Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Playing Dead by TG Wolff Blog Tour Book Review

 

Playing Dead

by TG Wolff

February 19 - 23, 2024 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The nightmare is over. Alexander “Rotten” Carter is dead. But when his body is dumped in Cleveland Homicide Detective Jesus De La Cruz’s neighborhood, there are more questions than answers. Rotten was dressed up like the king of hearts, right down to the dagger in the suicide king’s temple. The elaborate staging is perplexing at the same time seems to be sending a message.

As Cruz investigates, he discovers Rotten Carter was more complex than the simple villain he had painted him to be. So is his murder, which is related to the deaths of his two lieutenants months prior. Both were strangled and found, with playing cards in their mouths. Jacks.

As the body count climbs, connection tie back to a dead CI and an accident that made a cop a widower. A web becomes apparent with one man in the middle: Narcotics Detective Matt Yablonski. But is he the spider or another fly?

My Review:

I enjoyed this police investigative procedure novel. For those of us who have come to be engaged in De La Cruz's life, this is a good addition to his continuing story. Wolff has managed to strike a balance between the police work and Cruz's personal life. I like his commitment to his friend, Yablonski, and the relationship he has with his finance, Aurora. The investigative procedure is an experience in following every lead possible, including the use of medieval fighting implements.

Much of the personal relationship drama we read about in this novel is rooted in previous books in the series. While this novel reads well on its own, De La Cruz is an engaging character and reading the earlier books would be fun too. Wollf's writing style is a pleasure to read and this is a good novel for those who like to know as much about the detectives as their work in solving the murders.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

You can read my review of the previous book in this series, RazingStakes

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: February 2024
Number of Pages: 398
Series: The De La Cruz Case Files, Book 4
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

The crime scene was around the corner, no more than ten houses from Cruz’s own. Two streets came together at a sharp angle, creating oddly shaped yards. An island was formed at one of the peaks, surrounded by roadway. It was the length of one of the yards facing it. Geometric colors showed brightly in the morning sun, giving the landscape a third dimension it didn’t naturally have. Cruz approached, his mind transforming the lines and shapes into the macabre corpse.

“I called 9-1-1 and, thankfully, no one else has come out,” Binnie, the girls’ father, said. He stood guard over the island in worn sweatpants and a sweatshirt. He was barefoot.

“Aurora kept the girls. She’ll settle them down.”

“Good. I didn’t want them to see this, not any more than they had.” Binnie turned until he and Cruz were side by side. “The island was part of the city’s Color the Corners Chalk Festival. It took the artist two days to do it.”

That explained the background, a mosaic reminiscent of a stained-glass window, but not the character on it. Cruz thought Francie’s description of a costume was accurate. The victim, male, White, was in his twenties. The torso was covered by a tunic, the kind a knight might wear. Instead of regal, the tunic was decorated with hearts in groups of twos and threes, some facing up, others down. The costume was thin fabric. Details were printed on, not embroidered. The legs were dressed in a pair of tights, the red color coordinated with the tunic. The feet were bare.

The arms were bare as well. One was bent at the elbow with the hand resting on the lower abdomen. The other was positioned upward. The hand curled around the hilt of a long dagger, the blade buried in the head. It was an unnatural position that forced the wrist, elbow, and shoulder out of a flat alignment.

Cruz rounded to the base of the figure. He recognized it. “Someone made him into the king of hearts. Better get shoes on, Binnie,” he advised as vehicles began arriving at the scene. “This isn’t going to be quick.”

“I’ll put some coffee on,” he said and headed to the house directly behind them.

There was no estimate on when the man had died. His body temperature was lower than was naturally possible given the weather. The nighttime low bottomed out around fifty degrees. The body was low forties. The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner would use methods more sophisticated than temperature to estimate time of death.

A cursory review of the body found no cuts, wounds, or contusions aside from the knife in the head. The blade had been driven in above the left ear. The handle was wrapped in leather, the complicated over-under weave spoke of skill and craftsmanship. Cruz examined the round, silver ball at the end and found it to be slightly flattened and marred with scratches.

Something about the position of the mouth drew Cruz’s attention. He applied pressure on the chin, opening the jaw. Inside was the white edge of folded paper. Widening the opening, he gently pulled. The folded item came easily. It wasn’t paper exactly. It was thicker. Coated. He turned it over, both sides printed in a blue elaborate pattern reminiscent of…a playing card.

He unfolded it, revealing the king of hearts.

Rising, he compared the body position to the card. It was a match.

He pictured the man resting his head on a table. His killer standing over him, holding the dagger in position with one hand and using a hammer in the other to drive the point deep. There were no defensive signs. It was as if the man simply lay down and allowed the knife to be driven into his head. The ME would tell him if the man was incapacitated via drugs or other means.

Wherever happened, it didn’t happen here. Beneath the body was the chalk of the drawing. The lines separating the colors were disturbed directly beneath but even that was minor. There was minimal transfer to the back of the clothing. The man was set in place, not dragged, which meant either multiple people were involved or one person strong enough to handle a body. The man was average to short with sinewy arms and legs. Cruz put him in the 160-pound camp.

Ready to tackle the timetable, Cruz went up the short walk to where Binnie waited with a cup of coffee.

“It’s nice and hot,” he said, holding out the insulated Cleveland Browns cup.

Cruz went up one step to accept. “I appreciate it. Tell me what happened this morning.”

