Book Showcase: DEADLY SETUP by Lynn Slaughter

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

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

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

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

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Read an Excerpt:

“What kind of an incident?”

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

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

He shook his head but didn’t say anything.

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

Again, no response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, please.”

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

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

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

“So you say,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My stomach.”

“Do you need medical attention?” he asked.

“No. I’m okay.”

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

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

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

 

Meet The Author

Author Lynn Slaughter
Author Lynn Slaughter

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

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

 

Book Spotlight: MEET THE MOON by Kerry L. Malawista

MEET THE MOON by Kerry L. Malawista book coverMeet the Moon by Kerry L. Malawista
ISBN-10: 1646032659 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 9781646032655 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781646032662 (eBook)
ASIN: B09MSK5LCM (Kindle edition)
Release Date: September 15, 2022
Publisher: Fitzroy Books/Regal House Publishing
Genre: Fiction | Young Adult

In 1970, thirteen-year-old Jody Moran wants pierced ears, a kiss from a boy, and more attention from her mother. It’s not fair. Seems like her mother is more worked up about the Apollo 13 astronauts, who may not make it back to earth safely. As it happens, the astronauts are spared a crash landing, but Jody is not, for three days after splashdown, her mother dies in a car accident. Now, Jody will never know if her mother really loved her. Jody’s father has taught them to believe in the “Power of Intention.” Announce what you want to the world to make it happen. But could the power of Jody’s jealousy and anger have caused Mom’s accident? To relieve her guilt and sadness, she devotes herself to mothering her three younger siblings and helping Dad, which quickly proves too much for her, just as persuading quirky Grandma Cupcakes to live with them proves too much for Grandma. That’s when Jody decides to find someone to marry her father, a new mom who will love her best. Jody reads high and low to learn about love, marriage and death. For her adolescent firsts—kiss, bra, and boyfriend—she has the help of her popular older sister, her supportive father, and comical Grandma. But each first, which makes her miss her mother, teaches her that death doesn’t happen just once.

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Advance Praise

“Jody Moran is an endearing guide—funny, smart, word-wise—through this sad and triumphant coming-of-age tale. There is such clarifying honesty here, about grief, friendship, resilience and faith. There is as well a keen and vivid sense of an era that seems more innocent than our own and yet remarkably timeless, perhaps because Kerry Malawista understands so well the enduring grace of family love.” —Alice McDermott, author of Charming Billy (National Book Award), After This (finalist Pulitzer Prize)

“In Meet the Moon Kerry Malawista‘s heroine, Jody Moran, brings us along as she stumbles from 13 to 14, finding her way forward while grieving the sudden death of a mother whose love never seemed quite enough. This beautifully written, sharply observed novel takes us on a journey that is scary, tumultuous, yet grounded always in the love of family. Recreating 1970’s America and the torture and promise of adolescence, Meet the Moon gives us a plucky narrator we want to enfold and never let go.” —Marita Golden, author of The Wide Circumference of Love

“Jody’s just a regular teen, with regular teen things to worry about. But then in a blink, there’s a wreck, a family in shock: Mom’s gone, baby brother is in the hospital. Boyfriends, best friends, teachers, siblings, the neighbor across the street, all have a part in helping Jody adjust—but can they deliver? Jody loves her big rowdy family, but soon sees that sometimes Dads can be dumb, big sisters too bossy, teachers too nosy, and even best friends don’t always get it. In the end, all the strength Jody needs is right inside her warm heart. Kerry Malawista knows that heart, and Meet the Moon rises full over the landscape of great reads for teens and grownups alike.” —Bill Roorbach, author of Life Among Giants, The Remedy for Love, and Lucky Turtle

Meet The Author

Kerry L. Malawista, Ph.D. is a writer and psychoanalyst in Potomac, MD. She is co-chair of New Directions in Writing and founder of the recent project The Things They Carry – offering virtual writing workshops for healthcare and frontline workers. Her essays have appeared nationally in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, Zone 3, Washingtonian Magazine, The Huffington Post, Bethesda Magazine, Arlington Magazine, The Account Magazine, and Delmarva Review, which nominated her for a Pushcart Prize. She is the co-author of Wearing my Tutu to Analysis and Other Stories (2011), The Therapist in Mourning: From the Faraway Nearby (2013), both published by Columbia University Press, and Who’s Behind the Couch (2017) published by Routledge Press. When the Garden Isn’t Eden: More Psychoanalytic Concepts from Life was published by Columbia University Press in spring 2022 and her novel, Meet the Moon will be released in September 2022 by Regal House Publishing. Her website is KerryMalawista.com.

