Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Indian Burial Ground Review & Book Tour

Author: Nick Medina
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: April 16, 2024

Many thanks to Berkley Publ. for an arc of this title.  All opinions expressed are my own. #berkleypartner #berkleybookstagram

Review published in Mystery & Suspense Magazine

Meet the author & read an excerpt below!

Review:
INDIAN BURIAL GROUND by Author Nick Medina is a bone chilling, highly atmospheric acknowledgment of the stereotyping and plight of Indigenous people. A character driven story of generational drama that's rich in mythology and tribal lore, this story highlights social issues long suffered by marginalized people living on reservations including suicide, alcoholism, and violence. It's an honest, straight forward portrayal of a family in crisis as they confront the spirits and demons they thought buried.

Thirty-eight-year-old Noemi Brossard is optimistic about escaping the reservation for a better life when she receives devastating news that her prosperous, happy boyfriend committed suicide. She knows in her heart something's not right and begins probing into the circumstances surrounding his death. After being gone for decades, her Uncle Louie returns to the reservation around the same time. To help Noemi with her grief, he descends back down the dark, lethal rabbit hole of his past, sharing his time as a seventeen-year-old boy working to hold his family together as his mother succumbed to the lure of alcohol. Eventually, Louie ended up alone caring for a young Noemi while navigating an array of mysterious and horrific supernatural events occurring on tribal land. Among other things, strange occurrences are attributed to a sinister spirit targeting the tribe and some of these scenes are horror based, so be forewarned. Now, Noemi and Louie are facing some tough questions. Has Louie's return to the tribe angered the spirits causing them to lash out? Was Noemi's boyfriend's death suicide or is something more sinister happening? Despite the imperilment of unlocking demons and spirits best left to rest, Louie and Noemi begin rattling cages by digging into the past.

INDIAN BURIAL GROUND is a stunning, bloodcurdling blend of mystery and horror. I don't mind saying I'm a wimp when it comes to reading horror, but I found this story to be eerily hypnotic and haunting and was intrigued by the mysterious yet deadly aura engulfing the characters and story overall. Medini's expert weaving of mythical and cultural lore throughout enhances the story line while lending an authentic yet supernatural feel. The story unfolds through two timelines - the dark past through Louie and the present via Noemi. Both points of view come together to paint a heartbreaking picture of the generational impact of trauma and abuse on groups of Indigenous people. While the story is chilling with a menacing tone, an encouraging message of inner strength and hope manages to peek through.

Author Nick Medini has crafted a brutally honest, powerful story of the devastating effects of substance abuse on both the addicted and their loved ones in INDIAN BURIAL GROUND. His commitment and willingness to take a stand and offer a voice to marginalized people by exposing the stereotyping and challenges faced by life on a reservation is commendable. Medini's passion and desire to open the public's eyes and be a conduit for change is evident by the inclusion of his message at the end offering helpful avenues to Natives (and anyone else) seeking help for alcohol abuse and mental health issues. The author's enthusiasm and knowledge of Native lore and culture is clear as he flawlessly weaves supernatural myths and legends into this suspense laden, heartbreaking mystery/horror story. Highly recommended to fans of mystery, horror and stories featuring Indigenous people.

Synopsis:
All Noemi Broussard wanted was a fresh start. With a new boyfriend who actually treats her right and a plan to move from the reservation she grew up on—just like her beloved Uncle Louie before her—things are finally looking up for her. Until the news of her boyfriend’s apparent suicide brings her world crumbling down. But the facts about Roddy’s death just don’t add up, and Noemi isn’t the only one who suspects something menacing might be lurking within their tribal lands.

After more than a decade away, Uncle Louie has returned to the reservation, bringing with him a past full of secrets and horror and what might be the key to determining Roddy’s true cause of death. Together, Noemi and Louie set out to find answers...but as they get closer to the truth, Noemi begins to question whether it might be best for some secrets to remain buried.


About the Author:
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Nick Medina has degrees in organizational and multicultural communication, and has worked as a college communications' instructor. He has had short stories published in various fiction outlets since 2009. An enthusiast of local and Native lore, his debut novel, Sisters of the Lost Nation, features several supernatural myths and legends. He became interested in the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune about Ashley Loring Heavyrunner, who went missing from the Blackfoot reservation in 2017. He enjoys exploring the strange and unusual, haunted cemeteries, and other spooky places, playing guitar, blues-based music and classic rock, physical fitness, and spending time with family.
(Photo courtesy of Ashely Suttor)

INDIAN BURIAL GROUND EXCERPT

Noemi

The bathroom door opened just then, and I'm sure we were both glad it did. From within, black leather boots, skinny jeans, a black tank top with a rainbow heart bedazzled across the chest, shiny lips, and puffed-up hair emerged. Mom. 

Her eyes widened. Fear momentarily cracked her made-up face, and a scream of terror in response to the strange man standing in our living room almost rang out, transforming instead into a cry of joy at the last second, right when she recognized him. "Louie!" She did a little hop, her boots thumping against the laminate floor. "Don't do that to me!" A second later, she was in her brother's arms. 

"Lula," he cried. 

