New #shortstory: A GIFT TO REMEMBER @vocal_creators

Ciao, amici! We’re on week three of the eight-week challenge. I’ve had my story ready to go since Friday, but I had technical issues with my Vocal account. FINALLY, at the last minute, they got resolved, and I got my story submitted in time. I’m three for three.

Once again, a quick reminder: The entries are judged by a qualified panel, but if there’s a tie, votes are the tie-breaker, so if you click the [♡] button, you might be doing me a favor.

This week’s theme had to do with a box wrapped in brown paper. If you’re interested in reading my take on the prompt (A Gift to Remember), you can find it here.

And if you missed any of my stories and would like to read them, you can check out my full Vocal library here.

As always, I appreciate the support, and if you read the story, I hope you enjoy it. Grazie!

A #BookReview of Kevin O’Brien’s THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED #NetGalley #thriller

Ciao, amici! I’ve got a book review for you today. Another thriller, because I seem to be addicted to the genre. Sure, I’ll read or write something else on occasion, but I always go back. Today, I have Kevin O’Brien’s The Night She Disappeared courtesy of NetGalley.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Shocking Cast of Characters

I read a lot of different genres, but I keep going back to mystery/suspense/thrillers. There’s something about the whodunit—and the nerve-racking anticipation of the villain doing it again—that appeals to me on many levels.

When I had the opportunity to read Kevin O’Brien’s The Night She Disappeared, I couldn’t pass it up. It promised all the excitement of genre that I love. And it delivered.

The premise? A husband and his mistress are the prime suspects in his wife’s suspicious disappearance.  But it’s not that simple. In this story, the other woman is actually the protagonist. And O’Brien did the impossible—he turned a lying home-wrecker into a fairly likable character. Someone we root for throughout the novel. Or perhaps it was because most of the other cast were infinitely more distasteful. He does know how to craft a reprehensible character who’s easy to hate. That doesn’t mean these are stereotypes, though. His cast is fairly well-rounded and three-dimensional.

The plot moves along at a brisk pace. There were a few instances where I thought the main character was too gullible, but given the extreme stress she was living under, her poor decision-making and clouded judgement is understandable. 

The ending went exactly as it should have, though it will likely surprise many readers. I found it satisfying on every level, with each loose end neatly tied. This is an easy 4 stars for me.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a gratis copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

There you have it. If you’ve read this book, any Kevin O’Brien work, or just want to talk thrillers in general, I’d love to chat. Leave a comment below. Grazie!

Jacqui Murray’s LAWS OF NATURE #bookrelease #prehistoricfiction

Ciao, amici! It’s been a long time since I had this guest here to talk about her work, but I’m delighted to have her back again. She’s such a talented author and an extremely supportive blogger who champions indie authors. (If you aren’t following her website, you should. I’ll have all her links at the end of this post.) Please join me in welcoming Jacqui Murray as she discusses her latest release, Laws of Nature, book two in her latest prehistoric fiction trilogy.

Hi, Jacqui. Let’s start with three questions about your book:

  1. You often say these people squat. Don’t they sit?
    Nominal physical evidence indicates early man squatted rather than sat. This includes tell-tale divots and scratches in the femur, tibia, and ankle bone of Neanderthals that result from squatting a lot. Neanderthals are a more recent Homo species than Lucy’s People but I make the assumption if Neanderthals didn’t sit much, neither did Homo habilis. Another reason we presume earliest man preferred to squat than sit would be because it’s far more natural for the body and quicker to get into and out of a squat when danger arrives. Try it—you’ll agree.
  2. How did early man tell time?
    Like today’s most primitive communities, early man has no concept of hours or minutes. His metric was how much daylight remained to find a safe place to sleep. Therefore, characters in Dawn of Humanity (and the later Crossroads) indicated time in the future by pointing to a place in the sky where the sun would be in the future, meaning, “Return when Sun reaches this point in the sky.”
  3. How do they live without counting?
    The simple answer is they had no need for exact counts. “Some” or “many” was sufficient to describe a herd, fruit trees, or distance. Nor did they need to count to realize someone was missing from a group. According to researchers: “…primitive man, relying on an exceptional memory … is capable, by comparing current impressions with the image stored in his memory, of telling whether a single object is missing in a group.” Then, it’s a simple matter of who’s not there!

Tell us about your book:

A boy blinded by fire. A woman raised by wolves. An avowed enemy offers help.

In this second of the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, the first trilogy in the Man vs. Nature saga, Lucy and her eclectic group escape the treacherous tribe that has been hunting them and find a safe haven in the famous Wonderwerk caves in South Africa. Though they don’t know it, they will be the oldest known occupation of caves by humans. They don’t have clothing, fire, or weapons, but the caves keep them warm and food is plentiful. But they can’t stay, not with the rest of the tribe enslaved by an enemy. To free them requires not only the prodigious skills of Lucy’s unique group–which includes a proto-wolf and a female raised by the pack–but others who have no reason to assist her and instinct tells Lucy she shouldn’t trust.

Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.

A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!

Title and author: Laws of Nature
Series: Book 2 in the Dawn of Humanity series
Genre: Prehistoric fiction
Editor: The extraordinary Anneli Purchase
Available print or digital) at:
Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU  Kindle India

About Jacqui:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.

Connect with Jacqui:

Amazon Author Page  | Blog  | Instagram |
LinkedInPinterest  | Twitter | Website  

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to use those links above. And I hope you’ll join me in sharing this post on your social media to assist Jacqui in her marketing efforts. My final hope is that you’ll leave her a note of good cheer below. Grazie!

New #shortstory: WHY ALWAYS CHOCOLATE, MOM? @vocal_creators

Ciao, amici! Las time, I told you Vocal is running an eight-stories-in-eight-weeks challenge and I hoped to do all eight. Well, I’m two for two so far.

Once again, a quick reminder: The entries are judged by a qualified panel, but if there’s a tie, votes are the tie-breaker, so if you click the [♡] button, you might be doing me a favor.

This week’s theme had to do with chocolate cake. If you’re interested in reading my take on the prompt (Why Always Chocolate, Mom?), you can find it here.

And if you missed any of my stories and would like to read them, you can check out my full Vocal library here.

As always, I appreciate the support, and if you read the story, I hope you enjoy it. Grazie!

Photo by kaouther djouada on Unsplash

New #shortstory: FAMILY LEGACY @vocal_creators

Ciao, amici! Not long ago, I told you I (belatedly) discovered Vocal Media. So far, I’ve published four short stories on my page, some of which are part of challenges they offer (in which I might possibly win money and bragging rights). Other stories are just because I had something to say and wanted a place to say it.

Currently, Vocal is running an eight-stories-in-eight-weeks challenge. I hope I’m up for the task. I’m one for one right now. The entries are judged by a qualified panel, but if there’s a tie, votes are the tie-breaker, so if you click the [♡] button, you might be doing me a favor.

This week’s theme had to, at some point, take place in an old barn. If you’re interested in reading my take on the prompt (Family Legacy), you can find it here. Grazie!

Photo by Frances Gunn on Unsplash

Two #BookReviews: TELL ME by @Anne_Frasier #TellMe #NetGalley and VOODOO OR DESTINY by @JanSikes3 #mystery #thriller

Ciao, amici! Welcome to July. I hope those of you who celebrated America’s Independence Day had a wonderful holiday. I attended a couple of family picnics and watched some fireworks. I missed my kids and my dogs (and my pool), but I’m choosing to count my blessings rather than dwell on the things I missed.

I’ve got two reviews for you today. Without further ado…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Socially Relevant Without Preaching

Maybe it’s the mom in me, but I cheered to see the book begin with teens who were sent to a camp with no technology, forced to unplug from the world because their dependence on the Internet had gotten out of hand. Granted, it was a very posh camp, but the girls didn’t have it easy.

Then it all went downhill from there. Their guide was murdered, and there was no sign of the girls. Were they abducted? Did they flee? Was this an elaborate Internet prank to increase their viewers that somehow went horribly wrong? 

Enter the cop (Daniel) and the profiler (Reni), both with more emotional baggage than they can fit in their knapsacks as they hike the mountain. There’s a lot of history there. (I didn’t realize this is the second book in the series, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this story, though I’d like to go back and read the first to fill in some blanks.) The way their pasts and presents collide makes for some heart-wrenching moments.

The plot unravels at a brisk, steady pace and has as many twists and turns as the trail the girls disappeared on. The ending was telegraphed throughout, but I think some readers might miss the hints and find it to be a surprise. All in all, it was a solid mystery that kept me engaged, and I’m interested in more from this series. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this work in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Talk about a Pin to the Heart!

This quick read by Jan Sikes is worth every second you’ll spend with it. Anyone who’s ever known the sting of betrayal knows the catharsis felt by any harmless purging act.

But what if it wasn’t harmless?

Claire Winters tried to ease her suffering with what she thought was a joke—a voodoo doll of her cheating husband who asked for a divorce. Now she’s living with the ramifications of that decision. There’s no way to prove whether the magic was real, but she has to come to terms with her intentions and the results, regardless. And the ending is enough to steal your breath.

This story is short, but there’s a lot to unpack. If you want to. On the surface, it’s almost a horror story. But in the complex layers underneath, if you sit with it and mull things over, there’s a complex construct of emotional family dynamics and painful interpersonal traumas worth a second and even a third look. As a short story, this is good. Had this been a novel that explored all these concepts in depth, it would have been outstanding.

