Rochester Reader Profile – Tate Ellen DeCaro


IMG_3600I’m starting a new feature here on It’s All About the Book. I’ll be profiling Rochester Readers a couple times a month in an effort to introduce you to like-minded folk who love to read. I’m kicking off this feature with a profile of Tate Ellen DeCaro, Director of Development for Writers & Books. A graduate of Bard College, Tate has traveled extensively, and studied the “brain drain” in Rochester. She manages Writers & Books’ Turning Pages Readers Circle, which has provided me with some eclectic reading and very creative packaging over the years. Read on and find out what makes Tate a Reader with a capital R!

 

Using one sentence, describe yourself as a Reader.

I am basically always reading something, almost always fiction, with beautiful language and a good story line – though in recent years I’ve written myself a yearly Reading Challenge (last year with 12 items, this year with 18) to try to stretch my reading habits out to other genres.

For example, a book by a diverse author and a book about a diverse character – diverse meaning from a marginalized group due to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or mental or physical disability; a book you should have read in school; a book that has been translated from another language; a play; a memoir, biography or autobiography; etc. I usually manage about 40 books in a year, but this often includes a couple of re-reads of childhood favorites each year. (Sorry, that was a lot more than one sentence!)

What are you reading right now?

As mentioned above, I’m actually re-reading a childhood favorite as I write this – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. But I’ve also started listening to a book called The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, by Mark Forsyth. And next up on my list is Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay.

The desert island question – What 5 books would you have to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

The first 5 things that popped into my head…

– Ok, first of all, can the Harry Potter books count as one or do they have to count as seven? I’m going to count them as one because… I want to. Let’s just say “The Harry Potter Collection” as number one. It might be cheating, but let’s be honest, if I’m really able to PLAN for my stranded-on-a-desert-island trip, I’d probably be able to plan for someone to make me one book with tiny text with all the HP books. 😉

– The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

– The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

– The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

– The Phantom Tollbooth, Norman Juster

Are you a finisher? In other words, are you compelled to finish a book even if you hate it?

I am NOT what I call a “bitter-ender.” If I hate it, I stop reading it. Too many other things to do and read to waste my time on something I’m not enjoying. But I do try to give it a good go before I decide to quit.

What are some books that you’ve had to force yourself to finish, or which you’ve bailed on?

I want so badly to like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon because so many people I know really love that book, but I’ve given it two really good chances now, and given up both times. I also bailed on Game of Thrones, which seems like it would be fun, but I just couldn’t get into it.

Do you ever read the end of a book first? Why or why not?

I don’t think I’ve ever done that, no. But I have definitely skipped to the end of a chapter sometimes, if it’s particularly stressful and I just want to know what happens so I can stop hyperventilating.

What is at the top of your TBR pile?

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
Adios Cowboy, Olja Savicevic

Who is your go-to author when someone asks you for a recommendation?

Carlos Ruiz Zafon

What book do you wish you’d never read?

I never finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It affected me deeply when I was attempting to read it many years ago, and I ended up putting it down and never picking it up again. It’s the only book I can think of that affected me in that way and that I sort of wish I’d never picked up in the first place. But also the only book that haunts me in the sense that I really want to find a way to read the whole thing some day.

Is there a genre or type that you are over and wish would just go away?

I’m not that interested in apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic novels. I feel like I’ve read too many of them that just feel too similar. Every time a new one comes up or someone recommends one to me I cringe a little and know I probably won’t read it.

That said, every once in a while I come across one in my work at Writers & Books or just on my own that feels really unique and different. For instance, I loved Blindness, by Jose Saramago, which I read for work as a part of our Turning Pages Readers Circle membership program, and I also loved Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, which I read on my own first and then we also read in the W&B young professionals book club called the Book Thieves. Those two felt so unique to me.

Describe your favorite place to read.

On the couch at my family’s cabin in the Finger Lakes – feet up, door open nearby so there’s a breeze, sound of birds chirping outside, cup of tea beside me, and nothing to do but read all day.

Book or movie? Is there a movie that you think was better than the book?

Almost always book. But yes, there are a few (very few and far between) movies that I’ve preferred to the books. For instance, I’m a big baseball fan and I love the movie The Natural. I tried to read the book it’s based on by Bernard Malamud and couldn’t even get through it.

What is your preferred format? Hardcover, paperback, digital, audio, doesn’t matter?

I’m not a fan of hardcover books. My favorite is paperback (and I like to keep it crisp and new looking). But I also have an Audible account and listen to books too. It helps me get through more books, since I don’t always have time to sit down and read.

If you were to get a bookish tattoo, what would it be?

A Shakespeare quote

If you would like to be profiled here, or have some cool questions you’d like to see answered, contact me at patricia.uttaro (at) gmail.com.

In It For the Money by David Burnsworth

4

In It For The Money

by David Burnsworth

on Tour September 11 – October 11, 2017

In It For The Money by David Burnsworth

Lowcountry Private Investigator Blu Carraway needs a new client. He’s broke and the tax man is coming for his little slice of paradise. But not everyone appreciates his skills. Some call him a loose cannon. Others say he’s a liability. All the ex-Desert Storm Ranger knows is his phone hasn’t rung in quite a while. Of course, that could be because it was cut off due to delinquent payments.

Lucky for him, a client does show up at his doorstep—a distraught mother with a wayward son. She’s rich and her boy’s in danger. Sounds like just the case for Blu. Except nothing about the case is as it seems. The jigsaw pieces—a ransom note, a beat-up minivan, dead strippers, and a missing briefcase filled with money and cocaine—do not make a complete puzzle. The first real case for Blu Carraway Investigations in three years goes off the rails. And that’s the way he prefers it to be.

Burnsworth has delivered a solid man’s-man detective story, a mash-up of early Ace Atkins’ Nick Travers books and The Expendables, replete with the laid back but deadly middle-aged, former Army Ranger living on the edge. This is the second in a series with Blu Carraway, and the author continues to work off the rough edges of this character and his friends. The story here is clever and kept my interest, although I found it hard to like some of the characters, especially the young man Blu is hired to find.

There’s a lot of familiar tropes here – the crusty ex-military hero, his even crustier friends, the beautiful women who are drawn to the “dark side,” the crooked philanthropists, the spoiled rich millenials – but there are some interesting, unique aspects to Carraway and his world. The wild horses Blu cares for, and his “little piece of paradise” island home add interest and set Blu apart from other P.I.s in the genre.

