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Blog Tour: Hieroglyphics

Synopsis

Lil and Frank married young, launched into courtship when they bonded over how they both—suddenly, tragically—lost a parent when they were children. Over time, their marriage grew and strengthened, with each still wishing for so much more understanding of the parents they’d lost prematurely.

Now, after many years in Boston, they have retired in North Carolina. There, Lil, determined to leave a history for their children, sifts through letters and notes and diary entries—perhaps revealing more secrets than Frank wants their children to know. Meanwhile, Frank has become obsessed with what might have been left behind at the house he lived in as a boy on the outskirts of town, where a young single mother, Shelley, is just trying to raise her son with some sense of normalcy. Frank’s repeated visits to Shelley’s house begin to trigger memories of her own family, memories that she’d rather forget. Because, after all, not all parents are ones you wish to remember.

Hieroglyphics reveals the difficulty of ever really knowing the intentions and dreams and secrets of the people who raised you. In her deeply layered and masterful novel, Jill McCorkle deconstructs and reconstructs what it means to be a father or a mother, and what it means to be a child piecing together the world all around us, a child learning to make sense of the hieroglyphics of history and memory.


Review

Hieroglyphics opens as a character study of three generations of people not necessarily connected by family, but related by home. Lil and Frank are an older couple returning to their hometown in the winter of their lives. Shelley is a single mother of two boys Jason and Harvey. She and Harvey live alone in Frank’s childhood home.

We get a very good sense of Lil through her collection of letters and odd bits of history that she leaves about the house. Of all the characters her voice was the one resonated with me the most. I felt nostalgic at times even though she is not of my generation nor is her story my story. I was just pulled in by the love that she showed her family, her inner strength and her loyalty.

Frank is an archaeologist who investigates “graves and caves” in search of clues of long gone civilizations. But the past that he is really trying to decipher is his own.

Shelley works as a stenographer who is beset by the current case that she is transcribing. It is a high profile murder case where she over identifies with the victim. As she listens to testimony it triggers flashbacks of her past traumas. This intense anxiety is causing her to reflect on different aspects of her life. Not only forcing her to revisit her mistakes of the past, but to also reevaluate her decisions as a parent.

Poor Harvey thinks their home is haunted. There is a ghost that lingers at night and causes him to wet the bed. He has a vivid imagination. When he puts on one of his fake mustaches he could be either a sentient adult or a superhero known as Super Monkey. His superpower is that he can talk serial killers out of doing wrong and turn them onto the path of all that is moral and good. All of these are symptoms of his overriding fears – his sensitivity over his cleft lip, his abandonment by his father and his awareness of his mother’s grief and distress.

When I was a student I found that picking a title that encapsulated the heart of my story was perhaps one of the hardest tasks of writing. So now as an adult whenever I read a book I try to figure out why the author chose the title and its significance. After reading Hieroglyphics I came up with two justifications for the name.

Hieroglyphics are an ancient code of pictures that tell a story. Each of the characters encode their experiences. Shelley uses shorthand while transcribing her cases. Harvey and his brother trade secrets in Klingon. Lil reminisces over her mother’s unique sort of jargon. She and Frank share secret words so if one dies first they can “send messages” through the living.

Hieroglyphics are a language that informs the past. Here the past can be bittersweet with characters at times examining their lives through experiences of death and catastrophe. As Lil helps her daughter prepare for her wedding she is reminded of her own. Although her own mother was taken before she wed Frank she feels blessed to share this moment with her daughter and remembers how tragedy brought her and Frank together.

Take your time reading this book. It is subtle. It is sublime. If I had to sum Hieroglyphics up in one sentence I would say that it was a heartfelt, bittersweet examination of the legacy we leave behind for those we love. Highly recommend.


Meet the Author

Jill McCorkle’s first two novels were released simultaneously when she was just out of college, and the New York Times called her “a born novelist.” Since then, she has published six novels and four collections of short stories, and her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories several times, as well as The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Five of her books have been New York Times Notable books, and her most recent novel, Life After Life, was a New York Times bestseller. She has received the New England Booksellers Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. She has written for the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, the Boston GlobeGarden and Gun, the Atlantic, and other publications. She was a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard, where she also chaired the department of creative writing. She is currently a faculty member of the Bennington College Writing Seminars and is affiliated with the MFA program at North Carolina State University.


Buy Links

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Blog Tour: Someone’s Listening

Synopsis

You’re not alone. Someone’s waiting. Someone’s watching…Someone’s listening.

In SOMEONE’S LISTENING (Graydon House Books; July 28; $16.99) Dr. Faith Finley has everything she’s ever wanted: she’s a renowned psychologist, a radio personality—host of the wildly popular “Someone’s Listening with Dr. Faith Finley”—and a soon-to-be bestselling author. She’s young, beautiful, and married to the perfect man, Liam.

Of course Liam was at Faith’s book launch with her. But after her car crashes on the way home and she’s pulled from the wreckage, nobody can confirm that Liam was with her at the party. The police claim she was alone in car, and they don’t believe her when she says otherwise. Perhaps that’s understandable, given the horrible thing Faith was accused of doing a few weeks ago.

And then the notes start arriving—the ones literally ripped from the pages of Faith’s own self-help book on leaving an abusive relationship. Ones like “Secure your new home. Consider new window and door locks, an alarm system, and steel doors…”

Where is Liam? Is his disappearance connected to the scandal that ruined Faith’s life? Who is sending the notes? Faith’s very life will depend on finding the answers.


