Blog Tour | Christmas at the Chateau by Rochelle Alers

The halls are decked for holiday romance in nationally bestselling author Rochelle Alers’s latest book in the Bainbridge House series! Christmas dinner’s on the table, and it’s being served with a side of romance! Executive chef Viola Williamson has to have the kitchen up and running by the time the Bainbridge House restoration is complete. Working closely with Dom Shaw, Viola is struck by her hotter-than-mulled-cider attraction to her family estate’s handsome caretaker. It’s obvious that he feels it, too—yet Dom keeps his distance. Can Viola convince him that with all this cooking going on, he’s the only one stirring her heart? 

Buy Links | Amazon | Barnes & NobleHarlequin

I’m excited to show you guys an excerpt for this book today, enjoy!

Dom turned his head, successfully hiding the smile struggling to emerge. He didn’t know why, but he hadn’t expected to overhear the ribald curse that had flowed so effortlessly from Viola. “That’s good to know because that would definitely negate us becoming friends.”

Viola narrowed her eyes, reminding him of a cat ready to attack. “Do you always test your friends?”

“Most times I do.”

“Why, Dom?”

“Because I have trust issues.” The admission had come out unbidden. But if he were completely forthcoming with Viola, then he would’ve said his distrust was with women. It didn’t matter whether they were platonic or intimate, he’d made it a practice to keep their relationships at a distance.

“Bad breakup with a girlfriend?”

“No,” he said truthfully. “It was a marriage that ended with irreconcilable differences.”

She blinked slowly. “Well, you’re not the only one with trust issues. And mine are not with an ex-husband but with the men I’ve dated. They say one thing and do something entirely different.”

This time Dom did smile. She’d just given him the opening he’d needed to discover more about her. “Are you saying you’re not currently involved with anyone?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m not involved and don’t want to become involved. Right now, my sole focus is getting these kitchens renovated so that I can be ready once the hotel opens for business.”

It appeared as if they were on the same page when it came to relationships. Neither wanted one. And for him, it would make her presence on the property a win-win. Although he’d found Viola attractive, just knowing she didn’t want anything more than friendship would make it easy for Dom to relate to her as a friend.

“Do you have an idea as to what you want to offer your guests?” he asked, deftly changing the topic of conversation.

“That all depends on the clientele. If it’s a wedding, then that would be at the discretion of the bride and groom. However, for guests coming for a business conference, the food would be different from what would be served at a wedding reception. Then there are folks that may just want to stop by to hang out at the lounge for drinks and to watch sports. For them, I would have a special bar menu.”

“It sounds as if you have everything planned out in advance.”

Viola flashed a dreamy smile. “I would have to. I can’t afford to wait until we’re ready to open for business to begin creating menus without taste testing every item beforehand.”

Dom grinned from ear to ear. “I wouldn’t mind becoming one of your taste testers.”

She laughed. “I’ll definitely keep that in mind.”

Dom sobered. “When do you intend to come back here again?”

Viola also sobered. “Why?”

Hailed by readers and booksellers alike as one of today’s most popular African-American authors of women’s fiction, Ms. Alers is a regular on bestsellers list, and has been a recipient of numerous awards, including the Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing and a Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award.  Visit her Web site www.rochellealers.com

Happy reading!

Review | The Book of Living Secrets by Madeleine Roux

Perfect for fans of The Hazel Wood, this genre-bending page-turner from New York Times bestselling author Madeleine Roux follows two girls who transport themselves into the world of their favorite book only to encounter the sinister alternate reality that awaits them.

No matter how different best friends Adelle and Connie are, one thing they’ve always had in common is their love of a little-known gothic romance novel called Moira. So when the girls are tempted by a mysterious stranger to enter the world of the book, they hardly suspect it will work. But suddenly they are in the world of Moira, living among characters they’ve obsessed about for years.

Except…all is not how they remembered it. The world has been turned upside down: The lavish balls and star-crossed love affairs are now interlaced with unspeakable horrors. The girls realize that something dark is lurking behind their foray into fiction—and they will have to rewrite their own arcs if they hope to escape this nightmare with their lives.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I was really into this book for a good chunk of it, I so enjoyed the banter and relationship between Adelle and Connie and the story seemed to be really moving along. When they get pulled into the book; however, there’s definitely some loss of momentum. I would have liked more solid worldbuilding and the story itself really slowed down.

That being said I loved how spooky it was and for the most part it was really fun. Being pulled into your favorite book is always a fun idea to give a spin, and when it concerns two best friends, that adds another layer to it. At times some of the events were a bit confusing which did detract from the reading experience. However, I did enjoy it overall and think with some slight tweaks it could easily be a five star read for me.

