Book Review: My Heart Is A Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones @SGJ72 @SagaSFF

My Heart is a Chainsaw
Stephen Graham Jones
Gallery/Saga Press, August 2021
ISBN 978-1-9821-3763-2
Hardcover

Jade Daniels is an angry adolescent with a slasher-movie addiction. Constantly clad in her janitorial coveralls, complete with combat boots and often topped by hair as brightly colored as Indian hair can be, she exudes the air of an inexplicably embittered being.

May be typical teen angst. Could be, she’s truly had it tough. Either way, the look-plus-attitude tends to keep other students at bay.

History teacher extraordinaire, Mr. Holmes, makes generous allowances for Jade’s assignments. He accepts her SLASHER 101 thesis. Holmes even reads it. But for all of his best intentions, he misses the big picture Jade is trying to paint.

Sheriff Hardy has, very unfortunately, gotten to know the poor excuse that serves as Jade’s father pretty well. Tab Daniels is not a fine, upstanding man. So, it’s little wonder that Hardy cuts Jade some slack as she acts out against the world.

When Jade meets Letha, the beautiful, confident new-girl-on-the-block; her frustrations find focus. The Final Girl has arrived. Jade suspects that her hell-on-Earth, otherwise known as Terra Nova, is cursed. There’ve always been stories and scary legends, but Jade feels the evil. Which is why she so generously shared portions of her SLASHER study-guide with Letha.

Letha sees what the well-meaning history teacher missed and being a genuinely good girl, reaches out to the sheriff with the hopes of helping her new friend. But things in the tiny town take a violent and deadly turn. Certain it’s the moment she’s been waiting for, Jade joyfully flings herself into the danger and mayhem. As the remains of savaged animals and humans pile up, the person (or thing) behind the murderous rampage remains a mystery.

I’ve just visited “my” high-school students for the first time this school year. When I asked what they wanted to read, hands-down Thriller and Horror topped the list. And then I went home and picked up My Heart is a Chainsaw. Pretty sure that Mr. Jones wrote this to their deepest, darkest desires and I cannot wait to take this treasure to them.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books,
with huge thanks for the Advance Review Copy
to donate to my favorite classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2021.

Book Review: Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith @cmattwrite @LatahBooks @partnersincr1me

Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith Banner

Twentymile

by C. Matthew Smith

November 15 – December 10, 2021 Tour

Book Details:
Genre: Procedural, Thriller
Published by: Latah Books
Publication Date: November 19, 2021
Number of Pages: 325
ISBN: 978-1-7360127-6-5

Goodreads

Purchase Links:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Latah Books

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

Synopsis

Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith

When wildlife biologist Alex Lowe is found dead inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it looks on the surface like a suicide. But Tsula Walker, Special Agent with the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, isn’t so sure.

Tsula’s investigation will lead her deep into the park and face-to-face with a group of lethal men on a mission to reclaim a historic homestead. The encounter will irretrievably alter the lives of all involved and leave Tsula fighting for survival – not only from those who would do her harm, but from a looming winter storm that could prove just as deadly.

A finely crafted literary thriller, Twentymile delivers a propulsive story of long-held grievances, new hopes, and the contentious history of the land at its heart.

Praise for Twentymile:

“[A] striking debut . . . a highly enjoyable read suited best to those who like their thrillers to simmer for awhile before erupting in a blizzard of action and unpredictability . . .” Kashif Hussain, Best Thriller Books.

“C. Matthew Smith’s original, intelligent novel delivers unforgettable characters and an irresistible, page-turning pace while grappling with deeply fascinating issues of land and heritage and what and who is native…. Twentymile is an accomplished first novel from a talented and fully-formed writer.” James A. McLaughlin, Edgar Award-winning author of Bearskin

Twentymile is packed with everything I love: A strong, female character; a wilderness setting; gripping storytelling; masterful writing. Smith captures powerfully and deeply the effects of the past and what we do to one another and ourselves for the sake of ownership and possession, for what we wrongfully and rightfully believe is ours. I loved every word. A beautiful and brutal and extraordinary debut.” Diane Les Becquets, bestselling author of Breaking Wild and The Last Woman in the Forest

My Review

When I was ten years old, my family went on our first tent camping trip for our summer vacation, the first of many such trips over the coming years. The Great Smoky Mountains, specifically Balsam Mountain Campground not far from the small village of Cherokee, was our destination that summer and several more and I quickly came to love the area, the wonderful things to see and do, hiking small sections of the Appalachian Trail, and especially the history, highlighted by the outdoor play, “Unto These Hills”. That play was my initial experience with outdoor theater and, all these years later, I still remember it well; I knew the story of the Cherokee Nation but the play really made me understand. Growing up, I also camped in that setting as a Girl Scout, both trooper and leader and, to this day, it’s my favorite part of the Blue Ridge.

It’s that memory and love of the Smokies that made me take immediate interest in the description of Twentymile and I’m so very glad I decided to read it. I was quickly absorbed by the characters, good and bad, and the story behind the belligerence and vicious nature of Harlan and his family. They reminded me of the movie “Deliverance” and the reality of today’s anti-government survivalists but I also had a certain compassion for their belief that their land had been stolen—the same thing happened in my home state, Virginia and, while these families were given compensation, nothing truly makes up for it.