From a technical perspective, the writing could use some tightening up. For instance, there are way too many sentence fragments. While this is a technique which can add interest and emphasis to writing if used sparingly, it’s overused here. There is also an inexplicable emphasis on vaping, which I just found weird.

As I wrote above, this is a man’s man story which will appeal to those who prefer their detectives hardboiled. There’s certainly an audience for this, and I expect Burnsworth will be selling Blu Carraway books for a long time. Recommended.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: Henery Press

Publication Date: September 12th 2017

Number of Pages: 278

ISBN: 9781635112436

Series:A Blu Carraway Mystery, #1

Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Lowcountry, South Carolina, early June, Thursday morning

The old rotary phone sitting on the desk refused to ring. No matter how much Blu Carraway wanted it to. He looked out the window of his makeshift office at the surrounding marsh and sighed. Crumpled up in his right hand was the latest tax assessment, in his left was an electronic cigarette. Without thinking, he took a hit off the vaporizer, which replaced Camels as his only vice. Well, that and pirated satellite TV.

And still the receiver remained silent.

One more good job.

It was all he needed.

Then Charleston County would be happy for another year, and he’d get to keep his little island home. Just. One. Good. Job.

The hula girl on his desk a Desert Storm buddy had given him when he first hung out his PI shingle bobbled at him as if to say, “How long did you think you could keep this up, tough guy?”

He swatted her off the desk with the tax bill. “At least another year, Dollie.”

As the plastic figure skittered across the old plank flooring, Blu heard the sound of tires on his crushed shell drive. With the sole air-conditioning being a ceiling fan and open windows, he heard everything happening on his little slice of paradise. But he suspected his tenure there was on borrowed time. The house and land, which had been in the family for next to forever, were his free and clear. Except nothing was free and clear. He still had his yearly rent payment to the county, which seemed to think nine acres of mostly sand and marsh with a small herd of free-roaming scraggly horses was worth one helluva lot. Even though they neglected to consider it relevant enough to route the mosquito sprayers anywhere near the place.

A black Mercedes, the new big one, sliced between two live oaks and rolled to a stop beside his ancient Land Cruiser. Blu watched as the driver’s door opened and a man in a suit and tie exited the car. Just as Blu was about to run outside to greet him, he noticed the man walk around the expensive German machine, open the rear door, and extend a hand to assist whomever was in the backseat.

A pale white hand grasped the driver’s. After a moment, a woman with shoulder-length gray hair and sunglasses stood beside the car as the driver shut her door. She was not unattractive—in a wealthy, snobby kind of way. Her pose accentuated thin, but not frail, limbs and a torso hinting at personal trainer visits. Her crème-colored sleeveless blouse, tailored slacks, and shoes his daughter had once told him were called wedges exuded confidence. The woman held what looked like an expensive pocketbook.

Blu walked outside and approached the pair. “Can I help you?”

The woman, who was more attractive up close with high cheekbones, a small nose Blu guessed was natural, and a perfectly- proportioned neck adorned with modest pearls, said, “I’m looking for a Mr. Carraway.”

“You found him.”

“Good.” She turned to the driver, who upon closer inspection had an athletic build with a slightly visible shoulder rig beneath his suit coat. “Told you this was the place.”

He said, “Yes, ma’am.”

It didn’t sound like the man was convinced.

Two of Blu’s horses, at least he called them his because they wouldn’t leave his property even though there was no fencing, clomped around the house and approached. These were the curious ones from the herd, and not the brightest. He’d named them Dink and Doofus.

The woman’s mouth opened in surprise.

Her driver, apparently startled, reached inside his jacket where the shoulder rig was.

Blu said, “Don’t mind these two. They’re harmless. But if you see a black stud, best keep your distance.”

The woman watched the horses approach. Dink, the brown male with a tangled mane, lowered his head and sniffed. Doofus, his coat best described as dirty snow, lumbered up to the woman. In a past life, these two must have been canines.

Blu said, “Come on, guys.”

As if the horses just noticed he was there, they both raised their heads and snorted. Doofus gave his mane a quick shake.

The woman reached out and touched Dink on his nose.

The horse granted her hand a big lick before she could retract it.

Dink and Doofus didn’t approach just anybody. Blu had recognized this trait in them a long time ago. They liked this woman. Or else they just thought she had a treat for them.

Blu said, “What can I do for you fine folks?”

“Mr. Carraway,” the woman said, maneuvering around Dink and offering a business card. “I’m Cynthia Rhodes.”

Blu held the card. “That’s exactly what this says.” It also gave a Charleston, South Carolina address. South Battery, no less. Big money.

Real big money.

She said, “Yes, well, I’d like to talk to you about employing your services.”

Tapping the card on his open palm, he said, “I appreciate your effort to get here, Ms. Rhodes. I would have gladly met you somewhere closer to Charleston. Saved you the forty-minute trip.”

The driver stepped forward and the horses retreated to the other side of the vehicles. “There must be something wrong with your phone.”

An image of a stack of unpaid bills came to mind, specifically the one marked “third and final notice.” Blu didn’t reply.

Cynthia Rhodes said, “Is there someplace we can sit and talk?”

Coming to his senses, Blu said, “Of course. I’m sorry. I don’t normally receive clients out here. Please come this way.” He ran through a mental checklist: the office was one chair short for this group, the desk was a mess, the hula girl was on the floor, and the bathroom hadn’t been cleaned in, well, he couldn’t remember when.

Ms. Rhodes and her driver followed him, all of them crunching on the shell drive, up the porch stairs, and into the office he’d created out of the living room of the one-story bungalow his great- great-grandfather had built.

His guests didn’t comment on the disheveled appearance.

The driver pulled out the single client chair in front of Blu’s desk and Cynthia Rhodes sat.

Blu made an assumption the man would prefer to remain standing seeing as how his role could best be described as armed chauffer. Walking around his desk, being sure to step over the hula girl on the floor, and noticing the crumpled tax bill flittering in the wind of the ceiling fan, Blu sat on the ripped cushion of his ancient captain’s chair. It gave a long, un-oiled squeak. “Okay, Ms. Rhodes, tell me why you think you need my services.”

Cynthia Rhodes removed her sunglasses and held them in her lap.

She looked at him with deep blue eyes. “Mr. Carraway, I have a situation I’m not sure how to handle.”