Connect with the author via website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter

Giveaway

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway for one (1) print copy of Meet the Moon by Kerry L. Malawista courtesy of Saichek Publicity. This giveaway is limited to residents of the United States and Canada. Any entry from residents outside the United States or Canada will be disqualified. This giveaway is open from 12:01 AM ET on 09/15/2022 through 11:59 PM ET on 9/22/2022. The winner will be selected and announced by 10:00 AM ET on 09/23/2022. Please note that the book will be sent to the winner by Saichek Publicity. Void where prohibited by law.

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Book Showcase: A FORGERY OF ROSES by Jessica S. Olson

A FORGERY OF ROSES by Jessica S. Olson book coverA Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson
ISBN: 9781335418661 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780369705662 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212956 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9798200712441 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B0958338P5 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B092MNDBVQ (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: March 29, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Young Adult | Fantasy | Romance

 

Myra Whitlock has a gift. One many would kill for.

Myra has a gift many would kidnap, blackmail, and worse to control: she’s a portrait artist whose paintings alter people’s bodies. Guarding that secret is the only way to keep her younger sister safe now that their parents are gone.

But one frigid night, the governor’s wife discovers the truth and threatens to expose Myra if she does not complete a special portrait that would resurrect the governor’s dead son. Desperate, Myra ventures to his legendary stone mansion.

Once she arrives, however, it becomes clear the boy’s death was no accident. Someone dangerous lurks within these glittering halls. Someone harboring a disturbing obsession with portrait magic.

Myra cannot do the painting until she knows what really happened, so she turns to the governor’s older son, a captivating redheaded poet. Together, they delve into the family’s most shadowed affairs, racing to uncover the truth before the secret Myra spent her life concealing makes her the killer’s next victim.

From Sing Me Forgotten author Jessica S. Olson comes a gothic fantasy murder mystery perfect for fans of Kerri Maniscalco and Erin A. Craig.

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

Read an Excerpt:

When ladyroses burn, they bleed.

“A symbol of life,” Mother used to say when we would bend over the smoke together.

But now, as I hold flame to stem, as I watch hungry, glowing embers devour leaves and thorns, as floral perfume curdles to ribbons of soot in my nose, I know she was wrong. For when the fire reaches the petals, they shrivel, curling as though in pain. And then they melt. Great fat rubies dribbling over my fingers and smattering into my bowl like gore.

Mother called it beautiful. But now that she and Father have gone, all I see is death.

Gritting my teeth, I tear my gaze from the slow trickle of red and try to steady the quake of my movements as I drop the scorched ladyrose stems into the trash bin and blow out my candle. Crossing to a pot of water I’ve got heating over the fire in the corner, I tip the bowl of ladyrose drippings in.

As soon as it hits the water, the rose blood fans out, a spiderweb of shimmering scarlet veins crawling through the pot until the whole thing clouds like it’s full of sparkling garnet dust. I dip a spoon into the mixture and stir. It bubbles, smokes, and blackens.

Closing my eyes, I breathe in the sharp, cloying scent. Mother used to come home every day smelling like this—her clothes, her hair, her skin. With my head thick in a fog of exhaustion, it’s easy to allow myself to imagine she’s here next to me, chatting happily about how mixing burnt umber with ultramarine blue makes a far superior black than the tube of flat paint many artists purchase at the store. “It creates a more eye-catching hue,” I can almost hear her say. “Make the shadows breathe, Myra.”

From across the studio, the piercing laugh of my employer, portrait artist Elsie Moore, breaks through my thoughts, and I sigh as the echo of Mother’s voice fades from my mind.

How long will it be before I forget what that sounded like?

Forcing away thoughts of Mother, I continue stirring the contents of my pot. Another few minutes, and it should be ready to remove from the heat, cover, and set in a cool place to coagulate. Three days hence, the bubbling charcoal syrup will thicken into a clear jellylike substance that I’ll then transfer into tubes to stock alongside Elsie’s paints, solvents, and brushes. Ladyrose gel. A painting medium I both revere and fear.

