Sunday, August 14, 2022

Heroes Ever Die by J A Crawford Book Tour and Giveaway

 


Heroes Ever Die

by J. A. Crawford

August 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

In his world, everyone wears a mask.

When the actors who play iconic superheroes in big screen blockbusters start dying on set, Ken Allen, failed actor and neophyte detective, answers the call after the blame falls on effects expert Ray Ford, Ken’s oldest friend.

But the deaths are not accidental. Someone is killing heroes. Maybe for love, maybe for money. Maybe for both. Ken Allen finds himself outmatched and outgunned when he learns that Ray Ford’s banished apprentice makes weapons that are anything but props.

My Review:

Reading this novel was like watching a Batman cartoon or reading a comic. It is a book for comic lovers, especially those who favor superheroes. There is lots of advanced technology and super gadgets, just like super heroes have. There are tons of fight scenes so it's a good book for lovers of action.

The hero is an admirable guy. He's like a super hero with his specially tricked out motorcycle and dart shooting guns and special cameras and more. There are suitable villains, faux super heroes and worthy opponents to our hero.

I have to admit that I did not understand all of the references and dialogue but I am super hero comic book and movie illiterate. This is a novel for readers who are looking for a modern super hero of mythical stature in a battle with super villains.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: August 16th 2022
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 0744305926 (ISBN13: 9780744305920)
Series: Ken Allen Super Sleuth Series, #2
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound | CamCat Books

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

FALL HAD COME to This Town, the season where hopes spring eternal, with new productions shooting up to bloom or be nipped in the bud. I was on the studio backlot, gaping at everything like a tourist. There was a reason why I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.

I was about to meet my hero.

I don’t often ask for favors. Whether it’s a character strength or flaw, I am far more comfortable helping others than I am being helped. But when I heard Dave King was coming out of seclusion, I had to meet him. Just once. And thank him for doing so much for me, a person he didn’t know existed.

Of course, the one man who could grant an audience with King was the person I owed the most.

Ray Ford was the “Magician of Make-Believe”—the premier special-effects expert in the entertainment industry for more than six decades. Last season, when the rest of the world pegged me a serial killer, Ray fabricated the host of gadgets that elevated me from

mild-mannered to super. In return, he played spectator to my adventures and got to test his inventions under real-life conditions.

Ray was currently transforming mild-mannered actors into silver-screen superheroes. There were two major players—production companies with rival expanded universes—filming and releasing simultaneously in a box-office death match. The demand for spectacle and escalating budgets had led to Ray working both sides of the fence. I didn’t want to imagine what his NDAs must look like.

I got far as I could without an escort—corralled with a crowd of fans waving their phones around in hopes of catching the barest whiff of a leak. There was no shortage of ex-[insert armed service branch here] private police personnel hoping to be discovered through a guarding gig, and my banner year didn’t elevate my status to the height required to part a sea of badges. I took shelter in the shadow of a warehouse and drank in the October air. It was only seventy-five degrees, but my blazer was a sculpted sheath of ballistic gel. While nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate its surface, the material also blocked the cross breeze. I dug out my phone and jumped back into the Dave King omnibus collection I had downloaded for long plane rides.

Ray located me via the bell he’d hung around my wrist. My custom-built smart watch had all the extras, including GPS, a heart-rate monitor, and a microphone which never turned off, for Ray’s eavesdropping pleasure. You didn’t think about how much you talked to yourself until someone was listening in on every word. He waved at me from the far side of the security cordon. An extra-large fanboy hard-blocked my route.

He ignored my polite requests and apologies, so I spiked his phone like a volleyball.

“Dude, what the hell?”

I shoved my way into the opening. “That’s what you get for filming vertically.”

He sized me up, decided I wasn’t bully material, and went searching for his phone.

Ray admitted me through the gate. He was as I saw him last, muscle and gristle shrink-wrapped into an one-piece racing suit. His russet skin was free of stubble and his head was razored into a reflective surface.

“Well, well. If it isn’t Ken Allen, the detective to the stars himself.” “Quiet, you’ll draw a crowd.”

Ray laughed. I had been a shamus for exactly two cases, one where I cleared myself for murder and another which had taken me overseas.

Security permitted me through after Ray presented a lanyard with a hybrid hologram/bar code. I hung it around my neck, and we wove through the time traveler’s menagerie that was multiple-production traffic toward the soundstage.

Ray opted for chatter. “How was your flight?”

“Are you telling me you can’t listen in when I’m on airplane mode?”

“Ken, help me out here. I’ve been practicing my small talk. According to those internet sites, I need to work on my people skills.”

As someone who had been the subject of memes for more than a decade, I felt Ray’s pain. “I warned you not to look.”

When Ray replied, he kept his volume low. “It wasn’t by choice.

My last few gigs have had leaks. Been trying to track the source.”

I knew which soundstage was ours from the drones. Constructs of Ray’s design, they patrolled both the interior and exterior of the hangar-sized structure. Like any magician, Ray couldn’t have the audience peeking behind the curtain. But time was catching up to him. Everyone had a camera in their pocket loaded with apps capable of instantly reaching millions. As kids, we were warned about the rise of Big Brother. What no one foresaw was that we would become him. The guard at the door scanned our lanyards before letting us pass, including Ray, who had been gone five minutes. I stepped into the

fa├žade of a factory. A cauldron that could have boiled a tyrannosaurus rex belched molten metal into the air. A catwalk OSHA never would have approved ended over the cauldron like a diving board. The grated floor allowed a peek at a legion of killer robots idling below. Orange light glowed from off-screen sources. The light wasn’t there to provide visibility, but instead to create shadows and suggest heat. Smoke machines added a haze of steam, enhancing the effect.

All the trappings of moviemaking were present: the light arrays, boom mikes, camera tracks, and monitors. At least one person was assigned to each object. Everyone had a badge hanging from their neck, even the saints stationed at craft services.

An average-sized white guy in a modern, tactical version of a Confederate army jacket stepped onto the catwalk. Clutching fighting sticks that resembled rolled-up scrolls, he inched forward like a dog who wasn’t supposed to be in the kitchen.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. “Bill O’Wrongs is the villain in this one?”

“Yeah,” Ray said. “Wait here.”

When you’re a kid playing pretend, you either want to be a cop or a robber. Me, I was a cop all the way, right down to the embarrassing daydreams of saving my fourth-grade teacher from masked kidnappers. I’ve never been a rule breaker by nature. So, when Ray told me to stay put, I stayed put.

There was plenty to take in. The production was an expert operation, performed by a crew who had worked together many times, churning out franchise faire assembly-line style. I had appeared—not acted but appeared, you’d agree if you’d seen it—in exactly one movie, whose production wasn’t exactly traditional. If I had my way, that flick would have stayed secret forever. Then again, it was what got me here. I guess you could say I had a love/hate relationship with my origin story.

