Saturday, November 28, 2015

Old Ways and New Days

By Michael Embry
Mainstream, 395 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans

Blurb: John Ross is retiring after many years working as a journalist. He contemplates about what he wants to do with the rest of his life. But along the way he finds out that there are some things you simply can't control. Life simply happens.

John learns that work has caused him to lose touch with the neighborhood where he has lived for many years. And he finds out that things weren't always as they seemed to be -- in many ways.

The kitchen was quiet when he opened the door. When he flipped on the switch, there was an instant shout in unison— “Happy retirement!”

Stunned for a moment, John glanced around the room at all the familiar faces. A banner draped across the wall in the adjoining dining room proclaimed “Happy Retirement, John!” in big red letters. He looked around to locate Sally. She stepped toward him with her arms spread wide and hugged him, then gave him a quick peck on the mouth.

“Did we surprise you, sweetheart?” she whispered in his ear.

“What do you think?” He grinned awkwardly as he looked around the room.

Before John could say anything else, friends and neighbors flocked over and patted him on the shoulders, shook his hand, and some of the women kissed him on the cheek. He was at a loss for words. He didn’t enjoy being the center of attention. He mentioned to Sally on several occasions that he didn’t like surprises, especially on his birthday. Maybe he should have included retirement. Too late now.

He made his way past multi-colored helium balloons strung to chairs and the streamers made from newspapers that dangled from the ceiling in the dining room. In the middle of the table was a large white sheet cake designed to look like a news page with a large “Happy Retirement” in black icing on white across the top like a headline. Brightly wrapped gifts sat on the folding table. Other than accepting the well wishes from the attendees, John didn’t know what to say, think, or feel.

“Congratulations, Daddy!” John turned around and his daughter, Chloe, gave him a big hug and kiss on the cheek. A moment later his son, Brody, a half-head taller and thirty pounds heavier, firmly shook his hand before giving him a bear hug that felt like air was squeezing from his lungs.

“This is a surprise,” John said, who could feel some tears coming on. Chloe had flown in from New York City, where she worked for one of the television networks as an assistant producer. Brody, a certified public accountant, was in from Chicago.

“We wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” Brody said with a beaming smile. “It’s not every day a person gets to retire. That officially makes you old.”

“Gee, thanks,” John said. “I guess that makes you my old son.”


“You deserve this, Daddy.” Chloe was teary-eyed, holding his hand. “Now you get to do what you want to do. And, by the way, you’re not that old.”

“Sometimes I feel that way,” said John, slightly rolling his shoulders up and down. “Now I have all the time in the world.”

“Or what’s left,” Brody said.

“Would you stop it, Brody?” Chloe gave him a nudge with her hand.

“Only kidding, sis!”

Before they could say any more, Sally announced to everyone that dinner was ready in the kitchen. On the counter, she had set up two large platters of finger sandwiches, a veggie tray, buffet-style bowls of potato salad, cole slaw, and chips and various dips, along with plates, silverware, and beverages. People began making their way to the food, filling their plates and going to the dining room, living room and den to eat and chat.

John wanted to escape to the bedroom, if only to rest for a few minutes and catch his breath, but he knew that wouldn’t be the sociable thing to do at a party given in his honor. He didn’t want to appear ungrateful to his family and friends. And he’d never hear the end of it from Sally.

The doorbell rang and Sally hurried to answer it. She returned a few seconds later with Clay Rawlings, who carried a large wrapped box with a big blue bow on top. Several other newspaper employees followed him including Eric Walsh, sports columnist Dan Easteridge, and metro editor Heidi Snow.

“You’re not getting away that easily,” Clay said in a booming voice that drew everyone’s attention. “Since you wouldn’t let us give you a party at the office, we’re bringing the party to you!”