I toss the spoon into the sink and wrap a towel around the pot. Then I hoist it to the counter beneath the window to cool and drape a cloth over its top. Satisfied, I turn to my next task of the morning: a bouquet of dirty brushes waiting to be cleaned. As I unscrew the cap from a bottle of turpentine, I let my gaze wander to where Elsie’s putting the finishing touches on a portrait of Mrs. Ramos across the room. Cadmium bright paints, eye-catching phthalo hues, and quinacridone details swirl together like smoke on Elsie’s canvas. She holds her brushes with a steady hand, chattering animatedly to Mrs. Ramos without a care in the world.

What would it be like to paint so freely? To wield a brush without the threat of magic commandeering the portrait? To give in to the high of pure creation?

Painting used to be like that for me, back before my powers sparked to life a few years ago. In those days, there was no greater ecstasy than the promise of a blank canvas and a palette full of colors. Before magic, painting was magic.

The memory of it is enough to make me weep.

I press the bristles of a filbert brush against the coil at the bottom of the jar of turpentine to loosen the oils, but when Elsie gasps, I glance back up.

“No!” She presses a dramatic hand to her heart. “Wilburt Jr.? What does he have?”

Mrs. Ramos, sitting daintily on a settee in a pale pink dress, nods, her mouth twisted in a frown. “The papers don’t say. I think it could be pneumonia, though. It’s been going around this year. Mrs. Potsworth down the street passed away from a nasty case of it not last week!”

I frown. The only Wilburt Jr. they can possibly be talking about is the governor’s son. A tall, strikingly handsome boy around my age whom I’ve only ever glimpsed at Lalverton city events.

Pursing my lips, I set aside the turpentine and dunk the brushes into the sink. Soap bubbles in my palm as I work it through the bristles, and I stare absently out the window at the snow swirling in the street and the passersby kicking through muddy slush on the sidewalk. I fall into a rhythm, imagining I’m back at the flat my family used to live in downtown. Mother is at my side in front of the kitchen sink, scrubbing burnt sienna out from underneath her fingernails. Father bustles in through the door, arms laden with bowls of leftover soups from his restaurant. My little sister, Lucy, rushes at him, asking if her pet frog can have the lobster bisque. You know it’s his favorite, Pa!

“Myra?” Elsie says behind me, and I jump, dropping the brushes, which hit the bottom of the basin with a faint series of plinks.

“Ms. Moore!” I say, looking back to where she was chatting with Mrs. Ramos earlier. I catch sight of the curly haired woman tugging a coat over her dress as she heads out the door. “You scared me.”

Elsie chuckles, thunking down another cupful of dirty brushes. “An ox could sneak up on you, dear. You spend too much time in your head.” She turns her back to me and gestures at the buttons down her spine. “Help me off with my smock, please.”

I obey. Sweat glistens on the back of her neck, dampening the gray curls that have escaped her tight bun.

“I know it’s not my place to ask questions,” the old woman continues, patting at her hair, “but…are you sleeping? How’s Lucy?”

I paste on a neutral expression and slide the smock from Elsie’s shoulders. “The same.”

She sighs. “I do wish I could help.”

The words are like a backhanded blow. I wonder what Mother would think if she heard them. Whether Father would scoff in that indignant way of his at the blatant lie.

I stare at my feet to keep from glancing at the fat amethysts drooping from Elsie’s soft white earlobes, the glitter of half a dozen gold chains around her neck, or the bulbous gems on her gnarled fingers. Any one of those sold to a jeweler would fetch the money Lucy and I need, but three months ago when I came begging Elsie for the help she claims she wishes she could give me, she balked at the idea. Said it would do me no favors to hand me a reward I didn’t earn.

I knew before I even asked her that she would say no. If there’s anything life has taught me, it’s that I can’t count on anyone but my sister. We’re all each other has. And, in the past, that would have been enough. But with Lucy’s illness having taken a turn for the worse and our funds being too meager to afford the medical care she needs, Elsie’s patronizing words about “wishing she could help” make me want to scream.

“How was Mrs. Ramos?” I ask a bit too brightly as I fold the smock into a tidy little square and set it on a pile of linens I plan to wash tomorrow.

