amnesia for 15 years. The woman that discovered the accident scene is now Hope’s best friend. Hope decides to move from New Jersey to the Hamptons in New York. She has no driver’s license, no social security number, and doesn’t officially exist due to her amnesia. She finds a kind landlord willing to rent to her without documentation, as well as an employer willing to hire her and pay her in cash. Then Hope disappears. Her friend, Lindsay Kelly, is determined to find her no matter what. Little does Lindsay know that her “investigation” will open the proverbial “Pandora’s box” linking Hope’s past to murder. Sometimes it’s best to leave the past in the past…or is it?

Folks, as soon as I read about this book with the amnesia hook and featured character Ellie Hatcher, I knew it had to be a book on my MBR (must be read) list. It has been a few years since I read any books in the Ellie Hatcher series. I enjoyed the books I had read and definitely wanted to find out what’s happening now! I found Find Me to be a bit of a slow read at first, but when it picked up, it picked up with a bang. This story incorporated amnesia, murders (past and present), possible blackmail, secret love, and more. The more Ms. Burke revealed about Hope Miller, the more it was possible to see just how her past was intimately linked to Ellie Hatcher’s past. (No, I’m not going to tell you how. Read the book to find out for yourself!) There are plenty of twists and turns in Lyndsay Kelly’s investigation into the disappearance of her friend, Hope Miller. Some of those twists bring in Ellie Hatcher and her brother. The more Lyndsay discovers, the more she realizes that perhaps she didn’t know Hope as well as she had thought. But is it ever possible to know everything about another person? The tension in this story gradually builds and continued even after several unbelievable reveals. For those of you that have read anything by Ms. Burke or if you’re into suspense thrillers, then I encourage you to grab a copy of Find Me. I have a feeling that I’ll be re-reading the Ellie Hatcher series just so I have an excuse (not really needed, but…) Find Me. If you do grab a copy of this book, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Happy Reading, y’all!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book 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.”

Book Showcase: THE SORORITY MURDER by Allison Brennan

THE SORORITY MURDER by Allison BrennanThe Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan
ISBN: 9780778311683 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780778312185 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780369706515 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212574 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B094PJMBQ3 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R8ZSV4D (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: December 28, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Suspense | Thriller | Crime Thriller

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s suspenseful new mass market original about a college senior’s podcast that delves into an unsolved campus murder of a sorority girl three years earlier, as individual callers explode every fact previously thought to be true.

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found two weeks later, and the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the Medical Examiner’s, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle, he just isn’t sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace’s last hours. He asks listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer, former US Marshal Regan Merritt, to come on and share her expertise.

New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace’s secret life…a much darker picture than Lucas imagined—and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own dark secret. The pressure is to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast – before the killer silences him forever.

 

Read an Excerpt:

One
Three Years Ago
Friday, April 10

Candace Swain forced a smile as she walked out of her dorm room.

Smiling was the last thing she wanted to do, but Candace had an image to uphold.

She was going to be late for the Sigma Rho Spring Fling—the last big party before the end-of-year crunch. Studying for finals, capstones and senior projects, stress and more stress, and—for some of them—graduation.

The mild April weather was perfect for an outdoor gathering. Candace had led the sorority’s social-events committee with setup, and they’d included heat lamps along the perimeter. The Mountain View dorm—which housed all campus sororities, each with their own wing—was on the northeast corner of campus, adjacent to the football field. The Spring Fling was held on the large lawn that framed the north entrance, where they had the most room. It was open to all students for a five-dollar admission, and was one of the biggest moneymakers for the sorority, more than charities. Candace had fought for—and won—giving the profits to a rescue mission that helped people get back on their feet. She volunteered weekly for Sunrise Center, and it had changed how she viewed herself and her future. She now planned to be a nurse in the inner city, working for a clinic or public hospital, where people deserved quality health care, even if they were struggling. She even considered specializing in drug and alcohol issues, which were unfortunately prevalent among the homeless community.

She used to think of her volunteerism as penance for her failings. She wasn’t religious but had had enough preaching from her devout grandmother to have absorbed things like guilt, penance, sacrifice. Now, she looked forward to Tuesdays when she gave six hours of her time to those who were far worse off than she. It reminded her to be grateful for what she had, that things could be worse.

Candace exited through the north doors and stood at the top of the short flight of stairs that led to the main lawn. Though still early in the evening, the party was already hopping. Music played from all corners of the yard, the din of voices and laughter mingling with a popular song. In the dusk, the towering mountains to the north were etched in fading light. She breathed deeply. She loved everything about Flagstaff. The green mountains filled with pine and juniper. The crisp, fresh air. The sense of community and belonging felt so natural here, something she’d never had growing up in Colorado Springs. With graduation on the horizon, she had been feeling a sense of loss, knowing she was going to miss this special place.

She wasn’t close to her parents, who divorced right before she started high school and still fought as much as they did when they were married. She desperately missed her younger sister, Chrissy, a freshman at the University of South Carolina. She’d wanted Chrissy to come here for college, but Chrissy was a champion swimmer and had received a full scholarship to study practically a world away. Candace had no plans to return to Colorado Springs, but she didn’t know if she wanted to follow her sister to the East Coast or head down to Phoenix where they had some of the best job opportunities for what she wanted to do.

Vicky Ryan, a first year student who had aspirations of leadership, ran up to her.

“That weirdo is back,” Vicky said quietly. “Near the west steps. Just loitering there, freaking people out. Should I call campus police?”

Candace frowned. The man Vicky was referring to was Joseph, and he wasn’t really a weirdo. He was an alcoholic, and mostly homeless, who sometimes wandered onto campus and wouldn’t accept the help he had been repeatedly offered. He wasn’t violent, just confused, and sometimes got lost in his own head, largely from how alcohol had messed with his mind and body. But his problems understandably made her sorority sisters uncomfortable. He’d twice been caught urinating against the wall outside their dorm; both times, he’d been cited by campus police. He wasn’t supposed to be on campus at all anymore, and Candace knew they’d arrest him if he was caught.

“I’ll take care of it,” Candace said and made her way around the edge of the party.

She found Joseph on the narrow grassy knoll that separated the football field from the dorms. A small group of students approached her, but one in their group turned toward the grass, likely to confront Joseph.

Candace walked faster, caught up with the student, and smiled brightly. “I got this.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll handle him.”

“I said I will take care of this. I know him. But thank you anyway.”

Mr. Macho didn’t want to walk away, yet Candace stood firm. She didn’t want anyone to harass Joseph, and she knew he would listen to her. While he wasn’t violent, he could be belligerent, and being confronted by a jerk wanting to impress his girlfriend was a surefire way to trigger Joseph and have him dig in his heels. It would only lead to an arrest, and that wasn’t going to help him in the long run.

The group walked off, grumbling; Candace ignored them. She approached Joseph cautiously, so as not to startle him. “Joseph, it’s Candace,” she said. “Remember me? From Sunrise Center?”

He turned slowly at the sound of her voice. A tall man, nearly six foot four, he could intimidate people. But he was also skinny and hunched over from years of walking the streets and looking down, rummaging through garbage, with his hangdog face, ragged salt-and-pepper beard, and watery blue eyes. He was the kind of guy her grandmother would have called a bum—dressed in multiple layers of dirty, mismatched clothes, and smelling of dirt and stale beer. He looked about sixty, but she knew that he was only in his early forties. She’d heard he’d been living along Route 66 for the better part of ten years. The people who ran Sunrise Center didn’t know much about his personal life, only that when he was sober (which was rare), he would talk about home being east, at the “end of the line.” But no one knew if that meant Chicago or any of the stops in between.

Candace wanted to know more about his story, how he came to be in these circumstances, why he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—accept help. Many of the homeless who came to Sunrise for shelter or food would talk to her freely. But not Joseph. When she’d pried once, he disappeared for a while, so she stopped asking. She would rather him be safe than riding the rails, which was dangerous.

“Candace,” he said slowly after several moments.

“You can’t be here, Joseph. The campus police told you that. Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t say anything or acknowledge that he understood what she said.

“Would you like me to take you over to Sunrise Center? You can get a hot meal there, maybe a cot for the night.”

Again, silence. He turned away from her but didn’t leave.

She really didn’t want to call campus police, but if she didn’t do something, someone else would.

“Is there a reason you are here?” she asked.

“Leave me alone,” he said.

“I will, but you have to leave. Otherwise someone is going to call the police.” If they haven’t already.

He abruptly turned toward her, staggered on the slope of the lawn. His sudden movement startled her; she stepped back.

“No cops!” he shouted.

“You have to leave, Joseph,” she said, emphatic. Her heart pounded in her chest, not so much from fear but uncertainty. “Please go.”

Again, he turned abruptly, this time staggering down the short slope toward the stadium fence. She held her breath, watching him. He almost ran into the fence, put his arms out to stop himself, then just stood there. A minute later, he shuffled along the field perimeter, shoulders hunched, without looking back.

She breathed easier, relieved that he was heading off campus. She would talk to the director of Sunrise on Tuesday, when she went in to volunteer. Joseph couldn’t keep coming here, but she didn’t really want to call the authorities on him. He needed help, not more trouble, and definitely not incarceration.

Candace was about to return to the party when she heard someone call her name. She turned and saw one of her former tutoring students, Lucas Vega, running toward her. She didn’t want to talk to Lucas tonight. How many times did she have to tell him to leave her alone?

She stopped anyway and waited.

“Candace,” he said, catching his breath. “Thanks.”

“What do you want?” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry,” she said bluntly.

“I didn’t mean to upset you the other day. I am sorry about that.”

She blinked. He sounded so sincere. And truth be told, something he’d said to her a few days earlier made her think long and hard about herself, her life, and the time she’d spent as a student at Northern Arizona University.

A lie for a good reason is still a lie.

Lucas and his wide-eyed, good-natured innocence, his innocuous questions had her feeling guilty for no reason. He had picked up on that. And pushed.

No reason? Ha. Plenty of reasons. All these doubts and worries she’d been having this semester, the sleepless nights, all came from something she’d done as a freshman that she now had good reason to regret. But what could she do about it? What would come of the truth now?

Maybe there was no good reason to lie.

“All right,” she said. “Thank you.” It was easier to forgive Lucas than to hold on to this anger. None of what happened was Lucas’s fault.

“So will you tutor me again, for finals?”

“No. Afraid not.” She could forgive him for prying, but she really needed first to forgive herself. And she didn’t know if she could do that with Lucas around, reminding her of her failures and mistakes. He didn’t even know what she’d done, but seeing him now was like reliving the past, and her chest tightened. “I’m sorry, but I have too much studying of my own, too many tests. And I’m not working at the writing lab anymore.”

Because of you.

Was that even fair? Was it because of Lucas…or because of her own guilt?

He was disappointed, but that wasn’t her problem.

“Okay, I understand,” he said.

“Besides, you’re smart. You’ll be fine.”

He shrugged. “Thanks.”

“Uh, you want to come to the party?” She gestured over her shoulder. They could hear the music from where they stood. “I’ll get you a pass. Won’t even cost you the five bucks.”