We'd gone years without phone calls, video chats, and greeting cards. Sometimes we'd exchange texts on birthdays and holidays, filled with statements like Hope you're well, rather than questions that might encourage conversation. 

Mom looked up at him, taking his face in her hands. "You cut off your hair. It's gray." Even though she was three years older than him, Mom's hair has been chocolate cherry my entire life. "Let me turn back time for you." She laughed. "My god, what are you doing here?" 

"Pow wow," he said. 

"I wish you'd have told me. Everyone's going to be so surprised to see you. But this is perfect!" She clapped her hands. "We're meeting friends at the Blue Gator tonight. You can meet Noemi's boyfriend. My new guy's gonna come by too." 

"No he won't," I interjected from the couch. Mom threw a dismissive wave in my direction. 

"Say you'll come," Mom said. 

"Sure. Yeah." He seemed to reassure himself again. "I'll meet you there after I check in at the hotel."

 "Why not stay here? I know it's a little small for-" Mom paused, finally looking past her brother. "Where's Holly? Jill?" 

"Can we-?" he started, but was cut off by a trio of stern knocks against the door. It wasn't Holly or Jill.

 "Chief Fisher," Mom and Uncle Louie said in unison the instant I opened the door.

Luke Fisher wasn't chief of the tribal police anymore, but he had been for so long that most of us still called him that. Most days, he still acted like he was on the job. 

"Noemi." His hands reached for mine as his eyes gave Mom an acknowledging glance. They lingered a little longer on Louie, but whatever he'd come to say took precedence over the friendly reunion that might have otherwise occurred. 

"What is it?" I said. Luke wasn't the type to just drop in for visits. He wasn't the type to just stroke the back of your hand either. 

"Let's sit," he said. I didn't want to. "It's Roddy," he uttered. "I know how close the two of you are, so I thought I should tell you before-" 

"Tell me what?" His old hands, veins stretching the thin skin, squeezed mine. "He was hit by a car."

 "What?" I shrieked. Mom did too. 

Luke glanced at the sofa, but I hadn't changed my mind about sitting. "I'm really sorry." 

Sorry. I'd never known how much weight a word could hold until Luke uttered it. 

"No!" Tears appeared as if a magician had waved a wand in front of my eyes. "Tribal PD will figure out what happened." "You're saying . . . ?" Though I heard what he was saying, I couldn't grasp it. Didn't want to. 

"I'm sorry," he said again. 

"How?" 

"He was out on Grand Nacre Drive. The driver said he came out of nowhere." 

That didn't make sense. I'd texted Roddy a couple hours earlier, confirming our plans for the night. He was going to pick me up at eight. I told Luke as much. "He didn't say anything about driving anywhere else." 

"He wasn't driving. He was on foot." 

That made even less sense. "It's the height of summer. Roddy hates walking in the heat." There were only two reasons to be along Grand Nacre Drive: to get to the casino or to leave it. 

"Was he at the casino?" I asked, knowing he had no reason to go there. 

Luke's shoulders hitched. "There's a lot to figure out." 

I pulled my hands away from his and braced myself against the wall. Reality wasn't yet registering, but I knew what I'd lose if I lost Roddy. Hopes, dreams, second chances. Without him, all I'd have were memories, regret, and forty years in the rearview mirror. Mom told me the years would go fast, back in my twenties when $130k-the amount of my trust fund, thanks to years of per capita payments I couldn't touch until I turned twenty-one-seemed like a million bucks. And Mom was right, the years came and went like sparks. And, like the money, I'd wasted them all. 

"When?" I asked Luke. 

"About an hour ago." 

I looked out the window. The sun was below the horizon. All that remained of its light was a fiery orange band like the ring around a lit cigarette. 

"It must have been light when the accident happened." Anger rose within me. "Was the driver drunk?"

 "Noemi . . ." Luke threw his head back and cupped his brow. I'd never seen him so unsettled. "It might not have been the driver's fault." 

"He's blaming Roddy?" 

"She's saying . . ." Eyes clenched tight, he slowly exhaled and then, finally looking like the authority he'd always been, as his arms fell to his sides and he gave it to me straight. "The driver said Roddy lunged in front of her vehicle. You've already said yourself that Roddy didn't like to walk and that he hadn't mentioned going anywhere today. There's concern"-his voice softened-"that this could have been suicide." 

"What?!" I shrieked again. "No fucking way. He wouldn't. He wouldn't. We had plans. We were gonna get out of here. We were gonna get tattoos!" 

"There's a lot to figure out," he repeated. 

"What exactly did the driver say about Roddy?" Uncle Louie asked, stepping closer to Luke.

 "According to her, he jumped in front of-" 

"He wouldn't!" I insisted. 

"With the way word travels around here, I might as well tell you everything." Luke exhaled another deep breath. "The driver ran for help. When she returned to Roddy, she saw a coyote standing over his body . . . with blood around its mouth." 

My stomach churned. I finally sat. Mom plopped beside me, wrapping me in her arms, while Uncle Louie, paler than before, inexplicably locked the door.