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Red-Haired Witch

By JoEllen Conger
The Queen of Candelore Series, Book 4
Historical Fantasy, 383 Pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
Nine year-old runaway bride, Princess Salina Maria, counts on her giant bodyguard, Yeoman Sherman of the Iberian Queen’s Guard, her appointed Royal Companion to help her escape the eminent nuptials in a stampeding wedding carriage. However, the wicked bridegroom, Prince Ivor Irinushka of The Far Northland, a malicious warlock, uses his Black Magic to locate her.
Lena planned to make preview of the nearby woods. She had asked the queen’s permission to take the air today on horseback, which had been approved. Her squire rode a half pace behind her, carrying on a conversation that wouldn’t have been possible should he have ridden at his respectful full-pace behind.
“Boyd,” she asked, “be there any ruins nearby we could go explore?”
“Just as a lark, ye mean?”
“Aye.” She tossed her hair. “Ye know, some place where I could just go and have fun looking about and making guesses at whatever happened there so long time ago.”
“I think I know what ye mean, Princess. I hear ye still be liking to play make-believe.” He laughed.
Yet she noticed it tweren’t a hurtful laugh. She half turned in her saddle to take a better look at his expression. He smiled at her, and she couldn’t help but be caught up in his good humor.
“Ye could be the queen, and me the king,” Boyd said. “Wait, I know of a great place!”
“Be it far from here?”
“Nay, not really, but well off the beaten track…but it be way in the bottom of a canyon and badly overgrown; hard to get to. It used to was a flour mill…but the stone done got cracked, and it fell in half. So, the miller left.”
“Really? It sounds delightful. Not the stone breaking so that its owner had to desert their home. Can ye take me there?—Will ye take me there, without tattling?”
“Yer just a girl. Ye be sure ye want to do this? There be brush and thistles, and low tree branches. Yer dress will surely be torn.”
“I’ll take me dress off…if’un ye promise to button me up again.”
Boyd gave thought about this adventure, and that he wouldn’t even be able to share this story with his buddies at the barns. He laughed. “And there be poisonous spiders,” he said, turning his fingers into claws. Pretending to be a wicked wizard, he growled.
Lena enjoyed his wicked laughter. She couldn’t help but smile. “But there be running water there? Aye?” She thought surely the dragon twins would love playing in the brook. They had never seen running water in brooks or rills. This could well be the adventure they sought.
Boyd led the way. As soon as they reached the middle of the canyon, they tied their horses concealed under a grove of trees. Boyd blushed unbuttoning the back of Lena’s bodice, and turned away as she slipped out of her riding skirt. She put her belt back on and looped the back hem of her petticoat between her legs and fastened it with her belt buckle. She stepped out from behind her pony, wearing only her white, sleeveless petticoat and her borrowed squire’s knee-high boots.
“I’m ready,” she called.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


By Shari Rood
The Closet Door Series, Book 3

Suspense/Thriller, 330 Pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald
Henry Peterson, the notorious serial killer is at it again. He just can’t help himself but this time he’s turned vigilante. He only kills the deserving. After years of staying under the radar he finds himself drawn back to Virginia to help his little brother Wyatt, a police officer. Wyatt is working a difficult cold case and trying to track down his old enemy Rex Roland. He turns to his brother for help but starts to regret it when Henry decides to come to town.
Frank Tanbark is a typical Caitland county kid. His Dad went to prison long ago and he’s left with a severely depressed mother with a hoarding problem and a bunch of friends who are chomping at the bit to do something illegal and dangerous. When a botched robbery escalates, Frank collides with Henry and Rex and things go from bad to worse.
Henry listened for a familiar sound. A slight rattling or even a brazen knock. He felt the relentless drive of whatever it was that drove him, push him forward…and he cringed. He looked at the door and heard nothing. He got up and walked down the hallway, out into the open plan of the large living room.
Nice. He thought that every time he walked into the room, making him wonder if somewhere inside that buggy head of his, he desired a fancy house like this. Fancy, it was a word his mother would have used, but she was gone like everyone else.
He looked into space, past the high ceilings and plantation teak floors and farther past the large deck that overlooked a private pond with a small dock, a little rowboat prettily tied to it. It was all very quaint and moneyed, but he couldn’t really feel comfortable here in this house that wasn’t his. It was like wearing borrowed clothes.
It had been almost a dozen years since Shelby. He let his mind wander to her because he knew she was safe. At least he hadn’t hurt her. It was more than he could say about Melanie, his new girl.
The phrase, she had it coming came to mind. He chuckled, his eyes still focused on the little rowboat. He hated to think he was turning into some kind of vigilante. After all, he really had no interest in helping people. Still, it was nice to know his girlfriend of four months wouldn’t be hurting anyone ever again.
He walked back into the bedroom. He pulled up a chair and faced the closet door. “Melanie, I know you can hear me. I’d like to say something.”
There was silence. That old familiar blank space. He wondered if he’d killed her. It hearkened back to the Michelle Butler days. The long hours spent waiting for her to speak. Was he crazy? He decided he must be. However, that revelation wasn’t enough to stop him. He’d changed course, however. No more hurting people he loved. He’d made that promise to himself and so far, he’d kept it.
“Melanie, why’d you kill them? I mean, you could have just kept the money. They were too addled to give up your secret. Why?”
Melanie’s cat walked into the room. “You know she’s a piece of work. One time I saw this show about a televangelist named Peter something or other. Anyway, he had this scam going where he convinced poor people to borrow and scrape together every last dime in the name of Jesus and send it to him so he could live in style in Los Angeles and drive a Mercedes. I’ve always thought Melanie had a lot in common with him. I mean, truly, who bleeds old people dry and then kills them?”
He gazed at Allistar and back to the door. Allistar was a chatty little thing. Henry missed Misty.
He got up, unlocked the door and peered into the shadowy darkness intrigued by the muffled sound she was making. He hesitated for a moment. Another mmphh sound…he shook his head, remembering the duct tape.
“Now stop it. That’s just silly,” he said as he ripped the tape off her mouth. She had been crying. He waited for a barrage of cursing, the usual from Melanie, but she was breaking. He knew the signs. “So, are you going to answer me?”
“Go to hell.”
“Okay, back on with the tape.”
“No, wait. Just wait… I’ll tell you.”
“That’s better; you didn’t even ask me if I was going to let you go this time. Does that mean we are learning?”
Henry admired her beauty. She was thirtyish and a redhead (very convenient!) and she had stunning blue eyes which at the moment just looked stunned.
He sat back down on his chair and she struggled to move against the ropes that bound her. He noticed she’d rubbed a raw patch on her right wrist and it looked infected. He decided maybe today was the day. “Last time…why… did... you... do... it?”
She inhaled a wet, snotty breath and Henry got up, took his handkerchief, wiped her nose and sat back down.
“Why do you care?”
Henry was growing weary of this. It had been interesting but it was time to move on. He felt a pang of remorse at leaving this beautiful house. He’d grown fond of walking the gardens in the afternoon; he even took the little rowboat out for a paddle one particularly lovely evening. He’d always wanted a real home. He understood this wasn’t going to be it. “I have this kind of weapon. It’s a sword actually, Japanese. I’ve never actually used anything except my bare hands and of course my trusty gun as my friend Rex would say, but I think you might be a special case.”
“Oh she definitely is,” Allistar said brightly. “You know all those medical records you found? It proves it. I don’t know why you want her to confess… it’s all there in black and white. Six wealthy elderly patients died under her care. So, one might think because she was a hospice nurse, that’s normal right? Except it was far from normal. In fact…”

