Monday, December 11, 2017

Bel, Book, and Scandal

I’m delighted to be participating in author Maggie McConnon’s BEL, BOOK, AND SCANDAL tour today in keeping with the Christmas spirit.

Maggie McConnon rings in Christmas in Bel, Book, and Scandal, the third adventure for everybody’s favorite Irish-American culinary artist turned amateur sleuth.

Bel McGrath tries her best to keep herself on the straight and narrow but she just has a taste for trouble. This time danger arrives in the form of a newspaper left behind by visitors to Shamrock Manor—and a photograph that jolts Bel out of the present and back into a dark chapter from her past.
The person in the photo is Bel’s best friend Amy Mitchell, long gone from Foster’s Landing, at a commune in upstate New York shortly after her disappearance. The picture, and Bel’s burning desire to find out what happened to Amy—and whether she may still be alive—is the catalyst for a story in which old secrets are revealed, little by little…and certain characters are shown to not be as genuine as Bel once thought.

Now here’s an excerpt from this tantalizing story for your reading pleasure.

Chapter One

I was wet, cold, and tired, but despite the fact that she was ready to kill me with her bare hands for staying out all night, my mother addressed all three of my immediate needs before saying anything else.
A towel to dry my hair.
Clean clothes in the form of a pair of jeans, a T- shirt, and a pair of socks. An Irish sweater, the most uncomfortable item of clothing ever made—a hair shirt, really— but welcomed, and probably deserved, at that moment.
A bologna sandwich. It would be the last time I would eat bologna, for many reasons, the most significant being that the smell would forever after remind me of Amy. And how she had disappeared the night before and would always be gone.
Mom was worrying a rosary in one hand, the other securely placed in one of my father’s meaty ones. She turned and looked at me, asking me a question she had already asked and would continue to ask, along with everyone  else even vaguely connected to Foster’s Landing. “Where is she?”
I didn’t know. I didn’t think I would never know.
My brother Cargan, the closest to me in age and the one who had found me beside the Foster’s Landing River, was across the room, looking out the window, his violin strapped to his back; he had a lesson later that morning and wouldn’t miss it for anything, even if Amy Mitchell was missing and never to be seen again. No, he was gearing up for a big competition in Ireland and nothing stopped him from his lessons or his practicing. Although the mood was somber in the police station, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had whipped the instrument out right then and there and started playing a tune, a sad one, the type I had grown up listening to.
My other brothers were out and about in town now. They, too, had come running when Cargan first discovered me but were less concerned about me now but had joined the hunt for Amy. It was another night for Bel, one said. She was going to be in a lot of trouble, said another. They were both right: It had been another typical night and now I was in a lot of trouble, the last to have seen Amy alive with nothing to tell that might lead to her whereabouts. They were a self-protective bunch, caring little as to why I would be hauled into the police station, happy that, for once, they were not the ones in trouble. Feeney, especially. He was always in trouble. Derry and Arney, not as much, but both had a way of finding their way into situations that were beyond their control. Feeney was a much more calculated and deliberate hooligan.
Next to Mom, Dad let out a barely audible sob, the kind that told me that he was, first and foremost, a father and one who felt the pain of a missing child. He looked over at me, almost as if he wanted to confirm that I was still there, and reached out the hand that didn’t hold Mom’s, patting me awkwardly on the thigh.
“Ah, Belfast,” he said. “Ah, girl.”
“It’s okay, Dad,” I said. “They’ll find her.  They’ll bring her back.” I thought about those words a lot over the years, wondering where that confidence came from. Youth, I eventually decided. When you’re young and nothing bad has ever happened, you think everything will always be better, every wrong will be righted. It’s only with age that I realized that that wouldn’t always be the case and that disappointments would stack up, like the layers of my famous mille-feuille cake, the one with seemingly a thousand layers of goodness that cracked upon the first dip of the fork. But even then, in my heart, I had a feeling it wasn’t going to turn out the way we all wanted, something I couldn’t give voice to at that moment.
