Book Review: Sacred Games by Gary Corby

Sacred Games
An Athenian Mystery #3
Gary Corby
Soho Crime, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-6195-369-0
TradePaperback

This is the second novel by Corby I’ve read in this series. Set in ancient Greece, the main characters are royal investigator Nicolaos and his incredibly smart wife, the priestess Diotima. Nico’s brother, Socrates–yes, that Socrates–is featured as well, plus a good many other names I’m sure you’ll recognize from your ancient world history classes.

The story takes place at the 80th Olympiad, where competitors play for keeps, as in fight to the death. On the competitive field, if an opponent dies, no one can be tried for murder. The same does not hold true off the field, which draws Nico, under orders from Athen’s top politician and diplomat, Pericles, to find the killer of an elite Spartan pankration athlete named Arakos. The Athenian champion in pankration is the accused, and refuses to provide an alibi for himself. In order to prevent a war between the states of Athens and Sparta, Nico has to figure it all out before the end of the games.

Pankration? you may ask. I’m still not sure but it sounds like a mixture of various martial arts, kick boxing, and plain old street fighting, including kidney punches and the gouging of eyes.

The story contains plenty of suspects, although everyone has a hard time believing anyone but another pankration player could possibly beat a big man like Arakos, and there are so many twists and turns you’re apt to get dizzy. At the same time, it’s going to keep you involved. And what a good way to learn something about ancient history! Mr. Corby’s research is extensive, and is the best way I know of to teach the rest of us a bit of Greek history and culture. Meanwhile, the humor in the Nico and Diotima mysteries always brings a laugh, and Socrates is a hoot. I’m pleased to recommend this one.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 3

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

Deep Cover Jack
The Hunt for Reacher Series #7
Diane Capri
AugustBooks, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-940768-70-0
Trade Paperback

If you’ve never tried any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, you need to read at least one before you tackle this series because this is all about the “other side” of the equation, the law enforcement folks who think they need to apprehend Reacher because he’s such a horrible person, a desperately wanted man. Well…our FBI Special Agents, Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar have learned a few things by the time we get to this seventh book and they’ve picked up a little help along the way from other interested parties but they haven’t yet caught the man. Will they this time when they head for Houston? Hmm…if you know Jack, you know their chances are on the slim side but will they at least get close?

This is an intriguing, entertaining companion to the Jack Reacher series and, yes, Lee Child himself speaks highly of it. Oh, and before you think these must be the most incompetent agents ever if they’ve been chasing him through seven books, think again. Try it, you’ll like it 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Stalking Jack the Ripper
Stalking Jack the Ripper Series #1
Kerri Maniscalco
jimmy patterson, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-316-27349-7
Hardcover

As you might surmise from the name of the publisher, this is “presented” by the megawatt author James Patterson himself and, if I do say so, this is a good ‘un. Audrey Rose Wadsworth loves to spend time in her uncle’s lab learning medical stuff but gets drawn into a serious criminal investigation, that of the gory deaths of some women of ill repute. With the assistance of Thomas Cresswell, apprentice to her uncle, Audrey Rose really wants to get justice for these poor women as well as bring a killer to justice but the stakes get even higher when the long arm of the law reaches out to someone close to her.

I like the Victorian era, young adult mysteries and the Jack the Ripper case (plus I love the cover) so trying this was a no brainer for me. Mounting clues and hair-raising theories lead to a horrifying discovery but, throughout it all, Audrey Rose maintains her intelligent, thoughtful focus even if she can’t be completely objective. The next case for this young lady and the charming if annoying Thomas, Hunting Prince Dracula, involves another string of killings while Audrey Rose studies forensic medicine in Romania and I can hardly wait to dive in.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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March of Crime
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #11
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5263-1
Trade Paperback

This cozy series has been fun and frothy since the beginning and I continue to like them a lot, especially because they never seem to get stale, if you know what I mean. They have plenty of humor along with tension and Mira Ross might as well be called the Jessica Fletcher of Battle Lake, Minnesota, since people seem to drop like flies in her vicinity. No wonder this mild-mannered librarian has aspirations of being a private eye!

