Friday, December 30, 2022

Virtual Book Tour & Giveaway: Skull's Vengeance (Curse of Clansmen and Kings, #4) by Linnea Tanner

Skull's Vengeance
Curse of Clansmen and Kings, Book 4
Linnea Tanner

Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Apollo Raven Publisher, LLC
Publication Date: August 12, 2022
Page count: 402 pages
ISBN-10: 1733600205 / ISBN-13: 9781733600200

Publication Date: October 18, 2022
Page count: 402 pages



A Celtic warrior queen must do the impossible—defeat her sorcerer half-brother and claim the throne. But to do so, she must learn how to strike vengeance from her father’s skull.

AS FORETOLD BY HER FATHER in a vision, Catrin has become a battle-hardened warrior after her trials in the Roman legion and gladiatorial games. She must return to Britannia and pull the cursed dagger out of the serpent's stone to fulfill her destiny. Only then can she unleash the vengeance from the ancient druids to destroy her evil half-brother, the powerful sorcerer, King Marrock. Always two steps ahead and seemingly unstoppable, Marrock can summon destructive natural forces to crush any rival trying to stop him and has charged his deadliest assassin to bring back Catrin's head.

To have the slightest chance of beating Marrock, Catrin must forge alliances with former enemies, but she needs someone she can trust. Her only option is to seek military aid from Marcellus—her secret Roman husband. They rekindle their burning passion, but he is playing a deadly game in the political firestorm of the Julio-Claudian dynasty to support Catrin's cause.

Ultimately, in order to defeat Marrock, Catrin must align herself with a dark druidess and learn how to summon forces from skulls to exact vengeance. But can she and Marcellus outmaneuver political enemies from Rome and Britannia in their quest to vanquish Marrock?



Chapter 2 Cauldron’s Foresight

Near Antonii Villa in Gaul, Eve of Samhain, 31 October, 27 AD

Bewildered, Catrin found herself floating inside a concave, bone-white structure. Below her, light filtering through two large openings spun strands of golden light, forming a lattice around her. Indistinguishable voices whispered in her ears. Sensing someone was nearby, she glanced all around but could not see anyone.

Suddenly, an invisible force pressed her against a hard surface, immobilizing her. Panic streaked through her when she realized she could not escape. The voice of her dead father, King Amren, saying, “I’ve been waiting for you,” further struck fear in her. 

Uncertain if she’d entered the portal to the Otherworld, Catrin looked up at the ceiling for the multicolored life threads weaving in and out of the tapestry on the Wall of Lives—a transitional barrier between the physical and spiritual worlds where past, present, and future merged into one timeline. 

“Am I in the Depths of Possibilities below the Wall of Lives?” she asked her father.
King Amren’s deep voice resonated in her mind. “You are in my soul’s temple—my prison.”
Worried her soul had also been imprisoned, Catrin felt her heart pound erratically within her chest. “Your prison?”
“My skull,” King Amren clarified. “This is where Marrock keeps my soul prisoner to use as he pleases. How did you get past his magic to connect with me?”
“After I drank a mixture from Rhan’s cauldron, I suddenly found myself here,” Catrin explained, although she did not understand how the magic worked.
“Ah…a brew of wisdom, knowledge, and inspiration.” King Amren added, “Rhan is a cunning and treacherous sorceress. She has a knack for escaping death. A few years ago, when I hid in the dagger, I saw her spirit roaming the white cliffs. I thought she’d died. Obviously, I was wrong.”
“Did you hide in the same dagger I thrust into the serpent stone?” Catrin inquired.
“Yes. And the dagger you must pull from the stone to release my soul from the skull…” King Amren’s voice faded into an ominous whisper.
“Otherwise, what?”
A man’s shadow was cast on the dome-shaped ceiling from which her father’s voice emanated. “Marrock will drain my essence until I disappear. At first, I fought his attempts to steal my soul’s forces. But I no longer have the strength to resist.”
The force immobilizing Catrin weakened. Envisioning herself as the Raven, her spiritual guide, she transformed and fluttered to the domed ceiling to be closer to her father’s shadow, which was fading quickly.
“Why did Rhan send me here?” she asked.
“So you can access the truths in the depths of your mind…a realm few of us explore.” A gold corona began glowing around King Amren’s shadow, like an eclipsed sun, as he continued, “You asked if we are in the Depths of Possibilities. Perhaps you are, but not me. I am frozen in the past and must relive the day I executed Rhan over and over. The day I forced Marrock to watch me cut off his mother’s head. The day I created a monster.”
“Do you regret killing Rhan?” Catrin asked, disquieted by her father’s merciless act.
“At the time, I believed it was my duty. It was my right as king to condemn all traitors. But now…” King Amren sighed heavily, and his voice grew somber. “I loved Rhan so much. She was the air I breathed. Love that strong ignites from the same fire as hate. I opened my heart to her. I shared my fears, my darkest secrets. I would have done anything for her, even die to protect her. Yet, when I discovered she’d conspired with other nobles to overthrow me, my love turned to hate. I demanded justice for her betrayal. I sought vengeance against my queen, seeking the power that corrupted my soul. And now, Marrock threatens to destroy the remnants of my soul in exchange for the same power that consumed me.”
“If that is what he wants, why does he steal the life forces from my mother’s and sister’s souls?” Catrin asked.
King Amren chuckled grimly. “What vengeance is more apt than Marrock extinguishing everyone I love?”
Catrin’s throat tightened. “What do you want of me?”
The bright light around King Amren’s shadow continued to fade as he answered. “Destroy Marrock and free the souls of your mother and sister to reincarnate into other forms. You must unravel your doubts about moving forward. The last time you visited the Depth of Possibilities, before the Romans captured and enslaved you, your future had not yet been set in stone by your past mistakes. But now, the future of our kingdom depends on the choices you make in the present. To see the light to your destiny, you must first behold the darkest depths of your soul. Do you have the courage to do that?”
“I am afraid of what I might see. What I might lose or become,” Catrin said, a shudder slicing down her spine.
King Amren blew out a deep breath. “Ah…a conundrum. How can you both create life as a mother and destroy it as a warrior? How can the ecstasy of love be swept away in a crashing wave of hate? You need both forces, I believe, to forge the powers needed to draw the dagger out of the stone.”


