Saturday, March 31, 2018

60 Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharp by Bonnie Sparrman

There are millions of baby boomers approaching the age where developing dementia or Alzheimer's is a concern. Sparrman is convinced we can prevent the onset of those diseases or at least delay them for many years. She offers suggestions in four areas of life: physical activity, nutrition, intellectually stimulating activities, and social and spiritual connections.

Sparrman shares the results of many studies, yet in a very readable way. Some of the information and suggestions were not new to me. Her section on nutrition included all of the sensible advice we've been reading about for years. She has included a few recipes. We also know we should be walking or doing some other form of activity as we age. I was surprised, however, at the benefits of hiking in nature as opposed to walking in an urban setting. I was also surprised to find out about the friendly microbe beneficial to gardeners.

There were also some surprises for me in the social section of the book. There are measurable benefits for families who eat together around a table at least five times a week, for example. I am in a reading group and was pleased to find that such a group participation was one of Sparrman's suggestions, as was journaling. I was also reminded of the high cost of being mad or bitter and of the benefits of being optimistic.

I highly recommend this book to readers who are baby boomers and are entering into that age where one is concerned about reduced brain function. This book is very readable, full of facts, and has great suggestions for keeping your brain functioning well. It is a great resource for being a good steward of the body God gave you as well as living a more enjoyable and fulfilling life in general.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Bonnie Sparrman has worked as an OB nurse and Parent Educator in several different cities in the U.S. She is the author of several books.

Harvest House Publishers, 224 pages.

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Better Together by Rusty George

We certainly live in an era of self focus. Yet we know from Scripture that we should be connecting with others. How do we do that if we are an introvert? What if we're cautious because we've been hurt in the past?

George has written this book to help us connect better. He is an introvert himself and tells lots of good stories. The style of the book is to identify a concern about connecting with others and then offer suggestions to overcome that and form positive relationships. I could really identify with his concerns. Who hasn't been hurt by one supposed to be a good friend? Who hasn't come to the conclusion that so many others are unthinking and uncaring, or as George puts it, idiots?

George does a good job of answering all the objections. I was impressed with George using the example of Jesus. He had to deal with so many difficult people. I am to be Christlike and follow Jesus in dealing with others. Certainly I can tolerate a few objectionable traits in others to be able to connect with them and support them.

There are many good suggestions in this book. I liked the one for hospital visitation. George shares the story of being an inexperienced pastor and not knowing what to do when visiting the hospitalized. An experienced pastor suggested presence and prayer. People want to know they are not alone and that someone is praying for them.

George is really transparent in the telling of his own stories. Readers will be able to identify with his experiences, I think. Reading this book reminded me we need each other in our Christian walk and gave me good ideas on how to connect with others. There are discussion questions provided at the end of each chapter so this book could be used in a small group.

Food for thought: “There truly is happiness in being alone, but joy in being together.” (Loc 979/2307)

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Rusty George is the lead pastor of Real Life Church in Valencia, California. Through his 11 years at RLC, the church has grown to over 6,000 people and three campuses. He speaks regularly at conferences across thee country. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Santa Clarita, California.

Bethany House, 208 pages.

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Winning Miss Winthrop by Carolyn Miller

I am not a fan of Regency fiction and was hesitant to agree to review this novel. The beginning got off to a rough start for me as the author assumed, I think, that I was familiar with the customs of the era. I had to find out what an entailment was to understand what was going on. About a third of the way into the book, however, I began to enjoy the story.

This is your typical romance. A common business man, now Lord of the manor, once loved Catherine, the woman he just forced to move out of the manor. Maybe he still loves her and she him. But misunderstandings present huge obstacles and one wonders of they will every get together again.

I was impressed with a couple aspects of the novel. One was the study of the customs of the entitled people. Christian charity and loving behavior was pitted against the cultural norms of the day. Catherine tried to show Christian love and compassion to others while her mother was a jealous and somewhat heartless person. I also liked the way some of the characters were developed. Catherine's aunt was a pistol, saying what she thought and shocking many with her truth. Another aspect of the novel I liked was the clear demonstration of the effect rumors had on one's reputation. And at that time, reputation was everything.

I did have trouble liking the main characters, Catherine and Jon, however. Catherine seemed immature and impulsive for her age. I would have liked her better had she been more truthful. And Jon did not seem a very compassionate man until almost being forced into it. Granted, they had both been hurt but I like to see characters rise above hurt to be excellent.

I do recommend this book to those who enjoy Regency romance novels. After the initial rough start, I did enjoy the author's writing style. There was some pithy dialog and some humor along the way. But the main attraction of the novel will be the typical romance plot.

You can download a discussion guide and find out more about the book and Bath at

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Carolyn Miller lives in New South Wales, Australia with her husband and their four children. She is a Regency romance writer with three books being published each year. You can find out more at

Kregel Publications, 320 pages.

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Peaceful Mom by April Cassidy

The title says this is a book about being a mom. It is much more than that. This is a challenging book for all Christians, not just mothers. I have no children yet I was especially challenged by her chapter on loving children “too much.” The concept of laying down husband, children, future, health, all that we have, on a figurative altar is a disturbing challenge. The concept that my love for God is to be so much greater than my love for people that my love for people would look like hatred in comparison - that is quite a challenge.

Another chapter that really impressed me was the one on skewed beliefs. Cassidy tells a great story about how she developed skewed belief from childhood experiences. She offers practical suggestions for identifying those beliefs and how to instill correct beliefs. She has included an excellent chart identifying lies, the truth, and Scripture references.

Yes, this is really a book for moms who want to be good ones but feel overwhelmed by struggles and failures. Cassidy writes that God provides a path for us to live in His abundance and peace. But the path requires that we know God intimately and follow Him whole heartedly. The result is peace in all areas of life. She includes stories from her own life and from others that illustrate how her teachings work in real family life.

I highly recommend this book. Cassidy identifies so many issues in our Christian lives that cause a lack of peace. She also includes a great deal of good teaching and practical suggestions for having a relationship with the Lord, the source of all peace. And for moms? There is also a great deal of wise parenting teaching too. This is not a read it and forget it kind of book. There is so much good and practical teaching in this book, though I am not a mom, I'll return to the concepts again and again.

Food for thought: “My goal is that my entire life and every motive and priority be completely built on Christ Jesus and His truth alone.” (71)

My rating: 5/5 stars.

April Cassidy is a wife, mother of two, part-time pharmacist, and blogger in Columbia, South Carolina. She started both The Peaceful Wife and The Peaceful Single Girl blogs in 2012. You can find out more at and and on her YouTube channel.

Kregel Publications, 280 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Sword and the Promise by Jaffrey Clark

Writing an allegory with a gospel flavor is a tough task. Clark has done a good job of creating a world where good and evil are in a battle for survival. The evil Mornoc and his nefarious scouts are a good allegory to the devil and his minions. On the good side are faithful people who believe the Promise from so long ago. There is a promised one who will come to rescue his people. But it has been so long and some no longer are convinced the Promise is true.

This is a good beginning to an epic fantasy adventure in the style of Lewis or Tolkien. There are heroic characters faithful to the Promise. There are spies from the dark side. There is the hope of renewed life in the midst of the death of Mornoc's mountain refuge. There are epic battles. There is a princess and the hint of a romance.

Readers are left wanting more at the end of this volume. Mornoc thinks he has the upper hand and the good people of the Promise must try a rescue before all is lost. I'll be looking for the next in the series.

You can see a map of the land and read more about the plot and the characters in this novel at I was interested to read about the origin of the character names and their meanings. If you plan to read this novel, I'd suggest you check out the site first and I think that will give additional meaning to the novel's content as you read.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jaffrey Clark has been telling stories since childhood. While studying accounting at Penn State University, he started writing his first novel. That one remains unfinished but he is well on his way in publishing several fantasy novels. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and their two children. You can find out more at

Jaffrey Clark, 268 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross by Patrick Schreiner

It might seem that the Bible is disjointed, that the Old and New Testaments are not cohesive in their theological views. But Schreiner claims that the biblical theme of the kingdom is a thread that runs through the entire Bible.

Schreiner argues that Christians must understand the kingdom to truly know Jesus and understand the gospel. He suggests the kingdom is the framework for all of Scripture, that the other themes in Scripture revolve around it.