Lieutenant D’Amato came out of the conference room at the Foster’s Landing police station and looked at me, frowning. Behind me the door opened, and his expression suddenly lightened, the sight of his only child, his daughter, coming through the doors with a cup of coffee in one hand and a bag of something delicious in the other, the greasy stain at the bottom indicating that it was probably a Danish from the local bagel store. It smelled better than my bologna sandwich, which I wrapped up in the wax paper that Mom had put it in and stuffed under my thigh.
Mary Ann handed her father the food and then turned to me, tears in her eyes. “Oh, Bel,” she said, and ran toward me, enveloping me in a hug. She smelled good, not like river water and stale beer like I did, but more like the soft grass that I felt beneath my feet when I ran from my house down the steep hill toward the river.  Beside me, my mother’s silent reproach hung over me like a fetid cloud.
Why can’t you be more like Mary Ann D’Amato?
I had heard it more than once in my seventeen years and hoped eventually it would die a natural death as I got older and more accomplished, setting off to take the culinary world by storm, another thing that left a distinct distaste in my mother’s mouth. I was supposed to be a nurse. A teacher. A wife, mother. Not a chef.
It was your idea to open a catering hall, I wanted to say. Your idea to have me in the kitchen every moment I wasn’t studying or swimming on the varsity team. Your idea to ask me how the potatoes tasted, if the carrots needed another minute. Your idea to let my brothers learn the traditional Irish tunes and put me in an invisible, yet highly important, role— that of sous chef to you and a myriad of other cooks who had come through the doors of Shamrock Manor, only to discover that yes, our family was crazy, and no, they didn’t really care all that much about haute cuisine.
Mary Ann was going to nursing school; of course she was. She was the daughter that my parents never had and she would make everyone in this town proud.
Years later, in what could only be from the “you can’t make this stuff up” files, Mary Ann would marry Kevin Hanson—my Kevin Hanson— and I would cook the food for their wedding. We would all be friends and we would laugh together and eat together and have a generally good time in one another’s company. Before, I felt the lesser, but in the future, the now, I would be equal, the one who had gone away and come back, realizing that my heart was in this little village, at least for a time. But back then, Amy was still missing and everyone thought I had the key.
“Where is she?” Mary Ann whispered into my curly hair.
“I don’t know,” I said. And I didn’t. Amy Mitchell was my best friend, my confidante, my sister from another mother, and she hadn’t said a word about where she would go after a night on Eden Island. My last words to her, an angry sentence (You’ll be sorry. . . .  ), burned in my gray matter. I don’t know where she is, I wanted to scream. It had been just fun and games until I had seen her kissing my boyfriend, Kevin Hanson. We had been celebrating our waning days at FLHS, and it was the best night we had ever had up until that point.
I don’t know why she wouldn’t tell me where she was going, but maybe I did.
Maybe of everyone here in the police station, she wanted me to be the last to know.
I broke the embrace with Mary Ann and sat down again; I would never smell a certain floral-scented shampoo again without thinking of that morning. I would never feel the grass beneath my feet without thinking of the smell and where it brought me in my mind. Mary Ann’s face, tear streaked and pale, made me feel bad about my own: dry as a bone, not a tear in sight, stunned, resigned. Amy was gone, and deep down I knew that she was never coming back. How I knew it so well in the early morning hours I had no idea. Why I had told Dad things would be fine was a mystery. But I knew it as well as I knew my own name that it was over and wondered how everyone else was still clueless to that fact. “Belfast McGrath?”
I looked up at a cop who clearly didn’t know who I was but whose face told me he knew why I was there.
“That’s me,” I said, and walked into the room where I would tell them everything and nothing.

