The Star in the Meadow, Book 4 of The Spanish Brand, an Historical Romance Series by Award-Winning Author Carla Kelly

star_meadowThe Star in the Meadow ($14.95, 256 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-992-3) is the fourth and final book in Carla Kelly’s historical romance series, The Spanish Brand. The series takes place at the end of the 18th century during the decline of the Spanish Empire in the New World. In this story, brand inspector Marco is torn between rescuing his wife Paloma from kidnappers and securing the Spanish Colony of New Mexico’s fragile peace.

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“The novel is filled with joy in its descriptions of newborn children; fear and delight during the telling of harrowing Mexican stories; terror during a kidnapping; and charm as a possible romance between two unlikely partners unfolds. The characters’ loyalty and honesty are remarkable because these qualities are coupled with pragmatism, hard work, expectations of cooperation from everyone, and the determination to snuff out all enemies. The Star in the Meadow is classic Western fiction, a terrific yarn that is somewhat contrived but will be treasured for its carefully measured, shifting tones long after the last page is turned. Fine historical fiction!”  Read more….

—The Historical Novel Society

4 Stars: “The gripping love story embedded within this exciting western is an unexpected accompaniment to the non‐stop action and nail‐biting moments. Whether you’re a fan of historical novels or not, this author always finds a way to draw one in.”

—RT Reviews

5 Stars: “I’ve become quite invested in Marco and Paloma and their extended circle of family and friends.  Their love for each other and their kindness and generosity seems to have an almost magical, healing quality that enfolds their loved ones, bringing happiness and second chances. I found STAR IN THE MEADOW to be somewhat darker than previous books, and therefore more intense.  I hated what Paloma and Marco had to endure, yet I admit that I was totally enmeshed in the story.  Carla Kelly’s writing is masterful, and I can wholeheartedly recommend this whole series, and I believe you would enjoy each book more if you read them all.  STAR IN THE MEADOW is a stellar conclusion which will reside on my keeper shelf.  I’m sad to see this magnificent series end.” Read more….

—Roses Are Blue

Kelly is the recipient of two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year; two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America; three Whitney Awards: 2011, 2012, and 2014; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times.

The first three books in the series were enthusiastically received by the critics.

Paloma and the Horse Traders was chosen as a Top Pick (4½ stars) by RT Reviews: “Kelly knows historical romance, and she also knows how to reel readers in from the get-go. This book will take one’s breath away with the deep, emotional romance and highly likable characters. The story is adventurous and totally out of the ordinary, which makes it a splendid read and a completely satisfying experience.”

The Historical Novel Society gave Paloma and the Horse Traders an “Editors’ Choice” designation: “A rousing and exciting Western that will appeal to all readers…. Kelly knows her subject matter; her historical research is impeccable. But her research never gets in the way of her spinning a good yarn. This is a great read, and it is highly recommended.”

Of Marco and the Devil’s Bargain, Publishers Weekly wrote, “Though la viruela is, in some ways, the story’s main character, the love between Marco and Paloma, equal parts strong attachment and mutual high regard, takes emotional center stage, a satisfying oasis of beauty in the midst of stark harshness.”

All About Romance wrote that The Double Cross “packs a full story with plenty of frontier action and believable, sympathetic characters.

Marco Mondragón and his wife Paloma are living hectic but happy lives at the Double Cross, on the edge of Comanchería. Five years after the death of Comanche leader Cuerno Verde, cautious diplomacy between the tribe and the colonists is underway to end Comanche raids into New Mexico. Paloma’s time has been fully consumed by her two toddlers and newborn son and Marco’s by spring planting.

The Seven Year Audit of 1784 arrives and with it comes auditor Fernando Ygnacio. After years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Señor Ygnacio is a broken man. Although his daughter Catalina is bitter about his mistreatment by his superiors, her storytelling abilities captivate the household, including a frequent visitor from the nearby presidio, El Teniente Joaquim Gasca, who has been undergoing his own reformation from rascal to leader.

Unknown to him, Marco has peculiar enemies plotting his downfall. When Paloma and Catalina set out on a visit to Marco’s sister, meant to give Paloma relief from her busy life, the women are kidnapped. Devastated, Marco is torn between love and duty. He yearns to search for his wife, but feels bound by colonial duties to accompany his friend Toshua to Río Napestle, where Comanches have gathered to debate the region’s fragile peace. In his absence from the Double Cross, will Joaquim Gasca and Toshua’s wife Eckapeta be able to find the missing women?

“Coming to the end of a series is bittersweet,” says Kelly. “Historically, this fourth book fits actual events, which culminated in a treaty in early 1786. I’ll be wishing Marco, Paloma and Toshua well.”

A well-known veteran of the romance writing field, Carla Kelly is the author of thirty-seven novels and three non-fiction works, as well as numerous short stories and articles for various publications. Carla’s interest in historical fiction is a byproduct of her lifelong study of history. She has a BA in Latin American History from Brigham Young University and an MA in Indian Wars History from University of Louisiana-Monroe. Click here to find Carla online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“It’s hard for me to even imagine a peaceful room with no one barging in, demanding this and that.”

“I think you can imagine it quite well!” Catalina teased. “Start now by taking a nap.”

Paloma yawned and close her eyes. “I’ll never get to sleep this way,” she murmured, just moments before she did precisely that.

Catalina closed her eyes, too, thinking of years of smarts and slights and rudeness. For some reason she had turned to them for nourishment, letting the sourness of unfair treatment fill her belly. Maybe she lashed out first to keep meanness at bay. She took the idea one logical step forward; it might be time to stop. With a sigh of her own, she relaxed and rested her head against the side of the carriage.

She had no sense of time passing until she felt the spring sun high overhead. But that wasn’t what woke her.

The carriage had come to an abrupt halt. Catalina opened her eyes to see Chato the coachman through the small opening, but only dimly, because the overhang of the carriage roof was in shadow.

The shadow moved and she saw a knife sticking out of Chato’s neck. The shadow moved again and she saw a horseman, the cause of the shadow, beside the carriage now. She put her hand just above Paloma’s mouth and patted her arm.

“Something is happening,” she whispered.

Paloma opened her eyes and her own hand went immediately to her sleeping son in his cradle at her feet. She sat up carefully and sucked in her breath when she saw how the coachman leaned.

Both women clung together when the carriage door slammed open and a bearded man with dead eyes leaned inside. To their astonishment, he opened his mouth wide and his eyes wider and slammed the door shut. They listened to shouts of “Idiot! Fool! A mistake!”

Juanito began to stir and whimper. Paloma picked him up and hastily unbuttoned her camisa, nursing him to keep him silent.

“Eckapeta and I … we train the little ones not to cry,” she whispered, her blue eyes huge in her pale face. “Juanito is too young for such a lesson.” She bowed her head over her child, trying to feed him and protect him at the same time.

The pitiful gesture went straight to Catalina’s heart and shoved back her own fears. She reached for Paloma, as vulnerable now as a woman could ever be, and patted her shoulder.

“I’m going to find out what’s going on,” Catalina whispered, as she wondered at her sudden wellspring of bravery.

With amazing clarity, she knew someone had to protect Paloma and her baby, and there wasn’t anyone else around except her. For years her father had depended on her—perhaps too much—but that was nothing compared to this need, growing stronger by the second, to help someone even more vulnerable.

“I do this for you, Marco,” Catalina whispered under her breath.

Gypsy Baron, by Bestselling Author Mary Daheim: A half-Gypsy Nobleman Falls for a Court Lady

gypsy_baronGypsy Baron ($14.95, 212 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-371-6) is a reprint of an early historical romance by bestselling author Mary Daheim. Originally published in 1992, Gypsy Baron features the son of a nobleman and a gypsy whose allegiance to his war-torn homeland of Bohemia stands in the way of committing to the woman he loves. She is a nobleman’s daughter whose ill-fated engagement to an accused conspirator forces her to live in exile. Much of the story centers around the brief reign of Elizabeth Stuart as Queen of Bohemia in 1619. Elizabeth was the daughter of James I of England and wife of Frederick V, Elector Palatine. She was known as “The Winter Queen,” her husband as “The Winter King.”

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With the release of Gypsy Baron, Camel Press has reprinted all seven of Mary Daheim’s historical romances. The other titles are Reunion (original titled Pride’s Captive), The Royal Mile (originally Love’s Pirate), Gosford’s Daughter (originally Passion’s Triumph), Destiny’s Pawn, King’s Ransom, and Improbable Eden.

“Mary Daheim’s novels are a rare treat for the lovers of deeply detailed, highly historical love stories that bring history to vibrant life.”

Romantic Times

Darkly handsome Stefan Dvorak, Baron Ostrov, is the son of a gypsy and a venerable but disgraced Bohemian nobleman. Though educated at Oxford and welcomed by King James’s court, Stefan is a wanderer by nature and not inclined to take love seriously. But he has never met anyone like the innocent and dazzling Lady Katherine de Vere, who is mourning the death of the man she hoped to marry: Henry, Prince of Wales.

Despite their powerful attraction, neither Stefan nor Kat is free. The king decrees that Kat must marry a preening prig named Sir Thomas Overbury. She escapes the odious union, only to face a worse fate. After Sir Thomas falls afoul of the king’s toadies and dies of poison in the Tower of London, his enemies cast the blame on Kat. Threatened with prison, she flees first to Heidelberg and then to Prague.