Schreiner begins by defining the kingdom of God in terms of power, people, and place. He shows how the theme flows through the Old Testament and that it was always God's objective to establish a kingdom on earth. (Loc 338/1618) He goes through the law, the warnings and promises of the prophets, kingdom prospering in the wisdom literature, its embodiment in Jesus and its unexpected nature as revealed in the New Testament.

I appreciate this book, one in a series showing how the Bible is theologically unified. It is written for the layperson and is very understandable on that level. Reading this book helped me to see how the kingdom of God is a theme that runs through the entire Bible. It also helped me see the cross in its relation to the kingdom. “If the kingdom is the goal,” Schreiner writes, “then the cross is the means.” (Loc 1482/1618) Accepting the cross is the entrance to the kingdom. Rejecting the cross is to be thrown out forever. (Loc 1540/1618)

I recommend this book to Christians who desire to understand the kingdom of God as the theme that runs through the entire Bible and the role of the cross in that kingdom reality.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Patrick Schreiner (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is assistant professor of New Testament and associate dean at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Body of Jesus and various articles and essays. You can find out more more at

Crossway, 160 pages.

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

Friday, March 23, 2018

Act of Revenge by Dale Brown Blog Tour and Giveaway

Act of Revenge

by Dale Brown

on Tour March 19-31, 2018


When terrorists attack Boston, Louis Massina races against time to save the city with a high-tech counteroffensive . . .

On Easter Sunday morning, the city of Boston is struck by a widespread and coordinated series of terrorist attacks: an explosion in the T, a suicide bomber at Back Bay Police Station, and heavily armed gunmen taking hostages at the Patriot Hotel.
For robotics innovator Louis Massina, aka the Puppet Master, this is far more personal than a savage act of political terrorism. Boston is his city—and one of his employees, Chelsea Goodman, is among the hostages facing certain death. As Chelsea fights from the inside, Massina leads his team of tech geniuses at Smart Metal to deploy every bot, drone, and cyber weapon at their disposal to defeat the fanatics and save his city and friend.
That's step one. Step two: Find the twisted mastermind behind the attacks and make him pay.

My review:

Brown has crafted an international suspense novel that could be tomorrow's headlines. The features I liked best were the advanced robots and drones. This is the future of warfare, I think. I was also fascinated with the computer work done by Smart Metal to investigate the terrorists' plans. This novel portrays a whole new aspect on the war against terror. I recommend this novel to readers who love a plot full of action and suspense revolving around cutting edge technology. 

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: January 30th 2018
Number of Pages: 528
ISBN: 0062411322 (ISBN13: 9780062411327)
Series: Puppet Master #2

Grab Act of Revenge on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, HarperCollins, and add it to your Goodreads list!

Read an excerpt:

Flash forward

Boston, Easter Sunday High noon
Louis Massina paced back and forth in the small high-security area, worried, anxious, and angry. But most of all, impotent. Boston was under attack.
The lives of dozens, maybe hundreds, of his friends were directly threatened. One of his closest employees, a young woman with tremendous promise, was among the hostages. Maybe even dead.
And all he could do, for all his money, for all his inventions—his robots, his drones, his computers, his software—was walk back and forth, trying desperately to suppress what could not be suppressed.
Anger. Rage. The enemy of reason, yet the core of his being, at least at this moment. There were other alternatives. Prayer, for one. Prayer is impotence. Prayer is surrender.
The nuns who taught him would slap his face for thinking that. They held the exact opposite: Prayer was strength, tenfold. But while in many ways Massina was a man of faith, he had never been much given to prayer. In his mind, actions spoke more effectively than words.
Prayers were all well and good, but they worked—if they worked at all—on a realm other than human. And the action needed now was completely human. Not even the Devil himself could have concocted the evil his city faced.
Light flashed in the center of the far-right monitor.
“They’re going in,” said the operator watching the hotel where Massina’s employee had been taken hostage. The light had come from a small explosion at the side of the building. “They’re going in.”
Almost in spite of himself, Massina started to pray.

Two hours earlier

Boston, Massachusetts Easter Sunday morning
There were few better hotels in Boston than the Patriot Hotel if you wanted to soak up the city’s history: city hall was practically next door, Faneuil five minutes away. You could catch a trolley for the Old Town tour a block or two down the street. Bunker Hill was a hike, but then the British had found that out as well. The rooms were expensive—twice what they would go for at similarly appointed hotels nearby—but money had never been a major concern for Victoria Goodman, Chelsea Goodman’s favorite aunt. Victoria had gotten a job as a secretary for Microsoft very soon after it started, and when she cashed out her stock in the early 1990s, invested in real estate in and around San Francisco, most notably Palo Alto and Menlo Park—the future homes of Facebook and Google. Victoria had that kind of luck.
Despite her luck, and her money, Victoria was especially easygoing, self-assured yet casual. She met Chelsea in the hotel lobby wearing a blue-floral draped dress that showed off toned upper arms and legs that remained trim and shapely despite the fact that she had recently passed sixty.
“Just on time,” declared Victoria, folding Chelsea to her chest. “I hope you’re hungry.”
“I wouldn’t mind breakfast,” answered Chelsea.
“How far did you run this morning?”
“It’s not the distance, it’s the attitude,” replied Victoria. “Only five miles. But it felt wonderful. It’s so marvelous running through the city.”
“You’ll have to try for the Marathon.”
“Those days are gone, dear,” said Victoria lightly. “I’d never qualify. But thank you for the thought. You didn’t bring your young friend?”
“We’ll meet her at the Aquarium,” Chelsea said. “She had to go to church with her dad.”
“Well, it is Easter.”
“Actually, they’re Russian Orthodox, so it’s Palm Sunday. He’s a single father, and lately he’s been trying to instill religion in her.”
Chelsea followed Victoria across the paneled lobby to the restaurant entrance, where a maître d’ greeted them with a nod. He had a fresh white rose in his lapel and the manner of someone who’d been looking forward to this encounter the entire morning. He showed the two women to a seat at the far end of the room, then asked if they would care for something to drink while they looked at the menus.
“Mimosas,” said Victoria. “And coffee.”
“Mimosas?” asked Chelsea.
“Why not? You don’t have to work today, and champagne always puts me in the mood for sightseeing.”
Chelsea was just about to ask how exactly that worked when a loud crack shook the room. The metallic snap was followed by two more, each louder than the other. The noise was unfamiliar to most of the people in the restaurant, but Chelsea had lately had a singular experience that not only made the sound familiar, but warned her subconscious that there was great danger nearby.
She leaped up from her seat, and before her aunt could respond, had grabbed her and pushed her to the floor.
“Someone is shooting!” Chelsea told Victoria as the crack of a fresh round of bullets echoed against the deep wood panels of the room. “We have to get out of here!”
Excerpt from Act of Revenge by Dale Brown. Copyright © 2018 by Dale Brown. Reproduced with permission from William Morrow. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Dale Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books, from Flight of the Old Dog (1987) in 1987, to, most recently, Iron Wolf (2015). A former U.S. Air Force captain, he can often be found flying his own plane over the skies of Nevada. Jim DeFelice is the co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller American Sniper. DeFelice is the author of Omar Bradley: General at War, the first in-depth critical biography of America’s last five-star general. He also writes a number of acclaimed military thrillers, including the Rogue Warrior series from Richard Marcinko, founder of SEAL Team 6, and the novels in the Dreamland series with Dale Brown.

Catch Up With Our Dale Brown On his Website, Goodreads Page, Twitter, & Facebook Page!


Tour Participants:

Visit the other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
Click here to view the Act of Revenge by Dale Brown Participants

Check out this awesome Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Dale Brown and William Morrow. There will be 3 winners of one (1) physical copy of PUPPET MASTER by Dale Brown. The giveaway begins on March 19, 2018 and runs through April 1, 2018. This giveaway is open to US Addresses only. Void where prohibited.
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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

High Cotton by Debby Mayne

A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, reading southern fiction is like entering another country. Mayne has done a good job, I think, at presenting the family dynamics of an extended southern family. There are the tendrils of jealousy that weave their way through relationships. There are the young women who are happily single but whose mothers think they'll end up old maids. There are the husbands who would rather go hunting than to a family reunion. There are also the sweetest of sisters-in-law who would help a family member regardless the cost.

The point of view alternates between five women in the extended family. That might not be the easiest way to present a story but it did flow more smoothly than I had anticipated. I did find it interesting to read how the various women reacted to events.

I recommend this novel to readers who enjoy a character driven plot highlighting the complex relationships found in an extended southern family. There is not a whole lot of excitement, action or suspense. But the family drama is intense and very interesting for a northerner like me.

