Book Showcase: THE FUNNY THING ABOUT NORMAN FOREMAN by Julietta Henderson

Blog tour banner featuring book cover for THE FUNNY THING ABOUT NORMAN FOREMAN, young boy standing in spotlight, quote "Norman Foreman will capture your heart...An utter delight!" by Sarah Haywood, New York Times bestselling author of THE CACTUS, Blog Tour April 12 - May 7

THE FUNNY THING ABOUT NORMAN FOREMAN - JHendersonThe Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson
ISBN: 9780778331957 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780369701145 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488210693 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B089ZN5RXJ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B087JW37VZ (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: April 13, 2021

Little Miss Sunshine meets Wonder in this delightfully charming, uplifting book club debut about a twelve-year-old would-be comedian who travels across the country to honor his dead best friend’s dream of performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe—the only problem being that his friend was the funny one of their duo.

Twelve-year-old would-be comedian Norman has got a lot going on, including a chronic case of psoriasis, a distinct lack of comic timing and a dead best friend. All his life it’s just been him, his single mum Sadie, and Jax, the ‘funny one’ of their comedy duo. So when Jax dies not only is Norman devastated, it’s also the end of the boys’ Five Year Plan to take their comedy act to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when they turned fifteen.

But Norman decides to honor Jax by performing at the Fringe, on his own. And not when he’s fifteen—but rather in four weeks’ time. But there’s another, far more colossal objective on Norman’s plan that Sadie wasn’t quite ready for: Norman wants to find his father. Eager to do anything that might put a smile on her boy’s face, Sadie resolves to face up to her own messy past and track down the father who doesn’t even know Norman exists, and whose identity Sadie herself isn’t quite sure of.

Thus begins a road trip from Cornwall to Scotland, featuring a mother and son who will live in the reader’s heart for a long time to come.

 

 

Read An Excerpt:

1

SADIE

When I was born my insides lay outside my body for twenty-one days. Which is unexpected but not nearly as unusual as you might think. For every 3,999 other babies that come out with everything tucked in neatly and sealed away exactly where it should be, there’s one like me. Nobody really knows why. Luck of the draw, my father used to say.

For those three weeks while I lay spread-eagled in an incubator like a Nando’s special, a crowd of doctors gathered every morning to discuss their cleverness and, as my organs shrank to their correct size, bit by bit they gently posted a little more of the me-parts that had made a break for it back inside.

Well that’s the way my mother told it anyway. The way my father told it, the doctors gathered around the incubator every morning to discuss whether they’d be having my large intestine or my liver for their lunch, and whether it’d be with chips or salad. And that right there might tell you almost everything you need to know about my parents.

On my insides’ final day of freedom the head surgeon pushed the last bit through the slit in my stomach and stitched it closed, presumably with everything in its rightful place. I was declared whole and sent home to begin life like almost nothing had ever happened.

Except that even when the regular hospital check-ups stopped, and the scar on my stomach that I’d never lived without faded to a thin silver seam, I can always remember still feeling the tugging behind it. Something I could never quite name, nudging at the fleshy edges whenever things were going badly, or too well. Or just for fun. To remind me how easily those parts of me that never really fit could come sliding out. Any time we like Sadie. Any time we like.

It wasn’t until I held my own son for the first time that the constant, dull pressure of keeping the scar together receded. When a nurse placed that slippery, crumpled up bundle of boy on my chest, I tightened my grip on a handful of hospital sheet as my world creaked on its axis, bumped into a comfy spot and was finally facing the right way.

I didn’t feel the tug on the scar again until a different boy died, and to say I wasn’t ready for it isn’t even the most important thing. Because by then there was a lot more at stake than just my own stupid insides spilling out into the world. I was as scared as hell and I had no idea how to fix any of it. And that right there might tell you almost everything you need to know about me.

2

NORMAN

First rule of comedy: Timing is everything

Timing is everything. First rule of comedy, Jax says. Because when push comes to shove, if you can get the timing right you can get a laugh. He says. Well I don’t really know how to tell when push is coming to shove but I’ll tell you something I do know. That rule works the other way too. Because when the you-know-what starts to hit the fan, if your timing’s wrong there’s pretty much zilcho you can do to stop it from splattering all over the place.

Stare straight ahead and think about nothing. That’s a world famous Jax Fenton tactic for what to do when you get yourself into a bit of a mess. Works every time he reckons and he should know. Only maybe it doesn’t. Because when I stare straight ahead all I can see is that big shiny wooden box and instead of nothing I’m thinking about everything. And loads of it. Like does any light get in through the joins and did they let Jax wear his Frankie Boyle Tramadol Nights tour t-shirt. And does whoever put him in there know he only likes to sleep on his side.

The massive scab on my chest feels so tight that I’m scared to breathe too deep in case it splits down the middle and bleeds all over my new shirt. Stare straight ahead. I move just a bit so I almost can’t see the box behind a couple of heads and my arm touches Mum’s. When I feel her, straight away the mess on my chest relaxes and lets me take half an almost good in-breath. Nearly a whole one. Right before it stabs me all the way through to my back and kazams like a rocket down to my toes. I’m pretty sure I can hear it laughing. Timing is everything, sucker.

And by the way, that’s another thing I know. That you can’t trust your timing no matter how good it’s been in the past. Not even for people as excellently funny as Ronnie Barker or Dave Allen or Bob Mortimer. Or Jax.

Because even if you nick a little bit of money for sweets every week-day morning from your mum’s purse, even if you accidentally-on-purpose leave your stepfather’s car door open so the cats get in and wee on the seats, and even if you’re the naughtiest kid in the whole school by a long shot, when you’re eleven years, 297 days and from what the paramedics can tell anything between twelve and sixteen hours old, it’s definitely not a good time to die.

Stare straight ahead and think about nothing.

3

SADIE

Squashed into the end of the pew with my body leaning into the shape of the space that Norman’s made, I could feel the tense and release of his arms as his small boy hands curled in and out of fists. The buttoned down cuffs of his sleeves rode up ever so slightly with every movement to reveal the trail of psoriasis that spread triumphantly down to the second knuckles. His face was blank as a brick. Dry eyes staring straight ahead.

‘Just hold on. Hold on son. You’ll get through this.’ I murmured reassuringly. Telepathically. But Norman’s hands kept on curling and flexing and then I noticed his chest was keeping time, rising and collapsing with the movement of his hands. I knew what was lying in wait underneath the thin fabric of his shirt, so then I had another thing to worry about.

I had to admit it looked like he wasn’t getting my message, possibly because my best telepathic motherly voice was being all but drowned out by the other, very much louder one that lived in luxury inside my head. Fuck you Sadie. You can’t even get this right. As usual it wasn’t pulling any punches.

The priest who had never met him declared the end to Jax’s life and people began shuffling out of the pews as fast as they could, as if death might still be hanging around looking for company. They knocked our knees, murmured apologies and spilled their overflow of sadness all over us. Like we needed it. The moving huddle in the aisle parted from the back as Jax’s parents set off on their million mile walk, and without turning my head I felt more than saw Josie Fenton hesitate ever so slightly as they passed us. But then they were gone. And my son’s eyes remained fixed on some invisible point that I could only hope lay somewhere far, far beyond the awfulness of the moment.

A good forty minutes after the last person had left, I reached for Norman’s nearest hand and closed it gently between mine. The chill of the empty church had sidled deep into my bones and I was shocked at the heat of his raw knuckles on my palms. The voice in my head began stage whispering nonsense louder and louder and Norman’s hand stayed rigid in its fist. But I didn’t need that voice to tell me what I’d already figured out about thirty-eight minutes before. I wasn’t going to be nearly enough for this.

4

There’s a good chance Norman’s father is one of four people. Now I know how that makes me sound, but it’s a fairly reasonable alternative to the other scenario, which is that he would quite possibly have been one of several more if circumstances had allowed.

But anyhow, who provided the champion Y chromosome that coasted up a lager and lemonade river to victory in my ovaries never really came up in Norman’s first twelve years of life. Mainly because I’d pretty much convinced myself that I was all the parent he needed. I was enough. And, to be fair, Norman had never given me any reason to question my conviction, no matter how many mistakes I made on the job. And there’s been a lot, believe me. Which you probably do based on first impressions.

I never knew a thing about boys until I became the mother of one, even though in theory a boy is just a smaller version of a man and clearly I thought I knew quite a lot about them at one point. As a general rule I’ve found men don’t really require any complicated directions, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to get exactly what’s on the tin when you bring one home. And serves you right most of the time. But it turns out a boy is nothing like a man at all, because they could definitely do with coming with some directions. And when you bring one of them home, before you even get him through the front door he’s already got your heart scrunched up in his fat baby fist like a bad betting slip. And he’s starting to squeeze.

I named my son Norman because there was nobody to tell me not to. And because I liked it. That could have been my first mistake and who knows, maybe I would have listened if someone had told me that Charlie or Harry or Freddie might be a lighter load for a kid to swing onto his back and carry around for an entire lifetime. That other children, and even adults who should bloody well know better, might find a thousand cruel ways to use a name chosen with love to try to bring your boy down. That maybe, just maybe, naming a post-millennial baby after a 1950s comedian was not the best idea I’d ever had. Although you should know that it also wasn’t the worst.

The fact that his name had to attach itself to the caboose of our surname was probably my second mistake. And although I’ve always thought that Norman Foreman has a certain resonance to it, I’ve yet to find someone that wholeheartedly agrees. Except Jax of course.

‘Coolest name ever Normie boy!’ Coolest kid ever.

Norman never had a best friend before Jax. In fact, if I’m honest, he never really had a proper friend at all. But when Jax showed up at Alverton Community Primary wielding a truncheon of six-year-old East London bravado over his shell-shocked Cornish classmates, for Norman it was love at first sight. Just like he always does though, even when he wants something really, really badly, he sat back politely and waited his turn.

It took Jax less than a week to alienate every kid in his class, and most of the teachers as well, before noticing Norman and deciding that he could well be his last chance in the best friend saloon. That was six years ago, and from the moment the deal was sealed over a shared two-week detention for switching around the contents of the entire Year 3’s school bags (verdict: Jax guilty as hell, Norman guilty of being an inexperienced and therefore ultimately unsuccessful lookout), you couldn’t separate those two with a scalpel. I’d lay money that there weren’t two more different boys on the planet and yet somehow they just clicked. They were, ‘The bloody Rolls bloody Royce of bloody best friends,’ as Jax so eloquently put it.

But Jax died. And so it came to be that on the kind of day sons should be out in a park kicking a football, or chasing dogs down on the beach with their mates, I sat next to my good boy in a church full of damp cheeks. Trying hard not to think about that other rude, grubby, magnificent bad boy lying just a few metres away. And even though there was no chance in hell of it coming true, I’d still half expected to hear a kicking at the lid of that coffin at any moment, and a wild-haired laughing kid to splinter through and shout, ‘Gotcha suckers!’

Because that was Jax’s approach to life, the universe and everything really. Feet first, break the door down and damn the consequences. He’d arrive at our house nearly every day like that, body lengths ahead of Norman, bullying our front door handle nearly off its thread and following up with a totally unnecessary karate kick to make sure the job was done. Then he’d charge straight down the hallway on a direct route to the biscuit tin, leaving Norman to catch hold of the twanging door and close it softly as he brought up the rear.

It used to drive me crazy every time I’d catch sight of the mortally injured wall where the front door handle bounced, day after day. But in the weeks after Jax died I saw the way Norman glanced over at that crumbling hole in the plaster as he passed, and it made me give silent thanks for lying, no good, unreliable tradesmen that don’t know their four o’clocks from their fourth of Junes.

That hole is all that’s left of Jax in our house now, and it’s eating away at the wall like it’s got teeth.