Stefan’s allegiance to his homeland of Bohemia, torn between Catholic and Protestant factions on the brink of war, trumps any notions of domestic bliss. Though he loves his little Kat, what can a penniless Gypsy baron offer a genteel aristocrat? And Kat has her own troubles. Not only does a cloud still hang over her name, but the king has threatened to confiscate her ancestral home.

Says the author, “Gypsy. The word evokes a wagon-load of images. Fortune tellers. Caravans. Gaudy, jangling jewelry. Stealthy flights by night. Gyp—a pejorative derivation. But wait—there’s more. Romance. Music. Dancing. Mystery. For a writer, what’s not to like?”

Mary Richardson Daheim, a Seattle native, began her publishing career with the first of seven historical romances before switching to mysteries in 1991. Since then she has published at least 55 books. Click here to find her online. For more information about these historical romances, please like the Facebook page for these historical romance titles.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Kat gasped as Dvorak grabbed her by the shoulders, snapping her head back. “Don’t ever speak so of the Roms! My mother was a Gypsy, as good and virtuous as the fine English lady who bore you!” One hand swung up, then his mouth clamped shut and he dropped his arm at his side. “You’re a fool, Katherine de Vere,” he said, his face wooden but his eyes flashing. “Like most of the English, you’re a smug, ignorant boor.”

Kat’s temper was boiling, but her mind was a blank. He was a brute, a savage, a half-breed foreigner with nothing to his credit but an Oxford education. “If you think so little of English ways, why ever did you come here?” she demanded.

An odd, pained expression crossed Dvorak’s face. “You heard Milord Essex. I am not welcome in my own country. I had nowhere else to go,” he said, and his voice sounded hollow. Strange, he thought, that Kat’s opinion should matter. She was of no importance to him, merely a silly wench he’d met at a state funeral. He grabbed her wrist with his other hand, pulling her so close that her breasts brushed his doublet. It would do no good to try to shake sense into the chit. She was too obtuse, too self-righteous, too English. “I told you,” he said curtly, “you don’t understand.” The black eyes glittered with anger, and for a brief moment Kat thought he might actually strike her. Instead, his lips came down on hers in a crushing kiss. Kat reeled with the sensation of that hard mouth on her lips. This was not at all like Henry’s gentle embrace, soft and sweet as morning rain. She tried to escape, but his arm was at her back, holding her captive. In the pit of her stomach, an alien sensation welled up, muddling her brain and stirring her senses. Kat was afraid, and at the same time exhilarated. She wasn’t entirely aware that her lips were responding to Stefan’s as if they had a will of their own.

Abruptly, with the anger still in his veins, he let her go. Kat momentarily lost her balance, falling backward against a stone wall. Stunned, she searched his face, hazily noting that while his annoyance hadn’t faded, the dark eyes had softened. With a sigh of vexation, Stefan shook his head.

“Excuse me. That was a foolish action. A good shaking would have served as well.” He was aware of the rough edge in his voice and inwardly cursed himself. Impulse was not his way with women; passionate interludes were carefully calculated, based on mutual consent. Stefan felt like an unruly schoolboy.

Kat swallowed hard and tried to regain her composure. “I’m not a trifle,” she declared, sounding quite lame. “My upbringing has not accustomed me to such … dalliance.”

For a brief moment Dvorak looked as if he might smile, but he did not. “No,” he said flatly. “That’s clear.” With a little bow, he strode away from her, up the path toward the palace.

Kat stayed in the garden, not wanting to follow for fear of further confrontation. Stefan Dvorak had no right to kiss her, especially in anger. Indeed, no honorable man should kiss any virtuous woman except as part of courtship. His behavior was as inexplicable as it was unsettling. Along the torchlit path, Kat felt the first soft drops of rain. She must go in, as soon as Dvorak was out of sight. Tentatively, she touched her mouth. It felt bruised. It felt wonderful. Kat didn’t understand the conflicting emotions. Slowly, she walked up the path, shivering with cold. Yet inside she felt quite warm.

Deadly Spirits, by E. Michael Helms: A “Ghost” with a Bone to Pick

deadly_spiritsDeadly Spirits ($15.95, 266 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-349-5) is the fourth book in a mystery/thriller series by E. Michael Helms featuring private eye Mac McClellan. After Mac joins a paranormal society whose members are falling victim to a deadly run of bad luck, he begins his search for a flesh-and-blood villain.

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Coming soon: Book 5, Deadly Verse.

5 Stars: “I really like Mac. I admire his discipline and bravery. Adore his affection for his dog [….] And he’s quite the ladies man. Though he’s not fooled by a pretty cover. He’s just as likely to open a ladies door as to grill her when he suspects something fishy. And he doesn’t stray from his lady love. Mac knows a good thing when he’s got it. The author gives you a wide variety of suspects and more than one mystery to solve. He puts you in the setting, feeling the humidity of the southern air, smelling the fishy scent of the ocean, and hearing the calls of the soaring gulls. [….] If you’re looking for a fun detective series with a great storyline, look no further.”  Read more….

—FU Only Knew Blog

5 Stars: “I loved everything about Deadly Spirits by E Michael Helms. He has included a lot of extras besides the mystery… a critter to fall in love with, a dash of the psychotic and a pinch of the paranormal…a recipe for success. I love Mac and this is my favorite adventure … so far. Michael has brought him a long way, making him more complex in his simplicity. I can hardly wait for more!”  Read more….

—Fundimental Blog

5 Stars: “This is a great mystery, I didn’t know the who or why of the murderer until the end. I did have a couple guesses that were completely wrong. And then there was lots of action and of course a big reveal during a hurricane. Talk about delivering the killer with a bang. I love Mr. Helm’s mysteries. The Mac McClellan mysteries are wonderful, easy to get into, and filled with lots to keep you on the edge of your seat. Make sure to check them out.”  Read more….

—J. Bronder Books

Deadly Spirits is a haunting mystery with an ingenious plot, vivid setting and memorable characters, chief among them the incomparable Mac McClellan, who is easily one of my favorite PIs out there. This latest installment will satisfy fans of the series while sending newcomers scrambling to catch up. If you like Robert Crais and Harlan Coben, you’ll surely dig Deadly Spirits. I know I did. Highly recommended.”

—Max Everhart, author of the Eli Sharpe Mystery series; SHAMUS Award finalist, Split to Splinters

“Fasten your seat belt! Deadly Spirits is a roller coaster ride of murder, blackmail and kidnapping, with some evil and not so evil spirits in the mix. Mac McClellan finds his own life at risk in this deftly-plotted thriller when he decides to investigate a puzzling death, a death that ultimately leads him into the past to seek the solution to a long unsolved cold case. You’ll be burning the midnight oil with Mac’s latest adventure!”

—Connie di Marco, author of the Zodiac Mysteries, and as Connie Archer, author of the national bestselling Soup Lover’s Mysteries

“Helms scores again! Deadly Spirits seamlessly pulls PI Mac McClellan, and the reader, between the physical and the supernatural planes. The tough, retired Marine must overcome his skepticism to solve two present-day murders, and bring closure to a third from the past. This is a softer, more human, Mac than we’ve met before. One more willing to suspend his beliefs for sacrifices only the heart can make. You won’t put this book down until the last page.”

—Kait Carson, author of the Hayden Kent Mysteries and the Catherine Swope Mysteries

Deadly Spirits can be read as a standalone, but fans of the Mac McClellan series will recognize many familiar faces from previous books, including Mac’s sassy girlfriend Kate, smart-mouthed Deputy Dakota Owens, as well as Mac’s trusty Doberman Henry. A fast and thrilling read for mystery lovers, with plenty of twists to keep you guessing! Highly recommended.”  Read more….

—Epic Book Quest

“Hardboiled and flip on the outside, softhearted and a good ol’ boy on the inside, Mac McClellan is to private investigators what grit is to sandpaper: tough and abrasive, able to grind away the lies and deceit to uncover the truth.”

—Dianne Bylo, Tome Tender Reviews

“Persistent and endearing, PI Mac McClellan is hot on the trail of another crime; but is the murderer flesh and blood, or from the other side? I can’t get enough of this guy!”

—A.K. Klemm, author of The Bookshop Hotel and Lilly Hollow

When PI Mac McClellan’s girlfriend convinces him to join the Palmetto Paranormal Society, he becomes embroiled in a case of whooodunnit. The society president, while investigating an old hotel, is found dead at the foot of the stairwell, his neck broken. The man’s secretary and current squeeze stands horrified beside his body. Authorities rule the death an accident. Mac has doubts—no one heard the man tumbling down the stairs. Then the secretary dies in an apparent suicide. Two deaths in two paranormal investigations, and not a peep out of either victim. Mac suspects there’s more going on than a vengeful spirit.

Says Helms, “In 1897 a Greenbrier, West Virginia, man was convicted of murdering his wife on the testimony the victim’s mother received from her deceased daughter’s ghost. True story. The famous ‘Greenbrier Ghost’ case planted the ‘what if’ seed in my head. What if a decades-old homicide was directly tied to a modern case of blackmail, deceit, and murder, and the evidence came from beyond the grave? Thus Deadly Spirits was born.”

