Book Showcase: VANISHING HOUR by Laura Griffin

VANISHING HOUR by Laura Griffin, barren landscape with a wind-bent tree in the foreground and pinkish-blue washed sky in the backgroundVanishing Hour by Laura Griffin
ISBN: 9780593546697 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780593546703 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781666617252 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B0B6215P13 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09R6PFY7G (Kindle edition)
Page Count: 336

Release Date: October 25, 2022
Publisher: Berkley Books
Genre: Fiction | Suspense & Thriller | Romantic Suspense | Crime Mysteries

When a cold case in Texas leads to a sinister string of disappearances, a newcomer to the small town helps a detective piece together the clues in this new romantic thriller from New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin.

Corporate lawyer Ava Burch has had enough of the big city and the daily grind. She grew up with her father, who raised search-and-rescue dogs, in rural Texas and has moved to the small town of Cuervo to spend time in the dry, rugged wilderness near Big Bend National Park. When she and her dog, Huck, discover an abandoned campsite on a volunteer search-and-rescue mission, she’s perplexed, but she carefully photographs it all the same.

All Grant Wycoff can see when he looks at Ava is a city slicker—with her designer jeans and shiny car—who has no business on a serious team made of seasoned outdoorsmen and retired cops. But when she tells him of her findings on the trail, he sees there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Ava’s discovery reminds Grant of the unsolved case of a young woman who went missing two years ago. As they look into the campsite further, another woman disappears under odd circumstances. With time running out, Ava and Grant must work against the brutal heat from both the Texas sun and their own electric chemistry to solve the case.

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

Promo quote by author Karen Robards "One of the best romantic thriller writers out there."

Promo quote by author Mary Burton: "Hooked me on page one and held me to the end."

Read an excerpt:

Missing children are an emergency. Always. Their little bodies are less able to regulate temperature, so they’re especially vulnerable to exposure. And in a place as vast and rugged as Silver Canyon State Park, additional hazards abounded: rattlesnakes, coyotes, hundred-foot cliffs. Even the anemic little creek that Ava had been following was terrifying. A child Noah’s size could drown in a bathtub.

Ava glanced up at the relentless sun that sucked moisture out of everything beneath it. She looked ahead at Huck, who trotted back and forth in front of her in his zigzag pattern. He was working the wind, as he’d been trained, tirelessly sniffing the air with his powerful nose, which could pick up anything with human scent on it, from a candy wrapper to a dropped article of clothing.

So far, nothing.

Ava checked her watch. Two long hours since she’d left the trailhead. Sweat stung her eyes, and she wiped her forehead with the back of her arm. She paused beside a boulder and dropped her pack on the dusty ground to retrieve one of her water bottles. Huck needed some, too, but right now he was intent on his work.

She took a lukewarm sip and scanned the scrub brush lining the canyon wall. Young children had a tendency to wander aimlessly until they found a place to curl up for a nap. Some would even hide from search teams, afraid of getting in trouble for being lost. So Ava had been incessantly scanning pockets of brush.

Huck halted in front of her, his nose lifted in the air. Ava froze and watched. But then his head dropped down and he resumed his zigzags. Ava tucked the water bottle away and pushed off the boulder to continue her trek.

She watched Huck, amazed by his energy. Even in this heat, he loved working, and when he had his vest on, he didn’t have an off switch. As he bounded around in front of her, she thought of the other teams, especially the canine one. She was surprised they hadn’t found something close to camp.

Of course, the parents had been there, which might have been a problem. Frantic parents threw off a lot of scent, which could have overpowered Noah’s smell and possibly confused the dog. Also, the temperature rising in the canyon could have wafted the scent up, well above the dog’s nose. Yet another challenge here was that young children didn’t throw off as much scent as adults. And still bodies-ones that were either asleep or unconscious-threw off less scent, too.

So there were all kinds of factors in play, especially in a park this size.

Ava checked her watch again and sped up her pace, unable to shake the feeling of dread that had been settling in her stomach as the hours ticked by. Scanning the canyon wall, her gaze caught on something beige and triangular.

A tent? No.

A tarp. She climbed onto a boulder for a closer look. About halfway up the slope of the canyon was a sand-colored canvas tarp that had been stretched taut to create a patch of shade. It looked like a primitive fort-just the sort of thing that would attract a kid’s attention, and her pulse quickened as she climbed closer. Nearing the tarp, she spied a small yellow tent tucked in the shade beneath it.