BEL, BOOK, AND SCANDAL is available at the following links:

For those not familiar with Maggie McConnon, here’s a bit of background on her.

MAGGIE MCCONNON grew up in New York immersed in Irish culture and tradition. A former Irish stepdancer, she was surrounded by a family of Irish musicians who still play at family gatherings.

She credits her Irish grandparents with providing the stories of their homeland and their extended families as the basis for the stories she tells in her Belfast McGrath novels, beginning with Wedding Bel Blues.

For more on Maggie and her writing, visit with her on Facebook.

Thanks for stopping by today and I hope I’ve enticed you to check out Maggie’s new release, BEL, BOOK, AND SCANDAL. Are you reading Christmas themed stories?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Berkley Bookmas {+ Giveaway}

It is the season for fun and giving so I’m so excited to participate in Berkley Bookmas and I’m delighted to be hosting MARRY IN SCANDAL by Anne Gracie here today at Thoughts in Progress.

Berkley Bookmas is chock full of exclusive content from authors like exclusive excerpts, deleted scenes, author recipes and more! Check out the calendar of events below.

Now join me for an excerpt from this tantalizing book.

Marry In Scandal ~ Anne Gracie
London, 1818
“I have secured a duke for the opera tonight,” Agatha, Lady Salter announced with an air of triumph. Bone thin and immensely elegant, her steely silvery hair intricately coiled, piled high and bound into a kind of turban, she fingered her lorgnette with long fingers and eyed her three nieces with a critical gaze.
Lily Rutherford, Lady Salter’s youngest niece, swallowed. She sat with her sister Rose on the chaise longue facing the old lady. George, technically a great-niece rather than a niece, lounged casually on the armrest of a nearby chair.
“Do dukes sing?” Rose idly twirled her fan. “I had no idea.”
Don’t be facetious, Rose,” Aunt Agatha snapped. “You know very well why I have arranged this opportunity—it’s for you in particular.” She added, “As well, he is bringing two friends, one of whom—”
She broke off, her eyes narrowed. Lily tensed as the old lady raised her lorgnette. It was a warm day and Lily’s thighs were sticking together, but she didn’t dare move. Aunt Agatha despised fidgeting.
But her gaze came to rest meaningfully on George, who gave the elderly dowager a bland smile in return and stayed where she was, one leg swinging in an unladylike manner.
Georgiana! Are you wearing breeches under that habit?”
George shrugged, entirely unrepentant. “We’re just back from our morning ride.”
The old lady closed her eyes in a ‘heaven-help-me’ expression, muttered something under her breath, took a deep breath and continued, “As I said, the duke is bringing two of his friends, and one of them might be interested in you, Georgiana—though not if you sit like that! Or wear breeches. No gentleman of taste—”
“And one of them might be interested in Lily.” Rose smiled warmly at her sister.
Aunt Agatha glanced at Lily. “Perhaps,” she said dismissively. She raised her lorgnette and raked it critically over the person of her youngest niece.
Lily, knowing what was coming, sucked in her stomach and held her breath. But it did no good.
“I see you have failed to follow my advice about the diet that was so effective for Lord Byron, Lily. You’re as fat as ever.”
“Lily isn’t fat,” Rose flashed angrily. “She’s lovely and rounded and cuddly. But not fat!”
“And besides, she did try that dreadful diet,” George said. “For two whole weeks and it made her quite sick for no result. Potatoes drenched in vinegar? Ghastly.”
“A small sacrifice for the sake of beauty,” Aunt Agatha said with all the complacence of a woman who had never had to diet in her life.
“Lily is beautiful as she is.” Rose squeezed her sister’s hand comfortingly. “We all think so.”
Aunt Agatha snorted.
“Better to be sweet-natured and cuddly than a nasty, well-dressed skeleton.” George gave a meaningful glance at Aunt Agatha.
Lily tried not to squirm. She hated this, hated people quarreling over her, hated it when Aunt Agatha examined her through her horrid lorgnette—as she did every time she visited. Under that cold, merciless gaze, Lily always felt like a worm—a fat, unattractive, stupid worm. And she couldn’t bear another evening of it.
“I’m sorry but I can’t come to the opera tonight,” she found herself saying. “I have a—a previous engagement.”
There was a short, shocked silence. Rose and George blinked and tried to conceal their surprise.
Aunt Agatha’s gaze, her eyes horribly enlarged through the lens of her weapon of choice, bored into Lily. “What did you say, gel?”
Lily swallowed but held her ground. “I said, I have a prior engagement.” She pressed her lips together. She was hopeless at arguing;, she always gave in eventually, so it was better to say nothing.
Aunt Agatha gripped her carved ebony stick in a bony grasp and stamped it on the floor. The floor being covered by a thick Turkish rug, the effect was rather lost. “Did you not understand me, you stupid gel? A duke and two of his friends have agreed to join our party at the opera. A duke! And two other eligible gentlemen. And you say you can’t come? What nonsense! Of course you will come!”
Lily eased her fingers out of her sister’s grasp. Now her hands were sweaty, as well as her thighs. She wiped them surreptitiously on her skirt and said with as much dignity as she could muster, “I was under the impression you had issued an invitation, Aunt Agatha, not an order.”

On to the giveaway. The winner will receive: one $100 Visa gift card, and a book/galley/bound manuscript by each of the authors participating. You can enter by clicking HERE!