Michael Helms grew up in Panama City, Florida. His memoir about serving in the Marines as a rifleman during some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War, The Proud Bastards, remains in print after twenty-five years, and he recently published a fictional sequel, The Private War of Corporal Henson. A longtime Civil War buff, Helms is also the author of the historical saga, Of Blood and Brothers. Helms lives in South Carolina with his wife Karen. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I pulled my digital recorder out of another pocket and pressed the “on” button. Remembering Kate’s lesson that it’s better to place the recorder on something stable rather than hold it, I set it on an upended wooden crate a few feet away.

“You in here, Captain?”

Silence.

“Are you the one who was smoking a pipe around here?”

Still no response.

“I’ve got some fine Scotch with me. You can have a snort if you give me a sign.”

Silence again.

“It’s real good stuff. The Dalmore, twelve-year-old Highland single malt.”

Evidently whoever was haunting the storage building wasn’t a Scotch connoisseur.

“If there’s anybody in here, make yourself known. Give me a sign … light your pipe. Knock on the wall, or—”

Something slid and thumped along the back wall. Chills raced down my spine as I hopped up, switched on the flashlight, and shined it toward the sound. An old shovel that had been standing on its blade balanced against the wall now lay at an angle against a barrel missing several staves. I caught my breath and waited for the adrenaline rush to subside, relieved that nobody was with me to witness my reaction to the noise. “You chickenshit,” I muttered.

I sat back down and took a few deep breaths. After a couple of minutes I heard more rustling coming from the same general area. This time I grabbed my phone and snapped several blind pictures, hoping to capture something I couldn’t see in the darkness. I checked the photos and felt the hair rise on my arms as a couple of blood-red eyes stared back at me. Okay, enough of this ghost crap, I thought, after calling myself a few more choice names. It was time for the assault.

With the flashlight in one hand and my phone in the other, I stood up for a showdown. “Come out, come out, wherever you are, spook,” I said as I worked my way between obstacles, keeping a wary eye out for rattlers. “Let’s me and you have a little talk about—”

A big raccoon bolted out of nowhere, almost running headlong into me as he brushed my leg and shot out the door. I stumbled backward into some shelving that gave way. Rusty cans and dusty boxes tumbled onto my head, shoulders, and chest, landing on the worn plank floor. I’d barely caught my breath when one of the objects moved, changed shape, and started buzzing. Christ on a crutch—rattlesnake!

I don’t believe in levitation, but I have no recollection of running out of the shed. One minute I was inside with a coiled, pissed-off diamondback at my feet, and the next thing I knew I was outside, bent over, and gasping for breath.

And that’s when I heard the scream.

The Spirit in St. Louis, by Mark Everett Stone: Book 6 in the From the Files of the BSI Series

Spirit_LouisThe Spirit in St. Louis ($15.95, 304 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-256-6) is Book 6 in Mark Everett Stone’s popular urban fantasy series featuring a super-agent employed by the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation. In this episode Kal is sent to St. Louis, Missouri, to battle an evil ghost bent on destroying humanity. Next up: Talladega Nightmares.

“A suspenseful dark fantasy saga. A balance between psychological intrigue, menacing chills and fierce resistance, The Spirit in St. Louis is a page-turner from cover to cover. Highly recommended!”  Read more….

—Jack Mason (Mason’s Bookshelf), Midwest Book Review

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Omaha Stakes: “Action-packed…. Kal’s frolic through a nifty supernatural world is enjoyable.” —Publishers Weekly

Chicago, The Windigo City is jam packed with action but the heart of the story is Kal’s love and concern for his girlfriend and his best friend …. An original and refreshing tale.” —Fresh Fiction

I Left My Haunt in San Francisco is lively and smart. It is packed with action and just enough goop and gore to please fans of the genre without turning away newcomers to this subset of modern fantasy demon-busting…. It is just great, grand fun.” —ForeWord Reviews

What Happens in Vegas, Dies in Vegas: “A cracking good yarn from first to final page, no question…. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up for a job well and properly done.” —The Latinum Vault

Things to do in Denver When You’re Un-Dead: “I have really enjoyed reading this book…. The story could just be one of guns, blood and guts and magic, but…. Mark Everett Stone has made these characters seem real.” —Fantasy Book Review

Mark has also written a novella in the series, Oil’s Not Well in Odessa.

The audiobook versions of the From the Files of the BSI books are produced by Books in Motion.

Mark’s first novel, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Un-Dead, won the second place Forward Literature Award for Humor and was on the shortlist of ForeWord Magazine’s debut fiction award, ForeWord Firsts. The Judas Line was a finalist in ForeWord’s Book of the Year Awards and earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

The whole world now knows of the existence of the World Under, thanks to fallout from the terrible events in Omaha a year back. As the World Under’s most effective foe, Kal Hakala performed actions that were both heroic and horrific. Now, sidelined as an Agent, he serves the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation as its public face, charming talk show hosts and training new recruits known as “Green Peas.”

However, the World Under never rests, and events force Kal back into action. A malevolent spirit occupies St. Louis’s Quint Building, and the team sent in to combat it disappears after their leader is driven to suicide. The BSI has no choice but to send in Kalevi Hakala and his team to solve the problem. As each of the individual members of Kal’s team is isolated and dumped into his or her private hell, Kal begins to wonder if he hasn’t finally met his match: the most powerful force the World Under has to offer.

Born in Helsinki, Finland, Mark Everett Stone arrived in the U.S. at a young age and promptly dove into the world of the fantastic. Starting at age seven with The Iliad and The Odyssey, he went on to consume every scrap of Norse Mythology he could get his grubby little paws on. At age thirteen he graduated to Tolkien and Heinlein, building up a book collection that soon rivaled the local public library’s. In college Mark majored in Journalism and minored in English. Mark lives in California with his wife, Brandie, and their two sons, Aeden and Gabriel. Click here to find him on the Web.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Where to, boss?’ This came from Rat, who still looked mighty pale from popping a dead man’s eyeball into his mouth. To be honest, that freaked me out more than the shrieking gray/red orb that about busted my eardrums. Got to give the man credit; he might be a pervert, but he had balls. No pun intended.

A recollection surfaced. “You were about to say something concerning what Sixer saw before he died.”

“Oh, yeah. Guess so. In all the commotion I completely forgot.” Rat licked his lips and looked around as if suddenly nervous, which unsettled me a little. “Sixer wasn’t in the buildin’; he was in a swamp.” Rat held up his hands before I could interrupt. “Look, I know how crazy that sounds—a swamp and all in the middle of the Quint Building—but there were trees all around and water and Spanish moss hanging from branches. That’s what Sixer saw, or was made to see.”

Keeping Dove shut up turned out to be harder than I thought. “That’s crazy,” she blurted.

Rat got all defensive. “I saw what I saw. And that’s what Sixer saw. It was me with the eyeball in my mouth, Jacobs. You wanna give it a try?”

Enough of that. “Settle down, kids. Form up on my six and—”

EEEHHKK!!!!

A knife through both ears and into my brain, fire along my nerves and needles in my eyes—pain like I haven’t felt since a crazed cop in San Francisco took a drill to my kneecaps. I hit the deck because my legs refused to respond. Distantly I heard rounds firing off and I hoped whoever it was hit the ugly orb that once again hung over us, flinging gouts of reddish mist that floated like cotton candy in the air. All I could think was not again.

The screaming grew louder and louder, and I added my own shrieks because this was worse than last time—worse than anything else. Before I passed out, all I saw was red and gray.

Merry Christmas from Camel Press!

Looking for Christmas-themed stories? Here are two Regency romance story collections by award-winning author Carla Kelly and a mystery in Robert J. Ray‘s classic hard-boiled Matt Murdock series. If you love Carla’s Christmas stories, check out Camel Press’s reprints of her other Regencies as well as her historical romances set in the Santa Fe area. Guaranteed to warm your heart in any season.

Historical romances: Daughter of Fortune , The Spanish Brand series (The Double Cross /Marco and the Devil’s Bargain /Paloma and the Horse Traders and The Star in the Meadow (coming in February, 2017).
Regency romances: Miss Billings Treads the Boards, Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour, Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind, Miss Whittier Makes a List, With This Ring, and Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season

Regency-Christmas-GiftsRegency Christmas Gifts: Three Stories, by Carla Kelly

The Lasting Gift: Christmas approaches, and Mary Ann Poole has little to anticipate. Her daughter Beth was born just after the death in battle of her father seven years earlier, and never knew Lt. Poole. Mary Ann has just lost her job. As a future in the poorhouse looms, she receives a package that was misdirected from the post office. Unable to afford return postage, the Pooles pay a visit to the sender, Thomas Jenkins, a retired sailing master in nearby Plymouth who is bored by life ashore. Thomas takes an immediate interest in the pretty widow and her bright daughter. He decides Mrs. Poole’s welfare is just the right charitable Christmas project to banish boredom while he searches for a way to return to sea. Soon he has a new dilemma: now that he has met Mary Ann Poole, does he really want to go sailing again?

Faithfully Yours: John McPherson left Dumfries, Scotland, as an impoverished, neglected boy, determined to make his fortune in North America. Make it he did, thanks to his facility with languages and business savvy. Now he is home after ten years for a visit. He hopes to marry Margaret Patterson, the lovely correspondent he left behind, and who has exchanged letters with him ever since. But Margaret, daughter of a prosperous merchant, is engaged to another. His faithful correspondent has really been Sally Wilson, pretending to be Margaret, who is not quite the person John thought she was. Just the daughter of a minister, Sally never judged John for his poverty and even saw him off on his adventures. But how could he possibly know that?

