2020 Vision

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to look back at how we’ve dealt with COVID-19 and wonder about what’s coming.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

Who saw it coming? When the ball dropped in Times Square, 2020 came in as just another year. Yule songs were sung, people exchanged presents and exchanged them again at the store to get what they really wanted. The nation had an election to look forward to at the end of the year.

By April there was something in the air. Not the sweet smell of flowers but an odorless plague. Covid-19 washed up on our shores and started its killing spree. At first, people didn’t want to believe it existed. Even when hospitals started to fill up and shipping containers became make-shift morgues, some called it a hoax.

Refusing to wear a mask became a protest symbol. Sanitizers disappeared from the shelves. People displayed how far charity went as they stockpiled and hoarded toilet paper. When told to isolate, people showed their disdain by collecting in bars and large parties.

   

Last week was Thanksgiving. No matter how much doctors begged people to stay home, the airports were full. Over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house they went. Tradition is more important than restrictions.

This “hardship” is not new to some of us. When I was in the Navy, I took duty so others could enjoy Thanksgiving with loved ones. While I was stationed in Puerto Rico, my roommate flew back from New York with a plate of turkey and trimmings in her lap so I could have a taste of home. Another year, one of the Marines got a machine we’d never seen and “microwaved” a turkey in the barracks for us (this was in the mid-70’s). We missed our families while we served our country.

   

We don’t yet know what toll Thanksgiving will take. Predictions are that death rates will rise in a few weeks and we’ll see the damage. Already the high numbers have numbed us. My mind can’t even absorb the stats as they are announced.

So, we blame 2020. Really, it’s just a number. Yes, it brought with it unemployment, hunger, racial strife and a contested presidential election. It was accompanied by grief, fear, death and not very good will toward all men. It displayed the best and the worst of our country.

Christmas is around the corner, as is a vaccine. Hopefully, 2021 will be the end of this disaster. Time will tell whether we learned anything from it at all.

Book Review: For Better or Cursed by Kate Williams @DelacortePress @favouritepages

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Title: For Better or Cursed
Series: The Babysitters Coven #2
Author: Kate Williams
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: December 15, 2020
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Google Play
Amazon // Book Depository // Indiebound

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For Better or Cursed
The Babysitters Coven # 2
Kate Williams
Delacorte Press, December 2020
ISBN 978-0-525-70741-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this funny, action-packed sequel about a coven of witchy babysitters who realize their calling to protect the innocent and save the world from an onslaught of evil.

Esme Pearl’s life used to be all about bumming rides and babysitting. Sure, it wasn’t glamorous, but it was predictable. All that changed when Cassandra Heaven came to town, and they discovered their complicated, and connected, legacy: Esme and Cassandra are Sitters, supernaturally-gifted teens armed with an ever-changing grimoire of Sitter witchcraft to help them protect the innocent and keep evil demons at bay. You know, the typical teenage stuff.

But just as Esme is starting to adjust to–and maybe even like–her new normal, life lobs another glitter bomb her way. The Synod–the Sitterhood’s governing circle–has called a Summit, a once-in-a-generation gathering that promises training, education, and whole lot of ice-breakers.

Esme should be excited–a Summit might mean she can finally get the answers she desperately wants–but she can’t shake a building sense of panic. Especially since Cassandra’s not acting like herself; Esme’s dad is MIA; Pig is out of dog food; Janis is scared to be alone; and there’s a guy who seems too good to be true, again. Worst of all, it soon becomes clear, there’s no one watching the kids. It’s obvious the Summit is a haute mess, but will it be a deadly one, too?

You know the TV commercial for Geico that shows a group of teens trying to escape from a Michael Myers-esque killer and they choose to get behind the chainsaws instead of getting in the running car? I must have seen it a gazillion times and I still always chuckle, point being, this book’s description somehow made me think of that commercial. I was primed for some good, snarky laughs and Ms. Williams did not disappoint. Now, granted, some of the language is a bit rough but not excessively so especially when you consider that this is teens defending humanity from demons.

As you might expect when it comes to fighting evil, things don’t always go well and Cassandra is suffering some pretty important amnesia, leaving Esme not exactly on her own but definitely with a partner who’s not on top of her game. The timing for that isn’t great since their coven has to host the upcoming Summit and we all know that trouble is likely to ensue. It does, of course, but this is a fun read although I wish Esme were more aware of behavior that’s somewhat dismissive of Cassandra’s LGBTQ concerns; still, I have to remind myself that, as unenlightened as we might be today, it was worse in the 1990’s when this is set. Having said that, Cassandra has developed her own unpleasant ways so neither girl is entirely likeable. The pacing in this book is also a little slower than I like and, in fact, I think the plot takes a back seat to the characters.