She glanced around for Huck, but he was sniffing along at the base of a rockslide.

Grabbing hold of a juniper tree, Ava levered herself onto the ledge. She ducked under the tarp and paused a moment for her eyes to adjust. The little tent was unzipped. Hope ballooned in her chest as she pulled back the flap and poked her head inside.

Her hope disappeared as she scanned the interior. No sleeping child curled up in the dimness. The air was utterly still, and everything was coated with a thin layer of dust, as though no one had been there in weeks, maybe months. A pile of gear in the corner included a cookstove, a hiking boot, and a blue bedroll with a carabiner clipped to it. Attached to the carabiner was a black key fob.

A chill snaked down her spine. Who would leave their car key out here? The fob seemed odd. Ditto for the hiking boot. Where was the other one? And where was its owner?

On impulse, Ava took out her phone and snapped a couple of pictures. As part of her SAR training, she’d learned to document crime scenes. She couldn’t pinpoint why, exactly, but that was what this felt like. She ducked out and snapped a shot of the exterior. A faint bark pulled her attention back to the mission. She couldn’t afford to get sidetracked, even though this place felt creepy. She put her phone away as she skimmed the surrounding area for the missing boot, or any sign of the boot’s owner. She glanced up the canyon, looking for evidence of a fire pit or any other camping equipment.

A soft whimper had her turning around.

Huck sat beside a rock pile, his ears pricked forward and his gaze fixed on hers. Ava’s heart skittered. This was his sit alert letting her know he’d found something.

“Show me,” she commanded, and he sprang into action, bounding across the creek bed. She climbed down the rocks and jogged after him, frantically searching the clumps of trees. Huck darted around a giant prickly pear cactus and behind a line of mesquite trees. Amid the fluttering green leaves, she caught a flash of red.

“Please, please, please,” she murmured.

Huck disappeared beneath the brush and barked. Ava spied a small white sneaker and a pudgy leg.

Huck danced in a circle, drunk on success and eager for his reward.

“Good boy, Huck! Good boy! Good boy!” She filled her voice with praise, even though her heart had lodged in her throat. The little body wasn’t moving. Oh God.

Excerpt from Vanishing Hour by Laura Griffin.
Copyright © 2022 by Laura Griffin.
Published by arrangement with Berkley Books
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author photo, headshot of smiling blonde female wearing a black top

Laura Griffin is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than thirty books and novellas. Her books have been translated into fourteen languages. Laura is a two-time RITA® Award winner (for Scorched and Whisper of Warning) as well as the recipient of the Daphne du Maurier Award (for Untraceable). Her book Desperate Girls was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by Publishers Weekly. Laura lives in Austin, Texas, where she is working on her next novel.

Connect with the author via Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website
This excerpt is brought to you courtesy of Berkley Books

 

Book Blast: INHUMAN ACTS by Brooke L. French

Inhuman Acts

by Brooke L French

October 6, 2022 Book Blast

Synopsis:

Inhuman Acts by Brooke L French

A deadly, incurable disease creeps silentLY through Chattanooga. And its victims aren’t random.

When inexplicable human rabies cases appear in Tennessee, disease ecologist Letty Duquesne jumps at the chance to trace the virus back to its source. But the closer Letty gets to finding the outbreak’s origin, the further someone will go to stop her.

With an unwanted promotion threatening to take Letty far from the field work she loves, this outbreak feels like her last chance to make a difference. It’s not something she can ignore, especially now. The spillover of zoonotic diseases to the human population is on the rise and violent animal attacks — like the one that killed her sister — are becoming all too common.

Something in nature has gone very wrong.

Local authorities would rather she go home, but Letty can track a source animal like no one else. With the help of disgraced detective, Andrew Marsh, Letty follows the virus’s epidemiological trail. But her every move is watched. And the source animal is closer than she thinks.

Inhuman Acts is a pulse-pounding thriller. Gripping and intricately paced, Brooke L. French’s debut novel will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Black Rose Writing
Publication Date: September 29th, 2022
Number of Pages: 310
ISBN10: 1685130356 (paperback)
ISBN13: 9781685130350 (paperback)
ASIN: B0BG6BPGF8 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B0B1RT5Q48 (Kindle edition)
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Barnes & Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

April 7, 2017

A week at sea produced a lot of laundry. It fluttered above Jessa Duquesne as she lay on the foredeck of her parents’ sailboat, soaking up the morning sun. The air smelled of salt, waves splooshed against the hull, and seabirds cried out in the distance. It was everything she loved about a life lived outdoors.

