Book Review: Reservations for Murder by Tim Myers

Reservations for Murder
A Lighthouse Inn Mystery #2
Tim Myers
Berkeley Prime Crime, 2002
ISBN 978-0-425-18525-4
Mass Market Paperback
Currently available in trade paperback and electronic editions

Proprietor of the Hatteras West Inn, Alex Winston would  just as soon not get involved with another murder. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t very considerate and blacksmith Jefferson Lee has been literally skewered to a timber of Alex’s new building, hoist on his own petard, so to speak. The Golden Days Fair, showcasing old-fashioned artisans and crafters, is about to open on the inn’s grounds and there are way too many potential suspects. If Alex is going to prevent more bad publicity, he’s going to have to do some snooping of his own…

Author Tim Myers brings back a delightful cast of small-town characters in this sequel to Agatha-nominated Innkeeping With Murder and introduces us to a few more we’ll hope to meet again. Alex’s sleuthing, hindered somewhat by an old girlfriend’s amorous hints and the dislike that nearly everyone felt for the murdered man, is not
especially appreciated by the local sheriff but Alex is convinced the sheriff is heading in the wrong direction. In the meantime, his housekeeper and friend, Ellie, has left town and gossip has it she’s not coming back. So what else can go wrong?

Reservations for Murder and it’s predecessor, Innkeeping With Murder, are highly recommended for everyone who loves a true cozy mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2002. Slightly revised 2018.
Review first published on murderexpress.net in 2002.

{Note: resurrecting this old review has reminded me how much I liked Tim in my bookstore days and has prompted me to do a series re-read 😉

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Book Review: Written in Blood by Layton Green—and a Giveaway!

Written in Blood
Layton Green
Seventh Street Books, November 2017
ISBN:978-1-63388-361-1
Trade Paperback

In Written in Blood, author Green introduces readers to Detective Joe “Preach” Everson. Following a common path, Green has given readers a flawed protagonist, though Preach’s baggage goes well beyond the ordinary. After suffering a tragedy as a young man, he had a sort of breakdown and fled his hometown of Creeksville, North Carolina. His life path from then until the book opens took him to Bible college, time as a church preacher, a prison chaplain and then as a police officer in Atlanta, where another incident led to another breakdown.

Here we reach the first thing about the novel that just doesn’t quite work. Preach has returned to his hometown and has been hired as a police detective even though he has not been cleared to work from his breakdown. He promises to see a therapist who happens to be a relative. One has to question what police force would hire an emotionally unstable person as a detective and what therapist would risk his or her reputation and licensing to sign off on a deeply troubled soul who has suffered at least two emotional breakdowns to serve as a detective. But let’s accept this as written for the sake of the story.

Preach is barely on the job when he and his partner Kirby are called out to a murder scene in a bookstore. Kirby notices some odd marks on the body which he correctly surmises may be a clue. With the help of Ari, a law student who works part time in the bookstore and is an avid reader, they determine that the crime has been staged to resemble the murder of the pawnbroker  in Crime and Punishment. As I’m sure you can guess, this is the first in a series of murders that happen around town, each with a literary connection. This theme is not new by any means to crime fiction, but for the most part Green does a good job of putting his own twist on the theme.

The two things I liked most about Written in Blood are the character development and the  literary tie-ins to the crimes.  I understand that some avid crime fiction fans do not care for wordy descriptions, but I found the detailed descriptions of the various people very helpful in visualizing them. The murders being staged like murders in well known works of literature was done well.  While I was familiar with all of the works used, I found that I had forgotten some of the details of the various crimes. I loved this part in a geeky sort of way, though I’m not sure a reader unfamiliar with the books would be quite so on board.

Besides the improbability of Preach actually being hired as mentioned before, the only thing that left me a bit cold is that while the focus never exactly was off the murders, the plot took some odd and meandering detours along the way through just about every depravity known to man. I think the book might have been a bit better had those parts been shorter.

Overall, Written in Blood is a good start in what could be an interesting series.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, February 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Written in Blood by Layton Green,
just leave a comment below. The winning
names will be drawn on Friday night,
  April 6th, for one Advance Reading Copy
and one finished trade paperback copy. This
drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams

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Book Links:
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The Secret, Book & Scone Society
The Secret, Book & Scone Society, Book 1
Ellery Adams
Kensington Books, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-4967-1237-0
Hardcover
From the publisher—

Miracle Springs, North Carolina, is a place of healing. Strangers flock here hoping the natural hot springs, five-star cuisine, and renowned spa can cure their ills. If none of that works, they often find their way to Miracle Books, where, over a fresh-baked “comfort” scone from the Gingerbread House bakery, they exchange their stories with owner Nora Pennington in return for a carefully chosen book. That’s Nora’s special talent—prescribing the perfect novel to ease a person’s deepest pain and lighten their heaviest burden.

