Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

Having owned a bookstore for over three decades, I wanted to see how well Wiggs portrayed the owner experience, especially during the time of decline. I was pleasantly surprised as I read of the same experiences I had. The bad part of the bills, the author event where no one shows, and customers finding a book but then leaving to order it online. And the good experiences of seeing the joy on a person's face when they've found that next perfect book to read.

I liked the setting of San Francisco. I liked the characters. Natalie was portrayed well. She was reluctant to take over her mother's bookshop but her heart was so large. I found her captivating and a good representation of a bookshop owner. I really liked Peach. What a great hero to subtly come alongside Natalie. But my favorite was Dorothy. What a special girl.

This is a good novel for readers to understand what is involved in keeping a bookstore going in the time of online shopping. You find well crafted characters and a sweet romance. I didn't like the token sex scene but other than that, an enjoyable novel.

You can read a sample here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Susan Wiggs is the author of several novels highlighting the dramas of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. She is an international best-selling, award-winning author, with millions of copies of her books in print. She lives on an island in Puget Sound. You can find out more at https://www.susanwiggs.com/ Photo: Yvonne Wong Photography

William Morrow, 368 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Relative Silence Blog Tour and Giveaway

Relative Silence

by Carrie Stuart Parks

on Tour July 13 - August 14, 2020

Synopsis:


A powerful family with lots of secrets. A forensic artist with his own tragedies. And a hurricane drawing bearing down on their private island.

Fifteen years ago Piper Boone’s only child died in a boating accident, and Piper’s almost perfect life came to an end too. After living through a divorce and losing her job, she retreats to Curlew Island and her childhood home—a secluded mansion for the politically powerful Boone family, who are practically American royalty.

But Piper’s desire to become a recluse is shattered when a mass shooter opens fire and kills three women at a café where Piper is having lunch. The crisis puts her family in the spotlight by dredging up rumors of the so-called Curlew Island Curse, which whispers say has taken the lives of several members of the Boone family, including Piper’s father and sister.

Forensic artist Tucker Landry also survives the shooting and is tasked with the job of sketching a portrait of the shooter with Piper. They forge a bond over their shared love of movies and tragic pasts. But when police discover a connection between the shooting and two more murders on Curlew Island, they face a more terrible lineup of suspects than they could have imagined: Piper’s family.

Unraveling the family’s true history will be the key to Piper’s survival—or her certain death.

My Review:


I enjoyed much of this suspenseful novel even though I felt it had some structural issues. I liked the setting. I liked the small bit there was about age progression artistic work. There was lots of intense suspense near the end although a looming storm is an all too common way to create that suspense. I appreciated the characters involved but I did have trouble finding them engaging. The frequent movie quotes were interesting.

One of the aspects of the novel I did not like was the change in point of view. Much of the novel is from Piper's viewpoint while other sections were from the universal viewpoint, generally when Tucker was involved. It was disconcerting when the point of view would change within a chapter and sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. (An example is at Loc 1046/3180) And then there were the odd scenes from the universal point of view with Piper acting in the scene, referring to her as “she.” Going from Piper as “she” in one paragraph and “I” in the next was disconcerting.

I thought the plot was way too complex. A sure sign of an overly complex plot is a denouement that is long. Here we have a long passage near the end where Piper reveals all the complex aspects of what has happened. She reveals relationships in the family, some we could have figured out, but many out of the blue. People are not who they seem and family secrets have been hidden for decades. I am just not sure the plot was plausible.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Parks' Gwen Marcey series but was a bit disappointed in this novel. I will be looking for the next novel from Parks as I trust it will be up to her usual high standards.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: July 14th 2020
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 0785226184 (ISBN13: 9780785226185)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