Although I’m rarely bothered by not reading books in order, I do think it probably would have been best in this case and I recommend that anyone wanting to try this series start with the first one, The Babysitters Coven, to have a better understanding of how Esme and Cassandra came to be Sitters. After all, being a witch, even a good one, isn’t exactly “typical teenage stuff” 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2020.

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An Excerpt from For Better or Cursed

Chapter 1

The sun was setting, and up and down the street, I could see Christmas lights flicker on and blow-up snowmen fill with air. It was supposed to be festive, but I found it ominous, the snowmen especially. I’d seen demons that looked almost exactly like them, and now anything white and puffy automatically put me on guard. My breath billowed in front of me, and I pulled up the collar of my shearling-lined jacket, accidentally tugging it too close to my nose. I stifled a gag and immediately folded it back down.

The jacket was killer. It was pale-peach suede, had a ’70s Foxy Brown cut, and was about the warmest thing I owned. I’d found it at a thrift store the night before, and it was a serious score except it was dry-clean only. I thought I could get away with wearing it without spending more to have it cleaned than it actually cost, but nope. Breathe too deeply and I definitely got a whiff of weed, BO, and a third note I couldn’t identify. Maybe canned corn? I tried breathing through my mouth.

Cassandra wasn’t wearing a coat. Of course. Even in December. She sat next to me on the wooden bench, in just one of her brother’s hoodies over a flannel, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and anchored with a plain old rubber band. Cassandra doesn’t worry about split ends. She was gnawing on her thumbnail, making really gross sounds that were at odds with her I-sell-detox-tea-on-my-Instagram kind of beauty. Her right leg bounced at 180 bpm, and she spit a piece of nail onto the ground.

There were only three kids left on the playground, all bundled up like little marshmallows. Their shouts echoed off the school’s brick walls, and the swings made a metallic creak in the wind. The kids were taking turns throwing a red rubber ball at a basketball hoop, and one of the boys hurled the ball at the girl. She caught it and immediately turned and drop-kicked the ball away from him, sending it flying out into the playground. I stifled an urge to cheer her on.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“I swear it’s here,” Cassandra said. “It’s just weird that it’s waiting so long.”

Cassandra was right. It was here. I could tell by the sadness that tickled the edges of my mind, and the way I shivered more from disgust than the cold every time the air moved around me. It was the reason Cassandra was so nervous, even though we were about to do something that, in the past month, had become as routine to us as going to school or not doing homework. We’d been in its presence for a while now, and exposure to a Negative demon always brings nerves and despair. Even to Sitters.

On the basketball court, one of the little boys was on the ground crying, while the little girl stood over him doing some sort of dance and kicking at his shins, her dangling mittens giving her the appearance of having four hands. I was trying to decide whether I was still on her side when Cassandra jumped up and started running across the playground. I was right behind her, my eyes straining in the crepuscular light, to make out what she saw.

There. By the monkey bars. A Shimmer. Barely visible, but I saw it nonetheless, like a glitch in reality. I detoured to the basketball court and held up my hands, palms facing the kids. “Mnemokinesis!” I shouted at them. They stopped fighting and turned to look at me with blank stares, arms hanging limply at their sides. Cass and I now had five minutes to do what we needed to do before the spell wore off and the kids would remember everything they saw.

Except Cassandra had stopped, and she was bent over, staring at the ground. I caught up to her, my heart pounding. “Cass! Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

She looked up at me and smiled. Her pupils were huge, which made her dark eyes look like deep black holes. Her expression was peaceful. More than peaceful–euphoric. “Esme,” she said, her voice an excited hush. “Have you ever noticed there’s glitter in the concrete? Look at how it sparkles.” She reached down and ran a hand over the dirty ground. “We are literally walking on rainbows. A million tiny rainbows.”

What the?

“Are you serious?” I looked away from her as something flickered in the corner of my eye. Now that we were stationary, the Shimmer thought it was stalking us, and not the other way around. I looked back at Cassandra, and her expression shifted in a split second, like she’d just been snapped by a rubber band. She gave her head a quick shake and broke into a run again, jumping a merry-go-round in two strides. She collided with something midair and went pixelated as she crashed to the ground. Shoot. The Shimmer was on top of Cassandra, and her limbs were going in and out of focus as she thrashed. My breath caught in my throat as the Shimmer surrounded her head, lifting it like it was about to smash her skull against the teeter-totter.