---

Excerpted from Indian Burial Ground by Nick Medina Copyright © 2024 by Nick Medina. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Nosy Neighbors Review & Book Tour

Author: Freya Sampson
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: April 2, 2024

Special thanks to Berkley Publishing for an arc and book tour invitation.  All opinions expressed are my own.

4 Hearts

Two neighbors-at-war band together to stop a dangerous criminal in their midst in this enthralling new novel from the USA Today bestselling author of The Lost Ticket.

Review:
NOSY NEIGHBORS by Author Freya Sampson is the poignant, highly emotional story of a community of misfits living in apartments in Shelley House.  It's the story of quirky individuals caught up in the mystery surrounding the historic house and their quest to save it from destruction.  It's the story of enemies becoming allies in a search for a criminal targeting a fellow tenant.  It's the story of family, forgiveness and reconciliation.

On one hand, Author Freya Sampson has rendered a lighthearted mystery with quaint, classic characters - from cranky, ancient, pro-busybody Dorothy who tracks every person daily in her notebook to the newer, mysterious, recent sub-tenant Kat with a hidden history and secret she closely guards.  On the other hand, the story has a darker, more menacing side with broken characters seeking redemption and lives lost to drugs and alcohol addiction and broken families.  Sampson peels back the layers of each individual even as she weaves all their lives together in the spirit of community and a common cause.  Someone attacks one of the residents of the Shelley House about the same time that the owner serves eviction notices with his intent to tear the building down.  Can a group of oddballs embrace their differences to unite and solve the mystery of the attacker while also saving their home from demolition?  
 
Through the alternating points of view of Dorothy and Kat, readers are drawn into this heartfelt, complex story that proves to be much deeper than first indicated.  A steadily increasing pace and unpredictable cast keeps readers on their toes through twists and turns expertly manipulated by Sampson.  It would be easy to dismiss this as another cozy mystery, but as the story unfolds the individual heartbreaking, life stories of each tenant are explored exposing themes of addiction, communication or the lack thereof, loneliness and forgiveness.  The author does a great job of weaving all the individual stories together into a tantalizing, often humorous tale of community joining forces in a common cause.  Highly recommended to fans of cozy mysteries with a lot of depth and heart. 

Synopsis:
Twenty-five-year-old Kat Bennett has never felt at home anywhere, and especially not in crumbling Shelley House. According to her neighbors, she’s prickly and unapproachable, but beneath her tough exterior, Kat is plagued by guilt from her past.

Seventy-seven-year-old Dorothy Darling is Shelley House’s longest resident, and if you believe the other tenants, she’s as cantankerous and vindictive as they come. Except there’s a good reason Dorothy spends her days spying on her neighbors—a closely guarded secret that no else knows and the reason Dorothy barely leaves her beloved home.

When their building faces demolition, sworn enemies Kat and Dorothy become unlikely allies in their quest to save their historic home. But when someone starts to play dirty and viciously targets one of the residents, Dorothy and Kat suspect foul play in their community. After the police close the investigation, it's up to this improbable pair to bring a criminal to justice.


Freya Sampson
 is the USA Today bestselling author of The Last Chance Library and The Lost Ticket. She studied history at Cambridge University and worked in television as an executive producer, making documentaries on everything from the British royal family to neighbors from hell. She lives in London with her husband, children, and cats.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

CHEATER Review & Book Tour

Author: Karen Rose
Series: Romantic Suspense #29; San Diego #2
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: Mar. 26, 2024

3.5 Stars
Many thanks to Berkley Publ. for an arc and tour invitation. All opinions expressed are my own.

First reviewed in Mystery & Suspense Magazine

A shocking murder leaves an affluent retirement community reeling in this riveting, high-stakes second installment of the San Diego Case Files, from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Karen Rose.

Review:
CHEATER by Author Karen Rose is the second book in the San Diego Case Files and the twenty-ninth book in the Romantic Suspense series. Readers met the main characters in the first book COLD BLOODED LIAR, and while surprised, I was glad to see Kit and Sam's story continue. For fans who may fear picking this one up without having read book one, you'll have no issue as Rose is meticulous in providing enough backstory for readers to jump in at any point.

Det. Kit McKittrick and her partner, Connor, are called to the affluent Shady Oaks retirement facility when a resident is found stabbed to death. When it's discovered the victim was a former decorated police officer who's apparently been murdered over a discovery he made, things quickly escalate. Psychologist Dr. Sam Reeves assists in the investigation as he has an established rapport with several of the patients as both a volunteer and doctor. The only one unhappy to see him is Kit as she continues denying her feelings and holding him at bay. A second untimely death ramps up the urgency along with the discovery of a major theft. There's a killer targeting patients at the retirement home, and Kit is determined to identify them before another life is lost. It's clear someone connected to the home is running an elaborate scheme and profiting off the citizens, then killing when in danger of discovery. Unfortunately, Kit and her team run into one dead end after another. Can they identify a killer before another life is lost?

