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Thursday, November 30, 2017

BOOK REVIEW + GUEST POST: Her Final Watch by Marguerite Ashton (Thriller)


Greetings Friends!

Today I have a review of Her Final Watch, the second book in the Detective Blanchette mystery series.  Marguerite Ashton has also graciously provided a guest post discussing how her time as an actress helped to hone her writing craft. 


RATING:


Genre:  Thriller
Publication Date:  August 2017


SYNOPSIS:


Detective Lily Blanchette will stop at nothing to solve a murder. Her current case involves the killing of an undercover cop working to bring down the mob for prostitution and drugs. But Lily's usual laser-like focus on the case has been disrupted. 

Two weeks earlier, she learned she was pregnant by her murderous husband whom she'd killed in self-defense. Unsure whether to keep her baby or place the child of this cruel man up for adoption, Lily keeps the pregnancy a secret from her colleagues. 

Under mounting pressure to solve the case, Lily arranges a sit-down with a local mob boss only to find out her suspect is also wanted by them. But before Lily can warn her team, she and her new partner, Jeremiah, are shot at, and another body is found. When she discovers Jeremiah has a connection with the underworld, she is pulled into a conflict that swirls around the boss's son who's hell-bent on revenge. 

To add to the complexity of the situation, Lily learns that her victim might still be alive if it wasn't for opportunistic Assistant District Attorney, Ibee Walters, who has a twisted vision of justice. As Lily gets closer to finding the killer, she unravels ugly secrets that point to Ibee and Jeremiah - placing Lily's life and her unborn child in danger. 

Pick up your copy on Amazon HERE.


BOOK EXCERPT:

Detective Ariel Weeks stabbed at the small block of ice until it split into several pieces across the counter. She tossed the jagged cubes into the glass and made her client a drink. 
In less than twenty-four hours, Ariel would no longer have to use the name Jasmine and keep men company to protect her cover. All she needed to do was make it through this last night and she’d be allowed to be who she was; a mom just doing her job. 
After gathering evidence and recording all the data she had, it would be hard to detach. Towards the end, she’d learned things she wished weren’t true, leaving her stomach in tattered knots. 
Back at home, there were two reasons Ariel would never take on another undercover assignment. 
Click. 
Ariel ground her teeth as the door to Cabin D opened and closed. She could feel Mikey Surace, the mob boss’s son, staring at the backless white dress she wore at his request. 
The man who smiled at the sight of blood was standing behind her, breathing heavily. 


REVIEW: 


This was such a fantastic read for fans of mob families and police procedurals. The story is filled with so much danger, intrigue, and a cast of characters so untrustworthy that there is no way to know who you can rely on. The author's writing is so vivid and perceptive that you feel as though you are either watching it happen on the big screen or right there along with the characters. 

Much of the action drew out the tension and kept the suspense ongoing, making this a fast-paced and thrilling read from start to finish. I also thoroughly enjoyed the family dynamics and strains plaguing the main characters, which added depth and emotional understanding to so much of their individual decision-making. 

Despite this being the second book in the series, I never felt that I was missing anything. In fact, the references and character development featured in this story to events that occurred previously piqued my curiosity enough that I plan on reading the first book in the near future. It would also be great to see the series continue on with additional cases.

This book is an absolute steal for your ebook library and highly recommended!



GUEST POST

How Acting Led Me to the Write Road

During my two-year attempt at acting, I had the pleasure of meeting actor Dan Lauria. He was a guest speaker at an actor’s workshop held by my agent at the time in Colorado. 
If you are not familiar with him, he was the dad on the family show The Wonder Years, and I loved him in it. A while back, I got to see him in a 1988 movie called David.  He played the role of a disturbed father which was a huge difference compared to his role as the grumpy and caring dad on the show. After the movie was over, I realized how frustrated I’d become watching him play this character. It had distorted my view of the guy I looked forward to seeing each week. 
Once I’d gotten over that the movie was based on a true story, I told myself that Dan Lauria was doing his job as an actor. He’d honed his craft. That was one of the moments that helped me decide that acting wasn’t for me. I wanted to be behind the camera and write. The similarities in each artist’s performance, whether it is on screen or paper, are meant to touch an audience. But to make any of it real, I had to do what Dan did—make my writing a priority. 
Fast forward to today. As I look back and reflect, it has been a long, long road. Going to conferences and treating my writing like a business on an author budget was tough. Except my desire to be a writer was stronger than my addiction to avocados. With all of the ups and downs, the easiest thing for me would have been to give quit. But that’s the one thing I refused to do. When my books weren’t selling, I kept writing. When the rejection letters poured in, I kept writing. When I reached the point of exhaustion, I took a nap and started a new chapter. 
I’ll never forget what my writing mentor told me. She said, “Keep your head low and just write. And that’s what I’m doing.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



When Marguerite Ashton was in her twenties, she took up acting but realized she preferred to work behind the camera, writing crime fiction. A few years later, she married an IT Geek and settled down with her role as wife, mom, and writer. Five kids later, she founded the Crime Writer’s Panel and began working with former law enforcement investigators to create; Criminal Lines Blog, an online library for crime writers who need help with their book research.

