Book Showcase: VALLEY OF SHADOWS by Rudy Ruiz

VALLEY OF SHADOWS by Rudy Ruiz book coverValley of Shadows by Rudy Ruiz
ISBN-10: 1982604646 (hardcover)
ISBN-13: 9781982604646 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781982604660 (eBook)
ISBN: 9781982604356 (Digital Audiobook)
ASIN: B09PZK7JVZ (Audible Audiobook)
ASIN: B09W49X641 (Kindle edition)
Release Date: September 20, 2022
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction | Magical Realism | Horror | Mystery

“Discrimination is evil, but evil does not discriminate.”

1883, West Texas. In the vast desert, a gleaming river snakes beneath the blinding sun. When the Rio Grande shifts course, the Mexican city of Olvido is stranded on the northern side of the new border between the United States and Mexico.

When a series of mysterious and horrific crimes grips the divided border town, a reclusive former Mexican lawman is lured out of retirement to restore order and save the lives of a growing number of abducted children. In the face of skeptics and hostile Anglo settlers, the war-weary charro, Solitario Cisneros, struggles to overcome not only the evil forces that threaten his town, but also his own inner demons. He is burdened by the turbulent darkness of a mystical curse that has guided his lonely destiny, until Onawa, a gifted and beautiful Apache-Mexican seer, joins his mission and dares him to change the course of both their lives.

A visionary neo-Western blend of magical realism, mystery, and horror, Valley of Shadows explores the dark past of injustice, isolation, and suffering along the US-Mexico border. Through luminous prose and introspective meditations, Ruiz sweeps readers away on a journey to another time and a remote place where the universally compelling forces of good and evil dance amidst the shadows of magic and mountains. You will ponder the most basic questions regarding the human condition: Is our destiny written for us? Can we rewrite our own history and future? As lonely as we might feel, are we ever truly alone? And, can love conquer all?

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Advance Praise

“Ruiz’s engaging tale, peppered generously with Spanish words and smoldering with racial tension and classism, is immersive and atmospheric and features an interesting cast of characters with rich backstories. Ruiz deftly combines elements of romance, historical mystery, horror, and magical realism to deliver a richly satisfying adventure.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Ruiz offers an engrossing blend of historical fiction, ghost story, and mystery…He employs elements of magic realism to haunting effect, and the depictions of human cruelty and injustice are unflinching…This has its rewards.” —Publishers Weekly

Read an Excerpt:

In the shade of the majestic oak, Solitario dismounted. He knew all eyes were upon him, those of the prisoners along the stucco wall, those of the villagers peering out through their shutters, those of Captain Ringgold and his men, edgy and poised to fire their weapons at the line-up they’d assembled in their pursuit of so-called justice. As they all watched and waited, he took a long draft of water from his canteen. He whispered a few soothing words to Tormenta, who could clearly sense the tension. He unstrapped his guitar from his horse’s flank.

Sitting against the tree, Solitario began to pluck at the strings, tuning his instrument. He played an old Spanish lullaby, the notes carried on the wind, swirling through the square, providing a rhythm and a haunting melody for the leaves and tumbleweeds to dance. Ringgold’s men glanced at each other incredulously, but Solitario played on, the mercurial magic emanating from his guitar weaving a spell over the posse. Even Ringgold himself swayed in the stiff breeze in tandem with the tempo of Solitario’s sweet song. The underside of Solitario’s sombrero began to glow a deep cobalt blue, its silvery white embroidery glittering as he closed his eyes and let his fingers fly over the strings, summoning notes both from instinct and from memory. It was a song he had learned long ago on Caja Pinta, way before Luz had bestowed the enchanted sombrero upon him. As he played, the hue of the sombrero’s underbrim grew lighter, like a night sky shifting toward dawn.

When he finished the song, the blue glow faded from his face. And, when he opened his eyes, he saw Captain Ringgold slumped in a deep sleep over the neck of his horse, his men sprawled unconscious on the ground, snoring beneath the midday sun. As the Dobbs boys returned with Mayor Stillman in tow, Solitario motioned for them to be quiet and untie the prisoners. While they did so, he handcuffed Ringgold and his men. The prisoners all ran as fast as they could out of the plaza, but Captain Ringgold and his posse continued to slumber undisturbed despite the wind and the sun and the heat.

Excerpt from Valley of Shadows by Rudy Ruiz.
Copyright © 2022 by Rudy Ruiz.
Published by Blackstone Publishing.
All rights reserved.

Meet The Author

Author – Rudy Ruiz

Rudy Ruiz is a writer of literary fiction, essays and political commentary. His earliest works were published at Harvard, where he studied literature and creative writing, and was awarded a Ford Foundation grant to support his writing endeavors.

Seven for the Revolution was Ruiz’s fiction debut. The collection of short stories won four International Latino Book Awards.

Ruiz’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals including BorderSenses, The Ninth Letter, New Texas, and the Notre Dame Review. In 2017, Rudy Ruiz was awarded the Gulf Coast Prize in Fiction. In 2020, Ruiz was a finalist for both the Texas Institute of Letters’ Best Short Story Award as well as the Texas Observer’s annual Short Story Contest.

In 2020, Blackstone Publishing released Ruiz’s novel, The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez. The novel received critical acclaim and was named one of the “Top 10 Best First Novels of 2020” by the American Library Association’s Booklist. The Southern Review of Books stated: “Ruiz’s prose is buoyant and immersive…Its effusive descriptions are reminiscent of Laura Esquivel.” The novel was longlisted for the Reading the West Award and a Finalist for the Western Writers of America Silver Spur Award for Best Contemporary Novel. It also was awarded two Gold Medals at the International Latino Book Awards, including the Rudolfo Anaya Prize for Best Latino Focused Fiction and Best Audio Book.

Ruiz’s new novel, Valley of Shadows, was just released by Blackstone Publishing.

Connect with the author via website | BookBub | Goodreads | Twitter
This showcase and excerpt brought to you by Books Forward

Book Showcase: DEADLY SETUP by Lynn Slaughter

DEADLY SETUP by Lynn Slaughter book coverDeadly Setup by Lynn Slaughter
ISBN: 9788886530087 (paperback)
ISBN: 9798886530094 (ebook)
ASIN: B0B4KGZGFZ (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Fire and Ice/Melange Books
Release Date: July 5, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Young Adult | Mystery/Suspense

Seventeen-year-old Sam, the daughter of a New England heiress, has tried hard to fulfill her father’s dying wish: “Take care of your mother for me.” Not an easy job. When her impulsive, romance-writing mom announces her engagement to a man whose last heiress wife died under suspicious circumstances, Sam tries to dissuade her mother. But her mom is convinced she’ll finally have the “Happily Ever After” she writes about.

And then Sam’s life implodes. Her mom’s fiancé turns up dead, and a mountain of circumstantial evidence points to Sam as the killer. On trial for murder, she fights to prove her innocence with the help of her boyfriend’s dad, an ex-homicide cop.

Just when things are looking especially bleak, Sam uncovers evidence she never expected to find. She faces a tough decision: At what point does the price of loyalty become too high?

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Apple Books | B&N NOOK Book | Google Play Books | Kobo eBook | Smashwords

Read an Excerpt:

“What kind of an incident?”

The officer didn’t answer. My stomach churned, and I prayed I wouldn’t throw up all that Mexican food I’d inhaled with Paul.

“Look, my mother’s fiancé and I had an argument. He slapped and punched me, threatened me. I fired a warning shot to get him to back off. Then I left. End of story.”

He shook his head but didn’t say anything.

“Did one of our neighbors hear the shot? Call it in?”

Again, no response.

“Why won’t you talk to me?” I wanted to shake him, make him tell me what was happening.

But all he did was return to his vehicle and motion for me to follow in my Jeep.

Twenty minutes later, I sat in a windowless interrogation room at the station. The air reeked of stale coffee and sweat. Fluorescent lights flickered overhead. An older man with a shaved head and stooped shoulders entered, followed by a young guy with a pock-marked face and a military style crew cut. “Good evening,” Shaved Head said, his mouth drooping downward.

“I’m Detective Flanagan, and this is my partner, Detective Stein.”

I nodded. “What’s going on? Why am I here?”

“I’m sorry to tell you that a man we’ve identified as Adam Holloway was found shot to death at your home this evening.”

I gasped. “He’s dead? But…but I just saw him. Trust me—he was totally alive when I left.” The room was spinning. I closed my eyes to try to make it stop.

“Your mother and her attorney are on their way. As soon as they get here, we’ll need to get your statement. Can I get you some water?”

“Yes, please.”

They slipped out the door, and my leg jiggled uncontrollably as my thoughts tripped over each other. Oh God, my mother. I’d wanted Holloway out of our lives, but not like this—never like this. She must be devastated.

The door flew open, and Mom rushed in, Mr. Avery and the detectives right behind her. Streaks of mascara ran down her face, and her red-rimmed eyes zeroed in on me. “What have you done?”

My mouth dropped open. “I didn’t do anything! I overheard Mr. Holloway talking to his business partner. He’d stolen money, Mom. We had a fight, but I didn’t kill him.”

“So you say,” she said.

I stared at her, not believing what I was hearing. My own mother thought I was capable of shooting someone.

“Meryl, that’s enough,” Mr. Avery said.

“Everyone calm down,” Flanagan said, setting a bottle of water in front of me. “And you are?” He looked directly at Mr. Avery.

“Bertram Avery, attorney representing Samantha for the purposes of this interview.”

“All right then, let’s have Samantha tell us what happened.” He turned to me and went through the full Miranda warning, starting with my “right to remain silent” and pausing after each point to ask me if I understood.

Mr. Avery grabbed my arm. “Don’t say a word, Sam. We need to get you a criminal defense attorney.”

“But I have nothing to hide. I swear it!”

“Your cheek is bruised,” Stein said. “By your own voluntary admission to the officer who brought you in, you had a physical altercation with the victim in which he also punched you and then you fired a warning shot. You won’t mind if we photograph the bruise on your face, the area where you say he punched you, and test your hands for gun powder, will you?”

“Be my guest. And I want to make a statement. I’m innocent!”

“Sam, you absolutely must wait until I can get you a defense attorney. This is premature,” Mr. Avery said.

Pointedly ignoring Mr. Avery, Flanagan continued, “What was the decedent doing at your house anyway?”

The decedent? This was a nightmare. “My mother gave him a key after they got engaged. He came over all the time. I was surprised, though, that I found him there when Mom wasn’t. I thought maybe he was taking advantage of her being gone to snoop in her financial files. I caught him doing that before.”

“I told you before, Samantha. That’s not what he was doing!” Mom screeched.

Mr. Avery stood up. “Enough! Unless you’re arresting Samantha, we’re leaving. She can return tomorrow with her attorney to talk with you.”

Flanagan gave him a long look and then shifted his gaze to me. “Where did he punch you?”

“My stomach.”

“Do you need medical attention?” he asked.

“No. I’m okay.”

“All right then. After we test your hands for gun powder and get photographs of the areas where he hit and punched you, you’re free to go. I suggest you come in tomorrow morning.”