5

NORMAN

First rule of comedy: Always know where the joke is going

Jax says that if you don’t know where you’re going you’re never going to know when you get there and you can’t argue with that, Normie boy. Not that I’d want to because it makes pretty good sense when you think about it. I mean imagine if you just walked out the door every morning without having any idea of where you’re on your way to. How would you know to stop walking when you got to the bus stop and not just keep going to the beach? Or even further? Or if you didn’t know you were supposed to get off at school how would you know not to just sit on the bus all day doing loops around Penzance and Newlyn?

Jax reckons it’s the same with a joke. Because you’ve got to know where the punchline is before you set off otherwise you’re just going to end up going around and around in circles looking for a way out. And there’s nothing too funny about someone wandering around and around in circles, although there are probably some exceptions to that and I think maybe Dave Allen is one of them.

Mum says there isn’t anyone else on the planet whose brain works the way that Jaxy’s does and I’m pretty sure she’s right. I reckon it’s because he’s the coolest guy on this or any other planet, but he says it’s because the inside of his head is just like a big old ideas factory and he wouldn’t be able to stop them coming out even if he tried. Which luckily he never has or else we wouldn’t have had some of the most excellent fun ever.

Like when I suggested we should have a comedy DVD marathon so we could work out once and for all who our favourites were. Jax said that if we were going to do it then we had to make a plan and do it right and that’s how he invented DVD Dynamite Saturday Night. We made a proper folded up paper programme with a list of the DVDs we were going to watch and in what exact order we’d play them, and even the times for when it was intermission so we could go for a wee and make cheese on toast and hot chocolates and stuff. Then we got dressed up in our comedy outfits because Jax said that was called getting into character and we even made a ticket with ‘Admit One: DVD Dynamite Saturday Night’ on it so we could invite Mum to come as well. And she did and it was the best Saturday night ever, even though we had so much fun we totally forgot to decide who we liked the best and now I’m never going to know who would have got Jaxy’s vote.

Another time we were just sitting in my room talking about what cheese we reckoned was the best for melting and kapow! Jax came up with the Ultimate Cheese-Off Experiment plan. We made a banner out of an old pillow case with U.C.O.E 2017 on it because the whole name didn’t fit, and Mum took us to Tesco’s and we bought loads of different kinds of cheese. Even the expensive ones. Then Jax made a list with the names of them and five columns labelled gooey, gooier, gooiest, rubbish and totally rubbish to put our ticks and crosses in. It turned out he needn’t have bothered with the last two because they stayed totally empty, but then we ended up writing a really cool joke about never meeting a cheese we didn’t like. So that was like two ideas out of the factory for the price of one.

A lot Jax’s best ideas pop into his head when he’s supposed to be doing other things like homework or sleeping or taking out the bins for his mum. Or watching the One Show Children in Need special, which is when out of nowhere he goes, Norman I reckon we need to make a mega genius super supreme comedy plan so we know where we’re going. And all I knew was that if Jax was going somewhere I wanted to be with him when he got there.

When we finished Jax and Norman’s Five Year Plan Jax goes Norman Foreman you are the bees knees and I am the dog’s bollocks and there’s nothing in the world that can stop us now. And I knew straight away that he was right, because not only did we know for absolute sure where we were going, we also knew exactly when we were going to get there. Which was 7:15 pm on the first Friday in August after two changes on National Rail.

Excerpted from The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson.

Copyright © 2021 by Julietta Henderson. Published by MIRA Books.

 

Meet The Author

Author - Julietta Henderson credit Lizzy C Photography

Julietta Henderson is a full-time writer and comedy fan who splits her time between her home country of Australia and the UK. The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman is Julietta’s first novel.

Connect with the Author:

Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

 
 

This excerpt brought to you courtesy of MIRA Books

Book Showcase: JUST GET HOME by Bridget Foley

Book Covers: AFTER SHOCK by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell, DANGER IN NUMBERS by Heather Graham, TELL NO LIES by Allison Brennan, JUST MY LUCK by Adele Parks, and JUST GET HOME by BRIDGET FOLEY

 

Just Get Home by Bridget FoleyJUST GET HOME - BFoley
ISBN: 9780778331599 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9781488078330 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488210655 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08GN4FV93 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B087JV9F1C (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: April 13, 2021

 

When a devastating earthquake—the Big One—hits Los Angeles, two strangers are brought together by an act of violence and must help each other survive the wrecked city.

Beegie is riding the bus when the quake hits. The teenager was heading back to her unhappy foster home, but then she’s thrown into a broken world. Roads crumble, storefronts shatter and people run wild.

Dessa, a single mom, is enjoying a rare night out when it strikes. Cell towers are down, so without even knowing if her three-year-old daughter is dead or alive, she races to get back across town.

As danger escalates in the chaotic streets, Beegie and Dessa meet by a twist of fate. The two form a fragile partnership, relying on each other in ways they never thought possible, and learn who they really are when there’s only one goal: just get home.

 

 Read an excerpt:

Prologue

 

Assist the client in gathering possessions.

Beegie saw it written on a sheet Karen had in her folder. An unticked box next to it.

She knew what it meant. Stuff.

But it was the other meaning that soothed her.

The darker meaning. Possessions.

That was the one she worked over and over in her head.

Beegie imagined her case worker holding up a grey little girl, face obscured by black hair and asking, “This one yours?” Beegie would nod. Yes, that’s my monster. Together they would shove one snarling, demon-filled person after another into the garbage bags they had been given to pack her things. Soon the bags would fill, growing translucent with strain. When they were done, she and Karen would have to push down on the snapping, bloody faces of Beegie’s possessions so they could close the back of the Prius.

But Karen’s box remained unticked. She didn’t get to help collect Beegie’s possessions, real or unreal, because Beegie’s stuff was already on the street when she got home.

Two garbage bags filled with nothing special. Her advocate standing next to them with her folder and its helpful advice for what to do when a foster gets kicked out of her home.

Nothing special.

Just almost everything Beegie owned in the world.

Almost but not all.

Whatever.

After Karen dropped her off and Barb had shown her “Her New Home” and given her the rundown on “The Way It Works Here,” Beegie unpacked her possessions into a bureau that the girl who’d lived there before her had made empty, but not clean.

The bottoms of the drawers were covered in spilled glitter. Pink and gold. Beegie had pressed the tips of her fingers into the wood to pull it up, making disco balls of her hands.

But she failed to get it all.

Months later, she would find stray squares of this other girl’s glitter on her clothes. They would catch the light, drawing her back to the moment when she’d finally given up on getting the bureau any cleaner and started to unpack the garbage bags.

There had been things missing.

That Beegie had expected.

But what she had not expected was to find two other neatly folded garbage bags. These were the ones she had used to move her stuff from Janelle’s to the Greely’s. She had kept them, even though back then Mrs. Greely was all smiles and Eric seemed nice, and even Rooster would let her pet him.

Beegie had kept the bags because she’d been around long enough to know that sometimes it doesn’t work out.

In fact, most times it doesn’t work out.

And you need a bag to put your stuff in and you don’t want to have to ask the person who doesn’t want you to live with them anymore to give you one.

But when Mrs. Greely had gathered Beegie’s possessions, she had seen those bags and thought that they were important to Beegie. It made sense to her former foster mother that a “garbage girl” would treasure a garbage bag.

This got Beegie thinking about stuff. The problem of it. The need for things to hold your other things. Things to fix your things. Things to make your things play.

And a place to keep it all.

In Beegie’s brain the problem of possessions multiplied, until she imagined it like a landfill. Things to hold things to hold things, all of it covered with flies, seagulls swooping.

Everything she ever owned was trash or one day would be.

Seeing things this way helped. It made her mind less about the things that hadn’t been in the bag… and other things.

Beegie picked at ownership like a scab, working her way around the edges, flaking it off a bit at a time. Ridding herself of the brown crust of caring.

Because if you care about something it has power over you.

Caring can give someone else the ability to control you and the only real way to own yourself was let go.

So she did.

Or she tried.

Some things Beegie couldn’t quite shed. The want of them stuck to her like the glitter. The pain of their loss catching the light on her sleeves, flashing from the hem of her jeans. The want would wait on her body until it attracted her attention and then eluded the grasping edges of her fingers.

Excerpted from Just Get Home by Bridget Foley.
Copyright © 2021 by Bridget Foley. Published by MIRA Books.

 

Meet The Author

Author - Bridget Foley

Originally from Colorado, Bridget Foley attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television. She worked as an actor and screenwriter before becoming a novelist. She now lives a fiercely creative life with her family in Boise, Idaho.

Connect with the Author:

Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Website

 

This excerpt brought to you courtesy of MIRA Books

Book Showcase: HER DARK LIES by J.T. Ellison

 

HER DARK LIES cover - FINALHer Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison
ISBN: 9780778388302 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780778331988 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781488076541 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488210600 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08GQGS6Z2 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B082P4FZRK (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: March 9, 2021

 

Fast-paced and brilliantly unpredictable, J.T. Ellison’s breathtaking new novel invites you to a wedding none will forget—and some won’t survive.

At the wedding of the year, a killer needs no invitation

Jutting from sparkling turquoise waters off the Italian coast, Isle Isola is an idyllic setting for a wedding. In the majestic cliff-top villa owned by the wealthy Compton family, up-and-coming artist Claire Hunter will marry handsome, charming Jack Compton, surrounded by close family, intimate friends…and a host of dark secrets.

From the moment Claire sets foot on the island, something seems amiss. Skeletal remains have just been found. There are other, newer disturbances, too. Menacing texts. A ruined wedding dress. And one troubling shadow hanging over Claire’s otherwise blissful relationship—the strange mystery surrounding Jack’s first wife.

Then a raging storm descends, the power goes out—and the real terror begins.

 

Read an excerpt:

1

Beginnings and Endings

She is going to die tonight.

The white dress, long and filmy, hampers her effort to run. The hem catches on a branch; a large rend in the fabric slashes open, exposing her leg. A deep cut blooms red along her thigh, and the blood runs down her calf. Her hair has come loose from its braid, flies unbound behind her like gossamer wings.

In her panic, she barely notices the pain.

The path ahead is marked by towering cypress and laurel, verdant and lush. A gray stone waist-high wall is all that stands between her and the cliffside. It is cool inside this miniature forest; the sky is blotted out by the purple-throated wisteria that drapes across and between the trees. Someone, years ago, built an archway along the arbor. The arch’s skeleton has long since rotted away and the flowers droop into the path, clinging trails and vines that brush against her head and shoulders. It should be beautiful; instead it feels oppressive, as if the vines might animate, twist and curl around her neck and strangle her to death.

She tries not to look down to the frothing water roiling against the rocks at the cliff’s base. She thinks the ruins are to her right. From what she remembers, they are between the church and the artists’ colony, the four cottages cowering on the hillside, empty and waiting.

A horn shrieks, and she realizes the ferry is pulling away. A crack of lightning, and she sees the silhouette of the captain in the pilothouse, looking out to the turbulent seas ahead. A gamble that he makes it before the storm is upon them.

Don’t panic. Don’t panic.

Where is the church?

There it is, a flash of white through the trees. The stuccoed walls loom, the bell tower hidden behind the overgrown foliage. Now the path is moving upward, the grade increasing. She feels it in her calves and hopes again she is going the right way. The Villa is on the hill, on the northwest promontory of the island. If she can reach its doors, she will be safe.

It is too quiet. There are no birds, no creatures, no buzzing or cries, just her ragged, heavy breath and the scree shuffling underfoot as she climbs. The furious roar of the water smashing its frustration against the rocks rises from her left, echoing against the cliffside.

The dogs begin to howl.

Climb. Climb. Keep going.

She must get to the Villa. There she can call for help. Lock herself inside. Maybe find a weapon.

A branch snaps and she halts, breathless.

Someone is coming.