Happy reading!

Review | Extasia by Claire Legrand

From New York Times bestselling author Claire Legrand comes a new, bone-chilling YA horror novel about a girl who joins a coven to root out a vicious evil that’s stalking her village. Perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Grace Year.

Her name is unimportant.

All you must know is that today she will become one of the four saints of Haven. The elders will mark her and place the red hood on her head. With her sisters, she will stand against the evil power that lives beneath the black mountain–an evil which has already killed nine of her village’s men.

She will tell no one of the white-eyed beasts that follow her. Or the faceless gray women tall as houses. Or the girls she saw kissing in the elm grove.

Today she will be a saint of Haven. She will rid her family of her mother’s shame at last and save her people from destruction. She is not afraid. Are you?

This searing and lyrically written novel by the critically acclaimed author of Sawkill Girls beckons readers to follow its fierce heroine into a world filled with secrets and blood–where the truth is buried in lies and a devastating power waits, seething, for someone brave enough to use it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The beginning of this book immediately drew me in and started the book off super strong. The setting and world the book is set in is dark and much of the ways of this world are very twisted, especially towards women – as they are essentially punished for what has happened to the world.

The writing was super atmospheric and perfectly illustrated the world and characters. That being said, not everyone is going to like it. There are times that certain characters and their behavior don’t exactly match with their personalities, but it wasn’t quite enough to detract from the story itself.

Be aware that this story very much takes on themes of religion and misogyny. Women in some ways are treated as objects, nothing more and for many that may be hard to read.

If you’re looking for dark horror that has a touch of weird, this will definitely fit the bill.

Happy reading!

Q&A | Shawn Peters

Happy release day to The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters! To celebrate its release I’m excited to bring you all a Q&A I was able to have with Shawn about the book and his writing experience/process. If you haven’t already make sure you check out my review for The Unforgettable Logan Foster. Also, huge thanks to Shawn for answering my questions and thank you to the publisher for reaching out to me about reviewing this title!

Shawn Peters has spent more than two decades writing professionally for television and advertising. Married and a father of two kids, Shawn is by his own description a suburban-dad trope-fest. He enjoys coaching his kid’s teams, playing old-dude softball, and comparing IPAs with other dads. In his spare time, Shawn makes ultra-nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns on Twitter under the handle @DnDadJokes. 

Social Links | Author Website | Twitter

What inspired this story?

I wish I could say,  “This one thing happened and suddenly I was inspired to write,” but it didn’t. The books really grew out of three different things coming together at the same time. The first was my own personal experiences as a pre-teen. I was a kid with a semi-photographic memory— I could remember fine details of things I’d read and even recall where I’d seen them on the page— and I loved comic books, obsessing over the heroes’ and villains’ powers. So about seven years ago, when all the Marvel and DC movies were coming out months apart, the 12-year-old nerd inside me was in superhero heaven. The second was that around the same time, I was noticing how people’s views of neurodiversity were shifting to a strength-based understanding. My wife was a 5th-grade teacher at the time, and she’d come home with stories of how kids with Asperger’s Syndrome — now known as part of Autism Spectrum Disorder— were thriving when in an environment where everyone wasn’t expected to learn the same way. Our best friends at the time had a son who’d been diagnosed with high-functioning autism and over years of our families spending time together, my conversations with him always sparked my imagination because of the way his mind worked. And the last piece was that at that time, I had one child who was just starting to age out of middle grade books while the other was just entering his tween years. So I was reading so many wonderful stories, both from my own childhood and the new generation, but I wasn’t seeing kids like my friend’s son as the heroes in these adventures. So that’s where the idea of a neurodivergent orphan with a one-in-a-billion memory getting adopted by superheroes all mashed-up and became this book. 

How long did the writing process for this book take?

It’s funny, because the time it took to “write” the book and the time it took to get the book to “done” are sooo different. I outlined the book in less than a month and then I gave myself a year to write a first draft, committing to writing at least one page every day. As a full-time creative director in the marketing world, plus a father of two who was coaching town sports, on the board of my congregation, and a guy who still wanted to occasionally watch a Red Sox game, I felt like that was doable. One year later, I had my first draft, but then spent another six months revising, sharing with a few readers, and then finally tightening it up before I started the querying process. But still, it would take another four years of rejections, revisions, sharing it with my wife’s class full of kids and using their feedback to fuel more changes, plus a whole lot of general perseverance before I signed with my agent in the summer of 2019 and sold the book early in 2020, right before the world and the industry all changed in a big way.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

The easy answer is I’d love to be able to fly, because I’m afraid of heights and I think that would go away if I had that power. But the deeper answer is that I’d love the ability to make an idea “real” all at once. Somewhere between what Green Lantern can do with his ring and what a lesser-known superhero named Firestorm could do by rearranging atoms. I’m an idea guy, and I come from an improv background. So the ability to go from concept to reality in a snap would certainly be something I’d sign up for. However, I don’t think it would necessarily help with my writing. You still have to create a book by writing words after word. 