She’s a workaholic who hides in her writer’s attic, plotting out her next book and stalking Pinterest for the next avocado recipe. 

A member of Sisters in Crime, Marguerite grew up in Colorado, but is now happily living in Wisconsin and playing as much golf as possible.


You can connect with her on:




Many thanks to Pump Up Your Book and Marguerite Ashton. It was a pleasure providing a review!

And be sure to check out the blog tour for more opinions and author extras!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

COVER REVEAL: Hummus and Homicide by Tina Kashian (Cozy Mystery)


Greetings Friends!

Today's feature is a cover reveal for a new cozy mystery series coming out next year!  Hummus and Homicide is the first book in the Kebab Kitchen series.


SYNOPSIS


When Lucy Berberian quits her Philadelphia law firm and heads home to Ocean Crest, she knows what she’s getting—the scent of funnel cake, the sight of the wooden roller coaster, and the tastes of her family’s Mediterranean restaurant. But murder wasn’t on the menu.

Things are slow in the off-season in this Jersey Shore town, but Lucy doesn’t mind. She doesn’t even mind waitressing at the Kebab Kitchen. Her parents have put in a new hummus bar, with every flavor from lemon to roasted red pepper. It’s fun to see their calico cat again, and to catch up with her old BFF, who’s married to a cop now.

She could do without Heather Banks, though. The Gucci-toting ex-cheerleader is still as nasty as she was back in high school . . . and unfortunately, she’s just taken over as the local health inspector. Just minutes after eating at the Kebab Kitchen—where she’s tallied up a whole list of bogus violations—she falls down dead in the street. Word on the grapevine is it’s homicide, and Lucy’s the number one suspect.

Recipes included!



Ready…..



                     

Set…..

                       


Reveal!!



                     

Coming February 27, 2018 from Kensington Books!


You can pre-order your copy on Amazon HERE today!




ABOUT THE AUTHOR



Tina Kashian spent her childhood summers at the New Jersey shore, building sandcastles, boogie boarding, and riding the boardwalk Ferris wheel. She also grew up in the restaurant business where her Armenian parents owned a restaurant for thirty years. She worked almost every job—rolling silverware and wiping down tables as a tween, to hosting and waitressing as a teenager.

After college, Tina worked as a NJ Deputy Attorney General, a patent attorney, and a mechanical engineer. Her love of reading fiction for pleasure helped her get through years of academia. Her law cases inspired an inquiring mind of crime, and since then, Tina has been hooked on mysteries. The Kebab Kitchen Cozy Mystery series launches with Hummus and Homicide (3/18), followed by Stabbed in the Baklava and One Feta in the Grave by Kensington Books. Tina still lives in New Jersey with her supportive husband and two young daughters. Please visit www.tinakashian.com and join her Newsletter to enter free contests to win books, get delicious recipes, and to learn when her books will be released.

Tina is also an Amazon best-selling historical romance author and writes under the pseudonym Tina Gabrielle. Visit tinagabrielle.com to learn about her romances.


I hope you enjoyed today's feature and I look forward to hearing if you will be adding this book to your TBR for next year!

Monday, November 27, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Dead Cold by Jennifer Chase (Thriller)


Greetings Friends!

Today I have a review of Dead Cold, the sixth book in the Emily Stone thriller series.


RATING:



Genre:  Thriller 
Publication Date:  July 2017


SYNOPSIS:

What happens when one California community has a disturbing spike in homicides? It catapults cops into a deadly game of murder. Frozen human body parts hideously displayed at the crime scenes offers a horrifying interpretation that only a sadistic serial killer could design—and execute. 

On the hunt for a complex serial killer, vigilante detective Emily Stone must face her most daring case yet. Stone’s proven top-notch profiling skills and forensic expertise may not be enough this time. 

Young and ambitious, Detective Danny Starr, catches the homicide cases and discovers that it will test everything he knows about police work and the criminal mind. Can he handle these escalating cases or will the police department have to call in reinforcements—the FBI.

Emily Stone’s covert team pushes with extreme urgency to unravel the grisly clues, while keeping their identities hidden from the police. With one last-ditch effort, Stone dangles someone she loves as bait to draw out the killer. She then forces the killer out of their comfort zone with her partner Rick Lopez, and with help from a longtime friend Jordan Smith. A revelation of the serial killer’s identity leaves the team with volatile emotions that could destroy them. 

The killer continues to taunt and expertly manipulate the police, as well as Stone’s team, and as they run out of time—they leave behind everyone and everything—in Dead Cold.
Order your copy on Amazon HERE.