Elsie draws the back of her hand across her brow. “She’s doing well, I think. Her son is visiting this week.”

“The senator?”

“Yes. He took her to see Governor Harris’s public address yesterday.” Her expression sours.

“And?” I ask, not sure if I want to hear any more.

“She said the governor went on for at least five minutes berating Lalverton citizens for buying paintings and thus making light of the Holy Artist’s divinity.” She huffs. “That man is never going to let it go, is he?”

I groan. “When is he going to remember he’s not a priest and that people’s worship is not actually his concern?”

“He also said allowing secular art to become such a thriving business is the reason so many painters have gone missing. He apparently thinks it’s a sign that the Artist is displeased.”

I hiss through my teeth.

Painters have been disappearing one by one over the past year, starting with my mother, and yet the governor—the man whose duty it is to protect Lalverton—has done nothing. No major investigations, no questions asked.

Because we are the scum of the earth to him. Worse, even.

It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. I used to be forced to stand by as pompous worshippers spit on my mother, accusing her of desecrating the Artist by painting for profit. I watched others cross the street when they passed Elsie’s studio, as though merely being in the presence of such heresy could taint their souls.

As the years have trickled by, though, the disdain seems to have eased up a bit. Only the most devout hold painters like Elsie and Mother in such contempt. The majority of people don’t seem to mind what we do, and in recent months, portraiture has become quite popular in Lalverton.

But anytime Governor Harris goes on one of his burn-all-the-studios-to-the-ground rampages, my heart sinks.

I want to be a painter, just like Mother was—is—but it seems that particular life will always come with a healthy measure of judgment and disgust.

Elsie drops her voice to a whisper. “My bet—and don’t you dare repeat this to a soul, dear—is that the governor is exterminating us one by one himself. Wiping us out like stink bugs under his boot.”

A jolt zaps through my body.

Elsie registers my expression. “I’m sorry,” she says quickly. “I should not have—”

“It’s fine,” I say, my voice a pitch too high as the image of my parents under Governor Harris’s boot, twitching like a pair of dead insects, makes my stomach churn.

“Besides—” Elsie flounders for words “—the fact that your father is among the missing is a testament to the fact that it’s not only painters, right?” She gives a nervous chuckle, as if such a statement should comfort me.

I stare at her.

The bell on the front door tinkles.

“Mr. Markleton!” Elsie almost shouts, diving across the room toward the short, balding merchant in the doorway in her hurry to get away from me. “Right on time, as usual!” Her voice fills the air with exaggerated cheeriness. “Come, come!” She weaves among easels stacked with paintings in varying stages of completion and directs Mr. Markleton to a cushy settee in front of one of the backdrops that line the far wall.

“Brought along this—I know how you love to keep up on the Lalverton gossip,” he says with a smile, offering Elsie a rolled-up newspaper.

“Oh, yes! I heard about Governor Harris’s son.” She nods at me to take the paper. “But I did want to read the story myself. Thank you for bringing it along.”

Mr. Markleton gives me a friendly wink as I carry the newspaper to the back table. Elsie’s careless words about the missing people, about my parents, echo ceaselessly in my head, and I try to catch my breath as a wave of nausea rolls through me.

Elsie means well, I know that. She’s always had a knack for speaking before she thinks.

And it’s not like I could ever forget my parents are missing anyway. My whole world unraveled when they vanished, and it’s only gotten harder the past few months as our bank accounts have emptied. We can scarcely afford food and rent, let alone the medical care Lucy needs now that her illness has worsened.

We had our whole lives planned out. I was to attend the Lalverton Conservatory for Music and the Arts when I turned eighteen next spring, just like Mother. I would graduate with highest marks, just like Mother. Then I would open my own studio, just like Mother did here with Elsie.

Lucy, who was only twelve when our parents disappeared, was already on track to be accepted into some of the most prestigious biology programs in the country. She planned to change the world with her discoveries. Improve the environment and save endangered animals.

But now, those plans are nothing more than dreams from another life. A memory of wishes that will never come true. I’ve spent the past several months painting portraits until dawn to build up a portfolio in hopes of securing one of the full-ride scholarships the conservatory offers, but…well. Thanks to my magic’s interference, my portfolio is meager at best. I have a better chance at winning a scholarship to the moon.