The horses’ intuition and this woman’s bold and transparent acknowledgement of uncertainty regarding her situation had him trusting her almost immediately. Well, those reasons and the big tax bill he had to pay.

“Can I get either of you something to drink?” he asked. “I’ve got tap water or cold—I mean iced—coffee.” Cold was a more accurate statement, but he didn’t think it sounded sophisticated enough.

Cynthia Rhodes said, “No, thank you.”

Meeting her deep blue gaze, he guessed she was mid-fifties, about ten years his senior. He asked, “How can I help?”

“I was told you could be trusted.”

“By whom?” he asked.

“Adam Kincaid.”

With the name, Blu immediately understood the depth of her need, if not the specifics.

She continued. “He said you got his daughter back for him when those awful men took her.”

“More or less.” Kincaid’s daughter was returned to her father intact, physically if not emotionally, without paying any ransom. And the world had lost a half-dozen kidnappers. “Has your daughter been kidnapped?”

With a tight-lipped smile and a slight headshake, she said, “I have a son.”

He said, “What is it you think I can do for you?”

“He’s missing.”

“How do you know?”

She looked down. “My son and I have a strained relationship, to say the least. The only way I know he’s okay is because he makes withdrawals from his trust fund.”

Blu said, “He hasn’t made any in a while?”

“Two weeks.” She looked at him. “I was told you handle unique situations. That they were your specialty.”

Her driver smirked.

Blu said, “You don’t want the police involved?”

“No,” she said. “I mean, not yet.”

He sat back. “What would you like me to do?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked, her voice breaking for the first time.

“You’d like me to find him?”

“Yes.”

It sounded more like a question.

He said, “I can do that.”

“My son is a sweet boy. He likes art—painting. If something’s happened to him, I’m not sure what I’d do.”

Blu had a hunch the real reason she was here was about to surface.

She said, “Mr. Kincaid told me you made the men who took his daughter pay for their sins.”

“You think someone did something to your son?”

Folding her arms across her chest, she said, “I hope not.”

Blu shook his head. “Anything that may or may not have happened in Mexico was a by-product of the goal of the job, which was to get his daughter back.” It was a true statement, but not really the truth.

Cynthia Rhodes reached into her pocketbook, removed a check, and handed it to Blu.

Chapter Two

The amount written in neat, precise cursive would do a lot more than just pay his property tax for the year. He handed the check back, trying hard not to show any reluctance to do so. “I don’t take on blood jobs.” Another true statement which wasn’t the truth.

Sometimes they ended up that way—bloody.

Her eyes were wide. “But you’re my last hope.”

Blu laced his fingers together and placed his hands on the desk. “That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.” With a slight head jerk, he motioned to her driver. “Why not send trigger-happy Rick, here?”

Blu already knew the answer. The man was mostly show. He appeared to be in shape. But he did not have a killer’s gaze.

She looked at her driver who shifted his weight between his feet as if he were nervous.

Holding a hand up, Blu said, “You don’t want to have things too close to home. I understand. Better to hire some schmuck and make him do the heavy lifting.”

“You’re mistaken,” she said. “I heard you were the best.”

“I am the best,” he said. “Can’t you tell by the crowds of folks lining up for my services?”

With a smile breaking the tension in the lines of her face, she said, “Adam also said you had an odd sense of humor.”

Blu didn’t know what to say, so he kept quiet. Filling voids in conversation only gave away too much.

Cynthia Rhodes filled in the void for him. “If it isn’t enough money, I’ll double it.”

The Kincaid job had netted enough to keep Carraway Investigations solvent for three years, with only a modest contribution from an insurance or surveillance job here and there. And lately, some day laboring. The offer in front of him was eerily similar. Of course, Blu and his partner, a biker and fellow Ranger named Mick Crome, had barely made it out of Mexico alive with Jennifer Kincaid. Blu was three years wiser now, and he enjoyed the cliché “getting older by the minute” more than the one about “being worm food.”

He ignored one of his golden rules: Decisions made under duress were usually tainted. “Okay. I’ll look into it. But if all you want is a trigger puller, I’m out.”

And then he lied to himself about it not being because he needed the money.

After Cynthia Rhodes signed a standard, boiler-plate contract, which had jammed Blu’s ancient printer twice in the process, and gave him a picture of her son, she and her driver left. Happy to be working again, Blu headed into town, taking the decade-old photo of Jeremy Rhodes with him, the most recent one his mother had. It showed a good-looking, normal kid with clear eyes and a boyish smile and dimples.

The drive into Charleston gave Blu time to think. A few things about this new job already bothered him. First: Cynthia Rhodes, the kid’s supposed mother, didn’t have a current picture of her son. Second: For all he knew, Jeremy could be trying to run away from dear old mom.

Cynthia Rhodes had no idea where her son was and couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen or spoken with him. When Blu asked about drug use, she seemed flippant. All she knew was Jeremy had gone to the College of Charleston and majored in Liberal Arts, graduating two years ago.

Frankly, if it weren’t for the money and his lack of it, Blu wouldn’t have been so eager to take the job. The fact she’d doubled the offer erased any hesitation he might have had.

When he turned onto King Street, he found a parking spot at a meter in front of Willie’s Music Shop. He put some change in the meter and walked inside. His friend Willie Day had owned and run the place since the eighties, weathering Hurricane Hugo and urban blight. Willie always seemed to know what was going on no matter what Blu asked about. After Willie had passed on to the other side not too long after 9/11, his daughter took over, running the store during the city’s current rejuvenation. And, like her father, she had connections all over town.

Billie Day stood beside a wall display of Fender guitars, talking to a very early twenty-something white male. A black tank top and a short crop of hair exposed Billie’s light brown arms and neck. Her jeans accentuated curves that always put Blu in a good mood. She gave him a slight nod but kept her main focus on the customer.

Blu rotated his sunglasses to the top of his head and pretended to browse while he waited for Billie to make the sale. Desert Storm had done a number on his hearing, but he distinctly heard the sum “thousand even” and silently congratulated Billie.

After the kid had paid and walked out with his purchase protected in a nice case she’d talked him into buying, Billie walked over to Blu.

With hands on nice hips, she said, “What can I help you with?”

What she said was a little more formal than Blu had been looking for in a greeting. Apparently, Billie was more than a little pissed at him for not calling. It had been six months, right about the time his tax situation derailed him.