Review

Faith Finley is a successful psychologist with her own radio show named “Someone’s Listening”. She has built a reputation for helping the abused escape from their dangerous relationships. Her whole world comes tumbling down when a former patient accuses her of sexual misconduct. Although this type of delusional behavior fits his pathology, doctor-patient privilege prevents Faith from using his diagnosis to defend herself. As the news outlets increase their coverage she sees bits of her life being wrestled away from her. So when her husband Liam disappears the night of her book signing it is no surprise that detectives assume he has flown the coop.

Her credibility shot, Faith knows that she is on her own. If she wants answers into Liam’s disappearance she needs to get them herself. Throughout her dogged pursuit Faith proves herself to be relentless and reckless. I struggled with her character at times. Even though I applauded her persistence, I felt that as an educated smart woman she made some really stupid decisions. When she started calling Carter after his accusations went live, I could have reached into the kindle and smacked her. I just felt like someone should have been there to knock some sense into her. But ultimately she chased down the leads that no one else would.

For a debut mystery novel, Seraphina Nova Glass does a fine job of introducing doubt into the cast of characters’s motives. She offers up many suspects to keep readers guessing. And I have to say, if a book gets you so invested in the character that you fell the need to intervene as you would on behalf of a friend that says a lot about the novel’s character development and relatability. I look forward to reading Seraphina Nova Glass’s next novel The Seduction which is scheduled to be released Summer 2021.


Meet the Author

Seraphina Nova Glass is a professor and Playwright-in-Residence at the University of Texas-Arlington, where she teaches Film Studies and Playwriting. She holds an MFA in playwriting from Smith College, and has optioned multiple screenplays to Hallmark and Lifetime. Someone’s Listening is her first novel.


Where You Can Find Her

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Blog Tour: The Lives of Edie Pritchard

Synopsis

Everyone in Gladstone, Montana recognizes Edie as the smart, self-assured, beautiful wife to her high school sweetheart Dean. But they only see what they want to see. They don’t see the relentless pursuit of Edie by Dean’s
twin brother, Roy. Or Dean’s crippling insecurity in the face of Roy’s calm, easy charm. Edie’s relationship with the Linderman brothers reverberates through the years: from her conventional start as a young bride; to her second marriage to an explosively jealous man with a daughter caught in the middle; to her attempts to protect a granddaughter who is pursued by two lecherous boys. But despite it all, Edie remains strong and independent, no matter how many times her past attempts to claw its way back into her life. Triumphant, engaging, and deeply perceptive, THE LIVES OF EDIE PRITCHARD weaves a complex portrait of a woman determined to live on her own terms.


Review

The Lives of Edie Pritchard follows our heroine through three major periods of her life: during her twenties while she is married to her high school sweetheart, in the midst of her forties as she contemplates leaving her second marriage, and in her senior years as she tries to impart her wisdom to her granddaughter. Edie is an indelible character at any age and over the course of her lifetime we see how she holds onto her sense of self despite what others try to project on to her.

When I picked up this book I was curious how a man would handle the headspace of a woman. Would he understand the nuances of a woman navigating her way through a male dominated society? Would the novel address feminine sentiment in a way that was respectful and honest and true? Does Larry Watson get “it”? Although I do not think he entirely gets us, I did not find myself offended. Perhaps because I expected the book to be through a male lens, I was grateful that he showed her development over time. Watson’s writing is simply stated; cognizant of this woman’s singularity and sense of purpose.

One scene that really made an impression on me was where Edie is talking to Lauren and Roy about how girls in middle school perceive themselves and how their self esteem goes down just about the same time they start getting attention from boys. She asks them why they think this is the case and finally Roy has to admit that “It must be something about the way we look at you.”

This scene takes place when Edie is in her sixties and has come full circle. She has come to accept that people may have their own perceptions of you, that this sense of identity may be caused by false memory or long held views of what they think you should represent. But she is no longer bound to what other people need or want her to be.

When she was in her twenties an offhand comment from a little girl would have prompted her to examine her features and double check that she is not wearing too much makeup and contemplating her hairstyle. A plea to help make a car sale might have her unbuttoning her blouse. In each of these cases she self corrects, disgusted with herself for allowing others to impose their views on her.

By the time she reaches her forties she knows that with her beauty comes expectations from men — including her husband. Even though she wants change in her life, she does not want to forsake her identity to get it.

As a mature woman she is not only self aware, but she also has come to realize that we cannot control what others think of us:

“All of us are someone else in the eyes of others. And for all I know, maybe that other is as true, as real, as the person we believe we are. But the thing is, when you’re back home, you never have a chance to be someone other than who you were then. Even if you never were that person.”

Like Watson’s other novels The Lives of Edie Pritchard is reminiscent of place. Small town Americana comes alive in the form of Gladstone, Montana and is its own character in the book.

“It might not seem like much, this country. A few bare hills, each seeming to rise out of the shadow of the one behind it. Miles of empty prairie, and all of it, hill and plain, the color of paper left out in the sun. You might be out here alone someday with what you thought would be your life. And a gust of wind might blow your heart open like a screen door. And slam it just as fast.”