She startles like a deer, now heedless of the noise she’s making. Fighting back a whimper of fear, she breaks free of the cloistered path to see an old decrepit staircase cut into the stone. Careful, she must be cautious, there are gaps where some steps are missing, and the rest are mossy with disuse, but hurry, hurry. Get away.

She winds up the steps, clinging to the rock face, until she bursts free into a sea of scrubby pines. Two sculptures, Janus twins, flank a slate-dark path into a labyrinth of rhododendron and azalea.

This isn’t right. Where is she?

A hard breeze disrupts the trees around her, and a rumble of thunder like a thousand drums rolls across her body. Lightning flashes and she sees the Villa in the distance. So far away. On the other side of the labyrinth. The other side of the hill.

She’s gone the wrong way.

A droplet of water hits her arm, then her forehead. Dread bubbles through her.

She is too late. The storm is upon her.

The howls of the dogs draw closer. The wind whistles hard and sharp, buffeting her against the stone wall. She can’t move, deep fear cementing her feet. Rain makes the gauzy dress cling to the curves of her body, and the blood on her thigh washes to the ground. None of it matters. She cannot escape.

When he comes, at last, sauntering through the storm, the barking beasts leaping and growling beside him, she is crying, clinging to the wall, the lightning illuminating the ruins; the ancient stones and stark, headless statues the only witness to her death.

She goes over the wall with a thunder-drowned scream, the jagged rocks below her final companions.

MONDAY

Insecurity is the worst sense that lovers feel; sometimes the most humdrum desireless marriage seems better. Insecurity twists meanings and poisons trust.
—Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

2

The Party

Nashville, Tennessee

The last few days before a wedding are the most stressful of a bride’s life.

I repeat this mantra to justify accepting a fourth glass of champagne from the slim, silent, white-gloved server. The champagne is delightful, cool and fizzy against my throat.

I am well past tipsy, and thankfully, it seems the evening is winding down. The quartet is looking decidedly tired, and the servers have been circling with the macarons for over half an hour. All I want to do at this point is sneak off to a corner to discreetly rub the bottoms of my feet; I’m wearing my five-hour heels but I’m pushing hour six and feeling it. I am smiled, chatted, and air-kissed out.

I take a second sip, then cast a glance across the crowded ballroom to my bridegroom. Jack doesn’t seem stressed at all. Quite the opposite; he is as relaxed and calm as I’ve seen him in weeks. He is in his element, surrounded by benefactors and businessmen, people of standing and stature. His dark blond hair is mussed, his eyes a bit glassy from all the toasting. The quintessential quarterback—impossibly handsome, easy smile, thick hair, oozing sex appeal. The kind of guy who doesn’t flame out after college, but goes the whole way, becomes a brand, gets endorsement deals, marries a supermodel and has two perfect kids and an architecturally interesting home.

Though Jack is not a quarterback, and I am hardly a supermodel. I am tall, and I do have an awful lot of blond hair, but that’s where the resemblance ends. I’m an artist, a painter. My talent is large canvas abstracts, modern oils. And even that has been enhanced by Jack’s influence.

These assets don’t seem enough, and yet, William Jackson Compton has chosen to spend his life with me.

Yes, that Jackson Compton, eldest son of the illustrious computer magnate William Brice Compton III, and his brilliant wife, Ana Catalano Compton.

This party is our last obligation before hopping a flight to Italy. To have our wedding on Isle Isola, in the Comptons’ private centuries-old villa, packed with modern art and old secrets. It’s belonged to the family for generations.

Personally, I would have been fine with the courthouse, but there will be nothing but the best for Jack.

At my request, the ceremony itself will be for our closest family and friends only, but because so many people wanted to celebrate with us, the powers that be—Ana, and our wedding planner, Henna Shaikh—decided a precursor event would be fitting. A reception before the wedding, complete with a tanker truck of champagne, heavy hors d’oeuvres, five hundred well-heeled strangers, enough staff to circulate food and wine for the masses, one gregarious groom, and one extremely shy bride.

And twinkle lights. One must never forget the twinkle lights.

This prewedding extravaganza is why I’m now standing in an outrageously expensive Elie Saab column of the palest ivory satin and sky-high Jimmy Choo heels in the ballroom of Cheekwood mansion quaffing champagne as if my life depends on it. One wall of the ballroom has been lit up all evening with tasteful black-and-white photographs from our courtship, interspersed with photos of Jack on-site in foreign countries, holding babies during their inoculations and drilling water wells, part of his duties with the Compton Foundation, a hugely successful and popular philanthropic endeavor. There are even a few shots of me in my studio and my paintings. They look so fascinating in monochrome, it has me itching to sneak away to my studio tonight, though this isn’t going to happen. A—I don’t often like the results when I paint drunk. B—We leave tomorrow for Isola, ergo, there is no more painting time for me until after the wedding.

Jack senses me watching him. His smile grows wider, into a grin that is pure, sheer delight. You are mine, and I am yours, and we are so very lucky, it says. He tips his glass my direction, and I tip mine in return, then take a sip, promptly spilling a teensy bit onto the front of my dress. Shit. I have definitely been overserved.

I set the glass down on the nearest table and discreetly dab at my collarbones with my cocktail napkin, feeling the scratchy embossing of our conjoined initials in golden scroll against my bare skin.

Jack must have seen my faux pas because he crosses the room like a torpedo. He’s not upset, he’s highly amused, judging by the rumbles of laughter coming from his broad chest. His arms encircle my waist and he sweeps me up into a hug that takes my feet off the ground. He whirls me in a circle.

“Darling, darling, my beautiful, lovely, wet darling.”

“Oh good, you’re tipsy, too. Set me down, you silly man.”

But there is a tinkling noise, metal chiming against the champagne flutes, which is how I’ve gotten so merry to start with. So. Many. Toasts.

Jack kisses me, still twirling. The crowd cheers uproariously, and my head spins in all the right ways. Nothing matters but this—this man, me in his arms, our lips touching. Forever. He’s mine forever.

“Want to get out of here?” he whispers, stopping finally. I slide down his body like a ballerina until my toes touch the hardwood.

“God, yes. Now?”

“Now.”

“Excellent. Can we just sneak out? Irish goodbye in three, two, one…”

“Darling, we can do whatever we want. It’s our party. But let’s say goodbye, just to be polite.” He turns to the crowd and puts up a hand, and silence descends on the room.

His power over people is magnetic. If he ever wanted to take over his father’s company, the world would bend over backward to pave his way. Lucky for me, Jack is content with the Foundation.

“Thank you, all, for a lovely evening. So glad you’ve been able to celebrate with us. We’ll see you on the other side.”

Quick as a magician, Jack has us out of the room and on the slate path to the black Suburban waiting outside before the applause and calls of best wishes and congratulations fully dies down. His personal security guards, Gideon and Malcolm, materialize like well-armed ghosts and fall in silently behind us. I call them the Crows because they are practically identical, with their buzz cuts and beefy arms, dressed in unrelenting black from head to toe, and hover, continuously, over their prize. How his people know when and where to be ready for him is still anyone’s guess. I suppose I’ll learn. Though Jack moved into my house in 12th South several months ago, he still travels constantly, and I’ve rarely accompanied him on business.

So far, I’ve managed to escape the Crows’ scrutiny. It is only at my insistence that they don’t flank Jack and me twenty-four/seven. Once we’re married, that will change. The Crows will be at my side, too, and I don’t have a choice in the matter. There have already been too many security briefings for my taste.

I collapse into the back of the Suburban and kick off my heels, sighing in relief.

Jack leans over and nuzzles my neck. “You smell like Möet & Chandon.”

“I suppose there are worse things. The party was fun. I’m sorry your mom had to miss it.”

“No, you’re not. But that’s fine. She and Henna are going wild at the Villa, running the servants ragged getting everything prepared. All we have to do is show up and smile.”

“I love your mom. She’s just a bit…intimidating.”

“She will love hearing that. Speaking of, did you speak to yours tonight?”

“For a moment. She called when they arrived in Rome. Said Brian and Harper are making noises about never coming home. She said they’ll meet us on Isola Thursday. At least we’ll have a day to decompress before my family descends.”

An inadvertent sigh slips from my lips. I love my family, but we aren’t terribly close. Everyone is pursuing their own agendas, their own lives. My sister has been acting especially weird lately, and that’s saying something.

Truth be told… I think there’s a little jealousy going on. Things have been more strained than usual since Jack and I announced our engagement.

“Good. The majority of the guests should be arriving Thursday morning as well. The rehearsal is Friday, and Saturday, you, my darling, will officially be Mrs. Compton.”

“I like the sound of that.”

He kisses me lightly. “I do, too.”

Jack’s hand is wandering up my thigh, but I bat it away. “If you’re looking for postprandial treats, you’ll have to wait until later, cowboy.”

“They don’t care,” he murmurs into my ear, but I shake my head.

“I care. Wait until we’re alone, and then you can have your dessert. I noticed you passed on the macarons.”

He flops back into the seat. “They were stale. Mom will be livid.”

“They were? I thought they were yummy.”

“You’ll learn. Once you’ve had one fresh out of the ovens on the Champs-Élysées, you’ll see what I mean.”

“You, my darling, are a snob.”

“And you love me.”

He kisses me sweetly, and the Suburban pulls to the curb in front of our house. We spill out, both loose and uncoordinated, under the watchful eyes of the Crows. Gideon stays with us while Malcolm sweeps the house. He gives us the all clear. Once we’re inside, they disappear into whatever crevice they live in overnight.

I carry my heels in one hand, grateful for the lack of stress on my arches. Jack tosses his jacket over the bar stool at the eat-in counter, tugs at his tie and unbuttons his collar, rolls up his sleeves, the motions so quick, so practiced and fluid, it’s hypnotizing. He sees me watching and makes it into a tease, stepping closer with each turn of the fabric.

“You should try that with the buttons,” I say, running my tongue over my lips.

He grins, lazy and confident. “Naw. I’ll let you have the honor.”

A step closer, another. My hand lands on his chest. My mouth tips up to his.

I smell something odd, something acrid and primordial, and step back.

“What the hell is that?” he says, pulling away.

“I don’t know. It smells terrible. Like burning hair. Is something on fire?”

“Shh,” he says, straining, listening. All I hear is the air-conditioner. But no, there it is. A thump. A creak. The unmistakable sound of footsteps.

Someone is in the house. Someone is upstairs in our house.

Jack bolts from my side, takes the stairs two at a time. I follow, just in time to see the door to the attic is open.

“Get Gideon and Malcolm,” Jack shouts over his shoulder, throwing himself headlong into the darkness. But I am frozen. My mind can’t process what’s happening. I am cold with terror, the adrenaline rush forcing away my reason. I can’t think. I can’t move.

A masked man bursts from the darkness above and launches himself down the stairs. I am in his way, and he knocks me to the ground in his haste. I smash backward into the wall, banging my head hard against the chair rail. Jack is there a heartbeat later, calling for the Crows as he throws himself at the intruder, arms out, a perfect flying tackle. They go down hard on the landing, scuffling, locked in a deadly battle. Jack is the bigger man, he has the leverage he needs to get an arm on the man’s windpipe, but the intruder is quick, kicking out at Jack’s stomach until he connects and Jack is knocked off.

This gives the intruder the upper hand. He flips Jack onto his back, punching wildly while reaching behind to his waistband. My mind registers the gun, and the peril Jack is in, and without another thought, I kick the man’s arm just as his fingers close around the gun’s grip. It spins away, clattering against the baseboards. We lunge for it at the same time. I am closer. I get there first.

The shot is deafening.

The intruder falls to the floor at my feet, moaning, squirming. Blood pours from his side. So much blood. The man bleeds and bleeds and bleeds until he is still. I watch, fascinated, as a small trickle of crimson runs toward my bare foot.