Someone’s assistant approached me.

I knew it was an assistant from the way he eased into my eye line, instead of confronting me as to who I was and what I thought I was doing. Which was good, because I didn’t have a firm answer for either. Not now, not ever.

“Mr. Allen?”

“Mr. Allen is my father. Please, call me Mr. Allen Junior.”

The assistant made a note in his phone, and I immediately regretted the joke.

“Mr. West would like to speak with you.”

The assistant was unable to hide his curiosity over how a person of my station could possibly know Flint West. I waved up to Ray above me, but he was absorbed in his work. If he needed to find me, he could. “Then let’s not keep Mr. West waiting.”

The assistant led me outside while not taking his eyes off me, as if he were watching his kid. Mr. West’s trailer was nicer than every place I’d lived up until three months ago, when my life took a ride on the roller-coaster that was the twenty-four-hour news cycle. The assistant waved a key fob across the door, and I heard a latch click.

“Mr. West is inside, Mr. Allen Junior.”

A response would have only created more problems, so I stepped into a curtained landing area, stopping to ensure the door locked back into place. A deep voice boomed from the private side of the cloth barrier.

“That you, Ken Allen? Get in here!”

I pushed the curtain aside and ran face-first into Flint West. He squeezed me until I was ready to pop before pushing me back to give me a once-over.

“You miss me, Ken? You know I missed you.”

Flint was in a silk robe, boxer briefs that could have been painted on, and nothing else. His smile made he smile.

“Your body sure didn’t,” I said. “You were so jacked in that last Civil Warriors flick people thought it was CGI.”

Flint shook his head, smiling at suffering-gone-by. “Man, we had paramedics off camera with IVs ready. I looked like that for maybe on hour. They couldn’t get the lighting right.”

He gestured for me to sit before taking a seat himself. I’d never known someone who could maintain genuine, interested eye contact for as long as Flint could.

It forced me to say something. “Becoming an ideal carries a cost.”

Even before computer magic, there were myriad methods to elevate a humble human to heroic status. One was extreme dehydration. In combat sports, competitors only had to be at their fighting weight for a scant moment on the scale. The best way to do so while maintaining your muscle mass was to eliminate as much liquid from your body as possible. Typically, by sweating it out.

It was a dangerous practice. People have died cutting too much weight, particularly those of Flint West’s proportions. And I was the one who taught him the trade. In my previous alter ego as the “Sensei to the Stars,” I had acted as both personal trainer and stage-fighting guru for the A-list.

Flint West was my masterpiece.

“So, Ken, you got a minute for the little people, now that you’re a big-time crime fighter?”

I leaned forward, elbows on my thighs. “Not sure where you’ve been getting your news, but I cleared my name and went on safari.”

Flint wasn’t buying it. “Mmm-hmm. Well, your safari buddy and I have the same agent. You saved her career, man.”

The way Flint said it, we could have been talking about his mother. The pedestal he was putting me on was high enough to end us both if I tumbled off. Flint’s emotions were as herculean as the rest of him. The intensity that had served him on the gridiron translated perfectly to the big screen.

You felt what Flint was feeling.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked.

“I have a friend.” Flint started having second thoughts. He crushed his lips together. His jaw was so muscular it had striations. When you are cast to wear a mask, it’s all about the jawline.

“You have lots of friends,” I replied. “Including me. This isn’t going anywhere you don’t want it to go.”

Flint nodded at my reassurance. Around rep number five, he unflexed his mandibles. “This friend of mine, he’s getting into something big. Real big. And dangerous. He’s used to going it alone, but I think he could use your help.”

The vagueness was giving me a headache. I massaged the bridge of my nose. “I’m going to need more proper nouns here, Flint.”

“If I were to hire you, would my friend have to know you were on the case?”

“I can’t work for a guy who doesn’t know I’m working for him.

And I can’t help someone when I don’t even know his name.”

Flint tapped a fist on his lips to acknowledge I was making some good points, so that was progress. When he spoke again, he kept his hand over his mouth.

“It has to do with Dave King.”

Flint didn’t ask if I knew who Dave King was. We had bonded over our love of all things King, years past. It was no coincidence Flint was playing one of King’s characters on screen.

“What’s going on with Dave King?” I asked.

“What you should do is meet him. See if you hit it off.”

I managed to keep from throwing my hands into the air. “Sounds like a plan.”

Flint nodded some more, adding a smile. “All right. All right.

Okay, Ken. Look, they have to start getting me into costume.” “Has that process gotten any better?”

“A little. It’s like having your own pit crew.” “Well, you did make your name in action vehicles.”

Flint laughed to be polite, then switched right back to sincere. “Look, go talk to Dave. Keep it casual, tell him you and I are buddies.” “I’ll do my best, but when it comes to acting, my track record

speaks for itself.”

This time, Flint’s laugh was genuine.

Flint’s assistant played boatman and guided me back to set, where he pointed out Dave King, who I would have known anywhere. I strolled up next to the legend, strategizing how to break the ice, but King spoke the moment he noticed me.

“It’s too small.”

Dave King had once been a big man. Geometrically cubed, with a block head, a barrel chest, and boxy shoulders. You wondered how a pencil could have survived those scarred, square clamps he had for fingers. Age had taken its toll, shrinking him down and thinning him out, but in my eyes, he would always be a giant.

Dave King, the man who had birthed hundreds of heroes with nothing but a #2 pencil and some bristol board. Dave King, the greatest mythmaker of the modern age.

“I always dreamed big. These are titans we’re talking about.” I stood up straight when King glanced my way but stopped short of puffing out my chest. “Who are you supposed to be? One of mine?”

I was stunned silent.

The first thing I said to Dave King needed to mean something, without coming on too strong. The silence was getting uncomfortable, so I went with what I was thinking.

“I wish.”

Dave King boomed a laugh that turned heads in our direction. “If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets. So, who are you playing in this picture show?”

It wasn’t the first time my getup had been mistaken for a costume. While my jacket passed casual inspection, close-up, people realized it was closer to a bulletproof vest than a button-down blazer.

“Myself. I’m Ken Allen.” In an attempt to impress him, I added, “I’m a detective.”

Dave King measured my form with an artist’s eye, fitting me for the role. Whether or not I was qualified, I looked the part. Seasoned, but still in shape and easy on the eyes. He might have drawn me in the role, once upon a time.

I tried to remember any of the hundred questions I’d dreamed of asking him over the years. The kind that demonstrates the depth of your devotion. The ones that mark you as a True Fan.

“Well Ken, if you’re looking for evildoers, take your pick. Here comes a grade-A pack of thieves now. Good to meet you.”

