Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney

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Description

Alice Feeney, the New York Times bestselling Queen of Twists returns…with a family reunion that leads to murder.

After years of avoiding each other, Daisy Darker’s entire family is assembling for Nana’s 80th birthday party in Nana’s crumbling gothic house on a tiny tidal island. Finally back together one last time, when the tide comes in, they will be cut off from the rest of the world for eight hours.

The family arrives, each of them harboring secrets. Then at the stroke of midnight, as a storm rages, Nana is found dead. And an hour later, the next family member follows…

Trapped on an island where someone is killing them one by one, the Darkers must reckon with their present mystery as well as their past secrets, before the tide comes in and all is revealed.

My Thoughts

While the dysfunctional family with the terrible secret is a familiar trope, Feeney turns it on its ear here by pairing it with an atmospheric, creepy setting reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s masterwork, And Then There Were None. She does a fantastic job of creating a serious claustrophobic tension that puts every single character on edge. The pre-pub comparisons to Christie’s work helped me guess one of the two big twists, but that did not disrupt my enjoyment of the story. Feeney explores the lifelong consequences of bad decisions and mixes karma with gleeful revenge.

Feeney has a way of peeling back the layers of her characters to reveal the worst. She writes some pretty horrible humans into her books, and gives us a couple of doozies here. (Daisy’s sisters are the worst.) Daisy’s relationship with her sisters reminded me a bit of the Flavia De Luce series by Alan Bradley, except Daisy’s relationship with her sisters is far darker. There’s a lot that’s been written about “unlikable characters” in books, but I think Feeney *wants* us to dislike these characters and, in the end, it doesn’t matter if we like them or not. It’s their actions that started the story and it’s there actions that will end it. None of the action would have been possible if the characters were likable!

Fans of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins will enjoy this dark and twisty mystery. I’ll be recommending this one a lot.

“Wow! Echoes of Christie’s And Then There Were None but turned into something wonderfully original and wrapped in a genuinely creepy dysfunctional family fairy-tale of a novel, this takes Feeney to the next level. I LOVED IT!”
—Sarah Pinborough, bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes and Insomnia

Publication Date: August 30, 2022
Published By: Flatiron Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

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Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman Banner

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

On Tour August 8 – September 2

Synopsis:

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

The tortured spirits of the dead haunt a Regency-era English manor—but the true danger lies in the land of the living in the third installment in the Lily Adler mysteries, perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn.

Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to spending the autumn away from the social whirl of London. When she arrives in Hampshire with her friends, the Carroways, she doesn’t expect much more than a quiet country visit and the chance to spend time with her charming new acquaintance, Matthew Spencer.

But something odd is afoot in the small country village. A ghost has taken up residence in the Belleford manor, a lady in grey who wanders the halls at night, weeping and wailing. Half the servants have left in terror, but the family seems delighted with the notoriety that their ghost provides. Intrigued by this spectral guest, Lily and her party immediately make plans to visit Belleford.

They arrive at the manor the next morning ready to be entertained—only to find that tragedy has struck. The matriarch of the family has just been found killed in her bed.

The dead woman’s family is convinced that the ghost is responsible. Lily is determined to learn the truth before another victim turns up—but could she be next in line for the Great Beyond?

My Thoughts

Schellman’s second in the Lily Adler series places her firmly atop the collection of authors currently writing Regency mysteries. Lily is an admirable protagonist – intelligent, resilient, curious, and determined. The mystery here includes a “ghost” which adds a Gothic element to the story; in true Gothic form, this becomes more a tale of raw human emotion than supernatural in conclusion. I read a lot of these kinds of mysteries but what stands out for me in Schellman’s books is the attention paid to building tension through the emotions and experiences of her characters. I know that’s the authors job, but some are less successful at understanding, capturing, and presenting real emotion seamlessly. When I read the first Lily Adler book, I was reminded of the first time I read Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters who was, IMHO, arguably one of the best historical mystery writers. That sense was repeated in Death at the Manor, making me think Katharine Schellman is definitely a writer to watch as she develops the Lily Adler series. I’ll be recommending this to my readers and patrons at the library.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2022
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 1639100784 (ISBN13: 9781639100781)
Series: Lily Adler Mystery #3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Bookshop.org

Read an excerpt:

As they walked, Mr. Wright fell in step next to Ofelia. “Have you ever seen a ghost before, Lady Carroway?”

“I have not,” she replied, as polite as ever in spite of the hint of skepticism in her voice. “Pray, what does it look like?”

“Like a lady in white and gray,” he said, and Lily was surprised to see how serious his expression was. His frivolous, unctuous manner had dropped away, and he shivered a little as he gestured toward the windows. “No one has seen her face. The first time I saw her she was standing right there, bathed in moonlight, when I was returning from a late night in the village. And my sister saw her in the early morning only two days ago. Some nights, we have heard her wails echoing through the halls, even when she is nowhere to be seen.”

Lily exchanged a look with her aunt, who seemed surprised by the detail in Thomas Wright’s story and the quaver in his voice. Either he believed wholeheartedly in his ghost, or he was putting on a very convincing performance for his audience.

“And what does she do?” Ofelia asked, sounding a little more somber now, as they drew

to a halt in front of the windows. The small party looked around the corner of the hall. It was unremarkable enough, with several large paintings, and a tall, handsome curio cabinet standing in an alcove. An old-fashioned tapestry hung across one wall, though it was worn and faded enough that it was hard to tell exactly what picture it had originally presented.

“Nothing, so far,” Mr. Wright said, a sort of forced theatricality in his voice that left Lily puzzled.

She had expected, based on what Mr. Spencer had said the night before, to find an eager showman in Thomas Wright, ready to bask in the attention of curious neighbors, not a true believer in the supernatural. Glancing at Mr. Spencer out of the corner of her eye, she thought he looked equally puzzled.