I held out my palm and wedged my powers between Cassandra and the ground so the Shimmer was just pounding her into the air. The sensation disoriented the Shimmer enough that it loosened its grip for a second, and a second was all Cassandra needed to wrench free. She rolled away and pushed herself up to her knees, her palms held out in front of her. Instantly, the Shimmer erupted in a blaze. With it outlined in flames, I could see that it was as big as at least two jungle gyms. It let out a piercing hiss, and I clamped my hands over my ears.

Her fire bathed Cassandra in flickering orange light for an instant. Just as quickly as the flames appeared, they were out again. She’d put them out. She had one palm extended and was gripping something tightly in her other fist. She raised it, but in a split second the Shimmer swung and connected with her, knocking her through the air. I winced as she smacked against the monkey bars and she fell to the ground in a heap.

“Cassandra!” I yelled. “What are you doing?”

She was back up in no time, her fist raised again, and now I could see what she was holding: a rope I didn’t know she’d had. She unfurled a length of it behind her and started to swing it over her head. I was so confused that I stopped for a second. Was she trying to lasso this thing?

“Pin it!” she yelled back at me. “Don’t let it go!”

I glanced up. The Portal was here, swirling over the playground like a curdled latte, which meant we only had a few seconds to flush the Shimmer before the Portal closed again. Pinning the Shimmer and not letting it go was not part of the plan. “What?” I screamed back, but before I could do anything, Cassandra had swung the lasso. Only, instead of being pinned, the Shimmer caught the rope and gave it a hard yank, pulling Cass off her feet and toward it.

“What are you waiting for?” I screamed. “Torch it!” That was how we usually did this: she set something on fire, which disabled it just long enough for me to grab it and flush it into oblivion. But she was over there playing tug-of-war like we were at a barbecue, and the Shimmer seemed to be having a grand old time.

I glanced up. The Portal was already starting to shrink, and Cassandra was still cowgirling. I had to act. I held up a hand and took hold of the demon, then focused my energy and gave it the biggest, hardest yank I’ve ever given anything. And, crap, it weighed as much as a baby elephant. Who’d been snacking on Kälteen bars. I held out my other palm, as this was a two-powered-hands job. Cassandra was yelling something at me, but I couldn’t make it out. I sucked a breath in through my nose, and yanked.

I felt the Shimmer’s energy course through me. It was hot and angry and still writhing in pain, and I didn’t care one bit. I started to swing it around in a circle, gathering speed. With each swing, I grew more powerful and it got lighter. I looked back at the Portal, still burbling above us, and took aim. With a final swing, I let go of the Shimmer. It hurtled toward the swirl and sailed right through the middle. As it always did, the Portal flushed, a sound that never failed to send a rush through my body, from my eyebrows down to the tips of my toes.

Then I turned to Cassandra. “What the crap was that? Did you want it to stick around and hang out?” She wouldn’t meet my eyes as she stood there, dirty from the scuffle and trying to catch her breath. “And that whole walking-on-rainbows thing? When did you become a flower child?”

Her eyes locked on mine. “What are you talking about?” she said. She seemed genuinely confused, but I was not going to let her put me on the defensive.

“You were wasting all sorts of time out there!” I snapped. “And you got distracted by the concrete! Of all things.”

She was coiling the rope back up. “I just wanted to do it a bit differently this time.”

“And you didn’t think that this was something you should tell me?”

“It’s no big deal,” she said.

“Yes, it is, Cassandra,” I said. “It could have gotten loose. What were you trying to do, anyway? Tie it up?”

She turned and started to walk away from me. “I wanted to interrogate it,” she said. Which made such little sense that I needed her to repeat it.

“You wanted to do what to it?”

“Interrogate it,” she said. “You know, ask it some questions.”

I still didn’t get it. “I know what interrogate means, Cassandra,” I said. “But it’s a Shimmer. It doesn’t even have a mouth.” We passed a trash can and she tossed the rope in it. It landed on a bag of dog poop and a Wendy’s box. A bigger question hit me, and I stopped. “Wait, you wanted to talk to it?”

I stared at the back of her head as she kept walking. She reached up to redo her ponytail as she nodded, and I winced when she ripped the rubber band out of her hair, taking several strands with it. “What did you think it would say?” I asked, catching up to her. But she picked up her pace and I could tell she was starting to get annoyed with me.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I thought maybe we could learn something. Let’s drop it, okay? I won’t do it again.” Then she said something that really blew my mind. “I’m sorry.”