One thing that intrigues me about cozies is the myriad ways authors find to present a dead body without offending sensibilities and I think Ms. Lourey has outdone herself and everyone else this time. Lifesize dolls are kind of creepy anyway (to me at least) but when one turns out to be an actual corpse sitting proudly right next to Mira, well I ask you, how could she NOT want to snoop? Mira and her assorted crew of cronies and nemeses are soon hot on one trail or another and I chortled all the way to the end.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Enemy Within
Scott Burn
Scott Burn, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-9978429-1-3
Trade Paperback

There have been people throughout history who have had visions of the future, some believable, many more not so much, but I had to have a lot of sympathy for the 17-year-old Max who has been seeing hellfire and damnation at the apparent end of the world. In his situation, I’m not sure I wouldn’t at least consider his way of ending these horrific sights that just won’t stop but one thing that would prevent me from  doing such a drastic thing is my own suspicion that I’d bungle it. And he does, landing himself in an institution.

Three other boys have found each other but know that they’re missing one and can’t do what they’re supposed to do without him. Who are they? Suffice it to say, there’s a new unclaimed satellite in orbit and things are about to get very unsettling for us and for our survival on this planet.

This was such a fun story with aliens and other cool science fiction-y stuff. Technically speaking, this is Young Adult but I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good apocalyptic story full of adventure and mayhem, not to mention some pretty appealing characters. I hope we’ll see more of Max before too long.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Matthew Sullivan
Scribner, June 2017
ISBN 978-1501116841
Hardcover
Narrated by Madeleine Maby
Simon & Schuster Audio, June 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

As a former bookstore owner, I naturally had to read this and, while I enjoyed it, I also had some reservations. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is a strange sort of place, attracting some rather odd people called the BookFrogs, some of whom seem to spend all their waking hours just hanging out, rarely buying anything. And, since Lydia Smith was Joey Molina’s favorite bookseller, you have to wonder why he would commit suicide in the bookstore, leaving his supposed favorite to find him.

But so he does and he leaves all his worldly goods to Lydia leading her to puzzle over certain things that pique her curiosity, not only because she thought Joey was a nice young man but also because she seems to have an odd connection to this mystery, a connection that takes her back to a most unpleasant murder-tainted past.

The ebook of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore grabbed my attention despite my initial reluctance and I decided I wanted to try listening to the tale. Narrator Madeleine Maby has a pleasing tone with identifiable vocalizations and I do think the audio edition helped evoke emotions a bit more easily than the written version. Bottomline, while the rampant dysfunction in these characters’ lives made me somewhat unsettled, the mystery itself was engaging.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews Part 1

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Colin Goodwin
2QT Limited, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-910077-60-3
Trade Paperback

This book had me chuckling quite a bit with its premise—blackmailing an English village’s cricket club to either win  a trophy or lose its playing ground. Along with this audacious crime, we have village ladies who truly appreciate the hired ringer’s skills and a shady real estate development plan. It’s all great fun even with sabotage and perhaps a little murder.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Cat in an Alphabet Endgame
The Midnight Louie Mysteries #28
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-943175-05-5
Trade Paperback

I confess, I put off reading this as long as I possibly could, so long I’m really embarrassed but I just did NOT want to see the end of this series I love so much. I didn’t want to know who Temple would marry, didn’t want all the little loose ends tied up in neat bows. Midnight Louie is the alpha and omega of feline sleuths and I adore his hardboiled, attitudinous self and, even knowing he was going to continue in different adventures sometime in the future, letting go was so very hard. But…I eventually had to give in and, of course, I enjoyed this book as much as all the others. Temple is distracted by thoughts of saying yes to one guy or the other, the mob has reared its ugly head, there are hints of terrorism and Louie and his Cat Pack are on the case(s). When it’s all said and done, Louie leaves us—and multitudes of Las Vegas felines—with a rousing speech and an offer of appetizers. Ah, Louie, Temple and the rest, I’m going to miss you (until you show up again).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Memory
Sharon Ervin
The Wild Rose Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5092-1290-3
Trade Paperback

Mistaken identity takes on a whole new meaning when a woman is killed and everyone thinks it’s Memory Smith. She hasn’t been run over but somebody certainly has thrown a punch at her and Assistant DA Mac McCann wants to know what’s going on with his former classmate. Did someone really mean to kill her? Memory is an odd woman but Mac is drawn to her and the mystery surrounding her supposed death. As you might expect in romantic suspense, an emotional attachment between the two of them soon takes on a life of its own but Memory may not survive long enough to see what might develop with Mac.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Crepe Factor
A Scrapbooking Mystery #14
Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-26670-0
Hardcover