“She stands and weeps, or floats around the hall and wails. Usually, if someone tries to draw close, she vanishes. But last month—” Mr. Wright’s voice dropped a little. He still glanced

uneasily toward the other end of the hall, as if momentarily distracted or looking for someone, before quickly returning his attention to his audience. “Last month she became angry when one of our housemaids came upon her unexpectedly. The lady in gray pursued her down the hall, wailing. Poor Etta was so scared that she fell down the stairs in her haste to get away. That

was when our servants started leaving.”

“I trust the housemaid has recovered?” Mr. Spencer asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

“She has,” Mr. Wright replied. “But no one has tried to approach the lady in gray again. We think she wishes to be left alone.”

“Well,” Lily said, attempting a return to lightness, “as far as ghosts go, that sounds reasonable enough. I confess I feel that way often enough myself, especially after too many busy nights in a row.”

Ofelia, who had been looking a little wide-eyed, giggled, and Mr. Spencer quickly covered a cough that might have been a chuckle.

Mr. Wright scowled, his expression halfway between unease and displeasure. “I take it you are not a woman who believes in ghosts, Mrs. Adler?”

“I have never had the opportunity to find out whether or not I am,” Lily replied. “The homes I have lived in have all been stubbornly unhaunted.”

“For your sake, madam, I hope they remain that way,” Mr. Wright said. There was an unexpected note of resignation in his voice as he added, “It is not a comfortable thing to live with.”

“I would have thought you to be fond of yours, sir,” Lily said. “If you dislike her so, why go to the trouble of showing visitors around and telling them the story?”

Mr. Wright smiled, some of the showman creeping back into his manner. “Because you are here, dear ladies. And how could I resist such a beautiful audience?”

“Tell me, has your family any idea who this lady in gray might be?” Lily’s aunt asked politely.

He nodded, his voice dropping even further, and they all reflexively drew closer to hear what he was saying. “We each have our own theory, of course,” he said. “I believe it is my father’s great-aunt, Tabitha, whose bedroom was just this way. If you would care to see the spot?” He held out his arm to Ofelia, who took it. Mr. Wright, engrossed in his story once more, turned to lead them down the closest passage. “Tabitha died there some fifty years ago, of a broken heart, they say, after news arrived of the death of her betrothed in the colonies—”

His story was suddenly cut off by screaming. Not a single shriek of surprise or dismay, but a cry that seemed to go on without ceasing. Thomas Wright froze, the genial smile dropping from his face in shock. “Selina?” he called.

The screaming continued, growing more hysterical. Dropping Ofelia’s arm, he ran toward the sound, which was coming from the far hallway, past the stairs. The others, stunned into stillness, stared at each other, unsure what to do.

“I think it’s Miss Wright,” Mr. Spencer said, all traces of merriment gone from his face. “Wait here—I shall see if they need any assistance.” He made to go after, but Thomas Wright was already returning, rushing down the hall next to another man, who was carrying the screaming woman.

“The parlor, just next to you, Spencer!” Mr. Wright called. “Open the door!”

Mr. Spencer, the closest to the door, flung it open, and the hysterical woman was carried in. She was laid on a chaise longue in the middle of the dim little room, Mr. Spencer stepping forward to help settle her as the man who had carried her stepped back. Lily, glancing

around as she and the other ladies crowded through the door, thought it looked like a space reserved for the family’s private use, which made sense on an upper floor. Thomas Wright knelt next to the hysterical woman for a moment, clasping her hands.

“Selina?” he said loudly. But she kept screaming, her eyes wide and darting about the room without seeing anything. Judging by the round cheeks and dark hair they both shared, Lily thought she must be his sister. Whether they had other features in common was hard to tell when Selina Wright was in the middle of hysterics.

“Miss Wright?” Matthew Spencer tried giving her shoulders a shake. “You must stop this at once!”

But she clearly could not hear either of them. Thomas Wright took a deep breath and looked grim as, with a surprising degree of practicality, he slapped her across the face.

The screams stopped abruptly, her blank expression resolving into one of terror before her eyes latched on her brother. Her face crumpled in misery. “Oh, Thomas!” she sobbed, gasping for breath.

He gave her shoulders a little shake. “Selina, stop this—you must tell me what happened.” But she only shook her head, clutching at his coat with desperate fists and dropping her head against his shoulder, her weeping shaking them both. Mr. Wright turned to the servant who had carried his sister. “Isaiah, what happened to her?”

Isaiah was a young Black man with very short, curly hair and broad shoulders. His plain, dark clothing marked him clearly as a servant, though it was nothing so formal as the livery that

would have been worn in a great house. His wide stance spoke of confidence, and the easy way that Thomas Wright addressed him indicated long service and familiarity.

But there was no confidence on the manservant’s face as he hesitated, gulping visibly and shaking his head. His eyes were wide, and he stumbled over his words as he tried to answer, either unsure how to respond or not wanting to. “It’s . . . it’s Mrs. Wright, sir. She didn’t open her door when we knocked, and Miss Wright . . . she asked me to open it, since no one has the key . . . and she was there, sir—Mrs. Wright. She was there but she wasn’t moving. There was nothing we could do, but there was no one else there what could have done it. She’s dead, sir,” he finished in a rush. “Mrs. Wright is dead. She was killed in the night.”

Beside her, Lily heard Ofelia gasp, though she didn’t turn to look at her friend. Mr. Spencer looked up, his dark eyes wide as he met Lily’s from across the room. She stared back at him, frozen in shock, unable to believe what she had just heard.

“Killed?” Thomas Wright demanded, his voice rising with his own disbelief and his arms tightening around his sister.

“It killed her, Thomas,” Selina Wright said, raising her head at last. Now that her hysterics had faded, her cheeks had gone ashen with fear. “There was no one else who could have entered that room. The lady in gray killed our mother.”

***

Excerpt from Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman. Copyright 2022 by Katharine Schellman. Reproduced with permission from Katharine Schellman. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Katharine Schellman

Katharine Schellman is a former actor, one-time political consultant, and now the author of the Lily Adler Mysteries and the Nightingale Mysteries. Her debut novel, The Body in the Garden, was one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2020 and led to her being named one of BookPage’s 16 Women to Watch in 2020. Her second novel, Silence in the Library, was praised as “worthy of Agatha Christie or Rex Stout.” (Library Journal, starred review) Katharine lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia in the company of her husband, children, and the many houseplants she keeps accidentally murdering.