Wow. I had to play my cards right with this one. What she had just done was weird, there was no doubt about it, but it was also clear that she didn’t want to discuss it. She so seriously didn’t want to talk about it that she’d even apologized, which she never did. I wasn’t going to get anything more out of her, so sure, I’d drop it. For now, at least. It was hard to tell when Cassandra was being weird and when she was just being Cassandra. I did know that she kept her word, though, so if she said she wouldn’t do something again, she wouldn’t. But interrogate a demon? Maybe she’d been watching too many cop shows? “What about the sidewalk rainbows, though?” I asked, figuring that was at least a different subject.

“Huh?” she asked, looking over at me like I was the one not making any sense.

“Do you not remember that? Your pupils were huge. It looked like you were on a different planet.” Something flickered across her face, too fast for me to decipher it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, looking away from me and down the street. “I got really light-headed there for a minute. I didn’t really eat anything today.”

“Oh,” I said. “You should eat lunch. And breakfast.” She nodded. “Something with protein, like yogurt, or an egg . . .” Cassandra smirked.

“What’d you have for breakfast today?” she asked. I knew exactly what I’d had for breakfast: six Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and a venti iced coffee.

“Irrelevant,” I said, “as I’m not the one who had a . . .” I wasn’t sure what to call what had just happened to Cassandra. “Tripping balls” seemed most apt. “Episode,” I said finally. “In the middle of a Return. It did not seem like you were okay.”

“Thank you for your concern, Nutritionist Esme,” she said, reaching out to squeeze my shoulder. “I will make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Before either of us could say anything else about the subject, my phone started ringing. An incoming call from Jim Halpert, which is how I had Brian Davis–Cassandra’s and my Counsel, and also my dad’s best friend, hence the code name–saved in my phone. Brian always called me because he knew that Cassandra’s phone was usually broken, missing, or dead, and sometimes all three.

I answered and put him on speaker so Cassandra could hear too. “Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Where are you?” he asked, his voice sounding more clipped and businesslike than usual.

“At the playground by Woodland Elementary,” I answered. “We just Returned a Shimmer.”

“Stay there,” he said. “I’m coming to get you.”

“It went well!” Cassandra called out. “Thanks for asking.” But Brian had already hung up.

“What do you think this is gonna be about?” I asked her.

She shrugged. “Something to do with his balls, probably.”

I nodded. She was probably right. Brian’s true passion was interior design, and he had a flair for mixing boho patterns and textiles with mid-century silhouettes. Overall, his style was very sophisticated and clean, yet it still felt cozy. But I digress, because Brian’s day job was as the football coach at our high school, and “his balls,” as Cassandra fittingly called them, stressed him out to no end. So much so that he neglected our training, which resulted in serious disaster. In the month or so since then, even though the Spring River Bog Lemmings (yep, the lemming is our school mascot) managed to close out the season and take home a trophy that they all spit in, or whatever it was you did with a trophy, Brian had been working overtime to get us up to speed. Which meant that Cassandra and I were working overtime too. We hadn’t planned to meet up to train tonight, so Brian’s urgent call was kind of a bummer. I was looking forward to a night off. I had plans. I mean, I was going to put a blackhead mask on my nose and watch the Versace American Crime Story for the fourth time. Those were plans, right?

Excerpted from For Better or Cursed by Kate M. Williams. Copyright © 2020 by Kate M. Williams. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Original Link: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/592191/for-better-or-cursed-by-kate-williams/

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About the Author

I’m the author of the YA novel The Babysitters Coven.

I also write for magazines, including Cosmopolitan, NYLON, Elle, Women’s Health, Shape, Time Out New York, Monster Children, Russh, Oyster, The Fader, NME, H&M, Smith Journal, Gather Journal, KnitWit, Popular, Style.com and more.

I have ghostwritten New York Times bestsellers, celebrity tell-alls, memoirs, how-tos, and beauty bibles (Shh…. I was never here, and you haven’t seen me.)

And, just ‘cause we’re still talking about me, I’ve also written windows, billboards, emails and captions, captions, captions for brands such as Urban Outfitters, Nasty Gal, Vans, Calvin Klein, Nike, Lively, BAGGU and more.

I love to write about witches, teenagers, girls behaving badly, palm trees, and other forms of magic. Teenage girl witches behaving badly under the palm trees is my penultimate subject.

AUTHOR LINKS

Website | Goodreads | Instagram

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

Win a physical copy of FOR BETTER OR CURSED
by Kate Williams (INT)

Starts: 23rd November 2020
Ends: 14th December 2020

Enter here.