CHEATER is an intriguing whodunnit police procedure style mystery with a pale side of romance. The retirement home setting supports a large cast of unique, aging characters, some of whom are quite flamboyant, colorful and humorous which helps lighten the tone. The complex, intricately woven plot line is typical of the author with meticulous details and breadcrumbs for both the police and readers to follow. Several plausible red herrings keep Kit and readers guessing. As the story unfolds, Kit and Sam dance around the attraction simmering between them with both afraid to make the first move. While the overall plot line is complex, the story lingers a bit long in the center before picking up again in the final third heading into the climax.

Author Karen Rose is one of my favorite authors in the suspense thriller genre. I'm familiar with her style of writing and have spent many a late-night devouring one of her books. CHEATER has a different vibe than her past work, and some may find it lacking in the typical darkness and sense of malice, evil and urgency normally found in Rose's books. It's entirely possible it's intentional, and the author's going in a new direction with the San Diego series. Rose does an excellent job of highlighting the competency of women in roles of power through Kit's character while also showing her vulnerability when it comes to family and the man she thinks deserves better than her. Recommended to fans of lighter mysteries, thrillers and romance suspense.

 Synopsis:
Death is not an unfamiliar visitor to Shady Oaks Retirement Village, which provides San Diego with premier elderly support from independent retiree housing to full-time hospice care. But when a resident’s body is found brutally stabbed and his apartment ransacked, it’s clear there’s someone deadly in their community. Detective Katherine “Kit” McKittrick quickly discovers that Shady Oaks is full of skeleton-riddled closets, and most tenants prefer to keep their doors firmly closed to the SDPD.

A longtime volunteer at the retirement facility, Dr. Sam Reeves honors his late grandfather’s memory by playing the piano for the residents regularly. So it shouldn’t be such a surprise when Kit crosses paths with him during her investigation, after she’d avoided the criminal psychologist—and the emotions he evokes—for the last six months.

Sam’s rapport within the retirement village proves vital to the case, and the pair find themselves working together once again—much to Kit’s dismay. But she is determined to apprehend the shadow of death lurking around Shady Oaks...and equally determined to ignore the feelings she’s developing for a certain psychologist.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

THE UNQUIET BONES Book Tour and Review

Author: Loreth Ann White
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: March 5, 2024

Special thanks to the publisher and MB Communications for an arc of this title and book tour invitation. All opinions expressed are my own.

Review published in Mystery & Suspense Magazine

4 Bleeding Hearts

A shocking discovery of human bones reopens an almost fifty-year-old cold case—and rips apart the lives of a group of friends.

Review:
THE UNQUIET BONES by Author Loreth Anne White is based on a true unsolved crime that occurred in North Vancouver, Canada in 1976 where White resided as a young teen. A local sixteen-year-old girl disappeared after parting from her best friend and proceeding home alone. Her murder remains unsolved today, leaving loved ones in limbo without closure. White's compassion and empathy for the lost and those left behind to grieve fuels her desire to highlight their plight via her books giving a voice to the emotionally distraught suffering the aftermath of trauma, loss and especially the unknown.

THE UNQUIET BONES, a highly atmospheric suspense thriller involving skeletal remains unearthed during the moving of an old chapel, is book one in the Munroe and Quinn series. Upon the discovery of the remains, speculation is that it could be Annalise Jansen, a young teen who's been missing for forty-seven years after vanishing on her way home from a party. RCMP Sgt. Jane Munro who's mourning the mysterious disappearance of her finance, Matt Rossi, is struggling to come to terms with her overwhelming grief as well as her six-month pregnancy, when she's assigned the cold case. Having experienced unsolved loss, she's sympathetic to families desperate for closure, and determined to give them answers. Jane calls in forensic anthropologist Dr. Ella Quinn and together they vow to identify the remains through every means possible and bring this long-lost individual home to their family.

When news of the recovery circulates, rumors run rampant among the people in the small town. The possibility and high probability it’s Annalise make six outstanding citizens once dubbed the Shoreview Six extremely nervous as they wonder if their long-buried secrets and lies are about to unravel. Meeting in secret, they shore up old alibis and alliances. If the truth is revealed, affluent lives are going up in smoke and someone is going to pay the price for what happened all those years ago. If no one talks, their secrets remain buried, right? Maybe, maybe not. Authorities look to the recovered bones for answers while a town holds their collective breaths. In the hands of a skilled forensic anthropologist like Dr. Ella Quinn, the long buried, unquiet bones speak. They have a story to tell. What do they reveal?

Author Loreth Anne White renders another riveting, impossible to put down, page burner in THE UNQUIET BONES. Her skill as a writer and the fact that this story is based on a true crime take it to another level. Through multiple points of view and past/present chapters, a heartbreaking story emerges with dire implications for several of the large cast of unreliable characters. As fingers are pointed and threats made, an inevitable tone of malice permeates the pages. With each exposed secret and lie, the pace steadily increases, and White brilliantly manipulates readers and characters toward the shocking conclusion. Layers are stripped away, skeletons rattled, and the truth finally breaks free giving loved ones left behind needed closure.

White's unique gift for taking real life tragedies and turning them into mesmerizing stories with grace and passion while weaving forensic science into a riveting story line is simply amazing. No one does it better. The level of research, time, devotion and heart she puts into her work is evident. I can't wait for the next book in this series. Highly recommended to fans of mysteries, suspense and thrillers as well as lovers of crime fiction.