Jessa lifted her head, searching the water for Mark. The ocean glittered, and the Nápali coast rose in the distance. Razor-sharp crags, each peak edged with green. Beautiful but empty. Just like the sea. No Mark.

She twisted to check their port side and spotted him beneath the surface. His body slid through a seemingly endless expanse of water, all sun-kissed skin and muscle.

Yum.

She’d never planned to marry, never had any interest in men that a one night stand couldn’t fix. At least, not until she’d met Mark. He surfaced for a breath then slipped back under the waves. Something moved behind him, further out. A dark shape, getting closer. Thick body, elongated dorsal fin, maybe eight feet long.

Jessa rolled onto her stomach and undid the shoulder ties of her bikini.

The sandbar shark was probably a female, given the size, and harmless as sharks went. Odd it was out this far from shore, though. Poor thing would probably be lunch for a bigger predator. A great white or a tiger shark. And it shouldn’t have been so close to the surface. Sandbar sharks usually hugged the bottom.

She should go get her camera. Maybe make a note of when she’d spotted it so she could have the data point. She could look up any other odd behavioral patterns when—

Stop it, Jessa.

There would be plenty of opportunities to study marine life when she got back to her office at the university. What she needed to do now was focus on all the wedding planning still left undone. She’d been putting off the worst of it — seating charts and table linens and all the other things she didn’t actually care about — hoping she could pawn them off on her sister. Or, at least, that she and Letty could handle them together this week, powered by a steady rotation of caffeine and wine.

Jessa sighed and shifted on her towel. It couldn’t be helped. Letty wasn’t the type to say no when work called, and it wasn’t like Jessa was sorry to be here. A little get-away with Mark was the perfect use for the week she’d already taken off work. But still…

Seating charts and table linens.

Yuck.

The minutiae danced through her mind, conspiring with the warm press of the sun to lull her into a near-doze…

Ice-cold water dripped onto the small of Jessa’s back, and she jumped with a yelp. “What the—?”

Mark stood over her, a grin on his face, dark hair dripping onto the deck. And her.

“Asshole.” She laughed, using the edge of her towel to wipe the water away while she admired the broad stretch of his chest, the V of his abdomen where it disappeared into the top of his swim trunks. “How was your swim?”

“Lonely.” He pulled a T-shirt from the rigging, where she’d hung it to dry. “Want to go below for a bit?”

She shook her head with a smile. “We’re out of condoms.” They’d used the last one the night before, and the memory brought heat to her cheeks. Even in the cramped confines of the cabin, he was a remarkable lover.

Mark shrugged. “The wedding’s in a month. You wouldn’t even be showing by then.”

His dark eyes sparked with mischief.

“You’re so bad.” Jessa retied the straps of her suit. “I’ll meet you down there. I need to hop in and cool off first.”

Mark helped her to her feet and pulled her close. “Don’t be long.” He pressed a kiss to her lips that tasted like salt water. “We’ve got to return the boat to your dad by four.”

She stepped back, winked at him, and dove off the side.

“Show-off!” he called down after her.

Jessa slipped into the water with barely a splash, like the lifelong swimmer she was. The water brushed a cool relief against her hot skin. Moored as far from land as they were, there was nothing to swim to. She settled for circuits around the boat. After a dozen, she turned onto her back and floated, giving her shoulders a break. The sky was a bright almost unnatural blue. It made a wide crescent against the darker indigo of the sea where the two met at the horizon.

Something brushed her foot.

Jessa stilled her legs, paddling with her arms to keep herself afloat as she searched for the culprit. A light-blue mass swirled below her.

Oh shit.

Ghostly strands reached up, inches from her skin.

Jellies.

And not just any jellyfish — box jellyfish. Large, square bodies with tentacles trailing below. Lots of them. Some as long as ten feet. Each tentacle had as many as five thousand stinging cells. Each one capable of causing excruciating pain and even death.

Don’t panic.

She had to stay calm, keep her wits. Which would be easier if she didn’t know their venom was deadlier than a cobra’s. Her mouth went dry. She turned in a slow circle, her breath tightening with each new jelly she spotted. They pulsed through the water underneath her. A writhing, growing mass.