Dave King offered his hand. I don’t usually shake hands on principle, but for him I’d make an exception. His grip tremored as we touched palms, the thick fingers curled like claws. I let him lead, keeping my response a notch less firm. There was too much to tell him. I decided to start with the ending.

“Thank you, Mr. King. Growing up, your work meant the world to me.”

King pursed his lips with a nod. He must have heard the same sentiment a billion times before. A sadness crept into his eyes. I’d blown it. Upset him, when I’d intended the opposite. We untangled hands. I did most of the work. Once his fingers had locked down, they didn’t want to release.

The group Dave King had identified as suspect stopped an arm’s length from us. I knew right away who was in charge, because he was rocking a hoodie and track pants. In a realm of suit and tie, the person in casuals bore the crown. His right hand was a Desi woman who wore a power suit as if it were armor. She studied me, so it was only fair for me to study her back.

In This Town, you had to realign the one-to-ten scale. There were too many tens. Her makeup was impeccable. Professional, with deniability. I knew right away she was smarter than me.

Not that it was a rare occurrence.

“Mr. King,” said the tracksuit-in-charge. “So glad you could make it.”

Only he wasn’t.

A lifetime of taking hits had taught me to trust my instincts. Later on, I could dissect the factors behind my initial read. Off the cuff, my gut was enough.

Dave King’s innards were synced with mine. “Save the speeches.

I’ve got a shelf about to snap from worthless awards.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I hadn’t gone looking for an awkward situation, it had found me.

Tracksuit read me all wrong. “I didn’t realize you were bringing representation.”

“He’s not a lawyer,” the woman informed him.

“Let’s take this elsewhere, this isn’t our shoot to start with,” Tracksuit decided. When he went to guide Dave King by the shoulder, King shrugged him off.

Realizing my moments on set were numbered, I scanned around for my patron. Ray was above me, with Bill O’Wrongs, on the edge of the catwalk. Ray walked Bill through the stunt, pointing, soothing, and doing everything else he could to reassure an actor who was about to dive into a vat of lava.

The cameras weren’t rolling, so Bill O’Wrongs wasn’t in character. Unless his interpretation of the villain was a guy who nodded nervously between deep breaths. Ray turned Bill O’Wrongs’s back to the pit, then reached out over the threshold and grabbed a handful of air. Try as I might, there was no making out what Ray was attaching to the actor’s costume.

Ray wound his way back to me and guided us to his spot behind the firing line, where he had a battle station bristling with monitors, each displaying a different camera angle.

“I thought they wiped out the wires in post.”

Ray snorted. “If you’re going to do that, why not go ahead and make a cartoon?”

The crew took position, their stillness spreading a contagious tension. I wanted to watch it go down live but got a better view from the monitors. I leaned in, as if another six inches would help the ultra-high-definition images. I knew what was coming but not when. Sitting through the coverage for later editing was torture.

Flint entered from above, crashing through a skylight. Stopping to hover midair, he spread his wings to reveal the golden-taloned symbol on his chest below an eagle cowl. I couldn’t help but play civilian. At least I didn’t point and shout his name. Fortunately, Bill O’Wrongs had it covered.

“Flying Freeman!”

Ray had trimmed Flying Freeman’s avian cowl to take full advantage of Flint’s carved-from-ebony jawline. The sculpted brow accentuated his intense expression. I wasn’t surprised they were still showing his eyes instead of the golden orbs from the comic. It was a dumb move to take away an actor’s biggest tool, and anyone who could have won the role of Flying Freeman would have made damn sure of it in their contract.

Flying Freeman dove with a two-footed kick, which Bill O’Wrongs blocked by crossing his fighting sticks. It was the absolute dumbest way to defend such a massive attack, but it looked great. Flying Freeman drifted back with a beat of his wings and pointed at his foe.

This was where it would cut to a close-up hero shot—complete with a one-liner—in the finished film. But right now, the sausage was getting made, and we sat through twelve more takes of Flying Freeman’s entrance. Ray’s drones swept the set, vacuuming up the not-actually glass and installing the next doomed skylight.

Once the director got what she wanted, they moved on to shooting the rest of the fight scene. There had never been anything like it on film. Flying Freeman kept to the air, attacking Bill O’Wrongs

from every angle. This sort of thing was normally done with computer graphics, but Ray had developed some new version of wirework. A technique which allowed the cameras to zoom, pan, and track to show that the actors were doing their own stunts. I could only make out the wires when one of the players was off their mark. They were woven into a network, like a three-dimensional spiderweb. Ray was playing puppet master via drones.

Bill O’Wrongs’s scrolls were revealed to be chain whips—a little on the nose when fighting a Black hero birthed during the civil rights movement. But it was sure to generate an online debate, and there was no marketing like free marketing. I was blown away by the actor’s skill in manipulating a pair of the most complex weapons in martial arts. Until I realized the whips were also tethered to the drones.

After the second meal break, the director made the decision to push forward to the ending sequence. The announcement caused some grumbles and groans, but she reminded everyone they had fallen behind schedule. Ray winced at her comment, which told me he had something to do with the shooting problems. I put a pin in it and kept quiet on the set.

The sequence came in two beats. In the first, Flint as Flying Freeman started on one knee, wings sheathed as Bill O’Wrongs rained down the chains with both hands. In a surge of determination, Flying Freeman spread his wings, casting the chains aside. From his crouch, Flint launched into the air, delivering an uppercut that sent both him and Bill O’Wrongs airborne. They ascended at two different speeds, Flying Freeman rising high as Bill O’Wrongs drifted weightless.

As Bill O’Wrongs hovered over the smoking cauldron, Flying Freeman flipped in the air and dove toward him. With a colossal hammering punch, he sent Bill O’Wrongs rocketing toward molten justice.

Usually, this kind of stunt was executed at low speed, then sped up in post. But that technique always showed. The little things added up: the steam drifted too fast, or the capes whipped around like flags

in a storm. Small motions became jerky enough to yank the audience into the uncanny valley. Ray had created an effect performed in real time. It had me believing a man could fly.

Bill O’Wrongs plummeted at a rate that would have flagged a radar gun. He started dead center over the cauldron, but the angle was all wrong and he veered toward the lip. I reached out as if I could will what was coming to halt. Bill O’Wrongs clipped the edge of the cauldron. The back of his skull struck the rim, ringing the bowl like a gong. A blink after, he splashed into the faux liquid metal, sending a wave of glowing material into the air, where it cooled into sparks.

Behind me, Ray cursed, once and short. Under his piloting, the drones lifted Bill O’Wrongs out of the cauldron, a limp marionette, and lowered him gently as medical rushed in.

Ray stared into the circle of paramedics, but his thoughts weren’t in the present. The paramedics went through the motions, administering CPR until an ambulance arrived. I caught a glimpse of an EMT trying to straighten Bill O’Wrongs’s airway. I’d seen Pez dispensers with straighter alignments. It wasn’t the first death I had witnessed. I didn’t take it any better this time than the others.