 Synopsis:

When human bones are found beneath an old chapel in the woods, evidence suggests the remains could be linked to the decades-old case of missing teen Annalise Jansen. Homicide detective Jane Munro—pregnant and acutely attuned to the preciousness of life—hopes the grim discovery will finally bring closure to the girl’s family.

But for a group of Annalise’s old friends, once dubbed the Shoreview Six by the media, it threatens to expose a terrible pledge made on an autumn night forty-seven years ago. The friends are now highly respected, affluent members of their communities, and none of them ever expected the dark chapter in their past to resurface. But as Jane and forensic anthropologist Dr. Ella Quinn peel back the layers of secrets, the group begins to fracture. Will one cave? Will they turn on each other?

The investigation takes a sharp turn when Jane discovers a second body—that of the boy long blamed for Annalise’s disappearance. As the bones tell their story, the group learns just how far each will go to guard their own truth.

Meet the Author:

Loreth Anne White is an Amazon Charts, Washington Post, and Bild bestselling author of thrillers, mysteries, and suspense. With over 3 million books sold around the world, she is an ITW thriller award finalist, a three-time RITA finalist, an overall Daphne du Maurier Award winner, Arthur Ellis finalist, and winner of multiple industry awards.

A recovering journalist who has worked in both South Africa and Canada, she now calls Canada home. She resides in the Pacific Northwest, dividing time between Victoria on Vancouver Island, a ski resort in the Coast Mountains, and a rustic lakeside cabin in the Cariboo.

When she’s not writing or dreaming up plots, you will find her on the lakes, in the ocean, or on the trails with her dog where she tries—unsuccessfully—to avoid bears. For more information on her books please visit her website at lorethannewhite.com

Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Loreth.Anne....
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/Loreth
Or via Instagram: lorethannewhite

Visit her at www.lorethannewhite.com
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Friday, March 1, 2024

NOTHING BUT THE BONES Review

Author: Brian Panowich
Series: Bull Mountain #4
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: April 16, 2024

Many thanks to Minotaur Books for the arc. All opinions expressed are my own.

Review published in Mystery & Suspense Magazine
5 Raw Hearts

With lyrical prose and hard-hitting depictions of the hardscrabble life in the rural south, Brian Panowich, author of Bull Mountain, Like Lions, and Hard Cash Valley, delivers a gripping new chapter in his tales of McFalls County in Nothing But the Bones.

Review:

NOTHING BUT THE BONES by Author Brian Panowich is another raw, gripping, graphic addition to the Bull Mountain series set in McFalls County, Georgia. A novella and three full length books precede this one, and I highly recommend reading them in order. Having said that, each book will stand alone with no issue and that’s due to the author’s ability to weave the needed backstory into each book. If you're a fan of Southern Noir, don't hesitate to pick this book up and dive in. You'll need to clear your calendar, pour yourself a strong one and settle in for the long haul as there's no stopping once you start reading this book.

Author Brian Panowich has crafted another stunningly powerful tale in this award-winning series. NOTHING BUT THE BONES opens with a scene that takes place prior to Clayton Burroughs becoming sheriff of McFalls County. Readers learn how Nelson McKenna became known as "Nails" when adopted into the Gareth Burroughs crime family and how he became an enforcer - a role he's uncomfortable with. Fast forward in time and Nails steps in to save a woman from a horrific fate in a roadside pub igniting a series of explosive mishaps that lead to he and the woman, Dallas, on the run from a multitude of malevolent forces. Nails is so far out of his comfort zone with Dallas that it leaves him confused, speechless and undecisive, but when he learns that the family he thought he could trust to always have his back might have ulterior motives, he forges ahead vowing to protect the woman with his life. Nails and Dallas leave a trail of violence, death and utter chaos in their wake as they make their way south. With his back nailed to the wall, Nails makes one last stand knowing he may not survive. The repercussions are heard all the way back in McFalls County. Time has run out. Who'll be left standing? Who'll take the fall?

NOTHING BUT THE BONES is a tension laden, fast paced, gritty tale of blood, sweat and tears - a prime example of southern noir done right. Panowich strips the words down to nothing but the bones - no fluff, no filler, as he expertly manipulates tainted, larger than life antiheroes through a complex, multi-faceted plot line toward an explosive climax no one will see coming. His sharp, descriptive prose is well suited to communicating a keen sense of place and southern tradition as well as cajoling engaging characters to life to the point of them stepping off the page into your living room. Readers can see, sense and smell the gun powder and motor oil as Nails and Dallas barrel down the highway in his classic LTD Ford toward their destination, knowing with little doubt their fate is sealed. While this story is action driven, it's the emotional turmoil of the characters I want to emphasize - A man and a woman, both outcasts, both battling their own demons, both needing something neither believes they deserve finding each other on a journey to hell and back. The heart break, the despair, the self-hatred drips like blood off the pages due to the amazingly talented author.