Curlew Island, South Carolina
Fifteen years ago
The piercing scream ripped up my spine. I dropped the spatula and spun.
My almost-three-year-old daughter, Dove, stood at the door to the kitchen and held out her favorite toy, a tattered stuffed bunny she’d named Piggy. Piggy’s ear was hanging by a thread with stuffing protruding from the opening.
“Mommy,” she sobbed. “P-P-Piggy’s hurt.”
I turned off the blender. I’d told Mildred, the housekeeper, I was going to make dessert and was elbow-deep in half-whipped meringue for the banana pudding now cooling next to me.
“Come here, Dove, and let Mommy see.”
Still crying, Dove launched herself at me.
I lifted her and checked my watch. No one was at the family’s Curlew Island home at the moment except my husband, Ashlee. He’d said he would look after Dove while I did some cooking. Yet here she was with a damaged toy and in need of comfort, while he, as usual, was absent.
“Sweetheart, Mommy will have to fix Piggy in a little bit. Where’s Daddy?”
She shook her head. Her sobbing settled into hiccups and loud sniffles.
Shifting her to my hip, I caught sight of movement in the foyer. “Ashlee?”
The front door clicked shut.
Still holding Dove, I charged through the house and opened the front door. Ashlee was just climbing into a golf cart, the only transportation on the island. “Just where did you think you were going? You’re supposed to be watching Dove.”
“Don’t give me a hard time, Piper.” His face was pale with beads of sweat on his forehead. “I have an errand to run on the mainland. Mildred can watch Dove.”
“Mildred’s getting groceries and I’m cooking. Take Dove with you. You don’t spend nearly enough time with your only child.”
“Look, Piper, this is important and I don’t—”
“So’s your daughter. Or maybe we should all go to the mainland together if something is that important. Better yet, you finish dessert and I’ll get to play with Dove.” I was heartily tired of Ashlee’s constant racing off to “something important.” His work as head of marketing at the family business, Boone Industries, was stressful and kept him busy, but this was getting ridiculous.
He took out a handkerchief and swabbed his sweaty brow. “N-no. I’ll take her.”
Dove had relaxed against my shoulder. “She’s overdue for her nap, and the boat always puts her fast asleep. Just be sure to put her life jacket on. There are snacks on the boat if she gets hungry.”
Ashlee opened his mouth, then shut it. A vein pounded in his forehead.
“Dove, sweetie,” I said. “Go for a boat ride with your daddy. I’ll take care of Piggy, okay?”
She nodded under my chin and allowed me to hand her over to Ashlee.
“Will you be long?”
“As long as I need to be.” Without another word he got into the cart and drove toward the dock. The late October day was pleasantly warm, and although Dove wore a white T-shirt and short skirt, she could always crawl under a blanket in the saloon if the boat ride was too cool.
I took poor Piggy back into the kitchen and placed her on the end of the counter, hoping the meringue was salvageable. I topped the banana pudding, stuck the dessert into the oven, set the timer, and moved to Dove’s room to change the sheets. Finishing just as the pudding was ready, I placed it on the counter to cool.
After washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, I still had laundry to do. How could I be washing more clothes than we’d packed?
Once a year the entire family would gather on the private island for a stockholders’ meeting and retreat, joining the year-round staff. I’d like to say that seeing my family together in this beautiful paradise was a special treat. Unfortunately, I was closer to the housekeeper than to my own mother. At least the beach was sandy, the ocean refreshing, and the house spectacular and spacious. Dove, of course, was perfect. And Ashlee? Back to the laundry.
After shifting a load from the washer to the dryer, I made my way past the workout and sewing room toward the kitchen. Could a rabbit ear be repaired on a sewing machine? Ha! I didn’t even know how to thread a bobbin. I found Mildred in the kitchen, checking a store receipt. “I didn’t know you’d returned. Do you need help with the groceries?”
“Already done.”
“Then I timed my offer perfectly. Do you know how to thread a bobbin?”
“Have you been out in the sun too long?”
“It’s a rabbit-ear question.”
“Next time wear a hat.”
I grinned at the older woman. “To thread a bobbin?”
“You are the oddest child,” she muttered, then nodded at my banana pudding. “But you do make the most beautiful desserts.” We busied ourselves preparing dinner. The stockholders’ meeting was tomorrow, and the remaining members of the family would arrive tonight.
“Strange,” Mildred said after the pot roast had been placed in the oven.
“What?”
“I’d have thought everyone would be here by now.”
I glanced at my watch. Ashlee and Dove had been gone for five hours. Dove would be starving. “I’m sure—”
The phone rang.
“That’s probably them now.” I picked up the receiver. “Boone residence.”
“Piper!” It was my older brother, Tern. “Oh, Piper, I’m . . . I’m at the hospital. It’s Ashlee.”
I squeezed the receiver tighter. “What’s going on? Is Dove okay?”
Tern groaned.
I reached for Mildred. She took my hand, then put her arm around me to keep my knees from buckling. “Tern? Tern!”
Tern didn’t answer. A male voice took over. “Mrs. Piper Yates? This is Officer Stan Gragg of the Marion Inlet Police. There’s been an incident involving your husband. He was attacked on the dock and your family’s yacht was stolen. He’ll be fine, but we’re having the doctor check him out—”
“What about my daughter, Dove?” I tried to keep my voice under control, but the words came out shrill.
“We believe she was still on the boat. I’m afraid she’s missing.”
Chapter 1
Marion Inlet, South Carolina
Present Day
I couldn’t breathe. A man’s weight across my body crushed me to the sidewalk. The grit of the cement and shattered glass dug into my cheek. My ears rang with the craack, craack of gunfire and the screams of the wounded. A thousand bees stung my ankle. I kept my eyes tightly shut. If I opened them, I knew I’d see the sightless gaze of my friend Ami, stretched out beside me. Even with my eyes closed, I could still see Ami’s face. I should be the one lying dead.
I tried to cover my ears.
“Don’t move.” The man’s voice whispered in my ear, his breath stirring my hair.
I froze.
A final craack!
The man jerked. The shooting stopped. Like the eye of a hurricane, silence. Then the screaming resumed. In the distance, a siren, then a second.
The man didn’t move.
My shoulder felt warm. Something wet slithered around my neck.
In spite of the man’s warning, I inched my hand upward and touched my shoulder. I opened my eyes and looked at my fingers. Blood.
Adrenaline shot through my body. I was boxed in, closed off. My claustrophobia took over, shoving aside my fear of the gunman. I shoved upward, shifting the man sideways.
He groaned.
Sliding from underneath him, I had a chance to see who’d knocked me from my chair and covered me with his body when the gunman opened fire. He was about my age—midthirties—dressed in a light-tan cotton sports jacket and bloody jeans. His gray-white skin contrasted sharply with his shaggy black hair. He opened his eyes briefly, revealing ultramarine-blue irises, before closing them again. Blood streamed from a gash on his forehead. More blood pooled around his right leg.
I was breathing with fast, hiccupping breaths. I wanted to put my hands over my ears to block the screaming, but they were covered in blood. Maybe this is a movie. Patriot Games. Harrison Ford . . . No. Movies don’t smell.
What year was Patriot Games made? I couldn’t remember.
The distant sirens grew overwhelming, then stopped. Police officers, guns drawn, swarmed the overturned chairs and tables of the outdoor café. Swiftly they checked the motionless dead, the sobbing survivors, the wailing injured.
“Help! Here! Over here!” I waved my arm to get someone’s attention. Sliding closer, I lifted my protector’s head onto my lap, smearing his cheeks with blood. Wait. Was his head supposed to be below his heart? “Please help me!” A female officer raced over. “He’s shot.” I cradled his head in my lap. “Hurry. Please hurry and get help.”
The officer spoke into the mic on her shoulder. “Dispatch? Where are those ambulances?”
The reply was a jumble of words and static.
“Okay, ma’am,” the officer said to me. “Stay calm. The ambulances are on their way. I need you to put your hand on your husband’s leg and apply pressure to slow the bleeding—”
Her mic squawked again. “Ten-four,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
“He’s not my—” The officer raced off before I could finish. “Husband,” I whispered. I pressed a trembling hand on the man’s injury. Please, God, don’t let him die like this.
He moaned but didn’t open his eyes.
Another officer, this time male, came over. “Are you injured? You’re covered in blood.”
“It’s his. At least I think it’s his.” Was I hurt? I didn’t like this movie. It was filmed all shiny. Everyone moved in slow motion.
“Did you see the gunman?”
“Briefly.”
He nodded, then waved his hand to get someone’s attention. An EMT appeared and crouched beside me. “Are you okay?” His voice was distant and slow. “Laady, aarre yoouu ooookaaaaaayy?”
“Y-yes, I think so. He’s . . .” My vision narrowed. Blackness lapped around my brain. “Lunch . . . we were having lun—”
The blackness took over.
***
I opened my eyes. Above me was a green canvas umbrella. Did I have an umbrella in my bedroom? I didn’t think so.
What a strange dream.
My bed was hard. And gritty. And smelled of fried fish mixed with . . . the pungent stench of body fluids.
Turning my head, I blinked to make sense of what I was seeing. Overturned tables, chairs, a purse. Golden brown with the letter C forming a pattern. Coach purse. My purse. Spattered by a shattered bowl of creamy shrimp and grits.
Not my bed. Not a dream. Not a movie.
Sound finally registered. Talking, more sirens. Yelled directions.
I slowly pushed up to a sitting position. Uniformed officers were corralling witnesses, and EMTs were treating the wounded. Next to me was a pool of blood. The man—Harrison Ford? No, he was an actor. The man who’d saved me was gone.
When I looked the other way, Ami came into focus. Her eyes were open, looking beyond me. Beyond this life. A pool of her blood had reached the puddle from the man’s injury.
All my senses had returned, but I still felt . . . detached. Should I make a list? Write down what happened and make everything neat and tidy? I’d been having lunch. At a café. A gunman opened fire. That’s right. And my friend . . .
I reached over and took Ami’s hand. The warmth had already left it. She wore coral nail polish and an engagement ring. Did we talk about her engagement?
A giant lump in my throat made it difficult to swallow. She’s so still. Just a few minutes ago she was animatedly talking to me, like Téa Leoni in Spanglish. 2004. See, I remembered the year that movie was made. Why couldn’t I remember Patriot Games?
Why was I obsessing over movies now? And lists?
Movies and lists are safe.
My eyes burned, but no tears appeared. I hadn’t cried in more than fifteen years. “I’m so very sorry, m’friend. I . . .” I shook my head and placed Ami’s hand gently on the sidewalk.
The shooting. The blood. My dead friend. It was all real.
Looking away from her, I spotted the man being placed into an ambulance. He saved my life and I didn’t even know his name.
I started to get to my feet. An EMT raced over and gently placed her hand on my shoulder, easing me back down. “Easy there. It won’t be much longer. We’re just getting the badly wounded off first—”
“I’m fine,” I lied. “Harrison Ford—”
“What?”
You’re not in a movie. I pointed. “Um, that man, the one being put into the ambulance—who is he?”