Do you have any upcoming books in process?

I’m happy to report there’s a sequel to THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER that is due out from Harper Collins next year, though there’s no release date yet. The story picks up a month after book one ends, and we get to see the fallout of Logan’s first adventure as he and his found family are adjusting to their new lives together. Logan is in a new school, makes some new friends, and finds out some new information that might lead to unraveling the mystery of how he became an orphan, and who his real parents might be. Plus there’s a cute dog and a ton more awful dad jokes from his foster father. Beyond that, we will have to see if Logan’s story continues, but in the meantime, I’m working on another MG book about a kid who is having an ultra-rough start to a school year that could get a little better or a whole lot worse when he ends up in possession of a very special smartphone. That’s my current work-in-progress, but I’m learning quickly that it’s a writer’s job to always be writing the next thing.

There are a lot of powerful themes in this book that many kids deal with in real life, what would you say to your readers who are neurodivergent and may see themselves in Logan?

Thank you! This means a lot to me, because while this book is a funny and action-packed adventure, I do believe it has an actual emotional core in it. I hope that neurodivergent readers and any other kid who feels that their strengths aren’t appreciated by those around them will relate to Logan. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to have more than 100 fifth-graders — my wife’s students at the time— read the book before I even had an agent. The enthusiasm they had for the book gave me a lot of faith in the story I was telling, but it was the reaction of her students who were on the spectrum that told me this was a book that I needed to get out into the world. They were the kids who kept raising their hands during our Q&A session, always asking the most insightful questions or proposing conspiracy theories about what might happen in future books. All that said, neurodiversity is… diverse. I know that Logan isn’t a fair representation of every kid who identifies as having ASD, let alone ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s and others; that would be impossible. But I do hope any and all readers get the message that everyone is the hero of their own story, and that every person has something in them that is a unique talent or strength, if they just lean into it and surround themselves with people who appreciate it.

What are your favorite writing tools?

I really don’t have any, other than an uninterrupted hour of relative quiet and focus. I outline, draft and rewrite in Microsoft Word, and when I revise, I often make a handwritten list of things I want to address and then put checkmarks— multiple sometimes— as I address them. Truly, I think feedback is my favorite writing tool. The opportunity to share it and hear what other people think is the gift a writer cannot give to themselves. It doesn’t mean I act on every single piece of feedback I get, but I view all of it as a potential source of making the work better. I’m pretty sure that isn’t something every writer feels.

How did you decide on the narrative style of the book?

When I first was outlining this book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to write it in the first or third person, in the present or past tense. That came after the actual story itself. I had recently read PANORAMA CITY, a brilliant novel by one of my oldest friends, Antoine Wilson, and I was struck by how strong the voice of the protagonist came through when it not only came from their own mind, but it was directed to a specific recipient. The more I thought about Logan, the more I realized he would want to relate the facts of his adventure in a very particular way, and the idea that he was catching up a long-lost relative seemed like motivation for why he’d be retelling it. In my first drafts, Logan was sharing the story with the mother he never knew. But it felt cliche, and a little off, and that was confirmed when I shared it with the kids in my wife’s classroom. I asked them if they felt Logan was speaking directly to them in the book and they admitted it didn’t… after all, none of them were possibly his mother. The second they said it, I knew he had to be writing to another kid; someone who could actually be reading the book. That’s when the entire “World’s Best Big Brother”  t-shirt came in, and I wove the idea that Logan was looking for their anonymous younger sibling into the entire book. It was a subtle shift, but it made a huge difference and brought his voice forward in all kinds of new ways.

What takeaways do you want your readers to have from this book?

I sort of hinted at it above, but I hope readers get that Logan is someone who finds people who like him — love him even — exactly how he is, and that the things that make him different are also what make him special, even if not everyone recognizes them. I’m hoping that for kids who relate to Logan, that will be a meaningful message and they’ll feel represented on the page. But I also hope it might open the eyes of kids who aren’t at all like Logan and create some empathy in the middle of all the dad jokes and Superhero action.

Who would you recommend this book to?

