Book Blitz: Subhuman by Michael McBride

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Title: Subhuman
Author: Michael McBride
Series: A Unit 51 Novel #1
Publisher: Pinnacle
Publication Date: October 31, 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Horror

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Synopsis

THEY ARE NOT HUMAN.
At a research station in Antarctica, five of the world’s top scientists
have been brought together to solve one of the greatest mysteries
in human history. Their subject, however, is anything but human . . .

THEY ARE NOT NATURAL.
Deep beneath the ice, the submerged ruins of a lost civilization hold the
key to the strange mutations that each scientist has encountered across the
globe: A misshapen skull in Russia. The grotesque carvings of a lost race in
Peru. The mummified remains of a humanoid monstrosity in Egypt . . .

THEY ARE NOT FRIENDLY.
When a series of sound waves trigger the ancient organisms, a new kind
of evolution begins. Latching onto a human host—crossbreeding with human
DNA—a long-extinct life form is reborn. Its kind has not walked the earth
for thousands of years. Its instincts are fiercer, more savage, than any
predator alive. And its prey are the scientists who unleashed it, the
humans who spawned it, and the tender living flesh on which it feeds . . .

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An Excerpt from Subhuman

Anya screamed and ran to Richards. Grabbed him by the back of the jacket and pulled.

“You have to help me!”

The freezing air buffeted her in the face when she looked up and saw a man only vaguely resembling Armand Scott pounce to the ground from on top of Connor. Snowflakes blew sideways past him and stuck to the walkway between them. His cranial deformity was identical to that of the remains she’d unearthed in Russia, only the physical expression of the flesh was for more terrifying than she could ever have imagined. She’d envisioned its face as being similar to that of modern man, but there was nothing remotely human about Scott’s appearance. Everything about him was alien, from the grayish cast of his skin to the way he twitched and moved in lurches, as though unfamiliar with the mechanics of motion.

Fissures crackled as they raced through the Plexiglas.

The creature scuttled forward and cocked its head, first one way and then the other. Blood dribbled from its mouth when it issued a hiss that sounded like steam firing from a ruptured pipe.

Anya screamed and threw herself to her knees.

“Come on!”

She grabbed Richards underneath his arms and shouted with the effort of lifting him. He found his feet, but couldn’t seem to take his eyes off the creature.

“It’s magnificent,” he said.

“Hurry!” Friden shouted.

The stairwell echoed with the drumroll of footsteps hitting the iron steps.

Anya looked back and saw several silhouettes bounding down the staircase toward them. She jerked Richards so hard she nearly sent him sprawling once more, but he regained his balance and stumbled backward with her. She took advantage of his newfound momentum to drag him away from the creature, which lunged forward, cutting the distance between them in half.

A scream from behind her.

She whirled to find Kelly in the opening to the Skyway, her hands clapped over her mouth. When Anya looked back, the creature was within ten feet of them and tensed to make another advance.

More popping sounds from above her. The cracks spread through the walls in her peripheral vision. Chunks of Plexiglas fell to the ground between her and the creature, which released a series of clicking sounds and retreated into the blowing snow.

A loud snap and a cable sang past to her right. The entire bridge shuddered.

“Hurry, Anya!” Friden shouted.

“There’s another one behind us!” Jade screamed.

“Start barricading the stairwell,” Evans shouted.

“And then what?” Jade asked. “We’ll be trapped in here without light or heat or any way to signal for help.”

Anya pulled Richards toward them. If she could just cross the threshold at the end of the Skyway, they could seal the creature on the other side.

Another cable snapped and the floor dropped.

Anya hit the ground on her knees and barely scrambled out of the way before Richards landed on top of her.

The walkway sloped downward toward where the creature crouched. The domed Plexiglas shattered and dropped enormous shards between them. The storm raced through the gap, creating a moving wall of snow between them that nearly concealed the creature as it approached, low to the ground and coming up fast.

A resounding thud.

The Skyway slanted downward, so steeply that Anya started to slide. She grabbed Richards by the back of the jacket with one hand and reached for anything at all with the other.

“Hang on!” Evans shouted and dove for her. He caught her by the wrist and halted her slide.

Another cable snapped and whipped the frozen glass beside them hard enough to shatter the glass and impale her cheek with tiny fragments.

Evans groaned and pulled her up toward the doorway, the seal around which was already buckled and peeling away from the building.

“Give me a hand!” he shouted.

Friden tentatively crawled to Evans’s side, grabbed Richards, and pulled hard enough on the back of his coat to pry him from Anya’s grasp, lightening her burden enough that Evans could drag her up the slope and over the fractured edge.

She scurried past Evans, turned around, and helped the others pull Richards into the stairwell.

Bolts snapped and structural rings disengaged. Bits of Plexiglas cascaded down the bridge toward where the creature crawled toward them.

A chasm opened behind it. Connor’s body slid through, tumbled out over the nothingness, and vanished into the storm.

“Close the door!” Anya screamed.

The creature slapped at the floor with its bare hands as the bridge grew steeper, digging its fingernails into the tiles in an effort to gain traction.

Evans pried the door from the recess until the others were able to help him drag it across the entryway.

The creature shrieked and scrambled uphill, blood dribbling from the gunshot wounds on its chest.

Ten feet.

Five.

It was nearly upon them when the Skyway broke away from the building.

The creature’s eyes widened. Its nails tore from the cuticles. It screeched and flailed.

The last thing Anya saw before they sealed the door was the expression of sheer terror on its face as it plummeted into the blowing snow.

“Someone help me!” Roche shouted from the landing at the top of the staircase, where he struggled to jerk the door from its slot in the wall. “It’s right behind me!”

Anya rushed for the stairs and hit them behind Kelly and Jade, who were already halfway up. She barely had the strength to climb and had to use the railing to pull herself higher. She nearly lost her balance when her hand slipped in something wet, but she managed to stumble forward and made it to the landing, where the others already had the gap down to a mere foot. A dark shape streaked straight toward the opening from the foyer on the other side, the light reflecting from its inhuman eyes.

“It’s coming!” Anya screamed.

She threw herself against the face of the door and used her shoulder to help the others drive it closed with a resounding thud.

The creature struck it from the other side, hard enough to knock her backward, but she braced herself and leaned into it again.

Kelly screamed beside her as the creature hurled itself against the steel door, over and over.

Until, finally, it stopped.

Anya desperately listened for any indication of what it was doing on the other side but couldn’t hear anything over the combination of their heavy breathing and whimpering.

She pictured Arkaim, with its twin fortified rings, a veritable fortress that should have been able to withstand any siege, reduced to little more than scorched rubble in the middle of a field, and the strange remains she exhumed near its outskirts. She’d made a terrible mistake in assuming that the coneheaded species represented a terminal branch in the human evolutionary tree rather than an off shoot from modern man, one facilitated by something lacking in humanity, something subhuman, the outward physical manifestation of which looked an awful lot like the alien species referred to as Grays.