The woman looked in the direction I was pointing. “I don’t know.” She called to the EMTs loading the man. “Hey, guys, what hospital are you going to?”
“Mercy.”
The EMT glanced at me. “Got that?”
“Thanks. Look, I’m not shot. I need to thank that man and make sure he’s going to be okay, then tell my family I’m not hurt.” I tried to stand again. “I promised I’d—”
“Sorry, honey.” This time the EMT pushed me down. “But you’re not going anywhere right now. You passed out. We don’t know if you sustained a head injury. You have a lot of blood on you, and your ankle is cut. And that officer”—she jerked her head—“said you’re a potential eyewitness. He said you can’t leave.”
“Please. I’m not injured—”
“We’ll decide that.” The EMT signaled the officer. “She’s awake. We’ll be moving her soon.”
The officer came over and squatted beside me. He looked to be in his early forties, lean and athletic. His name tag identified him as S. Gragg. “Miss Piper Boone? I’m Lieutenant Stan Gragg. I understand you may have seen the shooter.” His voice was soft and soothing.
“You know my name.”
“Yes, ma’am. Marion Inlet is a small town. Hard not to. And”—he looked away—“I was on the department here . . . before.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you.”
“Long time ago.”
“Yes. Mr. . . . Lieutenant Gragg, I have to cover her face. It’s not right, her just lying there.” I started to take off my jacket.
The officer stopped me. “Now, Miss Boone, I know it doesn’t seem respectful to your friend, but this is a crime scene and we have to secure and preserve it until the crime-scene folks can process it.” He glanced over my shoulder. “Looks like your ride is here.”
“Really, you’re making a big fuss. All those other people—”
“Just being cautious.” He stood and stepped away.
An EMT took his place. I grabbed my heavy, oversized purse and clutched it while they arranged for my transport to the hospital.
The nearest medical center was normally a twenty-minute drive, but the ambulance cut the time in half. I was raced into a small room, placed on the examination table, questioned about my injuries, and prodded. They cleaned and bandaged my ankle. The last of the feeling of detachment left with the scrubbing of my ankle cut. That hurt.
During one of the lulls when the doctor or nurse wasn’t tending to me, I pulled a notebook and pen from my purse and started a list.
Look up the year Patriot Games was made.
I stared at that a moment. That didn’t matter. It was a movie, and it had a bombing, not a café shooting. I drew a line through it.
Call family and tell them I’m okay.
Contact Ami’s parents and offer condolences.
Take food to the house.
Order flowers.
Offer to help with funeral arrangements.
Retrieve car.
Lieutenant Gragg entered. “How are you doing?”
“A few bumps—nothing really.” I looked down at my list.
“Are you writing down what happened for me? Your statement?”
“Oh. No. Making notes on what I need to do. You know. With Ami and all.” Heat rushed to my face. “Writing things down keeps me . . . sane.”
“And Ami is . . . ?”
“Oh, sorry, Ami Churchill. The woman I was having lunch with.”
“I see. Maybe before you forget anything you could tell me what happened.”
I nodded. “Okay.” The blood had dried on my jeans, blouse, and jacket. I breathed through my mouth to not take in the metallic odor. I just want to get out of these clothes. I bit my lip at the uncharitable thought. The blood was from the man who saved my life.
Lieutenant Gragg took out a small notepad and pen, checked the time, jotted something down, then looked at me.
“So let’s start at the beginning. Your full name is Piper Boone?”
“Sandpiper Boone.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Mother is an ornithologist, a bird-watcher. She named her children after birds.”
“So that’s why your brother, the senator, is Tern?”
“Yes. My sisters are Sparrow and Raven. I’m just happy Mother didn’t name me Albatross or Plover.” I smiled, then immediately looked down and tightened my lips. How could I make a joke when all those people were shot and Ami was still dead on the street? The police officer was taking the time to interview me when he had so much else to do, and all I could do was try to be funny. Unsuccessfully.
He quietly handed me a tissue. “Take your time.”
I took the tissue and crumpled it in my hand. “I’d agreed to meet Ami for lunch. I hadn’t seen her in years—since high school. Out of the blue, she called me up and asked to have lunch . . . I’m sorry, I’m not very organized in my thoughts right now.” The detached feeling was returning.
“And you were eating lunch?”
“Lunch. Yes. I mean no. We were finished. We were just talking and having a last glass of iced tea.”
“You were sitting facing the street?” he asked.
“No. I had my back to the street. Ami was facing me.”
Lieutenant Gragg paused and looked up from his writing. “You indicated you saw the shooter. If your back was to the street, how did you see him?”
“I . . . um . . . looked around when I smelled something . . . a homeless man. I caught a glimpse of the shooter then, but he wasn’t doing anything at that time. Later I could see his reflection in the window of the café. He’d moved behind me across the street and was watching the café. Something about him was . . . disturbing. I was about to mention him to Ami when he raised a rifle.” I started to tremble but dug my fingernails into my palms until it hurt. “Before I could say or do anything, the man at the next table grabbed me, threw me to the ground, and covered me with his body. Ami”—I took a deep breath—“Ami must have been one of the first people shot. She fell next to us as soon as the shooting started.”
“What happened next? What did the man do?”
“He saved my life.”
“Yes, but physically, what was going on around you?”
“I don’t know. I closed my eyes. I heard pop, pop, pop, screaming, the scraping of metal chairs and tables on the pavement, crashing dishes.” I took a shaky breath.
“Would you know the shooter again if you saw him?”
“I believe so, yes, if that would help you.”
A nurse entered. “Almost done? We need the room.”
“Almost.” The lieutenant gave her a quick smile.
She gave a curt nod and left.
“You said Ami was facing the street. Did she notice the man as well?”
“No. She was trying on my straw hat and was asking me if it looked good on her.”
“Piper! Thank the Lord you’re not hurt!” My brother, Tern, pushed into the room, followed by my mother, Caroline.
Mother stopped as soon as she spotted me. “Oh, Piper! You’re covered in blood! How badly are you hurt?”
“Okay, folks.” Lieutenant Gragg put his arm out to stop Tern. “We’re almost done here. She’s going to be fine. I need you to wait outside—”
“Do you know who you’re talking to?” Tern’s face was white. “That’s my little sister.”
“Yes, Senator Boone.” Lieutenant Gragg gently took Tern’s arm and turned him toward the door. “We’re taking good care of her.”
“Not as good as her family. We’re here to take her home and get the best possible care for her.”
“You will be able to, but we need to arrange for a forensic artist to meet with her as soon as possible—”
“Please, everyone, I’m fine. I have a slight graze on my ankle. That’s all.” I gripped the table. It’s Ami who needs family right now. And those other poor people. I looked down and allowed my hair to partially cover my face until I could get some modicum of control over my expression. “Could I call you about the artist?”
“Absolutely, Miss Boone.”
A strong arm wrapped around me and pulled me to my feet. I recognized the cherry-vanilla aroma of Tern’s pipe tobacco. “Come on, little sis,” he whispered. “Everything else can wait. You need to get home.”
“Tern!” my mother said. “She can’t go out in public looking like that.”
“She’ll have to.” Tern propelled me from the room, down the hall, through a set of doors, and into a chaotic nightmare.
Chapter 2
“Senator Boone!” Click, click, click.
“Senator, look this way!” Click, click.
The press was everywhere, yelling to get my brother’s attention, jamming microphones in my face, snapping digitals. “What do you have to say about today’s shooting?”
I kept my head down and wished I still had my hat to help conceal my face. Around me were milling legs and shoes—oxfords, pumps, cross-trainers, and one pair of Chloé Rylee cutout open-toed boots. Beyond cute. I glanced up at the boot wearer. A porcelain-complexioned redhead swiftly took my photo. Rats.
“Now that your own sister was shot, does this change your stance on gun control?”
“My sister wasn’t shot—”
“She’s covered in blood!”
“Now then, ladies and gentlemen.” Tern gave my arm a squeeze. “Please stand back and let my little sister and mother through, then I’ll give you a statement.”
The legs moved away. The press, particularly the female members, would be ecstatic for the chance to interview my strikingly handsome brother. And Tern knew how to use his good looks and charisma to charm even the most acerbic critic.
Tern ushered Mother and me into the back seat of the family’s silver Lexus LX, placed my purse on the floor, then bent down to talk to us. “I’m having Joel drive you home. I’ll put in an appearance at the children’s hospital fund raiser, then leave as soon as I can.” He shut the door.
Joel Christianson was the driver, handyman, and all-purpose help at the family estate on Curlew Island. He gave Tern a sketchy salute, put the car in gear, and slowly pulled out of the hospital parking lot. We drove up Highway 17 in silence. I rested my head against the car window. The blood, his blood, had stiffened on my jacket and blouse. Why did he risk his life saving me? I’m not worth the effort. I pulled out the list I’d started and added:
Find out man’s name.
Figure out how to thank him.
Joel took the exit to the picturesque hamlet of Marion Inlet. When my grandparents moved here, the town was little more than a fishing village. A row of white storefronts and historic homes faced the main street, and a fishing fleet anchored in the small harbor. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo made landfall just south of Marion Inlet, uprooting ancient trees and tossing the shrimping boats around the town as if they were children’s toys. The locals rebuilt and now the town was booming again.
Curlew Island, located less than a mile from the mainland, was almost entirely owned by the Boone family. It provided a seasonal home for vacations, retreats, and the annual family stockholders’ meeting in October. Normally the only permanent inhabitants were Joel and his wife, Mildred, the housekeeper. For the past year, I’d called the island home.
I’d often said I was dying to leave. Today I’d almost gotten my wish. I shook my head at the grim thought.
“What is it, Piper?” my mother asked.
“I suspect it’s what’s called gallows humor.”
“You always did have a strange sense of humor.” Mother patted me on the leg.
This from a woman who named me after a bird known for eating critters it plucked from the mud. “Mmmm.”
Mother brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Once we get to the house, you can take a shower and get cleaned up. I’m sure you’ll want to get out of those bloody clothes.” She gave a tiny shudder. “I’ll get Mildred to make you a pot of chamomile tea. She can add a spoonful of raw honey. Very calming. I’ll look up some organic pain medication so you can throw away those pills the doctor gave you.” She tapped her finger on her lips. “No. Don’t throw them away. That’s not safe. I’ll research how to dispose of them.” She gave me a slight smile.
I stared out the window, ignoring the twinges of pain from my scrapes and rapidly forming bruises, and tried not to think about Ami lying next to me at the outdoor café. Nineteen ninety-two. That was the year Patriot Games was released.
The SUV pulled in front of a small elevated house. The entire ground floor was open and served as a garage. The house was the original family home but had served as overflow guest quarters since my parents constructed the far larger house on Curlew Island. A day cruiser was tied up to the private dock waiting to transport the family to the island. Smaller boats, also owned by the family, were tied along one side.
I tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Joel, can you see that Mother gets to Curlew safely? I need to take the car.”
“Where are you going?” Mother asked.
“Ami”—I gulped some air—“was one of the victims murdered today. I need to talk to her parents—”
“The police will take care of that.”
“Shouldn’t they hear about it from me? I was the reason she was at the restaurant.” I held up the list. “If not for me, she’d be alive. Now I need to make things right.”
Mother patted my hand. “Really, Piper, you don’t know these people. You don’t know what they want or need right now. You need to let the family grieve in peace.”
“But I could tell them what happened—”
“What happened was that you were both in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, I’m going out for my afternoon meditating session. I think you should join me. Let nature help you heal.”
Joel opened the door beside Mother and helped her out. I remained in the SUV.
“Come along, Piper.” Mother headed for the boat.
“I need to get my car. It’s still parked near the restaurant. I’ll have Joel drive me over.”
Mother stopped, turned, and looked at me. Her gaze flickered over to Joel. The message was clear. Don’t make a scene in front of the help.
I sighed and looked down. A weight settled across my shoulders.
“Give me your keys,” Joel whispered. “I’ll retrieve the car in a bit.”
Opening my purse, I handed him my key chain, then slipped from the SUV and slowly followed Mother. I wish it had been me killed today.
***
Tucker Landry opened his eyes. A nurse sitting behind a counter directly in front of him stood and walked over. “How are you doing?”
“Where am I?”
“Mercy Hospital. You got out of surgery and you’re in recovery. Do you have any pain?”
“No. What happened?”
“Do you remember getting shot?”
Tucker closed his eyes. Flashes of memory slid across his mind. Lunch at an outdoor café. A beautiful woman at the next table. The thunderous staccato of gunfire. “Yes.”
“The doctor will be by to talk to you soon.”
“When can I get out of here?”
She patted his hand. “Don’t be in such a rush. You lost a lot of blood.”
A woman in green scrubs with her hair tucked into a surgical cap appeared next to him. “Welcome to the land of the living, Mr. Landry. I’m Dr. Rice. You are one lucky man.”
“I don’t feel lucky.”
“You are. The bullet that just grazed your head and struck you in the leg was a .223. Nasty business. A different angle and you’d be dead.” She tilted his head slightly upward and checked his forehead. “This will heal fine with just these butterfly bandages. They come off on their own in about ten days. Your leg injury will take longer. No broken bones, but I want you to keep weight off it so it has time to heal. You’ll be on crutches, which you’ll need to use even if you feel better.” She folded her arms. “I’d usually comment about the scar you’ll end up with, but I noticed you have quite a few all over your body.”
He could hear the question in her comment. “I do, yes.”
She waited another moment as if hoping he’d elaborate, then continued. “Now you need to rest and heal. I’ll be back when you’re settled in your room.” She walked away before Tucker could ask her any questions.
Settled in my room? How long was he supposed to be in here? He had work to do.
***
I sat in the boat’s aft holding my long hair to keep it from whipping across my face and watched the small town of Marion Inlet recede.
I’d looked forward to having lunch with Ami. Now I was thinking about funeral plans and memorial wreaths. And blood. Think about something else. I could join Mother in meditation, but while she sat on a comfortable mat, I had to sit on the ground. All I ever got out of it was leg cramps, bug bites, and dirty pants. Maybe I could do a movie marathon. Lock myself in my room and not come out for a week. Would a week be enough to erase everything? What about the man who saved my life? Would he be around in a week?
After Silva, the boat captain, tied up on the island dock, I headed straight to the house and my room, not willing to wait for one of the golf carts used as transportation.
The two-story, elevated, low-country home had been designed to preserve the existing natural environment. A series of dunes separated the front of the house from the sandy beach. Except for a small partially enclosed foyer leading to the living quarters on the second floor, the space beneath the house was surrounded by lattice.
Unlike the rest of the house, my bedroom didn’t have an indifferent, model-home look. Stacks of books covered most of the surfaces, and the built-in shelves sagged under the weight of more books and journals. I’d taken down the bird prints found on all the other bedroom walls and replaced them with a framed photograph of my father from a magazine piece about his art. Two movie posters flanked it. Next to a flat-screen television was a media storage unit holding my collection of classic movies. A half-packed suitcase sat open on a cedar chest, where it had rested for the last six months.
I dropped my oversized purse onto a nautical-themed chair and dashed into the bathroom. I stared at my face in the mirror. Does it show? Everything else did. Every passing thought was clearly written on my features and reflected in my complexion. Does the presence of death etch into the face? A tightness around the mouth? Eyes narrowed, or worse, turning cold?
After peeling off my bloody clothes, I stuffed them into a plastic garbage bag, then jammed the bag into the trash container. I’d never wear that outfit again. I didn’t even want to see it in my closet. My thick watch band on my left arm was clean, but the wide leather bracelet I wore on my right arm was crusted in blood. Sliding it off, I tried not to stare at the parallel raised white scars across my wrist. In the shower, I scrubbed my skin until it turned red. I washed my hair twice. The pink-tinged water eventually drained clear. My conservation-conscious mother would say I was using too much water, but today I didn’t care.
Maybe today is my wake-up call. Once the stockholders’ meeting was over, in three days, I’d leave for good. Nothing held me to Curlew Island. Well, okay, free room and board. And a small rock cairn at the north end of the island.
I just needed to pack the last of my things in the suitcase and arrange for my books, journals, and movie collection to be shipped to . . . Where?
I stopped scouring my hands and leaned against the cool marble tiles.
Maybe back to Atlanta? I could see if any jobs had opened up.
Oh yeah. Who’d want to hire a washed-up, has-been editor from a now-defunct publishing house? Yet another failure in my mess of a life.
Maybe I should look at someplace new, where no one knew me. It’s this stupid indecision that keeps my suitcase half packed. Leaving here was not a destination, only a decision.
When I stepped from the shower wrapped in towels, Mildred was waiting for me. The older woman was slightly plump but solid, plain-faced but with a radiant smile that transformed it. She wore her long gray hair in a tight bun, and oversized tortoiseshell glasses mostly hid her hazel eyes. A floral print apron covered her blue-checked cotton housedress.
“Child, I just thank the stars you weren’t killed today.”
“Thank you, Mildred—” The words caught in my throat.
“Let me look at you.” She lifted my chin and inspected my face. “It was bad, wasn’t it?”
I didn’t have to answer. I could keep nothing from Mildred. My face would show it all, and she knew how to read it.
She patted my cheek and let go. “Be strong.”
“How did you hear about it?” I finally asked. “Is it on the news?”
“Probably, but I wasn’t watching the news. Tern called after putting you and your mother in the car. He said you’d had a close call. Your mother sent some tea.” She glanced toward the Wedgwood tea set resting on a tray on the dresser.
“That’s so thoughtful of both of you. Thank you.” I made a point of pouring a cup and taking a sip. I didn’t care much for tea but didn’t want to appear ungrateful. “I wouldn’t be here now if not for the man who saved my life.”
Mildred raised her eyebrows.
That’s one of the things I love about this woman—her quiet strength and serenity. And her intelligence. I gave Mildred a quick hug. “I think I’ll take a walk along the beach.”
Her gaze darted to my wrist.
“I’m okay. I . . . I need to be alone.”
“You sound like Marlene Dietrich.”
“Greta Garbo,” I said automatically. “Grand Hotel, 1932.”
“The same year Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics?”
“That was 1936 . . . Wait a minute! You knew that answer.”
“Just testing you.”
“Well then, ‘You want to know something, Leslie? If I live to be ninety, I will never figure you out.’ Giant, 1956. I just have to substitute ‘Mildred’ for ‘Leslie.’”
“Same year your mother was born. Good year all around.” Mildred patted my cheek. “You’ll be fine.” She hesitated a moment. “Ashlee’s here.”
Ashlee. My ex-husband of fourteen years. When we divorced, he’d stayed on at Boone Industries as head of sales. The only non–family member to have a financial interest in the company, he held on to the stocks he’d received when we married and once a year was present at the shareholders’ meeting. Although our divorce was amiable, or at least as civil as such things can be, I did my best to avoid him.
“Duly noted.”
“I’ve put him in his usual room at the far end of the house.”
“Perfect.” Ashlee’s usual room was my sister Raven’s old bedroom. As she hadn’t shown up for any meetings in years, Ashlee took over the space.
“He did mention he had something to tell you.” Mildred pursed her lips.
My stomach churned. Somehow I knew it wouldn’t be good. “I see.”
“And you got a call from Four Paws Rescue.”
“Let me guess. A blind hamster? An elderly goat?”
“A goose.” Her lips puckered in disapproval.
“A goose? Who keeps a goose for a pet? Don’t answer that. What’s wrong with the goose?”
“It needs medical attention. The owners kept it in a dog crate in the house. Walked it daily. Then they lost the lease on their home and had to surrender their pet.”
Four Paws Rescue was another reason the free rent came in handy. My income from the family business always seemed to be needed elsewhere. “How much?”
“They think two hundred would cover the vet and first month’s care.”
I nodded. “Make me—”
“A note to send a check. Already done. Now, what else can I do to help you?”
Find me a job that pays well enough to live on and support all my two- and four-legged projects? “Nothing. No . . . wait. Could you call Mercy Hospital and see if they’ll release the name of the man who saved my life? Black hair. Blue eyes. About my age or a bit older.”
“I can try. You know how such things can be.”
“Thank you, Mildred. If that doesn’t work, I’ll ask Lieutenant Gragg to find out.”
Mildred turned to leave, then turned back. “Gragg? Why does that name sound familiar?”
“He said he was on the department . . . before.”
“I see. Oh, before I forget. You also got a call from Joyce.” Joyce Mueller was our sole neighbor on the island. She kept a seasonal home on the northern end. “I posted it on the bulletin board in the kitchen, then figured you probably wouldn’t check for messages.”
“Did she call because she heard—”
“No. She called last night. She wanted to talk to you.”
“Did she say what about?”
“No. But there was something in her voice . . .”
I raised my eyebrows. “Like . . . ?”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say she sounded scared.”
***
The adventure continues in Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks.
***
Excerpt from Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks. Copyright 2020 by Carrie Stuart Parks. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:


Carrie Stuart Parks is Christy, Carol, and Inspy award-winning author, an award-winning fine artist, and internationally known forensic artist. Along with her husband, Rick, she travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement as well as civilian participants. She has won numerous awards for career excellence. Carrie is a popular platform speaker, presenting a variety of topics from crime to creativity.

Catch Up With Carrie Stuart Parks:
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 I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.
(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder

I read this book in my ongoing attempt to understand the current political situation in the United States. It took me a while to slog through it as Snyder gives a great deal of background information before getting to the contemporary political culture. When I finally read through chapter six (2016), it all came together. He reviews the influence from the east to the west, the return of totalitarian thought, the Russian assault on the European Union, the invasion of Ukraine, the spread of political fiction in Russia and Europe and America, and the election of Donald Trump.

I found Snyder's historical account sobering. I recognized the tactic of creating crises to distract from the real issues. I saw the origin of creating false realities through lies, leaders not constrained by facts. (161) I was reminded of the tactic of using the media to lie to promote government ideas (162) and of leaders mocking reporters. (163) During the invasion of Crimea, Putin, rather than the invasion, was the star of television. (164) False news was prevalent and highly promoted. (178) My understanding the actions of the current administration was greatly enlarged.

Snyder is bold in his assertions: “The Internet Research Agency [the dedicated Russian cyberwar center] worked alongside Russian secret services to move Trump into the Oval Office.” (226) The use of social media was huge and effective. Snyder is very clear about Trump's role in the Russian activities. (231) He also reports, “...Bannon agreed with Putin that the federal government of the United States (and the European Union, which he called 'a glorified protectorate') should be destroyed.” (236)

I encourage Americans to read this book. Snyder brings together all of the history and the events that made news at the time but are likely forgotten now. The evidence is overwhelming. We are vulnerable to Russian tactics. (244) The extent to which we have been manipulated is shocking. We had better wake up. “In the end,” Snyder writes, “freedom depends upon citizens who are able to make a distinction between what is true and what they want to hear.” (249) Our very freedom is at stake.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Timothy Snyder is the Richard C Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He is the author of a number of works of history. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Tim Duggan Books, 368 pages.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Friday, July 10, 2020

A Practical Guide for Praying Parents by Erwin W Lutzer

Lutzer starts out with a bold statement. “It is a sin for you to not pray for your children.” (11) So we know we must pray but how do we do it day after day? How do we pray knowing we pray God's will? How do we pray and not repeat the same requests over and over?

Lutzer says the prayers for his children changed when he began praying Scripture. He helps parents and grandparents pray scriptural prayers and remain faithful when it appears prayers are not being answered.

One aspect of the book I really appreciated was Lutzer's teaching on spiritual warfare and specifically curses. He is clear that for believers, any curses from previous generations are broken in Christ. Christ bore our curse. (59) That is such good news as many Christian parents have worried about possible generational curses plaguing their children.

Another insight I really appreciated was Lutzer's clarification, “Some of the prayers and promises in the Old Testament that refer to the material blessings of God for Israel do not apply directly to the church.” (63) Christians are not to use Old Testament Scriptures to demand God pour physical blessings upon their children. His plea is for believers to exercise discernment. (66)

This book is aimed at getting parents on the journey of a life of prayer. I really like his insights into what to pray for, such as the child's heart condition, their attitude toward sin and realizing their identity in Christ. I like how Lutzer shares his own weekly prayer practice as an example for readers. I like his sample prayers, more examples of praying Scripture. I like his chapter on praying beyond the family, for the nation.

This is a very good book to get parents and grandparents on a rewarding and effective prayer journey. I highly recommend it.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Erwin W Lutzer is pastor emeritus of The Moody Church in Chicago, where he served as the senior pastor for 36 years. He earned his BTh from Winnipeg Bible College, a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary, a MA in philosophy from Loyola University, and an honorary LLD from the Simon Greenleaf School of Law. He is an award-winning author and featured speaker on three radio programs heard on more than 1,000 outlets in the United States and around the world. He and his wife life in the Chicago area and have three grown children and eight grandchildren.

Moody Publishers, 112 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Finders by Jeffrey B Burton

I enjoyed this mystery. It has everything I like in one. First off, it was clean in that it had only a few objectionable words and those were appropriate. The mystery was well presented and I had no idea who the villain was until the author revealed the person. Burton's writing style is good as was the pace of the action.

I liked the characters and felt they were developed well. Mace, our hero, is recovering from a divorce but is getting ready to think about women again. I liked Kippy too. Coming out of a very painful end to a relationship, she is extremely hesitant to think about entering into another relationship. I really appreciate there was no token graphic romantic scene.

I like to learn a little something when I read a novel and was happy to read about dogs being trained for cadaver discovery. I really liked how Burton gave a rescue dog special abilities. While unusual, it seemed entirely plausible, especially given the discussion about human abilities. Once and a while an Einstein comes along and it may very well be the same in the world of dogs.

I recommend this mystery to readers who like one plotted well and with engaging characters. It would be especially appreciated by dog lovers. I'll be looking for the next in this series.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jeffrey B Burton was born in Long Beach, California, grew up in At. Paul, Minnesota, received hi BA in Journalism at the University of Minnesota. He has written three previous novels and his short stories have appeared in dozens of magazines. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Horror Writers Association. He lives in St. Paul with his wife, a Pomeranian and a Beagle. You can find out more at https://jeffreybburton.com/index.html Photo: Cindy Archer-Burton.

St. Martins Press, 288 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes

I have mixed feelings about this novel. Overall, I liked the story. The idea of friends in youth being separated for years and then reconnecting is a nice story, as is the solving of a centuries old mystery. I liked the characters, Lucy the spunky and tireless questioner and Dash, the heroic star gazer.

I felt the plot was way too complex. We readers deal with two time periods which is fine. Characters within each time period have memories and dreams, however, adding another time element to each of the two major time periods. (At least I think they were dreams. They were italicized.) I found the stories the watchmaker told were enigmatic and I had trouble making sense of them. Near the end of the book, Lucy thinks, “The pieces did not all fit neatly together.” (Loc 5519/5993) My thoughts too. I did feel the plot was too complex, with the story/riddles and the many “coincidences” that were required.

Dykes has a lyrical way of writing that made this novel entertaining even if it was hard to believe the whole concept was plausible.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Amanda Dykes is a former English teacher and author of Whose Waves These Are , a Booklist 2019 Top Ten Romance debut, as well as three novellas. You can find out more at www.amandadykes.com. Photo credit: Michael Pettrey.

Bethany House, 368 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Make Me Like Jesus by Michael Phillips

This book is not for everyone. It's not for every Christian. Phillips makes it clear at the beginning that one should NOT read this book if you have not made substantial progress toward Christian maturity, if your church involvement is your primary emphasis, or if you are seeking blessings from God.

However, if you are seeking to know God more intimately and live in His presence, if you realize God's primary purpose is for you to be conformed to the image of Christ, then this book is for you. Phillips invites readers to an inward journey of the soul and to a life long process. He also gives a warning. There will be a heavy cost involved. The journey is not for the faint of heart.