“You know, Cruz, I can’t tell you much. I was dead asleep when Sunny screamed. You know how it is, one second out cold, then wide awake. I went to the front door. I could tell there was something on the island but not what it was.” He pointed to the screen now hiding the crime scene. “It didn’t make sense until I was nearly to the sidewalk. I told the girls to go get you and ran back in the house to get my phone. I didn’t even think about shoes. I called 9-1-1 and waited for you or them to arrive.”

“What time was this?”

Binnie pulled out his phone and searched for outgoing calls. “Eight minutes after seven. The sky was light but the street still dark. You know. You arrived just a few minutes later.”

Cruz did know but wanted details to supplement his own observations. “What about cars on the street? Anyone leaving the area? Any vehicles that didn’t belong?”

His witness thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Everything was quiet. I didn’t even see anyone walking their dog yet.”

“I had someone go house-to-house. Anyone who was awake was in their kitchen or backyard. There was no answer next door. Any idea where your neighbor is?”

“Metro General Hospital. He works first shift in the maintenance department. He left at twenty to seven. When he started his car, I woke enough to read the clock and decide it was too early to get up.” Binnie pointed to a pair of patrol officers waving their way. “I think they want you.”

“We’re close to wrapping up here. Let me see what they need, then we’ll go to my house. I need to ask your daughters a few questions.” Cruz left the porch, turning his attention to the officers. “What do you have?”

“The victim has been identified as Alexander Carter, age twenty-seven,” the leading officer answered. “His listed address is his parents’, but he’s spent a lot of time as a guest of the county. In and out for possession, assault, petty theft. He’s—Detective?”

Cruz stalked to the protective tent.

“Detective? Cruz?” The officer hurried to keep up.

Cruz took a knee next to the dead man’s shoulder and studied the face. He’d seen it in pictures a dozen times, only twice in person. In every case, the eyes had been narrowed with hate, the chin tipped up in challenge.

“Do you know this guy?” the officer asked.

“Not just me. We’ve been after Rotten Carter since July. Send me the information on his next of kin. I’ll make the trip after we wrap here, and I follow up with the girls. Go back through the neighborhood, see if anyone here knows our vic.”

The officers left the tent to execute orders while Cruz studied the man he daydreamed about killing. Without the attitude he wore like skin, Rotten Carter had a clean-cut look. He didn’t have ink tatted across his body or battle-earned scars saying the man fought his way through life. He could have been a family man with a white-collar job.

He could have been an ordinary guy earning an honest living.

But he wasn’t.

Rotten Carter was a mid-level dealer who had been on Cleveland police’s radar for years. His sister, Natasha “Sasha” Carter was a confidential informant to Cruz’s best friend, Narcotics Detective Matt Yablonski. Sasha snitched with her brother’s permission or at least knowledge. She fed information on Rotten’s competition, keeping her brother’s territory solid.

One day last January, Sasha got in touch with Yablonski and asked for a meetup. She didn’t follow their normal protocols, wanting Yablonski to come to her place. He arrived at the agreed upon time and found Sasha overdosing. Yablonski called for backup and began CPR. Rotten walked in and misread the situation. While Rotten and Yablonski fought, Sasha died.

Rotten blamed Yablonski. He focused his energy and resources on finding the man who killed his sister. Bad luck or bad timing put Rotten in the same place at the same time as Yablonski, and Yablonski’s wife, Erin.

Rotten saw his opportunity for revenge and took it.

That night, Erin and Aurora were driving to a restaurant for a celebratory night out. Rain poured down, making the street dark and the road slick. There was no evidence Rotten Carter tracked Erin’s car through downtown Cleveland. There was no proof Rotten drove the car and instigated the crash. There were no witnesses to point to Rotten as the reason Erin Yablonski was dead and Aurora’s legs might never be the same.

And yet there was no doubt.

Alone in the tent with the corpse of the man he hated, Cruz felt empty. This didn’t fix a damn thing. And now, it would be his job to find the killer who had done him and the rest of the city a favor.

Cruz didn’t want the job, but he wasn’t going to pass it on. He was going to use it to his advantage and prove Rotten Carter was behind the crash.

Closure. That’s what he could give Aurora and Yablonski.

***

Excerpt from Playing Dead by TG Wolff. Copyright 2024 by TG Wolff. Reproduced with permission from TG Wolff. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

TG Wolff writes mysteries that play within the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong. She specializes in puzzles, giving you everything you need to solve the mystery. Diverse characters mirror the complexities of real life and real people, balanced with a healthy dose of entertainment. TG Wolff is the co-creator and co-host of Mysteries to Die For podcast. She holds a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Catch Up With TG Wolff:
TGWolff.com
Goodreads
BookBub - @TG_Wolff
Instagram - @tg_wolff
Twitter/X - @tg_wolff
Facebook - @Mysteries2Die4

 

Tour Participants:

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I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime 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.)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

When Legends Rise by Daphne Self Blog Tour Book Review

About the Book

Book: When Legends Rise

Author: Daphne Self

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: July 26, 2022

He is now one of them. Genetically altered . . . Designed to kill . . . Trained to eradicate . . . Until he became more. Juliet 7-A was the top elite assassin for the Global Federated Territories until an ambush deemed him beyond salvaging. He was scheduled for decommission. His only recourse for survival is a new identity and his search for the one friend he had―a friend who defected and deserted him. Those he once hunted will save him. Yet it comes with a price. A price that demands much of him. What happens when an assassin awakens?