Only there was nothing fictional about this being.

The creature shrieked and threw itself against the door one final time. It released a torrent of guttural clicks, then retreated into the station. The sound of its footsteps diminished until she couldn’t hear anything from the other side at all.

Anya stepped back and looked at the door. Her hand had left a smear of blood on the steel. She glanced down at her palm, expecting to find a laceration, but the skin was intact.

She took Roche’s flashlight from him and traced the railing down to where she’d slipped. There was blood on the rail, and even more on the wall above it, leading up to a hole in the exposed ductwork. Her heart sank when she gave voice to what they were all thinking.

“We’re going to die in here.”

About the Author

Michael McBride was born in Colorado and still resides in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. He hates the snow, but loves the Avalanche. He works with medical radiation, yet somehow managed to produce five children, none of whom, miraculously, have tails, third eyes, or other random mutations. He writes fiction that runs the gamut from thriller (Remains) to horror to science fiction (Vector Borne, Snowblind) . . . and loves every minute of it. He is a two-time winner of the DarkFuse Readers’ Choice Award. You can visit him at author.michaelmcbride.net.

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Book Review: End of an Era by Robert J. Sawyer

Continue reading

Book Review: Bones to Pick by Linda Lovely

Bones to Pick
A Brie Hooker Mystery #1
Linda Lovely
Henery Press, October 2017
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Living on a farm with four hundred goats and a cantankerous carnivore isn’t among vegan chef Brie Hooker’s list of lifetime ambitions. But she can’t walk away from her Aunt Eva, who needs help operating her dairy.

Once she calls her aunt’s goat farm home, grisly discoveries offer ample inducements for Brie to employ her entire vocabulary of cheese-and-meat curses. The troubles begin when the farm’s pot-bellied pig unearths the skull of Eva’s husband, who disappeared years back. The sheriff, kin to the deceased, sets out to pin the murder on Eva. He doesn’t reckon on Brie’s resolve to prove her aunt’s innocence. Death threats, ruinous pedicures, psychic shenanigans, and biker bar fisticuffs won’t stop Brie from unmasking the killer, even when romantic befuddlement throws her a curve.

When I first heard about Bones to Pick, I was a tiny bit hesitant to read and review it because I’ve run into a few books with this kind of hook that tend to have an agenda. Having read and enjoyed a couple of other things by Ms. Lovely, I decided my slight reluctance was probably unnecessary and I’m glad to say this hardcore carnivore was right. The vegan theme is front and center but not at all in a lecturing sort of way. Instead, the author shares her knowledge of such dietary habits with humor and a lighthearted approach that made this a fun read.

The characters, whether it’s Brie, Eva, Andy, Brie’s parents, Paint, Mollye or a plethora of other folks are well-developed into “real” people and they brought the story to life. I can’t even pick a favorite but I have a certain kind of fondness for Tammy the pig, not because she could be a nice side of bacon 😉 Ms. Lovely is equally adroit with her plot, starting with the very amusing idea of a vegan chef helping run a goat farm, and she has turned what could have been a simple murder into a tale of widespread crooked doings and unneighborly feuds. There were enough laughs to keep me snorting and chuckling the whole way through,, starting with a vegan whose name is a cheese, and I’m already counting down to the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

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Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from Bones to Pick

ONE

Hello, I’m Brie, and I’m a vegan.

It sounds like I’m introducing myself at a Vegetarians Anonymous meeting. But, trust me, there aren’t enough vegetarians in Ardon County, South Carolina, to make a circle much less hold a meeting.

Give yourself ten points if you already know vegans are even pickier than vegetarians. We forgo meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. But we’re big on cashews, walnuts, and almonds. All nuts are good nuts. Appropriate with my family.

Family. That’s why I put my career as a vegan chef on hold to live and work in Ardon, a strong contender for the South’s carnivore-and- grease capital. My current job? I help tend four hundred goats, make verboten cheese, and gather eggs I’ll never poach. Most mornings when Aunt Eva rousts me before the roosters, I roll my eyes and mutter.

Still, I can’t complain. I had a choice. Sort of. Blame it on the pig—Tammy the Pig—for sticking her snout in our family business.

I’d consorted with vegans and vegetarians for too long. I seriously underestimated how much cholesterol meat eaters could snarf down at a good old-fashioned wake. Actually, I wasn’t sure this wake was “old fashioned,” but it was exactly how Aunt Lilly would have planned her own send-off—if she’d had the chance. Ten days ago, the feisty sixty- two-year-old had a toddler’s curiosity and a twenty-year-old’s appetite for adventure. Her death was a total shock.

I glanced at Aunt Lilly’s epitaph hanging behind the picnic buffet. She’d penned it years back. Her twin, Aunt Eva, found it in Lilly’s desk and reprinted it in eighty-point type.

“There once was a farmer named Lilly

Who never liked anything frilly,

She tended her goats,

Sowed a few wild oats,

And said grieving her death would be silly.”

In a nod to Lilly’s spirit, Aunt Eva planned today’s wake complete with fiddling, hooch, goo-gogs of goat cheese, and the whole panoply of Southern fixins—mounds of country ham, fried chicken, barbecue, and mac-and-cheese awash in butter. Every veggie dish came dressed with bacon crumbles, drippings, or cream of mushroom soup.

Not a morsel fit for a vegan. Eva’s revenge. I’d made the mistake of saying I didn’t want to lose her, too, and hinted she’d live longer if she cut back on cholesterol. Not my smartest move. The name of her farm? Udderly Kidding Dairy. Cheese and eggs had been Eva’s meal ticket for decades.

My innocent observation launched a war. Whenever I opened the refrigerator, I’d find a new message. This morning a Post-it on my dish of blueberries advised: The choline in eggs may enhance brain development and memory—as a vegan you probably forgot.

Smoke from the barbeque pit permeated the air as I replenished another platter of shredded pork on the buffet. My mouth watered and I teetered on the verge of drooling. While I was a dedicated vegan, my olfactory senses were still programmed “Genus Carnivorous.” My stomach growled—loudly. Time to thwart its betrayal with the veggies and hummus dip I’d stashed in self-defense.

I’d just stuck a juicy carrot in my mouth when a large hand squeezed my shoulder.

“Brie, honey, you’ve been working nonstop,” Dad said. “Take a break. Mom’s on her way. We can play caterers. The food’s prepared. No risks associated with our cooking.”

I choked on my carrot and sputtered. “Good thing. Do you even remember the last time Mom turned on an oven?”

Dad smiled. “Can’t recall. Maybe when you were a baby? But, hey, we’re wizards at takeout and microwaves.”