Award-winning author, Linnea Tanner, weaves Celtic tales of love, magical adventure, and political intrigue in Ancient Rome and Britannia. Since childhood, she has passionately read about ancient civilizations and mythology. Of particular interest are the enigmatic Celts, who were reputed as fierce warriors and mystical Druids.

Linnea has extensively researched ancient and medieval history, mythology, and archaeology and has traveled to sites described within each of her books in the Curse of Clansmen and Kings series. Books released in her series include "Apollo’s Raven" (Book 1), "Dagger’s Destiny" (Book 2), "Amulet’s Rapture" (Book 3), and "Skull’s Vengeance" (Book 4). She has also released the historical fiction short story, "Two Faces of Janus."

A Colorado native, Linnea attended the University of Colorado and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. She lives in Fort Collins with her husband and has two children and six grandchildren.

You can follow her on her website:


Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Jaffa Cartel by J. Terry Johnson

The Jaffa CartelThe Jaffa Cartel by J. Terry Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Engaging characters, beautiful and ancient settings, and a horrible, tragic crime to bring to justice!

When the shipping costs for their materials rise to an excessive amount, and the transportation logistics start taking convoluted routing patterns, executives of Lone Star Electronics decide it's time for a face-to-face with their Israeli supplier. But when small-town Texas attorney and their outside general counsel, Bill Blevins, notes a trend of sizable discrepancies in their invoices as well, he is determined to find out why. The meeting is arranged to happen in Greece, where their international trade consulting company has an office, and the men make the long flight to Athens. However, before their first evening is over, one of their party is murdered.

The Jaffa Cartel was an intriguing story of murder and international organized crime set, for the most part, in Athens but with its roots in Jaffa, Israel, and its significant impact on a small town in central Texas. The author nails the flavor and feel of each location, each so different and distinct from the others, and I felt I was right there in the action.

Many of the characters have long-term, in-depth relationships with each other. Some are linked through university or law school experiences, and many through their membership and attendance at the local church pastored by one of the main characters. Lance Arnold had been in law school with the victim but, interestingly, had traded his shingle for the pulpit of the church in tiny Pecan Village. I enjoyed the little tidbits of church business incorporated into the story and the delicate and very light-handed inclusion of the character's life as a Christian in his actions and observations. Additionally, I especially liked how these old connections between the characters had been maintained over time and across the great distances of the state of Texas, even extending to New York City and Greece.

The author introduces the major players in the cartel in their own chapters, so we know how they got to be where they are in the story and why. As the book unfolds through these characters' eyes, we are privy to their plans, so the book is not a whodunnit but a "will they get away with it" tale. There are some really bad actors in the bunch, so you're not rooting for them to succeed. However, Leah Melamed's involvement in the whole thing is tragic. I hoped from the beginning for her to escape the cartel's grasp. The Greek detectives in charge of the murder investigation, Inspectors Giorgos Papadakis and Sophia Baros, are just delightful. I really liked their partnership and their systematic investigation. I was surprised and entertained by how the inspectors came to find out what readers already knew. I certainly wouldn't mind reading additional stories featuring this pair.

With plenty of engaging characters to watch, beautiful and ancient places as the setting, and a horrible, tragic crime to bring to justice, I recommend THE JAFFA CARTEL to mystery readers who enjoy a small-town feel combined with some armchair traveling. I so enjoyed reading this story.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Book Review Tour & Giveaway: Kingdom of Acatalec by S.M. McCoy

Kingdom of Acatalec
S.M. McCoy

Sci-fi Fantasy Adventure Romance
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Publication Date: October 3, 2022

Page count: 328 pages
ISBN-10: 1509242716 / ISBN-13: 9781509242719

Page count: 283 pages
ASIN: B0B4V9867P



I work with aliens, my best friends is held hostage, and everyone wants to murder me before the Lord Prince can magically bond to share my power? If I had known an illegal drone race would lead to murder, kidnapping, and lies, then I might have thought better about the giant prize of credits, and the dream of walking again. 

I never met my best friend in person until a drone race gone wrong had both of us vying for our lives against a secret alien society. To make matters worse… my boss was one of them, and I couldn’t decide if he was trying to save my life, or the reason I was in trouble to begin with.



“Ms. Beryl, will you see me in my office?” The deep voice was all of a sudden much more recognizable now that I had time to think about it. I'd heard it often enough in company memos and quarterly video conferences.

It would be my luck that the one drone having issues would be my boss doing an impromptu screen check of the services and how his drones were performing. Such an overachiever, and much too sexy of a voice to have to listen to him firing me when he made it up the elevator.

“Of course, sir. I'll just finish up this diagnostic screening and transfer my overlays.” I tried to sound all official, like nothing was wrong, because there was still a chance. Even if it was a small one, that maybe he was too preoccupied. That was a big maybe and, given his attention to detail, highly unlikely.

“No need. I've already finished transferring your data.”

Shit. That was not promising.

“Please head straight there. I won't be long.” The calming chime noises of the door closing on the drone signaled the conversation was over. And just like he said, all of my drones in my sector blinked, disappearing from my overlay viewer.

Game over.

I was no longer the one in charge of monitoring them

5 stars!