The call came to clear the soundstage. Ray didn’t budge. Almost imperceptivity, he started shaking his head and didn’t stop. An inch left, an inch right. He went back to his bank of monitors and loaded what looked like diagnostics.

“This was no accident, Ken. I don’t make mistakes like this. Not now, not ever.”

Every reply that came to mind, every consolation I considered, fell short, so I kept them to myself.

“I’m not responsible for this. I want you to prove it. I don’t care what it costs or how long it takes.”

Ray’s gadgets had saved my skin ten times over. He never so much as asked for a penny. If the man needed me to tilt at his windmills, so be it.

“This one’s on me, old buddy.”

Before Ray could argue, security swept us off set. We had joined the pileup being funneled toward the doors, when I spied someone who belonged in an entirely different universe.

“Is that Foxman?”

Ray tilted his head, trying to get line of sight through the chaos. “Might be Flying Freeman’s stand-in.”

“Nope. Different capes.” I started shoving a path toward the door. Being a detective meant noticing things that were out of place. Foxman didn’t belong in this universe.

Or on this set.

I forced my way out of the exit into a packed mob. The chatter among the crew was rapidly drawing attention. Running from the scene would only draw more, so I walked with purpose, a guy late for his afternoon roundtable. Actor that I was, it didn’t fool anyone. I raised my badge like a torch to ward off security. There was a lot of ground to cover with a throng of people in it, but it was hard to miss a guy dressed as a fox.

I finally broke free of the crowd and gave pursuit. Three guards tried to stop me to check my lanyard but not hard enough to cause a scuffle. I came around a corner to spot Foxman fifty feet away, taking a selfie with a fan. As the taller guy, he was holding the phone. His cape was wrong. It had four scallops instead of five, and his boots were brown when they should have been gray.

I drew the Quarreler — a fictional nonlethal pistol Ray had made real—and attempted to creep closer. I was inside effective range for the taser darts, but Foxman was cuddled up to a civilian and his cape looked sturdy enough to afford some protection. Foxman caught me out of the corner of his eye.

He was good. He dropped the phone and took out the fan with an elbow in the same motion as he spun toward me. I sent two shots center of mass.

Foxman swept up his cape, soaking both darts. When he completed his spin, he extended an arm toward me. His fluted metallic gauntlet sported twin openings reminiscent of a double-barreled shotgun.

I threw my arm over my face. Twin impacts slammed into my forearm and ribs. As I reeled, Foxman aimed his gauntlet at the ground between us.

Smoke exploded all around me. I forged ahead toward Foxman and clear air. I held my breath, but the cloud attacked my sinuses. My legs stopped working. I broke through on pure momentum only to wipe out on the pavement.

My airway started to close up. I went blind. The sun on my skin felt like a nuclear blast. I tried to call for help, but you need to be able to breathe to talk.

Foxman had taken me down without breaking a sweat. How could I have been so stupid? I forgot about his gadget gauntlet and now I was going to die like some two-bit villain.

***

Excerpt from Heroes Ever Die by JA Crawford. Copyright 2022 by JA Crawford. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Born near Detroit, J. A. Crawford wanted to grow up to be a superhero, before he found out it was more of a hobby. He’s the first in his family to escape the factory line for college. Too chicken to major in writing, he studied Criminal Justice at Wayne State University instead, specializing in criminal procedure and interrogation.

Despite what his family thinks, J. A. is not a spy. When he isn’t writing, he travels the country investigating disaster sites. Before that, he taught Criminal Justice, Montessori Kindergarten, and several martial arts. J. A. is an alum of the Pitch Wars program. In his spare time, he avoids carbohydrates and as many punches as possible.

He loves the stories behind the stories and finds everything under the sun entirely too interesting. J. A. splits his time between Michigan and California. He is married to his first and biggest fan, who is not allowed to bring home any more pets.

Catch Up With J. A. Crawford:
JACrawford.net
Instagram - @josephoforb
Twitter - @josephoforb
Facebook - @jacrawfordoforb
TikTok - @josephoforb

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
Click here to view Heroes Ever Die by J A Crawford Tour Hosts

 

ENTER TO WIN:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for J. A. Crawford & CamCat Books. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Tours

 
I received a complimentary digital copy 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, August 13, 2022

Endangered Refuge by Sherri Wilson Johnson Blog Tour and Giveaway


About the Book

Book: Endangered Refuge

Author: Sherri Wilson Johnson

Genre: Christian Contemporary Romantic Suspense

Release date: August 2, 2022

He wants to protect her. She wants to protect him. A powerful man with dark secrets may kill them both.

Undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Dallas Heath has infiltrated one of the largest big cat illegal trading rings in the States. Now he must unearth vital evidence to bring down kingpin Mitchell Avery before the next litter of cubs crosses state lines. Multiple failed attempts have cost Dallas time and progress, and now he’s threatened with being pulled off the case. The clock is ticking for this seasoned officer. It doesn’t help that a life which includes deception and being apart from the only woman he’s ever loved makes him doubt if undercover work is for him.

Special Agent Elyse Bradford has spent the last three months undercover living next door to Mitchell Avery posing as a woman of great means and vying for an invite to one of his big cat auctions, to which only the most serious and authenticated buyers are invited. If only she could confide in her best friend and fellow agent Dallas, maybe he could help her devise a plan before her cover is blown.

If they’d been assigned to work the case together, they’d have already brought Avery’s organization down. But Dallas is working undercover somewhere too. Since they can’t share the details of their missions or their locations with each other, the former partners—torn apart by assignments too many times—must find another way.

After a strange twist of events propels them together again, hope’s flame flickers…until word spreads of a mole—either in Avery’s organization or within the USFWS. And now neither one knows who to trust. Can they even trust each other when they’ve been apart for so many years?

On a backdrop of Mobile Bay on the Gulf coast, Dallas and Elyse fight to save endangered tigers, keep their covers intact and bring down an enemy whose reach is far beyond what anyone imagined. After tensions rise and tempers flare—coupled with lies and manipulation from all around—they could lose everything they’ve worked for. Including each other.

Will they succeed on their mission without ripping apart their shot at a future together?

Click here to get your copy!

My Review 

This is a romantic suspense novel with at least one deeply flawed hero. Elyse is the heroine as she and Dallas are undercover agents working to capture the man selling exotic animals in a black market setting. She is an odd agent. She frequently disobeys orders. She carries her real identification in her purse. “She hadn't been thinking, really.” (1471/3315) She uses Dallas' real name in the presence of another. She is stubborn and impulsive and makes mistakes. “She's really messed up this time.” (1085/3315) At one point, Dallas says to her, “Elyse, think like an agent, not like a woman, okay?” (2347/3315) I prefer capable heroines and did not find her a likable character.