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Fooling “The Who” Again @JMmystery

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

There are millions of stories, but just two plots.  Lee Child explains them this way.  A group of people are sitting in a dark cave.  They hear a terrifying noise and somebody whispers, “There’s something out there.”  In the first kind of plot, the characters remain huddled inside, frightened and contemplating what the threat might be.  In the second plot, somebody stands up and says, “I believe I’ll just step outside and see what’s happening.”

When Child’s itinerant hero Jack Reacher steps off the bus to investigate the source of the trouble, woe be it unto the bad guys.  He’ll outwit them, outfight them, and leave them demolished in a pool of their own blood.  The Reacher novels depend more on violence and physical combat than the traditional mystery, but the basic setup is the same.  The detective must go out into those Chandleresque mean streets or wherever the murder has been committed – and track down the villain.  Even Nero Wolfe who famously never left home, sent Archie as his proxy to sort out the suspects and deliver them to Wolfe to be interviewed.

It’s the same old story, over and over again.  And to quote R.L. Stine, “Every story ever told can be broken down into three parts:  The beginning.  The middle.  And the twist.”  The twist is the unexpected turn of events that makes an old story new.  But according to Sophie Hannah, a twist isn’t the same thing as a surprising or brilliant resolution.  It has to be something that completely overturns a seemingly obvious conclusion or subverts a reasonable assumption.  She calls Agatha Christie’s “Orient Express” a great puzzle, but because the assumption it overturns is unreasonable, it’s not a twist.  The best twists are those that upend or reverse everything you thought you knew.

When a twist is especially clever, it tends to inspire copycats. Anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave would see through these oft- repeated stratagems:

The typewritten suicide note.  The hasty cremation.  The wheelchair-bound invalid.  The body so disfigured it can’t be identified.  The body that can’t be found.  The body that’s been pronounced dead by someone other than the police.  The broken watch that fixes the time of death.  The voice heard through a closed door.  The recorded phone message.  The clue so vital it can’t be divulged over the telephone.  Untracked snow seen through the window of a locked room.

The first mention of anyone recently arrived from Australia, let alone a long-lost heir to the deceased’s fortune, puts the reader on high alert. Anyone slightly wounded by an unseen attacker is almost certainly yanking the detective’s chain.  Lovers who quarrel loudly and make a show of their hostility are probably collaborating.  And nobody would be stupid enough to drop the cigarette case engraved with his initials beside the body, right?  Ha!  The hoary old “nobody-would-be-that-stupid” defense means one of two things.  The owner of those initials is guilty as Cain or she’s been framed.

Readers often focus their suspicions on the character with the airtight alibi, the one who was miles away at the time of the murder and has a speeding ticket to prove it.  The callous suspect with the obvious motive and no alibi may fly under the radar, but the genre-savvy reader is instantly wary of the kind, quiet character with no clear reason to be the plot.  We know that the overly helpful suspect is a stone killer and the appearance of a twin fairly screams chicanery.

The opening theme for the TV series C.S.I. Miami is “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who.  The premise is that it’s useless to try and fool the experts.  They’ve seen it all before.  It’s not easy to fool readers who cut their teeth on Christie and Highsmith and Sophie Hannah.  But just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done again in a way that hacks the formula.  The blurbs on the covers of hundreds if not thousands of books promise a twist – Stunning!  Ingenious!  Breathtaking!

Of course some readers don’t care a fig about the plot, let alone the ingenious twist.  They’re interested only in the characters.  As some writing guru has observed, the story keeps the characters moving, but it’s the characters that keep the reader reading.  So, shove your sleuth out of the cave.  Round up the usual suspects – the Aussies, the twins, the squabbling lovers, the sexy blonde who dropped her cigarette case.  Put unorthodox thoughts in their heads and unreliable words in their mouths.  If the characters are complicated enough, full of contradictions and dark secrets, on the razor’s edge between good and evil, we’ll get fooled again no matter what the song says.

We Still Have Much to Be Thankful For :-)

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Waiting On Wednesday (146) @MollyJGreeley @WmMorrowBooks

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Heiress
The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh
Molly Greeley
William Morrow, January 2021
Historical Fiction

From the publisher—

In this gorgeously written and spellbinding historical novel based on Pride and Prejudice, the author of The Clergyman’s Wife combines the knowing eye of Jane Austen with the eroticism and Gothic intrigue of Sarah Waters to reimagine the life of the mysterious Anne de Bourgh.

As a fussy baby, Anne de Bourgh’s doctor prescribed laudanum to quiet her, and now the young woman must take the opium-heavy tincture every day. Growing up sheltered and confined, removed from sunshine and fresh air, the pale and overly slender Anne grew up with few companions except her cousins, including Fitzwilliam Darcy. Throughout their childhoods, it was understood that Darcy and Anne would marry and combine their vast estates of Pemberley and Rosings. But Darcy does not love Anne or want her.