I really appreciate Phillip's sharing his own journey with us. He reveals the prayers he prayed, starting with, “God, make me like Jesus.” He tells us of his struggles, of the years involved, of the hard lessons learned, of the state of joy gained.

The most insightful part of the book for me was a practical lesson gleaned from the life of Christ, that “God may appear to remove his hand from us.” (82) God gives us the opportunity to follow him when the heavens seem silent. (83) Phillips says this is the highest form of faith, exercising it when there is no experience, no feeling, no overwhelming assurance. (83)

I highly recommend this book to Christians but only if you have a hunger for a greater walk with Christ and are willing to accept the cost involved. Phillips' book is a joy to read as he presents his own journey. He is encouraging. He is also very honest about the reality of the high cost to the high call of becoming like Christ.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Michel Phillips is a best-selling fiction author who has also written many devotional and theological titles. He helped bring George MacDonald's books to a new audience in the 1980s.

Wise Path Books, 141 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Anarchy of the Mice Blog Tour and Giveaway

Anarchy of the Mice

by Jeff Bond

on Tour July 1 - August 31, 2020

Synopsis:


From Jeff Bond, author of Blackquest 40 and The Pinebox Vendetta, comes Anarchy of the Mice, book one in an epic new series starring Quaid Rafferty, Durwood Oak Jones, and Molly McGill: the trio of freelance operatives known collectively as Third Chance Enterprises.

How far could society fall without data? Account balances, property lines, government ID records — if it all vanished, if everyone’s scorecard reset to zero, how might the world look?

The Blind Mice are going to show us.

Molly McGill is fighting it. Her teenage son has come downstairs in a T-shirt from these “hacktivists” dominating the news. Her daughter’s bus is canceled — too many stoplights out — and school is in the opposite direction of the temp job she’s supposed to be starting this morning. She is twice-divorced; her P.I. business, McGill Investigators, is on the rocks; what kind of life is this for a woman a mere twelve credit-hours shy of her PhD?

Then the doorbell rings.

It’s Quaid Rafferty, the charming — but disgraced — former governor of Massachusetts, and his plainspoken partner, Durwood Oak Jones. The guys have an assignment for Molly. It sounds risky, but the pay sure beats switchboard work.

They need her to infiltrate the Blind Mice.

Danger, romance, intrigue, action for miles — whatever you read, Anarchy of the Mice is coming for you.


My Review:


Starting a Bond book is like getting a grab bag, wondering what's going to be inside. This novel is a venture into the unknown. I felt like it had a cast of thousands. It went from tunnels to helicopters and from New Jersey to Paris. There were more explosions than I could count. There was technology galore from 3D images to software erasing everything about a business, including its money, to weaponized vegetation. The characters managed to get out of more impossible situations than I thought could be included in a novel. Bond certainly does have an imagination.

There are some aspects of the novel that caused me to like it less than I might have. I did not find the characters engaging nor well developed. The plot centered on tons of action and much less on creating characters catching my interest. They just were not likable. And then the changes in point of view. Some chapters are first person from Molly's viewpoint. Other chapters featuring Quaid and Durwood were from the universal viewpoint. Except the odd chapters 69, universal, 70, first person Molly, then 71, universal but with Molly in it. Just a bit too strange for me.