This magical and mysterious story had me in its grip from cover to cover!
Kingdom of Acatalec is the first book in the new Sci-fi Fantasy Romance series, Acatalec by author S.M. (Stevie) McCoy. With an intriguing plot that I could never predict where it was going and the most engaging and capable heroine this side of Farscape, this magical and mysterious story had me in its grip from cover to cover.
The story is packed to the brim with fun and shady characters. The aforementioned main character, Tyler Beryl, is a combination of slacker and kick-ass go-getter. She is surrounded by supporting characters who may or may not be in her corner: her best friend, Kelly, former coworker and fellow drone pilot, Bailey, mean-girl coworker Jessi, her tasty boss, the perfect Mr. Cable Azel; and, of course, the Lord Prince. The slowly building romantic tension between Tyler and Cable was great, and I looked for more from that but deal-breaker because reasons. I was definitely wary of Prince Wyndall; he gave me the shivers, and not in a good way. But maybe I’ve made up my mind too quickly. We’ll see in the next book, perhaps.
An intriguing development in the character lineup for this story, at least for me, is that Tyler is disabled. Injured in an accident at age eight, she uses a wheelchair that interfaces with her body, and some of her motivations for her actions come from her desire to acquire the funding to upgrade to a newer, more advanced version. The story is rife with twists and turns for Tyler as she tries to make her dream come true (or at least her life work out) and save her friend, Kelly when she becomes a bounty in a drone race.
The book’s setting is a far future Earth where transportation is all accomplished in drones. Drone service is highly regulated for safety except for the illegal drone races hosted by some shady, illicit organization. I smile now, thinking that Tyler was initially worried that it was ‘The Mob.’ Be careful what you wish for, right? The author doesn’t give us the mundane, though. I loved that there was a secret alien society in existence, and they were the ones hosting the high-stakes race. I also enjoyed the sequences at the Servun desert camp and the exchanges among the warriors, Trasa, Tyler, and her companions had me laughing out loud.
I absolutely enjoyed the descriptions of the drone simulations, races, and Tyler’s piloting skills. In some books, authors have trouble adequately conveying quick, intense airborne action sequences. I was delighted to find this was not the case here. The author nails the flow and maneuvers, and I could visualize the unfolding action easily.
With twists and turns in an already highly creative plot, an engagingly sympathetic main character, and just the right amount of tech to please, I recommend THE KINGDOM OF ACATALEC to sci-fi/fantasy readers who enjoy a mysterious storyline with a side of romance.


Stevie Marie is a paranormal fantasy author born within the apex of another universe, where magic flows like leaky faucets. Forged from the fires of the Underrealm she dug her way to Earth reluctantly participating in human society, secretly returning to her home world within her mind to relay the stories of her monsters, and the troubled love of her dark heroes. When she isn’t writing she’s crafting clothing in her sewing room, cuddling her tiny humans, or pretending to adult by narrating audiobooks in the rainy city of Seattle, Washington. Grab your first free book by joining S.M. McCoy's Fantasy Romance Newsletter:

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S.M. McCoy will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Pre-Order Book Blitz: FIND THE MOON by Beth Fehlbaum


By Beth Fehlbaum

Young Adult / Social Issues / Family Issues
Publisher: Progressive Rising Phoenix Press
Pages: 298 pages
Expected Publication Date: January 10, 2023

For as long as she can remember, Kylie Briscoe's been searching for the moon even though she has no idea why it soothes her. Placed in an impossible situation by her mother, Kylie cries for help. It brings rescuers and a new life, but it feels more like a death sentence when she is separated from her three-year-old sister Aliza, the only person Kylie's ever really loved.

Now she's in tiny Patience, Texas, with her eccentric potty-mouthed grandmother, ever-patient stargazing grandfather, an uncle who reminds her a lot of a cop who terrified her during a drug bust, a herd of Norwegian Dwarf goats, their "guard donkeys," and three canine roommates occupying Kylie's former nursery.

When the authorities make a mistake that could cost her everything, Kylie must decide whether to tell the truth-all of it-in order to save herself and her sister.


Pre-order a copy of Find the Moon and enter the author's giveaway! Three lucky winners will win a $50 Amazon Gift Card, signed set of THE PATIENCE TRILOGY, and signed copy of BIG FAT DISASTER. Ends 12/30/2022. Visit Beth's website for more information and to enter!

5 stars!

Although this young adult novel addresses very difficult topics, it is ultimately a story of love, hope, and recovery.

Find the Moon by Beth Fehlbaum is an amazing story of triumph over childhood trauma and sexual abuse, resiliency, and hope. Kylie is a remarkable young heroine, surviving the worst situation while still protecting the little sister she loves above all others. This character's voice is raw and genuine, and I felt so much emotion reading her story. I ached for her as her separation from Aliza dragged on and on. The reader also learns throughout the book that many of Kylie's peers in high school have also suffered traumas of their own, each reacting and handling their grief in their own ways, some better than others.
The story is told from Kylie's point of view, so we only get glimpses of what Aliza's recovery looks like with her father and his new family. But Papa and Honey Briscoe are strong characters trying to get their granddaughter back to a decent life. They make mistakes, they struggle at times, and Kylie, who has experienced the greatest betrayals, must learn to trust again. She makes mistakes, too. But for the most part, she is surrounded and supported by good people who love her.
Readers should be aware that this young adult book addresses tough topics: child neglect and abandonment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, drug use, drug dealing, date rape, animal death, and violence, but the story is ultimately one of hope, love, and recovery. I recommend FIND THE MOON for readers of young adult fiction that handle these critical topics.

Beth Fehlbaum is the author of the young adult novels Find the Moon, Big Fat Disaster (on the Spirit of Texas-High School Reading List, 2014-2015), Courage in Patience, Hope in Patience (A YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers), and Truth in Patience. With Dr. Matt E. Jaremko, Beth co-wrote the creative nonfiction book, Trauma Recovery: Sessions with Dr. Matt. She is a high school English teacher. 

Authenticity, calling out hypocrisy, and finding one's voice are frequent themes in Beth's work, and they are absolutely essential themes in her life, as well. Beth has a B.A. in English, minor in secondary education, and an M.Ed. in reading. Beth is in-demand as an author-panelist, having presented/appeared at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference, the American Library Association's annual conference, YALSA, N.C.T.E./ALAN, and numerous YA book festivals. She's a member of The Author's Guild, SCBWI, Romance Writers of America, and the Texas Federation of Teachers.  She loves doing school visits and meeting teens, teachers, and librarians! 

Beth lives in the woods of East Texas in a house on a slice of family acreage. The home was built by her family over one very hot humid summer, a task she wishes never to repeat again. This sanctuary-of-sorts is lined by pine trees, and the woods are inhabited by raccoons, possums, and feral cats. All of these creatures appear to consider Beth their cat-food-providing goddess. There is no place she would rather be.