She shifted the direction of her strokes, pulling herself away from them. How many were there? And why were they out now? Box jellyfish were always in the ocean, but Hawaii’s jellyfish tended to come and go with the cycle of the moon. And they weren’t due for weeks, especially not here. She and Mark had dropped anchor off Kauai, nowhere near the beaches of Oahu where box jellyfish were usually spotted.

“Mark?” She called out, but there was no sign of him.

Must be below deck.

She judged the distance to the boat. Maybe fifty yards. It would be easier and faster if she could kick. But she didn’t want to accidentally make contact with the jellyfish. Even one sting could send her into cardiac arrest. Her mouth was so dry, she could hardly swallow. The world shrunk to nothing more than the distance between her and the boat. She treaded water using only her arms, her muscles protesting, tired from the laps she’d done.

Just get to the ladder.

If you get stung, you’ll find the vinegar and douse yourself.

Jessa kept swimming, trying not to move her legs, gliding over the still-growing mass of jellies. Her heart pounded and she struggled to keep herself from hyperventilating. Forty yards, thirty, twenty-five. This was taking forever.

A lightning bolt of pain shot up from her ankle, a radiating burning sting. “Shit.”

Fuck this.

She kicked off, powering toward the boat. Her ankle burning, her jaw clenched tight against the pain.

Another strike, this one on the other leg and higher near her thigh. Like a thousand wasps stinging at once. Sweat broke out on her forehead, and she gasped at the sudden shock of pain, then another struck. And another. Her body seized, her arms freezing in place as the jellyfish wrapped themselves around her. Delicate strands weaving bands of fire across her body. Her heart thundered. The sear of agony blotting out the rest of the world, until it was the one true certain thing left.

Not the only thing.

“Mark!” Jessa forced out the word as her head slipped under the water, a sharp pain slicing her chest. She willed herself to push toward the surface, not to breathe in the saltwater around her. Except it wasn’t water. The jellyfish were everywhere.

A few feet below the surface, she opened her mouth and screamed.

***

Excerpt from Inhuman Acts by Brooke L. French.
Copyright 2022 by Brooke L. French.
Reproduced with permission from Brooke L. French.
All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Brooke L. French

Brooke L. French is a recovering lawyer turned writer who lives with her husband and sons between Atlanta and Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She spends most of her days gleefully researching and writing about fatal viruses, terrorism, and murder.

Brooke is likely on numerous watch lists.

Catch Up With Brooke L. French:
BrookeLFrench.com
Instagram – @brookelewisfrench
Facebook – @brooke.l.french

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Book Showcase: FORGET ME by Lisa Sherman

FORGET ME by Lisa Sherman book cover, black cover, text in hot pink, pink floral petals in background, white-framed photograph with broken glass featuring  an embracing couple (man & woman)Forget Me, Forget Me Not Book 1, by Lisa Sherman
ISBN: 9781645407362 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781645407355 (ebook)
ASIN: B0B8QQ91KT (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Speaking Volumes LLC.
Release Date: August 22, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Mystery/Suspense

How can you know who you really are if you can’t remember your past?

Wanda Dellas is living someone else’s life: that’s the sense she’s had since a mysterious accident robbed her of her long-term memory. Lost and barely scraping by, Wanda cleans offices at night in order to support her young daughter.

Then Wanda sees a news report about a presumed dead businesswoman, Claire Stanbrick. Bad enough that Claire bears an uncanny resemblance to Wanda. But it turns out Claire went missing around the same time as Wanda’s accident, too. Plus, she can’t shake the sense that Claire’s husband Jack, who’s serving time in prison for Claire’s murder, is innocent. And she’s beginning to develop feelings for him. But which feelings are real and which are just figments of her fractured memory?

Answers to the past often come at a price.

As Wanda learns more about Claire, she realizes Claire didn’t have the picture-perfect life Wanda imagined . . . a fact someone following her is determined to keep a secret. And the more Wanda discovers, the more she faces new dangers that threaten her life . . . or is it Claire’s?

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Apple Books | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | Google Play Books | Kobo eBook

Read an Excerpt:

My nerves fire hot beneath my skin as I wait for the security guard to vanish. I loop my cleaning bucket over my arm and inch the cleaning cart toward the door, nothing to see here. I’m nonchalant, until I am certain he is out of sight. Then I rush in, leaving the door slightly ajar behind me. The room smells of mold, of dust and mothballs, but mostly of secrets. I breathe in the air, the same air Claire used to breathe, and wonder what discoveries await me.