Brian Panowich is a force to be reckoned with in the southern noir and grit lit genre, and no one's more deserving of the accolades coming his way. I can say without reservation he's on my short list of favorite auto-read noir authors. NOTHING BUT THE BONES is nothing but the best in southern noir today. I hope there's more to come! Highly recommended to fans of crime fiction, suspense and noir.

Synopsis:
In McFalls County, local crime boss Gareth Burroughs runs everything on the mountain. And Nelson “Nails” McKenna has been his enforcer since he was a teenager, though his heart's not really in the dirty work. Then one night in a local roadhouse, Nails goes too far, defending a woman, and even Burroughs’s reach can’t get him out of this one. With a dead body and countless witnesses, Nails and the woman become fugitives on the run, and unlikely partners.

But on the road to Jacksonville, where a possible escape awaits, there’s more than one interested party on the pair’s trail, and the glimpse they had of getting away scot free suddenly seems elusive. In the end, Nails must make one final stand for his freedom—or pay with both of their lives.















































Tuesday, February 20, 2024

THE DIAMOND AND THE DUKE Blog Tour & Review

Welcome to my stop on the Blog Tour for the Diamond and the Duke!  Oh how I loved this one . . . a real "diamond" in the genre! Be sure to check out the Excerpt below!


Author: Christi Caldwell
Series: All The Duke's Sins #3
Publisher: Berkley Romance
Release Date: Feb. 20, 2024
Order Link: Amazon

https://www.christicaldwell.com/

5 Sparkling 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Many thanks to Berkley Romance for the advanced readers' copy and tour invitation.  All opinions expressed are my own.

When a wounded soldier and self-proclaimed "beast" finds unlikely friendship with a headstrong and unconventional beauty, they quickly find themselves weaving a tale as old as time.

Review:
THE DIAMOND AND THE DUKE is the third book in the All The Duke's Sins Regency Historical Romance series and can absolutely be read as a standalone.  Author Christi Caldwell is a pro at weaving in any needed backstory, however; I highly recommend the first two books in this series.  Readers will benefit from meeting the families and couples involved first-hand while enjoying two fantastic stories.

For reasons of her own, Lady Eleanor “Ellie” Balfour has plans to be a spinster.  She vows to never allow a man to control her or her fate ever again.  There was one man she would have given her heart to, but he disappointed and deserted her by going off to war.  And since returning home, he's made no effort to contact her.  Matrimony isn't for her . . . and she's perfectly fine with that.  Captain Wesley Audley returned from the Napoleonic War a bitter, broken man suffering from PTSD who wants to be left alone.  He refuses all visitors, preferring to live out his days in dark isolation while mourning what might have been.  The dreams he once had of a loving wife and family died in the horrors he saw and experienced on the battlefield.  What woman wants a man who can't take care of them?  One who looks like a beast?  And yet, when Ellie is there to welcome Wesley back to his family's home, he feels the old spark.  While all others ignore him, Ellie refuses to go away and leave him alone.  Her goal is no longer marriage, but she can't walk away with trying to bring Wesley back among the living.  She has a plan . . . will it backfire on her?

THE DIAMOND AND THE DUKE is a heart touching story about the power of love to heal.  It's a story of acceptance, forgiveness and kindred souls.  Caldwell has a gift for tapping into the emotions of characters and bringing them to life on the pages.  Her descriptive prose flows beautifully as the story unfolds and readers witness the transformation of Wesley.  Fans of the first two books in the series will enjoy the appearance of previous characters in this story.  THE DIAMOND AND THE DUKE is Regency Romance at its finest - a real diamond in the genre.  Highly recommended to fans of historical romance in any time period.
 
Synopsis:
Despite a hero’s return to England from the Napoleonic Wars, Wesley Audley isolates from the ton. Deep wounds from the horrors of combat—and the despair of a broken heart—left him scarred. As he struggles to cope and resume his place in Polite Society, Wesley is quick to cut himself off from everyone…except for Ellie Balfour. 
 
Independent and strong-willed, Ellie has dreams of captaining her own husband-free life and a penchant for meddling in other’s business. She knows befriending Wesley is a risk but Ellie can’t bear to see his heartache. Nor can she seem to silence all the temptingly intimate thoughts his nearness provokes. 
 
But Ellie is yet to face a battle she can’t win—and Wesley’s heart is worth the fight. If only her campaigns ever went to plan…

Author Bio: (Headshot courtesy of Kimberly Rocha)
USA TODAY Bestselling author CHRISTI CALDWELL blames Judith McNaught's "Whitney, My Love!" for luring her into the world of historical romance. While sitting in her graduate school apartment at the University of Connecticut, Christi decided to set aside her notes and pick up her laptop to try her hand at romance. She believes the most perfect heroes and heroines have imperfections, and she rather enjoys torturing them before crafting them a well deserved happily ever after!


Christi makes her home in Charlotte, North Carolina where she spends her time writing her own enchanting historical romances and baking surprisingly good cakes (almost 2 years in lockdown will do that) with her courageous son and twin daughters, each who with their daily antics provides limitless source material.

https://www.christicaldwell.com/

THE DIAMOND AND THE DUKE Nonexclusive Excerpt

Dedicating all her attentions and energies on her book, Ellie made a show at reading; all the while, her ears remained keenly focused on the parts and pieces of the discussion her brother and Cailin had resumed. 