His smile faltered. I caught him staring at Aunt Lilly’s epitaph. “Still can’t believe Lilly’s gone.” He attempted a smile. “Knowing her sense of humor, we’re lucky she didn’t open that epitaph with ‘There once was a lass from Nantucket.’”

I’d never seen Dad so sad. Lilly’s unexpected death stunned him to his core. He adored his older sisters.

Mom appeared at his side and wrapped an arm around his waist. She loved her sisters-in-law, too, though she complained my childless aunts spoiled me beyond repair.

Of course, Lilly’s passing hit Eva the hardest. A fresh boatload of tears threatened as I thought about the aunt left behind. I figured my tear reservoir had dried up after days of crying. Wrong. The tragedy—a texting teenager smashing head-on into Lilly’s car—provoked a week- long family weep-a-thon. It ended when Eva ordered us to cease and desist.

“This isn’t what Lilly would want,” she declared. “We’re gonna throw a wake. One big, honking party.”

Which explained the fifty-plus crowd of friends and neighbors milling about the farm, tapping their feet to fiddlin’, and consuming enough calories to sustain the populace of a small principality for a week.

I hugged Dad. “Thanks. I could use a break. I’ll find Eva. See how she’s doing.”

I spotted her near a flower garden filled with cheery jonquils. It looked like a spring painting. Unfortunately, the cold March wind that billowed Eva’s scarlet poncho argued the blooms were false advertising. The weatherman predicted the thermometer would struggle to reach the mid-forties today.

My aunt’s build was what I’d call sturdy, yet Eva seemed to sway in the gusty breeze as she chatted with Billy Jackson, the good ol’ boy farrier who shod her mule. Though my parents pretended otherwise, we all knew Billy slept under Eva’s crazy quilt at least two nights a week.

I nodded at the couple. Well, actually, the foursome. Brenda, the farm’s spoiled pet goat, and Kai, Udderly’s lead Border collie, were competing with Billy for my aunt’s attention.

“Mom and Dad are watching the buffet,” I said. “Thought I’d see if you need me to do anything. Are you expecting more folks?”

“No.” Eva reached down and tickled the tiny black goat’s shaggy head. “Imagine everyone who’s coming is here by now. They’ll start clearing out soon. Chow down and run. Can’t blame ’em. Especially the idiot women who thought they ought to wear dresses. That biting wind’s gotta be whistling up their drawers.”

Billy grinned as he looked Eva up and down. Her choice of wake attire—poncho, black pants, and work boots—surprised no one, and would have delighted Lilly.

“Do you even own a dress?” Billy laughed. “You’re one to talk.” Eva gave his baggy plaid suit and clip-on bowtie the stink eye. “I suppose you claim that gristle on your chin is needed to steady your fiddle.”

He kissed Eva’s cheek. “Yep, that’s it. Time to rejoin my fellow fiddlers, but first I have a hankering to take a turn at the Magic Moonshine tent.”

“You do that. Maybe the ’shine will improve your playing. It’ll definitely make you sound better to your listening audience. After enough of that corn liquor even my singing could win applause.”

A dark-haired stranger usurped Billy’s place, bending low to plant a kiss on the white curls that sprang from my aunt’s head like wood shavings. Wow. They stacked handsome tall when they built him. Had to be at least six-four.

Even minus an introduction, I figured this tall glass of sweet tea had to be Paint, the legendary owner of Magic Moonshine. Sunlight glinted off hair the blue-black of expensive velvet. Deep dimples. Rakish smile.

I’d spent days sobbing, and my libido apparently was saying “enough”—time to rejoin the living. If this bad boy were any more alive, he’d be required to wear a “Danger High Voltage” sign. Of course, Aunt Lilly wouldn’t mind. She’d probably rent us a room.

I ventured a glance and found him smiling at me. My boots were suddenly fascinating. Never stare at shiny objects with the potential to hypnotize. I refused to fall under another playboy’s spell.

“How’s my best gal?” he asked, hugging Eva. “Best for this minute, right?” my aunt challenged. “I bet my niece will be your best gal before I finish the introductions.” Eva put a hand on my shoulder. “Paint, this young whippersnapper is Brie Hooker, my favorite niece. ’Course, she’s my only niece. Brie, it’s with great trepidation that I introduce you to David Paynter, better known as Paint, unrepentant moonshiner and heartbreaker.”

Eva subjected Paint to her pretend badass stare, a sure sign he was one of her favorite sparring partners. “Don’t you go messing with Brie, or I’ll bury you down yonder with Mark, once I nail his hide.”

Paint laughed, a deep, rumbling chuckle. He turned toward me and bowed like Rhett Butler reincarnated.

“Pleased to meet you, Brie. That puzzled look tells me you haven’t met Mark, the wily coyote that harasses Eva’s goats. She’s wasted at least six boxes of buckshot trying to scare him off. Me? I’ll gladly risk her shotgun to make your acquaintance. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Eva gave Paint a shove. “Well, if that’s the case, go on. Give Brie a shot of your peach moonshine. It’s pretty good.”

“Peach moonshine it is,” he said and took my arm. A second later, he tightened his grip and pulled me to the right. “Better watch your step. You almost messed up those pretty boots.”

He pointed at a fresh pile of fragrant poop, steaming in the brisk air inches from my suede boots. “Thanks,” I mumbled. Still holding my arm, he steered me over uneven ground to a clear path. “Eva says you’re staying with her. Hope you don’t have to leave for a while. Your aunt’s a fine lady, and it’s going to be mighty hard on her once this flock of well-wishers flies off.”

His baritone sent vibrations rippling through my body. My brain ordered me to ignore the tingling that remained in places it didn’t belong.

He smiled. “Eva and Lilly spoke about you so often I feel like we’re already friends. ’Course head-shaking accompanied some of their comments. They said you’d need to serve plenty of my moonshine if you ever opened a vegan B&B in Ardon County. Here abouts it’s considered unpatriotic to serve eats that haven’t been baptized in a vat of lard. Vegetables are optional; meat, mandatory.”

Uh, oh. I always gave relatives and friends a free pass on good- natured kidding. But a stranger? This man was poking fun at my profession, yet my hackles—smoothed by the hunk’s lopsided grin— managed only a faint bristle.

Back away. Pronto. Discovering my ex-fiancé, Jack, was boffing not one, but two co-workers the entire two years we were engaged made me highly allergic to lady-killers. Paint was most definitely a member of that tribe.

“What can I say? I’m a rebel,” I replied. “It’s my life’s ambition to convince finger-lickin’, fried-chicken lovers that life without meat, butter, eggs, and cheese does not involve a descent into the nine circles of hell.”

Paint released me, then raised his hand to brush a wayward curl from my forehead. His flirting seemed to be congenital.