BOOK EXCERPT:


ESCAPE WAS IMPOSSIBLE. TEARS STREAMED down her face as she sat in the darkness and waited for the man to return. There was no other choice—but to wait.
She hadn’t eaten anything in three days and had only a limited amount of water—her strength continued to fade with every hour. With her wrists and ankles secured with duct tape, her skin stung with pain every time she struggled to move. At least the man had peeled the tape from her eyes and mouth so that she could see something besides pitch-blackness.
Even if she could escape, the only way to safety was jumping into the frigid water, but she could not swim and would drown before ever reaching the shore.
The only thing thirteen-year-old Kayla Swanson thought about was home. Fond memories flashed through her mind of her parents, her little brother, and her dog Charlie. She was never going to see them again. Their smiling faces were forever etched in Kayla’s mind, and she constantly held them close to her heart.
The boat rocked, and seemed to sway more violently as the tide flooded in and out of the harbor. Kayla could hear a consistent clanking noise above her as the boat rolled back and forth. The sound had a hypnotic quality, and kept her mind on something else besides when the man would return and what he would do next.
Her lips were dry and cracked as she bordered on dehydration. Even her tears dried on her cheeks, leaving her skin stiff and drawn. Her body began to shake, not only from fear, but also because of the extreme exhaustion and the constant dampness all around her.
The boat rocked more, but this time it shifted from the opposite sides. Kayla heard soft footsteps above, which she knew wasn’t her captor’s heavy walk. She strained her eyes in the darkness and thought she saw a thin shadow stealthily move along the upper deck. 
Was it a ghost?  
Kayla remembered a television series where a team of people hunted ghosts and they had said that ghosts could occupy any type of space, house, property, and even a boat.
She blinked her eyes several times and hoped that she could catch a glimpse of the ghost again. With every ounce of declining strength, Kayla scooted her body closer to the narrow stairs leading to the upper deck.
Painfully craning her neck, she strained to see something up in the darkness.
The dark shadowed areas played tricks on her eyes—it was there, then it wasn’t.
She waited for several minutes.
Nothing appeared.
The only sounds she heard were the usual boat noises she had grown accustomed to hearing. Whatever she thought she heard was gone now. It was most likely her imagination trying to give her some hope and a few moments break from her dire circumstances.
As she relaxed her shoulders and leaned back against the wall, the reality of her world pressing down hard. Tears streamed down her face. She tasted the saltiness that settled around her mouth. Her last moments were approaching, and there was nothing she could do.

REVIEW:


I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest and thoughtful review.

I'm just going to start off by saying, WHERE HAS THIS SERIES BEEN ALL MY LIFE!?!  Wow! I'm a huge fan of serial killer stories, so I was definitely intrigued after reading the synopsis and this book completely delivered! I'm now adding all the previous books to my TBR and can't wait to get started from the beginning!

This is an exciting and intense thriller that is told from multiple perspectives, so that each adds layers to the growing suspense and builds anticipation for the final showdown. The majority of the story follows Emily as she tries to figure out who the killer is, while at the same time, you get to follow Detective Starr for the official investigation. We also get a little peak into the killer's mind, which was quite unnerving. And finally, there's Kayla's, a former victim who was rescued by Emily years earlier and now Kayla is trying to find this elusive woman and thank Emily for saving her. I was not the biggest fan of Kayla's point of view and when she finally found Emily, it was so cringe-inducing and off-putting to be unnecessary. Personal preference aside, some people may like Kayla's contribution to the story, but in the end, I didn't see how she brought any meaningful value. I ultimately felt that the pacing slowed way down when Kayla entered the story, but as you can tell from my rating, it wasn't such a distraction to cause a problem with the overall storytelling. I thoroughly enjoyed that through these multiple points of view, the author created a perfect balance between the good and bad forces at play where crime is involved. I'm a big fan of reading about the shades of gray that dwell in between those two power dynamics and Emily and her team were a highly believable cast of characters to read about as they took us through the underbelly of vigilante justice.

This well written plot was fascinating to read and really set some high expectations for the rest of the series which I'm looking forward to getting started on! So if you're in the mood for the dark, gritty, and dangerous, definitely give this book a read!



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Jennifer Chase is a multi award-winning crime fiction author and consulting criminologist. Jennifer holds a bachelor degree in police forensics and a master's degree in criminology & criminal justice. These academic pursuits developed out of her curiosity about the criminal mind as well as from her own experience with a violent sociopath, providing Jennifer with deep personal investment in every story she tells. In addition, she holds certifications in serial crime and criminal profiling.  She is an affiliate member of the International Association of Forensic Criminologists.

You can connect with her on:


FACEBOOK  |  TWITTER  |  WEBSITE 


Many thanks to Pump Up Your Book and Jennifer Chase. It was pleasure providing a review!  

And be sure to check out other blog tour participants HERE for more opinions and author extras!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY (T5W): Books I'm Thankful For


Greetings Fellow Book Dragons!

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme within the book community that was created by Lainey of GingerReadsLainey, but is now hosted by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes.  If you're interested in participating, find out more on the Goodreads group.