". . . heartbreaking . . . not so much as a word from her . . ." Cailin said, her voice catching with tears, and Ellie flipped the unread page noisily. ". . . she will not write him. She will not answer his notes. What am I to say when he asks?" Ellie's sister-in-law was saying. "That according to our brother Hunter, the woman you are in love with is the darling of Staffordshire?" 

Ellie went completely motionless. 

The woman he . . . loved? Her organ in her chest forgot its job was to beat. As in, Wesley Audley was in love with- 

". . . that she's enjoying herself at all the local soirees while you are risking life and limb to keep England safe from that French frog?" 

As in Wesley Audley was in love with a woman wholly undeserving of him and his love. 

Hatred and jealousy mingled, and together, soured her tongue like the vinegar rag her father had advised her nursemaid to stuff in Ellie's mouth for using words he'd deemed inappropriate for a lady to utter. 

He was . . . in love. 

In all this time since they'd met lakeside, she'd thought of him. And more, she'd thought of him-and her-together. Granted, he was more than a dozen years her senior, but she was no longer a child, and with every passing day where he was gone, she'd become a young lady, and he was to return and notice that she was no longer a gangly child. 

Just . . . a gangly woman. 

But neither would that matter, because he'd said that day at the lake she'd spirit and strength, and a skill with a sword that he'd admired, and- 

Ellie gripped her book hard, her fingernails digging sharply into the soft leather and leaving crescent marks upon the cover and back. 

The housekeeper appeared and dipped a curtsy to Cailin. "If I might speak to you, Your Grace, about the latest changes to the menu." 

The latest changes, because with Cailin increasing in pregnancy and queasy from it, every meal was constantly changing. 

As Cailin came to her feet, she offered a wave and smile to Ellie, which she quickly returned. 

"I'll return shortly, love," the duchess said to her husband. She tipped her head up to receive Courtland's kiss. 

Ellie hurriedly averted her attention from that intimate exchange. 

The moment Cailin had followed Mrs. Dumfrees, Courtland returned to his book. 

"Who was Cailin speaking about?" Ellie asked after her sister-in-law had gone, and she and Courtland remained alone. 

Her eldest brother glanced over the top of his pages and looked confusedly her way. 

Be breezy. You are breezy. 

"The woman who is not writing the lieutenant." 

Courtland scrubbed a hand over his mouth. 

For an instant, she thought he would not answer. For an instant, she thought he'd rightly point out her past actions barred her from possession of intimate details that did not explicitly involve her. 

Though, in this case . . . they did. Her brother just did not know it. 

"She also happens to be the young woman who urged him to go to his father, the Duke of Bentley, so he could make a better life for himself." Her brother's jaw hardened. "A better life, which in her mind included wealth and land, and attaining everything she could through his commission in the army." 

The reason he'd joined the military, and risked his life even now, was a woman? 

Ellie's chest tightened in an odd way, in a way she'd never believed it would or could because of a man, and yet now it did at the thought of the dashing Lieutenant Audley courting another woman who was decidedly not Ellie. 

Courtland started to rise. 

Ellie quickly stayed him with another question. "Do you know her?" 

He stared confusedly at her. 

"The young woman," she clarified. 

Her brother shook his head. "Only that her name is Claire Sparrow. Her father is a part owner of the Cheadle mines with Hunter." 

The second-eldest Audley sibling, following Rafe. Wesley and Cailin were the youngest. 

"She has not bothered to write Wesley in all the time he's been off fighting." 

Pain knifed away at Ellie's heart this time for unselfish reasons: because of the hurt he knew, and all for a woman who couldn't appreciate Wesley for the man he was. 

There came a flurry of footfalls, and they both looked up. 

Cailin's lady's maid, Sara, rushed into the room, breathless. Ashen, Courtland jumped up. 

"The duchess-?" 

"Is fine," the young woman hurried to reassure him. "Her Grace was accompanying Mrs. Dumfrees, who was discussing the menu, and the duchess . . ."-Sara's cheeks pinkened-"fell ill in the hallway." 

Ellie grimaced. Tossed her biscuits, Cailin had done. As the poor expecting mother was always doing, everywhere, these days. 

"She told me I should not send for you, Your Grace, but I thought you should-" 

"I am glad you did," Courtland interrupted, hastening to the door, leaving Ellie alone with only the silence of the room . . . and-her gaze inched over to the hastily abandoned area her brother and his wife had occupied-Wesley's letters. She dampened her mouth. 

It is none of your affair . . . 

It is absolutely none of your affair. Not even a bit. 

That was, aside from the fact that Ellie was head over heels in love with the lieutenant. 

Her book forgotten, Ellie absently set it down beside her, and came slowly to her feet. Keeping her eyes on the doorway, she inched over and stopped beside the note. 

None of your affair. 

None of your affair. None . . . Of its own volition, her gaze slid down, landing on that folded note.

Good, a person could not read a folded note. The only way to do so would be to pick it up, and open it, and well, Ellie certainly had more than enough restraint. 

Or . . . she thought she did. 