He shook his head. “I’m fine. I’m not really one for parties. But thanks anyway.”

He turned to leave.

“Lucas,” she said. He looked at her over his shoulder. “I’m really sorry.”

Then she left him there, waiting for something she couldn’t give him.

It took Candace several minutes before she could work up the courage to return to the party. An idea she’d been thinking about for the last few months was now fully developed, as if something inside clicked after her brief conversation with Lucas. Everything shifted into place, and she knew what she needed to do; it was the only thing she could do.

No one was going to like her decision.

When she realized she no longer cared what anyone thought, a burden lifted from her heart. She was certain then that she was doing the right thing.

Everyone at the party was asking for Candace, and Vicky had become worried when her friend and mentor hadn’t returned after thirty minutes. She sought out Taylor James, the Sigma Rho president, and told her about the homeless guy. “I don’t know where Candace is,” she said. “I should have just called campus police.”

“Candace says he’s harmless,” Taylor said, frowning. “Sometimes she’s so naive. I’ll go look for her.”

“Thanks. The party is great by the way. Everyone seems to be having fun. How does it compare to previous years?” This was the first party Vicky had helped put together for the sorority, so she was eager to know how well she’d done.

“As good or better,” Taylor said with a wide smile.

Vicky tried not to gloat as she practically floated over to her friends chatting near one of the heat lamps. It wasn’t cold, but the warmth of the heat lamp and the glow from the string lights added terrific ambience to the place.

“Oh my God, Vicky, this is a blast,” her roommate, Nicole Bergamo, said. Nicole was a half-Black, half-Italian math major who could have easily been a model she was so tall and stunning. “Everyone is talking about how great it is.”

Vicky smiled, talked for a bit, then moved around, being social, doing all the things that she’d seen Sigma Rho board members do. Hundreds of people were dancing, talking, mingling, eating, drinking, playing games. Mostly, they were having fun, which was the whole purpose. When the new Sigma Rho advisor, Rachel Wagner, told her it was the best Sigma Rho party she’d been to ever, Vicky thought she’d never come down from cloud nine.

“I agree,” said the gorgeous woman who was with Rachel. “I’m Kimberly Foster, by the way,” she introduced herself. “I’m a sorority alum, and I’m so happy I came up this weekend. You’ve done a fantastic job. Rachel said you’re part of the social-events committee. Isn’t Candace leading the committee? I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Yes, she’s around,” Vicky said. “This is all her vision. We just implemented it.”

“I love Candace. Oh! I see her over there.”

Vicky looked to where Kimberly was gesturing. Candace was talking in a small group.

“I’m going to catch up with her,” Kimberly said. “Nice to meet you, Vicky.”

The two women walked away, and Vicky continued her rounds. She was having a blast as her worries that the party might flop were replaced with pride and satisfaction over its success.

Hours later it was midnight, and per city ordinance—because their dorm bordered a public street—they had to cut off the music. That put a damper on things, but it was fine with Vicky—she was exhausted after working all day prepping and all night making sure everything was running smoothly. She was a little miffed that Candace was hardly there: Vicky had only caught a glimpse of her twice. But whatever, she’d seemed preoccupied, and that would have been a party downer.

Vicky ran into the dorm to get extra trash bags—they had to clean up tonight so wild animals wouldn’t get into the garbage and create a bigger mess in the morning. She came back out and heard voices arguing near where the DJ had been set up. He’d already packed up and left. She couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. It seemed like a quiet, intense exchange between Taylor and Candace though Rachel and her guest Kimberly were there, too. Everyone, especially Taylor, seemed angry.

About sixty people were still milling around, mostly Sigma Rho sisters helping with the cleanup. Nicole came up to Vicky and said, “What are Candace and Taylor fighting about?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” Nicole said. “I heard Taylor call Candace a selfish bitch.”

“Ouch. Well, Rachel is there. She’ll mediate.”

But Rachel looked angry as well; it seemed that Candace was on one side, and the other three women were yelling at her.

“You’re wrong!” Candace screamed, and Vicky jumped. She glanced at Nicole, who looked perplexed as well. Vicky handed her a garbage bag, and they both started picking up trash. She didn’t want anyone to think she was eavesdropping.

But she was. As she inched closer to the group, she heard Kimberly say, “Let’s talk about this tomorrow, okay? When everyone has had a good night’s sleep and we can all think more clearly.”

“I am thinking clearly,” Candace said. “I’m done. Just…done.”

She left, walked right past Vicky without even seeing her. There were tears in Candace’s eyes, and Vicky didn’t know if she was angry or upset, but probably both. Vicky thought about going after her to make sure she was okay, then felt a hand on her shoulder.

She jumped, then laughed nervously when she saw Rachel. Taylor and Kim had walked away in the other direction.

“Sorry. You startled me.”

“I’m sorry you had to witness that,” Rachel said.

“I didn’t, really. Just saw that Taylor and Candace were arguing about something. I didn’t want to intrude.”

“It’s going to be fine. Just a little disagreement that Candace took personally.”

“About the party?” Vicky asked, her insecurities rising that she’d messed up something.

“Oh, no, the party was perfect. Don’t worry about that.”

Relieved, she said, “Maybe I should go talk to Candace.”

“No, let her be. I’ve known her since she was a freshman and took my Intro to Bio class. She has a big heart, and sometimes you can’t help everyone.”

Now Vicky understood, or thought she did. Taylor had been the most vocal about the creepy homeless guy hanging around the dorms, and she’d been the one who’d called campus police last time, after Candace said not to.

“Let me help,” Rachel said and took a garbage bag from Vicky’s stash.

Rachel chatted with Vicky, who felt lucky to be able to spend so much one-on-one time with her sorority advisor. Rachel was so smart, an associate professor at just thirty-two, an alum of the University of Arizona Sigma Rho chapter. Plus she had such interesting stories to share. By the time they were done with the cleanup—it didn’t take long with so many people working together—Vicky had forgotten all about the argument between Candace and Taylor.

It was the last time anyone saw Candace alive.

Excerpt from The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan.
Copyright © 2021 by Allison Brennan.
Published by MIRA Books
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Allison Brennan photo by Brittan Dodd

Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets. The Sorority Murder is the first of a new mass market series.

Connect with the Author: Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website
This excerpt brought to you by MIRA Books

 

Guest Author: Howard Michael Gould – PAY OR PLAY

Pay or Play by Howard Michael Gould Banner

Good day, book people. I hope the beginning of 2022 has been good to you all and that you’ve been able to get some reading time in over the holiday season. As a reader, I’m always fascinated by the paths taken by authors. How did they begin writing? How did they develop their characters? What sparked their creativity? I’m pleased to welcome the incredibly accomplished and multi-award winning writer, Howard Michael Gould to the blog. Mr. Gould will be providing us a glimpse into his character, Waldo, in what might loosely be termed his “finding Waldo” moments. I hope you’ll enjoy what he has to share with us, follow along with the blog tour, and put Pay or Play, the latest Waldo addition on your TBR list. Without further adieu I give you Mr. Howard Michael Gould.

Waldo: from Screen to Page and Back
by Howard Michael Gould

It’s hard to become a crime novelist by accident, but that’s kind of what happened to me. And I’m glad as hell that it did.

I moved to Hollywood in my 20s and worked in television comedy for a decade, then movies for a decade, then in my third decade did a little of both. Twenty-five years in, several producers in a row suddenly had the idea to hire me to write one crime comedy or another—a movie here, a pilot there—and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the blend.

I particularly liked the idea of doing a private eye TV series with some laughs, like Moonlighting or Monk. But because my TV credits were in comedy rather than drama, I’d need a unique pitch, so I found myself looking for a “high concept” idea—some angle or character gimmick that would make mine, unlike any other detective, though not goofy or corny, and sustainable enough to hold my own interest for several seasons.

Around that time, my daughter showed me a video called The Story of Stuff, about how society is burning through the planet’s resources in service of a planned consumerism which is simultaneously making us miserable. I was mesmerized. Out of this came my series lead, Charlie Waldo.

Waldo lives in a different kind of misery, punishing himself for a fatal mistake during his otherwise stellar LAPD career. In response, he’s vowed never to cause harm to anyone or anything again, not even the planet. So he’s moved to a tiny cabin in the woods on a mountain outside of Los Angeles, where he lives as a hermit, a pathological environmentalist, and even a minimalist—with a strict vow never to own more than One Hundred Things.

In my original network pitch, his ex-girlfriend Lorena, a PI herself, tracks him down three years into his isolation and lures him into helping her on a case, triggering a partnership between once and future lovers with clashing approaches to life: he the ascetic, she the up-from-poverty materialist who’d never give up her Mercedes or her D&G stilettos.

I pitched it to a top TV producer, who loved it, and we took it to a couple of networks. At one, the executives actually applauded at the end of the pitch—this had never happened in my whole career—but called three days later to pass because their network did policemen, not private eyes. So I put poor Waldo on the sad pile with dozens of other abandoned nifty ideas. That’s life in Hollywood, where—unless you’re a writer for hire who goes from series to series, helping other writers execute their ideas (a plenty noble path, but not for me, temperamentally)—lots and lots of your best stuff goes to waste.

About a year and a half later, I got an intriguing email from my favorite movie producer. This was during the post-2008 financial crash, with Hollywood in a tailspin and forced to reinvent itself. The producer had a new venture with two partners and some independent funding, and the trio wanted to hire me to write an indie movie. They expressed particular interest in my writing some sort of detective movie with comedy if I happened to have an idea lying around.

I pulled Waldo off the dead pile.

Since I’d conceived him as a case-of-the-week detective, I now had to come up with a movie-sized story, and landed on a sensational Hollywood murder: a larger-than-life, British-born thespian named Alastair Pinch, a belligerent alcoholic, may or may not have killed his wife in their locked mansion during a blackout drunk. A second great role. And setting it in L.A., which I knew so well, would set eco-maniacal Waldo in contrast with the most materialistic town in the world.

It turned out to be the hardest script I’d ever written—subject for another essay—but when I was done, the producer thought it was the best I’d ever written. Instantly, it seemed, Owen Wilson wanted to play Waldo, and a hot indie director came aboard, too, a very smart guy in love with the project. I started doing some rewrites to accommodate their ideas, standard for the business.

(Meanwhile, I’d gotten a new sitcom on the air, my primary job for the next three years. The Waldo rewriting would be early-morning and weekend work.)

Once I got the script where the director wanted it, the actor’s agent got cold feet: people weren’t really making detective movies anymore—big studios were only interested in bigger movies, and indie financers were only interested in smaller, less commercial movies—i.e., awards-bait—and the agent didn’t want a project with Owen attached to seek financing and possibly fail. Goodbye, Owen. Oh, and goodbye director, too.

Next, the producers attached a more famous director, and we wasted a year or two rewriting to make him happy before he decided that what he really wanted was to chase bigger money jobs.

Then Jim Carrey wanted to do it. We had a delightful meeting. He had ideas. I did more rewrites.