He said, “Hi, Billie.”

“Hi, Billie? Is that what you’re going with?”

“Um—”

She put a finger to his lips. “Don’t even try to dig yourself out of this one, Blu.”

He looked into powerful, deep brown eyes and almost winced.

Her gaze lightened. “Why didn’t you just tell me your tax troubles?”

Blu looked down. He should have assumed she knew.

She lifted his chin. “Friends help each other. They don’t shut each other out.”

“It’s my problem to fix,” he said.

“But it doesn’t have to be, baby. You made it so.”

A lot of thoughts ran through his stubborn head. Like how someone five years his junior had it so much more together than he did. And how someone could care about him so much after all these years.

He said, “I’ve got another job now. A good one. Hell, the retainer alone is enough to pay off Charleston County and then some.”

“You’ve got a job now, huh? Is that why you’re here?”

“Not the only reason.”

She patted his chest. “Before we get to that, you’ve got to make this up to me.”

“I—”

With a nudge from her hip, she said, “I don’t want to hear excuses. I want you to take me out and treat me proper. Everything has a price. My price for being ignored is a date. Take it or leave it.”

He’d always loved this woman. The timing was never right. He’d come back from the war all screwed up and she’d just turned eighteen—bad timing.

By the time he’d gotten his head screwed back on straight, she was twenty. And he married someone else—bad timing.

When he’d been about to get a divorce, his wife turned up pregnant. They stuck it out another five years before ending it just in time for Billie to marry someone—bad timing.

And then Billie divorced, she and Blu were set to be together, and his money problems started—bad timing.

But now he had this new job, his money problems abated, and she was still available. He just hoped he wouldn’t mess it up this time. So, in answer to her request for a date as restitution for him being a complete moron, he said, “Okay. I’ll take it.”

“Good,” she said. “Pick me up at eight.”

He thought about going ahead and asking her if she knew Jeremy Rhodes, but he decided not to push his luck. She wasn’t his only source, just his favorite.

He smiled and gave her a peck on the cheek.

She said, “Are you going to call Crome?”

Chapter Three

Blu stepped out of the music store and onto the broken sidewalk of upper King Street. The nice shops had been encroaching this direction for some time and had almost made it. Willie’s Music had always been a novelty. Now it was a novelty on prime real estate. And Billie had politely turned down several decent offers to sell. Blu couldn’t blame her. The business held its own, and she liked what she did.

Her asking if he was going to call Crome meant she was more than a little concerned about the job.

Mick Crome, his sometime business partner, had vanished with his half of what was left of the fee after expenses from the payout of the Kincaid job. The last Blu heard, Crome had ridden his Harley all the way down to Key West and hadn’t come up for air since. And not a day went by that Blu didn’t think about his friend.

He’d give Crome a day or two. The guy had a knack for showing up at the right time. If he hadn’t returned to Charleston by then and things got out of hand, Blu would make a few calls.

The picture Cynthia Rhodes gave him of her son didn’t help as he would have to assimilate what Jeremy looked like now, most likely factoring in extensive drug use as an age agent.

What he needed was a current picture, at least one more current than ten years. Because he’d let his cell phone plan expire when he ran out of money, he bought a prepaid “burner” phone at a drug store. The teenage girl who rang up his purchase helped him set it up and he gave her a five-dollar tip.

Using the cigarette lighter in the Land Cruiser to power the phone, he dialed a number from memory.

It went to voicemail.

When prompted to leave a message, he said, “Gladys, this is Blu Carraway. I know it’s been a while, but I could use a favor. Call me when you can.” He left the burner’s number and closed the phone.

With that accomplished, some theme music was required. He selected a cassette and loaded it in the Land Cruiser’s tape deck. After a moment, the bass riff from “The Waiting Room” by the punk band Fugazi played through the speakers—what a band.

The phone vibrated on his leg. He turned down the music volume and answered the call.

Gladys said, “Certainly has been a while, Mr. Blu Carraway. What lowlife are you after now?”

Ten years ago, about the same time the picture of Jeremy Rhodes was taken, Blu intervened in a domestic abuse situation. Gladys found him through a friend and tried to hire him. Apparently, none of the other local private investigators would bother to talk with her, much less take her job. At the time, her husband was taking out his frustrations for being a bakery delivery man on Gladys. When Blu found out she worked at the DMV, he handled the job pro bono, figuring the connection was worth it. In the end, a police investigation confirmed her husband had died while trying to beat her again—a clear case of self-defense as far as anyone was concerned. Blu didn’t lose any sleep over it when the police found the knife sticking out of the man’s neck with Gladys’ prints on it. In Blu’s mind, any man who struck a woman in anger deserved no less. Gladys had done the deed, but only after Blu suggested she already had enough evidence to prove self-defense. He’d been a stone’s throw away when it happened, which most likely also encouraged and empowered the woman to take action.

And Gladys, with her connection to every licensed driver and registered vehicle in the state of South Carolina, had indeed proved helpful. The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of ’92 protected a driver’s information from getting outside the appropriate government agencies. But it didn’t apply to licensed PI’s like Blu who had a wide range of access. Through experience, Blu found an inside source usually trumped his own sleuthing skills. With her abusive husband gone, Gladys’ life had changed dramatically for the better. He knew she would happily keep returning the favor.

He said, “I need a photo of someone.”

“Let me get something to write with.” A pause, then, “Okay, shoot.”

He gave the name and approximate age of Jeremy Rhodes.

She said, “I get off work in two hours. Buy me a milkshake at the Chick-fil-A down the street.”

“You got it.” He ended the call.

With time to kill, Blu had two things in mind. One was to research exactly who Cynthia Rhodes was. And the second was to squeeze in a workout at the gym. His first stop was the local library where he signed onto a computer and looked up his new client. Normally he would have done this before accepting the job, but her check was awfully big.

Cynthia Rhodes was indeed a Charleston socialite. She managed a charitable organization named Lowcountry Second Chances and booked fundraisers all year long. A major benefactor for the charity was a shelter in North Charleston.

Once divorced, her ex-husband being one Jack Rhodes who had passed away five years ago from a heart attack, Jeremy was their only child. Jack had been a big deal in lowcountry real estate up until his passing.

Jeremy Rhodes, unlike his mother, had done a good job of flying under the radar. There was quite a bit on both of his parents on the web, but nothing about him except a few notifications of past showings of his artwork at some of the local coffee shops.