Tsula is a remarkable woman and everything about her rings true in her search for the truth in Alex’s murder. She’s a law enforcement officer I’d like to see much more of and, while I think there were some flaws in this book, I’ll gladly read more if this becomes a series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2021.

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

Read an excerpt

HARLAN

CHAPTER ONE

May 10
The same moment the hiker comes upon them, rounding the bend in the trail, Harlan knows the man will die. He takes no pleasure in the thought. So far as Harlan is aware, he has never met the man and has no quarrel with him. This stranger is simply an unexpected contingency. A loose thread that, once noticed, requires snipping. Harlan knows, too, it’s his own fault. He shouldn’t have stopped. He should have pressed the group forward, off the trail and into the concealing drapery of the forest. That, after all, is the plan they’ve followed each time: Keep moving. Disappear. But the first sliver of morning light had crested the ridge and caught Harlan’s eye just so, and without even thinking, he’d paused to watch it filter through the high trees. Giddy with promise, he’d imagined he saw their new future dawning in that distance as well, tethered to the rising sun. Cardinals he couldn’t yet spot were waking to greet the day, and a breeze picked up overhead, soughing through shadowy crowns of birch and oak. He’d turned and watched the silhouettes of his companions taking shape. His sons, Otto and Joseph, standing within arm’s length. The man they all call Junior lingering just behind them. The stranger’s headlamp sliced through this reverie, bright and sudden as an oncoming train, freezing Harlan where he stood. In all the times they’ve previously made this journey—always departing this trail at this spot, and always at this early hour—they’ve never encountered another person. Given last night’s thunderstorm and the threat of more to come, Harlan wasn’t planning on company this morning, either. He clamps his lips tight and flicks his eyes toward his sons—be still, be quiet. Junior clears his throat softly. “Mornin’,” the stranger says when he’s close. The accent is local—born, like Harlan’s own, of the surrounding North Carolina mountains—and his tone carries a hint of polite confusion. The beam of his headlamp darts from man to man, as though uncertain of who or what most merits its attention, before settling finally on Junior’s pack. The backpack is a hand-stitched canvas behemoth many times the size of those sold by local outfitters and online retailers. Harlan designed the mammoth vessel himself to accommodate the many necessities of life in the wilderness. Dry goods. Seeds for planting. Tools for construction and farming. Long guns and ammunition. It’s functional but unsightly, like the bulbous shell of some strange insect. Harlan and his sons carry similar packs, each man bearing as much weight as he can manage. But it’s likely the rifle barrel peeking out of Junior’s that has now caught the stranger’s interest. Harlan can tell he’s an experienced hiker, familiar with the national park where they now stand. Few people know of this trail. Fewer still would attempt it at this hour. Each of his thick-knuckled hands holds a trekking pole, and he moves with a sure and graceful gait even in the relative dark. He will recognize—probably is just now in the process of recognizing—that something is not right with the four of them. Something he may be tempted to report. Something he might recall later if asked. Harlan nods at the man but says nothing. He removes his pack and kneels as though to re-tie his laces. The hiker, receiving no reply, fills the silence. “How’re y’all do—” When Harlan stands again, he works quickly, covering the stranger’s mouth with his free hand and thrusting his blade just below the sternum. A whimper escapes through his clamped fingers but dies quickly. The body arches, then goes limp. One arm reaches out toward him but only brushes his shoulder and falls away. Junior approaches from behind and lowers the man onto his back. Even the birds are silent. Joseph steps to his father’s side and offers him a cloth. Harlan smiles. His youngest son is a carbon copy of himself at eighteen. The wordless, intent glares. The muscles tensed and explosive, like coiled springs straining at a latch. Joseph eyes the man on the ground as though daring him to rise and fight. Harlan removes the stranger’s headlamp and shines the beam in the man’s face. A buzz-cut of silver hair blanches in this wash of light. His pupils, wide as coins, do not react. Blood paints his lips and pools on the mud beneath him, smelling of copper. “I’m sorry, friend,” Harlan says, though he doubts the man can hear him. “It’s just, you weren’t supposed to be here.” He yanks the knife free from the man’s distended belly and cleans it with the cloth. From behind him comes Otto’s fretful voice. “Jesus, Pop.” Harlan’s eldest more resembles the men on his late wife’s side. Long-limbed and dour. Quiet and amenable, but anxious. When Harlan turns, Otto is pacing along a tight stretch of the trail with his hands clamped to the sides of his head. His natural state. “Shut up and help me,” Harlan says. “Both of you.” He instructs his sons to carry the man two hundred paces into the woods and deposit him behind a wide tree. Far enough away, Harlan hopes, that the body will not be seen or smelled from the trail any time soon. “Wear your gloves,” he tells them, re-sheathing the knife at his hip. “And don’t let him drag.” As Otto and Joseph bear the man away, Harlan pockets the lamp and turns to Junior. “I know, I know,” he says, shaking his head. “Don’t look at me like that.” “Like what?” Harlan sweeps his boot back and forth along the muddy trail to smooth over the odd bunching of footprints and to cover the scrim of blood with earth. He’s surprised to find his stomach has gone sour. “No witnesses,” he says. “That’s how it has to be.” “People go missing,” Junior says, “and other people come looking.” “By the time they do, we’ll be long gone.” Junior shrugs and points. “Dibs on his walking sticks.” Harlan stops sweeping. “What?” “Sometimes my knees hurt.” “Fine,” Harlan says. “But let’s get this straight. Dibs is not how we’re going to operate when we get there.” Junior blinks and looks at him. “Dibs is how everything operates.” Minutes later, Otto and Joseph return from their task, their chests heaving and their faces slick. Otto gives his younger brother a wary look, then approaches Harlan alone. When he speaks, he keeps his voice low. “Pop—” “Was he still breathing when you left him?” Otto trains his eyes on his own feet, a drop of sweat dangling from the tip of his nose. “Was he?” Otto shakes his head. He hesitates for a moment longer, then asks, “Maybe we should go, Pop? Before someone else comes along?” Harlan pats his son’s hunched neck. “You’re right, of course.” The four grunt and sway as they re-shoulder their packs. Wooden edges and sharp points dig into Harlan’s back and buttocks through the canvas, and the straps strain against his burning shoulders. But he welcomes this discomfort for what it means. This, at last, is their final trip. This time, they’re leaving for good. They fan out along the edge of the trail, the ground sopping under their boots. Droplets rain down, shaken free from the canopy by a gust of wind, and Harlan turns his face up to feel the cool prickle on his skin. Then he nods to his companions, wipes the water from his eyes, and steps into the rustling thicket. The others follow after him, marching as quickly as their burdens allow. Melting into the trees and the undergrowth.