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Monday, December 26, 2022

AUDIOBOOK Review Tour: Deception Pass (Spider Green, #3) by Norm Harris


Deception Pass 
Spider Green Book Three
Unabridged Audio Book
Norm Harris

Narrated by Maria McCann

Mystery / Thriller / Legal / Military / Time Travel
Publisher: Norm Harris 
Audiobook ASIN: 6 hrs and 40 mins
Release Date:09-07-22
Running Time: 6 hrs and 40 mins



She should have followed the rules. "Rule 2: Always double-tap." Now a girl must travel back in time to that never-never land of spies and samovars. To the land of bears, bombs, babushkas, and borscht to finish the job. To the land where anything can happen and often does.

On course in the Pacific, an American ship experiences an event unlike anything that any ship has ever undergone.

Faydra "Spider" Green has had a storied career as a navy lawyer, juggling being the daughter of a former US president. She has successfully navigated complex diplomatic situations, pulse-pounding legal investigations, and dangerous military missions, managing each time to save the day. But now, a man who had nearly cost Fay her life has seemingly returned from the dead. Now, hell-bent on revenge, he poses a threat to Fay and national security. Fay will have to go to extraordinary lengths to stop him, even tampering with the bounds of time and space.



5 stars!

An exciting military adventure story that left me hungry for more of the series!

Deception Pass is the third book in Norm Harris’s exciting and action-filled military adventure series featuring Fay ‘Spider’ Green. It is the first in the series to appear in audiobook format, and narrator Maria McCann does a fantastic job giving voice to this strong female protagonist. She completely captures Fay’s personality, and her voice will forever be Fay’s to me. The story includes many other main or supporting characters, and McCann’s presentation skillfully makes each sound natural and unique. I never had trouble discerning which character was talking during an exchange of dialogue.
The story takes Fay and her crew from Washington state to Moscow, in both the present and the past, as both the hunter and the hunted. I found the plot fresh, interesting, and absorbing, and it kept me reading well past the time when I needed to call it a night. It was that good! There were many moments I loved but in particular I enjoyed Fay’s interactions with her Russian counterparts and her performance in the courtroom. I also liked the reappearance of characters from previous books. And don’t be worried about having to read through a recap of all that has gone on before; there is just enough backstory to lend understanding to the current action.

Speaking of which, although the third in the series, the story can be enjoyed as a standalone, but the pleasure would be enhanced by having read the previous books. However, using Deception Pass as your jumping-off point in the series will be dangerous; you will want to acquire those first two books “quick, fast, and in a hurry.” I was glad to see the next book in Fay’s story is already available as an audiobook, and I couldn’t help but snag it the minute this one concluded.

I recommend DECEPTION PASS for readers who enjoy military-based action-adventure thrillers with a side of sci-fi and time travel.


Norm Harris comes from a family of authors and publishers. In 1830, great-grandfather, several times removed, Martin Harris published the first printing of "The Book of Mormon." Later Norm's son K-K wrote "Drones-Proposed Standards of Liability," published by the Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal. 

With writing and publishing in his veins, Norm created a fictional Spider Green Mystery Thriller series of print and audiobooks. Norm Harris' first novel debuted on an Amazon bestseller list in 2002. It was a one-and-done, but now he's back with a plan to publish the mystery/thriller of days gone by. 

Except for time spent in military service, he is a second-generation Seattleite (that's what they call those who dwell in the shadow of Mt. Rainier), with his legal beagle son, K-K, and five giant tropical fish. Norm's stories spring from his memories of people who he has met and the places he has visited as he traveled the world. Diversity, inclusion, and equality are foremost in each story.


I am a proud Mexican/Irish actor born and raised in Los Angeles. A graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. I have appeared in over 45 films and television shows, such as Lucifer, Grey's Anatomy, American Horror Story, and Shameless. I am an avid reader and a self-proclaimed book nerd. I have reached my personal goal of reading and reviewing 100 books in a year for the last few years. I have turned that passion into a career in audiobook narrating, bringing character development, accents, and a deep understanding of the text to my work. I am a busy wife and mother of both daughters and fur babies. However, I still manage to be president of the non-profit actor's organization, The Collaborative and serve on the board of directors for The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.

Look for my subsequent Spider Green Mystery Thriller narration, The Girl Who Knew Death, by Norm Harris on Amazon, Apple Books, and Audible.


Norm Harris will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Virtual Book Tour & Giveaway: Her Sister's Death by K.L. Murphy

Her Sister’s Death by K. L. Murphy Banner

Her Sister's Death

by K. L. Murphy

November 28 - December 23, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Her Sister's Death by K. L. Murphy

She wanted the truth. She should have known better.

When her sister is found dead in a Baltimore hotel room, reporter Val Ritter’s world is turned upside down. An empty pill bottle at the scene leads the police to believe the cause of death is suicide. With little more than her own conviction, Val teams up with Terry Martin, a retired detective who has his own personal interest in the case, to prove that something more sinister is possible.

In 1921, Bridget Wallace, a guest on the brink of womanhood, is getting ready to marry an eligible older man. But what seems like a comfortable match soon takes a dark turn. Does the illustrious history of the stately Franklin hotel hide another, lesser known history of death?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: December 2022
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 9780744307399 (ISBN10: 0744307392)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | CamCat Books

Read an excerpt:



Monday, 9:17 a.m.

Once, when I was nine or maybe ten, I spent weeks researching a three-paragraph paper on polar bears. I don’t remember much about the report or polar bears, but that assignment marked the beginning of my lifelong love affair with research. As I got older, I came to believe that if I did the research, I could solve any problem. It didn’t matter what it was. School. Work. Relationships. In college, when I suspected a boyfriend was about to give me the brush-off, I researched what to say before he could break up with me. Surprisingly, there are dozens of pages about this stuff. Even more surprising, some of it actually works. We stayed together another couple of months, until I realized I was better off without him. He never saw it coming.

When I got married, I researched everything from whether or not we were compatible (we were) to our average life expectancy based on our medical histories (only two years different). Some couples swear they’re soul mates or some other crap, but I considered myself a little more practical than that. I wanted the facts before I walked down the aisle. The thing is, research doesn’t tell you that your perfect-on-paper husband is going to

prefer the ditzy receptionist on the third floor before you’ve hit your five-year anniversary. It also doesn’t tell you that your initial anger will turn into something close to relief, or that all that perfection was too much work and maybe the whole soul-mate thing isn’t as crazy as it sounds. If you doubt me, look it up.