Then Malcolm and Gideon are hoisting me to my feet, and the roaring in my head overwhelms me.

Excerpted from Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison.
Copyright © 2021 by J.T. Ellison. Published by MIRA Books.

 

Meet The Author

JT Headshot Suzanne DuBose Photography

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 25 novels, and the EMMY® award winning co-host of the literary TV show A WORD ON WORDS. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 28 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

Connect with the Author:

BookBub | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website | Mailing List

 
 

This excerpt brought to you courtesy of MIRA Books

Book Showcase: MEANT TO BE by Jude Deveraux

 
72-HTP-Winter-Reads-Blog-Tour---WOMENS-FICTION-2021---640x247
 
 
9781488077128Meant To Be by Jude Deveraux
ISBN: 9780778331445 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781488077128 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488210624 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781799958376 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08SFRH489 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08D3TSJJD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: March 16, 2021

 
 An inspiring new family saga by New York Times bestselling author Jude Deveraux

Two headstrong sisters are bound by tradition but long to forge their own path.

It’s 1972 and times are changing. In the small farming community of Mason, Kansas, Vera and Kelly Exton are known for their ambitions. Vera is an activist who wants to join her boyfriend in the Peace Corps. But she is doing her duty caring for her widowed mother and younger sister until Kelly is firmly established. Kelly is studying to become a veterinarian. She plans to marry her childhood sweetheart and eventually take over his father’s veterinary practice.

But it’s a tumultuous time and neither sister is entirely happy with the path that’s been laid out for her. As each evaluates her options, everything shifts. Do you do what’s right for yourself or what others want? By having the courage to follow their hearts these women will change lives for the better and the effects will be felt by the generations that follow. Meant to Be delivers an emotional, smart, funny and wise lesson about the importance of being true to yourself.

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Mason, Kansas May 1972

Adam is back.

Vera Exton couldn’t get that thought out of her head. The man she had always loved, the man who held the keys to her future, was finally home.

She was on the front porch of her family home. As always, she was surrounded by newspapers and magazines. She paid to have the New York Times sent to her. That it arrived three days late didn’t matter. At least she got to see what was going on in the world. The world. Not just Kansas, not just the US, but everywhere.

In college, she’d majored in political science, with a minor in geography. She knew where the Republic of Vanuatu was, where Rajasthan, India, was. She could tell Bhutan from Nepal by a single photo. She’d studied languages on her own and knew a smattering of several. Rhodesia, she thought. Madagascar. She’d send her sister photos of herself with a lemur when she got there. Kelly would like that.

Vera closed her eyes, leaning back in the old chair that her mother had bought at a craft fair. It had been made by someone local, using local materials. That was the difference between them. Her mother and her sister prided themselves on “local,” while Vera could only see the world.

“And now it’s all going to begin,” she whispered, and opened her eyes.

Bending, she began stacking the newspapers and magazines. Her mother complained about the mess that always surrounded Vera. “We can hardly walk through a room,” her mother often said, frowning. Since her husband died two years ago, Nella Exton did little but frown.

If Kelly was around, she helped Vera clean up. Or helped Vera do anything, for Kelly was deeply glad her big sister was there and doing what everyone expected her to do.

When Kelly mentioned her gratitude, their mother just sniffed. “She’s the eldest child, so of course she takes care of things.” Even though the sisters were only ten months apart, to their mother Vera was to take on the family’s responsibilities, so she was doing what she was supposed to do. There was no other choice.

But Kelly didn’t feel that way. In what people tended to call “the drug culture,” many kids ran away, never to be seen again. The idea of “family obligations” was becoming obsolete. But not to Vera.

She had postponed the future she’d dreamed of, had studied for, to give her sister what she wanted and Kelly was ever thankful, grateful and appreciative.

For all her sister’s appreciation, right now all Vera could think of was that Adam’s return meant the ordeal of staying at home was over.

He’d arrived just in time for his father’s funeral, as there’d been delays on the long flight from Africa. Vera had searched the newspapers to find out what was going on in Kenya. During the years he’d been away, Adam’s letters were full of stories of floods and bridges collapsing, infestations and diseases with exotic names. His letters had made her heart pound with excitement. She’d read them to her mother and sister, then was shocked by the horror on their faces. “But doesn’t it sound wonderful?” Vera would ask.

Nella said a flat no, and Kelly would say, “If you like that sort of thing.” Then she’d pick up a few of her animals and feed them or groom them or whatever she did with them.

Vera had seen Adam after the service, but she’d not spoken to him. He was surrounded by people offering condolences. His father, Burke Hatten, had been a big shot in the county. “Ask Burke” was a common catchphrase.

In Vera’s opinion, the man thought he knew much more than he did, which is why he and his eldest son had always butted heads. Burke’s temper and his son’s matching one was why Adam had run off to join the Peace Corps.

Well, that and Vera’s endless talk of how she was joining the second she finished college. She’d begged Adam to go with her, but he’d always said no. He said he’d be waiting for her in Kansas when she grew tired of moving about the world and came home.

Funny how things work out, she thought as she stacked the papers. Adam had the big fight with his dad and had run off to the Peace Corps. Vera had planned to join him, but her father had died suddenly, leaving no one to care for the farm. To Vera, the solution was to sell the farm, but Nella had refused to leave the place. In just a few weeks, everything changed. Vera had agreed to stay behind until Kelly finished veterinary school. The new plan was that as soon as Kelly graduated, Vera would join Adam wherever the Peace Corps had sent him.

Now everything was going to change again. Burke Hatten’s horse threw him and he’d died instantly, so Adam had returned. But this time when he left the country to go back to his job in Africa, Vera wouldn’t be kissing him goodbye. They’d leave together. The goodbyes would be to her mother and sister, to the farm, to her job at the travel agency. Goodbye to the town of Mason. The world she’d been reading about was out there and calling to her.

At last, she was going to answer its call.

Excerpted from Meant To Be by Jude Deveraux.
Copyright © 2021 by Jude Deveraux. Published by HQN Books.

 

Meet The Author

Portrait of Jude Deveraux, 2018

Jude Deveraux is the author of forty-three New York Times bestsellers, including For All Time, Moonlight in the Morning, and A Knight in Shining Armor. She was honored with a Romantic Times Pioneer Award in 2013 for her distinguished career. To date, there are more than sixty million copies of her books in print worldwide.

Author Links:  Facebook  |   Goodreads  |   Instagram  |  Twitter  |   Website

 
 This excerpt brought to you courtesy of MIRA Books

2021 Book 67: THE LAST STRAW by Sharon Sala

The Last Straw, The Jigsaw Files #4, by Sharon Sala
ISBN: 9780778331995 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780778331438 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780369705440 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488210594 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781799959335 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08JH7XP2G (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08HV2DD2L (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: February 23, 2021

Charlie Dodge may be down, but he’s most definitely not out. He’s still reeling after a series of earth-shattering events, so when a desperate woman hires Dodge Investigations to find her missing sister, the head-scratcher of a case is exactly the distraction Charlie and his steadfast partner, Wyrick, need. Two weeks prior, Rachel Dean disappeared without a trace from her locked-from-the-inside Dallas apartment, and every possible trail has gone cold.

Grappling with the fallout of her efforts to dismantle the shadowy organization Universal Theorem, Wyrick throws herself into her investigative work. Charlie knows his partner can handle herself, but when she uncovers a past connection that paints a target on her back, the threat of losing her hits Charlie hard. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to keep Wyrick safe, but with the clock ticking on a victim they’ve yet to find, it’s only a matter of time before the cold-blooded killer leads them to a deadly end.

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

 
Read an excerpt here.

 
 Readers were introduced to Charlie Dodge of Dodge Investigations and his rather enigmatic, genius associate/partner Jade Wyrick in The Missing Piece. We learned that Charlie is a retired Army Ranger and has been struggling with his wife Annie’s early-onset Alzheimer’s. Wyrick (don’t call her Jade), is a multi-millionaire (possibly a billionaire), has invented and patented numerous creations, created a number of popular video games, and owns and operates numerous businesses in addition to assisting Charlie with his private investigation business. Wyrick is also an accomplished pilot and a breast cancer survivor. She opted to forego breast reconstruction after her double mastectomies and sports an intriguing dragon tattoo that covers her chest, a portion of her back, and upper hips. (Wyrick is a mixture of Lizbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on steroids with a bit of Wonder Woman and a heaping dose of Einstein!) Readers also learned that Wyrick was genetically modified by Universal Theorem or UT and although she worked for UT, she was “fired” after she developed cancer because she was seen as defective. Since she survived her bout with cancer against all odds (actually she cured herself), UT has been willing to do anything to get her back. In Blind Faith, book three in this series, we saw Wyrick and Charlie do the seemingly impossible when they find a missing boy in a national park, uncovered the truth behind’s the boy’s accident, and, in Wyrick’s spare time, she released to the public and law enforcement documentation about all of the illegal and unethical practices of UT.

Now, in book four – The Last Straw, Charlie Dodge is now dealing with the death of his wife whilst Wyrick is dealing with the death of her landlord and only other friend, Arthur Merlin. Merlin has left Wyrick his mansion and all of his wealth (not that Wyrick really needed more money, but she’ll put it to good use). On the personal front, Charlie moves into Wyrick’s home after an attempt is made on her life and she’s injured. Now, in addition to being business partners, Wyrick and Charlie have become roommates. Although Wyrick has been adept at keeping people at great distance by her unusual makeup stylings, flamboyant clothes, and terse manners, Charlie soon learns that she is much softer than even he realized. Charlie becomes Wyrick’s protector in addition to her boss/partner now that a new enemy has shown up, a radical cult fronting as a church that wants Wyrick dead. On the business front, Charlie and Wyrick are dealing with a unique locked-door mystery involving a missing woman, Rachel Dean, and trying to deal with a number of assaults against Wyrick’s life. Can he protect Wyrick against these new enemies? Will he ever learn that she is in love with him? Will he be able to reciprocate given the depth of affection he felt for his now deceased wife? Can they solve the locked-door mystery and find the missing woman before it’s too late?

The Last Straw is the fourth and final book in “The Jigsaw Files” series by Sharon Sala. To say that there’s a lot going on with this story is somewhat of an understatement. First up is the locked-door mystery when the missing woman, Rachel Dean, seemingly vanishes from her locked apartment without a trace. Next is the religious cult trying to kill Wyrick because their leader has decided she must be evil due to her knowledge, skills, and abilities. If that’s not enough, Wyrick is now capable of harnessing her healing energy to heal others as well as herself. When the news of her healing abilities is released, people come out of the woodwork trying to get her to heal their loved ones not caring how this impacts Wyrick’s health in the least. Oh, I forget to mention the press conference. Yes, Wyrick holds a press conference with hopes that it will get the cult to back off. They don’t, so Wyrick has to teach them a lesson they same way she taught UT a lesson. The Last Straw is filled with plenty of horrors, attempted murder, kidnapping, rape, torture, murders, and more, but it is also filled with hope, second chances, and love. The Last Straw presents a somewhat kinder, gentler Jade Wyrick that is also able to kick-butt, take names, and make people regret they ever heard about her. Although I can’t give you specifics on each and every thing that occurs in this book, I can tell you that there’s a HEA. So for all of you that enjoy romantic-suspense and if you’ve read The Missing Piece, Second Sight, and Blind Faith, then you’ll definitely want to grab a copy of The Last Straw to read. If you haven’t read any of the previous books in this series, I strongly encourage you to grab them all, read them all, and pre-order your copy of The Last Straw. Seriously, people, this is a #mustreadseries! Although I’m sad to see this series end, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all of these books and look forward to re-reading them in the near future.

Happy Reading, y’all!