Sunday, September 20, 2015

If It Kills Me

By Mona Jean Reed
Suspense/Thriller, 436 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
Her dad’s song became her song—a slave’s song, a wary song of anger without the means of expression, a song of surviving--a song of escape.
Like any slave, she’d do what she had to do.
“Dad,” she whispered. “Somehow, I’ll get home. If it kills me, I’ll get home.
Roz wondered if she’d ever see her dad or her brother again. She bit her pointing finger and some tears escaped, but she made no sound.
At some point, Roz slept and knew nothing more until the darkest hour of the new day. A sound like a person sniffling with a bad cold startled her awake. A novel she’d read said that if awakened in a potentially dangerous situation, the best thing is to pretend sleep. This gives you time to plan your best moves and surprise your enemy.
Without moving, she opened her eyes a little. The fire had burned so low that only embers remained. But the moon’s light let her see very well. Through a thin place in the brush shelter, she could make out a foot—a foot, not a hoof. It moved and she saw its tail. It had a tuft of hair at the end—not the brushy tail of a hyena,
Though she didn’t move, her frightened heart exchanged places with her lungs.
What should she do? Scream? No. Wake their master? Probably. But he slept on the other side of the fire.
If she called him, she’d wake Chaney. Mustn’t wake Chaney. If the squirt started screaming, who knew what that animal would do? The snuffling sound grew louder by the second and their unstable fortress shivered. That beast meant to tear it down.
Roz had to do something. What could she do? Still not moving, she searched through her pitiful store of knowledge.
Throw rocks?
Stare at the beast and point at it until it went away?
Worked with a snarling dog.
Not likely. Not at all.
That’ll do.
Their collection of sticks and small logs lay near her head. Still lying down, she raised her right arm in slow motion. Her fingers felt for a stick or two to fuel their blaze—something small that wouldn’t crush the fire’s remaining embers.
The creature’s noisy breathing stopped. Slowly Roz dropped the handful of twigs into the embers. Within seconds they blazed up.
The animal reacted with a guttural cough and a soft growl. It probably wouldn’t bother them if she made a bigger fire.
Still frightened, Roz sat up slowly, picked up a few larger sticks and put them on the fire. She waited for the larger sticks to catch and blaze.
Nothing else she could do, except pray that the beast wouldn’t decide to knock down their defense before she got the fire going. She prayed and she kept praying.
Again, the brush fortress shivered. Without thought, Roz leaped to her feet and grabbed the largest hunk of firewood in the pile.
The piece of firewood fit her hand like the handle of a hammer; the larger end looked enough like a club to be one.
Roz encouraged herself by thinking of the young King David of Israel. He had killed at least a lion and a bear when he was just a boy.
Maybe, with God’s help, I can convince this beast to go away.
Please Jesus, let it be so.
She squatted and rocked from side-to- side, like a tennis player ready to leap in any direction when her opponent slammed a serve at her.
Could be that if the Lord directed her hands, and if this creature wasn’t starving, she could convince it to leave with a solid blow on the nose. She thought about it and stopped panting in terror.
I won’t be afraid.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Silver Sleigh