Meet the Author

Larry Watson is the author of several novels including MONTANA 1948, JUSTICE, WHITE CROSSES, and ORCHARD which have been optioned for film. LET HIM GO was made into a film starring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane and is due to be released this year. Watson’s fiction has been published in ten foreign editions, and has received prizes and awards from Milkweed Press, Friends of American Writers, Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association, Mountain and Plains Library Association, New York Public Library, Wisconsin Library Association, Critics’ Choice, and The High Plains Book Award.  He and his wife Susan live in Kenosha, Wisconsin. They have two daughters, Elly and Amy, and two grandchildren, Theodore and Abigail.

Special thanks to Sara Winston from Algonquin Books for bringing this book to my attention.

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What Unbreakable Looks Like

Synopsis

Lex was taken–trafficked–and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again.

After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that’s what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things.

But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love.

Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like is a gritty, ultimately hopeful novel about human trafficking through the lens of a girl who has escaped the life and learned to trust, not only others, but in herself.


Review

What Unbreakable Looks Like was a heart wrenching punch to the gut. The topic of this novel is human trafficking. McLaughlin shows how young girls are sometimes seduced into bondage. “Mitch was there for me when no one else was. He took care of me. He sold me. Beat me. Told me I was beautiful and said I was an ugly bitch. He said he loved me . . . ” I cried when I read these words. I cried knowing that there are girls out there living in dysfunctional homes who are willing to accept this kind of “love” any kind of love. That they do not know their worth and have been neglected to the point that any attention is good attention. But McLaughlin also shows here that anybody can be trafficked and that this is happening right in our backyards in small town America. These men are predators; highly manipulative and skilled at grooming the young and impressionable. They have long arms and a lot of money backing these enterprises. In the book McLaughlin uses the website Stall313 to shine light on the real life fight to end online human trafficking. I have not been able to watch the documentary I am Jane Doe that inspired this book but I have viewed an interview with its director Mary Mazzio. I was utterly shocked by how deep this went and the responses of some politicians and judges. I found it frustrating that Backpage.com and other websites like it are able to use Section 230 as a legislative loophole to get around their complicity in human trafficking.


Meet the Author

KATE McLAUGHLIN likes people, so much so that she spends her days making up her own. She likes writing about characters who are bent, but not broken – people who find their internal strength through friends, strife and sometimes humor. When she’s not writing, she likes studying people, both real and fictional. She also likes playing board games with friends, talking and discovering new music. A proud Nova Scotian, she’ll gladly tell you all about the highest tides in the world, the magical creation known as a donair, and people who have sofas in their kitchens. Currently, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and four cats. She’s the author of What Unbreakable Looks Like.

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Blog Tour: Red Sky Over Hawaii

Hello Everyone! Welcome to my blog! First I would like to thank Justine Sha for inviting me on this blog tour. Red Sky Over Hawaii is what I consider a comfort read. With a take home message about living in the moment and believing in magic it certainly warmed my heart.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes happily-ever-afters and found families.


Book Synopsis

For fans of Chanel Cleeton and Beatriz Williams, RED SKY OVER HAWAII is historical women’s fiction set in the islands during WWII. It’s the story of a woman who has to put her safety and her heart on the line when she becomes the unexpected guardian of a misfit group and decides to hide with them in a secret home in the forest on Kilauea Volcano.

The attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything for Lana Hitchcock. Arriving home on the Big Island too late to reconcile with her estranged father, all she can do is untangle the clues of his legacy, which lead to a secret property in the forest on Kilauea Volcano. America has been drawn into WWII, and amid rumors of impending invasion, the army places the islands under martial law. When they start taking away neighbors as possible sympathizers, Lana finds herself suddenly guardian to two girls, as well as accomplice to an old family friend who is Japanese, along with his son. In a heartbeat, she makes the decision to go into hiding with them all.

The hideaway house is not what Lana expected, revealing its secrets slowly, and things become even more complicated by the interest of Major Grant Bailey, a soldier from the nearby internment camp. Lana is drawn to him, too, but needs to protect her little group. With a little help from the magic on the volcano, Lana finds she can open her bruised heart to the children–and maybe to Grant.

A lush and evocative novel about doing what is right against the odds, following your heart, and what makes a family.


About the Author

Sara Ackerman is the USA Today bestselling author of The Lieutenant’s Nurse and Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. When she’s not writing or teaching, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. She currently lives on the Big Island with her boyfriend and a houseful of bossy animals. Find out more about Sara and her books at http://www.ackermanbooks.com and follow her on Instagram @saraackermanbooks and on FB @ackermanbooks.


Excerpt

THE ROAD
December 8, 1941

WITH EVERY MILE CLOSER TO VOLCANO, THE FOG thickened, until they were driving through a forest of white gauze with the occasional branch showing through. Lana considered turning the truck around no less than forty-six times. Going back to Hilo would have been the prudent thing to do, but this was not a time for prudence. Of that she was sure. She slowed the Chevy to a crawl and checked the rearview mirror. The cage with the geese was now invisible, and she could barely make out the dog’s big black spots.

Maybe the fog would be to their advantage.
“I don’t like it here at all,” said Coco, who was smashed up next to Lana, scrawny arms folded in protest. The child had to almost yell to be heard above the chug of the motor.

Lana grabbed a blanket from the floor. “Put this over you. It should help.”
Coco shook her head. “I’m not cold. I want to go home. Can you please take us back?”

Goose bumps had formed up and down her limbs, but she was so stubborn that she had refused to put on a jacket. True, Hilo was insufferably hot, but where they were headed—four thousand feet up the mountain—the air was cold and damp and flimsy.

It had been over ten years since Lana had set foot at Kı¯lauea. Never would she have guessed to be returning under these circumstances.
Marie chimed in. “We can’t go back now, sis. And anyway, there’s no one to go back to at the moment.”