PART I:

DRIFT

TSULA

CHAPTER TWO

October 26
By the time the two vehicles she’s expecting appear at the far end of the service road, Tsula is already glazed with a slurry of sweat and south Florida sand so fine it should really be called dust. She hasn’t exerted herself in the slightest—she parked, got out of her vehicle, waited for the others to arrive—but already she longs for a shower. She wipes her brow with an equally damp forearm. It accomplishes little. “Christ almighty.” Tsula grew up in the Qualla Boundary—the eighty square miles of western North Carolina held by the federal government in trust for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians—and had returned to her childhood home two years ago after a prolonged absence. This time of year in the Qualla, the mornings are chilly and the days temperate, autumn having officially shooed summer out of the mountains. In northern Wyoming, where she’d spent nearly two decades of her adult life, it takes until mid-morning in late October for the frost to fully melt. Tsula understands those rhythms—putting on layers and shedding them, freezing and thawing. The natural balance of it. But only miles from where she stands, in this same ceaseless heat, lies the Miami-Dade County sprawl. It baffles her. Who but reptiles could live in this swelter? Tsula raises her binoculars. A generic government-issued SUV, much like her own, leads the way. An Everglades National Park law enforcement cruiser follows close behind. She looks down at her watch: 11:45 a.m. Tsula flaps the front of her vented fishing shirt to move air against her skin. The material is thin, breathable, and light tan, but islets of brown have formed where the shirt clings to perspiration on her shoulders and chest. She removes her baseball cap, fans her face, and lifts her ponytail off her neck. In this sun, her black hair absorbs the heat like the hood of a car, and she would not at all be surprised to find it has burned her skin. For a moment, she wishes it would go ahead and gray. Surely that would be more comfortable. The vehicles pull to a stop next to her, and two men exit. Fish and Wildlife Commission Investigator Matt Healey approaches first. He is fifty-something, with the tanned and craggy face of someone who has spent decades outside. Tsula shakes his hand and smiles. “Special Agent,” he says, scratching at his beard with his free hand. The other man is younger—in his late twenties, Tsula figures—and dressed in the standard green-and-gray uniform of a law enforcement park ranger. He moves with a bounding and confident carriage and thrusts out his hand. “Special Agent, I’m Ranger Tim Stubbs. Welcome to Everglades. I was asked to join y’all today, but I’m afraid they didn’t give me much other info. Can someone tell me what I’m in for?” “Poachers,” Healey answers. “You’re here to help us nab some.” “We investigate poaching every year,” Stubbs says, nodding toward Tsula. “Never get the involvement of the FBI.” “ISB,” she corrects him. “Investigative Services Branch? I’m with the Park Service.” “Never heard of it,” Stubbs says. “I get that a lot.” Whether he knows it or not, Stubbs has a point. The ISB rarely, if ever, involves itself in poaching cases. Most large parks like Everglades have their own law enforcement rangers capable of looking into those of the garden variety. Federal and state fish and wildlife agencies can augment their efforts where necessary. At just over thirty Special Agents nationwide, and with eighty-five million acres of national park land under their jurisdiction from Hawaii to the U.S. Virgin Islands, this little-known division of the Park Service is too thinly staffed to look into such matters when there are suspicious deaths, missing persons, and sexual assaults to investigate. But this case is different. “It’s not just what they’re taking,” Healy says. “It’s how much they’re taking. Thousands of green and loggerhead turtle eggs, gone. Whole nests cleaned out at different points along Cape Sable all summer long. Always at night so cameras don’t capture them clearly, always different locations. They’re a moving target.” “We’ve been concerned for a while now that they may be getting some assistance spotting the nests from inside the park,” Tsula adds. “So, we’re keeping it pretty close to the vest. That’s why no one filled you in before now. We don’t want to risk any tip-offs.” “What would anyone want with that many eggs?” “Black market,” Healey says. “You’re kidding.” Healey shakes his head. “Sea turtle eggs go down to Central America where they’re eaten as an aphrodisiac. Fetch three to five bucks apiece for the guy stateside who collects them. Bear paws and gallbladders go over to Asia. All kinds of other weird shit I won’t mention. And, of course, there are the live exotics coming into the country. Billions of dollars a year in illegal animal trade going all over the world. One of the biggest criminal industries besides drugs, weapons, and human trafficking. This many eggs missing—it’s like bricks of weed or cocaine in a wheel well. This isn’t some guy adding to his reptile collection or teenagers stealing eggs on a dare. This is commerce.” Tsula recognizes the speech. It’s how Healey had hooked her, and how she in turn argued her boss into sanctioning her involvement. “Sure, most