Somewhere in this period, my sitcom concluded its run, affording me the time and financial freedom to try something more ambitious and creatively gratifying. Meanwhile, through all the rewrites, I’d fallen in love with Waldo and hated the idea that he’d end up back on that dead projects pile. Which is when it hit me: maybe Owen Wilson’s agent was right, maybe there weren’t a lot of detective movies anymore…but there sure were a lot of detective novels. What if I got back the rights, and tried to reverse-adapt my Waldo screenplay into a book?

Of course, I’d never written fiction as an adult and had no reason to think I’d be any good at it.

But write it I did. And damned if getting it published wasn’t the first thing that ever came easily. I wrote a sequel, and that sold, too. And now a third, called Pay or Play.

To my great surprise, I’ve found the career shift very satisfying. The writing itself is painful and difficult, and I take longer on each book than most authors I meet in the category (subject for yet another essay), but unlike Hollywood—where the goal is to attract the interest of someone who’ll attract the interest of someone more important, who’ll attract the interest of someone more important, who’ll actually attract someone with money to say they want to make your project, while each of those someones has creative input and you hope that you can hang on and make all the someones happy while still steering something you’re proud of to a screen—now the only goal is to write a book I’m proud of.♦

 

P.S.: The movie finally got made, too. It’s called Last Looks, same as the first book in the series. Charlie Hunnam—exactly the right actor, in the end—plays the eco-maniacal, ascetic detective, and Mel Gibson plays the belligerent alcoholic star. They’re both brilliant, and it’s coming out in a couple of weeks. I hope you’ll look for it.♦♦

Pay or Play

by Howard Michael Gould

January 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Pay or Play by Howard Michael Gould

Blackmail, sexual harassment, murder . . .
and a missing dog: eccentric, eco-obsessed LA private eye Charlie Waldo is on the case in this quirky, fast-paced mystery.

Paying a harsh self-imposed penance for a terrible misstep on a case, former LAPD superstar detective Charlie Waldo lives a life of punishing minimalism deep within the woods, making a near religion of his commitment to owning no more than One Hundred Things.

At least, he’s trying to. His PI girlfriend Lorena keeps drawing him back to civilization – even though every time he compromises on his principles, something goes wrong.

And unfortunately for Waldo, all roads lead straight back to LA. When old adversary Don Q strongarms him into investigating the seemingly mundane death of a vagrant, Lorena agrees he can work under her PI license on one condition: he help with a high-maintenance celebrity client, wildly popular courtroom TV star Judge Ida Mudge, whose new mega-deal makes her a perfect target for blackmail.

Reopening the coldest of cases, a decades-old fraternity death, Waldo begins to wonder if the judge is, in fact, a murderer – and if he’ll stay alive long enough to find out.

Pay or Play is the third in the Charlie Waldo series, following Last Looks and Below the Line. Last Looks was turned into a major motion picture, starring Charlie Hunnam as the offbeat private investigator.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller, Private Detective
Published by: Severn House Publishers Limited
Publication Date: December 7th 2021
Number of Pages: 224
ISBN: 0727850857 (ISBN13: 9780727850850)
Series: Charlie Waldo, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads

Author Bio:

Howard Michael Gould

Howard Michael Gould graduated from Amherst College and spent five years working on Madison Avenue, winning three Clios and numerous other awards.

In television, he was executive producer and head writer of CYBILL when it won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series, and held the same positions on THE JEFF FOXWORTHY SHOW and INSTANT MOM. Other TV credits include FM and HOME IMPROVEMENT. He wrote and directed the feature film THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY LEFAY, starring Tim Allen, Elisha Cuthbert, Andie MacDowell and Jenna Elfman. Other feature credits include MR. 3000 and SHREK THE THIRD.

His play DIVA premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and La Jolla Playhouse, and was subsequently published by Samuel French and performed around the country.

He is the author of three mystery novels featuring the minimalist detective Charlie Waldo: LAST LOOKS (2018) and BELOW THE LINE (2019), both nominated for Shamus Awards by the Private Eye Writers of America, and PAY OR PLAY (2021). The feature film version of LAST LOOKS, starring Charlie Hunnam and Mel Gibson and directed by Tim Kirkby, will premiere February, 2022; Gould also wrote the screenplay.

Catch Up With Howard Michael Gould:
HowardMichaelGould.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Instagram – @howardmichaelgould
Twitter – @HowardMGould
Facebook – @HowardMGould

 

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Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 4

Best Fiction Reads of 2021

Good day, my bookish peeps. My apologies for the tardiness in posting the fourth and final addition to my “Best Reads of 2021” list, but I’ve had to deal with a series of severe migraine episodes over the past few weeks. The only good thing about the delay in writing this post was that I had a chance to fine-tune this section of my “best of” list, the romance reads. (Even though I had the time to fine-tune the list, I wound up not adding or deleting any of my original choices, so I guess they were the best choices after all.) Although I enjoy reading from a wide variety of genres, especially mystery, suspense, and thrillers, I’m also a huge romance fiction fan.

The first title on this romance best of list is the final book in the Brown Sisters trilogy by Talia Hibbert, Act Your Age, Eve Brown. If you haven’t read the previous two books in this series, Get A Life, Chloe Brown and Take A Hint, Dani Brown, then you’ll want to add those to your list as well. These stories feature flawed, but realistic characters that are trying their best to cope in a world that doesn’t often make room for differently-sized, neurodiverse/neurodivergent, or differently-abled people. What more can I say other than these are great diverse romance reads.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown, The Brown Sisters #3, by Talia Hibbert
ISBN: 9780062941275 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780062941282 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062941299 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781799971085 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B089WJ184B (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B089SYX5F5 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Avon Romance
Release Date: March 9, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Interracial Romance

 

In USA Today bestselling author Talia Hibbert’s newest rom-com, the flightiest Brown sister crashes into the life of an uptight B&B owner and has him falling hard—literally.

Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong—so she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It’s time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she’s not entirely sure how.
 
Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry—and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.
 
Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help . Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore—and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior.
 

 Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | Audiobooks.com | AudiobooksNow.com | BookDepository.com | Downpour Audiobook | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook

Read an excerpt here.


 My next romance recommendation is the first book in a new series by award-winning romance author Sandra Kitt. Winner Takes All kicks off the Millionaires Club series. This is nice, tender, and sometimes emotional diverse romance from an author that has written quite a number of tender, emotional romances.

Winner Takes All, The Millionaires Club #1, by Sandra Kitt
ISBN: 9781728214887 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781728214894 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781662081477 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781662081828 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08SR9CXWF (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08DHGVN2L (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Interracial Romance

 

“Great story-telling of the most romantic kind.”—Brenda Jackson, New York Times bestselling author

“A warm-hearted story and a clever plot reflecting current issues with sensitivity, warmth, and wisdom.”—Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jean Travis has the job of announcing the latest lottery winner on TV and is stunned to find that Patrick Bennett, her teenage crush, is the top mega winner. They haven’t seen each other in years, and Patrick is thrilled to renew their acquaintance. Jean, not so much. After all, a lot has changed since they used to study together and Jean worked so hard to hide her feelings. Now that he’s won so much money, Patrick faces a whole new world of demands from family, friends, coworkers, strangers. The only person he knows for sure he can trust, is Jean…

“Romantic, tender, emotional, and compelling.”—RaeAnne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author


When you’re a person of color and a religious minority (at least in this country), it is often incredibly difficult to find books that have characters that look like you and practice your faith. Thankfully, there are a growing number of authors of color and books that reflect a variety of religious beliefs, including Islam. YAY! I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin and knew that I’d be purchasing all future books by this author. I immediately grabbed a digital copy of Hana Khan Carries On when it was released and was fortunate enough to add a print copy of this book to my home library later.

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
ISBN: 9780593336366 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780593336373 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593410431 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08KWKPPGL (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08JKN98K9 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: April 13, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance| Women’s Fiction

 

From the author of Ayesha at Last comes a sparkling new rom-com for fans of “You’ve Got Mail.”

Hana Khan’s family-run halal restaurant is on its last legs. So when a flashy competitor gets ready to open nearby, bringing their inevitable closure even closer, she turns to her anonymously-hosted podcast, and her lively and long-lasting relationship with one of her listeners, for advice.

But a hate-motivated attack on their neighbourhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana’s growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival business. Who might not be a complete stranger after all…

A charmingly refreshing and modern love story, Uzma Jalaluddin’s tale is humorously warm and filled with gorgeous characters you won’t be able to forget. Now in development for film with Mindy Kaling and Amazon Studios.


Another author on my “just buy it” list is Jasmine Guillory. I love her characters, the romance, the romantic-struggle, and the humor. Ms. Guillory’s 2021 release, While We Were Dating featured a plus-size woman of color as the love interest. YAAS! This book was the sixth addition to “The Wedding Date” series. If you enjoy well-written romance with lots of intelligent characters and humor, then I suggest you binge-read this entire series (if you haven’t already).

While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
ISBN: 9780593100844 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780593100851 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780593100868 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593409800 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08LQYMB1F (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08L5WF4YM (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Multicultural Romance

 

Two people realize that it’s no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he’s trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it’s hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she’s also down to earth and considerate, and he can’t help flirting a little…

Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she’s booked her next movie. However, she didn’t expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?

But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they’ve barely shared with those closest to them.

When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna’s life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?


I’ve recently realized that I read a large number of books that are part of a series. If I’m grabbed by the first title in a series, it’s a sure bet that I’ll be reading all of the new books in that series. Although I’m not a big sports fan, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the “Bromance Book Club” series. Come on folks, a romance series featuring male characters that read romance books to help with their relationships, what’s not to love?! Book four in this series, Isn’t It Bromantic? is slightly different from the first three because the male character is actually writing a romance rather than reading one to help with his love interest.

Isn’t It Bromantic?, Bromance Book Club #4, by Lyssa Kay Adams
ISBN: 9780593332771 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780062964595 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593332788 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08MMJVQ81 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08JKP2G5S (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Sports Romance

 

With his passion for romance novels, it was only a matter of time before Vlad took up the pen to write a novel the Bromance Book Club would swoon over.

Elena Konnikova has lived her entire adult life in the shadows. As the daughter of a Russian journalist who mysteriously disappeared after speaking out against government corruption, she escaped danger the only way she knew how. She agreed to marry her childhood friend, Vladimir, and move to the United States, where he is a professional hockey player in Nashville.

Vlad, aka The Russian, thought he could be content with his marriage of convenience. But after four years, it’s become too difficult to continue in a one-sided relationship. He joined the Bromance Book Club to learn how to make his wife love him, but all he’s learned is that he deserves more. He’s ready to create his own sweeping romance—both on and off the page.

The Bros are unwilling to let Vlad forgo true love—and this time they’re not operating solo. They join forces with Vlad’s senior citizen neighbors, a group of meddling widows who call themselves The Loners. Just when things finally look promising, the danger from Elena’s past life intrudes, and the book club will face their first-ever life-or-death grand gesture as they race to a happy ever after.