“If you’re as feisty as your aunt claims, why don’t you take me on as a challenge? I do eat tomatoes—fried green ones, anyway—and I’m open to sampling other members of the vegetable kingdom. So long as they don’t get between me and my meat. Anyway, welcome to the Carolina foothills. Time to pour some white lightning. It’s smoother than you might expect.”

And so are you. Too smooth for me.

That’s when we heard the screams.

TWO

Paint zoomed off like a Clemson running back, hurtling toward the screams—human, not goat. I managed to stay within a few yards of him, slipping and sliding as my suede boots unwittingly smooshed a doggie deposit. Udderly’s guardian dogs, five Great Pyrenees, were large enough to saddle, and their poop piles rivaled cow paddies.

I reached the barn, panting, with a stitch in my right side. I stopped to catch my breath. Hallelujah. I braced my palm against the weathered barn siding.

Ouch. Harpooned by a jagged splinter. Blood oozed from the sensitive pad below my right thumb. I stared at the inch-plus spear. Paint had kept running. He was no longer in sight.

The screams stopped. An accident? A heart attack? I hustled around the corner of the barn. A little girl sobbed in the cleared area behind Udderly’s retail sales cabin. I recognized Jenny, a rambunctious five-year-old from a nearby farm. Her mother knelt beside her, stroking her hair.

No child had produced the operatic screams we’d heard. Maybe Jenny’s mother was the screamer. But the farm wife didn’t seem the hysterical type. On prior visits to Udderly, I’d stopped at the roadside stand where she sold her family’s produce. Right now the woman’s face looked redder than one of her Early Girl tomatoes. Was the flush brought on by some danger—a goat butting her daughter, a snake slithering near the little girl?

I walked closer. Then I saw it. A skull poked through the red clay. Soil had tinted the bone an absurd pink.

I gasped. The sizeable cranium looked human. I spotted the grave digger, or should I say re-digger. Udderly’s newest addition, a Vietnamese potbellied pig named Tammy, hunkered in a nearby puddle. Tiny cloven hoof marks led to and from the excavation. Tell-tale red mud dappled her dainty twitching snout. The pig’s hundred-pound body quivered as her porcine gaze roved the audience she’d attracted.

A man squatted beside Tammy, speaking to the swine in soothing, almost musical tones. Pigs were dang smart and sensitive. Aunt Eva told me it was easy to hurt their feelings. The fellow stroking Tammy’s grimy head must’ve been convinced she was one sensitive swine.

“It’s okay,” he repeated. “The lady wasn’t screaming at you, Tammy.”

Tammy snorted, lowered her head, and squeezed her eyes shut. The pig-whisperer gave the swine a final scratch and stood, freeing gangly limbs from his pretzel-like crouch. Mud caked the cuffs and knees of his khaki pants. Didn’t seem to bother him one iota.

The mother shepherded her little girl away from the disturbing scene, and Paint knelt to examine the skeletal remains. “Looks like piggy uncovered more than she bargained for.” He glanced at Muddy Cuffs. “Andy, you’re a vet. Animal or human?”

“Human.” Andy didn’t hesitate. “But all that’s left is bone. Had to have been buried a good while. Yet Tammy’s rooting scratched only inches below the surface. If a settler dug this grave, it was mighty shallow.”

“Probably didn’t start that way.” I pointed to a depression that began uphill near the retail cabin. “This wash has deepened a lot since my aunts built their store and the excavation diverted water away from the cabin. The runoff’s been nibbling away at the ground.”

Mom, Dad, and Aunt Eva joined the group eyeballing the skull. Eva looked peaked, almost ill. I felt a slight panic at the shift in her normally jolly appearance. I thought of my aunts as forces of nature. Unflappable. Indestructible. I’d lost one, and the other suddenly looked fragile. Finding a corpse on her property the same day she bid her twin goodbye had hit her hard.

Dad cocked his head. “Could be a Cherokee burial site. Or maybe a previous farmer buried a loved one and the grave marker got lost. Homestead burials have always been legal in South Carolina. Still are.”

For once, the idea of finding a corpse in an unexpected location didn’t prompt a gleeful chuckle from my dad, Dr. Howard Hooker. Though he was a professor of horticulture at Clemson University by day, he was an aspiring murder mystery author by night. Every time we went for a car ride, Dad made a game of searching the landscape for spots “just perfect” for disposing of bodies. So far, a dense patch of kudzu in a deep ravine topped his picks. “Kudzu grows so fast any flesh peeking through would disappear in a day.”

Good thing Dad confined his commentary to family outings. We knew the corpses in question weren’t real.

Mom whipped out her smartphone. “I’ll call Judge Glenn. It’s Sunday, but he always answers his cell. He’ll know who to call. I’m assuming the Ardon County Sheriff’s Department.”

Dad nodded. “Probably, but I bet SLED—the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division—will take over. The locals don’t have forensic specialists.”

Mom rolled her eyes. “You spend way too much time with your Sisters in Crime.”

It amused Mom that Dad’s enthusiasm for his literary genre earned him the presidency of the Upstate South Carolina Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Mom didn’t fool with fictional crime. Too busy with the real thing. As the City of Clemson’s attorney, she kept a bevy of lawyers, judges, and city and university cops on speed dial. However, Udderly Kidding wasn’t in the same county as Clemson so it sat outside her domain.

“Judge Glenn, this is Iris Hooker. I’m at the Udderly Kidding Dairy in Ardon. An animal here unearthed a skull. We think it’s human, but not recent. Should we call the sheriff?”

Mom nodded and made occasional I-get-it noises while she clamped the cell to her ear.

“Could you ask them to keep their arrival quiet? Better yet, could they wait until after four? About fifty folks are here for my sister-in- law’s wake. I don’t want to turn her farewell into a circus.”

A minute later, Mom murmured her thanks and pocketed her cell. “The judge agrees an old skull doesn’t warrant sirens or flashing lights. He’ll ask the Ardon County Sheriff, Robbie Jones, to come by after four. Since I’m an officer of the court, his honor just requested that I keep people and animals clear of the area until the sheriff arrives.”

Andy stood. “Paint, help me bring some hay bales from the barn. We can stack them to cordon off the area.”

“Good idea.” Paint stood, and the two men strode off. No needless chitchat. They appeared to be best buds.

I tugged Dad’s sleeve, nodded toward his sister, and whispered, “I think Aunt Eva should sit down. Let’s get her to one of the front porch rockers.”

Dad walked over and draped an arm around his sister’s shoulders. “Eva, let’s sit a while so folks can find you to pay their respects. This skeleton is old news. Not our worry.”

Eva’s lips trembled. “No, Brother. I feel it in my own bones. It’s that son-of-a-bitch Jed Watson come back to haunt me.”

THREE

Jed Watson? The man Eva married in college? The man who vanished a few years later?

