Saturday, October 16, 2021

When the Pilot Falls by April Hayman Blog Tour and Giveaway

About the Book

Book: When the Pilot Falls

Author: April Hayman

Genre: Christian Historical Mystery, Fairytale

Release date: September 7, 2021

In 1923, there aren’t many pilots, but Willie Labeau didn’t let that stop… her.

A bear of a man, Hugh Taylor, needs a stunt plane pilot, and despite their rocky introduction, Willie sets off for golden California and a new life as his pilot. There’s just one little thing she has to do in addition to flying.

Leave his past alone. Period.

When the flame of her own curiosity becomes fanned by encouragement from Willie’s sister, the feisty pilot can’t help but do just a little investigating.

And Hugh vanishes.

Friends rally around her, and with all the information she can find in hand, Willie sets off to rescue Hugh and battle the evil family holding him hostage.

A fierce air race, a sincere act of humility—are they enough to free Hugh and give Willie a chance to be with him… forever?

Find out in this next book in the Ever After Mysteries, combining beloved fairy tales and mysteries. When the Pilot Falls offers a retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” that will keep you gripped to the edge of your seat as you watch hearts soar and daring dos.

Click here to get your copy!

My Review

I am not familiar with the fairy tale this novel is based upon but did find it an enjoyable novel to read. I really like the idea of a female stunt pilot in an era when such an accomplishment was unheard of. Willie is a capable woman in addition to being a great pilot. Her nemesis is Queenie, almost a caricature of a spoiled rich woman. And then there is Hugh, a big man yet held captive by the scheming family of Queenie. He seemed to be the caricature of a giant bound and rendered helpless. These are characters fairy tales are made of.

I found Hayman's writing style a bit choppy. The narrative did not seem to flow smoothly. Nonetheless, this is a good tale of a capable heroine battling a wicked woman with a loving but helpless giant nearby.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

 

About the Author

April Hayman lives in the high desert of California with her husband and their three sons. During the day, she focuses on homeschooling the boys and working on client projects. She writes at night when the temperature outside is only somewhat cooler than during the day.

Her passion for reading began in grade school and her teachers often reprimanded her for reading when she should have been completing her math assignments. Now she reads whenever she likes and writes for those who love to read.

April collects fountain pens, has too many pen pals (and always looking for more), journals sporadically, creates art when she can squeeze it in, and hordes stationery.

More from April

I’ve always loved to write. I still remember pounding out a science fiction story about a lizard man on my Grandmother’s typewriter, with its sticky ‘e’ key, then excitedly asking to read it to her. She patiently listened and praised my writing. I was thrilled even though, now as an adult, I realized she was humoring me. I continued to write on an off for the next twenty years, but it wasn’t until I found National Novel Writing Month that I really began to write in earnest.

I’d already begun my search into story structure and, one day while researching, NaNoWriMo popped up on my browser window. Interested, I clicked over and I was intrigued. Here was a chance to write 50,000 words in thirty days with a support group of other writers! And, with a day to go, I signed up. After all, how hard is it to write 50,000 words?

Turns out, it’s super hard. Especially when you’re new to story structure, developing characters, and correct pacing. It was a fabulous disaster of a story, but I did manage to hit my mark and “win” that year. And, best of all, I’d met Chautona Havig. She and I became friends and her brilliant writing advice and support has meant the world to me.

Every year after that, except when I moved away, I participated. Eventually I became a Municipal Liaison, the head volunteer and writer wrangler, for our area. It was a lot of fun but not one of those books has been published. They’re just for me and I love them, even if they’re awful.

Eventually, my participation was noticed by my three boys. While all of them enjoy reading to varying degrees, writing was always hard for them. Not that they don’t love to tell a good story. It’s the writing part that’s hard. Anyway, my eldest son finally decided to join the Young Writers Program (NaNoWriMo for pre-teens and teens) one year and got bitten by the writing bug. We’re currently working on his latest story. I’m so happy to have passed on my love of writing to him and his brothers!