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

Book Showcase: WE COULD BE HEROES by Mike Chen

74-01-WE-COULD-BE-HEROES-Blog-Tour-Banner-640x247We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen
ISBN: 9780778331391 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781488077111 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488210587 (audiobook)
ASIN: B08FXV2F77 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B087JJ5G5K (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: January 26, 2021

  

WE COULD BE HEROES - MChenAn emotional adventure about two misfits who have extraordinary powers, but have forgotten who they were before. The vigilante and the villain must team up to stop a mad scientist who threatens the city, while trying to figure out who they really are.

Jamie woke up two years ago in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to who he might be, and also with the power to read other people’s memories. In the meantime, he’s become the Mind Robber, holding up banks for quick cash. Similarly, Zoe is searching for her past, and using her new extraordinary abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And occasionally beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the two meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize they are each other’s best chance at discovering what happened to them. The quest will take them deep into a medical conspiracy that is threatening to spill out and wreak havoc on their city, and maybe the country. As the two get past their respective barriers, they’ll realize that their friendship is the thing that gives them the greatest power.

 

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

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 3

Jamie stopped, catching himself. He’d gone too far this time. Close eyes, deep breaths, count to five, and then open eyes to see the damage.

Damn it. He’d really done it. He looked at the grout brush, then the lines between the countertop’s tiles, then back at the brush. Yes, he’d gotten the coffee stain out, but he’d also scrubbed too hard, wearing away some of the grout.

Twenty minutes ago, he’d arrived home, throwing his cash-filled backpack on the futon cushion. It landed with a thump, startling Normal out of her cat tuffet next to the window. And though he stopped to give Normal a calming pet, his instincts took over, starting with a meticulous cleaning of the litter box, then a complete vacuum of the small apartment. Then organizing his stack of library books into a preferred reading order, putting away the neatly folded clothes in the laundry basket, cleaning the pour-over coffee carafe and kettle before brewing a fresh cup. As it settled, he noticed some drips of coffee had absorbed into the grout lines adjacent to his row of ceramic mugs, thus kicking off his quest for a completely clean and reset kitchen. All of the fear and concern and guilt from the day funneled into his end-to-end cleaning spree even though it wasn’t Sunday, the day he typically reserved for getting his home in order.

But this. Flecks of dried grout stuck to the brush bristles, and Jamie squinted, examining them as if he tried to break into the memory of the synthetic fibers. He blinked when Normal mewed at him, snapping him back into the present. He had to slow down. He had to regroup. He’d gone too far this time, and though the counter looked clean, a closer examination showed a tiny degradation in the grout.

Damn it. Jamie blew out a sigh and surveyed the room.

So neat. So organized. In fact, it was nearly identical to when he’d woken up here, standing in the middle of a barely furnished apartment two years ago. On that morning, he had blinked as he came to, his eyes adjusting from blurry to focused, taking in the sun shining through the cheap tan drapes onto the futon in the middle of the living space. Once he’d realized where he was, it had dawned on him that he didn’t know who he was. He’d walked methodically through the semifurnished apartment, looking for triggers. Coffee table, bread, water, sink, bed, toothbrush. He knew what those were, their purpose, but none offered clues about himself. Even the mirror produced zero recognition; he didn’t know what history lay behind those eyes, what the story was behind the scar on his palm.

So neat. So organized. In fact, it was nearly identical to when he’d woken up here, standing in the middle of a barely furnished apartment two years ago. On that morning, he had blinked as he came to, his eyes adjusting from blurry to focused, taking in the sun shining through the cheap tan drapes onto the futon in the middle of the living space. Once he’d realized where he was, it had dawned on him that he didn’t know who he was. He’d walked methodically through the semifurnished apartment, looking for triggers. Coffee table, bread, water, sink, bed, toothbrush. He knew what those were, their purpose, but none offered clues about himself. Even the mirror produced zero recognition; he didn’t know what history lay behind those eyes, what the story was behind the scar on his palm.

And now? What he wouldn’t give for that blissful ignorance, free from knowing that the injured woman from today was all his fault.

How could he have been so stupid, so reckless?

As with each of his bank robberies, he’d taken his time, planned a strategy, even wrote out his script beforehand and memorized it. He still lacked in execution, but that was why he had checked out some acting books from the library. The whole goal, the entire focus was to get in and out as quickly, as cleanly as possible. That meant brain-stunning the people in the building in a very specific order under a very specific time frame, all while cackling like a cartoon character and reciting over-the-top lines in a not-quite-there American accent.

If he controlled the entire situation, then no one got hurt and he did his job.

Except when one of them had a medical condition.

Jamie cursed at himself, cursed his fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude, cursed the whole damn situation. Not once, not a single time had he ever considered the possibility of a medical issue.

He finally broke, forcing himself to move. A click on the remote control brought his small TV to life, flashing a news report about electrical surges throughout the city before turning to the bank heist. His fingers fumbled to hit the power button again, taking several tries before the screen thankfully went to black, leaving only the sounds of a hungry cat meowing to remind him that he hadn’t given her dinner or her nightly treat of coconut water yet. Jamie set the grout brush in the sink, and obliged the demanding cat.

Seconds later, the room filled with a content rumbling of purrs.

But even Normal’s happy noises failed to remove the trauma of the day. The sound of the woman’s head hitting the tile. The sight of the blood pooling. The desperate cries of her coworker.

Don’t think about it don’t think about it don’t think about it.

Onward. Next task: the money. He grabbed the backpack and headed to the bedroom. The backpack’s large top zipper got caught as he tugged on it, and the stress of the day gnawed at his patience, skipping past his normal mode of meticulously fixing it and jumping right to forcing it free. On the underside of the zipper, the corner of a hundred-dollar bill clung in between the metal clasps.

Jamie sighed, a sound soon mimicked by Normal yawning at his feet. “You have no idea,” he told the cat before reaching in and starting his post-robbery sorting process for cash.

A buzzing sound rattled the room, causing a handful of loose coins on the end table to dance; it broke his focus, jolting his shoulders and neck in surprise. From the hallway, he heard Normal’s claws catch in the thin carpeting before dashing off to find a hiding spot from the abrupt noise.

He picked up the phone, heart pounding that it might be someone on his trail. But a glance at his screen caused a sigh of relief. Reminder: Support Group. San Delgado East Side YMCA. Six o’clock.

Right. The weekly support group—more specifically, San Delgado Memory Loss & Dementia Support Group.

Not that Jamie cared about the giant gap in his personal life, the big cloud of nothing stemming from the moment he awoke in this apartment all the way back to, well, his birth. Something pulled him away from those thoughts whenever he even approached the matter, like staring into a bright beam of light until the intensity forced his eyes away. Every time. That avoidance happened so frequently it felt instinctive at this point, skirting whatever that was and whoever truly stood behind the impenetrable fog.

It didn’t matter. No, the support group was for learning more about memory loss in general, to guard himself from any further memories vanishing.

The irony of the Mind Robber dealing with all that didn’t escape him.

He resumed unloading the cash, first putting the stacks by denomination from left to right, then counting and rubber-banding any loose ones complete with a Post-it note with the total on each makeshift bundle. In the closet sat a safe—something that had been absolutely terrible to get into his apartment. He pulled off the blanket hiding it and turned the dial. Left with click click clicks. Then right. Then left again.

It opened up, revealing a larger version of the stacks assembled on his bed. Jamie took new bundles, two at a time, and neatly set them in the appropriate spots, making each tower of cash grow until the backpack and the bed were clear of evidence. A notebook leaned on the cash; Jamie pulled it out and opened it to the ledger he’d crafted, filling out the columns with the latest tally of earnings, anticipated expenses, safety-net cash and overall savings.

At the top of that column was a little drawing he’d made of a palm tree and a beach. Based on today’s earnings, he was nearly 80 percent to his goal. Depending on the size of each haul, a few more robberies—especially if he remembered to ask for the stacks of hundreds specifically—would provide enough financial comfort to retire on a tropical beach at a much lower cost of living. He’d read that the coffee in the Caribbean was excellent.

A comfortable permanence, as long as the Throwing Star didn’t track him down. That further complicated things, and Jamie wondered if he’d jinxed it all by invoking her during his bank performance. He gritted his teeth.

So close to a fresh start. For him and Normal, and he wouldn’t let the Throwing Star jeopardize that.

Normal gave an urgent meow, which translated in cat speak to “Where is my bed?” Jamie folded the blanket exactly and draped it over the safe, then put a small cat tuffet back on top of it. A gray-and-orange blur zipped by, and in one leap, landed on the tuffet, turning his trail of crime and/or source of income into the world’s most valuable cat bed.

Jamie exhaled, and his mattress bounced as he flopped on his back, eyes glued to the ceiling but brain refusing to shut off. One blink and he saw the woman fall again. Every time he closed his eyes, the image reappeared, except each instance seemed to intensify in its color and sound, the sheer vibrancy of his mind seemingly taunting him.

He could lift the memory out. He’d done it before as an experiment, including writing a note with steps and details as proof that he’d removed his immediate recall of the moment. It left him with what he presumed to be the same nausea that his victims experienced, and other than a few follow-up trials, he hadn’t done it for any practical purpose.

A small price to pay to be relieved of the guilt.

Jamie raised his hand, this time pointed at himself, and he closed his eyes, digging deep to flip through his own memories. Bright and fresh, full volume and movement, no haziness or missing pockets of moments. One wipe and it’d be gone.

But what would that make him? A possible murderer without a conscience? He treated his villain persona and robberies as a job, an income. Not to hurt people, not with malevolence or sociopathic apathy.

No.

This memory had to stay.

Jamie lowered his hand.

There was a knock at the door, jolting him to his feet.

He closed his eyes and stretched out with his mind, sensing the ghostly silhouette of a single form at his door.

No one ever came to his door.

“San Delgado police. Is anyone home?”

The very idea of having law enforcement at his door caused Jamie’s hands to tremble and a thin layer of sweat to form on his forehead. He could brain-stun the officer and run. He could dive into the officer’s memories, see what happened, why he was here—maybe it was just a fundraiser for the Police Athletic League.

Another knock rattled the door.

If he brain-stunned the officer, that wouldn’t exactly be inconspicuous. You couldn’t just leave gawking, unresponsive police on your doorstep. And the officer’s location was probably tracked by SDPD, which meant that lifting memories and sending him on his way would only lead to more trouble.

No, the only way out of this was through it.

Jamie took a deep breath, put on a baseball cap with a logo of the local San Delgado Barons hockey team, then marched to the door. He opened it halfway to find the very serious, very professional face of a plainclothes officer. Despite the fact that he stood shorter than Jamie, his sturdy build made him far more intimidating.

“May I help you?” Jamie held the door ajar. “Sorry,” he said, native English accent in full display, “I have a cat that tries to get out if I open the door all the way.” As if on cue, mews came from behind him and Jamie scooped up the pudgy feline. Mental note: she deserved extra coconut water tonight. “Be nice, Normal.”

The detective tilted his head at the name, then chuckled, sunlight gleaming off the light brown skin of his shaven bald dome. “No problem. Sorry to bother you this evening. Detective Patrick Chesterton. I’m the lead on the Mind Robber case.”

No reaction rippled through Jamie. Which was probably a reaction in itself. He waited, seconds stretching into vast chunks of time, and though he somehow managed to keep a polite expression on his face, the pounding in his chest might have given him away.

“We get anonymous tips all the time about the Mind Robber. Some people even claim to be him. But this one was very specific. And since we know he left on a train heading eastbound about ninety minutes ago, I thought I’d check it out.” He glanced over his shoulder, eyes tracking past the courtyard and toward the parking lot. “Traffic is going to be hell getting back to the station.”

Jamie told himself to laugh, though in a completely different way from the forced maniacal display of the Mind Robber. Calm, quiet, a little nervous—the natural kind of nervous anyone got when questioned by law enforcement. Normal must have agreed, as she continued mewing in his arms.

