Book Beginnings on Friday and Book Blogger Hop: April 19, 2024

Book Beginnings on Fridays is hosted each week by Rose City Reader. It’s a chance to share the first sentence or so of the book you are reading this week. You can check out others’ book beginnings here. I’m also going to link up with Carrie at Reading Is My Superpower for First Line Friday. And I’ll be sharing for Friday 56 with Anne at Head Full of Books! She’s keeping the meme alive – y’all hop over to her blog and join in the fun!

The proofreading business has been booming! That’s a wonderful thing, but I’ve been neglecting my bookish fun. I’m trying to do better about that! Without further ado . . .

This week’s book beginning:

Synopsis:

Peter Driscoll, an underground investigator to the wealthy, has never met anyone like Lily Temple. The beautiful silent-film actress spins fairy tales and plays frivolous roles in front of the cine-camera, but beneath the costumes and stage makeup is a woman with a quick wit–and a murky past.

Peter has been tasked with locating the legendary Briarwood Teardrop, an exquisite sapphire, which Lily wears beneath her gown. In order to stay close to her and hopefully unravel the mystery of her story–and the sapphire–Peter employs Lily’s help on a case, which leads to a useful partnership. But as they are investigating together, Peter is also investigating Lily. The closer he gets to the truth, the more danger they face. And the closer he gets to Lily, the clearer it is that he needs her even more than she needs him.

Award-winning author Joanna Davidson Politano whisks you away to Edwardian England in 1903 for a whimsical and layered tale that treads the crooked line between real and make-believe.

Whitestone Manor, Hove Seaside, 1903

I hadn’t decided if I’d tell the whole truth or not, when the men arrived. Peter would have, because he’s Peter. I, however, never let facts hinder the power of a good story.

My thoughts went wild, dipping in and out of drowsiness, half-formed thoughts and scattered images, then before I knew it, I was waking, damp and chilled and assaulted by an especially bright orange sun in the east. I blinked at the offending orb, then covered my eyes.

Would you read it? I’ll tell you, I’m enjoying the heck out of it. Joanna Davidson Politano does a fantastic job with historical fiction!

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer. It starts each Friday and runs through the following Thursday. Each week, there’s a new prompt featuring a book-related question. It’s designed to give bloggers a chance to follow other blogs, learn about new books, make new blogging friends, and gain followers. See what others have to say on this topic and link up your own post here.

Do you think contemporary book covers lack originality?
Submitted by Billy @ Coffee Addicted Writer.

There does seem to be a certain . . . sameness to book covers these days. In contemporary romance, it seems like a lot of the same colors are used, fonts are similar, and the characters are always very stylized. Sometimes the graphics used relate to the story, sometimes they don’t. Urban/contemporary fantasy covers seem to have a “type” as well. Lots of covers are darker in color and have a young woman as the central focus of the cover. I still find one every now and then that I’ll grab for the cover, though!

What do you think about today’s blog hop topic? Share your thoughts on your blog, then link up at Book Blogger Hop, or leave a comment here!

Posted in Book Beginnings on Fridays, Book Blogger Hop, Book Memes, First Line Friday, Friday 56 | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Book Review and Giveaway: A Beggar’s Bargain by Jan Sikes

A BEGGAR’S BARGAIN
The Bargainer Series, Book One
by
Jan Sikes
Historical Fiction / Literary Fiction
Publisher: Fresh Ink Group
Date of Publication: March 12, 2024
Number of Pages: 324 pages
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A shocking proposal that changes everything
Desperate to honor his father’s dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.
Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time—a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and for time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.
But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?
Then, the banker makes an alternative proposition—marry his unwanted daughter, Sara Beth, in exchange for a two-year extension. Out of options, money, and time, Layken agrees to the bargain.
Now, he has two years to make a living off the land while he shares his life with a stranger.
If he fails at either, he’ll lose it all.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6vMqD4SuQ4?si=wCyiYtb-hRs5RVOv]
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Layken Martin returns home from World War II. It’s a tough homecoming – both parents dead, the farm in disarray, and foreclosure looming. But Layken vows to his parents he’ll do whatever it takes to save the family legacy. That includes going to the bank, hat in hand, to plead for more time to make good on the loan. The banker is disinclined to acquiesce to Layken’s request (means “no”), but he does see an opportunity to drive a different kind of bargain. If Layken will marry his daughter, Sara Beth, the banker will give Layken two years to get caught up on the note. If Layken doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, the bank forecloses immediately. Well, what’s a beggar to do? Layken takes the deal.

Sara Beth has struggled since her mother died. Her mother was one of the Romani, the gypsies. The Romani weren’t well thought of in the post-World War II era, and the townsfolk figure Sara Beth didn’t fall far from the tree. They treat her as different, a little strange. Her father doesn’t really care if she wants to get married, he just wants her out of the way so he can move his new wife into the house. Sara’s only real relationships are with “Uncle” Seymour, an older Black man her mother hired, and her pet rabbit, Cuddles.