Click here to get your copy!

My Review

This is an entertaining science fiction novel and is, perhaps, one that retells the story of Saul of Tarsus. Julius is an assassin for the Federation determined to eradicate Christians. Like Saul, he comes to a point of realizing his need for reconciliation with God. Self has added much more to the story, however, such as a touching romance. She addresses several issues in the novel, like the stamina of Christians under deadly persecution, the struggle for character transformation, the need for the help of others, and healing from traumatic childhood experiences. Plus, there's a good deal advanced technology and shoot 'em up encounters.

There is lots of action and the consistent pace kept me reading. I am not sure I understood most of the technological jargon and devices used but it made for fun science fiction experience. I would have liked a little more world building as I had difficulty visualizing some of the rooms, tunnels, and other settings. There is a solid faith message so this novel will appeal to Christians who love adventurous science fiction.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

 

About the Author

Daphne Self, formerly published under the name D.M. Webb, resides in Iowa. As a Mississippian transplant, she spends her days in the Midwest state writing, editing, reading, antiquing, and planning adventures. She pursues her dream as an editor and author with one goal in mind: To Glorify His Name. Daphne is also an avid reader who devours book in many genres. As a long time member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and Realm Makers, she volunteers her time helping published and unpublished authors.

More from Daphne

It started as an idea back in the late 90s. It came to fruition in May 2021. The inspiration was this: salvation is free. That began the questions of: what if someone committed horrible acts, what if that person was indoctrinated and changed, what if when faced with the truth how would he react, and finally, what story from the Bible would work for my character? Of course, the story of Saul of Tarsus (Paul) came to mind. Blood was on his hands, yet he found salvation in Christ. And the story of Samson gave a bit of a parallel to my story, too.

I wrote this book before the show Halo was released, yet I had been playing the Halo video game for years. I’ve always enjoyed the backstory of Master Chief, so the main character of When Legends Rise is a bit like Master Chief John-117. Plus, if you have seen The Mandalorian, then you will see a few common themes between my book and that show. There’s also a bit of a Star Trek vibe in that I use “tech” speak and plausible science.

And what began as one book has now evolved into a 5-book series titled Legends of Light. Book two, What Legends Become, releases in June 2024 and follows the family and the continuing story of salvation, persecution, faith, and hope.

Blog Stops

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, February 17

Babbling Becky L’s Book Impressions, February 18

Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, February 19

Artistic Nobody, February 20 (Author Interview)

Madi’s Musings, February 20

Texas Book-aholic, February 21

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, February 22

Wishful Endings, February 23

Locks, Hooks and Books, February 24

Exploring the Written Word, February 25

Blogging With Carol, February 26

Pause for Tales, February 27

Guild Master, February 28 (Author Interview)

The Lofty Pages, February 28

Tell Tale Book Reviews, February 29

Fiction Book Lover, March 1 (Author Interview)

Giveaway

To celebrate her tour, Daphne is giving away the grand prize package of a paperback copy of the book, bookmarks, character cards, and 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/29dbb/when-legends-rise-celebration-tour-giveaway

I received a complimentary egalley 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.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Small Town Secrets by Lillian Duncan Blog Tour Book Review

About the Book

Book: Small Town Secrets

Author: Lillian Duncan

Genre: Christian—Romantic Suspense

Release Date: October 13, 2023

On the surface, Shady Valley looks like the ideal all-American place to live with beautiful flowering trees lining both sides of the street as you enter the picturesque town. Neighbors help neighbors. Doors are often left unlocked.

Serious crimes are practically nonexistent— almost but not quite!

But like all small towns, everyone knows everyone, which means everyone knows everyone’ s business, and not everyone in Shady Valley is what they appear to be. Some have secrets— deadly secrets— that they hide behind the masks they wear.

When Angie McVey disappears on her wedding day, rookie officer Cami Martine is determined to find her best friend, but there are no leads to follow. Angie seems to have disappeared into thin air.

If Cami is to bring her best friend home, she will need to discover the deadly secrets of her friends and neighbors to find the one who wears the biggest mask.

Click here to get your copy!

My Review

I was happily surprised by this mystery. There is lots of action and the plot moves at a good pace. Duncan's writing style makes for good mystery reading. The characters are developed well. I really liked Cami's commitment to her job. I was a little puzzled by Zack and didn't initially like him at all but his character came out well in the end. While there are some red herrings, there are enough obvious clues that I figured out the villain long before Cami did.

I think this might be the first novel I have read by Duncan. I liked it and will be looking for more from her.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

 

About the Author

Lillian Duncan… turning faith into fiction.

For years, my tagline was “stories of faith mingled with murder & mayhem” since I wrote Christian suspense and mystery novels.

In 2012, I heard the words, “you have bilateral brain tumors.”

I had no idea how much those words would change my life, but they did. When life changes for a writer, their writing changes as well. So I wanted my tagline to reflect the new me. I still love to write suspense and mystery novels but also have branched out into other genres.

In spite of being diagnosed with bilateral brain tumors and a rare genetic disease (Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2), God continues to strengthen me and give me peace and joy as well as the blessing to be able to continue to write.