I nodded, struck mute by shock, exhaustion. And fear.

Excerpt from Deadly Setup by Lynn Slaughter.
Copyright © 2022 by Lynn Slaughter.
All rights reserved.
Published by Fire and Ice/Melange Books.

 

Meet The Author

Author Lynn Slaughter
Author Lynn Slaughter

Lynn Slaughter is addicted to chocolate, the arts, and her husband’s cooking. Like Sam, her family tree is peppered with musicians, and she’s a huge fan of the American Songbook. Music has always made her want to move, and she ended up becoming a professional dancer and dance educator. When injury meant it was time to find a new dream, she earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Her previous young adult novels include: Leisha’s Song, also published by Fire and Ice, which received a bronze medal from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and was nominated for an Agatha for best MG/YA mystery novel; It Should Have Been You, a Silver Falchion finalist; and While I Danced, an Epic finalist. The ridiculously proud mother of two sons and grandmother of five, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky where she is at work on her next novel and serves as president of Derby Rotten Scoundrels, her local Sisters in Crime chapter. She loves hearing from readers and hopes you’ll visit her website, https://lynnslaughter.com.

Connect with the Author:  Facebook | Twitter | Website 
This excerpt brought to you by Books Forward PR

 

Book Showcase: THE THREAD COLLECTORS by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman

THE THREAD COLLECTORS by Shaunna J Edwards and Alyson Richman book coverThe Thread Collectors by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman
ISBN: 9781525899782 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369717870 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488214219 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09L58K9QC (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09FGTBXH2 (Kindle edition)
Release Date: August 30, 2022
Publisher: Graydon House
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Epistolary Fiction

“An unforgettable story of female strength, hope and friendship. This collaborative work is magnificent—a true revelation!” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman with the Blue Star

“A brilliant story brimming with unexpected friendships and family ties. Historically sound and beautifully stitched, The Thread Collectors will stay with you long after the last page is turned.” —Sadeqa Johnson, international bestselling author of Yellow Wife

1863: In a small Creole cottage in New Orleans, an ingenious young Black woman named Stella embroiders intricate maps on repurposed cloth to help enslaved men flee and join the Union Army. Bound to a man who would kill her if he knew of her clandestine activities, Stella has to hide not only her efforts but her love for William, a Black soldier and a brilliant musician.

Meanwhile, in New York City, a Jewish woman stitches a quilt for her husband, who is stationed in Louisiana with the Union Army. Between abolitionist meetings, Lily rolls bandages and crafts quilts with her sewing circle for other soldiers, too, hoping for their safe return home. But when months go by without word from her husband, Lily resolves to make the perilous journey South to search for him.

As these two women risk everything for love and freedom during the brutal Civil War, their paths converge in New Orleans, where an unexpected encounter leads them to discover that even the most delicate threads have the capacity to save us. Loosely inspired by the authors’ family histories, this stunning novel will stay with readers for a long time.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | HarperCollins | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | McNally Jackson

Sadeqa Johnson quote praising bookRead an excerpt:

New Orleans, Louisiana March 1863

She opens the door to the Creole cottage just wide enough to ensure it is truly him. Outside, the pale moon is high in the sky, illuminating only half of William’s face. Stella reaches for his sleeve and pulls him inside.

He is dressed to run. He wears his good clothes, but has chosen his attire thoughtfully, ensuring the colors will camouflage in the wilderness that immediately surrounds the city. In his hand, he clasps a brown canvas case. They have only spoken in whispers during their clandestine meetings about his desire to fight. To flee. The city of New Orleans teeters on the precipice of chaos, barely contained by the Union forces occupying the streets. Homes abandoned. Businesses boarded up. Stella’s master comes back from the front every six weeks, each time seeming more battered, bitter and restless than the last.

William sets down his bag and draws Stella close into his chest, his heartbeat accelerating. He lifts a single, slim finger, slowly tracing the contours of her face, trying to memorize her one last time.

“You stay here, no matter what…” he murmurs into her ear. “You must keep safe. And for a woman like you, better to hide and stay unseen than venture out there.”

In the shadows, he sees her eyes shimmer. But she balances the tears from falling, an art she had been taught long ago—when she learned that survival, not happiness, was the real prize.

Stella slips momentarily from William’s arms. She tiptoes toward a small wooden chest. From the top drawer, she retrieves a delicate handkerchief with a single violet embroidered in its center. With materials in the city now so scarce, she has had to use the dark blue thread from her skirt’s hem to stitch the tiny flower on a swatch of white cotton cut from her petticoat.

“So you know you’re never alone out there,” she says as she closes William’s fingers around the kerchief.

He has brought something for her, too. A small speckled cowrie shell that he slips from a worn indigo-colored pouch. The shell and its cotton purse are his two most sacred possessions in the world. He puts the pouch, now empty, back into his pocket.

“I’ll be coming back for that, Stella.” William smiles as he looks down at the talisman in his beloved’s hand. “And for you, too… Everything will be different soon.”

She nods, takes the shell and feels its smooth lip against her palm. There was a time such cowries were used as a form of currency for their people, shells threaded on pieces of string exchanged for precious goods. Now this shell is both worthless and priceless as it’s exchanged for safekeeping between the lovers.

There is no clock in her small home. William, too, wears no watch. Yet both of them know they have already tarried too long. He must set out before there is even a trace of sunlight and, even then, his journey will be fraught with danger.

“Go, William,” she says, pushing him out the door. Her heart breaks, knowing the only protection she can offer him is a simple handkerchief. Her love stitched into it by her hand.

He leaves as stealthily as he arrived, a whisper in the night. Stella falls back into the shadows of her cottage. She treads silently toward her bedroom, hoping to wrap herself tightly in the folds of the quilt that brings her so much comfort.

“You alright?” A soft sound emerges in the dark.

“Ammanee?” Stella’s voice breaks as she says the woman’s name.

“Yes, I’m here.” Ammanee enters the room, her face brightened by a small wax candle in her grip.

In the golden light, she sits down on the bed and reaches for Stella’s hand still clutching the tiny shell, which leaves a deep imprint in her palm.

“Willie strong,” Ammanee says over and over again. “He gon’ make it. I know.”

Stella doesn’t answer. A flicker of pain stabs her from the inside, and she finally allows her tears to run.

Excerpt from The Thread Collectors by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman.
Copyright © 2022 by Shaunna J. Edwards & Alyson Richman.
Published by arrangement with Graydon House/HarperCollins
All rights reserved.

Meet the Authors

Author Shaunna J Edwards photo
Shaunna J. Edwards by Ron Contarsy- Highmark Studios

SHAUNNA J. EDWARDS has a BA in literature from Harvard College and a JD from NYU School of Law. A former corporate lawyer, she now works in diversity, equity and inclusion. She is a native Louisianian, raised in New Orleans, and currently lives in Harlem with her husband. The Thread Collectors is her first novel. Find her on Instagram, @shaunnajedwards.

 
Connect with the author via Amazon Author Page | BookBub | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter

 

Alyson Richman author photo
Alyson Richman by Jeanine Boubli

 

ALYSON RICHMAN is the USA Today and #1 international bestselling author of several historical novels, including The Velvet Hours, The Garden of Letters, and The Lost Wife, which is currently in development for a major motion picture. Alyson graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in art history and Japanese studies. She is an accomplished painter and her novels combine her deep love of art, historical research, and travel. Alyson’s novels have been published in twenty-five languages and have reached bestseller lists both in the United States and abroad. She lives on Long Island with her husband and two children, where she is currently at work on her next novel. Find her on Instagram, @alysonrichman.

Connect with the author via Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

 

This excerpt is brought to you courtesy of Graydon House

 

Book Showcase: STONE HEART by Susan K. Hamilton

STONE HEART by Susan K HamiltonStone Heart by Susan Hamilton
ISBN: 9781737353683 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9781737353690 (ebook)
ASIN: B0B2K418QT (Kindle edition)
Release Date: August 30, 2022
Publisher: Writing Bloc
Genre: Fiction | Romance

Lauren Stone is no stranger to regret…

A singer in a successful band, she’s learned a hard lesson over the years: people don’t love her for who she really is. They love what she is and what she can do for them. The only person who ever truly loved her ended their relationship years ago, and it nearly destroyed her. But Lauren doesn’t have time to pine over lost love. If she doesn’t get her songwriting mojo back-and fast-The Kingmakers’ new album is going to be a colossal failure.

When Lauren returns home to New York for a recording session, a publicity stunt gone awry brings her face-to-face with her past and her biggest regret: Danny Padovano, the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart. The spark between them is still there but getting involved with Danny again is one step short of insanity. Lauren knows she’s playing with fire-things are a lot more complicated now than they were when Lauren and Danny were younger, and the stakes are much, much higher. Soon, everything Lauren’s worked so hard to achieve starts to unravel.

Can she come to terms with her regrets? Or will they finally destroy her?

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Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

 

Lauren Stone owned a big-ass, beachfront Spanish Colonial Revival in Santa Monica, California. With six bedrooms, five baths, and a pool that overlooked the sand, it was far too big for her, and when she bought it, people had clucked at her excess. Lauren, however, didn’t give a rat’s backside what they thought. She knew the adage was true: money couldn’t buy happiness. It could, however, buy some very awesome toys.

Years ago, she’d promised herself that if her band, The Kingmakers, ever made it big, she was buying herself a big house with a view of the ocean. And Lauren Stone kept her promises.

She was sitting in the spacious, airy sunroom, where an over‐stuffed sofa and several chairs formed a rough semi-circle around a long coffee table and faced the bank of windows—and the arched glass doors—that led out to the pool. Exposed, dark mahogany beams ran the length of the stucco ceiling. Two ceiling fans provided a soothing breeze. Aside from the ocean view, this room was one of the things that had sold her on this house.

She got out of the plush chair and leaned in the arched doorway that opened to her patio and pool. Taking a deep drink of beer, she contemplated the expanse of sand beyond the fence, stretching from the edge of her backyard to the cerulean water. She liked how the color changed depending on the day and the weather.

At the sound of footsteps, she looked back into the room. “Hey, Augie!”

“Hey!” Her cousin’s dimples deepened when he smiled. Lauren grew up with three sisters, and Augustus “Augie” Stone was the brother she never had. A year younger than her, he was The Kingmakers’ drummer.

“Connie let you in?” She’d let her housekeeper know she was expecting company.

“Yeah. Said you’d be out here.” Augie leaned his athletic, six-foot frame on the other side of the curved doorway.

Putting her beer bottle down, Lauren pulled her hair back and tugged the scrunchie off her wrist to capture it all in a messy ponytail. It would have been the same dark brown as Augie’s if she didn’t get it highlighted regularly, but they both shared a soft natural wave that ran in the Stone family. For Lauren that meant minimal time trying to curl it—for Augie it just meant some unruly cowlicks.

“C’mon. Too nice to be inside,” she said. “Let’s sit by the pool. There’s more beer in the cooler. I’ve got that new Elk Stone Amber I was telling you about.”