Thrown together through no real choice of their own, Layken and Sara Beth have to make a go of it. Can Layken find a way to get the farm producing again, in the heat of the summer and with no rain in sight? Will Sara Beth adjust to country life? If their relationship survives the two years, what will happen when that time is up?

Jan Sikes does an amazing job of writing her characters in such a way that they are absolutely believable, whatever situation they find themselves in. She has a way of making her protagonists wonderfully appealing and her antagonist thoroughly unlikable. My heart just hurt for Layken and Sara Beth as they found themselves in a marriage of inconvenience. Layken was a gentle man, respectful of Sara Beth and willing to respect her wish to keep distance between them. He was also determined and willing to work hard. And even though she had grown up in the city, Sara Beth’s true personality began to unfurl under the warm sunshine of Layken’s respect. He treated her with kindness and valued what she could do, and this motivated her to continue to find ways to be useful and helpful in their joint venture to revive the farm. And I’m pretty sure that banker is one of the most disagreeable, awful, self-centered characters I’ve ever come across. He needed a good, hard kick in the pants.

The setting is spot-on, too. Sikes writes with such depth and descriptiveness, I could almost taste the dust of a dry Missouri field as I read. Layke and Sara Beth’s neighbors fit nicely into the setting. They aren’t perfect. They share the townsfolk’s prejudice against Sara Beth, at least at first. But that doesn’t stop them from pitching in when the Martins need help. I love that. Sikes takes us right back to a time when people were willing to be neighborly even if they didn’t see eye to eye, and when we could disagree without being disagreeable. (Well, some of us. The banker was disagreeable through and through.)

And the romance! Sigh. It isn’t an insta-romance. Neither Layken nor Sara Beth are enthused about their circumstances at first. Layken wants only to get the farm up and running so he can keep the bank off his back. Sara Beth, while breathing a sigh of relief at being out from under her father’s thumb, has no reason to expect that Layken will be much better. They have to learn about the kind of person the other is, and it takes time for respect to grow. But it does, and good marriages have bloomed from less than a solid foundation of respect.

If you enjoy well-written historical fiction that’s a little bit of a different twist on the WWII genre, with a sweet romance that takes a little time to thrive, you need to read A Beggar’s Bargain. I’d give it ten stars if I could. This may be one of my favorites of the year, and Jan Sikes is firmly on my must-read list.

Keep on scrolling to enter the giveaway!
Jan Sikes writes compelling and creative stories from the heart.
She openly admits that she never set out in life to be an author, although she’s been an avid reader all her life. But she had a story to tell. Not just any story, but a true story that rivals any fiction creation. She brought the entertaining true story to life through fictitious characters in an intricately woven tale that encompasses four books, accompanying music CDs, and a book of poetry and art.
And now, this author can’t put down the pen. She continues to write fiction in a variety of genres and has published many award-winning short stories and novels.
Jan is an active blogger, a member of Story Empire, a devoted fan of Texas music, and a grandmother of five. She resides in North Texas.
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FOUR WINNERS:
Two winners receive $20 Amazon gift cards;
Two winners receive eBook copies of A Beggar’s Bargain
(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 4/19/24)
Posted in Blog Tours, Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Lone Star Book Blog Tours, Lone Star Literary Life, Romance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Book Review and Giveaway: Amethyst, the Shallows by Kellye Abernathy

AMETHYST, THE SHALLOWS
by
Kellye Abernathy
YA / Magical Realism / Coming of Age
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Page Count: 296 pages
Publication Date: February 6, 2024
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“This is a night for being brave.”
In the aftermath of a devastating sickness that shatters their close-knit beach town, six lonely kids are drawn together during the unpredictable autumn equinox. Among them are fourteen-year-old Lorelei, who yearns to be an oceanographer, and her peculiar younger brother, Tad, who possesses an otherworldly curiosity.
When Lorelei has a strange and almost deadly encounter in a sea cave, her loyal boyfriend, Casey, cannot reconcile her fantastical experience with the rational world. Condi, Lorelei’s best friend, understands ocean magic but isn’t free to share what she knows. Kait, a girl from Ireland, regrets her impulsive move to America–all because of an odd occurrence involving her deceased boyfriend’s lost surfboard. When tides turn and the moon shifts, Isaac, the new kid in town who despises the ocean, is forced to face the truth–a profound and powerful magic lives in the deep.
Guided by a wise surf master, mystical old women known as the Beachlings, and an open-hearted grandmother, six kids embark on transformative adventures that challenge their beliefs about possibilities and the intense nature of love.
Amethyst, the Shallows is the companion novel to The Aquamarine Surfboard.
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Amethyst, the Shallows is the companion novel to The Aquamarine Surfboard (you can read my review of that book here). I was delighted to return to Dipitous Beach. But things have changed since the first book. The town was hit hard by The Sickness, and folks have been isolated from each other for a while (sound like anything we’ve all lived through?). But the worst appears to be past, and the town is slowly reopening and recovering. The effects linger, though, and all is not quite back to normal.