My love of research isn’t as odd as one might think. My father is a retired history professor, and my mother is a bibliophile. It doesn’t matter the genre. She usually has three or more books going at once. She also gets two major newspapers every day and a half dozen magazines each month. Some people collect cute little china creatures or rare coins or something. My mother collects words. When I decided to become a journalist, both my parents were overjoyed.

“It’s perfect,” my father said. “We need more people to record what’s going on in the world. How can we expect to learn if we don’t recognize that everything that happens impacts our future?” I fought the urge to roll my eyes. I knew what was coming, but how many times can a person hear about the rise and fall of Caesar? The man was stabbed to death, and it isn’t as though anyone learned their lesson. Ask Napoleon. Or Hitler. My dad was right about one thing though. History can’t help but repeat itself.

“Honey,” my mother interrupted. “Val will only write about important topics. You know very well she is a young lady of principle.” Again, I wanted to roll my eyes.

Of course, for all their worldliness, neither of my parents understands how the world of journalism works. You don’t walk into a newsroom as an inexperienced reporter and declare you will be writing about the environment, or the European financial market, or the latest domestic policy. The newspaper business is not so different from any other—even right down to the way technology is forcing it to go digital. Either way, the newbies are given the jobs no one else wants.

Naturally, I was assigned to obituaries.

After a year, I got moved to covering the local city council meetings, but the truth was, I missed the death notices. I couldn’t stop myself from wondering how each of the people died. Some were obvious. When the obituary asks you to donate to the cancer society or the heart association, you don’t have to think too hard to figure it out. Also, people like to add that the deceased “fought a brave battle with (fill in the blank).” I’ve no doubt those people were brave, but they weren’t the ones that interested me. It was the ones that seemed to die unexpectedly and under unusual circumstances. I started looking them up for more information. The murder victims held particular fascination for me. From there, it was only a short hop to my true interest: crime reporting.

The job isn’t for everyone. Crime scenes are not pretty. Have you ever rushed out at three in the morning to a nightclub shooting? Or sat through a murder trial, forced to view photo after photo of a brutally beaten young mother plastered across a giant screen?

My sister once told me I must have a twisted soul to do what I do. Maybe. I find myself wondering about the killer, curious about what makes them do it. That sniper—the one that picked off the poor folks as they came out of the state fair—that was my story. Even now, I still can’t get my head around that guy’s motives.

So, I research and research, trying to get things right as well as find some measure of understanding. It doesn’t always work, but knowing as much as I can is its own kind of answer.

Asking questions has always worked for me. It’s the way I do my job. It’s the way I’ve solved every problem in my life. Until now. Not that I’m not trying. I’m at the library. I’m in my favorite corner in the cushy chair with the view of the pond. I don’t know how long I’ve been here.

How many hours.

My laptop is on, the screen filled with text and pictures. Flicking through the tabs, I swallow the bile that reminds me I have no answer. I’ve asked the question in every way I can think of, but for the first time in my life, Google is no help.

Why did my sister—my gorgeous sister with her two beautiful children and everything to live for—kill herself? Why?


Sylvia has been dead for four days now. Actually, I don’t know how long she’s been dead. I’ve been told there’s a backlog at the ME’s office. Apparently, suicides are not high priority when you live in a city with one of the country’s highest murder rates. I don’t care what the cause of death is. I want the truth. While we wait for the official autopsy, I find myself reevaluating what I do know.

Her body was discovered on Thursday at the Franklin, a Do not Disturb sign hanging from the door of her room. The hotel claims my sister called the front desk after only one day and asked not to be disturbed unless the sign was removed. This little detail could not have been more surprising. My sister doesn’t have trouble sleeping. Sylvia went to bed at ten every night and was up like clockwork by six sharp. I have hundreds of texts to prove it. Even when her children were babies with sleep schedules that would kill most people, she somehow managed to stick to her routine. Vacations with her were pure torture.

“Val, get up. The sun is shining. Let’s go for a walk on the beach.”

I’d open one eye to find her standing in the doorway. She’d be dressed in black nylon shorts and neon sneakers, bouncing up and down on her toes.

“We can walk. I promise I won’t run.”

Tossing my pillow at her, I’d groan and pull the covers over my head. “You can’t sleep the day away, Val.”

She’d cross the room in two strides and rip back the sheets. “Get up.”

In spite of my night-owl tendencies, I’d crawl out of bed. Sylvia had a way of making me feel like if I didn’t join her, I’d be missing out on something extraordinary. The thing is, she was usually right. Sure, a sunrise is a sunrise, but a sunrise with Sylvia was color and laughter and tenderness and love. She had that way about her. She loved mornings.

I tried to explain Sylvia to the police officer, to tell him that hanging a sleeping sign past six in the morning, much less all day, was not only odd behavior but also downright suspicious. He did his best not to dismiss me outright, but I knew he didn’t get it.

“Sleeping too much can be a sign of depression,” he said. “She wasn’t depressed.”

“She hung a sign, ma’am. It’s been verified by the manager.” He stopped short of telling me that putting out that stupid sign wasn’t atypical of someone planning to do what she did.

Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

The screen in front of me blurs, and I rub my burning eyes. There are suicide statistics for women of a certain age, women with children, women in general. My fingers slap the keys. I change the question, desperate for an answer, any answer.

A shadow falls across the screen when a man takes the chair across from me, a newspaper under his arm. My throat tightens, and I press my lips together. He settles in, stretching his legs. The paper crackles as he opens it and snaps when he straightens the pages.

“Do you mind?”

He lowers the paper, his brows drawn together. “Mind what?” “This is a library. It’s supposed to be quiet in here.”

He angles his head. “Are you always this touchy or is it just me?”

“It’s you.” I don’t know why I say that. I don’t even know why I’m acting like a brat, but I can’t help myself.

Silence fills the space between us as he appears to digest what I’ve said. “Perhaps you’d like me to leave?”