Being a private investigator wasn’t in and of itself difficult work. Blu felt he had to keep his mind sharp and be able to think on his feet. And he had sources providing a lot of what kept him ahead of things. But it was also physical—he had to stay in shape. Quitting smoking, or at least switching to vapor, had several benefits, one being he could no longer afford it anymore anyway. And it also helped him breathe better during workouts.

With the preliminary research complete, Blu went to the gym. He kept a bag of gym clothes and gear in his truck, because he never knew when he’d get the opportunity. While his cardio had gotten a lot better since he switched to vapor, he still preferred the weights and got a good hour set in. Even with his money troubles, the gym membership would have been one of the last things to go.

Gladys faced a pink-colored milkshake in a booth in the restaurant when Blu sat across from her. A lot of people spent a lot of money to fight against looking their age. Gladys was not one of them. Past fifty, she had thick strawberry-framed glasses, gray hair, and a healthy dose of paunch. She had a few more years before she’d have her time in with the state and she could retire on a full ride. When that happened, Blu would need another source. Gladys made it easier than having to deal with a lot of red tape, even though he also knew a lot of cops.

She sipped from the straw and slid a nine-by-twelve-inch envelope to him. Her short, plump body was mostly hidden by the table. “They know me here. I told them you’d be paying. You gotta go to the counter.”

Blu stood, went to the counter, ordered a sweet tea, and paid for their drinks. He got his tea, sat across from Gladys again, picked up the envelope, and slipped out two sheets of paper, one an enlarged driver’s license picture and the other a vehicle registration for a late model Volkswagen Jetta. Listed was the South Battery address on the business card his mother had given Blu.

Gladys remained quiet.

Unlike the clean-cut boy in the photo Cynthia had given him, in this picture Jeremy Rhodes had black hair shaved on one side of his head with the length on top combed over to the other like an upside down mop. It contrasted with pale white skin like his mother’s—obviously not a beach dweller. He also had quite a few piercings: ears, nose, eyebrows, and both cheeks.

Blu pushed the photo back into the envelope. “Thanks.”

“Kid looks like a degenerate, you ask me.”

He hadn’t asked her, but let it go. “How’s your mom?” Last time he spoke with her, she was in the hospital.

“Dead.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Gladys nodded but didn’t reply. Aside from the results of her lethargic and static lifestyle, she really did look much different from when she first walked into his office. Her usual grumpy demeanor aside, he knew she’d become a new woman, quite content with who she was. With her newfound freedom from the abusive husband came what he’d observed to be inner strength.

She said, “One more thing. I checked around. The car’s in impound. Been there a week.”

“Thanks,” he said, “Anything I can do for you?”

She finished another round of slurping, licked her lips, and swallowed. “Nah. I’m good.”

Blu slid out of the booth and was ready to roll when she said, “They got good sandwiches here.”

His first thought was she didn’t want to eat alone. Even though he wanted to get back to the job, he said, “Why don’t we get something to eat? I’m buying.”

She smiled for the first time. “Okay by me.”

After they ate chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, and he listened to her complain about her sister, Blu left the ray of sunshine that was Gladys and drove back into the city.

He wanted to check out the kid’s car, and he knew someone who would give him access, but it was too late in the day. First thing in the morning, he’d make a call.

The feeling Cynthia Rhodes wasn’t telling him everything weighed heavy on him. Gladys had said Jeremy Rhodes looked like a degenerate. It wasn’t his call to make, but Blu wouldn’t hire the kid to pick shells on the beach, much less do anything requiring responsibility. If he was alive, what was the kid doing for money? It wasn’t as if he’d ever had to work for anything.

At suppertime, still an hour before he had to leave to meet Billie, Blu filled the water trough for the horses with a garden hose. His grandfather had made the first mistake a long time ago when he gave one of the animals an apple. Since then, the herd of Carolina Marsh Tackeys, a breed indigenous to the lowcountry, had slowly become family, and caring for them had grown from a novelty to a chore. His father and Cuban mother had continued the practice while they lived there as well. The horses still fed mostly on the vegetation of the property and took care of themselves, the exception being when it froze. During the one week a year it got frigid in the lowcountry, Blu bought a few bales of hay to carry them through. Trying to get them into a barn would be a waste of time. They’d sooner trample him than be corralled.

By the time he finished and put the water hose away, he heard tires on the crushed shell drive.

“Twice in one day,” he said to no one in particular.

He didn’t know how prophetic the statement really was until he watched Cynthia Rhodes’ shiny black Mercedes cut between the trees and pull up next to his old Land Cruiser, as before.

The driver got out of the Mercedes but didn’t open the rear door. Instead, he marched toward Blu. Same dark suit and tie and bright white shirt. He wore sunglasses, just like Blu. It looked like Trigger Rick had come alone this time.

Dink and Doofus kept their distance.

When Trigger Rick got close, Blu said, “Howdy.”

The man didn’t look happy. But then again, he didn’t look happy the first time Blu had met him either. “Howdy yourself, Carraway.” He thumb-pointed to himself. “I could do the job. I’m not sure why Cynthia thought she needed the help of some washed- up dick who hasn’t had a real job in three years.”

Blu didn’t reply. What was there to say?

Trigger Rick continued. “The reason I’m here is because Cynthia wanted a way to be in contact with you.” He reached into his jacket pocket and handed over a smartphone.

“I don’t like those things,” Blu lied. More like he couldn’t afford a smartphone. The service plans required monthly payments, something he hadn’t been in a financial position to commit to in a while.

“Like I care.’”

Blu held it out for the driver to take back. “Still, I can’t accept it.”

“You can and you will.” He retreated to the car. “You think I’m going to go back and tell Cynthia I didn’t give it to you?”

Blu watched the man start the car, turn around, and drive away. Then he looked down at the phone in his hand. It was a nice iPhone.

While he was examining it, the device vibrated in his hands. He almost dropped it.

The name “Cynthia Rhodes” displayed on the screen.

Blu touched the green answer button and held it up to his ear.

“Mr. Carraway?” It was her voice.

“Yes.”

“Good. I hope you don’t think me presumptuous, but I wanted to make sure we had a way of communicating.”

Blu watched as Dink, Doofus, and a mare named Molly Mae drank from the trough. He said, “I appreciate the gesture, but I can’t accept this.”