We see more of Condi, Grand Ella, and the Beachlings from The Aquamarine Surfboard, but this story weaves the threads of several characters together rather than focusing on one primary protagonist. Lorelei’s  mother is still very sick, and with her father focusing on his wife’s health and worrying most about Lorelei’s boy-crazy younger sister, Lorelei and her younger brother Tad tend to look out for each other. Lorelei has a falling-out with her boyfriend Casey after she is rescued from near-drowning and he doubts what she says she saw in the waves. Casey’s parents run the B&B in town. They’re currently hosting someone who claims to be a scientist with the government, but is he really what or who he claims? Casey has his doubts. Isaac has come to town to live with his father, and he is the one who is not like the others. In his black leather jacket and heavy boots, and with a chip on his shoulder the size of a small country, he stands out among the teens of Dipitous Beach. But what draws Condi to him is how very much he resembles Trustin.

Aquamarine Surfboard had Condi dealing with the loss of her parents and Grand Ella’s reluctance to loosen the restrictions on her, with the town rallying in times of difficulty to overcome prejudice and work together. Here Abernathy goes a little bit darker, touching on themes like serious illness of a parent, loss of a spouse, and the lasting effects of a devastating illness on a community. But she still weaves in bits of humor and light. Two animals, an octopus named Figment and a parrot named Guardian, bring us a lot of those moments of levity, and they play integral roles in the story.

Someone else is unexpectedly saved from the sea, and we travel to the underwater world of Koan again. This story may not draw quite as heavily upon magical realism as Aquamarine Surfboard did, but it’s still there. The vintage surfboards at the surf shop still have stories to tell to those who are ready to listen.

You can read Amethyst without first reading Aquamarine Surfboard, but I’d really recommend you read the first book before jumping into this one. There’s a lot of context and backstory in the first that will inform this book, and trust me, these two books weave a tale you won’t want to miss a bit of! Middle grade or middle-aged (like me!), this book will appeal to a wide range of readers. I highly recommend it if you love the mystery of the ocean, the little surprises life brings, and a beautiful story about secrets revealed and truth bringing people together.

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hT
Kellye Abernathy’s passions are writing and serving trauma survivors as a yoga teacher and practical life skills advocate. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary English Education from the University of Kansas. Her home is in land-locked Plano, Texas—where she’s dreaming of her next trip to the sea!

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THREE WINNERSreceive autographed two-book sets
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Posted in Blog Tours, Book Reviews, Lone Star Book Blog Tours, Lone Star Literary Life, Middle Grade Fiction, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review and Giveaway: Shahrazad’s Gift by Gretchen McCullough

SHAHRAZAD’S GIFT
by
Gretchen McCullough
Contemporary Fiction / Linked Short Stories / Humor
Publisher: Cune Press
Date of Publication: February 20, 2024
Number of Pages: 198 pages
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Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo—magical, absurd and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough’s Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.
These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.
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Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of slice-of-life short stories inspired by author Gretchen McCullough’s time spent in Cairo. There’s some overlap among the stories, and we also get to meet Gary and Kharalombos, protagonists of McCullough’s book Confessions of a Knight Errant, before the events of that book unfold. (You can read my review of Confessions of a Knight Errant here.)
The stories here aren’t ones that will make headlines (well, not most of them). Rather, they’re glimpses into the ordinary workings of mostly ordinary folks. We see a costume designer named Queenie trying her best to meet a client’s expectations. A Japanese woman named Keiko, in Cairo to learn Egyptian and teach it to businessmen back home, convinced she’s hearing noises from the supposedly empty flat above hers. Joe is terminally ill and musing on his life as the end draws near. Hoda is a housewife trapped in a marriage of disillusionment, drawn outside her everyday doldrums by her obsession with her British neighbor’s sexual shenanigans.

Through these stories, McCullough paints a portrait that highlights similarities between folks the world over. We all struggle. We all have things happen that just leave us shaking our heads. We all encounter people and make choices we later regret. She weaves a thread of common humanity, giving us people we might like, might empathize with, or might not, and in them we catch glimpses of ourselves.

So if you like your stories a little offbeat, your characters a little peculiar, pick up Shahrazad’s Gift. These stories sparkle like jewels in a necklace and will appeal to anyone who’s a student of human nature. And if you’re familiar with Confessions of a Knight Errant and want to get to know Gary and Kharalombos before they meet up, you’ll really enjoy this book! That was a lovely, unexpected bonus.


Keep on scrolling for the giveaway!

Gretchen McCullough was raised in Harlingen Texas. After graduating from Brown University in 1984, she taught in Egypt, Turkey, and Japan. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and was awarded a teaching Fulbright to Syria from 1997-1999. Her stories, essays and reviews have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Archipelago, National Public Radio, Story South, Guernica, The Common, The Millions, and the LA Review of Books. Translations in English and Arabic have been published in: Nizwa, Banipal, Brooklyn Rail in Translation, World Literature Today and Washington Square Review with Mohamed Metwalli. Her bi-lingual book of short stories in English and Arabic, Three Stories From Cairo, translated with Mohamed Metwalli, was published in July 2011 by AFAQ Publishing House, Cairo. A collection of short stories about expatriate life in Cairo, Shahrazad’s Tooth, was also published by AFAQ in 2013. Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
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THREE WINNERS:
Two winners receive paperbacks.
One winner receives the eBook of Shahrazad’s Gift.