Lucy’s Bang-Up Christmas: Lucinda Danforth is downhearted this Christmas, her first since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Her sister is getting married on Christmas Eve, and Papa Danforth has been trying to keep events on an even keel ever since the death of his dear wife. Overwhelmed by wedding preparations, he tells Lucy to forget about Christmas traditions this year. But Lucy wants Christmas, too. Enter Lucy’s second cousin Miles Bledsoe, Oxford scholar, who wangles an invitation to the Danforth’s home. He’s happy to help out, and even happier to see Lucy Danforth. Thoughts of Lucy have been distracting him from his studies of late. He might be in love, and he wants to test his theory. Along the way, Lucy and Miles seek to honor the memory of Lucy’s departed mother by helping others, in this case, a war widow and her children.

seasons_greetingsSeason’s Regency Greetings: Two Christmas Novellas, by Carla Kelly

“Let Nothing You Dismay”: In 1810 England, Cecilia Ambrose is an oddity at the Bath academy for young ladies where she teaches. Although gently raised, she is half-Egyptian, and at age twenty-eight believes she will never marry. With Christmas only days away, Cecilia has agreed to escort twelve-year-old Lucinda back to Chase Hall in York. The girl’s parents have been delayed, and in their place is Lucinda’s uncle, Lord Trevor Chase, who has been charged to chaperone Lucinda and her siblings. The bachelor black sheep of the family, Trevor scandalized his own class by becoming a barrister in London and championing the poor. Cecilia’s plan to return to Bath is thwarted when fire breaks out in the mansion, and she reluctantly agrees to stay a while longer. Will her delay prove to be Trevor Chase’s salvation? First published in 2003.

“No Room at the Inn”: With Christmas, 1815, around the corner, Lady Mary is told that she is not the daughter of an earl, but simply Mary McIntyre, the base-born orphan Lord and Lady Davy reared as their own. After her true parentage is revealed, Mary must leave Coventry for Yorkshire and the farm of her new-found grandmother. Her travel companions are the snobbish son of Lord Davy’s estate steward, Thomas Shepard, and his family. Heavy snowfall soon blocks the roads, and there is no room at the inn, so the little group is forced to seek shelter in the home of Joseph Shepard, Thomas’ estranged brother, a handsome man Mary remembers fondly from childhood. In this “vulgar” mansion belonging to a common businessman, Mary will discover that happiness has little to do with titles or income, and that Christmas works its own magic. First published in 2002.

merry_xmas_murdockMerry Christmas, Murdock, by Robert J. Ray

Christmastime is here, and weary-but-wise private-eye Matt Murdock is short on funds and holiday spirit. There are no white Christmases in Newport Beach, California, but there are soggy ones. One rainy evening at the Xanadu Mall, a down-on-his-luck mystery writer named Marvin Holly meets a runaway teenager and autographs her book. As they exit the mall, they encounter the headlights of a speeding car. In the aftermath the author is missing and the girl is in a coma.

On an earlier case, Murdock befriended a precocious teenager named Cindy. Cindy is the product of a broken home, a very wealthy one, and her people would rather break Murdock’s face than accept his help finding out what happened to her biological father—the missing author from Xanadu mall. Meanwhile Murdock has been hired to find out why Heather, the daughter of a sexy but tightly wound senator named Jane Blasingame, was injured in a hit-and-run. Is she the teenager last seen with Cindy’s father? And was Heather really a member of the notorious San Diego gang, a group of wholesome looking youngsters who prey on unsuspecting salesmen?

Cindy’s mother and the fabulously wealthy Duke family—the clan of Cindy’s uncle—were not fans of Marvin Holly’s work … or the man himself. They certainly don’t want Murdock to locate him. How are Holly’s disappearance and the hit-and-run connected? Will the lovely senator fall for Murdock’s rugged charms? If the holidays don’t kill Murdock then this case will.

If you like this title, check out Ray’s other Murdock mysteries. Matt is a heck of a nice guy, except if you’re a rotten apple, and justice always prevails.

Bloody Murdock

Dial “M” for Murdock

Murdock Cracks Ice

Murdock for Hire

Murdock Rocks Sedona

Murdock Tackles Taos

Five Dog Voodoo, by Lia Farrell: A Murder Casts Suspicion on a Closed Community

5dogFive Dog Voodoo ($15.95, 266 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-248-1) is the fifth cozy mystery by Lia Farrell in a series featuring Mae December, the successful owner of a dog boarding business in Rosedale, Tennessee, her sheriff fiancé and his staff, and her friends and family. When a young woman is found murdered near her home in the Voodoo Village, the Rosedale Sheriff’s Office is called upon to investigate.

** Click the cover image to order online **

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“Fast-paced and entertaining, this is a story cozy mystery fans shouldn’t miss. I found the combination of dogs, Voodoo, and murder mystery hard to resist and jumped at the chance to get an early look at this book. I was not disappointed[….] Although this is book five in the Mae December Mystery series, it reads well as a standalone. I was able to dive right into the story.”  Read more….

—Readeropolis

“A delight to read…. The author really knows how to keep a story moving with very interesting characters.”  Read more….

—Texas Book-aholic

4 Stars: “An entertaining murder mystery with an occult twist. The novel has hints of Voodoo set in a small Tennessee town. I was impressed with the descriptions of the rituals; they gave the story a sense of realism [….] Although this is book number five in the Mae December Series, it does well as a standalone. I enjoyed reading this book and was happy to learn a little more about the voodoo religion. I recommend this book to those who love a cozy mystery.” Read more….

—Susan Sewell for Readers’ Favorite Reviews

Five Dog Voodoo is an excellent story, one of my favorites in the cozy mystery genre. While the title initially gave me pause, the description caught my interest—and I’ve discovered what looks to be a great series. It’s extremely well written, with no unnecessary descriptions or repetition of thoughts as filler, and moves at a quick pace. Setting is atmospheric, plot is multilayered, and an appealing ensemble cast adds much depth. This book can stand alone, but I’m eager to read the four previous stories and hope for more to come.”  Read more….

—The Power of Words Blog

“I had all kinds of fun with this story…. It’s a lovely mess of reelection campaigns, murder, and voodoo in Tennessee…. I have several requirements I expect from a cozy mystery. It needs a small town setting. Check. A quirky title and fun cover art. Check. Unusual character names and a bit of romance. Check. A mystery not too easily solved. Check. And some kind of theme. Check. And it’s always a pleasant bonus to have some furry companions too. I had a really fun read and plan to go back and start at the beginning. I need to see what I’ve missed. But, if you start the series here, you’ll have no problem enjoying this all by itself.”  Read more….

—FU Only Knew Blog: Laura’s Ramblins and Reviews

“This book has a bit of everything. There is love, friendship, small town quaintness, politics, murder both past and present, and voodoo. I love small towns and I love reading about them[….] I really enjoyed this book[….] Will be on the lookout for more books by Lia Farrell.”  Read more….

—T’s Stuff

“This book had everything—small towns, adventure, mystery, and so much more. I haven’t read the previous books in this series but after this one I definitely will, as the writer did a fabulous job writing about voodoo which you don’t hear much about in such detail. Can’t wait to see what is next!”  Read more….

—Paula Mitchell for Community Bookstop

As Halloween approaches, engaged couple Mae December and Sheriff Ben Bradley have devoted all their energy to Ben’s campaign for reelection as sheriff of Rose County, Tennessee. The race is already too close to call when the sheriff’s office is hit with yet another maddeningly tricky murder case. In recent years the town of Rosedale has had more than its fair share of murders, a fact Ben’s smarmy opponent is all too eager to exploit.

Investigator Dory Clarkson and her friend, Counselor Evangeline Bon Temps, are visiting the mysterious Voodoo village when a resident tells them her granddaughter, Zoé Canja, is missing. Her dog, a Weimaraner nursing four pups, escapes the house and finds the young woman’s body in a shallow grave. Evangeline becomes Sheriff Ben Bradley’s unofficial consultant because her grandmother in Haiti and later her mother in New Orleans practiced Voodoo. A threatening symbol is left on the pavement by Dory’s front door, effectively banning her from the case.

Evangeline and the sheriff’s office ask too many questions, and Evangeline soon wears out her welcome. Voodoo curses aside, Ben’s job is at stake, and no one associated with the case is safe until the killer is found.

The first four books in the Mae December Mystery series, One Dog Too Many, Two Dogs Lie Sleeping, Three Dog Day, and Four Dog’s Sake have been enthusiastically received by readers and critics:

Four Dog’s Sake: “There is a lot of action in this book, and the author gives a wonderful view of the motivation of a real killer. This is one fast-paced cozy that keeps you on your toes.”
—Suspense Magazine

“This fourth book in the Mae December series is a delight to read. An eclectic cast of characters take a murder mystery on an interesting spin making for a humorous and adventurous mystery. The icing on the cake is the adorable dogs.” —Coffee Time Romance & More

Three Dog Day is a wonderful cozy mystery, and a great addition to a lovely series. It is sure to offer a lot of entertainment for mystery fans.” —Long and Short Reviews

Two Dogs Lie Sleeping: “This series is now one of my firm favorites and I’m really excited to see where she takes the series next.” —Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

One Dog Too Many: “A lively tale with plenty of twists, turns, and unexpected situations to satisfy the most ardent cozy mystery lover.” —Fresh Fiction

The series will continue in 2017.