“I insist.”

“What I mean is I need to get myself one for my business anyway.”

“Consider it a part of our deal and a bonus afterward. It’s unlocked, and I’ve paid forward enough to last the rest of the year.”

He realized he wouldn’t have to worry about getting the landline reconnected. It showed several bars of coverage even on his own slice of paradise located forty minutes away from anywhere else.

She said, “I also managed to get the last four digits to spell out ‘blue.’”

“Oh.”

“That’s okay, isn’t it?” she asked. “I mean, you can use it as a marketing gimmick if you want. You know, like ‘don’t feel blue, call Blue.’”

He wondered how long she’d worked on that one. Hopefully not too long. He decided not to correct her spelling of his name. “I really appreciate the gesture, Ms. Rhodes.”

“Call me Cynthia.”

Her driver had called her Cynthia. How close were they?

He didn’t mention that either. Instead, he said, “Okay. And you can call me Blu.”

“Good.”

“Cynthia?”

“Yes?”

“How long has your driver been working for you?”

“Rick? Around two years. Why?”

If Blu handled this poorly, it could jeopardize being able to continue calling her Cynthia. He said, “Why isn’t he looking for your son? I can tell he believes he’s capable.”

After a pause, she said, “Mr. Carraway. That is precisely why I hired you.”

The call ended.

And Blu wondered if he could still call her Cynthia.

***

Excerpt from In It For The Money by David Burnsworth. Copyright © 2017 by David Burnsworth. Reproduced with permission from David Burnsworth. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

David Burnsworth

David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. He is the author of both the Brack Pelton and the Blu Carraway Mystery Series. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home.

Catch Up With Our Author On:
Website 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

Tour Participants:

Stop by these great hosts for guest posts, interviews, reviews, and giveaways!

Click here to view the In It For The Money by David Burnsworth Participants

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for David Burnsworth. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on September 11 and runs through October 12, 2017.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

The Goblins of Bellwater – Update


MollyRinglesmI wrote about this book back in July, and it was one of the best I read all summer. It is scheduled for publication October 1, just in time for 31 Days of Halloween reading and I highly recommend you find a copy and devour it. In the meantime, here are some goodies for you to enjoy which will certainly whet your appetite for the book.

Author Molly Ringle agreed to some Q&A on Goblins, so enjoy!

How closely did you follow Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market as a basis for the story?

I call this a book “inspired by” Rossetti’s poem rather than saying it’s “based upon” it, because I did veer from the poem a significant amount. I first read the poem a few years ago, and it intrigued me deeply. It’s evocative and strange, and, like a fairy tale, has many symbols and events that could be interpreted as having several different meanings. My assignment to myself was to use it as a jumping-off point for a modern paranormal novel, which would then go its own way as the plot required. What I kept from the poem was the basic surface framework: we have a pair of sisters, grown but on the young side, one of whom becomes enchanted by eating goblin fruit in the forest and begins wasting away as a result, alarming the other sister into seeking a way to save her. Since Rossetti’s poem ends with a fast-forward to the women being “wives” and telling their children about their adventures, and since I wanted to write a paranormal romance anyway, I gave my modern sister characters a pair of men to get involved with, in a double love story with eerie angles that I think match the eeriness of the original poem. Mind you, another interpretation of the poem is that the two women aren’t really sisters but lovers, which would be a different route to take and which I think would be lovely to see too.

What is the significance of the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) in this story?

The four elements are common fixtures in many ancient cultures, and have remained popular into the modern day. One of my favorite TV shows is Avatar: the Last Airbender, which uses the four-element framework brilliantly in its world-building. In reading up on faery lore for this book, I found that scholars often classify types of fae under the four elements, and since that appealed to me, I did the same. As one of the characters in
The Goblins of Bellwater muses, there’s something human and emotionally real
about looking at nature that way, even if we technically know, thanks to science, that nature contains far more than four elements. And in my novel, the only way to break the goblin spells involves respecting and trusting each of the four elements, even when they’re at their most daunting.

Why do you think fairy tale and other myth and legend retellings are so popular right now?

I think they’ve always been popular! Maybe it’s a case of selection bias, because I personally have always been into ghost stories, fairy tales, and other supernatural lore, but it seems to me that human culture has never stopped telling such stories. As scholars of fairy tales will tell you, reading and writing about fantasy and the paranormal may look like escapism from reality, and sometimes I tell myself that’s what I’m doing, but in truth these stories end up giving us all the useful lessons about real life that any good
stories do: empathy, courage, love, respect for nature and community, and the importance of thinking fancifully and creatively.

Goblins of Bellwater hits the stores October 1, and to celebrate, the publisher is giving away 5 prize packages. Enter the Giveaway

Grand prize package:

  • Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
  • $10 Starbucks gift card
  • “Flowerwatch” necklace/pocket watch
  • Artistic guided journal/sketchbook
  • Copy of Brian Froud’s Goblins!

Air prize package:

  • Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
  • Air-element necklace
  • 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

Earth prize package:

  • Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
  • Earth-element necklace
  • 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

Fire prize package:

  • Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
  • Fire-element necklace
  • 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

Water prize package:

  • Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
  • Water-element necklace
  • 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman


IMG_0232“Writing itself was a magical act in which imagination altered reality and gave form to power.”

This is how Hoffman describes the power found in the writing of women, in this case the Owens women who we first came to know in Practical Magic. That book told the story of Sally and Gillian Owens and how they broke the curse on their family which made it impossible for them to love someone without tragedy. This book goes back two generations before Sally and Gillian, telling the stories of Franny, Jet (the Aunts), and Vincent (the Grandfather).

Hoffman builds a bigger world where there are Owens women and men all over the world, but the nucleus of the family remains on Magnolia Street in Massachusetts. We learn more about Maria Owens, caster of the infamous curse, and how she loved and was betrayed by an equally infamous witch-hunter in the 17th century. The focus here, though, is the three Owens siblings – Franny, Jet, and Vincent – and their lives in New York City through the 1950s-1960’s.

When we first meet the trio, they have no idea they’re witches. Their parents have kept the knowledge from them, trying to ensure they will live normal lives. Franny is the scientist, Jet the poet, and Vincent the musician. While their lives seem normal enough, they all know there is something different and special about themselves and their family. Exactly what that specialness is comes to light when they go to Massachusetts to spend the summer with Aunt Isabelle, when they learn about their magical heritage. They spend the next two decades experiencing great tragedy, running away from love, and participating in the major events of the time – Stonewall, Vietnam, the Summer of Love. Hoffman neatly connects Rules of Magic with Practical Magic at the very end, and I was left thinking about who will be cast in the film that will surely follow.