poaching is small-potatoes,” he told her months ago. He’d invited her for a drink that turned out to be a pitch instead. “Hicks shooting a deer off-season on government land and similar nonsense. This isn’t that. You catch the right guys, and they tell you who they’re selling to, maybe you can follow the trail. Can you imagine taking down an international protected species enterprise? Talk about putting the ISB on the map.” “So maybe that’s what’s in it for me,” Tsula said, peeling at the label on her bottle. “Why are you so fired up?” He straightened himself on his stool and drew his shoulders back. “These species are having a hard enough time as it is. Throw sustained poaching on top, it’s going to be devastating. I want it stopped. Not just the low-level guys, either. We put a few of them in jail, there will always be more of them to take their place. I want the head lopped off.” Tsula had felt a thrill at Healey’s blunt passion and the prospect of an operation with international criminal implications. Certainly, it would be a welcome break from the child molestation and homicide cases that ate up her days and her soul, bit by bit. It took three conversations with the ISB Atlantic Region’s Assistant Special Agent in Charge, but eventually he agreed. “This better be worth it,” he told her finally. “Bring some people in, get them to tell us who they’re working for. We may have to let the FBI in after that, but you will have tipped the first domino.” Their investigation had consumed hundreds of man-hours across three agencies but yielded little concrete progress for the first several months. Then a couple weeks ago, Healey received a call from the Broward County State Attorney’s office. A pet store owner under arrest for a third cocaine possession charge was offering up information on turtle egg poachers targeting Everglades in a bid for a favorable plea deal. Two men had recently approached the store owner, who went by the nickname Bucky, about purchasing a small cache of eggs they still had on hand. It was toward the end of the season, and the recent yields were much smaller than their mid-summer hauls. Since many of the eggs they’d gathered were approaching time to hatch, the buyers with whom the two men primarily did business were no longer interested. The two men were looking for a legally flexible pet store owner who might want to sell hatchlings out the back door of his shop. Tsula decided to use Bucky as bait. At her direction, he would offer to purchase the remaining eggs but refuse to conduct the sale at his store. The strip mall along the highway, he would explain, was too heavily trafficked for questionable transactions. But he knew a quiet place in the pine rocklands near the eastern border of the park where he liked to snort up and make plans for his business. They could meet there. “Do I really have to say the part about snorting up?” Bucky had asked her, scratching his fingernails nervously on the interrogation room table. “I really don’t want that on tape. My parents are still alive.” “You think they don’t know already?” Tsula said. “You don’t like my plan, good luck with your charges and your public defender here. How much time do you figure a third offense gets you?” At his lawyer’s urging, Bucky finally agreed. The plan was set in motion, with the operation to take place today. “So how are we looking?” Healey asks. “Bucky’s on his way,” Tsula says. “I met with him earlier for a final run-through, got him mic’d up. We’re going to move the vehicles behind the thicket over there and wait. I’ve scouted it out. We’ll be concealed from the road. The purchase will take place about 12:30. As soon as Bucky has the eggs, we make our move.” “I’ll secure the eggs,” Healy says. “You guys reel in some assholes.” Tsula looks at Stubbs. His jaw is clenched, his eyes suddenly electric. “I’ll ride with you when it’s time, if that’s alright,” she says. “Keep it simple.” They move their vehicles behind the wall of climbing fern and ladies’ tresses. Tsula exits her SUV, takes a concealed vantage point behind the brush, and raises her binoculars. To her left, a breeze has picked up and is swaying the distant sawgrass. A golden eagle circles effortlessly on a thermal, its attention trained on something below. Directly beyond the thicket where she stands, a large expanse of grass spreads out for a quarter mile before giving way to a dense stand of pine trees. To her right, that same open field stretches perhaps two miles, bordered by the service road on which Healy and Stubbs had just come in. All is silent but the soft hum of the breeze. Bucky’s rust-colored compact bounces up the road around 12:15 and disappears as it passes on the opposite side the thicket. Minutes later, a mud-flecked pickup on oversized tires proceeds the same direction up the road, dragging a dust plume like a thundercloud behind it. Tsula turns, nods to Healey, and climbs quietly into Stubbs’s cruiser. She inserts her earpiece and settles into the seat. Stubbs looks over at her expectantly, his hand hovering over the ignition. Tsula shakes her head. “Not yet.” *** Excerpt from Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith. Copyright 2021 by C. Matthew Smith. Reproduced with permission from C. Matthew Smith. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio

C. Matthew Smith

C. Matthew Smith is an attorney and writer whose short stories have appeared in and are forthcoming from numerous outlets, including Mystery Tribune, Mystery Weekly, Close to the Bone, and Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir Vol. 3 (Down & Out Books). He’s a member of Sisters in Crime and the Atlanta Writers Club.

Catch Up With C. Matthew Smith:
www.cmattsmithwrites.com
Twitter – @cmattwrite
Facebook

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

Tour Participants

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews,
interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
https://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=303247  

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

Join In to WIN

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for C. Matthew Smith. There will be TWO winners. ONE (1) winner will receive (1) $25 Amazon.com Gift Card and ONE (1) winner will receive one (1) signed physical copy of Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith. The giveaway runs November 15 through December 12, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Get More Great Reads at
Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Book Review: Truth or Dare by M.J. Arlidge @mjarlidge @orionbooks

Truth or Dare
A Helen Grace Thriller #10
M.J. Arlidge
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd., November 2021
An Hachette UK Company
ISBN 978-1-4091-8846-9
Trade Paperback  (CA)

Detective Inspector Helen Grace is back in another thrilling and hard to put down read. A rash of random crimes; an arson at the docks, a car jacking gone wrong, a murder in a park, all happening within days of each other are tying Inspector Grace and her team in knots. The powers that be are breathing down her neck, pushing for results, but little progress is being made.

Helen feels defensive and tries to reassure her bosses that her team are working hard…. but in truth she’s at a loss. On top of this Detective Sergeant Joseph Hudson, an officer with whom she had an affair when he first joined the team, seems to be determined to dole out some payback after she ends their relationship. He has been undermining and questioning her every move on her handling of the spate of puzzling crimes and intent on following an unsubstantiated lead of his own, ignoring her orders and creating tension within her team.

Helen has a strong feeling that the crimes are connected…in some bizarre way. But while acknowledging this as merely a hunch, and totally off the charts, she trusts her instincts.

Slowly but surely she starts to see a pattern emerging. However, Hudson goes behind her back to push his own investigation and suggests to the bosses that Helen is losing it and should be removed from the case.

Her confidence has taken a hit and her team continue to struggle, but it’s fascinating to watch as she deals with the ambitious and spiteful colleague intent on replacing her, while she also unearths solid facts to prove she is indeed on the right track.

The plot while rather bizarre is very believable with an ending that will leave you breathless! Yes, Detective Inspector Helen Grace is often unorthodox in her methods to uncover the truth… but she takes us on one heck of a ride.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2021.

Book Review: Murder at St. Margaret by Lynn Morrison @NomadMomDiary @mktgchair @AnAudiobookworm

 

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

Author: Lynn Morrison
Narrator: Pearl Hewitt
Length: 8 hours 16 minutes
Series: Oxford Key Mysteries, Book 1
Released: Sep. 27, 2021
Publisher: Marketing Chair Press
Genre: Cozy Mystery

 

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

 


“Grief can change us… rewire our brains and shift the way we look at the world…”

A dead chef. A ruined gala. And the ghosts didn’t see a thing.

As Oxford’s new Head of Ceremonies, Natalie Payne’s first task is to organize St Margaret’s autumn gala. However, her plans are dashed when she finds their famed chef dead in the kitchen.

And then a centuries-old cat informs Nat she has her own magical legacy…and responsibilities. A murder in the halls is a sure sign that something has gone wrong with Oxford’s magical protections.

Now Nat has to solve the murder, find a new chef for the gala, and figure out why Oxford’s magical defenses are down. With the help of Oxford’s magical Eternals and some new friends, Nat has a chance.

But can she do it before St Margaret loses its connection to the magic of Oxford?

If you like cozy mysteries where ghosts walk the halls, paintings come to life, creatures play, and magic seems within reach, the Oxford Key Mysteries are sure to delight.

Buy on Audible

Lynn Morrison lives in Oxford, England along with her husband, two daughters and two cats. Born and raised in Mississippi, her wanderlust attitude has led her to live in California, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, in addition to the UK. It’s no surprise then that she loves to travel, with a never-ending wish list of destinations to visit.

She is as passionate about reading as she is writing, and can almost always be found with a book in hand. You can find out more about her on her website LynnMorrisonWriter.com.