Blog Stops

Debbie's Dusty Deliberations, October 16

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, October 16

Texas Book-aholic, October 17

Inklings and notions, October 18

Gina Holder, Author and Blogger, October 18 (Author Interview)

Happily Managing a Household of Boys, October 19

For Him and My Family, October 19

deb's Book Review, October 20

SodbusterLiving, October 20

ABBA’s Prayer Warrior Princess, October 21

Ashley’s Clean Book Reviews, October 22

Simple Harvest Reads, October 22 (Guest Review from Donna Cline)

Locks, Hooks and Books, October 23

Book Bites, Bee Stings, & Butterfly Kisses, October 23

The Meanderings of a Bookworm, October 24

Connect in Fiction, October 24

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, October 25

Connie's History Classroom, October 26

Mary Hake, October 26

A Modern Day Fairy Tale, October 27

Aryn the Libraryan 📚, October 27

For the Love of Literature, October 28

Through the Fire Blogs, October 28

Musings of a Sassy Bookish Mama, October 29

Back Porch Reads, October 29

Giveaway

To celebrate her tour, April is giving away the grand prize package of a $25 Amazon gift card and a copy of the book!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

https://promosimple.com/ps/126ae/when-the-pilot-falls-celebration-tour-giveaway

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.

(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.)

Personal Threat by Kimberly Rose Johnson Blog Tour and Giveaway

 

About the Book

Book: Personal Threat

Author: Kimberly Rose Johnson

Genre: Romantic Suspense, Christmas

Release date: September 21, 2021

Bodyguard Sally Wilson has become the target. Can she save her own life as well as her daughter’s?

Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, but when Sally’s young daughter, Emma, becomes the target of child traffickers, and the little girl’s biological father wants Sally dead, the Christmas season takes a dark turn.

Police officer, Dillon Brady, responds to a call for help at the home of his friend and Protection Inc. bodyguard, Sally Wilson. When their relationship tips beyond friendship, Dillon is determined no one will hurt Sally or her daughter again. Will his resolve be enough?

Sally is drawn to Dillon. He’s a natural with Emma and appears to care about both of them. Sally’s been fooled before by a man she believed loved her, but what if it’s an act? Can Sally learn to trust again and follow her heart, or will Dillon get relegated to the friend zone?

Click here to get your copy!

My Review 

This is an enjoyable novella and a good one to read of an evening at under one hundred pages. It wraps up a series. While it does read relatively well on its own, many characters in this story have histories from the previous novels. The full impact of this novella is best appreciated if the previous books in the series are read first.

There are scenes of suspense but the ones with the most impact are off screen, so to speak. We hear about them through a phone call or report from someone else. In that sense, this is a good novella for people who don't like to read really suspenseful scenes.

The plot gives several characters the opportunity to trust God for protection and a good outcome to a serious situation. We see the vital nature of prayer in trusting God for peace and safety. Don't expect in depth character development but do expect a good story of faith, a slowly developing romance, and some gentle suspense.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

 

About the Author

Award winning author Kimberly Rose Johnson married her college sweetheart and lives in the Pacific Northwest. From a young child Kimberly has been an avid reader. That love of reading fostered a creative mind and led to her passion for writing. She especially loves romance and writes contemporary romance and romantic mystery and suspense with a heart.

Kimberly holds a degree in Behavioral Science from Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers.

You can sign up for Kimberly’s newsletter via her website at: https://kimberlyrjohnson.com/

More from Kimberly

Every year since I signed the contract for my debut novel, a book set at Christmastime, I have made it a goal to write a Christmas book, usually a novella. This year, Personal Threat is that book.

I wrapped up the series with Personal Threat. My husband came up with the title for this one because the threat in this book is very personal for one of the Protection Inc. team members.

We first met Sally in book two of the series and it seemed only fitting she starred in a book of her own. We also get to know Dillon better in this book which for me was super fun to write. He’s played an important and growing role as the series has progressed and is one of my favorite characters in the series.