After her father dies unexpectedly, leaving her his vast fortune, Anne has a moment of clarity: what if her life of fragility and illness isn’t truly real? What if she could free herself from the medicine that clouds her sharp mind and leaves her body weak and lethargic? Might there be a better life without the medicine she has been told she cannot live without?

In a frenzy of desperation, Anne discards her laudanum and flees to the London home of her cousin, Colonel John Fitzwilliam, who helps her through her painful recovery. Yet once she returns to health, new challenges await. Shy and utterly inexperienced, the wealthy heiress must forge a new identity for herself, learning to navigate a “season” in society and the complexities of love and passion. The once wan, passive Anne gives way to a braver woman with a keen edge—leading to a powerful reckoning with the domineering mother determined to control Anne’s fortune . . . and her life.

An extraordinary tale of one woman’s liberation, The Heiress reveals both the darkness and light in Austen’s world, with wit, sensuality, and a deeply compassionate understanding of the human heart.

Why am I waiting so eagerly? As historical fiction, this story offers a premise I’ve never seen before and I’m truly intrigued. We’ve had men in Victorian times and a bit earlier who suffered from opiod addictions but, to my knowledge, no women in high society during the Regency. Anne de Bourgh wasn’t a real person—she’s a secondary character in Pride and Prejudice—but she’s been the subject of other writings with her sickliness always being evident. Now, we have a cause of that ill health that puts her in an entirely different light. I want to see how the author takes Anne through the Napoleonic Wars era version of detoxing and Anne’s metamorphosis into the woman she’s meant to be.

Book Review: The Merlot Murders by Ellen Crosby

The Merlot Murders
A Wine Country Mystery #1
Ellen Crosby
Scribner, August 2006
ISBN 978-0-7432-8990-0
Hardcover

Lucie Montgomery is drawn home to Virginia, to the family vineyards, when she receives news her father has died in a shooting accident. She has been living in French wine country after an automobile accident crippled one of her legs. From the moment she arrives in Virginia, barely in time for her father’s funeral, she is beset with demands for money. Some are to repay a small fortune in loans in order to keep the winery running, which may mean selling the vineyard that has been in the family for more than two hundred years. There are even those who want to be paid for snippets of information when it comes down to solving the mystery.

You see, all too soon it becomes clear her father did not die in an accident, but was murdered. Then, after speaking with her uncle Fitz, he, too, is murdered. And when Lucie is run off the road one night, it becomes apparent that she, too, may have become a target. Why? Is it because she refuses to sell the property, sure that the business can be saved when properly run? Her brother and her sister, co-inheritors, certainly have differences of opinion.

So who is the killer? One of her family? Or could it be the mysterious consortium who wants to buy the property to build a theme park?

This is one of those books that has a good mystery. It also teaches the process of winemaking in a most engaging way. However, I’m sorry to say my enjoyment stopped there. I found the characters singularly unlikeable, even Lucie. The brother was an obnoxious cad, and Lucie herself a terrible judge of character. I guess if you want to read about a dysfunctional family along with the wonderfully descriptive details of the vineyard, this will suit quite well.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Grand Finale Blitz—Cupcakes & Crumbs by Melissa McClone @melissamcclone @prismbooktours #CCPrism


On Tour with Prism Book Tours

We hope you enjoyed the tour! If you missed any of the stops
you’ll find snippets, as well as the link to each full post, below:

Launch – Author Interview

What do you hope readers will take with them after they’ve read it?

I hope readers will feel like they made new friends they want to know them better, want to eat a cupcake, and plan a visit to Berry Lake, Washington.

Bookstagram Tour

Rockin’ Book Reviews – Review

“This was a delightfully fast paced beginning to an exciting new series . . . The [writing] is exceptional, the [characters] feel real and “draws” the reader into the group. . . . Surely this series will become a favorite and it is “clean”!”

Baroness’ Book Trove – Review

Cupcakes & Crumbs by Melissa McClone is a new book and a series that is a wonderful read for fans of women’s friendship and a clean romance. These girls are all about being friends and helping each other out instead of dragging them down. Ms. McClone is a brilliant author, and I like her writing style as well. . . I am recommending it.”

Hallie Reads – Review

“Melissa McClone’s Cupcakes & Crumbs is a deliciously sweet story of friendship. While I did have a hard time with all the characters at the beginning, I did settle into the story well and enjoyed their various perspectives and circumstances. I look forward to reading more of McClone’s Berry Lake Cupcake Posse series.”