I so badly want to reply, “Anyone with at least one vowel in their first or last name” but that seems greedy and not very helpful. I’d say that this is a book for kids who are reluctant readers, but who do love comic books and graphic novels, as I think THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER is a bridge for those readers, especially with the wonderful art by Petur Antonsson sprinkled throughout the book. But I’d also say this book is one that teachers and librarians can share with kids who might see themselves as “different”, whether that’s because of neurodivergence or the simple everyday realities of being a tween, as Logan’s story should resonate with them. I also think this is one of those books that parents of those kids might enjoy too, whether they’re reading to their children or just interested in books for that age— because there are a lot of references in it that might speak to them even more than the kids.

Lastly, do you have anything else you want to share with readers regarding this book?

Just that even though this is a fictional book, and I don’t have any valid reason to believe that superheroes are real, I am sure that superpowers are a thing. I mean, just look through TikTok and you see people who can do things that seem impossible: single-armed pull-ups, sketching an entire portrait of a famous person upside down in one minute, solving Rubik’s Cubes while juggling them, playing keyboards hooked up to computers so that when they play a song, it draws a picture on the screen. I tend to think most of us have something at least close to a superpower if we embrace it and work at it and share it with others. So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t keep your superpowers to yourself.

Check out The Unforgettable Logan Foster on Goodreads!

Again I want to give a huge thank you to Shawn for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all had as much fun reading his answers as I did. Make sure you check out The Unforgettable Logan Foster!

Happy reading!

Review | Kirins: The Seer of Serone by James Priest

This is a novel, The Seer of Serone, by James Priest, telling of tiny magical beings dwelling the world over. They are kirins.

It is a quiet summer’s day in the domain of Yorl and Moger kirins, tree-dwellers in the central part of North America. Speckarin is magician to the Yorls, living on Rogalinon, a towering and majestic oak. His apartment is carved into one of its larger branches, his door opening onto the gathering platform.

But this story opens far from that idyllic setting, at Stonehenge, the hanging stones, the citadel of kirin magic. There Fairmean, a depraved magician, commits an act of pure and unadulterated vengeance, imperiling every kirin on Earth.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed the settings in this book, an Earth where magical being dwell among humans. The cast of characters are pretty across the board and varied. The different racies portrayed are well structured and come across in a very realistic way.

I would say that this book could be read by a number of age ranges, including some younger readers that were looking for a fun fantasy read that wasn’t too complicated in nature.

The pacing of this story was also really well done, never really getting to slow or things wrapping up too quickly. In all I think a lot of people looking for fantasy with a wide range of characters that is an easy read will really enjoy this one.

Happy reading!

Review | A Mystery at Lili Willa by Arathi Menon

Cousins Arj, Tam, and Mira are spending their summer vacation in Elathoor, a little village in Kerala when their family home, Lili Villa, is broken into and some jewelry is stolen. The Terrific Three set out to solve the mystery but soon discover that there is no shortage of suspects. Is it Pinching Kodavis or Dumdumchecchi, the milking lady? Is it the mean fisherwoman who starves the cat or the retired nurse who owns a luxury car? Or is it Mani with his upside-down Russian secret? Who could the thief possibly be?

In a throwback to unscheduled summer vacations, this cozy mystery will charm young readers with plenty of sibling sparring, some intrepid sleuthing, and an endless parade of mouth-watering snacks.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This middle grade mystery story was adorable! I really loved all the lush descriptions of the characters, locations, food and more. Each new character that gets introduced has a unique personality and story, which is endearing as the children investigate the mystery themselves.

The kids were the best part of the story (as they should be, but still) and had very believable actions, attitudes and lines of thought. Yes, they had arguments and disagreements, but they were realistic and suitable for their age.

The mystery itself was well thought out, and the secrets that different characters had led to wonderful scenes. Overall it was a really fun mystery filled with lots of vivid scenes and descriptions.

Happy reading!

TBR Card Challenge | January

Hey everyone! I know I’m a little late in posting this, but I wanted to get it up nonetheless. I did draw cards for January so I wanted to share them – here they are!

  • 2 of Clubs – Classic
  • 8 of Spades – Netgalley
  • Ace – over 500 pages
  • 6 of Clubs – Middle Grade
  • 3 of Clubs – Mom Pick
  • 10 of Clubs – Ghost Stories

This months picks both excited and upset me, but here we are. For classis I decided to pick up Beauty and the Beast (the original story) since it’s been a very long time since I read it. My Netgalley pick will be Wingbearer by Marjorie Liu (which spoiler, I have read – so watch for my review closer to release date).

For over 500 pages (this is where I whimpered) I picked Skyward and the middle grade I picked was Malamander.

My mom was excited to hear that mom pick came up since it hasn’t happened since the first month I started this challenge, so she picked Our Last Echoes. Finally for ghost stories I went with Haunted Theaters which I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while.

Happy reading!