“Lead on, my captain!”

Sheltered by a large red umbrella, the teak table was surrounded by four chairs. A few feet away, two padded lounge chairs waited. Augie flopped down on one, Lauren in the other.

As soon as she got comfortable, her phone buzzed. She glanced at it and started to laugh.

“Gonna share?”

“Just DJ being DJ.” Lauren snickered again.

“What is it, fifty-two poop emojis in a row?”

“Close. He threw in a few eggplants for good measure.” She tucked the phone into a shady spot under her chair, and they fell into an amiable silence. Lauren took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to let her anxiety exit with it.

“DJ’s worried about you, you know.”

“I’ve been through breakups before.” Lauren forced her voice to be light. She had been through breakups over the years, more than she cared to admit. And there were times she wondered if she was capable of a long-term relationship with anyone. Rob had been fun, but the charm hadn’t lasted. Her ex, however, hadn’t taken the breakup well.

“Well, if you want to—”

“—Talk? I don’t.” She took another drink of beer. “Needy, manipulative little bastard.” She thought about the salvo of nasty tweets Rob had flung at her like a monkey throwing its own excrement. It wasn’t like she’d expected him to be happy about being shown the door, but the juvenile level of his response had been astonishing.

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“I don’t want to talk about him. I do want to talk about the new album.”

“And?”

“The last one was good, not great. This one needs to be a home run.” Worry painted her voice and she hated it. She drummed her fingers on the armrest. “I’m not ready to fade into the sunset.”

“We’re not fading into anything,” Augie said. “Seriously, dude. You need to stop listening to the critics’ podcasts.”

Lauren chewed her lip. Augie wasn’t entirely wrong. The band had taken a well-earned break after the last tour, but it was time to get back to work. Restless, she got up and walked to the fence surrounding the pool. Leaning on it, she stared out toward the Pacific. Wispy clouds streaked the sky, slashes of rose and gold in the setting sun.

A squeak told her Augie had gotten out of his chair. He leaned on the rail next to her and gave her a gentle hip bump.

“What’s up?”

She shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Liar, liar, pants on fire.” He flashed her a grin, dimples appearing in his cheeks again.

“You’re a child,” she said with an affectionate laugh.

“Like that surprises you? But seriously, c’mon. You’ve got that pensive look. What gives?”

She tried to equivocate. “Usual brooding creative-type personality issues.”

The noise—not quite a snort, but not a coughed “bullshit” either —that her cousin made told her he didn’t believe her. But he didn’t ask any more questions. They stood in silence, admiring the sun as it sank towards the horizon.

“I haven’t gotten as much writing done as I wanted,” Lauren said, tired of the quiet. She hoped that would satisfy Augie and he wouldn’t press for more. Truth be told, she was struggling with her songwriting, and the last thing she wanted to do was ‘fess up to that. “So? You’ll hit your stride. Don’t get hung up on it.”

“I guess.” She watched a bird soar and bank in the sky. It was too far away to tell what kind it was, but she admired its freewheeling flight.

“You know I’m right. And getting the chance to work with Fitz is going to be epic,” Augie said.

“I know! I’ve wanted him to produce one of our albums for a long time.” The mention of Fitz perked her up. Fitz McCallum was one of the most sought-after producers in the industry, and the band had jumped at the opportunity to work with him. He had a reputation for turning everything he worked on into gold—even better, platinum.

“I’m glad we’re going to New York for this,” Augie said. “Haven’t seen the seasons change in a long time.”

Lauren cocked an eyebrow. “Fifty bucks say the first chilly day, you’ll turn into a whiny little—”

“Don’t hate me because I’m sensitive.” Augie started to laugh. Lauren joined him, but the laugh faded to a sigh.

“You sure that’s all that’s bugging you?” he asked.

“Nothing’s bugging me.” Lauren shifted her weight away as if that would let her avoid the question. She put her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun—and so she didn’t have to make eye contact with Augie. Her thoughts churned. What if I’ve got no songs? What if the trades are right? What if I’ve lost my mojo? She felt the worry tighten around her chest, making it hard to take a breath.

She changed the subject; the last thing she wanted to do was keep talking about her writing.

“I’m not telling my mom I’m coming back to New York until I’m getting on the plane,” she said. She and Augie had grown up in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.

Augie turned toward her, a sly smile on his face. “And you want me to not call my mom.”

“If you do, your mom will call my mom and all hell will break loose if she hears through the grapevine that I’m back.” Lauren watched her cousin weigh his options.

“What’s in it for me?”

“You blackmailing me?”

“That’s an ugly word, but call it what you want, sistah.” Augie leaned one elbow on the fence and watched her with a self-satisfied smile. Lauren considered giving him a kick in the shin, the same way she had when they were six.

“I’ll owe you—big time. I love my family…” She left the rest of her thought unfinished.

“No quality time with Jackie?”

Lauren gave Augie another look. Jackie was her older sister, and they were about as different as two siblings could be—more fire and gasoline than oil and water. Her younger sisters, Carolyn and Stephanie, were a different story. They adored Lauren and Lauren adored them back.

“I love Jackie, but she makes me mental,” Lauren said. “I want our plans set, and I want to have a place to stay before they know I’m coming.”

“Deal,” Augie said. “When we’re home, I might look a few people up. Indulge in some good, old-fashioned reminiscing about our misspent youth.”

“You’re still in the middle of living your misspent youth. Couple of years it’s going to be your misspent middle age.”

“You first.” Augie never skipped an opportunity to remind Lauren that she was a year older than he was.

Out on the beach, people were wrapping up for the day, a stream of humanity leaving the white-gold sand for the asphalt and concrete of LA. A young man in bright red trunks, maybe twenty years old, walked toward the distant parking lot giving his girlfriend a piggyback ride. The wistful longing that bubbled up in Lauren’s heart caught her off-guard, bringing her back to a time when she was the one getting the piggyback.

Danny.

Her heart stuttered.

She’d never been able to stop thinking about Danny Padovano, her ex from high school. She’d struggled with their breakup for years as she tried every conceivable trick to get over him, including a cocaine addiction that nearly ruined her. Finally, Lauren buried her broken heart so deep that it was easy for her to pretend those feelings didn’t exist. She’d had other lovers over the years, but none of them had ever made her forget Danny.

He was the one person who loved her for who she really was, not what she was.

Unlike Rob and all the other exes.

She could feel Augie staring at her.

“Maybe I’ll look Danny up while we’re home.”

“Pandora’s Box,” he said.

“It would be fine.” Lauren set her jaw, refusing to meet his eyes or acknowledge the warning in his voice. She didn’t want to argue, and she was well aware her cousin had never completely forgiven her ex for breaking her heart all those years ago.

They turned their attention to other topics related to the band’s temporary relocation to the East Coast to record. Augie said he’d spoken to Fitz briefly, and the producer would be waiting for Lauren to call him.

After about twenty minutes, Augie glanced at his watch. “I gotta bolt. You’ll call Fitz to confirm details?”

“I will,” she said. “Catch you later.”

He sauntered away, and Lauren went back to watching the final moments of the sun’s descent until it vanished, leaving the sky a blue-violet with the barest hint of maroon on the horizon. But the gorgeous color couldn’t keep her thoughts from straying to her writing difficulties and then to what Augie had said about looking up old friends. He’d stayed in touch with a few people over the years, but she hadn’t. Not really. She’d had plenty of friends growing up, but none of them shared her passion for music—her obsession, as they called it. And once The Kingmakers took off—well, Lauren didn’t have that much in common with them anymore.

After nearly twenty years, Danny was the only person she was interested in seeing. The tangled prick of anger and longing in her heart annoyed her. Their breakup had been devastating. And although it had been years since she’d seen him, she thought of him often. More often than she probably should. Her sisters occasionally shared news about what he was up to. When Carolyn told her several years ago that Danny had gotten married, Lauren pretended it didn’t bother her.

But it did.

She chewed her bottom lip and wondered if going back to New York might be a mistake.

Excerpt from Stone Heart by Susan K. Hamilton.
Copyright © 2022 by Susan K. Hamilton.
Published by arrangement. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author Susan K. HamiltonSusan K. Hamilton is an award-winning, multi-genre author whose books include Stone Heart, The Devil Inside, Shadow King, and Darkstar Rising. Her short stories have been featured in the ESCAPE, DECEPTION and FAMILY Anthologies from Writing Bloc, and her first Shadow King-based short story was included in the Passageways Anthology.

Horse-crazy since she was a little girl, she pretty much adores every furry creature on the planet (except spiders). She also loves comfy jeans, pizza, and great stand-up comedy, and wishes she had even an iota of musical talent because—deep down—she really wants to be a singer. Susan lives near Boston with her husband and spends her spare time with a lovely bay mare, affectionately known as “La Diosa.”

Connect with the author via Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website

 

Book Showcase: NUMBER ONE FAN by Meg Elison

NUMBER ONE FAN by Meg Elison book coverNumber One Fan by Meg Elison
ISBN: 9780778386155 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369718501 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488214615 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09M985ND7 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09GB91DJ1 (Kindle edition)
Release Date: August 30, 2022
Publisher: MIRA Books
Genre: Fiction | Horror | Thriller | Psychological Fiction

“A tense ride from the start…terrific.” —Richard Kadrey, New York Times bestselling author of Sandman Slim

She created a beautiful world. Now he wants it all.

On her way to a speaking engagement, bestselling novelist Eli Grey gets into a cab and accepts a drink from the driver, trusting that everything is fine. She wakes up chained in the stranger’s basement. With no close family or friends expecting her to check in, Eli knows she needs to save herself. She soon realizes that her abduction wasn’t random, and though she thinks she might recognize her captor, she can’t figure out what he wants. Her only clues are that he’s very familiar with her books and deeply invested in the fantastical world she creates. What follows is a test of wills as Eli pits herself against a man who believes she owes him everything—and is determined to take it from her.

Terrifying and timely, set against the backdrop of convention culture and the MeToo reckoning, Number One Fan unflinchingly examines the tension between creator and work, fandom and source material, and the rage of fans who feel they own fiction.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

The car rolled into view, the lit decals on the dashboard letting Eli know that her driver was typical: working for all the rideshare services at once.

Gotta hustle, she thought as she quickened her pace away from the airfield. She hoped he hadn’t been waiting long.

“Elizabeth?” He seemed bored, not even bothering to turn around.

“That’s right. I go by Eli, though.”

“Sure,” he said, tapping his phone.

She settled in, her satchel beside her. “Thank you.”

The car was air conditioned against the cushion of heat that pressed against its tinted windows, and as they headed toward the freeway, she finally began to relax. She was grateful the driver didn’t seem to want to talk. She was tired of talking from the event, and her throat was dry and sore.

“There is a cold drink there in the cup holder. Down in the door.” His voice was low, a raspy baritone.

“Oh, cool, thanks.” Eli reached down and felt the blessed condensation on a plastic bottle. She pulled up a blue Gatorade and wrenched it open, suddenly very thirsty. She drank half of it in huge gulps, disliking the weird, salty taste of the electrolyte mixture but unable to stop herself. It felt good, after hours of talking and the dry air of the flight. She breathed deep and drank again, coming close to finishing it off.