The romance in this romantic suspense is a workplace one. Their behavior toward each other during their undercover work was often potentially harmful to the investigation. They would frequently talk, mention they were agents and use their real names in situations where someone could easily walk up and overhear. Their inappropriate conversation was overheard one time.

I appreciated learning some about the selling of exotic animals on the black market. Johnson's writing style is clear and not sophisticated. I did find the behavior of the heroic characters lacking in view of the serious nature of their undercover work.

My rating: 3/5 stars.


About the Author

Sherri Wilson Johnson is an Inspirational Romance novelist and graphic designer. She lives in Georgia with her husband and their two dogs, and they are empty-nesters. Sherri loves spending time with family, vacationing at the beach, curling up with a good book or working on her current work-in-progress. She dreams of a second home on some beach somewhere some day, where she can plot romantically suspenseful novels all day and night.

Follow Sherri on Instagram and Facebook plus on Amazon and Bookbub. Find out more about her on her website: http://sherriwilsonjohnson.com

More from Sherri

For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with Bengal tigers. As a young girl, I even tried to adopt one. In actuality, the “Adopt a Tiger” call was a call to sponsor one in a zoo. Sadly, my family wasn’t financially able to do that, but my love for tigers continued until…well, I’ll let you know if it ever stops. I’ve jokingly said that I will own a captivatingly beautiful tiger with a precious pink nose when I get to heaven. It’s not at all impossible, right? I mean, if the lion and the lamb will be friends, surely my afterlife-self can own a tiger. I’ve put in a request, so we shall see. The fact that I’m allergic to cats won’t hinder me then either!

Every year when we go to the local State Fair, I always make sure I’m there at the right time to see the tiger show. For $5, you can feed them by putting a piece of meat on the end of a stick. You can’t actually pet them or anything like that, though. I became aware a few years ago of the abuse these amazing creatures go through just by being carted around from town to town, put on display, made to perform. And the “pet a cub” opportunities are more harmful to the babies than you can imagine. When they get too big for the petting zoo, what happens to them?

Out of my love for tigers, I began researching to find the answer to that question. Out of that came Endangered Refuge, a reunion romance filled with mystery and suspense. Many of you have probably heard of television shows that give you a behind-the-scenes look at big cat sanctuaries only to discover later that they are fronts for trafficking them and selling their parts on the black market.

Here is where my hero and heroine enter. Special Agents Dallas Carter and Elyse Bradford are both undercover with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services working to shut down a big cat trader. Best friends since college, their work often takes them to different places around the country, but their physical separation never seems to separate their hearts. When they run into each other on the secret mission, neither one knowing that the other has been assigned to the case, sparks fly. But they aren’t always good sparks. Because someone is killing to protect a secret, it’s up to the two agents, posing as socialite Vivian Chandler and cat handler Dakota Heath, to expose the person who exploits these amazing creatures, so all power struggles and personal opinions must be set aside.

This is book four in my Jeopardized Reunions series, which is set in the Mobile Bay area of Alabama. This particular story is set in two places on the bay, in the Gulf Shores/Fort Morgan area and on the Fish River, which separates Fairhope and Magnolia Springs (the setting of book three in the series, Unfortunate Homecoming).

I hope you will consider checking out Endangered Refuge and the other books in the series, all set on Mobile Bay and all written as standalones. The common thread? They are all reunion romances. So while my characters have a past that tore them apart, they have the promise of a future.

I’d love it of you’d follow me on social media and join my subscriber list. I’m always excited to hear from readers!

Places you can find out more about legitimate big cat sanctuaries:

Carolina Tiger Rescue: https://carolinatigerrescue.org

Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary: https://crownridgetigers.com

Blog Stops

Texas Book-aholic, August 12

Simple Harvest Reads, August 12 (Guest Review from Donna Cline)

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, August 13

Happily Managing a Household of Boys, August 14

Debbie's Dusty Deliberations, August 14

deb's Book Review, August 15

Betti Mace, August 16

Aryn the Libraryan, August 17

Inklings and notions, August 18

For Him and My Family, August 19

Because I said so -- and other adventures in Parenting, August 20

Sara Beth Williams, August 20

Ashley’s Clean Book Reviews, August 21

An Author's Take, August 22

Locks, Hooks and Books, August 23

Truh and Grace Homeschool Academy, August 24

Blogging With Carol, August 25

Giveaway

To celebrate her tour, Sherri is giving away the grand prize package of a $50 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/20a84/endangered-refuge-celebration-tour-giveaway

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. 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, August 11, 2022

It Never Occurred to Her by Michelle Jester Blog Tour and Giveaway


About the Book

Book: It Never Occurred to Her

Author: Michelle Jester

Genre: Contemporary Religious Fiction, Women’s Religious Fiction, Contemporary Christian Fiction

Release date: November 28, 2021

For two years Gabriel has followed every lead, no matter how small, in the hope of finding his wife who has been kidnapped. He and the police always seem to be one step behind, until investigators give him information that helps him launch the plan to find her.

When Lena looks up into the eyes of her husband, who she hasn’t seen in two years, she is humiliated and wants nothing more than to run before he recognizes her. And so she does. It’s only when she faces a desperate situation that she is forced to return and ask for his help.

As fate twists its way through both of their lives, they realize it doesn’t matter how much they have prepared to face the realities of losing someone, or finding them again, redemption is in letting go of the past and finding a future just off the beaten path.

Click here to get your copy!

My Review

This is a heart wrenching novel centering on human trafficking. Parts of it were hard to read as it described quite clearly the horrible torture women received. Potential readers who have experienced sexual trauma should be aware of many trigger situations in the novel. While the scenes are not overly descriptive, they were still hard to read and it seemed like it was pages and pages.

The narrative includes back story so we see how women are taken into the trafficked situation and forced to remain there. That historical aspect is revealed in a timely fashion so we understand the present behavior of the trafficked women. The present narrative is a detailed exploration of the loving patience required to integrate previously trafficked women into a life free of sexual oppression. There are also so good theological explorations of trying to understand God's love after experiencing such horror.

One aspect of the novel that made it harder to read was the use of the present tense in the narrative. There were times when Jester mixed tense usage and that was a bit irritating. An example are these two sentences appearing in the same paragraph. “Then again, she thought...” “She walks along...” (746/4491)

This is a long book at nearly five hundred pages. I did feel there was too much description of the trafficked experiences. I would have liked better editing of the tense in the narrative.  Nonetheless, this is a good novel exploring the heartbreak of human trafficking, the love and patience required for healing, and the life changing power of the gospel.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author

Michelle Jester is the bestselling author of fiction novels, as well as contributing author to the nonfiction #1 bestseller, My Labor Pains Were Worse than Yours. She also writes nonfiction and children’s books. Michelle lives in Louisiana with her husband, high school sweetheart and retired Master Sergeant. She wears a bracelet with a single yellow, rubber duckie charm on it to remind her to enjoy the fun and happy things of life!