I’m a multi-published author who lives in the middle of Ohio Amish country with my husband and a menagerie of pets. After more than 30 years working as a speech pathologist for children, I believe in the power of words to transform lives, especially God’s Word.

My goal is to write stories that entertain but also demonstrate God’s love for all of us.

More from Lillian

Small Town Life VS. City Life

I spent most of my growing up years in the country, then I moved to a larger city for college and then an even larger city for much of my adult life. And then I slowly made my way back to the area I grew up in. I’ve spent the last twenty-two years living in the quaint little town of Shreve, Ohio.

Shreve has two gas stations, one stop light and zero fast-food restaurants! I love living in Shreve. Is there a difference between small town life and city life? Absolutely.

Big cities have a lot to offer. You won’t get any argument from me about that. Museums, your choice of restaurants, plays and concerts. But small towns have a lot to offer as well. Neighbors that know each other’s names a sense of community, peace and quiet, and low crime. Oh, and did I mention peace and quiet?

I know people love living in big cities, but I’ll stick to small town life. And that’s why most of the books I write are set in small towns—not always but most of the time.

My latest book, SMALL TOWN SECRETS, is based in the fictional small town of Shady Valley, but definitely resembles my hometown of Shreve, Ohio. Except nothing this exciting happens in Shreve–which is a good thing. That’s why I like living there.

But nothing happening would make for a boring book so Shady Valley has a few secrets–secrets that could kill!

On the surface, Shady Valley seems to be the ideal all-American place to live with beautiful flowering trees lining both sides of the street as you enter the picturesque town. Neighbors help neighbors. Doors are often left unlocked.

Serious crimes are practically nonexistent—almost but not quite!

When Angie McVey disappears on her wedding day, rookie officer Cami Martine is determined to find her best friend. Unfortunately, there are no leads to follow.

Angie seems to have disappeared into thin air.

But not everyone in Shady Valley is what they appear to be.  Some have secrets—deadly secrets—that they hide behind the masks they wear. If Cami is to bring her best friend home, she will need to discover the deadly secrets of her friends and neighbors and find the one who wears the biggest mask.

SMALL TOWN SECRETS is a fast-paced mystery and suspense novel that will keep you turning pages past your bed time. By the way, the book will also be available as a Large Print book as well.

Blog Stops

Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, February 10

Texas Book-aholic, February 11

Artistic Nobody, February 12 (Author Interview)

Mary Hake, February 12

Locks, Hooks and Books, February 13

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, February 14

Babbling Becky L’s Book Impressions, February 15

Bigreadersite, February 16

Guild Master, February 17 (Author Interview)

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, February 18

Fiction Book Lover, February 19 (Author Interview)

Blogging With Carol, February 20

Because I said so – adventures in parenting., February 21

Gina Holder, Author and Blogger, February 22 (Author Interview)

Happily Managing a Household of Boys, February 22

For Him and My Family, February 23

Giveaway

To celebrate her tour, Lillian is giving away the grand prize of a $50 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/29c58/small-town-secrets-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.)


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Hammers and Homicide by Paula Charles Book Review

About the Book:

Recent sexagenarian widow Dawna Carpenter thought running her own hardware store after the death of her husband was hard enough. With her adult daughter, April, moving back into town, and Darlene, the annoying boutique owner next door to her shop poking around, Dawna has her hands full. But when she finds a dead man in the bathroom of her store, with a framing hammer by his side, she’s in way over her head.

The victim, Warren Highcastle, was a land developer who was looking to purchase the old theater in town to build a new hotel. Dawna and April, worried about the implications of the crime scene at the hardware store, put themselves on the case. They soon learn that Warren had made quite a few enemies in his short amount of time in town. As the suspect list starts growing, so too do the threats against Dawna and April. Can Dawna and April nail the killer before they strike again?

My Review:

This is a fun cozy mystery for those who like a small town flavor. What is a person supposed to do when someone is murdered in your store? You have to find out who did it. The characters were developed well and are likable.

I was a little surprised at the paranormal aspect of the novel. I did not understand from the summary that it would be included. While this is a good read on its own, there are several hints to more novels in this series.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author:

When Paula Charles isn’t writing under the towering trees of the Pacific Northwest, she can be found in the garden with her hands in the dirt or sitting on her front porch with a good book and a glass of iced tea. She has a love for small towns, ghost stories, and pie. During her childhood, she grew up in a town suspiciously resembling the fictional Pine Bluff, Oregon where she trailed behind her grandmother in the family’s hardware store until her grandmother would get fed up and put her to work counting nails. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, and also writes mysteries as Janna Rollins. Paula lives on a small farm in Southwestern Washington with her husband, two furry dogs, two naughty goats, a handful of cackling chickens, a teeny tiny bunny rabbit, and one adventurous kitty cat.

Crooked Lane Books, 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.)

Monday, February 12, 2024

One Wrong Move by Dani Pettrey Blog Tour Book Review

 

One Wrong Move

by Dani Pettrey

February 2 - March 1, 2024 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Taunting riddles.
A deadly string of heists.
Two broken hearts trapped in a killer's game.

Christian O'Brady was pulled into a life of crime at a young age by his con artist parents. Now making amends for his corrupt past, he has become one of the country's foremost security experts. When a string of Southwestern art heists targets one of the galleries Christian secured, he is paired up with a gifted insurance investigator who has her own checkered past.