Poor Coco trembled. Lana wished she could hug the girl and tell her everything was going to be okay. But that would be a lie. Things were liable to get a whole lot worse before they got any better.

“Sorry, honey. I wish things were different, but right now you two are my priority. Once we get to the house, we can make a plan,” Lana said.
“But you don’t even know where it is,” Coco whined.
“I have a good idea.”
More like a vague notion.

“What if we don’t find it by dark? Are they going to shoot us?” Coco said.
Marie put her arm around Coco and pulled her in. “Turn off that little overactive imagination of yours.
No one is going to shoot us,” she said, but threw a questioning glance Lana’s way.
“We’ll be fine,” Lana said, wishing she believed that.

The girls were not the real problem here. Of greater concern was what they had hidden in the back of the truck. Curfew was six o’clock, but people had been ordered to stay off the roads unless their travel was essential to the war. Lana hadn’t told the girls that. Driving up here was a huge risk, but she
had invented a story she hoped and prayed would let them get through if anyone stopped them. The thought of a checkpoint caused her palms to break out in sweat, despite the icy air blowing in through the cracks in the floorboard.

On a good day, the road from Hilo to Volcano would take about an hour and a half. Today was not a good day. Every so often they hit a rut the size of a whiskey barrel that bounced her head straight into the roof. The continuous drizzle of the rain forest had undermined all attempts at smooth roads here. At times the ride was reminiscent of the plane ride from Honolulu. Exactly two days ago, but felt more like a lifetime.

Lana’s main worry was what they would encounter once in the vicinity of the national park entrance. With the Kı¯lauea military camp nearby, there were bound to be soldiers and roadblocks in the area. She had so many questions for her father and felt a mixed ache of sadness and resentment
that he was not here to answer them. How were you so sure the Japanese were coming? Why the volcano, of all places? How are we going to survive up here? Why didn’t you call me sooner?

Coco seemed to settle down, leaning her nut-brown ringlets against her sister’s shoulder and closing her eyes. There was something comforting in the roar of the engine and the jostle of the truck.

With the whiteout it was hard to tell where they were, but by all estimates they should be arriving soon.
Lana was dreaming of a cup of hot coffee when Coco sat upright and said, “I have to go tinkle.”
“Tinkle?” Lana asked.
Marie said, “She means she has to go to the bathroom.”

They drove until they found a grassy shoulder, and Lana pulled the truck aside, though they could have stopped in the middle of the road. They had met only one other vehicle the whole way, a police car that fortunately had passed by.

The rain had let up, and they all climbed out. It was like walking through a cloud, and the air smelled metallic and faintly lemony from the eucalyptus that lined the road. Lana went to check on Sailor. The dog stood up and whined, yanking on the rope around her neck, straining to be pet. Poor
thing was drenched and shaking. Lana had wanted to leave her behind with a neighbor, but Coco had put up such a fuss, throwing herself onto her bed and wailing and punching the pillow, that Lana relented. Caring for the girls would be hard enough, but a hundred-and-twenty-pound dog?

“Just a bathroom stop. Is everyone okay back here?” she asked in a hushed voice. Two low grunts came from under the tarp. “We should be there soon. Remember, be still and don’t make a sound if we stop again.”

As if on cue, one of the hidden passengers started a coughing fit, shaking the whole tarp. She wondered how wise it was to subject him to this long and chilly ride, and if it might be the death of him.
But the alternative was worse.

“Deep breaths…you can do it,” Lana said.
Coco showed up and hopped onto the back tire. “I think we should put Sailor inside with us. She looks miserable.”

“Whose lap do you propose she sits on?” Lana said.
Sailor was as tall as a small horse, but half as wide.
“I can sit in the back of the truck and she can come up here, then,” Coco said in all seriousness.
“Not in those clothes you won’t. We don’t need you catching pneumonia on us.”

They started off again, and ten seconds down the road, Sailor started howling at the top of her lungs. Lana felt herself on the verge of unraveling. The last thing they needed was one extra ounce of attention. The whole idea of coming up here was preposterous when she thought about it. At the time it had seemed like a good idea, but now she wondered at her sanity.

“What is wrong with that dog?” Lana said, annoyed.
Coco turned around, and Lana felt her hot breath against her arm. In the smallest of voices, she said, “Sailor is scared.”
Lana felt her heart crack. “Oh, honey, we’re all a bit scared.
It’s perfectly normal under the circumstances. But I promise you this—I will do everything in my power to keep you out of harm’s way.”
“But you hardly know us,” Coco said.
“My father knew you, and you knew him, right?” Lana said. “And remember, if anyone asks, we tell them our story.”

They had rehearsed it many times already, but with kids one could never be sure. Not that Lana had much experience with kids. With none of her own and no nieces or nephews in the islands, she felt the lack palpably, smack in the center of her chest. There had been a time when she saw children in her
future, but that dream had come and gone and left her sitting on the curb with a jarful of tears.

Her mind immediately went to Buck. Strange how your future with a person could veer so far off course from how you’d originally pictured it. How the one person you swore you would have and hold could end up wreaking havoc on your heart instead. She blinked the thought away.

As they neared Volcano, the fog remained like a curtain, but the air around them brightened.