Ms. Childs and Ms. Moran continue their collaboration in a charming mystery featuring the death by fork of a food critic (stick a fork in me, I’m done, anyone?) practically right in front of Carmela and Ava, sleuthing duo extraordinaire. Carmela’s previous relationship with the #1 suspect makes sticking her nose in a little dicey and her current boyfriend, police detective Edgar Babcock really wants her to stay out of his investigation but she and Ava can’t resist. A nifty whodunnit and characters that feel like old friends, not to mention a few recipes and scrapbooking tips round out this entertaining entry in the series. I always enjoy these two, especially the slightly loony Ava, and for a few hours while I’m reading one of these books, I can’t help wishing I had the patience and dedication to get into scrapbooking…but the urge passes until the next book 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Locket
On Dark Shores #0
J.A. Clement
Weasel Green Press, December 2016
Ebook

Every child gets excited and exceedingly nosy when Yuletide approaches and the seven-year-old Nereia is no exception. Her father has brought her a special surprise, her Godmother, stopping off for a visit before returning to her diplomatic duties in the midst of war and a beautiful silver locket marks Nereia’s first time taking part in the Yule ceremony. This is a sweet story, very short, and a prequel to Ms. Clement‘s On Dark Shores fantasy series. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I knew anything about the series and I don’t understand the description’s reference to “there is mystery in the air…” but I spent a pleasant few minutes with this small family.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes by David Handler

Continue reading

Book Reviews: Give the Devil His Due by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco and Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall

Give the Devil his Due
A Tarot Mystery #3
Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco
Midnight Ink, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4224-3
Trade Paperback

Alanis MacLachlan grew up as the daughter of a notorious con artist, who often used the girl as part of her scams. Alanis never went to school, or knew her father, and her mother changed their names every few weeks.  After her mother was murdered, she left her daughter the White Magic Five and Dime, an occult themed tourist trap and fortune telling parlor in Berdoche, Arizona, a low rent version of Sedona. A teenage half sister, Clarice, was also left in Alanis’ care.

Alanis reads the cards of a middle aged man who turns up dead at a hotel the next day. Who could have killed him? She has her suspicions when a man from her mother’s past appears. Biddle, a man who her mother lived with and was as much as a father figure as Alanis ever had in her life, was last seen in an Ohio cornfield being pursued by armed gangsters. It’s no coincidence—as Alanis discover when an eccentric German billionaire shows up in town looking for a Van Gogh painting that was stolen years ago. Did Alanis’ mother have something to do with it?

Readers who have enjoyed Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will enjoy this series featuring a con artist gone straight. This is third in the series of Tarot mysteries.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2017.

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Shadow of the Wolf
Sherwood’s Doom #1
Tim Hall
David Fickling Books/Scholastic, Inc., June 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-81664-9
Hardcover

The story of Robin Hood has captivated crowds from Disney fans to lovers of Mel Brooks’ “Men In Tights”.  Mr. Hall breathes fresh, furious berserker air into the fable.  Although this telling is like no other, there are scenes and scenarios that are spot-on similar to my fondest recollections.  Shadow of the Wolf is Robin Hood, maiden Marian, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham; but with back-story that explains so much, yet reveals so little.

Sympathy for Robin comes quickly.  In his own village, and on every encounter, it appears that no one is completely honest with him.  Reactions rage from wary to fearful to furious; nowhere is welcoming to the young boy banished to Summerwoods.   The story of his beloved bow is just one of many secrets shared.  We become painfully privy to how Robin Hood was raised, then, abandoned. Acutely aware of the actions that shaped him as he struggled to survive; alone except for the bewitching young Marian and the half-mad goddess and god of the foreboding forest.

The first blow of finding out he isn’t who he thought—his family origins, even his birth date, are false—paled when compared to the remarkable revelation that he is being actively pursued by both the Sheriff of Nottingham, determined to destroy all Winter-Born, and Sir Bors who claims to be the only haven for those creatures born in the cold months among the terrifying trees.

Mr. Hall teases, doling out morsels of mystery in tiny, tantalizing tastes to thoroughly whet the appetite.  Content to keep us guessing, one part of the puzzle begins to take shape, while a brand new picture appears to emerge.  Enveloped in action, Robin Hood actually fights for his life and tickled by fancy, moved with magic, he learns to acknowledge, accept and adapt.  I believe that fans of fantasy, adventure, mystery and magic (from high school students to senior citizens) will relish this retelling.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

Book Reviews: Mightier than the Sword by K. J. Parker and Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe by Judy Alter

Mightier Than the Sword
K. J. Parker
Subterranean Press, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-59606-817-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

An Imperial legate is called in to see his aunt, who just happens to be the empress running the civilized world while her husband’s in his sick bed. After some chastisement, she dispatches her nephew to take care of the dreaded Land and Sea Raiders, pirates who’ve been attacking the realm’s monasteries.