(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 4/12/24)

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Posted in Book Reviews, Contemporary Fiction, Lone Star Book Blog Tours, Lone Star Literary Life, Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Word of the Week: April 8, 2024 – Solar Eclipse Edition

Word of the Week: a bookish meme hosted here on Mondays in which we share a word that we find entertaining, enlightening, edifying, or just plain fun to say! Share your own word on your blog, then help me grow the meme and come share it here on mine!

This week’s word is specially chosen for the events of today. In case you missed it, parts of the world will see a total solar eclipse this afternoon. This one is likely to be a big deal, because the path of totality includes a lot of large cities. It will also be the last total solar eclipse across the United States for another twenty years.

Umbraphile! The American Astronomical Society has this to say about what an umbraphile is: “A solar-eclipse aficionado; a person who will do almost anything, and travel almost anywhere, to see totality. Another term for an umbraphile is ‘eclipse chaser.'”

From the reports I’ve been hearing, there are likely to be a lot of umbraphiles around the country this week! Check out the American Astronomical Society’s Eclipse Glossary for more fun eclipse-related words.

Are you traveling to see totality this week? (Or if you’re reading this later in the week, did you travel?) Do you know anyone who’s traveling to see totality this week? My in-laws will be in the path of totality. It would be fascinating to be there, but unfortunately, we can’t make it. I’ll have to rely on photographs online to see totality, and we’ll enjoy a partial eclipse here.

Got a word? Share it below. Then share the meme to help it grow!

Posted in Book Memes, Word of the Week | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Book Review and Blog Tour: Every Bird That Falls by Sara Davison

Every Bird That Falls JustRead Blog Tour

Welcome to the Blog Tour for Every Bird That Falls by Sara Davison, hosted by JustRead Publicity Tours!

About the Book

Every Bird That Falls

Title: Every Bird That Falls
Series: two sparrows for a penny # 3
Author: Sara Davison
Publisher: Independently published through The Mosaic Collection
Release Date: April 3, 2024
Genre: Christian Romantic Suspense

Lies have kept them apart for eight years.

Now the truth could destroy them completely.

Bomb squad leader Tag Monroe’s world is shattered when his sister and her foster sister are abducted by a human trafficker. Eight years later, the two of them have been miraculously freed. As thrilled as he is to be reunited with his sister, Tag has lingering questions.

How did Jae-won Lin, the third foster sister, elude capture that night? Why didn’t she call the police or Tag to let them know what happened? And where has she been for the last eight years? He loved Jae once, but he can’t let her back into his life until he has more information.

Unfortunately, time is running out. Someone powerful is coming after Jae, bent on revenge. If Tag can’t get to her before her mysterious pursuer, Jae could take the answers to all Tag’s questions to her grave.

Along with any hope the two of them might have to find their way to each other again.

The explosive Christian romantic suspense series two sparrows for a penny by multi-award-winning author Sara Davison continues with this on-the-edge-suspense love story that might finally answer the question: Where was Jae?

PURCHASE LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

Another winner from Sara Davison! I didn’t realize that Every Bird That Falls was the third in a series. I was able to follow along with no real difficulty, but I didn’t have all the backstory for some of the events that took place. It might have been helpful for me to read the first two books in the series before I read this one.

Tala, Rose, and Jae are foster sisters. When their foster mother becomes seriously ill, they fear being separated and sent to other foster homes. So they plan to run away together and live in hiding until they’re of age. But their plan falls apart when Tala and Rose are grabbed by traffickers, taken and forced into prostitution. Jae escapes the traffickers, but her rescuer keeps her hidden from sight for the next eight years. Tag Monroe, Tala’s brother and Jae’s former boyfriend, is determined to find Jae, find answers to the nagging questions he still has. But for that to happen, he’s got to find Jae and get to her before the unknown person going after her.

A well-told dual timeline story is a thing of beauty, and Sara Davison gives us one here. We start eight years ago, on the night the girls leave their home. Jae’s story unfolds in flashbacks, gradually moving forward until her timeline connects with that of Tag, Tala, and Rose. The two blend together seamlessly, and this is testament to Davison’s storytelling skill.

Jae’s circumstances aren’t as brutal as I understand Tala’s and Rose’s to be, but they’re heartwrenching all the same. She’s physically safe, but her world is shattered when her rescuer leads her to believe that all the people she cared about are dead. She makes decisions from this place of emotional distress, and only later learns that nothing she was told was true. Davison does a marvelous job of making you feel her characters’ pain almost as if it were your own, and I just hurt for Jae.

The suspense is top-notch, too. When Jae breaks free of her rescuer (captor?), she knows he’ll come after her. She can never truly let her guard down, not even with Tag once he finds her. And they have a lot of hard emotional stuff to work through, so she’s splitting her focus between Tag and protecting herself. I was holding my breath several times, hoping the worst didn’t happen when I got to the next page!