“That would be nice.”

He blinks, the paper falling from his hand. I’m not sure which of us is more surprised by my answer. I seem to have no control over my thoughts or my mouth. The man has done nothing but crinkle a newspaper, but I have an overwhelming need to lash out. He looks around, and for a moment, I feel bad.

The man gets to his feet, the paper jammed under his arm. “Look, lady, I’ll move to another spot, but that’s because I don’t want to sit here and have my morning ruined by some kook who thinks the public library is her own personal living room.” He points a finger at me. “You’ve got a problem.”

I feel the sting, the well of tears before he’s even turned his back. They flood my eyes and pour down over my cheeks. Worse, my mouth opens, and I sob, great, loud, obnoxious sobs.

I cover my face with my hands and sink lower into the chair, my body folding in on itself.

My laptop slips to the floor, and I somehow cry harder. “Is she all right?” a woman asks, her voice high and tight. The annoying man answers. “She’ll be fine in a minute.”

“Are you sure?” Her gaze darts between us, and her hands flutter over me like wings, nearing but never touching. I recognize her from the reference desk. “People are staring. This is a library, you know.”

I want to laugh, but it gets caught in my throat, and comes out like a bark. Her little kitten heels skitter back. I don’t blame her.

Who wouldn’t want to get away from the woman making strange animal noises?

“Do you have a private conference room?” the man asks. The woman points the way, and large hands lift me to my feet. “Can you get her laptop and her bag, please?”

The hands turn into an arm around my shoulders. He steers me toward a small room at the rear of the library. My sobs morph into hiccups.

The woman places my bag and computer on a small round table. “I’ll make sure no one bothers you here.” She slinks out, pulling the door shut.

The man sets his paper down and pulls out a chair for me. I don’t know how many minutes pass before I’m able to stop crying, before I’m able to speak.

“Are you okay now?” I can’t look at him. His voice is kind, far kinder than I deserve. He pushes something across the table. “Here’s my handkerchief.” He gets to his feet. “I’m going to see if I can find you some water.”

The door clicks behind him, and I’m alone. My sister, my best friend, is gone, and I’m alone.


“Do you want to talk about it?” the man asks, setting a bottle of water and a package of crackers on the table.

Sniffling, I twist the damp, wadded up handkerchief into a ball. I want to tell him that no, I don’t want to talk about it, that I don’t even know him, but the words slip out anyway. “My sister died,” I say.

“Oh.” He folds his hands together. “I’m sorry. Recently?” “Four days.”

He pushes the crackers he’s brought across the table. “You should try to eat something.”

I try to remember when I last ate. Yesterday? The day before? One of my neighbors did bring me a casserole with some kind of brown meat and orangey red sauce. It may have had noodles, but I can’t be sure. I do remember watching the glob of whatever it was slide out of the aluminum pan and down the disposal. I think I ate half a bagel at some point. My stomach churns, then rumbles. The man doesn’t wait for me to decide. He opens the packet and pushes it closer. For some reason I can’t explain, I want to prove I’m more polite that I seemed earlier. I take the crackers and eat.

He gestures at the bottle. “Drink.”

I do. The truth is, I’m too numb to do anything else. It’s been four days since my parents phoned me. Up to now, I’ve taken the news like any other story I’ve been assigned. I’ve filed it away, stored it at the back of my mind as something I need to analyze and figure out before it can be processed. I’ve buried myself in articles and anecdotes and medical pages, reading anything and everything to try and understand. On some level, I recognize my behavior isn’t entirely normal. My parents broke down, huddled together on the sofa, as though conjoined in their grief. I couldn’t have slipped between them even if I wanted to. Sylvia’s husband—I guess that’s what we’re still calling him—appeared equally stricken. Not even the sight of her children, their faces pale and blank, cracked the shell I erected, the wall I built to deny the reality of her death.

“Aunt Val,” Merry asked. “Mommy’s coming back, right? She’s just passed, right? That’s what Daddy said.” She paused, a single tear trailing over her pink cheek. “What’s ‘passed’?”

Merry is the youngest, only five. Miles is ten—going on twenty if you ask me—which turned out to be a good thing in that moment. Miles took his sister by the hand. “Come on, Merry. Dad wants us in the back.” I let out a breath. Crisis averted.

My sister has been gone four days, and I haven’t shed a tear. Until today. The man across the table clears his throat. “Are you feeling any better?” “No, I’m not feeling better. My sister is still dead.” God, I’m a bitch. I expect him to stand up and leave or at least point out what an ass I’m being when he’s gone out of his way to be nice, but he does neither. “Yes, I suppose she is. Death is kind of permanent.”

I jerk back in my chair. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

Unlike me, he does apologize. “I’m sorry. That didn’t come out right. I never did have the best bedside manner for the job.”

I take a closer look at the man. “Are you a doctor?”

He half laughs. “Hardly. Detective. Former, I mean. I never quite got the hang of talking to the victims’ families without putting my foot in my mouth. Seems I’ve done it again.”

My curiosity gets the best of me. He’s not much older than I am. Mid-forties. Maybe younger. Definitely too young for retirement. “Former detective? What do you do now?”

“I run a security firm.” He lifts his shoulders. “It’s different, has its advantages.”

The way he says it, I know he misses the job. I understand. “I write for the Baltimorean. Mostly homicides,” I say. “That’s a good paper. I’ve probably read your work then.”

Crumpling the empty cracker wrapper, I say, “I’m sorry I dumped on you out there.”

He shrugs again. “It’s okay. You had a good reason.” I can’t think of anything to say to that.

“How did she die, if you don’t mind my asking?”

The question hits me hard. What I mind is that my sister is gone. My hands ball into fists. The heater in the room hums, but otherwise, it’s quiet. “They say she died by suicide.”

The man doesn’t miss a beat. “But you don’t believe it.” He watches me, his body still.