You can read an excerpt here. You can buy the book here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Debby Mayne and her husband Wally recently moved to North Carolina so they could get even more hugs and snuggles from the granddaughters. It's also the ideal place for an author of southern women's fiction. Debby and Wally have 2 beautiful daughters, 2 handsome sons-in-law, and 2 precious granddaughters. Between novels and cuddling the granddaughters, Debby also writes etiquette articles and does freelance copywriting. You can find out more at

Gilead Publishing, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Baker Compact Dictionary of Biblical Studies by Tremper Longman III and Mark L Strauss

This dictionary was compiled by two college and seminary professors. They chose topics they expected their students to know after a year of study. It is aimed at being a resource for first year students. It is not exhaustive.

Nor is it aimed at laypeople, it seems. It includes topics in which laypeople would have no interest. For example, Akitu Festival (probably a Babylonia New Year's ritual), and Apsu (a character in the Enuma Elish), and Community Rule (a manuscript among the Dead Sea Scrolls). Scholars and their theories are also included, such as Jean Astrue (developed the Documentary Hypothesis of the composition of the Pentateuch, which hypothesis also has an extensive entry) and Hans Conzelmann (German NT scholar). These kinds of entries would be of interest only to those in seminary or Bible college, I think.

There are many entries that are good for the average Christian in the pew. Dispensationalism, for example, and doecetism. There are cities and countries defined, such as Gath and Egypt. But there are many that I found totally uninteresting as a layperson. Would I ever be interested in the definition of diachronic, referring to an analysis of the relationship between earlier and later texts? I think not. Do I need to know that Enki is the Sumerian name of a Mesopotamian god not mentioned in the Bible? And I am just not interested in the many and various forms of criticism the authors include. Nor do I want to read about David Friedrich Strauss who said the miracle stories in the gospels were myths and legends created by the early church.

While this book may be useful to first year seminary students, I think its use by the average layperson is very limited.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Tremper Longman III (PhD, Yale University) is Distinguished Scholar of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He previously taught at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia for eighteen years. He has authored and co-authored numerous books.
Mark L. Strauss (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is University Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary. He is the author of several books. He lives in California.

Baker Books, 225 pages.

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

I Could Use a Nap and a Million Dollars by Jessie Clemence

Sometimes life can just seem to be too much. We might wonder just how much one woman is supposed to bear. Clemence is very familiar with the stress one can feel from life. She suggests there is a better way to live life.

Clemence covers three stress producing areas of life. First is life in general, the broken washing machines and other disasters. Then she attacks the stress others cause – the kids, the animals, the odd extended family members. Last is the stress we cause ourselves – like perfection or over scheduling or discontentment.

I really like the insights Clemence has on what it really means to have a life well lived. The one that made a huge impression on me was about health. Once we've received the diagnosis, she writes, we continue to pray for healing with complete faith God can do so. “But as we wait, we submit and look for the kind of healing that will never show up in a lab report. Wholeness that a medical doctor will never find with a stethoscope.” (42)

I like that Clemence writes with honesty and humor. I could identify with so many of her experiences, like the male cat who just had to mark his territory in their house. I also like the wisdom and insight she shares with us. She has included great questions at the end of each chapter that are good for personal reflection and action. She also shares Scripture and a prayer.

I recommend this book to women who feel overwhelmed. (Well, men can read it too but they are asked to skip the sagging body parts section.) You'll get some laughs but you will also be presented with wisdom and insight on living life well.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jessie Clemence is a writer, blogger, and church secretary based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. She has also been a social worker in the foster care system, a children's ministry coordinator, and a lunch lady. She is the author of two previous books. You can find out more at

Kregel, 216 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Rescue by Jim Cymbala with Ann Spangler

This book contains seven great stories of lives being changed by the grace of God. Each one is unique. Some experienced parental abandonment. Others were sexually abused. Some tried hard to get out of the mire while others made choices that brought them deeper into despair. When they cried out to God, He came to their rescue.

These stories are evidence that God is very much in the life transforming business. The book is an encouragement to anyone wanting to make a new start in their life. There is a prayer at the end of the book to help readers who want to ask Jesus into their lives and surrender to God.

These are first person stories of God in His rescue work. The book does not contain any additional teaching on being healed from hurts or on overcoming disadvantages. Readers who want practical suggestions for growth after God's rescue will have to look elsewhere.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jim Cymbala has been the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle for nearly forty years. He is a bestselling author and lives in New York City. He and his wife have three grown children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Ann Spangler is an award-winning writer and the author of many bestselling books. She and her two daughters live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can find out more at

Zondervan, 192 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Handlebar. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Holy in the Moment by Ginger Harrington

This book is about the power of sacred choices and good decisions, decisions we make every moment. I am impressed with this book. Harrington has spiritual insights I've not seen before. She has filled this book with great teaching and practical ideas for godly living.

I like her clarification of holiness. We might think holiness is a certain behavior. But holiness is a reflection of who we are in Christ. Righteousness is thinking, feeling and acting as the person God created us to be. We begin with God's holiness and exercise our faith by putting God's will before our own.

My favorite chapter was the one on the sacred gift of concentration, important to those of us with SDD, spiritual deficit disorder. The teaching that impressed me the most by far was that on surrender and suffering. “Surrender is our hardest, most sacred prayer as, like Jesus, we submit our desires to God. … When we trust God in our suffering, choosing to pray and accept His will, we release our deepest worship.” (Loc 1058/2560) That really spoke to me.

While there are no questions for reflection as such, there would be much to discuss if this book was used in a trusted group setting. Harrington has included many practical suggestions that are perfect for an accountability group.

Food for thought: “Making intentional choices to trust God is where holiness happens right in the middle of an ordinary day.” (Loc 240/2560)

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Ginger Harrington is an award winning blogger, entertaining speaker, and innovative ministry leader. She is the Coordinator if Publishing for the non-profit, Planting Roots: Strength to Thrive in Military Life. She has a master's in English, has been involved with the Navigator's military ministry and women's ministries as a teacher, speaker, and trainer. She spent twenty four years moving around the U. S. and overseas as a career military spouse. You can find out more at

Abingdon Press, 240 pages.

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

Where The Fire Falls by Karen Barnett

Barnett has given readers another fun historical adventure at a national park. We are transported to Yosemite National Park in 1929. Our main character is an up and coming water color artist who has an assignment to provide illustrations of the park for a magazine. Olivia needs the money but is concerned about her father's previous experiences at the park. If that dark secret got out it could ruin everything.

I appreciate the descriptions of the many beautiful features in the park's valley. Having visited the park just a couple of years ago, I liked that some of the characters expressed their emotional feelings of wonder at the scenery. I do wish there had been more detailed descriptions so readers could really get a sense of the park's wonders.

I felt the plot was a bit weak. Perhaps there were just too many aspects to it. In addition to the dark secret of Olivia's father was a wealthy and lecherous Vanderbilt as well as Olivia's greedy and very dangerous agent. To counter these was a valiant park employee. The plot provided a good deal of suspense and romance. I was disappointed that the role of Olivia's father just sort of faded at the end and was not resolved well.

I do recommend the novel to readers who enjoy an historical romantic suspense set in Yosemite Valley. Just don't expect to be overly in awe from the descriptions included in the book.

This book releases in June.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Karen Barnett is a former park ranger and outdoor educator. She has written five previous novels, enjoys photography, hiking, and public speaking. She lives in Oregon with her family. You can find out more at

Waterbrook, 352 pages.

I received a complimentary ARC of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Jinxed by Thommy Hutson Blog Tour and Giveaway


by Thommy Hutson

on Tour March 12 - May 11, 2018


"Thommy Hutson is the ultimate authority in nostalgia-driven storytelling."
~ Clive Barker, Bestselling Author of Books of Blood and The Thief of Always

High School Can Be a Real Killer

Break a mirror
Walk under a ladder
Step on a crack

Innocent childhood superstitions …
But someone at the secluded Trask Academy of Performing Arts is taking things one deadly step further when the campus is rocked with the deaths of some of its star students.
Layna Curtis, a talented, popular senior, soon realizes that the seemingly random, accidental deaths of her friends aren’t random—or accidents—at all. Someone has taken the childhood games too far, using the idea of superstitions to dispose of their classmates. As Layna tries to convince people of her theory, she uncovers the terrifying notion that each escalating, gruesome murder leads closer to its final victim: her.