 

I was honored to get the opportunity to see this author at a regional book festival last year. I was incredibly blessed that my youngest brother took the time to get my copy of The Dating Playbook signed while I was attending another author presentation. (My brother also drove me to North Carolina so I could attend this event. We spent a lovely day at the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors and I didn’t have to do the drive down or back to West Virginia. In-person events with authors. Got books signed. Had a fantastic day trip without driving. Win-Win-WIN!) I had read the first book in this series, The Boyfriend Project with my online book group, Mocha Girls Read and was hooked. And yes, I own the digital and print copy of this book.

The Dating Playbook, The Boyfriend Project #2, by Farrah Rochon
ISBN: 9781538716670 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9781538716663 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781549135941 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09B38J4WF (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08PV5JRHM (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 17, 2021
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Fiction | Romance

When a personal trainer agrees to fake date her client, all rules are out the window in this “fun, heartfelt, and totally relatable” romantic comedy (Abby Jimenez, NYT bestselling author of Life’s Too Short).

When it comes to personal training, Taylor Powell kicks serious butt. Unfortunately, her bills are piling up, rent is due, and the money situation is dire. Taylor needs more than the support of her new best friends, Samiah and London. She needs a miracle.

And Jamar Dixon might just be it. The oh-so-fine former footballer wants back into the NFL, and he wants Taylor to train him. There’s just one catch—no one can know what they’re doing. But when they’re accidentally outed as a couple, Taylor’s game plan is turned completely upside down. Is Jamar just playing to win . . . or is he playing for keeps?

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | AudiobooksNow.com | BookDepository.com | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | !ndigo Books | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook


I actually had this next author’s first book, Ties That Tether on my TBR list for awhile. I don’t know why I grabbed her latest The Sweetest Remedy to read first, but I did. No, this book isn’t part of a series, but I do heartily recommend you grab both books if you enjoy reading multicultural romance or want to start reading multicultural romance. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author in the future.

The Sweetest Remedy by Jane Igharo
ISBN: 9780593101964 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780593101971 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593456484 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08SMNJPT5 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R5LW2H3 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Fiction | Romance

When a woman travels to Nigeria to attend the funeral of the father she never knew, she meets her extravagant family for the first time, a new and inspiring love interest, and discovers parts of herself she didn’t know were missing, from Jane Igharo, the acclaimed author of Ties That Tether.

Hannah Bailey has never known her father, the Nigerian entrepreneur who had a brief relationship with her white mother. Because of this, Hannah has always felt uncertain about part of her identity. When her father dies, she’s invited to Nigeria for the funeral. Though she wants to hate the man who abandoned her, she’s curious about who he was and where he was from. Searching for answers, Hannah boards a plane to Lagos, Nigeria.

In Banana Island, one of Nigeria’s most affluent areas, Hannah meets the Jolades, her late father’s prestigious family—some who accept her and some who think she doesn’t belong. The days leading up to the funeral are chaotic, but Hannah is soon shaped by secrets that unfold, a culture she never thought she would understand or appreciate, and a man who steals her heart and helps her to see herself in a new light.

 

 Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | AudiobooksNow.com | BookDepository.com | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | !ndigo Books | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook


I have this rather annoying (or at least it’s annoying to me) habit of adding books to my TBR list and then promptly forgetting about them until they pop back up on my reading radar. This next title is one such book, Seven Days in June. As someone that has been dealing with migraine for 40+ years, any book featuring a migraineur should have been one of the first I grabbed to read (the main female character suffers from migraine and the portrayal was all-too familiar). Sadly, I didn’t end up reading this book until mid-December and I had even obtained a signed copy of this book earlier this year in North Carolina. If this one is on your TBR list, I suggest you read it sooner rather than later!

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
ISBN: 9781538719107 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781538719114 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781549104855 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B094471J1S (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08KQ3KS5Y (Kindle edition)
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Fiction | Romance

Brooklynite Eva Mercy is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer, who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning literary author who, to everyone’s surprise, shows up in New York.

When Shane and Eva meet unexpectedly at a literary event, sparks fly, raising not only their past buried traumas, but the eyebrows of New York’s Black literati. What no one knows is that twenty years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. They may be pretending that everything is fine now, but they can’t deny their chemistry – or the fact that they’ve been secretly writing to each other in their books ever since.

Over the next seven days in the middle of a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect, but Eva’s not sure how she can trust the man who broke her heart, and she needs to get him out of New York so that her life can return to normal. But before Shane disappears again, there are a few questions she needs answered…

With its keen observations of Black life and the condition of modern motherhood, as well as the consequences of motherless-ness, Seven Days in June is by turns humorous, warm and deeply sensual.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | AudiobooksNow.com | BookDepository.com | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | !ndigo Books | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook


This next title is part of a series, “Modern Mail Order Brides” by Olivia Gaines. I’ve read all of thirteen of the titles, enjoyed some much more than others although I’ve enjoyed them all. Sunflowers and Honey had me staying up late reading, choking on my tea and triggering an asthma attack from laughing so hard, and smiling until the last page. Although this title released in October, I’ve already read it a number of times and enjoy it a little more with each re-reading.

Sunflowers and Honey, Modern Mail Order Brides #13, by Olivia Gaines
ISBN: 9798488630000 (paperback)
ASIN: B098LZBGLJ (Kindle edition)
Publication date: October 12, 2021
Publisher: Davonshire House Publishing
Genre: Fiction | Romance

Symphony Willis wasn’t about to let her big sister have all the fun. Placing a call to Melody, she asked what everyone wanted to know, “where did you meet Lakota?”

Following the directions sent via text, Symphony walked into the offices of Perfect Match to start a journey that opened not only a lot of doors, but her heart to understanding what it truly means to be family.

Saddle up as we head West to a family farm in Oklahoma that specializes in Sunflowers and Honey.

 
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org Amazon | Amazon Kindle | BookDepository.com


My final romance recommendation is a novella by the one and only, Beverly Jenkins. (Told you, I read everything this Queen writes!) Ms. Bev released this novella a few months ago and I’ve already read it multiple times. Yes, it was just that good. Romance, interesting characters, books, intrigue, books, romance, and books!

Rare Danger by Beverly Jenkins
ISBN: 9781713643876 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B09JFSH428 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09CGBQW7R (Kindle edition)
Publication date: November 16, 2021
Publisher: Montlake
Genre: Fiction | Novella | Romance | Romantic-Suspense

A librarian’s quiet life becomes a page-turner of adventure, romance, and murder in a thrilling novella by USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins.

For Jasmine Ware, curating books for an exclusive clientele is her passion. Until an old friend, a dealer of rare books, goes missing and his partner is murdered. Linked to an artifact smuggled out of the ancient library at Timbuktu, the mystery draws Jasmine deeper into a plot that could cost her her life.

Air force veteran and private security ace Torr Noble is accustomed to adrenaline-pumping stakes. He never expected a private librarian would be so intriguing, but Jasmine is full of surprises. As the connection between them burns hot, a powerful old enemy raises his head. Torr and Jasmine must work together to find the missing dealer.

Will the search be the start of a happily ever after or a disastrous THE END?

 
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Amazon Audiobook on CD


Of course there were plenty of other titles that I read and enjoyed in 2021. The few mentioned on this “best of” list are the ones that truly stood out. Once again, I have to say “THANK YOU” to all of the wonderful authors, publishing companies, publicists, book tour companies, and libraries that afforded me so many fantastic reads over the course of 2021. I hope y’all had some wonderful reads last year and I hope we all have just as many great reads on our 2022 list come the end of the year.

Happy Reading, y’all!

Book Showcase: CRY WOLF by Hans Rosenfeldt

CRY WOLF by Hans Rosenfeldt book coverCry Wolf by Hans Rosenfeldt
ISBN: 9781335425713 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369718839 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488213144 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09DQ8QX4S (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B097RP6KGS (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Release Date: December 28, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Mystery | Psychological Thriller

A DEAD WOLF

A DRUG DEAL GONE WRONG

A LETHAL FEMALE ASSASSIN

The first book in a new series by Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of the TV series The Bridge as well as Netflix’s Emmy Award–winning Marcella.

Hannah Wester, a policewoman in the remote northern town of Haparanda, Sweden, finds herself on the precipice of chaos.

When human remains are found in the stomach of a dead wolf, Hannah knows that this summer won’t be like any other. The remains are linked to a bloody drug deal across the border in Finland. But how did the victim end up in the woods outside of Haparanda? And where have the drugs and money gone?

Hannah and her colleagues leave no stone unturned. But time is scarce and they aren’t the only ones looking. When the secretive and deadly Katja arrives, unexpected and brutal events start to pile up. In just a few days, life in Haparanda is turned upside down. Not least for Hannah, who is finally forced to confront her own past.

 

Read an Excerpt:

Everything had gone according to plan.

First their arrival.

Be the first in place, park the jeep and black Mercedes beside each other on a rutted clearing in the middle of the forest, used by lumber trucks and harvesters for loading and U-turns, then position the coolers to face the narrow forest road they’d just come down. The ruts beneath them, the nocturnal birdsong around them, the only thing besides absolute silence until the sound of engines announced the arrival of the Finns.

A Volvo XC90, also black, drove up. Vadim watched as Artjom and Michail took their weapons and left the Mercedes, while he and Ljuba climbed out of their jeep. He liked Ljuba, thought she liked him, too. They’d gone out for a beer together a few times, and when they asked her who she wanted to drive with, she’d chosen him. For a moment he considered telling her to wait in the car, take cover, say he had a premonition this might go wrong. But if he did that, what would they do afterwards?

Run away together? Live happily ever after?

That would be impossible once she knew what had happened. She’d never betray Valerij; she didn’t like him that much, he was sure of it. So he said nothing.

The Volvo stopped a few meters in front of them, the engine switched off, the doors opened and four men stepped out. All of them armed. Looked around suspiciously as they fanned out.

Everything was still.

The calm before the storm.

The Finnish leader, a large man with a buzz cut and a tribal tattoo wrapped around one eye, nodded to the smallest of the four Finns, who holstered his gun, walked behind the Volvo and opened the trunk. Vadim also backed up a few steps to unlock his jeep’s trunk.

So far everything was going according to their plan.

Time for his plan.

A bullet from a rifle with a silencer on it entered just beneath the eye of the large Finn closest to the car. The sudden explosion of bone, blood, and brain matter as the projectile made its way through the back of his head made the others react instinctively.

Everyone started shooting at the same time.

Everyone except Vadim, who threw himself behind the shelter of the jeep.

The man with the tattoo on his face roared loudly, hugged his trigger, and immediately took down Michail with four or five shots to the chest. Artyom answered with gunfire. The tattooed man was hit by two bullets, staggered back, but re-gained his balance and turned his weapon on Artyom, who threw himself behind the cover of the Mercedes, but it was too late. Several bullets hit his legs from the hip down. Shrieking in pain, he landed on dry gravel. The tattooed man continued bleeding, roaring, and shooting as he moved toward the Volvo, determined to make it out of here alive. But a second later he fell to his knees gurgling, let go of his weapon and pressed his hands to what was left of his neck.

Somewhere more shots were fired, more screams could be heard.

Artjom slid up into a sitting position, while trying to stop the blood that gushed from his thigh in the same rhythm as his racing heartbeat. Then another series of shots, and he went still, his gaze turning from desperation to emptiness, his lips forming some soundless word before his head slumped onto his chest.