This is a good book for readers who like a long book with lots of action, many impossible situations, lots of technology, a multitude of characters and settings, and not much of a character arc.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Action-Adventure
Published by: Jeff Bond books
Publication Date: June 15, 2020
Number of Pages: 445
ISBN: 173225527X (978-1732255272)
Series: Third Chance Enterprises, #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE
The first I ever heard of the Blind Mice was from my fourteen-year-old son, Zach. I was scrambling to get him and his sister ready for school, stepping over dolls and skater magazines, thinking ahead to the temp job I was starting in about an hour, when Zach came slumping downstairs in a suspiciously plain T-shirt.
“Turn around,” I said. “Let’s see the back.”
He scowled but did comply. The clothing check was mandatory after that vomiting-skull sweatshirt he’d slipped out the door in last month.
Okay. No drugs, profanity, or bodily fluids being expelled.
But there was something. An abstract computer-ish symbol. A mouse? Possibly the nose, eyes, and whiskers of a mouse?
Printed underneath was, Nibble, nibble. Until the whole sick scam rots through.
I checked the clock: 7:38. Seven minutes before we absolutely had to be out the door, and I still hadn’t cleaned up the grape juice spill, dealt with my Frizz City hair, or checked the furnace. For twenty minutes, I’d been hearing ker-klacks, which my heart said was construction outside but my head worried could be the failing heater.
How bad did I want to let Zach’s shirt slide?
Bad.
“Is that supposed to be a mouse?” I said. “Like an angry mouse?”
“The Blind Mice,” my son replied. “Maybe you’ve heard, they’re overthrowing the corporatocracy?”
His eyes bulged teen sarcasm underneath those bangs he refuses to get cut.
“Wait,” I said, “that group that’s attacking big companies’ websites and factories?”
“Government too.” He drew his face back ominously. “Anyone who’s part of the scam.”
“And you’re wearing their shirt?”
He shrugged.
I would’ve dearly loved to engage Zach in a serious discussion of socioeconomic justice—I did my master’s thesis on the psychology of labor devaluation in communities—except we needed to go. In five minutes.
“What if Principal Broadhead sees that?” I said. “Go change.”
“No.”
“Zach McGill, that shirt promotes domestic terrorism. You’ll get kicked out of school.”
“Like half my friends wear it, Mom.” He thrust his hands into his pockets.
Ugh. I had stepped in parenting quicksand. I’d issued a rash order and Zach had refused, and now I could either make him change, starting a blow-out fight and virtually guaranteeing I’d be late my first day on the job at First Mutual, or back down and erode my authority.
“Wear a jacket,” I said—a poor attempt to limit the erosion, but the best I could do. “And don’t let your great-grandmother see that shirt.”
Speaking of, I could hear Granny’s slippers padding around upstairs. She was into her morning routine, and would shortly—at the denture-rinsing phase—be shouting down that her sink was draining slow again; why hadn’t the damn plumber come yet?
Because I hadn’t paid one. McGill Investigators, the PI business of which I was the founder and sole employee (yes, I realized the plural name was misleading), had just gone belly-up. Hence the temp job.
Karen, my six-year-old, was seated cheerily beside her doll in front of orange juice and an Eggo Waffle.
“Mommy!” she announced. “I get to ride to school with you today!”
The doll’s lips looked sticky—OJ?—and the cat was eyeing Karen’s waffle across the table.
“Honey, weren’t you going to ride the bus today?” I asked, shooing the cat, wiping the doll with a dishrag.
Karen shook her head. “Bus isn’t running. I get to ride in the Prius, in Mommy’s Prius!”
I felt simultaneous joy that Karen loved our new car—well, new to us: 120K miles as a rental, but it was a hybrid—and despair because I really couldn’t take her. School was in the complete opposite direction of New Jersey Transit. Even if I took the turnpike, which I loathed, I would miss my train.
Fighting to address Karen calmly in a time crunch, I said, “Are you sure the bus isn’t running?”
She nodded.
I asked how she knew.
“Bus driver said, ‘If the stoplights are blinking again in the morning, I ain’t taking you.’” She walked to the window and pointed. “See?”
I joined her at the window, ignoring the driver’s grammatical example for the moment. Up and down my street, traffic lights flashed yellow.
“Blind Mice, playa!” Zach puffed his chest. “Nibble, nibble.
The lights had gone out every morning this week at rush hour. On Monday, the news had reported a bald eagle flew into a substation. On Tuesday, they’d said the outages were lingering for unknown reasons. I hadn’t seen the news yesterday.
Did Zach know the Blind Mice were involved? Or was he just being obnoxious?
“Great,” I muttered. “Bus won’t run because stoplights are out, but I’m free to risk our lives driving to school.”
Karen gazed up at me, her eyes green like mine and trembling. A mirror of my stress.
Pull it together, Molly.
“Don’t worry,” I corrected myself. “I’ll take you. I will. Let me just figure a few things out.”
Trying not to visualize myself walking into First Mutual forty-five minutes late, I took a breath. I patted through my purse for keys, sifting through rumpled Kleenex and receipts and granola-bar halves. Granny had made her way downstairs and was reading aloud from a bill-collection notice. Zach was texting, undoubtedly to friends about his lame mom. I felt air on my toes and looked down: a hole in my hose.
Fantastic.
I’d picked out my cutest work sandals, but somehow I doubted the look would hold up with toes poking out like mini-wieners.
I wished I could shut my eyes, whisper some spell, and wake up in a different universe.
Then the doorbell rang.
CHAPTER TWO
Quaid Rafferty waited on the McGills’ front porch with a winning smile. It had been ten months since he’d seen Molly, and he was eager to reconnect.
Inside, there sounded a crash (pulled-over coatrack?), a smack (skateboard hitting wall?), and muffled cross-voices.
Quaid fixed the lay of his sport coat lapels and kept waiting. His partner, Durwood Oak Jones, stood two paces back with his dog. Durwood wasn’t saying anything, but Quaid could feel the West Virginian’s disapproval—it pulsed from his blue jeans and cowboy hat.
Quaid twisted from the door. “School morning, right? I’m sure she’ll be out shortly.”
Durwood remained silent. He was on record saying they’d be better off with a more accomplished operative like Kitty Ravensdale or Sigrada the Serpent, but Quaid believed in Molly. He’d argued that McGill, a relative amateur, was just what they needed: a fresh-faced idealist.
Now he focused on the door—and was pleased to hear the dead bolt turn within. He was less pleased when he saw the face that appeared in the door glass.
The grandmother.
“Why, color me damned!” began the septuagenarian, yanking open the screen door. “The louse returns. Whorehouses all kick you out?”
Quaid strained to keep smiling. “How are you this fine morning, Eunice?”
Her face stormed over. “What’re you here for?”
“We’re hoping for a word with Molly if she’s around.” He opened his shoulders to give her a full view of his party, which included Durwood and Sue-Ann, his aged bluetick coonhound.
They made for an admittedly odd sight. Quaid and Durwood shared the same vital stats, six one and 180-something pounds, but God himself couldn’t have created two more different molds. Quaid in a sport coat with suntanned wrists and mussed-just-so blond hair. Durwood removing his hat and casting steel-colored eyes humbly about, jeans pulled down over his boots’ piping. And Sue with her mottled coat, rasping like any breath could be her last.
Eunice stabbed a finger toward Durwood. “He can come in—him I respect. But you need to turn right around. My granddaughter wants nothing to do with cads like you.”
Behind her, a voice called, “Granny, I can handle this.
Eunice ignored this. “You’re a no-good man. I know it, my granddaughter knows it.” Veins showed through the chicken-y skin of her neck. “Go on, hop a flight back to Vegas and all your whores!”
Before Quaid could counter these aspersions, Molly appeared.
His heart chirped in his chest. Molly was a little discombobulated, bending to put on a sandal, a kid’s jacket tucked under one elbow—but those dimples, that curvy body...even in the worst domestic throes, she could’ve charmed slime off a senator.
He said, “Can’t you beat a seventy-four-year-old woman to the door?”
Molly slipped on the second sandal. “Can we please just not? It’s been a crazy morning.”
“I know the type.” Quaid smacked his hands together. “So hey, we have a job for you.”
“You’re a little late—McGill Investigators went out of business. I have a real job starting in less than an hour.”
“What kind?”
“Reception,” she said. “Three months with First Mutual.”
“Temp work?” Quaid asked.
“I was supposed to start with the board of psychological examiners, but the position fell through.”
“How come?”
“Funding ran out. The governor disbanded the board.”
“So First Mutual...?”
Molly’s eyes, big and leprechaun green, fell. “It’s temp work, yeah.”
“You’re criminally overqualified for that, McGill,” Quaid said. “Hear us out. Please.”
She snapped her arms over her chest but didn’t stop Quaid as he breezed into the living room followed by Durwood and Sue-Ann, who wore no leash but kept a perfect twenty-inch heel by her master.
Two kids poked their heads around the kitchen doorframe. Quaid waggled his fingers playfully at the girl.
Molly said, “Zach, Karen—please wait upstairs. I’m speaking with these men.”
The boy argued he should be able to stay; upstairs sucked; wasn’t she the one who said they had to leave, like, immedia—
“This is not a negotiation,” Molly said in a new tone.
They went upstairs.
She sighed. “Now they’ll be late for school. I’m officially the worst mother ever.”
Quaid glanced around the living room. The floor was clutter free, but toys jammed the shelves of the coffee table. Stray fibers stuck up from the carpet, which had faded beige from its original yellow or ivory.
“No, you’re an excellent mother,” Quaid said. “You do what you believe is best for your children, which is why you’re going to accept our proposition.”
The most effective means of winning a person over, Quaid had learned as governor of Massachusetts and in prior political capacities, was to identify their objective and articulate how your proposal brought it closer. Part two was always trickier.
He continued, “American Dynamics is the client, and they have deep pockets. If you help us pull this off, all your money troubles go poof.”
A glint pierced Molly’s skepticism. “Okay. I’m listening.”
“You’ve heard of the Blind Mice, these anarchist hackers?”
“I—well, yes, a little. Zach has their T-shirt.”
Quaid, having met the boy on a few occasions, wasn’t shocked by the information. “Here’s the deal. We need someone to infiltrate them.”
Molly blinked twice.
Durwood spoke up, “You’d be great, Moll. You’re young. Personable. People trust you.”
Molly’s eyes were grapefruits. “What did you call them, ‘anarchist hackers’? How would I infiltrate them? I just started paying bills online.”
“No tech knowledge required,” Quaid said. “We have a plan.”
He gave her the nickel summary. The Blind Mice had singled out twelve corporate targets, “the Despicable Dozen,” and American Dynamics topped the list. In recent months, AmDye had seen its websites crashed, its factories slowed by computer glitches, internal documents leaked, the CEO’s home
egged repeatedly. Government agencies from the FBI to NYPD were pursuing the Mice, but the company was troubled by the lack of progress and so had hired Third Chance Enterprises to take them down.
“Now if I accept,” Molly said, narrowing her eyes, “does that mean I’m officially part of Third Chance Enterprises?”
Quaid exhaled at length. Durwood shook his head with an irked air—he hated the name, and considered Quaid’s branding efforts foolish.
“Oh, Durwood and I have been at this freelance operative thing awhile.” Quaid smoothed his sport coat lapels. “Most cases we can handle between the two of us.”
“But not this one.”
“Right. Durwood’s a whiz with prosthetics, but even he can’t bring this”—Quaid indicated his own ruggedly handsome but undeniably middle-aged face—“back to twenty-five.”
Molly’s eyes turned inward. Quaid’s instincts told him she was thinking of her children.
She said, “Sounds dangerous.”
“Nah.” He spread his arms, wide and forthright. “You’re working with the best here: the top small-force, private-arms outfit in the Western world. Very minimal danger.”
Like the politician he’d once been, Quaid delivered this line of questionable veracity with full sincerity.
Then he turned to his partner. “Right, Wood? She won’t have a thing to worry about. We’d limit her involvement to safe situations.”
Durwood thinned his lips. “Do the best we could.”
This response, typical of the soldier he’d once been, was unhelpful.
Molly said, “Who takes care of my kids if something happens, if the Blind Mice sniff me out? Would I have to commit actual crimes?”
“Unlikely.”
Unlikely? I’ll tell you what’s unlikely, getting hired someplace, anyplace, with a felony conviction on your application...”
As she thundered away, Quaid wondered if Durwood might not have been right in preferring a pro. The few times they’d used Molly McGill before had been secondary: posing as a gate agent during the foiled Delta hijacking, later as an archivist for the American embassy in Rome. They’d only pulled her into Rome because of her language skills—she spoke six fluently.
“...also, I have to say,” she continued, and from the edge in her voice, Quaid knew just where they were headed, “I find it curious that I don’t hear from you for ten months, and then you need my help, and all of a sudden, I matter. All of a sudden, you’re on my doorstep.”
“I apologize,” Quaid said. “The Dubai job ran long, then that Guadeloupean resort got hit by a second hurricane. We got busy. I should’ve called.”
Molly’s face cooled a shade, and Quaid saw that he hadn’t lost her.
Yet.
Before either could say more, a heavy ker-klack sounded outside.
“What’s the racket?” Quaid asked. He peeked out the window at his and Durwood’s Vanagon, which looked no more beat-up than usual.
“It’s been going on all morning,” Molly said. “I figured it was construction.”
Quaid said, “Construction in this economy?”
He looked to Durwood.
“I’ll check ’er out.” The ex-soldier turned for the door. Sue-Ann, heaving herself laboriously off the carpet, scuffled after.
Alone now with Molly, Quaid walked several paces in. He doubled his sport coat over his forearm and passed a hand through his hair, using a foyer mirror to confirm the curlicues that graced his temples on his best days.
This was where it had to happen. Quaid’s behavior toward Molly had been less than gallant, and that was an issue. Still, there were sound arguments at his disposal. He could play the money angle. He could talk about making the world safer for Molly’s children. He could point out that she was meant for greater things, appealing to her sense of adventure, framing the job as an escape from the hamster wheel and entrée to a bright world of heroes and villains.
He believed in the job. Now he just needed her to believe too.
CHAPTER THREE
Durwood walked north. Sue-Ann gimped along after, favoring her bum hip. Paws echoed bootheels like sparrows answering blackbirds. They found their noise at the sixth house on the left.
A crew of three men was working outside a small home. Two-story like Molly’s. The owner had tacked an addition onto one side, prefab sunroom. The men were working where the sunroom met the main structure. Dislodging nails, jackhammering between fiberglass and brick.
Tossing panels onto a stack.
“Pardon,” Durwood called. “Who you boys working for?”
One man pointed to his earmuffs. The others paid Durwood no mind whatsoever. Heavyset men. Big stomachs and muscles.
Durwood walked closer. “Those corner boards’re getting beat up. Y’all got a permit I could see?”
The three continued to ignore him.
The addition was poorly done to begin with, the cornice already sagging. Shoddy craftsmanship. That didn’t mean the owners deserved to have it stolen for scrap.
The jackhammer was plugged into an outside GFI. Durwood caught its cord with his bootheel.
“The hell?” said the operator as his juice cut.
Durwood said, “You’re thieves. You’re stealing fiberglass.”
The men denied nothing.
One said, “Call the cops. See if they come.”
Sue-Ann bared her gums.
Durwood said, “I don’t believe we need to involve law enforcement,” and turned back south for the Vanagon.
Crime like this—callous, brash—was a sign of the times.  People were sore about this “new economy,” how well the rich were making out. Groups like the Blind Mice thought it gave them a right to practice lawlessness.