And as you would expect, faith is an integral part of the story. Tala, Rose, Felicity, and Tag are all believers. Jae is learning, asking questions, reading her Bible, but when she is separated from everyone she cares for, she has a hard time hanging on to her fledgling faith. She clings to the song Felicity used to sing, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” She finds a way to trust that God is in the midst of everything she faces, that He sees her and will work in her circumstances for good. It’s a lovely reminder that no matter the trials we face, God never loses sight of us.

Do Jae and Tag get their happily ever after? Does Jae’s past find her and wreak more havoc? I’m not telling. Sara Davison is now on my list of must-read authors. Put her on your list, too, and start with this series!

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from JustRead Publicity Tours. I was not required to leave a review. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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More Books In This Series


About the Author

Sara Davison

Sara Davison has a passion for writing stories that keep readers on the edge of their seats—and maybe swooning a little. A finalist for more than a dozen national writing awards, including the Christy Award, Davison is a Cascade, Word, and two-time Carol Award winner for romantic suspense. She lives in Ontario with her husband, Michael. Like every good Canadian, she loves coffee, hockey, poutine, and apologizing for no particular reason.

Connect with Sara by visiting saradavison.org to follow her on social media and sign up for email updates.


Tour Giveaway

(1) winner will win a $25 Amazon gift card plus a paperback copy of Every Bird That Falls!

Every Bird That Falls JustRead Tours giveaway

Full tour schedule linked below. The giveaway begins at midnight April 2, 2024 and will last through 11:59 PM EST on April 9, 2024. Winners will be notified within 2 weeks of close of the giveaway and given 48 hours to respond or risk forfeiture of prize. US/CAN only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.

Giveaway is subject to JustRead Publicity Tours Giveaway Policies.

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Follow along at JustRead Tours for a full list of stops!

JustRead Publicity Tours

Posted in Book Reviews, Christian Fiction, JustRead Blog Tours, Romance, Suspense | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Book Review, Excerpt, and Giveaway: The Witless Protection Program by Maria DiRico

The Witless Protection Program (A Catering Hall Mystery)
by Maria DiRico

About The Witless Protection Program


The Witless Protection Program (A Catering Hall Mystery)
Cozy Mystery
5th in Series
Setting – New York
Kensington Cozies (March 26, 2024)
Mass Market Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1496744624
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1496744623
Digital ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0C9W8W668

Mia Carina has steered her Italian-American family’s Astoria, Queens, catering hall, Belle View Banquet Manor, into becoming the borough’s premiere party site, and nothing could make her happier—except her boyfriend proposing. There’s just one presumed-dead obstacle in the way . . .

A strong, independent woman and respected entrepreneur, Mia never imagined she’d pine for a marriage proposal. Yet lately, with her beloved Shane, she’s on tenterhooks. It’s especially surprising, considering Mia’s first husband, Adam, was a philandering grifter, assumed lost-at-sea after a boating disaster. But everyone knows what happens when you assume . . .

While working a huge wedding expo in Manhattan, Mia is shocked to spot the man who nearly destroyed her life. The one who’s supposed to be sleeping with the fishes. But she loses him in the crowd. And when it happens again the next day, it’s time for an emergency meeting with the family—and the Family. Because if Adam is alive, Mia is still married . . .

Everyone wants Adam dead. Everyone except Mia. She’s dealt with enough police for a lifetime. Mia needs to be a divorcée, not a widow. But someone out there disagrees, and if Mia doesn’t discover who, she may never be free to marry Shane—or anyone else . . .

Italian recipes included!

Mia Carina has worked to make Belle View Banquet Manor a premier venue for weddings and events. Sadly, though, so far she’s had no cause to plan her own wedding. So when her boyfriend Shane finally pops the question, her answer is an enthusiastic “yes!” And let the party planning commence! But her former husband, Adam Grosso, is back from the presumed dead, back in town, and talking about winning her back. That simply will not do.

Mia tells her family (and the Family) that she needs to be a divorcée posthaste, and she needs their help tracking Adam down so she can once and for all secure that divorce. But when Adam turns up dead and Mia and Shane are among the (many) suspects, the wedding may be put on hold indefinitely.

Y’all, this book is a riot! I can imagine the challenges in trying to run a business that has any connection at all to the Family and keeping it strictly on the up and up. But Mia walks that line and does it with style. She keeps her nose clean, even if some of the people in her life just can’t.

DiRico populates her book with marvelous characters. Mia is a delight – smart and savvy, and she’s a cat person (that gets her bonus points in my book). Her grandmother, Elisabetta, oh my goodness, everybody needs a Nonna like Elisabetta! She tackles issues head-on, whether by offering up her wedding dress for Mia or baking cookies to sell to a horde of fans descending on the house she bought for Mia and Shane next door to hers that just happened to belong to a famous cartoonist. She dispenses love, advice, and sarcasm, and I think she may be my favorite. Mia’s best friend Cammie is a treat, too, with the way she’s determined to keep spending her ex-husband’s money in order to get him to marry her again (cheaper to keep her, you know) and with her over-the-top wedding plans that Mia has to constantly rein in.