When a visiting businessman reaches out to Nora for guidance, she knows exactly which novels will help. But before he can keep their appointment at Miracle Books, he’s found dead on the train tracks.

Stunned, Nora forms the Secret, Book, and Scone Society, a group of damaged souls yearning to gain trust and earn redemption by helping others. To join the society, members must divulge their darkest secret—the terrible truth that brought each of them to Miracle Springs in the first place.

Determined to uncover the truth behind the businessman’s demise, the women meet in Nora’s cramped and cozy bookstore to share stories and trade support. And as they untangle a web of corruption, they also discover their own courage, purpose, and a sisterhood that will carry them through every challenge—proving it’s never too late to turn the page and start over . . .

Ellery Adams has to work really hard to write a book I don’t like and that’s not me blowing smoke. I don’t think all of her work is 100% on point but I do find something to like about every single book. Disclaimer: I’ve known the author for years from back when I had my bookstore and she lived in Richmond and, although I haven’t seen or talked to her in far too long, I think of her fondly. Having said that, I truly think Ellery Adams is one of the best cozy writers around.

One of the best things this author does is come up with settings and/or concepts that are a little out of the norm and she’s done it again with this series debut. I quite simply adore a mystery set in or around a bookstore  (how could I not, considering my background?) but to put that store in a spa town is just terrific. Better yet, the club Nora puts together is near genius, not only to solve murders and the like but to bond these women together in such a unique fashion. Bibliotherapy at its best.

Nora’s idea is that there are few problems that can’t be remedied by reading the right book—a premise I can truly buy into—and the women she has recruited for the club all need that connection to other people with a common love for books. When you get right down to it, don’t all face-to-face book clubs thrive on reading but, perhaps more importantly, on those personal relationships? And then the icing on the cake here is the chance to be sleuths 😉

Nora, Hester, June and even Estella are unique individuals, all smart women who’ve been damaged in some way but they’re open to healing and they grow to like each other in a perfect evocation of the bonds that women form when they’re very, very lucky. Along the way, they put their heads together to figure out why this man, a visitor in town, has been murdered and why the local law is kind of ignoring it. Before everything comes to a head, these women unearth a corruption they had no idea existed.

Added to the fun of sleuthing, we’re treated, literally, to scrumptious food and beverage, enough so I was really hungry while I was reading! I’m pumped by this series debut and will definitely follow it; in the meantime, it goes on my list of favorite books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

An Excerpt from
The Secret, Book & Scone Society

Still scanning the park square, Nora wondered where the trolley passengers had gone. The lodge’s green trolley was parked in its usual place, but no lodge guests strolled the sidewalks or meandered from the row of quaint shops on Bath Street to the Pink Lady Grill or the Gingerbread House.

Just then, a flash of red caught Nora’s eye and she groaned inwardly as a tall, shapely woman passed in front of the bookshop window. The woman yanked the door open, ignoring the riotous clanging of the sleigh bells, and settled into the closest chair like a queen awaiting the adulation of her subjects. Her pouty lips curved into a cat-with-the-cream grin. “Consider your next bibliotherapy session canceled.”

“Hello to you too, Estella.” Nora picked up the stray paperbacks a customer had left on the table next to Estella’s chair. “I assume you’re referring to the man I met on the park bench. Why isn’t he coming? Did you scare him off?”

“Me?” Estella pretended to be affronted, but Nora wasn’t falling for the act. “I didn’t even get a chance to meet him. I was up at the lodge wasting my time on a man I thought had some potential, but he’s already making payments to an ex-wife and needs to send three kids to college. There’d be nothing left for me.” She waved a manicured hand in dismissal.

Nora was itching to reshelve the books and check on the coffee. Though she didn’t dislike Estella, she was rarely at ease in her company.

Recalling the strange sensation she’d experienced as the second train whistle blew, Nora felt an inexplicable prickle of dread. She jerked a thumb toward the window. “Where is everyone?”

Estella’s grin returned. “At the train station. They’ve been drawn there like flies to sugar. The sheriff rolled in a few seconds ago, and since he and I have never gotten along, I made myself scarce.”

Nora, who made it a point not to look people directly in the eye, forgot her rule and gave Estella an impatient stare. “What happened? Just spit it out.”

Crossing her arms in disappointment, Estella murmured something about no one being any fun, but eventually complied with Nora’s request. “When your man on the bench placed an order for one of Hester’s comfort scones, he asked her to box it because he was heading over here to see you. He left the bakery, box in hand, but he never made it to Miracle Books.” Estella leaned back in the chair and smoothed the skirt of her white sundress. “I’m sure he’d rather be sitting in this comfy chair than where he is now.”