This week's topic is BOOKS YOU ARE THANKFUL FOR

In celebration of Thanksgiving, let's chat about the books that for whatever reason you owe some gratitude towards.

In no particular order, here are my selections:



This book definitely starts a positive conversation about a very difficult subject. Showcasing amazing family dynamics and immensely likeable characters, this book addresses race relations and police violence in a truly harrowing way. This book deserves all the hype it receives and I have a feeling it will become a modern classic.




If you ever find yourself in a reading slump, pick this book up! If you have a reluctant reader in your life, give them this book. Whatever your situation, you can't go wrong with this one.




This is the fantasy I love - the perfect balance of realistic political intrigue with just a taste of the magical.




While books have always been a strong feature in my life, I can still remember when my third grade teacher read this book aloud. I was fascinated with their circumstances and couldn't wait to read more. I think this sparked the beginning of my desire to read on my own.




I found this book by happenstance at a used book store when I was a preteen. Finding it at that time helped me to see connections to myself inside my reading world as a way to feel better about all the teen angst I was going through. I appreciated the fact that it opened me up to young adult literature and I still have my copy today. 



So those are my picks for books that I am thankful for.  What are some of yours?  Let me know in the comments!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 17, 2017

BOOK REVIEW + GIVEAWAY: A Fatal Collection by Mary Ellen Hughes (Cozy Mystery)


Greetings Friends!

Today I have a review for the new cozy mystery A Fatal Collection by Mary Ellen Hughes, the first book in the Keepsake Cove mystery series.

A Fatal Collection (A Keepsake Cove Mystery) by [Hughes, Mary Ellen]

RATING:


Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publication Date:  November 2017


SYNOPSIS:

Callie Reed pays a long overdue visit to her aunt, Melodie, at her fairy-tale cottage in quaint Keepsake Cove, which is home to a bevy of collectible shops on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Just as they’re beginning to reconnect, Callie discovers her aunt’s body on the floor of the music box shop she owns. Grief-stricken, Callie finds she can’t accept Melodie’s death being ruled accidental. How could her strong and healthy aunt take such a fatal fall? And why was she in the shop in the middle of the night? 
As Callie searches for the truth, signs seem to come from her late aunt through a favorite music box, urging Callie on. Or are they warnings? If Callie isn’t careful, she could meet a similar deadly fate amid Melodie’s collection. 
Pick up your copy on Amazon HERE.



REVIEW:  


I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest and thoughtful review.

This was a delightful cozy that was really enhanced by how charming the community of Keepsake Cove was. Because Callie is new to the locale as well, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know everyone and everything right along with her. I absolutely love these small towns with locally owned businesses that individually specialize in a certain niche, and Keepsake Cove is full of collectible shops that thrive on the tourist market. Selling a wide variety of unique gifts, this is definitely a welcoming place to visit and explore. The author's vivid descriptions certainly created an inviting atmosphere that I could picture myself strolling through for a sweet shopping experience. 

With a quirky yet highly likeable cast of secondary characters, there is no shortage of suspicious suspects or motives. And while I was able to accurately determine who the culprit was very early on, this in no way detracted from the story for me. I enjoyed developing several ideas on the motive, which ultimately did turn out to be a slight surprise, but completely believable.

There is a total lack of law enforcement involvement in solving the mystery, so the story loses that more traditional antagonistic relationship between the amateur and the expert. I appreciated this aspect and thought it worked well in connection with the hints of paranormal activity Callie was using as her guide. She never overtly goes out of her way to put herself or others in danger nor is she even sure there is a mystery to be solved. Her instincts suggest something isn't right, and in the end, she is just as surprised as the reader when the answers are revealed. In many ways, this made the story so much more refreshing and engaging to read.

Overall, this was a great, solid start to yet another lovely cozy mystery series and I am very interested to see how quite a few interactions between characters play out as the story continues.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Mary Ellen Hughes is the bestselling author of the Pickled and Preserved Mysteries (Penguin), the Craft Corner Mysteries, and the Maggie Olenski Mysteries, along with several short stories. A Fatal Collection is her debut with Midnight Ink. A Wisconsin native, she has lived most of her adult life in Maryland, where she’s set many of her stories. 

You can connect with her on:

FACEBOOK  |  TWITTER  |  WEBSITE


GIVEAWAY INFO!


Enter to win a print copy of the book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Best of Luck!

Many thanks to Great Escapes Book Tours and Mary Ellen Hughes. It was a pleasure providing a review! And be sure to check out the other blog tour participants for more!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

BlOG TOUR + BOOK EXCERPT + SWEET SURPRISE: Christmas in Icicle Falls by Sheila Roberts (Cozy Romance)


Greetings Friends!

Today, I am spotlighting the new cozy romance Christmas in Icicle Falls by Sheila Roberts as part of her blog tour! I also have a book excerpt and Sheila has graciously provided us with a recipe for her favorite Christmas treat, which you can enjoy while reading the book this holiday season!