Blog Stops

CarpeDiem, October 14

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, October 14

Babbling Becky L’s Book Impressions, October 15

Worthy2Read, October 15

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, October 16

Bigreadersite, October 16

Blossoms and Blessings, October 17

Gina Holder, Author and Blogger, October 17

Happily Managing a Household of Boys, October 18

Debbie's Dusty Deliberations, October 18

Betti Mace, October 19

Daysong Reflections, October 19

An Author's Take, October 20

The Sacred Line, October 20

Inklings and notions, October 21

For Him and My Family, October 21

Blogging With Carol, October 22

Mypreciousbitsandmusings, October 22

Texas Book-aholic, October 23

deb's Book Review, October 23

Locks, Hooks and Books, October 24

Ashley’s Clean Book Reviews, October 24

Because I said so -- and other adventures in Parenting, October 25

A Modern Day Fairy Tale, October 25

Musings of a Sassy Bookish Mama, October 26

Mary Hake, October 26

The Meanderings of a Bookworm, October 27

The space for grace, October 27

Giveaway

To celebrate her tour, Kimberly is giving away the grand prize of a $25 Amazon gift card!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

https://promosimple.com/ps/12297/personal-threat-celebration-tour-giveaway

I received a complimentary digital copy of this novella through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit. 

(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, October 15, 2021

Chasing Manhattan by John Gray

This is an enjoyable novel combining a slow moving romance with a deep desire to help others. I did not read the first novel in this series so was a bit lost for the first part of the story. There is enough backstory as you read along that his one can be enjoyed on its own.

Chase was apparently given an unusual gift in the first novel in that she had visions of a sort and could then help people. She wrote a bestselling book about it, became pretty famous and escaped to Manhattan and anonymity. Gavin is her best friend and committed boyfriend.

Chase has enough money that she doesn't have to work but she is approached by a old college roommate to write a story about a wealthy man who gave away most of his money before he died. She agrees and that sets her on quite a journey of meeting people and helping them, or at least trying to.

Gray's writing style is pleasant and the novel moves along at a consistent pace. There is a little bit of a mystery thrown in with the wealthy man and the house he owns. The theme of the novel seems to be helping people. Perhaps God gives each of us a special gift to see a particular need another has. Like Chase, we might try too hard at times, perhaps barging in to a situation when it might be better to let it be. Then again, perhaps that is exactly what needs to happen to move the situation.

This novel is a pleasant one to read. I did get a little frustrated with the mellow nature of the relationship between Gavin and Chase. I mean, what fellow asks his girl when and how and where she would like to be proposed to?

You can read an excerpt here.

You can watch the book trailer here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

John Gray is an Emmy Award-winning television journalist and columnist in upstate New York. He is the author of three popular children's books. Manchester Christmas was his debut novel, followed by Chasing Manhattan. Gray donates a generous portion of his book sales to help others. He and his family live in Albany.

Paraclete 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.)

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Making Sense of Forgivness by Brad Hambrick

Christians know forgiveness is essential. We are told to forgive as God forgives us. But forgiveness is hard. It's not a momentary experience as there are feelings and other aspects that remain after making the choice to forgive. Hambrick helps those of us stuck on that road of forgiveness.

He covers topics like obstacles to forgiveness, what forgiveness is and isn't, which kinds of acts require forgiveness and which don't (we forgive sin, excuse mistakes, overlook quirks), and what forgiveness means for future relationships. “Forgiveness does not commit me to an unwise or destructive pattern of relating.” (51) I appreciate that Hambrick says forgiveness is not ignoring the hurt, it is not letting the culprit off the hook, it is not forgetting, and it is not necessarily trust or reconciliation. It is understanding God's forgiveness in new ways and remembering gracefully.

I am not sure this book is suitable for the average Christian. I found Hambrick's writing style a bit complex and hard to understand at times. There were some sentences I had to reread a few times to grasp the meaning. The text has more of a psychological bent and may be best read by professionals in the field.