Catch Up With Katharine Schellman:
KatharineSchellman.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @katharineschellman
Instagram – @katharinewrites
Twitter – @katharinewrites
Facebook – @katharineschellman

Tour Participants:

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Back to the Garden by Laurie King


Description

A fifty-year-old cold case involving California royalty comes back to life—with potentially fatal consequences—in this gripping standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

A magnificent house, vast formal gardens, a golden family that shaped California, and a colorful past filled with now-famous artists: the Gardener Estate was a twentieth-century Eden. And now, just as the Estate is preparing to move into a new future, restoration work on some of its art digs up a grim relic of the home’s past: a human skull, hidden away for decades.

Inspector Raquel Laing has her work cut out for her. Fifty years ago, the Estate’s young heir, Rob Gardener, turned his palatial home into a counterculture commune of peace, love, and equality. But that was also a time when serial killers preyed on innocents—monsters like The Highwayman, whose case has just surged back into the public eye.

Could the skull belong to one of his victims?

To Raquel—a woman who knows all about colorful pasts—the bones clearly seem linked to The Highwayman. But as she dives into the Estate’s archives to look for signs of his presence, what she unearths begins to take on a dark reality all of its own. Everything she finds keeps bringing her back to Rob Gardener himself. While he might be a gray-haired recluse now, back then he was a troubled young Vietnam vet whose girlfriend vanished after a midsummer festival at the Estate. But a lot of people seem to have disappeared from the Gardener Estate that summer when the commune mysteriously fell apart: a young woman, her child, and Rob’s brother, Fort.

The pressure is on, and Raquel needs to solve this case—before The Highwayman slips away, or another Gardener vanishes.

My Thoughts

Often, writers get pigeonholed into a single series. Truly gifted authors are able to transcend a single series and create new stories that are completely different. Laurie R. King has been doing this for years with the Russell & Holmes, Stuyvesant & Grey, Kate Martinelli, and her standalone novels. This new offering, featuring neuro-divergent San Francisco police detective Raquel Laing is one I hope will turn into a series, because Laing deserves more stories!!!

King tells a story here that has roots in the robber baron era of the American West that spread into a 1970s commune, and all the way to a present day California mansion. The robber baron era plays a very small part here, essentially setting background for the 70s commune and present day mystery involving bones discovered beneath a massive statue on the grounds of the Gardener Mansion.

King blends the Gardener mystery with a serial killer who operated during the same time as the commune and is only now being investigated for his crimes while he approaches death. There’s a lot going on here – plenty of story threads that somehow all converge to a very satisfying ending. King evokes the naive, counterculture, freelove of the commune perfectly and brings those characters into the present time with sensitivity and care. But, it’s the character development of Detective Laing that shines here. She’s one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a long time and I hope we see more of her in the future.

King is a consummate storyteller, and that skills shines through here.

Highly recommended for fans of mystery & suspense.

Publication Date: September 6, 2022
Published By: Random House Publishing Group; Ballantine, Bantam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Bird Cage by Eve Chase


Description

In the spirit of Lisa Jewell and Kate Morton, an emotional mystery set in the rugged remote landscape of north Cornwall full of dark secrets and twists, about three unusual sisters forced to confront the past.

Some secrets need to be set free…

When half-sisters Kat, Flora, and Lauren are unexpectedly summoned to Rock Point, their wild and remote Cornish summer home, it’s not a welcome invitation. They haven’t been back since that fateful summer twenty years ago—a summer they’re desperate to forget.

But when they arrive, it’s clear they’re not alone. Someone is lurking in the shadows, watching their every move. Someone who remembers exactly what they did…

Will the sisters be able to protect the dark past of Rock Point? Or are some secrets too powerful to remain under lock and key?

My Thoughts

Eve Chase has become one of my go-to authors for recommending something new to friends and library patrons who have tired of Gillian Flynn and Lisa Jewell but still want a twisted, ingeniously plotted domestic suspense novel. Chase totally delivers all that and more in The Birdcage.

As in previous Chase novels, we have a set of sisters who struggle with a deep dark secret from the past and with boatloads of unresolved emotions with the older adults in their now-adult lives. Chase takes the action back and forth between past and present, a technique that she has come close to perfecting in her novels.

Here, we have three very different sisters who have harbored serious emotions about one another, their parents, and the house at Rock Point for literally decades until they are ready to explode. Chase sets that scene with razor-sharp, prickly prose that gets under your skin until you’re ready to pop. Then, she brings you down gently with a full-circle ending.

My only issue with The Birdcage is the sheer number of characters. By the time I got to the end, I felt like I should have kept a notebook of all of them just to keep everything straight. Even so, this is every bit as suspenseful and well-written as Chase’s earlier novels and will be slurped up by fans of domestic suspense.

Recommended.

Publication Date: July 19, 2022
Published By: Penguin Group Putnam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Omega Factor by Steve Berry


Description

The Ghent Altarpiece is the most violated work of art in the world. It has been vandalized, dismantled, or stolen thirteen times! Why? What secrets does it hold?

Enter UNESCO investigator, Nicholas Lee, who works for the United Nations’ Cultural Liaison and Investigative Office (CLIO). Nick’s job is to protect the world’s cultural artifacts—anything and everything from countless lesser-known objects to national treasures.

When Nick travels to Belgium for a visit with a woman from his past, he unwittingly stumbles on the trail of a legendary panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, stolen in 1934 under cover of night and never seen since. Soon Nick is plunged into a bitter conflict, one that has been simmering for nearly two thousand years. On one side is the Maidens of Saint-Michael, les Vautours—the Vultures—a secret order of nuns and the guardians of a great truth. Pitted against them is the Vatican, which has wanted for centuries to both find and possess what the nuns guard. Because of Nick the maidens have finally been exposed, their secret placed in dire jeopardy—a vulnerability that the Vatican swiftly moves to exploit utilizing an ambitious cardinal and a corrupt archbishop, both with agendas of their own.  