All the usual things a reader expects from Alice Hoffman are here – lovely writing, strong female characters, a solid and engaging story – so this will definitely be one of the hot books this Fall. I enjoyed learning about the Owens family history, and found the primary trio of characters both charming and exasperating. This was an advanced review copy, so I am sure there will be some editing, which is needed. There are parts of the story which could move a little faster, and I think the ages for Sally & Gillian at the end are too young for their behavior and language, but those are nit-picky things that truly don’t affect the readability factor of this wonderful story. It’s not necessary to have read (or to re-read) Practical Magic before you read this one, but I guarantee you will want to read it after you finish.

Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Published by Simon & Schuster
Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced review copy

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert


Do you believe in fairytales? If you answered yes, do you think you could survive in a fairytale world? Alice Crewe knows nothing about the world of fairytales, called The Hinterland here, until her famous grandmother dies. Althea Proserpine wrote a mysterious, rare book of completely original tales after disappearing in the European woods for several years. All Alice knows about Althea is that she and her mother, Ella, have been running from her for years. But now she’s dead and everything changes. Ella disappears, Alice is being followed, and weird things are happening wherever Alice goes. She becomes focused on finding Ella, and the trail eventually leads her to Althea’s mysterious compound deep in the forests of upstate New York. There Alice discovers the true story behind her birth, her relationship with her mother, and her role in the Hinterland.

Everyone knows there is a dark side to fairytales, and Melissa Albert freely explores that darkness in a fresh and inventive manner in this debut novel. Albert has been writing for teens and an online audience for a long time, and that experience has resulted in a richly plotted, beautifully written, imaginative reboot of the fairytale world. What if the stories are real? What happens when the order of things is disrupted? What happens when the stories change? Alice definitely shakes things up when she gets into The Hinterland. She’s the clod in the churn, the pebble in the shoe, and she is most definitely *not* the “Alice” as written into the story ‘Alice-Three-Times.” At one point, when she is acting all contrary to the story, she says

“I did it because a girl doing nothing in a fairytale ends up dead or worse, but a girl who makes a decision usually gets a reward.”

Seems like a sensible choice to me!

Albert explores many themes here: people who use stories to escape from their real lives, people who manipulate others to affect the outcome of a story, people who challenge the status quo for love, people who *can* and *do* change. Alice and Ella are both flawed characters, but you end up loving them in spite of their flaws simply because they love each other so fiercely. The Hazel Wood is a little bit Beautiful Creatures meets The Matrix and is dead-on entertaining. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Published by Flatiron Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy.

Blood Card by Elly Griffiths


Not very many authors can successfully write two completely separate mystery/suspense series at the same time without plot lines and characters crossing over, however unintentionally. Griffiths does a pretty fine job of it with this third entry in her Max Mephisto series (her other being the Ruth Galloway series). 

We first met Max in The Zig Zag Girl, where Griffiths laid out the past experiences of The Magic Men, a super-secret group of spies assembled during World War II specifically to mislead the enemy through illusion. Max and Edgar Stephens, now a Detective Inspector, joined forces then to solve a grisly murder tied to one of Max’s magic tricks, the Zig Zag Girl.

In Blood Card, Max and Edgar reunite at the request of a mysterious military man who asks them to look into the murder of one of their former commanders, who was found in bed with a knife sticking out of his chest, and an ace of hearts, the “blood card,” next to him. As usually happens with magicians, all is not what it seems, and Max & Edgar soon connect the death of their former commander to other mysterious happenings, including the supposed suicide of a local gypsy woman. They proceed to gather clues through a trip to the United States, brushes with death and anarchists, and an opportunity to appear on television until they come to understand the end game is far more dangerous than any of them bargained for.

As is typical for Griffiths’ stories, there are dozens of loose ends, red herrings, and clever clues flying through this story. Also typical for Griffiths, all those tasty little bits of information are gathered together and resolved handily by the end. I was not an immediate fan of the Mephisto series when I first read Zig Zag Girl, but Max and Edgar (and Ruby, Max’s daughter & Edgar’s fiancee) are growing on me. I liked them all a bit better in Smoke & Mirrors; Blood Card has left me fond of all of them and looking forward to the next in the series. Recommended for fans of British mysteries.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Edelweiss for the advanced copy

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

2

IMG_0225I fell in love with Eowyn Ivey’s work when I read her debut novel, The Snow Child, and then met her while she was in Rochester for Writer’s & Books “Rochester Reads.” When To the Bright Edge of the World was first published, I devoured it, and wrote this on Goodreads:

Ivey has produced another brilliant novel of the Alaskan wilderness, blending history and adventure through the telling of three simultaneous stories. Typically, South American authors tend to write the best magical realism, but Ivey is just as adept at merging fantasy and reality, plus she has given us a splendid character in Sophie Forrester. Hands down, one of the best of 2016.

The book is newly released in paperback, so will be showing up on shelves in stores and libraries again. My recommendation from 2016 still stands. If you love magical realism blended with a little history and a strong female protagonist, you should pick this one up.

 

Anticipated Fall Releases


Autumn is my season for many reasons, not the least of which is the slew of brand new books that hit the market. Here are some I am anticipating:

September

Blood Card by Elly Griffith – The third in Griffith’s Max Mephisto series and every bit as good as the earlier entries. In this case, Max, his comrade in arms Edgar, and his daughter Ruby help foil an anarchist’s attack during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Secret History of Witches by Louise Morgan – See my full review of this captivating tale of a line of Romani witches.

October

Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman – If you loved Practical Magic, this prequel is a must-read. Telling the stories of the Aunts and Sally & Gillian’s parents & grandparents from Practical Magic, as well as filling out the history of the Owens family, this one gives you all the feels.

Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle – See my full review of this wonderful story where fantasy and fairy tales collide.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende – A story of love, kindness, and humanity revolving around three people brought together by accident in Brooklyn. And really…it’s Isabel Allende. How can you go wrong?

Strange Weather by Joe Hill – Thinking this will be just the ticket for the cold, dark days leading up to Halloween. Horror stories from the current Master of the genre.

Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire – Maguire takes on the Nutcracker story in this imaginative look at the German origins of the story blended with the tale of Drosselmeier, the toymaker who carves the title character.

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush – A funny, readable memoir from the former First Daughters.

Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan – The first official biography of the man who shaped rock-n-roll and defined generations through the last four decades. Total juiciness!

Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake – A fresh take on the Manson Family from its youngest member who helped prosecute Charlie and the others.

December

Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – I’ve been waiting for the sequel to Arden’s clever, lyrical debut, The Bear and the Nightingale. This is it. For anyone who loves Russian folktales, or a skillful blend of fairytale, adventure, and romance featuring a strong female lead.

What are you anticipating this fall?

 

Micro-Reviews


I’ve been reading a lot lately, but not all of what I’ve read has inspired me to write a fully fledged review. Instead, here are a few micro-reviews of some books slated for publication this Fall.

IMG_0204David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes & Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient by David Tanis
Artisan Books
Publication Date – October 3, 2017

Cooking with fresh, seasonal produce is certainly not a new thing – experienced cooks have been doing it for years. However, as Tanis points out in this lovely, information-packed, highly readable cookbook, many cooks today are seduced by easily acquired but often flavorless supermarket produce. Tanis’ mission is to direct cooks back to their own locally produced food, which always tastes better.

This title caught my eye on NetGalley because it’s CSA season, when I invariably get the odd vegetable that I’ve never cooked. I was not disappointed. Tanis provided me with tasty ways to cook parsnips, greens, and even celery root, as well as new takes on old favorites like corn and potatoes. His recipe for Creamed Corn is super simple and absolutely delicious.

There is no pretentiousness here, as I often find with “cheffy” cookbooks – just simple, easy to follow recipes that rely on the deliciousness of fresh food. Highly recommended.

IMG_0205Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason
Candlewick Press
Publication Date – September 5, 2017

Emily Jenkins has taken the language of old timey fairy tales and turned it upside down in this 21st century retelling of classics like Snow White and the Frog Prince. The bones of the stories remain, but each has new language, new cadence, and new sassiness in the characters, which is completely refreshing. As I read, I felt like these stories could easily turn up in an animated series on Nickelodeon. What a wonderful way to take beautiful but clunky old fairy tales and make them new again. Well done!

IMG_0206Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date – October 17, 2017

I really tried to like this book, but it was a straight-up snoozer for me. There’s no question that Hanks can write. His prose is really quite good, but I just found this collection of short stories to be D.U.L.L. There are a couple stories built around a kernel of an idea that could be developed into full-blown books, but most are just odd and sad. It may just be that I am not a fan of literary fiction, but I have to wonder if this collection would have been published at all if not for Hanks’ fame. It will be popular and in demand, though, so libraries should buy a copy.

IMG_0203Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon
DK Alpha Books
Publication Date – December 12, 2017

My daughter and I have recently become meal preppers, since I always struggle to have a healthy lunch and she is just beginning her first year of a rigorous doctorate program and will be at school all day, then go right to work. We’ve had some fun trolling Pinterest for ideas, but quickly found that there’s not a lot of variety there, so I was happy to find this book on NetGalley.

Tornatore and Bannon have created a readable, attractive, and easy to follow guide to prepping a remarkable variety of meals. While I am not vegan, I appreciated the inclusion of meat-free meals. I also really liked the inclusion of an equipment list for each week, as well as the Prep Day Action Plan. Another bonus is the inclusion of breakfasts and desserts. The book is filled with helpful tips and advice, and the recipes are easy to follow. Combine all that with beautiful, eye-catching photography and you’ve got a hit. Recommended.

Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

1

IMG_0200The concept of women’s power being rooted in magic has become a regular theme in recent fiction, and The Secret History of Witches adds to that growing genre. Louisa Morgan has created a captivating tale of six generations of Romani witches, women whose talents include “simples” like healing potions, knowledge of the weather, affinity for animals or growing things, and, most importantly, seeing the future.

The story begins in Brittany in the early decades of the 19th century, where the Orchiere family is cornered in a ring of standing stones by an angry mob out to burn them. Matriarch Ursule, a powerful seer, uses her power to hide her family. This act takes her life, but not before she sees her family travel across the sea to a farm on a cliff, where they will live in peace. The family buries Ursule between the stones, and heads off across the sea, where they find the farm, just as Ursule predicted, on the Cornish coast. The sisters continue to perform the family rites in a hidden cave, but none of them possess Ursule’s magic until the youngest sister, Nanette, comes of age. Nanette is the only sister to whom Ursule’s scrying stone responds.

The stone becomes the thread tying the family together through subsequent generations. The stone is the indicator of magic – if it responds to you, you’ve got it. Each generation experiences its own heartaches and tragedies. At the same time, the belief in magic waxes and wanes, until we end up with Veronica, who has no mother or aunt to initiate her into the magic of the Orchiere witches. This is where the story stretches belief a bit, by introducing Veronica to a coven of aristocratic witches led by the Queen of England during World War II. The best part? The Queen is descended from the Glamis witches. If you know Shakespeare, you’ll get the reference. The Queen’s coven instructs Veronica in the magic of her ancestors and draws her into their work focused on defeating Hitler, including exhausting work meant to manipulate the weather to assist with the Normandy invasion.

Morgan has created a readable, entertaining story around women and how they acquire and wield power. The writing and character development is well done, with a strong thread binding each generation together. I found Morgan’s honest portrayals of each generation’s “witch” to be refreshing, meaning they were not all paragons. In fact, some were downright unlikable. She balances the stories of each generation skillfully to demonstrate the idea that magic and power can corrupt if not used properly, culminating in the decision by Morwen, the second-to-last witch, of putting it away altogether.

The introduction of the Queen’s coven was unexpected and rather delightful. This is the woman I’ve known as the Queen Mother – the dainty, perfectly coiffed woman off to the side of the current Queen Elizabeth. I found it interesting that the Queen laments that neither of her daughters has shown any inclination to the craft, although Margaret might still have a chance. I also appreciated the way in which the author brought the Orchiere line full circle by connecting Veronica with a young man of Romani descent from Brittany, where her family originated.

This joins The Witch’s Daughter and other books by Paula Brackston, the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, and the Waverly novels by Sarah Addison Allen as one of my favorite “witchy” books. Recommended.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Thanks to Edelweiss+ for the review copy