Must be the heat, she thought. That and the two miniature bottles of Jack Daniel’s she’d had to calm her nerves on the plane.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket in an unfamiliar cadence and she slid it out to check.

Her notification from the rideshare app blared BRENDA HAS CANCELED THE RIDE FOR REASON: NO-SHOW. YOU HAVE BEEN CHARGED A CANCELLATION FEE OF $5.

Eli frowned at her phone. Had she summoned two cars by accident?

She unlocked it with her facial scan and checked. The app showed only one ride: a black Prius driven by Brenda, which had arrived five minutes ago and canceled four minutes after that.

It wasn’t a busy day at the airfield. It certainly wasn’t curbside pickup at SFO, but it was still possible that she had gotten in the wrong car.

But he had known her name.

She leaned forward to get the driver’s attention. “Hey, just clarifying—you’ve got my info, right? I just got a cancellation from another driver, and I’m worried that I got someone else’s ride.”

The driver tapped his phone and his eyes darted between it, the rearview mirror, and the road. “Elizabeth Grey. Headed to the Sheraton, right?”

The phone displayed a highlighted blue route along the freeway. It was a map program, rather than the rideshare’s software, but Eli had seen drivers toggle between those before. She glanced up at the rearview mirror, but his eyes were on the road and he had put on a pair of dark glasses.

“Right,” she said. “Huh. Wonder what happened.”

Eli settled back into her seat. She stared out the window and thought of home, of the deep grey fog rolling down over the hillsides and the wind coming in, salty from the Bay. She was homesick. Even in the same state, the air felt wrong on her skin. Los Angeles had been an endless parade of palm trees against a blameless sky, and the tacos were so good she could barely stop shoveling them in, but the traffic had left her feeling exhausted upon every arrival.

And then there was the way that people looked you over in Los Angeles, deciding whether you were famous or fuckable or useful in some other way before sliding on to the next thing. Her audiences had been lively and engaging but draining, and after each of her events, she’d wanted nothing but some dinner, a hot bath and sleep. Maybe a couple fingers of bourbon over ice.

Traveling always left her wrung-out and unmoored. It didn’t help that the sun was so all-encompassing outside the car it could have been anywhere, any time of day, the hot, white light blinding. She couldn’t look at a surface other than the black asphalt without squinting. Living in San Francisco gave her what she had thought was a passing acquaintance with the sun, but the glare as the 10 freeway led out of Los Angeles county and into the high desert landscape was just too much.

How are people here not dog-tired all the time? Doesn’t the heat suck all the life out of them? How do they ever leave the house? Christ, it’s March. Imagine later in the year. I gotta get some sunglasses.

She set the phone beside her on the seat to avoid pawing it in and out of her jeans. She belatedly buckled her seatbelt as they picked up speed. Out the window, the freeway was sliding past, one unfamiliar mile blending into the next.

The driver turned his radio on. It annoyed her at first that he had not asked, but then she reminded herself that he probably spent the whole day in his car. She wasn’t talking; he was probably both lonely and bored. Let him have his Oingo Boingo.

He changed lanes to get into the faster flow of traffic and the motion of it made her feel a trifle ill. This heat had produced all kinds of new feelings. She ignored it, drinking the last swallow of the Gatorade.

She looked around for a polite place to deposit the bottle. The motion of her head made her dizziness worse and she tried to blink it away. “Do you have a spot for trash?” she asked him. As the words slid out of her mouth, she realized she was slurring like she was very, very drunk. She was horrified to realize she was drooling, too.

Eli tried to get a hold of herself. She pushed with her palms and worked to sit up straight but found that she could not. Her head felt far too heavy for the wet noodle of her neck to have ever supported. Her abs were slack and her spine was a worm. She sagged against the seat; the seatbelt the only thing keeping her from sliding to the floor.

“Whass going on?” The words seemed to take a long time to reach her ears.

Oh shit, I’m having a stroke. An old classmate of Eli’s had had a freak stroke event a week shy of her thirtieth birthday. Frantically, she tried to recall the diagnostic that the woman had posted on Facebook right after. She couldn’t speak clearly. She couldn’t lift her arms at all. Her hand flopped uselessly in the direction of her phone.

“Ooogoada tachme to ahspital,” she slurred at him in molasses-thick nightmare slowness. “Shumding wruuuuunnnnng.”

“Relax,” he said clearly, his voice less deep than before. “You are fine.”

With her last spasm of strength, Eli pulled at the door handle, intending to tumble out of the car. The child safety lock held her in place.

I’m not fine, she thought with her last clear and lucid moment. As her eyes fell closed like heavy curtains, she finally registered that they were going the wrong way. The steely spike of panic that stabbed at her heart was almost enough to counteract the soporific effect of whatever was wrong with her, but not quite. Fighting, terrified, she slipped out of consciousness.

Excerpt from Number One Fan by Meg Elison.
Copyright © 2022 by Meg Elison.
Published by arrangement with MIRA Books
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author Meg Elison - photo by Devin Cooper
Meg Elison photo by Devin Cooper

Meg Elison is a California Bay Area author and essayist. She writes science fiction and horror, as well as feminist essays and cultural criticism. She has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Fangoria, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Catapult, and many other places.

She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and the National Writers Union (@paythewriter).

Her debut novel, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award. Her novelette “The Pill” won the 2021 Locus Award. She is a Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Awards finalist. She has been an Otherwise Award honoree twice. Her YA debut, Find Layla, was published in fall 2020 by Skyscape. It was named one of Vanity Fair’s Best 15 Books of 2020.

Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley.

Connect with the author via Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website

This excerpt is brought to you courtesy of MIRA Books

Book Showcase: RIVER OF ASHES by Alexandrea Weis & Lucas Astor

River of Ashes

by Alexandrea Weis & Lucas Astor

August 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

River of Ashes by Alexandrea Weis & Lucas Astor

*Apple’s Most Anticipated Books for Summer in Mysteries & Thrillers*

SOME TRUTHS ARE BETTER KEPT SECRET. SOME SECRETS ARE BETTER OFF DEAD.

Along the banks of the Bogue Falaya River, sits the abandoned St. Francis Seminary. Beneath a canopy of oaks, blocked from prying eyes, the teens of St. Benedict High gather here on Fridays. The rest of the week belongs to school and family—but weekends belong to the river. And the river belongs to Beau Devereaux. The only child of a powerful family, Beau can do no wrong. Star quarterback. Handsome. Charming. The “prince” of St. Benedict is the ultimate catch. He is also a psychopath.

A dirty family secret buried for years, Beau’s evil grows unchecked. In the shadows of the haunted abbey, he commits unspeakable acts on his victims and ensures their silence with threats and intimidation. Senior year, Beau sets his sights on his girlfriend’s headstrong twin sister, Leslie, who hates him. Everything he wants but cannot have, she will be his ultimate prize. As the victim toll mounts, it becomes clear that someone must stop Beau Devereaux. And that someone will pay with their life.

River of Ashes is a Southern Gothic, Psychological Thriller inspired by true events in the vein of V.C. Andrews with elements of Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and You by Caroline Kepnes. River of Ashes addresses social issues including sexual violence and bullying.

Praise for River of Ashes:

River of Ashes offers an inside look into the mind of a psychopath—a cautionary tale that the scariest monsters are the ones you know but never suspect.”

Pearry Teo, PhD; Award-Winning Director of The Assent, Executive Producer of Cloud Atlas

“A psychological portrait akin to Lord of the Flies.”

Midwest Book Review

“If Gillian Flynn and Bret Easton Ellis had a book baby, it would be River of Ashes.”

~Booktrib

Book Details:

Genre: Southern Gothic / Psychological Thriller / Coming-of-Age
Published by: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: August 2nd, 2022
Number of Pages: 284
ISBN10: 1645480984 (paperback)
ISBN13: 9781645480983 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781645480990 (eBook)
ASIN: B09V1KRX5J (Kindle edition)
Series: St. Benedict #1
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble | B&N Nook Book | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | eBooks.com | !ndigo | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Leslie turned off Main Street and headed along the single-lane road. The storefronts gave way to homes with colorful gardens and oaks draped with tendrils of Spanish moss. Then the houses grew sparse and disappeared as greenery hugged the side of the road. Leslie slowed to avoid a pothole and heard the rush of the Bogue Falaya River through the open windows.

The trees thinned, revealing the two stone spires of The Abbey. Apprehension snaked through her as she pictured Beau, her sister, and all the unsettling things she associated with the derelict church.

A wall of dense red buckeye bushes swaying in the breeze shrouded the road. Leslie drove through an opening someone carved out long ago. A cleared lot lay hidden beyond the dense hedge, surrounded by thick pines and oaks, with paths leading down a steep embankment to the river’s edge.

Leslie got out of the car, listening to the sweet refrain of birds in the trees. “No one’s here today.”

“It’s still too early. Everybody from school likes to come after dark.” Derek led her to a pine-straw-covered path and to the shore of the rushing river.

Something moved in the dense underbrush. Leslie walked ahead, trying to get a better look. “What’s that?”

She crossed several broken branches until she stumbled on something nestled in the foliage. The stench of rotting flesh hit her nose. She gagged and slowed to a stop.

“Wait, be careful.” Derek swept aside a few leafy twigs to get a better look.

Flies covered the bloated belly of a white-tailed deer. Deep grooves slashed into what remained of the deer’s neck. The poor animal’s hindquarters appeared torn away.

Leslie crept closer. “What could do such a thing?”

Derek took her hand and backed out of the brush. “I bet it was the wild dogs.”

Leslie let him lead her away from the stench. “What wild dogs?”

He stopped outside of the brush. “They’re around here. A couple of weeks ago, Mom said some hunters came in the diner and reported seeing them.”

“Where did they come from?” Leslie’s voice shook.

Derek guided her to a path curving down a long slope. The roar of the river grew louder.

“There are lots of stories. I heard they were left behind when the monks abandoned the place. Legend has it that when they appear, death is near.”

A shudder ran through her.

Derek tugged Leslie’s hand. “Come on.”

The path widened, and a beach came into view. The outcropping of white sand had a collection of green picnic tables, red barrel trash cans, and fire pits along the river’s edge. Around the beach, thick brush covered the shore with limbs from pine trees dipping into the water. The sun sparkled on the gentle waves.

Leslie followed him along the shoreline until they came to a rusted iron gate with a No Trespassing sign secured to it. The sign, decorated with crosses and swirls, marked the entrance to The Abbey grounds. Stepping through the open gate, she peered up at the imposing structure.

Two spires of white limestone, shaped like the tip of a sword, cut into the blue sky. A structure of red brick and limestone, the front windows and doors secured with loose scraps of plywood, sat in the middle of a field of high grass. The squat stone building of cloisters behind The Abbey remained intact. The Benedictine monks, who had run the seminary and were responsible for the preparation of future priests, demolished the dormitories, refectory, and library after they abandoned the site. The rest remained because, in the South, it was considered bad luck to tear down churches.