Andi Forester was a brilliant FBI forensic analyst until one of her colleagues destroyed her career, blaming her for mishandling evidence. She now puts those skills to work investigating insurance fraud, and this latest high-stakes case will test her gift to the limit. Drawn deep into a dangerous game with an opponent bent on revenge, Christian and Andi are in a race against the clock to catch him, but the perpetrator's game is far from finished, and one wrong move could be the death of them both.

Dani Pettrey captivates with...

"An intense blend of suspense, love, and faith."
~ Booklist

"Wicked pace, snappy dialogue, and likeable characters."
~ Publishers Weekly

My Review:

There are two cases being worked in this novel and the action alternates between them, sometimes within a chapter. There are also passages covering the villains. I found reading this novel required a little more concentration than usual to keep the three narratives straight. The two cases certainly meant there was double the action and suspense.

I really liked the characters. Andi and Christian are both strong people. Each has a past that must be overcome. I liked how the romance develops between the two. The subtle romance and work of Deckard and Harper provided additional action and suspense. I liked the initial animosity between Deckard and Andi and that Deckard was willing to re-investigate the case that ruined her career. There are several good supporting people too, characters for succeeding novels, I hope.

I have come to be quite taken with the entire MacLeod family and the ranch complex. I hope the other family members become main characters in future novels. There is a very strong Christian faith message included, making this novel a rewarding inspirational romantic suspense to enjoy.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Published by: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: February 6, 2024
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 9780764238482 (ISBN10: 0764238485)
Series: Jeopardy Falls, Book 1
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookShop.org | Goodreads | Baker Book House

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

He inhaled the stiff resolution of her death. She’d seen Cyrus. Remembered him. Now he’d need to silence her before she could mention Cyrus to anyone at the gallery. The imbecile should have been more careful, but that’s why he was in play. To assure things went according to plan, to remove anyone who stood in their way, and when it was done, to take out Cyrus and Casey. That he would delight in. Cyrus had been a pain in his rear as far back as he could recall. Casey. He was just a lamb to the slaughter, unfortunate fool.

Enrique released a smooth exhale, then inhaled the spicy scent of the girl’s perfume wafting on the stiff October breeze—­whistling through the wind tunnel the long row of downtown businesses made.

Killing her would alert Cyrus to his presence in the States, but, perhaps it would keep him on his toes. Someone needed to.

Maintaining a good distance from his prey, Enrique followed as she meandered through the shops, wearing one of those recyclable grocery bags slung over her shoulder. A baguette and fresh flowers peeked out of the top. She made another stop, this time popping into a coffee shop. He kept walking, stopping a handful of stores down on the opposite side of the street, and waited, letting the other shoppers meld him into the crowd.

A cup of coffee in hand, the girl emerged.

He turned back to look in the storefront before him, waiting until she was far enough ahead for him to resume following. Nearly a fifteen-­minute walk out of town, in an isolated patch of wind-­stirred mesa, sat a two-­story adobe building. Four exterior doors, each with a letter on it. Apartments.

Watching from behind a copse of trees, he waited while she retrieved her keys from her pocket, opened the bottom exterior door on the right, and disappeared inside. He held back, awaiting nightfall. He glanced at his watch. Not long. He surveyed the building, using binoculars to peer through the sheer curtains of her unit. A light in the bedroom shone, and slips of it spilled from what he could only assume was the adjacent bathroom.

He smiled.

The sun dipped below the horizon, and soon darkness shrouded the land. Time to move. Heading around to the back of the building, he found a sliding door to her unit. Easy enough. He jimmied the lock and eased inside.

Water ran in the bathroom, but a voice carried in song from the other side of the apartment. “Carry on Wayward Son.” Interesting choice.

He moved with stealth, approaching what he discerned was the kitchen. A teakettle whistled as steam from the open bathroom door filled the space. The girl turned the corner, dressed in a robe, a teacup in her hand. Her eyes locked on his, and panic flashed across her face as the teacup fell and shattered on the floor.

He smiled. Time to have some fun.

ONE

“Wait here,” Cyrus ordered.

“Why?” Casey asked—­though pawn suited him better. As much as it galled him, Cyrus needed the insipid man. Needed his skills. For now. But when they were done, so was he. “Why?” he asked again.

Cyrus gritted his teeth. So incessant. He shook out his fists. Only a handful of locations to go and the questions would cease. He would cease. “It doesn’t take two of us to get what we came for,” he said, hoping Casey would accept the answer and let it drop, but he doubted it. “I’ve got this. Two of us will only draw more attention.”

“Fine.” Casey slumped back against the van’s passenger seat.

The imbecile was pouting like a girl. And, that knee. Cyrus wanted to break it. Always bouncing in that annoying, jittery way. The seat squeaked with the rapid, persistent motion. He shook his head on a grunted exhale. If Casey didn’t settle . . . if he blew their plans. Cyrus squeezed his fists tight, blood throbbing through his fingers. Too much was at stake. His own neck was on the line.

He turned his attention to the task at hand. “I won’t be long,” he said, surveying the space one last time before opening the van door. The lot behind them was dead, the building still. He climbed out, his breath a vapor in the cold night air. He glanced back at their van, barely visible in the pitch-­black alley.

Shockingly, Casey remained in the passenger seat, his knee still bouncing high.

He shut the van door as eagerness coursed through him. The thrill and rush of the score mere minutes away. Just one quick job and then it was finally time.