Review | The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters

Packed with superheroes, supervillains, and epic showdowns between good and evil, The Unforgettable Logan Foster from debut author Shawn Peter shows that sometimes being a hero is just about being yourself.

Logan Foster has pretty much given up on the idea of ever being adopted. It could have something to with his awkward manner, his photographic memory, or his affection for reciting curious facts, but whatever the cause, Logan and his “PP’s” (prospective parents) have never clicked.

Then everything changes when Gil and Margie arrive. Although they aren’t exactly perfect themselves–Gil has the punniest sense of humor and Margie’s cooking would have anyone running for the hills–they genuinely seem to care.

But it doesn’t take Logan long to notice some very odd things about them. They are out at all hours, they never seem to eat, and there’s a part of the house that is protected by some pretty elaborate security.

No matter what Logan could have imagined, nothing prepared him for the truth: His PP’s are actually superheroes, and they’re being hunted down by dastardly forces. Logan’s found himself caught in the middle in a massive battle and the very fate of the world may hang in the balance. Will Logan be able to find a way to save the day and his new family?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was a joy to read. As soon as it started I loved the writing style and Logan as a character. The way it is written means that the book moves along really quickly and there’s action pretty much from the get go. Logan is a unique character, being neurodivergent and always speaking his mind no matter what. His voice throughout the book is refreshing and immediately endears him to the reader.

The story itself is full of hijinks and action, full of humor and adventure. It definitely reads like a superhero movie or comic and constantly keeps you on your toes. I think it’s perfect for its target audience and think this will be a great series for young readers not only looking for adventure and laughs, but also looking to perhaps see themselves in someone like Logan.

Shawn Peters has spent more than two decades writing professionally for television and advertising. Married and a father of two kids, Shawn is by his own description a suburban-dad trope-fest. He enjoys coaching his kid’s teams, playing old-dude softball, and comparing IPAs with other dads. In his spare time, Shawn makes ultra-nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns on Twitter under the handle @DnDadJokes. 

Social Links | Author Website | Twitter

The Unforgettable Logan Foster is out January 18th, If you want to know more about the author and read a Q&A with him, check the blog on release day!

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan | Excerpt

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s suspenseful new mass market original about a college senior’s podcast that delves into an unsolved campus murder of a sorority girl three years earlier, as individual callers explode every fact previously thought to be true.

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found two weeks later, and the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the Medical Examiner’s, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle, he just isn’t sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace’s last hours. He asks listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer, former US Marshal Regan Merritt, to come on and share her expertise.

New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace’s secret life…a much darker picture than Lucas imagined—and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own dark secret. The pressure is to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast – before the killer silences him forever.

Buy Links | Bookshop.org | Indie Bound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon |
Books A Million | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Google PlayApple books

I’m thrilled to be able to include an excerpt in today’s post from this book. Enjoy!

One

Three Years Ago

Friday, April 10

 Candace Swain forced a smile as she walked out of her dorm room.

Smiling was the last thing she wanted to do, but Candace had an image to uphold.

She was going to be late for the Sigma Rho Spring Fling—the last big party before the end-of-year crunch. Studying for finals, capstones and senior projects, stress and more stress, and—for some of them—graduation.

The mild April weather was perfect for an outdoor gathering. Candace had led the sorority’s social-events committee with setup, and they’d included heat lamps along the perimeter. The Mountain View dorm—which housed all campus sororities, each with their own wing—was on the northeast corner of campus, adjacent to the football field. The Spring Fling was held on the large lawn that framed the north entrance, where they had the most room. It was open to all students for a five-dollar admission, and was one of the biggest moneymakers for the sorority, more than charities. Candace had fought for—and won—giving the profits to a rescue mission that helped people get back on their feet. She volunteered weekly for Sunrise Center, and it had changed how she viewed herself and her future. She now planned to be a nurse in the inner city, working for a clinic or public hospital, where people deserved quality health care, even if they were struggling. She even considered specializing in drug and alcohol issues, which were unfortunately prevalent among the homeless community.

She used to think of her volunteerism as penance for her failings. She wasn’t religious but had had enough preaching from her devout grandmother to have absorbed things like guilt, penance, sacrifice. Now, she looked forward to Tuesdays when she gave six hours of her time to those who were far worse off than she. It reminded her to be grateful for what she had, that things could be worse.

Candace exited through the north doors and stood at the top of the short flight of stairs that led to the main lawn. Though still early in the evening, the party was already hopping. Music played from all corners of the yard, the din of voices and laughter mingling with a popular song. In the dusk, the towering mountains to the north were etched in fading light. She breathed deeply. She loved everything about Flagstaff. The green mountains filled with pine and juniper. The crisp, fresh air. The sense of community and belonging felt so natural here, something she’d never had growing up in Colorado Springs. With graduation on the horizon, she had been feeling a sense of loss, knowing she was going to miss this special place.