By Dorothy Bodoin
Mystery/Crime, 397 pages, cover art by Pat Evans
Rosalyn Everett was missing and presumed dead. Her dogs had been rescued, and her house was abandoned. But a blue merle collie haunts her woods and a figure in bridal white traverses her property.

How do the mysteries at River Rose connect to Jennet's purchase of an antique silver sleigh?

Every time I stepped on River Rose land, the snowswept expanse seemed more bizarre.

Or was 'bizarre' the best word to describe it? Haunted would be better; forbidding better yet. Once before I'd had the feeling that Rosalyn's abandoned house didn't want us invading its rooms.

Now that was bizarre.

This afternoon the usual otherworldly silence greeted me. Scattered animal prints and fallen branches marred the snow. The festive Christmas wreath still adorned the front door in mid-January, its ribbon crisp and bright. A discernible pall hung over the deserted kennel buildings, and the dark woods behind the house rose to meet a sullen sky. They appeared to issue a voiceless warning:

Don't come any closer.

Leaving the Taurus idling, I grabbed a bag of beef chunks and made my way up to the house calling Icy's name loudly.

An echo flung it back to me, an echo followed by a deep bark. Then another. I'd hoped for a response but hadn't expected one.

I called again. "Icy! Treat!"

He emerged from the side of the house near the blue spruce where I'd first seen him. And oh, he was magnificent! Large and majestic with a silvery-blue coat that shone in the last of the afternoon light as if it had been freshly bathed and brushed. Impossible, of course.

The Quicksliver Collie.

I held my breath, hoping he wouldn't move.

A piece of light green material dangled from his mouth. A rag?

"Are you hungry?" I rattled the bag, a sound that unfailingly drew my dogs from all corners of the house.

He tilted his head, licked his chops.

I tossed a chunk of beef into the snow. He lounged for it, swallowed it in one gulp, and stared at the bag in my hand.

"Poor hungry baby."

I tossed two more pieces and eyed the material that had fallen into the snow.

Focused on devouring the beef, the collie didn't object when I bent down to pick it up. Wet and torn, definitely the worse for wear, it was still recognizable as a woman's blouse or shirt, probably silk.


The leap was inevitable. Who but Rosalyn Everett would have worn this blouse found on her property?

From somewhere a snippet of information floated into my mind. Sue Appleton saying, "Rosalyn often wore green. It was her favorite color."

Icy had apparently brought the blouse from the woods. If I could find the place… There might be other garments there. There might be a grave.

I showed Icy the empty bag. "No more. Sorry."

He sniffed at it warily, then dashed off back to the yard, up the incline, and into the woods.

Still carrying the blouse, I followed him, followed his imprints in the snow, crossing treacherous roots that reached out of the ground cover to entrap me. Soon I'd lost sight of the dog but not his tracks. He must have come and gone this way often enough to create a path of sorts.

The trees grew close together. Hungry branches reached out for me, snagging my sleeves. In an alarmingly short time, my breath grew ragged and my heartbeat raced. Just when I thought I could go no farther, I caught sight of Icy. He had come to a stop in a clearing at a large nest of branches. His makeshift home or…

Something had disarranged the neat order of the branches, scratched or clawed them aside to expose more green material.

I stopped quickly and grabbed onto the trunk of a slender tree for support, still breathing heavily as the significance of the discovery caught up with me. This was Rosalyn's grave. I had found her.

The collie lay down close to the nest, panting, waiting with the air of one who has completed his mission.

Rosalyn's grave. At last. But shouldn't I make certain her body lay beneath the branches?

Yes, but I didn't want to touch a corpse unless there was no alternative. Not when I was alone in the woods except for a dog who wasn't mine. Not when I had my cell phone in my pocket and access to an officer of the Foxglove Corners Police Department.

Just move the branches aside with your boot, I told myself. You won't have to touch anything.

No. I couldn't be that disrespectful.

Keeping my eye on the gravesite and the guardian collie, I called Lieutenant Mac Dalby.