If you want to chat with her directly, join her Facebook group – Lynn Morrison’s Not a Book Club – where she happily talks about books, life and anything else that crosses her mind.

Website

Narrator Bio

Originally from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in Northeast England, audiobook narrator Pearl Hewitt currently lives with her husband and two children in Houston, Texas. Over the years she has worked as a customer service rep, a teaching assistant, and a teacher, but deep down there was always a performer wanting to get out. In 2007 her twelve-year-old son told her that he believed she was so good at reading stories out loud that she should do that as a job. That was her defining, eureka moment, and she’s never looked back. Pearl immersed herself in training and pursued a career in general voice acting but in 2012 she decided to focus her attention to narrating audiobooks in a wide range of genres. It was then that her professional career blossomed. She regularly works directly with indie authors but also narrates for a number of major publishers and has gained lots of recognition in the process including IAAIS awards, a Voice Arts Award nomination and Audiofile Magazine reviews. Pearl’s is comfortable narrating both fiction and non-fiction titles and has been very successful reading British Regency romance, cozy murder mysteries, fantasy/science fiction, children’s literature, the classics, history, biographies and more.

Website

Q&A with Author Lynn Morrison

  • Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
    • I wish! Murder at St Margaret was the first cozy mystery I wrote, and at the time, my only thought was about writing a story which would hold together. I could not have imagined how many copies of the book would sell, or even begin to dream of making an audiobook. It wasn’t until the fourth book in the series came out, and I started to see a steady income, that I began to think about making audio versions.
    • Now that I am farther along in my career, I do keep the idea of audio in the back of my mind as I write. I try to cut down on the dialogue tags and introduce more motion and movements instead. But, I think some of that comes along as part of your natural progression as you get better over time.
  • How did you select your narrator?
    • I didn’t start thinking about producing an audio version of Murder at St Margaret until a year after it was released. By then, I had good information on what other books my readers liked. I looked up those titles on Audible and checked which narrators the authors had chosen. Pearl Hewitt’s name came up again and again. She has an incredible ability to effortlessly switch character voices as she reads, and really brings the story to life in a way only audio can. It was no surprise that listeners love her. I contacted her out of the blue via her website, and lo and behold, she said yes!
  • How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
    • I put together character bios for each of the main characters, and prepared a 15 minute test script pulling out different excerpts from the book. I specifically chose scenes which were dialogue-heavy so I could hear how she would differentiate between the characters. There were a few smaller characters which I didn’t include in my advance preparation. After reading the book, Pearl came up with suggestions for how their voices should sound – and I have to say that she did a brilliant job of it. She recorded the 15 minute sample and I circulated it to a few fans for feedback. Pearl took on board all their comments and then took care of everything from there. I didn’t have to do anything else until the book was ready to approve in Audible.
  • Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
    • I pulled from both my own experiences of living in Oxford and being a professor’s wife, along with doing a ton of background research into the colleges themselves when writing this series. Oxford is such a unique city, and the university is full of quirks and traditions which are fascinating to outsiders. I wanted to bring my readers behind the closed doors of the colleges and let them see what life is really like. I haven’t seen any ghosts in Oxford, nor have any of the paintings come to life as I’ve walked past, but my imagination was more than happy to fill in the blanks when it came to dreaming up the magical elements.
  • How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
    • Writers talk a lot about the importance of refilling your creative well, and I fully agree with that sentiment. I read a LOT of books each year – 150 or more on average. I need to lose myself in someone else’s story to remember why I write.
    • I also spend a long time thinking about a book idea before I sit down to start a project. I flesh it out in my mind until I am super excited to see the story come to life. I am usually thinking one or two books ahead of whatever project I’m currently doing. This helps me keep up my writing pace – each finish line marks the start of something I’m excited to tackle.
    • One of the funnest parts of being a writer (and one of the weirdest) is seeing your characters take on a life of their own as you write the story. I am a plotter. I write a synopsis and outline before I put the first word onto paper. But no matter how much I prep, there is always a moment where a character will suddenly veer in a new and interesting direction. Wherever that happens, I can only sit back in amazement and see where they lead me. It keeps me guessing, even though I’m the writer.
  • Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
    • I wrote this series in first person, present tense because I wanted the reader to feel like they are experiencing everything at the same time as my main character is doing so in the story. When put into an audio format, this gives the story a real sense of immediacy. I think it allows the listener to sink deeper into the tale, and feel as though they are sitting in on the conversations and making each discovery along with Natalie and her friends.
  • What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
    • As an author, I want readers to enjoy my story in whatever format is most comfortable for them. That might be a paperback, or an ebook, or the audio version. Arguing over “which format is better” misses the point – the main focus should be on accessibility. The only person who gets a vote on the format is the reader.
    • On a personal note, my younger daughter is dyslexic, and for a long while she hated reading. She has, however, always loved listening to stories. Audiobooks were a natural fit for her.
  • How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
    • We ate cake! I started a tradition of either baking or buying a cake whenever I finish a book. It gives me something to look forward to when I am elbow deep in edits, and it also reminds my family there is a reward for putting up with my book deadline stress. As I start to get close to the end, we all discuss which cake we want to eat when it comes time to celebrate.
  • What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
    • Don’t stress over the quality of your first draft. I am a strong believer that anything can be fixed in edits – even if that means you have to do a major rewrite. Major rewrites aren’t that bad! The key thing is to get a first draft done so you can enjoy the satisfaction that comes from writing a book. It is an incredible accomplishment – and the warm feelings you get will support you through the editing process. I would also suggest that you start networking with other writers in your genre as soon as you can. Join author groups on Facebook or Discord, or post comments and replies to authors on other social media platforms. The writing community is filled with supportive people who are happy to cheer you on or lend a hand (or be a sympathetic ear). Writing can feel lonely at times, and knowing other writers can make a big difference on dark days.
  • What’s next for you?
    • I am hard at work on the next book! I jump from one project to another, and always have at least one book in progress. At the moment I’m working on two books – one is for the Oxford Key Mysteries and the other is for my Midlife in Raven series.