You can follow Michelle Jester:

http://michellejester.net

facebook: /authormichellejester

Instagram: @michellejester

TikTok: @michelle_jester

Twitter: @michelle_jester

More from Michelle

When I first started writing this novel, it was because of a dream I had. I woke in the middle of the night crying, sweating, and praising God. I immediately got up, went to my computer and started writing about the dream. I was weeping the entire time and barely able to see through my tears.

In the dream, I was homeless, alone, and had drifted from God. I was hungry and went into a food kitchen to eat. I was dirty, smelled terrible, and missed Larry so much, only I knew I could never go home. I had done too much and had too much done to me to ever make it back to him.

After the person in the food kitchen put the food on my plate, I looked up and it was my husband, Larry. I was humiliated and desperately didn’t want him to recognize me. I was about to leave when in the dream Larry’s face turned to Jesus and He said, “I have been looking for you.”

That dream became the cornerstone of this novel.

Blog Stops

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, August 11

Gina Holder, Author and Blogger, August 12 (Author Interview)

Debbie's Dusty Deliberations, August 12

Inklings and notions, August 13

For Him and My Family, August 14

Texas Book-aholic, August 15

Spoken from the Heart, August 16

deb's Book Review, August 16

Locks, Hooks and Books, August 17

Ashley’s Clean Book Reviews, August 18

Because I said so -- and other adventures in Parenting, August 19

Happily Managing a Household of Boys, August 20

Rebecca Tews, August 21

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, August 22

Blogging With Carol, August 23

Pause for Tales, August 24

Giveaway

To celebrate her tour, Michelle is giving away a book gift box that includes: other titles from Michelle Jester, as well as several other authors from Rope Swing Publishing, bookmarks, a coffee mug, and a $20 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/20a82/it-never-occurred-to-her-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, August 9, 2022

The Potrero Complex by Amy L Bernstein Book Tour and Giveaway


The Potrero Complex

by Amy L Bernstein

August 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Synopsis:

Journalist Rags Goldner is battle-scarred and heartbroken after covering a devastating pandemic that rages in Baltimore for five years. She leaves the city with her partner in search of a simpler life in small-town Maryland—only to discover nothing in Canary is simple. A teenager is missing, and it falls to Rags to fight the forces of apathy, paranoia, and creeping fascism to learn the shocking truth about Effie Rutter’s fate—and the fate of thousands like her.

Praise for The Potrero Complex:

“Anyone immersed in the experience and possible outcomes of social change after this pandemic will find The Potrero Complex frightening and hard to put down, presenting thought-provoking insights on the progress and erosion of freedom in the name of safety and social preservation.”

D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“Bernstein sets us in a post-pandemic time just the barest bit beyond our own, on the way to a dystopia that feels too frightening and too familiar. A thoughtful, complex, well-executed novel—not a who-done-it? but a much scarier what-in-the-hell-is-happening?”

Robert Kanigel, author of Hearing Homer’s Songand The Man Who Knew Infinity

“An intelligently conceived tale of an unthinkable yet credible future. A novel of dark deeds in dark times.”

Karen S. Bennett, author of Beautiful Horseflesh

“A complicated tale of post-pandemic times in the not-so-distant future, where share cars, data phones, and respies figure into a plot that is scarily believable.”

Avery Caswell, author of Salvation

“Richly textured, with many evocative threads [that] explore the culture of a post-pandemic small town—a town that camouflages its disturbing secrets. A cautionary tale.”

Kathy Mangan, Professor Emeritus, McDaniel College, author of Taproot

“A scarily prescient novel that deftly explores the fraught connections between individuality, society, public policy, and technology.”

Courtney Harler, Harler Literary LLC

“An emotional, haunting tale leaves you with more questions than answers, and that’s a good thing. A memorable and timely reminder that there are no easy solutions when fear and conspiracy feed like hungry beasts and the innocent exist simply for the taking.”

PJ McIlvaine, screenwriter, author of My Horrible Year

My Review:

Bernstein says she likes to make people think. She has sure done so with this novel. This is not a mystery so much as it is an exploration into the psyche of humankind when stressed by a very serious pandemic. We are made aware of people plagued by fear and the subsequent actions that fear can produce. The plot is a good example of what fear of the unknown can generate. In this case people fear the outbreak of a new strain of a virus more deadly than anything humans had experienced. We also see how some can use that fear to manipulate people with an aim to achieve power.

The mystery of the missing teens takes a back seat while the narrative centers on Rags and her current behavior based on her past, something of which we get hints. I did not find Rags a particularly likable character as she did cause some of her own troubles. But I did appreciate her standing firm in the face of opposition.

This is a good novel for readers who like to be challenged with what might happen based on an extrapolation of recent events. This story is a reminder of how quickly a situation and the leaders over it can go horribly wrong. While I would have preferred a neatly tied up ending, it is left a bit open. Perhaps more of Bernstein making us think about how we might see it all ending.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Published by: Regal House Publishing
Publication Date: August 2nd 2022
Number of Pages: 270
ISBN: 1646032500 (ISBN13: 9781646032501)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Regal House Publishing

Read an excerpt:

MISSING: A teenaged girl with lanky, blonde hair and a sunburst tattoo on her cheek.

The holographic posters, brighter than day itself, lit up the air on every block of Main Street. They were the first thing Rags Goldner noticed as she and her partner, Flint Sten, arrived in Canary.

The girl’s name was Effie and she was sixteen.

Effie’s pixelated image beamed down at Rags like a celebrity unaware that her fifteen minutes of fame were up.

Rags refused to give a damn about the missing girl who, after all, she didn’t know. Nor did she know much about the town, Canary, where the driverless ShareCar she and Flint had leased for their move had brought them. But missing kids make news, and as Canary’s newly imported one-and-only newspaper editor, Rags knew she’d be expected to do something about it. Which meant she wouldn’t control the news hole on day one. Which meant all kinds of people would come at her to do one thing or another.

Rags hadn’t been in town five minutes and already she could tell things were going to get complicated—and complicated was the very thing she and Flint were trying to get away from. Damn all the politicians and peacekeepers and their gatekeeping bullshit, she thought.

As the car made a final turn toward its programmed destination, Rags’s twitch flared up: the muscles in her upper left cheek and the outer corner of her left eye performed an uncontrolled little dance. “Ah, crap,” she said. “Turning Main Street into Times Square won’t help them find the girl. What a waste. And all that light pollution.” She stretched her face, willing the twitch to stop.

Flint held up his dataphone and aimed it at one of the digital posters as they cruised by. The static image of Effie sprang into augmented-reality motion: she turned her head, blinked, and laughed.