Nora knew she wasn’t going to like the answer to her question, but it had to be asked. “Which is?”

“On the tracks,” Estella declared breathlessly. “Someone pushed him in front of the three o’clock train.”

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Book Review: Miss Julia Weathers the Storm by Ann B. Ross

Miss Julia Weathers the Storm
Miss Julia Series #19
Ann B. Ross
Viking, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-7352-2047-8
Hardcover

Miss Julia, a Southern gentlewoman of a certain age, is happily remarried to a loving and generous retired lawyer, Sam Murdoch. Her husband is certainly a contrast to her late husband Wesley Lloyd Springer, who was quick to criticize and tightfisted to boot. It wasn’t until after she buried him that a young woman turned up on her doorstep with a boy in hand—her late husband’s son, as it turned out.

But Miss Julia befriended Hazel Marie and young Lloyd, who is now part of her family. Hazel Marie  married a private detective, Mr. Pickens, who Miss Julia has never warmed to,  and now has twin toddlers.

When her husband suggests renting a beach house on an island and inviting Hazel Marie and her family along, Miss Julia balks. Not because of any dislike of Hazel Marie, but because Miss Julia really doesn’t care to travel. But her husband is so excited about the idea, she relents. Who else to invite? There’s their lawyer friend, Binkie, and her husband Coleman, a sergeant in the local sheriff’s department, and their young daughter Gracie. Then there’s the housekeeper Lillian, and her six year old great granddaughter Latisha. Rounding out the group is Miss Julia’s friend, LuAnne Conover, who suspects her husband is cheating on her, and Etta Mae Wiggins, a home health aid, who manages a mobile home park, and could use a vacation.

Latisha spends her time at the beach looking for sea shells, but on one of the days a lot more than sand dollars washes up on the shore. Hundred dollar bills, suspected to be dumped overboard by drug smugglers, have vacationers scrambling for the money. Three strangers  are overly interested in Latisha’s finds, and later show up in Abbotsville, after Miss Julia and her entourage have all returned home. Is the little girl in danger?

An entertaining addition to this long-running series. Fans of “Steel Magnolias” or Fannie Flagg’s novels will enjoy this slice of southern life, with characters that will keep you wanting more. It’s the nineteenth book in the series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, July 2017.

Book Review: The Beautician’s Notebook by Anne Clinard Barnhill

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Title: The Beautician’s Notebook
Author: Anne Clinard Barnhill
Publisher: Moonshine Cove Publishing
Publication Date: April 12, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Romance

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Amazon // Chapters // Indiebound

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The Beautician’s Notebook
Anne Clinard Barnhill
Moonshine Cove Publishing, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-945181-11-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Willa Jo Temple is found stabbed through the heart on the floor of her beauty shop, the good folk of Summerset, NC are sent into a tizzy.

It’s up to her ex-husband, Sheriff Tal Hicks, to investigate. Evidence points to four possible suspects: Willa Jo’s business partner; a town socialite; a preacher’s wife; and Willa Jo’s live-in lover.

Willa Jo kept a notebook containing all the secrets she’s learned while doing hair. Rumor has it Willa Jo is going to write a book, exposing everything. But now, Willa Jo is dead and the incriminating notebook is missing, leaving the sheriff with very little to go on. As he interrogates the suspects, he finds himself attracted to newcomer, Clarissa Myers. He delves into her past only to discover she has deeper ties to Summerset than anyone imagined. Before the sheriff can complete his interrogations, however, another suspect, Avenelle Young, confesses.

The sheriff is skeptical about Avenelle Young’s guilt because she refuses to discuss what happened with Willa Jo. Her statement is a terse declaration of guilt, with neither motive nor method explained. The sheriff has no choice but to incarcerate Mrs. Young.

During the investigations, as the secrets of Summerset are slowly revealed, each family touched by Willa Jo’s death must come to terms with the new information being unearthed. The repercussions are far-reaching, and forgiveness hard to come by. However, at the heart of the book is the possibility of reconciliation among the town folk as they learn the real ‘truth’ about one another.

Nobody collects secrets quite like a beautician and Willa Jo might have been planning to spill those secrets so, when she’s found dead, there are plenty of reasons and suspects if, in fact, she was murdered. This is not going to be an easy one for Sheriff Tal Hicks, investigating the death of the ex-wife he never stopped loving, but the real story is how the townsfolk come to terms with those secrets and with life and death in a small town.