Review

I love a good mystery and then you throw in a magical cat AND a wyvern (who’s really the cat) AND a few ghosts AND a setting at Oxford…well. I ask you, how could I resist?? Needless to say, I didn’t, and I’m here to tell you this story is packed with charm and appealing characters and a good conundrum to be solved. Nat and her cohorts, Kate and Mathilde, find lots of clues leading to who killed the chef that are frequently red herrings and, of course, the bigger question is what is causing the magic to fail?

Well, actually, the biggest question might be how did Nat not know about her own connection to the magical world, not to mention where did this curmudgeonly cat called H (because he hates his name) come from? But I digress.

All in all, Ms. Morrison’s Murder at St. Margaret was a most satisfying blend of mystery and urban fantasy, enhanced in a delightful way by Ms. Hewitt’s audiobook narration. I really savored the latters intonations and pacing and I think these two ladies together present an awfully enchanting tale. Now, on to book #2, Burglary at Barnard.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2021.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Lynn Morrison. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

View the full tour schedule here!

Plugging you into the audio community since 2016.

Sign up as a tour host here.

Book Review: Skins and Bone by John Baird Rogers @Gotuit

Skins and Bone          
A Mayfield-Napolitani Thriller #2     
John Baird Rogers
GoTuit Publications, June 2021
ISBN 978-1-732262-5-8
Trade Paperback

Joe Mayfield and Louise Napolitani (Weezy) are in it again. In this excellent second adventure, the couple, now inextricably connected, battle an array of financial criminals. Mayfield is an adept accounting master and Weezy, his companion, is a genius-level computer whiz with far more than an elementary-level appreciation of life and culture. Together, living in the immediate future, the couple are beset by a manipulative criminal conspiracy reflective of a greedy time.

This crime novel is set in a future era, replete with video-phones, communication implants for employees and voice-controlled driverless transportation. But this is not Science Fiction nor is it the kind of speculative futuristic novel set in some distant space-time continuum. Therein lies part of the genius of this excellent crime novel. Every bit of it is easily recognizable as probable development, just around the next plausible bend in society’s road.

Widely ranging action carries the reader feasibly from a small creek-side trailer in Florida to upscale offices in New York, to Austria and Budapest and back to middle America. Characters are many and the author has paid careful attention to all of them, even those with short-lived roles in this tapestry of crime and retribution.

Criminal manipulation of murderous events and stock markets form the core of the story, along with an almost vengeful get-even mind-set. The pace steadily rises toward a multi-scene resolution that should satisfy the most calculating reader. The principal characters and the author’s style are addictive and well-worth following into the future.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Sins of Edom, Red Sky.

Book Review: Striking Range by Margaret Mizushima @margmizu @crookedlanebks

Striking Range
A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #7
Margaret Mizushima
Crooked Lane Books, September 2021
ISBN: 978-64385-746-6
Hardcover

Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 mystery series is one of my favorites and always on my MUST READ list. I wish we could get more than one a year! Striking Range is #7, and the stories just keep getting better, with more character development and expansive plots.

Mattie Cobb, Timber Creek K-9 Deputy, has been investigating her own sad background, and after almost being murdered believes she can finally get some answers. Her dog, Robo, trained in drug detection, tracking, and smart enough to do almost anything, is her crime-fighting, always-got-your-back partner.

Mattie is about to enter the Colorado state prison to question a prisoner when the place goes on lock-down and the man she was to meet is murdered. Her last chance at finding answers appears gone unless she can find another lead.

Saddened, she returns home where Cole Walker, who is the local veterinarian and Mattie’s special guy, is about to deliver a female who is bearing Robo’s first litter of puppies. A young, very pregnant woman brings in her dog. A few days later the woman is found dead, murdered, but there is no trace of the missing newborn.

What follows is a race to find the baby and catch the mother’s murderer.