“Some place, huh?” Derek let go of her hand and ventured across the high grass.

A wave of panic shot through Leslie.

The grounds, unkempt after years of neglect, were a hodgepodge of weeds, overgrown trees, and vines.

Why would people come here at night?

“You ever wonder why those monks just up and left?” Leslie was uncomfortable with the eerie quiet. Even the birds had stopped singing. “Everyone says they got a better offer from the seminary in New Orleans, but it seems funny a bunch of people abandoned the place for no reason.”

Derek parted a thick pile of tall grass with his shoe. “My mom told me it was falling apart when she was a kid, and the Archdiocese didn’t have the money to fix it. So, they packed up the school and sent the monks and all the staff to New Orleans.”

“I read once that the structure dates back to the early 1800s, when the Devereaux family built it as a private church.” Leslie eyed the empty belfry atop one of the square-shaped towers. “You’d think they’d want to save it.”

Derek nudged her with his elbow. “Maybe the ghost drove them away.”

Beau’s tale had been in the back of her mind the whole time, but Derek’s comment spooked the crap out of her. “By ghost, do you mean the lady in white?”

“Yep.” He scanned the land around them. “They say she appears when the moon is full or during storms.”

The thought of being alone in such a disturbing place terrified her. “Have you ever seen the ghost?”

Derek searched the thick foliage ahead of them. “Nah. I’ve never seen anything.”

Granite steps appeared as they drew near the entrance.

Leslie kicked herself for letting him talk her into coming to this place. “What about the wild dogs? Have you seen them around The Abbey?”

“Not to worry, love, I’ll protect you from ghosts, wild dogs, and Beau Devereaux.” He climbed the steps, encouraging her to join him. “But I have to draw the line at your mother. There’s no way I’m taking her on in a fight.”

On the porch, beneath the cracked and chipped stone arch above the doors, she waited while Derek wrestled with the plywood covering the entrance. Despite the creep factor, the lush green trees surrounding them had a soothing effect. Leslie breathed in the fresh pine scent and mossy aroma of the tall grass. Then a fly zipped past her face.

Thud.

She turned and discovered Derek had pushed a large piece of plywood securing the door out of the way, leaving a nice-sized gap to crawl through.

“How did you do that?”

Derek held the plywood to the side for her. “The loose boards have been rigged to open easily.”

Leslie dipped her head and looked through the doorway. “You sure it’s safe?”

“I wouldn’t bring you here if it wasn’t, love.”

His smile won over her fears.

Once inside, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. Pinpoints of light shone on a floor covered with clumps of debris. In the roof, thousands of holes, some big and some small, littered the space between the bare beams where parts of plaster had fallen away. Birds’ nests of light-colored hay and twigs nestled against blackish beams and shadowy eaves, creating a patchwork design on the ceiling. It reminded Leslie of the quilt her grandmother had made for her as a child.

Derek appeared, shining a beam of light on the floor.

She pointed at the flashlight. “Where did you get that?”

“Me and the guys have been here a few times. We’ve stashed stuff around the place. We even have sleeping bags and water bottles socked away.”

Here she was a nervous wreck while his friends had turned it into their personal campground. Leslie’s skin crawled at the idea of spending the night in such a place. “I don’t know why you guys come here.”

He took her hand, and the beam bounced on the dusty floor. “I don’t get why you’re so freaked out. It’s just an old building. There’s nothing sinister about it.”

Beau’s words about taking her to The Abbey sent a shiver down her spine. Any girl would be at his mercy in such a place. She questioned her sister’s choices, knowing she’d been there with Beau.

Derek swung the light across the floor, shining it on dozens of rotted pews, leaves, twigs, crumbled plaster pieces from the ceiling, and skeletons of dead birds. “Lots of animals use this place as shelter. I’ve seen possums, raccoons, deer, and once, I swear I saw a black leopard running out the back.”

Leslie became even more uneasy about being in the building. “You wouldn’t happen to have a shotgun in your stash.”

“The animals don’t bother me, just the people.”

Their footfalls echoed through the vast structure as they ventured farther. Leslie kept expecting someone or something to jump out from the shadows. Her only distraction was the intricate carvings atop the arches and the paintings on the walls. Men and angels exchanged timid glances as rays of light from parting clouds shined down.

Paintings of Noah and the flood, Adam and Eve, and other Genesis stories were barely visible on the white plaster covering the arches along the central aisle. In one spot, where the roof remained intact, she could make out the image of Moses holding the Ten Commandments. His eyes stood out the most. It was like they carried the burning wrath of God.

Shivering, Leslie looked ahead to a white archway marking the entrance to the altar. The gleam of the limestone appeared pristine. She got closer to the most sacred part of the old church, and her sense of dread rose. She spun around to face the scattered, rotting pews behind them.

“What is it?” Derek asked, taking her hand.

His voice rattled inside the hollows of the church, adding to her anxiety. They stood under the circular dome where the altar had once been, and then a low growl came from a shadowy corner.

The air left her lungs. Her senses heightened. Seconds ticked by while she listened for other sounds. “Tell me you heard that.”

Derek raised his finger to his lips and nodded to a door on his left.

***

Excerpt from River of Ashes by Alexandrea Weis & Lucas Astor. Copyright 2022 by Alexandrea Weis & Lucas Astor. Reproduced with permission from Vesuvian Books. All rights reserved.

Meet Our Authors:

Alexandrea Weis

Alexandrea Weis

Alexandrea Weis, RN-CS, PhD, is an IPPY Award-Winning author, advanced practice registered nurse, and wildlife rehabber who was born and raised in the French Quarter. She has taught at major universities and worked with victims of sexual assault, abuse, and mental illness in a clinical setting at many New Orleans area hospitals. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization and Horror Writers Association. The Strand Magazine said, “Alexandrea Weis is one of the most talented authors around, and in a short time her novels are destined to stand along with authors such as Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Joyce Carol Oates, and Jeffery Deaver.”

Catch Up With Alexandrea Weis:
AlexandreaWeis.com
StBenedictSeries.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @AlexandreaWeis
Instagram – @AlexandreaWeis
Twitter – @AlexandreaWeis
Facebook – @AuthorAlexandreaWeis

Lucas Astor

Author Lucas Astor is an award-winning author and poet with a penchant for telling stories that delve into the dark side of the human psyche. He likes to explore the evil that exists, not just in the world, but next door behind a smiling face. Astor currently lives outside of Nashville, TN.

Catch Up With Lucas Astor:
LucasAstor.com
Instagram – @lucasastorauthor

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Book Showcase: THE WITCHES OF MOONSHYNE MANOR by Bianca Marais

THE WITCHES OF MOONSHYNE MANOR by Bianca Marais cover, blue background with title in yellow print above yellow cauldronThe Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais
ISBN: 9780778386995 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369722454 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488215506 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09VYH1XRQ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09SD4NCGB (Kindle edition)
Release Date: August 23, 2022
Publisher: MIRA Books
Genre: Fiction | Magical Realism | Feminism

A coven of modern-day witches. A magical heist-gone-wrong. A looming threat.

Five octogenarian witches gather as an angry mob threatens to demolish Moonshyne Manor. All eyes turn to the witch in charge, Queenie, who confesses they’ve fallen far behind on their mortgage payments. Still, there’s hope, since the imminent return of Ruby—one of the sisterhood who’s been gone for thirty-three years—will surely be their salvation.

But the mob is only the start of their troubles. One man is hellbent on avenging his family for the theft of a legacy he claims was rightfully his. In an act of desperation, Queenie makes a bargain with an evil far more powerful than anything they’ve ever faced. Then things take a turn for the worse when Ruby’s homecoming reveals a seemingly insurmountable obstacle instead of the solution to all their problems.

The witches are determined to save their home and themselves, but their aging powers are no match for increasingly malicious threats. Thankfully, they get a bit of help from Persephone, a feisty TikToker eager to smash the patriarchy. As the deadline to save the manor approaches, fractures among the sisterhood are revealed, and long-held secrets are exposed, culminating in a fiery confrontation with their enemies.

Funny, tender and uplifting, the novel explores the formidable power that can be discovered in aging, found family and unlikely friendships. Marais’ clever prose offers as much laughter as insight, delving deeply into feminism, identity and power dynamics while stirring up intrigue and drama through secrets, lies and sex. Heartbreaking and heart-mending, it will make you grateful for the amazing women in your life.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | AppleBooks | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | Google Play Books | !ndigo | Libro.fm Audiobook | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Target

Read an excerpt:

1

Saturday, October 23rd
Morning

Half an hour before the alarm will be sounded for the first time in decades—drawing four frantic old women and a geriatric crow from all corners of the sprawling manor—Ursula is awoken by insistent knocking, like giant knuckles rapping against glass. It’s an ominous sign, to be sure. The first of many.

Trying to rid herself of the sticky cobwebs of sleep, Ursula throws back the covers, groaning as her joints loudly voice their displeasure. She’s slept in the buff, as is her usual habit, and as she pads across the room, she’s more naked than the day she was born (being, as she is, one of those rare babies who came into the world fully encased in a caul).

Upon reaching the window, the cause of the ruckus is immediately obvious to Ursula; one of the Angel Oak’s sturdy branches is thumping against her third-floor window. Strong winds whip through the tree, making it shimmy and shake, giving the impression that it’s espousing the old adage to dance like no one’s watching, a quality that rather has to be admired in a tree. Either that, or it’s trembling uncontrollably with fear.

The forest, encroaching at the garden’s boundary, looks disquieted. It hangs its head low, bowing to a master who’s ordered it to bend the knee. As the charcoal sky churns, not a bird to be seen, the trees in the wood whisper incessantly. Whether they’re secrets or warnings, Ursula can’t tell, which only unsettles her further.

That infernal billboard that the city recently erected across from the manor property—with its aggressive gigantic lettering shouting, ‘Critchley Hackle Mega Complex Coming Soon!’—snaps in the wind, issuing small cracks of thunder. A storm is on its way, that much is clear. You don’t need to have Ivy’s particular powers to know as much.

Turning her back on the ominous view, Ursula heads for the calendar to mark off another mostly sleepless night. It seems impossible that after so many of them—night upon night, strung up after each other seemingly endlessly—only two remain until Ruby’s return, upon which Ursula will discover her fate.

Either Ruby knows or she doesn’t.

And if she does know, there’s the chance that she’ll want nothing more to do with Ursula. The thought makes her breath hitch, the accompanying stab of pain almost too much to bear. The best she can hope for under the circumstances is that Ruby will forgive her, releasing Ursula from the invisible prison her guilt has sentenced her to.

Too preoccupied with thoughts of Ruby to remember to don her robe, Ursula takes a seat at her mahogany escritoire. She lights a cone of mugwort and sweet laurel incense, watching as the tendril of smoke unfurls, inscribing itself upon the air. Inhaling the sweet scent, she picks up a purple silk pouch and unties it, spilling the contents onto her palm.