Hearts & Scribbles – Excerpt

As Top 40 hits from the seventies and eighties—Elise’s favorite music—drifted in from the front of the shop, Missy filled baking cups with vanilla batter. The scent tickled her nose. The grumbling of her stomach reminded her she’d skipped her break and lunch. And her tastebuds whispered mine at the same time she imagined Elise shouting, Why eat plain vanilla when there are more flavorful combinations?

Missy laughed. Even though plain vanilla cupcakes with vanilla icing were foundations for other flavors, Elise hadn’t sold them except for special orders. Missy, however, enjoyed vanilla cupcakes. Dare she say they were her favorite? The simplicity appealed to her in a way the more creative fillings and toppings didn’t.

ItaPixie’s Book Corner – Review

“I’ve really enjoyed this book, I was entranced from the beginning and I was really invested in the lives of this diverse group of friends that try to support each other even if many years has passed from last time they have seen each other.

Melissa McClone did an excellent job of depicting these characters and [tying] their lives to one [another], her writing was easy to read and that ending made me so curious I can’t wait to get next book in this series.”

Two Points of Interest – Excerpt

As Juliet’s upper teeth sunk into her lower lip, she stopped herself. That would ruin her lipstick, and if Ezra happened to arrive home, he would notice.

She glanced at the messages again. If she didn’t plan on going, she should let Nell know.

I want to go.

The thought resonated through Juliet. She didn’t ask for much these days—other than a kind word from her husband and time with her grandmother—but she wanted tonight with her former coworkers and friends.

Read Review Rejoice – Excerpt

Some claimed there were no stupid questions, but Bria disagreed. How did people think she was doing when her heart was in pieces, as if sliced and diced by a skilled teppanyaki chef?

Forget replying with anything other than an “I’m fine” or “I’m okay” or “I’m doing better.” No one wanted to hear the truth about how angry she was at cancer, at the doctors, and at her aunt. Especially Aunt Elise for stopping her treatments, throwing herself an over-the-top goodbye party, and leaving this world on her terms.

So typical.

reviewingbooksplusmore – Review

Cupcakes and Crumbs is a book full of friendships with a little mystery throw-in. I loved Bria and how she wants to save her aunt’s bakery shop. . . . I recommend reading the book to see what happens to all the characters.”

Loraine D Nunley, Author – Review

“This is a new to me author and I loved that I was pulled into the world of these five women and their home town of Berry Lake. . . . The push and pull of all the relationships within this town were enough to make me keep turning the pages to see what would happen . . .”

Paper Ink & Lizard – Review

“There’s just something about the combination of cupcakes and friendship that bring a warm, comforting feeling to a book. And such a feeling was stirred when I picked up my copy of Cupcakes and Crumbs by Melissa McClone. . . . I appreciated the fact that romance was not the central plot point, but friendship was. There aren’t enough books out there in the adult genre that focus solely on friendship and not on romance, so I loved that small touch. . . . Overall, Cupcakes and Crumbs is a beautiful balance between light and heavy, charming and serious, and friendship and romance.”

Christy’s Cozy Corners – Review

“These characters have so much depth. I appreciate how diverse the author made them. . . . Fair warning: Cupcakes & Crumbs isn’t a stand-alone story. It’s just the beginning, and it’ll leave you hanging on lots of things! However, you just have to read it. I had tears in my eyes more than once while I was reading. It’s not all sunshine and roses but neither is “real” life. . . . I can’t recommend Cupcakes & Crumbs enough! Anyone who loves women’s fiction with lots of real life issues, a little romance, and a lot of heartwarming moments will love this book.”

Splashes of Joy – Review

“I did love the friendship coming back to life as the ladies worked together to save this special bakery Bria’s aunt loved so well. The characters were well created, and interesting to say the least. As the story unfolds, the characters develop well, and I could feel a definite change in their attitude. . . . I am eager to find out what happens to this group of friends, as well as Bria and the difficult person her dad hires to get the Bakery back in order.”

Reading Excursions – Review

“I found this a sweet, charming, and quick little read. It didn’t hurt this was written in short chapters which made reading it quite the breeze as I kept moving along. McClone really kept the pacing going and didn’t “bog” down the story at any one point. I was over 100+ pages in the first sitting. So, it was difficult to put it down. I wanted to devour and yet savor this sweet read and that was about the only conflict I had with it.”

Jorie Loves A Story – Review

“What pulls me into the writing style of Melissa McClone is her realistic approach to telling Bria’s story – this is why I love reading Women’s Fiction because at the heart of the genre itself is a threading of a woman’s life from all aspects of how she lives it. . . . These kinds of stories are a refreshing read . . .”