Lana knew from all her time up here as a young girl that the trees got smaller as the elevation rose, and the terrain changed from towering eucalyptus and fields of yellow-and-white ginger to a more cindery
terrain covered with red-blossomed ‘ohi‘a trees, and prehistoriclooking ha¯pu’u ferns and the crawling uluhe. At one time in her life, this had been one of her happiest places. Coco reached for the letter on the dashboard and began reading it for the fourth time. “Coco Hitchcock. It sounds funny.” The paper was already getting worn.

Marie swiped it out of her hands. “You’re going to ruin that. Give it to me.”
Where Coco was whip thin and dark and spirited—a nice way of putting it—Marie was blonde and full-bodied and sweet as coconut taffy. But Lana could tell even Marie’s patience was wearing thin.

“Mrs. Hitchcock said we need to memorize our new names or we’ll be shot.”
Lana said as calmly as she could, “I never said anything of the sort. And, Coco, you have to get used to calling me Aunt Lana for now. Both of you do.”
“And stop talking about getting shot,” Marie added, rolling her eyes.
If they could all just hold it together a little bit longer.

There was sweat pooling between her breasts and behind her kneecaps. Lying was not her strong suit, and she was hoping that, by some strange miracle, they could sail on through without anyone stopping them. She rolled her window down a couple of inches for a burst of fresh air. “We’re
just about here. So if we get stopped, let me do the talking. Speak only if someone asks you a direct question, okay?”

Neither girl said anything; they both just nodded. Lana could almost see the fear condensing on the windshield. And pretty soon little Coco started sniffling. Lana would have said something to comfort her, but her mind was void of words. Next the sniffles turned into heaving sobs big enough to break the poor girl in half. Marie rubbed her hand up and down Coco’s back in a warm, smooth circle.

“You can cry when we get there, but no tears now,” she said.
Tears and snot were smeared across Coco’s face in one big shiny layer. “But they might kill Mama and Papa.” Her face was pinched and twisted into such anguish that Lana had to fight back a sob of her own.

Excerpted from Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman, Copyright © 2020 by Sara Ackerman.
Published by MIRA Books.

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Blog Tour: The Talking Drum

Hello Everyone and welcome to my stop on Lisa Braxton’s blog tour for The Talking Drum. Special thanks goes out to her publicist Laura Marie for getting this book into my hands. Here is where you can get your copy now:

Amazon Barnes&Noble IndieBound


Book Summary

In 1971, the fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon. The project promises to transform the dying factory town into a thriving economic center, with a profound effect on its residents. Sydney Stallworth steps away her law degree in order to support her husband Malachi’s dream of opening a cultural center and bookstore in the heart of their black community, Liberty Hill. Across the street, Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to frequent outbursts.

Six blocks away and across the Bellport River Bridge lies Petite Africa, a lively neighborhood, where time moves slower and residents spill from run-down buildings onto the streets. Here Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal known to locals as Drummer Man, dreams of being the next Duke Ellington, spreading his love of music and African culture across the world, even as his marriage crumbles around him and his neighborhood goes up in flames. An arsonist is on the loose. As more buildings burn, the communities are joined together and ripped apart. In Petite Africa, a struggling community fights for their homes, businesses, and culture. In Liberty Hill, others see opportunity and economic growth. As the pace of the suspicious fires pick up, the demolition date moves closer, and plans for gentrification are laid out, the residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives. “It’s a shame,” says Malachi, after a charged city council meeting, where residents of Petite Africa and Liberty Hill sit on opposing sides. “We do so much for Petite Africa. But still, we fight.”


Meet the Author

Lisa Braxton is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and was a finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University, and her B.A. in Mass Media from Hampton University. Her stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in the Boston, Massachusetts area.


Interview with Lisa Braxton

Q: The Talking Drum draws a lot from your own personal experience.  I was curious when was the first time you saw yourself reflected back in a book?

A: Actually, I did not see myself reflected in any of the books I was reading while I was growing up. I grew up reading The Nancy Drew mysteries, The Hollister Family, The Bobbsey Twins, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Harriet the Spy, Charlotte’s Web and many others. I loved these books. They helped to grow my love for reading and my desire to become a writer, but they didn’t reflect the world of a middle class African American girl growing up in the 1960s and 1970s enrolled at a parochial elementary school. I continue to be a voracious reader, but I still have not come across books that I can really identify with. I believe that’s helped to fuel my interest in writing about the kinds of African American characters that aren’t often seen in print.

Q: In your book The Talking Drum it focuses on a neighborhood called Petite Africa and there are three central couples within the story.  I know that you developed this book around your parents experience with redevelopment and gentrification.  Which of the three couples would you say is most like your parents?

A: Sydney and Malachi are most like my parents. Sydney has agreed to leave her law studies to support Malachi’s dream to open up a business in his hometown, Bellport. Sydney feels torn between finishing her studies and supporting what her husband wants to do. She’s trying to find her voice in the marriage. It may take her a while to learn how to assert herself.

When my father was a child her operated a little store in his neighborhood in a rural area of Virginia. Back then retail establishments were closed weekends. He’d buy candy and other items during the week and increase the price and sell those items on the weekend when they were impossible to get elsewhere. He loved retail. His dream was to operate a store when he became an adult. In 1969 when my parents were in their 30s, they opened a men’s clothing store in an urban area of Bridgeport, Connecticut. My mother wasn’t too thrilled with the idea, but it was something my father wanted to do. She decided to support his dream. She also at one time considered law school.

Q: Who is your favorite author and why?

A: Langston Hughes. I love his fiction. His writing has the ability to make me feel a range of emotions. Some of his short fiction was so touching that I would start crying while I was reading.