The tarot cards are all frayed around the edges, worn down from countless hours spent jostling through Ursula’s hands. Despite their shabbiness, they crackle with electricity, sparks flying as she shuffles them. After cutting the deck in three, Ursula begins laying the cards down, one after the other, on top of the heptagram she carved into the writing desk’s surface almost eighty years ago.

The first card, placed in the center, is The Tower. Unfortunate souls tumble from the top of a fortress that’s been struck by lightning, flames engulfing it. Ursula experiences a jolt of alarm at the sight of it for The Tower has to signify the manor; and anything threatening their home, threatens them all.

The second card, placed above the first at the one o’clock position, can only represent Tabitha. It’s the Ten of Swords, depicting a person lying face down with ten swords buried in their back. The last time Ursula saw the card, she’d made a mental note to make an appointment with her acupuncturist, but now, following so soon after The Tower, it makes her shift nervously.

The third, fourth and fifth cards, placed at the three o’clock, four-thirty and six o’clock positions, depict a person (who must be Queenie) struggling under too heavy a load; a heart pierced by swords (signifying Ursula); and a horned beast towering above a man and woman who are shackled together (obviously Jezebel). Ursula whimpers to see so many dreaded cards clustered together.

Moving faster now, she lays out the sixth, seventh and eighth cards at the seven-thirty, nine and eleven o’clock positions. Ursula gasps as she studies the man crying in his bed, nine swords hovering above him (which can only denote Ursula’s guilt as it pertains to Ruby); the armored skeleton on horseback (representing the town of Critchley Hackle); and the two bedraggled souls trudging barefoot through the snow (definitely Ivy). Taking in all eight sinister cards makes Ursula tremble much like the Angel Oak.

Based on the spread, Ursula absolutely should sound the alarm immediately, but she’s made mistakes in the past—lapses in judgment that resulted in terrible consequences—and so she wants to be a hundred percent certain first.

She shuffles the cards again, laying them down more deliberately this time, only to see the exact same shocking formation, the impending threat even more vivid than before. It couldn’t be any clearer if the Goddess herself had sent a homing pigeon with a memo bearing the message: Calamity is on its way! It’s knocking at the window, just waiting to be let in!

And yet, Ursula still doesn’t sound the alarm, because that’s what doubt does; it slips through the chinks in our defenses, eroding all sense of self until the only voice that should matter becomes the one that we don’t recognize anymore, the one we trust the least.

As a result of this estrangement from herself, Ursula has developed something of a compulsion, needing to triple check the signs before she calls attention to them, and so she stands and grabs her wand. She makes her way down the hallway past Ruby’s and Jezebel’s bedrooms at a bit of a clip before descending the west wing stairs.

It’s just before she reaches Ivy’s glass conservatory that Ursula breaks out into a panicked run.

Excerpt from The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais.
Copyright © 2022 by Bianca Marais.
Published by arrangement with MIRA Books
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Bianca Marais author photo by Brendan Fisher
Bianca Marais – credit Brendan Fisher

Bianca Marais cohosts the popular podcast The Sh*t No One Tells You About Writing, aimed at emerging writers. She was named the winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award for Creative Writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies in 2021. She is the author of two novels, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh, as well as the Audible Original The Prynne Viper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and fur babies.

 
Connect with the author via Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website

This excerpt is brought to you by MIRA Books

 

Book Showcase: LITTLE DIRT ROAD and JUICED by Ted Mulcahey

Join the O’Malleys, along with their ever-vigilant German Shepherd, Emma, on Whidbey Island as they take on criminals, embezzlers, drug lords, and murderers, putting themselves right in the center of all the danger. With the help of their friend, Bellevue Detective Bill Owens, will they come out on top?

LITTLE DIRT ROAD by Ted Mulcahey book coverLittle Dirt Road: Bad Men on Whidbey Island, The O’Malley Adventures – Book 3, by Ted Mulcahey
ISBN: 9781735493244 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781735493251 (eBook)
ASIN: B09QFLG6PR (Kindle edition)
Release Date: January 12, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Mystery | Cozy Mystery

The O’Malleys are doing what? How is it possible that dangerous complications arise from their simple vacation in wine country? With their recent move to South Whidbey Island, only the O’Malley’s would stumble upon drug smugglers, embezzlers, and murderers amongst the locals. The quirky, pastoral island, reachable by a less than speedy ferry from Mukilteo or the narrow, deteriorating Deception Pass bridge, is no match for the wicked men about to visit.

A notorious drug lord and a nondescript enforcer with freakish hell-raising skills invade the peaceful Pacific Northwest island—where not even the friendly locales and free-roaming long-eared rabbits can soften his homicidal heart.

Weeding through the facts and surprisingly connected characters with their trusted friend, Bellevue Detective Bill Owens, the narrative swirls from Mexico to Canada and throughout Puget Sound. It’s a heart-racing and outrageously offbeat adventure for two innocent people, proving once again that trouble will find the O’Malleys without the slightest amount of effort on their part.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | !ndigo eBook | Kobo eBook

JUICED by Ted Mulcahey book coverJuiced: Bad Men on Whidbey Island, The O’Malley Adventures – Book 4, by Ted Mulcahey
ISBN: 9781735493268 (paperback)
ASIN: B09VJPNDCF (Kindle edition)
Release Date: March 13, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Mystery | Cozy Mystery

Juiced is a fun, thrilling adventure involving secret, breakthrough research

An invention that can save the planet?

Somehow, someway the O’Malleys have found themselves in the thick of things once again. On peaceful, bucolic Whidbey Island, they become entangled in a corporate plot to stifle a paradigm-shattering discovery, one that promises to upend conventional thinking, topple markets, and create an entirely new industry.

Kevin and Jenne, along with scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, find themselves pitted against a band of bumbling criminals who will stop at nothing to get what they want—including arson and murder.

It’s another rollicking adventure for the retired interior designers ably assisted by their favorite detective, the FBI, and Emma, their ever-vigilant German Shepherd Dog.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org

 

Read an excerpt:

ALERT: Mild Profanity

It was one of those dark, rainy afternoons in the Pacific Northwest. Four-thirty, and already the headlights were bouncing off the slick, shiny freeway.

I was on my way back to Whidbey Island. Playing golf in Seattle in late November was not for the faint of heart. Bundled up with rain gear, umbrella stuck on the push golf cart, wet khakis tucked into even wetter socks, we had slogged through eighteen holes of betting and swearing.

Usually, the Wednesday round was followed by more swearing, drinking wine, and playing gin rummy, but today was different. Today was Jenne’s birthday. It was the big one, double nickels. Well, sort of a big one.

Of course, she told me to stay, have fun and enjoy myself – no big deal. When you’ve been married more than once, you absolutely know for sure that birthdays are a big deal. Unless, that is, you don’t care if your sexual activities are curtailed for, say, a month or two.

Well, not this husband. No sir. I managed to make the 5:30 ferry. And also had the foresight to stop at Walgreens and select a lovely greeting card. From Hallmark. I figured the card with a heartfelt message, along with the bouquet purchased at the Star Store when I drove through Langley, would put me in Jenne’s good graces.

It should have been a wonderful evening.

But it wasn’t.

I made the right onto Little Dirt Road. About five hundred yards up the hill, on the unpaved surface, I turned on the crushed gravel driveway leading to our tidy, shingled home. We live on a bluff that normally overlooks Saratoga Passage. Tonight it was dark and rainy.

And there were no lights on in the house or on the grounds.

This seemed odd. I negotiated the six steps to the porch in the dark. Emma was inside, barking as only a German shepherd can, when anything, and I mean anything, is perceived as a threat.

“Easy girl, easy. It’s me.” She quieted only slightly until I opened the door—it was unlocked—and she calmed down. I flicked the lights on, rubbed behind her ears, and stupidly called out Jenne’s name. She’s not here, you dope. She wouldn’t be sitting in the dark. I walked to the kitchen counter. There was a note in her writing. “Went for a walk in case you get home early. Back around 4:30.” It was followed by a little heart and a smiley face.

What the fuck? It was 6:45. Still not accepting reality, I dialed her cell. The sounds of “The Irish Washerwoman,” her ringtone, came from the little nook with the fireplace, just off the kitchen.

This was strange. Even though she always thought she had forgotten her phone, she seldom did.

I stood there, searching my mind but coming up with nothing. Her car was in the courtyard, her phone in the house. Where the fuck is she?

We didn’t know that many people on the island. We knew our neighbors and a few others, but few were close friends. The only people Jenne was close to lived off-island. And they did not come up in this crappy weather.

One thing was certain, if she left around 3:30, she sure as hell wasn’t still on her walk.

I walked across the dark, grassy area separating us from our neighbors, Tim and Raye. I knocked on the door, perhaps a little too forcefully.

“Kevin. Hi, good to see you.” Tim was a gentle soul and a terrific neighbor, always there if you needed him, and highly considerate in every way.

“Hi, Tim. Have you seen Jenne? When I got home, the house was dark. She left a note saying she’d be back at 4:30. Do you know where she could be?”

“Geez, Kev, no, I don’t. I did see her a little before five. She was headed down the street. I thought it a bit odd because it was getting dark, but that was about it.”

“She was headed south?”

“Yes.”

“She always goes the other way on her walks and finishes by coming up the hill. She says it feels good to stretch out at the end of it.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m sure she was headed down. Is there anything I can do?”

“Thanks. Not yet. Let me think about it first.”

Tim’s face showed genuine concern. “You know we’re here if you need anything.”

“I do, Tim. Thanks.”

I went back home and stood in the kitchen. “Emma, what do you think? Where the hell is your mom?”

The ninety-pound black and tan animal looked directly at me and twisted her head to the left. “Ah, I wish you could talk, kiddo.”

If Tim saw Jenne go back down the hill, maybe she was going to one of the homes on Saratoga Road. For some reason. To someone’s house, she didn’t know. Sure.

“Emma. Let’s go. Get in the truck.” Before I went entirely off the deep end, I figured a drive around the area might be productive. Maybe Emma could be of some help. Maybe.

We drove slowly down the hill, past Tim and Raye’s house and past the Robinsons, who lived on the opposite corner. Most of the properties were well over an acre. As a result, there weren’t many homes nearby.

After turning right on Saratoga, where there was no traffic, thankfully, we crept as slowly as possible. I rolled down the rear windows in case Emma caught a scent.

We passed three homes. Emma acted as though this was a simple trip to the store. Maybe even treats if she behaved.

On the left was a huge vacant field where sheep occasionally grazed. Beyond that was a long, straight two-track that served as a driveway for a home hidden by tall firs and cedars.

During our walks, we’d always speculate as to who lived there. Occasionally we would see an island car chug and sputter down the drive. Island cars are beaters that nobody would ever take on the ferry. They frequently break down, and hell hath no fury greater than ferry patrons missing the boat because some yahoo couldn’t start their fucking car.