Dad’s eyebrows shot up. “Eva, that’s nonsense. That dirtbag ran off forty years back. You’re letting your imagination run wild.”

Eva straightened. “Some crime novelist you are. You know darn well any skeleton unearthed on my property would have something to do with that nasty worm. Nobody wished that sorry excuse for a man dead more than me.”

“Calm down. Don’t spout off and give the sheriff some harebrained notion that pile of bones is Jed,” Dad said. “No profit in fueling gossip or dredging up ancient history. Authorities may have ruled Jed dead, but I always figured that no-good varmint was still alive five states over, most likely beating the stuffing out of some other poor woman.”

Wow. I knew Eva took her maiden name back after they declared her husband dead, but I’d never heard a speck of the unsavory backstory. Dad liked to tell family tales, including ones about long- dead scoundrels. Guess this history wasn’t ancient enough.

Curiosity made me eager to ask a whole passel of none-of-my- business questions, though I felt some justification about poking my nose here. I’d known Eva my entire life. So how come this was the first I’d heard of a mystery surrounding Jed’s disappearance? Was Dad truly worried the sheriff might suspect Eva?

I was dying to play twenty questions. Too bad it wasn’t the time or place.

I smiled at my aunt. “Why don’t I get some of Paint’s brew to settle our nerves? Eva, you like that apple pie flavor, right?”

“Yes, thanks, dear.”

“Good idea, Brie,” Dad added. “I’ll take a toot of Paint’s blackberry hooch. Eva’s not the only one who could use a belt. We’ll greet folks from those rockers. Better than standing like mannequins in a receiving line. And there’s a lot less risk of falling down if we get a little tipsy.”

Aunt Eva ignored Dad’s jest. She looked haunted, lost in memory. A very bad memory.

I hurried to the small tent where Magic Moonshine dispensed free libations. A buxom young lass smiled as she poured shine into miniature Mason jars lined up behind four flavor signs: Apple Pie, Blackberry, Peach, and White Lightnin’.

“What can I do you for, honey?” the busty server purred. I’m still an Iowa girl at heart, but, like my transplanted aunts and parents, I’ve learned not to take offense when strangers of both sexes and all ages call me honey, darlin’, and sweetie. My high school social studies teacher urged us to appreciate foreign customs and cultures. I may not be in Rome, but I’m definitely in Ardon County.

I smiled at Miss Sugarmouth. The top four buttons of her blouse were undone. The way her bosoms oozed over the top, I seriously doubted those buttons had ever met their respective buttonholes. No mystery why Paint hired her. Couldn’t blame him or her. Today’s male mourners would enjoy a dash of cleavage with their shine, and she’d rake in lots more tips.

“Sweetie, do you have a tray I can use to take drinks to the folks on the porch?”

The devil still made me add the “sweetie” when I addressed Miss Sugarmouth. She didn’t bat an eyelash. Probably too weighed down with mascara.

“Sure thing, honey.” I winced when the tray slid over the wood sliver firmly embedded in my palm. Suck it up. No time for minor surgery.

As I walked toward Eva’s cabin, crunching noises advertised some late arrivals ambling down the gravel road. On the porch, Dad and Eva had settled into a rhythm, shaking hands with friends and neighbors and accepting sympathy pats. Hard to hug someone in a rocker.

I handed miniature glass jars to Eva and Dad before offering drinks to the folks who’d already run the gauntlet of the sit-down receiving line. Then I tiptoed behind Dad’s rocker.

“I’ll see if Mom wants anything and check back later to see how you and Eva are doing.”

“Thanks, honey.” He kissed my cheek. I returned to Paint’s moonshine stand and picked up a second drink tray, gingerly hoisting it to avoid bumping my skewered palm. Balancing the drinks, I picked my way across the rutted ground to what I worried might be a crime scene.

Mom perched between Paint and Andy atop the double row of hay bales stacked to keep the grisly discovery out of sight. The five-foot-two height on Mom’s driver’s license was a stretch. At five-four, I had her by at least three, maybe four, inches. My mother’s build was tiny as well as short—a flat-chested size two. I couldn’t recall ever being able to squeeze into her doll-size clothes. My build came courtesy of the females on Dad’s side of the family. Compact but curvy. No possibility of going braless in polite society.

Mom’s delicate appearance often confounded the troublemakers she prosecuted for the city. Too often the accused took one look at Iris Hooker and figured they’d hire some hulking male lawyer to walk all over the little lady in court.

Big mistake. The bullies often reaped unexpected rewards—a costly mélange of jail time, fines, and community service.

Mom spotted my tray-wobbling approach. “Are these Paint’s concoctions?”

I nodded. “Well, Daughter, sip nice and slow. Someday I may file charges against Magic Moonshine. Paint’s shine is often an accomplice when Clemson tailgaters pull stunts that land them in front of a judge.”

Paint lifted his glass in a salute. “Can I help it if all our flavors go down easy?”

Mom turned back to me. “Have you met these, ahem, gentlemen?”

I suddenly felt shy as my gaze flicked between the two males. “I met Paint earlier. This is my first chance to say hi to Andy. I’m Brie Hooker. You must be the veterinarian Aunt Eva’s always talking about.”

Andy rose to his feet. “Andy Green. Pleased to meet you, ma’am. Your aunts were my very first customers when I opened my practice.”

He waved a hand at Tammy, the now demure pig, wallowing a goodly distance away. “I’m really sorry Tammy picked today to root up these bones. I feel partly to blame. Talked your aunts into adopting Miss Piggy. It aggravates me how folks can’t resist buying potbellied pigs as pets when they’re adorable babies, but have no qualms about abandoning them once they start to grow.”

Andy’s outstretched hand awaited my handshake. I held up my palm to display my injury. “Gotta take a rain check on a handshake. Unfortunately, I already shook hands with the barn.”

Andy gently turned up my palm. “I’ll fix you right up, if you don’t mind a vet doing surgery. Give me a minute to wash up and meet me at my truck. Can’t miss it. A double-cab GMC that kinda looks like aliens crash landed an aluminum spaceship in the truck bed. I’m parked by the milking barn.”

As Andy loped off toward the retail shop’s comfort station, Paint called after him. “Sneaky way to hold hands with a pretty lady.”

Andy glanced over his shoulder and grinned. “You’re just mad you didn’t think of it first.”

Paint chuckled and focused his hundred-watt grin on me. “Bet my white lightning could disinfect that sliver. Sure you don’t want me to do the honors?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Somehow I doubt honor has anything to do with it.”

The moonshiner faked an injured look. Mom rolled her eyes. “Heaven help me—and you, Brie. Not sure you’re safe with the wildlife that frequents this farm. Forget those coyotes that worry Eva, I’m talking wolves.” She looked toward the porch. “How’s Eva holding up?”