There is one area where I would urge caution. Hambrick writes, “...unless we repent (a condition), God does not forgive.” (30) I have images of laying awake as a child, going over my day, trying to ask forgiveness for every misdeed lest I die in my sleep and be sent to hell for a sin I failed to remember. I find it interesting that he includes a chapter for professionals about individuals who have an obsession, such as continually asking for forgiveness. (137) I can see how such an obsession could form considering Hambrick's emphasis on the condition of repentance for forgiveness as quoted above.

I would rather we pay attention to Jesus asking God to forgive those who crucified Him because they did not know what they were doing. (Luke 23:34) I would also like to think that Jesus is doing the same for me now, interceding for me when I fail to remember a sin and repent of it. (Rom. 8:34) Trusting Jesus' continual intercession for us may help relax that obsession of trying to remember every sin to assure repentance and forgiveness.

This might be a good book for Christian counseling professionals to read to understand the complexities of forgiveness and to help people go through the entire process. In fact, there is a section in the book specifically for pastors, counselors, and church leaders. If a lay person plans to read this book, I suggest another be asked to read along. An objective co-reader could help clarify some of the author's ideas and suggestions. There are questions at the end of each chapter to help readers reflect on the material.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Brad Hambrick serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, NC. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and has authored several books. He holds a M.Div in Biblical Counseling and Th.M in applied theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

New Growth Press, 160 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, October 13, 2021

Labyrinth of Lies by Irene Hannon

About the Book:

Danger awaits on a covert mission where few are who they seem to be.

When the daughter of a high-profile businessman disappears from an exclusive girls' boarding school, police detective Cate Reilly is tapped for an undercover assignment. It doesn't take her long to realize that beneath its veneer of polish and wealth, Ivy Hill Academy harbors dark – and deadly – secrets. But the biggest shock of all? The only man she ever loved in also working at the school.

Zeke Sloan has never forgotten Cate, but now isn't the best time for their paths to cross again. When their two seemingly disparate agendas begin to intertwine – and startling connections emerge among the players – the danger escalates significantly.

But who is the mastermind behind the elaborate ruse? And how far will they go to protect their house of cards?

You can read an excerpt here.

You can read my review of the first in the series, Point of Danger.

My Review:

This is the second in a series featuring three sisters but read very well on its own. It is a novel for readers who like more about characters and their thoughts than they do suspenseful actions. This is a romantic suspense with the emphasis on the romance. I found it interesting that the characters in this novel, Cate and Zeke, seemed to think it was more important to restore affections than concentrate on the investigative task before them. I prefer police and federal agents keeping their emotions in check until the case is finished.

Hannon's writing style includes lots of character ruminating in the midst of work. Characters think about what they might do and why, many times, and then think about it all again after the fact. Cate and Zeke have a history of hurt so there is much they need to work through to renew romance. But work on it they do.

There is a mystery involved and there is a good dose of suspense near the end. Those seem to take a back seat, however, to a potential romance. I like to learn something about a topic or issue when I read fiction but I did not find anything of that nature in this novel. This is definitely a romantic suspense for readers who like the romance more than the suspense.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

About the Author:

Irene Hannon is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than sixty contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels. In addition to her many other honors, she is a three-time winner of the prestigious RITA Award from Romance Writers of America. She is also a member of RWA's elite Hall of Fame and has received a Career Achievement Award from RT Book Reviews for her entire body of work. You can find out more at www.irenehannon.com. Photo © DeWeesePhotography.com.

Revell, 384 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review. The book summary and author information are from the publisher.

(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.)

Holier Than Thou by Jackie Hill Perry

We know that God is holy but do we know what that means? Perry opened my eyes and helped me comprehend what God's holiness is and its impact. We are lastingly transformed, she reminds us, when we behold the glory of the Lord and that is what this book is about.