Q: What was the last book that thoroughly moved you? What was it about that book that spoke to your spirit and your heart?

A: The Street, by Ann Petry was the last book that thoroughly moved me. I had not experienced what Petry’s main character, Lutie Johnson went through, but from the beginning I understood what was at stake for Lutie. She wanted to provide a good and safe home for her son and become more upwardly mobile. Whenever a female character is striving for better, whether depicted in a movie or book, I’m there with the character urging them on. I know what it’s like to have ambition that you feel so strongly that you won’t let anything or anyone stop you. Petry’s novel had me on the edge of my seat as a read through pages that were filled with suspense and tension. All the while I was hoping for the character Lutie Johnson to beat the odds.

Q: I read in an article that your first short story Kitchen Fan is about your uncle.  Would you say that all of your books are written based on people who are close to you?  What else inspires your writing?

A: Usually the characters in my stories are composites, not based on anyone in particular. I find that I can develop the characters with more depth if I don’t base them on someone I know. I think I would feel self-conscious and want to be too polite as I developed a character if I based the individual on a real person. The veiled fiction about my uncle was an exception. I’m often inspired by situations. In the early stages of The Talking Drum I began developing the themes of urban redevelopment and gentrification. I know of at least a dozen people, including my parents who have been affected by those issues.

Q: How old were you when you first started writing? 

A: Probably 10 or 11. I say that because I remember writing little stories and my sister, who is 6 years younger than me, enjoying them. She would have to have been at least 4 or so to understand what I was writing about. I’d write about dogs, horses, and other animals. I even personified a wall, giving it a personality and dialogue. My parents always gave me positive feedback, which encouraged me to keep at it.

Where You Can Find Lisa Braxton

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Blog Tour: This is How I Lied


First of all I would like to thank Lia Ferrone at Harlequin Trade Publishing for inviting me on to this blog tour. This is How I Lied was a thrilling page turner that kept me up all night.

Synopsis

With the eccentricity of Fargo and the intensity of Sadie, THIS IS HOW I LIED by Heather Gudenkauf (Park Row Books; May 12, 2020; $17.99) is a timely and gripping thriller about careless violence we can inflict on those we love, and the lengths we will go to make it right, even 25 years later.

Tough as nails and seven months pregnant, Detective Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe of Grotto PD, is dreading going on desk duty before having the baby her and her husband so badly want. But when new evidence is found in the 25-year-old cold case of her best friend’s murder that requires the work of a desk jockey, Maggie jumps at the opportunity to be the one who finally puts Eve Knox’s case to rest.

Maggie has her work cut out for her. Everyone close to Eve is a suspect. There’s Nola, Eve’s little sister who’s always been a little… off; Nick, Eve’s ex-boyfriend with a vicious temper; a Schwinn riding drifter who blew in and out of Grotto; even Maggie’s husband Sean, who may have known more about Eve’s last day than he’s letting on. As Maggie continues to investigate, the case comes closer and closer to home, forcing her to confront her own demons before she can find justice for Eve. 


Review

I’ve been having trouble concentrating lately. How to entertain my children while stay at home orders are in place. The uncertainty of our household finances as our jobs take on different dimensions. The fear of what will be waiting for us on the other side of this pandemic – what world we will be stepping out into. I say this to say that as a bibliophile reading is usually my therapy, my escape from the travails of life. Recently I find that most books haven’t been able to clear the clouds that are in my head. But Heather Gudenkauf’s This is How I Lied was able to transport me to another place. For a moment (or a fast-paced thrilling day), I had a reprieve. My mind was in small town Grotto with pregnant deputy Maggie Kennedy- O’Keefe.

New evidence has popped up in the murder case of her best friend Eve Knox. Maggie’s emotions surrounding the case are further compounded by the fact that it was she who discovered the body 25 years ago. This was a bit of a sticking point for me. I had some trouble suspending disbelief here because we all know in real life this wouldn’t happen. Maggie was too involved with the victim and too involved with the case to be considered for the assignment. But let’s face it the real world sucks right now so I’m down for making exceptions. If you think that Maggie is intriguing, wait until you meet Eve’s baby sister Nora. She is a nut I’m sure you would like to crack. Her character adds many suspenseful moments and plenty of twists and turns. I wonder if she will pop up in any of Gudenkauf’s future work. I certainly would read anything with her in it.


Meet the Author

Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of many books, including The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. Heather graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages. She lives in Iowa with her husband, three children, and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time, Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading, hiking, and running. 

Where to Find Heather

Where to Find This is How I Lied (ISBN: 9780778309703)

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Blog Tour: The Final Deception

Welcome Everyone to my stop on The Final Deception Blog Tour. Thank you so much Lia Ferrone at Harlequin – Mira Books for inviting me to this Blog Tour! The Final Deception has been a welcomed and exhilarating escape from quarantined life.

Synopsis:

Witness the thrilling conclusion to the beloved New York Confidential series, in THE FINAL DECEPTION (MIRA Books; March 31, 2020; $26.99). Kieran and Craig are about to take on their most chilling case yet as they hunt for a deranged serial killer who has escaped from prison to satisfy his need to kill again.

When criminal psychologist Kieran Finnegan was released from her responsibility of counseling the brutal serial killer known as The Fireman, once he was incarcerated, she was relieved to escape the tendrils of his twisted inner world. The chill she received from her sessions with him has stayed with her despite trying to leave him in the past. However, some demons refuse to remain behind bars. When her FBI agent boyfriend Craig is called to a gruesome crime scene that matches The Fireman’s MO, news begins to spread that he’s escaped from prison.