“Better.” I wanted to grill Mom about Jed Watson, but I needed to do so in private. “Guess I should steel myself for surgery.” I took a Mason jar from the tray I’d set on a hay bale. “Down the hatch.” My healthy swallow blazed a burning trail from throat to belly. Before I could stop myself, I sputtered.

“Shut your mouth,” Paint said. Yowzer. My eyes watered, and my throat spasmed. I coughed. “What?”

“Shut your mouth. Oxygen fuels the burn. You need to take a swallow then close your mouth. None of this sipping stuff.”

“Now you tell me.” I choked. Mom laughed. “That’s the best strategy I’ve heard yet to shut Brie up.”

I wiped at the tears running down my cheeks. “Your moonshine packs more punch than my five-alarm Thai stir fry.”

Paint’s eyebrows rose. “My shine is smooth, once you get used to it. You want a little fire in your gut. Keeps life interesting.”

A little too interesting. I’d been at Udderly Kidding Dairy just over a week, and I already felt like a spinning top with a dangerous wobble.

***

Excerpt from Bones To Pick by Linda Lovely.  Copyright © 2017 by Linda Lovely. Reproduced with permission from Linda Lovely. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Over the past five years, hundreds of mystery/thriller writers have met Linda Lovely at check-in for the annual Writers’ Police Academy, which she helps organize. Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and ad copy. She writes a blend of mystery and humor, chuckling as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Her newest series offers good-natured salutes to both her vegan family doctor and her cheese-addicted kin. She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America.

Catch up with Linda:

              

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Follow the tour:

10/16 Review @ Lynchburg Mama – GIVEAWAY
10/16 Showcase @ Readaholic
10/17 Guest post @ Mythical Books
10/18 Review @ Book Babble
10/18 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
10/19 Interview/showcase @ CMash Reads
10/20 Review @ Cozy Up With Kathy
10/21 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
10/22 Review @ The Literary Apothecary
10/22 Showcase @ Suspense Magazine
10/23 Guest post @ Jane Reads
10/23 Guest post @ Lauras Interests
10/24 Blog Talk Radio w/Fran Lewis
10/24 Review @ Ashleyz Wonderland
10/24 Review @ Jane Reads
10/24 Review @ Just Reviews
10/25 Interview @ A Blue Million Books
10/25 Review @ Lauras Interests
10/26 Review @ Cassidys Bookshelves
10/27 Interview @ Teresa Trent Author Blog
10/28 Interview @ BooksChatter
10/30 Review @ Buried Under Books – GIVEAWAY
10/31 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
11/07 Interview @ Writers and Authors
11/07 Showcase @ Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
11/09 Review @ Cheryls Book Nook
11/10 Review @ Carols Notebook
11/16 Review @ FUONLYKNEW
11/20 Review @ Socrates Book Reviews
11/25 Review @ Melinas Book Blog
12/11 Review @ Sapphyrias Books
12/15 Review/showcase @ The Avid Book Collector

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Giveaway

There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com
Gift Card. The giveaway begins on October 14
and runs through December 17, 2017.

Enter here.

************

Midnight Louie, Epic Survivor

Carole Nelson Douglas is an award-winning journalist (former) and bestselling author of 63 novels in the mystery/thriller, epic and urban fantasy, and women’s mainstream and romance fiction genres. She was the first woman author to  spin off a Sherlock Holmes series, featuring the first woman from the Canon  to star in her own series, Irene Adler, the only woman to outwit Holmes. Good Night, Mr. Holmes was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, among other awards. Midnight Louie is the part-time feline PI narrator of 32 cozy-noir novels.

http://carolenelsondouglas.com/

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“A cat is said to have nine lives.
Where I live, on and off the Strip, the odds are your
average hip but homeless street cat will be Las Vegas lucky
to live three lives.”

—Midnight Louie, Cat in an Alphabet Endgame

Today, Oct. 29, is National Cat Day. For real.

Oct. 31, is cat detective Midnight Louie’s birthday. So he says. He spits in the face of idiotic human superstitions. And hisses too. Halloween is a Black Cat Power Day to him.

Either way,  it’s a great day to celebrate one long-ago cross-country cat rescue that has become a 44-year writing collaboration over 32 books and assorted short stories, including an Agatha nominee.

And now, for the first time ever, all of the Midnight Louie “alphabet” mystery series books (many out of print) are available for binge-reading (Louie hopes) in eBook, all 28 from Cat in an Alphabet Soup to the A-Z titles in-between to Cat in an Alphabet Endgame.

Midnight Louie himself started out homeless and struggled through foster homes both real-world and literary to conclude his adventures after 44 “lives”, if you count years as cat lives.

So Happy Birthday to you, Midnight Louie, as your interviewer-turned long-time collaborator thinks back to when we met in 1973. Assuming your stray self was six years old back then, that’s 40 lives for you, with more to come. Not bad for a homeless motel habitué destined for the needle at the sunny Palo Alto, California, pound.

Writers claim to invent characters, but Midnight Louie appeared fully formed and pre-named in the Classified Ads in snowy St. Paul, Minnesota. A cat-loving newspaper reporter, I always scanned the Classified “Cats” for sale column. Among the half-inch, tiny-type ads was three long expensive inches of Midnight Louie “available to a good home for $1.00”.

Who would pay $30 to virtually give a cat away? A woman who had flown him home in a borrowed puppy crate to escape a death sentence in California. She wanted him to be “the only cat, free to roam and not fixed”. She had me at “as at home on your best sofa as in your neighbor’s garbage can”.

I called her for an interview.

Midnight Louie had been named by the patrons of an upscale California motel. He survived by eating the $2,000 large Koi swimming in the pond. He ankled up to female guests at the outside food dispensing machines and wormed his way into their rooms for the chill northern California nights. She was working temporarily in Palo Alto and decided that such a master survivor would not die on her watch.

ML and I met only once. He was a big, black American shorthair with a piercing green gaze. Alas, Louie was not adapting to apartment life. He used the litter box to tunnel to China and naught else. Politically incorrect, he was “inappropriate” with her two fixed female cats. He attacked the Hoover upright vacuum until it was subdued in a closet again.

Back at the newspaper, I wrote the story’s “who, what, when, where” first sentence. My fingers hovered above the keys as I made the most significant decision of my reporting career. I decided to let Louie tell his story in his own voice. Good decision: he was smart, sassy and brassy. Why not? He’d been a champion big game fish catcher, successful con and ladies man, a motel detective protecting the dames feline and human in the dark of night. So what if he was wanted dead or alive?

He’d landed in clover again.

Yes, he had. He went to a farm in Minnesota and I went on to sell my first novel in 1977. After a huge “sleeper” national bestseller epic fantasy novel in 1982, I moved to sunny Texas to write  fiction full-time in 1984. Then the fantasy publisher dropped me for selling too well. (Long, disgraceful story). Writing short romance novels for Harlequin was a quick buck, but the formula didn’t thrill me and single book advances were too low to eat on.