As it happens, Cammie’s ex is Pete Dianopoulis, NYPD detective (and author of the Steve Stianopoulis books, which draw heavily on real life). He’s charged with investigating Adam’s death, and with all the mob connections in Mia’s life, he’s got PLENTY to investigate.  But he doesn’t focus just on the Family. There’s also Adam’s new sweetie, Annarita; Mia’s former friends Ruth and Rose, who were more than just friendly with Adam; and a host of people Adam ripped off and scammed along the way. DiRico tempts us to follow red herrings and then yanks them away gleefully, taking us right back to square one. The only thing we’re sure of is that Mia didn’t kill him! I especially love how Pete doesn’t actively discourage Mia’s own inquiries into Adam’s death. As the story says, “the detective and the mobster-adjacent event planner had developed a mutual respect for each other,” and it works.

The mystery is engaging. The characters are ones you can cheer for or jeer at, as you wish. There are several story threads in play, and DiRico ties them all together in a neat bow to bring the story to an incredibly satisfying conclusion. And bonus, bonus, bonus, there are recipes, too! I see Nonna’s ricotta sugar cookies in my future. This was a five-star read for me, and I highly recommend it!

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy from Great Escapes Book Tours. I was not required to write a review. All opinions here are my own, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

Scroll on down for an excerpt and see if this is your kind of book!

Once word got out that comic strip legend Dan Fee was the late homeowner of Elisabetta’s wedding present, fans began making a pilgrimage to the hallowed site turned. A trickle of them into a stream and then a flood. “Circusman, Circusman, does whatever a circus can,” they sang in sepulchral tones. Luckily, complaints from neighbors on the block evaporated when they realized there was money to be made off of the mourners. Food stands popped up, turning 46th Place into an international food fair with scents of calzone, spanakopita, falafel and more mingling in the air.

But Mia had bigger problems.

Ever since word of her engagement got out, her inbox had exploded with congratulations and expectations of a wedding invitation. Given her family – and the Family’s – must-invites, paring down the wedding guest list was proving a daunting challenge. “This is turning into the goombah event of the year,” she muttered one night, deleting a name, then after a brief hesitation, reinstating it.

She soldiered on but after another fruitless hour, she gave up. Stiff from too much time hunched over her keyboard, she stood up and stretched. Mia checked the ornate wall clock she’d inherited from a neighbor who’d moved to a senior facility, along with all the elderly woman’s gold-gilded and red velvet upholstered furniture which would look more at home in a bordello than Mia’s unassuming apartment. “Bedtime for dollies and kitty cats,” she said to Doorstop, in what was their evening goodnight ritual. Having fallen asleep long ago, he didn’t respond.

Mia started for the bathroom to get ready for bed. Then from outside came the squeak of the back gate slowly being opened. She froze. Despite her grandmother’s security additions to their home’s exterior, Mia had opted not to grease the gate. She considered its squeak a cheap and effective alert to an intruder… which seemed to be happening at this very moment.

She stood in silence for a moment, waiting for confirmation. The gate squeaked again and then shut. Mia grabbed the souvenir Pete Alonso bat that Shane had given her as a birthday present and snuck onto the back staircase landing. A shadow moved in the yard below. “Yo,” she called down. “I know you’re there. And I called the police.”

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About Maria DiRico

Maria DiRico is the pseudonym for Ellen Byron, author of the award-winning, USA Today bestselling Cajun Country Mysteries. Born in Queens, New York, she is a first-generation Italian-American on her mother’s side and the granddaughter of a low-level Jewish mobster on her father’s side. She grew up visiting the Astoria Manor and Grand Bay Marina catering halls, which were run by her Italian mother’s family in Queens and have become the inspiration for her Catering Hall Mystery Series. DiRico has been a writer-producer for hit television series like Wings and Just Shoot Me, and her first play, Graceland, appears in the Best Short Plays collection. She’s a freelance journalist, with over 200 articles published in national magazines, and previously worked as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing. A native New Yorker who attended Tulane University, Ellen lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs.

Author Links – Website Chicks on the CaseFacebook Twitter

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Book Review and Blog Tour: A Death in Venice by Verity Bright

Book: A Death in Venice
Author: Verity Bright
Pub Day: March 28, 2024 
Buy Link: Amazon

Book Description:

Stunning views across the Grand Canal and a hotel suite fit for royalty… Lady Eleanor Swift is having a jolly good time on her Italian vacation, until a gondola ride is cut murderously short!

1924. Lady Eleanor Swift has been on a grand tour around Italy for a month with her butler Clifford. Finally arriving in Venice, she’s thrilled to be attending the famous carnival: all that’s needed is the perfect bejewelled costume for her faithful bulldog, Gladstone. But on her first gondola ride to take in the sights, a passenger collapses into the canal with a knife sticking out of his back.

Eleanor saw an argument break out between the gondolier and the victim, Councillor Benetto Vendelini, and it turns out they’re rivals from the city’s two great families. Vendelini’s murder is sure to reignite their centuries-long feud. While attending a glitzy ball that night, Eleanor learns of a plot to steal a precious family heirloom from the Vendelini household. Is the stolen item the key to solving this baffling murder?