He slipped his gloved hands into his pockets. A deeper rush nestled hot inside him, adrenaline searing his limbs. His fervency was for the kill.

He moved toward the rear of the restaurant, where the rental rooms’ entrance sat. His gloved fingers brushed the garrote in his right pocket, and he shifted his other hand to rest on the hilt of his gun. Which way would it go? Garrote or gun? Anticipation shot through him. Rounding the back of the building, he hung in the shadows and then stepped to the door and picked the lock—­so simple a child could have done it. But what had he expected of a rent-­by-­the-­hour-­or-­day establishment?

Opening the door, he stepped inside the minuscule foyer and studied the two doors on the ground level. Nothing but silence. He found the light switch and flipped off the ceiling bulb illuminating the stairwell, then crept up the stairs, pausing as one creaked. He held still, his back flush with the wall, once again shadowed in dark­ness. Nothing stirred.

Reaching her room, he picked the lock, stepped inside, and shut the door, locking it behind him.

She was asleep on the shoddy sofa, a ratty blanket draped across her. Getting rid of her now might be easier, but what fun was it killing someone while they slept? And he needed to make sure she had the items.

He stood a moment, watching her chest rise and fall with what would be her final breaths, then he knocked her feet with his elbow.

Her eyes flashed open as she lurched to a seated position. She rubbed her eyes. “You’re late.”

Less chance of witnesses.

“You have the items?”

She nodded.

“Get them. We’re in a hurry.”

She got to her feet and headed for the bedroom.

He followed.

To his surprise, she climbed up on the dresser and reached for the heating vent.

Huh. She was smarter than he’d expected, yet not bright enough to know what was coming.

Pulling the dingy grate back, she retrieved a black velvet pouch and a bundle of letters held in place by a thick rubber band.

“Hand them over,” he said.

She hopped down and hesitated. “I get my cut, right?” She clutched the items to her pale chest.

“You’ll get your cut,” he said, wrapping his hands around the garrote.

She released her hold. Taking the bag first, he slid it into his upper jacket pocket, then slipped the letters into his pant pocket. “Good job.”

She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear, revealing her creamy neck. “Thanks.”

Restless energy pulsed through him.

“Are we done here?” she asked, shifting her stance, her arms wrapped around her slender waist.

“Just about.”

“What’s left to do?” she asked, her head cocked, and then she stilled. She took a step back. So she’d finally figured it out.

“No.” She shook her head, backing into the paneled wall. In one movement, left hand to right shoulder, he spun her around and slipped the garrote over her head.

He’d intended to give her the option—­the easy way with a gunshot to the head or the hard way with the garrote. But the hard way was far more pleasurable, giving him the best elated high.

It really was a shame. She was a pretty thing.

Five minutes later, he was back in the van, leaving the body behind.

“You got everything?” Casey asked as they pulled onto the street, their headlights off.

Cyrus smiled and handed both items to him. They were a go. The appetite for what was to come gnawed at Cyrus’s gut, but in a good way. It was time to feed the anticipation that had been growing in him for nigh on a year. It was time to scratch that itch.

TWO

Christian’s hands gripped the rock face. Granules abraded the tender flesh beneath his nails, leaving them raw. Pushing up on the ball of his foot, he strained, his fingers searching for the crag. Finally, his hand landed on the cold surface—­only three inches deep. On a sharp inhale and slow exhale, he lunged upward—­only the slightest hold kept him from the hundred-­foot drop to the forest below. His foot landed on the next hold, and he settled, his muscles hot in the brisk dawn air. Blood throbbing through his fingers, he shifted the weight onto the balls of his feet.

Mapping the next route in his head, he leaped for the next hold. Air replaced the solid rock for the breath of a second, and searing adrenaline crashed through him as the hold slipped away. His pulse whooshing in his ears, he slid down, finally grabbing hold of a crag on his rapid descent. His fingers gripped hard—­the only thing holding his body weight and keeping him from the ground far below.

He examined the cliff, looking for a foothold. Something. Anything. Adrenaline raked through him, quivering his arms. Not good. Time held motionless until he anchored his foot on a narrow ledge, small rocks shifting under the soles of his climbing shoes. He kept his weight on the ball of his foot while scanning for a new route up. He exhaled as he found it, but it was going to require another leap of faith.

Releasing his hold, he lunged for a more solid handhold. Gripping it, he worked his way up to another ledge—­this one deep enough to settle comfortably onto.

His breathing quickened by the climb, he turned and pressed his back against the volcanic rock—­cool against his heated and perspiring skin—­and exhaled in a whoosh. Talk about a close one. He smiled. One more adventure down.

He held for a moment, taking in the morning light spreading across what seemed an endless sky. Man, he loved this view. Narrow shafts of sunlight streamed down through the early morning fog, lighting the yellow-­and-­orange foliage ablaze. Everyone talked about the beautiful fall colors in New England, but for him nothing beat fall in New Mexico, and it was peak season.

He sank into the silence. Only the occasional chirping of birds in the trees below rushed by his ears on the stiff, mounting breeze.

The brilliant orange sun rose higher above the horizon, its rays glinting off the rushing water of the swift creek at the bottom of the valley—­chasing away the fading chill of night and replacing it with renewed warmth of the coming day.

“Ain’t Worried About It” broke the silence with its melody. Who on earth was calling so early? He prayed nothing was wrong. It was the only reason he kept his cell on him while climbing—­in case there was an emergency and his family needed him.