From the tranquil canals of Ghent, to the towering bastions of Carcassonne, and finally into an ancient abbey high in the French Pyrenees, Nick Lee must confront a modern-day religious crusade intent on eliminating a shocking truth from humanity’s past. Success or failure—life and death—all turn on the Omega Factor.

My Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I read a Steve Berry adventure. I’d gotten a little tired of the Cotton Malone series, so was intrigued by this new story featuring Nick Lee. I was not disappointed. This is a gripping, action-packed adventure which mines more of one of Berry’s favorite topics – Vatican secrets.

Ninja nuns, the Cult of Mary, and an inventive plot that blends art history with religious intrigue, all rolled up into a fine story that will keep you turning pages. I hope Berry will continue to spin tales about Nick Lee’s adventures.

Recommended.

Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Published By: Grand Central Publishing
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves


Description

From Ann CleevesNew York Times bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV showscomes the stunning tenth Vera Stanhope novel, The Rising Tide, a powerful novel about guilt, betrayal, and the longheld secrets people keep.

For fifty years a group of friends have been meeting regularly for reunions on Holy Island, celebrating the school trip where they met, and the friend that they lost to the rising causeway tide five years later. Now, when one of them is found hanged, Vera is called in. Learning that the dead man had recently been fired after misconduct allegations, Vera knows she must discover what the friends are hiding, and whether the events of many years before could have led to murder then, and now . . .

But with the tide rising, secrets long-hidden are finding their way to the surface, and Vera and the team may find themselves in more danger than they could have believed possible . . .

My Thoughts

Ann Cleeves just keeps getting better. This newest in the Vera Stanhope series is one of the best mysteries I’ve read this year. Vera is as prickly as ever, although Cleeves throws in several instances of introspection for Vera and her team.

The story takes place on Holy Island, a location in England that has fascinated me since reading LJ Ross’ Holy Island book. Here, in Cleeves’ hands, the island becomes at turns breathtakingly beautiful then creepy and sinister. The characters reminded me of an Agatha Christie cast – they are all likable and detestable at the same time.

But it is the ending that will take your breath away. My knuckles were white, nails dug into my palms as I read, then just when I thought ti was all over…BAM. A totally unexpected ending. It’s what puts Cleeves in a league of her own among crime writers.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 6, 2022
Published By: St. Martin’s Press; Minotaur Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Marple: Twelve New Mysteries


Description

Agatha Christie’s legendary sleuth, Jane Marple, returns to solve twelve baffling cases in this brand-new collection, penned by a host of acclaimed authors skilled in the fine art of mystery and murder

One doesn’t stop at one murder…

Jane Marple is an elderly lady from St Mary Mead who possesses an uncanny knack for solving even the most perplexing puzzles. Now, for the first time in 45 years, Agatha Christie’s beloved character returns to the page for a globe-trotting tour of crime and detection.

Join Marple as she travels through her sleepy English village and around the world. In St Mary Mead, a Christmas dinner is interrupted by unexpected guests; the Broadway stage in New York City is set for a dangerous improvisation; bad omens surround an untimely death aboard a cruise ship to Hong Kong; and a bestselling writer on holiday in Italy is caught in a nefarious plot. These and other crimes committed in the name of love, jealousy, blackmail, and revenge are ones that only the indomitable Jane Marple can solve.

Bringing a fresh twist to the hallmarks of a classic Agatha Christie mystery, these twelve esteemed writers have captured the sharp wit, unique voice, and droll ingenuity of the deceptively demure detective. A triumphant celebration of Christie’s legacy and essential reading for crime lovers, Marple is a timely reminder why Jane Marple remains one of the most famous detectives of all time.

My Thoughts

Agatha Christie has long been acknowledged as the Mother of Mystery Fiction, and I discovered her early in my reading life. I was delighted when I learned, through the incomparable Elly Griffiths, that a new collection of stories featuring Christie’s Miss Marple and written by contemporary authors was due to be published this year. I was even more delighted to find it available through Netgalley.

These stories equal or, dare I say it, even surpass the original Marple stories in cleverness and boldness while still staying true to the little old lady with the steel-trap mind created by Christie so long ago. It is clear the authors have a fondness for Aunt Jane and a familiarity with her stories. Fans will find comforting nods to the original cast of characters, with nephew Raymond West making several appearances, fast friend Dolly Bantry, and, of course, Sir Henry Clithering. Jane travels in these stories – to China, London, Italy, and even New York City – but she is never far from St. Mary Mead in her mind.

The writing is exquisite in every single story. Typically in short story collections there are the shining stars, the just-okay, and the duds. Here, every story shines with beautiful language, clever plotting, and careful homage paid to Dame Christie’s original work. It would be hard to pick a favorite story, but Leah Bardugo – HOLY SMOKES – loved the twist in her story.

This is just a lovely, lovely reading experience, like getting a long hug from an old friend. This is one I’ll buy in hardcover and add to my bookshelves.

Publication Date: September 13, 2022
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Wretched Waterpark by Kiersten White


Description

A brand-new middle-grade mystery series that’s spooky, creepy, and filled with gothic twists! Meet the Sinister-Winterbottom twins, who solve mysteries at increasingly bizarre summer vacation destinations in the hopes of being reunited with their parents—or at the very least finally finding a good churro.
Brave Theo, her timid twin Alexander, and their older sister, Wil are the Sinister-Winterbottoms. They’re stuck for the summer with their Aunt Saffronia, who doesn’t know how often children need to eat and can’t use a smartphone, and whose feet never quite seem to touch the floor when she glides—er—walks. When Aunt Saffronia suggests a week pass to the Fathoms of Fun Waterpark, they hastily agree. But the park is even stranger than Aunt Saffronia. The waterslides look like gray gargoyle tongues. The employees wear creepy black dresses and deliver ominous messages. An impossible figure is at the top of the slide tower, people are disappearing, and suspicious goo is seeping into the wave pool. Something mysterious is happening at Fathoms of Fun, and it’s up to the twins to get to the bottom of it. The mystery, that is. NOT the wave pool. Definitely NOT the wave pool. But are Theo and Alexander out of their depth?