So begins a possibly doomed tour of banished relatives and pompous royals put in charge of monasteries like Cort Doce and Cort Malestan, to name a few. While attempting to discover the truth of what the pirates might be after, the legate visits great libraries and halls in each varied locale and conducts a romance of which he knows but doesn’t care his aunt will not approve.

With enough wit and derring-do (and luck), the narrator might just make it through his mission alive…or will he?

Mightier than the Sword is a sort of Canterbury Tale-like retelling of “Concerning the Monasteries”, the personal document of the narrator that relates how he traveled  in search of the pirates who were attacking and pillaging monasteries throughout the Empire of the Robur in medieval times.  Our somewhat reluctant hero is the nephew of Empress Eudoxia Honoria Augusta and, along the way, he spends time with his aunt’s best friend, Svangerd, Abbess of Cort Doce, and his own best friend, Stachel, Abbot of Cort Sambic as well as others before discovering the truths behind the raids.

What ends with a number of surprises is mostly a pleasant story with interludes of off-scene violence at a handful of monasteries. The surprises, though, turn everything topsy-turvy but what happens to, and because of, our narrator are what had to be to complete the story and his destiny.

K. J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt, used for his fantasy writings. I first read Holt‘s many novels that are a wacky sort of science fiction and fantasy blend chock full of humor and satire and loved them so much that, when the bookstore was open, I had an account with a British book wholesaler just so we could stock his books (and a few others). The man makes me laugh out loud so I was not surprised to see hints of his comical side in Mightier than the Sword like this exchange:

“Rabanus isn’t a Mesoge name. What do they call you back home?”

He grinned. “I’m Hrafn son of Sighvat son of Thiudrek from Gjaudarsond in Laxeydardal.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll call you Rabanus.”

Although I don’t read a lot of high fantasy, this novella called to me because of the author but it also sounded like just the sort of thing to while away a couple of hours and, besides, how could I resist a tale that has so much to do with books? 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe
A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery #1
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9960131-6-1
Ebook

From the author—

Small towns are supposed to be idyllic and peaceful, but when Kate Chambers returns to her hometown of Wheeler, Texas, she soon learns it is not the comfortable place it was when she grew up. First there’s Gram’s sudden death, which leaves her suspicious, and then the death of her married sister’s lover. Kate runs Gram’s restaurant, the Blue Plate Café, but she must defend her sister against a murder charge, solve the murders to keep her business open, and figure out where the café’s profits are going. Even Kate begins to wonder about the twin sister she has a love-hate relationship with. Gram guides Kate through it all, though Kate’s never quite sure she’s hearing Gram—and sometimes Gram’s guidance is really off the wall.

Note: I read the digital copy of an old paperback edition that’s out of print but it appears the ebook listed above, with the same 2013 copyright date, is unchanged with the possible exception of some minor editing.

Judy Alter has written a ton of books including mysteries in three series and, when she wrote this one in 2013, it was the first in the Blue Plate Cafe series. Now, there are three books and it’s my own fault I lollygagged around for so long and have just now read this.

When Kate’s grandmother dies, she decides to leave her job as a paralegal—and an uncomfortable situation—and run Gram’s cafe but her twin, Donna, has her sights set on opening a bed and breakfast. That’s a good thing because the sisters are not at all alike and working closely together could be disastrous but it also adds to Kate’s growing suspicions about what really happened to Gram. Surely Donna didn’t do anything she shouldn’t, right?

Still, Donna’s attitude towards her life and family, her greed and her unrealistic ambitions are only part of Kate’s unease and Gram whispering in her head is unsettling at first until Kate begins to appreciate it. Is it possible that someone might have poisoned her? Then, when Donna is suspected of murdering her new B&B partner, all bets are off and Kate’s paralegal instincts kick in.

Now that I’ve met Kate and the people of Wheeler, I’d like to know more so I think I’ll pick up the second book as soon as I have a chance. Ms. Alter puts together a good mystery and I’m ready to see what’s happened with these folks and this little town while I’ve been dawdling 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: Lowcountry Bonfire by Susan M. Boyer—and a Giveaway!

Lowcountry Bonfire
A Liz Talbot Mystery #6
Susan M. Boyer
Henery Press, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-227-6
Trade Paperback
Also available in hardcover

From the publisher—

Private Investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews have worked their share of domestic cases. So when Tammy Sue Lyerly hires them to find out what her husband is hiding, they expect to find something looney but harmless. After all, this is the guy who claims to have been a DEA agent, a champion bull rider, and a NASCAR driver. But when he turns up dead the morning after Liz and Nate deliver the incriminating photos, Tammy is the prime suspect.