He shimmied the phone from the Velcro pocket on his right thigh and maneuvered it to his ear without bothering to look at who was calling. “O’Brady.”

“I need you here now!” Tad Gaiman’s voice shook with rage.

Why on earth was Tad calling him so early? Why was he calling him, period?

Tad’s heated words tumbled out. “My gallery’s been robbed!”

“What?” Christian blinked. There was no way. The security system upgrades he’d installed made it impenetrable, or so he’d thought.

“Do you hear me? My gallery has been robbed!”

“I do.” He kept his voice level. Tad was frantic enough for the both of them. “Which gallery?” The man owned three.

“Jeopardy Falls.”

The one in their hometown? Crime was nearly nonexistent in their small ranching, lately turned tourist, town of five hundred. “Take a deep breath and calm down so you can focus.”

“Calm down?” Tad shrieked, and Christian held the phone away from his ear. Even his sister Riley couldn’t hit that high of a pitch. “Did you not hear me? My gallery’s been robbed.”

“I hear you. Let me call you back.”

“Call me back? You cannot be serious!”

“I’m balanced on a ledge on Manzano.”

“Of course you are.” Tad scoffed.

“I’ll call you when I’m on the road.”

“And how long will it take you to get here? This is a DEFCON 5 situation.”

Christian shook his head. Clearly, Tad had no idea what he was talking about. DEFCON 5 meant peacetime.

“Christian! How soon?”

“I need to climb down and make the drive back to town. I’ll see you in an hour.”

“An hour!”

“We’ll talk through it on my way in.”

Scaling down the rock face as fast as he could, Christian reached his vintage Bronco.

Climbing inside, he clicked on the Bluetooth he’d installed. It’d cost a lot, but in his line of work, he needed to be able to talk while on the road chasing down a case. He shook his head, still baffled that anyone had beat the security system.

He dialed Tad.

Normally his drive along the winding dirt roads through the mountains was calming, but not today.

Tad picked up on the third ring.

“Okay,” Christian said, swiping the chalk from his hands onto his pants—­the climbing towel too far to reach. “Walk me through it. Did the alarm go off?”

“The one on the security system you said couldn’t be beat? No!”

Christian took a stiff inhale. How on earth had someone gotten through the door without the key fob? The fob . . . “Tad, do you have your key fob?”

Silence hung thick in the air as Christian’s Bronco bumped over the ruts in the dirt road, the drop-­off only inches from his tires. He rounded the bend, and the road—­if it could be deemed one—­widened. “Tad?” he pressed.

“Okay, fine. I don’t have it.”

“Where is it?” Christian asked as he headed for the main road that led back to Jeopardy Falls.

Tad swallowed, the slippery, gulping sound echoing over the line. “I think the woman I spent last night with after the gala took it.”

“Riley mentioned she might attend the gala, but she couldn’t make it.”

“It was well attended.”

“And the woman you mentioned?”

“I met her at the gala.”

“She’s not local?”

“I’ve never seen her before last night.”

“So she just strolled into the gala?”

“Yes. It was a semiprivate affair. I sent out invites but welcomed anyone, given it was Friday Night on the Town.”

Their small town had instituted the night on the town for one Friday a month about a year ago, and it had really drummed up business for the eclectic downtown shops.

“Let’s shift back to the gallery,” Christian said. “I’m assuming you used Alex’s fob to get into the building?”

“No. I can’t get in.”

“Why not?” Christian pulled out onto the paved road.

“I can’t reach Alex, despite the fact she’s supposed to open this morning.”

“Okay . . . so walk me through what happened with the fob.”

“I woke up and that . . . woman was gone, and the fob wasn’t where I’d left it. I searched my place, but it’s not there, so I rushed to the gallery. I stopped at Alex’s place on the way, but no answer. She is so—”

“Settle down, Tad. Let’s think this through. Do you think Martha would let you into Alex’s place if you explained the situation?” Maybe the landlady would understand. Jeopardy Falls was a small enough town where everyone knew everyone, which was still taking time for him to get used to. To be known. Well, known at what he was willing to show, which wasn’t much.

“I’m not leaving my gallery. Not until I get inside and see what damage is done. You get the fob from Martha.”

Christian furrowed his brows. “If you can’t get in the gallery and the alarm didn’t go off, how do you know it’s been robbed?”

“Because I can see the three front cases through the porthole windows in the door. They’re open and empty.” A sob escaped Tad’s throat, though he tried to cover it with a cough.

Christian exhaled. “All right. I’ll call Martha, but she might not feel comfortable letting us in.” It was a lot to ask. “Actually, I think in this case, it’s best to have Sheriff Brunswick to reach out to Martha.”

“That’s a good idea,” Tad said. “Give him a call.”

“Wait?” Christian tapped the wheel. “He’s not there yet?”

“No.”

“Did he give you an ETA?” Maybe Joel was on another call. Their county was large, and with only him and one undersheriff, they had a lot of ground to cover.

“I haven’t called him yet.”

Christian’s brows hiked. “You called me before the sheriff?” Where was the sense in that?

“You put the supposedly impenetrable system in. I want to know what went wrong. And I need you to get me inside if we can’t get Alex’s fob.”

“Me?” Christian tapped the wheel.