Her exploration of idols was enlightening. We choose an idol over God because we think it and not God can give us what we need. (98) We try to find identity in social media posts, or satisfaction in a bag of chips or a bottle of wine. Yet it is only in God, in Christ, we find everything we need. (101)

I really like her answer to those who emphasize that God is love (only). She points out their mischaracterization of God's entirety with only one attribute. (109) She writes about the futility of trying to be holy without the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. She helps us understand the connection of beholding and believing to becoming.

Is it important we keep in mind God's holiness? “At the point when we begin to think of God as being anything other than holy is the moment we are imagining a completely different god altogether.” (36)

I highly recommend this book to readers who want to embrace God as holy, behold His glory, and be transformed to His likeness.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Jackie Hill Perry is an author, poet, Bible teacher, and artist. Since becoming a Christian, she has been compelled to use her speaking and teaching gifts to share the light of the gospel of God as authentically as she can. She is a wife and mom. You can find out more at https://jackiehillperry.com/. 

B & H Publishing, 192 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.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

You Are Stronger Than You Think by Joel Osteen

If you are feeling overwhelmed, this book is for you. It is full of encouragement. The title says it all. “You'll never know how strong you really are,” Osteen writes, “until you face pressure that you've never faced.” (109/3059) He uses lots of Scripture promises, examples from the Bible (such as Gideon), examples from his own life and the lives of others to support his case.

Osteen is adamant. God has designed you with the inner strength you'll need for this time. Like buildings designed to withstand the pressure of earthquakes in California or hurricane force winds in Florida, God has designed your infrastructure for this difficulty.

Lest it seem Osteen is overly optimistic, he is realistic too. He reminds us sometimes God may take away something or someone we think we can't live without. God wants us to totally rely on Him. God doesn't stop every difficulty. He allows challenges to move us, to grow us. We may feel like we are in the furnace but God promises to be right there with us.

Osteen calls us to have faith, even when it seems the darkest. This book is encouraging with the message that God is working. We must have faith in God. “Nothing you face is beyond what you've been designed for.” (1363/3059) Should a reader not know Jesus as Savior, an opportunity is given to do so at the end of the book.

You can watch Osteen preach the message here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Joel Osteen is a New York Times bestselling author and the senior pastor of America's largest church, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Millions watch his weekly inspirational messages and connect with him through his digital platforms worldwide. He can be heard on SiriusXM 128 – Joel Osteen Radio. You can find out more at https://www.joelosteen.com/

FaithWords, 240 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, October 11, 2021

Mercy Creek by M E Browning Blog Tour and Giveaway

Mercy Creek

by M.E. Browning

October 11 - November 5, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

In an idyllic Colorado town, a young girl goes missing—and the trail leads into the heart and mind of a remorseless killer.

The late summer heat in Echo Valley, Colorado turns lush greenery into a tinder dry landscape. When a young girl mysteriously disappears, long buried grudges rekindle. Of the two Flores girls, Marisa was the one people pegged for trouble. Her younger sister, Lena, was the quiet daughter, dutiful and diligent—right until the moment she vanished.

Detective Jo Wyatt is convinced the eleven-year-old girl didn’t run away and that a more sinister reason lurks behind her disappearance. For Jo, the case is personal, reaching far back into her past. But as she mines Lena’s fractured family life, she unearths a cache of secrets and half-lies that paints a darker picture.

As the evidence mounts, so do the suspects, and when a witness steps forward with a shocking new revelation, Jo is forced to confront her doubts, and her worst fears. Now, it’s just a matter of time before the truth is revealed—or the killer makes another deadly move.

My Review:

That Browning has police experience really shows in this novel. The detail of the missing child investigation is engaging. Jo is a tenacious detective. I like her better in this novel than the first one. She doesn't seem to have a chip on her shoulder any longer. She just wants to find the missing child. There are plenty of suspects to follow as additional facts are revealed. There is a good dose of breath catching suspense near the end.