Lia Farrell is the pen name of the mother and daughter writing team of Lyn Farquhar and Lisa Fitzsimmons, who live in Michigan and Tennessee, respectively. Both are life-long readers who are also dog lovers. Lyn owns a Welsh corgi and Lisa has a Siberian husky. Lisa works as a Muralist and Interior Designer and Lyn is a Professor Emerita of Medical Education who has retired to write full-time. For more information, click here.

Says Lisa, “We wanted to write a book that took place at Halloween; a perfect time of year for a cozy mystery. We were also intrigued by the inherent challenges of solving a murder in a closed society such as a Voodoo village. Somewhere in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, there is an actual Voodoo village with a listed address that is almost impossible to find. Street signs have been removed, the road names have been changed, and the feeling of mystery in the area is heightened by overgrown trees. For the purposes of Five Dog Voodoo, we moved the Voodoo village to Rose County. Get ready to be spooked!”

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Mira Canja inserted the key into the lock of the yellow house. It turned with a click and Evangeline heard loud barking and howling coming from inside.

“Wait here. I need to go in first,” Mira said. “The dog is jumpy, protective of her babies.”

In just a few minutes, she came back out and opened the door to let the threesome inside.

“What’s the dog’s name?” Evangeline asked.

“Erzulie,” Mira said.

“The Voodoo goddess of fertility … very appropriate.” Evangeline smiled at her.

The house lacked a proper entryway. The front door led directly into a kitchen open to the living room. The kitchen walls had been painted a gray blue that contrasted nicely with the sunflower-yellow cabinets. The upper cabinets had glass fronts and Evangeline could see dark-blue dishes inside. Although Evangeline lacked the detectives’ experience, she seriously doubted this was a crime scene. The house smelled clean.

Wayne and Rob walked through the kitchen and into the living room, skirting the mother dog in her bed. Erzulie rose up, growling, and Mira called her into the kitchen.

“She’s beautiful.” Evangeline admired the silvery fur and pale yellow eyes of the mother dog. The dog whined and pushed against Mira Canja’s hand. “I think she wants to go outside.”

“I know. I’ve been taking her out several times a day, but always on a leash. The way she pulls, I’m afraid if I let her off she will bolt. She knows where Zoé is—I’m sure of it. I had a dream the other night that Zoé was here in the village, held captive against her will.” The woman took a shaky breath.

Evangeline shivered. She could hear Wayne and Rob’s footsteps as they ascended the staircase to check the upstairs rooms. “Clear,” she heard Rob say. There was no one else in the house.

“I’ll take the dog outside if you like,” Evangeline offered.

“If she will go with you, that’s fine, but don’t let go of the leash. She’s stronger than she looks.”

“Come on, Miss Erzulie, let’s go out.” Mira handed her a red leather leash and Evangeline clipped it to the dog’s collar. They walked across the bare wood floors, through the sparsely furnished living room. Looking through the windows at the back of the house, Evangeline saw a screened-in porch, a wild backyard, and the shadowed woods. The sun was low, and even though it was only early afternoon, the shadows had turned the pine trees a deep forest green, nearly black.

She opened the door to the porch, which ran across the whole back of the house. The dog was pulling now, hard. “Erzulie, stop that,” she said just as she tripped over a flower pot and fell down on the floor. In that instant, the dog pushed through the door, tearing the corner of the screen. Like a ghost, she vanished.

“Are you all right?” Mira asked as she helped Evangeline to her feet.

“I am,” Evangeline said, brushing off her pants. “I’m sorry, the dog got away.” Wayne and Rob clattered down the stairs.

“What happened?” Rob asked.

“Nothing. I just tripped, but the dog got outside. Ms. Canja is afraid she’ll run away in search of Zoé.” They could hear the dog barking and then a long horrible howl, a wail of near human pain. Evangeline could hardly breathe.

“We’ll go after her,” Wayne said brusquely. The two men moved toward the sound of the crying dog.

“I’m coming with you,” Evangeline said. Following the men, she glanced back once at Mira Canja, who stood frozen in place. The wind rose and a sudden patter of rain hit the tin roof of the yellow house. The dog continued to moan and cry. They crossed the coarse grass and had reached the edge of the forest when Rob flicked on his flashlight. The beam hit Erzulie’s yellow eyes. The dog’s front legs were bent down in a crouching position but her head was held high as she gave vent to her anguish.

“Stay back,” Wayne said, holding out an arm to stop Evangeline. “You probably don’t want to see this.”

Evangeline came to a halt, staring at the grieving dog. Wayne pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket and knelt down. Unable to keep still another moment, Evangeline moved forward to grab for the red leather leash that was still attached to Erzulie’s collar.

“Erzulie, come away from there,” Evangeline said and tugged on the leash. She didn’t want the dog interfering with the work the detectives were doing. She was breathing raggedly, terribly afraid of what they would see. The men were both bending down now, moving dried leaves and some dirt aside.

“It’s the girl,” Wayne said. Rob walked unsteadily away toward the left side of the property. Evangeline could hear him retching into the weeds.

Beginner’s Luck, by Corinne Scott: Danger Prompts a Couple to Seek a Second Chance at Love

beginners_luckWhen you’re an O’Brien you never give up on your family, your pub, or your estranged wife.

Beginner’s Luck ($14.95, 232 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-381-5) is the first book in a new romantic suspense series by Corinne Scott featuring the irresistible siblings of the O’Brien family, whose parents own an Irish pub in the Bronx, New York City. When the manager of an art gallery finds her business ransacked, her estranged police detective husband comes to the rescue, forcing them to confront their unresolved issues.

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5 Motorcycles/Recommended Read: “I’m telling you, dear readers, this book has everything that you want. A hero and heroine to cheer for, siblings that you will come to love, in-laws that mean well and not to mention a suspense element that at one time was forgotten until it just to rears back up again and I never saw the twist coming nor the outcome. Oh and humor. Yes, there is lots of good Irish humor […] I will definitely be reading the rest of this series. I’ve GOT to know about Niall and Lola. Lord, every time they were together, you were laughing but also, felt the sexual tension ratcheted up 1000.”  Read more….

—Harlie’s Books

5star-shiny-web

5 Stars: “Beginner’s Luck is a beautiful story for those who love romance and suspense…. I enjoyed the way Corinne Scott develops the romance in the story, the friction between two characters with very opposing natures. Eoin is impulsive and easily provoked to anger and Vivian is the kind of woman who loves to take the lead in her life. When the two lovers get back together, the reader becomes interested to find out what would happen between them.”  Read more….

—Arya Fomonyuy for Readers’ Favorite

As eldest son, Eoin O’Brien is expected to take over the management of his family pub, the Lion O’Brien in the Bronx. Despite his da’s disapproval, he has achieved his dream of becoming a police detective. He also longs to have a family, but his wife Vivian left him three years ago to pursue her own dreams of working in an art gallery.

Now Vivian is back from California. When the gallery where she works is robbed and vandalized, their paths cross again. It turns out the attack on the gallery was personal. After Vivian is almost run down by a car, it is clear that she herself is the target, though she can’t think of anyone who would wish her harm. Eoin and Vivian circle each other warily, each feeling the pull of the past and their still powerful attraction. But there will be no easy reconciliation. First she find a way back into the O’Brien family’s good graces. Eoin, in turn, sees that he is partly to blame for her flight. Like his father, he is too quick to anger, too domineering. He must learn to give the independent Vivian her space. But above all, he has sworn to protect her. And if he gives her too much space, she may end up dead.

Says Corinne, “My first time in a New York Irish pub, I was struck by the strong feeling of family and tradition. And so the idea of the O’Briens was born. I could picture this big Irish family pouring drinks and sharing stories, all with an adorable brogue. They seemed so real I had to make them come to life.”

Corinne Scott was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Her parents were teachers, so of course she grew up to be a teacher as well, proving that the apple does not fall too far from the tree. Corinne has a bachelor’s degree from Texas State University and a master’s from the University of North Texas. She is passionate about books, which led her to her current occupation as a librarian and author. For more information and links to social media, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

He was a stupid man. What right did he have to tell someone not to touch Vivian? But when he’d walked in and seen her in another man’s arms, he’d gone completely Cro-Magnon. All he wanted to do was rip her from the man’s arms, haul her over his shoulder, drag her back to his cave, and have his way with her. He wasn’t like that. Eoin had never been jealous in his life.

Until Viv. Always Viv.

She pushed and pulled at him in every way imaginable without even trying. His reaction to her would always be the same; he knew that now. Viv was a part of his soul and he was fucking it up.

“Wife?” The man holding her repeated, looking at Viv.

The man still did not drop his arms from her waist, Eoin noted. “Yes, wife. Now get your damn hands off her.” Why couldn’t he keep his effing mouth shut?

“You married a Paddy, Vivian?”

“Limey bastard!” Eoin lurched forward, ready to brawl when Viv stepped between them.

“Really, Eoin? I haven’t seen you in three years and all of a sudden you’re barging in and laying claim?”

“Do I need to go, Vivi?” Avery asked.

Vivi? What the hell?” Eoin stepped forward again. He was really going to kill this gowl. Vivian put another hand to his chest, stopping him immediately.