That’s it from me today. I hope you found something that sparked your interest. If you did, or if you read one of these, or if you’d just like to talk about these stories or others like them, sound off in the comments below. Grazie!

New Look for Cathedral Lake Series

Ciao, amici!

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while, but every time I start to write it, something intervenes. So, before I get derailed again, I’m taking a few minutes and scheduling this post because I have news I’ve been excited to share for what feels like an eternity.

My Cathedral Lake series has new covers, and I think they’re just gorgeous. I hope you can take a moment to enjoy them with me.

Book One, Type and Cross

Type and Cross: Blood Defines Family. Blood Reveals Betrayal.

Book Two, Out and About

Out and About: Freedom from jail. Freedom from family.

Book Three, Pride and Fall

Pride and Fall: Unchecked fear cripples. Conquered fear liberates.

The Cathedral Lake series is mainstream family drama with a lot of suspense/mystery elements, particularly the second and third books. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, I hope you consider checking them out. Just click on the link or any of the pictures. Otherwise, I’d love to hear what you think of the new covers. I’m really happy with them. Let me know your thoughts. ❤️ Grazie!

VOCAL just got a little more GOLDEN #shortstory

Ciao, amici! I’m embarrassed to admit that, once again, I’m slow to discover something wonderful. Have you heard of It’s an online platform for content creators (like writers and poets) to highlight their work and possibly get paid for it. What I like about it is not only the exposure to new audiences but the organizational aspect—when you upload content (stories or articles or prose), you can choose where it goes. So, your nature-themed haiku won’t be buried between a how-to article on turning a fan into an air conditioner and a horror short story about demented elves. It will be listed among other poems and properly tagged.

I’m new to the platform, but so far, I’m really enjoying what I’m seeing.

I’ve recently uploaded my first piece, a dystopian short called Golden. I hope you check it out, and if you like it, click the heart button [ ♡ ] to say so. Every click tells the moderators that I provide good content, which we all know (like Amazon ratings) can only help my ranking there. And in this case, the story is a contest submission, too. In the event of a tie among the judges, your opinion matters. So, I could really use your help.

Here’s the link.

If you do read it, I’d love to know what you think. Regardless, I’m interested in your thoughts about Vocal. Let’s talk below. Grazie!

Two #BookReviews: LUNAR BOOGIE and THE FERRYMAN AND THE SEA WITCH #fantasy #paranormal

Ciao, amici! I’ve got two book reviews for you today. Sorry if I’m a bit long-winded, but I really enjoyed both of them. Bear with me while I share my thoughts. Without further ado…

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Things Just Got Real

In the latest installment of this must-read series, Boyack upped the stakes. The creature on the loose is a werewolf, which means Lizzie is hunting a mindless killing machine—who is human the rest of the month. That weighs on her conscience. Especially when she fears the monster might be a dear friend.

Boyack also adds a new character to the mix, a detective who talks to the spirit of his dead wife. This is a supernatural franchise, so I can see this becoming a storytelling device, and I’d love to see it develop further as the tales continue.

We get all the elements we’ve come to expect from hat stories: a great musical playlist, witty banter between the hat and Lizzie, Internet jokes, the return of some favorite recurring characters, and even the radio show continues to speculate about their alter ego. These callbacks make each installment of the hat series extra special and more fun to read. 

But Lizzie is getting further steeped in the supernatural world, that that comes with dangers and horrors, which means the story gets a little darker. And while I don’t mind dark, readers should know the light-hearted tone they’ve come to expect won’t always be there this time.

Lunar Boogie didn’t end on a cliffhanger, but it definitely told me there was more to come. This world is growing and changing, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. 

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wildly inventive, Deftly Crafted, and Beautifully Written

While fantasy isn’t my go-to genre, sometimes I just need to escape the real world and lose myself in a realm of magic and mysticism. If you’re looking for such an escape, The Ferryman and the Sea Witch is the perfect book to provide it.

Peach crafted such well-rounded characters, I couldn’t help but feel like they were old friends. Or enemies. They became real to me from the first word and practically leapt out of the water and into my lap. Of course I read the book in record time. I had to find out what happened to everyone.

She is equally adept at creating characters as she is at weaving an exceptional plot. Her pacing was brisk, giving me the tiniest moments to catch my breath before I was on to the next high-stakes adventure. But those small moments weren’t wasted. She used those lulls for world-building, and what a rich world she created.

The reason readers can feel the sea breeze on their cheeks or taste the gin on their tongues or hear the laughter of the sea witch ringing through their heads is because the author has a gift with words. Her lyrical prose borders on poetic, but it’s never saccharine or overdone. It’s just a lovely experience from beginning to end.

I can’t say enough good things about this story. If you’re looking for a standalone fantasy/sea adventure, you’ve found it. Five easy, well-deserved stars.