In this floating city of tiny winding alleyways, Eleanor traces the missing heirloom to an antiques dealer in a far-flung corner of town. But when her handbag is snatched by a cloaked thief, she realises the murderer is dangerously close. Can Eleanor unmask this most cunning of killers, before she joins the other victim at the bottom of the Grand Canal?

An utterly gripping historical murder mystery set in Italy, full of intrigue and charming characters. Fans of T.E. Kinsey, Agatha Christie, and Catherine Coles will be totally hooked by A Death in Venice!

If y’all have followed along for a while, you know I’m a big fan of Verity Bright and Lady Eleanor Swift. I was excited to read

Ellie, Clifford, and the ladies are on a grand tour of Venice. Of course, Gladstone and Tomkins wouldn’t miss the trip, either. They’re looking forward to sightseeing, shopping, and traveling the canals of the city via gondola. It is on one of their gondola outings that they see a motorboat speed by, causing one gondola to hit another. A man falls out, and when he is pulled from the water, dead, it becomes clear that he was murdered. Ellie may not have come to Venice to investigate a murder, but she and Clifford find themselves pulled into this one.

The dead man is a member of the Vendelini family. The man accused of killing him is a member of the Marcello family. The murder threatens to revive a feud between the two families, both pillars of Venetian society, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone. From the heights of the social whirl to the maze that is the streets of Venice, from the top of the Torre dell’Orologio to captivity on a barge, Eleanor runs the gamut on this holiday!

As always, Verity Bright provides us with a variety of suspects to wonder about. One by one, Eleanor and Clifford rule them out and find themselves back at square one. And the clock is ticking, as we learn. They have until the first night of Carnival, when the Vendelini and Marcello families traditionally reaffirm their commitment not to pursue the feud. The missing glass figurines that are part of the reaffirmation may be at the heart of this mystery, and Ellie and Clifford chase every lead to find the figurines and the killer.

The story was a lot of fun. I enjoyed reading Bright’s descriptions of Venice and experiencing it through the eyes of the characters. Sadly, Hugh Seldon was virtually absent from this one, being as he was back home in England. His brief appearances were by phone and letter. I miss the banter between Hugh and Ellie! As much fu as it is to travel with Ellie and Clifford and to see what shenanigans the ladies can get up to, I hope the next mystery they solve is a little bit closer to home.

In the course of their investigation, Ellie says to Clifford, “You shouldn’t be mixed up in any of this awful trouble, anyway. I so wanted you to come away purely for a holiday.” Clifford replies, “Which it has been. In inimitable Lady Swift style, replete with inappropriate venues, danger and, ahem, bodies.” And that’s a the story in a nutshell. These books are cozy, comforting, and by and large, familiar, even when they take place in different settings and with different plot twists. Verity Bright gave me a taste of adventure and intrigue without me having to leave my home, and that’s precisely why I love this series.

About the author:

Verity Bright is the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing partnership that has spanned a quarter of a century. Starting out writing high-end travel articles and books, they published everything from self-improvement to humour, before embarking on their first historical mystery. They are the authors of the fabulous Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery series, set in the 1920s.

Find them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BrightVerity.

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Book Review and Giveaway: To Rescue a Witch by Lisa A. Traugott

TO RESCUE A WITCH
by
Lisa A. Traugott
Historical Fiction / Action & Adventure / Witch Trials
Page Count: 398 pages
Publication Date: March 1, 2024
It’s 1739. An abused girl accused of witchcraft must be defended by a man married to an actual witch.
William MacLeod, a fierce Scottish lawyer with a kind heart, takes on a daunting task—rescue young Annaliese from the clutches of her tormentors in the untamed wilds of Virginia colony and deliver her safely to her aristocratic father in London. But lurking in the shadows are enemies eager to expose MacLeod’s own wife, Fiona, as a witch with a dark secret.
Their perilous journey takes an unexpected turn when their ship wrecks, and Annaliese’s haunting nightmares and unexplained Devil Marks trigger suspicion among the crew. Tension peaks when MacLeod must become Annaliese’s unwavering protector in a witch trial, where Fiona’s clairvoyance and a murder are unveiled.
To Rescue a Witch navigates themes of betrayal and redemption, in a spellbinding narrative that blends history, magic, and the unyielding resilience of the human spirit.
Review Header
Annaliese Birch is the bastard daughter of an English lord. Her mother was sent to the American colonies as an indentured servant for theft, and Annaliese was born into that same servitude. The man she called “Pa” was no father, but a harsh, abusive brute of a man, interested only in what Annaliese could do to bring in income. The trauma she suffered was horrific, and she has known little else in her young life.

William MacLeod is the Scottish barrister sent to the colonies to retrieve Annaliese at the behest of her natural father. He has no idea what this journey holds for him, and often despairs of many things along the way – that Annaliese will ever trust him, that she’ll ever learn to keep her mouth shut, that she can ever move past the damage life has inflicted to move in more polite society. But the greatest despair he will face is the accusation of witchcraft against Annaliese. He must defend a girl who is decidedly not a witch while also protecting his wife Fiona who is a witch.