“Avery, would you mind coming back later? I appreciate you stopping by, and I do need the help with the gallery, but I have to talk to Eoin first.”

“I’ll be back after lunch, yeah?” He bussed her on the cheek to piss him off, Eoin knew.

Eoin rounded on Viv as soon as the Englishman left. “Are you seeing that arsehole?”

“Nice to see you, too, Eoin.” She whirled away and headed for the back room. Eoin followed like a lap dog, needing answers.

“I’m serious, Viv.”

“Don’t call me Viv. No one calls me Viv anymore. And you don’t get an answer to that question. We’re not together anymore.”

She began going through boxes, looking for Lord knows what while he stood there looking mystified. When Eoin called her Viv, it took her back to a time when they were in love. Viv was a pet name for a wife. Vivian was … what? An ex-wife? An estranged one? She didn’t even know anymore. All she knew was that when he called her Viv in that Irish brogue, she just wanted to leap into his arms like she’d always done when he’d come home at the end of a shift. Viv was young and naïve. Viv didn’t have a place here anymore.

An Act of Murder, by Debut Author Mary Angela: A Small-Town Professor Turns Sleuth

act_murderBinders, books, backpacks … and murder.

An Act of Murder ($14.95, 236 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-375-4) is the first cozy mystery by debut author Mary Angela in a series featuring English professor Emmeline Prather. After one of her students is found dead in an apparent accident, Professor Prather is convinced he was murdered and seeks out his killer within the confines of their close-knit college community.

** Click the cover image to order online **

** Or order it for your Kindle, Nook, or from Kobo or iBooks **

“Debut author Angela introduces a charming amateur sleuth, fun and well read. She so lovingly describes the town of Copper Bluff that readers can feel the breeze and smell the autumn leaves. Cozy enthusiasts who like Joanne Dobson and Sarah R. Shaber will dive into this new series.”

—Viccy Kemp, Library Journal, Sept. 1, 2016

Four Stars: “The most unexpected solution proves to be the right one in this cozy debut by Angela. Set in Copper Bluff, S.D., this novel portrays small-town college life to a tee. Her suspects are varied, but apparent motives are slim as she teases the reader. Em is a force all her own and bodes well for this new series.”

—Donna M. Brown, RT Magazine

Voted BoM by LASR Readers4.5 Stars: “The plot is believable and the supporting characters are fun and have quirky traits all their own. The mystery itself, which provides the core of the plot, constantly keeps the reader guessing [….] A fantastic read and a lot of fun!”  Read more….

—Reviewed by Stargazer for Long and Short Reviews

“In this deftly executed, literate, and literary novel—the first in the Professor Prather mystery series—author Mary Angela introduces us to her delightfully quirky, fiercely intelligent, and immensely likable protagonist, English professor Emmeline Prather, along with an eclectic roster of colorful characters populating the small college town of Copper Bluff, South Dakota. With the help of her charmingly laid-back colleague, Professor Lenny Jenkins, Emmeline applies her keen and rigorous eye for comma splices and split infinitives to a series of clues in the troubling death of her student, Austin Oliver—taking us on a madcap and rivetingly engaging series of plot twists as Emmeline discovers that not only does she have a knack for literature, she also has a knack for solving murders.”

—Lee Ann Roripaugh, South Dakota State Poet Laureate

“An Act of Murder offers a loving description of a quiet, rural campus set amidst natural beauty, gentle, satiric gibes at faculty members who richly deserve it, and the puzzling death of a student. Professor Emmeline Prather is an unlikely detective: young and attractive, a chocoholic and a bit of a klutz, she tries to maintain a relatively low profile. But when she suspects her student has been murdered, she becomes a veritable bulldog, fiercely determined to uncover the perpetrator. Mary Angela’s debut novel maintains the suspense until the last few pages and creates a delightful new character for a series that is certain to entertain. I look forward to accompanying Professor Prather on her next adventure.”

—Susan Wolfe, Professor Emerita of English

An Act of Murder is the first volume in a new mystery series that features amateur sleuth Professor Emmeline Prather. A deftly crafted novel of unexpected twists and surprising turns, An Act of Murder clearly establishes author Mary Angela as an impressively skilled and original storyteller. Certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library Mystery/Suspense collections, An Act of Murder will leave dedicated mystery buffs looking eagerly toward the next Professor Emmeline Prather adventure!”  Read more….

—Margaret Lane for The Midwest Book Review

“The idea that I would distinctly remember characters that make one brief appearance speaks to Angela’s ability to bring the people of An Act of Murder to life. Angela does a fabulous job of creating a college campus that feels so real. The descriptions of buildings, students, off-campus spots are just so perfect…they’ll take every college graduate back to their days on campus…. This is a fun book and ideal for autumn reading.”  Read more….

—Jodi Webb, Building Bookshelves Blog

5 Stars: “An Act of Murder is a well-written and imaginative tale of a teacher whose determination to get to the truth and see justice done for one of her students is right on the money. Mary Angela’s debut novel in this intriguing whodunit series had me glued to every single page, determined to spot any clues to try to solve the mystery of the killer’s identity before the end. With so many people to choose from, I was shocked when all of the evidence pointed to somebody I had not considered a real contender, and I applaud Mary Angela’s technique in presenting such a complex tale. Each of the characters was realistic and engaging, making An Act of Murder a real joy to read.”  Read more….

—Rosie Malezer for Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews

“What a treat it was to read a cozy mystery with such vivid descriptions that place you in the center of the story. There were times I felt like I was sitting in the student hangout and listened in on their conversations. I loved everything about Emmeline, from her directness, attention to details and a never give up attitude[.…] The author really knows how to write with twists that shake up the story with surprise and excellent snippets of intrigue. […] The ending was explosive with secrets that will leave you hanging  on the edge of your seat .”  Read more….

—Texas Book-aholic

“In this first installment of the Professor Prather Mystery series, we are introduced to an enjoyable cast of cozy characters in a delightful setting. Emmeline (Em) Prather is an English professor in Copper Bluff, South Dakota. I absolutely adore Emmeline. She is a perfect cozy sleuth. The setting is just wonderful.”  Read more….

—Brooke Blogs

“There are numerous interesting angles and twists and turns in An Act of Murder that make it a most enjoyable read.”  Read more….

—Back Porchervations

“Prather is a sympathetic and entertaining protagonist, and the little college town of Copper Bluff, South Dakota is beautifully drawn. Mary Angela does a wonderful job at portraying small-town academia, and I am looking forward to Emmeline Prather’s next adventure.”  Read more…

—Island Confidential

“Author Mary Angela paints beautiful word pictures of Copper Bluff—the town and the campus. I can clearly picture both of them in my mind…. [She] has created a cast of memorable characters, headed up by the quirky Emmeline Prather the Instigator, and her stalwart sidekick Lenny Jenkins. I love their witty repartee.”  Read more….

—Jane Reads

“Mary Angela has begun her new mystery series with a home run. An Act of Murder is a cozy tale with a fun and well-read heroine, English professor Emmeline Prather. Set in a college town, the swiftly paced plot takes readers through several twists and turns. Professor Prather collects a handful of clues as she pieces together the motive, means, and opportunity to solve a puzzling murder. Her colleague and sidekick Lenny Jenkins is a charming character who may become a love interest in future installments. I look forward to adding Angela’s future books to my list of must-read murder mysteries.”

—Colleen J. Shogan, author of the Washington Whodunit mysteries

“There were so many times I could almost feel the chill of the wind or picture the breeze in the trees against the brick of the old buildings and I love when authors can create that setting for their reader. Author Mary Angela does this beautifully and with the mystery element added to this quaint little town I found myself enjoying every part of this story. Quill says: A wonderful first mystery novel that has me wanting to read more.”

—Kristi Benedict for Feathered Quill Book Reviews

“This series is off to a great start. The mystery is complicated and believable.  The characters are real with plenty of room to evolve. The setting is intriguing with a huge pool of people to draw into future stories. Mary Angela is an author to watch. I am excited about upcoming installments to this story.”  Read more….

—Escape with Dollycas

“Emmeline is this character that you love because she just seems like a real person. I found her quirks and passions to be similar to mine (Hello, France anyone?) which made me feel a friendship with her. In fact, all the characters are this way. You just love many of the professors. The mystery was great, and set up nicely. I found that the book just flowed into the mystery. It held great clues, but twists that kept you guessing.”  Read more….

—Bree Herron, for Bibliophile Reviews

“The story is well written, full of twists and very addictive […]. This was a great read that left me turning the pages, eager to know what was going to happen next.”  Read more….

—LibriAmoriMiei

In the sleepy college town of Copper Bluff, South Dakota, English professor Emmeline Prather is enjoying the start of a new semester. But when one of her students dies working on the fall musical, it disrupts life on the small, quiet campus. Although the police rule the death accidental, Prof. Prather has good reason to suspect foul play.

Unmasking the murderer proves much more challenging than finding dangling participles, so Em recruits fellow English professor Lenny Jenkins for assistance. Together, they comb the campus and vicinity for clues, risking their reputations and possibly their jobs. After an intruder breaks into Em’s house, Lenny advises caution—and perhaps a change of address. Em, on the other hand, is all the more determined to forge ahead, convinced they’re on the brink of an important breakthrough.