Excerpt from Juiced by Ted Mulcahey.
Copyright © 2022 by Ted Mulcahey.
Printed with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Ted Mulcahey author photo

Ted Mulcahey has lived throughout the US, for the past 35 years in the Pacific Northwest. He’s an Army vet, sales and marketing VP, entrepreneur, business owner, avid reader, one of nine children, a former caddie, and lover of dogs and golf. The last twenty-five years were spent in partnership with his wife Patte, the owners of a highly respected and published hospitality interior design firm in the Seattle Area. They’re now living on Whidbey Island and enjoying its rural bliss.

Ted writes about things he’s seen and places he’s been. He tries to incorporate the personality traits of people he’s known into his fictional characters, although none of them exist in reality. Many of the locations are real but the names have been changed.

Connect with the author via his website.

 

This excerpt and tour brought to you by Author Marketing Experts

 

Book Showcase: MURDER BACKSTAGE by Nupur Tustin

Murder Backstage: A Joseph Haydn Mystery
by Nupur Tustin

About Murder Backstage

Murder Backstage: A Joseph Haydn Mystery

When murder propels him backstage, Haydn is forced to confront a deadly killer. . .

When the Burgtheater’s impresario unexpectedly meets his maker, Joseph Haydn is relieved to learn no one expects him to look into the matter. The impresario was murdered—and the Salzburger believed to be the killer is already behind bars.

But the impresario’s untimely death is not without consequences. Haydn’s employer insists he take over the dead man’s duties. Handling the tedious technical details of putting on an opera is bad enough. Confronting the suspicious behavior backstage is even worse.

Is an innocent man being sent to the gallows? Haydn is plagued by the question when his brother Michael confirms his worst fears. The Salzburger arrested for the murder is none other than Leopold Mozart—father of the well-known child prodigy currently in Vienna.

Now, egged on by Michael—a close friend of the Mozarts—Haydn must prove Leopold innocent. Or risk his brother’s ire forever!

Historical Cozy Mystery
4th in Series
Setting – In Vienna’s Burgtheater in the eighteenth century.
Foiled Plots Press (July 6, 2022)
Print length ‏ : ‎ 348 pages
Print ISBN : 9798986399508
Digital ISBN : 9798986399515
Digital ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0B34548N5

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo eBook || NTUSTIN/SHOP: https://ntustin.com/product/murder-backstage

 

Praise for the Joseph Haydn Mysteries:

“Tustin orchestrates a concerto of intrigue and deception . . .”– Anna Lee Huber, Lady Darby Mysteries

“A standout in the genre of historical mysteries . . .”– Midwest Book Reviews

Read an excerpt:

Vienna, 1770. Joseph Haydn is in the city with his employer and his orchestra, invited by Empress Maria Theresa to perform his latest opera, Le pescatrici, in the Vienna’s Burgtheater. It is a great honor, spoiled now by the news of impresario Giuseppe Affligio’s death:

“What is the matter, brother?” Johann’s slight figure drew closer, his gray eyes wide with concern.

The music had stopped. The two singers, the entire orchestra, and his Konzertmeister, Luigi Tomasini, gazed upon Haydn expectantly.

“It is Affligio, I suppose,” Luigi guessed.

Haydn nodded, too overwhelmed to speak.

“He refuses to hire another soprano, does he not?” The Konzertmeister lowered his violin and bow and turned to face Haydn. “And rather than settle the dispute himself like a man, seeks like a coward to involve the Prince in the matter?”

It was a reasonable surmise. The impresario had been a source of constant trouble in the matter of singers. Three good sopranos were needed for the opera, but only two—one of them barely passable—had been made available to Haydn. As for the third, Affligio had been adamant that Haydn should content himself with a contralto.

“No, that is not the trouble,” Haydn corrected his Konzertmeister.

“Not Affligio, brother?” Johann looked confused. “I thought you indicated that it was.”

“It is Affligio,” Haydn said, passing the handkerchief over his brow again. “He seems to have chosen this precise moment to meet his Maker.”

Luigi’s jaw dropped open and even Johann—normally imperturbable—gaped at Haydn in stunned disbelief.

“You cannot mean the man is dead?” Johann’s eyes widened as Haydn nodded.

“Dead!” Fräulein Bologna gasped at the same time, her voice ascending to its highest range. “How can that be?”

Even Loretta Renier glanced up from the small mirror in which she had been admiring her features. The color, Haydn noticed, had fled from her cheeks.

“You must be mistaken, Herr Kapellmeister.” A small frown marked her forehead.

Haydn shook his head. “I wish that were the case. But I am afraid he is gone.”

“And His Serene Highness wishes you to examine the matter, no doubt,” Luigi said.

The crease in Loretta Renier’s smooth, white brow deepened.

“Why should His Serene Highness wish any such thing?” she demanded, looking, if anything, paler than before.

Her beautiful blue eyes moved sharply from Luigi’s handsome features to Haydn’s more homely, pockmarked face.

“If Herr Affligio has taken ill and unfortunately met his demise—”

“Nonsense!” Fräulein Bologna was quick to dismiss her colleague’s assumption. “How could the poor man have taken ill all of a sudden? He was in good spirits but two nights ago.”

“Perhaps he ingested something that disagreed with him, then,” Fräulein Renier persisted. “An unfortunate incident, a mischance. Why should anyone be expected to look into it? And why, of all people, should it be Herr Haydn?”

Luigi grinned. “Because Haydn is cursed with an unusual perspicacity when it comes to such matters. The Empress herself is aware of it. If Affligio’s killer is to be caught, then our Joseph is the man to do it.”

Loretta Renier’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Well, I don’t believe anyone killed Herr Affligio.” She drew her shoulders back and met Haydn’s gaze squarely.

“You’ll find we were all too dependent upon him to want him dead.”

The singer’s uncalled-for belligerence took Haydn aback. Loretta Renier could not have acted more put out if he had openly accused her of being a murderess.

Excerpt from Murder Backstage by Nupur Tustin.
Copyright © 2022 by Nupur Tustin.
Published by Foiled Plots Press.
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

A former journalist, Nupur Tustin misuses a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate mayhem in Joseph Haydn’s Austria and to paint intrigue in her Celine Skye Psychic Mysteries about a psychic who takes on the outrageous and still unsolved Gardner Museum theft! In addition to being a storyteller and avid mystery fan, Nupur is a wife and homeschooling Mom who’s recently become a Christian.

Author Links

Website: https://ntustin.com Get Two Complimentary Mystery Anthologies and two 50% Off Coupons When You Sign Up!
Blog: https://ntustin.com/blog
GoodReads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61229641-murder-backstage
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/books/murder-backstage-a-joseph-haydn-mystery-joseph-haydn-mystery-series-book-4-by-nupur-tustin
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/ntustinauthor

 

TOUR PARTICIPANTS

August 3 – The Book Diva’s Reads – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 3 – Ascroft, eh? – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
August 4 – #BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog – SPOTLIGHT
August 4 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
August 5 – FUONLYKNEW – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 5 – Eskimo Princess Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
August 6 – Reading Is My SuperPower – REVIEW
August 6 – Sapphyria’s Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
August 7 – I’m All About Books – SPOTLIGHT
August 8 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 8 – eBook Addicts – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 9 – Cozy Up With Kathy – SPOTLIGHT WITH EXCERPT
August 9 – Books Blog – SPOTLIGHT
August 10 – Christa Reads and Writes – SPOTLIGHT
August 10 – Nellie’s Book Nook – REVIEW
August 11 – Christy’s Cozy Corners – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
August 11 – Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW
August 12 – Maureen’s Musings – SPOTLIGHT
August 12 – Baroness’ Book Trove – SPOTLIGHT

Giveaway

Enter to win a print copy of Murder Backstage by Nupur Tustin. This giveaway is hosted by Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours. See the Rafflecopter form for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

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Book Showcase: LONG PAST SUMMER by Noué Kirwan

LONG PAST SUMMER by Noue Kirwan book coverLong Past Summer by Noué Kirwan
ISBN: 9781335448828 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369720719 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488214479 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09NB2KLFH (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09LHVZ6HN (Kindle edition)
Release Date: August 2, 2022
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Women’s Fiction | Multicultural & Interracial Romance

With the Southern charm of Sweet Home Alabama and the emotional complexity of In Five Years, Long Past Summer is a sparkling second-chance romance from debut author Noué Kirwan, written from the author’s own perspective in the Black community.

“Kirwan’s excellent debut brings charm, complexity, and plenty of heat…This mature, steamy romance will have readers swooning.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Noué Kirwan’s exquisitely-written debut left me breathless.”—Farrah Rochon, USA Today bestselling author of The Dating Playbook

Long Past Summer is powerful.”—Naima Simone, USA Today bestselling author

It’s hard to move on from a broken heart—and harder to move on from a broken friendship.

Mikaela Marchand is living the polished life she always planned for: a successful New York lawyer, with a promotion in her sights and a devoted boyfriend by her side. She’s come a long way from the meek teen she was growing up in small town Georgia, but the memory of her adolescence isn’t far—in fact, it’s splashed across a massive billboard in Times Square. An old photograph of Mikaela and her former best friend, Julie, has landed on the cover of a high-profile fashion magazine advertised all over the city. And when Julie files a lawsuit, Mikaela is caught in the middle as defense lawyer for the magazine.

Not only will she have to face Julie for the first time in years, Mikaela’s forced to work closely with the photographer in question: the former love of her life—and Julie’s ex-husband—Cameron Murphy. Mikaela needs to win the case to get her promotion—and as a junior partner, she has no margin for error. But unresolved feelings still exist between Cam and Mikaela, and jealousy always made Julie play dirty…

With flashbacks to summers of first loves and fragile friendships, Long Past Summer looks at the delicate and powerful thread that binds and breaks friends and flames.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Powell’s

Read an excerpt:

one

NOW

Mikaela took a deep, cleansing breath and rolled her shoulders back.

Breathe, she chided herself. She hadn’t even darkened the doorstep yet; a heart attack in advance of that seemed premature.

One of the doors to the gallery stood open in invitation, but it was the frigid air escaping from inside that was actually more enticing. It was unseasonably hot. A freak heat wave had made it a blazing, makeup-melting, fire-hydrant-opening, egg-sizzling-out-on-the-sidewalk day in New York City, in only early May. Still, Mikaela wouldn’t reward herself with the tempting relief offered inside. Instead, she just stood on the bottom step for yet another moment, lingering as the various city dwellers went about their business. Another typical Saturday afternoon along a cobblestoned street in Soho.

Despite its swank location, this art gallery was more nondescript than any of the other storefronts that lined the street, rather anonymously tucked in between several ultra-high-end fashion boutiques. Its entrance, an open doorway like an ominous black hole, sat among a sea of gleaming white and vibrantly colored doors. In the single large plate-glass window hung a poster advertising a photographer’s retrospective and the gallery’s address. Adorning the poster was a small reproduction of a picture that even now bedeviled Mikaela from no less than a magazine cover, a thirty-foot sign in Times Square and numerous subway station advertisements across the City. But now, looking at the size of the relatively unremarkable gallery, she guessed most of the exhibit’s undoubtedly extravagant budget must have gone to the rent on this place and the marketing for that poster alone.