Lawlessness, Durwood knew, was like a plague. Left unchecked, it spread. Even now, besides this sunroom dismantling, Durwood saw a half dozen offenses in plain sight. Low-stakes gambling on a porch. Coaxials looped across half the neighborhood roofs: cable splicing. A Rottweiler roaming off leash.
Each stuck in Durwood’s craw.
He walked a half block to the Vanagon. He hunted around inside, boots clattering the bare metal floor. Pushed aside Stinger missiles in titanium casings. Squinted past crates of frag grenades in the bulkhead he’d jiggered himself from ponderosa pine.
Here she was—a pressurized tin of black ops epoxy. Set quick enough to repel a flash air strike, strong enough to hold a bridge. Durwood had purchased it for the Dubai job. According to his supplier, Yakov, the stuff smelled like cinnamon when it dried. Something to do with chemistry.
Durwood removed the tin from its box and brushed off the pink Styrofoam packing Yakov favored. Then allowed Sue a moment to ease herself down to the curb before they started back north.
Passing Molly’s house, Durwood glimpsed her through the living room window. She was listening to Quaid, fingers pressed to her forehead.
Quaid was lying. Which was nothing new, Quaid stretching the truth to a woman. But these lies involved Molly’s safety. Fact was, they knew very little of the Blind Mice. Their capabilities, their willingness to harm innocents. The leader, Josiah, was a reckless troublemaker. He spewed his nonsense on Twitter, announcing targets ahead of time, talking about his own penis.
The heavyset men were back at it. One on the roof. The other two around back of the sunroom, digging up the slab.
Durwood set down the epoxy. The men glanced over but kept jackhammering. They would not be the first, nor last, to underestimate this son of an Appalachian coal miner.
The air compressor was set up on the lawn. Durwood found the main pressure valve and cranked its throat full open.
The man on the roof had his ratchet come roaring out of his hands. He slid down the grade, nose rubbing vinyl shingles, and landed in petunias.
Back on his feet, the man swore.
“Mind your language,” Durwood said. “There’s families in the neighborhood.”
The other two hustled over, shovels at their shoulders. The widest of the three circled to Durwood’s backside.
Sue-Ann coiled her old bones to strike. Ugliness roiled Durwood’s gut.
Big Man punched first. Durwood caught his fist, torqued his arm behind his back. The next man swung his shovel. Durwood charged underneath and speared his chest. The man wheezed sharply, his lung likely punctured.
The third man got hold of Durwood’s bootheel, smashed his elbow into the hollow of Durwood’s knee. Durwood scissored the opposite leg across the man’s throat. He gritted his teeth and clenched. He felt the man’s Adam’s apple wriggling between his legs. A black core in Durwood yearned to squeeze.
He resisted.
The hostiles came again, and Durwood whipped them again. Automatically, in a series of beats as natural to him as chirping to a katydid. The men’s faces changed from angry to scared to incredulous. Finally, they stayed down.
“Now y’all are helping fix that sunroom.” Durwood nodded to the epoxy tin. “Mix six to one, then paste ’er on quick.”
Luckily, he’d caught the thieves early, and the repair was uncomplicated. Clamp, glue, drill. The epoxy should increase the R-value on the sunroom ten, fifteen, units. Good for a few bucks off the gas bill in winter, anyhow.
Durwood did much of the work himself. He enjoyed the panels’ weight, the strength of a well-formed joint. His muscles felt free and easy as if he were home ridding the sorghum fields of johnsongrass.
Done, he let the thieves go.
He turned back south toward Molly’s house. Sue-Ann scrabbled alongside.
“Well, ole girl?” he said. “Let’s see how Quaid made out.”
CHAPTER FOUR
I stood on my front porch watching the Vanagon rumble down Sycamore. My toes tingled, my heart was tossing itself against the walls of my chest, and I was pretty sure my nose had gone berserk. How else could I be smelling cinnamon?
Quaid Rafferty’s last words played over and over in my head: We need you.
For twenty minutes, after Durwood had taken his dog to investigate ker-klacks, Quaid had given me the hard sell. The money would be big-time. I had the perfect skills for the assignment: guts, grace under fire, that youthful je ne sais quoi. Wasn’t I always saying I ought to be putting my psychology skills to better use? Well, here it was: understanding these young people’s outrage would be a major component of the job.
Some people will anticipate your words and mumble along. Quaid did something similar but with feelings, cringing at my credit issues, brightening with whole-face joy at Karen’s reading progress—which I was afraid would suffer if I got busy and didn’t keep up her nightly practice.
He was pitching me, yes. But he genuinely cared what was happening in my life.
I didn’t know how to think about Quaid, how to even fix him in my brain. He and Durwood were so far outside any normal frame of reference. Were they even real? Did I imagine them?
Their biographies were epic. Quaid the twice-elected (once-impeached) governor of Massachusetts who now battled villains across the globe and lived at Caesars Palace. Durwood a legend of the Marine Corps, discharged after defying his commanding officer and wiping out an entire Qaeda cell to avenge the death of his wife.
I’d met them during my own unreal adventure—the end of my second marriage, which had unraveled in tragedy in the backwoods of West Virginia.
They’d recruited me for three missions since. Each was like a huge, brilliant dream—the kind that’s so vital and packed with life that you hang on after you wake up, clutching backward into sleep to stay inside.
Granny said, “That man’s trouble. If you have any sense in that stubborn head of yours, you’ll steer clear.”
I stepped back into the living room, the Vanagon long gone, and allowed my eyes to close. Granny didn’t know the half of it. She had huffed off to watch her judge shows on TV before the guys had even mentioned the Blind Mice.
No, she meant a more conventional trouble.
“I’ve learned,” I said. “If I take this job, it won’t be for romance. I’d be doing it for me. For the family.”
As if cued by the word “family,” a peal of laughter sounded upstairs.
Children!
My eyes zoomed to the clock. It was 8:20. Zach would be lucky to make first hour, let alone homeroom. In a single swipe, I scooped up the Prius keys and both jackets. My purse whorled off my shoulder like some supermom prop.
“Leaving now!” I called up the stairwell. “Here we go, kids—laces tied, backpacks zipped.”
Zach trudged down, leaning his weight into the rail. Karen followed with sunny-careful steps. I sped through the last items on my list—tossed a towel over the grape juice, sloshed water onto the roast, considered my appearance in the microwave door, and just frowned, beyond caring.
Halfway across the porch, Granny’s fingers closed around my wrist.
“Promise me,” she said, “that you will not associate with Quaid Rafferty. Promise me you won’t have one single thing to do with that lowlife.”
I looked past her to the kitchen, where the cat was kinking herself to retch Eggo Waffle onto the linoleum.
“I’m sorry, Granny.” I patted her hand, freeing myself. “It’s something I have to do.”
***
Excerpt from Anarchy of the Mice by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:


Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have been featured in The New York Review of Books, and his 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received the gold medal (top prize) in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

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