My Thoughts

Kids who enjoy a little snark with their scary stories will appreciate this ridiculous romp through the most imaginative water park ever created. Everything about this book works – the well-matched and very capable group of 3 siblings, the kooky and mysterious aunt, the even more mysterious week at the water park and the deliciously odd but appealing mystery to be solved.

I was reminded a little of Lemony Snicket but the tone, plot, and characterizations are unique enough to keep you reading.

Recommended.

Praise from the Field

“Like a big waterslide that you scream all the way down, only to laugh in relief and get right back on, this book is gothically hilarious and an absolute delight. If I have to die in a waterpark, I want to die in this one.”—Holly Black, #1 NYT bestselling author of The Folk of the Air series

“Packed with wordplay and mock-gothic mystery, this first title in the Sinister Summer series is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket, Edward Gorey and Roald Dahl.”—Shelf Awareness

Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Published By: Random House Children’s: Delacorte Press
Thanks t NetGalley for the review copy

Serpent’s Doom by Connie diMarco

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Serpent's Doom by Connie di Marco Banner

Serpent’s Doom

by Connie di Marco

May 23 – June 17, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Serpent's Doom by Connie di Marco

As San Francisco’s Chinatown prepares for the Lunar New Year festivities in the fogbound month of February, astrologer Julia Bonatti finds herself with three new clients, all in desperate straits who don’t seem to heed her advice. Tracy is the victim of a brutal husband with nowhere to run and Jeanette is worried sick about her son, whom she suspects has fallen in with a bad lot.

But most frightening of all to Julia is Frankie Chang’s dilemma. Frankie’s only eleven years old and he’s terrified. His mother is missing and no one will help him. Julia’s heart goes out to him but her hands are tied. Frankie won’t let her talk to the police and neither will his family.

Julia eventually discovers that the three worlds of her clients intertwine. Those lives inevitably collide exposing a dangerous smuggling cabal. Julia knows too much and becomes a victim of both a ruthless environmental group and criminals who will stop at nothing, including murder.

My Thoughts

While I haven’t read all of Connie diMarco’s books in this series, those I have read – this one included – are solid mysteries with skillful writing and appealing characters. The main character in this series, Julia Bonatti, is an astrologer, so the plot is driven by her work and the story is full of astrology lingo. This will definitely appeal to those who like their mysteries enhanced with spiritualism, but that shouldn’t deter readers unfamiliar with astrology. In fact, that’s one of the things that attracted me to this book. I’m not familiar with astrology and this book has pushed me to learn something new.

DiMarco starts building the plot right away, leading off with three clients who Julia realizes clearly need help after she reads their charts. The story builds from there as Julia races to untangle the threads of all three clients, ultimately helping all three out on the other side of some nasty business. At the same time, Julia is finally starting to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of her fiancé 3 years before. This seems to be a recurring plot line throughout the series. With what was revealed here, I expect the next Julia Bonatti book to be a doozy!

I’ll recommend this for cozy mystery fans, particularly those who enjoy Juliet Blackwell and Gigi Pandian.

Kudos for Serpent’s Doom

“Connie di Marco’s twin loves of Astrology and the detective fiction genre are on full display in her latest installment of the Zodiac Mysteries: Serpent’s Doom. It makes perfect sense to fuse these two disciplines in which intelligence, intuition, and interpretation play such a key role. It’s also a delight to see Astrology driving the plot forward rather than employed as a mere gimmick. This adds dimension and suspense to how the mystery plays out and di Marco’s wonderfully cinematic prose keeps you turning the pages in increasing anticipation.”
-Christopher Renstrom, astrologer for the San Francisco Chronicle, SF Gate and Astrology Hub, author of The Cosmic Calendar and creator of rulingplanets.com

“Intriguing and riveting, Connie di Marco’s latest Zodiac Mystery, Serpent’s Doom, is a new year’s firecracker of an adventure. Told with heart and conscience, Serpent’s Doom features a superb cast and setting, with a plot right out of the headlines. The best yet in this highly original series.”
-James W. Ziskin, author of the award-winning Ellie Stone Mysteries

“Connie di Marco’s Zodiac Mysteries have it all: vibrant characters, sharp and suspenseful plots and comedic interludes. I love the added bonus of astrology and metaphysics and eagerly await the next installment.”
-Karen Christino, astrologer and author of Foreseeing the Future

“San Francisco Astrologer Julia Bonatti will need more than the stars when she tries to help a boy find his missing mother. di Marco takes us on a thrill ride from Chinatown to famed Bay City locales. An enticing mystery with compelling characters who pull you in. ‘Dear Zodia, is it in the stars that Connie di Marco will write more Zodiac Mysteries?’ I certainly hope so, because I’m hooked!”
-Laurie Stevens, author of the award-winning Gabriel McKay suspense novels

“Another page-turner with San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti. I alternately wanted to shake her and cheer her on as she reluctantly becomes entangled with a boy who needs her help. A fascinating look into a different culture, where involving the police is a bad idea, prompting Julia to take matters into her own hands.”
-Sheila Lowe, best-selling author of the Forensic Handwriting Mysteries and the Beyond the Veil Mysteries suspense novels

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Suspense Publishing
Publication Date: April 26, 2022
Number of Pages: 300
ISBN: 0578326566 (ISBN13: 9780578326566)
Series: A Zodiac Mystery, 4th (Each is a Stand-Alone Work)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Cheryl, the manager of The Mystic Eye, signaled to me. I was at the Eye to fill in at the evening’s psychic fair. She indicated a young woman in a cotton skirt and denim jacket. Her dark hair was cut in bangs and pulled back in a low ponytail. She wore no makeup and clutched a small, zippered plastic purse in her hand. I nodded to Cheryl and headed down the narrow side corridor to the small reading room I had been assigned for the evening, each space protected by a heavy drape.