While the investigation of the missing child is prominent, the narrative is just as much about Jo and her complex relationships. Her investigation brings up the past as more of her earlier life is revealed. This is a good mystery for readers who like a balance of investigative procedure and character development. I am liking Jo more and more and will be looking for the next novel featuring her.

This is the second mystery featuring Jo Wyatt and you can read my review of the first one, Shadow Ridge.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 12th 2021
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 1643857622 (ISBN13: 9781643857626)
Series: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, Book 2 || Each mystery in the A Jo Wyatt Mystery series is a stand alone novel.
Purchase Links: Penguin Random House | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Everyone had a story from that night. Some saw a man, others saw a girl, still others saw nothing at all but didn’t want to squander the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves. To varying degrees, they were all wrong. Only two people knew the full truth.

That Saturday, visitors to the county fair clustered in the dappled shade cast by carnival rides and rested on hay bales scattered like afterthoughts between games of chance and food booths, the soles of their shoes sticky with ice cream drips and spilled sodas.

Detective Jo Wyatt stepped into the shadow of the Hall of Mirrors to watch the crowd. She grabbed the collar of her uniform and pumped it a few times in a futile attempt to push cooler air between her ballistic vest and sweat-sodden T-shirt.

The Echo Valley Fair marked the end of summer, but even now, as the relentless Colorado sun dipped, heat rose in waves around bare ankles and stroller wheels as families retreated toward the parking lots. An older crowd began to creep in, prowling the midway. The beer garden overflowed.

Within minutes the sun dropped behind the valley walls and the fairground lights flickered to life, their wan orange glow a beacon to moths confused by the strobing brightness of rides and games. Calliope music and the midway’s technopop collided in a crazed mishmash of notes so loud they echoed in Jo’s chest. She raised the volume of her radio.

The day shift officers had clocked out having handled nothing more pressing than a man locked out of his car and an allegation of unfair judging flung by the second-place winner of the bake-off.

Jo gauged the teeming crowd of unfamiliar faces. Tonight would be different.

#

Carnival music was creepy, Lena decided. Each ride had its own weird tune and it all seemed to crash against her with equal force, following her no matter where she went.

The guys in the booths were louder than they had been earlier, more aggressive, calling out, trying to get her to part with her tickets. Some of the guys roamed, jumping out at people, flicking cards and making jokes she didn’t understand while smiling at her older sister.

Marisa tossed her hair. Smiled back. Sometimes they let her play for free.

“Let’s go back to the livestock pavilion,” Lena said.

“Quit being such a baby.” Marisa glanced over her shoulder at the guy running the shooting gallery booth and tossed her hair. Again.

Lena rolled her eyes and wondered how long it would be before her sister ditched her.

“Hold up a sec.” Marisa tugged at the hem of her skintight skirt and flopped down on a hay bale.

She’d been wearing pants when they’d left the house. The big purse she always carried probably hid an entire wardrobe Momma knew nothing about. Lena wondered if the missing key to grandma’s car was tucked in there too.

Marisa unzipped one of her boots and pulled up her thin sock.

Lena pointed. “What happened to the bottom of your boot?”

Her sister ran her finger along the arch. “I painted it red.”

“Why?”

“It makes them more valuable.”

“Since when does coloring the bottom of your shoes make them more valuable?”

Marisa’s eyes lit up in a way that happened whenever she spoke about clothes or how she was going to hit it big in Hollywood someday. “In Paris there’s this guy who designs shoes and all of them have red soles. He’s the only one allowed to do that. It’s his thing.”

“But he didn’t make those boots.”

“All the famous women wear his shoes.” She waved to someone in the crowd.

“You’re not famous and you bought them at Payless.”

“What do you know about fashion?”

“I know enough not to paint the bottom of my boots to make them look like someone else made them.”

Marisa shoved her foot into her boot and yanked the zipper closed. “You bought your boots from the co-op.” She handed Lena her cell phone.

“You should have bought yours there, too.” Lena dutifully pointed the lens at her sister.