“Stop doing that, Flint,” Rags said. “Just don’t.” No way that girl, out there somewhere, is smiling.

“Don’t get spun up so fast.” Flint looked over at her for the first time in hours. Their connection was like a faulty wire, fritzing on and off. “Give yourself some room to ramp up,” he said, putting his hand on top of her head in a familiar gesture: simmer down. It helped. The twitching nearly stopped. “We haven’t even come to a full stop yet. Pace yourself.”

“Well, look,” Rags said. “They’ve plastered her face everywhere. Probably been like that for weeks.”

“You think the story about this girl has gone cold, right?” Flint said. “What do you call that?”

“Beat up. I’m guessing the story’s beat up. The first thing I’m going to hear is that they want me to flog it some more. Remind me, why are we doing this?”

“Let’s not,” Flint said, looking back down at his screen. “Anyway, it was your idea.”

As the ShareCar rolled noiselessly down Main Street, Rags saw just one person hanging around the deserted downtown: a woman standing on a corner who appeared to be waiting. For what? Rags wondered. As they slowly passed by, Rags caught a dead look in the woman’s eyes. A block further on, Rags watched a man and a woman, both in shabby coats, as they appeared to argue, their faces contorted with anger. The man handed the woman a bicycle pump. She handed him in return a loaf of bread. What kind of town is this?

The ShareCar parked curbside at 326 Main Street. For well over a century, the little brick building, sandwiched between other little brick buildings, had housed the Canary Courant. A chatty little newspaper, the Courant, as Rags knew from her research, printed anything and everything within the bounds of what people once called ‘common decency’ about the town of Canary, a tiny hamlet in the northwestern corner of Maryland, not far from the Pennsylvania border. The kind of town that flew under the radar for anyone who did not live there.

The fact that the Canary Courant was still a going concern in 2030 was astounding, even mysterious, and a key reason that Rags was here. Though perhaps not the only reason. The paper’s survival was even more of a puzzle when one considered that the town itself, which had been shriveling for decades, was now skeletal. The pandemic, which everybody called The Big One, had raged for nearly five years. It hollowed out an already hollowed out place, killing off over two-thirds of the elderly population living out their days in Canary. Those folks never knew what hit them—their dreams of slipping into gracious idleness on their front-porch rockers, eating breakfast on the cheap at the town diner, destroyed in an agony of fever and blood.

On Canary’s rural outskirts, on their way into town, Rags had seen the crematorium, a hulking cinderblock rectangle erected for one single purpose: to incinerate the infected dead into piles of decontaminated black ash. She was sure Flint missed it— though it was very hard to miss, rising up from a flat expanse of undeveloped land—just as he’d missed seeing Effie until she pointed it out. Like I’m his goddamn tour guide.

Now, nearly two years after The Big One had been officially declared over, Rags suspected that Canary’s survivors were like a mouth full of missing teeth—families broken by a plague that took not merely the elderly but also children and their parents with a seemingly vicious and terrifyingly random determination. With an emphasis on random. Survivors everywhere were known as “Luckies,” though Rags only ever used that term in its most ironic sense.

And yet, even in a near ghost town like Canary, in a still-brittle economy, in a world where print media was a rare novelty, the ink-on-paper edition of the Canary Courant lived on, as quirky and creaky as Miss Havisham in the attic, each folded issue tossed at sunrise every Wednesday and every other Sunday into doorways and onto walkways by a young father and son living on gig income.

Rags deliberately suppressed her own journalistic instincts when it came to figuring out how this newspaper managed to keep going years past its natural expiration date. Turning a blind eye to its improbable existence was both expedient and convenient for her. She knew that income from print ads—about as old-fashioned as you could get—was the sole reason the paper was able to keep going. It surely wasn’t due to subscription revenue. But she didn’t know why anyone would buy print ads in a tiny newspaper serving a dying community in a digital world. There’d be time, she figured, to get to the bottom of that.

The main thing was that this improbable job as the Canary Courant’s editor came her way at a time when she and Flint were looking for an escape hatch that would take them away from the exhausting hysteria and suffocating autocracy that made post-pandemic, big-city living unbearable in countless ways. They came to Canary in search of a simpler life—though Rags, if pressed, could not readily have defined what that would look like. Freedom from fear? Freedom to forget? She kept these notions to herself because she did not think Flint would admit to any of it—let alone acknowledge the possibility.

Rags had worried before they arrived that an out-of-the-way place like Canary might have borne an influx of people seeking—or imagining—that this place would prove to be some kind of oasis. But from the little she’d seen so far, there was nothing oasis-like about this town. The garish and intrusive billboards of the missing Effie radiated an anxious thrum, nothing like a small-town welcome.

Rags and Flint left the ShareCar with programmed instructions to continue on and wait for them at the house they were renting a few blocks from Canary’s minuscule town center. The entire move, including Rags’s new job, had been planned remotely, so this was their first time actually in Canary. In the grand scheme of things, given the terrifying and unpredictable upheavals they’d already lived through, moving hundreds of miles away to a new place sight unseen didn’t feel at all risky.

From the outside, the newspaper office mimicked the virtual reality images Rags had already seen online. A plate-glass window with old-fashioned gold lettering rimmed in black spelled out Canary Courant. Since 1910. Rags doubted there was anything very “current” about it; the very name advertised its status as a relic with a pretentious echo of French. Rags wondered who else knew that courant in French had more than one meaning— not just “current” but also “ordinary.” Someone must have had the lettering on the window repainted many times over the years—and who even knew how to do that sort of thing, anymore?—but this was a line item Rags wasn’t going to worry about. She was here on purpose yet still felt faintly ridiculous about the whole thing.

All this ye-oldy feel-good yester-year crap, she thought. Some kind of amusement park for blinkered folks. A post-apocalyptic Disneyworld? Or maybe Westworld—a place where you could trick yourself into relaxing, just for a moment.

Yet here she was, along with her IT-guru partner Flint, a software developer steeped in AI arcana, who was definitely not the ye-oldy type. Fitting in, for both of them, was beside the point. Rags figured they’d both settle for some kind of new equilibrium. She waved her dataphone in front of the digi-lock and the heavy front door swung open. The newspaper office was a step up from the threshold because, Rags learned later, the floor had been reinforced a century ago to support the heavy metal printing presses that used to take up a third of the space with their loud, clackety racket.

As Rags entered the square-shaped newsroom, the old floor creaking, a woman likely more than twice Rags’s age—a surprise in and of itself, in this day and age—stood up quickly from a battered wooden desk, her chair scraping against the floor. Rags knew only her first name, Merry. She was tall with broad shoulders, like a swimmer, dressed in loose-fitting wrinkled clothes, her hair silver-gray and so long it touched her buttocks.