Maybe my dreams were foolish anyway. Keeping my power from being discovered in a place like the conservatory would have been difficult. I don’t know how Mother managed it.

Rubbing a fist over my aching eyes, I glance down at the newspaper in my hands. A black-and-white photograph of a square-jawed man smiles kindly back at me from the front page. Why do I recognize him?

I unfurl the paper and read the article.

The body of Frederick Bennett, who was reported missing eight years ago, was discovered in the cellar of Roderick Lowell’s home last week.

My fists tighten on the paper, crinkling it. Of course I know his face. Frederick Bennett’s somber eyes have stared out from missing-person posters all over the city since I was nine years old. Mother told me she knew him from the conservatory and always wondered if he was a Prodigy like her. When he disappeared, she said she hoped he hadn’t been kidnapped and coerced into using his magic for someone cruel and desperate.

With unease stinging in my gut, I read on.

Autopsy reports reveal that the cause of death was starvation, though many lacerations, bruises, and broken bones were observed. Extensive scarring on his back and arms was noted, as well.

Lowell, a prominent stockholder in Lalverton, has declined to respond to inquiries and is being held for questioning at the Lalverton Police Station.

A roaring fills my ears, and I stumble back several steps before sinking into Elsie’s chair.

The report doesn’t say the word “Prodigy,” but it doesn’t have to.

Prodigy magic, which flows through my body just as it did through Mother’s, gives an artist the ability to alter human and animal bodies with their paintings, and it is considered by the Church to be even more of an abomination than normal portrait work. According to scripture, my very existence is a defilement of the power of our god, the Great Artist. Prodigies like us have been persecuted by the pious and captured by the greedy since the dawn of time. My head is full of the stories Mother told from her history books, the ones in which entire nations banded together to force a Prodigy to do their bidding. Where the holy priests burned them at the stake to cleanse the world of what they believed to be sinful imitation of the Artist.

As centuries have passed, the number of Prodigies in the world has dwindled—though whether it’s because their genetic lines have been killed off or because the ones who have survived have kept their powers hidden like Mother, it’s hard to say. With men like Governor Harris in charge of regions across the world, men willing to falsify charges in order to get Prodigies locked up in the name of “purifying” their streets, there’s no telling how many of us are out there, hiding.

All I know is that someone found out what Mother was, and then she and Father vanished.

Just like Frederick Bennett.

A flicker of orange flashes in the corner of my eye from the front window, and I glance up from the paper. A small red-haired woman stands outside the studio entrance with a tiny white dog in a sparkling collar tucked under one arm. She nudges the door open, sending the bell above it tinkling once again. A swirl of snow twists into the room as she slips inside, and I stifle a gasp when I catch sight of her face.

Mrs. Adelia Harris, wife to the merciless governor set on destroying every art studio in town, meets my gaze with a cold, hard stare. I tighten my grip on the newspaper.

With her husband’s reelection campaign in full swing, her son in a sickbed, and her belief that portrait art is a sin of the vilest degree, what could she possibly want with us?

Elsie catches sight of her and leaps to her feet with a gasp, knocking over her stool, which clangs against the tile.

“Hello.” Mrs. Harris’s voice is quiet. Lethal. “I’d like to get a portrait done.”

Excerpt from A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson.
Copyright © 2022 by Jessica S. Olson
Published by arrangement with Inkyard Press/HarperCollins

Meet The Author

Author Jessica S. Olson photo by Breanna Olson
Jessica S. Olson photo by Breanna Olson

Jessica S. Olson claims New Hampshire as her home but has somehow found herself in Texas, where she spends most of her time singing praises to the inventor of the air conditioner. When she’s not hiding from the heat, she’s corralling her four wild—but adorable—children, dreaming up stories about kissing and murder and magic, and eating peanut butter by the spoonful straight from the jar. She earned a bachelor’s in English with minors in editing and French, which essentially means she spent all of her university time reading and eating French pastries. She is the author of Sing Me Forgotten (2021) and A Forgery of Roses (2022).

Connect with the Author:  Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

This excerpt brought to you by Inkyard Press

Best Fiction Reads of 2021: Part 2

Best Fiction Reads of 2021

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


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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

What the heart desires, the house destroys…

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Happy Reading, y’all!