Then Louie started scratching for entry at my mind: he reappeared as a mysterious hotel-detective narrator at a Las Vegas hotel where four couples would meet and find romance in four books. Readers would only discover the mysterious PI narrator was a cat at the end of book four. In solving my money problems (selling four short novels over six months), I also invented the first continuing mini-series inside a romance line of individual books. That went on to become a hot new trend in romance lines for years. Unfortunately, the romance editor wanted to debut this great new idea with her bestselling real romance writers, so I lived on her lies until Louie’s quartet was published in a chopped up version I hadn’t seen, after three years and I got my money after four years. (An even longer, more disgraceful story.)

I should have been devastated, but Louie had a better idea. You don’t abuse the associate of an alley cat PI packing sixteen sheathed shivs and a fish pond’s worth of cattitude. I reversed the concept from romance with a smidge of mystery to mystery with a smidge of romance.

Cat in an Alphabet Soup (formerly Catnap) came out in 1992 with a cast of four human characters: two men, two women; two amateur, two pro crime-solvers whose professional and personal story arcs would play out over each novel as a chapter in a continuing crime and family saga. The series eventually encompassed a quarter century of changing social issues and the Las Vegas scene and could veer from searingly serious to satire, from home-grown murder to international intrigue.

Louie and my partnership had one last, long challenge. Came on little cat feet the eBook. I had rights to Louie books 1-12. Writers who live on their craft get used to delivering book after book a year. For some time I wrote 270,000 words a year: a Louie and a heavily researched Irene Adler novel, plus assorted short stories. Young writers rely on their memories; older ones wonder if memory is as reliable as it seemed. So I went over and over the first 12 novels, with loyal readers like Ken Green, Denise Thompson, and my long-ago college assistant Jennifer Null, volunteering to reread for typos and glitches along with paid proofreaders and myself. I also created the covers.

Finally, this month, Oct. 14th, my husband’s birthday, the twelfth novel, Cat in a Kiwi Con, which combines New Zealand kiwi birds and Science Fiction conventions with murder most alien, went “live” to link up to the publisher’s eBooks Cat in a Leopard Spot through Cat in an Alien X-ray  (those darn aliens again; Area 51 is near Las Vegas). Then I wrote the last three novels, sure I could correct any previous undetected errors.

Besides the rare never-defeated typos that will survive all readers, two sentences in a banquet scene imported somebody’s parents as an afterthought on my part. My afterthought fled and books later I had a character present in the scene say she had never met this parental set. Little fudge, but it leaped out at readers. I “explained” it in one of the last books!

So I’m breathing a big sigh of fulfillment and finishing on National Cat Day, 2017, and wish Midnight Louie and all his clan and their clowders, inside cats and outside cats, tame and feral, lives as good as we can give them.

And I’m thinking about Midnight Louie’s next ventures: the mutilated quartet converted to eBook and the start of his new series for 2018. Forty-five years and counting . . . .

That “ole black magic” called Midnight Louie never gives a collaborator a rest, but thank goodness. Thank Bast.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two lucky readers will each win a copy
of Cat with an Emerald Eye
by Carole
Nelson Douglas, one signed hardcover and
one ebook.
To enter the drawing, please
leave a comment below and ALSO state
whether you prefer print, ebook or either.
The winning names will be
chosen at random
on the evening of Wednesday, November 1st and
the books will be sent out after November 7th.
The drawing for the print copy is open to
residents of the US and
the drawing for
the ebook is international.

 

Book Review: Worthy by Donna Cooner

Worthy
Donna Cooner
Point, March 2017
ISBN: 978-0-545-90393-6
Hardcover

When a new app called Worthy appears in the online forum for students at Sam Houston High School, it grabs plenty of attention right off the bat. Couples are highlighted and members of the student body are invited to vote yes or no on whether the female in the relationship is worthy or not.

Junior class member Linden is both appalled and intrigued by this. She’s just starting a maybe real relationship with Alex Rivera, star catcher on the baseball team while struggling with writing a story that might land her a summer scholarship to the Thompson Review Young Writers Workshop in Austin. Add in her getting coaxed into being publicity person for the junior/senior prom (although she has no date) and she has a few life stressors.

That wouldn’t make her particularly unique as a teen, but she tends to live too much in her own head and worry about way too much that’s beyond her control–things like her best friend Nikki’s new romantic relationship. Nikki is on the plus side, but has learned to love herself, even going as far as taking clothing a bit too small and redesigning it into really cool outfits. However Linden is concerned about what she perceives as Nikki sacrificing hard won values to please her boyfriend.

How Linden deals with Nikki’s romance, especially when Nikki is a target of the Worthy app, the stress of being a no-date prom publicity chair, fear of ending up as a target of the Worthy app herself and her growing writer’s block, are all good plot elements. This is a worthwhile book to offer teens in similar situations with a few caveats. First, Linden’s angst and stream of consciousness tend to become annoying as the story goes on, threatening the readers’ empathy. I also have to question the Worthy app’s placement and endurance. It seems to be available through a school sanctioned site and, given the concern expressed at least twice by school administration members in the story, I wonder whether it would have been more realistic as a word of mouth event. It should have been relatively easy for school officials to remove it and/or use tech skills to find where it was uploaded from in the first place.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.

It’s All in the Genes

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Website: http://www.loiswinston.com
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/anasleuth
Twitter at https://twitter.com/Anasleuth
Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

On the cover of Scrapbook of Murder, the latest book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, the title is superimposed over a photograph from the 1930’s of a man standing beside a child on a pony. I believe the child is either my mother or my aunt. The man is my grandfather, Benjamin Schaffer. He spent his entire career with the Essex County Police Department, headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, working his way up to captain. I was in kindergarten when he died, but I still have vivid memories of him. In my eyes and to many others, he was larger than life.

My grandfather was responsible for the arrest of quite a few gangsters during a career that spanned nearly forty years. Ever hear of Arthur Flegenheimer? You might know him more as the prohibition-era gangster Dutch Schultz. Grandpa was the first officer on the scene the night he was gunned down in a Newark restaurant in 1935. I’ve tried to find out if he was also one of the officers assigned to stand watch over Schultz and question him as he lay dying in his hospital bed, but apparently back then news accounts didn’t mention officers’ names.

When I moved back to New Jersey in 1998, I wanted to research my grandfather’s career. I thought I might like to write a book about him, or at least use some of his cases in my own books. Unfortunately, I discovered that the Essex County Courthouse had flooded in the 1980’s, and all the archived records from the prosecutor’s office, where he worked, had been destroyed. Of course this was well before the Internet and digitized records. I was crushed. By this point anyone with in-depth knowledge of my grandfather’s career had passed away.