Tal’s investigation is important, of course, and there are a lot of red herrings here but I really got much more pleasure out of getting to know all these weird, wonderful, sometimes goofy characters. Summerset is a lovely little town, made more so by its citizens; there are inevitable reminders of Steel Magnolias (without the deep drama) and they’re not out of place but The Beautician’s Notebook stands on its own quite nicely. It’s the perfect book to wind up the summer.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

About the Author

Anne Clinard Barnhill is an award-winning, internationally published writer who has published two historical novels (AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN and QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER), a short story collection (WHAT YOU LONG FOR), a memoir (AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ: Autism, My Sister and Me) and a poetry chapbook (COAL, BABY). She has also written hundreds of articles, features, book reviews and essays published in a variety of newspapers, magazines and blogs. Ms. Barnhill has received four regional artist grants, one writer’s residency and has taught writing and creativity workshops in various places across North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina and Mississippi. She has three grown sons and lives on the NC coast with her husband and a very energetic dog.

For more information please visit Anne’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

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Book Review: If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss

If the Creek Don’t Rise
Leah Weiss
Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-4926-4745-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

He’s gonna be sorry he ever messed with me and Loretta Lynn

Sadie Blue has been a wife for fifteen days. That’s long enough to know she should have never hitched herself to Roy Tupkin, even with the baby.

Sadie is desperate to make her own mark on the world, but in remote Appalachia, a ticket out of town is hard to come by, and hope often gets stomped out.  When a stranger sweeps into Baines Creek and knocks things off kilter, Sadie finds herself with an unexpected lifeline…if she can just figure out how to use it.

This intimate insight into a fiercely proud, tenacious community unfolds through the voices of the forgotten folks of Baines Creek. With a colorful cast of characters that each contribute a new perspective, IF THE CREEK DON’T RISE is a debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

There are only a few authors I’ve come across that write fiction about Appalachia with authority and with a strong sense of understanding, compassion and respect. Catherine Marshall and Sharyn McCrumb come to mind and I’ve now added Leah Weiss to my shortlist. This may be a debut but Ms. Weiss has created a story that, to me, represents the way I personally feel about the Appalachian people and their way of life.

Those of us who live in more traditional, perhaps more “sophisticated” environs get a good taste of Sadie’s insular, self-contained world and, while we think her pregnancy and marriage at such a young age are appalling enough, it’s much harder to comprehend the way of life that would lead her Granny to treat Sadie so harshly. As Sadie says, “Granny don’t do my heart any good” but Granny is what Appalachian mores and society are all about. It all makes thoughts of murder a little more forgiveable.

My heart was immediately taken by Sadie and I was energized by her hopes of escaping this crushing poverty and illiteracy but, truly, nearly all these people, Granny and the abusive Roy included, tugged at me for one reason or another. Some of my reaction is because of my own familiarity with the Appalachian world from regular family trips to the Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee areas when I was growing up and my fondness for fiction set there as well as nonfiction. Ms. Weiss is responsible for drawing me in this time and I truly hope to see more of Sadie and the people of Baines Creek. In the meantime, If the Creek Don’t Rise has a place on my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Purchase Links:

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Book Depository // Indiebound

An Indie Next, Okra Pick, and LibraryReads 

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About the Author

Leah Weiss is a Southern writer and novelist born in North Carolina and raised in the foothills of Virginia. Her debut novel, If the Creek Don’t Rise, will be released in August of 2017. Her short stories have been published in The Simple Life magazine, Every Day Fiction and Deep South Magazine. She retired in 2015 from a 24-year career as Executive Assistant to the Headmaster at Virginia Episcopal School. She now pursues writing full time.

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“Weiss’ debut novel reveals the best and worst of human nature…
The author’s masterful use of language, including dialect unique
to the area, builds another layer of connection between these
characters while she develops a greater sense of inner isolation
and distance from those outside the community. Weiss’ novel is a
great suggestion for fans of the Big Stone Gap books, by Adriana Trigiani,
and Mitford series, by Jan Karon.” – Booklist, STARRED review

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Book Review: Heavy Weather by Normandie Fischer

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Title: Heavy Weather
Series: A Carolina Coast Novel #2

Author: Normandie Fischer
Narrator: Laura Jennings
Publication Date: January 30, 2017

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Purchase Links:

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Heavy Weather
A Carolina Coast Novel #2
Normandie Fischer
Normandie Fischer, January 2017
Narrated by Laura Jennings
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

Death, life, family, domestic abuse–Heavy Weather explores all these themes in a memorable and compelling narrative. When Annie Mac’s life explodes like a storm at sea, she is helpless to fight back. Left for dead, her two children targeted by her abuser, her life appears to be over. The people who help her show her how to weather a storm that she cannot control.