My heart pounds in my chest and I reach into my mind, searching for any information I’ve found that contradicts what I’ve been told. I’ve learned that almost fifty thousand people a year die by suicide in the United States. Strangely, a number of those people choose to do it in hotels. Maybe it’s the anonymity. Maybe it’s to spare the families. There are plenty of theories, but unfortunately, one can’t really ask the departed about that. Still, the reasoning is sound enough. For four days, I’ve read until I can’t see, and my head has dropped from exhaustion. I know that suicide can be triggered by traumatic events or chronic depression. It can be triggered by life upheaval or can be drug induced, or it can happen for any number of reasons that even close family and friends don’t know about until after—if ever. I know all this, and yet, I can’t accept it.

Sylvia was found in a hotel room she had no reason to be in. An empty pill bottle was found on the nightstand next to her. She checked in alone. Nothing in the room had been disturbed. Nothing appeared to have been taken. For all these reasons, the police made a preliminary determination that the cause of death was suicide, the final ruling to be made after the ME’s report. I know all this. My parents and Sylvia’s husband took every word of this at face value. But I can’t. Sylvia is not a statistic, and I know something they don’t.

“No. I don’t believe it.” I say, meeting his steady gaze with my own.

He doesn’t react. He doesn’t tell me I’m crazy. He doesn’t say “I’m sorry” again. Nothing. I’m disappointed, though I can’t imagine why. He’s a stranger to me. Still, I press my shoulder blades against the back of the chair, waiting. I figure it out then. Former detective. I’ve been around enough cops to know how it works. It’s like a tribe with them. You don’t criticize another officer. You don’t question anyone’s toughness or loyalty to the job. You don’t question a ruling that a case doesn’t warrant an investigation, much less that it isn’t even a case. So, I sit and wait. I will not be the first to argue. It doesn’t matter that he’s retired and left the job. He’s still one of them. In fact, the more I think about it, I can’t understand why he’s still sitting there. I’ve been rude to the man. I’ve completely broken down in front of him like some helpless idiot. And now, I’ve suggested the cause of death that everyone—and I mean everyone—says is true is not the truth at all.

He gets up, shoves his hands in his pockets.

This is it. He’s done with me now. In less than one minute he’ll be gone and, suddenly, I don’t want him to leave. I break the silence.

“I’m Val Ritter.” “Terry Martin.”

I turn the name over in my brain. It’s familiar in a vague way. “Terry the former detective.”

“Uh-huh.” He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “Look, I’m sorry about your sister. You’ve lost someone you love, and the idea that she might have taken her own life is doubly distressing.”

“I’m way past distressed. I’m angry.”

“Is it possible that you’re directing that anger toward the ones that ruled her death a suicide instead of at your . . .” His words fall away.

“My sister?” “Yes.”

“I might be if I thought she did this.” I cross my arms over my chest. “But I don’t. This idea, this thing they’re saying makes no sense at all.”

Terry the former detective’s voice is low, soothing. “Why?”

My arms drop again. I’m tempted to tell him everything I know, which admittedly isn’t much, but I hold back. This man is a stranger. Sure, he’s been nice, and every time I’ve expected him to walk out the door, he’s done the opposite. But that doesn’t mean I can trust him.

“I’m sorry if my question seems insensitive,” he says. His voice is soft, comforting in a neutral way, and I can picture him in an interrogation. He would be the good cop. “No matter how shocking the, uh, idea might be, I have a feeling you have your reasons. You were close—you and your sister?” “We were.” I sit there, twisting the handkerchief in my fingers. The heat-

er makes a revving noise, drops back to a steady hum. “We talked all the time, and I can tell you she wasn’t depressed. That’s what they kept saying. ‘She must have been depressed.’ I know people hide things, but she was never good at hiding her emotions from me. If anything, she’d been happier than ever.” I give a slow shake of my head. “They tried to tell me about the other suicide and about the pills and the sign on the door and—” I stop. I hear myself rambling and force myself to take a breath. “If something had been wrong, I would have known.”

Terry the former detective doesn’t react, doesn’t move. He keeps his mouth shut, but I know. He doesn’t believe me, same as all the others. I can tell. There is no head bob or leading question. He thinks I’m in denial and that I will eventually accept the truth. He doesn’t know me at all.

The minutes pass, and I drink the water. I realize I feel better. It’s time to leave. “I should be going.” I hold up the crumpled rag in my hand. “Sorry I did such a number on your handkerchief. I can clean it, send it to you later.”

He waves off the suggestion. “Keep it.”

I gather my items and apologize again. “Sorry you had to witness my meltdown out there.”

“It happens.”

I’m headed out the door, my hand on the knob, when he breaks protocol.

“What did you mean by ‘the other suicide’?”


Monday, 10:02 a.m.

The woman—Val, I remind myself—hesitates. I can see she’s wary, worried I don’t believe her. I don’t know that I do, but I am curious. “What

did you mean? There was another suicide?”

“A month ago, maybe a little longer, a woman killed herself in the same hotel. She jumped off the roof, which apparently was no easy task since there were all kinds of doors to go through to get up there. Of course, what happened to her was horrible, but it has nothing to do with my sister. I don’t know why they’re acting like it does.”

My jaw tightens. “Which hotel?”

“The Franklin.”

I look past her and think maybe I should be surprised, but nothing about that hotel surprises me. “The Franklin,” I say, echoing her words.

The Franklin is one of Baltimore’s oldest hotels. Built in 1918, it’s fifteen stories high with marble columns and archways at the entrance. Along with the Belvedere, before it became condos, and the Lord Baltimore, the Franklin is a destination, a swanky place that’s attracted film stars and

politicians for decades. Somewhere along the line, it fell into disrepair and the famous guests went elsewhere. For a brief time, the management offered rooms for short-term rentals, desperate to keep the hotel from plunging further into the red. Twenty years ago, the hotel was sold to an investment group. They declared the hotel historic, sunk tens of millions of dollars into it, and reopened it in grand style. The governor and the mayor cut the big red ribbon. Baseball stars from the Orioles and a well-known director were photographed at the official gala. It was a big to-do for the city at the time. Since then, it’s remained popular—one of the five-star hotels downtown, which, of course, means that a night there doesn’t come cheap. That’s the press release version.

But there’s another one. Lesser known.

Val is calm now, watching me, and I catch a glimpse of the reporter. “Do you know it?” she asks.