The office has a presence to it, of life lived, of love. The familiarity of the space butters my skin. But I’m not sure why. I feel warm and bubbly. I want to dance. It seems as if I’ve seen it all before: the desk chair with the wobbly arm, the triangular table wedged into the corner, the half-bookcase standing against the back wall. But have I?

Piles of files and folders litter the floor. Old computers sit in a mound, crammed in a heap against the back wall. A desk sits at an awkward angle in the center of the room, stacked high with boxes. A thick layer of dirt coats the desktop from end to end. I run my pinky through it. This place hasn’t been cleaned in years. I pull out a can of wood cleaner and wipe the desk down with a cloth, polishing the sides, pressing dust out of the carved crevices. But I can’t just spend my time cleaning. I need to see if there’s any information I can find that will shed light on whether or not I am Claire.

My fingers trace the base of the desk drawer. I tug it open. Inside, two picture frames rest folded up. One with a photo of Claire and Jack, facing each other laughing, the tips of their noses covered in butter- cream, a wedding photo. I giggle and wipe at my own nose. But of course, there’s no frosting there.

The other contains a picture of Claire in a graduation gown, shaking hands with a dean, receiving a diploma. In the photo, she is beaming, her dimples peppering her cheeks, her red hair bright against the black cloth of the gown. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to remember something, anything about that day. The smell of flowering spring leaves in the quad? Shielding my eyes as the sun reflects off the tops of the program covers? The sound of applause as graduates cross the stage? But I’ve got nothing. Even the name of the university evades me. I flip the frame around, slide the metal tab to the side, and pry the picture out. The photo crinkles between my fingers as I read the words on the back. “Class of 2000.” I spin the year around in my mind, to see if it triggers something. My shoulders fall. Nothing.

I stuff the photos back into the drawer when a box, its top partially open, catches my eye. Inside are stacks and stacks of notepads and pens, each with an orange and white SMG logo printed across the top. SMG, Claire’s now-defunct company. I grab a fistful of pens and stick them in my smock. Souvenirs.

The room suddenly feels suffocating. I walk over to the window, press my palms against the glass and look out. The city is peaceful. Most offices are still dark and only a scant few cars make their way along the empty streets below. I rest my hands on top of the ledge, the marble smooth and cool beneath my fingertips. The answer to who I am is not out there.

I am shaken from my thoughts when footsteps shuffle into the room. It’s Astrid, sweet, sleepy Astrid, rubbing her eyes.

“Is it almost time to go home, Mama?”

“How did you know where I was?” I ask.

“I looked in all the rooms. I’m an explorer.”

A panic washes over me as I think about Astrid roaming the hallways by herself.

“Astrid, please. Next time you have to stay put. You can’t go wandering around. It isn’t safe to do that. Someone could see you. I’m not supposed to bring you with me. I could lose my job or worse, you could get hurt.”

She pouts at me. I’ve bruised her feelings. But that’s too bad. I would die if anything happened to her. Die.

I rest my hands on her shoulders. “You’re not in any trouble. Just promise me you won’t wander off again.”

“Promise.” She chews on a strand of hair.

I kiss the top of her head. I’m a horrible mother. It’s my fault we’re even here. She should be at home sleeping securely in bed. But she’s not. She’s stuck here with me. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. I just need to find out what happened to me. How did I end up shot and in the Wisconsin River? The answer to those questions lies somewhere with Claire and this company. It’s got to.

Excerpt from Forget Me by Lisa Sherman.
Copyright © 2022 by Lisa Sherman.
All rights reserved.
Published by Speaking Volumes LLC.

 

Meet The Author

Author Photo: Lisa Sherman, woman wearing jeans and sweater standing in front of blurred outdoor sceneLisa Sherman has always had a passion for stories and the fictional worlds created by her favorite authors. Her love of words led her to pursue a BA in English Literature as an undergraduate. Her interest in jurisprudence led her to law school, where she attained her Juris Doctor degree. Later, Lisa rounded out her love of writing by obtaining an MFA. Lisa has always been fascinated with the “why” behind people’s actions. As a writer of psychological thrillers and women’s fiction, she hopes readers will enjoy getting a sneak peek into what makes her characters act the way they do, especially when faced with challenging or extraordinary situations. Find out more at: https://lisashermanauthor.com/.

Connect with the Author: Instagram | Twitter | Website 

This excerpt brought to you by Books Forward PR

 

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?

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

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?

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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?

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

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.

 
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