It takes a town to save a child. That town is Beaufort, North Carolina.

Annie Mac’s estranged husband vows that nothing will stop him from getting his baby girl. Not Annie Mac and certainly not that boy of hers.

Only four blocks away, Hannah Morgan lives in comfort with her husband and dog, making pottery and waiting for her best friend to come home. When she discovers the two children cowering in the bushes and their mama left for dead, it doesn’t take her long to set her coterie of do-gooders to some extra-strength do-gooding. Add in Clay, a lonely police lieutenant yanked out of his comfort zone and into the heart of this small family, and who knows what will happen?

A couple of things struck me about this novel as I was reading it or, rather, listening to it. One is that, while it was longer than my usual preference, I didn’t mind this time because I got to know the characters so well. The second point is how much more emotional this story seemed than other domestic abuse novels I’ve read. Certainly, the latter has to do with the quality of the author’s storytelling but it’s also because the narrator has a way of telling the story that truly involves the listener.

Those two things combined led me to form a real attachment to a number of the characters for different reasons. Hannah has a kind of sad happiness about her, meaning her essential joy with her husband and her life have an underlying reason that this is not complete.  Annie Mac, primary victim of the domestic abuse, is to be felt for but only because of her injuries and her fear for her children. She’s a strong woman, determined not to let Roy get the best of her or to live in fear. Her son, Ty, is the manliest little boy you’ll ever want to see but for such a wretched reason and Rita is a woman of incredible strength. Clay resents the intrusion of Annie Mac and her kids into his comfortable but solitary life but soon finds his world changing for the better and other people are just as memorable and as appealing, all in their own ways.

It’s a little difficult to call this a mystery but it’s certainly crime fiction and there are mystery elements. There’s something of a burgeoning love story and it’s in some ways the story of a small town. At its heart, though, Heavy Weather is a tale of abuse and the effect it can have on so many, even those who aren’t directly involved.

Laura Jennings is a particularly good narrator with clarity in her voice and an appealing tone. She does the women’s and children’s parts very well and some of the men although I had a bit of difficulty distinguishing a couple of them. I also want to note that she handles the southern and racial accents especially nicely without being the least bit overboard and, as a Southerner, I appreciated that.

All in all, Ms. Fischer’s engaging story coupled with Ms. Jennings’ narration make for a listening experience I’m glad I had the chance to enjoy and I’ll be looking for more from both.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

About the Author

Normandie Fischer studied sculpture in Italy before receiving a BA, summa cum laude with special honors in English. Her books, which have garnered numerous awards, include her Carolina Coast stories: Becalmed, Heavy Weather, Twilight Christmas, and Sailing out of Darkness. From Fire into Fire and Two from Isaac’s Housea Romantic Times Top Pick—form the beginning of her Isaac’s House series. A lifelong sailor, Normandie and her husband spent a number of years on board their 50-foot ketch, Sea Venture, in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, sailing home to North Carolina in 2011 to take care of her mother. They have four children, two grandchildren, and an aussiedoodle named Rhion.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookPinterestAmazon

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About the Narrator

Having graduated with a Masters Degree in Fine Arts in Creative Writing, Laura Jennings has an intrinsic
 appreciation of the mechanisms and techniques that comprise the art of the tale. She’s able to
 analyze the underlying moods and currents of a book and bring these into her interpretation of 
the author’s work. She believes her place as narrator is to be the facilitator for all the nuances of 
the spoken word and the written word between the author and the listener. Her naturally clear 
and fresh voice as narrator contributes that extra dimension of enjoyment.

Laura works full time as a professional narrator and voice-over artist. She has narrated titles for Tantor Media, Audible Studios, Dreamscape Media, Insatiable Press and Cherry Hill Publishing.

She enjoys a quiet lifestyle in the Pacific Northwest with her loving husband and aged beagle, Dottie. Her days are filled with narrating, yoga, hiking and, of course, always reading.

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Play an excerpt here.

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Jun. 7th: CGB Blog Tours

Jun. 8th: A Book and A Latte

Jun. 9th: Read Day and Night

Jun. 10th: Lilly’s Book World

Jun. 11th: Buried Under Books

Jun. 12th: Ronelle Antoinette

Jun. 13th: Lomeraniel

Jun. 14th: Wall-to-Wall Books

Jun. 15th: Blogger Nicole

Jun. 16th: The Book Addict’s Reviews

Jun. 17th: Simply Kelina

Jun. 18th: Avid Book Collector

Jun. 19th: Christian Chick’s Thoughts

Jun. 20th: Spunky-n-Sassy

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