Excellent action, realistic characters, and a fine blending of the lives of a veterinarian and a K-9 cop will keep you reading. In every book the reader learns something that pertains to the work involved in each profession. Fascinating reading. And while I guessed who the bad guy was right off the bat, it didn’t detract in the slightest from my enjoyment of the story and reading about Mattie, Robo, Cole, and the rest of the gang.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2021.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Mystery

Book Review: The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea Cooper @tea_cooper @harpermusebooks @tlcbooktours

The Cartographer’s Secret
Tea Cooper
Harper Muse, November 2021
ISBN 978-0-7852-6731-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A map into the past. A long-lost young woman. And a thirty-year family mystery.

The Hunter Valley, 1880—Evie Ludgrove loves to chart the landscape around her home—hardly surprising since she grew up in the shadow of her father’s obsession with the great Australian explorer Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt. So when an advertisement appears in The Bulletin magazine offering a thousand-pound reward for proof of where Leichhardt met his fate, Evie is determined to use her father’s papers to unravel the secret. But when Evie sets out to prove her theory, she vanishes without a trace, leaving behind a mystery that haunts her family for thirty years.

1911—Letitia Rawlings arrives at the family estate in her Ford Model T to inform her great-aunt Olivia of a loss in their family. But Letitia is also escaping her own problems—her brother’s sudden death, her mother’s scheming, and her dissatisfaction with the life planned out for her. So when Letitia discovers a beautifully illustrated map that might hold a clue to the fate of her missing aunt, Evie Ludgrove, she sets out to discover the truth. But all is not as it seems, and Letitia begins to realize that solving the mystery of her family’s past could offer as much peril as redemption.

A gripping historical mystery for fans of Kate Morton and Natasha Lester’s The Paris Seamstress, The Cartographer’s Secret follows a young woman’s quest to heal a family rift as she becomes entangled in one of Australia’s greatest historical puzzles.

To many people around the world, including me, Australia is an exotic land of fascinating history and a cheeky attitude, always surprising in one way or another. I’ve learned quite a bit about this unique country from previous Tea Cooper books and that continued with The Cartographer’s Secret. Ms. Cooper could and does make a dry account of the land down under turn into a captivating tale.

This story is essentially a family saga taking place in two time periods, 1880 and 1911, and involves two mysteries, Evie’s search for a missing explorer, leading to her own disappearance, and her niece Letitia’s subsequent determination to find out what happened. Evie’s father had had almost an obsession with the explorer and she had a love of maps so she thought her mapping talents and her father’s research could point the way to learning Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt’s fate. Instead, Evie became a mystery herself but Letitia unearths secrets and learns a lot about herself along the way.

Historical mysteries are a breed unto themselves, so to speak, and this one has a basis in fact, always an intriguing element. Here we also have a little romance, a lot of adventure, and a look at two women who were ahead of their times. Ms. Cooper’s in-depth research is very evident and, once again, she has captured my imagination.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2021.

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

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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

About the Author

Tea Cooper is an established Australian author of historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist, and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling. She is the winner of two Daphne du Maurier Awards and the bestselling author of several novels, including The Horse ThiefThe Cedar CutterThe Currency Lass, and The Naturalist’s Daughter.

Connect with Tea:

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

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

Follow the tour:

Monday, November 8: @smashley.reads

Monday, November 8: Lit and Life

Tuesday, November 9: Books Cooks Looks

Wednesday, November 10: @thebookscript 

Thursday, November 11: @transportedlfl 

Friday, November 12: Pick a Good Book and @pickagoodbook

Friday, November 12: Always With a Book and @k2reader

Sunday, November 14: @stumblingintobooks 

Monday, November 15: @bookoholiccafe

Monday, November 15: Reading Reality

Tuesday, November 16: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Wednesday November 17: @mommaleighellensbooknook

Wednesday, November 17: @readingwithmrsleaf 

Thursday, November 18: @welovebigbooksandwecannotlie IG
and @welovebigbooks on TikTok

Friday, November 19: The Bookish Dilettante

Friday, November 19: Christian Chick’s Thoughts and @cctblog 

Saturday, November 20: @itsbibliotherapy 

Sunday, November 21: Girl Who Reads

Monday, November 22: @heyitscarlyrae

Monday, November 22: Read Eat Repeat

Tuesday, November 23: What is That Book About 

Wednesday, November 24: Buried Under Books 

Wednesday, November 24: @no.bookend.in.sight 

Monday, November 29: Laura’s Reviews  and @laurasreviews_1

Tuesday November 30: Jathan and Heather

Wednesday, December 1: @lilagracereads on TikTok

Thursday, December 2: BookNAround

Friday, December 3: @mamasgottaread 

Sunday, December 5: @booktimistic

TBD: Monday, November 15: @whimsyreadswithshelby 

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

Daphne du Maurier Award Winner, 2021

The Cartographer’s Secret is a galvanizing, immersive adventure following
a family’s entanglement with a vanished Australian explorer through
the lush Hunter Valley at the turn of the twentieth century, forcing the
characters to reckon with the choice found at the crux of passion and
loyalty and the power of shared blood that can either destroy or heal.”
—Joy Callaway, international bestselling author of 
The Fifth Avenue Artists Society and The Greenbrier Resort

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