Will Layna’s opening night also be her final bow?

My review:

Don't read this late at night, not if you want to sleep well. Hutson has crafted a youth novel that chilled me to the bone so many times with its many scenes of terror. There are some graphic slasher moments so queasy stomachs beware. Along with the horror of being stalked by a crazed killer is the craziness of teens. At times I thought some of the characters were being too light hearted in the face of impending murder, but perhaps teens are like that. This book does have a good balance between scenes of teen relationships and scenes of abject fear. And there is such a twist at the very end it took my breath away. Teens who like horror movies will love this novel.

Book Details:

Published by: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: March 13th 2018
Number of Pages: 244
ISBN: 978-1944109127
Series: This is the first in a new trilogy, each is a stand alone but with a teaser for the upcoming book you won't want to miss!!
Get Your Copy from: Amazon & Barnes & Noble! Plus add it on Goodreads!

Read an excerpt from Jinxed by Thommy Hutson:


The small private island was a mystery.
This, even when so many knew, or thought they knew, what was going on twenty-two miles off the coast of Seattle, on the strip of land named after the very rich and very dead Cadogan Trask. Protected like so much of the Pacific Northwest by Douglas firs, red alders, and bigleaf maples, Trask Island, a blister in the water, seemed mythical. Very little was known about the reclusive man who bought the uninhabited plot in the 19th century, later developing it to suit his tastes. His personal life and his purpose, just like his eponymous island, were ensconced in a thick, white mist. One day there, the next not.
Over the years, worry about Trask the place and Trask the man ebbed and flowed. No one dared argue that business on the island brought money and a small amount of prestige to the area, but there was something about it.
The same people who sang its praises also gawked and wondered and preached about whether its gifts matched its detractions. All of those armchair whatchamacallits peeked out the windows of their glass houses into their neighbors’ glass houses and threw not stones, but boulders.
Always, always, they asked the same question: Why must a high school be so private?
The institution was nestled behind a wall of nature so beautiful that an equal number wondered how anything about it could be bad. A school for the gifted and talented. A place where children with an affinity for dance, voice, drama, art, and communications would be nurtured. A place where stars were born to shine.
But bad is a relative word.
And stars fall from the sky.
Still, the answer to the question on so many minds of what was really going on with those who were lucky enough, and rich enough, to find themselves hidden within its sacred I hope I get in please God let me get in walls?
Well, the answer was simple.
And not so simple.
Spring, 1998
Trask Academy of Performing Arts was, indeed, very private.
The campus lay upon acre after acre of rolling green hills. Tall, age-old trees swarmed the landscape. Sturdy, dark red-bricked buildings were scattered about. Cobblestone sidewalks—concrete wouldn’t do, and asphalt was far too unsightly—snaked their way through and around the campus. Surrounding all of this flora, not to mention brick-and-mortar money, was a thick-ledged stone fence complete with wrought iron. The ornamental finials topping each spire had three-edged spear points. The borders weren’t sharp enough to cut, but the tips were fine enough to puncture. And at only one point along the entire perimeter was there a gate.
One way in. One way out.
Down one of those lamp-lit walkways, in its own enclave, was Williams Hall, a beautiful sandstone and cerulean tiled theater fashioned in a Romanesque style. A bell tower, now long out of use, still kept watch over the surroundings. The only modern accoutrement, though some would say eyesore, was the building’s large, white marquee, added during the 1980s when, presumably, a faculty member, or perhaps a wealthy donor, convinced the school’s administration flashing lights were all the rage. Its large black letters read:

52nd Annual Trask Academy of Performing Arts Showcase

Inside, rehearsal ran late.
The long fluorescent-lit hallway was filled with leg-warmered young dancers packing their bags. Actors filed away their scripts. Singers stopped their warbling. All seniors. Almost all rich. Wrapping up a rehearsal in the school’s premier venue for the school’s premier event.
Begun in 1946, the Trask Academy of Performing Arts Annual Showcase saw the best and brightest of the graduating class perform for a lucky invited audience. The theater’s fifteen hundred seats filled with relatives, talent scouts, agents, bookers, managers. Hollywood and Broadway knew that those fortunate enough to study at Trask were groomed to be unsurpassed in their field, and what better way to find the stars of tomorrow than to watch the hopefuls of today. Rich daddies and mommies prayed the exorbitant tuition fees had paid off. Rumors swirled the cost to attend the school was as high as one hundred thousand dollars a year, which would make it one of the most expensive private schools in the world. For those prices, check writers expected nothing but the best.
And Hell hath no fury if they didn’t get it.
Amanda Kincaid was working to be the best. She sat on the stage alone, dressed casually in dark jeans and a top that showed just this side of too much. She was a pretty girl and, at nineteen, a year older than most of the other seniors. Her age made her more serious, and more guarded. Her dark hair, normally wavy, was pulled back tight. She wasn’t a dancer, not really, but she felt the hairstyle made her look the part of a performer. Whatever part that was.
When she heard the last door of the night slam, she knew she was finally alone. She could now work without the worry of being judged by everyone around her. She was a good actress, she knew that. But that wasn’t enough, and she also knew that.
Standing up, she grabbed her script. She promised herself that tonight was the night she would not peek at her lines. She knew them. She had to. It wasn’t going to be like Showcase 1995—
Karen Reasmith stopped in the middle of her piece, mouth agape, spotlight burning down on her as if she were caught trying to escape prison.
She had forgotten her lines.
The adults in the audience, who could cut deeper than any razor, sat in irritated silence, while the other students lovingly absorbed the crash and burn before their eyes. A train wreck of epic schadenfreude. Karen looked around, helpless, hoping she could be saved from herself. But all that came were tears as she tore off the stage.
Amanda thought of the joke around campus for those new kids who didn’t understand how serious Trask pupils took their performing arts studies. They’d ask, “Did you ever hear of Karen Reasmith?” When incoming students answered in the negative, the upperclassman would respond, “Exactly.” Testosterone high-fives and estrogen giggles followed as they walked away from newbies who rolled their eyes.
But Amanda understood what the newcomers didn’t. Couldn’t, at least not so quickly. Karen had blown it. She would never even get a chorus audition in a touring show. Casting agents loved to talk. And what they loved to do more than talk was gossip. By the time Karen had packed her bags and left the compound, her talent was already colder than the iceberg that had sunk the Titanic.
Except that the Titanic had survivors.
Amanda shook off the memory of Karen Reasmith and focused. Her tongue darted around her red-lipped mouth, preparing to utter chilling words as she channeled Euripides’ Medea.
“In vain, my children, have I brought you up, Borne all the cares and pangs of motherhood, And the sharp pains of childbirth undergone. In you, alas, was treasured—”
Suddenly every light went out, leaving Amanda alone in blackness.
Even the ghost light’s exposed incandescent bulb had gone out, which made her anxious. Amanda knew the ghost light was a big deal, if only a superstition. She was aware of the firmly held belief that every theater had a ghost. And not Phantom of the Opera ghosts who taught beautiful, young women to become chanteuses. No, these were simply the spirits, perhaps of performers long dead, who remained in the place they once loved. Perhaps the ghost light allowed them to perform their own works when no one was around. Or maybe they just liked to watch performances.
Nonsense, Amanda thought. The light is there so we don’t fall into the orchestra pit. Or something.
Still, she didn’t like it being out. Just in case. Of whatever frightening case might be out there.
And then the noise came. Softly at first, but building in volume. It seemed to emanate from the back right of the auditorium. It sounded like the moan of a dead person who most decidedly did not want to be dead. Like a zombie upon its victim, ready to sink yellow and black teeth into the soft flesh of a neck, tearing out tendons, arteries, a larynx.
Amanda’s breathing grew faster, shallower. She felt as if she were standing in the cold, black reaches of space. Tiny hairs on the back of her neck tingled. Her mouth opened, ready to scream.
Amanda knew she should have been alone. And she knew she was not. But she stopped herself short of screaming. Instead, she cocked her head as the ghastly voice grew louder, transforming into something else, like something off one of those cheap Halloween sound effects tapes. Her split-second shudder of fear gave way to the crack of an embarrassed smile, then annoyance.
“Seriously? Not funny!” Amanda yelled out, her voice coming back at her with the faintest echo. Her words stopped the not-so-sound-effect sound effect. “I’m trying to work here,” she added matter-of-factly. She smirked. She waited. I’m ready when you are, idiots. When nothing happened, she took a step to her left.
“Dare you try to cross without the guidance of the ghost light?” a voice boomed. Amanda let out a small yelp. “Who can know what evils from the past lurk within these hallowed walls?”
Wait a minute, she realized. I know that voice. Despite the darkness, she moved in circles, calling out.
“If anything evil does linger, it’s probably from your pathetic performance, Marcus.”
She carefully shifted closer to the stage’s left wing. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw she was inches away from one of the thick, black curtains that prevented audiences from seeing backstage. The material was moving, ever so slightly. Who is that? What dashed away behind the barrier? She had to know, needed to. She slowly reached for the fabric and started to tug on it—
A reverberating audio feedback filled the auditorium. Amanda reeled, falling on her tailbone. Then, silence.
The bulb inside the cage of the ghost light came to life.
Someone had been right there. Not anymore.
“Oh, come on. Did I bruise your fragile ego?” she asked cynically. She got no response and decided she was over this game. She really did need to practice.
“Fine, whatever. Can you please turn the stage lights—”
They came back on before she could finish.
Jerks, she thought.
She looked back down at her script. Mumbling the words to get back to her place, she heard a rustling deep backstage. Hushed voices talking fast. Getting more strident. Urgent.
Inconsiderate jerks. Looking up, she projected to the back of the auditorium.
“In you, alas, was treasured many a hope of loving sustentation in my age, of tender laying out when I was dead—”
“Do something!” a voice said harshly backstage.
A female voice that Amanda couldn’t make out responded, “Just go, just go!” It sounded like she might have been crying.
Amanda stopped worrying about her performance. She stopped wondering who was scuttling around. She was concerned that something was wrong. These people had laughed at first, but now they sounded worried. And very frightened.
So was Amanda. She stepped toward the left wing once again, this time with purpose. Something slammed backstage. Amanda screamed, threw her hands to her mouth, and let script pages flutter to the ground in a jumbled mess she would normally have cared about, but not now. Something was happening. Her expression turned to sour terror when she saw it.
Thick dark billows wafting up from backstage.
“Oh my God.” She instinctively reached forward for the curtain, calling out. “Are you guys all—”
As she drew the curtain back, Amanda watched ravenous flames grow with a fresh gust of delicious, necessary oxygen. She was thrown as the heat slapped her body.
Crawling backward, she stumbled to her feet, turned to run, and screamed again, this time louder. She barely missed falling into the orchestra pit ten feet below.
“Help me!” she cried, looking around frantically, noticing the pages of her script dancing in a small vortex of flame, smoke, and heat. Flames licked the ceiling and rained dripping bits of burning material down. An ember from a set piece dropped to her arm, searing her flesh. She whimpered, hot tears flowing down her face. Another ember, another burn.
Desperate, Amanda tried to use her hands to wave away the smoke, but it was too thick. Coughing, she pushed toward a set of exit doors off the left wing of the stage. She imagined the fresh evening air outside, but her arms almost snapped when she slammed into the door that would not open.
For a moment Amanda wasn’t sure what was going on, but another ember landed on her hair and began smoldering, bringing her back. She swatted at it, screaming. She got up and tried the door again. It wouldn’t budge. She pounded on it.
“Help me! Somebo—”
Amanda violently coughed. She looked around, water in her eyes from fear and fire. The conflagration had engulfed the auditorium and Amanda, rushing to the stage again, realized she was at the center of it all.
A twisted, groaning came from above and, realizing just in time what it was, she scurried as a lighting rig swung right past her.
She didn’t have much time. More and more fly ropes snapped in the heat. Scene flats crashed to the floor. The glass lamp of the ghost light exploded. Disoriented, Amanda stumbled across the stage as smoke stung her eyes and heat filled her lungs.
Colored lights above burst and shattered, sending glass shards raining upon her. She covered her head, not seeing the snapped cable heading toward her.
It belted her in the leg, drawing a deep, thick gash and sending her sailing over the front of the stage.
Into the orchestra pit.
Her head hit the wooden floor with a crack. Her leg twisted at an odd angle. She was not going anywhere.
It’s so much cooler down here, she thought sadly. The fire drew closer as debris rained down around her. She looked high above and saw fire crawl up the curtains, licking at the Trask Academy of Performing Arts crest. Its enamel sheen bubbled in the heat.
The fire upon her, Amanda felt her skin burn. She used her left hand to rub the fire from her right arm, but everything sloughed off the bone in large, bloody, sinewy chunks. The pain was excruciating. She had been sure, when talking with friends about terrible ways to die, that after a few seconds fire would have extinguished any sense of pain, or that her body would dull it enough to make it more manageable.
She thought how wrong she had been.
She felt every lick of flame as if a galaxy of the hottest stars were slowly stabbing through her. Her head lolled to one side. Her screams withered. She wanted to cry out, but instinct had its hold on her, and the heat she felt every time her lungs sucked in was too great.
The air itself had become a scorching hell.
She saw little blobs of dancing light as she held, held, held her breath. The world was just about black when another jolt of pain brought her back, as if a gleaming, hot needle had been shoved into her iris. While the blinding orange and yellow of one thousand degree flames ravaged her body, she saw nothing.
Her lack of vision was not due to the agonizing pain. Or the shock that racked her body. The heat was so great that her eyes exploded, like eggs bursting in a microwave.
The young girl with so much life ahead of her was as good as dead. A burning husk of a person. The unconscious fear of suffocating grew to be too much, and she sucked in a giant rush of heat that melted the delicate, paper-thin tissue of her lungs. It was a pain so much worse than breathing in water from the lake where she and her friends would go swimming. Long before she had come to this school.
As the little oxygen left in her bloodstream wended its way through her dying shell, strange fleeting thoughts crossed her mind. It wasn’t, as everyone said, a movie-like assemblage of her life playing at breakneck speed. It was, simply, random moments. The first time she sawThe Wizard of Oz and wanted to be Dorothy. Riding her pink bicycle in the grassy front yard of her house, yelling for anyone to watch her ring the tiny bell on the handlebars. Hitting her babysitter’s older brother in the face with a snowball, upset and confused that she could make a big boy cry. Screaming on a roller-coaster with her former best friend, Shelly, sure she was going to pee her pants from laughing.
Then it was over. Her human light faded, faded, faded with one last thought.
The baby.