Beauty in the Binding – Review

Cupcakes & Crumbs by Melissa McClone is clean, women’s fiction that will appeal to readers who enjoy stories of female friendships. Though there are some budding romances, the story focuses on the power of friendship and how it can support, encourage, and enhance life. In several ways, this novel’s ending was left open and served as set up for the rest of the series.”

Candrel’s Crafts, Cooks, & Characters – Excerpt

Goose bumps covered her arms. Her muscles bunched. “Dalton.”

He covered her hand with his. “Relax, Bri.”

No one else had ever called her that. And forget about relaxing when her pulse shot off the charts. “I’m not sure I can.”

“Try.” Dalton lifted his hand, and a chill rushed up her arm as if missing his touch. “Tonight is dinner with an old friend. Nothing more.”

Pause for Tales – Review

“I enjoyed watching these once upon a time work friends spend time together. True friendship is what they had, and Elise brought them together in her life and in her death. . . . I enjoyed getting to know each one of these women. I would not say this is a stand alone story as it ended on a bit of a shocker for one of these women, and I would like to see to see a resolution there.”

Locks, Hooks and Books – Review

Cupcakes & Crumbs was a pure delight to read and exactly what I would expect from Melissa McClone. I have loved reading her books in the past and this one does not disappoint. . . . I can not wait to get my hands on the second installment from the Berry Lake Cupcake Posse series, Tiaras & Teacups, to see what happens next. I recommend this one for readers who enjoys a good, clean and heartwarming read.”

Remembrancy – Review

“I was not ready for this book to end (so it’s a good thing this is the first in a series). Cupcakes & Crumbs follows five women who formed friendships as teenagers while working at a local cupcake shop. . . . While this is a quick women’s fiction read, there is a little something for all readers mixed in—a light touch of romance, some mystery, and lots of conflict.”

Reading Is My SuperPower – Review

Cupcakes & Crumbs is a well-written novel that fills you with all the feels. A dash of romance, mystery, and small town charm round out the conflict that leaves none of the friends untouched. Readers become emotionally invested in these main characters, and I’m very glad to see that this is the beginning of a series because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet. . . . McClone’s writing voice is smooth and relatable, making this a quick and engaging read”

Bookworm Lisa – Review

“I don’t read a lot of women’s literature. After reading this book, I think I have been missing out.

The story follows five friends who worked at a cupcake store together as teens and young adults. . . . I look forward to reading more about these women. The story left at a good spot for closure, but there is a lot left to tell.”

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post…


Cupcakes & Crumbs
(Berry Lake Cupcake Posse #1)
By Melissa McClone
Women’s Fiction
Paperback & ebook, 237 Pages
November 17, 2020 by Cardinal Press, LLC

After life takes five women on different paths, a death brings them home. But friendship might not be enough to keep them together.

When Bria Landon and her estranged father each inherit fifty percent of a small-town cupcake shop, her dad hires her worst enemy, and first love, to turn the place into a soulless franchise…or sell it.

To save her aunt’s legacy, Bria needs the help of people who love the bakery as much as she does—her old friends who worked there fifteen years ago. Except each woman is dealing with her own problem:

Juliet, who’s trying to prove she’s more than a trophy wife; Missy, a widow who fears losing the job she loves; Nell, who’s meddling mother won’t stop playing matchmaker; and Selena, a life coach who excels at fixing everyone else’s lives…but hasn’t a clue what’s missing in her own.

Each woman wants to believe their friendship can overcome anything. But as the Berry Lake Cupcake Posse reunite to save their beloved cupcake shop, they soon discover the undertaking will bring more trouble than they expected.

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About the Author

USA TODAY bestselling author Melissa McClone writes heartwarming women’s fiction and sweet contemporary romance novels for Cardinal Press, Tule Publishing Group, and Harlequin Books. When she’s not writing relatable characters and sigh-worthy happy endings, she spends rainy Pacific Northwest reading from her Kindle’s ever-growing TBR, napping, and decorating her Happy Planner. Melissa lives in Washington state with her husband, three children, a Norwegian Elkhound, and three cats who think they rule the house. They do!

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Tour Giveaway

A Cupcakes & Crumbs Prize Pack, which includes:
A $10 Amazon gift card, cupcake makeup bag set, cupcake charm, cupcake socks, set of magnetic clips, lip gloss, key chain, sticker, swag pack, and bookmark (US only)

Ends November 25, 2020

ENTER HERE

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