“Well, aren’t you a nice cat?” the detective said, his voice softening. He reached up to pet Normal’s round head, but the cat replied with a hiss. Before Jamie could stop her, she swatted at Chesterton. The cat kicked out of his arms, and Jamie turned to see a streak of pudgy fur dashing for the bedroom.

“Oh, I’m so—” Jamie stopped himself at the realization that the detective nursed a fresh scratch across the knuckles.

If they weren’t going to get him for being the Mind Robber, what about assault via cat scratch?

“I’m so, so sorry. Normal usually loves strangers.” That was a lie, or it might have been a lie. Normal never met anyone, regular or stranger, so the sample size on that remained small. “But she gets weird occasionally.” That part was true. Jamie held up his hand, palm out. “See this scar across my palm? Normal got me good one time.”

Flat-out lie: Jamie had no idea where that scar came from, though whenever he focused on it for too long, a strange mix of nausea and embarrassment would flood over him.

“It’s okay,” Chesterton said. “I had a cat growing up. They can be temperamental. I should know better than to do that. Anyway, the tip said that someone who fit the build and look of the Mind Robber was in this area. This block, actually.” He looked Jamie up and down. If Jamie decided to risk it, he probably could have poked into the detective’s memories and seen specifically what he was thinking, even the source of the tip. “Have you seen anyone who fits that profile?”

In the courtyard, Jamie caught sight of the old couple across the way trying to get their mini schnauzer puppy to obey commands. They looked over at Chesterton, then Jamie, and Jamie offered a reassuring wave. Despite being a theoretical villain, he still wanted to be a good neighbor. “I, um, actually don’t watch the news much. I find it triggering.”

“Ah, got it. He’s Caucasian. Around six feet tall. Thin build. Strong chin. That’s about it, really, though. His hood and mask obscure everything else.”

“Well,” Jamie said. A response came to mind, and he debated whether or not he was being too clever. His arms extended and a wry smile came over his face a little too easily. Maybe learning to play a villain had turned the gesture into muscle memory. “That sounds like me.” The words came out smooth, just enough of a joking lilt that they threaded the needle between bullshit and levity. It came naturally, almost uncannily so.

For a moment, nothing happened. Neither man blinked, and even Normal stayed quiet. The only noise came from squeaking brakes as a car pulled into the adjacent parking lot.

Then the detective burst out laughing. “I like you,” he said, before reaching into his back pocket. Jamie’s hand moved into position, a subtle gesture that only he could detect should he need to brain-stun. His fingers raised ever so slightly in preparation when a buzz in his back pocket caused both men to stand at attention.

“Sorry, just my reminder,” Jamie said after pulling out his phone. The device’s blinking screen gave him an idea. “My weekly support group. I, uh, need to get going.”

“Oh, of course. Good for you,” he said. “It takes a strong person to seek out help.” Jamie’s head bobbed at the compliment, and the detective finished reaching in his back pocket. He held up a business card. “Do me a favor and call if you see or hear anything that strikes you as suspicious. About him or the Throwing Star. We’re no fan of vigilantes, extraordinary or not. You can’t just run around in a suit beating up people. I don’t care if they’re good or bad. You know, if either of them just called us first and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got these abilities,’ you can bet we’d have found a job for them.” Chesterton glanced at the cat scratch on his hand before letting out a short laugh. “I heard she tripped in the Metro station and let the Mind Robber get away,” he said with a headshake. “I guess ‘extraordinary’ comes in many forms.”

All forms. That skepticism, if not admirable, at least provided some cover. “Right,” Jamie said, taking the card. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

“Even if you hear anything about weird crimes in Hartnell City. Their PD asked us about the Mind Robber. Guess they’re seeing some strange activity too.”

“Of course, Detective.”

Jamie’s exhale was nearly as loud as the slamming of the door. He’d never been that close to getting caught before.

Who could have possibly tipped the police? He’d wiped the memories of any OmegaCars driver that took him close by, and even then, he’d always walked the last few blocks, taking different routes each time. Could the Throwing Star have tracked him? Possibly, but she seemed more like the “punch in the teeth” than “call the cops” type.

Questions circled as Jamie heard the roar of the detective’s car coming to life. Through the blinds, Jamie watched a dark blue sedan pull halfway across the parking lot before pausing for a handful of seconds and then finally rolling away. Chesterton was gone for now, but if he suspected anything, the best course of action would be for Jamie to act as any normal civilian would. In this case, it meant going exactly where the detective expected him to be.

Normal meowed a farewell as Jamie grabbed a jacket—not his black hoodie—and locked the door behind him.

It was almost time for the support group. Even if he didn’t want to go.

Excerpted from We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen.
Copyright © 2021 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books.

 

Meet The Author

Author - Mike Chen by Amanda ChenMike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter. (Author photo by Amanda Chen)

 Author Links: Facebook: Mike Chen | Instagram: Mike Chen Writer | Twitter: Mike Chen Writer | Website: www.mikechenbooks.com
 


This excerpt brought to you courtesy of MIRA Books

Book Showcase: THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN by Sarah McCraw Crow

The Wrong Kind of Woman by Sarah McCraw Crow
ISBN: 9780778310075 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781488062469 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488209987 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B087QSYPND   (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B0813VJ2Q8   (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books/HarperCollins
Publication Date: October 6, 2020

A powerful exploration of what a woman can be when what she should be is no longer an option

In late 1970, Oliver Desmarais drops dead in his front yard while hanging Christmas lights. In the year that follows, his widow, Virginia, struggles to find her place on the campus of the elite New Hampshire men’s college where Oliver was a professor. While Virginia had always shared her husband’s prejudices against the four outspoken, never-married women on the faculty—dubbed the Gang of Four by their male counterparts—she now finds herself depending on them, even joining their work to bring the women’s movement to Clarendon College.

Soon, though, reports of violent protests across the country reach this sleepy New England town, stirring tensions between the fraternal establishment of Clarendon and those calling for change. As authorities attempt to tamp down “radical elements,” Virginia must decide whether she’s willing to put herself and her family at risk for a cause that had never felt like her own.

Told through alternating perspectives, The Wrong Kind of Woman is an engrossing story about finding the strength to forge new paths, beautifully woven against the rapid changes of the early ’70s.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned:   IndieBound  |  Amazon  |  Amazon Kindle  |  Audible  |  BookDepository  |  Books-A-Million  |  Downpour Audiobook  |  eBooks  |  Google Play  |  !ndigo  |  Kobo Audiobook  |  Kobo eBook



Read an Excerpt


Chapter One
November 1970 Westfield, New Hampshire

OLIVER DIED THE SUNDAY after Thanksgiving, the air heavy with snow that hadn’t fallen yet. His last words to Virginia were “Tacks, Ginny? Do we have any tacks?”

That morning at breakfast, their daughter, Rebecca, had complained about her eggs—runny and gross, she said. Also, the whole neighborhood already had their Christmas lights up, and why didn’t they ever have outside lights? Virginia tuned her out; at thirteen, Rebecca had reached the age of comparison, noticing where her classmates’ families went on vacation, what kinds of cars they drove. But Oliver agreed about the lights, and after eating his own breakfast and Rebecca’s rejected eggs, he drove off to the hardware store to buy heavy-duty Christmas lights.

Back at home, Oliver called Virginia out onto the front porch, where he and Rebecca had looped strings of colored lights around the handrails on either side of the steps. Virginia waved at their neighbor Gerda across the street— on her own front porch, Gerda knelt next to a pile of balsam branches, arranging them into two planters—as Rebecca and Oliver described their lighting scheme. Rebecca’s cheeks had gone ruddy in the New Hampshire cold, as Oliver’s had; Rebecca had his red-gold hair too.

“Up one side and down the other,” Rebecca said. “Like they do at Molly’s house—”

“Tacks, Ginny? Do we have any tacks?” Oliver interrupted. In no time, he’d lost patience with this project, judging by the familiar set of his jaw, the frown lines corrugating his forehead.

A few minutes later, box of nails and hammer in hand, Virginia saw Oliver’s booted feet splayed out on the walk, those old work boots he’d bought on their honeymoon in Germany a lifetime ago. “Do you have to lie down like that to—” she began, while Rebecca squeezed out from between the porch and the overgrown rhododendron.

“Dad?” Rebecca’s voice pitched upward. “Daddy!”

Virginia slowly took in that Oliver was lying half on the lawn, half on the brick walk, one hand clutching the end of a light string. Had he fallen? It made no sense, him just lying there on the ground like that, and she hurtled down the porch steps. Oliver’s eyes had rolled back so only the whites showed. But he’d just asked for tacks, and she hadn’t had time to ask if nails would work instead. She crouched, put her mouth to his and tried to breathe for him. Something was happening, yes, maybe now he would turn out to be just resting, and in a minute he’d sit up and laugh with disbelief.

Next to her, Rebecca shook Oliver’s shoulder, pounded on it. “Dad! You fainted! Wake up—”

“Go call the operator,” Virginia said. “Tell them we need an ambulance, tell them it’s an emergency, a heart attack, Becca! Run!” Rebecca ran.

Virginia put her ear to Oliver’s chest, listening. A flurry of movement: Gerda was suddenly at her side, kneeling, and Eileen from next door, then Rebecca, gasping or maybe sobbing. Virginia felt herself being pulled out of the way as the ambulance backed into the driveway and the two paramedics bent close. They too breathed for Oliver, pressed on his chest while counting, then lifted him gently onto the backboard and up into the ambulance.

She didn’t notice that she was holding Rebecca’s hand on her one side and Eileen’s hand on the other, and that Gerda had slung a protective arm around Rebecca. She barely noticed when Eileen bundled her and Rebecca into the car without a coat or purse. She didn’t notice the snow that had started to fall, first snow of the season. Later, that absence of snow came back to her, when the image of Oliver lying on the bare ground, uncushioned even by snow, wouldn’t leave her.


Aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm, a balloon that had burst, sending a wave of blood into Oliver’s brain. A subarachnoid hemorrhage. She said all those new words about a thousand times, along with more familiar words: bleed and blood and brain. Rips and tears. One in a million. Sitting at the kitchen table, Rebecca next to her and the coiled phone cord stretched taut around both of them, Virginia called one disbelieving person after another, repeated all those words to her mother, her sister Marnie, Oliver’s brother, Oliver’s department chair, the people in her address book, the people in his.

At President Weissman’s house five days later, Virginia kept hold of Rebecca. Rebecca had stayed close, sleeping in the middle of Virginia and Oliver’s bed as if she were little and sleepwalking again, her shruggy new adolescent self forgotten. They’d turned into a sudden team of two, each one circling, like moons, around the other.

Oliver’s department chair had talked Virginia into a reception at President Weissman’s house, a campus funeral. In the house’s central hall, Virginia’s mother clutched at her arm, murmuring about the lovely Christmas decorations, those balsam garlands and that enormous twinkling tree, and how they never got the fragrant balsam trees in Norfolk, did they, only the Fraser firs—

“Let’s go look at the Christmas tree, Grandmomma.” Rebecca took her grandmother’s hand as they moved away. What a grown-up thing to do, Virginia thought, glad for the release from Momma and her chatter.

“Wine?” Virginia’s sister Marnie said, folding her hand around a glass. Virginia nodded and took a sip. Marnie stayed next to her as one person and another came close to say something complimentary about Oliver, what a wonderful teacher he’d been and a great young historian, an influential member of the Clarendon community. And his clarinet, what would they do without Oliver’s tremendous clarinet playing? The church service had been lovely, hadn’t it? He sure would have loved that jazz trio.

She heard herself answering normally, as if this one small thing had gone wrong, except now she found herself in a tunnel, everyone else echoing and far away. Out of a clutch of Clarendon boys, identical in their khakis and blue blazers, their too-long hair curling behind their ears, one stepped forward. Sam, a student in her tiny fall seminar, the Italian Baroque.