Present day
Silver moonlight cast a pall over the remains of the burnt, condemned theater that kept watch over the school campus. Even with a new, more open brick façade already complete as part of the school’s very expensive renovation, the scaffolding snaking around and up its walls read like the twisted bones of a skeleton deep inside a closet. But that fabled darkness, coupled with its offer of shadowed cover from faculty, made the theater a prime location for itchy students to scratch their desires, test their mettle, and relish in stories that brought back the dead.
“Some say you can still hear her screams in the still of the night.”
The voice of the storyteller belonged to Max Reynolds. He was standing in front of the building, staring up at it as he spoke. A senior with well-toned arms that stretched his tight, white T-shirt, he looked pleased with himself as he waited for a response. His structured, boyish face wasn’t always smiling, but when it did, it charmed everyone. This was one of those times.
“Lame, lame, lame,” said Layna Curtis. A sarcastic smile grew from her full, naturally red lips. “Let’s be real, not only has that story been told before about a jillion times, it’s been told way, way better.” She sighed and pushed long dark hair away from her pale, pretty face and over her shoulders, feigning boredom. Inside—though she would never admit it—she wasn’t sure she liked being there. That building, she thought, is staring at us. At me.
“Oh, really?” Max asked, goading her, snapping her from distracted thoughts.
“Totally,” Layna replied. Clever and confident, she would play the game. She nonchalantly picked at the pills of her cream-colored sweater. Max stared at her, his eyebrows raised. Without looking up, Layna said, “Guys, am I right?”
Layna looked first to Nancy Groves, a fantastic dancer who was stretching her legs as if a loop of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” played in her head. Holding her legs at seemingly impossible angles was par for the course for Nancy. She had a lithe body that shimmered when she performed. Layna knew it. Everybody knew it. And Nancy loved that. But Layna knew her friend’s Achilles’ heel was her short, bobbed hair, so naturally straight that even the strongest Ogilvy home perm would be hard-pressed to win the battle. Not that she hadn’t tried, often with a lot of help from Layna and shared fits of laughter. Layna appreciated Nancy knew what she had and how to use it.
When Nancy didn’t respond, Layna’s eyes went to Alice Reitman. Alice smacked her chewing gum. She was cute, but nowhere near Nancy-thin. Layna had always thought that Alice wasn’t fat. At least not fat, fat. And Layna knew that Alice despised in a gag me with a spoon way when people referred to her as “the bubbly one.” That usually meant fat.
Layna felt bad knowing most people openly said Alice was talkative and upbeat, but also worried Alice was thinking, Thanks, now hand over the ho-ho’s and you won’t get hurt. But what did it matter to Layna? Alice wasn’t an actor, singer, or dancer. She studied communications and was going to be “the next, not-quite-as-thin, but incredibly relatable television journalist.” Layna had told Alice that was a fine choice, but she preferred Savannah Guthrie, even though she looked much taller than her guests, and it often appeared she might just lurch over and devour them. They all have their flaws, Layna reminded herself.
At the end of the line was Trask’s “it” girl, Sydney Miller. Pretty, with blonde hair in perfectly placed waves, Sydney was popular and athletic. Layna admired her. At Trask, and in real life, Layna had to assume, guys wanted Sydney and girls wanted to be her. When she walked down the halls, the underclassmen all turned their heads to catch a glimpse of the Sydney Miller. If the singers were belting out a tune, they stopped as she strode by. Layna knew her friend Sydney was going to be famous. She had the talent to be a star, sure. But she also had a sheer force of will. Nothing was going to stop her from achieving her dreams. Nothing. And nobody. Layna admired that especially, even as she pushed down slight feelings of jealousy.
But like the others, Sydney just sat quiet.
Layna looked again at all of her girlfriends, incredulous. “Oh my God, backsies please. This is when my friends say they’re with me?”
But none did. They stood stoic, staring forward, or around, or down. Looking worried. It didn’t sit well with Layna.
“Layn, I mean, it is kind of a creepy story,” Alice offered.
Layna’s shoulders slumped. No backsies, apparently.
“Seriously, a girl died. Right in there,” added Nancy.
Sydney leaned her body in closer. Layna could practically feel the girl’s breath when she spoke. “It’s just not something we should, you know, make light of.”
Layna couldn’t believe it. Her unease was giving way to annoyance. “Because some chick supposedly died in this awful, mysterious, tragic way a million years ago—”
“It’s more like, only twenty years, but go on,” Max said.
Layna glared at him long enough to make a point, and then continued. “I’m just saying, we see this eyesore all the time, but tonight we’re supposed to all of a sudden be frightened because Max used his big boy voice to tell a campfire story we all knew? Sorry, it just isn’t work—”
Layna abruptly stopped. She had heard something. They had all heard something.
It was not the wind, Layna knew. Not the creaking of scaffolding. It was a low, hurting moan. A harsh, frightening whisper.
“Whooo—?” hissed the voice, from inside the building.
Layna’s brown eyes went wide. Max sidled next to her. “Okay, fine, it’s working now,” Layna said. Nancy, Alice, and Sydney huddled close, too.
Sydney, worried, looked directly at Layna. “Dude, what did you do?”
“Me?” Layna whispered, too loudly.
“Shhh!” Nancy harped.
The punitive voice came back. Angrier, more strident. “Who wantsss—?”
They waited, breaths held, to hear what came next, but the only sound was the flapping of a plastic tarp over a pile of bricks. Then someone jumped out from the shadowed entrance of the theater. Layna let out a high-pitched scream. Then the others screamed, too. Layna grabbed Max tightly, trying to shield herself from whatever was coming toward them.
The screams of the others went on and on. And on. Layna gathered that something wasn’t right when she peeked from Max’s chest and saw her friends staring at her, their formerly petrified faces now swathed in knowing smiles.
“Whooooo wantsssss … a drink?” the stranger in the entryway asked.
Layna opened her eyes fully and unscrunched her face. She knew that voice. She’d been had.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Nancy joked, poking Layna.
Layna pursed her lips and nodded her head. “All right, fine, go ahead. Let’s hear it,” she said.
After a moment of silence, they burst out laughing. Layna put her hands over her face, embarrassed that she had fallen for such a cheap trick. Max pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.
“We totally had you,” he said, then grabbed her chin so he could look her in the eyes. “And I’ll always have you,” he added, leaning in for a kiss. Layna greedily accepted.
“Get a room already!” Nancy playfully snapped. “And, Crosby, get your ass out here.”
Crosby Williams’ broad, white smile, and a glint from his hazel eyes, emerged from the darkness. Layna stared at the writer and part-time less-than-stellar illusionist, also a member of the senior class. She should have known—he could never pass up the element of surprise. He may have been lacking in the prestidigitation department, but he made up for it with a bohemian style and perfectly unkempt hair.
“I’d love to, but the spirits are insistent,” Crosby offered. “You must come inside and face your fears, if you are to partake of the beers.” He pushed his arm forward so it was struck by moonlight, waving a bottle that glistened with condensation. Then just as fast, he pulled it back and his smile, his eyes, and the beer disappeared all within the ruins of the old theater.
“You heard the man,” Max said. “Duty calls.”
Nancy, Alice, and Sydney moved first, with Nancy leading the pack. The girls laughed as they, too, vanished into the shadows, one by one. Max lurched forward, but Layna caught his hand and stopped him.
“Babe, come on,” he said.
Layna looked up at the building, gazing at its two, large Venetian windows that watched over everything. Watching me, I bet.
“What’s wrong? Let’s go,” Max said. “Or are you scared? Ooooh!” He waved his fingers in front of her face in a silly manner.
It broke Layna free from her worry. The small lie, one he’d never figure out, came forth. “Of course not,” she said. “Let’s go.”
After one last look deep into the shadows before her, she gave Max a kiss on the lips. Ready or not, she let him lead her into the darkness of the auditorium.
The building was a far cry from the grandeur of its glory days. Gone were most of the plush, red velvet-covered seats that once filled the theater, leaving only an empty, sad expanse of dirty concrete. Those seats that remained, mostly near the stage and scattered up makeshift aisles, were blackened and charred, having melted under the heat of the fire. Layna felt a chill, even though the seating wreckage could barely be seen under the cover of dusty translucent plastic. Construction materials, tools, wood boards, and sandbags were strewn about, giving credence to the rumor the schools’ deep-pocketed donors weren’t jonesing to bring this part of the campus back to life.
It was an open secret on campus that the coffers of Trask Academy of Performing Arts might be drier than anyone in the administration wanted to admit. There was money, of course, because Dean McKenna knew that keeping up appearances was paramount, but there was an equally strong, although silent, opinion that the building was nothing more than a part of the school’s dark past and, just maybe, it should stay there. Layna certainly felt that way right now. Neither she, nor her friends and fellow students, had any idea that in at least one of the more heated board meetings—old-boys club affairs always held privately with little fanfare—more than one donor had agreed: why rebuild a nightmare when you can construct a brand-new dream?
Layna and her friends meandered through the maze of equipment toward the stage.