Says the author, “When I attended college, I was intrigued by the idea that a separate world, very different from my own, could exist within the borders of a small community. The campus was a gentle place, surrounded by blue sky and farmland, but a serious one, full of ambitious, intelligent people. The contrast was striking to me at the time, and years later, it would become the inspiration for the setting in An Act of Murder.”

Mary Angela teaches English for the University of South Dakota and enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. She lives in South Dakota with her husband and two young daughters. An avid mystery fan, Mary is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I tugged on the door, only to discover that it was locked, a rarity, and rummaged through my jacket pockets for the keys. My satchel came off my shoulder and the keys fell to the ground with a clang. I knelt down and was fumbling for them in the dark when I overheard voices. Abruptly, I froze. I was in an awkward position; it appeared that I had knelt down beside the car to eavesdrop. I couldn’t stand up now. Instead, I studied my shoe and pretended to tie it, despite the fact that it was a high heel with no laces.

I could not see the individuals—they were on the other side of the car—but the voices were male and female, and the two seemed to be quarrelling. Her voice was quiet but insistent. His was easier to hear only because it was deeper.

“I don’t want to wait. Why can’t you tell him now?” he asked.

They had to be students—impetuous souls. I felt somewhat relieved knowing that if I were detected, it would not be by seasoned faculty members. I had done enough tonight to create a burgeoning divide between my new colleague and me.

“I said I can’t,” she insisted. “He’s not ready.”

He was agitated; I could tell by the pacing of his footsteps. “You promised you’d tell him before classes start.”

Was I overhearing a lover’s spat? If so, it was a bit scant on the love. I detected nothing but bitterness between these two individuals.

“Look,” he said, “if you’re not going to tell him, I will.”

This declaration was met with absolute silence, and I didn’t dare take a breath.

“No, you won’t,” she finally said, growling out each word.

“Oh yeah? And who’s going to stop me? You?” He laughed, but I could tell he was nervous.

“Yeah, me. I could make your life a living hell, and you know it.”

I was so shaken by the turn of the conversation, I fumbled my keys, and the pair became quiet. I debated whether or not to stand up and confront them. My teacherly instinct said something was amiss, but I worried my actions would be unwelcome—especially for the boy. I knew how sensitive male students at this age could be about their egos.

“Come on,” she said, her voice turning softer, “let’s go.”

“No,” he said. “Forget it.”

First I heard heavy footsteps leave the parking lot, growing softer, then silent as they reached the grass. Moments later, lighter footsteps started off in another direction.

A sick feeling settled in the bottom of my stomach as I quietly unlocked my car. I slid into the seat and shut the door. What had just happened? I replayed the brief conversation in my head several times, each version growing more sinister. I surveyed the parking lot, but there was no one in sight. I turned the key, and the engine rumbled to a start. I quickly drove the one block to my house, the sick feeling never leaving my stomach.

A Black Sail, by Rich Zahradnik: A Corpse Surfaces as Boats Fill the Harbor for NYC’s Bicentennial

A_Black_SailA Black Sail ($15.95, 264 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-211-5), by Rich Zahradnik, is book three of a mystery/thriller series featuring newsman Coleridge Taylor and set on the mean streets of Manhattan and surrounding boroughs in the ’70s. While covering Operation Sail in 1976, Taylor witnesses a heroin-laden corpse being fished out of the New York Harbor and concludes the woman was a pawn in a drug war.

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** Or order it for your Kindle, Nook, or from Kobo or iBooks **

** Also available in audiobook from Blackstone Audio and Audible.com **

Wholesale customers, contact orders@epicenterpress.com or buy it from Ingram or Baker & Taylor.

Starred Review: “Taylor, while out to get the story and get back to the crime beat, is complex and has a good heart. Verdict: Fans of the late Barbara D’Amato and Bruce DeSilva will relish this gritty and powerful crime novel.”  Read more….

—Library Journal

“The pace is of necessity quick and varied, Rich Zahradnick’s characters are well established and interesting, and the plot is intense and convoluted. There is a wonderful retro dime novel flavor to the protagonist and the telling which really suits the New York City setting. And Zahradnick’s knowledge and use of the huge variety of watercraft is smoothly researched and presented. Gritty, tough, and well done—this one’s a treat.”  Read more….

Diana Borse for Reviewing the Evidence, September 2016

4 Stars: “Coleridge Taylor is a character fans can firmly stand behind. His dogged pursuit of the truth and commitment to helping others while exposing his foibles is what makes him so sympathetic and complex. Zahradnik ratchets up the action in this novel, which quickens the pace and keeps readers engaged…. a truly enjoyable read.”  Read more….

—Keitha Hart for RT Reviews

Book 1, Last Words, won Honorable Mention in the mystery category of ForeWord Reviews’ 2014 Book of the Year Contest, was a Bronze Medal Winner in the mystery/thriller eBook division of the 2015 IPPY Awards, and a finalist in the mystery division of the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. RT Book Reviews gave it 4 stars: “Hours of engrossing entertainment…. A thoroughly satisfying read.”

Book 2, Drop Dead Punk, was a finalist in ForeWord Reviews’ 2015 Book of the Year Contest, a Gold Medal winner in the mystery/thriller Ebook division of the 2016 IPPY Awards, and a finalist in the mystery division of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. ForeWord Reviews called it “fast-paced, deeply entertaining and engrossing.”

“A terrific mystery with just the right amount of drama and intrigue to carry the reader along…. As a journalist, I could really relate to Taylor and his desire to write a really great story…. Samantha also helps Taylor in the investigation, and I liked her character very much. She is a good counter-point to Taylor’s idealism, as well as bringing her skills as a police officer to his efforts to find out who is bringing China White into the country.”  Read more….

—Maryann Writes Blog, It’s Not All Gravy

“Taylor is a very likeable protagonist, with all his faults and hang-ups, and I was happy to see that Samantha Callahan as well as Mason the dog, were back to soften up Taylor’s gruff exterior…. If you love a good murder mystery, check out this series—I promise you’ll be hooked in no time flat.”  Read more….

—Ellen Feld for Feathered Quill Book Reviews

“A beautifully written crime story; absorbing, fast-paced, and laced with literary gems that will make the overall reading experience fun and enjoyable for fans of mystery and murder.”  Read more….

—Divine Zape for Readers’ Favorite Reviews

“I like that Taylor is a reporter with a heart…He wants justice for a woman whose body he personally witnesses getting pulled out of the harbor, and he’s determined not to rest until he does. Even if it costs him his job, his sanity, even his life. Because that’s the kind of reporter he is, and it’s why you’ll enjoy reading about him.”  Read more….

—The Character Connection

“Rich Zahradnik weaves a tale that truly engrosses the reader. We get caught up in the mystery, diving further into the story to find out more about what’s happening. His easy and quite pleasing way of storytelling allows us to envision the environments he creates for his characters. We also feel their uncertainties, confusion, and the myriad of emotions they feel along the way.”  Read more….

—Lissette E. Manning, Simplistik Blog

“I liked the parallels that were drawn to the present day. In 1976, there are bombings in Boston. There’s discord with Russia. There’s a strong racist element among those in power. And there’s a presidential election, looming in the fall…. And that’s what great storytelling, like this book, gets us to do—think, look beyond the surface and question the status quo.”  Read more….

—The Plot Thickens

On the eve of the U.S. Bicentennial, newsman Coleridge Taylor is covering Operation Sail. New York Harbor is teeming with tall ships from all over the world. While enjoying the spectacle, Taylor is still a police reporter. He wants to cover real stories, not fluff, and gritty New York City still has plenty of those in July of 1976. One surfaces right in front of him when a housewife is fished out of the harbor wearing bricks of heroin, inferior stuff users have been rejecting for China White, peddled by the Chinatown gangs.

Convinced he’s stumbled upon a drug war between the Italian Mafia and a Chinese tong, Taylor is on fire once more. But as he blazes forward, flanked by his new girlfriend, ex-cop Samantha Callahan, his precious story grows ever more twisted and deadly. In his reckless search for the truth, he rattles New York’s major drug cartels. If he solves the mystery, he may end up like his victim—in a watery grave.

Says Zahradnik, “I love Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels about the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and have read all but one. When I looked ahead after Drop Dead Punk left off in November 1975, I realized I had the chance to put ships of sail in the next Taylor mystery. I lived near New York during the Bicentennial and remember the tall ship parade in New York Harbor—flickering images on TV up in Dutchess County. I needed to do a great deal of research on those craft, using newspaper coverage and books published at the time. Unlike Mr. O’Brian, I knew little or nothing about jibs, staysails, and ratlines. Lucky for me, there were only 16 ships—not an entire navy—and I’d be writing through the eyes of Taylor, who knows as much as I and cares a whole lot less. This was one of those times when I could bring in one of my oddball interests to dress the set, while still telling a story of heroin dealers and murder in the NYC of 1976. Taylor’s frustration at having to cover the Operation Sail events is typical of reporters who don’t think of features as serious journalism. His bad attitude helped propel the story.”