I took my seat and cleared my astro program for my upcoming visitor. She was slender, young, mid-twenties at a guess. Her legs were bare under her cotton skirt and I was sure her denim jacket didn’t sport a designer label. She was hardly dressed adequately for the chilly night. Her jaw was clenched and her hands were red and raw, her nails bitten to the quick. As she took her seat across the small table from me, the collar of her denim jacket pulled away betraying darkened discolored skin at her collarbone. A bruise? She was so tense she seemed to vibrate. The electricity was difficult to ignore. Was it anger? Fear? Maybe an unnecessary terror of the occult? That might explain her tension, but still…that bruise raised a red flag.

I smiled, said hello and introduced myself. She nodded and watched me intently. I asked if she was familiar with astrology and she said she wasn’t. “Well, let me explain a little. Your natal chart is a map of the heavens at the time of your birth. It shows the gifts and talents you bring to this incarnation. It also shows the difficulties you’ll contend with in life. Do you have your birth information?”

“Yes.” She nodded and passed a slip of paper to me. There were two birthdates, with time and location, jotted down hastily. She knew enough to offer the information I needed to set up a chart. Perhaps she wasn’t as clueless about astrology as she first claimed.

“Can I ask you your name?”

“Tracy. Tracy Wyler. The second birthdate is my husband’s.”

“Okay, Tracy.” I plugged the information into the program on my laptop and two charts were instantly generated. “Would you like to focus on your chart? Or perhaps on your relationship with your husband?” She nodded but didn’t answer. I clicked on the bi-wheel option where I could see both charts at once, displayed in inner and outer rings. Then I set up a composite chart. I didn’t like what I saw. There were connections between the charts that indicated physical attraction, but I didn’t like the Mars and Saturn and even Pluto connections from her husband’s chart to her personal planets. I checked the composite chart, hoping something more positive would be indicated. As often happens in astrology, the composite echoed the synastry, or comparison, of the two individual charts.

This was not a good relationship for her. Her body language told me a lot, even without the insight of the charts. There was no choice but to go for it. She obviously needed help and I had only fifteen minutes to offer her what I could. I had to be blunt. She’d either listen or react with anger. “Tracy, you already know what I’m about to say. You need to escape this marriage.”

She gasped. Her eyes widened. She nodded her head quickly and tears sprang to her eyes. “I know things aren’t good but I don’t know what I can do. I have no place else to go.”

“He’s hurt you, hasn’t he?” The Mars and Uranus aspects to her husband’s Sun sign indicated anger and the possibility of violence if unchecked. There was that, but it was more the connections between these two individuals that concerned me. She reached over and rolled up one of the sleeves of her jacket. Dark bruises lined her arm. She craned her neck and showed me another mark on the side of her neck. “How long has this been going on?”

“We got married three months ago. It started a few days after. He keeps telling me I can’t do anything right. That I’m stupid.” She stifled a sob and took a deep breath. “He says…he says I’m so ugly that I better behave because no one else would want me.” Tears were filling her eyes, her breathing was shallow. I passed a small box of tissues across the table. “But then, when he cools down, he says he’s sorry, that he really loves me and he won’t do it again…”

“I have to say this, Tracy. I doubt this will change. Even with a lot of psychological help, even if he was willing…it’s a recurring pattern.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she cried.

“Do you have any family?”

“Only my mother and she’s in Indiana.”

“What does she have to say?”

“She says I should listen to my husband. After all, he works and he supports me.”

I felt a slow rage rise in my chest. What kind of a woman would advise her daughter to submit to physical abuse? Any kind of abuse? “What he’s doing is against the law, Tracy. You may not be aware of this, but we have serious laws in California against this type of thing. The police are required to arrest anyone accused of abuse. It’s not up to the cops to decide. They must arrest the accused party. All you have to do is call the police, show them what he’s done to you, and he won’t be coming home.”

“They won’t arrest him. They won’t. He’ll convince them, he’s so persuasive.”

I reached across the table and grasped her hand. “You don’t understand. Here the laws are different. The police have no choice. He’ll be held, maybe without bail, and he’ll be charged. That would give you time to get away and find shelter.”

She began to cry in earnest. “It won’t matter. Eventually he’ll get out and come after me. It’ll be worse than before.”

“All the more reason. Once the police take him away, you can go to a women’s shelter. Listen….” I had to break through her wall of hopelessness. “I keep lists of all kinds of resources for my clients.” I quickly opened a document on my laptop. I wasn’t attached to a printer in the tiny reading room, but I grabbed a notebook from my purse and jotted down the addresses of the three nearest shelters and passed the slip of paper to her. “The police will even take you there and they are not allowed to give out your location. And if you want, they’ll escort you home to retrieve your personal belongings. Do you have children?”

“No,” she said. “Thank God I don’t.”

A dark foreboding swept over me. This woman should not return home tonight. “What do you say, we go into the office here and call them right now? I’ll stay with you till they arrive.”

“I…I don’t know….” She twisted her fingers together. “He says he loves me, that he’s sorry. That it’ll never happen again.”

Yeah, right, I thought. Heard that one before. I waited, trying to see which way she’d go. There were aspects in her natal chart that indicated introversion and shyness. If she had met another type of man her fate would be quite different, but whoever this guy was…he’d use her like a punching bag.

“Tracy, do you have any idea how many women are killed by their husbands or partners in this country? I happen to know these statistics. It’s important in my line of work. Clients come to me with all sorts of problems.” It’s all well and good to talk about Moon signs and romance and money opportunities, but some people are already on the ropes, already at their weakest and most vulnerable, and one of them was sitting across from me right now. “Of the women murdered in the U.S. alone, ninety-seven percent are killed by their partners or husbands. Every single day three women die because of domestic violence. Those are real bad odds, Tracy. You can be safe. You can divorce this man and you can find a way to support yourself. It won’t be easy, but at least no one will be hurting you. And there are people who will help you.”