“You’re here,” Merry said with a slightly accusatory edge that did not escape Rag’s notice, as though she’d been doing something she shouldn’t.

“Yup,” Rags said as she scanned the room. She made a quick mental list of all the things she intended to change. Rags hated clutter the way healthy people hate cancer: it was offensive, invasive, and should be eliminated quickly and surgically. The heavy furniture would have to go, and the old-fashioned filing cabinets, and the shelf of tacky journalism awards—the fake-gold winged angels, the stupid quill pens mounted on blocks of glass. Rags guessed that most if not all of the people who’d won those awards were long dead, one way or another. She’d call someone as soon as possible to haul all this crap away. The place looked like a mausoleum, for chrissakes. And that told her all she needed to know about Merry, who radiated the territorial energy of a fox guarding its cubs.

“I’ve got tomorrow’s front page made up on screen,” Merry said, standing rigidly by her desk. “I suppose you want to see it.” Rags saw Flint make a tiny, familiar gesture: flicking on his ear discs (he’d insisted on upgrading from old-school earbuds), so he could drown out the voices around him and listen to the soundtrack of his choice. With this personal sound cushion enveloping him, Flint glided around the room like a restless ghost, ignoring the two women, fingering every piece of tech there was, and there wasn’t much. Rags turned her attention to Merry—watching her watching Flint, to see how much this invasion of Merry’s claimed space unsettled her. Rags didn’t bother to introduce them, as Flint wasn’t likely to visit the newsroom again.

“Is it all about the missing girl?” Rags asked.

“Is there another big story in town I’ve missed?” Merry asked, her blue-gray eyes staring icily at Rags. “Because if so, be my guest. You’ve got two whole hours until we send the file to the printers.” Merry stepped away from her desk, as if inviting Rags to step in. Rags read the gesture as it was intended: What the fuck do you know?

Well, this wasn’t going to be pretty. In that moment, Rags had to admit to herself that while she thought she longed to live in a place where she could pursue small stories of no consequence, instead of big ones that traded in life and death, she was never going to check her personality at the door. She wouldn’t look for trouble, but she wouldn’t back away from a fight, either, especially if she knew going into it that she had the upper hand. She was editor-in-chief, after all, not Merry—a holdover from a previous regime with an ill-defined job, as far as Rags knew.

Rags sat down at a battered desk nearly identical to Merry’s and began opening drawers, which contained random bits of long-obsolete office junk: Post-It notes, ballpoint pens, paperclips, a box of peppermint Tic-Tacs. Rags popped a Tic-Tac in her mouth and bit down hard; it was stale and tasteless.

“That’s Freddy’s desk,” Merry said. “You mean it was,” Rags said.

“For a long time, yeah. He was a damn good copy editor.

Nothing got past Freddy. That’s what everybody said.”

“Except The Big One, I’m guessing,” Rags said, without an ounce of sympathy. “Snuck right up on him.”

“Yeah, it did,” Merry said flatly, turning back to her screen.

“So what’s your plan, Polly?”

“Don’t call me Polly. Call me Rags.”

“I was told the new editor-in-chief is named Polly,” Merry said, as if trying to catch Rags in a lie. “I wasn’t told anything about somebody named Rags.”

“Yet here I am,” Rags said, rising from Freddy’s chair. She stood behind Merry and looked at the screen. “How many stories on this girl, Effie, have you run this month, Merry?”

“We try to post something every week.” “Why?” Rags asked.

“Why? Because we’re trying to flush out new leads, Pol—

Rags.”

“Are there any?” Rags asked, scrolling around the digital home page of the Courant. Merry hovered over her, as though she feared Rags would break something.

“Not in over a week,” Merry said.

“So it’s a beat-up story but you keep milking it for, what, sympathy?”

“No!” Merry said, turning red. “You don’t have any children, do you? Because if you did, you’d—”

“Bury it,” Rags said.

“You want me to bury the lead story? And replace it with what?” Merry’s cheeks flushed. She bit her lower lip. Rags noted how little it would take to get her really and truly riled up.

By this point, Flint had found an ancient PC from 2010 sitting on a dusty windowsill and he was taking it apart, down to the motherboard and its old components. Rags knew he was going to wait her out, and this would keep him happily occupied until she was good and ready to leave. He was patient in this type of situation, which Rags appreciated; his tolerance of her own need to press on, push hard, was essential to balancing them out. Maybe here, finally, she’d find a way to press less, though the situation was not promising in that respect.

Rags touched Merry’s screen to scroll through the pages of the main news well. It was only a couple of pages long before you hit sports, the crossword (unkillable), and then those unaccountably robust print ads listing everything from flying lessons to bizarre personals. She told Merry to make the lead a story she’d spotted about a leaking septic tank and to bury the Effie story right before the sports section. The need for the switch was obvious. The Effie story had had its day, and anything that remotely threatened public health, like a septic tank problem, belonged well above the fold. It was a thin fold, in any case, despite the ads.

“And when the next kid goes missing, you want us to bury

that too?” Merry asked.

“What do you mean, the next kid?” Rags asked. “It’s going to happen,” Merry said, biting her lip. “You don’t know that.”

“You don’t know anything,” Merry said.

“Then tell me, Merry. Tell me what I don’t know.”

Rags could see Merry’s chest rising and falling, as if she was struggling to hold something in. But Merry said nothing.

“Switch the stories,” Rags said. There was no way she’d back down and let Merry have her way. And besides, if there was nothing new to report on the Effie case, then there really wasn’t a compelling reason to give the story the banner headline for the week. Rags had no qualms about her decision. “Flint, let’s go find our new home.”

Flint had his head deep inside the guts of the old PC he’d found. She called to him again. He straightened up, dusted off his hands, and followed Rags out without a word to Merry, leaving the deconstructed computer in bits and pieces on the desk.

***

Excerpt from The Potrero Complex by Amy L Bernstein. Copyright 2022 by Amy L Bernstein. Reproduced with permission from Amy L Bernstein. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Amy L. Bernstein writes stories that let readers feel while making them think. Her novels include The Potrero Complex, The Nighthawkers, Dreams of Song Times, and Fran, The Second Time Around. Amy is an award-winning journalist, speechwriter, playwright, and certified nonfiction book coach. When not glued to a screen, she loves listening to jazz and classical music, drinking wine with friends, and exploring Baltimore’s glorious neighborhoods, which inspire her fiction.

Catch Up With Amy L Bernstein:
AmyWrites.live
Goodreads
BookBub - @Amy5705
Instagram - @amylbernstein
Twitter - @amylbernstein
Facebook - @AmyLBernsteinAuthor
TikTok - @amylbernsteinauthor

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
Click here to view The Potrero Complex by Amy L Bernstein Tour Hosts.

 

GIVEAWAY:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Amy L. Bernstein. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Tours

 
I received a complimentary digital copy 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.)