If you read my review on her last book, Starting Over on Blackberry Lane, then you know how much I loved this sweet series and visiting this captivating community. But, unfortunately, this is the last book in Icicle Falls; however, I'm sure there will be another great group of people to get to know in a new cozy place very soon!


SYNOPSIS:



When Muriel Sterling released her new book, A Guide to Happy Holidays, she felt like the queen of Christmas. She’s thrilled when the new tree she ordered online arrives and is eager to show it off—until she gets it out of the box and realizes it’s a mangy dud. But rather than give up on the ugly tree, Muriel decides to make a project out of it. As she pretties up her tree, she realizes there’s a lesson to be learned: everything and everyone has potential. Maybe even her old friend Arnie, who’s loved her for years. Except, she’s not the only one seeing Arnie’s potential…

Meanwhile, Muriel’s ugly-tree project has also inspired her friends. Sienna Moreno is trying to bring out the best in the grouchy man next door, who hates noise, hates kids and hates his new neighbors. And while Olivia Claussen would love to send her obnoxious new daughter-in-law packing, she’s adjusting her attitude and trying to discover what her son sees in the girl. If these women can learn to see the beauty in the “ugly trees” in their lives, perhaps this might turn out to be the happiest holiday yet.


You can pick up your copy on Amazon HERE.


BOOK EXCERPT:


Chapter One
“This is the time of year to give thanks for all the wonderful people in our lives.”
- A Guide to Happy Holidays by Muriel Sterling
-      
Thanksgiving, a day to spend with family, to give thanks for all your blessings, to … have a close encounter with your cranky neighbor’s shrubbery. Oh, yes, this was how Sienna Marks wanted to start her day.
Why, oh, why, had she ventured out in her car on an icy street to go to the grocery store for more milk when she could have asked her cousin Rita Reyes to bring it? Rita’s husband Tito worked at the Safeway meat department. He could have picked up a gallon.
But oh, no. She had to go out on her cheap no-weather tires. She should have stretched her budget a little further and gotten those snow tires like Rita had told her to do. “Here in the mountains you want snow tires,” Rita had said.
Yes, she did, especially now as she was skidding toward Mr. Cratchett’s front yard.
“We’re gonna die!” her nine – year old son Leo cried and clapped his hands over his eyes as they slid up and over Mr. Cratchett’s juniper bush. Sienna could hear the branches crunching under them, the bush equivalent of breaking bones. Madre de Dios!
The good news was, the bush brought her to a stop. The bad news was she was stopped right in front of Mr. Cratchett’s house.
Maybe she hadn’t damaged the bush too much. “It’s okay, honey. We’re fine,” she assured her son, and got out of the car on shaky legs. She probably couldn’t say the same for Mr. Cratchett’s landscaping.
She was barely out of her car before her neighbor stormed down the walk, an ancient navy pea coat thrown on over pajama bottoms stuffed into boots, a knitted cap pulled over his sparse gray hair. He was scowling. Great.
“What have you done to my juniper bush?” he demanded.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Cratchett. “I hit a slippery spot.”
“You shouldn’t be out if you don’t know how to drive in the snow,” Cratchett growled.
She wasn’t sure how she’d learn to drive in the snow if she didn’t get out in it but she decided this wasn’t the time for that observation.
He leaned over the bush like a detective examining a corpse. “This thing will never come back. You’ve damaged it beyond repair.”
“I’ll buy you a new one come spring,” Sienna promised.
“You certainly will,” he snapped. “If you don’t, you’ll be hearing from my lawyer. You’re becoming a real nuisance.”
“So are you,” she muttered as she got back into her car.
“He’s mad,” Leo observed.