“I’m so afraid,” she wailed. “I…there’s something else…. I…oh God, I’ve….” She stifled a sob. “I’ve met someone else.” At this, she burst into tears. “If my husband ever finds out, he’ll kill me. He’ll—”

“Look, Tracy, first things first. You need help. You need to get to a safe place. Later, you can sort out all your feelings, but first you need to find shelter so you can get your head on straight.”

“I know,” she said, nodding.

“Come on. Come with me. We can have privacy in the office.” I reached out for her hand, a hand that was ice-cold. She quickly pulled away and clutched the slip of paper in her hand.

“I’m sorry…” she whispered. She stood and ran out of the reading alcove. I hurried after her, but she was too fast. She had pushed through the front door. I caught a glimpse of her through the plate glass window, running toward Columbus Avenue. I hurried to the door, hoping to catch up with her, but when I reached the sidewalk she had already turned the corner at the end of the block. I ran down the street but she was nowhere in sight. I sighed and walked back to the front door of The Mystic Eye. If she was afraid to turn her husband in, I hoped she’d at least head to a shelter to protect herself.

***

Excerpt from Serpent’s Doom by Connie di Marco. Copyright 2022 by Connie di Marco. Reproduced with permission from Connie di Marco. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Connie di Marco

Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries featuring Julia Bonatti, a San Francisco astrologer who never thought murder would be part of her practice. Writing as Connie Archer, she’s the national bestselling author of the Soup Lovers’ Mysteries from Berkeley Prime Crime. Her recipes and excerpts can be found in The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook and The Cozy Cookbook. Connie is a member of the Crime Writers Association (UK), Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.

Catch Up With Connie di Marco:
www.ConniediMarco.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @Connie_di_Marco
Instagram – @Connie_di_Marco
Twitter – @askzodia
Facebook – @zodiacmysteries

 

 

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Dead Man’s Leap by Tina deBellegarde

2

Dead Man's Leap by Tina deBellegarde Banner

Dead Man’s Leap

by Tina deBellegarde

May 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Dead Man's Leap by Tina deBellegarde

DEAD MAN’S LEAP revisits Bianca St. Denis in Batavia-on-Hudson, New York

Rushing waters…dead bodies…secrets…

As Bianca St. Denis and her neighbors scour their attics for donations to the charity rummage sale, they unearth secrets as well as prized possessions. Leonard Marshall’s historic inn hosts the sale each year, but it is his basement that houses the key to his past. When an enigmatic antiques dealer arrives in town, he upends Leonard’s carefully reconstructed life with an impossible choice that harkens back to the past.

Meanwhile, when a storm forces the villagers of Batavia-on-Hudson to seek shelter, the river rises and so do tempers. Close quarters fuel simmering disputes, and Sheriff Mike Riley has his work cut out for him. When the floods wash up a corpse, Bianca once again finds herself teaming up with Sheriff Riley to solve a mystery. Are they investigating an accidental drowning or something more nefarious?

My Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed deBellegarde’s first book in the Batavia-on-the-Hudson series, and was pleased to find the same intricate plotting, character development, and vividly drawn action in this sophomore effort. The same characters are back and show promise of being further developed in future books. Here we get to learn a bit more about some of the key people among the village population. Small towns have big secrets, and deBellegarde explores that conundrum with a fast-paced story that includes two murders, decades apart. We learn a lot more about protagonist Bianca, and a little bit more about her potential love interest, Mike. I’m not sure how I feel about the burgeoning romantic situation between the two, but it does lend some tension to the narrative. Fans of small-town mysteries featuring an endearing set of characters will enjoy this.

Dead Man’s Leap explores the burden of secrets, the relief of renunciation, and the danger of believing we can outpace our past.

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Number of Pages: 254
ISBN: 1685120849 (ISBN-13: 978-1685120849)
Series: A Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery, #2
Purchase Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

He inched toward the precipice, his toes gripping the stone ledge as if they had a will of their own. He lifted his head and squinted into the sunlight still streaming through the blackening clouds. He took in the expanse of rushing water below. In all his eighteen years, Trevor had never seen the creek roil so ferociously.

A clap of thunder startled him. His toes relaxed, and he felt as if the slightest wind could take him over the edge. Lightheaded for a second, he regained his footing and his purpose.

He had no choice if he wanted all this to stop.

He needed to do it.

And do it now.

The downpour would break again soon. But for now, all he could hear was the rushing of Horseshoe Falls beneath him, the roar drowning out the noise of his past.

Of his father.

Of his mother.

Yes, his mother. He had expected his father to be weak, and wasn’t surprised at all after he left. But his mother? A mother’s love is supposed to be unconditional. At least that’s what she had always said before she had turned their world upside down. It was bad enough when she had played at being the sexiest woman in town. At least when his friends teased him then, it was meant to be fun. But this was worse, far worse. Now they wanted nothing to do with him. Now they used him as a punching bag.

His gang no longer looked to him as their leader. They ridiculed him for what his mother had done. From the beginning, he knew those kids were bad news. What choice did he have? In grade school he’d been bullied. Well, he had put a stop to that in high school. Can’t be bullied if you’re the biggest bully.

His mother was gone. His father was gone. And now his posse. First, it was the cold shoulder, and a few snide remarks. Then he was cornered in the locker room after the game one day. That was the hardest. He hadn’t taken a beating like that since the fifth grade. But the tables had been turned on him so fast that he never saw it coming. Trevor realized now that they were never friends. They were just a group of trouble makers who hung out together. Good riddance to them. He didn’t need them anymore.

Another thunderclap reminded him where he was. On the edge. Right on the edge. He either had to do this properly or he would be going over anyway.

Trevor looked over his shoulder one last time and heard a faint commotion in the background. Once they rounded the path, he closed his eyes and jumped.