The third Finn had thrown himself into the cover of a shallow ditch with a good view beneath the parked cars. A round of concentrated fire from his semi-automatic had hit Artjom in the back. Vadim realized that he, too, must be visible and flung himself around the jeep to hide behind one of its large wheels. When he got to the side of the car, he saw the smallest of the four Finns lying dead on the ground.

Ljuba wasn’t visible.

Another round of shots sounded from the ditch at the forest edge and bullets hit the metal on the back of the wheel, puncturing the tire. One went through the rubber and hit him in the side, just above his butt. The pain was a white-hot flash through his body. He closed his eyes, swallowed a scream, leaned his forehead against his knees and made himself as small as he could. As he slowly let the air in his lungs out again, he realized the gunfire had ceased.

It was silent. Completely silent.

No movement, no voices, no roar of pain or betrayal, no bird-song, nothing. As if the very place itself were holding its breath.

He peeked out carefully from behind the jeep.

Still silent. And still.

Slowly, slowly he raised his head for a better view. The sun hung below the trees, but still above the horizon; the scene in front of him was bathed in that particular soft, warm light of the midnight sun.

He rose cautiously to his feet. A bullet was still lodged in his muscle and tissue, but it didn’t seem to have damaged any vital organs. He pressed his hand to the wound. Blood, but no more than he could stop with a compress.

“Ljuba?”

Ljuba was leaning against the rear bumper of the Finn’s car, breathing shallowly, the front of her gray T-shirt beneath her jacket soaked in blood, the gun still in her right hand. Vadim assessed the damage. The blood was running out at a steady rate, so it hadn’t nicked an artery. No air bubbles, so her lungs were probably intact. She might very well survive.

“Who shot us?” she asked, out of breath, grabbing Vadim’s jacket with a bloody hand. “Who the fuck started shooting?”

“He’s with us.”

“What? What do you mean with us? Who is he?”

“Come on.”

He gently took the gun away from her, pushed it into his pocket before standing up, leaned forward and helped her to her feet. She grimaced from the pain of exertion but managed to stand. With his arm around her waist and her arm around his shoulders, they walked out into the open area between the cars. When they reached the rise where the tattooed Finn had fallen, Vadim stopped, gently removed Ljuba’s arm, released his supportive grip from around her waist, and backed away with two large steps.

“I’m sorry…”

Ljuba’s gaze was uncomprehending at first, but she soon realized what was happening, why he’d brought her here. Seconds later a bullet pierced her temple and she was thrown to the ground.

Vadim pressed his hand to the wound on his lower back and stretched, let out a deep sigh.

In the end, everything had gone according to plan.

Excerpt from Cry Wolf by Hans Rosenfeldt.
Copyright © 2022 by Hans Rosenfeldt.
Published by Harlequin Books S.A.
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Author Hans Rosenfeldt headshot
Hans Rosenfeldt Photo by (c) Anders Thessing

 

Hans Rosenfeldt is a Swedish screenwriter, radio presenter, novelist, and actor. He created the Scandinavian series The Bridge, which is broadcast in more than 170 countries, as well as the ITV/Netflix series Marcella.

 
Connect with the Author:

Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram

This excerpt and tour brought to you by Harlequin Books S.A.

 

Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 3

Best Fiction Reads of 2021

This third installment to my “Best Fiction Reads” list focuses on historical fiction. As with my previous recommendations, this portion of the list includes a little bit of everything within the historical fiction genre. If you haven’t read any of these titles, then I hope one or two (if not all) of these will spark your interest and make it to your 2022 reading list.

I love reading anything written by Beverly Jenkins. (Seriously, if she writes it then I’m reading it!) Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Wild Rain, book two in the “Women Who Dare” series. This book included a character readers were introduced to in book three of the “Old West” series, Tempest. I’m a big fan of books featuring strong characters of color and this particular book introduced me to what has been termed a “cinnamon roll” male character. A “cinnamon roll” character is one that is described as kind and sweet, as well as being strong (physically and/or emotionally) and invested in the well-being of their love interest (yes, I’ve read other books with this type of character but hadn’t heard them referred to as a “cinnamon roll” before). If you enjoy reading historical romance with strong female and male characters, then look no further and grab yourself a copy of Wild Rain ASAP!

Wild Rain, Women Who Dare #2, by Beverly Jenkins
ISBN: 9780062861719 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780063075153 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062861726 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062861733 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B07ZTVKBPW (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B07ZP1NLD8 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Avon Books
Release Date: February 9, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Romance | African-American Historical Fiction

 

The second novel in USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins’ compelling new Women Who Dare series follows a female rancher in Wyoming after the Civil War.

A reporter has come to Wyoming to do a story on doctors for his Black newspaper back east. He thinks Colton Lee will be an interesting subject…until he meets Colton’s sister, Spring. She runs her own ranch, wears denim pants instead of dresses, and is the most fascinating woman he’s ever met.
 
But Spring, who has overcome a raucous and scandalous past, isn’t looking for, nor does she want, love. As their attraction grows, will their differences come between them or unite them for an everlasting love?

 

 Read an excerpt here.



 

I’m sure you’ve probably heard of this next book, simply because it has been raved about online all year, Yellow Wife. If you haven’t heard anything about this book, then I’m pleased to introduce you to this amazing fictionalized historical read based upon a real woman and amazing circumstances in Virginia during the 19th Century.

YELLOW WIFE book coverYellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson
ISBN: 9781982149116 (paperback – released on December 28, 2021)
ISBN: 9781982149109 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781982149123 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781797118819 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08CM6NJBF (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08BZFTB1Y (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: January 12, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Coming-of-Age | African-American Historical Fiction

 

Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this “fully immersive” (Lisa Wingate, #1 bestselling author of Before We Were Yours) story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

 

I especially enjoy reading stories about books or people dealing with books. This next book hit on both levels. The Personal Librarian presents the fictionalized story of the woman responsible for crafting the Pierpont Morgan Library, Belle da Costa Greene. This amazing woman of color passed as “White” for almost all of her adult life and had the amazing responsibility of assisting in the development of and subsequent management of one of the largest private libraries in the United States.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
ISBN: 9780593101537 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780593101551 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593409701 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9780593409718 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08J8HRWP8 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08HL999ZD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: June 29, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction

 

The remarkable, little-known story of Belle da Costa Greene, J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian—who became one of the most powerful women in New York despite the dangerous secret she kept in order to make her dreams come true, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture on the New York society scene and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps build a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths to which she must go—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

 

There seems to be an underlying theme of “strong women of color” within my historical fiction recommendations, and the next title fits this quite well. I had never heard of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas before reading Island Queen, but I quickly became fascinated by this woman that lived during the 18th and 19th centuries. This is a fictionalized story of a real woman that had great influence in the Caribbean and beyond across two centuries. This is yet another book that I passed to my mother to read. We both enjoyed it so much, we have print copies for our respective home libraries (okay, I also have a digital copy in addition to my print copy). I consider myself fortunate enough to have obtained the author’s signature on my print copy at a regional book festival (I forgot to take my mother’s copy to get it signed, sorry Mom).

ISLAND QUEEN by Vanessa Riley book coverIsland Queen by Vanessa Riley
ISBN: 9780063002845 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780063002869 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780063002876 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08MLPY619 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08KQD5J9T (Kindle edition)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: May 11, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction

 

A remarkable, sweeping historical novel based on the incredible true life story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a free woman of color who rose from slavery to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in the colonial West Indies.

Born into slavery on the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, Doll bought her freedom—and that of her sister and her mother—from her Irish planter father and built a legacy of wealth and power as an entrepreneur, merchant, hotelier, and planter that extended from the marketplaces and sugar plantations of Dominica and Barbados to a glittering luxury hotel in Demerara on the South American continent.

Vanessa Riley’s novel brings Doll to vivid life as she rises above the harsh realities of slavery and colonialism by working the system and leveraging the competing attentions of the men in her life: a restless shipping merchant, Joseph Thomas; a wealthy planter hiding a secret, John Coseveldt Cells; and a roguish naval captain who will later become King William IV of England.

From the bustling port cities of the West Indies to the forbidding drawing rooms of London’s elite, Island Queen is a sweeping epic of an adventurer and a survivor who answered to no one but herself as she rose to power and autonomy against all odds, defying rigid eighteenth-century morality and the oppression of women as well as people of color. It is an unforgettable portrait of a true larger-than-life woman who made her mark on history.

 

I had the pleasure of seeing this next author in a presentation with Vanessa Riley and others a few months ago at a regional book festival. And yes I got my print copy signed. This is another fictionalized history story featuring strong women of color. Sisters in Arms presents the story of several African American women in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. For those of you that enjoy WWII stories, I encourage you to grab a copy of this one to read.

SISTERS IN ARMS by Kaia AldersonSisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson
ISBN: 9780062964588 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780062964595 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780063096837 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08TN14WK9 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08FJHLBW3 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | African-American History | WWII

 

Kaia Alderson’s debut historical fiction novel reveals the untold, true story of the Six Triple Eight, the only all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps, who made the dangerous voyage to Europe to ensure American servicemen received word from their loved ones during World War II.

Grace Steele and Eliza Jones may be from completely different backgrounds, but when it comes to the army, specifically the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), they are both starting from the same level. Not only will they be among the first class of female officers the army has even seen, they are also the first Black women allowed to serve.

As these courageous women help to form the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, they are dealing with more than just army bureaucracy—everyone is determined to see this experiment fail. For two northern women, learning to navigate their way through the segregated army may be tougher than boot camp. Grace and Eliza know that there is no room for error; they must be more perfect than everyone else.

When they finally make it overseas, to England and then France, Grace and Eliza will at last be able to do their parts for the country they love, whatever the risk to themselves.

Based on the true story of the 6888th Postal Battalion (the Six Triple Eight), Sisters in Arms explores the untold story of what life was like for the only all-Black, female U.S. battalion to be deployed overseas during World War II.

 


The final book on this list is a blend of contemporary and historical fiction, coupled with magical realism and time-travel. I’ve read and reviewed a number of titles in the “Found Things” series by Paula Brackston, including City of Time and Magic. This addition to the series is a bit darker than some of the others but it was still an engrossing read and one I hope you’ll enjoy when you read it.

City of Time and Magic, Found Things #4, by Paula Brackston
ISBN: 9781250260697 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250260703 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250818874 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08TZ38281 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R2HCFLR (Kindle edition)
Publication date: November 23, 2020
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Fantasy | Time-Travel

Xanthe meets Brackston’s most famous heroine, Elizabeth Hawksmith from The Witch’s Daughter, in this crossover story with all the “historical detail, village charm, and twisty plotting” of the Found Things series (Publishers Weekly).

City of Time and Magic sees Xanthe face her greatest challenges yet. She must choose from three treasures that sing to her; a beautiful writing slope, a mourning brooch of heartbreaking detail, and a gorgeous gem-set hat pin. All call her, but the wrong one could take her on a mission other than that which she must address first, and the stakes could not be higher. While her earlier mission to Regency England had been a success, the journey home resulted in Liam being taken from her, spirited away to another time and place. Xanthe must follow the treasure that will take her to him if he is not to be lost forever.