The only information my own Internet search turned up was a short blurb from the March 7, 1957 Independent Press mentioning that my grandfather was scheduled to speak on “Famous Murders in Essex County” at a meeting of the Republican Club that evening.

I started out my career writing romance, but when my agent suggested I try writing a crafting mystery, I found my true writing voice in the sub-genre of humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. I base all the plots in my books on actual events I’ve read about or witnessed, giving them a fictional twist. I often wonder what my grandfather would have thought of his first-born grandchild becoming a writer of murder mysteries. I hope he’s smiling down on me from Heaven.

In July of 2015 I visited Buried Under Books and wrote about a real-life mystery that had occurred in the town where I live. <https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/a-real-life-mystery/&gt; Nearly two and a half years later, that mystery is still unsolved. I’m convinced my grandfather would have had the case wrapped up ages ago. After all, what’s a house-stalker compared to Mafia gangsters?

Since Grandpa is no longer around to solve crimes, I’ve assigned the task to Anastasia as a subplot in Scrapbook of Murder, my latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, but since I don’t want The Watcher setting his sights on me, in Scrapbook of Murder I dub him The Sentinel. And in another instance of art imitating life, the event that leads Anastasia to solve the mystery is one from my own past.

Scrapbook of Murder
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 6

Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but normal deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.

When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.

Buy Links:

Kindle http://amzn.to/2ffIMgy
Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/scrapbook-of-murder
iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/scrapbook-of-murder/id1286758416?mt=11
Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/scrapbook-of-murder-lois-winston/1127145157?ean=2940158851896
Paperback http://amzn.to/2y2Omhl

Book Reviews: Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older, The Call by Peadar O. Guilin and Better to Wish by Ann M. Martin

Shadowhouse Fall
The Shadowshaper Cypher Book 2
Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-95282-8
Hardcover

Sierra and her wildly creative companions were captivating in Shadowshaper.   Clever consolidation of mad musical, verbal and graffiti-art skills created a dazzling cultural kaleidoscope that pulsated from the pages, and showed more than the shadowshaping-side of life in Brooklyn.  The sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, is every bit as delightful and dazzling, even as it tackles topics that parallel today’s headlines in an eerily accurate and chilling way.

Sierra has just learned of her role as the archetypal spirit, Lucera, “…the beating heart of the shadowshaping world.”  Never one to shirk responsibility, always a fierce protector; she’s doggedly immersed herself in learning, teaching and practicing shadowshaping.  Before she even begins to realize her potential, Sierra is forced to shift her focus.

The Sisterhood of the Sorrows had vowed revenge when Sierra “jacked up their shrine last summer,” precisely what Sierra and ‘her’ shadowshapers are preparing for; but no one could have predicted an attack so soon. It should have ben impossible.  Unless…the Sorrows are not alone.

To even stand a chance against an unknown in the urban spirituality system, each shadowshaper will need to be strong and smart independently; swift to support and assist when needed.  Basically, battling as they live, to save the community they dearly love.  Accustomed to every day prejudices and profiling, Sierra and her friends knew to expect hassle, rather than help, from the largely racist civil servants.

Mr. Older’s scintillating style swiftly hooks even the reluctant reader.  The scramble to fight the good fight is gripping and the escalation towards the end, engrossing.  When Sierra is left with only two choices, neither of which would result in a happy ending for her; Mr. Older presents a decision that, while not actually surprising, is absolutely unexpected.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

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The Call
The Call, Book 1

Peadar O’Guilin
David Fickling Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-1338045611
Hardcover

Nessa was celebrating her 10th birthday when her childhood abruptly ended.  Instead of giving gifts and baking a cake, her parents explain The Call.

The little girl that built an emotional armor against people’s perceptions; both the pitying looks as well as the ones filled with contempt and disbelief, is intelligent enough to understand the uselessness of her efforts.  Her legs, twisted by polio into more of a hindrance than a help, have gone from a focal point to a genuine liability.

Held hostage and wholly isolated these Irish folks have but one focus: teaching the children to survive The Call.  From the age of ten through the teenage years, training is vigorous and relentless.  Just shy of cruel, the grueling paces are unquestionably a necessary evil.  Almost one in ten survive today, an exponential improvement over the one in one hundred from decades ago.  An amazing accomplishment, as fairies have an undeniable advantage when they pull a human child into their world.

Irish fairies may be my very favorite folklore creatures, and Mr. O’Guilin portrays them perfectly in The Call.  The one universal fact seems to be that fairies cannot lie and they possess a perverse pride in always keeping their word.  Bad to the core, but bound by these rules, Sidhe are as clever and cunning as they are cruel.

The hideous game of fairy versus human, produces a plot that is exciting, fast-paced and adventurous, accented with awesome action scenes.  Of course, nothing is so simple and definite in reality and Mr. O’Guilin does not settle for solely myth against man.   Most humans are considerate, committed to the greater good; but a few are slimy and self-serving.  Mystique makes the tale even more compelling and builds suspense creating compulsory page-turning.  Coupled with colorful, captivating characters and sharp and witty dialogue, The Call is a brilliant book that I enjoyed immensely.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2017.

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Better to Wish
Family Tree Series, Book 1
Ann M. Martin
Scholastic Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-35942-9
Hardcover

Initial intrigue blossomed into complete captivation as Abby’s narration revealed an inexplicably sweet, strong and resilient girl—a compassionate, sympathetic soul–in spite of circumstances.  The centenarian’s story begins on a summer evening in 1930.  As one memory leads to another, her life unfolds like a map.

Abby’s father feels that Maine should be “white”.  Specifically, Protestant and Republican.  His daughters aren’t allowed to befriend a girl because her parents emigrated from Quebec—she’s “French”, not “white”.  Also below his determined Nichols’ Family Standards; “lazy bums…Irish-Catholics.”  Certainly vocal with his opinion, he nevertheless does not seem to stand out to the family, or the community, as a particularly obnoxious, racist fool.

Although Abby’s mother has many bad days with “her mind stuck thinking” of two tremendous losses that left permanent holes in her heart; Dad wants a son.  Baby Fred arrives.  At home, Dad can pretend that Fred is developing, learning and growing at an average rate. Abby, Rose and their mother know differently, but it has no impact on their love and devotion to the charming child.

At the age of 5, Fred behaves like any toddler—including the time he is forced to sit through a high school awards ceremony.  Due to the perceived public embarrassment, the head of the household deems his son less than perfect.  Imperfection is unacceptable, leaving Mr. Nichols with no choice.  He informs the family after exercising his “only” option.

Throughout the tumultuous times,  Abby intuitively empathizes and instinctively protects those she loves and holds dear first, all other human beings second, thinking of her own wants and needs last, if at all.   Abby is the epitome of “good people” and her story instills hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.