The gallery itself was lo-fi, unassuming and minuscule, judging from her spot well outside of it. Mikaela pushed her sunglasses up off her face and peered through the dim doorway, head angling this way and that like an owl. Her feet remained rooted in place, fear-induced moisture popping out on her brow and nose, sweating through her carefully applied war paint. The problem was the sun made it hard to make out what further surprises might lie in wait for her on the other side of the door.

“It’s okay,” a voice said, startling Mikaela from behind.

Mikaela spun around. A young woman with a bright smile and a nearly white-blonde ponytail stood on the sidewalk below. She squinted without the benefit of her sunglasses, which hung neatly tucked in between her breasts on her floral ditsy-print sundress. One open blue eye appraised Mikaela, top to bottom.

“We’re open. They’re just putting the final finishing touches on everything but it’s all in there.” She took a step up onto the old wooden stairs then paused, waiting to see if Mikaela would choose to enter.

Rather, Mikaela stepped aside to let her pass with two large iced coffees in her hands.

Indecision still gnawed at her nerves.

“Is the photographer in?” Mikaela gave a courteous smile as the young woman continued past.

“Yup, should be. This is for him.” She raised one of the coffee cups. “He tries to come in for at least a couple of hours every day—he’ll probably be coming in more often leading up to the opening.”

Mikaela nodded as they changed places, backing down the steps as the young woman ascended. They continued to regard each other: the young woman with mild curiosity, Mikaela with acute wariness.

The young woman paused again at the top, just in the threshold. “Do you want me to get him?” She turned to the photo in the window then back to Mikaela. The beginnings of a smile curving the corners of her mouth. “Or tell him you stopped by? Miss…?”

For a split second, Mikaela saw the omnipresent photo in the window the way any stranger might.

Two girls on a swimmer’s platform on a summer day.

“Oh no, that’s not necessary.” Mikaela stood on the cobblestones again, heart thumping, resolve faltering. Not only the full glare of the sun but also her own discomfort burned her up, urging her retreat. She shielded her face with a palm, partially from shame, and hurried down the street.

She was half a long block away the first time she heard her name. She hadn’t heard his voice in over fifteen years, but she recognized it, quickening her steps.

“Mikaela!” he bellowed again over the ambient noises of the street.

It was still distant but closer.

Mikaela hazarded a quick glance over her shoulder. A figure made his way toward her, dodging pedestrians as he moved. Mikaela stepped into the street, raising her arm, waving her hand.

A passing yellow cab pulled over. She yanked open the door.

“Please drive,” she commanded. “I’ll tell you where to go in a second. Just pull off, okay?”

The cabbie eyed her through the rearview mirror then glanced farther down the street before understanding her hurry and doing as she requested.

A full minute later, he spoke, turning off the small bumpy street and merging into traffic on the smoother avenue. “Where to, miss?”

“Downtown Brooklyn, please.” Mikaela sighed. She swallowed through the lump forming in her throat trying to sort why his voice had upset her.

She had always imagined she would instinctively know if Cameron was in her city. Or that maybe they could walk past each other, simply another two strangers in a city of eight million. But today proved, for her, that wasn’t possible.

He is Cameron Murphy and I am Mikaela Marchand and as long as we remain who we are, that will always be a patently ridiculous idea.

Mikaela pressed the button lowering the window nearest her, sinking into her seat. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath of the thick, pungent city air that blew into her face as her cab sped down the windy expressway along Manhattan’s East River.

two

THEN
November 2001

“Here.”

A female sheriff’s deputy handed Mikaela a moist towelette. Mikaela took it and wiped the black ink off her fingers.

“We’ve called your parents, who said they’d be here soon, but we haven’t finished processing you yet.” The deputy raised an arm and waved over an extremely tall young man in a dress shirt and khakis. “As soon as we’re done with this, someone’ll take you to stand in front of the judge and then your folks can spring you.”

Mikaela nodded, meticulously removing every drop of ink from her fingertips.

“Stay here. Cam’ll finish up with you,” she instructed gruffly before switching places with the young man and walking away.

Mikaela and the photographer stood staring at one another for a moment before he leaned forward and whispered, “Judge came in special to arraign y’all. Your parents must be pretty important, huh?”

“Not mine, hers.” Mikaela nodded down the hall in the direction of her best friend, Julie. Julie leaned against the high-top intake counter chatting with the desk sergeant and another deputy. “Her daddy’s a judge too, but Georgia Supreme.”

“Oh, so a real muckety-muck then?” He reached into a tub on a nearby desk and handed her several more wipes.

“I suppose.” Mikaela eyed the stack of wet wipes in her hands.

The young man mimed wiping his own face in a circular motion.

“I gotta take your mug shot,” he explained.

“You? Aren’t you a little young to be a deputy?”

“I’m not… A deputy, I mean. Just takin’ the pictures. Grade two, office support. But I can’t photograph purple-faced perps.”

“Oh.” Mikaela obediently scrubbed at her face, yet every towelette came back with more purple paint. After the fifth one, she stopped.

“Can I please just wash my face in the bathroom?”

The photographer shrugged and directed her down the hall.

Inside the restroom, Mikaela made for the sink and the large mirror above it. She had a hard time, right then, remembering why she had been so obsessed with this “senior prank” for so many years. Although Mikaela could admit, up until she’d had breakfast that morning, she’d still been so excited. Even as she and Julie applied their purple-and-gold face paint, and Mikaela’s little sister, Vanessa, affixed two glittery wigs of opposing colors onto their heads, they’d all giggled with an almost frothy enthusiasm.

“Trust me—no one will ever forget this!” Julie had promised, pulling Mikaela up the vaguely damp football tunnel to the thundering beat of the Harmon Spartans’ fight song—and also Mikaela’s heart.

“Yeah, ’cause we’ll be laughingstocks.”

“We’ll be legends!”

Arm in arm, they’d marched toward the light as the shaggy foil tips of the itchy wig tickled Mikaela’s face.

And as usually happened, Mikaela could feel Julie’s seemingly limitless enthusiasm for high jinks begin to permeate the layers of her own innate reserve.

But now, standing under the harsh fluorescents of the police station bathroom, Mikaela just ripped off the moronic gold tinsel wig and ruffled her short brown hair trapped beneath it. It sprung wild, thick and curly from her scalp, freed from the loose plaits she’d had it in earlier. She took a deep breath and regarded herself, still covered in purple greasepaint. Was it worth it?

She knew that was going to be her father’s first question for her and she didn’t have an answer. Julie had been right—no one in this town would ever look at her the same again. Especially not after the two consecutive cartwheels and back handsprings she’d done on the fifty-yard line while school security chased Julie around the end zone during halftime at their high school’s final football game of the season. At the time, more than half of the stands roared in appreciation. Mikaela stifled a little smirk remembering it.

Of course, that was probably because most of the Tri-County area now knew her better than her own gynecologist did.

But the truth was, for those two hundred and eleven seconds, it had been utterly wonderful. Mikaela let loose and was completely herself, joyful and free and brimming with the most intense hopefulness and excitement about what lay ahead after graduation. Not only for herself but every single young person there. In fact, it had been three and half of the finest minutes of her life.

That is until sheriff’s deputies tackled her to the ground and dragged her off the field in handcuffs. Now, Mikaela stood in the mirror wearing only an extra-large Spartans T-shirt, her pink Keds, the remnants of particularly noxious paint on her face and a slightly lopsided Afro. She was a mess.

“Pull it together,” Mikaela said to the grotesque, mocking face in the mirror.

She pressed the dispenser until there was a mound of soap in her palm. Then, using paper towels to scrub, she washed most of the face paint off in three cycles. Her face was tender from the effort by the time she emerged from the ladies’ room.

“I was just about to come in there lookin’ for you,” the young man said as she stepped out. He stood in front of the door, facing it like a sentry.

“Sorry, it was a lot of paint.”

“Yeah, no kidding. I had no idea what you looked like under all that stuff.” He guided her back toward the intake area.

She glared up at him with lingering suspicion. “And what, were you taking bets?”

Mikaela had always been sensitive about her looks. A month from eighteen, she was still knobby kneed and gangly, with barely a B-cup. The only sizable things on her remained her hips and an ass that kept her from being one long, unbroken straight line from the back of her head to the back of her heels.

“Takin’ bets on what? That you weren’t a Purple People Eater?” He chuckled. “No, I just wondered. Step over there.” He pointed to a plain wall notched with height markings, in front of which stood a camera tripod. “Take this.” He handed her a placard to hold.

“I didn’t know you guys really did this.” She examined the slate with her name, the date and booking ID on it.

“We do.”

Mikaela was not this person. Not a person who got arrested. She was not prepared to forever be identified as one.

“You misspelled my name. Tell me, is it like a parking ticket? You mess it up, and I get to go free?”

“I wish.” He smirked. “You’re funny. What’s misspelled?” He walked up to her looking over her shoulder for the error.

Mikaela could tell what soap he liked to use and the fact that he’d brushed his teeth or eaten something cinnamony recently. She considered that as his eyes met hers briefly. This close, there were flecks of green in the blue of his irises.

“Um, it—it’s actually k with an a before e in my first name. M-i-k-a-e-l-a.”

“Well, Mikaela with a k-a-e, I’m Cameron.” He underlined a small name tag on his crisp white shirt with a flourish of his hand before reaching for the placard.

Their fingers brushed as he took it from her, whisking it back to the booking desk as she stood waiting. She chewed on her nails, staring for a moment at the bulletin board on the far wall. A collection of real-life FBI wanted posters lined it. She paid particular attention to the mug shots and shook her head at the realization that she was about to have one of those too.

A wolf whistle pulled Mikaela’s attention to Julie, standing down the hall. She laughed, galloping around the hall on an imaginary horse until one of the officers made her stop.

Cameron came back from around the desk to hand Mikaela the placard.

“Let’s try that again,” he said.

Julie made a face, mouthing the words “He’s hot” and fanning herself while his back was turned.

Mikaela attempted to hold in a snicker. Cameron looked over his shoulder but saw nothing. “What?” He smiled, trying to read her expression.

Mikaela’s stomach tensed, the kaleidoscope of butterflies that resided in there all suddenly banking hard left as his eyes searched her face for a clue. She shook her head, looking down for somewhere to put her eyes. Her fingers ran over the placard’s velvety felt board and sharp white plastic letters.

“Are you ready?” Cameron asked.

“Seems the real question is—” she cocked her head “—are you?” The second the words were out of her mouth she wondered where they’d come from.

His eyes widened and he chuckled again.

Embarrassed, Mikaela nodded, averting her eyes and stepping back to the wall.

Excerpt from Long Past Summer by Noué Kirwan.
Copyright © 2022 by Noué Kirwan.
Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Noué Kirwan, photo credit DAmbroseBoyd.com

Noué Kirwan is a Bronx, NY native, raised between there and the Bay Area of Northern California. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she currently, and for many years, has lived in Harlem, New York. When she’s not consuming copious amounts of media—binging TV shows, devouring movies, hoarding comic books, and inhaling romance novels—she’s writing herself, dreaming up lives for formidable women and the men who love them.

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