There was an understatement. “It’s okay,” she said as much to herself as her son. She put the car into gear, held her breath and inched toward their driveway. The car swayed as they turned in. Ooooh.
“I want to get out,” Leo said.
“Stay put. We’re fine.” She bit her lip as she braked – oh, so gently – and the car fishtailed to a stop right before she hit the garage door.
She let out her breath. There. Something to be thankful for.
She could see Cratchett standing on his front walk, glaring at her. “You shouldn’t be driving,” he called.
Yeah, well, neither should he. She’d seen him behind the wheel and he was scary even when there wasn’t snow. Honestly, what had she ever done to deserve inheriting him?
“Just lucky, I guess,” teased her cousin Rita later as Sienna recounted her day’s adventures to her family over their evening Thanksgiving feast.
There were plenty of people present to enjoy it – Rita, her husband Tito and their toddler Linda were present along with Sienna’s tia, Mami Lucy and Tito’s sister and brother-in-law and their two small children. It was Sienna’s first holiday celebration in her new house and she loved being able to fill it with company.
Especially on Thanksgiving, which was her favorite holiday. The food – turkey and pork, tamales, Mami’s arroz con gandules, coquito and flan for dessert, the music – salsa, merengue, and bachata, and, of course, time with family. With her parents and two brothers still in L.A. it was a comfort to be able to have her aunt and cousin living in the same town. It was also nice to have them right here to complain to.
No, wait. No complaining on Thanksgiving. She was simply venting. Justifiably venting. “I mean it’s not like I meant to run over Mr. Cratchett’s juniper bush.”
“You didn’t exactly get practice driving in snow down in L.A.” Rita said consolingly.
“That man.” She shook her head in disgust as she helped herself to more fruit salad. “Neighbors should come with a warning label.”
“This one should have,” Sienna said. “He shouldn’t be allowed to have neighbors. He should be hermit. Actually, he’s already close to one. He hardly ever comes out of that big, overgrown house of his except to yell at me.” Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration.
Or not.
“Mr. Cratchett’s mean to me, too, Mommy,” put in Leo.
Tito shook his head. “Threatening to call the cops over a baseball through the window.”
“I didn’t do that,” Leo declared hotly. “It was Tommie Haskell. Tommy said it was me.”
Poor Leo had taken the fall and Sienna had bought Mr. Cratchett a new window.
“Culo,” muttered Tito. “I should have come over and taken a baseball to the old dude’s head.”
Tito’s sister pointed her fork at him. “Then he really would have called the cops.”
“He’s been there, done that,” Sienna said. “Remember?”
“Yes, making such a stink when we had your housewarming party,” Rita said in disgust. “Too loud my ass. It was barely nine.”
“Maybe that’s what got us started on the wrong foot,” Sienna mused.
Tito frowned and shook his head. “No. The dude’s a cabrĂ³n.”
“Oh, well. Let’s not think about him anymore,” Sienna said. There were plenty of nice people in town to make up for her un-neighborly neighbor. She liked Rita’s boss, Charley Masters, who owned Zelda’s restaurant, and Bailey Black, who owned a teashop, was quickly becoming a good friend. Pat York, her boss at Mountain Escape Books was great, and Pat’s friends had all taken her under their wings.
“Good idea,” agreed Rita. “Pass the tamales.”
Venting finished, Sienna went back to concentrating on counting her blessings. So she didn’t have husband. (Who wanted a creep who walked away when the going got tough, anyway?) She had her family, new friends, a wonderful job and a pretty house. It wasn’t as big as Cratchett’s corner lot mansion – nobody’s was – but it had three bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen with lots of cupboard space, and it was all hers. Or it would be in thirty years. And she had the sweetest son a woman could ask for. Her life was good, so more complaining, er, venting.