Xanthe is certain that Mistress Flyte has Liam and determined to find them both. But when she discovers Lydia Flyte has been tracking the actions of the Visionary Society, a group of ruthless and unscrupulous Spinners who have been selling their talents to a club of wealthy clients, Xanthe realizes her work as a Spinner must come before her personal wishes. The Visionary Society is highly dangerous and directly opposed to the creed of the Spinners. Their actions could have disastrous consequences as they alter the authentic order of things and change the future. Xanthe knows she must take on the Society. It will require the skills of all her friends, old and new, to attempt such a thing, and not all of them will survive the confrontation that follows.

 

 Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | AudiobooksNow.com | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | !ndigo Books | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook


Thanks once again to the authors, publishers, publicists, book tour companies, library systems, etc. that afforded me the opportunity to read so many wonderful books this year. I hope you’ll return to see what books make the fourth part of this list, the contemporary romance reads.

Happy Reading, y’all!

Book Showcase: MY DARLING HUSBAND by Kimberly Belle

MY DARLING HUSBAND by Kimberly BelleMy Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle
ISBN: 9780778312116 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780778311560 (trade paperback releasing on March 8, 2022)
ISBN: 9780369705464 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212611 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781665105279 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B094PSTKVL (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08MXZBSVY (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Park Row Books
Release Date: December 28, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Suspense Thriller | Psychological Thriller


Bestselling author of Dear Wife and The Marriage Lie, Kimberly Belle returns with her most heart-pounding thriller to date, as a masked home invader reveals the cracks in a marriage.

Everyone is about to know what her husband isn’t telling her…

Jade and Cam Lasky are by all accounts a happily married couple with two adorable kids, a spacious home and a rapidly growing restaurant business. But their world is tipped upside down when Jade is confronted by a masked home invader. As Cam scrambles to gather the ransom money, Jade starts to wonder if they’re as financially secure as their lifestyle suggests, and what other secrets her husband is keeping from her.

Cam may be a good father, a celebrity chef and a darling husband, but there’s another side he’s kept hidden from Jade that has put their family in danger. Unbeknownst to Cam and Jade, the home invader has been watching them and is about to turn their family secrets into a public scandal.

With riveting twists and a breakneck pace, My Darling Husband is an utterly compelling thriller that once again showcases Kimberly Belle’s exceptional talent for domestic suspense.

 

Read an Excerpt:

Jade
3:18 pm

I see the black figure in the shadows, and my first thought is of the kids, an immediate, full-throttle alarm that comes on like a freight train. This is parenthood in a nutshell: utter terror for your children’s welfare, always. It’s something Cam and I never thought about back when we were trying to get pregnant—the overwhelming insecurity when the doctor settled our babies into our arms, the unrelenting worry whenever they’re not near. I spot movement and I reach for them at the same time—instant and instinctual. My brain identifies a person, a male-sized form that does not belong here, and I shove their little bodies behind mine.

A man, looming in my garage. Breathing the same air.

I don’t move. I can’t. No fight. No flight. I just stand here, transfixed, dumbstruck, stock-still.

I think of my phone, buried under the mail and trash in my bag. I think of the panic button on the alarm pad in the house, on the other end of a breezeway and tucked safely behind a locked door. I think of my keys, next to my phone. Even if I managed to get us out of this garage, where would we go? I’d never make it inside the house, and the backyard is fenced, the gates either electronic or secured with a complicated, child-safe latch. There’s nowhere to escape.

“Don’t move. Stay quiet and I won’t hurt you.”

The voice is so frighteningly close. Hoarse, rattling in air hot with my sticky fear, and I don’t believe a single word. Especially not when he steps closer, and I get a better look. The man is wearing a mask. He’s holding a gun, a stubby black thing in a fist. Head-to-toe black, every bit of him covered, even his hands. His fingertips.

Run. I scream the word in my head, urging myself on. Grab the children and run.

Now.

A chill races down my spine. The hairs soldier on my skin.

This man is here to hurt me. To hurt us.

And still I can’t move.

So this is it, then. This is how my body responds when faced with sudden fright, with this hot, sluggish horror—like when your fingers brush over a strange lump under your armpit and you realize your life has veered sideways. Some people run. Others scream. Me, I just stand here, paralyzed by the mounting terror.

The kids, too. They stare at him with big, frightened eyes. A little hand grabs my pants leg.

“Please,” I somehow manage to squeak, but I can’t finish. Please don’t touch the children. Please don’t shoot us. The words are too horrifying to say out loud.

He moves closer, his gait smooth but there’s something sinister in the way he’s walking across the concrete floor. He’s like an animal on the hunt, joints loose, ready to pounce. All dangerous, coiled energy lurking just below the surface.

“Take my car.” I hold out my bag, a stupidly expensive designer thing from a couple years ago. “The keys are in here somewhere, and so’s my wallet. I—”

“I don’t want your purse. Don’t want your car, either.” His voice is deep and scratchy, the kind that sounds filled with cigarette smoke.

My stomach spirals, and I search his face for more, but the parts of him I can see—his lips, his eyes—are closed off. I search for something recognizable, something human I can appeal to, but there’s nothing. It’s like searching for meaning on a covered canvas.

Still, I take in every detail I can see and commit them to memory. Just under six foot, medium build, broad shouldered. Caucasian. I know this from his eyes, olive green and flecked with amber, the pink patch of skin around his mouth. His teeth are white and straight, the kind of straight that comes from braces.

“Do you want money? I don’t have cash, but take my card. My pin is 4-3-0-8.”

“Jade. Shh.”

My name on his tongue tightens a knot of panic in my gut, and I scurry—finally—backwards, putting some distance between me and this man, pushing the kids behind me and towards the door.

Stay calm.

Don’t panic.

Whatever happens, do not let the gunman in the house. That’s how people get killed. That’s how entire families end up in a pool of blood. As soon as you let the gunman into the house, you’re already dead.

Excerpt from My Darling Husband by Kimberly S. Belle Books, LLC.
Copyright © 2021 by Kimberly S. Belle Books, LLC.
Published by Park Row Books.
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Kimberly Belle photo by Brandon Wattson
Kimberly Belle photo by Brandon Wattson

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of seven novels, including her latest, My Darling Husband (December 2021). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Connect with the Author:

Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Author Website

 

This excerpt brought to you by Park Row Books

 

Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 2

Best Fiction Reads of 2021

We’re getting close to the end of 2021. At times, this year has seemed to drag by, second-by-second, and at other times it flew. Okay, it seemed to drag whenever I was looking forward to the release of a new book or an in-person book event. (Time always seems to drag when you’re anticipating something or at least it does for me.) Although this was a moderately bad year for me migraine-wise, it was actually a good reading year. Part One of my “best of 2021” left off with general fiction reads. Today, I’d like to focus on my suspense, thriller, Afrojujuism, Young Adult, and Sci-Fi reads. I have very eclectic reading tastes and this year afforded me the opportunity to read a number of great books across a host of fiction genres.


I began reading P.J. Tracy with the Monkeewrench series (man, I miss that series; guess it’s time for a re-re-read). I was sad to hear of the passing of half of this mother-daughter writing duo, P.J. Lambrecht, in 2016 and thought that might be the end of books by this author. I was happily surprised when Traci Lambrecht continued the Monkeewrench series and released this psychological thriller earlier this year, the first in a new series.

DEEP INTO THE DARK by P.J. TracyDeep Into The Dark, Detective Margaret Nolan #1, by P. J. Tracy
ISBN: 9781250813831 (trade paperback – released 09/28/2021)
ISBN: 9781250754943 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250783578 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250790071 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B088ML1NXZ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08BKL7N6K (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: January 12, 2021

 

Sam Easton—a true survivor—is home from Afghanistan, trying to rebuild a life in his hometown of LA. Separated from his wife, bartending and therapy sessions are what occupy his days and nights. When friend and colleague Melody Traeger is beaten by her boyfriend, she turns to Sam for help. When the boyfriend turns up dead the next day, a hard case like Sam is the perfect suspect.
 
But LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan, whose brother recently died serving overseas, is sympathetic to Sam’s troubles, and can’t quite see him as a killer. She’s more interested in the secrets Melody might be keeping and the developments in another murder case on the other side of town.
 
Set in an LA where real people live and work—not the superficial LA of Beverly Hills or the gritty underbelly of the city—Deep into the Dark features two really engaging, dynamic main characters and explores the nature of obsession, revenge, and grief.
 
P. J. Tracy is known for her “fast, fresh, and funny” characters (Harlan Coben) and her “sizzling” plots (People); the Monkeewrench series was her first, set in Minneapolis and co-written with her mother. Now with Deep into the Dark she’s on her own—and it’s a home run.
 
 
 
Read an excerpt by clicking here.
 

I’ve read quite a number of titles by Nnedi Okorafor and this author does not disappoint. Most of her titles are classified as AfricanJujuism and they meld African folklore and legends with hints of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. This title was released early in the year and I enjoyed it so much I now have two different digital copies of the book (Kindle and EPUB formats). If you enjoy reading multicultural stories that blend Sci-Fi, Female Empowerment, Coming-of-Age, and good storytelling, I encourage you to grab a copy of this novella for yourself or a friend.

REMOTE CONTROL by Nnedi OkoraforRemote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
ISBN: 9781250772800 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250772794 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250772961 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B087V5LZD2 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B0879FRJ9X (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Tordotcom
Release Date: January 19, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Novella | AfricanJujuism | Science-Fiction

 

“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

 

I was afforded the opportunity to read this Sci-Fi title shortly before its release. Sadly, this was during a severe migraine period so I was unable to write a review at that time. (It’s difficult to sit upright when dealing with severe vertigo. Photosensitivity issues and blurred vision make it impossible to look at a computer screen and type anything.) I enjoyed this book so much I recommended it to one of my local book clubs and then got to read it again and discuss it with the club. Happily, my club members seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. Several members strongly encouraged me to try the audiobook, still waiting for that pleasure. If you read The Martian or Artemis, then I strongly encourage you to grab a copy of Project Hail Mary to read. Don’t just take my word for it, Project Hail Mary won the Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction this year. Yes, millions of readers voted this book as the best Sci-Fi read for the year.

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
ISBN: 9780593135204 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780593135211 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781713630296 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08GB58KD5 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08FHBV4ZX (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: May 4, 2021

 

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

 

The title of this next book just grabbed me, so it was immediately placed on my personal TBR list. I’m not a big reader of Sci-Fi, although I do enjoy what I read in this genre, nor am I a big reader of Steampunk, but this Steampunk Sci-Fi read pulled me in and I’m glad I read it. A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark is the first book in the Dead Djinn Universe and it packed quite a punch. If you’re going to add this to your TBR list (and you should), then I also encourage you to add A Dead Djinn in Cairo, Dead Djinn Universe #0.1, and The Haunting of Tram Car 015, Dead Djinn Universe #0.3, to your list as well. I’m greatly looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

A MASTER OF DJINN by P. Djeli ClarkA Master of Djinn, Dead Djinn Universe #1, by P. Djeli Clark
ISBN: 9781250267689 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250267672 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250807731 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08JD2THTX (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08HKXS84X (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Tordotcom
Release Date: May 11, 2021

 

Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns to his popular alternate Cairo universe for his fantasy novel debut, A Master of Djinn

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…

 

The next book is another title from my personal TBR stash and list (versus the blog’s TBR list and yes, I actually have two separate TBR lists although there is often some crossover). I had previously read this author’s romantic suspense titles and was greatly anticipating the release of this suspense thriller, While Justice Sleeps. I enjoyed this one so much that I “lent” my hardcover copy to my 87-y.o. mother to read and she promptly lent it to one of my aunts to read after she finished it. I finally got my print copy back, but it made a few rounds in the family first. And yes, I do own a digital copy as well as a print copy of this book!

WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS by Stacey AbramsWhile Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams
ISBN: 9780385546577 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780385546584 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593413708 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9780593501764 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08L5KSV33 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08KSRQ7L1 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: May 11, 2021

 

While Justice Sleeps is a gripping, complexly plotted thriller set within the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together–excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn—the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases—has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court–a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington.

As political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chesslike sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth. While Justice Sleeps is a cunningly crafted, sophisticated novel, layered with myriad twists and a vibrant cast of characters. Drawing on her astute inside knowledge of the court and political landscape, Stacey Abrams shows herself to be not only a force for good in politics and voter fairness but also a major new talent in suspense fiction.

 

The next book is a title I won in an online giveaway via BookishFirst, Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn. This author has delftly combined a coming-of-age story with female empowerment, colorism, family, community, abuse, emotional health issues, as well as social and racial equity. Yes, there is tragedy in this story, but there is also laughter, love, friendship, and more. I passed this title along to not only my 87-y.o. mother to read, but to one of my 14-y.o. diva twin nieces as well. I’m happy to report that everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.

SUGAR TOWN QUEENS by Malla NunSugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn
ISBN: 9780525515609 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780525515616 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593397886 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08MV6KWH9 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08MQ3G34L (Kindle edition)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 3, 2021

 

 From LA Times Book Prize Award Winner and Edgar Award Nominee Malla Nunn comes a stunning portrait of a family divided and the bonds that knit our communities.

When Amandla wakes up on her fifteenth birthday she knows it’s going to be one of her mother’s difficult days. Her mother has had another vision. If Amandla wears a blue sheet her mother has loosely stitched as a dress and styles her normally braided hair in a halo around her head, Amandla’s father will come home. Amandla’s mother, Annalisa, always speaks of her father as if he was the prince of a fairytale, but in truth he’s been gone since before Amandla was born and even Annalisa’s memory of him is hazy. In fact many of Annalisa’s memories from before Amandla was born are hazy. It’s just one of the many reasons people in Sugar Town give Annalisa and Amandla strange looks—that and the fact her mother is white and Amandla is brown.

But when Amandla finds a mysterious address in the bottom of her mother’s handbag along with a large amount of cash, she decides it’s finally time to get answers about her mother’s life. But what she discovers will change the shape and size of her family forever.

 

The final book on this list is another Young Adult title and a Jane Eyre fantasy retelling. (Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite stories and I enjoy reading anything inspired by or listed as a retelling.) This title had been on my personal TBR list from the moment I heard about it (hey, Jane Eyre retelling folks!). However, due to a few parental health issues followed by multiple deaths in the family, I didn’t get around to reading this until recently. Let me sum up with “WOW, Great Read!”

WITHIN THESE WICKED WALLS by Lauren BlackwoodWithin These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood
ISBN: 9781250787101 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250787118 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250819833 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08SNSSJZG (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R2L2BRD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: October 19, 2021

 

“Lauren Blackwood’s can’t-miss debut is a magical, Ethiopian-inspired remix of Jane Eyre.” – Harper’s Bazaar

Within These Wicked Walls is an indulgently Gothic fairy tale, comparable in mastery with Mexican Gothic and Jane Eyre. An intricate magic system, a grimly humorous Black heroine, AND a heart-thumping romance? This book leaves nothing wanting.” – Jordan Ifueko, New York Times bestselling author of Raybearer

What the heart desires, the house destroys…

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. She would be hired, that is, if her mentor hadn’t thrown her out before she could earn her license. Now her only hope of steady work is to find a Patron—a rich, well-connected individual who will vouch for her abilities.

When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, she takes the job without question. Never mind that he’s rude and demanding and eccentric, that the contract comes with a number of outlandish rules… and that almost a dozen debtera had quit before her. If Andromeda wants to earn a living, she has no choice.

But she quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, the reason every debtera before her quit. But leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option because—heaven help her—she’s fallen for him.

Stunningly romantic, Lauren Blackwood’s heartstopping debut, Within These Wicked Walls, ushers in an exciting new fantasy voice.

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.

 

Once again, I’m grateful to the authors, publishers, publicists, virtual book tour companies, book clubs, and libraries that have afforded me the opportunity to read so many wonderful titles. Part Three of my “Best of” list will focus on Historical Fiction. I hope you’ll return to read that one and stay tuned for Part Four focusing on Romance.

Happy Reading, y’all!

Book Showcase: THE GOOD SON by Jacquelyn Mitchard

THE GOOD SON by Jacquelyn MitchardThe Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9780778311799 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780369717559 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212536 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781665104524(audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B094PSTKB7 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08QZMDJSD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: January 18, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Women’s Fiction | Coming-of-Age | Family Life

“Rich and complex, The Good Son is a compelling novel about the aftermath of a crime in a small, close-knit community.”—Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard comes the gripping, emotionally charged novel of a mother who must help her son after he is convicted of a devastating crime.

What do you do when the person you love best becomes unrecognizable to you? For Thea Demetriou, the answer is both simple and agonizing: you keep loving him somehow.

Stefan was just seventeen when he went to prison for the drug-fueled murder of his girlfriend, Belinda. Three years later, he’s released to a world that refuses to let him move on. Belinda’s mother, once Thea’s good friend, galvanizes the community to rally against him to protest in her daughter’s memory. The media paints Stefan as a symbol of white privilege and indifferent justice. Neighbors, employers, even some members of Thea’s own family turn away.

Meanwhile Thea struggles to understand her son. At times, he is still the sweet boy he has always been; at others, he is a young man tormented by guilt and almost broken by his time in prison. But as his efforts to make amends meet escalating resistance and threats, Thea suspects more forces are at play than just community outrage. And if there is so much she never knew about her own son, what other secrets has she yet to uncover—especially about the night Belinda died?

 

Read an Excerpt:

1

 

I was picking my son up at the prison gates when I spotted the mother of the girl he had murdered.

Two independent clauses, ten words each, joined by an adverb, made up entirely of words that would once have been unimaginable to think, much less say.

She pulled in—not next to me, but four spaces over—in the half circle of fifteen-minute spots directly in front of the main building. It was not where Stefan would walk out. That would be over at the gatehouse. She got out of her car, and for a moment I thought she would come toward me. I wanted to talk to her, to offer something, to reach out and hold her, for we had not even been able to attend Belinda’s funeral. But what would I say? What would she? This was an unwonted crease in an already unaccustomed day. I slid deep into my down coat, and wished I could lock the car doors, although I feared that the sound would crack the predawn darkness like a rifle shot. All that Jill McCormack did, however, was shove her hands into the pockets of her jacket and lean against the back bumper of her car. She wore the heavy maroon leather varsity jacket that her daughter Belinda, captain of the high school cheer team in senior year, had given to her, to Stefan, and to me, with our names embroidered in gold on the back, just like hers.

I hadn’t seen Jill McCormack up close for years, though she lived literally around the corner. Once, I used to stop there to sit on her porch, but now I avoided even driving past the place.

Jill seemed smaller, diminished, the tumult of ash-blond hair I remembered cropped short and seemingly mostly white, though I knew she was young when Belinda was born, and now couldn’t be much past forty. Yet, even just to stand in the watery, slow-rising light in front of a prison, she was tossed together fashionably, in gold-colored jeans and boots, with a black turtleneck, a look I would have had to plan for days. She looked right at my car, but gave no sign that she recognized it, though she’d been in it dozens of times years ago. Once she had even changed her clothes in my car. I remember how I stood outside it holding a blanket up over the windows as she peeled off a soaking-wet, floor-length, jonquil-yellow crystal-beaded evening gown that must, at that point, have weighed about thirty pounds, then slipped into a clean football warm-up kit. After she changed, we linked arms with my husband and we all went to a ball.

But I would not think of that now.

I had spent years assiduously not thinking of any of that.

A friendship, like a crime, is not one thing, or even two people. It’s two people and their shared environs and their histories, their common memories, their words, their weaknesses and fears, their virtues and vanities, and sometimes their shame.

Jill was not my closest friend. Some craven times, I blessed myself with that—at least I was spared that. There had always been Julie, since fifth grade my heart, my sharer. But Jill was my good friend. We had been soccer moms together, and walking buddies, although Jill’s swift, balanced walk was my jog. I once kept Belinda at my house while Jill went to the bedside of her beloved father who’d suffered a stroke, just as she kept Stefan at her house with Belinda when they were seven and both had chicken pox, which somehow neither I nor my husband, Jep, ever caught. And on the hot night of that fundraising ball for the zoo, so long ago, she had saved Stefan’s life.

Since Jill was a widow when we first met, recently arrived in the Midwest from her native North Carolina, I was always talking her into coming to events with Jep and me, introducing her to single guys who immediately turned out to be hopeless. That hot evening, along with the babysitter, the two kids raced toward the new pool, wildly decorated with flashing green lights, vines and temporary waterfalls for a “night jungle swim.” Suddenly, the sitter screamed. When Jill was growing up, she had been state champion in the 200-meter backstroke before her devout parents implored her to switch to the more modest sport of golf, and Belinda, at five, was already a proficient swimmer. My Stefan, on the other hand, sank to the bottom like a rock and never came up. Jill didn’t stop to ask questions. Kicking off her gold sandals, in she went, an elegant flat race dive that barely creased the surface; seconds later she hauled up a gasping Stefan. Stefan owed his life to her as surely as Belinda owed her death to Stefan.

In seconds, life reverses.

Jill and I once talked every week. It even seemed we once might have been machatunim, as they say in Yiddish, parents joined by the marriage of their son and daughter. Now, the circumstances under which we might ever exchange a single word seemed as distant as the bony hood of moon above us in the melting darkness.

What did she want here now? Would she leave once Stefan came through the gates? In fact, she left before that. She got back into her car, and, looking straight ahead, drove off.

I watched until her car was out of sight.

Just after dawn, a guard walked Stefan to the edge of the enclosure. I looked up at the razor wire. Then, opening the window slightly, I heard the guard say, “Do good, kid. I hope I never see you again.” Stefan stepped out, and then put his palm up to a sky that had just begun to spit snow. He was twenty, and he had served two years, nine months and three days of a five-year sentence, one year of which the judge had suspended, noting Stefan’s unblemished record. Still, it seemed like a week; it seemed like my entire life; it seemed like a length of time too paltry for the monstrous thing he had done. I could not help but reckon it this way: For each of the sixty or seventy years Belinda would have had left to live, Stefan spent only a week behind bars, not even a season. No matter how much he despaired, he could always see the end. Was I grateful? Was I ashamed? I was both. Yet relief rippled through me like the sweet breeze that stirs the curtains on a summer night.