And he remembers Kieran…

Amid a citywide manhunt, Kieran and Craig need to untangle a web of deceit, privilege, and greed. They suspect that those closest to the killer have been drawn into his evil, or else someone is using another man’s madness and cruelty to disguise their crimes. When their investigation brings the danger right to the doorstep to the once safe haven of Finnegan’s Pub, Kieran and Craig will have to be smarter and bolder than ever before, because this time it’s personal, and they have everything to lose.


About the Author

Heather Graham is The New York Times and USA Today best-selling author sold her first book, When Next We Love, in 1982 and since then, she has written over two hundred novels and novellas with about 60 million books in print in categories of romantic suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, and Christmas holiday fare. Graham earned high praise for her New York Confidential series, including a starred review from Library Journal which called it, “Intricate, fast-paced, and intense, this riveting thriller blends romance and suspense in perfect combination and keeps readers guessing and the tension taut until the very end.”

For more information, visit Heather at:

Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

CRAIG FRASIER BREATHED IT IN BEFORE HE COULD STOP himself; the bloodcurdling scent of burning flesh.

Human flesh.

Flames still skittered over the body—an accelerant had been used. As he stood there in the small dark alley, he heard others rushing in: Mike Dalton, his partner, and patrol officers. He heard the sirens; the fire department was coming.

But there was no saving this victim.

Craig was already tamping the fire out; an extinguisher would make the work of the medical examiner more difficult.

But he knew what the medical examiner would find.

The victim had been strangled, then the tongue had been cut out. And then the eyes had been gouged out. Death had occurred, mercifully, before the fire had been set.

The corpses haunted his dreams. Burned shells, some flesh and soft tissue remaining, charred and clinging to the bones, mummy-like. The mouth in the blackened skull was agape, and those empty, soulless eye sockets seemed to be staring up, as if they could still see, as if they stared at him in reproach…

Why hadn’t they caught the killer sooner?

He heard a rustling sound. Looking across the alley, Craig saw a shadow moving. Leaving the corpse to others, he took off like a bullet. He pursued the moving shadow at a run…running and running for blocks. The city was a blur around him.

He reached apartments on Madison, with a coffee shop and a dress store on the first floor, just as the gate at the street entry to the residential units above was closing. He caught the gate, and he reached the elevator in time to see what floor it stopped on. He followed.

And again, as he arrived, a door was just closing; he didn’t let it close.

And there he was: the Fireman, still smelling faintly of gasoline, ready to sit down to a lovely dinner with his family. About to say a prayer before the meal…just a husband and a father, and a man who looked at Craig and calmly said, “So, my work is over. But I have obeyed the commandments given me, and I will go with you.”

Why did you take so long? The corpse again! In Craig’s dreams, the corpse was back, animated, flying at him like a ghostly banshee, issuing a silent scream.

Craig opened his eyes.

He didn’t awake screaming or startled—he didn’t jerk up. It was almost as if he always knew it was a dream, reliving the day the Fireman had gone down.

He’d had the dream several times before. But, now, it seemed as though it had been a long time. Weeks. He’d thought he’d ceased experiencing it altogether. He’d been doing all the right things: quietly seeing a Bureau shrink a few times, following their advice. He hadn’t told Kieran Finnegan, his fiancée, about his recurring nightmare, and while she was a criminal psychologist working with two of the city’s finest criminal psychiatrists, he’d made a point of not telling her or her bosses.

He’d thought he’d settled it on his own. It was a little strange and sometimes intimidating being in love with someone who studied the human psyche, and he hadn’t wanted Kieran worried about him or trying to analyze him.

Why the hell had the dream come back?

He felt Kieran shift against him. He pulled her into his arms and she rolled, crystal eyes opening wide when she realized that he was awake.

And aroused. Kieran’s tangle of auburn hair was a wild mass around her face, emphasizing her eyes and the quick smile that came to her lips.

“Ah!” she murmured, feeling his arousal against her.

“Your fault,” he accused.

“Well, thankfully. What time is it?” she asked with a soft whisper.

He laughed. “Quickie time, or time for a quickie,” he said.

Her smile deepened, and there was something so sensual about it that it never failed to increase whatever he had begun to feel.

In her arms, in the liquid burn of kisses here and there strategically placed, in the swift—and intense—blaze of arching and writhing and thrusting, all else faded.

After, Craig headed for the shower. He was an FBI agent in the Criminal Division of New York City’s branch of the FBI. He could be satisfied in having brought down several killers. But there would be more; a sad fact of the world and humanity. He was blessed to have his job, his vocation, and it was time to go to work.

He shoved the dream into the back of his mind.

Whatever his day held, he’d already seen the worst that this world could offer.

Little did he know.

Get Your Copy of The Final Deception

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Blog Tour: The Darkness We Hide

Synopsis:

For months, Doctor Rowan Dupont has been staring death in the face. It followed her back to her hometown of Winchester, Tennessee, ten months ago, cloaking the walls of her family’s Victorian funeral home like a shroud. In investigating the mysterious deaths of her loved ones, Rowan has unearthed enough family secrets to bury everything she’d previously thought true. But each shocking discovery has only led to more bodies and more questions; the rabbit hole is deeper than she ever imagined.