Questioning the truth of Zeke Lyerly’s tall-tales, Liz and Nate race to uncover small town scandals, long buried secrets, and the victim’s tumultuous past to keep Tammy Sue out of jail and the case from going up in flames.

Zeke Lyerly was a teller of tall tales, many involving Army Ranger-style exploits, race cars, hot women, guns and the like and no one really believed them although they were certainly entertaining. His latest adventure wasn’t so captivating but was he really killed because of something so mundane as cheating on his wife? Tammy Sue can’t help but be Suspect Number One when Zeke is found in the trunk of his car, the very car she had set on fire with such vim and vigor, but Liz and Nate have serious doubts. Fortunately for all concerned, the police chief, who happens to be Liz’s brother, Blake, has to let them in on the investigation because of a contractual arrangement. Otherwise, they’d have to skulk around to clear their client.

As a group, the recurring characters in this series are among my favorites but none surpass the delightful Colleen who just happens to be a ghost and can be seen and heard by only Liz and Nate. Colleen has been a real help in solving cases because she can go places and see or hear things that Liz can’t and her snarky attitude always adds an element of humor. Unfortunately, Colleen is not around quite as much this time and our two private eyes have to work a little harder because of it.

The mystery of who killed Zeke and stuffed him in his own car is only the beginning of what could be quite a convoluted story but, in the end, all comes together. Liz and Nate, with more than a little help from friends and family, have to answer a lot of questions and connect the dots in their efforts to clear Tammy Sue (who, by the way, is a pistol). Secrets come to light and the ugly face of revenge surprises most of the residents of this tiny island. It just goes to show that living in a small community doesn’t necessarily mean that your neighbors know everything about you 😉

All in all, I enjoyed this sixth entry in the series every bit as much as the earlier books and my affection for these people hasn’t cooled at all. Ms. Boyer is just going to have to get the next one out PDQ!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

An Excerpt from Lowcountry Bonfire

The dead are not much given to hysteria. The morning Tammy Sue Lyerly piled her husband’s clothes into his Raven Black 1969 Mustang convertible and lit a match, my friend Colleen stayed oddly nonchalant. She’d been dead eighteen years and had seen a thing or two.

For her part, Tammy Sue was pitching an F5 hissy fit. She dug all ten fingers into her 1980s pile of long red hair, clutched her head, and bellowed, “Let it burn.”

Four Stella Maris volunteer firemen cast her worried looks but went about the business of hooking up the hose to the fire hydrant.

We stood in a loose huddle a safe distance from the burning car in the Lyerly driveway.

“I asked you what you were doing here,” said Blake.

My brother, Blake, was the Stella Maris Police Chief. My husband, Nate, and I were private investigators, and Blake purely hated it when we meddled in his business.

“I called her,” said Daddy. “I overheard at the flea market that your sister’d done some work for Tammy Sue recently. Thought maybe she’d want to know.” Daddy shrugged, looked innocent.

Mamma and Daddy lived across the street from the Lyerlys, so naturally Daddy was first on the scene. Mamma had come with him. She raised an eyebrow to let him know she had his number. It wasn’t yet eight o’clock. Daddy sipped coffee from a large insulated stainless steel travel mug, all nonchalant like.

“For cryin’ out loud, Dad. We don’t need the whole town out here this morning.” Blake gave his head a shake. He scanned the neighborhood we’d grown up in. Folks gathered in clumps under the shade of massive live oaks in bordering yards. They’d all come out to see the show. The audience was growing fast. It was early on a Tuesday in the middle of June. Some of those folks were missing work. Blake lifted his Red Sox cap, ran a hand through his hair, and resettled the cap.

Tammy Sue grabbed my arm with one hand and clutched her chest dramatically with the other. “Well, I want her here, and you don’t have a single thing to say about it. This is my property.”

“Yours and Zeke’s.” Blake kept his tone easy, casual. “Where did you say Zeke was again?”

“He’s with that cheap hussy, Crystal Chapman.” Tammy’s eyes glowed with crazy. She leaned forward and hurled the words at Blake. “And he’d better by God not come home unless he wants me to light his ass on fire too.”

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

To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Lowcountry Bonfire

by Susan M. Boyer, just leave
a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Wednesday
night, August 2nd. This drawing is
open
to residents of the US.