“I—I just wanted to say…” Sam faltered. “But he was a great teacher, and even more in the band—” The student-faculty jazz band, he meant.

“Thank you, Sam,” she said. “I appreciate that.” She watched him retreat to his group. Someone had arranged for Sam and a couple of other Clarendon boys to play during the reception, and she hadn’t noticed until now.

“How ’bout we sit, hon.” Marnie steered her to a couch. “I’m going to check on Becca and Momma and June—” the oldest of Virginia’s two sisters “—and then I’ll be right back.”

“Right.” Virginia half listened to the conversation around her, people in little clumps with their sherries and whiskeys. Mainframe, new era, she heard. Then well, but Nixon, and a few problems with the vets on campus. She picked up President Weissman’s voice, reminiscing about the vets on campus after the war thirty years ago. “Changed the place for the better, I think,” President Weissman said. “A seriousness of purpose.” And she could hear Louise Walsh arguing with someone about the teach-in that should have happened last spring.

Maybe Oliver would appreciate being treated like a dignitary. Maybe he’d be pleased at the turnout, all the faculty and students who’d shown up at the Congregational Church at lunchtime on a Friday. Probably he wished he could put Louise in her place about the teach-in. Virginia needed to find Rebecca, and she needed to make sure Momma hadn’t collapsed out of holiday party–funeral confusion. But now Louise Walsh loomed over her in a shapeless black suit, and she stood up again to shake Louise’s hand. “I just want to say how sorry I am,” Louise said. “I truly admired his teaching and—everything else. We’re all going to miss him.”

“Thank you, Louise.” Virginia considered returning the compliment, to say that Oliver had admired Louise too. Louise had tenure, the only woman in the history department, the only woman at Clarendon, to be tenured. Louise had been a thorn in Oliver’s side, the person Oliver had complained about the most. Louise was one of the four women on faculty at Clarendon; the Gang of Four, Oliver and the others had called them.

Outside the long windows, a handful of college boys tossed a football on a fraternity lawn across the street, one skidding in the snow as he caught the ball. Someone had spray-painted wobbly blue peace signs on the frat’s white clapboard wall, probably after Kent State. But the Clarendon boys were rarely political; they were athletic: in their baggy wool trousers, they ran, skied, hiked, went gliding off the college’s ski jump, human rockets on long skis. They built a tremendous bonfire on the Clarendon green in the fall, enormous snow sculptures in the winter. They stumbled home drunk, singing. Their limbs seemed loosely attached to their bodies. Oliver had once been one of those boys.

“Come on, pay attention,” Marnie said, and she propelled Virginia toward President Weissman, who took Virginia’s hands.

“I cannot begin to express all my sympathy and sadness.” President Weissman’s eyes were magnified behind his glasses. “Our firmament has lost a star.” He kissed her on the cheek, pulling a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, so she could wipe her eyes and nose again.


At the reception, Aunt June kept asking Rebecca if she was doing okay, and did she need anything, and Aunt Marnie kept telling Aunt June to quit bothering Rebecca. Mom looked nothing like her sisters: Aunt Marnie was bulky with short pale hair, Aunt June was petite, her hair almost black, and Mom was in between. Rebecca used to love her aunts’ Tidewater accents, and the way Mom’s old accent would return around her sisters, her vowels stretching out and her voice going up and down the way Aunt June’s and Aunt Marnie’s voices did. Rebecca and Dad liked to tease Mom about her accent, and Mom would say I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t sound anything like June. Or Marnie. But especially not June.

Nothing Rebecca thought made any sense. She couldn’t think about something that she and Dad liked, or didn’t like, or laughed about, because there was no more Dad. Aunt Marnie had helped her finish the Christmas lights, sort of, not the design she and Dad had shared, but just wrapped around the porch bannisters. It looked a little crazy, actually. Mom hadn’t noticed.

“Here’s some cider, honey,” Aunt June said. “How about some cheese and crackers? You need to eat.”

“I’m okay,” Rebecca said. “Thanks,” she remembered to add.

“Have you ever tried surfing?” Aunt June asked. “The boys—” Rebecca’s cousins “—love to surf. They’ll teach you.” “Okay.” Rebecca wanted to say that it was December and there was snow on the ground, so there was no reason to talk about surfing. Instead she said that she’d bodysurfed with her cousins at Virginia Beach plenty of times, but she’d never gotten on a surfboard. As far as she could tell, only boys ever went surfing, and the waves at Virginia Beach were never like the waves on Hawaii Five-0. Mostly the boys just sat on their surfboards gazing out at the hazy-white horizon, and at the coal ships and aircraft carriers chugging toward Norfolk.

“You’ll get your chance this summer—I’ll bet you’ll be a natural,” Aunt June said.

Things would keep happening. Winter would happen. There would be more snow, and skiing at the Ski Bowl. The town pond would open for skating and hockey. The snow would melt and it would be spring and summer again. They’d go to Norfolk for a couple of weeks after school let out and Mom would complain about everything down there, and get into a fight with Aunt June, and they’d all go to the beach, and Dad would get the most sunburned, his ears and the tops of his feet burned pink and peely…

“Let’s just step outside into the fresh air for a minute, sweetheart,” Aunt June said, and Rebecca stood up and followed her aunt to the room with all the coats, one hand over her mouth to hold in the latest sob, even after she and Mom had agreed they were all cried out and others would be crying today, but the two of them were all done with crying. She knew that the fresh air wouldn’t help anything.

Excerpt from The Wrong Kind of Woman by Sarah McCraw Crow. 

Copyright © 2020 by Sarah McCraw Crow. 

Published by MIRA Books/HarperCollins. 

All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.




Meet The Author

Sarah McCraw Crow grew up in Virginia but has lived most of her adult life in New Hampshire. Her short fiction has run in Calyx, Crab Orchard Review, Good Housekeeping, So to Speak, Waccamaw, and Stanford Alumni Magazine. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Stanford University and is finishing an MFA degree at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably gardening or snowshoeing (depending on the weather).




Connect to the author via her website, Goodreads, Instagram, and Twitter

This excerpt brought to you by MIRA Books/HarperCollins

Book Showcase: ROAD OUT OF WINTER by Alison Stine



Road Out Of Winter by Alison Stine
ISBN: 9780778309925 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9781488056499 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488209932 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B087QSG5GW  (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B082MNLRMC   (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication Date: September 1, 2020


In an endless winter, she carries seeds of hope

Wylodine comes from a world of paranoia and poverty—her family grows marijuana illegally, and life has always been a battle. Now she’s been left behind to tend the crop alone. Then spring doesn’t return for the second year in a row, bringing unprecedented extreme winter.

With grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, she begins a journey, determined to start over away from Appalachian Ohio. But the icy roads and strangers hidden in the hills are treacherous. After a harrowing encounter with a violent cult, Wylodine and her small group of exiles become a target for its volatile leader. Because she has the most valuable skill in the climate chaos: she can make things grow.

Urgent and poignant, Road Out of Winter is a glimpse of an all-too-possible near future, with a chosen family forged in the face of dystopian collapse. With the gripping suspense of The Road and the lyricism of Station Eleven, Stine’s vision is of a changing world where an unexpected hero searches for a place hope might take root.






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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One

I used to have dreams that Lobo would be arrested. The sheriff and his deputies would roll up the drive, bouncing on the gravel, but coming fast, too fast to be stopped, too fast for Lobo to get away through the fields. Or maybe Lobo would be asleep, and they would surprise him, his eyes red, slit like taillights. My mama and I would weep with joy as they led him off. The deputies would wrap us in blankets, swept in their blue lights. We were innocent, weren’t we? Just at the wrong place at the wrong time, all the time, involved with the wrong man—and we didn’t know, my mama didn’t know, the extent. 

But that wasn’t true, not even close. 

I sold the weed at a gas station called Crossroads to a boy who delivered meals for shut-ins. Brown paper bags filled the back of his station wagon, the tops rolled over like his mama made him lunch. I supposed he could keep the bags straight. That was the arrangement Lobo had made years ago, that was the arrangement I kept. I left things uncomplicated. I didn’t know where the drugs went after the boy with the station wagon, where the boy sold them or for how much. I took the money he gave me and buried most of it in the yard.

After his station wagon bumped back onto the rural route, I went inside the store. There was a counter in the back, a row of cracked plastic tables and chairs that smelled like ketchup: a full menu, breakfast through dinner. They sold a lot of egg sandwiches at Crossroads to frackers, men on their way out to work sites. It was a good place to meet; Lisbeth would come this far. I ordered three cheeseburgers and fries, and sat down.

She was on time. She wore gray sweatpants under her long denim skirt, and not just because of the cold. “You reek, Wil,” she said, sliding onto the chair across from me.

“Lobo says that’s the smell of money,” I said.

“My mama says money smells like dirty hands.”

The food arrived, delivered by a waitress I didn’t know. Crinkling red and white paper in baskets. I slid two of the burgers over to Lisbeth. The Church forbade pants on women, and short hair, and alcohol. But meat was okay. Lisbeth hunched over a burger, eating with both hands, her braid slipping over her shoulder.

“Heard from them at all?” she asked.

“Not lately.”

“You think he would let her write you? Call?”

“She doesn’t have her own phone,” I said.

Lisbeth licked ketchup off her thumb. The fries were already getting cold. How about somethin’ home made? read the chalkboard below the menu. I watched the waitress write the dinner specials in handwriting small and careful as my mama’s.

“Hot chocolate?” I read to Lisbeth. “It’s June.”
“It’s freezing,” she said. 

And it was, still. Steam webbed the windows. There was no sign of spring in the lung-colored fields, bordered by trees as spindly as men in a bread line. We were past forsythia time, past when the squirrels should have been rooting around in the trees for sap. 

“What time is it now?” Lisbeth asked.

I showed her my phone, and she swallowed the last of her burger.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Already?”

“Choir rehearsal.” She took a gulp of Coke. Caffeine was frowned upon by The Church, though not, I thought, exclusively forbidden. “I gave all the seniors solos, and they’re terrified. They need help. Don’t forget. Noon tomorrow.”

The Church was strange—strange enough to whisper about. But The Church had a great choir; she had learned so much. They had helped her get her job at the high school, directing the chorus, not easy for a woman without a degree. Also, her folks loved The Church. She couldn’t leave, she said.

“What’s at noon?” I asked.

She paused long enough to tilt her head at me. “Wylodine, really? Graduation, remember? The kids are singing?”

“I don’t want to go back there.”

“You promised. Take a shower if you been working so my folks don’t lose their minds.”  

“If they haven’t figured it out by now, they’re never going to know,” I said, but Lisbeth was already shrugging on her coat. Then she was gone, through the jangling door, long braid and layers flapping. In the parking lot, a truck refused to start, balking in the cold.  

I ordered hot chocolate. I was careful to take small bills from my wallet when I went up to the counter. Most of the roll of cash from the paper bag boy was stuffed in a Pepsi can back on the floor of the truck. Lobo, who owned the truck, had never been neat, and drink cans, leaves, and empty Copenhagen tins littered the cab. Though the mud on the floor mats had hardened and caked like makeup, though Lobo and Mama had been gone a year now, I hadn’t bothered cleaning out the truck. Not yet.

The top of the Pepsi can was ripped partially off, and it was dry inside: plenty of room for a wad of cash. I had pushed down the top to hide the money, avoiding the razor-sharp edge. Lobo had taught me well.

I took the hot chocolate to go.

In the morning, I rose early and alone, got the stove going, pulled on my boots to hike up the hill to the big house. I swept the basement room. I checked the supplies. I checked the cistern for clogs. The creek rode up the sides of the driveway. Ice floated in the water, brown as tea. 