“All right, Crosby, come out, come out, wherever you are,” Alice said, loud enough to cause an echo, but there was no answer from Crosby.
Layna and Max made their way to the front of the group. As they walked, they stared up through scaffolding and more plastic tarps, the former creaking and the latter flapping in the stiff breeze whisking through the empty structure.
Moonlight shone down on Max, who climbed up onto the stage from a set of rotting steps. “Watch the third one, it’s a doozy,” he said as Layna grabbed his hand for help up. Then Max, always the gentlemen, reached for the other girls, grabbing Nancy’s arm a bit harder when she failed to heed his warning and her foot almost broke through the soft, pulpy wood of the stair.
Layna gasped, but Nancy just uttered an embarrassed “Whoopsie.”
From the stage, the friends paused to take in their surroundings, illuminated not only by the natural evening light, but also by the lone ghost light in the center of the stage.
“Spooky. Maybe this was, you know, the light,” Alice wondered aloud. The thought caused a hint of unease in Layna.
“Yes, most definitely,” Sydney said with a smile. “Now let’s steal the bulb and call GE so we can make a billion dollars on the light that lasts an eternity.” The response put Layna at ease, but Alice rolled her eyes, blew a large, pink bubble, and sucked it back into her mouth with a loud pop!
Layna found that the light did not offer her any warmth, or security, so she just stood quietly with her hands in her pockets. Max sidled next to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder.
“Hey, look,” Layna said, moving a few feet past the light to where a picnic blanket was spread out on the stage.
Nancy went to it and stood with her back toward the darkness of the stage’s left wing. “Fancy,” she said. “Maybe next time we can have a picnic, I don’t know, at the scene of a car accid—”
A hand suddenly reached from the shadows and whisked its way over Nancy’s mouth. Unable to say anything, her eyes filled with fear and worry.
“Nan, how much longer do we wait?” Sydney asked. She turned and let out a scream when she saw Nancy.
Layna and Alice yelped as well. “Max!” Layna screamed, with the unspoken order of Do something! Max practically leapt across the stage. Then he stopped, and he and the others watched as the stranger’s hand wended its way from Nancy’s mouth, down over her shoulder, and to her jacket’s zipper.
It started to pull down.
Nancy’s wide eyes shrank to a disbelieving squint. She yanked hard on the offending arm and pulled a stumbling Crosby from the shadows onto the stage.
“Wow, way to be romantic, Cros,” Nancy said. “I’ve always dreamed of doing it here. Literally, right here.”
“Me too, babe. Me, too,” Crosby joked, raising his eyebrows in quick succession before planting a kiss on her lips.
The others made their way over.
“Crosby, such a lovable jerk,” Sydney offered, giving him a peck on the cheek.
“That’s funny, I thought he was just being a jerk,” Layna added with a little more annoyance than she had meant to.
Max crossed in front of her. “Me-ow.” Now it was Layna who rolled her eyes. It hadn’t been her idea to hang out in a burnt-out building, tell ghost stories, and do God only knows what. She would have been fine if they had never come here.
“Come on,” Crosby said. “I couldn’t let the ambiance go to waste. We’re all entitled to a good scare, right? So, welcome children. And now, watch.”
They all did as Crosby stood in front of them, arms outstretched. He tugged on each sleeve. Nothing there. Suddenly, with a few slick gestures and a turn, he produced beer bottle after beer bottle.
“Well kiss my ass and call me abracadabra,” Max laughed, happily grabbing two bottles and offering one to Layna. She shook her head. Max ambled off, saying something under his breath like, “More for me.”
Alice brushed past Layna, smacked her gum, and grabbed a beer. “The party has so officially started.”
Crosby saved the last drink for Nancy, sheepishly gesturing like it was a peace offering. “Forgive me, but in all honesty, I just had to set the mood.”
“Oh, it’s gonna take more than janky beer,” Nancy retorted with a smile.
Crosby shrugged his shoulders, opened his jacket, and showed her the flask he had been hiding. Nancy’s smile grew. Layna watched, enjoying their playful back-and-forth.
“You know me so well,” Nancy admitted. She put her arms inside Crosby’s jacket, moving her face close to his.
“And you me, my dear,” responded Crosby. Somehow, they seemed to smile even as they kissed deeply.
Layna cleared her throat and sat down on the blanket. “Tongue-wrestlers, your much-needed, very private room is now ready. Please check in, stat.”
Nancy pulled back from Crosby, laughing. “Duly noted.” She and the others joined Layna on the blanket.
Crosby remained standing by himself, still pretending to kiss Nancy. The others laughed, which he took as his cue to stop and take a seat. The teens kicked back, looking up at the star-studded sky through a gaping hole in the roof of the condemned theater.
“See, it’s not so scary in here,” Max said.
Layna thought, but would never dare say, that it was still just as creepy as she had imagined. Maybe more.
“Let’s discuss break. Please tell me you’re staying,” Sydney pleaded, breaking the silence. Secretly she had also hoped to head off talk about the building, the legend, or how frightening it was. And is.
“Oh, we’re staying the week,” Layna said, adding emphatically, “All of us, right?”
Nods all around. Sydney let out a Thank God sigh.
“Rumor has it only D’Arcangelo and McKenna are gonna be here,” Alice said. “And there’s gonna be a party tomorrow night to kick things off.”
“A freshman party, ugh.” Nancy groaned and took a swig from the flask.
“I’ll pass, thank you very much,” Sydney said.
Layna looked like she was holding in a secret she couldn’t keep in. “Max wants to go!” she revealed.
The group stared at him as if he were mad.
“What?” Max asked. “It could be fun.”
Layna threw a You’ve gotta be kidding me stare at him. “Oh, totes,” she said, “if the fifteen-year-olds can plot out how to sneak anything stronger than hard lemonade into the dorms.”
Sydney shook her head. “Barfing kids and tragic pop music outside my door, all night long. Sign. Me. Up!”
“Oh, let me call the wahmbulance,” Nancy laughed. “It’s your fault. You could have lived with us big kids in Campbell Hall.”
“Oh, no, no, no,” Sydney replied. “I am not giving up my primo view for snot-nosers.”
And it was true, she thought. Her view was fantastic, overlooking the conservatory filled with exotic plants, from rare orchids to ingeniously sculpted bonsai trees. Aside from the supposed eco-friendly gratification, the school’s motivation for the garden was a mystery to Sydney, her friends, and most other students, too. Most of the kids at school, Sydney among them if she stopped lying to herself, had the mindset that if you’ve seen one flower, you’ve seen them all.
The beauty of the building, Sydney had to admit, could not be overstated: a dome of striking brass-capped cames that held together shimmering glass plates of blue and gold, the colors of the school. Sydney often found herself staring at the top of the structure, mesmerized as it reflected the setting sun. Beyond the dome, the rolling green hills that the school had so meticulously taken care of led to the thick forest just beyond the gates of the campus.
It was that view that kept Sydney in the underclassmen’s dorm. She had lucked out with her room. The school used the stunning views and state-of-the-art facilities to lure new students, but after the main academic coursework was finished in year one, students started their majors and moved to one of two dorms on campus closer to the buildings where they would train. Still, Sydney accepted that the spectacular view, and the slightly longer daily walk to her classes, was worth putting up with the kids who were just finding their way. When she had asked to stay in her room, the housing committee decided she could. Sure, there were moments when she thought it might be more fun to be in a building with all of her friends, seniors who had paid their dues and were ready to graduate and make their mark with the talents that Trask had nurtured within them. But when the committee said yes if she agreed to stay at the school for her entire academic career, she had made her choice.
Sydney was shaken from her thoughts of pretty stained glass and obnoxious newbies when Crosby said, “They’ll be in dreamland before you know it. The last ferry leaves Saturday morning and they’ll wanna be bright-eyed for mommy and daddy at the docks.”
“Speaking of morning, like, what’s with the ratchet, military-style early rehearsal, Syd?” Alice asked. “It’s just us, and you’re the only one in the showcase.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” Layna said, smiling. “The star here needs someone to shine the spotlight on her the minute day breaks, didn’t you know?” Sydney wondered, for just a second, whether something more wicked lurked behind the comment and smile.
“Oh, the shade!” Nancy said.
“Guys, I was joking. Seriously,” Layna offered. She took Sydney’s hand. “Hey, when have I not been the overachieving understudy to the world’s soon-to-be most famous talent?”
The words didn’t make Sydney feel much better. Sydney knew how badly Layna wanted to perform. “Layn, you’ll get your chance. Trust me, it’ll happen.”
“You’re right,” agreed Layna, “the minute you pull a Peg Entwistle and take a leap off the Hollywood sign.”
“Layna!” Nancy laughed, half-heartedly.
Sydney chuckled slightly, then looked away. She didn’t want to keep up the contest with Layna, didn’t want to see something in her friend’s eyes that might betray their friendship.
Max took a long swig from his beer and gestured at their surroundings with the bottle. “There’s always hope for a mysterious fire during one of Syd’s rehearsals.”
“Okay, seriously, starting to feel uncomfortable here,” Sydney admitted. She looked at Layna, waiting for the break. It finally came. They locked eyes, and Layna’s big grin forced one from Sydney.
“Babe, friends to the end,” Layna said, moving to wrap her arms around Sydney. “The very end,” she added, her tone both playful and menacing.
Everyone relaxed as Sydney lightheartedly pushed Layna away. “Girl, bye!”
The wind picked up, whistling through the theater. The scaffolding creaked and groaned. A light flurry of plaster dust sprinkled down, looking, Sydney thought, perhaps too much like ash from a fire.