Olivia Wallace’s feet hurt. So did her back. For that matter, so did her head. Serving Thanksgiving dinner to all her guests at the Icicle Creek Lodge was an exhausting undertaking, even with help.
Thank God she’d had help. Although one particular ‘helper,” her new daughter-in-law, had been about as helpful as a road block.
“I was a waitress at the Full Table Buffet,” Meadow had bragged. “No problemo.”
She’d showed off her experience by setting the tables wrong, spilling gravy in a customer’s lap and then swearing at him when he got upset with her. She’d capped the day off by leaving halfway through serving the main course.
“Meadow doesn’t feel good,” Olivia’s son Brandon had explained.
Meadow didn’t feel good? Olivia hadn’t felt so good herself. She’d been nursing a headache for days. (Perhaps it had something to do with the arrival of her new daughter-law?) But running an inn was not much different than show business. The show must go on.
And so it had, but Olivia was still feeling more than a little cranky about the performance of one particular player. “Whatever did he see in her?” she complained to her husband as James rubbed her tired feet. Besides the obvious. The girl was pretty – in a brassy, exotic way. Brandon had always dated good-looking women.
James wisely didn’t answer.
Olivia had been longing to see her baby boy married for years, but she hadn’t expected him to sneak off to Vegas to do it. She certainly hadn’t expected him to commit so quickly, before anyone hardly had a chance to get to know her. Before he hardly even had a chance to get to know her!
Brandon had met Meadow when he was skiing. She’d been hanging out at the ski lodge at Crystal Mountain after her first ski lesson and there was poor, unsuspecting Brandon. They’d wound up having dinner together and then spent the night partying. That had been the beginning of private ski lessons followed by private parties for two. And then it was, “Oops, I’m pregnant.” And that was followed by, “Surprise, we’re married.” Of course, all this had taken place quite clandestinely. He’d only known this girl a few months. Months! And never said anything about her. Now, suddenly, here they were married. And, well, here they were.
Not that Olivia wasn’t happy to have her wandering boy home again, ready to help run the family business. It was just that the woman he’d brought with him was taking some getting used to. Actually, a lot of getting used to.
The couple had started out living in Seattle and Brandon had settled down and gotten a job working for large company that was slowly taking over the city. The benefits were great, but the hours were long, and Meadow had complained. So he’d called Mom and suggested coming back. The lodge would be passed on to him and Eric anyway, so of course, she’d gotten a little suite ready for them, one similar to what her older son Eric and his wife had, making them all one big, happy family.
With a cuckoo in the nest.
“She tricked him into marrying her, I’m sure,” Olivia muttered.
Olivia’s second son had always been a bit of a ladies’ man, but she’d never known Brandon to be irresponsible. The idea that he’d gotten someone pregnant – someone he barely knew and who so clearly was not his type – didn’t make sense to her at all. It was just so unlike him, In fact, the more she thought about it after hearing the news the more she couldn’t help the sneaking suspicion that the whole pregnancy thing had been a ploy to pin Brandon down. Olivia’s suspicion only grew when, a few weeks after they were married they told her the pregnancy had ended. It was a terrible thing to think, and yet Olivia couldn’t shake the feeling that there probably hadn’t even been a baby – only a trashy girl looking to snag a good-looking man and some financial security. How had she been able to afford ski lessons, anyway?
Okay, she had to admit that Brandon did seem smitten with Meadow. So there had to be something hiding behind the trashy clothes, the lack of manners, the self-centeredness, and haze of smoke from her E-cigarettes. Such a filthy habit, smoking, and so bad for your health.
“I’d rather smoke than be fat,” Meadow had said to Olivia when she had – politely – brought up the subject.
Olivia was a little on the pudgy side. Was that a slur?
Not only did Meadow appear to disapprove of Olivia’s looks, she obviously disapproved of her decorating skills. The first thing out of her mouth when she’d seen the lodge had been, “Whoa, look at these granny carpets.”
Granny carpets indeed! Those rose patterned carpets were classic, and they’d cost Olivia a small fortune when she first put them in. Plus, they complemented the many antiques Olivia had in the lobby and the guest rooms. Well, all right. So the girl had different tastes. (Obviously she wouldn’t know an antique if she tripped over one.) But did she have to be so … vocal?
She’d hardly raved over the small apartment that Olivia had given her and Brandon. She’d walked into the bedroom and frowned. “Where’s the closet?”
Olivia had pointed to the German antique pine armoire and said, “This is it. It’s a Shrank.”
“A what?”
“For your clothes.”
“I’m supposed to fit all my clothes in there?”
Taking in Meadow’s skimpy skirt and midriff-bearing top, Olivia had doubted that her clothes would take up much room. “I’m sure Brandon can remodel for you,” Olivia had said stiffly.
“I hope so.” Meadow had drifted over to the window and looked out. “Wow, that’s some view.”
At least she’d appreciated the view.
“It’s gonna be really cool living here,” she’d said, and Olivia almost warmed to her until she added, “Once we fix this place up.”
“So what do you think of Meadow?” Brandon had asked after the first he brought her home to meet Mom.
By then they were already married. It had been too late to say what she really thought. “Wasn’t this a little fast? I always thought we’d have a wedding.” I always thought you’d pick someone we wanted you to marry.
That was when he’d blushed and confessed that they were pregnant. They’d wanted to get married anyway, so what the hell.
What the hell indeed.
“Dear, this isn’t like you,” James said, bringing Olivia out of her unpleasant reverie. “You’re normally so kind-hearted and welcoming.”
“I’ve welcomed her,” Olivia insisted. She’d given the girl a home here at the inn with the rest of the family. That was pretty welcoming.
But you haven’t exactly taken her in with open arms.
The thought gave her conscience a sharp poke and she squirmed on the sofa. Her cat Muffin, who had been happily encamped on her lap, meowed in protest.
“If only she was more like Brooke,” Olivia said as if that excused her attitude. “At least Eric got it right.” Brooke was refined and well educated and loved the lodge. Not only did she truly want to be helpful, she actually was. She and Olivia were on the same wave length.