No green leaves had appeared on the trees. No buds. My breath hung in the air, a web I walked through. My boots didn’t sink in the mud back to my own house in the lower field; my footprints were still frozen from a year ago. Last year’s walking had made ridges as stiff as craters on the moon. At the door to my tiny house, I knocked the frost from my boots, and yanked them off, but kept my warm coveralls on. I lit the small stove, listening to the whoosh of the flame. The water for coffee ticked in the pot.

I checked the time on the clock above the sink, a freebie from Radiator Palace. 

“Fuck,” I said aloud to no one.




Excerpt from Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine. 
Copyright © 2020 by Alison Stine. Published by MIRA Books. 
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.





Meet The Author


ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.


Connect to the author via her website, Goodreads, Instagram, or Twitter.




This excerpt brought to you by MIRA Books

Book Showcase: LIES, LIES, LIES by Adele Parks



Lies, Lies, Lies by Adele Parks
ISBN: 9780778388142 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780778360889 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780778388142 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488208638 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781094103648 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B081ZFZGMN  (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B07R52L4NN   (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication Date: August 4, 2020


Daisy and Simon’s marriage isn’t what it seems…



After years together, the arrival of longed-for daughter Millie sealed everything in place. They’re a happy little family of three.

So what if Simon drinks a bit too much sometimes—Daisy’s used to it. She knows he’s just letting off steam. Until one night at a party things spiral horribly out of control. And their happy little family of three will never be the same again.

In Lies, Lies, Lies, #1 Sunday Times bestselling author Adele Parks explores the darkest corners of a relationship in free fall in a mesmerizing tale of marriage and secrets.




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Prologue


May 1976

Simon was six years old when he first tasted beer.

He was bathed and ready for bed wearing soft pyjamas, even though it was light outside; still early. Other kids were in the street, playing on their bikes, kicking a football. He could hear them through the open window, although he couldn’t see them because the blinds were closed. His daddy didn’t like the evening light glaring on the TV screen, his mummy didn’t like the neighbours looking in; keeping the room dark was something they agreed on.

His mummy didn’t like a lot of things: wasted food, messy bedrooms, Daddy driving too fast, his sister throwing a tantrum in public. Mummy liked ‘having standards’. He didn’t know what that meant, exactly. There was a standard-bearer at Cubs; he was a big boy and got to wave the flag at the front of the parade, but his mummy didn’t have a flag, so it was unclear. What was clear was that she didn’t like him to be in the street after six o’clock. She thought it was common. He wasn’t sure what common was either, something to do with having fun. She bathed him straight after tea and made him put on pyjamas, so that he couldn’t sneak outside.

He didn’t know what his daddy didn’t like, just what he did like. His daddy was always thirsty and liked a drink. When he was thirsty he was grumpy and when he had a drink, he laughed a lot. His daddy was an accountant and like to count in lots of different ways: “a swift one’, “a cold one’, and ‘one more for the road’. Sometimes Simon though his daddy was lying when he said he was an accountant; most likely, he was a pirate or a wizard. He said to people, “Pick your poison’, which sounded like something pirates might say, and he liked to drink, “the hair of a dog’ in the morning at the weekends, which was definitely a spell. Simon asked his mummy about it once and she told him to stop being silly and never to say those silly things outside the house.

He had been playing with his Etch A Sketch, which was only two months old and was a birthday present. Having seen it advertised on TV, Simon had begged for it, but it was disappointing. Just two silly knobs making lines that went up and down, side to side. Limited. Boring. He was bored. The furniture in the room was organised so all of it was pointing at the TV which was blaring but not interesting. The news. His parents liked watching the news, but he didn’t. His father was nursing a can of the grown ups’ pop that Simon was never allowed. The pop that smelt like nothing else, fruity and dark and tempting.

“Can I have a sip?” he asked.

“Don’t be silly, Simon,” his mother interjected. “You’re far too young. Beer is for daddies.” He thought she said ‘daddies’, but she might have said ‘baddies’.

His father put the can to his lips, glared at his mother, cold. A look that said, “Shut up woman, this is man’s business.” His mother had blushed, looked away as though she couldn’t stand to watch, but she held her tongue. Perhaps she thought the bitterness wouldn’t be to his taste, that one sip would put him off. He didn’t like the taste. But he enjoyed the collusion. He didn’t know that word then, but he instinctively understood the thrill. He and his daddy drinking grown ups’ pop! His father had looked satisfied when he swallowed back the first mouthful, then pushed for a second. He looked almost proud. Simon tasted the aluminium can, the snappy biting bitter bubbles and it lit a fuse.

After that, in the mornings, Simon would sometimes get up early, before Mummy or Daddy or his little sister, and he’d dash around the house before school, tidying up. He’d open the curtains, empty the ashtrays, clear away the discarded cans. Invariably his mother went to bed before his father. Perhaps she didn’t want to have to watch him drink himself into a stupor every night, perhaps she hoped denying him an audience might take away some of the fun for him, some of the need. She never saw just how bad the place looked by the time his father staggered upstairs to bed. Simon knew it was important that she didn’t see that particular brand of chaos.

Occasionally there would be a small amount of beer left in one of the cans. Simon would slurp it back. He found he liked the flat, forbidden, taste just as much as the fizzy hit of fresh beer. He’d throw open a window, so the cigarette smoke and the secrets could drift away. When his mother came downstairs, she would smile at him and thank him for tidying up.

“You’re a good boy, Simon,” she’d say with some relief. And no idea.

When there weren’t dregs to be slugged, he sometimes opened a new can. Threw half of it down his throat before eating his breakfast. His father never kept count.

Some people say their favourite smell is freshly baked bread, others say coffee or a campfire. From a very young age, few scents could pop Simon’s nerve endings like the scent of beer.

The promise of it.



Excerpt from Lies, Lies, Lies by Adele Parks. 
Copyright © 2020 by Adele Parks. Published by MIRA Books. 
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.





Meet The Author

Adele Parks Photo by Sekkides


Adele Parks was born in Teesside, North-East England. Her first novel, Playing Away, was published in 2000 and since then she’s had seventeen international bestsellers, translated into twenty-six languages, including I Invited Her In. She’s been an Ambassador for The Reading Agency and a judge for the Costa. She’s lived in Italy, Botswana, and London, and is now settled in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, teenage son, and cat.




Connect to the author via her website, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, and Twitter.



This excerpt brought to you by MIRA Books

Book Showcase: THE FINAL DECEPTION by Heather Graham


The Final Deception, New York Confidential #5, by Heather Graham
ISBN: 9780778309437 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781488055423 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488208102 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781094098517 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B07XVPRCQ9  (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B07R61QBB3   (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication Date: March 31, 2020


How do you confront a threat that is hiding in plain sight? FBI agent Craig Frasier and psychologist Kieran Finnegan hunt an escaped serial killer in the latest explosive thriller in the New York Confidential series.

It was one of Kieran’s most chilling cases: her assessment of a murderer known as the Fireman. There was no doubt that the man needed to be locked away. Now Craig is called to a gruesome crime scene that matches the killer’s methods, and news breaks that the Fireman has escaped prison.

Amid a citywide manhunt, Kieran and Craig need to untangle a web of deceit, privilege, and greed. They suspect that those closest to the killer have been drawn into his evil, or else someone is using another man’s madness and cruelty to disguise their crimes.

When their investigation brings the danger right to the doorstep of Finnegan’s Pub, Kieran and Craig will have to be smarter and bolder than ever before, because this time it’s personal, and they have everything to lose.






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PROLOGUE




CRAIG FRASIER BREATHED IT IN BEFORE HE COULD STOP himself; the bloodcurdling scent of burning flesh.

Human flesh.

Flames still skittered over the body—an accelerant had been used. As he stood there in the small dark alley, he heard others rushing in: Mike Dalton, his partner, and patrol officers. He heard the sirens; the fire department was coming.

But there was no saving this victim.

Craig was already tamping the fire out; an extinguisher would make the work of the medical examiner more difficult.

But he knew what the medical examiner would find.

The victim had been strangled, then the tongue had been cut out. And then the eyes had been gouged out. Death had occurred, mercifully, before the fire had been set.

The corpses haunted his dreams. Burned shells, some flesh and soft tissue remaining, charred and clinging to the bones, mummy-like. The mouth in the blackened skull was agape, and those empty, soulless eye sockets seemed to be staring up, as if they could still see, as if they stared at him in reproach…

Why hadn’t they caught the killer sooner?

He heard a rustling sound. Looking across the alley, Craig saw a shadow moving. Leaving the corpse to others, he took off like a bullet. He pursued the moving shadow at a run…running and running for blocks. The city was a blur around him.

He reached apartments on Madison, with a coffee shop and a dress store on the first floor, just as the gate at the street entry to the residential units above was closing. He caught the gate, and he reached the elevator in time to see what floor it stopped on. He followed.

And again, as he arrived, a door was just closing; he didn’t let it close.

And there he was: the Fireman, still smelling faintly of gasoline, ready to sit down to a lovely dinner with his family. About to say a prayer before the meal…just a husband and a father, and a man who looked at Craig and calmly said, “So, my work is over. But I have obeyed the commandments given me, and I will go with you.”

Why did you take so long? The corpse again! In Craig’s dreams, the corpse was back, animated, flying at him like a ghostly banshee, issuing a silent scream.

Craig opened his eyes.

He didn’t awake screaming or startled—he didn’t jerk up. It was almost as if he always knew it was a dream, reliving the day the Fireman had gone down.He’d had the dream several times before. But, now, it seemed as though it had been a long time. Weeks. He’d thought he’d ceased experiencing it altogether. He’d been doing all the right things: quietly seeing a Bureau shrink a few times, following their advice. He hadn’t told Kieran Finnegan, his fiancée, about his recurring nightmare, and while she was a criminal psychologist working with two of the city’s finest criminal psychiatrists, he’d made a point of not telling her or her bosses.

He’d thought he’d settled it on his own. It was a little strange and sometimes intimidating being in love with someone who studied the human psyche, and he hadn’t wanted Kieran worried about him or trying to analyze him.

Why the hell had the dream come back?

He felt Kieran shift against him. He pulled her into his arms and she rolled, crystal eyes opening wide when she realized that he was awake.

And aroused. Kieran’s tangle of auburn hair was a wild mass around her face, emphasizing her eyes and the quick smile that came to her lips.

“Ah!” she murmured, feeling his arousal against her.

“Your fault,” he accused.

“Well, thankfully. What time is it?” she asked with a soft whisper.

He laughed. “Quickie time, or time for a quickie,” he said.

Her smile deepened, and there was something so sensual about it that it never failed to increase whatever he had begun to feel.

In her arms, in the liquid burn of kisses here and there strategically placed, in the swift—and intense—blaze of arching and writhing and thrusting, all else faded.

After, Craig headed for the shower. He was an FBI agent in the Criminal Division of New York City’s branch of the FBI. He could be satisfied in having brought down several killers. But there would be more; a sad fact of the world and humanity. He was blessed to have his job, his vocation, and it was time to go to work.

He shoved the dream into the back of his mind.

Whatever his day held, he’d already seen the worst that this world could offer.

Little did he know.



Excerpt from The Final Deception by Heather Graham. 
Copyright © 2020 by Heather Graham. Published by MIRA Books. 
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.




Meet The Author


Heather Graham is The New York Times and USA Today best-selling author sold her first book, When Next We Love, in 1982 and since then, she has written over two hundred novels and novellas with about 60 million books in print in categories of romantic suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, and Christmas holiday fare. Graham earned high praise for her New York Confidential series, including a starred review from Library Journal which called it, “Intricate, fast-paced, and intense, this riveting thriller blends romance and suspense in perfect combination and keeps readers guessing and the tension taut until the very end.” For more information, visit her at TheOriginalHeatherGraham.com.



Connect to the author via her website, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, or Twitter.



This excerpt brought to you by MIRA Books