“You installed the system, so surely you know how to beat it. And, regardless, you’re the one the sheriff calls when they need a locksmith or safecracker on a case. Though you’re quite more than a simple locksmith, aren’t you?”

Christian stiffened. “Meaning?”

“Whoever did this obviously had knowledge of the system.”

“And . . . ?” Christian tightened his grip on the wheel, his knuckles turning white.

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re to blame.”

Christian swallowed the sharp retort ready to fly and took a settling breath instead. “I’ll be there in twenty.”

He disconnected the call before Tad could throw another barb in his direction. He knew all too well how those stinging barbs felt, but this time he was innocent.

***

Excerpt from One Wrong Move by Dani Pettrey. Copyright 2024 by Dani Pettrey. Reproduced with permission from Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Dani Pettrey is the bestselling author of the Coastal Guardians, Chesapeake Valor, and Alaskan Courage series. A two-time Christy Award finalist, Dani has won the National Readers' Choice Award, Daphne du Maurier Award, HOLT Medallion, and Christian Retailing's Best Award for Suspense. She plots murder and mayhem from her home in the Washington, DC, metro area.

Catch Up With Dani Pettrey:
DaniPettrey.com
Goodreads
BookBub - @DaniPettrey
Instagram - @authordanipettrey
Facebook - @DaniPettrey

 

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I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rtttest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime 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.)

Friday, February 9, 2024

Refuge of Grace by Tracy L Smoak Blog Tour Book Review

About the Book

Book: Refuge of Grace: Finding Your Safe Place

Author: Tracy L. Smoak

Genre: Non-Fiction

Release Date: September, 2023

”This book is a life-saving manual meant for any soul who has bottomed out and can only look up for help.”
– George Firehammer

Need a stronger connection with God? A safe place?

Anyone hoping for straight talk to bring Jesus close will find refreshment in Refuge of Grace. Learn from a fresh look at 22 little-told Bible passages via Tracy L. Smoak’s engaging storytelling and vivid imagery.

These scriptures offer true comfort in your everyday struggles. From hearing Gomer’s perspective about shame to imagining Jesus arriving in a Rolls Royce for the family reunion, you will know God’s working on your behalf-right now.

Click here to get your copy!

My Review:

Smoak gives readers another great collection of devotions centered on God's promises and His steadfast presence in our lives. She imaginatively recounts experiences of many Bible characters and then shares lessons we can learn from them. We learn to trust God when surrounded by enemies from the life of Jeremiah. We are encouraged to stay close to God and listen for His word, realizing resolution may take decades. From Peter we learn to keep our eyes open to unusual opportunities in finances and other areas of life.

Those are just a couple of the insightful devotions from Smoak. She includes thoughtful reflection questions after each devotion as well as a touching prayer. Readers who would like encouragement to remember and trust in God's promises will find encouragement to do so in this book.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

About the Author

A native Floridian, Tracy L. Smoak grew up riding horses and climbing citrus trees. Her passion is to encourage others in their faith journey. Smoak writes for Guideposts. Ambassador International released her debut novel, Who Brought the Dog to Church?. Bold Vision published her Bible study about encouragement titled Refuge of Grace: Finding Your Safe Place.

She loves photography and authored two hardcover devotionals with her original nature art (Living Water to Refresh Your Soul – tranquil lake scenes; and Arranged with Love- floral landscapes).

Smoak holds a master’s in Education and a bachelor’s in Communication. At her church home, she leads small-group Bible studies. She is an active member of Word Weavers International.

More from Tracy

When life knocks you down, where do you go for hope?

We all want to be brave, but sometimes circumstances overwhelm us. Health declines, bank accounts empty, and friends disappear. No matter the disappointments, one absolute certainty we can count on is God. He will stand with us through every adversity.

Ideas for Refuge of Grace: Finding Your Safe Place began at 3 a.m. on a January workday in 2021. I tossed and turned in bed, wondering how I could continue teaching in a public school under all the pandemic constraints. We wore masks, developed lesson plans for both in-class instruction and online modules, and juggled a revolving door of student quarantines with absences.

Fear surrounded us on all sides.

Others also struggled. My older son managed an emergency department in a large city and had to find ways to supply unprecedented needs. My younger son worked in the financial industry and watched markets reel. Neighbors lost jobs and income.

How could we model resilience and move forward?

I turned to the Bible for inspiration and studied stories about how believers overcame hardship. Six months and 22 chapters later—all the while teaching full time—this collection renewed hope and kept me going.

My prayer is that reading these Bible promises of God’s faithfulness also will empower you.

Blog Stops

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, February 9

Artistic Nobody, February 10 (Author Interview)

Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, February 11

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, February 12

Fiction Book Lover, February 13 (Author Interview)

Girls in White Dresses, February 14

Its Mama Safe, February 15

Beauty in the Binding, February 16 (Author Interview)

By The Book, February 17 (Author Interview)

Mary Hake, February 17

Cover Lover Book Review, February 18

A Modern Day Fairy Tale, February 19 (Author Interview)

Texas Book-aholic, February 20

Simple Harvest Reads, February 21 (Author Interview)

Happily Managing a Household of Boys, February 21

Locks, Hooks and Books, February 22

Giveaway

To celebrate her tour, Tracy is giving away the grand prize package of a paperback copy each of Who Brought the Dog to Church? and Refuge of Grace: Finding Your Safe Place!!

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/29c57/refuge-of-grace-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.)