Wow, Lisa Traugott gives us a compelling story here! She touches on dark topics – child abuse, slavery, rape – but she does so in a way that presents an accurate picture of the historical period in which the story is set. None of the violence and pain is gratuitous, and if you can stick with the story, it unfolds to paint a beautiful picture of reconciliation, redemption, and hope.

The story is told from multiple points of view, but Annaliese and MacLeod are the characters who have the most to show us. MacLeod isn’t always the straight-up hero of the piece. There are times he struggles to do what’s really best for Annaliese, and as he learns about her experience, he realizes he may have some things to atone for with his own son. And Annaliese. Oh, how I love her. I alternated between wanting to hug her, laugh at the wildly inappropriate things she sometimes came out with (due to lack of knowing what was expected of her, not because she was a bad kid), and heave a sigh of exasperation. She and MacLeod were similar in their stubbornness, their reluctance to open up and share their thoughts, and that particular trait nearly cost them a very high price indeed.

There are characters you will root for and characters you will loathe. There’s pain and misery and betrayal aplenty, but there’s also love of family, doing the right thing, and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. The historical detail is spot on, and I felt like I was saying goodbye to friends when I read the last page.

If you love well-written historical fiction and a story that will have you alternately raging, laughing, holding your breath, and cheering, grab yourself a copy of To Rescue a Witch.

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Lisa A. Traugott is an award-winning author and World Championship public speaker semifinalist and spoke five lines on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She lives in Austin with her husband, two kids, and English bulldog, Bruno.

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Book Review: Riot (A Breed Apart: Legacy #3) by JJ Samie Myles

Synopsis:

Navy SEAL K-9 handler Beau “Danger” Maddox is at the top of his game—until an op goes south, leaving him physically and mentally scarred. Separated from the Navy, he’s determined to requalify as operational and get back in the action so he can take down the deadly South American cartel that killed his team. The last thing he needs is a distraction in the form of a beautiful new neighbor and her dog…

Trafficking survivor Paisley Reyna became a trauma counselor to help others after a harrowing captivity at the hands of the notorious Guerrero Cartel. When she unexpectedly inherits her cousin’s home and retired military working dog, Riot, she seizes the chance to eke out a quiet life in a small town in Texas. However, the Dutch shepherd upends her plans, destroys her belongings, and repeatedly escapes next door to the intense former SEAL, who poses a threat to her peace—and maybe even her heart.

When the local sheriff asks for Danger’s expertise and Paisley’s dog to intercept a trafficking deal, they’re quickly caught up in a battle against the very cartel that marked both their souls. Along with a paramilitary team, they plunge deeper and deeper into the Venezuelan jungle—all too aware that making it out alive a second time will take nothing short of a miracle.

Beau “Danger” Maddox has been left scarred, both physically and mentally, during his time spent in captivity after a mission took an unexpected and deadly turn. He blames himself for the death of his team during that mission, and he struggles with the aftereffects of the trauma. He’s working to get himself declared fit for operational status so he can wreak vengeance on those responsible, but his ghosts are hard to shake.

Paisley Reyna has suffered her own trauma at the hands of the Guerreros, a vicious South American cartel. But she was rescued, and now she’s a counselor, helping others who’ve been pulled out of trafficking situations. When her cousin Jordi dies and leaves her his home and his retired military working dog, Riot, she thinks that life in a small Texas town might be nice. But Riot lives up to his name, causing mayhem and destruction, and the only one he responds to is her new neighbor -Danger.

This is another fantastic book in the A Breed Apart: Legacy series. Paisley is about ready to give up on Riot, but Danger helps her learn how to handle him. They’re thrown into a more dangerous situation when Danger’s niece Lyric is kidnapped by the same cartel that took Paisley. Nothing will keep Danger from getting Lyric back, and Paisley is determined to go because she knows how the cartel treats women, and she wants to help both Lyric and any other trafficked girls they might find. And it is off to the races with the tension and the action and the adrenaline rush!

Both Danger and Paisley are fighting to throw off the effects of their past. Paisley sees God’s hand at work, but Danger is sure God has abandoned him. Paisley has faith enough for them both, though, and she gently shares that faith with Danger. Even when she is in mortal peril herself, when the world in the form of her captor gives Paisley the opportunity to save Danger’s life, she trusts God’s plan more than what her captor offers. She does the right thing even when it must have felt nearly impossible. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see how things unfolded!

JJ Samie Myles writes a wonderful team dynamic. The team going after Lyric may be in harm’s way, but they won’t let Danger go it alone no matter how rough things get. And they’re there for the fun stuff, too! Danger gets a little ribbing over his feelings for Paisley even when they’re in the middle of the jungle, and the happily ever after scene (come on, you knew there was going to be one) is a hoot.

If you love a book with a marvelous K-9 character, two flawed people working through to redemption, clean romance, and a boatload of suspense, you will love RIOT. Highly recommend!

I received a copy of the book from JustRead Publicity Tours. I was not required to leave a review. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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