* * *

Bianca St. Denis stretched to grab the cord just out of reach above her head and yanked on it with all her force to bring down the attic staircase. She tilted her head to avoid being struck as it made its way down. She unfolded the retractable stairs and put one foot on the first rung. But there she stopped, not sure she could take the next few steps. At forty-two the issue wasn’t her physical ability to climb the steps, she was active, even fairly athletic. The old saying went “the mind was willing but the body was not.” Well, in her case “the body was willing but the mind was not.”

She had stayed out of the attic all these months since Richard’s death. She had made do without her ski parka this past winter, and used Richard’s barn jacket she’d found in the mudroom instead. She had made do without the spring curtains she would normally switch out in the living room each March. The winter ones still hung heavy and foreboding. And she made do without the patio cushions she had sewn two seasons ago. She simply sat on the raw wood when she wanted to read or eat in the backyard. She hadn’t realized the number of things she had been doing without by avoiding the attic, not until the town started buzzing about the rummage sale. She pretended it was because she hadn’t had time to search for the items, but she knew better.

She took her foot off the rung, bent and picked up the stairs again, refolded them, and let them float to the ceiling. The hatch closed with a neat click.

* * *

Once Trevor hit the water, his tension disappeared. He welcomed the release and let himself drop. Slowly he was pulled down into the chaos of the rushing water, but his mind had floated above it all. He didn’t feel a thing, he observed it instead. He watched as his body sank, as it swirled in the vortex of the overfull creek. He watched as his body escaped the current and floated peacefully in the murky water. And he watched as he gave in to full renunciation and allowed the water to decide what was to become of him.

His thoughts slowed, as muddy as the water surrounding him.

They slowed, but he could not make them disappear.

He had managed to avoid jumping off Dead Man’s Leap every summer, but this year he knew he couldn’t get away with it. They had already threatened to make sure he jumped this year. That was only part of what the summer had in store for him. Who could he turn to? His grandparents had no idea what he was going through. They always hid their heads in the sand anyway. There was nothing they could do for him. So, he had taken matters into his own hands.

He was shocked when his head broke the surface, and despite himself he gasped for air in enormous mouthfuls until he gagged. He bobbed there, undecided, until he finally attempted the few strides to reach the cove. It took him longer than he expected, like swimming in molasses. A cross between his fatigue, his indifference, and the strong current kept him from reaching the bank in the three strokes it would normally require. On his knees, he crawled out of the pull of rushing water and dropped on the shore.

* * *

Leonard Marshall picked up the package, the paper crinkling in his hand. He carefully unwrapped one layer, then another. Layer after layer until he held the smooth tiny statuette in his hand. He trembled, and smiled, attracted and repulsed at the same time. How could such a tiny thing hold so many emotions for him? So much power over him? It was so small he could cradle it in the palm of his hand. He closed his fingers around it. It disappeared. He opened them again, and there it was. With it came a flood of memories. Exhilarating. His heart raced with a quick pat, pat, pat.

The basement door creaked. He took in a breath.

Time slowed and his heart with it.

Thump……thump……thump.

The light clicked on.

Another creak. Above him a step, a pause, another step. The door ached on its hinges as it opened wider. The light flicked off. The door closed. The steps faded. He let out his breath.

* * *

Trevor had never experienced fatigue like this. He crawled onto shore in the shadow of the cliff and collapsed. He never expected to make it out of the water, and now that he had, he lay there drawing in large mouthfuls of air, as if his lungs would never get enough. He stayed there, staring up at the sky, watching the dark clouds shapeshift. The rain would be there any moment, and to his surprise, he welcomed it.

As his breathing relaxed, he realized that the pain he felt was a sharp object stabbing his back. He rolled over, removed it, and threw it off to the side. As he turned to lay back down, his blurry eyes focused on the object. It was a bone. A human bone? He scrambled onto his knees and slowly made his way over to it. He was repulsed and fascinated, but mostly he was frightened by the sight of a bone and what that could mean. What had happened here, right here in this cove?

In the distance, he heard their drunken voices again. He knelt and grabbed handfuls of dirt to cover the bone. He heard them approach the edge of the cliff.

“He came this way. I saw him jump.”

“He’s too chicken, he didn’t jump. But when I find him, he’ll jump alright. He’ll jump or I’ll send him flying.”

“He jumped, I tell ya. Leave him alone. You wanted him to jump, and he did. I saw him. Let it go, already.”

“Yeah, well if he jumped, where is he?”

“You think he’s still under? You think he hit his head like that kid a while back?”

“I’m telling you, he didn’t jump.”

“There’s nowhere else to go but down. Of course, he jumped.”

“I’m going in. If he did jump, we’ll find him down there. He’s probably hiding under the cliff.”

Trevor carefully picked his way out of the cove. Scraping up against the cliff as close as his body would allow, he followed the contours until he came out on the other side of the falls. With his last bit of strength, he climbed up the rocky trail alongside Horseshoe Falls.

***

Excerpt from Dead Man’s Leap by Tina deBellegarde. Copyright 2022 by Tina deBellegarde. Reproduced with permission from Tina deBellegarde. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Tina deBellegarde

Tina deBellegarde has been called “the Louise Penny of the Catskills.” Winter Witness, the first book in her Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery series, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, a Silver Falchion Award and a Chanticleer Mystery and Mayhem Award. Her story “Tokyo Stranger” which appears in the Mystery Writers of America anthology When a Stranger Comes to Town edited by Michael Koryta has been nominated for a Derringer Award. Tina’s short fiction also appears in The Best New England Crime Stories anthologies. She is the vice-president of the Upper Hudson Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a member of Mystery Writers of America and Writers in Kyoto. She lives in Catskill, New York, with her husband Denis and their cat Shelby where they tend to their beehives, harvest shiitake mushrooms, and cultivate their vegetable garden. She winters in Florida and travels to Japan regularly to visit her son Alessandro.

Catch Up With Tina deBellegarde:
tinadebellegarde.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @tinadebellegarde
Instagram – @tdb_writes
Twitter – @tdbwrites
Facebook – @tinadebellegardeauthor

 

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