“The universe likes the idea, Syd,” Crosby said. “Maybe your number is up.”
“And I like the idea of you shutting up,” Sydney replied sharply. She had reached her limit on the subject of past deaths as well as jokes about her own.
Layna grabbed Sydney’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
Alice yelped as floorboards creaked in the darkness of the stage wings. “That was so not the wind,” she muttered.
Max stood tall, taut, alert. “Who’s there?” he asked.
No response. Layna grabbed his arm. He motioned for her and everyone else to be quiet as he stepped toward the edge of the light thrown out from the ghost lamp.
“Ooh, tough guy,” Crosby mumbled, snickering. Nancy slapped his arm. Max glared at him and then disappeared into the shadows.
Sydney was worried. And that meant they all must be worried, she thought. Was that an animal? Was it a teacher? Or had something they mentioned too many times that night come back?
As soon as she heard the crash, Sydney stopped wondering and let out a scream.
“Max!” Layna screamed, darting to her feet out of instinct. The others rose up behind her. Nancy pushed Crosby forward. He cocked his head and opened his eyes wide. Sydney imagined him thinking exactly what she was thinking, Just what am I supposed to do?
“Do something, idiot,” Nancy ordered.
Crosby inched toward the darkness, stopping at another noise, a scuffling, this time closer.
“Not necessary,” Max’s voice came from the shadows. Sydney was relieved as she watched somebody being forced from the wing and onto the ground. The other girls screamed, as did Crosby. Sydney took note that his scream was more high-pitched and went on a hair longer than the girls’, which she knew he’d regret.
Max appeared again.
“What the hell are you doing here, you stalker douchebag?” Max asked whoever was skulking backstage.
Sydney focused on Layna. She knew what was going to happen next. Her eyes met Max’s judging gaze. She took a sharp breath in and forgot the drama and worry from before. Max was obviously not happy with the person lying on the floor in front of them all.
Layna knew she could not hide what Sydney, what Max, what everyone saw as she looked at the heap on the ground.
Dillon Reeves. A loner and, some have said, a rebel.
He was also a senior, though the rumor on campus was that the musical prodigy might have been older than everyone else after being held back in grade school. It wasn’t for lack of intelligence, apparently, on which everyone agreed. Depending on whom you asked, though, the true reason changed. Imaginations ran wild. And the stories got bigger.
I heard Dillon would just sit in the corner of his kindergarten classroom and hum after he got yelled at for eating cookies another kid brought, so they held him back.
I heard Dillon took a broken paintbrush and stabbed another student in eighth grade for making fun of his still-life art project, so they held him back.
I heard Dillon got blamed for pushing his high school shop teacher into a table saw blade and then ran through the halls screaming the teacher was jumping around like fleas on a hot brick, so they held him back.
There was also one about embezzlement, and some even whispered about a true murder. Layna hated that one and knew it was not, could not be, true. Still, on and on it went. The lightning speed of Trask’s gossip train left some wondering if, after putting the pieces together, Dillon wasn’t in fact responsible for the Lindbergh kidnapping. Stranger things have totally happened!
Layna believed none of it. Dillon was just special. Quiet, smart, very cute. Dillon’s looks and charm and bad boyishness did not go unnoticed. Almost every girl on campus noticed, and some boys, of course. But it was all of him—the things she knew, the things she learned, and yes, even the things she did not know but hoped to one day—that had attracted Layna during junior year when Dillon had transferred in. This was before Max, of course, a time her friends ridiculously referred to as Proto-Max.
“Are you all right?” Layna asked, looking Dillon over and brushing off his dark leather jacket.
“I’m fine,” he answered, standing up. He was tall. Taller than the others. Layna tried to hide the fact that she did not mind him looking into her dark eyes with his blues.
“I hope I didn’t hurt his man bun,” Max scoffed. Layna eyed him with a not now look. Max rolled his eyes. She knew he was sick of this. Sick of Dillon.
The others looked on with fascination at the love triangle. Layna was keenly aware that her friends knew she used to love Dillon, who was always slightly aloof in his love for her, who eventually fell out of love with him and into love with Max. Thankfully, Max loved her back more fully than Dillon ever did.
Max backed away, saying, “Fine, then the party’s over. At least for me.”
Layna stepped toward Max. “Max, stop.”
He did. But he didn’t turn around. She hated when he talked to her with his back. “If you want El Creepo to make it through senior year, you’re gonna have to make a choice.”
Layna just stared at him. The others stared at her. Alice whispered, “She must be answering him with her mind!”
Crosby laughed. Layna frowned, but she took some comfort when Nancy rolled her eyes and elbowed her boyfriend in the rib. No laughing. Check.
Everyone watched intently, not sure what was going to happen next.
No one expected it when Dillon grabbed Layna’s hand.
“Dude! Not. Cool,” Crosby offered.
Max turned around with enough time to see Dillon’s hand slink away from Layna’s. “What are you doing?” she snapped at Dillon. She ran to Max and put a hand on his shoulder. Slinking around to his front, she faced him.
“Him or me, Layna. I can’t play this game forever,” Max said.
“He’s just trying to get a rise out of you. And it’s working.” Layna knew it was a lie the moment it rolled off her tongue, so she wasn’t surprised when Max called her on it.
“No, Layn, you were helping him get a rise,” Max said.
Layna grimaced, wanting to scold Max for being so gauche in front of her—their—friends, especially Dillon. But she wasn’t fast enough.
Max sighed. “Him or me.” He kissed Layna on the forehead then stepped past her into the shadows, down the stairs, and toward the entrance doors. All she could do was watch him. She turned to the rest of the group. No one said a word.
“I didn’t ask him to do any of this,” Layna said. She looked at Dillon. “And you didn’t have to do that.”
“You didn’t have to let me,” Dillon answered quietly.
“It’s getting late,” Sydney offered, moving past Dillon without a glance. She grabbed Layna’s hand, and the two started toward the doors.
Crosby and Nancy followed. “Oops,” he said sarcastically, bumping into Dillon’s shoulder.
Alice rushed up behind Nancy. “Wait up!”
Alone on the stage, Dillon watched the group make its way toward the entrance. “See you tomorrow,” he yelled out. “And I’m sorry.”
Crosby, Nancy, and Alice exited as Sydney tried to coax Layna to leave. Layna didn’t budge. She wasn’t sure if Sydney understood, even as her friend walked away.
Layna knew Dillon could now see her only as a silhouette awash in moonlight. She watched him watch her. Her hair blew in a gust of wind that came through the open door. Fine dust particles rained down on Dillon. Were they anywhere else, Layna might have thought he looked angelic. Dillon shook his head, put it down, and then rubbed his eyes. Layna knew her time had come, that when he looked back to her, she would be gone.
She needed to be gone.
So she left. As the door closed behind her, she did not turn back. She wandered slowly toward Max, who waited for her. He always waited for her. That’s what he did. She grabbed his hand, and they followed the others back to the dorms.
But Layna knew Dillon was still on stage. She imagined him standing there, all alone, licking his wounds and staring with red, watery eyes at the ghost light.
Excerpt from Jinxed by Thommy Hutson. Copyright © 2018 by Thommy Hutson. Reproduced with permission from Vesuvian Books. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Born and raised in Upstate New York, Thommy graduated from UCLA and launched his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!
His career then took a thrilling turn when he wrote and produced several definitive genre film retrospectives for television and home entertainment: SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD and HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13th.
He was also a staff writer on Hulu’s daily web series “The Morning After,” a smart, witty, pop culture program aimed at getting viewers up-to-date on the latest entertainment news and celebrity interviews.
Thommy also produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy.
He co-wrote and produced ANIMAL for Chiller Films and Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films. The project debuted in iTunes’ top ten horror films (reaching #1) and became the network’s highest-rated original movie.
Continuing his passion for uncovering the stories behind the story, he went on to produce CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th, which is the most comprehensive look at the popular film franchise.
As an author Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version distributed by Simon & Schuster reached number one in’s Movie History & Criticism category. He also has a deal with Vesuvian Media to write a YA thriller trilogy with the first book due out spring 2017.
He produced and made his feature directorial debut with THE ID, an independent psychological drama/thriller. Filmmaker Magazine stated it was “a deeply unsettling thriller that’s as moving as it is frightening…with skillful, provocative direction that has echoes of early Polanski.”
Most recently, Thommy wrote the screenplay for CineTel Films’ supernatural horror film TRUTH OR DARE. He is also directing, writing and producing a documentary with Clive Barker’s Seraphim Films in addition to developing other film and television properties with the company.
As an author, he is currently writing another book that definitively details the history, making and legacy of another fan-favorite genre film from the 1980s.
A member of the Producers Guild of America, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment through his company Hutson Ranch Media.

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