She wasn’t close to her parents, who divorced right before she started high school and still fought as much as they did when they were married. She desperately missed her younger sister, Chrissy, a freshman at the University of South Carolina. She’d wanted Chrissy to come here for college, but Chrissy was a champion swimmer and had received a full scholarship to study practically a world away. Candace had no plans to return to Colorado Springs, but she didn’t know if she wanted to follow her sister to the East Coast or head down to Phoenix where they had some of the best job opportunities for what she wanted to do.

Vicky Ryan, a first year student who had aspirations of leadership, ran up to her.

“That weirdo is back,” Vicky said quietly. “Near the west steps. Just loitering there, freaking people out. Should I call campus police?”

Candace frowned. The man Vicky was referring to was Joseph, and he wasn’t really a weirdo. He was an alcoholic, and mostly homeless, who sometimes wandered onto campus and wouldn’t accept the help he had been repeatedly offered. He wasn’t violent, just confused, and sometimes got lost in his own head, largely from how alcohol had messed with his mind and body. But his problems understandably made her sorority sisters uncomfortable. He’d twice been caught urinating against the wall outside their dorm; both times, he’d been cited by campus police. He wasn’t supposed to be on campus at all anymore, and Candace knew they’d arrest him if he was caught.

“I’ll take care of it,” Candace said and made her way around the edge of the party.

She found Joseph on the narrow grassy knoll that separated the football field from the dorms. A small group of students approached her, but one in their group turned toward the grass, likely to confront Joseph.

Candace walked faster, caught up with the student, and smiled brightly. “I got this.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll handle him.”

“I said I will take care of this. I know him. But thank you anyway.”

Mr. Macho didn’t want to walk away, yet Candace stood firm. She didn’t want anyone to harass Joseph, and she knew he would listen to her. While he wasn’t violent, he could be belligerent, and being confronted by a jerk wanting to impress his girlfriend was a surefire way to trigger Joseph and have him dig in his heels. It would only lead to an arrest, and that wasn’t going to help him in the long run.

The group walked off, grumbling; Candace ignored them. She approached Joseph cautiously, so as not to startle him. “Joseph, it’s Candace,” she said. “Remember me? From Sunrise Center?”

He turned slowly at the sound of her voice. A tall man, nearly six foot four, he could intimidate people. But he was also skinny and hunched over from years of walking the streets and looking down, rummaging through garbage, with his hangdog face, ragged salt-and-pepper beard, and watery blue eyes. He was the kind of guy her grandmother would have called a bum—dressed in multiple layers of dirty, mismatched clothes, and smelling of dirt and stale beer. He looked about sixty, but she knew that he was only in his early forties. She’d heard he’d been living along Route 66 for the better part of ten years. The people who ran Sunrise Center didn’t know much about his personal life, only that when he was sober (which was rare), he would talk about home being east, at the “end of the line.” But no one knew if that meant Chicago or any of the stops in between.

Candace wanted to know more about his story, how he came to be in these circumstances, why he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—accept help. Many of the homeless who came to Sunrise for shelter or food would talk to her freely. But not Joseph. When she’d pried once, he disappeared for a while, so she stopped asking. She would rather him be safe than riding the rails, which was dangerous.

“Candace,” he said slowly after several moments.

“You can’t be here, Joseph. The campus police told you that. Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t say anything or acknowledge that he understood what she said.

“Would you like me to take you over to Sunrise Center? You can get a hot meal there, maybe a cot for the night.”

Again, silence. He turned away from her but didn’t leave.

She really didn’t want to call campus police, but if she didn’t do something, someone else would.

“Is there a reason you are here?” she asked.

“Leave me alone,” he said.

“I will, but you have to leave. Otherwise someone is going to call the police.” If they haven’t already.

He abruptly turned toward her, staggered on the slope of the lawn. His sudden movement startled her; she stepped back.

“No cops!” he shouted.

“You have to leave, Joseph,” she said, emphatic. Her heart pounded in her chest, not so much from fear but uncertainty. “Please go.”

Again, he turned abruptly, this time staggering down the short slope toward the stadium fence. She held her breath, watching him. He almost ran into the fence, put his arms out to stop himself, then just stood there. A minute later, he shuffled along the field perimeter, shoulders hunched, without looking back.

She breathed easier, relieved that he was heading off campus. She would talk to the director of Sunrise on Tuesday, when she went in to volunteer. Joseph couldn’t keep coming here, but she didn’t really want to call the authorities on him. He needed help, not more trouble, and definitely not incarceration.