“Take a couple this time.” Marisa leaned back on her hands and arched her back, her hair nearly brushing the hay bale, and the expression on her face pouty like the girls in the magazines she was always looking at.

Lena snapped several photos and held out the phone. “All those high heels are good for is punching holes in the ground.”

“Oh, Lena.” Marisa’s voice dropped as if she was sharing a secret. “If you ever looked up from your animals long enough, you’d see there’s so much more to the world.” Her thumbs rapidly tapped the tiny keyboard of her phone.

In the center of the midway, a carnival guy held a long-handled mallet and called out to people as they passed by. He was older—somewhere in his twenties—and wore a tank top. Green and blue tattoos covered his arms and his biceps bulged as he pointed the oversized hammer at the tower behind him. It looked like a giant thermometer with numbers running along one edge, and High Striker spelled out on the other.

“Come on, men. There’s no easier way to impress the ladies.” He grabbed the mallet and tapped the plate. “You just have to find the proper motivation if you want to get it up…” He pointed with his chin to the top of the game and paused dramatically. “There.” He craned his neck and leered at Marisa. Lena wondered if he was looking up her sister’s skirt. “What happens later is up to you.”

Never breaking eye contact, he took a mighty swing. The puck raced up the tower, setting off a rainbow of lights and whistles before it smashed into the bell at the top. He winked in their direction. “Score.”

Twenty minutes later, Marisa was gone.

#

Lena gave up looking for her sister and returned to the livestock pavilion. Marisa could keep her music and crowds and stupid friends.

Only a few people still wandered around the dimly lit livestock pavilion. The fireworks would start soon and most people headed for the excitement outside, a world away from the comforting sound of animals snuffling and pawing at their bedding.

Marisa was probably hanging out near the river with her friends, drinking beer. Maybe smoking a cigarette or even a joint. Doing things she didn’t think her baby sister knew about.

Lena walked through an aisle stacked with poultry and rabbit cages. The pens holding goats, swine, and sheep took up the middle. At the back of the pavilion stretched a long row of three-sided cattle stalls. The smells of straw, grain, and animals replaced the gross smell of deep-fried candy bars and churros that had clogged her throat on the midway.

Near the end of the row, Lena stopped.

“Hey there, Bluebell.” Technically, he was number twenty-four, like his ear tag said. Her father didn’t believe in naming livestock, but to her, he’d always be Bluebell—even after she sold him at the auction to be slaughtered. Just because that was his fate didn’t mean he shouldn’t have a name to be remembered by. She remembered them all.

She patted his hip and slid her hand along his spine so he wouldn’t shy as she moved into the stall. She double-checked the halter, pausing to scratch his forehead. A piece of straw swirled in his water bucket and she fished it out. The cold water cooled her hot skin.

“You did good today. Sorry I won’t be spending the night with you, but Papa got called out to Dawson’s ranch to stitch up some mare.”

He swished his tail and it struck the rail with a metallic ring.

“Don’t get yourself all riled. I’ll be back tomorrow before you know it.”

If she hadn’t been showing Bluebell this afternoon, she’d have gone with her father. Her sutures had really improved this summer and were almost as neat as his. No one would guess they’d been made by an eleven-year-old. If nothing else, she could have helped keep the horse calm.

Instead, she’d go home with Marisa and spend the night at Momma’s. She wondered if Marisa would show up before the 4-H leader called lights out in the pavilion or if Lena would have to walk to her mom’s house by herself in the dark.

She reached down and jiggled the feed pan to smooth out the grain that Bluebell had pushed to the edges.

“That’s some cow.”

The male voice startled them both and Bluebell stomped his rear hoof. Lena peered over the Hereford’s withers. At first all she saw were the tattoos. An ugly monster head with a gaping mouth and snake tongue seem to snap at her. It was the carny from the High Striker standing at the edge of the stall.

“It’s a steer,” she stuttered. “And my sister isn’t here.”