Rich Zahradnik has been a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine, and wire services. He lives with his wife, Sheri, and son, Patrick, in Pelham, New York, where he teaches kids how to publish online and print newspapers. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Almost out of gas, he huffed up the steps and walked through the big doorway. The cathedral was a long, soaring tunnel of rose light framed by two rows of identical pillars climbing to the ceiling—or maybe the sky. The light brightened to the white of daylight at the far end, where the high altar looked to be about a mile away. The sightlines were spectacular—which meant they were terrible for Taylor. He doubted heroin dealers respected the idea of sanctuary. Did anyone anymore? Inhaling through his nose and exhaling through his mouth to make as little noise as possible, he walked along the left aisle and slid down behind a pillar near the altar. He grimaced. His whole right side ached.

Stone against his back, Taylor tried to get his bearings. He felt small. And alien. The cathedral was another world from the Greek Orthodox churches his mother had taken him and his brother to as kids. Even the large ones were dark, foreboding, their walls crowded with icons of flat-faced saints. Those churches always had the mystical wall separating the worshippers from the altar and the priest in his beard and long robes. Here there were no dividers. You could see everything. What would his mother have thought of this place? He couldn’t remember if she’d ever been. All these years and he still missed her, saddened by all she’d missed of his life.

He waited and listened.

St. John’s was the biggest cathedral in the world. Or so he’d been told. New York specialized in the biggest, and as with all its citizens, the memory of all those giant things might as well have been planted at birth. He wouldn’t change his mind about the cathedral until he got real proof. He was stubborn that way.

Was it stubbornness put him in this situation? Or plain stupidity? When the Chinese guys had showed up, it’d looked like confirmation of what he’d heard had appeared right in front of his nose. He couldn’t believe it. He’d needed to get close enough to make sure something big really was happening in the heroin trade—something no one was talking about. So what had he done? Stared like a tourist at the foot of the Empire State Building.

Amateur hour. The result: a colossal mess.

Had the driver of the garbage truck been shot? Why else would the truck have veered? Then there was Mary. She was in serious shit now. If only she’d left when he told her. Reggie knew she’d fingered him. The tong members knew. Junkies, the most disposable human beings in the city, disappeared when they snitched. No one went looking for them.

Feeling stupid was too much like feeling sorry for himself. He didn’t have time for that. Better to focus on his next move before some other bad thing happened. He had to find Mary before they did. As much as he hated the thought, he’d also have to go in to the local precinct and report what he’d seen. This added more urgency. He needed to get to Mary before he dealt with the local cops, who could tie him up for hours.

Mud Bog Murder, by Lesley A. Diehl: A Protest and a Murder Turn Eve into a Pariah

Mud_Bog_MurderWhen Eve intercepts an airborne, muddy, disembodied head, how can she help but get her hands dirty?

Mud Bog Murder ($15.95, 268 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-315-0) is the fourth cozy mystery by Lesley A. Diehl in a series set in rural Florida and featuring consignment shop owner and amateur sleuth Eve Appel. After a peaceful protest turns ugly and a friend is arrested for the murder of a customer, Eve Appel and her friends face the censure of their neighbors as they work to unmask the real killer.

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** Or buy it for your Kindle, Nook, or from iBooks or Kobo.com **

The series began with A Secondhand Murder and continued with Dead in the Water and A Sporting Murder. Three short stories, available as Kindle Singles only, also feature Eve Appel. They are The Little Redheaded Girl is my Friend, Thieves and Gators Run at the Mention of her Name, and Gator Aid. Lesley has five other published mysteries: A Deadly Draught, Poisoned Pairings, Dumpster Dying, Angel Sleuth, and Grilled, Chilled, and Killed.

“The new Eve Appel Mystery is here and it is absolutely terrific[….] A great mystery that is all about a fun cast combined with an excellent plot, readers will be thrilled with this one.”

—Mary Lignor for Suspense Magazine

“Cozy mysteries have established themselves as a thriving mystery subgenre. While there’s plenty of suspense and plenty of investigatory action, the cozies have a warm feeling. Often humorous and usually uplifting, they are on the other side of noir. While the queen of this category is Nancy J. Cohen (who even wrote a how-to book about this subgenre), Lesley A. Diehl is a contender…. These plot interests combine with other features to provide a multi-faceted reading experience. Richly drawn characters like Eve and her grandmother can be at once endearing and irritating. Darrel is a perfectly despicable bad boy. Grandfather Egret has wisdom, patience and courage. Ms. Diehl examines several relationships in rewarding depth. She also provides an entertaining overview of the cultural climate in rural Florida’s small, inland communities—this one within shopping distance of West Palm Beach, where Eve and Madeleine get those upper-class cast-offs to market back in Sable Bay. Read it and smile.”

—Phil Jason for the Florida Weekly, Week Of August 31-September 6, 2016

Read the full article here.

5 Stars: “Mud Bog Murder is rich with heart, strength of character, and independence. A must-read for any lover of mystery!”  Read more….

—Liz Konkel for Readers’ Favorite Reviews

“The charming, fun mystery kept me sifting through the clues and snorting at some outrageous scenes …. This is the fourth book in the series, but you can read this one without having read the other three. I did. The author drops in some tidbits about previous events and some character insight without barely a hiccup in the story’s flow. I hope you give this book a go. I pinkie swear you’ll have fun.”  Read more….

—FU Only Knew, Laura’s Ramblins and Reviews

“This is a great cozy mystery. There is lots of action and twists and turns. Eva does a great job fleshing out who the killer was and I admit that I didn’t guess who did it until the end. This is the first book of Lesley Diehl’s I have read. I had no problem figuring out what was happening and didn’t feel lost in the series. But I will be going back and reading the other books in the Eve Appel series.”  Read more….

—J. Bronder Reviews

When Jenny McCleary leases her property to be ravaged by the annual mud bog races, the small rural town of Sabal Bay, Florida, is divided into warring camps: environmental activists versus monster truck fans. Jenny, who frequents the consignment store owned by Eve Appel and her friend Madeleine, doesn’t seem to mind when Eve and Madeleine join the protesters the day of the races.

During the race, Eve catches Jenny’s airborne head after it is tossed into the air by the wheels of a truck. Now every protester is a suspect in Jenny’s murder. What’s left of her alligator-gnawed body is found near the airboat business of Eve’s Miccosukee Indian friends, Sammy Egret and his grandfather. When more evidence turns up nearby, Grandfather is arrested.

Even without the disembodied head, Eve has her hands full. The town resents her role in the protests and is boycotting the consignment shop on wheels. She is torn between two men—GQ-handsome, devoted PI Alex and tall, dark, and exotic Sammy. Jenny’s sweet and needy teenage daughter is dating a petty criminal. Will Eve and Madeleine ever be able to move into their new digs? Not unless the town forgives them. And not if whoever decapitated Jenny gets to Eve before she and her sleuthing buddies solve the mystery.

Says Diehl, “Mud bog racing may seem be fun for participants and spectators alike, and it might seem that one event doesn’t matter, but it destroys wildlife habitat and alters the balance of the ecosystem beyond the fields and swamps of rural Florida: witness agricultural runoff into Lake Okeechobee and the resultant pollution of estuaries east of the lake. Humans think they are acting for the local good, but the results have widespread effects. Kudos to Eve for getting the community to come together to address the issue and think of it more broadly.”

Lesley A. Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office. Back north, she devotes her afternoons to writing and, when the sun sets, relaxing on the bank of her trout stream, sipping tea or a local microbrew. Click here to find Lesley online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Chants of “Save the Bog,” “Leave our swamps alone,” and “There’s life in that mud” continued for an hour. The swampers driving the trucks countered with yells of “Back off bitches” and “There’s money in that mud.” The trucking folks did not have any signs to hold up, but their voices seemed louder and angrier. I waved my sign in the air. It read “Don’t harm Mother Earth.” One of the truck drivers stuck his head out the window and yelled at me, “Screw Mother Earth.”

“That’s exactly what you’re doing,” I screamed. He gave me the finger.

The verbal exchanges continued until the trucks began to line up for their runs. At that point the sound of revving engines drowned out our voices. Mud flew in every direction. Madeleine and I pushed forward toward the fence to get a better view. Several trucks roared into the water, moved aggressively across the bog, and then abruptly stopped, mired in the middle. Neither increasing the RPMs or uttering foul language could coax the trucks from their mucky location. The drivers gave up, their growling trucks finally silenced, machinery defeated by mere water and dirt. A chain was attached to the trucks and a vehicle on land hauled them out. The drivers seemed only momentarily saddened by their failure; then their friends tossed them each a can of beer, and the partying began.

“I think we should step back a bit or we’ll be covered in mud,” I said to Madeleine. She looked excited to be where she could see what was happening, and her color had improved.

“You feeling better, honey?” I asked just as another truck roared into the water and attempted to cross the bog. As with the other two, it slowed and finally began to spin its wheels midway through the swamp. The driver continued to rev the engine. Muddy water thrown from the wheels catapulted vegetation as well as mud in our direction. The vehicle churned and rocked and continued to throw globs of whatever was buried in the muddy water out of the bog. I dropped my sign and attempted to fend off the gunk by shielding my face with my hands, but to no avail. The mud coated my head, face, and upper torso. I dropped my hands to my sides in disgust and frustration until the truck tried one more time, its spinning wheels sending more mud and a large projectile my way. I had no choice. I caught it like a running back grabbing a football.

What the hell? It was no football, not even a chawed up turtle shell or mangled cattle egret. It was a head, and one I recognized. Two eyes glazed over by slime and death—one brown, one hazel—stared up at me. Madeleine looked over at what was in my hands and threw up all over my ostrich boots.