Candace was about to return to the party when she heard someone call her name. She turned and saw one of her former tutoring students, Lucas Vega, running toward her. She didn’t want to talk to Lucas tonight. How many times did she have to tell him to leave her alone?

She stopped anyway and waited.

“Candace,” he said, catching his breath. “Thanks.”

“What do you want?” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry,” she said bluntly.

“I didn’t mean to upset you the other day. I am sorry about that.”

She blinked. He sounded so sincere. And truth be told, something he’d said to her a few days earlier made her think long and hard about herself, her life, and the time she’d spent as a student at Northern Arizona University.

A lie for a good reason is still a lie.

Lucas and his wide-eyed, good-natured innocence, his innocuous questions had her feeling guilty for no reason. He had picked up on that. And pushed.

No reason? Ha. Plenty of reasons. All these doubts and worries she’d been having this semester, the sleepless nights, all came from something she’d done as a freshman that she now had good reason to regret. But what could she do about it? What would come of the truth now?

Maybe there was no good reason to lie.

“All right,” she said. “Thank you.” It was easier to forgive Lucas than to hold on to this anger. None of what happened was Lucas’s fault.

“So will you tutor me again, for finals?”

“No. Afraid not.” She could forgive him for prying, but she really needed first to forgive herself. And she didn’t know if she could do that with Lucas around, reminding her of her failures and mistakes. He didn’t even know what she’d done, but seeing him now was like reliving the past, and her chest tightened. “I’m sorry, but I have too much studying of my own, too many tests. And I’m not working at the writing lab anymore.”

Because of you.

Was that even fair? Was it because of Lucas…or because of her own guilt?

He was disappointed, but that wasn’t her problem.

“Okay, I understand,” he said.

“Besides, you’re smart. You’ll be fine.”

He shrugged. “Thanks.”

“Uh, you want to come to the party?” She gestured over her shoulder. They could hear the music from where they stood. “I’ll get you a pass. Won’t even cost you the five bucks.”

He shook his head. “I’m fine. I’m not really one for parties. But thanks anyway.”

He turned to leave.

“Lucas,” she said. He looked at her over his shoulder. “I’m really sorry.”

Then she left him there, waiting for something she couldn’t give him.

It took Candace several minutes before she could work up the courage to return to the party. An idea she’d been thinking about for the last few months was now fully developed, as if something inside clicked after her brief conversation with Lucas. Everything shifted into place, and she knew what she needed to do; it was the only thing she could do.

No one was going to like her decision.

When she realized she no longer cared what anyone thought, a burden lifted from her heart. She was certain then that she was doing the right thing.

Everyone at the party was asking for Candace, and Vicky had become worried when her friend and mentor hadn’t returned after thirty minutes. She sought out Taylor James, the Sigma Rho president, and told her about the homeless guy. “I don’t know where Candace is,” she said. “I should have just called campus police.”

“Candace says he’s harmless,” Taylor said, frowning. “Sometimes she’s so naive. I’ll go look for her.”

“Thanks. The party is great by the way. Everyone seems to be having fun. How does it compare to previous years?” This was the first party Vicky had helped put together for the sorority, so she was eager to know how well she’d done.

“As good or better,” Taylor said with a wide smile.

Vicky tried not to gloat as she practically floated over to her friends chatting near one of the heat lamps. It wasn’t cold, but the warmth of the heat lamp and the glow from the string lights added terrific ambience to the place.

“Oh my God, Vicky, this is a blast,” her roommate, Nicole Bergamo, said. Nicole was a half-Black, half-Italian math major who could have easily been a model she was so tall and stunning. “Everyone is talking about how great it is.”

Vicky smiled, talked for a bit, then moved around, being social, doing all the things that she’d seen Sigma Rho board members do. Hundreds of people were dancing, talking, mingling, eating, drinking, playing games. Mostly, they were having fun, which was the whole purpose. When the new Sigma Rho advisor, Rachel Wagner, told her it was the best Sigma Rho party she’d been to ever, Vicky thought she’d never come down from cloud nine.

“I agree,” said the gorgeous woman who was with Rachel. “I’m Kimberly Foster, by the way,” she introduced herself. “I’m a sorority alum, and I’m so happy I came up this weekend. You’ve done a fantastic job. Rachel said you’re part of the social-events committee. Isn’t Candace leading the committee? I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Yes, she’s around,” Vicky said. “This is all her vision. We just implemented it.”

“I love Candace. Oh! I see her over there.”

Vicky looked to where Kimberly was gesturing. Candace was talking in a small group.

“I’m going to catch up with her,” Kimberly said. “Nice to meet you, Vicky.”