“Not your sister I wanted to talk to.” He swayed a bit as he moved into the stall, like when her mother drank too much wine and tried to hide it.

Lena ducked under Bluebell’s throat and came up on the other side. She looked around the pavilion, now empty of people.

“Suspect they’re all out waiting on the fireworks,” he said.

The first boom echoed through the space. Several sheep bleated their disapproval and Bluebell jerked against his halter.

“Shhhh, now.” Lena reached her hand down and scratched his chest. “All that racket’s just some stupid fireworks.”

“Nothing to worry about,” the man added. He had the same look in his eyes that Papa’s border collie got right before he cut off the escape route of a runaway cow.

A bigger boom thundered through the pavilion. Halter clips clanged against the rails as uneasy cattle shuffled in their stalls. Her own legs shook as she sidled toward Bluebell’s rear.

He matched her steps. “What’s a little thing like you doing in here all by yourself?”

“My father will be back any minute.” Her voice shook.

He smiled, baring his teeth. “I’ll be sure to introduce myself when he arrives.”

A series of explosions, sharp as gunfire, erupted outside. Somewhere a cow lowed. Several more joined in, their voices pitiful with fear.

“You’re upsetting my steer. You need to leave.”

“Oh, your cow’s just fine. I think it’s you that’s scared.”

He spoke with the same low voice that Lena used with injured animals. The one she used right before she did something she knew would hurt but had to be done.

“You’re a pretty little thing,” he crooned. “Nice and quiet.”

Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She stood frozen. A warm trickle started down her leg, and the wet spot expanded on her jeans.

He edged closer. “I like them quiet.”

#

Jo ran.

The suspect veered off the sidewalk and slid down the hillside toward the creek.

She plunged off the side of the embankment, sliding through dirt and duff, closing the distance. She keyed her shoulder mic. “Entering the creek, heading west toward the Animas. I need someone on the River Trail.”

Narrow-leaf cottonwood and willows shimmered silver in the moonlight and wove a thicket of branches along the water, herding the suspect toward the cobbled stream bed.

Jo splashed into the ankle-deep water. Close enough now to almost touch.

Her lungs burned. With a final burst of speed, she lunged. Shoved his shoulder while he was mid-stride.

The man sprawled into the creek. Rolled onto his feet with a bellow. A knife in his hand.

Without thinking, she’d drawn her gun. “Drop it!”

Flashlight beams sliced the foliage. Snapping branches and crashing footsteps marked the other officers’ progress as they neared. Estes shouted Jo’s name. Her eyes never left the man standing just feet away.

“Over here!” She focused on the man’s shoulder, watching for the twitch that would telegraph his intentions. “You need to drop the knife. Now.” Her voice rose above the burble of the stream. “Or things are going to get a whole lot worse for you tonight.”

She shifted her weight to her front leg and carefully shuffled her rear foot until she found firmer footing and settled into a more stable shooting stance. “Drop the knife.” She aimed center mass. Drew a deep breath, willed her heart to slow.

The knife splashed into the creek near the bank.

“On your right.” Estes broke through the brush beside her.

“Get down on your knees,” Jo ordered. “Hands behind your head.”

“It’s my friend’s truck,” the man said.

Jo holstered her gun and moved forward while Estes covered her. She gripped his fingers and bowed the suspect backward, keeping him off balance while she searched him for weapons, then cuffed him.

“Not according to the owner.” She double-locked the cuffs while Estes radioed dispatch they had one in custody.

An explosion above the treetops made Jo flinch. Fireworks slashed the darkness and burst into balls of purple and green and dazzling white that sparkled briefly, then disappeared.

***

Excerpt from Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning. Copyright 2021 by M.E. Browning. Reproduced with permission from M.E. Browning. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

M.E. Browning writes the Colorado Book Award-winning Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction.

Catch Up With M.E. Browning:
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Twitter - @MickiBrowning
Facebook - @MickiBrowningAuthor

 

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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.)