For next week’s fun, head to one of the following blogs on 12/11:
·         My Friend Amy
·         The Romance Studio
·         Booked & Loaded
·         Vampire Book Club
·         Coffee and Characters
·         Rantings of a Reading Addict
·         Diva Does 4 Good
·         Just Another Book Bitch
·         Literary Escapism
·         Reviews by Reds
·         3 Degrees of Fiction Book Blog
·         Novel Grounds

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope you enjoyed the excerpt and will check out the upcoming blogs in the Bookmas. Are you adding books to your Christmas list this year for giving (and receiving)?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Murder on the Lake of Fire {+ Giveaway}

Murder on the Lake of Fire
Mikel J. Wilson

(Mourning Dove Mysteries, #1)
Published by: Acorn Publishing
Publication date: December 1st 2017
Genres: LGBTQ+, Mystery, Romance

At twenty-three and with a notorious case under his belt, Emory Rome has already garnered fame as a talented special agent for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. His career is leapfrogging over his colleagues, but the jumping stops when he’s assigned a case he fought to avoid – to investigate an eerie murder in the Smoky Mountain hometown he had abandoned. This mysterious case of a dead teen ice-skater once destined for the pros is just the beginning. In a small town bursting with envious friends and foes, Rome’s own secrets lie just below the surface. The rush to find the murderer before he strikes again pits Rome against artful private investigator, Jeff Woodard. The PI is handsome and smart, seducing Rome and forcing him to confront childhood demons, but Woodard has secrets of his own. He might just be the killer Rome is seeking.

The author has graciously answered a question about his writing for me. Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Mikel as he shared his thoughts. Welcome, Mikel.

Your story is set in the Great Smoky Mountains. How did you go about doing research for your story and setting?

Murder on the Lake of Fire is set in the Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee. I’ve lived in California since I was 19, so setting my book more than 2,000 miles away presented a challenge. I couldn’t just look out my window or take a walk to inspire my descriptions. How would I convince my readers that my characters were actually interacting with the setting if I couldn’t describe it accurately? If you get one detail wrong with the setting in your book, you risk losing the reader’s trust in your ability to tell a story. To keep that trust intact, I used a combination of techniques for ensuring my setting’s accuracy: memory, research and experience (as a verb, not a noun).

I did grow up in Tennessee, and I visited the Smoky Mountains a handful of times, but I was not familiar enough with the area to write convincingly about it just from memory. Even if I had a photographic memory, much could’ve changed over the years to make my description obsolete. After writing down all the sensory details I could remember about the Smoky Mountains and Knoxville, the secondary location in the book, I researched the setting online.

I looked at countless pictures and videos, and I used Google Earth to virtually roam the streets. I read about the area’s demographics and history because having a character remark about an endemic feature, or weaving it into the story, can add some nice depth to your setting. I also realized I needed to research the region’s flora and fauna. I wrote coyotes into one scene, but long after I left that passage behind, I wondered, “Are there coyotes in the Smoky Mountains?” Thankfully, there are, but imagine if I had written that and there weren’t!

To learn what people were actually doing in the area I read local news and community calendar postings. Because this book is the first in a series, I want to keep abreast of current events in the area, so I also subscribed to the Visit Knoxville newsletter and added the Smoky Mountains, Knoxville and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to my Google news feed.

Online research can get you pretty close to familiar with your setting, but I don’t think anything can replace actually experiencing it. I made a special trip to Knoxville and stayed a few days in the Smoky Mountains, and I took gigs of pictures and a pad full of notes about sensory data and specific locations my characters might visit. I even found the perfect spot for Mourning Dove Investigations, the PI firm in the book.

I realize traveling to wherever a book is set is not always an option, but I do believe it helps – walking the streets the characters will walk, taking in the sounds and smells, and finding places they might frequent. The more familiar an author is with a setting, the better he can describe it and the more convinced readers will be that the characters are really there.

Mikel, thanks for this insight into your book. The Smoky Mountains are a beautiful area and would be an amazing place to live.

Mystery and science fiction author Mikel J. Wilson received widespread critical praise for his debut novel, Sedona: The Lost Vortex, a science fiction book based on the Northern Arizona town’s legends of energy vortexes and dimensional travel. Wilson now draws on his Southern roots for the Mourning Dove Mysteries, a series of novels featuring bizarre murders in the Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee. 

Murder on the Lake of Fire, the first novel in the Mourning Dove Mysteries series, will be available December 1, 2017.