Despite settling in to a comfortable life with Police Chief Billy Brannigan, Rowan knows dangerous serial killer Julian Addington is still out there. She can’t let her guard down now. Not when she’s this close to ending it once and for all. But with a storm brewing on the horizon, she’ll get only one shot before the impending darkness takes hold, threatening to wipe away every truth she’s uncovered—and everything she holds dear.


Review:

The Darkness We Hide is the rousing conclusion to The Undertaker’s Daughter series. Believe it or not my first foray into Rowan Dupont’s sinister world of serial killers was The Lies We Tell last summer. Although it is the third book in the series I felt drawn to Rowan’s character. I found the mystery of her past to be as intriguing as her current dilemma. So much so that I jumped on the chance to get this book and have spent my time in quarantine curled up with this series. Yes I read them all within the last week. I did not want to miss a beat when it came to uncovering Norah’s darkest secrets or discovering what made a psychopath like Julian Addington tick.

I must admit that I usually shy away from romance. However, Webb draws a connection between Rowan and Billy that is deep and abiding. It is a believable love story. One that is selfless and formed out of friendship. Although this is the last installment of this series, readers can look forward to more adventures set in Winchester with Webb’s forthcoming novel Before He Vanished.

Special thanks to Lia Ferrone at Harlequin- MIRA Books for sending this galley my way.


Meet the Author:

Debra Webb is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of more than 130 novels, including reader favorites the Faces of Evil, the Colby Agency, and the Shades of Death series. With more than four million books sold in numerous languages and countries, Debra’s love of storytelling goes back to her childhood on a farm in Alabama.

Where You Can Find Debra Webb

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Blog Tour: Foul is Fair

Synopsis

Hannah Capin’s Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

Jade and her friends Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.


“Vicious and beautifully brutal, Foul is Fair gives a sword to every girl who has ever been a victim and makes them a warrior. This book is pulls no punches and will make anyone think twice before uttering the phrase ‘just a girl’. An unapologetic feminist battle-cry that leaves you breathless and thirsting for vengeance.”Sonia Hartl, author of Have a Little Faith in Me


Review

Foul is Fair is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s MacBeth.  The title derives from a quote in the play where the three witches chant “Foul is fair and fair is foul.” to indicate what is bad for others works quite well for them.  For the most part Capin capitalizes on the saying’s other meaning  that appearances may be deceiving – where golden boys are tarnished and revenge may just be the equivalent of justice. 

While reading this book I couldn’t help thinking of this English class I took in college called The Revenge Theory.   We read books like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Hamlet.  We watched The War of the Roses and both versions of Fatal Attraction with Glenn Close.  What stuck with me most was the idea that the avenger must be careful to not let their emotions rule them lest they themselves be destroyed.  Swimming in my head as I read this book were Confucious’ warning – “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves.” and the adage “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”   I kept waiting for the axe to fall; part of me expecting Jade to suffer for her vengefulness, the other part of me hoping that the boys got their just desserts. 

I recognize that revenge and justice are typically polar opposites.  Revenge is driven by anger.  Justice is meted out with considerable thought.  Revenge is often a cycle where violence begets more violence.  Justice brings closure.  But Foul is Fair had me asking or perhaps wanting for them to be the same thing.  I was hoping that Jade could keep her stuff together long enough to think rationally and execute her plan.   When Elle was raped her attackers did not even own their guilt.  To them she was not a person but only a means to their gratification.  In their eyes they were not responsible for her pain.   They were assured and confident because they were used to wielding the power and dominating the landscape.  Their wealth had always granted them a shield of invincibility.  They thought they were untouchable. 

Throughout the novel Capin plays on the “foul is fair” motif asking the reader to dig deeper to derive from the symbolism in the text.  In numerology the number 7 stands for perfection and realization.  In Foul is Fair there are seven perpetrators, seven intended victims of Jade’s wrath.  People whose life path number is seven are said to not take things at face value.  Instead they search for understanding to get at the truth.

Metaphors with animals are used to describe the characters and reveal their true natures.  The boys are likened to wolves as they rove and hunt in packs and to denote their cruelty.  The second string girls are called birds.  They flock and flitter and fly off at the flick of a wrist.  This is to emphasize their social stature within the school.  Birds are also used as a bad omen as they perch in Oleander trees. 

Although many of the characters names have direct counterparts in Shakespeare’s MacBeth a few of the names serve as banners for their personalities.  Lilia for the flower Lily as she comes off as pretty, fragile and delicate.  Connor is the conman that nobody really trusts.  Piper is a common bird.  The female sandpiper is polyandrous – she mates with several males during breeding season.  I’m not sure whether this is a hint to Piper’s commonality, an allusion to the fact that she will never be Queen or a nod to her unfaithfulness to Lilia, that she cannot be trusted.  Another interesting factoid about female spotted sandpipers is that it is the female that lays claim to and defends nesting grounds.  Within her couple Piper certainly had the stronger backbone and had no problem marking her territory.  Jade, the color, represents envy.  Her green eyes serve as mirror to reflect the jealousy in the hearts of the boys as they each covet Duncan’s position.  Jade, the gem, symbolizes balance or in this case the scales of justice.

I really enjoyed reading Foul is Fair.  The symbolism gave me a lot to think about.  Even though this is a retelling you do not have to read MacBeth to appreciate this book.  The book may be purchased from Wednesday Books or your local bookstore. 


Meet the Author

Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia.

Author Website: Hannahcapin.com

Author’s Twitter/Instagram: @tldaaollf