Thanks for sticking with me. I think these were both well worth it. If you’ve read either (or both) or just would like to discuss the books, leave a comment below. Grazie!

Joan Hall’s #newrelease COLD DARK NIGHT #suspense

Ciao, amici! I’m happy to welcome back to my corner of the blogosphere one of my first online writer buddies. We “met” oh-so-many years ago and connected over our love of fiction. Since then, we’ve bonded over so much more. She’s a talented writer, a Story Empire collaborator, and a dear, dear friend. Let’s give a warm hello to Joan Hall and give her a moment of our time while she chats about her latest release, Cold Dark Night. Take it away, Joan!

Cold Dark Night: Legends

Thank you for hosting me today, Staci. It’s always a pleasure to visit you and I’m excited to talk about my new book, Cold Dark Night. It’s the first novel in the Legends of Madeira series. Each novel begins with a historical event that ties to modern day.

I’ve long since had a fascination for full moons. Several years ago, I learned Native Americans had names for each of them. Before finishing my Driscoll Lake series, I thought it would be fun to write books based upon a particular full moon. That’s how the idea for Legends of Madeira series began.

Can’t have a series with legend in the name without including a piece of folklore. I searched high and low before I found something that would fit Cold Dark Night.

In the following excerpt, my female lead character Tami first learns a legend when the month of February has no full moon. When that happens, it’s sometimes referred to a Black Moon, although there are varying definitions of that term.


Tami walked to the doors leading to the deck. The moon had risen high in the sky, illuminating the area, and reflecting off the nearby snow-capped mountains.

A fire burned in an outdoor chiminea. Frances Walker stood beside it, looking toward the heavens. She wore a bright colored jacket with a Navajo design. On impulse, Tami opened the door, then walked outside to join her. Her sweater, though thick and warm, wouldn’t provide protection from the cold for long, but even a few minutes outdoors would be worth it.

“Mind some company?” she asked.

Frances smiled. “Not at all. I’m admiring the view.”

“Beautiful. As much as I loved looking at the night sky back in Texas, I don’t remember the full moon looking this lovely.”

“It’s actually not full until tomorrow night. That will be the Wolf Moon.”

“There’s a name for it?”

She nodded. “Native Americans had names for all full moons. They vary according to tribe and region.”

“I’ve heard of the Harvest Moon but not about others.”

“Most people aren’t aware. The names signify the month and season. For instance, most berries ripen in June, hence the Strawberry Moon. April is the Pink Moon because of budding flowers, and so forth.”

“Interesting. What’s behind the Wolf Moon?”

“In January, it’s common for packs of hungry wolves to gather. But this year has a rare event, as both January and March have two full moons. There won’t be one in February.”

“I thought all months have full moons.”

“It only looks that way, but a full moon lasts only a few seconds. It’s possible for February not to have one since the lunar cycle is a little over twenty-nine days.”

“I’ve learned something new tonight.”

“When February passes without a full moon, it’s sometimes called a dark or black moon. There are many superstitions and legends about them. It only happens every nineteen years, depending on the time zone and leap years. The last one was in 1999.”

Tami moved closer to the chimenea, inhaling the fragrance of piñon. Coyotes howled in the distance. She smiled. “Not wolves, but appropriate wouldn’t you say?”

Frances nodded.

“I always wanted to study the moon and astronomy but never took the time. You mentioned legends. I’d be interested in hearing about them.”

“Some believe a black moon brings out our darkest feelings and everything we keep hidden. Negative emotions such as envy, hatred, or revenge will surface.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“My people have told several tales about such events for generations. I gather you’re interested in folklore.”

“I enjoy learning how the stories came about.”

“I’ve often heard a February without a full moon signals a bad year for crops. Others say it brings death.”

Tami shivered. “Death? Let’s hope that’s not the case.”


New husband, new house, new town… and a new mystery to solve.

Tami Montgomery thought her police chief husband was going to be the only investigator in the family when she gave up her journalism career and moved with him to Madeira, New Mexico.

But after the historical society asks her to write stories for a book celebrating the town’s history, she becomes embroiled in a new mystery. If she can’t solve this one, she could lose everything. Her research uncovers a spate of untimely deaths of local law enforcement officials. Further digging reveals a common link—they all lived in the house she and Jason now share.

Tami isn’t a superstitious person, but the circumstances are too similar for coincidence. Then she unearths an even more disturbing pattern. And if history repeats itself, her husband will be the next to die.

Purchase Link

Connect with Joan:

Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |   Bookbub  |  Goodreads  |  Instagram

I love that lore, Joan. Anything having to do with the moon fascinates me. And the excerpt certainly amped up the intrigue-factor.

What do you think, folks? Are you as interested in lunar legends as I am? Let’s show Joan some new-release love and click all those like, share, and purchase links above. Then leave her a congratulatory note in the box below. Grazie!

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