I got out and walked over to my son. I reached up and put my hand on his head. I said, “My kid.”

Stefan placed his huge warm palm on the top of my head. “My mom,” he said. It was an old ritual, a thing I would not have dared to do in the prison visiting room. My eyes stung with curated tears. Then I glanced around me, furtively. Was I still permitted such tender old deeds? This new universe was not showing its hand. “I can stand here as long as I want,” he said, shivering in wonderment. Then he said, “Where’s Dad?”

“He told you about it. He had to see that kid in Louisville one more time,” I told him reluctantly. “The running back with the very protective grandmother. He couldn’t get out of it. But he cut it short and he’ll be home when we get back, if he beats the weather out of Kentucky this morning, that is.” Jep was in only his second season as football coach at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, a Division II team with significant chops and national esteem. We didn’t really think he would get the job, given our troubles, but the athletic director had watched Jep’s career and believed deeply in his integrity. Now he was never at rest: His postseason recruiting trips webbed the country. Yet it was also true that while Stefan’s father longed equally for his son to be free, if Jep had been able to summon the words to tell the people who mattered that he wanted to skip this trip altogether, he would have. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to say it’s a big day, our son’s getting out of prison.

Now, it seemed important to hurry Stefan to the car, to get out of there before this new universe recanted. We had a long drive back from Black Creek, where the ironically named Belle Colline Correctional Facility squatted not far from the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Black Creek. Stefan’s terrible journey had taken him from college to prison, a distance of just two miles as the crow flies. I felt like the guard: I never wanted to see the place again. I had no time to think about Jill or anything else except the weather. We’d hoped that the early-daylight release would keep protestors away from the prison gates, and that seemed to have worked: Prisoners usually didn’t walk out until just before midday. There was not a single reporter here, which surprised me as Jill was tireless in keeping her daughter Belinda’s death a national story, a symbol for young women in abusive relationships. Many of the half dozen or so stalwarts who still picketed in front of our house nearly every day were local college and high-school girls, passionate about Jill’s work. As Stefan’s release grew near, their numbers rose, even as the outdoor temperatures fell. A few news organizations put in appearances again lately as well. I knew they would be on alert today and was hoping we could beat some of the attention by getting back home early. In the meantime, a snowstorm was in the forecast: I never minded driving in snow, but the air smelled of water running over iron ore—a smell that always portended worse weather.

Excerpt from The Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard.
Copyright © 2022 by Jacquelyn Mitchard.
Published by arrangements with Harlequin Books S.A.
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Jacquelyn Mitchard Author Photo#1 New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard has written nine previous novels for adults; six young adult novels; four children’s books; a memoir, Mother Less Child; and a collection of essays, The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship. Her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the inaugural selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, and later adapted for a feature film. Mitchard is a frequent lecturer and a professor of fiction and creative nonfiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband and their nine children.

Connect with the Author:

Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Author Website

This excerpt and tour brought to you by MIRA Books

 

Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 1

Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings to everyone celebrating a holiday at this time of the year: Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Yule (Winter Solstice) Greetings, and Merry Christmas. Although I’m not celebrating any major religious holidays, I’m always ready to provide bookish recommendations to friends and family. This year, rather than simply doing a “best of 2021” list (books published and read in 2021), I decided to break my list down into general fiction, historical fiction, romance, and other fiction. (Yes, I have quite a number of recommendations, thus the breakdown.) Please note that some of the books included in these lists may have been reviewed here, others were not.

Happy Holidays


Let’s get things started with my best of 2021 in general fiction. If you haven’t already read any of the books on these lists, then I hope one or two will pique your reading interest and you’ll grab copies for yourself (or to gift).

I read this one at the very beginning of 2021 and at that time, it didn’t make a huge impact (sorry but bad migraine days usually result in bad everything including bad impressions of books being read). Since that initial reading, I’ve had time to re-evaluate and I’ve come to the conclusion that my pain levels during my reading played a major role in my initial response. As a result, this book is my first recommendation.

 
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
ISBN: 9781250245496 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250245502 (trade paperback – released November 2, 2021)
ISBN: 9781250245519 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250752451 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781250752468 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08DRR2K6X (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08BKLVZRJ (Kindle edition)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 5, 2021

 
Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates—a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie­ Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie—not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past—or his—catches up to her?

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | Audiobooks | AudiobooksNow | BookDepository | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook


My next best read in general fiction is another Southern story and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Part coming-of-age tale combined with a moral tale, this story has a little bit of everything for every reader desiring a good story told well. Psst, it has even been considered a more contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, so if you’re into retellings, here you go!

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
ISBN: 9781616206802 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781643752006 (paperback – Released October 5, 2021)
ISBN: 9781643751078 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781649040237 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08QXZMS9Q (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08519FF6Z (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: January 5, 2021

 

When Charlie Boykin was young, he thought his life with his single mother on the working-class side of Nashville was perfectly fine. But when his mother arranges for him to be admitted as a scholarship student to an elite private school, he is suddenly introduced to what the world can feel like to someone cushioned by money. That world, he discovers, is an almost irresistible place where one can bend—and break—rules and still end up untarnished. As he gets drawn into a friendship with a charismatic upperclassman, Archer Creigh, and an affluent family that treats him like an adopted son, Charlie quickly adapts to life in the upper echelons of Nashville society. Under their charming and alcohol-soaked spell, how can he not relax and enjoy it all—the lack of anxiety over money, the easy summers spent poolside at perfectly appointed mansions, the lavish parties, the freedom to make mistakes knowing that everything can be glossed over or fixed?

But over time, Charlie is increasingly pulled into covering for Archer’s constant deceits and his casual bigotry. At what point will the attraction of wealth and prestige wear off enough for Charlie to take a stand—and will he?

 


I read this book early in the year, and yes, I gave a copy to my 87-y.o. mother to read. We both enjoyed it and it made a lasting impression. It’s much more than a story about race, it’s about striving to be better, regrets, and the power of reaching out to others.

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
ISBN: 9780063005631 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780063005655 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780063005662 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B0872K2Y82 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B086ZRRYCW (Kindle edition)
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Release Date: February 2, 2021

 

A promise could betray you.

Its 2008, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama ushers in a new kind of hope. In Chicago, Ruth Tuttle, an Ivy-League educated Black engineer, is married to a kind and successful man. He’s eager to start a family, but Ruth is uncertain. She has never gotten over the baby she gave birth to—and was forced to leave behind—when she was a teenager. She had promised her family she’d never look back, but Ruth knows that to move forward, she must make peace with the past.
 
Returning home, Ruth discovers the Indiana factory town of her youth is plagued by unemployment, racism, and despair. As she begins digging into the past, she unexpectedly befriends Midnight, a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. Just as Ruth is about to uncover a burning secret her family desperately wants to keep hidden, a traumatic incident strains the town’s already searing racial tensions, sending Ruth and Midnight on a collision course that could upend both their lives.
 
Powerful and revealing, The Kindest Lie captures the heartbreaking divide between Black and white communities and offers both an unflinching view of motherhood in contemporary America and the never-ending quest to achieve the American Dream.

 

 

Read an excerpt here.


I had the pleasure of reading this book with my online book group, Mocha Girls Read. This is just one of the many powerful and realistic fictional stories I’ve read this year dealing with friendship, family, and race relations. A definite #mustread.

WE ARE NOT LIKE THEM book coverWe Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza
ISBN: 9781982181031 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781982181055 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781797131092 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08WT2PVKZ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08VJM1568 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: October 5, 2021

 

 A GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK

Named a Best Book Pick of 2021 by Harper’s Bazaar and Real Simple

Named a Most Anticipated Book of Fall by People, Essence, New York Post, PopSugar, New York Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, Town & Country, Bustle, Fortune, and Book Riot

Told from alternating perspectives, an evocative and riveting novel about the lifelong bond between two women, one Black and one white, whose friendship is indelibly altered by a tragic event—a powerful and poignant exploration of race in America today and its devastating impact on ordinary lives.

Jen and Riley have been best friends since kindergarten. As adults, they remain as close as sisters, though their lives have taken different directions. Jen married young, and after years of trying, is finally pregnant. Riley pursued her childhood dream of becoming a television journalist and is poised to become one of the first Black female anchors of the top news channel in their hometown of Philadelphia.
 
But the deep bond they share is severely tested when Jen’s husband, a city police officer, is involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager. Six months pregnant, Jen is in freefall as her future, her husband’s freedom, and her friendship with Riley are thrown into uncertainty. Covering this career-making story, Riley wrestles with the implications of this tragic incident for her Black community, her ambitions, and her relationship with her lifelong friend.
 
Like Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage and Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things, We Are Not Like Them explores complex questions of race and how they pervade and shape our most intimate spaces in a deeply divided world. But at its heart, it’s a story of enduring friendship—a love that defies the odds even as it faces its most difficult challenges.

I recommended this next book earlier prior to the release date and again later in the year in a review. Seriously y’all, I can’t say enough good things about this book. Okay, I can add that my 87-y.o. mother enjoyed it as much as I did (thank you, Ms. Nolfi for thinking about us and sending us the signed books). The book is The Passing Storm by Christine Nolfi. It is a story about secrets, forgiveness (of others and of self), tragedy, survival, second chances, love, and family being more than DNA.

THE PASSING STORM by Christine NolfiThe Passing Storm by Christine Nolfi
ISBN: 9781542029124 (paperback)
ASIN: B08SXRK8M1 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08MZPFY3J (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 1, 2021

 

A gripping, openhearted novel about family, reconciliation, and bringing closure to the secrets of the past.

Early into the tempestuous decade of her thirties, Rae Langdon struggles to work through a grief she never anticipated. With her father, Connor, she tends to their Ohio farm, a forty-acre spread that itself has enjoyed better days. As memories sweep through her, some too precious to bear, Rae gives shelter from a brutal winter to a teenager named Quinn Galecki.

Quinn has been thrown out by his parents, a couple too troubled to help steer the misunderstood boy through his own losses. Now Quinn has found a temporary home with the Langdons—and an unexpected kinship, because Rae, Quinn, and Connor share a past and understand one another’s pain. But its depths—and all its revelations and secrets—have yet to come to light. To finally move forward, Rae must confront them and also fight for Quinn, whose parents have other plans in mind for their son.

With forgiveness, love, and the spring thaw, there might be hope for a new season—a second chance Rae believed in her heart was gone forever.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | BookDepository.com | !ndigo

 


I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have read a host of great books this year. I’m grateful to the authors, publishers, publicists, virtual book tour companies, and book clubs that have afforded me the opportunity to read so many wonderful titles. Please note that this is just my first “best of 2021” post, I hope you’ll return to read future posts focusing on historical fiction, romance, and other fiction (Sci-Fi, AfroFuturistic, etc.) reads of 2021. Until then…

Happy Reading, y’all!