James couldn’t help smiling at the mention of his daughter. It had been Brooke who was responsible for James and Olivia meeting. “No one’s like Brooke,” he said proudly.
“She is one of a kind, just like her daddy.”
James, who had spent most of his life playing Santa Claus, was as close to the real deal as a man could come. With his snowy white hair and beard, husky build and caring smile, he embodied the very spirit of Christmas.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said, and gave her poor, tired foot a pat. “But, getting back to the subject of Meadow, I’m sure she has many redeeming qualities. All you have to do is look for them.”
“With a magnifying glass.”
“Olivia,” he gently chided.
“You’re right. I’m just having such a hard time warming to the girl.”
“I know. But this is the woman Brandon has chosen.”
Olivia sighed. “Yes, and I need to make more of an effort for his sake.”
And she would. Tomorrow was another day.
Another busy day. They’d be decorating the lodge for the holidays. Meadow had been excited over the prospect and assured Olivia she loved to decorate. Hopefully, she’d be better at that than she was at helping serve food.
The next morning, Eric was knocking on the door of Olivia’s little apartment in the lodge. “We ready to do this?” he asked James.
“Yep. Let’s start hauling up the holidays.”
There was plenty to haul up from the huge basement storeroom where Olivia kept the holiday decorations – ornaments to go on the eight-foot noble fir they’d purchased for one corner of the lobby as well as ones for the tree in the dining room, snow globes and red ribbons for the fireplace mantel and, of course, the antique sleigh which would sit right in the center of the lobby. It was a favorite with their guests and people were constantly taking pictures of it. There were stuffed Teddy bears and antique dolls to ride in the sleigh, mistletoe to hang in the hallways, and silk poinsettias to be placed on the reception desk. Decorating the inn was an all hands on deck day.
“Where’s your brother?” Olivia asked as he set down the box of toys for the sleigh.
“He’s coming. Meadow’s just now getting up. They closed down The Man Cave last night and she’s pooped.”
So, she’d recovered from her earlier illness. How convenient. “Maybe she’s too tired to help,” Olivia said hopefully. Playing pool all night could be exhausting.
No such luck. Fifteen minutes later Olivia and Brooke were sorting through the first bin of decorations when Meadow dragged herself into the lobby accompanied by Brandon. She was wearing tight, ripped jeans, complimented with a sheer blouse hanging loose over a low cut red camisole which perfectly matched the patch of hair she’d died red. The rest was a color of blonde that made Olivia think of lightbulbs. Olivia could just see the tip of the wings on the butterfly Meadow had tattooed over her right breast peeking over the top of the camisole. She made a shocking contrast to Brooke with her soft brown hair and tasteful clothes. Now almost eight months pregnant, she was wearing a long, gray sweater accented with a blue silk scarf over her black maternity leggings and gray ankle boots. Meadow even looked like a total mismatch with Brandon, who was in jeans and a casual, button down black plaid shirt.
“I feel like shit,” she confessed. “I think those fish tacos were off.” She shook her head. “Now I know what they mean when they say toss your tacos.”
The queen of refinement this girl was not. To think Brandon could have had sweet little Bailey Black for a daughter-in-law if only he’d gotten with the program. Bailey had carried a torch for him for years. Too late now. She was happily married. And Brandon was … trapped. So were the rest of them.
You’re going to have to make the best of it, Olivia reminded herself. Her son loved his new wife. He’d obviously seen something in her. She probably would too. If she looked harder.
James and Eric arrived in the lobby bearing more decorations. “You’re just in time,” Eric told his brother. “You can help me haul in the sleigh.”
Brandon nodded and followed the men back out.
Olivia pasted a smile on her face. “Well, girls, let’s get started.”
“All right. This is going to be fun,” Meadow said eagerly, and opened a bin.
Eager and excited to help, that was commendable.
Meadow pulled out a pink ribbon ball holding a sprig of silk mistletoe and made a face. “What the hell is this?”
“It’s mistletoe,” Olivia explained.
“Mistletoe.” Meadow said it like it was a foreign language.
“You’ve heard of mistletoe, right?” Brooke prompted and Meadow shook her head.
Both Olivia and Brooke stared at her in amazement.
“So, what is it?”
“You hang it up and then when you catch someone under it you kiss him,” Brooke explained.
Meadow shook her head. “Why do you need a plant for that? If you want to kiss a guy just kiss him!”
Good Lord. The child was a complete Philistine.
Brooke smiled. “It’s a fun, little tradition people enjoy.”
“Whatever,” Meadow said, unimpressed.
She was impressed with the sleigh though. “Wow, that’s epic.” The minute the men had set it down she climbed into it and tossed Brandon her cell phone. “Take my picture, babe,” she commanded and struck a rapper girl pose, complete with the weird finger thing and the pout.
An older couple was walking through the lobby, and the husband stopped to enjoy the moment. “Now there’s my kind of Christmas present,” he joked.
His wife, not seeing the humor, grabbed his arm and got him moving again. “Tacky,” she hissed.
Meadow flipped her off and Olivia’s cheeks heated.
Dear Santa, please bring me an extra dose of patience. I’m going to need it.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



USA Today best-selling author Sheila Roberts has seen her books published in multiple languages and made into movies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, dividing her time between a waterfront condo and a beach home. When she’s not on the tennis courts or partying with friends she can be found writing about those things dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.

You can connect with her on:



SWEET TREAT FROM SHEILA!


If you're looking for something yummy to enjoy while you watch your favorite holiday movie, try this Peppermint Popcorn. It's a favorite with my family and friends!



Peppermint Popcorn

1/2 cup popcorn (pop it in your air popper or on the stove top in 2 Tbsp oil)
1 package of white candy melts
3/4 cup ground peppermint (grind it in your blender)

Directions (so easy!):

After you've popped your popcorn, pour it into a large bowl. Melt the candy melts according to package instructions and then pour over the popcorn and mix. Add the crushed peppermint and mix then pour onto a large cookie sheet to harden. After the chocolate has hardened break into pieces and store.


I hope that you enjoyed today's spotlight! Many thanks to Pump Up Your Book and Sheila Roberts! It was a pleasure to be a part of the tour!

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