“Yeah, I know it.” Stories have circulated about the hotel through the years. Some are decades old while others have been encouraged by the hotel itself. Ghost tours are popular these days, and the Franklin tour is no exception. “It has a history. For a while, it was called the Mad Motel.”

She flinches. “What?”

“According to my grandfather, people seemed to die there. Most deaths occurred right after the Depression, victims of the stock market crash, but not all. There was one guy that killed his whole family right before he killed himself. They said he lost his mind. That was the first time it was called the Mad Motel, though there were other stories.”

“What are you saying?”

I see the flush on her cheeks and know my words have upset her in a way I didn’t intend. I do my best to smooth it over. “Nothing. I didn’t mean anything. I’ve never been a fan of the name myself, but there were some guys around the department that used it.”

The anger that colored her cheeks a moment earlier fades, eclipsed by something else I recognize. Curiosity. “Why would they use such a terrible name?”

It’s a valid question, and I give the only explanation I can. “The first time I heard it on the job was about fifteen years ago. An assault at the Franklin. I didn’t catch the case, but I remember a man almost beat his wife to death. He would have, if someone in the next room hadn’t called the police.”

She doesn’t blink, doesn’t raise a hand to her mouth. Just waits. “Before that day, the guy was a typical accountant. Kind of nerdy.

Mild-mannered. Went to work. Went home to his family. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then they fly into Baltimore for their nephew’s wedding, stay at the Franklin. As they were dressing, he loses it. He hits her with the lamp, punches her, throws her up against the wall. When the police arrived, they had to pry him off of her. They rushed her to the hospital. She ended up with broken ribs, a concussion, a whole bunch of other stuff.”

“And the husband?”

“That’s what was so strange. According to the officers on the scene, as soon as they pulled him off, he stopped all of it. He cried, begged to be allowed to go with her to the hospital. When they took him downtown, he swore he didn’t know what had come over him. That he’d never hit anyone in his life, and he couldn’t even recall being angry with her. They kept him in jail until she woke up. Oddly, she corroborated his story. She said he didn’t have a violent bone in his body before that day.”

Val’s forehead wrinkles. “I don’t remember ever reading about that case.

What happened?”

“He was charged in spite of his wife’s insistence that she didn’t want that. When he went to trial, his lawyer put him on the stand. That’s when I heard his story.” I pause and run my hand over my face, scratching at my chin. “He told the jury that while he was putting on his tux jacket, a cold breeze blew in. He said he checked the room, but the windows were closed, and it was winter, so the heat was on. Then according to him, this cold air got into his body, in his hands and his feet and then his mind. He said when his wife came out of the bathroom, he didn’t recognize her, that she was someone else, something else.”

“Something else? What does that mean?”

“He described a monster with sharp teeth and claws. His attorney even had a drawing done by a sketch artist. She held it up for the jury, but the man wouldn’t look at it. Refused. He claimed he panicked, grabbed the lamp, and swung, but the monster kept coming. He said the monster howled—that was probably his wife screaming—and came at him again. That must have been when the guest in the other room called the police.” I pause again. Even as I say it, I know how it sounds. “So, he tells this story at trial, and everyone looks around at each other thinking this guy is crazy. But his wife is in the audience and nodding like it’s true. The prosecutor goes after him, but he doesn’t back down. He admits he attacked someone, but he swears he didn’t knowingly hurt his wife. He breaks down on the stand, and it’s basically bedlam in the courtroom.”

Memories of that day flood my mind. I sat in the back of the packed courtroom, watching the melee. It was hard to know what to think. Was the man delusional? A sociopath? Or was he telling the truth? Fortunately, Val doesn’t ask my opinion, and I tell her the rest.

“The prosecutor decided to cut his losses,” I say. “He let the man plead to a lesser charge and get some mental help.”

“That’s all?”

“Yep. The man did three months in a mental health facility, then went back to Omaha and his wife. End of story.”

“So that’s why the Franklin is called the Mad Motel?”

“It’s one of the reasons. But like I said, the place has a history.” Newspaper articles and pictures and evidence files flit through my mind. Many of the images are gruesome. Others just sad. Although the library is warm, I’m cold under my jacket. My voice drops to a whisper, the memories too close for comfort. “A history of death.”


Excerpt from Her Sister's Death by K. L. Murphy. Copyright 2022 by K. L. Murphy. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.


My Review:

5 stars!

Her Sister’s Death is a riveting tale of murder and deception. I was immediately invested in Val and Terry’s investigation and the flashback story of Bridget Wallace. The author makes the story come alive through three points of view: those of Val, Terry, and Bridget, and I was mesmerized by the telling. 

All three of the main characters are likable protagonists. Val is steadfast in her belief in her sister, dogged pursuit of the truth, and I found her very easy to relate to. She and Terry make engaging and formidable partners, and I liked how quickly they became an effective team. I wouldn’t mind seeing this pair again in a sequel. 

The 1921 storyline was frightening and tragic and all too easy to imagine happening. That poor girl is still so young and is facing a bleak future, even before she understands the true depths of her situation. The interactions with her fiancĂ© and later husband, Lawrence, were almost too painful to read. And for me, there remain the questions: was it something evil inherent in the hotel, or is it the evil spirit of the man that continues to affect the guests of the Franklin, or has the spirit of the man become the spirit of the hotel? 

I recommend HER SISTER’S DEATH for mystery readers who enjoy a touch of the paranormal in their stories, dual timelines, or mysteries set in hotels, the 1920s, or Baltimore.


Author Bio:

K. L. Murphy

K. L. Murphy is the author of the Detective Cancini Mystery Series: A Guilty Mind, Stay of Execution, and The Last Sin. Her short stories are featured in the anthologies Deadly Southern Charm (“Burn”) and Murder by the Glass (“EverUs”). She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and Historical Writers of America. K. L. lives in Richmond, VA, with her husband, children, and amazing dogs. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, entertain friends, catch up on everything she ignored, and always—walk the amazing dogs.

Catch Up With K. L. Murphy:
BookBub - @KLMurphy
Instagram - @k.l._murphy
Twitter - @klmurphyauthor
Facebook - @klmurphyauthor



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