Just not where matters of Wesley Audley were concerned. 

With a silent curse, her fingers dove for the page, and she quickly snapped it open and proceeded to read. 

My dear sister, I write this missive hoping to find you and Courtland and your unborn babe are each faring well. I am eager for the day I return, and hope it is one day soon where I am able to see your expanded family. 

Ellie finished and turned the note over. 

There was no mention of Ellie. 

He did not so much as ask after her. 

Not that she expected he should or would. Ellie was, after all, just another one of Courtland's many siblings. 

She snapped the note shut and returned the letter to where Cailin had left it. 

That, however, didn't mean Ellie didn't . . . hope that he thought of her in some way. 

Though, knowing his heart was otherwise engaged-and by a woman so completely unworthy of him-it made sense why he should not. 

And she was stunned to discover, she wasn't so very selfish as to want him at any cost. She wanted him alive and happy. Even if it meant, when he returned from war, he would belong to another woman. 

Balling her hands into tight fists, Ellie squeezed and un-squeezed them; all the while she waged a silent war with herself. 

"Bloody hell," she exclaimed into the quiet of the parlor, and then, sitting down at Cailin's writing station, Ellie availed herself of a sheet of parchment and a pen. 

Dipping it into an inkwell pot, she proceeded to write. 

My dearest Wesley, 

You must forgive me for the delay in my writing. My father discovered your notes. My only course, our only course, is to send our correspondences through a location where they're sure to not be discovered. 

Lovingly Yours

Excerpted from The Diamond and the Duke by Christi Caldwell Copyright © 2024 by Christi Caldwell. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

Monday, February 12, 2024

LOVE, NATURALLY Review

Author: Sophie Sullivan
Narrator: Julie Rogers
Publisher: MacMillan Audio, St. Martins Griffin
Release Date: Jan. 16, 2024
Order Link: Amazon

Many thanks to MacMillan Audio for an audiobook of this title. All opinions expressed are my own.
#MacMillanAudio
A charming opposites-attract romance, Love, Naturally is for anyone who ever stepped outside their comfort zone and found that all the best things can happen when you take a chance.
Review:
LOVE, NATURALLY by Author Sophie Sullivan is a heartwarming opposites attract, insta-love romance rendered through dual points of view.  There's a long list of reasons why these two characters will never work as a couple, and yet the chemistry sparking between them could set the forest on fire. Does anything else really matter?

Presley surprises her boyfriend with a ten-day getaway at the Get Lost Lodge, a place where fishing, hiking and roughing it is the name of the game.  While it isn't her thing, she wants to prove her commitment to their relationship and her willingness to do things he likes to do.  Imagine her surprise when he says he'll invite a buddy to go with him, not her.  Apparently, they're not on the same page when it comes to moving forward with their relationship, so Presley takes the reservations back and proceeds to go on the trip by herself.  It'll be a good time to assess her life and figure out which direction to go in the future.  Getting sick on the boat crossing to the island is not a good sign, but she steps out of her comfort zone and tries new activities with Beckett, a hunky, willing teacher and the lodge guide, who's helping his brother get the lodge up and running.  Readers quickly learn Beckett has issues of his own.  He's set aside his own dreams to commit to helping family.  Presley and Beckett couldn't be more different.  She's a city girl who loves shopping, champagne and caviar and he's a country boy who catches, cleans and cooks his own dinner.  There're too many miles, differences and entanglements for them to consider a future together . . . even though the sexual tension between them is off the charts.  They'll enjoy each other's company and at the end of ten days, both go their separate ways.  Right?

LOVE, NATURALLY is a sweet, opposites attract romance with great secondary characters helping carry the story.  The rustic setting and evolving relationship between these two characters is intriguing and fun to watch as they both grow into their own and make life altering decisions.  While the couple go from zero to sixty in ten days, the narrative is a bit slow in spite of the sizzling chemistry.  The audio narrated by Julie Rogers brought the story to life and added to my enjoyment, engaging my senses.  I highly recommend it if you enjoy audiobooks.  LOVE, NATURALLY is a great choice for fans of insta-love, opposites attract and characters willing to step out of their comfort zone to find happy ever after.

Synopsis:
Presley Ayers is not the woman you bring on a camping trip. An accomplished concierge at an exclusive hotel in Great Falls, MI, she knows more about the top ten places for champagne and caviar than she does about the best hiking boots to go stomping around near Lake Michigan. But when she surprises her boyfriend of eight months with a vacation to the Get Lost Lodge and he dumps her instead, Presley decides to rough it solo and take the trip herself.

When Beckett Keller helps the gorgeous woman off the rickety boat and onto Lodge territory, it’s clear she’s made a mistake. She doesn’t like hiking, fishing, or nature in general, so why did she go on this trip?―but he’s got other things on his mind. A crumbling lodge, and his own plans and dreams that are forever deferred―so he doesn’t have time for Ms. Fish-Out-of-Water. But neither Beckett or Presley can help that inexplicable draw they feel towards each other. He’s all rough stubble and plaid shirts, while she’s all high heels and brand-name athleisurewear.

But you know what they say about opposites.