The two women walked away, and Vicky continued her rounds. She was having a blast as her worries that the party might flop were replaced with pride and satisfaction over its success.

Hours later it was midnight, and per city ordinance—because their dorm bordered a public street—they had to cut off the music. That put a damper on things, but it was fine with Vicky—she was exhausted after working all day prepping and all night making sure everything was running smoothly. She was a little miffed that Candace was hardly there: Vicky had only caught a glimpse of her twice. But whatever, she’d seemed preoccupied, and that would have been a party downer.

Vicky ran into the dorm to get extra trash bags—they had to clean up tonight so wild animals wouldn’t get into the garbage and create a bigger mess in the morning. She came back out and heard voices arguing near where the DJ had been set up. He’d already packed up and left. She couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. It seemed like a quiet, intense exchange between Taylor and Candace though Rachel and her guest Kimberly were there, too. Everyone, especially Taylor, seemed angry.

About sixty people were still milling around, mostly Sigma Rho sisters helping with the cleanup. Nicole came up to Vicky and said, “What are Candace and Taylor fighting about?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” Nicole said. “I heard Taylor call Candace a selfish bitch.”

“Ouch. Well, Rachel is there. She’ll mediate.”

But Rachel looked angry as well; it seemed that Candace was on one side, and the other three women were yelling at her.

“You’re wrong!” Candace screamed, and Vicky jumped. She glanced at Nicole, who looked perplexed as well. Vicky handed her a garbage bag, and they both started picking up trash. She didn’t want anyone to think she was eavesdropping.

But she was. As she inched closer to the group, she heard Kimberly say, “Let’s talk about this tomorrow, okay? When everyone has had a good night’s sleep and we can all think more clearly.”

“I am thinking clearly,” Candace said. “I’m done. Just…done.”

She left, walked right past Vicky without even seeing her. There were tears in Candace’s eyes, and Vicky didn’t know if she was angry or upset, but probably both. Vicky thought about going after her to make sure she was okay, then felt a hand on her shoulder.

She jumped, then laughed nervously when she saw Rachel. Taylor and Kim had walked away in the other direction.

“Sorry. You startled me.”

“I’m sorry you had to witness that,” Rachel said.

“I didn’t, really. Just saw that Taylor and Candace were arguing about something. I didn’t want to intrude.”

“It’s going to be fine. Just a little disagreement that Candace took personally.”

“About the party?” Vicky asked, her insecurities rising that she’d messed up something.

“Oh, no, the party was perfect. Don’t worry about that.”

Relieved, she said, “Maybe I should go talk to Candace.”

“No, let her be. I’ve known her since she was a freshman and took my Intro to Bio class. She has a big heart, and sometimes you can’t help everyone.”

Now Vicky understood, or thought she did. Taylor had been the most vocal about the creepy homeless guy hanging around the dorms, and she’d been the one who’d called campus police last time, after Candace said not to.

“Let me help,” Rachel said and took a garbage bag from Vicky’s stash.

Rachel chatted with Vicky, who felt lucky to be able to spend so much one-on-one time with her sorority advisor. Rachel was so smart, an associate professor at just thirty-two, an alum of the University of Arizona Sigma Rho chapter. Plus she had such interesting stories to share. By the time they were done with the cleanup—it didn’t take long with so many people working together—Vicky had forgotten all about the argument between Candace and Taylor.

It was the last time anyone saw Candace alive.

Excerpted from The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan, Copyright © 2021 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books.

ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets. The Sorority Murder is the first of a new mass market series.

Social Links | Author website | Facebook: @AllisonBrennan | Twitter: @Allison_Brennan |
Instagram: @abwrites | Goodreads

Happy reading!

Check-in | Series I Want to Finish in 2022

Hey everyone! Since it’s the beginning of the year I’ve been thinking about goals and things I want to accomplish in 2022 and one of the things I wanted to touch on was the series I would really like to check off my list this year – some of them are carry overs from last year, I won’t lie. Let’s get into it!

Fruits Basket – I meant to finish this one up in 2021 but it just didn’t happen, I’m currently on volume six out of twelve.

Kamisama Kiss – This is another one I was hoping to complete in 2021 and I almost did it, but not quite. I’m currently reading volume 20 of 25.

Nancy Drew Reread – I’m currently on book 20 of my reread of this series, there isn’t really a defined time period on this one as it’s purely for enjoyment, but I would like to read more of them this year than I did last year.

Krewe of Hunters series – I’ve been reading this series by Heather Graham for a while but I am behind by quite a few books. I would ideally like to get caught up on this series this year.

Those are the specific series I’d like to work on this year, but there are always trilogies and such that I would like to complete. We’ll see how I do!

Happy reading!